Saturday, November 26, 2011

First Thanksgiving

Those of you who are paying attention may have noticed that while the title of this post is "First Thanksgiving", in all actuality it is my second one here. But last year my mother and I were still just getting into the groove of things, and kept turning to each other and exclaiming "we've been out here for two months already?!?! Whoa..."

... and so this is my first real Thanksgiving. I've been here a full year. I know where things are (OK. Fine. I still need to find a place to get my car inspected. Haven't figured that one out yet). I'm building up a network of friends and family out here. The manfriend and the spawn have come into my life and my space, and the three of us are doing better than ever. I have my two healthy dogs (Zora's skin issues aside). I have 9 chickens, 6 of whom are hens that don't seem to get that their production levels should be slowing down for the winter (although I'm sure they will soon). My garden did OK this year, and I am highly hopeful for next year (I had to let some of the beds go this year due to a bad combination of a drought and a lack of a good irrigation system). I have a better idea of this land - how it feels, how it acts, and what it seems to want (goats, baby! GOATS!). And I have a better idea of me - how I feel, how I act, and what I seem to want (goats, baby! GOATS!). I have ideas for what I want to add to the mix next year - bees, irrigation, more chickens, possibly rabbits...., and I have hopes for next year...

And we had a beautiful day. A beautiful day. The spawn inexplicably decided to sleep in. The weather decided to be beautiful. I spent time doing all of my favorite things - snuggling with my boys, enjoying the sunshine, cooking the food I love as long as I want, hanging out with my animals, and visiting with my plants and trees.

I am amazingly grateful to my family near and far, my friends, my flora and fauna, and my boys. Thank you thank you thank you!

The Lake is filling back up. Woot!


Marinade for rooster thighs.

Mixing the Green Jello Salad.

No Green Bean Casserole in this dojo. Roasted green beans wrapped in bacon, yo.

My awesome Pumpkin Pudding. All over my clean dishes. Ooops.

Rooster Thigh Sous Vide. (They came out SUPER tough as I overcooked the hell out of them. Better luck next time.

The Gleeful Spawn.

The Chocolate Chess Pie got the sour cream topping meant for the ill-fated pumpkin pudding. Perfect combo, by the way.

No caption needed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tough Question

The other day on the way in to Tractor Supply for chicken feed - my local feed store out here in the sticks never seems to be open when I'm not working, and with me being away from home so much we don't have enough kitchen scraps to supplement them enough to do away with feed.... - the Spawn asked me a question that has been haunting me since.

"Are we farmers?"

I stopped in my tracks. I SO incredibly wanted to say yes. I vehemently wanted to say yes. But I had to say no. And then the hard part of explaining to the young inquisitive mind...

So...yeah...I have said before that contrary to appearances and no matter what I consider Stoneyhaw a farm. Yet I had to explain to that we're not farmers. And several weeks later I think I have kind of figured out why.

Stoneyhaw is a farm, but as of yet doesn't have any farmers. To me a farmer is someone who tends the various facets of said farm, and coaxes productivity out of it. Be it in the form of animals, vegetables, fruit, honey, flowers, hay, compost, humus, topsoil.... Basically someone who cultivates some aspect of the land be it amplifying an existing natural occurrence (humus), or not quite as natural (rows of tomatoes and pole beans, for example). Furthermore, a farmer is someone who uses said coaxed item to sustain themselves directly (eating the veggies) or indirectly (selling the veggies for money).

We still aren't quite there. With the building and winterizing of living spaces, and the full time job, my time has not been devoted to the farm as much as I would like. It's a tough one - I'm at work full time to make a living which takes away time from the farm...yet I need more time on the farm to bring it up to a place where I can make a living... And my living is most definitely only minorly supported by it. BUT. We are coaxing more and more out of it. While our garden took a hit this year due to the drought, our chickens are now coming into lay and we are getting 3 - 5 eggs a day (up from maybe 1, wouldn't you say?!). As we eat a lot of eggs, this helps to support us.

So I guess we're on our way. And I really can't wait until the day that the Spawn asks me this question and I can say "yes".

Monday, November 07, 2011


Whoa. So the 4 that were slated to move from the chicken palace to the fridge have done so.

If the notion of this bothers you, read no further. If the notion of me, your friend/daughter/granddaughter/niece/goddaughter/fairy-goddaughter/employee/coworker/acquaintance/neighbor/stranger, assisting in the demise and butchery of a chicken bothers you please go elsewhere.

That said, here we go. My humble (and humbled) thoughts on the subject. There aren't too many pictures involved because...well I was involved. The manfriend and I exhibited the teamwork that professional sports teams can only dream of in dispatching these roos. I am proud of us. Considering this was our first time out killing chickens together or out here. And our utensils prove to be lacking somewhat.

We had the 4 sequestered for such a day as Mike and I had off together. Today was that day. First things first. The spawn had finally saved up enough allowance for a new wii game, so off to the store we went where he proudly handed over a small fortune comparable to what I make over the course of a few days at work, and home we went with groceries and a new game. The manfriend and I went out and got stuff ready to go.

Large pot on a burner outside for scalding. Worked perfectly.
 We used a canner pot from my grandmother (who hopefully isn't reading this post) to scald the chickens. It worked perfectly. I was extremely happy with it. With a burner the manfriend had and my cheesemaking thermometer, we were set.

Slip knots, nail and a twist does the job

Heritage chicken.

 I don't have any pictures of the killing process. We secured them to a tree as best we could (I devised a slip-knot rope tie for their feet that I'm sure everyone else out there uses, but it was new to me), and slit their throats. We did it so they would go out as calmly as possible. By the fourth (and final for today!) we had it down pat. No one suffered too much, though.

I have to say that I found it to be extremely important for me to stand and watch the chickens as they left this earth. I couldn't watch the manfriend cut their lifeblood and then walk away. It felt disrespectful somehow to walk away while they were getting to the end of their roaming days, although I'm sure I was not on their minds at all.

 The first guy got dry plucked halfway, and then scalded. Really we just wanted to see how tough it was. It was tough. We gave them a dunk and all went much smoother. I don't know that it took too much time at all.

I had nothing to do with the cutting of throats, and some to do with the scalding and plucking. The manfriend did the majority of these chores. Butchering, however, was my deal.

And here's the deal. I kind of didn't do as well as I would have liked, nor as well as I have done in the past. I am not squeamish. Not at all. (Ok. My mother will correct me and interject that eyes bother me. And yes. Yes they do. But these chickens were headless at this point, so no worries there) But it has been a LONG time since I have gutted a chicken (or anything for that matter), and I couldn't remember how to get the whole damn package out. I just couldn't. My iPhone may have been in my back pocket, but I had chicken all over my hands (gloves are for sissies) and I was too busy racing the sunshine - it actually almost got warm today and I really didn't want the carcasses staying warm longer than necessary. So I cut the pieces off the bodies, got the gizzard and cut off the breastbones for soup.

I am happy to report I remembered to label the bags BEFORE filling them. Easier this way. I am unhappy to report that the nagging feeling that I had forgotten something at the store earlier was totally true, and I did not have enough gallon bags.
 Even with the meat that I couldn't get cleanly off the bone due to not being able to stick my hand in the body cavity, and because my knife wasn't nearly as sharp as I needed it to be (and no, can't find the whetstone. And yes, my sharpening steel is a bit worn out), we got 18.6 pounds of meat. Not including necks, breastbones and gizzards.

Rinsing before packaging.
 And now what? We wait. We wait for the chicken meat to cure somewhat in the fridge. Rigor mortis has to come and go and the enzymes in the meat need to kick in to tenderize it up a bit. And as the roosters were 6 - 7 months old (instead of 12 weeks...) we need all the tenderizing we can get.

So while the breastbones make broth:

and boy will we need this broth to stew the meat later!

tonight we feast on homemade pizza...

and stuffed crust pizza at that!