Chickens, Eggs and Breakfast Meats

This little girl just loves animals! Cats, chickens, what have you, her little hands go out and she “calls” them to her, in the chicken’s case a little grain brings them running.

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The boys are excitedly locating nests that the chickens have tucked away here and there. Finding an egg is like finding treasure! If you are lucky, you’ll find one of Sunbeam’s eggs (the only chicken who lays blueish green eggs). Then, you just might have to cook it up immediately (!) lest anyone else eats it first. Supposedly they tastes better.  We’re still in the enjoying stage of having “lots” of eggs. Scrambled, poached, hard boiled…you’d be amazed how many eggs these guys go through, and at how good Noah and Ezra have gotten at cooking eggs!  We even made up a new way to cook an egg in a nest with out bread: make a circle out of sausage and add the egg in the middle.

   

While we’re on the subject of chicken and breakfast meats, if you haven’t tried  bacon wrapped chicken you need to… tonight.  We prefer smaller pieces of chicken which need about a 1/2 of a slice of bacon wrapped around it. Place in an oven safe dish and roast till done. Don’t be afraid to chop up some veggies and cook them up in the rendered bacon fat. Just don’t count on leftovers.

 

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Praise the Lard

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Actually this is suet, but I love how pumped Ezra is about cutting up fat and rendering it. He is quite the helper in the kitchen these days. In fact, he is known for making the best scrambled eggs; just ask and he’ll whip you up a batch! He’s pretty good at pancakes too.

We also rendered lard when we butchered the pig. Lard and suet are wonderful healthy fats and make the best roasted veggies (they don’t get soggy like they can in oil). Plus, I feel we must be as respectful as possible when butchering an animal, to me that means using as much of the animal as possible. While there are a few edible parts I have not yet tried we do keep the majority of the organs, the bones (for bone broth), the fat and, of course, the muscle. That doesn’t leave much behind!

 

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The key to rendering: low and slow.

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Hot Pads

Hot pads live a hard life, or at least they do in my kitchen. Stains, rips, thin or burnt(!) spots, are inevitable. I needed a few new hot pads so I decided to sew some. While I was at it I thought of a few friends and family on my gift list who might be able to use a set too. They spend their fair share of time in the kitchen cooking and baking. My boys guessed on the first try which hot pads were for who. So rather than completely give away their gifts I’ll share just the hot pads I made for my kitchen. The first two are just fabric scraps I like and then I made some to match my new apron.

I looked at this tutorial to get me going. The square ones are a cinch; the mitts are a tad more complicated but doable. Go ahead, get the sewing machine out, make your own kitchen a bit more festive this holiday season, or make a few new hot pads for the cooks in your life.

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{In the Kitchen} Foraging

Now that spring is finally here all the wild shoots, blossoms and roots are resurrecting from the winter’s freeze. Over the winter I read several intriguing posts on foraging and using stinging nettle most notably from And Here We Are: nettle mead, and this post on nettle pasta, which is the one I used, although I made 6x the recipe and froze some for future use.

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There was plenty of nettle to be found and all of it was below knee height.  My little helper boys and I picked a whole lot, wearing a shared pair of gloves, until our bag was full and one by one they accidentally touched the nettle and poor Ishi fell hands first into a patch. Sting nettle really does sting. Growing up my brothers and I always called it seven minute itch as that’s about how long it really itches for- give or take. It was time to call it quits.

When we got back I sorted through, rinsed and then blanched the nettle. It only takes about 30 seconds for the nettle to wilt, then the stinging aspect is gone. It’s important to really squeeze the nettle as not to make the pasta too wet. By the way the green water from the nettle makes a great dark green natural egg dye.

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It was really very simple to make. Just like making regular pasta and it has that same great fresh pasta taste. I’ll have to try making spinach pasta next. After kneading a bit and resting the dough I rolled it out using a vintage cast iron pasta machine my older brother gifted to me. I’ll go a tad thinner next time.

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Here it is cooked and lightly buttered. To be honest the nettle didn’t give much flavor but it does add a lot of nutrients. I’m thinking of using part of the frozen dough as lasagna noodles.

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We’ve also been enjoying the spring by foraging wild blossoms for jelly and trying woodchuck (aka groundhog) for the first time in a pot pie.

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What do you enjoy foraging?

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Pig Butchering

Another 10 inches of snow. So much for thinking spring was on the way.

DSCN0055Despite the snow it was time to butcher and process one of the pigs.  I helped to separate the girl pigs then Struggling_along did the deed and hoisted her up.  DSCN0072

The kids were happy it was snowing and that my brother and his girlfriend were showing up soon so they danced around.

DSCN0070 DSCN0091 DSCN0092 Struggling_along tended to the gutting and hair removal as we headed inside to start supper. Plus, I needed to sharpen all the knives for breaking down the pig into chops, roasts etc. the next day.

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The few photos I took while we were cutting up the meat were too blurry. Besides, most of the time my hands were too busy breaking down the hams into more manageable sized roasts and ham steaks or wrapping the meat for the freezer. Ezra decided to help label the bags.Now we have cute bags with H A M scrawled across; a few even have smiley faces.

I did snap these as I finished up grinding the sausage.

DSCN0148 DSCN0149Then we (and when I say we I mean Struggling_along and my brother) moved Mercedes in with Chevy. Hopefully he will indeed “make good things happen” and we’ll have an early fall litter of pigs.

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ACV- Appearances Vary!

Let’s take a look at a few jars of ACV (apple cider vinegar). Note how their appearance varies. The lightest colored one (on the left) is made from apple scraps (peels,cores etc.) the others are made from store brought juice of varying brands. After it ages a bit more I look forward to comparing tastes.

The next jar – as you can see below – was started 8-23 so it’s still aging. Then (still going left) there’s the jar I’ve been using ACV from. Usually I pour off the whole batch and get another going but for now I’ve been pouring some off into the smaller jar. Then there’s the jar of extra mothers.

The appearance of ACV can vary quite a bit, as do the mothers. Some are thin and filmy, some are nice thick clean-looking mothers, others look a bit more haggard and maybe have a layer of sediment on them.

It’s all good.

See this post and start your own mother: Apple Cider Vinegar {making a mother}.

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In the Kitchen :: Favorite

I just love finding a new favorite recipe because, first and foremost, I get to enjoy a fresh new (and now favorite) dish but also because it justifies my huge “recipes to try” collection. I recently reorganized my “recipes to try” collection which began in elementary school as a few slips of paper in an old school folder  but it has grown and morphed into a bulging 13 pocket accordion folder monstrosity . But I really do try these recipes and, as I go, they either end up in my “keeping” binder or in the garbage; and lately I’ve been hearing a lot of “That’s my favorite!” and “That’s the best ever!” so I think I’m on to something.

Here’s a few things we keep coming back to as of late:

Cheesy popcorn- aka homemade smart food. I love cheesy popcorn and it’s as simple as sprinkling Parmesan cheese on your (buttered) popcorn. Who knew?!

Roasted Cumin Lime  Carrots – I found these through pinterest (imagine that!) I didn’t have the mint/green onion garnish so I left it out and I used maple syrup for the sweetener. I also used my preserved limes instead of fresh- worked great!

Quinoa- I know I’m like the last person to try it- can’t believe I’ve been missing out. It cooks so fast, it’s gluten free and reminds me of couscous.What’s not to love?!

Roasted Rabbit- from over at Real Food Freaks. This is my new favorite way to have rabbit! I used less oil and preserved lemons instead of white wine. Oh my did it smell good while baking and tasting it didn’t disappoint.

This was one of our meat rabbits. It was fresh; I soaked it in cold salted water for a few hours before baking.I recommend the salt water soak as it tastes better and the color is better too. And speaking of game we’ve been eating a lot of

Venison too. We got lucky with the tenderest deer ever. I’ve been coating venison tenderloins and butterfly chops with seasoned cornstarch and frying them in butter in my cast iron skillet. Then I transfer them to the oven till they’re done on the inside and they’re crispy and brown on the outside. I can’t keep up with demand!

And then there’s the

Rose hip Tart – I made this one up as I had several jars of rose hip jam I made from rose hips and apples I gathered at the beach. I hadn’t cooked the pectin quite down enough so it was more saucy than jammy. Somehow tarts came to mind as a way to use them up. I used pecan flour for the crust, blind baked it; and I threw in a piece of preserved meyer lemon into the rose hip filling. Oh so good, the lemon goes so well with the slightly herbal rose hips. I wish I had more jars of saucy jam!

And we made our favorite soap

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Celebrating

For us February is a month of celebrations. Perfect- as winter has grown old and this season’s mildness has only served to fuel our spring fever  to get out there and DO stuff. And if you can’t get out there and work well you might as well have some fun (and that means cake, of course).

First Ezra’s birthday. An amazing 3 years old! He requested blueberry cake. Luckily I had some frozen blueberries still left from last summer. So we cooked them into a sauce/filling. I recently went gluten/wheat-free so we decided to try one of those packaged GF cake mixes. Let’s just say I’m not too impressed. I mean it looks great, and the texture is right but it just tastes……. not quite right.

Then for Valentine’s Day we transplanted some apple tree seedlings. The boys have been planting the seeds from their apples in my rosemary pots. A whole bunch came up so we moved them to their own separate containers.  Of course all this enthusiastic handling by little kids and a dog who has to sit on everything means that we only have a few survivors. Still it was fun and the boys got to check out the various stages of seed sprouting and root growth.

Even Ishmael LOVED it. This boy gravitates to dirt. He can find it, scoot over and get his hands it in 5 seconds flat. That’s my boy!

photo by Noah

Then it’s Noah’s birthday. What?! 5 years old already!

He received a pirate boat kit which he studiously put together- by himself by looking at the picture on the box. Once the glue dried we had some fun painting. He painted his boat and I borrowed a little paint to make him a Batman and Robin peg clothing pin figure.

photo by struggling_along

photo by Noah

Of course another birthday requires more cake! We went more traditional this time with a Chocolate Surprise Cake. It’s an old recipe and doesn’t really give any instructions- just a list of ingredients so here’s my one layer version:

The surprise is a whipped cream filling. It’s really good. It’s like having a HUGE really good whoopee pie.

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linking to Seasonal Celebration Sunday @ the natural mothers network