Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cheese

Happy Holidays my lovelies! Again, I must apologize for the lack of posts. I have a slew of happenings that I have been meaning to relate to you, but when it rains, it freakin' pours. For the past month, my nephew has been in the hospital. Last week, he was airlifted from Dallas to Cincinnati, where he is now at the children's hospital receiving excellent care. My daughter and I are flying out there tomorrow to help out and help drive my sister and her three boys back home to Dallas. The stress and uncertainty has been unbelievable, but I have to say, the Ronald McDonald House has been an amazing beacon of light in this mess. For all the crap I have talked about the fast food chain, the foundation has done excellent work for families with sick children in times of crisis by setting them up with a free place to stay, food, activities for kids, and an incredible amount of generosity, kindness, and unconditional love. As an advocate for healthy food, the irony is not lost on me. However, I thought people should know about some of the good work that the RM Foundation does.

I didn't want to let the season pass without sharing something with you all so I thought I would post about my Christmas cheese. Everyone knows how tasty goat chèvre is, but something that you might not be aware of is that the breed of goat can determine the flavor of the milk and cheese. Nigerian Dwarf goats, the breed we keep here, have a milk that is sweeter than the cow's and lacks that twang that we are used to in a good chèvre. In the past, my cheese has come out tasting like a creamy ricotta, lacking that depth of flavor that one looks for in a chèvre. Fortunately, my chef friend Tabitha of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. gave me a tip of adding a touch of lemon zest. It doesn't replicate the flavor of the classic chèvre, but it increases the zing on the palate. This is also a great way to make chèvre with cow's milk, as the flavor of the milk is similar to the Nigerian Dwarf's. Here's how to do it.

Nigerian Dwarf (or cow) Chèvre

  • chèvre culture - available from cheese supply stores. I got mine from Hoegger Goat Supply. I prefer a culture that you can use direct set, rather than creating a mother (like a sourdough culture requires). We don't make enough cheese around here to warrant a mother.
  • rennet
  • 1 gallon of fresh milk
  • lemon zest, I prefer that of the Meyer lemon
  • soft cheese molds or cheese cloth
Pour milk into a non-reactive pot and get it to 72 degrees. Add 1/8 tsp. of chèvre culture (or as directed on culture packet) and stir until dissolved and combined. Add 2/5 of a drop of rennet by adding 5 Tbsp. of water to a jar with a drop of rennet and then extracting 2 Tbsp. of the watered down rennet mixture and adding it to the milk. Stir. Now add lemon zest. I only use the zest of half a lemon. This is really a personally taste thing, so feel free to improvise. Let sit covered in a warm place, ideally 72 degrees, for 18-24 hours. At the end of the resting period, you will see that the cheese solids have coagulated into a firm, creamy mass in the center of the pot. You can check for set by pressing gently against the cheese near the edge of the pot with the back of your fingers. The cheese will yield to the pressure and you will see the whey having clearly separated. Pull out your molds and spoon the solids with a slotted spoon, preferably one of those flat ones used for this type of thing, into each mold. This recipe fills up three of these small basket molds. Pace the molds on a deep tray and cover. Allow them to drain for two days. Pouring off whey as needed. I usually let them sit in the refrigerator. You can also use a cheese cloth and hang it to drain. Some people salt their cheese after it has fully drained. I usually add the salt as I am spooning the solids into the molds. This way, I can alternate solids and salt to make sure that it is seasoned throughout. Once you have finished draining and salting the cheese, wrap it up in saran wrap or put in a glass container in the fridge. Serve with your best preserves. For a holiday party, I usually serve the cheese with my tomato jam, pepper jelly, green tomato chutney, and chipotle plum sauce. Delish!

I hope all of you out there are having a wonderful and stress free holiday season. A merry merry and happy happy to each and everyone of you. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marek's Revisited

What better time than Mercury retrograde to revisit old problems (as Californians, we have the obligation of referencing astrological happenings with every possible opportunity) and as long time readers of this blog well know, one of our biggest problems on the farm has been Marek's. What an appropriate time for one of our hens to fall ill.

The other morning when I opened the coop door for the ladies, Ruby, our Black Australorp, hopped to the ground and just kind of stayed there, crouched and unable to fully stand. Crap! No need to consult the experts on this one. I knew. But just to confirm, I picked her up and pressed a finger into the center pad of a foot. Nothing. Paralysis was setting in. This was definitely Marek's. But all our birds had been vaccinated, which is 95-98% effective! Pretty much sums up my luck with chickens.

I should have known that she might not have been right since she hadn't been on the roosting bar for a couple months and had stopped laying. However, it's winter so I figured that she had stopped laying due to dwindling daylight. The roosting thing I chalked up to her being low on the pecking order. But I guess in retrospect that didn't make much sense since she had been one big ass bird back in September.

As always , it was my little Googlebear to the rescue. But this time it had nothing to do with a cure and everything to do with a practical solution: compost pile or dinner table. Don't cringe, my dears. We've lost so many birds to this disease that it seemed like such a waste to bury another.

Well kiddos, it seems that it is perfectly fine to eat a bird with Marek's. In fact, you probably already have at some point as almost all birds have been exposed to it. An infected bird most often develops lesions or tumors on the nervous system in the legs and neck. Like cancer in animals, the disease doesn't transfer to humans.

I culled Ruby within a few hours of determining that she was ill. The poor thing had become very thin, her skin so loose that only the sharpest of knives would do the deed. There was barely any food in her crop, save for a few greens, and almost nothing in her intestines. I cradled her in my arms before I sent her to the big sleep. She was a good, sweet bird who laid a few giant eggs in her short strut upon this stage. I was sad to have her go.

I know a lot of you out there are thinking "Gross!". Yeah, that's what I thought last year. This time around I'm thinking stew pot and tamales. Waste not, want not.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

How Embarrassing!

Awhile back, I was interviewed by *fair companies, a website with a ton of awesome videos and resources on sustainable culture. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten all about it until I received an email from the videographer, Kirsten Dirkson. I think we spent less than an hour shooting, which amazes me that they could turn out such a lengthy video with so little footage. What I love most about it is that it has a much more natural feel to it, in contrast to our more highly produced video for the Whole Food's Grow program. But OMG, I am so embarrassed by the state of my disheveled backyard and messy, cluttered refrigerator. And check out those "There's Something about Mary" bangs! I thought I was being so clever with that kerchief, hiding away the bad hair day. Total fail.

I read through some of the comments on YouTube and a common perception amongst viewers is that we keep our goats in a little prison like cell, which makes me so sad. *sigh* I swear to you, our goats have a good life. Yes, sometimes they get cooped up in the pen for too long, but they get access to the rest of the yard and the neighbor's. I have seen pens in the country with just as small of a space as we use for our girls. Don't forget, aside from terrorizing the backyard weeds and rose bushes, they also go for strolls around the neighborhood and canters through beautiful McLaren park.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Blood Thirsty Hens and Killer Pumpkins

I'm so sorry for the lag in posts, dear readers. The past couple months have been rough. I never fully recovered from that virus and then got another one on top of that. Basically, I've been feeling like crap for the past eight weeks and haven't felt motivated to write as the farm has gone to pot while I've been struggling to just get by. It happens.

This has been a shit time to get taken out of commission too, since it is the start of the rainy season, or what I like to refer to as "vermin season". In search of a dry place to nest, our most tenacious nemesis this year has been not the rat, but the mouse. Those little fuckers have infested our basement and backyard, leaving droppings and shredding any scrap of paper or fabric in their path. But the great thing about mice is that they are stupid, unlike rats who tend to outwit every evil plan I have come up with for their demise.

So far, these jaw traps have been the shiznit. They practically have a no-fail rate compared to the standard snap traps. Unfortunately, the mice seem to be reproducing faster than I can trap them. It's time to bring out the big guns.

One of the best methods that I have used for killing vermin is this pumpkin trap thing that I came up with. I take a leftover from Halloween, cut open the top like a jack-o-lantern lid, fill the bottom with a mixture of animal feed and plaster of Paris, cut a small hole a little larger than a quarter in the side, and replace the top. The rodents come in through the hole, as they are attracted to squash seeds and eat the feed and plaster mixture. Then the next time they drink water, the plaster hardens in their stomachs and kills them. Not the nicest way to go, but a vast improvement over poison as it is of no danger to rodent predators. The brilliance of this method is that no other animal can unwittingly access the plaster-laden feed.

Inadvertently, I found that chickens can be a big help in pest control. The other day I was out de-lousing the goats (another issue during the rainy season) when I heard something that sounded like a dog playing with his favorite squeaky toy. I thought to myself "I've never heard a chicken make THAT noise before." Then I saw what Cleo, the Ameraucana, had in her beak. She was pummeling that poor thing to the ground, a wheezy squeak emanating from the tiny creature with each voracious peck. The mousey didn't stand a chance. Those chickens will literally eat anything. If I ever faint in the animal pen, I can guarantee that I'll be a goner. The girls peck at me every time I'm in there like I'm something real tasty. Don't they know that I'm the one who feeds them?

Cleo paraded that mouse around like it was the biggest, juiciest worm she had ever found. The other ladies were so jealous, chasing her around the yard in a futile attempt to snatch the critter. What a cluckin' kerfuffle! Remember kids, chickens aren't benign, docile creatures. They are killers. Possessive, blood-lusty killers. Approach with caution.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Am Thankful for Modern Appliances Because Sometimes Doing Everything by Hand Sucks

I finally caved. After five years of hand washing dishes, I couldn't take it anymore. I've always found dishes to be a most unpleasant task and my recent bout with that nasty virus really sealed the deal since even the most basic of activities became virtually impossible due to crippling viral fatigue. Also the mountain of dirty pots and pans on the counter that never seemed to shrink had become a serious point of contention between me and the hubby. It was either a dishwasher or a divorce. The dishwasher seemed like the least complicated option.

Isn't it beautiful? There's a part of me that feels like a failure for not being able to do my washing up the old school way, but then after I thought about it for a while I realized that I would never consider washing all of my clothes by hand. So why shouldn't I feel the same about my plates and glassware? There's something about the dishwasher that seems so bourgeois, just another First World energy and resource suck. Hopefully, the fact that the solar panels will offset the energy use will assuage my guilt on some level.

Because honestly, who wants to spend an hour at the sink with this pile

when your robot can do it so much better?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Nog Season

I feel strange talking about the most glorious seasonal drink in a post directly following one on harvesting a melon, but such is life here in our temperate coastal town. The holidays are upon us and that can mean only one thing to me: eggnog. Fuck the turkey, the pies, the carb laden meals, the gifts, the holiday spirit... whatevs. I love me some frothy, creamy, rich eggnog. Without alcohol. Hey, when you're consuming a quart of this stuff every one to three days, the last thing you need is to be a drunk in addition to clogging the arteries.

And I'm not exaggerating about my consumption levels. But fortunately for my inner highways and byways, we're only getting about two eggs per day here on the farm. So that means I can only drink a quart every three days, at the most, with the recipe I use. Here it is for those looking to overindulge, but not be butt ass wasted this holiday season.

Eggnog (for your inner teetotaler)

6 eggs
3 cups full fat milk or half milk, half cream
8 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. good quality vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

First, whip the shit out of those eggs with an electric mixer. I don't make a cooked version of eggnog because... well... I'm lazy and I know that my eggs are fine raw. If you are buying yours from the supermarket, I'd go with cooking. Some recipes call for separating the eggs and beating the yolks and whites individually before combining again. Sounds like extra work to me so I don't do it. Next, beat the sugar into the fluffy eggs with the mixer. Add the milk. Since the milk I get from the goats is so high in butterfat, I don't bother with cream. The egg and dairy products here are plenty rich to make a thick enough beverage. Again, if you are shopping at the supermarket, you'll probably want to add some cream to get the right noggy consistency. Blend in the vanilla - don't skimp on quality here, we all know how nasty low grade vanilla extract can taste - and the nutmeg until fully combined.

Chill and enjoy! I add mine to coffee and the copious amounts of black tea that I drink. A small glass is also a lovely before bedtime treat. I usually let the daughter have a glass a day and lucky me, the husband will only have a taste now and again in his coffee. The rest is all mine. ALL mine.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

An Itty Bitty Melon

Well it certainly wasn't big, but since it was starting to get a little soft on the vine, I thought I better harvest it. Actually, it may have been the smallest melon ever grown. It must have come from some random honeydew seed that I saved last summer from a melon that a farm sitter left at my house. It was sweet and delicious and we savored it like a devout Catholic would with the Sunday sacrament (I love religion solely for the awesome metaphors).

I don't know if I will attempt melons again next year. You never know. The first time I tried my hand at  tomatoes, I came up empty handed and now I can grow them like weeds. Maybe, just maybe, that will happen with melons. Fingers crossed.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Averting a Total Tomato Take-down

You know those times when you just want to say "fuck it", throw in the towel, and call it a day? I'm in that space as we speak. After a grueling 10 days of battling one nasty virus in which I did not get out of my pajamas, brush my hair, do the dishes, or stay awake for longer than three hours at a time, I have emerged from the other side with a "to do" list that would make Martha Stewart cry. Aside from my home looking like what hurricane Rina had been predicted to do to the Mexican coastline, the farm is at an all-time low. The fall/winter garden hasn't been planted, the compost pile needs to be spread over the beds, the hives need to be harvested and put to bed for the winter, the animal pen needs to be mucked, the goats need their shots, Ethel needs to get pregnant but can't seem to get that done, the animal pen needs to be sprayed to control the urine odors, the rats and mice need to be evicted, the lice on the goats have to go, the plants in the hoop house should be disposed of and composted, loads of crap needs to go to the dump, every inch of everything needs to be cleaned.... Should I go on?

It's moments like these when I wonder "What the fuck am I doing?". What possessed me to think that spending all this time raising animals, growing food, mucking crap, and in general, adding about 101 additional chores to my list of things to do was even remotely a good idea when there is a grocery store right across the street from my home? Clearly, I am a little bit insane.

To add to my tale of woe, in the midst of my sickness something was eating my tomatoes. I'm thinking mice or rats. But then there was also a serious fruit fly infestation. Even the green tomatoes were being affected. And this is where the pity party had to end. There was no way that I was going to lose my crop of tomatoes that I had doted on for six months to insect or vermin. Fuck that! Virus or no virus, something had to be done.

Somewhere on the interwebz, I had seen a nifty trick that some folks do in Italy. They harvest the tomatoes green, but keep a good section of the vine to get them to ripen up off the plant. I harvested 17 pounds of greenies and set them out on the front porch to redden. They are doing fantastic. A few got mushy, but not many. The rest will be put into the crockpot for tomato jam, one of my favorite preserves.

I am slowly recovering, but am still not 100% and we are at day 17. This bug really likes to loiter. In the meantime, I am trying to prevent myself from relapsing by not overdoing it. So I am off to chug some elderberry juice and get ready for Halloween festivities.

Anyone out there overwhelmed by their decision to "do it all"? What do you do in these moments to push through and salvage your efforts?

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Monday, October 3, 2011

Green Eggs. Please Pass the Ham.

Finally, a green egg! I am on my third Ameraucana, but this is my first ever green-shelled egg. Honestly, I never thought it would happen.

As many of you out there know, the Ameraucana is known for its green or blue eggshells. But did you know that Ameraucanas can lay all sorts of colors of eggs, including beige or pink? Yeah, I didn't either. Apparently, this is due to birds with the blue egg gene being crossed with standard breeds as the breed was being developed.

Ameraucanas are sometimes confused with Araucanas, which they are related to, or Easter Eggers, the breed by which the Ameraucana was developed in crossing them with Old World varieties. They are actually a distinct breed that must meet specific criteria laid out by the The American Poultry Association's American Standard of Perfection. Araucanas, originating in Chile where they were used by Quechua and Mapuche speaking tribes and coming to North America via the Falkland Islands where they had been traded by Argentinians, have large ear tufts and beards, virtually no comb, and no wattles whatsoever. The gene for the tufts is actually lethal in that if a pair who carry the tufted allele are bred together, one quarter of the offspring will die in the shell. Weird. The Ameraucana, on the other hand, does not carry the lethal gene. They do, however, have a muff (beard), which is much smaller then their Araucana cousins. Easter Eggers can have a variety of features and they carry the blue egg gene like their Ameraucana and Araucana relatives.

My first Ameraucana was a buff and never made it to laying, having died of Marek's at about 12 weeks. My second Ameraucana, Eggo, was white and she gave me pinkish eggs. I must admit, I was disappointed. At long last, my hen Cleopatra, whom I purchased at the feed store in late spring of this year, is laying little green eggs. I think we shall have to celebrate this blessed event with some ham. Isn't that what Dr. Seuss would do?

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Did It! Where's My Prize?

Holy cluckin' crap, I did it! I freakin' grew a melon! Sure, it's only one melon and it hasn't made it to harvest yet, but I'm sure as hell going to crow about it. For those of you who do not live in San Francisco, you may not fully comprehend the magnitude of this feat. Our summers are cold and foggy, creating abysmal conditions for the heat seeking melon.

How did I do it? With my ultra fabu hoop house, of course. That little tunnel of polypropylene genius has added enough heat factor to eke out what would otherwise only grow in more torrid environments. Like this delicata squash:

I only got one of these too, but could have grown more, I'm sure, if that damn powdery mildew hadn't been so prolific this year. Here is a glimpse of the aftermath on that blight.

The tomatoes are another matter. They are growing like weeds, having planted them in straight compost and given them a warm, windless area to thrive in. This plump beast is called Rose De Berne (I grew this as a shout out to my Swiss heritage), which I purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Never before have I grown a handful sized tomato. Cluckin' amazing!

And the tomato plants are still thriving. I can barely move around in the hoop house it is so thick with vines. The pungent scent of tomato foliage makes my heart swell every time I enter.

I was also able to get some summer squash, though it, too, was crippled by the mildew. Eh, next year.

Right now, I am babying my prized melon. Not sure what variety it is - in my exuberance I forgot to label things. I made a cheesecloth hammock in hopes that "my precious" will make it to the table.

One thing I realized about my hoop house was that once the plants began to reach maturity, overcrowding and damp conditions had become a serious problem. A few of the tomatoes have molded from being squished within the deep recesses of stalks and leaves. Sometimes less is more. I must remember that more often.

Any special growing techniques that you had to use this year to accommodate your unique climate?

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Itty Bitty at Eat Real

This coming Saturday we will be at the Eat Real Festival with our goats, Lucy and Ethel. We will be there all day in the "Grow" section, so be sure to come over and say hello. I'll also be judging jams and preserves so be sure to enter your famous homemade goods. Categories include honey, homebrewing, infusions and liqueurs, pickles, and preserves. At 2:30 pm on Saturday, Ute and I will be giving a talk/demonstration on raising urban goats. That should be fun. But personally, I can't wait to gorge myself silly on all the scrumptious goodies from the food trucks and vendors. Here are the details:

Part state fair, part block party, Eat Real Festival celebrates good fresh delicious food. With a focus on food craft, street food, handcrafted beers and local wines - all featuring sustainable local ingredients – Eat Real showcases food in all its different forms. But eating is only part of the fun - at Eat Real, you learn how to make it and grow it! From cheese to kombucha, there are dozens of demonstrations that highlight a DIY food lifestyle. No cost for entry, all edible treats $5 or less.
• Food for $5 or less
• Cold craft beer
• 25 top food trucks
• 50 food vendors
• 30 craft food vendors
• Hands-on food making workshops including bread baking, cheese making, jam making, pickling, backyard farming and more!
• Bands and DJs
When: Friday September 23rd from 1:00 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday September 24th from 11:00 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday September 25th from 11:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.

: Jack London Square - Oakland, CA

Cost: Free entry!

Monday, September 19, 2011

An Open Letter to James McWilliams: On Hatching a Plan to Get the Real Inexpert Killers - Cats

Dear James,

Boy was I surprised to see that little ol' me made it into one of your articles in the Atlantic. I wouldn't have even known about it if it weren't for someone leaving a comment on my blog. She was nice enough to post a link so I clicked over to see your article on backyard animal slaughter and I thought "Hot diggity damn, we must have taken down the hideous beast that is the industrial meat processing complex!" I mean why else would we be talking about a handful of "inexpert" urban farming enthusiasts, like myself, killing a few chickens and rabbits when professional chicken slaughtering facilities botch well over 1 billion kills per year. During the process of shipping poultry in cramped cages there are around 54 million per year that either die from being heated or frozen to death during transportation; then the poor cluckers are hung by chains where 900 million have their wings broken; the final phase includes dunking them in an electrocution bath, sending them assembly line to a rotary blade that slices their necks, and dipping them into scalding water to ease feather plucking during which time 180 million birds are either improperly electrocuted and/or sliced and then are essentially scalded alive. I'm the kind of gal that keeps up with what's going on in our food system so news as big as overthrowing this horrendous operation surely couldn't have escaped my notice. And after a Google search, I see that it hasn't happened. Well that's disappointing, thought not exactly surprising given Big Ag's strangle hold on government policy.

So why were you writing about me? I mean I'm flattered and all, but I've got exactly 990 well appreciated fans. Not much of a pulpit, I'd say.

Well I read on, but I didn't see my name anywhere. Damn dude, if you're going to give a girl press, you could at least give me my props. I got to a passage where the words sounded familiar and suddenly I was jolted back to that horrific day when I had to kill sweet Pearl, my incurably sick laying hen. Yeah, that was a bad day. Having never killed an animal before, a beginner so to speak, or "inexpert" as you like to put it, which I might say is a synonym for beginner, but then I'm no linguist - I didn't do such a graceful job. Thanks for the memories, buddy.

And then I thought, what the hell does fucking up ending a life that was already enduring "immense suffering" have to do with backyard slaughtering for food? 'Cause like Pearl was diseased and shit and looked really fucked up. No one was going to eat her. She was never intended for the proverbial chopping block either. She was just supposed to lay real nice eggs and have feathers on her feet which I thought was a really neat thing  - to have feathers on your feet, that is. I mean I'd want to have feathers on my feet if I could grow them. Wouldn't you? It's not like I'm proud of the fact that I suffocated a chicken. I really thought this was evident and that the brutally detailed writing of the incident was like a warning to others to not do what I had so ineptly done. But since she had been slowly suffocating for days and days, gasping for air at 3-5 second intervals, I'm not sure that hastening her demise in the same vein was anymore of a tragic end.

Anyways, I made my way through the entire article and still I couldn't figure out what Pearl had to do with your argument. Actually, if you don't mind me asking, what was your point exactly? From what I could make out, you're saying that beginning farmers shouldn't be allowed to kill their animals because as beginners we would make a "bloody mess" so we should just leave it to the Big Ag pros to do the deed, no matter how ugly since it would be done at a "graceful distance". For reals? That's your argument? Like, did you get that off a crackhead on the street? I say this only because I can't think of anyone else who could look at the industrial slaughterhouse numbers and rationalize this. Even if we had every single man, woman, and child in the U.S. bungle one slaughter each this year, we would still have more than three times as many inhumane poultry deaths leaving it up to the pros. But unlike machines, humans have the capacity to learn from their mistakes. So wouldn't it be better if people took killing their meat into their own hands since over time there would be a lot less suffering involved?

I was even more boggled about your purpose with the incomplete Emerson quote about "graceful distance", which in full says "You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." At this point, I had no idea what the fuck you were talking about anymore. Should we remain complicit? Or did you purposely leave off the rest of that quote so that the logical conclusion would be drawn: all meat eating is culpable in the kill? How does that serve the overall point of leaving the slaughtering up to the pros? Or are we also not supposed to go with the big guy 'cause we'd still be guilty? Are we subtly being told not to eat meat lest we commit that mortal sin against your personal ethics, veganisim, a position that you are never forthright about in your writings, but seem to consistently hint at? God, I love Wikipedia.

Aside from the fact that your argument has more holes in it than a block of Emmentaler (how are you able to keep a job at a major university espousing crap like this?), I was still stuck on the incident with Pearl and why it made it into the article. And I also wanted to know why the Atlantic used that bizarre picture of a four legged, wet hen being held inappropriately by the wings to talk about backyard animal slaughter (shit, you guys should have asked me; I've got a bunch of pics you could have purchased for like a bazillion dollars or something). So I contacted the Atlantic's research department to see if, indeed, your piece had actually been checked for accuracy:
 Attention Fact Check Department and Editors of the Atlantic:
In your recent article, "The Locavore's Mistake: Deregulating Animal Slaughter" by James McWilliams, I see there is a quote from my blog and I'm curious as to why a mercy killing made it into the piece as it has nothing to do with the author's overall argument about backyard farmers killing animals for food. This should have been more than evident to any staff member who bothered to read the entire blog post. I know it's a tedious chore, but I would assume that a longstanding, illustrious magazine such as yours would go that extra mile in an effort to preserve good journalism.
I am also confused by two other issues in the article. 1. Why is Emerson only quoted in part?  The entirety reads, "You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." As far as I can tell, this would make no logical sense given the author's overall intent of arguing FOR a graceful distance. And 2. Why was a picture of a mutant, four-legged chicken used in association with backyard slaughter? How does this even remotely have anything to do with topic at hand? I expect this kind of journalistic sensationalism from trashy rags such as the National Enquirer, not a well reputed media outlet.
Thank you for addressing my questions. I look forward to your response.
Heidi Kooy, a.k.a. The Sadistic Chicken Suffocater

While we wait for the Atlantic to get back to me on that one, I think we, you and me James, should consider who the real menaces are when it comes to inhumane deaths: Cats. Those little bastards are some cold-hearted motherfuckers, willfully shredding birds without a care as to how they get the job done. And they are fucking wasteful. Look at what they did to my poor bird, Lilyana:

I know. Totally fucked up. There's still a lot of meat left on her. That slimy long thing below her body is actually her trachea. At first I thought the cat had decapitated her, but in fact, it had just mangled the head beyond recognition.

We could end this immeasurable cruelty, James. I'm telling you, these cats have to go. There are too many of them and they are killing hundreds of millions of songbirds and other avian species each year, according to our government. If we could round them all up, we could send them off to the industrial poultry slaughtering facilities. I know a few of those crazy cat ladies would be totally pissed off, and I'm sure my mom wouldn't take it all that well since she loves cats, but it wouldn't really be that big of a deal 'cause it would all be done at a "graceful distance". We could rename the slaughtering facilities "Causchwitz". Catchy, isn't it? Though I would like to change the method of killing for the kitties and go with something a little less bloody, like gas chambers. Once all these blasted cats are gone, then we won't have to worry about all the gruesome deaths of the poor, defenseless birds. Well, I guess there would still be raccoons and opossums... while we're at it, we could take out those guys too!

Holy shit, James! Did you see how easy that was? We went from taking an unpleasant incident to Here Kitty Kitty Goebbels in only a few sentences. You see, that's what happens when we extrapolate a Final Solution from a small number of anecdotes. One minute you're trying to end suffering and the next you're creating mini gas chambers for felines. Just goes to show you how quickly things can get out of hand.

So the next time you find yourself writing an article, think about the larger picture first. Am I trying to end cruel practices or am I promoting a Causchwitz? Our theories can have unintended consequences, results that could be more gruesome than what we had imagined.

And I promise you that I won't go ahead with my cat gas chamber idea, though I will probably threaten my own cat, Luna, with Causchwitz since she has a horrible propensity to shit in the bathtub when she gets pissed off and I think that is nothing but rude and deserving of terrorizing, idle threats.

But I AM going to go ahead and kill my rooster. He's been crowing at midnight and that's unacceptable behavior on this farm. Don't worry, his death will be swift. I've learned much since my first time. You are more than welcome to come and help out if you are at all concerned that I might fuck up again.

Warmest Regards,
Heidi Kooy

P.S. By the way, the next time you put me in one of your articles, I would really appreciate it if you actually used my name, because when people Google "sadistic chicken suffocater", you can bet your sweet ass that I want to come up top of the list on that one. There's a resume I can build with that title. I'm just sure of it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Our 15 Minutes... Er, Four and a Half

No, we did not grow those peppers. Sheesh, I wish!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Not Your Typical American Neighborhood

That's Sir Crows A Lot in the foreground. I've been meaning to "do him" as I've been afraid of annoying the neighbors. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the chopping block. I asked my Guatemalan neighbor, Isela, if my rooster had been bothering her. Without a second of hesitation she replied, "Of course not!" When I told her not to worry - that I was planning on taking him out soon, she cried "Nooooooooooooooh! I loooohve it. The sound is so peaceful." I don't believe I've ever heard of a rooster crow being described as such, but then what a relief to know that one of my most uptight neighbors was actually enjoying his cock-a-doodle-doos.

My plans hadn't changed though. Sir Crows A Lot, a.k.a. Fried, still had a date with the reaper. That was until I bumped into another neighbor, Vak, from the Philippines. He asked me if I still had my rooster and I assured him that that wouldn't be the case for much longer. When he queried what I meant by that, I made a slicing motion across the throat, which evidently translates in all cultures. With a far away, misty look in his eyes he replied, "Oh no! I love that sound. It reminds me of home."

In any other big city neighborhood, a rooster would be an irritation at best, if not an outrage. But not in my barrio, mixed with a third Asians from China, the Philippines, and  Vietnam; a third Latinos from Central and South America; and a final third from a potpourri of places, most likely foreign. Here my rooster stands for something that American urban areas lack: a pastoral, homey feeling that one usually only finds in more remote places. His croons soothe the frazzled nerves of congestion weary souls longing for a bit of the country in their fast-paced, traffic-jammed, mass transit cramped, hectic lives. He brings a bit of  tranquility and beauty in his sharp cries. Ironic, for sure, but no less invaluable or charming.

As far as rooster machismo goes, he's a pretty good guy. He doesn't mount the ladies with extreme force and no hen is missing back feathers, a serious issue with a lot of cocks. However, he could stand to be more vigilant as far as predators are concerned (there was an incident with a stray cat last week, which I will relate in a future post) and he doesn't serve much purpose for us since we aren't trying to breed our ladies. Still, I'm thinking I might keep him around until someone complains.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inspirations from the Big and Little Screens: Grow

Whole Foods has been doing a series called "Grow" on their Facebook "Thrive" page about urban farmers. Today my friends Tom and Rachel of Dog Island Farm were featured on their Year without Groceries. Check it out:

A few weeks ago they premiered an episode featuring another one of my awesome urban farmer friends, Esperanza Pallana of Pluck and Feather.

Guess who will be featured next? Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

Finally, an answer to the age old question.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Aunt Ella's Cucumber Chip Pickles

I'm pleased to say that I have been able to squeeze out a few jars of pickles from my hoop house cucumbers. Having never successfully grown cukes in San Francisco, I am beside myself with glee that I have put up a whole four jars of pickles. There should be plenty more to come if the powdery mildew stays at bay.

Every year, my great aunt Ella would make thickly sliced sweet pickles for her husband Walter, brother to my grandfather and fellow dairy farming Swiss immigrant. Apparently, uncle Walter couldn't live without them. My mother would occasionally spend a week with Ella and Walter during the summer. On one of her visits, she learned to make these relish tray delights.

Aunt Ella's Cucumber Chip Pickles

Put 12-15 large, whole cucumbers in a crock. Pour boiling water over them every day for three days. Drain each day before adding new batch of boiling water.

On the fourth day, slice cucumbers into 1/2" thick slices and pour over them a boiling syrup made of
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 5 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. pickling spices

Let stand two days. Drain syrup and bring to a boil. Pack jars with cucumber slices and pour boiling syrup over cukes. Process in water bath for 15 minutes.

I know the five day thing sounds like a chore, but these pickles are really very simple to make.  Don't let the lengthy soaking time dissuade you from trying to whip up a batch. What I love most about these pickles is that they remain crunchy due to the thick slices. They are super tasty too, but then I've always been a sucker for a sweet pickle.

A few years back, my mother made a book for me and my siblings with all of my grandmother's favorite recipes. The cucumber chip pickle was among them. Not only does the recipe book catalog the things my grammy liked to cook, it also contains little remembrances and thoughts that my mother included. I especially like what my mother had to say after Aunt Ella's pickle recipe.
There is really nothing that compares to a homemade pickle. I think it is a lost art. Most of us are too busy to garden, much less can or preserve the produce. I stopped in 1978 or 1979 - just got too busy with the activities of kids. I have started to make the lime sweets again - out of desperation to make good potato salad, egg salad, etc.

I love you mom. Thank you for all that you've passed on to me, particularly the ability to make a decent pickle.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shaping Up the Ship: Household Chores

Sorry about the absence of postings. I was on vacation exploring my great state and when I returned I needed to re-domestify myself and get my daughter ready for school. So I guess what I'm saying is that I wanted to write, but have been busy.

Since my return, I've been trying to find ways to get the house and farm in order. I've heard a lot of fellow homesteaders comment recently that their homes go to pot, while their gardens look gorgeous and well maintained. My husband was raised in a military family so there is no way for me to run too sloppy of a ship. Not that I don't at times. Those who know me know that I am a clutter bug of the highest order - not quite on par with Hoarders, but definitely attached to my many possessions that often find themselves scattered and piled in every free corner. Let's just say that when things get that out of hand, marital relations become strained.

In order to keep my marriage harmonious, I am focusing on getting the things that need the most maintenance and organization on track: the house, the farm, and the finances. My first project is developing a system of chores for the living areas of the home. When the house is tidy, folks around here seem to be in calmer moods. I like that.

Unfortunately, I'm not the type of gal that looks around and says "Wow, that's messy/dirty. I better clean it up." No, I'm more like a 10 year old who needs the chores listed on a giant wall chart big enough to smack you in the face when you walk by. I also work well with pretty things. We all have our shortcomings in this world. I suppose I'm lucky enough to know what mine are.

So that's what I did. I made an enormous, colorful, felt wall hanging for the kitchen door. There's no way I can NOT see this thing.

I started by listing all of the tasks that need to get done around the house and dividing them into two lists, things that need to get done everyday and things that need to get done once a week. I then assigned chores to specific days based on what my weekly schedule is like. All of the tasks were written out in various decorative fonts, printed on colored paper - each day having a different color, and then laminated. I cut the tasks out, attached velcro to the backs of the laminated cut outs, and the other half of the velcro to the felt wall hanging. I made a "done" pocket that is safety pinned to the bottom of the chart so that when a chore is completed for the day or week, you can put it in the pocket. I figured this would be something that maybe my daughter might even like doing. There's nothing more satisfying than physically removing something from your to do list and making it disappear. Even if it is only temporary.

I kind of feel like Martha Stewart on speed with this project. It's a bit over the top. But in case any of you are interested in making your own chore chart like this and joining me in being a cracked out housewife, I'll share my task list and a few tips that I've learned through the process.

  1. Don't try to do too many things in one day. You'll never do it and feel like a failure when you see half your tasks still hanging on the wall.
  2. Be flexible. If your chart isn't working out with your schedule, rearrange the tasks so that you can fit them into your day.
  3. Perfectionism is for the birds. Sometimes you won't get stuff done. Do it tomorrow or next week. No one will know anyway, as your house is probably pretty tidy now that you're cleaning on a regular basis.
  4. Spend only 5-10 minutes on a task. Taking 30 minutes to mop your floor will only mean that you won't do it again for a very, very long time.
  5. When gluing velcro to felt, don't use a glue gun. I know it sounds like a good idea, but that stuff peels off both the velcro and the lamination. I found this out the hard way. Then I switched to GemTac, a flexible glue with a strong bond. So far it is working. You could also sew the velcro on, which would probably be the most sturdy.
My Master Chore List

  • 1 load of laundry 
  • make beds
  • wipe toilet and bathroom sink 
  • wash dishes and kitchen sink
  • wipe stove and dining table
  • sweep floors
  • pick up before bed
  • change sheets
  • clean bedside tables
  • clean tops of dressers
  • mop bedroom floor
  • bills
  • grocery shop
  • put videos away
  • dust living room
  • mop living room and hall
  • clean car
  • sweep front steps
  • scrub toilet
  • clean mirrors in bathroom
  • clean bathroom sink and tub
  • scrub bathroom floor
  • post office
  • clean and sort desk area
  • clean dining chairs
  • declutter and clean dining table
  • clean purse
  • pick up meat and vegetable CSA
  • clean stove
  • wipe down all kitchen counters
  • mop kitchen and dining floor
  • library
  • A chore-free day!!!!
  • take out trash/compost/recycling
  • clean out refrigerator
  • empty bathroom trash
  • clean cat box area
  • toss old fruit and veggies in bowls on buffet and wipe down
So far, this program is keeping our living spaces fairly neat and tidy. I'm far from being a freak about it. And of course, I don't do all of the chores everyday. Whatever. No one's perfect, right? Sometimes other members of the family pitch in. Sometimes things just don't get done. I'm hoping the chart will inspire more participation from everyone if they see tasks need doing. Any of you out there have tips for staying on top of the household duties? Stay tuned for parts two and three where I will discuss organizing farm duties and finances.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, July 29, 2011

Holy Swarms!

Or maybe a more appropriate title would be "Why You Should Maintain Your Hives So That You Don't Scare the Crap Out of Your Neighbors".

It was a morning like any other morning. I was milking the goat while the hustle and bustle on Mission street droned in the background. I had forgotten my strip cup inside the house and ran upstairs to retrieve it. When I returned to my milking duties, there was something off. The air felt different. Crowded. Almost electric.

I looked out across the yard and noticed a lot of  winged creatures zipping madly about. They seemed to be multiplying with my every breath until I suddenly realized that the sky above me was buzzing. Loudly. Great balls of bees, this was a swarm!

It looked like a goddamned plague. I noticed my neighbors were gazing out their windows in horror. Or awe. It was difficult to tell. Why no one was at work this morning can only be a testament to my shit luck around these sorts of things.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket like a gun from a holster and dialed my friend Esperanza. I held the phone up into the cloud of bees. The buzzing roar was so loud that she could hear it on the other end. "Don't worry," she assured me, "they'll land somewhere in a big clump in less than an hour. Hopefully on your property so you can capture them."

Meanwhile, my neighbors continued with their faces pressed to the glass in bewilderment. I sidled up to the window to perform some damage control. In atrocious broken Spanish I explained, "No preoccupada. En un hora, calma. Las abejas necesitan una nueva casa. Pero mira, no pica." I ran to the center of the swarm to demonstrate that the bees wouldn't attack. The muchachos at the window were either impressed or concerned that I was insane.

Gradually, the bees found a spot on the loquat tree to regroup. I watched as the ball grew and grew, and breathed a sigh of relief that the airborne chaos was subsiding. To stand amidst a swarm, the air vibrating with activity, is as exhilarating as it is unsettling. I welcomed the temporary calm.

Esperanza warned me that time was of the essence. The bees might hang on the tree for a couple hours or a couple days. This was a bee emergency. I didn't want to lose half my hive, but of course I didn't have any extra housing on hand. I needed a bee house stat. But where was I going to get a new deep and frames? Immediately?

One of my interns, Niki, had just told me the day before that Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper had reopened in the Mission, a mere two miles from my house. I jumped in the car and tore off to shop. They were just opening when I arrived. I met the shopkeepr, Brian, a calm and relaxed fellow who looked as though he didn't quite know what to do with a woman who had worked herself up into such a dither about a routine bee swarm . But how incredibly helpful was he? He advised me to capture the swarm in a cardboard box and then move them to their more permanent location. He also apprised me of many other beekeeping bits and bobs that I should keep in mind while maintaining hives in a city. I left the shop promising that I would join the local beekeepers association, since clearly I needed to get a grip on some of the basics.

I raced home, fearing that my ladies may have abandoned my property for greener pastures. But they were still there, in the same spot where I left them.

Now came the tricky part: getting the swarm in the box. I called my friend Kitty. She had been capturing swarms all summer. She'd have some good advice as to how to maneuver this delicate operation. The instructions were simple: bang the branch really hard so that the entire clump falls into the box in one go. Let them settle. Then move them to their new hive by turning the box upside down and whacking the bottom of it forcefully with a stick.

The seemingly simple somehow always turns into a major something when I'm around. I suited up with my veil, gloves, and long sleeves and set up a ladder under the branch. I grabbed a sturdy stick and held my breath as I swung. Plop. Shit, only a quarter of the bees hit the box. I whacked again. OK, I got another quarter of the ball, but now the bees were agitated. I struck the branch again, this time cracking it. Finally, I just ripped the branch off and shook it really hard until most of the bees appeared to be safely ensconced in the cardboard. With the flurry of activity, I had unwittingly created a mini swarm. A really pissed off one at that. I escaped with only a couple shrieks from a sting and a couple stragglers finding their way inside my veil.

But I wasn't done yet. The husband who had heard my yelps stood by the back door to brush me off with a rainbow colored duster. The angry bees trying to sting me through my veil and gloves needed to join the rest of their cadre. It felt good to have someone on my side in this precarious situation.

The next step was to assemble the deep and allow the bees to re-coalesce. I needed a break too. But only a short one as I was anxious to finish this job.

I returned to the humming box after I had set up the hive in it's permanent spot. This part should go smoothly, right? I brought the box over to the deep, turned it upside down, and gave it a good thumping. I was told that I didn't necessarily need to have the bottom board in place to do this. Bad idea. After the whacking, the bees dropped straight through the hive, landed on the ground, and then swirled back up into the air. Great. Another swarm. This time I wasn't as lucky, getting a sting on the inside of my upper thigh. Not quite THERE, but a little too close for comfort.

Half of the bees eventually settled on the frames inside the hive, while the other half clung to the cinder block holding up the deep. I feared that the queen was in the clump on the cinder block. But the ladies were livid at this point so I decided to leave them alone for a day before installing the bottom board. Messing with angry bees is about as smart as picking up a hissing cat. A cooling off period seemed in order.

The next day I returned with bottom board in hand to complete the job. But how was I going to do that without crushing all those bees on the cinder block? What ensued was a chaotic operation in my amateur hands. Smashing occurred. Bees died.Clumps of bees who refused to leave their cinder block for the nice new frames in the hive were prodded with the rainbow duster creating yet more swarming. I felt like a clumsy, inept oaf wearing a ridiculous hat.

In the end, everything turned out fine. All of the bees found the entrance to the hive and settled in nicely. Though I wish that I would have gotten some video footage of it. Because damn, I was one bad ass motherfucker wrangling those bees.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I Grew This

In San Francisco. In one of the windiest neighborhoods in the city. Cucumbers are notorious for despising the wind. This is nothing short of miraculous.

My secret? That kick ass hoop house I built. San Franciscans and all you other folks enduring cold, windy summers, you gotta get one.

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Stone Fruit Hotchpotch

What did I do with all of those plums? A lot. There were a lot of plums.

I raw packed a few of the good ones.

And then whipped up a double batch of just plain plum jam using a 2 pounds of fruit to 3 cups of sugar ratio. It turned out pretty good, but I overcooked it a bit and now have a very firm jam. This is clearly a problem for me.

I moved on to some plum sauces. I did an Asian plum sauce based on this recipe from Oregon State University. I swapped the canned chiles for a fresh jalapeno and pasilla chile. The result was a standard plum sauce flavor that I am pleased with and am sure will go nicely with some pork or chicken.

I also decided to test out this chipotle plum sauce recipe. Oh good god is it good! I didn't use the chipotle seasoning that was called for, but instead substituted a freshly grated dried chipotle as that's what I had lying around. I also used regular garlic powder rather than roasted. The overall product is divine with just enough kick to make it interesting. I'm not a huge fan of super spicy so this suited me perfectly. I think I will be enjoying it on a cracker with some cream cheese.

Even after all that, I still had plums leftover. I also had some other stone fruits that were quickly becoming borderline edible. So I whipped up a jam with the mishmash of leftover fruits.

I cut up several apricots, peaches, and nectarines that had seen better days.

I then added a bunch of plum sauce. I don't pit my plums individually, but rather cook them down first, pull out the pits, and run them through a food mill to get rid of the skins. Works for me.

I know this picture looks ugly. The plum puree had oxidized a bit, but the brown color wouldn't affect the finished product with so many fruits.

Next came the cherries. That looks somewhat better.

I weighed out my fruit and then added 3/4 of that weight in sugar. Though many recipes recommend a 1 to 1 ratio, I find that really sweet fruit doesn't need that much sugar.

Next I cooked it down until it reached the jelling point. Again, I carmelized the sugars a bit and the jam turned out more firm than I would care for, but the taste is wonderful. Much like the mixed fruit jams you can buy at the store, but like way way better 'cause I made it myself with more flavorful fruits.

Winging it in jam making can be intimidating when you are first starting out. The key is getting the right ratio of fruit to sugar. So far with my one pound of fruit to 3/4 pound of sugar has served me well. Keep this in mind the next time you want to go out on a limb and experiment with a wacky fruit combo.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eating Meat and Harvesting Hens

During my 10 year stint as a vegetarian, I believed that one shouldn't eat meat unless they could kill it themselves. Being a sensitive kind of gal, I thought that by avoiding flesh I had neatly solved the "eating sentient creatures" dilemma. That is until I found out what happens to unwanted male offspring of dairy animals and hens that don't lay eggs anymore. Without even meaning to and even as a non-meat eater, I was participating in the death of our feathered and furry friends.

So why didn't I become a vegan? Well that would mean giving up cheese. Maybe when hell freezes over that would happen as I come from a long line of Swiss dairy farmers and Dutch cheese eaters. We are cheese people, having subsisted off the stuff for centuries. My body is genetically conditioned to thrive on dairy products.

But aside from my heritage, veganism never appealed to me. It seemed too extreme and more than a little unnatural (sorry vegan friends). Humans and our Australopithecus ancestors have been omnivores for at least a couple million years. Our place in the food chain, though it has evolved from prey to predator over millions of years, has secured who we are today in the order of things. Scientists all agree that Homo Sapiens evolved into the cranium gigantors that we are today because of meat eating.

As we have moved away from slaughtering our own food in the last century, we as a culture have removed ourselves from facing the inescapable fate of all living creatures. Everything dies. It's not evil or bad. It just is. Death, by its very nature, is final and can be very violent. We need to own this instead of chasing our tails trying to avoid the inevitable. In the bigger picture, we should all just be glad that we don't live in the world of microorganisms because that is some fucked up, war zone type shit that is going on there.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against veganism. In a society of endless choices, veganism is one of our many options as to how we can eat in this world. Yay for diversity, I say. My problem is with vegangelicals (I just heard this word today and had to use it); those who are intolerant of any other diet other than a vegan one. I'm sorry, but that's just nuts. Who made you, vegangelical, the decider? Why do you have to be like a power-inebriated George W. waving your "I know what's best for the world" guns in the air?

Seriously, what's wrong with conscious meat eating? I'm against factory farming as much as the next vegan. I'm just not against meat per se. Vegans like to claim that meat eating is environmentally unsound and I won't argue with part of that premiss. Americans eat waaaaaay too much factory farmed, plastic wrapped, monoculture-subsidized everything. But my pastured, locally raised beef  where the entire animal is consumed is probably of less environmental consequence than your Creamy Sheese imported from Scotland. Just sayin'.

But I don't really want to enter into an argument about whose lifestyle is "better". I'd rather be an advocate for thoughtful meat consumption because I'm going to continue to choose to eat meat regardless of vegangelical proselytizing. My hope is that by raising our own animal products here at Itty Bitty that we can encourage other meat eaters to think more about where their meat comes from, how it was raised, what it was fed, how it was killed, etc. and come to make better choices based on this knowledge.

On that note, I'd like to share my experience from this past weekend of facing the realities of meat eating (WARNING: graphic photos to follow). The awesome folks over at Dog Island invited me to learn the ins and outs of chicken harvesting. Considering the botched job I did with my first kill, I felt the need to get a grip on how to do this with as little suffering as possible.

Folks have a lot of different ways to take out a chicken. Some take the hens by the head and whip them around like a lasso, breaking the neck. Others just twist and pull. Some sever the head, while others hang the bird upside down in a killing cone and cut the jugular. The French snip the vein under the tongue, which I hear makes the bird pass out immediately. We used two methods: the chopping block and the cone. I think I preferred the chopping block as it seemed more instantaneous. The cutting of the jugular left the animal a little too alert for a little too long for my taste. We used a noose around the neck with one person holding the string and the other person doing the deed. Here's a vague picture of the setup.

After the hen was dispatched, we dunked her into a pot of boiling water for 45 seconds. This helps with the removal of the feathers by loosening them. If you leave the bird in too long though, the skin will tear.

Next came the plucking. The bird was hung upside down over a trash bin to make the job clean and easy.

Even with the scalding, it's still hard to get all the feathers. Also chickens have hairs under their feathers. We took care of those with a blow torch.

Next we severed the feet from the rest of the leg at the joint.

Then it was time to deal with the insides. The tricky part is slicing the skin near the cloaca without cutting into the intestines. I highly recommend having a pro illustrate the proper way to do this as it is something difficult to convey in words and pictures.

After a large enough incision is made, you have to stick your hand up into the body cavity and pull everything out in one go. This can be difficult if you have a big hand. If you are one of the more well endowed in this area, you might want to consider finding a small handed friend. I have slender, but long hands for a lady and even I bruised my knuckles against the rib cage. That big thing in the upper right corner is the gizzard.

With the innards out, you still need to scrape out the lungs and get the heart. The lungs are a trippy fluorescent pink and difficult to pull out.

Once you get the back end cleared, you need to address the crop and trachea, which can only be taken out through the top of the bird. The crop is squishy and easy to puncture. Peeling it out rather than pulling gets the job done with less trouble. The trachea looks like a snorkel tube.

After the evisceration, we put the bodies in ice water where they would rest for a day before being stored in the freezer. This lets the body go through rigor mortis until it eventually relaxes within 24-48 hours.

This process certainly wasn't easy, but it has given me greater appreciation for the food I eat and has furthered me along my path of more conscientious meat consumption.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Friend in Cheese Is a Friend Indeed

This is my husband's rockin' childhood friend, Tabitha.

She is a master chef. Chef friends are the best 'cause they have impeccable taste in food and they know how to cook it. I get all my best kitchen tips from them.

Tabitha runs a jam company, Friend in Cheeses. She also makes cheese. Her business tag line reads "Dare to pair 'cause it pays to play." Hell yeah, it does, baby! With ambrosial flavors like Forbidden Fruit Marmalade, Lavender Plum Jelly, and Patzo (a strawberry, balsamic, and black pepper preserve given the Italian name (pazzo) for "insane"), a heaping spoonful of any of her creations on top of a chevre smothered cracker is divine, indeed.

Deep in the heart of the Santa Cruz mountains, Tabitha lives on a small vineyard

where she raises veggies and a flock of hens with names like Aunt Sponge, Aunt Spiker, and Oprah.

The chickens live in a converted plastic playhouse.

Tabitha has loads of cool stuff laying around. I'm super jealous of this collection of pots for the succulents.

Gotta love the juxtaposition of these objets d'art.

Tabitha even has a dinner bell.

I want a dinner bell!

Last week, Tabitha invited me to go gleaning with her. That's how she gets most of the fruit for her jams. I love how her product is made from stuff that would otherwise be wasted and left to rot. What a great business plan: get free goods that no one wants and make something delish out of it. 

Well last week we hit the mother load. A friend of a friend connected Tabitha to a woman whose golden plum tree had a major freak out this season. Honestly, I don't believe I've ever seen anything like it.

The limbs of the poor plumb were cracking under the immense weight. The fruit was gorgeous,

 dripping like grapes.

Photo courtesy of Tabitha
 Pure plum porn.

Photo courtesy of Tabitha
Between the two of us, we probably harvested around 100 pounds of fruit. And that was gathering only about a quarter to a third of the pickings.

This tree was so enorm that it had 9 foot suckers growing off of a tap root. I snagged one.

Photo courtesy of Tabitha
Then there was that figuring out how to get it home thing... in a convertible. This is when I found out Tabitha is as much of a MacGyver as I am. How could she not be? She scores free fruit! Tabitha suggested wrapping my baby in saran wrap. Voila!

We were ready to roll.

Then it was off to lunch at Tabitha's friends restaurant, Smoqe BBQ. If you find yourself in the area, you gotta go, if only for the beef brisket fries: sweet potato or regular fries coated in mac and cheese sauce and topped with barbecued beef brisket. Holy crap, that shit is good. We also had oysters.

And a bubbling tray of farm cheese. So good.

Told you. Chefs know where to find the best eats.

As a side note, I'm not sure if that sucker will survive. I don't think it is a grafted tree, which means the sucker will produce like the mother (on grafted trees, suckers don't taste like the host). In fact it was already bearing fruit when I ripped it from the ground. Right now it is marinating in a bucket of water seasoned with chicken crap and rooting hormone. Keeping my fingers crossed on this one 'cause them was some tasty plums.