"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Steps Toward Sustainability

Craigslist has been good to me lately. Last week I found some items I've been looking for for quite some time. These big white cubes are 250 gallon food-grade plastic tanks. They have steel cages around them so they can be stacked, and you can screw them together so they make one 500 gallon tank (et cetera). They also have spigots on the front so water can be drained easily. These are not easy to find; they show up rarely on Craigslist, and often are unusable because they have been used to store something noxious or else they are very expensive. I lucked out; I found a guy who had 8 of them. He was selling them for $100 a piece - already a good price - but when I offered $700 for all of them he accepted. Also he took $50 to deliver them, which I thought was extremely reasonable. These particular tanks were used to store soy lecithin, which is a food additive naturally derived from soybeans. It's completely harmless unless you are allergic to soy. I'll obviously be washing them out with a high pressure hose before I use them to store water.

I know. It's been raining here for weeks on end, sometimes torrentially. The idea that I might need to store seems totally ridiculous. It always does this time of year. But all I have to do is think back to last August. Anyway, these are for the future. Do I think I will enjoy unmetered water forever? No, I do not.

Actually, I only get five of them for water storage. Homero gets the other three for use in his biodiesel production.

This is my other find. I've been wanting a woodstove for a long time. Currently our only heat is propane, and that is not sustainable long term. Also I don't have any way to cook in the event of a power outage, and I'd like to have one. A woodstove fulfills both these purposes. It's a little rusty, but I can clean that up and paint it with the special woodstove paint. It's been sitting in some guy's garage for about ten years and now he's tearing down the garage. He says it was in perfect working order when he put it out there. It only cost me a hundred bucks, so I can't go too far wrong. The only question is where and how to install it. But that is for another day. Getting it into a pickup, hauling it home, and getting it out of a pickup and into the playroom was enough work for one day.

These are small steps - they are only purchases at this point. All I've done so far is shop. Getting the tanks hooked up and made into a functioning rainwater catchment system will be a job. Ditto installing the woodstove. Recently I purchased a handgun, with an eye to butchering. That's still just a purchase too - I haven't fired it yet, much less used it to butcher a goat or a pig. But gathering materials is the first step of any endeavor, right? You can't make an omelet until you have some eggs.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Local Thanksgiving A Success!

My local thanksgiving feast was a great success. The turkey, although admittedly a bit tougher than a conventional bird, was delicious, and exactly the right size. The beef roast my brother-in-law brought was terrific. These were the big ticket items, and they were both raised within a few miles of me (the beef across the street).

I tweaked the recipe of my wild-rice dressing to include more local items (hazelnuts instead of pine nuts, and dried cherries instead of raisins.).

The potatoes were local, too. So was the pumpkin, and the eggs in the pie.

Of course, some items cannot be omitted and cannot be obtained locally - yams. Wheat. The wild rice. Cranberries. Coffee. But these items are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the feast, and local items are getting more and more important.

And the apple cider, I almost forgot! It was decent - not, I must admit, the tastiest hard cider I've ever had, but it wasn't bad, and it was rawther strong.

All in all, a good time was had by all. Thanks to everyone who came and made it a wonderful time!

A Fine Day

... for the fridge to break.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Now What?

My damn free-range, organic, pasture raised, heritage breed, locally raised turkey doesn't fit in any of my stock pots. I'm trying to brine it overnight, not just for better flavor, but because I don't have room in the fridge. The turkey is spending the night in the shed, legs sticking out and all. I covered it with plastic wrap, and that's just going to have to work.

Brine recipe:

Put two gallons fresh cold water in your largest stock pot. Separately, on the stove, boil a quart of water with a cup of sea salt, a half cup (or so) of brown sugar, a few cloves, allspice berries, garlic cloves, sage leaves, bay leaves, and a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds and mustard seeds and black peppercorns. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Add to large stockpot along with a couple of dozen ice cubes.

Add ridiculously expensive turkey. Curse when you realize it won't fit. Manipulate turkey through several full revolutions and bring to a stop breast down. Cover with plastic wrap. Mutter "if they don't like it they can go take a flying fuck" and pour yourself some chardonnay. Put stock pot and turkey out in the shed and close the door to protect from coyotes.

Proceed with pumpkin pie. These came out gorgeous. I feel so sorry for the no-dairy/no-gluten people. They have to eat tofutti with blueberries for dessert.

P.S. I love the trade network. The turkey-people have Nubian goats and want to breed them this year. I brought a photo of Storm Cloud, our insanely pretty spotted buckling with me to pick up the turkey, and they say they will happily trade us turkey for his stud fee. YAY!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens!

The cooking has begun. Today I am baking pumpkins and making puree. I decided on a pumpkin custard (made with goat's milk) for the no-gluten/cow milk people. Also I will have a regular pie.

I am also making the cranberry sauce today. I don't have an actual recipe, but I have an idea. Orange-vodka cranberry sauce with cloves and pepper. We'll see. If you're going to experiment with Thanksgiving dishes, cranberry sauce is a good one. If you mess up the yams or the stuffing, you might have a mutiny on your hands, but nobody cares that much about cranberry sauce. Plus you can always have a can of jellied as backup.

I would like to make the rolls the day of, of course, but when you work with sourdough, you bake on the sourdough's schedule, not your own. I have to bake today. But I am doing a slow-rise in the refrigerator, so I probably won't actually bake until tomorrow morning. Then I can wrap them up tightly and they'll still be soft and delicious on thursday.

Tomorrow I will probably make pie dough and put it in the fridge. The turkey gets picked up on wednesday, and I'll most likely brine it overnight and leave it out in the shed. Then on the actual day it's just bake the turkey and yams, make the mashed potatoes and the green salad.

Oh and the pie and custard.

And I forgot to put in my timeline, clean the house.

That could take all week.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Giving Thanks: Not As Simple As It Seems

I am hosting Thanksgiving this year, for the first time in about six years. In my family, there is always a tussle for the right to host major holidays. My mom, although it is beginning to be a bit of a strain for her, would still like to host Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas every year, and sees it as her matriarchal right to do so.

My sister and I each want to have Christmas morning at home with our own kids, though we are happy to travel the hundred miles (over the river and through the woods) to Grandma's house for Christmas dinner. We go to Mom's for Easter because she hides money in the eggs and puts on a hell of a spread, so that just leaves Thanksgiving for the three of us to arm-wrestle over every year.

My sis hosted last year, and even managed to convince our brother and our dad to fly in from the far-away places they reside. It's my turn, though I will have to be satisfied without Dad or Gene, since they can't fly out every year. I haven't hosted any holiday since we moved to this house, so I'm particularly thrilled to do it. I called Thanksgiving back in August.

Due to either misunderstanding, forgetfulness, or downright orneriness, however, it appears that Mom will be hosting her own Thanksgiving and won't be coming up here. It's the first time we haven't shared this holiday in years. I'm sorry about it, but not sorry enough to cancel my own plans, which would mean dis-iniviting several people who are coming from out of town. Apparently we are each too stubborn to give in. But in all fairness, I must point out that she was stubborn long before I was even born, and I got it from her.

Well, all of that is one type of Thanksgiving consideration. The next type is all about the food. Every single person who will be at the table has some kind of strong opinion, religious conviction, allergy, health consideration, or just plain prejudice about the food. Without naming any names or passing any judgement (seriously: I know these restrictions are all either health necessities or deeply held beliefs) , here is a list of the foods which one or more people on the guest list must avoid:

Artificial colors

Additionally, to satisfy my own idiosyncratic views, we will not be serving any industrially raised meat, and we will be trying to procure as many foods as possible locally. At first glance, this may seem like some serious restrictions. I thought so at first. However, none of my guests are extreme enough to insist that the foods they cannot eat be entirely excluded from the feast; only that they be clearly labeled (actually it just occurred to me, I am the most extreme person by this measure, as I intend to entirely exclude industrial foods from my feast.). In actual fact, the options are wide open.

Here is my provisional menu:

- A pasture raised, organic, heritage breed turkey which I bought from my neighbor down the street.

- A beef roast (Sister's family is bringing it) made from free range, pasture raised beef from another neighbor.

- Wild Rice dressing - not local but yes organic, gluten and dairy (hereafter, G&D) free

- baked yams, ditto

- mashed local, organic potatoes - will have dairy, but clearly labeled.

- Hard cider from apples we pressed ourselves (Thanks, homebrewin' boys!)

- local organic braised greens (G&D free)

- sourdough rolls from my 75 year old starter (has gluten, obviously)

- local pumpkin pie (has D&G)

- tossed green salad

I have invited everyone to bring a dish, and I'm sure they will, so I have no doubt there will be plenty of acceptable food for everyone. There are two things I think I should figure out: a G&D free dessert (maybe baked apples with raisins and maple syrup?) and a G&D free gravy, which is tough. I could use arrowroot, corn starch, or tapioca as a thickener. I could use wine, water, or stock as the liquid. I can google it, I'm sure.

There's one more consideration. It's hard for me, as the hostess and just as myself, Aimee Day, Modern American Woman, not to put all the emphasis on laying out a massive spread. There's a part of me that feels I will have failed unless everyone rolls away from the table groaning. That's always been the measure of success at my mom's (and most American's) Thanksgivings. Is everyone sated nigh to sickness? Are all the belts in the house loosened? Okay then.

But surely there is more to this Holiday than that. We call it a Holiday - a Holy Day - don't we? Why is this day Holy? What are we giving thanks for?

Certainly, this day is a day consecrated to giving thanks for all that we have to give thanks for, and that will be personal and private. Perhaps a loved one has recovered from a serious illness. Perhaps our marriage has survived a crisis or our job has been saved. Surely we will all have our individual thanks to give. But also, we have our communal thanks to give.

It is not an accident that Thanksgiving happens in November. It is, at base, a harvest festival. We give thanks for the fruitful Earth, that brought forth this bounty - enough to feast upon, and enough to carry us through 'til spring. We will not forget the animals on the tables, and we give thanks for them, for their death, for our life. We give thanks to the men and women who worked the earth to raise our food, whether those men and women are farmers far away or are us, ourselves. We salute their sweat and their strong arms. We rejoice in our own hard work. We give thanks for the gift of foresight, that led us to plan and to plant way back in March or April, and that allows us to put away for the winter or for hard times. We pray for the foresight and the wisdom and the strength to be better stewards of the Earth, that she might continue to provide for us and for our children.

We give our thanks that we are here, together, alive. That we have food to eat. That though the darkest time is upon us, yet we have hope for the future - spring, yes, and all the springs to come. We have faith. We give thanks for faith.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's.....

A flying calf hutch!

We knew the windstorm was coming. We took precautions. As usual, we parked a car next to the trampoline and chained them together (this is since the trampoline hit the roof year before last). We brought in the kiddie pool (which we have fetched from the neighbor's field once already), loose tarps, anything like that.

But it just never occurred to me to tie down the calf hutch. For those city folks among you, a calf hutch is about nine feet in diameter and maybe four feet high. Weighs perhaps 100 pounds. Looks like a UFO as it is gliding silently over three fences and across a state highway.

It's back. And tied down. There's another windstorm predicted tonight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Homebrewers Make Good!

Hooray! Several weeks ago, a couple of college age homebrewin' boys came to press apples with me. Even though I have burned in the past by homebrewers who take all my juice and never deliver the promised cider, I decided to take a chance on these boys. What the heck, I already had a freezer full of juice. So instead of taking 50% of the fresh juice (my usual take), I asked for 25% of the finished product back. I figured odds were 50/50 I'd never see them again.

But on friday, they showed up! With 24 bottles of hard cider! They said they had just bottled it, so leave it at room temperature for another couple of weeks, but it should be ready to drink by Thanksgiving.

I'm SO glad I'm hosting this year!

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Can't Believe It's November

Such a gorgeous day. Today and yesterday both have both been just unbelievably beautiful, in the way that brilliantly clear, crisp, sunny days are after a week or more of steady rain. This afternoon, it was actually warm enough that I took off my sweater and wore only a tanktop and sweats as I supervised the goats and the ponies out grazing.

As pleasant as this weather is (and I love it) it's also a little ominous. Why haven't we had a single hard frost yet, on November thirteenth? That's a little weird.

(later-) Okay, I've just googled "first frost date Bellingham WA" and seen dates ranging from October 1st to September 4th. Suddenly the fact that we haven't had a good frost yet is a little scarier than it was three minutes ago. Funny how fear sucks the joy right out of a sunny afternoon.

Anyway, trying to get back to my happy place, here are some photos of my animals enjoying the sun. (later-) Now it's hailing and there's thunder and lightening.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Goats Are Pure Evil

Sure, they're cute, but in fact they're pure evil

Just as I was arriving at my sister's house for a visit this morning, some twenty miles away from my house, I got a phone call from my neighbor. It seems he had ten goats in his front yard eating his flowers.

This is after Homero spent four hours yesterday fixing the fence. I apologized profusely to the neighbor and asked if he had some place he could put them until I could get home. He said he'd put them in a trailer. My husband called me soon after to say he was on his way home, so I called my neighbor back to tell him Homero would come pick up the goats in fifteen minutes. He was huffing and puffing when he answered the phone. He said "I've got nine of them in there, but the last one is a fast little bastard!"

I'd better bring him some fresh baked bread or something.

Homero arrived and put the goats in our most secure pasture, then returned to work. I was running around doing errands all day, so it came to pass that he arrived home before I did in the afternoon. You guessed it - they were out again! Luckily, the gate was open. Homero, understandably irate, yelled into the phone "I don't know if they've grown thumbs or what but I closed that gate!" I had my doubts about that, but decided not to voice them.

Now, back in the same pasture, they have remained contained for all of four hours. It's full dark, so I doubt they will escape again before sunrise. We absolutely must figure this out, though, because in a few weeks we are going to Mexico and leaving the farm with a farm-sitter. It's not reasonable to expect her to chase goats all over the landscape night and day, no matter what I pay her.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Houdini Goats

They are escaping again. I understand this is a common and recurring issue with goats... although clearly not the brightest of domestic animals, they seem to be savants when it comes to escaping. Not that we have the very best of fences...

Oh well, at least it's Homero out there in the rain fixing fences, not me. I do have some hot coffee for him, though. Better go bring it out.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Frugal Winter Fare (i.e., Leftovers)

Winter in my part of the world is not a lot of fun. We rarely get snow, and when we do, it's usually the heavy, wet variety that is not much of a pleasure. Winter mostly means month after month of short dark days filled with stinging rain or sleet, combined with high winds that chill one to the bone as one is trudging through the semi-frozen mud to feed the animals twice a day, and brief, infrequent glimpses of the sun between thick, ominous grey clouds.

I know. Yes, I have anti-depressants, thanks for asking.

But there are some comforts, and chief among them (in my mind) is soup. I am a true soup lover and a great soup cook. I can whip up a terrific, heart-warming bowl of soup from just about anything I can scrounge in the house, and that is no mean skill come February, let me tell you. I have many, many delicious soup recipes, and probably over the course of the winter some of them will crop up here.

Today I am going to make avgolemono soup. Those of you who know it just went "oooooooo." Avgolemono is Greek for "egg and lemon sauce" and those lucky Greeks, with their mediterranean climate and abundant citrus trees put it on just about anything. Avgolemono is a pale but sunny yellow (brighter if you use farm eggs, like me) and rich and tangy. It brightens up scores of dishes and turns plain old chicken soup into something transcendent.

Yesterday I roasted a chicken. It was a big fat chicken and I have quite a bit of it left over. I happened to season that chicken with onion, garlic, rosemary, and black pepper, and that works fine for Avgolemono soup. Most European seasonings would - or Latin, like chile and lime - but I'm not sure I would try Avgolemono soup with a leftover chicken that was flavored with Chinese spices or Indian spices.

Anyway, take your chicken carcass and pop it in a stockpot. Cover with fresh water and simmer until the flesh is parting company with the bone. Remove carcass (with a slotted spoon) and remove as much meat as possible from the bones. Use your slotted spoon to scoop up any meat that left in the stockpot. Dispose of bones however you usually do and set aside meat.

Meanwhile, In a nicely sized soup kettle, gently sauté a small yellow onion, one or two carrots and one or two ribs of celery, all chopped fairly fine. These are my go-to veggies, and I think these three are indispensable, but that doesn't mean you couldn't add others. Cubed potato would make a hearty soup. Golden beets? I love kale or collards in this soup. Slice into ribbons and add with the rest. Soft greens like spinach or chard would be delicious but should be added later. Also, make some white rice, unless you have some leftover white rice, which today I do.

When veggies are fork-tender, add meat, stock, and cooked rice (if you didn't have any cooked rice you could add raw white rice and let simmer longer. In this case, don't saute the veggies as long), reserving one cup of hot stock. In a bowl, whisk three eggs and the juice of three lemons (two if big and juicy) until smooth and all one pale yellow color. SLOWLY whisk in the cup of hot stock. Then pour the contents of the bowl into the soup, stirring the whole time. The soup will thicken slightly.

Add plenty of fresh ground black pepper, shower with fresh chopped parsley, and serve immediately.

This soup will thicken like oatmeal as it cools. To reheat and eat later, add more stock or water.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Homero's Favorite Sandwich

As promised, here is the recipe - if you can call it that - for my husband's favorite sandwich.

But first, a slight diversion to talk about Mexican tortas (sandwiches) in general. Before I lived in Mexico, I didn't know that Mexicans have a fine sandwich tradition. I didn't even know they ate bread. After all, one is never offered bread in a Mexican restaurant. It's just "corn or flour?" tortillas.

Don't get me wrong: the tortilla - the corn tortilla - is and has always been the staple food of the Mexican diet. Like rice for Asians, one simply hasn't eaten unless one has eaten with tortillas. I say "with" because for most Mexicans, the tortilla is the fork and spoon with which they eat. Just like Indians use chapati and Europeans used to use bread as a plate, Mexicans use tortillas as edible utensils. Corn is the basic stuff of life (as bread is the staff of life for westerners - or used to be) and the tortilla is its most basic and ubiquitous form.

Nonetheless, Mexicans do eat bread. Lots of it, actually. In my mother-in-law's house, as in many others, there is a special late-evening snack called "pan dulce con chocolate." Usually around ten or eleven o'clock, long enough after dinner that everyone is feeling a mite peckish, the family gathers one last time around the table to enjoy steaming hot chocolate and sweet rolls. This is right before bed, the last chance to gossip about the affairs of the day and settle the stomach for sleep with some simple carbohydrates. After pan con chocolate, everybody goes to bed.

Mexico is one of the world's great street food countries. Even in quite small towns, there will be vendors in the main square (zocalo) selling ice cream or snow cones (nieves or raspados), boiled corn on the cob or cups of corn kernels with mayonnaise, cheese, lime and chile; and if you are lucky, real old fashioned food like totopes (cigar-shaped packets of masa filled with ground meat, potatoes, and peas and toasted on a comal, topped with shredded cabbage, sour cream, refried beans, and chile sauce), tamales, or empanadas. If you are in the real back country, you might see an old woman selling pulque from a clay jug or hot atole (a thick drink made from corn masa and various flavorings.).

And for those who want a quick, satisfying meal, there are the torta wagons. Here, vendors will take a big, soft loaf of french bread, cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out some of the soft crumb to make room for heaps of fillings - shredded chicken, roast pork, tassajo (dried beef), or fried eggs, soft white cheese, chiles, refried beans, avocados, tomatoes, onions, and all manner of other things. Then the sandwiches are grilled, or pressed in the manner of Italian panini. One sandwich wagon in Oaxaca even offers a chile-relleno sandwich - a whole chile relleno (New To Farm Life: Chiles rellenos) inside a sandwich, which seems to me a terrible thing to do to such a delicious and labor intensive food, but which I guess is kind of an over-the-top statement.

I make Homero's favorite sandwich when either 1) he asks for it or 2) we have leftover roast chicken and/or ham. Here, without further ado:

2 large loaves freshly baked soft french bread (not sliced)
1-2 cups shredded roast chicken
4 large slices cooked ham
6 oz queso fresco, sliced or crumbled (it tends to crumble)
1 large ripe tomato, sliced
1 large ripe avocado, or 2 small
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
2-6 canned pickled jalapeno peppers, sliced, to taste

a panini press, or a hot griddle and a cast-iron skillet

Slice the bread lengthwise and scoop out soft interior; save for another purpose. Slather bottom halves with mayonnaise. Lay down (in order) the shredded chicken, the crumbled cheese, the tomato, the onion, the avocado (sliced), and the pickled peppers. Use the thinly sliced ham to cover all and kind of anchor it in place. Carefully replace the top halves of the loaves.

Cut each loaf into two (pressing down will help avoid disintegration) and press in a hot panini press until cheese is melty and bread is toasty - about four minutes. If you have no panini press, then heat a griddle over two burners. Carefully clean the bottom of a cast iron skillet and heat over a third burner. Place sandwich halves on the griddle and use the hot skillet to press and toast the tops.

Serves four. Serve with cold Corona.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Armed And Kind of Sort of Ready

I bought a handgun today. The husband of a good friend of mine, who is an expert, has been guiding me through the process, from choosing the type of gun I wanted to finding the exact one. Alas, he lives too far away to actually come show me how to use it.

So I signed up for a safety and training course next saturday. After that, it's adios, cabritos!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Winter Preparedness

There was a big windstorm yesterday. We didn't lose power here (there are few trees up here to interfere with the power lines) but my sister lost hers for most of the day. She is better set up to weather a storm than we are: she has a woodstove to provide heat and cooking facilities. I've been meaning for years to get a woodburning insert for our fireplace so that we can have heat in an emergency, but of course an insert won't address the cooking issue. Unless perhaps I can find one that sticks out a ways from the fireplace. We do have a wide stone shelf in front of the fireplace that would work. Or maybe I need to get a freestanding woodstove and put it somewhere else. I haven't got it figured out yet. There's also the second fireplace in the playroom we could cook on if need be.

But yesterday's storm did prompt me to go down to the sporting goods store and get supplies for a power-outage kit, which I will put into a plastic tub and slide under the bed. It includes several things that we wouldn't need in your basic power outage, but which might be useful in certain circumstances. I got:

1 dynamo (hand cranked) flashlight/radio/cell phone charger combo
1 dynamo 16 LED lantern/DC adapter (if I can figure it out, we should be able to use this to power our battery recharger and recharge all our
5 emergency rain ponchos
5 emergency space blankets
60 feet of light nylon rope
1 box strike anywhere matches
1 can opener
100 tea light candles
2 small propane canisters
1 burner that screws onto a propane canister for cooking
1 set of camping cooking gear (small pots and pans)
1 swiss army knife
1 10x12 lightweight blue tarp
several pairs "magic" gloves and warm socks in various sizes

I am probably missing something. Well for sure we need to store a few days worth of water. I have a six gallon carboy with an airlock - if I put a drop or two of bleach into it and fill it with tap water we will at least have drinking water for a couple of days.

That's actually my next big homesteading project: some water tanks to catch rainwater.

There's so much to do. Ahhhhhhhh.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Salvage City Gumbo

When you are trying to be self sufficient, you can't countenance much waste. When you've spent several hot hours back in August pickling okra, as I did, you don't want that effort to go to waste, even if your pickled okra turns out to be so salty as to be completely inedible.

Yeah, I made a mistake. I don't remember right now - maybe I was drunk. In any case, I made the brine MUCH too salty, and my pickled okra is not edible. Disgusting. Rats. I had high hopes for it. I used to adore the crocks of pickled okra on the tables at Burke's, a wonderful Creole establishment back in Ballard. Burke's, where are you now?

But I have eight pints of it. So what to do? Throw it away? NO!!! Pour out the brine and replace it with fresh water. Let sit overnight. Repeat. Repeat. Now the okra isn't too salty anymore, but neither is it particularly appetizing. Where you were anticipating crisp, bright, briny spears, you have limp, droopy, lackluster-green noodles. Never a pleasure.

How to salvage them? Gumbo! Day before yesterday I bought a rotisserie chicken to make Homero's favorite sandwich (recipe in a future post), and so I had about half a chicken left. The following may not be the best gumbo recipe in the world, but it's the best recipe in the world for using up what I had in my refrigerator today. That's what you have to learn to do when you are feeding a family of five on a low-carbon diet.

1/2 to 3/4 rotisserie chicken

remove as much meat as possible; then simmer the carcass in water to make stock.

1/4 stick butter, 3 tblspn flour

melt butter in a large stockpot, then use a wooden spoon to mix in flour over low heat. Keep mixing periodically (add olive oil if necessary to maintain a smooth texture) as you complete the following steps:


the half a red onion that has been languishing on the counter lo these past three days. Also the last five or six stubby little carrots you grubbed up out of the patch that used to be the garden. Two or three cloves of garlic. When the roux has achieved a less-than-pasty color and a semi-roasted aroma, add these chopped vegetables. Keep stirring, between swigs of beer and belting out Tom Waits on the iPod.

In five or ten minutes, add three chopped tomatoes. Add your watered okra, drained and chopped. Add a tablespoon or two of sweet pepper relish from the overstock store. Really, it's okay. I won't tell. Keep stirring.

Then the shredded chicken.

At this point it should be thick and goopy, perhaps hard to stir. Maybe you think it is gluey. Maybe you think you ain't no Paul freakin' Prudhomme and can't dance zydeco and are entirely too pale and scandinavian for gumbo. That's okay. I'm here to tell you your friends are also pale and scandinavian and they will accept your efforts as really good gumbo. What do they know? Add some fresh ground pepper.

Now your chicken carcass stock should be bubbling. Add it, a ladleful at a time. Probably about a quart in all. Whisk. The gumbo should be smooth and hazelnut colored.

Make some plain white rice. You do know how to make plain white rice, right?

Use an ice cream scoop to make nice round mounds of white rice in shallow bowls. Ladle rich red-brown gumbo over them. Shower with finely chopped parsley. Turn up the zydeco. Just go ahead and put the half-case of lager on the table. Go ahead. Drink out of the bottle. It's November, and you're being virtuous enough, using up the scraps. Have some fun with it already.

Speak of the Devil....

No sooner do I post that nothing is going on than I discover that the black hen has hatched out two chicks. Being up in the hayloft, they would fall down and die if I didn't remove the whole nest, so I cleaned out the rabbit hutch and gave her a nice cozy nest to hatch out the others in - if there are any others. She has six more eggs. I'll keep y'all updated - I know you're on pins and needles!

Quiet Days on the Homefront

I'd be writing more, but there's just not that much to write about. This is the quiet time of year. We still have the rent-a-buck here, and we are still living in a faint miasma of funky goat ball pheromones and watching the goats butt heads and tails together, but other than that, there's not much going on.

A black hen is still on her eggs up in the hayloft. I think today I will clean out the rabbit hutch and get it ready to transfer her and her eggs into. And I'm going to keep them there as long as possible.

Food preservation season is over. Maybe, maybe someone will still want to press a few apples, but there aren't that many apples around any more. I did have fun making tepache - basically, wild fermented apple-beer. Leave it out on a warm countertop for three or four days, until it gets a not-unpleasant tang, then freeze it. Remove ice. The liquid left over is pretty strongly alcoholic. I'm guessing here, but maybe 12-15%? From a gallon of cider, I got a quart of tepache. I poured that into a quart jar and screwed the cap on loosely and left it in the fridge for another two days. When I opened the jar, it was fizzy and quite delicious. And rather heady. I would
try making more, but I'm all out of fresh cider. I am also out of cheese and running out of eggs.

But the freezer is still full of beef and berries. And seven or eight gallons of frozen cider.

The last food preservation job of the year is butchering the goats. I am not looking forward to it, but it is almost time. When we are feeding the goats exclusively hay, then it's time. When the weather is cold enough to hang them for a day or so, it's time. When they are fat (and they are) it's time.

I better go get a gun, I guess.