Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Backyard Chickens

Sorry for the late post, we just got some very exciting news! Stay tuned for later in the week to hear all about it.

Chickens. Those wonderful creatures that lay golden eggs, a breakfast staple. Gorgeous, quick protein, easy lunch eggs. Scrambled eggs, eggs over easy, eggs in Oopsie rolls, eggs...and bacon!  


Ok, back on track. Chickens are wonderful, easy to care for critters that can be kept in your backyard. Many cities are allowing urban chickens and they don't require acres to be happy and healthy. Backyard eggs are so much tastier than store-bought from caged hens, not to mention higher in nutrients, like Vitamin E, Omega-3, and beta carotene. And, since you know what your birds ate and how they were raised, you can be sure that you are getting the healthiest eggs possible.

But chickens are great not just for eggs. In fact, eggs are just the icing on the cake. What chickens are really good at is waste disposal. Nearly all the kitchen scraps (yep, meat scraps too) can go to the chickens. They will gobble them up and convert the scraps into  wonderful fertilizer for the garden. Toss that fertilizer on your compost pile, let it age and you've got your garden food for the year.

But why wait? They are also great at making compost. As the chickens scratch and turn over their bedding (I use straw), poop on it, flip it again, eat any lurking seeds, poop some more, and scratch some more it breaks down into fluffy, brown, rich, compost. Check out what North West Edible Life got out of her chicken run! Perfect FREE compost!

Got a bug, snail, or slug problem? Not with chickens around. They are also useful in the garden for eating weeds (and occasionally the plants you don't want them to touch-you have to watch them a little here), help teach responsibility to kids, and are just fun to watch. 

So, why am I telling y'all this? Cause its time to start thinking about chicks! If you are new to raising chickens be sure to read up so you are prepared. Backyard Poultry magazine is a great place to find information, while Backyard Chickens is a great forum to ask questions and chat with other chicken enthusiasts.  Urban Chickens is another great resouce (I especially like their 101 sections).

About now most feed stores and hatcheries are starting to take orders. Its a good idea to get yours in early if you are wanting a specific breed (they can sell out). Not sure what breed you want? Check out this link for a few ideas on breeds, or take this quiz (in the left-hand column) to find out what breed might best fit your lifestyle.

Get all your gear (coop, feeders, etc) in place BEFORE you get your birds. (I recommend the chicken nipple watering system.) Trust me, even if you get chicks and they have to stay in the house where its warm for another month or two its best to have everything prepared ahead of time. Once you get your fluffy fuzzballs you'll be so busy with them you'll forget that they get bigger and will have to go outside...to their half-completed coop...soon. They always grow faster than you think. BE PREPARED.

I personally have Australorps and White Brahmas. I chose the Australorps for their awesome laying power (nearly an egg a day, even in winter), and the Brahmas because they are pretty, quiet, and laid back. The Brahmas don't lay as well (about an egg every other day) but they make up for it by being total pets (they let Munchkin cuddle them and don't mind her unable-to-hold-still toddlerness). Both breeds also do well in the cold and are fairly quiet (for chickens).

(CC) Big Dubya
We got our coop off of Craigslist, as well as our birds. Since I wanted older birds that could go straight to the coop we waited till later in the year, then bought them from a 4-H kid. If you don't want to mess with chicks this is the best way to do it. You help out a younger farmer and don't have to mess with chick poo in the bathtub.

Determine how many adult chickens you can have/want (many urban areas only allow three per household, double check your city's regulations), what type of design you would like, and your budget. A search for coop designs online will bring up several pages worth of blueprints for the DIY people. For those who want a ready-made check out your local feed store, Craigslist, or do a search online. There are many carpenters and builders who offer unique designs, or will build to suit your needs.

Chickens are a lot of fun. They take a little work (and expense-mostly for the coop) to get started but they more than make up for it in healthy, delicious eggs and rich compost. And nothing can bring on a big belly laugh than watching a hen chase a grasshopper all over the yard!

Our coop is not the fanciest but it does what it needs to.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hey Everyone

Hi y'all,

I apologize for being MIA the last week. We had a death in the family and it has really knocked us for a loop. I promise that things will be back on track starting Monday.

Hugs to you all! Keep cooking and growing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Latest Obsession-Duck Fat

Fat. That wonderful cooking staple that makes everything taste like heaven. Creamy butter and ghee, salty-smoky bacon grease, rich olive oil...they are all good but lately I have a new love.

Duck fat.

It was a serendipitous meeting. Back in December I had gone to my favorite butcher (Long's Meat Market) with the intent of picking up a goose for Christmas dinner and maybe a tub of lard if they had any. That's it. I have to make a list when I go to this place, otherwise I end up spending my entire paycheck.

As I waited for my turn at the counter, intently ignoring the grass-fed, pasture-raised T-bone steaks whispering my name, I examined the contents of a small refrigerator: goose breast, venison medallions, whole quail, and....tubs of duck fat.

Hmmm. I've never tried duck fat. Wasn't there something on Mark's Daily Apple about duck fat being healthy? I picked up a tub figuring it would be fun to give it a try, collected my goose (and a couple pasture-raised pork chops that sneaked into the bag when I wasn't looking) and headed home to learn more about my new fatty friend.

What I found was interesting. Duck fat is useful for its high smoke point and mild flavor. At room temperature it is a semi-solid and, unlike glorious bacon grease, it provides a lusciousness that enhances the dish's flavors rather than overpowering them. In composition its about 35% saturated fat, 52% monounsaturated fat (including small amounts of antimicrobial palmitoleic acid) and about 13% polyunsaturated fat.  Its been suggested that duck fat can improve cardiovascular health and may be part of the reason the French are so healthy (along with the consumption of red wine, aka the French paradox).

I'm not a doctor so I can't guarantee that duck fat is some miracle substance that will improve your health. Your taste-buds however will thank you. I first tried it out on some bell peppers and onions. As it melted into a golden puddle this deep, rich, drool-causing smell wafted up. Honestly I can't describe it other than rich-its like the best-poultry-gravy-you've-ever-eaten smell...if that makes any sense. I tossed in my veggies, got them coated up, and let them saute away, giving a quick stir every now and then. After about 8 minutes I had the best platter of sauteed veggies I've ever had. The duck fat provided a creamy richness that turned ordinary onions and peppers into something spectacular.

Since then its become my favorite fat. I use it to brown meat before tossing in the crock-pot or finishing in the oven, sauteing veggies, and frying eggs.Want the best fried chicken ever? Use duck fat. (I've been told to get true french fries you need to fry the taters in duck fat.) I'm sure at some point I'll figure out what fat goes with what food (sorta like wine-food pairings) but at the moment I am in LUV with duck fat and use it for everything. Sadly, I haven't found it in any of the local stores, only at the butcher. Oh well, I can always use more meat for the freezer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Versatile Steak

We eat a lot of beef. It is the preferred protein and everyone has their favorite cut. Hubby prefers the richly marbled New York Strip while I salivate for the perfectly grilled rack of ribs. Munchkin loves it all but especially likes burgers cut into interesting shapes for her to dip.

Unfortunately beef gets pretty spendy, particularly certain cuts. We try to save the favorite (expensive) cuts for treats or special occasions. For everyday we have the handy-dandy tri-tip roast.

The tri-tip is a triangle cut of meat taken from the bottom of the sirloin. It is also called the "triangle steak", the "Santa Maria steak", or the "Newport steak"(depending on what part of the US you are in). The primal cut weighs between 1.5 and 3 pounds, and is about 2 inches thick with good marbling.

Tri-tip roast cut in half with thick outer layer of fat
Ours comes from the butcher with a thick layer of fat but nearly all the ones I've seen at the grocery store come with this fat trimmed off.

What I love about this cut is how multifunctional it is. It can be cooked whole as a roast, sliced into steaks and grilled, chopped into stew meat, ground into burger meat, or slow-cooked for shredded beef. It makes wonderful chili con carne or beef shish kebabs. Having a cut defrosted opens up a world of possibilities, which helps make getting supper on the table easier since I can change the menu without changing the main ingredient.

Roast trimmed of fat and seasoned with dry rub
My favorite way (and the easiest) is to roast the cut whole. I remove the thick outer layer of fat, season heavily with a dry rub, let stand for about an hour to come to room temperature and to marinate, then roast for about 45 minutes. During the summer I throw it on the grill on high for 15 minutes a side and always get a perfect, medium-rare in the middle, well-done on the tips, chunk of beef. Let sit for 20 minutes to re-absorb the juices, slice, and enjoy!

Roasted, rested, and ready to eat

Roasted Beef Tri-Tip
Adapted from Rachel Ray's Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Roasted Pepper and Black Olive Sauce

1 beef tri-tip roast, 1.5-2 pounds
4 tablespoons favorite dry rub or 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon garlic, and 1 tablespoon coarse black pepper (depending on size of roast more seasonings may be needed)

Preheat oven as high as it goes (usually 500 degrees F but may go higher)
Place roast on roasting pan (I use my broiler pan) and put into oven
Bake for 10 minutes. Important-do not open door! There may be some smoke as some of the seasonings blacken
Reduce heat to 350 degrees F and cook for 20-30 minutes*
Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes
Carve into servings (remember to carve against the grain) and enjoy!

*20 minutes for a 1.5 pounds will result in a medium doneness in the thickest part of the roast. Use a meat thermometer to get the exact doneness you desire: Rare (140 F), Medium-Rare (145 F), Medium (160 F), Medium-Well (165 F), Well Done (170 F). Remember to remove the roast from the oven when its 5 to 10 degrees below the desired doneness as the temperature will rise for a few minutes while resting.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Family Vacation Planning-Camping

Having a toddler makes family vacations...interesting. Unless the trip is to visit distant family (and sometimes even then) a lot of planning has to go into keeping a creature with the attention span of a gnat entertained. Before kids Hubby and I enjoyed going to new places and checking out the historical interests: museums, reenactments, walking tours, that type of thing. The type of thing that bores Munchkin to tears and a bored toddler makes sure everyone in a city block knows it (especially those people who don't really care for kids. Its a super power kids have.) Our vacations have become mostly trips to the beach (wide open space, child can run forever and scream themselves silly without bothering anyone) or to visit relatives.

This year I want to branch out, try some new things, go to new places. One of my ideas is to go camping. Its something my family did a lot since it wasn't very expensive and there was something for everyone to do. One year we even went gold-panning and found a little bit of gold dust. Its high time I drug Hubby and Munchkin outside to experience the Great Outdoors, sans electronics.
Photo by A. Wildman©2009 

There are many types of camping, from a motor home with all the amenities (Hubby's first choice) to the bare essentials, even something called glamping. While my favorite when I was younger was heading out with just the bare essentials (ie food and TP) at this age sleeping in just a jacket on rocks ain't gonna cut it.

Yes, I'm a wuss, bring on the air mattress and super-cozy sleeping bags.

Where to go is easy since I can throw a dart at a map of the Pacific Northwest and find a wilderness area, national forest, or campground nearby. My main concern is what to pack, especially with Munchkin. I want to be sure everyone is comfortable while (somehow) not bringing along the entire house. Somewhere in storage is a great big tent capable of sleeping 12 adults (at least, that's what I remember the box saying) as well as four or five sleeping bags of different weights. What else do I need? Cooking gear, storage containers, the all mighty air mattress....?

As I was making lists (its what I do) of what items are needed and what would be helpful I relied on a little ebook called "Kitchen Stewardship in the Big Woods-A Family Camping Handbook with Real Food Options". This nifty ebook by Katie Kimball (the awesome mama behind Kitchen Stewardship) walks the reader through the basics of camping-from where to camp to what supplies are needed to tips on how to pack everything you need in the car (and still maintain your sanity). There are chapters on dealing with weather, cooking over a campfire (complete with recipes) and my ultimate favorite:camping with kids (specially the toddler section)

I love how down-to-earth the ebook is. Though a veteran camper there were tricks I hadn't thought of, like keeping a sleeping bag rolled up during the day so it will be warmer when you climb in at night. Not to mention over 10 pages of recipes (not all of them are paleo/primal but they are all handmade, no-processed-junk items. If your a Perfect Paleo Peep avert your eyes from the grain items) that are perfect for camping.

And there are lists at the end! (I especially like the Basic Camping Supply Shopping/Borrow List for Rookies). All in all it is a great resource and reminded me of several items I need to get before we can embark on our Great Outdoor adventure. I can't wait to get the family out in the woods!

Interested in getting a copy of "Kitchen Stewardship in the Big Woods"? Its part of the Toadally Primal Wellness Bundle that is on sale now-33 ebooks for only $39!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Patience, oh Gardener, Patience

The seed catalogs are starting to fill my mail box and the last couple days of sunshine have made me antsy to get back in the garden. Of course, its still freezing every night and barely gets in the mid-50s during the day. Not exactly prime growing temps but oh, that sun feels so warm...ish.

Hubby brought me a stack of gardening books before he left for a biz trip and I've been scouring through them, taking notes and prepping for this year's growing season. I will be doing a lot more vertical growing this year, as well as adding many heirloom varieties to the line-up. I was very happy with the insane amount of vertically-grown green beans we harvested last year (except for the fact they all ripened at the same time) while taking up very little space. I'm hoping to repeat that bounty with tomatoes and squashes this year.

Over the weekend we went to the home improvement store to pick up a couple bags of mulch and some items for the painting project. At the front door they had long trays of pansies and violas, just begging to be taken home, while in the Garden Section was cyclamen and flowering cabbages.

Look at these beautiful cyclamen! I had to pick up two, plus a bunch of pansies and violas. The violas have such a wonderful, soft scent. On the way home we stopped at Goodwill and I found some cute little buckets to use as flower pots.

Today Munchkin and I worked around the yard. We fixed the tire on the wheelbarrow and used it haul a load of firewood. I love having a full woodbox, the house is so much warmer with a wood fire than using the electric heat. Next, we broke down the cardboard boxes I'd been saving and carried them to the compost heap. We fixed the garden fence that had been damaged during the wind storm and, finally, cleaned the chicken coop.

Once all our chores were done we re-potted the flowers. The bag of potting soil had gotten wet so we were fairly dirty by the time everyone was in their new home but we had a blast. Now the house is full of bright spots of color.

These little guys make me so happy. Even though it is still cold and wet outside, and the worst of winter is still to come, these little guys remind me that spring is just around the corner.

Its like chocolate covered bacon, but for the eyes. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Crockpot Cookery-Beef Tongue

Beef tongue does not look like something you'd want to eat. Its kinda gray and very scaly and...unappetizing.I mean, look at this thing:

 Kinda looks like some sort of weird bedroom slipper, maybe what Lady Gaga wears around the house. So, what can you do with a beef tongue?

Its pretty fatty and the meat is flavorful. Its often used in Mexican cuisine for tacos and burritos (as well as many other cuisines around the world), and is fairly easy to find. Hubby picked this one from the local supermarket and since they had it I'm sure your store has it too.

After searching through my fav primal peep recipes I decided to go with Civilized Caveman's Crock Pot Beef Tongue with Roasted Pepper Sauce recipe. Unfortunately, I didn't have the pepper sauce ingredients (and I was feeling super lazy and didn't want to go to the store) so I opted to shred the meat when it was done cooking and make tacos.

It took about 5 minutes to chop up an onion, crush 6 garlic cloves (we like garlic), toss the tongue in the pot, season, and add water. My kinda dish. I set it on low and forgot about it for 8 hours while we worked on removing the ancient wallpaper from the guest bathroom.

Could I just stop right here and ask why? Why would someone use a metric ton of glue to stick paper to the wall? And why use a rubber compound to seal the bottom edge of the paper? I won't get into the odd wiring going on that was hidden by the covers (just add one more home improvement item to the list).

Anyhow, 8 hours later I dug wallpaper glue out from under my nails, brushed bits of wallpaper from my hair and checked on the tongue. All day the house had been filling with a delicious roast beef smell so my hopes were high. I scooped the tongue from the pot and tried not to laugh at the rather interesting shape it had turned into. Once I manged to get my mind out of the gutter I trimmed off the thick outer skin, shredded the meat with a pair of forks, added some salt and pepper and a bit of pot liquor and ta-da! Beef tongue tacos:

They were quite tasty, just like beef pot roast though the texture was softer, bordering on mushy, which was a little odd. Munchkin gobbled up her share and even Hubby (Mr. Non-Adventurous) said they were good. He then asked that my next weird food experiment not contain pigs feet. Hmmmmm.....I sense a challenge!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Good-bye 2012, hello 2013!

2012 was an interesting year for my family. There was financial stress, adjusting to Hubby's new work hours and more frequent business trips, the joy of having a horse again, and the sorrow of a lost pregnancy. The gardens didn't produce nearly as well as 2011 and we never completed several of the major renovations we had planned. It was a difficult year and I'm rather glad it has come to an end. Don't get me wrong, all these changes were drastically needed but I am so thankful those difficult first steps are over.

2013 will be a year of growth. We plan to put in a small fruit orchard, upgrade the veggie garden, and build a larger chicken run for the girls. I'd also like to paint the house and replace the roof. Indoors we are (finally) going to remove all the ancient wallpaper and repaint everything. I also have my fingers crossed for putting down carpet in the bedrooms. Hardwood floors are nice but they are cold!

I am concentrating on getting healthier, focusing less on the number on the scale and more on how much I can lift and how far/fast I can run. Last year we completed our first 5k-we came in last and this year I want to be in the top 20. Maybe we'll even sign up for more than one race.

Munchkin will start preschool in the fall and I'm already having trouble with the concept. I can't believe how big she is, or that she's old enough to start school (even if its only 2 half-days a week). We hope to expand the family as well but we'll see how that goes.

What are your goals for 2013? What is the one thing you want to accomplish in the next 12 months?