Sunday, December 15, 2013

guanciale progress

My guanciale has been sitting tightly packed in a bowl with salt and seasonings in the refrigerator for about 14 days now.

Today, I rinsed it off under cold water, patted it dry, let it dry out more in front of a cold, open window and then hung it in a storage crate. We closed off the heat vent in our extra bedroom and will keep a window cracked and the ceiling fan on for what should be the ideal curing environment of 50 to 60 degrees and high-at-first-but-slowly-decreasing humidity for at least six weeks.

There were no funky aromas when I removed it from the fridge -- in fact, it smelled really good -- salty and aged even (and maybe a little like bacon, but that might be wishful thinking on my part). With any luck, we won't end up with three rotting slabs of meat in our house. Also, fingers crossed we both remember to keep the doors to this bedroom shut so that none of the critters gains access to what will hopefully be a delightful charcuterie.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

christmas tree

We don't do Christmas trees very often, mostly out of sheer laziness and because we don't have a lot of holiday decorations.

Nowadays, there is simply no room in our little abode for a Christmas tree, and the animals would have a heyday with one anyway.

This number deserves to be added to the Pinterest Fail collection, but I still love it regardless. I'm one of those people that leaves Christmas lights up year-round because I love their glow and soft ambiance (and they make for excellent lighting when you're not yet ready to actually turn on a lamp in the early morning).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

fresh home-grown pork

As promised, we processed our first pig ever on Saturday.

This community into which we've submersed ourselves is downright amazing with their neighborliness and all that. People come out of the woodwork to help with a good, old-fashioned hog slaughter.

Our refrigerator and chest freezers are now full of amazing home-grown (and wild-caught) bounty from our garden and animals, and for that, we are so very thankful.

I'll spare you the business end of the slaughter.

Clyde being a good, little babysitter for the neighbor's kid.

I'm still not totally clear on why folks around here like to scrape the hair off the pig skin because when it comes down to it, most of the meat ends up skinless anyway, but I'm not one to really argue when neighbors are helping us put a 350 pound hog in the freezer. We guessed that Grumpig was about 250, while the neighbors claimed he was probably closer to 400, so we're calling it at 325 pounds and leaving it at that.

We ended up with 30 pounds of sausage, 12 pounds of tenderloin/backstraps (a little known piece of trivia we've heard is that all the "tenderloin" you get at the grocery store is actually backstrap -- the actual tenderloin probably mysteriously disappears into the butcher's freezer because NO ONE gives up tenderloin), two monstrous bacon slabs, two behemoth hams, and enough ribs to put any bar-b-que to shame.

I also started the process of making guanciale from the jowls based on this recipe.

This "salt box" contains our two bacon slabs sandwiched between a mixture of salt, sugar and red pepper flakes, and then one of the hams on top with just salt and red pepper flakes. Holes are drilled in the bin for airflow, and then after four weeks, the ham will be hung wrapped in several layers of cotton for at least six months in a cold, drafty place to finish curing. I'll have to consult one of our meat preserving books because I can't remember what happens next with the bacon (we're not smoking it). The other ham is going to the local butcher to be sliced up evenly, and then I'm not sure what's happening with that next either.

Happig gets processed in a month or so, and we're kind of at a loss as to where he's gonna go because everything is full, and I can't see us putting much of a dent in our meat storage anytime soon. Needless to say, I don't think we'll be getting more piglets in the spring.

We had a backstrap (well, part of one because they're about two feet long each) for dinner tonight, roasted in the oven with some salt, pepper, butter, caramelized onions and a dessert wine deglazing coupled with some of Jay's awesome ciabatta bread. I felt a tinge of weirdness knowing that we were eating Grumpig -- but that quickly faded (for a variety of reasons I won't overanalyze). Good deal.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

back from an absurdly long hiatus

Well, shit.

I have no good excuse for being incomunicado other than things certainly picked up speed here when the warm weather hit, I found myself working a full-time job and I just couldn't find a good rhythm for posting regularly. So I'm going to try once a week instead of every day, or every few days... or every six months, ayeesh.

My big camera has been mostly sitting on the shelf gathering dust, so most of these pictures are from my little G9 or my smart phone. Apologies.

Pictures explain better than words, but a few notable things:

- All our chickens are still alive, despite the fact that they rejected their luxurious and secure corn crib coop and opt instead to roost in the rafters of the barn, totally exposed to nightly predators.
- The pigs are fat fat fat, and Grumpig will be slaughtered next Saturday after Thanksgiving.
- We added an adorable kitten named Stinky Chester Rotten to our brood. He lives up to his name with excruciatingly gross farts. Nekkie has been training him well in vermin patrol. Chester is bestest friends with Tally.
- We swapped a motorcycle for a farm truck.
- Our hot pepper crop was, by far, our best garden investment this summer.
- Baby animals were born on our farm.
- Jay got his first deer of the season on opening rifle day last night.
- We got a chest freezer.
- It's full of meat thanks to a neighbor's cow breaking its leg.
- Jay has become the official baker in the family. His pizza is OUT OF THIS WORLD. We've also  stopped buying sandwich bread because of his mad skillz. His ciabatta bread is OFF THE HOOK GOOD.
- Our pastures are almost fully renovated thanks to the cows and some bush hogging. Our neighbor is coming back in the next couple weeks to bush hog one more time, and then we'll be done for the season.
- We had lots of visitors, including my Mom and Aunt and Jay's cousin and his wife. Now my other bro-in-law, his wife and my new nephew are likely moving from SoCal to Kingsport or thereabouts after the first of the year, woop woop.

Snap snap.

Bird scoping.

Happy farter.

The lineup (Nekkie is around somewhere).

Scary spider eating my fu dog.

Nekkie doing his Bastet impression.

I tried my hand at canning cucumbers.

We grew Tennessee Red Valencia peanuts. They are divine.

New farm ride.

The edamame was delicious (I haven't tried the sweet potatoes since curing and storing them under the house).

Racing at The Taz.

Organized chest freezer.


Tennessee sunset (I get treated to the most amazing sunrises and sunsets on my way to work).

Chicken and sausage gumbo. I didn't like it, but Jay did.

Someone needs to buy this piece of land I scoped out. Seriously.

Jay disassembled and cleaned a rifle his grandfather brought back from Japan
and asked me to document the engravings on it. 

Norman is Blackie's bull baby.


Sorry, graphic.

And Norma is Big Red's heifer baby.


Mutts waiting to see Jay's deer haul.

Good deal! Mmm, jerky and tenderloin.

Clearly a buck.

Sorry for the bloody mouth. It's what happens.

I told you, best buds.

Friday, May 31, 2013

pig blue butt + our current livestock watering system

In order to prevent infection on the newly castrated hogs, we got what the locals refer to as "blue lotion", and it is definitely blue, almost purple actually. Its actual description is, "a topical stain to be applied to the hides of animals to provide an identifying mark." But apparently, it's the go-to standard for locals to use on freshly open wounds on livestock . Its contents include: crystal violet, tannic acid, benzyl alcohol, glycerine and isopropyl alcohol. I don't know, but the pigs seem to be faring just fine and are very much back to their rambunctious selves so it must be working whatever it is.

On Sunday, we drove to Saltville, Virginia to pick up two 330 gallon IBC totes to use as water holding tanks for the cows, pigs and chickens. They were originally listed on Craig for $75 per tank, so then Jay offered the lady $125 for both over the phone, and then she counter offered with $50 a piece. We weren't really sure what to make of that math, but we took her up on it. They were lovely people with a beautiful homestead deep in some lush green hills a couple hours away from us. Both tanks fit perfectly in 5-Spot, our little 5'x8' utility trailer.

The tanks' previous contents were salt for a potato chip factory in one and a food defoamer in the other. Interestingly enough, I emailed the company labeled on the latter tank on Monday morning (Memorial Day) asking what the tank's original contents were (the previous owners didn't know, and the film on the inside resembled corn starch), thinking they might get back to within a week or so. My hopes were not high that I would really get any response at all. A few hours later, one of their employees emailed me back with a precise description of what the tank was originally used for. He wrote:

"If that is the label on that tote, that material is a Food Grade, Kosher Certified, processing defoamer complying with F&DA CFR 21 173.340. Specific to Food Processing, secondary direct contact defoamer.

I see no reason dis-allowing you to utilize the tote as a water holding vessel for your stated application.

I suggest you rinse the tote, clean it with a mild soap surfactant and rinse, again.

I hope this satisfies your questions? The processing chemical, defoamer PC 9740 is essentially vegetable based oils and suspended silica."

In short, what a nice guy! If I ever need a food defoamer for whatever reason, I'm calling Process Chemical, Inc.

So, what we have going on here in the above pictures is the two tanks at the top of the pasture, a 2.4 hp gas-powered pump halfway down to the spring at the barn entrance (we tried using a 1/3 hp electric pump and had painful results pumping uphill), and hoses going to and from the pump between the tanks and the spring down by the chestnut tree. This same spring fills my BiL's holding tank to his cabin but is overflowing as long as we've been here (ten months now), so we figure that it should provide plenty of water for the livestock year-round. We figure that the two tanks should keep the livestock in plenty of water for at least two weeks once completely filled, so if we go through a dry spell, we will hopefully have plenty of drinking water for them without having to lug buckets from our own spring.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

pig castration

No, I won't regale you with pictures of our poor, little piggies getting their nuts chopped off today, but I will show you the sweet treat we brought them as a consolation dessert (leftover rice, garden greens, and the sauce from tonight's chicken dinner, an old bell pepper, and a shriveled clementine from the kitchen fruit basket).

Jay is a hillbilly through and through, but even he wasn't prepared for and a little disturbed by the procedure that took place today. Essentially, they make two cuts to remove each gonad, which pop out once freed from their protective enclosure. Ewwww!

I wasn't there to help because I had to work, but I was filled in on all the gory details once I returned home. The reason for the castration is to prevent boar taint in their meat. We were a little on the fence about doing this, but since we're rookies, we're trying to take in as much information as possible from the locals about how to raise meat animals. There are some locally accepted things that I just won't do (such as boxing a pig in and depriving it of light, fresh air and green pasture in an effort to fatten it up as much as possible before slaughter), but pig castration is something I'm willing to try because it is a relatively common procedure, and I felt that the animals wouldn't be adversely affected (we castrate our male dogs, after all).

The pigs are a bit worn out, and I'm worried sick about infection, but I'm pretty sure that they will be fine tomorrow, especially if I bring them more delicious leftover goodies to ensure we get back in their good graces.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

state of the garden: may 26, 2013

It's been a lot of fun so far figuring out what has worked so far in our garden. I feel like I've planted practically everything under the sun as this is somewhat of a trial spring/summer garden for us since we've never gardened in this climate before.

(Apologies in advance for bogging down your bandwidth with a multitude of pictures.)

Second lettuce planting. I had originally made seed tapes during winter that were a fail, for the most part
-- the tapes wouldn't stay anchored and the germination was very spotty so this bed was direct seeded instead.

L to R: Bronze Arrow looseleaf, Winter Density butterhead, Forellenschluss romaine,
Schweitzer's Mescher bibb, and Rouge d'Hiver romaine. All these have been thinned as they get more crowded
as well as cut-and-come-agained, which has kept us in daily lettuce pickings for weeks straight.

This is the seed tape lettuce, which looks good now but filled in very slowly
and frustratingly and is a method that I won't repeat.

Ching Chang bok choy on the left and two types of beets on the right: Golden and Chioggia.
I picked 2/3 of the bok choy yesterday to make pesto, so this bed looks a lot more barren now. 

I knew that oilseed radishes were a fall crop, but I had enough on hand to try seeding a spring crop
and see what happens. Plus, this way it chokes out the weeds in this bare spot and makes for an easy experiment.

Tondo Scuro di Piacenza summer squash.

Tennessee Red Valencia peanuts (green) and more Rouge d'Hiver romaine lettuce
(as a weed suppressing companion crop).

Front left: Rossa di Treviso Precoce radicchio; back left: Cour di Bue and Red Acre cabbages; upper right:
Benning's Green Tint Scallop, Gray Zucchini, and Lemon squashes; top left: more radicchio and cabbage.

Left: Michihili cabbage; right: Ebenezer, Stuttgarter, Texas Early Grano
and Whethersfield onions (onion plantings extend way beyond the picture).

L to R: Catskill Long Island Improved Brussels sprouts; Winter Bloomsdale spinach;
De Cicco and Early Purple Sprouting broccolis; Sugar Ann, Little Marvel and Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers peas;
more (somewhat) failed seed tape lettuce; and Jacob's Cattle, Snow Cap, Lanco Edamame and Dean's Purple beans.
Note: I mistakenly seeded the Brussels sprouts much too early, but we'll just have to see what happens.

Desiree Dwarf Blauwschokkers pea flowers.

Beans interplanted with another round of lettuces. The idea is to see whether
the lettuces shaded by the beans withstand rising temperatures better than the non-shaded ones.


Highly disappointed in the germination rate of the Red Giant mustard greens,
but maybe it just wasn't warm enough yet for them. 

The saddest looking bed yet, but by mid-summer, this SHOULD be overflowing:
marigolds, nasturtiums, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and cucumbers.
Upper L to R: marigolds and a hodgepodge of flower starts, nasturtiums, Danvers carrots;
Lower row: Chocolate Stripes, Great White, Dad's Sunset, Green Zebra,
and Egg Yolk tomatoes (I had an Eva Purple Ball tomato, but it bit the dust). 

Artichokes, chives, oregano, and more (slug-eaten) beans.

Berry patch: black raspberries and strawberries, with a few volunteer kale,
lettuce and artichoke plants thrown in for good measure.


Nekkie cat.

Blackberries, red raspberries and over-wintered broccoli that flowered but never produced any edibles.

Ornamental grass.

Clyde Dog.

Red Salvia.

That's not all of it, but whew! for today.