Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Did Someone Say Spring?

Well apparently yes they did.
Asparagus is shooting...
And the Mulberry is fruiting.
Well the plants think so and who am I to judge.  I think they are much better equipped to measure the soil temperature than I am.
What this really means is that the brassicas I have got in the ground that have not yet produced may not and it is very much time to get those spring vegetable seeds sown.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Home Grown Chicken - The Taste Test

Back on the 14th of this month we had a trial run at butchering our own chicken and I have been meaning to write about the finished product but life (read work) got in the way.
After finishing the butchering we chilled the chicken in the fridge for 48 hours to let the muscles relax.  I decided to roast the chicken whole but with minimum flavouring so we could really taste the flavour of the meat.  I roasted the chicken in an oven bag with salt, pepper and lemon myrtle flavoured olive oil.

The result was delicious!!!
I have to say that I had forgotten that chicken was supposed to taste like, well chicken.  Hubby commented that I should have used a non flavoured oil so we could get more chicken flavour but have he was still flawed by the flavour.
I can only describe it by saying, if you imagine the flavour of the thigh meat, of the best tasting free range organic chicken you ever had, then that is how the (normally tasteless) breast meat tasted.  It took me back to my childhood in the 80's when chicken was not consumed as frequently as it is today and the chicken we ate was definitely more flavoursome.

Now we are really looking forward to having some more of our own chickens in the freezer.  Over the next 2 weekends we will be dealing with the remaining 11 chickens so that should keep us going for a while.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Lime Spice Syrup Cake

This cake is soooo good.  Share it with friends over a coffee served with a good dollop of Greek yogurt (or double cream if you prefer) as desert with family or just on your own with a cup of tea and a good book.

185 gm Soft Butter
1Cup Castor Sugar
4 Eggs - Separated
2 Cups Flour
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Nutmeg
3 Tsp Ground Cardamom
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Bi Carb Soda
1 Cup of Butter Milk or 4 Tbls Plain yogurt topped up with milk to make 1 cup
Grated rind and juice of 3 Limes

1/2 Cup Water
3/4 Cup Sugar
Juice of 3 Lime
3 Stripsof Lime Peel
1 Cinnamon Stick
6 Bruised Cardamom pods

Pre heat oven to 180 degrees C.
Grease a 23 cm Square cake tin and line the base.
Cream the butter sugar and lime rinds.  Add the yolks one at a time and mix well.  Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.  Sift the dry ingredients and fold into the butter mix alternating with the buttermilk and lime juice.  Fold   1/3 of the egg whites into the mix then fold in the remaining 2/3.  Spoon into tin and bake for 55-60 minutes.
While the cake is cooking make the Syrup.
Put the water, sugar and juice into a pot and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Add the Rind and spice and bring to the boil.  Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 5 minutes.

Once cooked cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack over a tray to catch the syrup.
Spoon the syrup over the cake, trying to be as even as possible, and discard the peel and spices.  Catch the drips and pour over the cake.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Butchering Meat Chickens - A Trial Run

Before you read any further I will let you know there are no gruesome photos of headless chickens in this post.  If anyone wants to see step by step butchering pictures there are plenty on the net and since I am a novice I have no words of wisdom to impart just our experiences on the day.

Our Meat Chickens have now reached 7 weeks of age and this is the age that they would be butchered if they were in a commercial poultry farm.
We plan to keep ours slightly longer, probably an extra 2-3 weeks but will will see how things go.
Today was all about a trial run of the butchering process.  It was actually really good to have the trial run with just one chicken, so now we have a much better understanding of how long it takes, what we need to  have organised and any potential pitfalls.
The trial run was some what forced upon us as one of the chickens had an issue with one of it's legs that we could see was going to get worse.  We were aware that this was a potential issue with the commercial birds but unlike a large commercial operation we are not going to just leave that one bird to suffer because the rest are not ready.

This is the first time hubby has had any part in butchering chickens and for someone who grew up in the middle of Brisbane he has taken to it very well.  I grew up in the country and as a child took part in butchering our own chickens. This was back in the 80's and I was pretty young so other than seeing them run around without their heads (which of course we thought was hilarious) and plucking them there is not a lot I remember.

We set ourselves up outside on an out door table with:
The BBQ set up with a pot of scaling water and a thermometer,
A few layers of news paper taped to the table,
Instructions taped to the table,
A Stainless steel bowl, sharp knife, paper towels, latex gloves and a chopping board.
Set up ready to go
This preparation made the job a lot easier
I found these instructions on the net and used them as my guide.
My instructions taped to the table for easy reference
We looked at a few options for the actual killing.  We were going to use a killing cone but after attempting to modify a plastic road cone we discovered that the cone was too narrow to fit the chicken.  We ended up using an old pillow case with the corner cut out which allowed us to keep the wings contained and the axe on the chopping block method.

It was a good time of year to be doing this as there were no flies to worry about, the weather was cool and we had no interruptions.  These are all things that I believe are important here in Queensland and Hubby and I discussed the fact that it would not be a god idea to raise birds that would need to be butchered in the summer dues to these factors.
The instructions mentioned the need to be careful not to break the bile duct if you wanted to eat the liver as it would make it taste bitter.  Not being familiar with the anatomy of a chicken I did not even know which bit  the bile duct was, till I broke it.  Thankfully it broke after I had removed all of the intestines outside of the bird, not that we were going to eat the liver anyway.
The bright green bile
It all went well and for this time we skinned the chicken.  We will not skin all of the chickens in the future but we decided this one we would.  It weighed 1.3kg after we had cleaned it all up. Now it needs to chill in the fridge for 48 hours before we eat it so that the muscles have time to relax, or so I am told.
The finished product
I am interested in hearing about any one elses experiences so please feel free to leave a link in the comments section if you have written about it or know of any good sources of information on the topic.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Food Overload

Our fridge is crying out for help.
We have a had different groups of friends visiting recently for meals and they all wanted to leave bits and pieces behind.  So on top of everything else that we already had our fridge is overflowing.
There is only the two of us, so for this week (and perhaps next week too) there will be no grocery shopping at all.
This will certainly help me with my Plastic Free July and with the bank balance, not that we spend that much on food.
So what's on the menu this week:
Beef Spare Ribs, Cauliflower Bake, Baked Potato's and Coleslaw (all leftovers)
Beef Spare Ribs, Baked Potato's with Sour Cream, Spring Onions and Tomato Salsa (all leftovers)
Fritata to use up the last of the Baked Potato's and Spring Onions with Silverbeet from the Garden
Baked Chicken with Cherry Tomato's (leftovers) and Couscous Salad
Roast Beetroot and Feta Salad
Chicken Stirfry with Veg from fridge and garden
Lamb Korma, Naan, Rice, Raita, Tomato and Spinach Stew and Aloo Mattar (we will have this for a few nights this week in different combinations)
I am sure there will be a few other meals that get thrown together from other bits and pieces and I hope to have a lot less in the fridge this time next week.

New Reading Material

In the last week I have acquired some new books.

The first one was a birthday gift from my best friend and boy am I excited.  So many bread recipes to try over the coming months.

The second book is one I purchased for myself.
We are not looking at getting pigs at this stage but in the future it is something that we would like to do.
Today is my day off and it is raining and cold  and we have the fire going,  So you can guess what I will be doing for at least some of the day.

Have you read any good books lately?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Meat Chickens - Out an About

Well the meat chickens are out and about and loving it.
They have their own yard separate from our egg laying chickens but within the same large enclosure.

Before we ordered the meat chickens I removed a large section of the grass from what would be their yard and planted out a patch of Clucker Tucker that I ordered through a local company Green Harvest.  Clucker Tucker is a mix of barrel medic, bok choy, buckwheat, forage chicory, clover, cocksfoot, linseed, lucerne, millet, forage plantain, silverbeet, subclover and sunflower. Most have vigorous root systems that will quickly regrow leaves that are eaten and will tolerate a bit of scratching once established.
You can see the patch of Clucker Tucker planted out on the left of the below photo.
The chickens like to lie in the sun amongst the Clucker Tucker.
They do scratch in the dirt a bit but not like our other chickens.
The next two photos were taken about a week ago when the chickens were six weeks old.  As you can see they are huge for their age and very un-attractive.

My best friend visited today and she had not seen the meat chickens before but she summed them up quite well.  She said they look inbred.  I think that pretty much sums them up.  
There is something just not right about them.  They sort of look like chickens and sort of behave like chickens, but anyone who has has a flock of laying chickens would see straight away that they are are just not normal chickens.
This has been quite a learning experience so far and the final tests will be at the end of the process when it comes to butchering and eating.
We will do a tally at the end to see exactly how much it has cost us to produce each bird but we are almost  100% convinced we will choose a heavy heritage breed for meat in the future.  So now we are looking at which breeds might be suitable.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Slow Living - June

Linking up with Christine again this month although I am again running behind.

Nourish -Make and bake as much as possible from scratch. Ditch over packaged, over processed convenience foods and opt for 'real' food instead.
There has been bread making this month as well as pesto and big batches of muffins divided into small portions and frozen.  We have been eating the small number of eggs we are getting and have been eating silverbeet, bok choy, coriander, cabbage and kohl rabi  from the veggie garden.
I have been using up the limes, lemons and oranges that we picked a while back too.

Lime Spice Syrup Cake (recipe later this week)

Prepare - Stockpile and preserve. Freeze extra meals or excess garden/market produce. Bottle/can, dehydrate or pickle foods to enjoy when they are not in season.
I have made some batches of pesto and there are the extra muffins mentioned above.  I have also made a big batch of BBQ sauce (recipe yet to be posted).
BBQ Sauce
Reduce - Cut down on household waste by re-using, re-purposing and repairing.
We have been having a big clean up around the house and yard and have been sending lots of stuff off to the tip.  We also made the decision to sell out tractor.  It was old and needed a lot of work.  In the 3 years we had been here we had only used it twice so it made sense to get rid of it and put the money in the bank.

Green Start (or continue!) using homemade cleaners, body products and basic herbal remedies. The options are endless, the savings huge and the health benefits enormous.
I also made up another batch of liquid soap and made some bi-carb paste.

Grow plant/harvest. What's growing this month? What's being eaten from the garden?
It has all been about harvesting winter veg this month. And I have got some tomatoes in to see if I can get them through winter for a late winter/early spring crop.  We have just harvested our second bunch of bananas and these were much riper that the first ones.

Create - To fill a need or feed the soul. Create for ourselves or for others.
I have been knitting more dishcloths and so far have made 5.  I might have to move on to something a bit more challenging soon, a scarf might be in order before winter ends.

Discover Feed the mind by reading texts relevant to current interests.
I have been reading books about bee keeping and raising pigs even though it is unlikely we can do either of those things in the near future, one day maybe.

Enhance Community
I am the event director for a classic car show later this year so that is taking up a bit of time.  I am also still involved in the anti sand mining group for my local area.  Then there is fund raising for the local chaplaincy with monthly sausage sizzles and I  am involved in the social planning for our community.  The note on my message board in my office makes it very clear.  NO MORE MEETINGS OR COMMITTEES.  Yes my time is stretched thin on top of work and home and Hubby has laid down the law.

Enjoy - Life! Embrace moments with friends and family. Marking the seasons, celebrations and new arrivals are all cause for enjoyment.
June was a busy month and it was not until the last day of the month that we had time to catch up with friends.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Injured Hen Update

It looks as though Mrs Chicken will make a full recovery after her run in with Jessie.
She is eating, drinking and pooping (important since the skin tear was near her vent) as normal and was very partial to some curl grubs that I dug out of the compost for her.  The were a few clucks of appreciation which I am sure is a good sign.
She is enjoying her stint near the fire during this cold snap we are having ( frost for the last 2 days and it was still 0 degrees at 7.50 am yesterday) but will go back to join the flock on Saturday all gong well.

Birthday Ups and Downs

It was my birthday this week and there were highs and lows.

I woke in the morning to the following gift from the cat. Nothing like a dead mouse on your birthday to set the mood. : )
I was lucky enough to speak to my parents, grandparents, siblings, in-laws, friends and cousins both here and in NZ where all of my family live.
I received some lovely gifts including magazine subscriptions and the below book full of tips about growing different fruit and veggies and then ideas of how to use them.

So for most of the day it was great.  Then late in the afternoon I heard a commotion from the chicken pen.
Our dog Jessie had scaled the 5 foot  fence and had ripped out some of the feathers of one of our hens.
I was furious!  So I got her out of the pen and tied up and then I went back to find out exactly how bad the damage was and how many chickens had been involved.  I found the poor hen hiding in the long grass the grows around the fence and took her inside so I could have a good look at her.
I was home by myself and so the whole process of trying to look over a stressed out hen was not the easiest process.  I checked over her wings, head and body from the top then I wrapped her in a towel flipped her over and tried to get her to relax with some chicken hypnotism.  Now for those who might think this is a joke  it is actually a very good way of getting your chicken to to remain still while you look it over.  The method I use is to flip the chicken on its back, cover it's head with a cloth so it is dark (although this will still work even it you don't) then you take your thumb and index finger and run them down each side of the chickens breast bone.  Do this over and over and hey presto sleepy chicken.
Now it would have been much easier if I had a second person to keep stroking the chicken, but I didn't so I was not able to spend too long inspecting the hen.
I was able to see she had had a number of feather yanked out and was bleeding around her vent.  But it was hard to see how bad the damage actually was.  So I washed the area with some sterile irrigation solution from  our first aid kit (there goes some plastic in my plastic free month) and put the chicken into the small cage we have with so water and a clean but old towel to sit on and decided to keep her inside over night.
I rang hubby at work and told him what had happened and I hinted that I might take her to the vet.
Hubby then told me not to be so silly taking a $5 chicken to the vet for a $50 consultation and asked me to wait till he got home.  I understand his logic but I just felt really bad for my chicken.
Any way she has been in the cage for a few days and I have given the damaged area another wash and trimmed away the bloody feathers and it looks like it will heal up.  She is eating and drinking and pooping normally and today she even ate some of the chickweed I put in her cage so I think things will b ok.  I do not want to put her back with the other chickens too soon  as I would hate them to peck her or the rooster try and have his way with her, I am not sure she would tolerate that at the moment.  So we are back to having chicken(s) in the house but hopefully not for too long.
The next issue is securing the pen against Jessie as I do not want to go through this again.  That will wait for another post though.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Plastic Free Month -The Challange

Well I have no doubt this is going to be a challange.  I have signed up for Plastic Free July.
The challange is to attempt to buy no single use disposable plastic in July.

This is an initiative of Earth Carers a group in Western Australia.

The Rules

  • Between 1 – 31 July, attempt to buy no plastic packaging that cannot be recycled.
  • Remember its not going to be easy, but  its a challenge, not a competition so don't worry about being perfect.
  • Collect any plastic packaging you do buy. Keep it in a ‘dilemma bag’ and share a photograph at the end of the challenge. 
For a while now I have been trying to cut back on the plastic entering our house that is not able to be recycled.  I have an arrangement with our butcher that I can take in my own containers and he will tare off their weight and fill them with what I need.
I have long given up plastic bags at the green grocer and instead use some old onion bags that I collected.  They weigh nothing and can be used over and over again.

I think that it is going to be a hard month and I am not optimistic about my "dilemma bag"  being empty at the end of the month.
I will be reporting back weekly about my efforts, struggles and the "dilemma bag".

If you have any suggestions about being plastic free please let me know.