Saturday, November 11, 2017

All the things...

We've had a wonderfully busy summer and autumn. So busy in fact that Chris asked me what we actually do for fun anymore. That inspired some goofball shenanigans but not much time to put together blog posts. So here's a quick preview of what I need to catch up on:

I took apart an old chair and will turn it into a really cool dog bed. Eventually. At the moment it's eating up an enormous amount of space in my project room. 
Cooper's future bed.
Chris finished the kitchen cabinetry. Which means I'm madly drilling holes in antique cutlery to install pulls. Then I'll get to actually fill the drawers and get organized. Woot!
Hooray for cupboard doors!
I completed my eight week pottery class. Had great fun and made a substantial amount of nifty dishes. We'll definitely be doing more throwing of pots.
Just a fraction of the total haul.
While Chris worked on cabinets, I installed the hardwood flooring upstairs. 600 square feet of oak boards went down in a few weeks. Let's hear it for pneumatic nailers!
Laying the first row
Chris also constructed my French Cleat system for the North wall of the kitchen. Now I need to actually construct all the boxes and shelves to make it usable. So much storage! 
This is going to be awesome.
Once I got the hardwood installed we moved on to organization upstairs. We decided to see if we'd like bookshelf molding at the ceiling. We did! We've replaced the temporary shelf with one that has hidden brackets and it reaches across the wall and to each small window. 
 Just to see if we'd like it.
Chris also got the kitchen island finished and put together the new shelves for the sewing table support/base. This is where all my baking ingredients will go and it supports the Northeast corner of the kitchen island.
It'll have 4 shelves by the time we're done.
And of course no molding job is complete until you put up window trim. This is the studio. We're still working on the bedroom upstairs.
Love the way it frames the view
And we hiked and enjoyed the property.
Raccoon deer?
I'll write detailed posts about all this and more but wanted to get some kind of record out here before the holidays push it all out of my mind. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Processing chickens

I'll spare you any photos as this post is not a how-to, but it is going to contain some pretty graphic descriptions. It's a reflection, review, and reminder (oooh, alliteration!) so the next time we do this it goes well (again).

That's right, it went well this time too. No big lessons learned, no we'll never do that again, just some pointers to help remind us what we did and what we want to do next time.

I did a bunch of research first and found these sites and videos to be most helpful:
Video of the slaughter
Video of the butchering
Video of slaughter and butchering
Text & photo of whole process
Text & photo of process again

We only had two birds since we lost four this spring to foxes. We decided that as this was our first time butchering chickens that we'd just do one bird at a time rather than trying to do an assembly line. That worked well for us as we didn't feel rushed.

Equipment used:
   Old canning pot (a deeper pot would have been better, but it worked okay)
   Two electric hot plates (that pot is big! Needed two to get enough heat plus it was more stable)
   Butchering table (plastic, easy to clean)
   Hose with nozzle
   Sharps: boning, paring, chef, boning shears, cleaver
   Cutting board
   Cooler with ice and water
   Trash can with liner
   Rope for tying up bird
   Propane torch
   Diluted bleach solution for cleaning up
   Rubber gloves (latex gloves are fine, they don't have to be those big kitchen things)
   For next time: add a rubber mallet and cut proof gloves

Set up:
   Hot plates on table at very edge of porch. Fill pot 2/3 full and heat water to at least 140 degrees but not over 160.
   Sharpen knives.
   Place the butchering table near but not directly in front of the hot water (you're using the water to scald the bird for plucking, it doesn't need to be right by the butchering table). It was handy for extra supplies though so don't put them too far apart.
   Tractor near the porch with rope attached to bucket.
   Cooler full of ice and water.
   Hose easily reached for rinsing bird after slaughter and for rinsing butchered bird.

The slaughter:
We hung the first hen by both feet from the tractor bucket so that we could raise or lower her as needed. This worked great as she was at first too low to handle easily and we could quickly raise her up without re-rigging the rope. The chickens weren't pets and were always destined for the pot but I really didn't want this process to be horrifying (for them or me). Yeah, yeah, maybe I'm self-justifying, but I believe that a calm approach to the whole thing can only help. So I had Chris wrap her in a towel while I slowly, calmly stretched her neck and found the vein just under the jaw line. Holding her head so that her eyes were covered and beak closed, I sliced the vein and pulled gently to the side to open the wound. I used the boning knife as it's got a non-slip handle and it's wicked sharp with a thin blade. The slice was quick and the bird barely moved when I made the cut. I can tell you the cut was barely felt because on the second bird I sliced my hand too and didn't notice immediately (note for next time - wear cut proof gloves as I had a hard time keeping my hand out of the way). Chris held her in the towel and I held her head until she'd completely bled out. I could feel her head/beak move slightly during the bleeding but she didn't struggle and it wasn't until the very end that there was any noticeable movement. Holding the towel tight avoided thrashing around and it certainly helped my psyche even if it did nothing for the bird. Once she was dead we took a walk around the building to regroup and then came back to pluck her.

The plucking:
No mechanical plucker so we did it the old-fashioned way - scalding and pulling. First I removed the head because that's not something I want to see flopping around while pulling feathers. Nope. A quick rinse with the hose removed any poo and blood that was on the feathers (I couldn't see poop but I figured, what's the harm? Rinse!). Then we dunked her into the hot water a few times - 10 seconds or so at a time, swish around, then out to check for pluckability (not a word but it should be), and in again if needed. Maybe two or three dunks. Don't overheat as it will make the skin tear easily and it's hard enough to pluck without that. (Note that there was no smell - not sure what everyone is talking about with scalding stinking).
Hung her back up in the same rope, grabbed the trash can, put on the gloves (boy did this help prevent feather accumulation on the hands), and started pulling feathers. The wing feathers were a total bear to pull out and the feathers around the butt were tough too. In fact we tore the skin around the tail so next time we'll need to be more careful (not that it really mattered as I cut off and discarded the tail anyway, but still - let's try to be professional, hmm?). The rest of the feathers came out pretty easily and then we used the torch to quickly burn off the hairs (okay, that smelled a bit).

The butchering:
Thoroughly rinse the bird and place on the table. Watch the videos, look at the photos, and go for it. Not a lot of notes here as the links pretty well show it all. We didn't perforate any organs and it all went well. First removed the crop, esophagus, and wind pipe (third video). We didn't deny food as we weren't sure when the weather would let us butcher so the crop was kind of full. No big deal, no mess, and it actually made it really easy to identify. Then spin the bird and cut along the pelvic bones to create slits that I could connect with my fingers. Kept my finger between the skin and the intestines and used the knife to open between the slits which let me see the internal organs. To remove the intestines I ended up using the method where you hook under the intestine with your finger and then cut under it to remove the entire vent (second video). Then just reached my hand in to pull out the organs. It helped enormously to have Chris hold the carcass up and let gravity assist with organ removal. I chose to spatchcock the birds after the initial gutting and that helped with final organ removal simply because I could see what I was doing - lungs, ovaries, and kidneys like to stick around if you can't see them.
Speaking of ovaries - it was totally weird to have yolks just falling out of the bird. I finally looked up this article chicken reproductive track to see if I did something wrong in the butchering but I think this was normal. Here's what I gather: the yolk is held in a sac that ruptures along the stigma before entering the oviduct. It looks to me like the yolk just hangs out in there until the infundibulum engulfs it and it eventually forms the egg. So my best guess is that the sac is very fragile and when I put my hand in there it was enough to disrupt it and the yolks fell out. So, weird yet fascinating stuff, huh?

Finishing up:
Once the birds were cleaned out and hosed off I put them in the cooler of ice water to quickly reduce their temperature. After a while I dried them off, put them in plastic freezer bags, and stored them in the fridge for a day or so before moving them to the freezer.

I'll give statistics and costs in another post but I'm counting this experience a big success and intend to get six new layers this coming spring.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Apple butter and apple sauce with my Squeezo

I've always wanted a Squeezo. They're just so usefully cool. I wasn't enthused about paying a couple hundred dollars though. And I don't know what garage sales everyone else seems to go to, but I have never seen one at a yard sale, let alone one for $5 (the same holds true for American Harvester pressure canners - nope, don't see those cheap either). 

Anyway, Chris was browsing around eBay and found this beauty, made a bid or two, and ended up with it for $70 including shipping. It even came with the original booklet. Pretty neat.

Apple season finally rolled around and I got out my equipment. Handy pictorial in the booklet for assembly instructions meant it went together quickly and easily.

Ready and waiting
I used the Ball Blue book recipe for apple butter. Cooked the quartered apples in apple cider for 25 minutes and then fed them through the food mill - skins, seeds, and all.
No need to peel or anything else
With a bit of pressure and speed on the handle (I was turning too slowly at first) out came sauce on one side, bad bits on the other.
Separating perfectly
Then I started cooking down the apple butter. Um, yeah, I'd never made apple butter before and didn't realize just how long that would take. I actually started it in my regular stock pot then figured out that I needed more surface evaporation and switched to the dutch oven. Next time I'll do it in the crockpot (uncovered) and let it cook down all morning.
Slowly evaporating
The apple butter finally cooked down enough and I waterbath canned it. The bit of extra that wouldn't fit in the jars got used immediately on toasted homemade bread. Oooh, really good.

Next up was canning apple sauce. Again, used the Ball Blue book and was surprised to see that you don't need to use a pressure canner to do apple sauce. Well, that makes things easier, doesn't it?
My biggest stock pot
I steamed a half bushel of apples for 15 minutes and then fed them through the Squeezo.
A lot of apples
One nifty thing about the Squeezo? You feed the trimmings back through the hopper and process them again. You don't get an extreme amount of extra pulp but certainly enough to make it worth doing. The apple sauce came out great and that completed my canning for the season. Next year I'll do tomato sauce too. Yum!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dying white stuff blue

Chris wanted to try to bleach art on a shirt. Do we did some internet searches, found a recipe for DIY bleach-pens, and made some up. When we used it on some old clothes however it didn't do a darn thing. Not sure if the bleach was old (can bleach get old?) or if the shirts were beautifully colorfast. So we figured, why not dye some shirts and then bleach them, right?

I picked up some RIT dye and we got to work.

Mixing the dye
Interesting tie-dye effects
I had a cute PJ set with embroidery on it that I wanted to do something interesting to. So I tied it up in an unusual pattern and got to dipping.
Come out really cool
All together we dyed 8 t-shirts and 1 PJ set. Lot of dying!
Lots to play with
Then we chose one of the shirts and tried our bleach art again.
Hmmm, I'm concerned...
It didn't work. I guess the bleach was no good anymore. And unfortunately the dying didn't work either. We must not have followed the directions carefully enough (although it sure seemed like we did) because everything ran together and just turned various semi-solid shades of blue. Argh. 

We're not giving up though. I went and got some red dye and we'll see if we can make some interesting and weird purple patterns. (In reading up on dying techniques I think where we went wrong was in not rinsing enough. It seemed like the water was clear but I'm guessing not).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Garden harvests

Remember how I said the garden wasn't very successful this year? Well, here's some evidence.

I planted three potato hills. This was the first harvest:
The great potato harvest
Fortunately the other two hills, which I let go nearly a month longer, yielded a few more potatoes. I got enough to make lunch for us any way. And they were delicious!

The tomato plants finally started really producing as we got some hot weather in September. And I harvested those two wee watermelon.

Beefsteak & cherry tomatoes, cukes, watermelon
Both were roughly this size
Fortunately the watermelon were actually really yummy. Much more like the watermelon I remember from my youth - sweet, juicy, and chock full of seeds.
We also had some volunteer sunflowers. Love the design of the seed ring.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Miscellaneous Stuff

It's funny how much miscellaneous life goes on while you're doing big stuff. Chris is working on kitchen cabinetry, a pit greenhouse, and general house maintenance; I'm installing hardwood floors and keeping up with the usual housework and cooking. 

We're also managing to enjoy all the other stuff that happens along the way:

Sewing a woobie for my Great-Niece
Very picturesque plum jam
Surgery on the squash plants
Vine borer - the reason for the surgery
Enjoying the eclipse
Washington county fair
We go on old folks day - pulling trials, horses & antique tractors
One of the old tractors
Harvestor, not a horror movie prop
Much like my Dad's 
Freaky rooster
And his freaky hen
A good idea for a stream foot bridge

Monday, October 9, 2017

Kitchen progress - the historical tour

Okay, so it's only 4 years, but it's our history so I'm sticking with the title. Chris has been diligently working on finishing my kitchen cabinetry and I'm going to do some posts on that soon. But I was looking through old pictures and realized that the kitchen has come a long way since we moved in. We've made many plans about layout, lived with improvements and additions, and changed those plans to accommodate how we really live and cook. It's been a true luxury having time and skills to make this kitchen our own.  

Move-in day, February 2013
March 2013 - gained a temporary sink
April 2013 - added chrome racks
August 2013 - added the tool chests (love those things) 
July 2014 - moved the butcher block for the 5th time
August 2015 - added window trim 
Oct 2016 - barrister bookcases for future use 
Back in November of 2016 we officially began building the cabinetry. January 2017 saw the install of the antique kitchen sink. And then the last months have been spent building the rest of the cabinetry, making many, many drawers, trying out various ways of attaching silverware as drawer handles (that'll be a post - most of the methods failed and I've finally found one that truly works), and setting up the kitchen in general. I've now got tons of storage space and a really nifty cleat system that I haven't figured out how to fully utilize yet. As I said - many posts to come. But it's been fun looking back on where we've been.