Why hello there! Is anyone still here? I’ve neglected this place so long that I’ll be surprised if there is.
Life has been crazy, work has been busy, and I sometimes don’t know which end is up. But it seems that the universe is conspiring to give me a bit of a breather, and so, you know, I might be back for a bit.
Those of you that asked about a Dark Days Challenge for this year. Um, yeah. No. There’s no challenge. But I hope you’re doing the best you can to eat sustainably and locally through the winter.
As for us? The garden sort of got put to bed. The broilers made it to the freezer. The hens are living in the broiler shed for the winter to give their pasture a rest. Digger is still here and still super cute. And now he has a ridiculously sweet miniature mule as a companion. More on all of that later.
This post? This one is at Mike’s request. Yesterday (Friday) he had the day off and so went bird hunting up at Lake Terrell, up near Ferndale, WA, by himself. And he had a good day. A very big, and a somewhat small, Canadian goose good day. And so tonight we ate goose breast (from the big goose – the small one went in the freezer). And he wanted me to share it with you.
I used the recipe from the River Cottage Meat cookbook. You’ll find it in the index if you look. It’s the one with pineapple (so not local). And the cooking time is obviously for a much smaller goose. But, in the end, it was delicious. It wasn’t a true Dark Days dinner – the broccoli was from California and the pineapple from Hawaii – but the goose? That was all local.
That’s my plate above. Mike thought mine might not be pretty enough so he dished his in the most composed way he could. His is below.
I hope that this post finds you enjoying the first bit of 2013 and recovering from your holiday season. What have you been cooking lately?
There are weekends which feel like they were wasted, or spent simply recharging the batteries. And there are weekends that are spent getting shit done. This was the latter (in combination with one 2 weeks ago). Between the two of us, Mike and I got the lawns mowed, the garden tilled and laid out, the garage cleaned, and a bit of relaxing done to celebrate Easter.
A total of 3-4 hours of rototilling, a couple hours with stakes, string lines and a rake, and an hour with shovel finds the garden ready to meet spring head on. I don’t think I’ve been this “on time” with the tilling, seeding and planting in years. It seems that something always gets in the way (building fence, horse shopping, bathroom remodels, etc) and I’m always playing catch-up in late April and early May.
Not this year! As of tonight I’ve got everything except for 1 row staked, raked, and ready to plant in the 31′x35′ garden. The potatoes are in, the onion transplants are in, the carrots/peas/radish are seeded, and the rest is ready to go as various seed and plant dates are hit. I feel a bit like it’s all a delusion…
Taking advantage of an unseasonable 65 F day, I went and rode Bill in the arena this morning and then headed for the trails with Digger. After all, working in the garden all day Saturday meant that I knew I had some time to goof off (plus Mike was at the bow range so he was having fun too!). Big D and I rode around in the woods and meadows for 90 minutes or so, long enough to totally relax and work up a bit of a sweat.
And in the late afternoon, what should a hardworking farm girl do, but find a few minutes to sit in the pasture, in the sun, watching the world go by.
We’ve just entered our fifth year here on the farmette and spring is on it’s way, or so I keep telling myself. A lot has changed in the past 4 years, and a lot has stayed the same. The frogs still sing on spring nights, there are seeds under lights, the shed is full of peeping chicks again, the dogs are still digging holes in the yard (much to Mike’s chagrin), and there’s a cat wrapping around my ankles every time I step outside.
But this year we’re not building fence (thank goodness) and we’re greeted by horses when we get home. The garden is staying the smaller size of last year and I’ve eliminated a few more species from the plans. We’re as busy making plans to work on the house as we are making plans to work on the outbuildings and the pasture.
The more settled we become, the more there is to do. But then again, we’re not terribly good at sitting still and taking it easy, so neither of us is really complaining.
What’s got you working hard this spring?
broccoli and lettuce seedlings
Black Star and Welsummer chicks in their box in the shed
Daylight savings time has kicked me into garden high gear, after months of hemming and hawing about what the plan was going to be. I hit the farm store on Sunday for my seeds at 40% off, plus potato seed. Onion transplants should be coming in later this month. Once I got home I spent an hour or so cleaning off the seedling shelves and testing lights and heat pads, then I filled the first flat of the year with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and broccoli.
I declared seed bankruptcy at the end of last season – something rodent-like had gotten into my seedbox, and kept only the ones from my grandfather. Starting over on our seed bank is causing me to re-evaluate what I want to start myself and what I want to just buy starts for. In the end I bought seeds for things that I like to have total control of and/or that we grow a lot of. I skipped seeds for cauliflower and cabbage as we only ever grow a few of each (a pony pack of starts will do us) as well as for the lemon cucumber (only grow one vine each year). Knowing me I’ll probably end up buying some more brassica seeds, and perhaps some parsnips, but for the most part I think we’re set.
This year’s garden will be the same size as 2011′s, with the exception that we’re going to have to plant new asparagus after the spring harvest. The old row is now all by it’s lonesome in the middle of the grass and I’m too lazy to dig up the crowns and move them. I’ll plant new crowns for next year and we’ll continue to harvest whatever of the old ones poke their heads up through the garden turned back to lawn. The strawberries are also moving, making their way over to the berry garden, in between the raspberries and blueberries. They’ve wintered well, and hopefully we can get a new raised bed built for them this weekend.
The seed list for this year includes the following:
Hybrid Broccoli Blend (Territorial)
Green Sprouting Calabrese Broccoli (Hume Organic) plan to purchase cauliflower and cabbage starts
Red Core Chantenay Carrot (Hume Organic)
Bolero Hybrid Carrot (Territorial)
Mokum Hybrid Carrot (Territorial)
Nelson Hybrid Carrot (Territorial)
Yaya Hybrid Carrot (Territorial)
Imperator Carrot (Hume)
Danvers Half Long Carrot (Hume)
Anaheim College 64 Peppers (Territorial)
Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Pepper (Territorial)
Italian Pepperoncini Pepper (Territorial)
Sweet Banana Pepper (Park)
Stiletz Extra Early Tomato (Territorial)
Taxi Main Season Tomato (Territorial)
Manitoba Heirloom Tomato (Territorial) plus I’m planning to purchase cherry, grape, and San Marzano starts (couldn’t get seeds this weekend)
Earlivee Hybrid Corn (Territorial)
Bouquet Dill (Hume)
Sweet Basil (Territorial)
Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea (Territorial)
Cascadia Snap Pea (Territorial)
Lincoln Shelling Pea (Hume)
Dakota Shelling Pea (Territorial)
Soleil Bush Beans (Territorial)
Jade Bush Beans (Territorial)
Venture Bush Beans (Territorial)
Nash Bush Beans (Territorial)
My run of bad luck with horses continued right through 2011 and I’m hoping with all my heart that it’s over going into 2012.
Digger was retired from his short show career in July due to a torn suspensory ligament. He’s cleared for trail riding and if it ever stops raining and snowing around here we’ll get out to it.
Thanks to the generosity of my friend and trainer, I have a new reiner to ride, her horse Bill.
Bill knows way more than I do and so we’ve had some getting to know you (learning how to ride you) growing pains over the busy holiday and vacation season of November – January. Hopefully this morning’s fairly solid ride is the first of many, better, days.
He’s got quite the personality to go with his ability, and so I thought that he should have a showy pair of bell boots for our practice rides. I’ve been told they’re not show pen appropriate, but that’s okay, we’ll get plenty of use out of them!
Butchering day 2011 has come and gone, and 74 finished birds headed for various freezers. This year’s birds turned out a pretty consistent size, at an average of 4 lb 10 oz and a cost of $10 each ($2.17/lb). A pretty favorable comparison to our costs the past couple of years. There are a few things I’d do differently next year that would likely increase our costs a bit, but more on that later.
There’s a lot of fear and revulsion surrounding the Cornish X broiler, and a lot of it was emailed to me after my last broiler post. But you know what? At the end of the day they’re just chickens. They’re a bit more fragile, a bit slower, a lot younger, but they still chase bugs, they still appreciate treats, they still like to bathe in the dirt on a sunny day. And they still lived a happy carefree life until they met their swift end with a sharp knife.
We didn’t lose any birds after the first 2 weeks (3 in the first 48 hours and 1 at two weeks old) and then we culled one with a non-healing broken leg (I stepped on her at the 2 week mark) at 6 weeks because she wasn’t doing well. In the last 10 days I lost 3 more to aerial attack by a hawk. She must have spent days figuring out how to get in between the flash tape strands and then it took me until the third dead broiler to realize it was a bird and not a raccoon killing them. A lot more flash tape and we stymied her – she sat in that tree and screamed at my mother and I for quite a while before flying off in search of accessible prey.
Butcher day dawned clear and very very cold. It was 24F when Mike and I got up to do morning chores at 6am. At 8:30 when we were filling the scaling pot it was still frozen solid.
Mike and I cooked up a fresh 4-1/2 pound bird for dinner the next day and wow, that’s some seriously good chicken. It was great off the grill and the rest of the bird made lunches and then one of our favorite soups. Can hardly wait to eat these all winter.
What would I do differently? What did I learn about raising Cornish X? I’ll take a few things away from this year to do differently next year. And yes, we will be doing Cornish X again, rather than the longer growing Slow Broilers.
I’ll feed the birds a bit more. We did a 20% broiler mash from start to finish. Because I was worried about the birds growing too fast I pulled feed for 12 hours each night. It meant we didn’t have any health problems caused by them growing too fast, but we did end up with a few really tiny birds at the end and only a few over 6 pounds.
Next time I’d give them feed for 16 hours a day and might add another big feeder. I expect it would increase our cost per bird by about $1.50 but would probably not affect our price per pound as they’d be bigger birds. It will be a balancing act as we all agreed the sweet spot is 4 – 5.5 pounds, which is where 75% of our birds finished up this year.
We raise our birds in a shed with attached pasture/yard. This year we went through a lot more pine shavings as well as ended up with a dirtier shed at the end. I typically deep bed the shed – which means you keep putting fresh bedding on top as needed and clean it all out at the end. Turns out that these guys, while they had access to the outside starting at 2 weeks, don’t spend as much time outside which means we needed fresh shavings a lot more often.They seemed to go out first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon to chase bugs and each other. They took their dust baths in the middle of the day when the yard is in full sun. But they spent a lot of time napping inside by the feed. Next time I’ll move their feed/water outside on nice days to get them out of the shed to not only get them outside, but to reduce our bedding costs.
I’ll get them earlier in September. It really is easier to raise them in the fall around here. The weather is reliably better in the fall than it is in the spring and we didn’t have to worry as much about keeping babies warm in September than we do in February. That said, we didn’t get them until the end of September which pushed butchering into mid-November. We seriously lucked out on the weather – the days before and after our butcher day were miserably cold, rainy and windy. By getting them Labor Day week we could be butchering just after Halloween – before it typically gets nasty.
The decision to try raising Cornish X was driven mostly by our desire not to be butchering at Christmas time, but in the end, I think experimenting with them was a good thing. I never really doubted Nita’s position on them, but at the same time since we don’t tractor/pasture our birds I just wasn’t sure how it would work out. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the way these birds turned out and I look forward to even better results next year.
I’m very pleased to announce that there will be a 5th annual Dark Days challenge. The wonderful writers at Not Dabbling in Normal have graciously volunteered to help me organize and run it this year.
What does that mean to you? It means that you’ll use the form below to join by December 4th, and I’ll post announcements and help with recaps, but recaps will be done by the Not Dabbling contributers and will appear on the Not Dabbling in Normal blog.
With all this fresh enthusiasm (and help!) we’re going to recruit far and wide and try to make this the biggest and best year of the challenge to date! We’re still finalizing all the details, but there are likely to be THEME WEEKS and PRIZES and a whole lot of other reasons that this will be the best challenge ever.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up! Join in! Cook the winter blahs away with fabulous local food all winter! But seriously, I hope you’ll join us in eating locally, sustainably and fantastically well this year!
The challenge runs from Sunday, November 27th, 2011 to Saturday, March 31st, 2012.
What’s the Challenge?
Cook one meal each week featuring SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) ingredients, write about it on your blog and email your happy recapper a link to your post. It’s really that simple, but at the same time, it can really be that hard. Need more details? See the links in the right side bar to the past Challenges.
What does local mean?
Traditionally, local food challenges call for a 100 mile radius. Winter time is more difficult in many climates, especially if you’re new to eating locally, so my default winter definition is 150 miles. You can choose to make your radius smaller or slightly larger as you need. Typical exceptions to the local requirement are oils, coffee, chocolate and spices. If you’re making fewer or more exceptions, please note that on your first post.
What if I can’t find every ingredient locally?
That’s why this is called a challenge! If you can’t find every ingredient, or heck even most ingredients, please still write about your attempts. This is just as much about what we learn, the obstacles we find, and the decisions we make as it is about cooking with SOLE ingredients.
What if I don’t have a ‘good’ camera or I’m not a great photographer?
Take pictures with what you’ve got and do your best – for this challenge, taste and creativity are what counts, not looks. If you don’t have a camera, no worries, just tell us the story and we’ll use our imaginations.
What if I don’t have a blog?
You are still welcome to play along, you just won’t be included in the weekly recaps. Instead, we ask that you come by each week and add your meal/experiences as a comment to one of the recap posts.
Are there deadlines for posts? When will recaps go up?
We haven’t yet decided if there will be weekly or bi-weekly recaps – it depends largely on how many participants we get. But generally, you’ll need to have your posts up by Sunday evening and recaps will go up Monday or Tuesday. Full details will be emailed to participants as soon as we figure it out.
How do I sign up? Registration for the 5th Dark Days Challenge is now closed. Please join us over at Not Dabbling in Normal for photos, recaps and more! If you missed the sign-up, you’re welcome to cook along, just add a link to your meals in the appropriate region’s recap each time.