Category Archives: Cooking

Goat friendship and eggs: both pretty miraculous

Me and Drama Queen (with Koko's head on her back and Aberdeen behind)Here I am with Drama Queen…that’s Koko’s ear and nose behind Drama’s head, and Aberdeen behind me.

It might sound silly to someone who always got eggs from a supermarket, or who always had chickens, but today we ate “homegrown” (home laid?) eggs for the first time, and it was a thrill. It’s amazing that these pigeon-sized bantam hens lay such big eggs.

The shells were very firm and thick, so they cracked neatly with no shrapnel. Yolks were the deep orange, high-domed ones we’ve gotten used to from real free-range eggs, and unsurprisingly the omelet was delicious.


Omelet from bantam chicken eggs


  Photo by Teri

Next year we expect to produce all of our own milk, cheese, and eggs here on the property, in addition to a much larger portion of our fruits and veggies.

It’s also likely that we’ll raise chickens or turkeys for eating, so a while back I volunteered to help with the chicken “processing” (killing and cleaning) at a friend’s ranch, as much to take measure of my own determination as to learn the skills involved. The skills have already come in handy!

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, I was perusing the local Craigslist, and found someone offering two free Bronze turkeys. They were aging (the larger domestic turkeys don’t age well), and she didn’t want to kill them herself.

The turkeys lived with chickens in a nice place just outside of Eugene. I liked the woman and felt that she cared about their welfare and was a fellow aficionado of “clean food”. These were turkeys I’d feel OK eating…well, one of them. The bigger one was a tom (male), and blind in one eye because chickens can be really mean. He was enormous and healthy, and ended up being our Thanksgiving bird. His name? Thanksgiving. That’s him at the top of the post.

The other bird…she’s a sad case. “Improved” (intensively selectively bred) turkeys become so heavy so fast that they are often crippled just by their own weight. “Gimpy” isn’t as big as Thanksgiving (who must’ve been 30 lbs), but she has a deformed right leg and can only get around with a lot of lurching and flapping. The chickens saw this weakness, and began to peck her to death. They removed maybe a quarter of her feathers and left her with a multitude of raw wounds by the time she came to live with us.

Our accidental pet turkey looks pretty unhappy in this picture taken the day she came home, but she’s perked up now.
  Photo by Teri

“Gimpy” originally escaped the butcher block because she just didn’t look healthy enough to eat. But something happened; as our neighbor put it, she “seems to want to live now”, so she’s a resident here for as long as she is satisfied with her life, though determining a turkey’s quality of life is guesswork for us. Away from the hectoring hens, she’s become more bright-eyed and energetic, and every morning we transport her by wheelbarrow from the predator-proofed henhouse to a grassy pasture where she can lurch about, eating bugs and grass and frustrating the hell out of our dog by her inaccessibility.

The rest of the post will be about butchering the big male turkey, and you have to click “more” to see it. But here’s how it turned out – home-processed turkey, homemade cranberry sauce and squash from Teri, fresh baked bread, and (of course!) a pumpkin pie brought over by a dear neighbor who we shared the holiday with. Note the “store boughten” beer – something we’re working to phase out, but if you have to buy them, the Deschutes Brewery ones are all really good.
  Photo by Peter

If you’re a vegetarian, you might find the rest upsetting. If you’re not…well, this is the reality of meat, and it’s far more humane and hygienic than what happened to that “free-range organic” supermarket bird you probably just ate.

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I didn’t murder the taters!

I thought I blew it with the potatoes. Everyone warned not to use supermarket ones as seed, and I ignored them. When the plants suddenly started dying a month ago after an unseasonal 3 days of cool, rainy weather, I figured I’d learned my lesson.

Yesterday, I thought I’d better deal with the mess. I raked aside the mounded straw, too deep and wet with hot compost action on the bottom, and the spading fork touched something soft. I bent down and dug with my hands; it was a large, mushy, foul-smelling potato. I made plans to drag all the straw away to the burn pile so as not to spread the fungal blight I was sure had taken our tubers.

Then I spied a tiny but healthy-looking spud peeking up at me. No more than 1/2″ long, but perfectly shaped. I put it in my pocket as a memento to show Teri later, and kept digging.

When I had two one-gallon buckets almost full, I decided to leave the rest there, so Teri could enjoy uncovering a few. It was so unexpected; I’d been sad about the sudden departure of those formerly vigorous plants.

Tonight, we had fried potatoes (ours!) with onion (Wintergreen Farm, about five minutes down the road):

Also had a salad – romaine from Wintergreen with our own heirloom tomatoes and the one very-non-local ingredient: Danish blue cheese

…and for dessert, our very own homegrown watermelon, another first for us:

It wasn’t by far our most homegrown meal, but the potatoes were a big deal…they can be a really significant part of our diet for fairly little work, and like almost everything we’ve grown here they tasted incomparably better than those things at the supermarket.

The more we eat this way, and the more I learn about food production, the more it seems that most other human foolishness pales in comparison to the way we’ve transformed our food into poisonous, flavorless garbage that leaves a wasteland behind after harvest.

My food’s made of goat poop and old straw (well composted, of course) and it’s way better than anything I paid $30 a plate for in NYC.

Lots of busybusybusy (just a tease)

I know you come here for the pretty photos, so rest assured there is a big backlog of beautiful plants, animals, recipes, and adventures waiting to be resized and color-corrected, and they will be posted soon.

Apart from working 40+ hours/week at the day job, I’ve just been really busy. Lots of that “busy” is stuff that would be perfect for the blog, but I just haven’t had time to document it in detail.

We’ve been harvesting/canning/fermenting/drying: Oregon Grape, apples, pears, blackberries, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, asian pear, dill, kale, and a bunch of other stuff. Planted arugula and carrots for us, and a whole bunch of perennial rye grass for goats. Started blackberry, Oregon Grape, and blueberry wine, and the new batch of chocolate stout is ready. Got a great deal on oak parquet flooring for the kitchen, and the loft area is just a few days of labor from becoming our winter bedroom. A few cords of wood are waiting in a pile for me to find a deal on a used chainsaw, which needs to happen soon if we’re to be warm this winter.

I learned to “process” chickens from live bird to frozen grocery item. I wondered if it would bother me, taking a life with my own hands, but although my reverence for life has grown throughout the years – all life; we escort even the hideous-looking earwigs and vicious wasps outside to continue their lives – it felt nothing but right. I feel like I have much more of a right to eat chicken than I did when it came from a supermarket all prepared and shrink-wrapped.

Next month I’ll be going on my first wild turkey hunt, which I’m very much looking forward to, and somehow that doesn’t clash with the fact that our property is a no-gunfire-except-in-case-of-emergency refuge where a momma turkey and her five babies visit several times a day to eat seed fallen from our bird feeders and the deer who ravage our raspberry plants and chives will be fenced out rather than shot. As I write this sitting at our outside table, the turkeys are pecking and cooing not more than five feet away from me.

Coyote have been howling their eerie chorus in the hills at night, and the days, which were fifteen-plus hours long just a short time ago, are noticeably shorter. Part of me reflexively tenses at the thought of winter’s approach, until I look back at how green things are in the rainy season and remember that December and January are often perfect for BBQs in Western Oregon.

The man who considered CBGBs a holy place of pilgrimage and mourned the “cleanup” of Times Square is now reluctant to visit “the city” (Eugene, a small but vibrant town of 138,000 about half an hour away) more than once a week. If I’d known how much country life would agree with me, I would probably have left years ago – but then I might not have met Teri, who is my glowing inspiration and the anchor of my life.

What a long strange trip it continues to be!

And I promise you lots of pretty photos very very soon.

Quick Pickled Radishes

Radishes are easy to grow and very fast. I really must remember to do succession planting on such things – a few plants every week, so there are always fresh ones. But for now, we have a surfeit of hot little red roots, so before the worms get in (which happens if they’re left in the garden after becoming ripe) something must be done. That something is a “quick” (non-fermented) pickling:

Makes about one pint

1 1/2 cups sliced radishes
10 fl oz vinegar
10 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar (optional, or use honey, stevia, etc.)
1 small onion

First, obviously, we need to pick some fresh, organic radishes, fertilized with last year’s kitchen compost and a bit of composted horse manure:
Fresh picked organic radishes

The greens can go into a salad (they’re a little bitter to be the whole salad, but a nice addition), or into the goats, if you’re so equipped.

Then we slice up the radishes along with an onion:
Slicing fresh radishes with Cutco knife

Sliced organic onions

Bring vinegar (we used a mix of brown rice and apple cider vinegars), peppercorns, salt, and sugar to a simmer to get everything nicely dissolved, then cool it off so you don’t blow up your canning jar:
Simmering vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorns, and a bay leaf

Put the radishes and onions into the jar, and pour the cooled vinegar mixture over them:
Radishes and onions pickling

Refrigerate overnight, and the next day you will have delicious pickled radishes floating in a red juice. The smell when you open it is pungent, but the radishes themselves are crunchy and delicious, their sharp flavor mellowed.
Quick pickled radishes

These will last at least a week in the refrigerator. With a stronger solution, they might last longer, but really what we need to do is some proper fermentation pickling…soon!

What I do, when I’m avoiding studying for finals…

First, I notice that there’s a big pretty bird in our yard, that I’ve never seen before. He’s so distinctive that I have to try to identify him. Thanks to my handy-dandy Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest, I can pretty confidently say that he (along with his partner, who showed up later), is a Northern Flicker, part of the Woodpecker family. Since I’m still avoiding studying, I decide that I would be remiss if were to miss this opportunity to get some photos of the pair of them. (Notice that the male has the red spots on his cheeks – the female’s coloring is similar to the male’s, but she lacks those red spots.)

papa flicker

mama flicker

Next, I remember that Peter had separated the cream from our latest jar of fresh raw cow’s milk (if you missed it, he posted about our first raw milk tasting and the local family farm that’s supplying us here), setting it aside to try our hands at butter-making. Suddenly it becomes quite urgent to get the butter made today – so I pull the mason jar from the fridge and start shaking. And shaking. And shaking. When my arms start feeling like they’re going to fall off, I take a break. By this point, what I have in the jar is whipped cream. So I shake some more. And some more. And some more.

And then, whadda ya know! The curds (the chunky bits that will become the butter) begin to separate from the whey (the liquid). This is what it looks like:


This inspires me, so I keep on shakin’. Pretty soon, I’ve got a pretty good chunk of butter in the middle of the whey (the jar is tipped on its side in this photo, to better see the almost-butter):

becoming butter

I drain off the liquid into another jar, and keep shaking for a few more minutes – the shaking is what’s separating the liquids from the solids, and I want to make sure I’ve got all the liquids out. Next, I put the hunk of butter into a bowl, and rinse it with cold water, “massaging” the butter with a spoon to squeeze out the last of the milky liquids. I keep rinsing with fresh water until the water remains clear.

Here’s what we’ve got:

itâ??s butter!

And here’s the finished product put away in a jar, along with our approximately 1/2 cup of buttermilk! (I think I may see buttermilk pancakes in our future…)

finished products

Of course, I now realize that in order to fully appreciate our first-ever batch of homemade butter, we’ll need some fresh hot homemade cinnamon raisin bread, so I move on to bread-making.

And since I’m still avoiding studying for finals, I decide that now would be a good time to tell ya’all about our first-ever batch of homemade ginger ale. I’d found the recipe a few weeks ago, but we hadn’t gotten around to trying it – until Peter got inspired and I came home the other day to a freshly-bottled batch (ignore the labels – we washed, sterilized, and re-used old soda bottles we had saved for this purpose).

a different homebrew

It’s actually pretty easy to make: simmer chopped-up ginger root and sugar in a pot of water for about 30-60 minutes (the longer the simmer, the stronger the flavor), then remove it from the heat and strain out the remaining ginger pulp, add more water and let it cool. After about 15 minutes, add brewer’s yeast and let it sit for a few more minutes, then bottle it up! You just need to keep an eye on it – once it’s carbonated, put it in the fridge to stop the process. **Peter added a bit of cayenne to this batch as well, to give it an extra kick.

One of the best things about the homemade brew? We control the amount of sugar we use – and much of it is eaten up by the yeast. And the waste products of the yeast? B vitamins! With less sugar and actual nutrients, it’s not only tastier – it’s way healthier than the store-bought stuff.

ginger yum!

And, now that I’ve enjoyed a bowl of Peter’s homemade stew (made with locally raised goat meat), a slice of homemade raisin bread with homemade butter and a glass of homemade ginger ale, stacked a large pile of wood as Peter did the splittin’, and written up my quiet country day, I think it really is time to turn my mind to studying.

Raw milk, pastured goat meat, and free-range eggs

This evening I stopped in at a nearby farm to pick up an order of drug-free, hormone-free, etc. goat meat. Deck Family Farm is a beautiful place about ten minutes* from us, with lots of happy looking cows, chickens, sheep, ducks…I’m pretty sure I saw a bison there too, though it may have been a big muddy brown cow from a distance. I didn’t see the goats…I was tempted to ask, but didn’t want to impose and delay what must be a zillion chores on such a large (for one family) farm.

I ended up leaving with a half-gallon of fresh, raw cow milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of stew goat, a pound of goatburger, and a 3-pound goat roast. This is the kind of thing that excites me these days. Yes, I am almost 40.

If we ever buy “supermarket” eggs again, I will have to do side-by-side photos; pastured, free-range eggs from our neighbors have bright orangy-yellow yolks and make the store-bought kind look and taste pretty much like cardboard.

The goats we’re preparing to get will be a dairy breed, but I’m an inveterate carnivore and would like to eventually produce my own meat, so buying the goat meat is sort of an experiment to see how I like having goat as a primary meat source (though we’re planning on keeping chickens, too). If it works out, we may at some point consider getting some meat goats (different breeds from dairy goats).

[edit] The more I think about it, the less likely it seems that we will want meat goats, for practical and sentimental (ie, they’re too darn smart and cute) reasons. Looks like we’re gonna be eating a lot of chicken! Rabbits are another very good smallholder meat animal, but suffer from the same “how do you eat a pet” problem as goats. I don’t think I’d have any problem eating chickens, though they do have a lot more charm and personality than I knew before [/edit]

I feel that if I can’t bear to put the bullet into the back of its head and cut up the carcass, I really don’t deserve to eat meat. We’ll see. But for now, we have a local source for clean, humanely raised meats =)

Of course, the moment I got home I had to try the milk side-by-side with some “whole” milk from the supermarket. A sip of one. A sip of the other. Remaining supermarket milk goes back into the bottle for emergencies, and I pour another glass of the rich, delicious raw milk. It’s on the left in the photo below

Raw, fresh milk from a pasture-raised cow (left) and anemic-looking supermarket milk

* Ten minutes on normal roads. On the way back, I decided to try a “shortcut” involving steep, twisty logging roads. It was a nice 45 minute drive; fortunately the van has a refrigerator to keep our food from spoiling.

Eclipse, bread, spider, pancake, truck, ice, Eugene

More-or-less chronologically…

I’ll start you off with a wildlife photo (and I promise, it gets prettier as you progress through the post)…a spider wrapping up a buzzing fly:

Spider wrapping fly

Letting the spiders live happily in some corners helps with the flies…but the really scary looking ones get put outside.

While we’re on the topic of food…we finally tried cooking something on the woodstove, and frankly it worked much better than our electric stove:

woodstove pancakes

Here’s a scary/lucky sort of thing; this is a fuel line with a big split in it…a split that was sealed up by a giant icicle! I went to replace the line and when I splashed warm water on the icicle, gasoline started spewing out. Moral of the story: do not wait till your car is in her mid-30s to replace all the fuel lines.

icy leaking fuel line

Last night I tried making Challah bread from a bread machine recipe…well, it was yummy, and pretty, but I’ve got a lot of R&D to do before it remotely resembles a proper Brooklyn bakery loaf:

Challah attempt 1

Our silly red monster truck got a fun drive up the logging roads today. She’s so at home up there:

Big stupid redneck truck

Eugene’s lights twinkled in the distance:
Eugene, Oregon from the Coast Range, 20 miles N/W

And to the North East, the rising moon appeared to be occluded by a cloud…but actually it was starting to eclipse already:

Pre-eclipse gorgeousness

These last two eclipse photos were take about two hours later, from our orchard, as the moon began to reappear. Full disclosure: the darker photo is a composite of two bracketed exposures; my digital cameras don’t have the range of Kodachrome…sigh…

2008-02-20 Full Lunar Eclipse

2008-02-20 Full Lunar Eclipse

Randomberry jam

There are a lot of blackberry bushes around here – I foresee picking gallons of the things in another week or two. In order to take full advantage of this sudden bounty and others, Teri and I are learning about canning and other methods of food preservation. Between a yard sale and the Salvation army, we got a boiling canner AND a pressure canner for $10, and we already have a load of jars Teri spotted on freecycle =)

berriesYesterday I picked about a quart of blackberries (left) and another of black raspberries (right), which are probably the most delicious fruit in the known universe.

Made mashed berries out of them…

Boiled the mashed berries with added fruit pectin, stirred in sugar…

And finally put the tops on the jars and submerged them in boiling water for ten minutes, because we don’t like botulism around these parts.

…and the final product! A few hours after the first batch, when it was barely jelled, Teri and I ate almost a whole jar of it. It is berry crack whether on bread, crackers, or the end of a spoon. Sure will be welcome in the middle of the winter!

Local, fresh food just tastes so much better – I almost don’t miss the incredible variety of ethnic foods back in NYC.

We haven’t bought a loaf of bread in months – because we found a freecycle bread machine and have been doing all kinds of experiments. Our staple bread is whole wheat with a bit of rye, local blackberry honey baked in, dry goat milk for the milk part and coconut oil for the shortening.

Teri’s been making soymilk, but that’s a bit time-intensive so we still buy some from the store. But unsurprisingly, hers tastes much better and costs a small fraction of the price of the stuff in the cartons.

Next year, chickens.

Next post, maybe one or both of us will try to explain where we’re going with all this “Grizzly Adams” stuff…