Archive for December, 2011

Talkin Turkey

I have to admit, turkey is not my favorite meat.  I don’t hate it, or even dislike it, but I generally only eat it when someone else has cooked it.  Usually, that amounts to Christmas, and maybe Easter.


This year, we had turkey three times, and two of those were here at the acreage.  I have just bought the birds down at the Co-op, and not worried too much about it.  Then I read this article.  It talks about all the drugs your turkey might have been fed, including arsenic and antibiotics.  Oh, well, I thought, it won’t be an issue in Canada.  Just to be sure, though, I looked it up.  Sadly, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency indicates that some of the scarier medications, including ractopamine hydrocloride, which is banned for use in animals in Europe and even in China, are approved for use in poultry, beef, and pork in Canada.  Yuck.


Now, I’ve been fairly conscious of where my food is coming from for a long time, and I generally try to consider what my food was eating before it got to my table.  That’s why we’re keeping chickens and goats, and why we have a history of buying grass-fed beef and organic produce.  Being pregnant, I am generally even more vigilant.  But for some reason, the turkey slipped in under my radar, and now I want to puke.


I did some checking, and don’t see any local organic/free range turkey available in my area.  I could get some from a city a couple of hours away, for around $60 for an average-sized bird, plus gas to go pick it up.  I think I paid $15 or 20 for the one we ate at Christmas.   Now, I am normally the first to argue that good food is worth paying for, but $80 is really a lot of money.


I guess we’re going to have to go looking for some hatchling turkeys (called poults) this spring – if we can’t get decent food from someone else for a reasonable price, I guess we’ll just have to raise our own…

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The Longest Night

Tonight is the longest night of the year.


Tomorrow, the days will begin to get longer, which is a small glimmer of hope when you are feeding the animals in the dark and cold. Particularly when the dark is 16.5 hours of our “day” right now – I leave for work long before sunrise, and come home just after sunset.


Being in the country has made us both much more aware of natural cycles.  I mean, yes, it’s almost Christmas, but it’s also Solstice, and Solstice has its own special meaning.   It’s a long ways off, but spring is coming.  We have gardens to plan and baby goats to look forward to.  Winter won’t last forever.  I know it’s just officially the first day of winter now, but up here we got our first frost in September, and we’ve had cold and snow for ages already.  Winter on the Canadian prairies seems to start sometime around Halloween, and runs until somewhere around Easter, really.


We have Christian rituals to mark some of the seasons – Easter, and Christmas, but this autumn I found myself wishing for a harvest festival – a way to celebrate the bounty of our garden, and maybe a chance to share a sigh of relief with the neighbors when we got the harvest in before the frost.   While the lights and trees feel somehow appropriate, I would love to greet the sun tomorrow morning, and welcome him back.  Of course, I don’t get a day off work for that, so I would have to settle for a glance out the office window around 9:15, or a quick walk at coffee break.


Instead, I have taken part of the morning off work.  Not so much to be able to greet the sun, though I will do that if I get the chance, but more because Hubby and I are starting a new tradition.  Tomorrow morning, on the very first day of a new solar year, I am going to take our extra garden bounty down to the food bank, to share with people in need.  It feels appropriate, somehow, like a way to bless next year’s garden.  We spoke about it, and decided this was the sort of tithe we could really feel good about, a direct way to share our fortune, rather than giving money to a charity that may or may not distribute it in a way we approve of.  We have the space, and the ability, to plant an extra row or three, to share like that.  We are fortunate.  We have enjoyed sharing our bounty with friends and neighbors, but this is a way we can help the wider community, as well.


I like the idea of taking a moment in the midst of the pre-Christmas frenzy, to stop, and think for a moment, about what we really have.  To think about what we have to give, or share.  To be grateful, on the longest night of the year, and to really feel hope for a good new year coming.  To start that new year with true good will and a spirit of honest giving – giving because we can, and because we want to.


So, in that spirit, Happy Solstice to you!


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Hubby and I were invited to a birthday party yesterday, for a neighbor who lives down the road, and who is really the only neighbor we know very well – the fellow who tends to drop by and not leave – I wrote about him a while back.  He is forty-something, and we were the only non-family members who came for his pizza-and-cake party.


We were dreading going, a little.  They are a really nice family, but once we’ve exhausted the weather and the price of wheat, there aren’t too many things to talk about, and visits tend to stretch into long, uncomfortable silences.  They don’t really play board games or cards, so there aren’t too many non-talking diversions available.  However, we do like them as people, and certainly did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so we packed up a jar of pickled carrots (the birthday boy’s favorites) went anyhow.


There were a couple of cousins and an aunt and uncle, who all turned out to be really quite cool.  The aunt (80) and uncle (90) still farm and keep a big garden, and she cans quite a lot, still.  Also, they have traveled extensively, including backpacking Australia not all that long ago.  And they’re talkers, which took the pressure off us.  Auntie and I got to talking about different types of squash which grow well in the area, swapping canning recipes (I must get her recipe for canned chicken; everyone in the room was reminiscing fondly about that one), and discussing how best to store onions so they won’t rot.  Uncle was regaling us with stories from the Depression.  Auntie got onto talking about back when they kept livestock, and when Uncle sold her last milk cow on her, ten years ago.  One of the cousins used to work at the office I’m at now, so there was a certain amount of shop talk, as well.


When we lived in town in Alberta, I felt like the only person who wanted to have a garden and make my own salsa.  The idea of wanting to keep chickens and goats were shocking to our neighbors out there, who just could not comprehend why we would want to be tied down with livestock when eggs and milk and meat are so cheap at the store.

Out here, we fit right in.  The old folks (and that’s most of the neighbors, really) nod approvingly when we talk about growing real food in a big garden, and having enough to eat even if there’s not much money in the budget.  Everybody cans, at least a couple pints of jam and a jar or two of pickles, and nobody questions why one would plant a few apple trees and some raspberries.  It’s just what’s done here.   Not weird, or unusual, or even “hippy”; just how things should be.  That’s such a relief, after explaining ourselves over and over to people who are just puzzled about why we’d be so crazy as to want to put all that effort in.


We have been very bad about getting out to meet the neighbors.  We’re both quite shy when it comes to cold-calling, and we’ve been worried about being pegged as ‘those hippies up the road’.  I don’t think we have all that much to worry about, though, if the folks we’ve met so far are any indication.  Now, we just have to find a better way to introduce ourselves to the folks we have not met yet…

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Several years ago, I was awakened to the toxicity of a lot of everyday things – plastic, shampoo, makeup, and the like.  I became a little obsessed,  and drove Hubby rather nuts with my quest for ‘safe’ shampoo, ‘safe’ freezer storage containers, ‘safe’ hand cream, and so on.  I pitched the plastic spatulas, and spent an awful lot of money trying to find a ‘natural’ conditioner that would tame my long, curly hair in our hard water and dry, static-y winters.  In the course of my research (obsession), I read a couple of books that really changed my view on a lot of ‘modern conveniences’ that I thought I couldn’t live without.  In particular, “Slow Death By Rubber Duck” was a real eye-opener (and a very engaging book, I might add).  The authors set out to make their point – that a lot of everyday items are loading us up with toxic chemicals – by testing their own blood and urine for various chemicals, and manipulating their chemical load by doing things like wearing body spray and using cleaning chemicals.  One of the things they discussed was teflon, and the information in the book was quite terrifying – it’s bad for people, and terrible for the environment.  Suffice to say, we got rid of the non-stick cookware before I even finished the book.


We started our non-non-stick adventure by buying a stainless steel, copper-bottom frying pan.  Everything stuck, and it was impossible to clean.  Hubby threatened outright revolt.


Our next purchase was a second-hand cast-iron skillet.  It worked, sort of.  Sometimes things were okay, sometimes not.  We had no idea what the trick was.  We washed it like everything else – scrubbed it with soap and water – and it got harder and harder to cook with.  And more and more frustrating.  I absolutely did not want to go back to teflon, but I also wanted to be able to scramble eggs on Saturday mornings, without having to commit to half an hour of scrubbing just to clean up.  Eventually, I got smart and did some research.


Turns out, cast iron needs to be seasoned.  Basically, it needs a thick, cooked-on layer of grease in order to function well and prevent sticking.  Unfortunately, soap removes the seasoning, so basically, we were progressively destroying the ‘non stick’ capabilities of our pan every time we washed it. You can re-season a pan, by scraping (sanding) off the old seasoning, coating it lightly in grease (we use lard), then baking it on high heat in the oven for a few hours – then repeating to build up several layers.  Later, we read that if you just cook with extra grease for the first few months, and don’t scrub the pan out too vigorously, it will season while you cook.   We’ve had fairly good luck with that, but we’ve always put a ‘base’ layer of seasoning on the pan, first.


We also learned that you need to use a lot of grease in the cast-iron pans, in order to keep stuff from sticking, even if they’re still well-seasoned.  It was shocking, after using teflon, where you don’t need grease at all.  We’re talking tablespoons of oil or bacon fat or whatever.  It also works better if you drop in your dollop of butter or bacon grease, and let it melt in the pan for a while before you add whatever it is you want to fry – the pan needs to be hot when you add your food. We discovered that plastic spatulas don’t work at all in cast iron (just as well – it gave me a final excuse to dispose of them), and that wooden ones are questionable.  We invested in a nice metal spatula, which helped a great deal.


Cleaning got easier, too, once we quit washing off our seasoning every time the pan got dirty.  Using a metal spatula meant that stuck-on stuff got scraped off during the cooking, and using lots of grease meant that generally, the food was floating above the pan, rather than cooking on to it.  Now, we often just wipe out the leftover grease with a paper towel, and put it away for next time.  It does not sound very hygienic, but nobody’s gotten sick here yet.  If something is stuck on, we scrub it off with a designated scrubber (no soap), then wipe the pan out.  For really badly stuck stuff, we put some water in the pan, and put it back on the stove to boil, before scrubbing.  That does not happen very often anymore.  Then, once the pan is clean, we let it dry, and wipe it with a bit more grease or oil before we put it away.  That protects the pan, and helps maintain the seasoning.


We’re pretty comfortable using the cast iron skillet, now.  It’s too bad that the skill of seasoning and maintaining cast iron is not one of those kitchen skills that is passed on anymore – it would have saved us a lot of heartache if we had ‘just known’, rather than having to learn by trial and error.  However, now that we’ve figured it out, it was worth it.  If you still have teflon in your kitchen, I’d really encourage you to do a little reading, as that stuff is really scary!

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We have fantastic news…we’re expecting!  June 11 is the due date, and we’ve had our 12 week ultrasound – everything looks fine.


Suddenly, the goats getting bred in September (due February) instead of November (due late May) like we originally planned is beginning to look like a real stroke of luck.  Of course, I have been queasy enough that slaughtering chickens has been totally out of the question, hence the (hopefully short-term) stay of execution on a couple dozen roosters.  As well, something in alpaca urine stinks enough to have kept me almost completely out of the barn for a couple of months, now.  My poor goats and barn cats miss me, apparently, and the cats have even taken to coming up to the car as I get home from work in order to get some lovin.  Hubby has been stuck with all of the barn chores, plus the usual duties…and now, he has to get cracking on some renovations so we have a clean, tidy room to put baby in.  I’m not quite sure how we’re going to get our garden in next spring, or the next batch of trees planted, though I am sure we’ll think of something. We’re truly ecstatic, though, and really, pregnancy has been pretty good to me, so far.


Anyhow, with all of this going on, I’ve been a little distracted, so please bear with me if the posting gets a little erratic again…

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