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Archive for January, 2010

Sunday Photos…Home Creamery

Learning to make dairy products at home is a very rewarding and fun challenge to take on. Whether you have your own milk source on the farm, buy raw milk from a local farm, or buy milk from the store, you’ll have a good time making your own dairy products!

Several years ago Mr Chiots and I started getting raw milk from a local farm (we actually bought part of a cow and pay the farmer to care for “our” cow, this is how we do it legally). With an abundance of fresh local milk, we decided to start making most of our dairy products at home. We first learned to make butter and yogurt and then moved on to cheese. Not only are we saving money, our homemade products are super healthy and it greatly reduced our need to make trips to the grocery store.

Every week we make about a pound and a half of butter here at Chiot’s Run. We skim the cream from our milk and save it in a half gallon mason jar. When we have enough, we simply shake the jar until it become butter. (for a step-by-step process read this post on my blog). We have a constant supply of fresh raw butter which we enjoy on just about everything (not to mention all the buttermilk for quick breads).

From this butter we make ghee that we are able to use in place of oil. Since we’ve been trying to eat as locally as possible, making ghee allows us to purchase less oil. We still buy olive oil from California, but not as much as we used to. (for step-by-step process on how to make ghee read this post on my blog)

I also like to make cheese. I don’t make a ton of aged cheese yet, I’m still getting the hang of that, but quick cheeses are fun and easy. The cheese pictured above is pressed lemon cheese. I curdled the milk with some lemon juice, salted the curds and pressed them in my tin can cheese press. It was super delicious and a great way to use up milk that had soured a bit (which we don’t like to drink, but it makes a tasty cheese). Whenever we are making pizza, I make 30-min mozzarella and when I’m making lasagna I make some fresh ricotta. In the next couple years I’m hoping to try a few more aged cheese so I can quit buying my cheddar, Parmesan & Romano at the store.

Do you make any dairy products at home?

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Baked Brown Rice Recipe

My rice cooker finally died…

As I am determined to spend as little as possible this year, and I like the extra shelf space that the cooker took up, so I have reverted to my previous method of cooking rice…baking.

After my first batch I wondered why I had ever quit doing it this way.  It is easy and the rice turns out perfect every time.

Pre-heat oven to 375F

In large glass baking dish put 3 Cups of Brown Rice…substitute up to 1/2 Cup for Wild Rice if you like.  Set aside

In a pot on the stove mix 5 Cups of stock and 1 Tbsp of butter (opt.). 

If you do not have stock mix 5 Cups of Water and 2 tsp of some kind of salt or salty seasoning mix I use Spike.

Add any seasoning you like, I put in some Italian Seasoning  today.  I have used garlic and onion powder, oregano, cumin, pepper…anything spice you like.

Bring this all to a boil.

Pour it over the rice in the baking dish

Cover tightly with foil

Bake for 1 hour.

Remove, fluff, and …eat!

The only disadvantage of this method is the pan is harder to clean than my non-stick rice cooker bowl was.  But since we are trying to avoid using non-stick coatings the little extra clean up is worth the trade.

I’m sure you could do this in a covered casserole dish (I don’t have one large enough) and you could eliminate the foil.

So how do you cook your rice?

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Organic or Local?

Cal-Organic Farms, along with Earthbound, dominates the organic produce section in the supermarket. Cal-Organic is a big grower of organic vegetables in the San Joaquin Valley. As part of the consolidation of the organic industry, the company was acquired by Grimmway Farms, which already enjoyed a virtual monopoly in organic carrots. Unlike Earthbound, neither Grimmway or Cal-Organic has ever been part of the organic movement. Both companies were started by conventional growers looking for a more profitable niche and worried that the state might ban certain key pesticides. “I’m not necessarily a fan of organic,” a spokesman for Grimmway recently told an interviewer. “Right now I don’t see that conventional farming does harm. Whether we stay with organic for the long haul depends on profitability.

Philosophy, in other words has nothing to do with it.”

- Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
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For the last several years Mr Chiots and I have been focusing on eating locally and organically. When I have the option, I like to buy local organic. When I don’t have that option, I chose local over organic. I could buy certified organic apples from Chile in the supermarket to eat instead of my non-certified semi-organic apples from a local orchard, and they’d probably be cheaper. Why do I choose a local product that probably has a few chemicals & pesticides on it? Because it’s important for me to know where our food is coming from. I know exactly what is on that apple because I can talk to the guy that grew it. I can visit his orchard and see what he does. I can’t visit the orchard in Chile, so how can I be sure it’s actually “organic”?
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I’ve had a few great conversations with our local dairy/beef/chicken/egg farmers about this topic. They used to be certified organic and it got too expensive and too constrictive to keep up their certification. They had trouble finding good quality organic hay to feed the cows in the winter. Someone they knew had good quality hay that wasn’t certified organic, but since it’s wasn’t certified they couldn’t use it. They finally decided to drop their certification. Now they label themselves as “Voluntarily Organic”. Personally, I don’t mind that they don’t have the government seal, I’m glad they’re putting the health of their cows ahead of a label.
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I’m guessing some of you have heard of the 4-year study conducted in Europe that concluded that organic food (including vegetables, fruit and milk) contained up to 40% more antioxidants than conventional food and were more nutritious (the percentage were up to 60% more antioxidants for organic milk). I wonder how the raw milk from the farm would stack up to conventional milk? I’m pretty sure it would be way better than 60%.
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The problem with studies like this is that it’s hard to know what kind of organic products they used in testing. Did they use big-box organic, or small organic? Did they use produce that had been grown, picked, processed in another country and was flown halfway around the world, then sat on a grocery store shelf for a couple days before heading to your home. Did they leave it in the fridge for a few days before testing to make the study more authentic? I try not to put too much credibility in studies like these, even if they support my viewpoint. Studies can be done in such a way to get the desired outcome (sometimes looking at the funding will give you a good idea of what the outcome will be). I try not to get caught up in the hype about what’s “healthy” what’s not, what’s the “in” vegetable, fruit, nutrient, vitamin at the moment. It’s really too much to keep up with. We now try to focus on eating real whole food. Our diet would probably not be considered healthy by some because we eat lots of butter, drink whole milk, eat lots of animal fat. Bacon anyone?
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The search for good quality real whole food is main reason I started to grow some of our food. I know exactly what’s in it, I know how it was grown. What I grow in my garden is the healthiest food available to me. It’s as organic and local as it gets. We’ve developed a hierarchy of food for ourselves.
Homegrown
Local Organic
Local
Organic from local health food store
Organic from big chain grocery
Conventional
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I still buy food from far away, mangoes and plantains will never be local for me, and they’ll never be out of my diet. Coffee is a big NEED in this household as is good chocolate, local sources for those are not feasible either. I’m not striving to make my diet to be 100% local, but I want eat local when I can! I don’t want to rule out delicious food from far away, but I don’t want to eat only long distance food either. I really appreciate some of the things that local eating had taught me, we’re enjoying a much wider variety of food now. I also appreciate that organic is gaining popularity because I am able to find an organic option for just about everything I want. It seems like in our lives we’re finally achieving that balance between local, organic, and exotic.

Which do you focus on Local, Organic or a patchwork of both?

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Micro-scale meat production

The other day I was asked which was better for home meat production, broilers or rabbits. That made me stop and think a bit. The answer depends on so many factors that it would be really hard to give a definitive one, but here’s what I came up with for the person asking. Rabbits. Why? Several reasons including where they live, what their goals were, and how much time they had to spend on the project.

Broilers are great. They grow fast and then go away. You can fill up your freezer with chicken in 2 or three months for a modest amount of money. But it is a lot of work, and you couldn’t do it in most cities or towns.

Rabbits, however, can be raised as “pets” almost anywhere. They are quite inexpensive, and produce a lot of meat. One good quality meat doe can easily produce 80 lbs of meat a year. Two does would produce enough to have rabbit once a week for a year. They will keep doing it for at least 5 years. You could feed them for free for most of the year on 1000 square feet of lawn (and not have to mow or fertilize.) That’s pretty inexpensive meat.

Here’s how a grazing rabbit system could work.

Two does could be housed in an 8 x 10 rabbit tractor. Does actually get along quite well if they have enough space. An 8 x 10 tractor grass 3 – 4 inches tall would be plenty of feed for 2 large (New Zealand White sized) rabbits for a day. One thousand square feet of grass would allow you to move the tractor 12 times before you came back to the beginning point. That should be plenty of time for the grass to re-grow to 3 or 4 inches. In my part of the country we could do that for 8 – 9 months of the year. The remaining time we would house the rabbits in conventional hutches and feed them hay and some prepared rabbit feed. You could also harvest and dry your own hay if you had extra lawn and save even more money. You would need a buck and he would need to be housed separately. He could either be in a hutch or in a smaller tractor. I would probably put him in a hutch with a vermi-composting system built underneath. The little bit you would spend on feeding him could easily be recouped in valuable vermi-compost either for your garden or for sale or trade to other gardeners.

Rabbits are easy to process. It takes less than 15 minutes from cage to freezer. There is no special equipment needed, and the amount of waste is very small. Since your meat production is spread out in small batches it doesn’t become a marathon of killing, plucking, and processing.

The skins are also quite useful if you take the extra step to tan them.

I have plans for a rabbit tractor and for a rabbit hutch with a built in vermi-composting system if anyone is interested in trying this kind of meat production. We plan on doing it this summer. I will be posting our results as the project gets underway.

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Yes, this is what I saw a few days ago crawling across my front walk.

A SLUG…ughhh!

If you live in a wet zone like I do in Western Washington…if you garden in this area…you shudder at the thought…the very sight of this nemesis makes your garden loving heart break.

They will eat your entire newly sprouted garden if you are not careful, they will eat much of your mature garden too…all the while leaving their icky trail of snot behind them.  Seriously folks can I empasize enough I how detest these?

Did you know that this slug can produce 200 offerspring this season?  And its offspring can also produce 200 offspring?  Do you know how many slugs that is?

TOO MANY!

I used to pay my boys a dime a piece for slugs.  They would go out just after dark with flashlights and come back with over 30 each all impaled together on long sticks like marshmallows ready to roast.  It was not pretty.

I tried getting ducks, which love slugs…but they left such a mess behind themselves it wasn’t worth the trade off.

I’ve done beer traps, environmentally responsible bait, yeast/sugar water, salt. copper…you name it ,I’ve tried it.

But today I am using one of my most oft used weapons in this war…

And feel not one bit of remorse over it either…

So what pest do you wage war against in your garden?

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Sunday Photos…Comfort

Comfort means different things to different people. We’re all unique in what comforts us. It could be a cup of tea, a warm blanket, a favorite hobby, spending time with friends, or a piece of cake. Today we’ll be sharing things that we find comfort in.

I’m a homebody, so home is where I love to be. I find a lot of comfort in my little cottage here at Chiot’s Run. There’s nothing better than getting back home after a long day away.

I love nothing more than bowl of soup and a crusty piece of bread! When I’m feeling under the weather a steamy bowl of chicken noodle soup is the most comforting thing I can think of.

A hot cup of coffee or tea and a good book are also a comfort. In the winter you’ll find me snuggling under a blanket in a big chair in the corner of the living room with a good book and a cup to tea. It just so happens this chair also gets a nice dose of afternoon sunshine, which is so needed during the cold dark days of winter in NE Ohio. I prefer coffee to tea for comfort, but I limit myself to 2 cups per day and they never really get put down long enough to get a photo of them, so tea it is.

Of course I couldn’t forget to mention the comfort of family, for me that’s Mr Chiots (and our pets). It’s nice being around someone that knows you, understands you, and has your best interests at heart. There’s nothing like the comfort of an aged relationship (for us that’s 12 yrs married 14 years together).

***

As I get older I seem to be finding comfort less and less in the things around me and more and more in the daily tasks here at home and the people that fill my life…and heart.  Here are some of the things I’m thankful for here on the farm

I am comforted knowing that no matter how long or cold or wet a winter is, that nature will prevail against it all and bring us spring with all its hopes and dreams.

I find comfort in sitting quietly with my knitting…

There is a odd comfort knowing that no matter what… if I start a meal with these, it will certainly turn out just fine!

I find comfort in the fact that the world will not run out of gardeners and those that care for the planet… if we train up our children to respect and toil in the earth.

There is a comfort in knowing that when my husband I are gone that our children will still have each other.

Lastly there is my greatest comfort in knowing that I am not in control…that there is someone more powerful and someone much wiser than I in charge of this crazy place!

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Since last week was homemade granola I decided to continue with the breakfast theme.  Since I grew and preserved a lot of pumpkin this year we have been having pumpkin pudding for breakfast quite often.  The kids love it, I like baking it the night before and having it ready for the next day’s breakfast…the kids think I rock for serving them pudding for breakfast!

Ppudding1

I just make the innards (this is the proper term for the yummy soft middle part) for a pumpkin pie, cut down on the sugar just a tad and up the spices just slightly.  Instead of pouring it into a crust I pour it into little ramekins and bake.

For the topping we use vanilla yogurt with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

You get your shot of vitamin A from the pumpkins and a good dose of protein.  Most importantly it makes you feel like a rebel  knowing that you are eating pudding for breakfast…which as we  know breaks all the rules!!!

PS. If you really want to live on the wild side…try a vegan recipe. Here is one that you make in the blender, so very easy to make.  It is from here

Blend in a blender:

2 c. solid-pack canned pumpkin (if you use home-cooked pumpkin, drain it for
several hours hanging in a cloth bag, so it’s thick like canned pumpkin)

1 c. non-dairy milk (preferably a rich soy milk or a nut milk…I use homemade cashew milk)

3/4 c. brown sugar

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 T. molasses or blackstrap molasses

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. EACH ground ginger, nutmeg and salt

1/4 tsp. ground allspice or cloves

Bake at 350 for 1 hour, cool and refrigerate overnight to firm up…this couldn’t be easier and we all love it, well except hubby who won’t even try it!

So go ahead, live on the edge…I dare you!

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We have been producing and selling eggs for the last five years.  Our flock is made up of a mix of old fashion and cross bred production hens.  We have maintained a flock of 25 birds of various ages.  We have also collected some data on productivity and cost using different feeding strategies. 

The charts below are based on our 25 hen flock, locally produced conventional chicken feed ($12.00 for 50 lbs.), and three different feeding strategies. 

First we tried full feed for a year.  We fed 1/4 lb of chicken feed, half layer mash and half scratch grain.  The hens had access to the pasture, but didn’t need to forage for any of their food.  This method produced the most eggs.  It was also the most expensive.  Eggs sell for $2.00 per dozen in our community (you can find them for less if you are willing to drive a bit.)  Using full feed we were able to produce eggs for less than $2.00 per dozen about half of the weeks in the year.  We probably broke even, but certainly didn’t make any money.  (We use recycled egg cartons.  People are happy to donate them.  Buying new egg cartons is rather expensive.  Even if you buy them by the  thousand they end up being around $0.25 each.  That adds a big cost to egg production.)

Our second experiment was 1/2 feed for a year.  We fed 1/8 lb of chicken feed and expected the hens to forage out in the pasture for the rest.  We rotated them behind the goats and cows.  They ate lots of greens, bugs, and did a good job cleaning up the pasture.  Egg production fell of quite a bit when the weather got cold, but they kept producing at at least 50%.  Using this method our production costs stayed well below the selling price.  We made a profit of at least $0.50 per dozen on all the eggs we sold.  In the peak production time it was closer to $1.00 per dozen profit. 

Our last test was to feed them nothing.  We ran this test for a year too.  (we did give them kitchen scraps, but we have done that with the other two tests, so it didn’t change anything.  This was the least productive and the lowest cause.  I was supprised how productive they were in the warm season.  Very close to what we got on half feed.  When it got cold and dark they really dropped off.  We let them have complete access to the animal pastures, the gardens, and the yard.  The only other negative I noticed from this method was the mess.  They can take apart a flower garden or a lawn in pretty short order, and they will as they look for food.  Even though this method had the best production cost, we will not do it again.  Having a third of the year where there are very few eggs is a good way to lose customers.  It was also pretty hard on the gardens, the lawn, and my nerves.

 

 

We will be continuing our production flock this year.  We’ll use our half feed/rotational grazing method.  It is a lot of work, but we got the most out of it, both financially and in pasture improvements.  We will be experimenting with adding light into the coop this next winter (not easy when you move the coop every few days and it can be as far as 600 fee to the nearest electrical outlet.)  That should help keep our winter production up a bit.  We will also be trying some grain production to see if we can economically grow our own feed.

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We’ve had a fairly cold winter so, unlike most years, I have not been able to simply look outside and see if the bees are flying to know they are ok. I prepared the bees this fall by treating them with various things to make sure they were healthy, I made sure they had plenty of honey and pollen to eat through the winter and then I crossed my fingers.

Still clustered, but dead

We recently had a warm day and I was able to check the 4 hives at my house. To my dismay, 2 were dead-outs. All of my hives at other locations are fine so I was surprised to find some at my house that were gone. We live atop a hill in Charleston, WV and we get serious wind. I have a windbreak around them but I considered that the extreme drafts might have gotten to them. That is the one characteristic that separates the hives at my house from the ones I have elsewhere. It has been said that one cannot freeze bees…if they stay dry and not too windy. If either problem exists, all bets are off so I figured I fell prey to the wind.

Heads down in the cells...telltale sign of starvation

I opened the hives and immediately knew that the wind was not to blame, but rather the cold…sort of. You see, my bees didn’t freeze, but rather starved to death. The cold makes bees cluster together. As it gets especially cold with no warm days interspersed, the bees cannot break their cluster. Without breaking cluster, they cannot move through the hive either. Since their honey stores are spread throughout the hive, they need to be able to move around periodically to eat.

Some honey nearby where they were clustered

Plenty of honey one more frame over...

So, I opened 2 hives and saw the tell-tale signs…bees still clustered together, many bees with their heads deep in honeycomb cells, and honey nearby, but not right where they died.

I hate for a colony to die, and when it is related to something I might have done wrong, it irritates me even more (fortunately, that doesn’t happen often anymore). But when it’s due to nature, I guess I feel a little bit of relief. It’s never fun, but it is a reality of beekeeping. So, I just hope for warmer days here and there so the bees can move to food and also for a quick Spring! Come on Spring!

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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Here are Chiot’s Run we don’t buy manufactured food. Our pantry is filled with dry goods, home canned items, and spices. We make our own pasta, butter, cheese, bread, granola bars, salad dressings and try to stay away from food that contain long ingredient lists, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and any weird unpronounceable ingredients.


We occasionally buy pretzels, those big sourdough niblets that have a short ingredient list; the same things I would use to make them myself (we do make soft pretzles at home, but haven’t mastered the art of crunchy ones yet). Other than this however, our pantry is devoid of boxes and bags of items made in a factory somewhere far far away.

If you’re trying to eat healthfully and avoid preservatives it’s much much cheaper to make things at home than buy them at the health food store. It does take some time to learn to make all the different things you enjoy. Sometimes it takes a palate adjustment to learn to like and prefer a homemade version of a store-bought item (like ketchup).

This is something you probably don’t want to do all at once. A great place to start is by replacing items in your pantry with homemade versions when you run out. This way you don’t waste food you’ve already purchased, and you aren’t overwhelmed by trying to learn to make everything homemade at once. Once you learn and make something a few times it becomes much easier. Start with something simple as well, like homemade salad dressing or made from scratch pancakes, muffins or a cake.

Pretty soon you’ll wonder why you ever bought mixed and pre-made items from the store, especially since you’ll notice the homemade version taste so much better. Not to mention all that extra cash in your wallet!

How much of what you eat is made from scratch at home?

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