Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Is this meat?"

We've been doing a bit of meat processing of late - pigs, lambs and, of course, chickens. The kids have been with us all the way, interested and enthralled by the process, and it's prompted them to become quite engaged with the question of what meat actually is. Oscar in particular went through a process of trying to discern what else in his life might be considered a meat possibility. Pointing at the dog: "Is this meat?" Pointing to his cheek: "Is this meat?" The answer to his question, of course, is that what can be considered 'meat' is completely subjective and socially determined.
Slow-cooked Spanish style wild rabbit stew, made using home-cured chilli pancetta, served with soft polenta. A 'normal' kind of 'meat', but why?

Oscar,  having not been at all socialised to reject certain kinds of meat potentials, is all for considering the possibilities. For this reason, he was the only person in our family to try the lamb's tongue. He loved it! Gulping it down from a little yellow tea cup while watching Gourmet Farmer on DVD.
Oscar enjoying his cup o' tongue
He was also the one who prompted me to consider the meat potential of chicken necks, which I regularly bring home from the abattoir for making stock, which we use in everything, but most deliciously, in congee
One day, after the stock was done and packaged and safely deposited into the freezer, Oscar came upon the colander of chicken necks, onions and celery tops. "What's this? A sausage?" he asked, holding up one of the necks. "Yeah, kind of." I replied, at which point he started chomping on it. The upside to his adventurousness is that he now has a super-nutritious snack of 'neck sausages' every time I make stock, and I discovered that necks actually have heaps of meat on them. So now, when I make the stock, I spend 10 minutes or so afterwards stripping the necks into a neat little parcel of beautiful, cooked chicken meat for sandwiches or soup or whatever. Yum!

When we recently processed our lamb, I was keen to make use of the lamb's head, which I knew would contain quite a bit  of meat - too much to discard, for sure.
The lamb's head. Most of the meat came from the cheek areas
The answer came in the form of a Iranian breakfast soup called Kaleh Pacheh, which is traditionally made with the head and the hoofs of the lamb. For some reason the hoofs were fed to the dogs, so I just used the head. I used the recipe in the link above, though I added some apple cider vinegar to help get the goodies out of the bones. We cooked it (overnight!) in our pizza oven, so it was a nice long, slow cook. Next day, I stripped the skull of all its meat and stirred it through the broth.
Kaleh Pacheh - served with a squeeze of lemon and a freshly-cooked home-made flatbread
The resulting soup was a gorgeous green colour, not too chunky, herby, and quite rich. It's got an interesting flavour, and though I don't mind having things like congee with poached eggs for breakfast, I don't know that I'll be rushing to have Kaleh Pacheh first thing in the morning, though it made a delicious light lunch.
Leftover congee with poached eggs - possibly my favourite breakfast
Despite my attempts to challenge my "is this meat?" socialisation, I didn't taste the tongue, and I didn't put the eyeballs in the soup. Which made me realise how strong and pervasive this socialisation is. Here I am, philosophically and ethically completely in favour of eating all bits, and I still had insurmountable "ew" about the eyeballs and tongue. Interesting.

Next stop on our "is this meat?" adventure is my Oma's braun, which we are making from the head of our pig, which is safely waiting in the freezer. I'm excited - I know it will be delicious - but also apprehensive about overcoming my 'ew' enough to use and eat the tongue, to get all the hair off the pig's head, clean out the ear wax etc... But I'm up for it. We have to be, because we all waste so much, and a socialised 'ew' to perfectly good, readily available, local food is something worth challenging.

Friday, November 29, 2013

How sweet!

Yesterday afternoon I went up to the orchard to toss some leftovers to the chickens, and started shrieking like a lunatic. Pearl and Olive rushed out to find out what was wrong, and I gleefully informed them that one of the baby chicks had hatched. And how sweet it is!
Even though we've had quite a lot of baby chick action in the last 3 months (like, 300 of the little fluffballs), this one seems (maybe) extra tiny and (definitely) extra cute. Or maybe it's just the way it interacts with its 2 mums, who are following it/guiding it around the place, finding food for it, showing it how to drink, and scaring off chickens/ducks/kids if they get too close. It's SO CUTE.

I'm not holding out much hope for the other eggs they'd been incubating, though. They seem completely wrapped up in caring for their little baby, and have abandoned the other eggs. So it looks like it'll just be the one little chickie then. What a chickie it is!!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

News from the orchard, part 3: Double mummas

You may (or may not) remember that last summer, we had a sitting duck and a sitting hen. We were very excited about the prospect of babies but, alas, the babies did not hatch, on account of the poor birds sitting through two 45+ degree days. Yep, it was frikkin' hot, and poultry embryos weren't up for it. We also lost a hen, but stories abound of people losing whole flocks of chickens, prime breeding rabbits, goats, sheep... It was a terrible couple of days. So we got off light.

Anyways, we're hoping the current lot of broodies have a better time of it, and hopefully hatch some babies!

The current broody season started off with one of our light sussex hens on a clutch of about 14 eggs. A week or so into her sit, a second light sussex also started to brood on her own clutch, but she was so aggressive I couldn't get anywhere near it to count the eggs. We got these hens from a neighbour down the road, and everyone we know who got hens from this neighbour all have broodies right now. Reliable, it seems. Anyways, a few days before the first clutch were due to hatch, that broody hen abandoned her nest to join forces with the second sitting hen. Seems they're picking up on the double mumma vibe that's going on around here...
Apparently it's not exactly unusual  for 2 hens to sit on the one nest and co-parent the hatched chicks. All the usual benefits apply: 2 hens mean that the eggs get kept warm while one hen goes off the nest for food or water. 2 hens also mean that once the eggs hatch, the chicks have double the protection, as both hens work together to look after the chicks. And of course everyone knows that children from same-sex parents have statistically better academic and social outcomes.

Hilariously, the hens aren't the only ones joining in with the double mumma thing: we also have a pair of ducks sitting together. I know!! What is going on around here??!! I have no idea how many eggs those girls are on, but we're all really hoping the ducklings hatch on account of the fact that baby ducks are outrageously cute!!
We do also have another duck sitting (alone) on a very serious-looking nest in a patch of broadbeans behind the pizza oven. I have no idea how long she's been there (we only noticed her on the weekend, when we were cooking pizzas) or what she's sitting on - she is incredibly conscientious about thoroughly covering up her eggs when she leaves the nest for a forage in the grass. So if and when she hatches her eggs, it'll be a lovely surprise!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

On being a butcher...

Recently we killed our lamb. 
We killed it and then we butchered it. I've not done anything like this before. 

Was it difficult? No, not at all. I felt at ease throughout the whole thing. I was reflective, yes, very much aware of the life we were taking for our own sustenance. However, not disturbed or upset. This sheep had had a good life, wandering, foraging, lying in the shade, eating  a lot of grass and saving the use of petroleum powered grass mowing equipment while also enhancing the carbon in the soil. The quality of the life and death of the animals I eat is my concern, not the fact of eating animals. I think the ethical question of whether or not to eat animals is a valid consideration for some humans at this juncture in time, however it's no longer a dilemma for me. Some might say this makes me heartless and unaware. I don't agree. I think that consciously eating meat makes me more human and more connected to the phases and processes of the world around me. You might be forgiven for assuming we're rampant carnivores. It's true that there are a lot of posts here about chickens and pork and rabbit and now, lamb and despite the fact we raise our own or buy from local producers we know,  meat remains a privilege for us, we eat it no more than twice a week. Yes we think and talk a lot about that which we do eat. This may make things appear a little skewed. 

Our friend David is a self-taught home butcher, he taught himself from some online videos and has successfully butchered two of his lambs so it made sense to work with him on this, our first killing and butchering of a four legged animal. It's actually remarkably straightforward. I'm not sure why I was surprised by this. I guess because meat processing is such a hidden part of life for most of us in the west. That mystification promotes the notion that it is in the realm of the specialists. I think I might have liked to be a butcher in a different life. An artisan kind of butcher, kind of like this gorgeous guy.

I'm not ashamed to say that we will kill again. It's not that it's enjoyable, it's just that it feels right to eat animals we have a connection with. Animals that have led a life expressing their natural instincts. 
The lamb was killed and hung. Then we skinned it. The animal was still warm. This warmth combined with the moisture of the fat amounted to a pretty amazing experience sensually. This awareness aided the process and enhanced my consciousness about what we were doing and the significance of taking this life in order that we would eat. The sheep was killed, skinned and eviscerated in the place it had lived its life. No stressful abattoir experience. In fact before it even knew what was happening, it was dead. 

 After we'd skinned it, we pulled out "the guts".  

"Getting the guts out", as the kids like to say.
Our kids love talking about guts. Possibly because of the amount of animal gut activity they've seen this past year. I'm reluctant to rave about Olive and Oscar on this blog, mainly because everyone loves their children and thinks they're special and also because when parents rave about their kids I feel they're often really (consciously or not) talking about the product(s) of their supposedly superior parenting. Having said that, we felt very proud of how non-squirmish the kids were about the process. For them, it was just another part of life. They were fascinated and enthralled and full of questions, yet absolutely accepting. It became a wonderfully hands on real life biology lesson. The carcass was then left to hang overnight, with a bag of ice inside it. 

cut into quarters, plus the neck

The next day, we cut the animal into five, including the neck and from there it was really very obvious where it should be cut - Two legs, two shoulders, four shanks, many cutlets, backstrap, ribs, some random bits for dogs and some other bits for mince. Oh and the head had been removed the day before. Don't worry, it was in our freezer awaiting a special use. More on this at a later date. I loved the process of slicing and arranging and trimming. We took our time and ensured a careful job. This felt good. 

New mincer, what a success!
That night we ate well. We ate the way I most love to eat - making the most of what we have in our garden or from a very local source. The cutlets were marinated in a simple blend of lemon juice, garlic, oregano and olive oil. We made a salad of fresh picked broad beans, baby chard, mint, parsley, fetta, lemon juice and olive oil and another of steamed fresh dug potatoes with finely chopped herbs and a bit of Bega butter. It was utterly delicious. The meat was tender and sweet and the vegetables so fresh and truly yum. During meals like this I find myself musing on how lucky we are. Food this fresh, this local, this delicious is just so good. Enjoyed with a little wine and conversation and I find I'm wanting for nothing more. 
uber-delicious taste of the local

Oscar Rose, the happy little carnivore

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rhubarb champers - outrageously simple and delicious...

About 6 months ago, our awesome friend Brett hooked us up with some rhubarb champagne he'd secured at the Brogo food swap (in case you saw it, it was the food swap featured in episode 4 of River Cottage Australia...). Anyways, it was really really delicious, and I've been thinking about making some ever since. But, like lots of things, it took me a while to get around to it, so we're only now enjoying the fruits of our labour. But boy was it worth the wait!! A delectable, sweet, refreshing, ever so slightly alcoholic, pink, fizzy beverage, made at home, using bits of stuff we grew in the garden. Just what everyone needs for summer. Yay!
The recipe came from (I think, but can't remember positively) the Aussies Living Simply website, and goes a little sumthin' like this:

Get your really cute little helper friend to help you cut up 3 and a half cups of home-grown rhubarb into little pieces. 
Put this, along with 3 and a half cups of sugar, into the super-awesome ceramic fermenter that you got for your birthday. 
Add the juice from a couple of lemons, 12 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and 4 wine bottles of water, and leave to ferment for around 3 days. Then bottle (I used some glass swing-top bottles I got at a garage sale, but I've heard that plastic soft-drink bottles also work well) and leave for around 3 weeks. Then pop it like a champagne bottle! It'll fizz, just like the real deal. But to my mind, it's much more delicious. And kinda more satisfying, because I made it myself. I'm funny like that...
We're currently enjoying ours cut half and half with mineral water, in account of the syrupy sweetness of the champagne. Tonight we even had some outrageously delicious local strawberries chopped up in it. What a supremely delicious (and rather good looking) treat!
So get to it folks. Your summer will be better for it, I assure you.

PS. If you're not lucky enough to have a partner who buys you fun things like ceramic fermenters for your birthday, you could also use something like a big glass jar, a beer brewing thing, a plastic bucket or the like. I didn't sterilise, but make sure it's pretty clean!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thanks, chickens

Yesterday I got up at 3am and prepared myself for a shift at the Bega small species abattoir. This wasn't the first time I've worked at the abattoir - I've been doing a shift a week there for the last few months, gradually becoming more and more involved in the running of the co-op. But yesterday was different because it was the morning we were to process the first of our Autumn Farm chickens.
Autumn Farm chicken house number 1
As we loaded the chickens into their crates the night before, we'd said thank you to each one as we held it. Olive calmly explained to them what was about to happen - that they'd be taken to the abattoir where their heads would be removed. She thought that this was a reasonable thing to do, given that they couldn't understand her, and even if they could, they wouldn't know what an abattoir was. Fair point… 
Piles of rocks with grass growing between, we discovered, are snack bars, playgrounds and nesting areas, all in one: our chickens LOVE them, and luckily we have quite a few on our land
While the kids were matter of fact, Pearl and I were a little more thoughtful. There isn't a word to describe the way we felt, we decided, as we drove our 98 chickens to the abattoir. Those chickens we'd spent the last 8 weeks caring for, watching, being entertained by. Those chickens we'd tended to each and every day, ensuring that they had water and food and fresh grass and clean sleeping quarters. Those chickens we'd occasionally carried, one by one, to their house, when they'd lost their way because we'd moved it a bit too far (they're not the sharpest tools in the shed). 
Autumn Farm Cornish Cross meat chickens, around 6 weeks old, feasting on sunflower seeds
Our feelings were mixed, for sure. We were so conscious of the fact that we were sending them to their deaths. But this was always to be the case. At the same time we were thanking them, we were also excited by the prospect of providing our community with good food, ethically and responsibly raised. It was strange. The culmination of so so much work and anxiety.

There were times I'd worried that I would cry at the abattoir the morning they were killed. But in the moment, I just watched, feeling calm and believing that we had given them the best possible life and death. Not to say that any of this was easy, but it was real, and so completely true to our ethics, that it just felt right.
1 week old chicks going crazy for end-of-season ruby chard pulled out of the veggie garden
We are so lucky to have such a facility so close to our home. A small, co-operatively run abattoir, run and operated by growers. We respect the animals that we process, because we raised them and cared for them. We process by hand, so the animals are killed quickly and efficiently. We gut them by hand so we can inspect the intestines for abnormalities and disease. It is intimate, and it is real, and we as growers are connected to the lives that we take in order that we can make a living.

3 hours after they were slaughtered, our chickens were picked up from the abattoir door by our customers, who also bought livers and feet and necks and hearts. We were excited that people were keen to use the whole birds, and they were excited to be able to purchase locally and ethically grown birds.
8 week old chickens (affectionately known as "the fatsos") enjoying silverbeet. The longer life (most meat chickens are slaughtered at 32 days) and varied diet makes for a tastier and  better-textured bird
It was a long and massive day, both physically and emotionally. We returned home, exhausted, not to a congratulatory meal and a glass of wine, but to leftovers and another 200 chickens requiring our care and attention. And it was OK. Because we've made this choice. We've chosen this life.

When people ask me "is it worth it?" I  ask, "how to you measure 'worth'?" If you measure worth in monetary terms then the answer is definitely "no". You don't go into pastured chickens to make your fortune. But if you, like us, measure worth in terms of positive contribution and engagement with your local community, and contributing to local food systems and ecologically sound, regenerative farming practices, and teaching and spending time with your kids, and learning and teaching and growing and eating wholesome, real food, and making money from something positive that you believe in, then the answer is "yes - absolutely".

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The P&E Knock(ed) Up: a super-comfy, non-ugly maternity skirt!

So you might have noticed I love making people happy with handmade clothes. I especially love making people I love happy, so imagine my excitement at making comfy-top P&E skirts for my currently-growing-a-baby bestie, Niki!! 
Beautiful Niki showing off the P&E preggo skirt's stretchy-top
Niki is quite the collector of P&E items, which is nice for me, because I like sewing for her. And accommodating her growing tummy is, of course, extra special. The one pictured here, frolicking on the beach in Byron Bay, is made from a vintage (and, quite frankly, kinda kitsch) kitten print teatowel and a vintage sheet. I know - what a surprise.

The P&E preggo skirt was born when I myself was pregnant, and needed something comfy and non-ugly (have you noticed how ugly maternity clothes are???) to fit around my growing little Olive. The answer? A standard P&E A-line made to fit under the tum, with a wide stretchy band at the top.
Annie, almost 9 months pregnant, in one of the first P&E preggo skirts, heading off to uni to finish the draft of her PhD thesis (quick! There's a baby coming!!)

AND they're excellent for after the baby's born too, and your tummy's regaining its equilibrium. In fact, I wore mine for quite a few years after giving birth, just because they're so bloody comfortable.

I've made a few more since then, for Pearl and various other friends (you can see one here), all of whom have "lived in" their P&E preggo skirts (I think Pearl still has one doing the rounds, three and a half years later). But the best recommendation of all came from Niki when she sent me these photos:

 "I hope lots of people order P&E preggo skirts for their preggi friends or lovers - it's the most comfortable and beautiful thing in my wardrobe. I love it so much! xxx"

Awww...What can I say but yay! Here's to kitschy kitten prints, growing babies and comfy-top skirts!