Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

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Morning Oatmeal

What better breakfast to enjoy on a cold Winter’s morning than a hot bowl of oatmeal? We certainly do enjoy our oatmeal around here, and with Spring on her way, I know our oatmeal mornings are numbered – my kids prefer cooler breakfasts when the weather turns warm. So, we’ve been gobbling up plenty of oatmeal lately, savouring it while the weather is still somewhat cold.

The thing with oatmeal is that is can be totally BLAH, or it can be completely awesome. Anybody can throw some oats in boiling water and have a plain and boring bowl of oatmeal within a few minutes. But with a little extra effort, that boring bowl becomes a delicious way to start the day.

We soak our oats overnight. I originally started doing this in an attempt to neutralise the phytic acid in the oats, to make them more nutritious and digestible. Several sources had recommended this. Then I read an article from the Weston A Price Foundation that enlightened me – oats are relatively low in phytic acid to begin with, compared to other grains, and soaking them does little to reduce the phytic acid that is present. Still, we continue to soak our oats. Why? Soaked oats cook MUCH faster and have a nuttier flavour to them. The resulting oatmeal is smoother. Also, we add kefir (cultured/fermented milk) to the soaking jar to infuse the oats with probiotic cultures that our bellies and immune systems just love.

In this house, I almost always add freshly-ground flax seeds to a nearly-finished pot of oats (always use flax freshly-ground; it rapidly loses nutritional quality and becomes rancid soon after being ground. We use a coffee grinder). I also add several heaping tablespoons of hemp seeds after I have turned off the heat. In addition to these things, I will sometimes add chopped apple & cinnamon; sliced peaches; mashed banana; raisins and pre-soaked cashew pieces; some mulberry preserve from the summer; or other yummy things as they are available. Each bowl gets a swirl of raw honey on top before being served, which the kids delight in mixing in themselves.

On mornings when we are in a hurry, I stick to the basics – flax & hemp seeds with raw honey on top. Basic, yes, but still deliciously yummy.

Oh, and I’m sure you’re admiring the beautiful wooden bowl in the photo. Our oatmeal bowls are from The Wood Garden, a local family who creates beautiful wooden toys and dishes. Check out their Etsy shop!

Circle of Life

Some time ago, I mentioned that our vegetarian family was making some big decisions about eating more sustainably and providing for ourselves in an effort to reduce our dependency on the grocery store.  Our goal is to become self-sufficient, and let’s face it: eating grocery store food is not self-sufficient. It’s not Earth-friendly, it’s not wallet-friendly, and it’s not sustainable in the long term.

So we had to make some choices. Remain vegetarian and rely on the grocery store when the garden is out of season, or eat some of our birds & locally-caught fish and put a huge dent in the number of grocery trips we need to make.

We went with the latter.

Jae and I had many reasons for being vegetarian and raising vegetarian children, including a concern for the welfare of farm animals. We weren’t interested in sending our birds to the local abattoir, knowing that they’d be stressed out the entire drive there, stressed out moments before death, and killed by a stranger.  The only way to ensure that our birds were treated with respect and given a stress-free death was to do the killing here at home.

And so, with a sharpened ax and a friend to lend a hand, Jae slaughtered several of our birds.  He feathered them, gutted them, and put them in the freezer.  The kids and I said words of gratitude and respect to the birds, talked about the Circle of Life, and had a very lengthy discussion about why we had chosen to kill & eat some of our chickens.  Each time we have a chicken dinner, we say a few words of thanks for the life that was given to sustain our own lives.  We eat with consciousness and awareness.  We take nothing for granted.

I don’t really know what to say when people ask me why we’ve started eating our birds – the answer is too complex and emotional to sum up in a short conversation.  Our reasons for NOT eating meat were very long, and our reasons for eating our birds are just as many.  There are the issues of food security, animal rights, environmental degradation, industrial agriculture, economic freedom, health and well-being… and how each of those things ties into the next. The world we live in is so complicated and corrupted, and we’re trying to do the best we can for our family and our planet. A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought that would mean eating meat, but now I’m in a place where it just makes sense to do so. Life is funny like that – nothing is absolute, nothing is certain.

It was not easy to make the choice. It wasn’t easy to confront death, to become the bringers of death.  But once we made the leap, we knew we had made the right choice for our family.  In every ecosystem, there is a predator.  Our farm is an ecosystem in itself, and we are at the top of the chain.  That’s just life – everything in balance, everything a circle of birth and death.  The great Circle moves us all.

Thoughts on Dog Diet

A little while ago, I posted about replacing commercial dog food with homemade meals for our dogs, and included the recipe that I started out with.  After receiving some great advice from readers and friends, reading up a bit more about canine nutrition, and paying close attention to my dogs, I’ve made a few changes to that first recipe of mine.

To begin with, now I use more sweet potato and less potato, more carrots and less apple, and more raw meats/fish.  I cut out tuna due to concerns about mercury, and have replaced that with salmon, sardines, sole and herring.  I was feeling that fish alone wasn’t enough animal protein, so I checked out the meat aisle in the grocery store (I have never in my life shopped in the meat section of the store! It was a strange experience…).  There is a section of the cooler that is full of deals, 30% off and so forth, so I stocked up on some chicken legs and ham.  Now, in the morning the dogs will get a raw chicken leg with bone or a chunk of raw ham.  In the evening they get their rice mix (with the tweaks I mentioned above), topped with fish, flax oil, and a scoop of cottage cheese.  I still throw a raw egg in there from time to time, as well, and mix in the broken shells for added calcium.

On their new diet, the dogs have shown some awesome changes.  They have more focused energy (as opposed to hyperactive, unfocused wildness), seem better able to follow through on commands, and have brighter eyes.  Their fur is shining and so soft.  Oddler, 11 years old next month, had been suffering from a bad arthritic limp that has now completely disappeared (he had been nearly unable to walk some days, before the diet change). They sleep better and poop less – and, speaking of poop, their stools are smaller than they’ve ever been, not much bigger than our cat’s poop!  This tells me they are absorbing most of the nutrition from their food, instead of taking in lots of fillers that pass right through them and come out as large stools.

So, I think it’s safe to say that the dogs are thriving on their new diet.  They exude health.  It’s easier on our wallets and life is just all-around better for everyone!

It’s a Dog’s Life

Before Jae stopped working his office job, we purchased middle-of-the-line dry food for our dogs.  With two medium-large dogs who really know how to run all day, middle-of-the-line food could become a fairly significant portion of our grocery bill.  When Jae left the office behind and our income became casual, we downgraded to bottom-of-the-line dry food for the dogs.  Yes, the nasty, full of filler, no name kibble. We couldn’t justify spending so much money on dog food.  I justified the crappy food by including a raw egg on top every morning, but every time I glanced at the ingredients list on the bag, I felt a wave of guilt.  Mainly grains, full of fillers, plenty of preservatives, chicken meal by-product (I’m guessing ground feet & beaks? Yuck!), chemicals and unpronounceable additives.  I don’t feed my kids such poor food, or my livestock, or my poultry.  WHY was I feeding garbage to my beloved furry friends?

Soon enough, Molly started showing typical behaviour changes, mainly hyperactivity.  I’ve known for a long time that poor-quality food can negatively affect a dog’s behaviour, but the changes in Molly still caught me by surprise.  She needed to poop more often and had a couple of accidents in the house.  I knew within a week of the diet change that the crap food was just not cutting it.

This morning that first bag of crappy food finally ran out.  I knew it wasn’t in the budget to switch back to the decent food we used to buy, but I was not about to buy more low-grade junk.  So, I looked up the ingredients on the premium food (the kind that sells for $75 per bag – yikes!), read a few dog nutrition websites, and decided I’d make good food for my dogs at home.

After costing it out, homemade dog food works out to less than the cheapo crap food, and about 10000x healthier!

Here’s what I did tonight for my dogs:

1 sweet potato
2 potatoes
2 apples (simply because both dogs LOVE apples and go nuts for them)
2 cups of brown rice cooked in chicken broth
2 Tbsp flax oil
1 can of tuna
Handful of chopped carrots and broccoli

I cooked the sweet potato and the potatoes, stirred in the rice, apples, carrots and broccoli.  There seemed to be enough for at least a few days, so I doled out each dog’s serving, and added the tuna and flax oil on top. (I also poured the water from the tuna can into the bowls.)

The dogs devoured it. I have never seen them so eager to eat their dinner before.

Each morning they will still get their raw egg (with crushed shell), and on Sundays when we have our chicken dinner the dogs get all the scrapings.  I’m also going to experiment a bit with higher ratio of meat to veggies/rice (always raw meat), and try including things like cottage cheese or kefir.

All in all, it took me hardly any time to prepare the dogs’ food tonight, and I won’t have to do it again for at least three days – there is plenty still in the fridge.  The cost can’t be beat, my feelings of guilt were taken care of, and Oddler & Molly loved their first homemade meal.  I think we’re on the right path!

Preserving the Harvest

The last week has been cool and rainy, rainy, rainy, rainy.  I was lucky to have my sister home from Guelph on the weekend, and we decided to get some canning done.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in the garden – Jae has taken to the gardening while I lay in bed with some rotten pregnancy sickness – so I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw when sister and I went out to harvest tomatoes for canning.

Endless rainy days destroyed a LOT of my lovely heirloom tomatoes.  Many hadn’t ripened in the cool, sun-less weather, but those that had ripened too fast, split, and fell to the ground to rot. I had planned on making salsa verde with tomatillos, but the dreary weather meant that none of those sweet little fruits were ripened, either.

Still, we ended up with enough good tomatoes to make a batch of salsa.  We used all the good tomatoes we were able to find, ending up with about 6lbs after seeding and stemming. Not too bad.  I borrowed the basics from the book “Put ‘Em Up!“, but changed the recipe a little to suit my tastes.  Here’s what we did:

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Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Ingredients:

1 Cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
Splash of vinegar
1/4 Cup organic cane sugar
1 Tbsp salt
4 lbs heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
3/4 lbs onions, diced
2 hot peppers, finely diced
1 cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Bring the lime juice, splash of vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil.  Add the tomatoes, onions and hot peppers.  Return to a boil for about five minutes.  Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

Ladle into clean, hot canning jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Release trapped air, wipe rims clean, add lids.  Process in boiling water bath for 15 mins.  Turn off heat, remove canner lid, let jars rest in water for 5 mins.  Remove jars, set aside for 24 hrs, check seals. Keep for up to one year.

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Our salsa was almost entirely local.  The only ingredients that weren’t locally sourced were the lime juice, sugar and salt.  The tomatoes and hot peppers were straight from our garden, picked that morning.  The onions were from a neighbouring farm (ours did poorly this year, unfortunately).  The cilantro was from my friend Lesley’s organic farm about 20 mins away. The vinegar was from our local Heinz factory (hey, that’s gotta count for something!).

My sister and I couldn’t resist – we had to eat some of the salsa fresh out of the pot.  There were no tortilla chips to be found in my cupboards, so we dipped pita bread instead.  The salsa was absolutely delicious! Amazing! The best salsa I’ve had yet.  I’m pretty thrilled to have plenty stored away to enjoy this winter.

Since I wasn’t able to do the salsa verde I had planned, I moved onto another project instead: wild grape jelly.  Again, I used a recipe from the book “Put ‘Em Up!”.  We had about 8lbs of wild grapes that Jae harvested on a recent foraging excursion.  I boiled them down, crushed them, and strained the juice through cheesecloth overnight.  The next morning, I boiled the juice with sugar and pectin, as per the recipe directions, and canned it.  Twenty-four hours later, I checked to see if it had set… and, it hadn’t.  I’m not sure what went wrong there, but I now have 8 jars of grape juice, NOT grape jelly.  I’m going to have to do some searching on the webz to find a solution.  Perhaps I can pop those jars open and use that juice to try again?  Or is that a no-no?  I have some learning to do…

It looks like we might have some clear days ahead of us, so I have my fingers crossed that my tomatillos will ripen, the last of the tomatoes will turn red, and I can get some more canning done.  We also have to pay a visit to my in-laws (about 15-mins away) to harvest the fruit hanging on their apple and pear trees.

There’s nothing more satisfying than opening the cupboards to see rows of homegrown food preserved for the winter!

 

(I wish I had photos of our lovely canning day and jars full of goodness to share with you, dear readers, but alas! My camera is lost and so is my cell phone.  Photos will have to wait for another day…)

Fruit of the Land

August has been a tumultuous month.  In the middle of horrible pregnancy sickness, I took the kids on a week-long camping adventure, while my dear husband stayed home and quit his job.  Yes, that’s right, he quit his job.  After years of working in an office, Jae and I decided it was time for him to break free so that we can live the life of our dreams.  No more schedules! Two adults to run the farm! Both parents home full-time with the kids! And, a lot less money.

I could write a very long essay on all the reasons Jae quit his job, but I’ll hold myself back.  The long and short of it is that having the majority of his daylight hours sucked away in an office has meant that Jae has not been able to do the things with his life that he truly wants to do.  His family time was limited to a few hours in the evening before putting the kids to bed, and we never seemed to have enough money anyway.  Why sell the hours of your life away when the money’s  not enough?  Now we are free and all of our options are wide open.  It’s the dawning of a new age for our family.

We’ve had to think long and hard about how our money gets spent, over these last few weeks.  Our feeling has been that being jobless is the kick we need to REALLY live off the land.  Sure, we’ve kept a garden and a flock of hens, we’ve eaten local food, we’ve tried to provide for ourselves, but at best it has been a practice round.  We still shop at the grocery store on a regular basis, eating food that has been trucked in from lands far away (yeah, so what if it’s organic? It still traveled far too long and gobbled up far too many resources getting to us!).  Our grocery store dependence needs to end.

Jae and I have been vegetarians for a great many years.  Our children were born vegetarians.  Now, our diets are changing.  In an effort to live off the land, we’ve decided to do some fishing in the local creeks, marshes and rivers.  We are blessed to live in an area with an abundance of waterways – why not make use of them?  Our goal is to fill the freezer with fish to eat throughout the winter.  So, today we set out with the kids in the canoe for our first attempt at fishing.


Our oldest son, Lynden, was very hesitant when we told him what our plans were.  Being a lifelong vegetarian, the idea of killing a fish was upsetting for him.  I had a good long talk with him, explaining that we are trying to have a small footprint on the Earth, and that after lots of thought and discussion, Daddy and I thought the Earth would be happier if we caught our own fish down the road than if we bought avocados from South America.  By the time we were out on the water, Lynden was brimming with enthusiasm.

We enjoyed the canoeing (as we always do!) and were treated to plenty of wildlife encounters – ducks, geese, Great Blue Herons, swans, egrets, water snakes, frogs, snails – and we felt so at home on the water that any doubts I had started out with simply vanished away.

Swans, keeping a safe distance.

American Egret doing some fishing of her own.

After a time, we realised how silly we had been to do our fishing from within the canoe, while trying to manage three small children and keep our lines from getting tangled.  When over an hour passed without anything more than snag after snag, our toddler screaming between my knees and trying to throw himself overboard, we decided to head back to shore and fish from the banks instead.

Instant success! Jae and I each caught a fish almost immediately.  Mine was a small sun fish, his, a small catfish.  They were both too small to eat, so we threw them back and kept trying.

Before long, Lynden caught a catfish.  He reeled it in all by himself, pulled it up out of the water, and started hollering to me that he had caught a fish.  His excitement was enormous!

Granted, the catfish wasn’t very big, but Lynden was so thrilled with himself and couldn’t wait to eat it.  A far cry from the nervous boy who didn’t want to kill a fish earlier this morning!

We took the fish back to Jae’s parents’ house, where “Papa” knew just what to do (Papa is an expert fisherman!).  Lynden got hands-on lessons on how to clean a fish.

Papa fried up the little catfish filets, and added a bit of pickerel that he had caught.  I never thought I’d enjoy fish as much as I did this evening.

There is much to say about sustaining a family of five (almost six!) on the land, divorcing the system we’ve been raised in and slave to for so long, living without regular employment, and having the life of our dreams.  There’s not room in one post for all the thoughts that are swirling through my head – you’ll have to bear with me as I sort through this new stretch of our life’s adventure!

Baah

Today was a lovely day.  We took a little road trip to visit some friends, and came home with our first sheep!  Lynden named her Sunflower.  She’s a Shetland ewe lamb from Thistlecroft Farm, and just the sweetest, most beautiful thing I ever did see.

Here she is, meeting one of the Araucana chickens.  It’s hard to see how lovely she is in such a small picture, but my camera is being fussy so I had to resort to using my phone.  Keep your eye open tomorrow for some sheep photos!

When we got home from our little day away, Jae had a yummy organic, wheat-free lasagna in the works.  I haven’t had lasagna in so long! What a treat!  With our dinner, we enjoyed a simple, delicious and utterly satisfying salad – organically grown leaf lettuce from a neighbour, and cucumber straight from our garden.  Mmm, so fresh and crisp!  Superb!

At the end of a day like this, I feel pretty satisfied with life.  I hope you all had a wonderful day, too!

The Berry Best

Oh, what a joyous time of year!  Mulberries and raspberries are ripe and ready for the picking!

We are blessed, truly, to have two very productive mulberry trees here at the farm, AND to have a public hiking trail directly behind our property that is home to dozens of equally productive mulberry trees.  Last evening, Jae and I took the kids out on the trail to do some foraging, and came home with a bucket full of mulberries and several handfuls of wild raspberries.

The plan was to make mulberry jam, but I wanted more berries before getting started.  This morning I went out into the yard to collect from one of our own mulberry trees.

Have I mentioned how blessed we are to have these trees?  This particular mulberry tree is the favoured hang-out spot for our farm animals.  It’s a shady and breezy spot, with soft sandy soil, perfect for dust-bathing and stretching one’s legs.  The chickens go wild when I collect the mulberries, gathering around in hopes of being the first to nab any berries that fall to the ground.  When one hen grabs a berry, the rest swarm her, trying to steal her treasure.  Many squawks and clucks later, someone emerges from the mass of feathers, victorious.  I am grateful for this comic entertainment while I pick berries.

The chickens aren’t the only ones who enjoy the mulberries.  Our goats have discovered how delicious these little purple nuggets are, as well.  Here is Daisy, our bottle-fed kid (who’s too big to drink a bottle anymore!), helping me with my berry picking.  The silly girl stretched herself up so high at one point, she lost her balance and toppled.

This morning’s harvest barely made it to the jam pot.  My children were all over it the moment I had it washed, popping berry after berry into their mouths.  Our fingers were stained purple all day, much to the delight of the little people.  Now they are asking for purple hair, too!

Voila, mulberry jam! As the berries continue to ripen on the tree, there will be more and more of this coming out of our kitchen.  A delectable summertime treat!