Sunday, March 24, 2013

How to slaughter a chicken

DISCLAIMER: I've never actually slaughtered a chicken so I am not an expert on the subject, but last night I did watch some how-to YouTube videos and thought I'd give it a whirl!

I believe in responsible animal raising, which sometimes means providing population control on the farm - this spring we are plump with baby chicks running around and have several too many roosters leading to some overly hen-pecked ladies...

Also slaughtering your own meat means that you know exactly what kind of life that animal had and you can give it the ultimate respect of not letting any part of it go to waste!

Plan A
So here was the plan...

Plan A supply list:

- A chicken
- Apron
- Chair
- Knife
- Pot of hot water
- Rope
- Butane torch 
- A 'Plan B'

Plan A instructions:

1. Set up your area with the chair, pot of hot water (hotter than your hand can comfortably sit in), and rope tied to a branch with a slip knot at the bottom between chest & head level. Wear the apron.

2. Get your chicken, sit in the chair, and relax the chicken by wrapping him in your apron, head pointing down to your feet. 

3. Slit the chicken's neck artery and allow the chicken to bleed out, holding firmly. After a bit, break the chickens neck or cut the brain by sticking the knife into it's mouth and up into the brain.*

*If unable to do step #3, initiate 'Plan B'!

4. Dip the chicken into the pot of very hot water for a few moments to loosen the feathers. Put the chicken's foot into the slip knot and pluck away! Remove all feathers, re-dunk in hot water if needed to further loosen the feathers.

5. Use the butane torch to singe all over the body in a couple of sweeps to remove the fine hairs that remain after plucking.

Plan B
Plan B supply list:

- An experienced chicken slaughterer 
- A chicken
- Wooden board
- 2 nails
- An ax
- Pot of hot water
- Butane torch

Plan B instructions: 

1. Shut up
2. Watch and learn

For all of you out there that know me - yep, you guessed right, I did not make step #3 on Plan A and had to engage the back-up plan! 

Believing in a particular way of life and being able to bring the end to an animal yourself (myself) are two separate things. Someday perhaps they will be aligned, but not today, I reckon! 

All ready to be prepped for dinner!
(A note on humane slaughter of a chicken: there are many resources on the internet that may tout one way or another method as the "most humane" method, but now I can say that truthfully, the most humane way is the quickest way. I went into this today thinking that a knife was more humane than an ax - but now I see that an experienced slaughterer with an ax is MUCH more humane than a novice with a knife!!)

Thank you, chickens, for all that you have given us, in your life and in your death.

Gutted chicken ready for a brine & then a roast!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Increasing Access to Raw (Real) Milk in Texas

Pasteurization came about with the industrial revolution, when milk started making people sick at an increasing and alarming rate. Pasteurization of dairy prevented acute illness associated with drinking the milk of sick animals. These animals were sick because they had been moved from the country and closer to the city, were being fed less grass and more grains, and the farms were being moved out of the hands of family owned farms into the hands of the ever-consolidating corporate entities.

Instead of treating the problem (sick animals) it was decided to treat the symptoms (people getting ill) by killing all the bacteria in the tainted milk.

Now doesn't that sound familiar ...

Time has passed, however the conventional (pasteurized) milk from the store still comes from unhealthy animals eating an unnatural diet for their digestive tracts, are in confined living conditions, and we are still treating symptoms of the problem by giving the animals routine medications to keep them "well" and killing all bacteria (the good with the bad) with pasteurization or even ULTRA-pasteurization of the milk.

In contrast, it is estimated that 1% of the population of America drinks raw milk from either their own farm animals or from healthy animals raised on a small family farm. The risk of illness associated with drinking raw milk from healthy animals is lower than the risk associated with many produce items in the supermarket and much lower than the risk of eating raw oysters.

Are the tides turning? 

It certainly seems to me that the real food movement is growing and may soon turn the tides on how we currently choose to involve government in food safety issues. 

While it is absolutely, positively true that large corporations producing our food in monocultures (think spinach, cantaloupes),  feed lots (think cows, chickens, eggs, dairy), or other areas of mass production (think fast food, most school food systems) need government oversight to ensure that they do not make make us sick because we cannot change this dysfunctional system overnight - the rules and regulations created for the dysfunctional food systems cannot be applied to the small family farms following the rules of the land and of tradition. 

Who benefits from the rules and regulations of large corporations imposed on the family farm?

Large corporations. There is a significant financial burden of sterilization and pasteurization of our food that small businesses simply cannot compete with. Not to mention, folks that seek out small family farms for their food supply do not want sterile food.

People want raw milk from healthy cows and goats. People want fresh eggs from healthy chickens. People want homemade sauerkraut from pesticide-free cabbages. And farmers want to provide this for their eager customers. 

"Free market" to me is usually said with a nasty sneer, however, in this case I must give it a good nod of my head as I think that if the true fundamental of the term was honored, then small businesses really could flourish and there could be less consolidation of our food system. 

So who is getting in the way of the turning tides?

As a low-active person in the democrat process, I recently surprised myself by testifying in front of the public health committee of the Texas state legislature on the topic of allowing raw milk from certified raw milk dairies to be legally sold at farmer's markets, HB 46 (currently in Texas it is only legal to buy from a certified raw milk dairy on the farm). 

I'll be completely honest, it was the most excited political event of my 30 years!! My blood pressure peaked to an all-time high during my testimony, but after that, I just sat back and listened. 

In the morning the pro-HB 46 folks provided testimony of which my favorite testimonies were from the farmers, who are the home-style folk standing up for their way of living. In contrast, some of the raw milk drinkers' testimonies were quite frightful, but so goes the democratic process. 

In the afternoon the anti-HB 46 folks provided testimony. I was prepared to hear all the same bullshi*t about how "unsafe" raw milk is and la-de-dah usual fear tactics, but they added in some new angles this time...

Department of State Health Services
There was a last minute (~8 hours before the hearing) attachment of a 5K fiscal note to the bill, which committee representatives stated was a "death sentence" for the bill in the current fiscal climate. A DSHS employee stated that this fiscal note was added due to 'the increase in staff needed to support the estimated 20+ more raw milk dairies that are likely to pop up after passage of this bill'.

The committee showed no mercy to this DSHS employee. They ripped him a new one and honestly I felt bad for the guy. 

But really, his logic and research was lacking and sad in itself. 

Harris County Food Safety 
This woman's opposition was the same-old fear tactics and was really too lacking of substance to even waste type on.

Infectious Disease, representing Texas Medical Association & Texas Pediatric Association
He provided at different twist on the safety issue, stated something like 'yes, I agree the risk is small, but if it's your child that dies, the risk is 100%'. 

He also lobbied for "accurate labeling" so that folks who may not know about the 'risks' of raw milk may read about the dangers on the bottle and make an 'informed decision' from there. 

He then nit-picked the fact that this bill does not dictate the rules for transportation of raw milk. (Why would raw milk not be subject to the same rules/regulations as the transport of pasteurized milk?!)

Texas Association of Dairymen
By far the most fascinating opposition, as his case sounded more like it was for the bill and yet he was opposing... He seemed to believe that the market for conventional is on the decline and the market for raw milk is on the incline and they 'missed the boat on organics, so we don't want to miss this one' *chills*. 

So the stated reasons for opposition was that the bill 'wasn't quite right yet' and needed to include more detail on what the raw milk containers need to have on them (bottling date and expiration date) and that testing for raw milk should be increased to once per month. He also wants strict rules on record keeping so that "as the industry grows" there is correct foundation in place.

The future of raw milk...

From these testimonies in opposition to increasing access to raw milk we can see that the arguments are evolving and it is likely only a matter of time before drinkers of real milk break through barriers and remove the stigma of raw milk as a 'risky food'. See my previous blog post addressing food safety

I was blown away by the quality of insight that the committee members provided to the hearing of HB-46, several of which are also co-sponsors for the bill. Texas has a long history of cattle ranching, dairy production, and small family farms. I heard several of the committee members interject their own life experience with raw milk and raising dairy cows. And of course (because you'd have to be dumb or blind not to see it when you drive through Texas countryside) several of them stated an intimate understanding of how the decline of the family farm and local food industry has devastated small towns across Texas.

I think the future of raw milk and real food is bright. When I moved to Texas 3 years ago, I expected a wasteland of Wal-Mart-type thinking but within the last year my eyes have really opened to the strengthening movement of passionate people fighting for a better food future in Texas.

Be a part of this bright future! Stay up-to-date on how you can make a difference by joining the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, who supports all things family farm & real food.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chicken, Chicken, Goose... ?

Like most of my worst ideas, the desire to add geese to the ranch population came on suddenly with great intensity. I first saw them while thumbing through the spring bird hatchery catalog. Large, white birds with curly feathers which made them look both elegant and homeless at the same time. It must of been fate that on Craigslist there was a trio for sale unnaturally close to my house (or so I told myself)!

It seemed to me that thus far I made a pretty good chicken caretaker so geese would come easy to me. A bird is a bird, right?

First day in their new digs.
A week later I was meeting with the woman from Craigslist and we transferred these large elegant birds from her truck into my car. They seemed relatively docile and the woman looked genuinely sad to see them go.

"You don't have any small children, do you?" she asked.


"Ok, just wanted to make sure because that one attacked my youngest boy and he was traumatized."

No problem, don't have any kids. Should be perfect!

I took them home and put them into the new pen that surrounded the outdoor garden area and the compost pile. It's a large area and has a cute A-frame pen on it for them to nest in. They honked around and explored their new digs. I filled their food and a large tub of water and imagined our fabulous coexistence for the next 10-15 years.

Did you know that geese hiss?

Over the next weeks I started to see their true personalities shine through the awkwardness of adaptation to their new surroundings.

The elegant, frizzled geese became a noisy group of hissing, charging, and biting creatures that hated my very proximity to their being.

Did you know that geese have teeth?

When they bite, they sink their teeth (fangs?) deep in your leg and rear back with their body, flapping the 4+ foot expanse of wings toward you.

My goose-feeding, compost-dumping outfit turned from my bathrobe or a summer dress into oversized, lined, canvas coveralls and a winter jacket. I carry a stick with me at all times.

I've done some reading on what to do, there seems to be two camps. The first is that you assert dominance and become the alpha-goose - I tried this and it was a massive failure. The second is that you differentiate yourself from the goose pack and help them understand you are a human. Sadly, thus far, also a failure.

The first goose egg!!!
Friends and family ask when these geese will become dinner and the answer is simply, not yet!

A new pen has been created within the larger pen so that I may dump the compost and work in the garden without fear and terror - this may be a solution that the geese and I can both agree on! It is different from my original plan of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, but I'll take what I can get!!

My dad recently reminded me that even as a tot, the geese have wanted to get a piece of me, if it wasn't for a thick diaper - I might not have made it far enough to tell this story!!

To be continued...

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Not your momma's 'Doves 'n Dumplin's!

September in Texas dove season opens and the foragers of the household get a bit of peace and quiet while the hunters go out to sit among the mosquitos and try out their new guns. My hunter brought home a bounty this season and it was time for me to figure out how the heck to prepare the cute little buggers. 

Carrots, kale, okra & onion.
"Doves 'n dumplin's", my hunter kept asking for, "it's easy, just make some gravy and biscuits." Well that sounded a bit mono-color so I opened the fridge for inspiration. Fortunately it was a plush week, I had picked up a gorgeous carrot bunch from Whole Foods with purple, yellow, and deep orange carrots, had a bit of leftover kale, and a handful of purple okra from the Pearl Brewery Farmer's Market from the weekend. And of course, a Texas sweet onion (my favorite). 

To the chopping block they went. I sauteed all the veggies in a generous blob of butter and cooked over medium heat to just starting to be tender. Then I covered the veg with chicken broth and let it simmer while I tended to the needs of the dove. 

The dove was already breasted, so I used a knife and my fingers to do the final separation of the meat from the breast bone. I had about 20 little pieces of meat. In batches, they were tossed in a flour, salt, and pepper mixed and pan fried in a cast iron skillet and butter on all sides. 

The seared breasts were then added to the veggie pot while the pot simmered away on low heat. The flour from the doves thickened the soup beautifully! When the doves were all added, it was time to figure out what to do about the 'dumplings' portion of the dish... Fortunately Epicurious came to the rescue for a quick cornmeal biscuit recipe and by some small miracle my pantry came to the rescue with some cornmeal. 

I put the lid on the concoction and let it bake the biscuits on the stove top for about 15 minutes. The end result wasn't quite as eye appealing as my imagination had promised, but by gosh, it was delicious! Well, most of it. You see, dove has a texture and mineral-y flavor that is very reminiscent of liver, and as much as I love the idea of eating liver, it just isn't my favorite. I had a couple pieces of dove and loaded up on the veggies. The cornmeal turned into mush, but whatever. 

My hunter was less than thrilled. His nostalgic hope for brown gravy with starchy biscuits was shattered and he grumbled about his rough existence sharing meals with a dietitian. I think he got over it. The leftovers sure didn't last too long, if that's any indicator!!

The final dish! Doves 'n Dumplings -

Saturday, June 23, 2012

En Papillote? Yes, please.

Cooking fish and meat 'en Papillote' is my new favorite technique. Seriously, if you haven't done it yet, then I cannot even begin to describe to you just how deliciously moist and tender the meat becomes!! Positively to-die-for. 

The quail are a result of a impulse buy when we visited a little chicken farm in search of my frizzle chickens - sadly, I cannot eat the quail eggs as it turns out I have a (very strong and nasty) adverse food reaction to them, but fortunately I can eat the meat just fine! They are the cutest little birds, and lay such beautiful little speckled eggs. We butchered 8 males for this meal.

Here are my recipes (well, as best I remember what I did):

Quail en Papillote

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Take a large piece of parchment paper and fold in half. Cut into a heart-ish shape, leaving the fold in the middle intact. 

Lightly saute mushrooms, onions, and asparagus in olive oil or butter until tender. Divide into how ever many little packages you are making, in the center near the fold. Season with salt and pepper. Add halved cherry tomatoes and a splash of wine. 

Pluck and de-gut your quail or small game birds. (Of note: the skin tore too easily, and we ended up removing all the skin for aesthetics.) Rinse. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff with fresh herbs (I used thyme). Set one bird on top of each veggie pile.

Fold the top of the parchment paper over the mound, use egg whites around the edge to bind. Fold edges at small intervals, overlapping each fold, all the way around the edge. Put this nice little package on a cookie sheet. 

Bake at 425 degrees F for 12 minutes, or until satisfactorily cooked. Serve on individual plates, allowing each eater to open their package - yum!!

The little quail were perfectly cooked at 12 minutes and very moist. I don't have an after photo because I partook of a little more than my allotted one-glass-per-day-for-wormen recommendation for wine prior to the dinner, and basically forgot to photo it before I got busy with eating. 

Well, that was a total success, so when I was in the grocery store the other day and saw the most beautiful cut of Chilean Sea Bass staring at me from the fish counter, I knew another en Papillote experiment was on the horizon!!

Chilean Sea Bass*** en Papillote

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F. Take a large piece of parchment paper and fold in half. Cut into a heart-ish shape, leaving the fold in the middle intact. 

Arrange spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and persevered lemon rind (rinsed and slivered - or sub lemon juice) in center of parchment paper, by fold. Drizzle with oil from sun-dried tomato jar. Season with pepper. Add a splash of sweet white wine. 

Season fish as desired and place on top of spinach pile. Add several slices of good quality butter on top of fish. (This piece of fish was ~1 pound and ~1.5 inches thick.)

Fold the top of the parchment paper over the mound, use egg whites around the edge to bind. Fold edges at small intervals, overlapping each fold, all the way around the edge. Put this nice little package on a cookie sheet. 

Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until satisfactorily cooked. Portion and serve over pasta with veggies or other grand concoction of your choosing. 

The sea bass was positively melt-in-your mouth moist and tender. The moistness coming from the cooking technique (an oven within an oven), the butter that sank into the flesh during cooking, and due to a higher fat content of the fish itself. 

Tips for cooking en Papillote: add a cooking liquid to the pouch and seal the pouch well - this allows the fish or bird to steam within the pouch, accounting for the moistness of the food as well as the flavorful aroma that delights the eater when they open their cute little package. 

MMmm!! What next?!

***Unfortunately, I did not refer to my Seafood Watch Guide (app by Monterey Bay Aquarium) before my fish purchase. According to the guide, Chilean Sea Bass is on the 'AVOID' list due to "illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has depleted some populations of Chilean seabass. In addition, some Chilean seabass is caught using unmodified bottom longlines, which hook and drown thousands of seabirds each year, most notably endangered albatross." Also, Chilean Sea Bass have a health warning of high mercury; as do many species of large, fatty-type ocean fish.

Sorry world, next time I will do wild-caught Alaskan halibut!!