Friday, July 26, 2013

Another Home Haircut

I guess our friend Justin thought his haircut turned out pretty well because he called me again a couple of weeks ago and asked me to give him another cut. Wheee! Out to the patio we went, clippers in hand. I'm not sure if the top turned out as well as last time but I think I did a good job on the back. The hardest part of a short haircut is the crown of the head where the swirl of hair grows. And each person has their own swirl, almost like a fingerprint. My little 2-year old neighbor friend has two swirls on her head! In Spanish those swirls are called remolinos, in case you ever need to know.

A good friend with a homemade cut
Thanks, Justin, for some more haircut practice. Come back soon!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Eating Homegrown Chicken: The Unfamiliar Parts

Little Sister figuring out how to eat a chicken foot
In the past when we have butchered chickens I have always thrown out the chickens' feet and comb. This time we saved them and I stewed them along with the liver and the necks. Even if nobody wants to eat the feet they are a great addition to the stock pot. They eat chicken feet a lot in Mexico but I don't think I've ever seen them here. My sister-in-law likes the comb fried but I just stewed it along with the other parts this time and she said it was still really tasty. I wasn't sure what the kids would think of the feet. All of the other parts just look like meat but a chicken's foot just looks like a foot. Or a hand. (Mr. Chanclas' aunt served chicken feet to her grandchildren once and they said, "We wanted feet! Not HANDS!")

Big Sister was definitely grossed out by the feet but kept her mouth shut. Little Sister was the first to ask for one and she started in on it like she would a drumstick or a wing. She liked it. Then Brother scarfed down two feet and tried the comb and liver, too. He liked the comb and liver but he loved the feet. I love my little barbarian.

Brother with his first foot

All done! Delicious.
My friend Erin who helped us with the butchering took home a chicken and made chicken soup. She said the stock was amazing and the meat was really good, too. She made pate with the chicken livers and declared them excellent. I'm definitely going to make pate with mine next time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Butchering Homegrown Chickens

The extra chicks that arrived with our duck and guinea order back in March grew up to be July's meat birds. They turned out to be beautiful Rhode Island Red roosters. The hatchery doesn't tell you what kind they are sending so I didn't know what they were until they were fully feathered. There were 10 chicks in the shipment and two died within the first two days. The other eight grew up very happily on "pasture" (our septic field, a large field full of green grass) supplemented with chicken feed. At night I cooped them up in one of our hoop-style chicken tractors and during the day they wandered all over eating bugs and plants. They lived a really good chicken life. We slaughtered four of them at about 15 weeks of age, which turned out to be a bit early. The other four we slaughtered at about 18 weeks and that seemed to be good timing. The older birds were larger and much easier to pluck because they didn't have a lot of new feathers growing in. (Short, immature feathers are very hard to grasp and pull out.)
Mr. Chanclas retrieves a rooster from the tractor. Holding the bird upside down calms it.
I've written before about why we eat our chickens. Below I'm including a series of photos from our most recent slaughter day. None of the photos are gory or horrible. They are just a plain look at the process of slaughtering and butchering homegrown chickens. We find the work to be easier and more enjoyable with more hands on deck. My mother-in-law helped with the kids and the plucking, my sister-in-law took pictures, and my good friend Erin helped with the plucking and gutting. It was a fun time and I got to send a homegrown chicken home with Erin, which was really cool. I'd say that slaughtering chickens is a great community activity. And it feels so good to provide meat for our family that we grew ourselves on our own land. I'm hooked on homegrown.
The rooster is placed in the killing cone, an inverted milk jug nailed to a tree. Then we cut both jugular veins quickly and completely with a very sharp blade. It's important to be swift and sure so that the bird doesn't suffer and so that it bleeds out completely.

Next the bird is dunked in a pot of hot water to loosen the feathers for plucking. 

After dunking the bird, try pulling out one of the big wing feathers. If it doesn't come out fairly easily, dunk the bird again for a few seconds. 
The birds undergoes a transformation when you pluck it, changing from a just-living animal to meat as we usually see it.

Plucking (called "picking" in the business) is really quite enjoyable with good company.

After the bird is plucked it still has a few pinfeathers on it, which resemble hairs. We singe those off with a lighter.

After the bird is plucked it is time to remove the head, feet, and guts. Here I am about to remove the guts.

If you do it right you can remove all of the guts and organs in one swoop. The lungs can be a little tricky. And you must be careful not to tear the intestines.

The guts are removed and the cloaca/anus cut away. Now I rinse the bird under cold running water and it goes to the cooler to be chilled in ice water before storage.
Friends who butcher together...

This was our first time raising chickens specifically for meat. Despite the time and money we spent raising them and processing them, I am sure we will do it again next year. The product is excellent and it's really satisfying to raise our own meat. I hope to add some rabbits to our homestead this fall to further our goal of producing more of our own food. Now that we have a little more experience it will make next year's birds easier.

Featured at the Homestead Bloggers Network

Figs From a Greywater-Irrigated Tree

Late summer fig harvest from an improbable source

I didn't think this fig tree was ever going to make figs. It grows in the shade of the biggest oak on our property, clinging to a rocky slope. Earlier in the summer I realized that it was making little fruits so I moved the washing machine drain line over to it and I've watered it all summer with the greywater. I don't know what kind of figs they are but I'm guessing they are not Texas green figs because those are much larger. I've harvested maybe three handfuls of little fruits off of it this summer and I'm hoping for a couple more.

This tree may never be a big producer but it has inspired a much bigger idea. Why not use that washing machine greywater to water several fruit trees? In a few years we can be eating fruit grown with a valuable household byproduct that typically goes to waste. Win win! I've been researching which types of fruits and which varieties grow well in our local climate and soils. I'm thinking about plums and pears, and maybe a loquat or a persimmon. I will happily take advice because I've never raised fruit trees before! Lay it on me if you have any thoughts or ideas.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bathroom Before & After Photos

Whew. I just finished the bathroom paint job. Yes, it took me 7 days. But I still have two hours to spare before I leave to pick up Big Sister, Brother, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-law at the airport!

It's hard to photograph the bathroom because it is small and I can't zoom out far enough to show the whole room. So please excuse my substandard photos. Here is how it turned out:

I painted the under-sink cabinet to match the tile around the tub.

1960's bath tile and Saltillo tile are an odd mix but I think I like it.

Felted wool wall hanging courtesy of Little Sister

Watercolor also courtesy of Little Sister

And here are a few of the "before" shots. It was so BROWN.

Brown, brown, and more brown.
The previous owner didn't bother to paint OR texture the old wood paneling behind the toilet.

The unpainted area behind the toilet was visible when we installed a low-flow toilet.
More brown.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

An Overdue House Painting Project

We bought this house over two years ago and I have yet to paint any part of it. Not a single wall. But I recently got motivated to paint the hallway bathroom (aka the kids' bathroom) so I went to Home Depot over the 4th of July and bought a ton of Behr paint with the rebate. (There's a $5 rebate on each gallon you buy. Home Depot has that same Behr sale on every national holiday, FYI.)

The Poop Chocolate bathroom. It is too small for me to even take a decent photo of it!
Big Sister and Brother left this morning with their beloved Abuelita and Tía for a 7-day trip. To distract myself from missing them horribly I thought that I would use those seven days to paint every surface in the bathroom. Including the popcorn ceiling. (May the painting goddesses be with me on that last one. I am terrified of the popcorn. I imagine it melting off the ceiling and glopping down on me.) I thought, also, that this would be a good time to do it because when my people get back from their trip my mother- and sister-in-law will be staying here with us for a week. And if I haven't finished painting the bathroom by the time they all get back that means there will be 7 of us using the only other bathroom in the house, which is our master bathroom. I sometimes need a little fire under my rear like that.

The hall bathroom has this great 1960's blue tile around the bathtub. For some reason the previous owner decided that dark chocolate brown walls would look awesome with that blue tile. The kids call the color Poop Chocolate. I have to admit it's pretty accurate. It's a really small bathroom so I can't wait to get some white paint on those walls to open it up. I suspect it will double in size when the white paint goes on. I'll do the little cabinet under the sink in a nice 1960's blue to match that tile.

I already removed all the hardware and put down all the drop cloths so now I'm ready to prep the ceiling. Here I go...

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Bad Week For Guineas

It's been a bad week for guineas. A really bad week. In the past 7 days I have had one guinea hen disappear, one guinea male get eaten by a predator, and another guinea hen get seriously injured. I had to put the injured hen down last night. She was the only guinea with a name; we called her Ramona. She had hurt her leg and, because guineas can't really fly, she wasn't able to move around.  I gave her several days to see if her leg would heal but it didn't and she was losing weight. Last night when I went out to feed them she was no longer able to hop on the other leg and she looked terrible. So I went and got a sharp razor blade and gave her the fastest, least stressful death I could. It was not something I wanted to do but I don't believe in letting animals suffer unnecessarily. She was too scrawny to warrant eating so I carried her body out in the woods and left it for the nighttime animals that would be coming through shortly.

So in one week we went from four guinea fowl to one. And the remaining one is a male, so no guinea eggs and no hilarious "BUCK-WHEAT" calls. We had raised all four from day-old keets so I'm a little sad about losing them. I think we'll try again next spring, though. Maybe I'll even be lucky enough to have a broody hen raise them. 

Our guineas in late March, 2 days old.
Our guineas were this big by late June!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Hidden Eggs

Are those eggs in Little Sister's bike seat?
I have been letting my layer flock out of their run a lot lately so they can free-range around the yard. They love to wander about in search of their own food. Sometimes the whole flock comes up to the front door or spends a while in the carport. Like most carports, ours is full of stuff. Bicycles, strollers, a weight bench, scavenged plywood, garden tools, etc. Back before we built our chicken coop our banty hens used to lay eggs in the jogging stroller out there, which was very convenient for me because I would see them right away. The jogging stroller is currently occupied by an old ceiling fan so my free ranging banties had to find new laying digs. Lately I've been hearing them announce their eggs in the carport but every time I went out there to check I couldn't find any eggs. I thought I had looked everywhere but this weekend I noticed something odd about the toddler bike seat.

Upon closer inspection, there were quite a few eggs, most of them broken.
Oops. What a mess. I sure do hate to waste eggs. So that means I'm going to keep those ladies in their run for a while so I can be sure to get all of the eggs.

In case you ever need to know, this is how you remove a pile of rotten eggs. Carefully. With eye protection. A face shield is preferable. Maybe even a full-body jumpsuit. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chicken Soup From an Old Rooster

Floyd the rooster
I made Floyd soup. Floyd was our mean old Ameraucana rooster that attacked me one too many times. He was a deeply unpleasant bird, but let me tell you: he made excellent chicken soup. I'm talking about the best chicken soup I've ever eaten. We slaughtered him several weeks ago and then put the meat in the freezer. Last week I thawed the meat and put all the pieces in a big stock pot, covered them with water, and simmered it slowly for about 24 hours. I didn't add anything else to the pot- no onions, carrots, or salt. After the long simmer I poured the resulting broth through a strainer into large canning jars. Then I put the jars in an ice water bath to cool them off quickly before moving moving them to the freezer. Yesterday I thawed two jars of broth and used them to make a simple soup with leftover vegetables from the fridge and diced bits of the chicken meat. It turned out delicious and I got to use a handful of green beans from my garden. (It's been a very paltry harvest this year.) I thought the meat might be really tough or stringy but it wasn't. The meat itself is a bit overcooked because I simmered it so long but it still has a great flavor and the big star of the meal is the broth. I was pleased that all it takes to make great chicken broth is a homegrown chicken. I didn't even need the help of an onion or some celery and carrot.

Chicken and vegetable soup

Friday, July 5, 2013

How To Kill Your TV

Found on a wall in Glasgow, Scotland. 
Photo taken by Brian Aslak Gylte from Norway
Earlier this week I posted Why You Should Kill Your TV. I realize I may have come across as a bit extreme. We have some wonderful friends/neighbors who don't allow their kids to watch any TV at all. Ever. Not even when they are sick. No movies, no shows, no computers. And they are some of the loveliest children I know with huge imaginations and maybe, just maybe, some of that has to do with not watching TV. (Although the TV thing is just one small part of their upbringing.) I think about this sometimes.

I tend to be somewhat more moderate and Mr. Chanclas and I decided that very limited, purposeful TV is okay for our family as long as it isn't becoming a problem for anyone. I detest the idea of leaving the TV on as "background noise" or channel-surfing "just to see what's on". I have never found anything good on TV while channel surfing. And TVs left on as background noise are terrible conversation-killers. The benefit to only watching TV shows on your computer through Netflix or Hulu or whatever is that you will tend to be more purposeful about your viewing. Purposeful is good!

What I'm struggling to say here is that TV rules and habits are different for everyone but I think it benefits us all to ask ourselves, "Is this working for me? Is it working for my family? Is TV getting in the way of other parts of my life?" And if you decide that it is, indeed, getting in the way, let's look at ways you can kill your TV (or at least use it differently). I advocate a slow wean more than sudden death.

1) Make the TV inconvenient
Several years ago, when Big Sister was four and Brother was a little baby, we decided to move our TV out of a central place in our home. Like most people, we had a TV in the living room and all of the living room furniture was arranged around it. At the time we had an attached two-car garage that we never used for our cars so we put the TV in the garage. We had an old futon out there already that had been waiting to go to Goodwill so that became the TV couch. The garage was unheated and uncooled so it really made you think twice about whether a show was worth watching in the 95 degree heat or the 40 degree cold.

The kids looked like this while watching a movie in the winter time.
Making the TV inconvenient was a major step in showing us that we didn't really need the TV. After a year or two of the garage setup we sold the TV at a garage sale.

2) Cancel the cable/dish/whatever
Another way to make the TV less appealing and to save a huge amount of money is to cancel cable TV subscriptions. If you are hooked on a particular show this can sound pretty unpleasant but really, in this day and age you can get most shows online or on DVD from the library. Once you have unplugged from the cable you only have network TV left and who wants to watch that? Now you are using your computer to watch shows/movies and you're probably doing it in a more purposeful way.

After you have made your TV inconvenient and cancelled the cable you have made your TV obsolete. You can get rid of it. Sell it on Craigslist. Donate it to charity. Give it to your grandmother. Trade it for something interesting. And think about what you can do with your new free time!

Anybody else have stories about how they killed their TV? Do you miss it? Did you gain something from it? What changed?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Why You Should Kill Your TV

Our TV shortly before we killed it.

There are many good reasons why we should all watch less TV (even no TV). Watching TV makes us sedentary, makes us want things we don't need, prevents us from living in the moment, and trains us to want constant entertainment (rather than active participation). It is capable of exposing our children (and ourselves) to violence, product marketing, inappropriate content, and oversimplified messages about life. I could go on, but there is actually just one main reason why I think we should all kill our TVs:

Watching TV steals our precious time. Time we could spend on other, more rewarding activities.

I don't know one single adult who doesn't wish for more hours in the day (at least on occasion). When you kill your TV you get more hours in your day. More time to read, cook, play games, have sex, make soap, sew, exercise, talk to a friend, sing with your kids, or look at the stars. Time for projects and conversations and many a good book. 

Kill Your TV and Cook
Kill Your TV and Read
When kids are watching TV they are not doing the following: running, jumping, playing, building, creating, drawing, and dreaming. TV prevents boredom and that is actually a bad thing. Boredom inspires creativity and productivity in all of us. I mean, who is going to run outside and build a vegetable garden out of old pallets when you could be watching Game of Thrones? I didn't! 
Kill Your TV and Dress Up Like a Unicorn
I don't own a TV but I do use my computer to watch TV shows on DVD every now and then. In the past six months I have checked out of the library the second season of Game of Thrones and the Deadwood series. And as much as I loved watching that whole season of GOT last week I was relieved when it was over so I could get all that evening time back. My kids occasionally watch a movie on DVD or a PBS kids' show that they can see online. There is no advertising, which is important to me. When the kids start expecting to see a show or movie I know we have gone too far and we dial it back.

My next post will be How To Kill Your TV. It is not as hard as you think! It can be done. I will lay out the steps for weaning yourself from the boob tube. And I promise it won't make your life no fun.