Wednesday, March 30, 2011

We're Getting a Cow!

I have some amazing news today.  We're getting a gorgeous Jersey heifer.  For FREE!

How did such an incredible opportunity occur?  Well, back in February, I found out about a dairy farming couple who were holding an essay contest to give away a Jersey calf.  I entered, and ended up being one of the finalists, but I didn't win.

But, surprisingly, that wasn't the end of the story.  Yesterday I got an email from the nice folks who hosted the contest.  They said that they had been thinking about me and my essay, and that they wanted to offer me a different Jersey heifer.  I couldn't believe it!

Of course I accepted their generous offer.  I've been a long time trying to turn this run-down old place back into a farm again.  I have sheep, pigs, and chickens... but somehow a farm just doesn't seem like a "real" farm to me without a nice little family milk cow.  This heifer will make my farm complete.

Her name is Rosie.  She's only a few months old, so I'll have plenty of time to get used to cow ownership before it's time for her to be bred, give birth, and start being milked.  I have lots to learn in the meantime!

Because lambing season is about to start next week, we're going to delay bringing Rosie here until mid-May.  After lambing is over, I'll have much more time to spend getting acquainted with our new girl, and helping her settle into her new home. 

As you can imagine, I'm VERY excited!

Here's a picture of what Rosie looked like a couple of months ago:

You can see what her mom looks like here (first two photos on that page).

Oh... And if you're thinking about cow ownership yourself?  That website has some excellent resources and information for new and prospective dairy cow owners.  Check it out!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Building Nest Boxes

Ever since we moved the chickens into the big old chicken house, they've been using makeshift crates as nest boxes to lay their eggs in.  Over the weekend, Ken changed all that by building them a whole new nest box complex, completely out of surplus materials we already had lying around.

Here's what the finished project looks like:

Here's the first stage, building the base:

Next, with the lower dividers and base for the second level in place:

Now both levels are complete, they just need to be filled with nesting material.

 This is way more next boxes than we need for our current number of chickens, but it's a good number for the maximum number of chickens we're ever likely to want to keep in this chicken house.  Better too many nests than too few!

The chickens weren't too thrilled with having someone in their house doing carpentry for two days, and they were a little skeptical at first of the new Apartment Complex O' Eggs.  But they've been curiously examining the new structure all day, and based on the two eggs I just found, nicely placed in one of the nests, I guess they've decided that they approve.

And We Have a Winner!

The winner of today's Sheep's Milk Soap Balls Giveaway is:

Andrea?  Or Morgan?  You didn't leave me a way to contact you directly, but back on January 16th you entered the giveaway by leaving the following comment:
ANDREA said...
I love the idea of giving away extras. I have a small farm in Tacoma and I give away my extra eggs. People try to give me money, but I am raising chickens for fun and it makes me smile to give something away. Maybe some day I will sell my eggs. Keep up the good work. I also follow you on Facebook. Morgan

So, Andrea/Morgan, if you're out there, email me at and give me your contact info so I know where to send your soap!

Thanks for playing, everybody.  Don't forget, there will be another giveaway when our Facebook page reaches 1,200 fans.

Help Me Name My Lambs

Everyone did such a great job suggesting "X" lamb names for my flock last year, I'm asking for your suggestions again this year. 

For 2011, all the lamb names need to start with the letter "Y".  I need boy names, girl names, twin names, "real" names, made up names.  I'm expecting somewhere in the vicinity of about 40 lambs.  So send me whatever names you've got!

Just post your name suggestions in a comment right here.  As the lambs are born, I'll post photos and announce what names I've picked, so stay tuned over the next month or two to see if I used the name(s) you suggested.


Lambing Season Is Fast Approaching

Lambing season will be starting here sometime next week.  Can you tell?  Check out the big bellies on all these moms-to-be!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Shampoo Soap Experiement

Shortly after I started learning to make soap, I started noticing other soap makers selling "shampoo bars."  My hair is waist length, thick, curly and dry---not the easiest type of hair to manage.  Over the years I've tried many different products on it, but it had never occurred to me that you could use bar soap on your hair.

Not just any bar soap, of course.  Handmade bar soap, that was free of all those nasty, drying chemicals that seem to be universally added into every commercial brand of soap and shampoo.  I'd already seen the difference using my own handmade soap makes in giving me softer, smoother skin.  So I decided to be my own "guinea pig" and try shampooing my hair with it.

For the experiment, I decided to use my Pure Castile Soap because it's the purest, simplest soap there is, made of just olive oil, water, and lye.  A few strokes of the bar across my wet hair, and I had enough to work up a nice gentle lather.  It worked great!  Why had I assumed that shampoo had to be liquid?

The thing I noticed immediately was that my hair felt clean and sleek right away.  The soap rinsed out quickly and easily (as with most soap, it does sting if you get it in your eye, so be careful!).  When I use commercial shampoos, I usually end up using a large handful of conditioner just to be able to get the comb through my hair afterward, but it seemed a shame to apply commercial conditioner after washing my hair with natural soap, so I decided to try skipping the conditioner entirely.  To my surprise, that worked okay too!

Since then, I've been using my Castile soap every time I wash my hair.  Sometimes I put a little conditioner on, sometimes I don't.  Either way, my hair ends up feeling softer than usual, and I have noticed a striking decrease in the amount of hair breakage.  I would estimate that I have less than half the amount of breakage than I had when using commercial shampoo.  That was a complete surprise!

If you'd like to try your own shampoo experiment, you can find my homemade Castile soap in my Etsy shop.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Soap Ball Giveaway

Hey!  While I wasn't looking, we reached another of the milestones I set out to trigger another giveaway:  This blog now has 100 followers.  Thanks everybody!

I'm going to give everybody until noon on Monday to enter to win, then I'm going to randomly pick a winner.  If you've already entered to win before, you don't need to enter again.  If you do need to enter, go to this blog post and leave a comment.

Don't forget:  I'll do another giveaway when my farm's Facebook page reaches 1,200 fans.  That's the place to hear all the daily details about what's going on here at Ingleside Farm, so join us, and recommend us to your friends too!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Building Raised Garden Beds (Part 1)

For the past couple of years, we've been talking about finally putting a garden in.  This year, we're already off to a late start, considering how much there is left to do.  But we're making definite progress, thanks to Ken diligently putting in some hard work these past couple of weekends, starting to build our raised beds.

When trying to decide what to build the beds out of, I priced a lot of different materials and was surprised to find that cement blocks are cheaper than lumber.  Plus, they're not going to rot, and if we change our mind about where we want the beds at some point in the future, they can be disassembled and moved.

But to look good, they have to be put in level.  That's where Ken's hard work comes in.  He's been digging the first layer of blocks in level, even stair-stepping them down the length of the beds to compensate for our sloped ground.

Eventually, the beds will be two blocks high, plus a layer of solid cap-blocks.  I'm sure we won't get all the beds we want built this year, but we can always add more as time goes on.

Here's an example of one row before being leveled and how much better the level row below it looks:

Leeloo likes work.  She could watch it all day!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bacon Linguine Fiesta Recipe

We used our home-cured bacon in a recipe for the first time tonight, and it was amazing!  We used the bacon from batch #1, which turned out a bit too strongly flavored to be eaten on its own, but what a fantastic addition to a pasta dish!  Just that small amount of bacon added flavor to the whole dish. 

This is NOTHING like store bought bacon.  The difference is unbelievable.

Here's the recipe we made up.  We're calling it "Bacon Linguine Fiesta."  It makes a big batch, so there's plenty for company or for leftovers.

1 lb. home cured bacon (from batch #1), diced
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 purple onion
1 white onion
7 medium tomatoes
12 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 lb. linguine
Shredded cheese to garnish

Cook the linguine according to the directions on the package.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon gently at a low temperature, stirring constantly until it begins to release some of its fat into the pan. 

Add the mushrooms to the bacon and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are done.

Remove the bacon and mushrooms from the pan, allowing any excess pan drippings to drain back into the pan.  Add the bacon and mushrooms to the cooked, drained pasta and toss thoroughly to mingle the flavors.

In the remaining bacon fat in the pan, cook the remaining vegetables.

Serve the pasta on plates, topped with a generous helping of veggies.

Garnish with a sprinkle of shredded cheese.

Making Guanciale

I'm not Italian, I don't consider myself a gourmet cook, and until a few weeks ago I wouldn't have been able to pronounce "guanciale" much less known what the word meant.  So why am I suddenly making 17+ lbs. of the stuff?

We butchered a pig recently, and I'm suddenly faced with the task of learning how to turn all the different piggy parts into different kinds of food.  I've been rendering lard, curing bacon, cooking pork chops and eating sausage.  But why guanciale?

Guanciale is the Italian name for pig's jowls that have been cured and dried.  Supposedly, it's a bit similar to bacon or pancetta.  I wouldn't know.  I've never tasted the stuff.

But wait... jowls, you say?  Who does jowls better than a Guinea hog?  And who had bigger jowls than the obese hog we just butchered?  I mean really---look at the size of those things!

I had read that the jowls can be cured just like bacon, but frankly, when I realized that this hog produced 54 lbs. of ACTUAL bacon meat, I figured why make more?  If the jowls are considered to be a delicacy when prepared this other way, then why not take advantage of the fact that I now had 17.5 lbs. of jowl meat?

So, as usual, it was off to the internet to do research!  Here are some of the sites I looked at:

Guanciale:  Italian-Style Jowl Bacon
Home Cure Guanciale Is Finished
The Art of the Cure
Bucatini all' Amatriciana, Making Guanciale, and Charcutepalooza!
Making Guanciale
Homemade Guanciale

Most of the recipes I found online called for 2 lbs. of jowl meat.  I had more than 17 lbs., so obviously I had to recalculate the ingredients.

Most of the recipes I found suggested that you trim the jowls into neat rectangles and make a point to cut out the salivary glands.  Because I was doing this on the day we got the whole pig back from the butcher, I was also curing 54 lbs. of bacon, rendering 22 lbs. of leaf lard, and finding room in the freezer for the other 200 lbs. of meat and backfat.  So trimming the jowls really didn't seem like a priority.

I washed the jowls thoroughly and cut them into chunks that would fit into the containers I had.

Then I rubbed them all over with the cure, closed the containers, and put them in the refrigerator.

Here's the recipe I used:

17.5 lbs. fresh Guinea hog jowl meat.
4.5 cups coarse kosher salt
4.5 cups sugar
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
20 bay leaves, crushed.
1 heaping TB thyme (ground)

They stayed in the refrigerator for 9 days.  On day 3, I turned them over and rubbed a little more salt on them, but other than that I left them alone.

On day 9, I took the chunks of cured meat out of their containers, rinsed them thoroughly, and dried them with paper towels.

I cut a length of butcher's twine (which I happened to already have on hand because it's what I used to make a new drive band for my spinning wheel a few weeks ago).  Then I poked a hole through the thick part of the meat with a skewer, and used the skewer to push the string through the hole.

After curing, the meat is supposed to hang in a cool, dark place for a month.  Our old house is drafty and hard to heat, so in the winter we close off a few of the rooms and don't bother heating them.  We decided that hanging the meat in our unheated dining room sounded like a more appetizing idea than hanging them down in our tiny, dank, dirt-floored basement.

We happened to have a portable rack for hanging clothes on, so I hung the chunks of meat from that.  I put a lid from a large plastic storage bin underneath to catch any drippings.  And I closed the drapes to keep the room as dark as possible.

Now the task is to wait for a month and see what happens!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Curing Bacon

Mmm... bacon!  What could be better?  How about home-cured, nitrite-free bacon from a pastured, heritage breed of hog?

 The extra-large Guinea hog we just butchered provided us with a whopping 54 lbs. of bacon.  Our butcher doesn't include curing the bacon or hams as part of his service, so I turned to the internet to teach me how to cure it myself.

After studying lots of pages like these:
Home Cured Bacon
How to Make, Cure, and Smoke Homemade Bacon
Home Cured Bacon Recipe
Curing Your Own Bacon
Making Your Own Bacon:  It's Easy and Satisfying

I finally felt ready to try it on my own.  I didn't use any of the recipes I found online exactly, but adapted them to suit my preferences and my available ingredients.  In particular, I decided to skip the nitrates and nitrites by avoiding the pink curing salts called for in most recipes.  Because of that, my bacon won't be pink like store bought bacon, but since those additives have questionable food safety, I think it's worth it to avoid adding them if I don't have to.

I started with 2 BIG slabs of fresh bacon meat, each weighing about 27 lbs.

I had purchased a supply of large, flat Rubbermaid containers to contain the bacon while it was curing, so the first thing I had to do was cut the big slabs of meat into smaller slabs that would fit in my containers.  You can also use large Ziploc bags, but since I had so much bacon to cure at once I figured I'd use containers that stack easily without sliding off.

Here are my smaller slabs, cut up and ready to be cured.

Next, I prepared the curing mixes.  I used two different recipes---one more complex and one more simple---just in case I ended up not liking one of them.  I didn't want to end up with 54 lbs. of badly flavored bacon!

Bacon Recipe #1

27 lbs. fresh Guinea hog bacon meat
2.5 cups coarse kosher salt
1 cup smoked sea salt flakes
1.25 cups brown sugar
1.25 cups maple syrup
1.25 cups apple cider
1 cup juniper berries
1/2 cup coarse black pepper
40 bay leaves, crumbled
0.25 cups minced garlic
3 TB thyme
3 TB nutmeg

Bacon Recipe #2

27 lbs. fresh Guinea hog bacon meat
4 cups coarse kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar
1.5 cups maple syrup
0.25 cup whole black peppercorns
1 TB thyme

Here's a photo of Recipe #1, all ready to use:

I rubbed this mixture liberally all over the slabs of meat and placed them in their containers.

I put the covers on the containers and stacked them in the refrigerator, where they stayed for 8 days.  About halfway through the curing process, I took the meat out of each container, turned it over, and rubbed a little extra salt on, just to be on the safe side.  At that point, the meat was already releasing its liquids and starting to get firm and fragrant with the spices.

On day 8, I took the meat out of the refrigerator, rinsed each piece thoroughly with water, and patted it dry with paper towels.  It had quite a firm texture by then.

Here's how the meat looked when it came out of the fridge:

Here's what the top (fatty) side of the meat looked like after it was rinsed:

And here's what the bottom side looked like after it was rinsed:

I preheated the oven to 200 degrees F, put a cookie sheet on the lowest oven rack to catch any drippings, and arranged the slabs of cured bacon on the upper two racks.  I roasted them like that for about 2.5 hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat reached 150 degrees.

Because I had such a large quantity of bacon, I could only fit a portion of it in the oven at a time, so the roasting stage had to be repeated several times to give each slab of meat a turn.

After the roasting, the slabs of bacon rested in a pan on the counter top until they returned to room temperature.

Then with a sharp knife, I cut them into slices as thin as I could.  This would be easier with a meat slicer, but a knife will do, if you don't mind having your bacon thick cut.

The hog this bacon is from was extremely obese.  The fat ratio in this bacon is very, very high, but it's still tasty.

Here's what the sliced bacon looked like before frying:

And here is the end result:

The taste test results?

Recipe #1 tastes amazing, but VERY strongly flavored and very salty.  I had originally planned for that amount of cure to be spread over twice as much meat, but it just wouldn't spread that far (plus I was nervous about having too little salt and the meat rotting instead of curing.  Next time I'll trust the process better, and use less cure for the amount of meat).  I tried soaking one slab of this bacon in several changes of water for an hour to see if that would decrease the saltiness, but it didn't help all that much.  This batch of bacon will be best served in small doses where its big flavor can have the greatest impact without being overwhelming.  I'm looking forward to it in pasta, on salads, in soups.

Recipe #2 is milder and has a flavor more like breakfast type bacon.  You can taste the maple syrup, but not too strongly.

Both batches of bacon taste fantastic, and the Guinea hog meat has a richness of flavor and texture that bursts in your mouth like no store bought bacon ever has.  Because of that exceptional richness and the exceptionally high percentage of fat in the meat from this particular pig, I find that I am fully satiated by smaller portion sizes than usual.

After the taste tests, I sliced all the bacon into slices, arranged the slices in Ziploc bags, and stored them in the freezer.  That's a lot of bacon!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guinea Hog Pork Chops

Tonight we tried some Guinea hog pork chops for the first time.  I dredged them with seasoned flour, pan-fried them in home-rendered lard, and served them with potatoes, pan gravy, and asparagus.

The meat, as expected, was excellent.  The real surprise, though, was what an enormous difference it made to fry the chops in lard instead of our usual olive oil.  The chops were tender inside with a delicious crispy surface, and even after I fried 3 pan-fulls of chops in succession, there was absolutely no scorching or sticking to the pan, which made it easy to make delicious pan gravy in a matter of moments.

Now that I've tried it, I would definitely recommend frying in lard!

Here's what the chops looked like before they were cooked:

These chops were from a hog that was very obese.  I'm showing this photo as a reminder to people:  Don't overfeed your Guinea hogs!  They are easy keepers and gain weight very easily.  If you feed more than is necessary, you're not making more meat, you're just making more fat.  I like a bit of marbling in my meat, but that marbling doesn't need to be in big 2.5" wide swaths like in that bottom right chop.

New Chickens

We got 10 new Buff Orpington chickens from Gregory Poultry today.  They are lovely 5-month old pullets, almost old enough to start laying. 

Add those to the 4 Blue Orpingtons and Blue/Buff Orpingtons we already had, and there's obviously no way we could house them all in the little portable coop Ken built last summer.  So we did a quick patch-up job on the run-down old chicken house that was here when we bought the farm.  I think that the chicken house is at least 100 years old, and it probably hasn't had any chickens in it in about 40 years.  It needs a serious facelift and some repairs, but it's dry, spacious, and conveniently located, so it will do fine for now, until we can give it a makeover later in the summer.

I haven't taken any new photos of my pretty chickens for quite a while now.  The original 4 have grown up quite a bit since then.  The rooster, Heathcliff, is a magnificent big fellow now.

All the chickens are now sharing the spacious old hen house and getting acquainted with each other.  It seemed a perfect time for a little photo shoot!