Friday, December 29, 2006

Sausage Making: Round 2

It's Friday evening and for once I seem to be right on schedule for my plans in the kitchen. Today was round two of my efforts to make home made sausage. And, I am pleased to announce that not only did I complete the sausage as planned but PeterC had enough ground meat left over to make a really nice meatloaf for dinner.

I decided to try strips of meat rather than chunks. The corkscrew in the grinder would grab the strip and pull it in at the right speed. Not once did the meat get bound up and the grinding seemed to go much more smoothly.

Rather than seasoning the meat before grinding, we seasoned it after grinding much the same as you would when making a meatloaf. We measured the spices out and sprinkled them on top of the bowl of ground meat, then we mixed the meat and spices together by folding and then kneading it in the bowl.

We formed the sausage into the desired packaging. Some we made into patties while others we made into packages for adding to lasagna or evening frying up and crumbling over pizza. As with our first attempt on Wednesday, we followed the advice of those more experienced and gave the meat a taste test before we finished packaging it up and putting it into the freezer. This was an Italian blend and was by far the favourite of both of us.

We decided a nice pepperoni made from the beef was a great idea. We bought our Morton's Tender Quick Salt from Sharyn's Pantry and the gentleman behind the counter was kind enough to share Sharyn's own recipe for pepperoni with us. Much like the Italian Sausage, we ground the meat and mixed the spices with the freshly ground meat. In the end, this is a 5 day process so the spiced meat is sitting in the refrigerator curing like the recipe says. Once it is all cured it will be baked in the oven or possibly put in the smoker for 9 hours to cook fully.

So now we have 12 lbs. of pork sausage in the freezer and 6 lbs. of pepperoni curing in the fridge. If this experiment so well then I may just start making fresh sausage and my own hamburger meat. It may not be any cheaper and may be labour intensive, but in the end I control the quality of my sausage. I know what's in it and I know exactly how it is made.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Home Made Sausage

Like every new adventure here at Sparrow Haven, our most recent started off a little rocky.

I got the bright idea to make sausage with my new electric meat grinder, so I bought 15 lbs. of pork butt and 10 lbs. of cheap roast. I figured I could get all the meat ground and seasoned in a couple of hours. There is a learning curve on every new skill and sausage making was no exception.

I looked through all my favourite recipe sites and cookbooks and chose four recipes. I chose Breakfast sausage, Spicy Italian Sausage, Summer Sausage, and Kielbasa sausage all from Recipe'zaar. I had pulled all the meat out the day before so I was ready to go as soon as we got home from town. I was ready, or at lest I thought I was.

We got a later start than expected due to some trouble with the vehicle. It was almost 2 pm before I pulled the grinder out of its box and read all the directions. I cut the meat into 1 inch chunks and mixed the spices with the chunks of meat, as the directions for the grinder required. I slowly fed the meat into the grinder, which was much louder than expected, and watched as the ground meat came out the other end.

Before I started this project I had had enough sense to check with my friends over on Homesteading today to get tips and hints on making sausage. One of those tips was to cook up small patties as sample batches to test the spices. Boy, am I glad I did. the recipe I used sounded like it was spicy enough but after cooking some up we found it rather bland so more spices were added, and then some more, and then even more. Finally we had a breakfast sausage that both I and PeterC thought we would enjoy.

We made 24 patties and put the rest away into 1 lb chubs to be used for gravy. We finished that and I was ready to start the Italian when PeterC noticed it was almost 6 pm. We had worked right through to supper time, a total of 4 hours, and had only managed to make a single type of sausage and not very much of that even. So, with quite a bit of disappointment, we cleaned up the mess in the kitchen and resolved to do better on Friday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Snow Day

We woke up a little later than planned this morning but we woke to a wonderful site. It finally started snowing. Mother Nature didn't hold out for 2007 like I was afraid she was going to do. It was so lovely, all the sounds of the highway and front road traffic damped down to almost nothing.

PeterC took the dogs for the morning walk and snapped a few pictures along the way. He even took one that I hope to use as our Christmas Card photos next year. The snow is a very heavy wet snow, perfect for snowball fights and snowman building. It'll stick to anything, especially the limbs of the trees.

For those who don't get to see snow, or who love it as much as I do, here are some Snow Day pictures for you.

Dunny loves snow as much as I do, but Muffet could leave it. I think she would be happy living in Florida.

The side yard and bird feeders covered in snow. It's so pretty like this.

The back yard under the trees. Snow covers up the damage from storms and gives the yard a pristeen look.

Holiday Card Perfect.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Making Sauerkraut II

The sauerkraut and the fermented vegetables have been sitting in the mudroom, the small 9 x 9 room attached to the back door, fermenting away in their crocks. It's been 8 weeks since I started the sauerkraut and 7 for the vegetables. The bubbles of gas have died down so it is time to can them for later use.

While the jars were in the canner covered with boiling water to sterilize them, we poured the kraut into the maslin pan and brought it to a simmer. We let it simmer for a few minutes to make sure it was good and hot and then we packed it into our jars. We decided to use pint and a half jars since we had seven. The eighth jar was a quart jar.

We filled each jar with kraut, packed it down, poured juice to cover, released the bubbles, and finally wiped the rims sealed with lids and pressure canned for 15 minutes at 5 lbs. We had a little left over that PeterC ate and found quite tasty.

We repeated the process for the fermented vegetables. In the end we have eight jars of sauerkraut and twelve pints of fermented vegetables. I've already been told that we will be doing another batch of kraut soon, so PeterC must have really enjoyed the leftovers.

Christmas Eve

Yesterday was both happy and bittersweet. We got up late and headed in to our favourite truck stop for breakfast. We relaxed, secure in the knowledge that even though we planned to have food available no guests would be arriving today. We were going to take it easy and make it an easy going kind of day.

When we arrived back home I began preparing the food trays while PeterC did touch up vacuuming and garbage round up. I had just started the vegetable tray when PeterC informed me we had a message. It was from a coworker. She was bringing her spouse and children over for an early afternoon visit. I explained that the food trays would still be in preparation but she didn't care. They had eaten and were coming to visit us.

I put the Wassail into the crock pot to simmer while we prepped the food trays as quickly as we could, fighting pets and each other for space. The doorbell rang just as I had begun to cut the firm cheeses into chunks. My coworker and her family arrived bearing gifts, a lovely bottle of wine, but the most beautiful gift of all which was Holiday Cheer, Laughter, and Friendship.

They were content to stand around the table while we completed the cheese tray and laid out crackers and spreadable cheese. They agreed to having photos taken, asking for copies to be sent to them when we got a chance. They chatted and teased and we right along with them. It was the perfect Christmas Eve.

But, when they had gone for the evening and the house was silent I began thinking of Christmas past. The huge potluck meals my family in Tennessee would be serving up. I felt lonely. For the first time Sparrow Haven had rung with the sound of good natured holiday cheer that only a family can bring. Family that lived to far away or who otherwise could not be here.

I sat in my chair and watched the fire burn down. Content to just sit and be quiet. The cats and dogs slept in their corners, one taking residence upon my lap. Finally, when I could bear the silence no more and it was obvious no other guests would appear at the door, we put away the food and cleaned up the dishes.

We went upstairs to watch TV and get ready for bed, but all I could think about was how perfect this Christmas Eve had been. All it had taken was for one family, just four people, to share our home and our hospitality. To bring their love for each other and their loving laughter, to make the evening shine above all others in my memory.

Happy Holidays everyone. I hope your day is filled with love and laughter as our Christmas Eve was.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Twas the Night before Christmas Eve....

Twas the Day before Christmas Eve, and all through the house such a flurry of activity; why even the mice.
Litter boxes were bleached; carpets cleaned; and the wood was all polished in hopes that visitors would appear.
The kitchen gleamed and smelled of spice, Momma in her most festive mood yet.
Cheeses were cut, and meats rolled, bread cut in triangles, and creamed cheese laid plain.
Music blared on our PC speakers as Papa hurried and scurried about.

In the end the house was all cleaned and the house was silent.
Even the kittens were worn out from the days activities.
I in my pyjamas and Papa in his chair, settled down to ring in the Holiday.
The food is all ready and the house is too.
In hopes that Holiday Visitors stop to bring along some cheer.

Happy Holidays - Christmas, Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, FrostFall, and All other Mid Winter Festivals - to one and all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Calendar Must be Wrong

I looked at the calendar this morning and saw that it is Dec 17th. I looked out the window and saw a lovely blue sky, and grass. I shrugged and thought to myself "Self, winter many times has no snow on the ground until just before Christmas. Let's just go out and enjoy a clear winter day."

So I shook myself off a little, those dust bunnies were beginning to gather on my pyjama hems, and got dressed in my best winter attire. I traipsed down the stairs and threw open the door to take a nice deep breath of good clean chill air. I promptly began choking.

The air was warm and moist, more like late spring and early winter. There were birds every where, but especially filling the hedge and covering the bird feeders filled the day before. I stumbled around outside for a bit, trying to get my bearings then it struck me. "Wham!" "Ow! Hey wait. Someone must have forget to flip the calendar and I slept through the winter like some brain dead armadillo. Boy is my boss gonna be mad."

Since I had hit upon the problem I dreamily went back inside, stripped off my coat and shoes, and wondered lazily into the kitchen. There I stared dumbfounded at the kitchen calendar. It also said it was Dec 17th. "What in the world?", I thought to myself and I went in search of the den calendar. It was hiding under the desk, but it too said Dec 17th.

I sat with a thump and "Raaaaooowllll! Hhhissssss" "Sorry Booboo", and stared at my computer screen. Here is my access to the truth. I can look on line and find out if there is some conspiracy with the calendars. So I booted up my PC, noticed that it to reported Dec 17th, and started looking on the Internet for some answers. I found my answers but I wish I could go back to bed and just forget what I read.

The world's climate is changing. The weather patterns are all messed up. We here are getting warmer, wetter, and windier. The rest of the world is seeing changes that could be just as severe. Places that used to have mild winters are now getting severe winter storms. Farms are being infested with bugs that are living through the winter rather than dying off. The ground and everything else is covered in mold because it is so wet. Entire ecosystems are changing.

Life is great at adapting to change but only if those changes happen slowly over a period of years. It becomes harder to adapt when changes are happening so quickly. Some people are celebrating the warmer temperatures but they don't grow their food. They buy it from the store. Will they be so happy when entire crops are lost to disease, bugs, and mold and the price skyrockets? Or worse yet, what will those people say when there is a shortage of food?

So now, I am going to turn off the computer and crawl back into bed. I hope when I wake up tomorrow I'll find out this is all just a bad dream. But when it turns out that it isn't, then I will do what I have always done. I will adapt as best I can to the changes around me and in the mean time I sure am glad I know how to grow my own food.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chicken Stew

Whenever I bake a chicken, we always have leftovers. At least three portions of the leftovers go in the freezer for later meals. It gets used in everything from chicken fajitas to chicken fried rice. We've even been known to chop it up and throw it in our Sunday morning omelet.

As I mentioned in my previous post I've been sick for the last week. Even with lots of rest I hadn't been able to shake this stupid cold. Sunday, in desperation to find something to restore my energy and bolster my immune system I turned to good old fashioned Chicken Stew. Just the smell of it cooking was enough to revive me a little.

Old Fashioned Chicken Stew
1-2cps cooked chicken diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cps diced carrots
2 cps diced potatoes
3/4 cp frozen or fresh peas
1/2 large onion diced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 cp chicken broth
2 Tbsp dried parsley or tarragon
2 tsp each garlic powder, salt, black pepper or each to taste
2 Tbsp flour

Heat oil in large stock pot.
Add onion and cook until soft.
Add chicken and all spices and stir well, heating chicken through.
Add carrots, potatoes, and peas stirring the mixture thoroughly.
Pour in broth and heat to boiling. Lower heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender.
Stir in the flour and return to boiling until broth starts to thicken. Remove from heat and serve.

Today we finished off the rest of the stew and I feel better than I have since last week. My mind is clear. I can breathe through my nose. And miracles of miracles my ears are unplugged and I can actually hear what people are saying to me.

What could possibly be better than a bowl of fresh hot chicken stew? Chicken stew is easy to make and is a great way to use leftover chicken. Once you put everything in the pot it can be ignored, if you can ignore such a wonderful smell. It is a delicious and nutritious addition to your regular diet and a soothing meal for when you are ill. When you have a cold that you just can't shake chicken stew beats chicken noodle soup any day of the week.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Slow Week

It has been a slow week here at Sparrow Haven. PeterC and I have both been sick. The weather has been uncooperative with doing anything outside. Even the birds that stay here year round have been lying low and keeping quiet.

I am not the easiest person to get along with when I am sick. I become withdrawn and introspective, wanting nothing more than a warm blanket and a dark room. I am not generally considered a social person but during illnesses, regardless of how mild it may be, I drop down in a deep funk and just pass through the world rather than being a part of it. PeterC understands this about me and just checks in every once in a while to make sure I am still breathing, but otherwise leaves me to my thoughts.

It is at the end of times like this that I have a renewed appreciation for many things in my life. I appreciate PeterC's devotion to me and to our family. I appreciate the unconditional love of the cats and dogs, and even their selfish need to be as near to me as possible thus creating the perfect hot water bottles. I appreciate the feather comforter that keeps us warm even on the coldest nights. And most of all I appreciate the fact that I have a roof over my head and the means to be sick in luxury. I am rich compared to so many others in this world.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wind Storm

I've always heard that any storm that blows in from the east brings wind and destruction. It's one of those old wives tales you hear and repeat but not actually believe until you see it. then you are reminded that most old wives tales are little bits of wisdom from people who have seen a lot in their years.

Yesterday, the wind was coming out of the east bringing with it rain and freezing rain. The wind was gusting hard enough to make it difficult for me to stand. Ice built up on the car antennas and the branches of the trees. Even before I left for work I suspected we would see downed trees but I wasn't expected one of them to be our own.

PeterC had stayed home from work to recover from a rather nasty bout with the flu, but had driven me to work in case the roads turned icy. About a half hour before he came to pick me up he called to tell me that one of the 50 ft spruce in the backyard had been blown over, onto the dog's kennel. Dunny was fine, if scared, but the kennel itself was bent pretty badly and the only thing keeping the tree from taking out the neighbours kitchen was the fact that the tree was laying on the doghouse and leaning into one of the other trees.

We called Dale at "Tree Service" out of Green Valley, who said he would call us back today. Sure enough, at 10am, we got a call saying he would be here soon. Within an hour he and his two man work crew were scrambling all over the tree and removing it in sections. The tree was not rotten or even dying but the ground was so soggy from the rain that the roots just couldn't hold on any longer. While removing the tree PeterC and Dale noticed a couple more trees who are starting to lean pretty badly. Dale was to busy to remove them today but he said to watch them and if they get worse, or fall, he'll be more than happy to come back and remove them.

As scary as it was thinking that the tree could have hurt Dunny or fallen on the neighbours house, there are a few positives to come out of yesterday's storm. Now we have a pile of wood to be used for bonfires next year, a pile of branches to burn, and a 10 ft Christmas tree that we have placed out by the road for anyone who wants to take it. The removal of this tree has also opened up the area around our old apple tree so maybe it will get more sunlight and respond by giving us a good crop of apples next year.