Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fruit in Mexico

We recently went to Mexico to witness a beautiful wedding (see photos here; hear message here - English and Spanish) ... I am SO THANKFUL I was able to go. Not only did I get to witness a godly union between two very sweet young people, but also the weather was perfect (75/55, dry, high elevation), the people were so friendly, and there was good food and FRUIT everywhere. We got big glasses (24oz or so) of fresh squeezed juice from a street vendor for 15 pesos each (just over a dollar). But one vendor stuck out ... the woman stopped me by offering a taste of a fruit. She had my number I guess. She kept offering us this kind and that kind and another kind, all really good but I do not remember all of the names. And then all at once she motioned like I must have my photo taken with the fruit. She started moving things out of the way and making room for me and a man ... must be her husband ... so the photo was just about ready and then he shoved a cantaloupe in my hand. Funny! They were super nice people.

Needless to say, the hotel people had to clean up a juicy mango mess every morning. I honestly did my best to keep things clean but they were so juicy and I did not have the proper tools, paper towels, etc. so I did get a few drops on the floor and our trash was filled with mango peels each morning.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Easy Dehydrated Zucchini Chips and May Produce Tallies

A recent experiment turned out really good, and what a fun way to use up all those zucchini that everyone is trying to get rid of every year!

The possibilities are really endless, but here are a few tips.

Size - Our mandolin slicer does 1/8" and 1/4" slices. The 1/4" slices will be a little 'leathery' and have more of the zucchini flavor (not much, but noticeable), which might not be the best for those who do not care for the taste of zucchini. The 1/8" slices are crispier and take on more of whatever seasonings you use. The thicker slices would be ideal for dipping, however the thinner slices might break in a thicker dip such as hummus.

Shape - Round works well for chips, however if you want to use your dehydrated zucchini for soups, bread, etc., then cut the rounds into quarters, or shred for breads.

Oil or not - The un-oiled 1/8" slices might be slightly difficult to get off the dehydrator tray. The oiled slices are ... oily ... and can make a mess on your fingers. As for storage, the slices with oil will have a much shorter shelf-life, so if you are looking for long-term storage it's best to leave off the oil. Whether oiled or not, the seasonings stick well to the zucchini, so really the oil is for flavor and texture (if you use too much, it will produce a softer chip ... just a very thin brush of oil will do). For a super crispy chip, oil and bake in the oven ... but watch it carefully so as not to burn it! But, the thin, dehydrated, un-oiled chips are plenty crispy in my opinion.

Seasonings - A personal preference but here are some ideas. You may marinate the slices in soy sauce or braggs (or even Italian dressing), or just sprinkle with something. We did some with salt, season salt and cinnamon sugar.

Dehydrating tips - Do not layer the chips! If you are shredding the zucchini, be sure you do not pile a whole bunch on to one tray - it will rot before it has a chance to dry and all of your food and efforts will be wasted. I suggest you check your favorite zucchini bread recipe - how much shredded zucchini does it call for? For instance, if it calls for 2 cups, place 2 cups of shredded zucchini on one dehydrator tray (or only one cup per tray if two looks like too much). When dry, put the measured 2 cups into a labeled bag or container of some sort with the fresh amount marked.
If you want to keep these raw you will have to have a dehydrator with a thermostat that can be adjusted. 105* for raw or 125*-135* for vegetables. The time will vary depending on the temperature, moisture level and the thickness. Count on at least 4 hours, but up to about 12 is possible.

Rehydrating - For soups, just toss the zucchini in dry but watch your liquid level. For bread, take out your pre-measured two cup baggie (or whatever!), put the dry zucchini in a bowl at least 3 times its size, add water to cover double, and allow to soak until rehydrated. Drain off the excess water (save for soup or stock!), and use as usual in your bread recipe.


Now for the May Produce Tallies ...
Lettuce 263.10oz
Kale (baby) 129.95oz
Kale (dino) 92.65oz
Strawberries 687.87oz...
Beet greens (baby) 115.50oz
(Also dill and lemon balm but I did not weigh them before I dried them ... dry: .5oz dill and 1.75oz lemon balm)

TOTAL: 80.5lbs ... not bad for a few 8'x4' beds in a church parking lot!! Hopefully our new country garden will do just as well, if not better. We'll see. 

Estimated store price total of above said produce: $399.81 ... all organic prices at our favorite store. We can knock $100 off that total if I consider the fact that I usually get non-organic frozen strawberries from Azure.

I hope I'm able to keep up with record keeping when things really get busy!! It sure has been helpful knowing what's going on and I know it will be helpful for planning next year. I'll try to get a post going to share the system I've worked out ... because it's been working really well and I believe it's worth sharing ... though it might not be until the end of the gardening season when things slow down a bit and I've had time to reflect.

We've just now started getting cherry tomatoes and a few tomatillos in our country garden. Spinach was done at the end of May. Lettuce is almost done, though I planted a new batch in a shady area in the country as an experiment. We're using the more bitter leaves in our smoothies ... very thankful for them! My dehydrator is on nearly non-stop. Lots of kale and beet greens right now (see my recent post Homemade Green Powder and Washing Greens the Easy Way).

Monday, June 15, 2015

Raising Cornish Cross Meat Birds

We live in an area that is heavily populated with huge chicken barns, large hatcheries and processing factories (mainly Tysons and George's). I see the trucks filled with nasty, unhealthy chickens going in to Tyson's continuously and have watched as the fork-lift driver unloads cage after cage after cage of chickens into the building. Filled cages go in as empty cages go out. It seems like he never stops. I see (and SMELL) the chicken barns all over the beautiful countryside and have been inside of several (some for meat, some for egg production, some 'conventional', some 'organic', some 'free range', some not ... makes no difference, they are all the same except the feed ... and does organic feed really make that big of a difference in such situations?).

While I understand fully that we must do what we have to do (I've eaten plenty of chicken from Tyson's and will continue to do so when I have to ... and be THANKFUL for it!!), I also believe that if we have it within our power to do things better then we should. It is for these reasons and more that I decided to raise my own chickens for meat. Organic, non-GMO feed, clean water with ACV, room to roam, green grass, fresh air, sunshine, bugs.

I was very ignorant when I started and had no idea what kind of bird to choose, so I did a little research; later however I discovered that I did not research fully enough. Live and learn.

I chose the Cornish Cross probably for the same reasons most folks do: they grow quickly and produce a lot of meat for the least amount of cost. I knew they were hybrids ... but at the time I was only thinking how at least it's not GMO. These birds were 'selectively bred', not 'genetically manipulated'. I learned through reading that if they are allowed to eat freely 24/7 they will grow too quickly and suffer with health issues (heart and leg problems, among other things). It is for this reason that it's recommended to restrict their access to feed after about 2 weeks of age (12 hours of free access and 12 hours of nothing). For some reason, this did not seem too strange to me ... however after I got the birds and learned more about them my thoughts began to shift.

I must admit, at first I struggled to like these birds because they simply just grossed me out. They are not like a 'normal' chicken. While I've read of many who claim their Cornish Cross birds (CX) do in fact act like normal chickens if given the right environment, this has not been my experience. I've owned a heritage breed for over 3 years now and the difference is very clear. The CX might be a little active and forage a little bit if given free access to do so, however my girls (Barred Rocks) are active pretty much all day long, scratching around, hunting for bugs, eating green stuff, etc. They take a break once in a while, have a dirt bath, or just relax in the shade, but it's not long before they are back up, roaming around, hunting, scratching, etc. Totally different from the CX. They have free room to roam but choose to stay pretty much right where they are ... as close to the feeder as possible of course!! Many of them do not even stand up to eat! I have noticed they are much more active in the morning before we give them their feed ... I really enjoy watching them run around and play, however they are just too big to last very long at acting normal. All too soon, one by one, they plop down, exhausted.

Well, as I said, I did struggle at first to like these birds, however I realized that my bad attitude and regret was having an effect on how I handled them and I did NOT want that to happen!!! So I quickly changed my attitude and just treated them the same as I do our girls. Yes, I talked to them, tried to pet them, gave them treats, etc. This helped me a lot, and I'm sure it helped them in some way too. I made the absolute best out of the situation and gave it my all. While I've read of several having health issues with their CXs, we've never experienced any such thing. Yes, they are lazy and as I shared above they do get tired quickly, but it seems to me if you do it right they do not suffer. We did lose one to an owl, but that was our only loss and totally our fault. :'(

The end result: fresh, organic chicken meat from chickens that were raised with love in a healthy environment. DELICIOUS! Tender, moist, and full of flavor. No regrets.

We chose to butcher in batches instead of all at once, and still have 9 left that will be butchered within the next 2 days. There is only four of us and more often than not there is only 1 or two of us. We've done several together but a few times Corban has butchered some, left for work and then Brianna did all the cleaning/dressing. We try to butcher then at about 7-8 pounds, though some have been a little smaller (closer to 6lbs). The dressed weight has been 4-5.5 lbs, with one so far weighing in at just under 4lbs.

Instead of raising a hybrid that grows from zero to 10 pounds in a record amount of time, I am going with a dual purpose heritage breed like our Barred Rocks. We'll probably just do a 'straight run' of chicks, cull out the roosters when the time is right and save the hens for eggs. This seems a much more natural, peaceful way of doing things ... the way I believe God intended it to be ... because really, if he wanted us to have a huge, fat chicken in 6-8 weeks he would have made one that way. This, above all else, is why I believe heritage breeds are the healthiest and best choice. God knew what he was doing.

But that does not mean I am totally closed to ever raising CX again ... if that is all we can afford and handle I do believe it's a much better choice than Tyson's and I am very thankful for a freezer full of good meat!!

And if anyone is wondering, we purchased all of their feed in advance and stored in an old refrigerator (unplugged, laying on its back like a chest) to keep the mice out. I was informed of a good deal on organic, non-GMO feed but it's a few hours away so we thought it best to get it all in one shot ... we figured 20lbs per bird ... 25 birds (well, 26 actually) ... 500lbs total. We are butchering the last few within the next few days. There is a little bit of feed left (less than 50lbs) that we'll just mix in with our layer feed for the girls.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Raised Beds in the City

Our country and city gardens are coming along well enough I guess, though with the unexpected move we did not get everything planted that we had hoped to. Maybe we'll have a bigger-than-usual fall garden to compensate? We'll see :-) I would love to post more but I still do not have the internet at home and time is limited. I plan on posting a country garden update soon though. A lot of rain has caused some flooding but all seems ok now. A week or two ago I did a quick video of our raised beds in our (former) meeting house parking lot ... a lot has changed already but here's the video link: Raised Beds in the City. Most of the spinach is going to seed and the lettuce is just now bolting... and the kale will eventually. It'll be good to freshen up my seed supply!

A word of encouragement from a brother: just enjoy gardening; tomorrow a tornado could wipe it all out. I was beginning to stress out a little about how "behind" we were but he helped put things in perspective. It's always a blessing to be out in God's creation working with the soil ... if that's all that ever becomes of our efforts, praise the Lord!

A country garden photo: delicious strawberries.