Archive for the ‘urban farm animals’ Category

The Hen That Laid the Golden Egg


In an earlier post, A Little Hen Science, I linked to a study showing the health difference to the eater between a well-produced egg and a poorly produced one.   Today I am going to throw out some brief notes about what is possible when you feed your own chickens. First, my chickens are not pastured. My area has a lively band of coyotes, and the hens have to be in a fenced run with a roof over it to be safe. So I gather the pasture and bring it to the hens. Every day they get a huge pile of leafy weeds, green garden veggies that I’m not going to use in time, windfall fruit, and veggie scraps from the table. When the goat is in milk, they get whey and any discard milk, all greens-fed of course.  They get grain and flaxseed free-choice.  I have looked into the possibility of growing black soldier fly larvae to provide them with extra protein, but that notion dropped dead when I saw a video of the inside of a “bug pod“ designed to produce them. I have a strong stomach generally, but it does not extend to masses of writhing larvae.  So I throw the ladies any squash bugs, cabbage loopers, snails, etc. that show up, and cook any eggs that get too old for human or canine use into “chicken cake“ to give them some extra protein.  You can also buy freeze dried meal worms for the same purpose, although they are pretty expensive.  I keep a bag of organic turmeric around, and throw a tablespoon or two in every time I cook up a chicken cake, and also throw in a handful of Thorvin kelp meal to make sure that they are getting all their minerals.

The result can be seen above. On the left of the photo is the yolk of the best pastured eggs that I am able to buy in my local co-op. On the right is a yolk from one of my hens.  That’s a pretty good illustration of how many carotenoids  you can fit into one egg yolk. This is even more impressive given that the chicken who produced this egg is the only leghorn in my flock, and the leghorn is a breed often scorned by people with a home flock because the egg shells are white.  As you can see, they are industrious foragers and will practically eat their own weight in greens,  and they are also prolific layers.  There’s nothing not to like about them, and when some of my old ladies succumb to old age, I will get a few more leghorns. But any hen will lay better eggs if her nutrition is top-notch, and if her nutrition is top-notch, yours will be too.

Food Independence Day

Gardening is a pleasure and a labor of love, and it’s also part of a bigger picture of resilience. I think about resilience a lot these days, on every level from national and international to personal. Much of the time there is little or, arguably, nothing that I can do for those larger systems, but on any average day I can attend to my own household system. I can make reasonable plans for the future and remain as flexible as possible about things that can’t be predicted.

One thing that can be predicted is aging. We can do a lot toward aging well, but *spoiler alert* we will still age. I realized this when I had a few years of orthopedic issues that made it painful to walk and impossible to dig. It made me start shifting toward a permanent mulch system in part of my yard, so that as long as I can kneel to plant and can spread some straw around, I can harvest food. I started the mulched beds by heaping animal manure and bedding a foot thick over the whole area, but this was a one-time job and the labor involved can be hired.  Straw bales can be delivered and set where you need them for a small extra fee, and spreading them is light work. Let the whole setup mellow for several months if the manure was fresh, and start planting the following spring. Straw breaks down quickly and has to be replenished a few times a year, which is great because it builds the soil and creates an incredibly active layer of worms and tiny critters of all sorts. It also holds water tenaciously, which is critically important in my desert area.

Some perennial weeds come up through thick mulch, so there is some pulling to do. In my area, silver nightshade is the chief invader. I have started letting it flower before I pull it, because bumblebees love the flowers.

Other perennial weeds are far more delightful. Common milkweed was my favorite perennial wild edible when I lived in the Northeast, and I’m creating a few patches of it here to feed us if there are years that I can’t plant annual vegetables. As the seedpods mature I’m moving them to new parts of the yard. This spring I noticed that some seedlings struggled up through thick mulch, saving me the usual labor of weeding around the tiny plants for a couple of years while they get established, so this fall I will try just “planting” seed pods here and there under mulch to see if I can start new clumps that way. Once well established a clump of milkweed takes care of itself, and it’s pretty hard for other weeds to get a foothold. The delicious shoots emerge late in the spring, so be careful not to dig them up by mistake  when the early-spring digging fervor hits you.

Nettles are a perennial vegetable that I have yapped on and on about until there’s little left to say. So all I will add here is: site them where you can control them and not get stung, cook them in spring when young and tender, whack the plants back aggressively to keep them in place, and harvest more shoots later on. I freeze the young leaves in large quantities to eat all year.

I’m always experimenting with things that may save work later on. I don’t eat potatoes very often but do like a few treats of new potatoes in season. I’m trying out the Chinese yam or cinnamon vine, a robust perennial vine that has sprays of cinnamon-scented flowers and then, on established vines, a large crop of tiny bulbils borne from the leaf joints that are said to taste like new potatoes. My vine is three years old and hasn’t formed any bulbils yet but I am hopeful that next year will be the year. The vine also forms a huge underground tuber that I can dig up and eat if I ever get that hungry. I understand that it tastes good, but digging is no longer my favorite thing.

Old established hops vines produce huge quantities of edible and delicious shoots in spring. They are much less work than asparagus, which tends to need a lot of weeding, but they are big heavy vines that want to romp away 20’ high if they get a chance, and require a really sturdy fence. I don’t brew beer anymore because we no longer drink much of it, but if you brew, there’s another clear advantage to growing them.

A deep permanent mulch creates a living and lively ecosystem and you can watch its capacities change over the years. I’ve tried for years to grow blackberries, but in my very alkaline clay in broiling sun they were a no-go. Now, in mulch with some shade, they are thriving.

European elderberries, Sambucus nigra, are another desired plant that I was never able to grow until the mulch provided a more hospitable habitat.

My fruit trees appreciate the even moisture under a deep mulch. In our hottest summer so far, after our driest winter in memory, my apricot tree was loaded. I had to fight my local squirrel family for them but I don’t mind a little healthy competition. I made Indian pickles out of some of the unripe fruit, rather like the ones made from green mangoes, and they were good enough that I wish I had made more. I also roasted a lot of apricots for use in savory dishes. They are very delicious in this form, and freeze pretty well. Below, they harmonize with roast chicken in saffron cream sauce.

My old friend lambs-quarters is still everywhere. There is no leafy green that’s any better or any easier to grow or any more nutritious. I wish that some ambitious breeder would get to work on it and create a form that held longer without shooting to seed, but it’s just fine as it is. It can be seen somewhere in nearly every photo taken on my place, and is my living daily assurance that I’ll never starve. If I can’t grow anything else, I’ll rake the mulch off a patch of earth, add some water, and reap the resulting harvest.

Perennial onions are another food that will never desert me. In fact, I’m having to weed some out to make room for other things. Besides the usual ways to use scallions, they are awfully good sliced finely, stewed in butter with some salt until they sweeten, and eaten as a vegetable.

Animals can add greatly to your resilience and they help “close the loop” in keeping nutrients on your property. It’s amazing how much garden waste and food scraps they will eat and relish, and their manure passes on the left-overs to your plants in a form that they can use. If legal in your area, a rooster increases resilience by making it possible for you to grow your own chicks if you ever really have to, or want to.

I am no survivalist and don’t want anything to happen to society. We need each other. But if our current overly lavish food supply should be threatened, the ability to grow something to eat might once again become a necessary skill. And even with every grocery store crammed with food, growing your own is satisfying on a far deeper level than shopping.

A happy and healthy Independence Day to all.

 

 

 

Food Diatribe II: Leafy Green Season

Medscape just published an article worth reading. The information is from a prospective study of older adults living in the community, and showed a direct linear relationship between consuming one or two servings a day of leafy green vegetables and slower cognitive decline. In fact, eating leafy greens daily offered the cognitive equivalent of being 11 years younger.

One expert neurologist asked to comment on the findings responded with confirmation: “This study adds to the rapidly evolving and convincing evidence that you are what you eat when it comes to brain health,” Richard Isaacson, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City, said. “From a practical clinical perspective, regular intake of green leafy vegetables should be a standard part of a risk reduction paradigm to delay cognitive decline throughout the lifespan.”

Amusingly, another expert said that it was “too soon” to recommend leafy greens, and advised waiting for further confirmation from future studies, a typical recommendation for new drugs but not typically applied to foodstuffs that healthy people have been eating for millennia. I do of course see his point, which is not to jump into thinking of leafy greens as a cure-all, but really now. So here is my response as a gardener, a doctor, and an avid reader of research: don’t wait. Some of the longest-lived and healthiest populations in the world have had  markedly high  consumption of leafy greens. There is no downside and no dangerous side effect to worry about unless you are on warfarin. So just do it. You can read the article here if you want, and it contains a link to the study. Then, just do it. Grow them if you can. If you have a small garden patch, make an investment in your family’s health by filling it with greens. If you don’t garden, you can haunt your farmers market or start making foraging trips. If you prefer to eat salad, choose darker greens, not lettuce hearts or iceberg, and eat a big bowlful.

Right now I’m still eating last fall’s leafy greens from under frost blankets. The collards and Savoy cabbage held up best, and are uniquely delicious after exposure to cold. I harvested Swiss chard for people and chickens all last summer, and then put a frost blanket over half  the row.  The new leaves of spring are the meatiest and most delicious that a chard plant ever produces, and the protected ones are nearly eating size, while the unprotected ones will come in some time next month. Just be sure to get them before the central stalk starts to elongate, because they lose their sweet meatiness and get strangely dirty-tasting when the flowering stalk starts to form. Green alliums are coming up everywhere, and my nettle patch is sprouting strongly.

If you keep animals for food, feed greens to your animals (not nettles, but chickens do love the leftover cooked ones.) I have a carnivorous friend who eats supermarket meat and insists that he’s a secondary consumer of vegetables, and I keep trying to tell him that on the contrary, he’s just a secondary consumer of GMO corn. Unless you are buying animal foods known for a fact to be grassfed or pastured and not grain-finished, you aren’t consuming the nutrients of vegetables.  But if you keep your own, it’s astounding what quantities of greens chickens will eat if they get a chance, while cattle, sheep, and goats can be raised to butterball fatness on grass and greens alone if you have enough. The nutritional profile of the eggs and meat is enhanced and the animals are much happier. I’ll have more to say about meat in the near future.

Spring Egg Yolks

During the longest nights my laying hens take a rest, and if I want eggs I have to buy them at the Co-op. This is probably a good thing, because it keeps me aware that even the best winter eggs from local farmers aren’t as good as the glorious golden-yolked beauties that my hens start to lay in February. Greens and flaxseed make the yolks full of omega-3s  and carotenoids. The effort of keeping enough greens going under frost blankets to supply the chickens as well as my own kitchen really pays off now. Later on in the spring they will lay like crazy and I’ll have eggs to share and I’ll be making profligate dishes like low-carb cheesecake, which involves 16 egg yolks. But when the first tiny golden crocus crysanthus blooms in February, I begin to get the first few treasured eggs, with yolks of the same gold as the crocuses. For now, I get a couple of eggs a day and every one is cherished. Even low-carb bread becomes something wonderful when dipped into a rich creamy fried egg yolk. As far as I’m concerned, top-notch fried eggs go with everything, and I love a plate of cooked veggies and fried eggs for dinner. A fried egg or two makes any plate of vegetables into dinner.  But there are tons of other possibilities.

In celebration of earliest spring, I took a look at what other bloggers have done with eggs. Here’s a brief round-up.

First, I can’t resist pointing out one of my own favorite old posts.

https://albuquerqueurbanhomestead.com/2016/11/18/eggs-in-a-hurry/

 


Hank Shaw is one of the most wonderful foragers and foodies that I know of. As soon as I have more eggs, I plan to salt-cure some yolks by his method and grate them over greens.

https://honest-food.net/salt-cured-egg-yolks/

The wonderfully herbal green buttered eggs from The Nourished Caveman are a go-to recipe for me, and I vary the greens according to availability and mood.

https://thenourishedcaveman.com/green-buttered-eggs/

This one will never come out of my kitchen, because I can’t stand sardines in any form. But it is so nutrient-rich that you should have a look at it.

https://thenourishedcaveman.com/nutrient-dense-fishermans-eggs/

Crispy fried eggs are wonderful for making a salad into a meal.

https://nomnompaleo.com/post/104615214153/sunnyside-salad-crispy-fried-eggs-on-greens

And Martha Stewart adds mushrooms to an eggs and greens skillet.

https://www.marthastewart.com/852125/fried-eggs-greens-and-mushrooms

Or scramble your eggs a bit on the hard-cooked side and toss them into greens or salads as an ingredient.

 

Raw Grass- fed Milk from De Smet Dairy

If you are a fan of raw milk, or would like to become a fan of it, we are finally in luck in central New Mexico. De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms is producing certified raw milk from mostly Jersey and Jersey cross cows, and it is truly delicious. Even better, their cows are 100% grass fed, making their milk a nutritional powerhouse on a level that is very difficult to find elsewhere.  Way back when I had a Jersey cow of my own I had milk that tasted like this, but never since then.   They also sell cream top yogurt made from their milk, and eggs from pastured chickens. There is a tiny little farm shop down at the farm itself, or in Albuquerque and Santa Fe you can buy the milk at La Montanita Co-op or at Moses Kountry.

I have to  add that if you drain the yogurt overnight in a double layer of cheese cloth until it is reduced to about half its previous volume, it is so creamy and rich and delicious that you can hardly stand it.

I borrowed these pictures off their Facebook page, and you can connect with them on Facebook if you want to.

Grass-fed Beef for the New Year

Our winter is short here in the desert, but it’s cold at night, and rich warming meals are welcome. The garden is quiescent and there is a little more time to cook. And a bubbling pot of something-or-other makes the whole house more welcoming.

I like to cook with grass-fed beef because it’s healthy for the planet, the cows, and me. Contrary to much current dogma about how animal husbandry is always environmentally unsound, grass-fed beef produces high-quality human food from grasslands that shouldn’t be plowed or tilled. One important way to sequester carbon is to keep it in the soil in the first place. Does over-grazing occur? Of course. But to condemn responsible ranchers because of the irresponsible ones is like saying that all medications are bad because some people overdose on them.

The less popular cuts of beef, like short ribs, are less expensive and take beautifully to long, slow braising. I especially like Chinese red-cooking techniques for general deliciousness, and they take well to slow-cooker cooking with just a bit of fancy finishing just before dinner. I started this meal about 24 hours before New Year’s dinner.

Red-cooked really refers to any dish cooked with soy sauce, but most commonly refers to the rich stews based on Master Sauce, a mixture of broth, soy sauce, and sweet spices. So to start this dish, you need six hefty short ribs of grass-fed beef and some Master Sauce.

To make Master Sauce, combine a quart of good beef broth with a cup of naturally fermented soy sauce, a half cup of sugar or the equivalent in an artificial sweetener that you like, and the following seasonings:

1 organic onion, cut in half, with the skin on

a teaspoon of ground five-spice powder

three cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

3 complete stars of star anise

a 3” piece of ginger, scrubbed and smashed some with a heavy object but still in one piece

3 whole cloves

1 whole stick of cinnamon

I like to tie the seasonings up in cheesecloth because I find it easier than straining the sauce later. Either way, combine all the sauce ingredients in the liner of a six quart slow cooker and add the short ribs. Cook overnight at low setting. The next day, about 12-14 hours later, drain off the broth and strain it or remove the cheesecloth. Put the broth in the refrigerator so that the fat can congeal. The meat should be falling off the bones. Remove the bones and reserve the meat.

About half an hour before dinner, preheat the broiler. Take the congealed fat off the broth and reserve. Measure out three cups of the Master Sauce broth, put in a heavy saucepan, notice its level in the pan, and boil over high heat until it’s reduced to about half that level, or 1 1/2cups.  Reserve any remaining master sauce and freeze it to give you a  head start on the next red cooked stew.

If you wish, while the broth is reducing, make a simple but wonderful relish by chopping another 3” piece of peeled ginger finely, chopping a cleaned bunch of green onions into 1/4 inch cross sections, heating 2 tablespoons of the reserved beef fat in a saucepan, stirring in the ginger and cooking for one minute until it sizzles, stirring in the green onions and a heaping quarter teaspoon of salt, and stir-frying another minute or two.

Now taste your reduced broth. Tasting as you are finishing things is an important and surprisingly neglected step. This is the time to think about your food. Is the balance of flavors right? Is there anything else it needs?  I like to add another scant teaspoon of five-spice powder and a little chopped ginger at this point to freshen the flavor. Arrange the meat on a roasting pan, fat side up whenever possible, drizzle with some of the sauce, and broil until the fat starts to brown. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn. When the fat is browned, turn off the broiler and let the meat sit in there another few minutes to make sure it’s good and hot. Place in serving bowls, pour over some more sauce, and put a generous spoonful of ginger-scallion relish on one side. Eat. The cold and wind have no further power to harm you, at least not tonight.

Sometimes a main dish needs, not a side dish, but an underpinning to absorb juices and offer a cushion to the intense flavors. If you eat rice or noodles, this dish goes well with either, but low-carb eaters will like it as is, assuming that an alternative to sugar was used. Steamed broccoli florets would make a good underpinning and add a nice color pop, and when I serve this stew again in a day or two that’s probably what I’ll add. Cauliflower rice is a possibility.

Now, about the rest of that reserved fat: the fat of grassfed beef has excellent Omega-3 to Omega-6 balance and good helpings of CLA and beta-carotene.  I don’t throw it away. Besides the small amount used in making the relish, I save some for rubbing on steaks and other meats about to be grilled. But short ribs are a fairly fatty cut, and there is still plenty left.  Often I mix it with kelp meal and crushed eggshells or oyster shell flour to make a supplement for my chickens that they gobble up with extreme enthusiasm.  Remember, chickens are not natural vegetarians by any means. In fact, they are among the most omnivorous animals alive, along with pigs, chimpanzees, and us.  So let them follow their natural inclinations and make use of healthy scraps that come up in your kitchen.

 

The Fall Summation III: The Firepit

I was happily involved in writing in the multiple parts of my fall summation IV post, when I suddenly realized that I never remembered to publish fall summation III. So here it is.

I have always enjoyed grilling as a wonderfully tasty way to cook meat and vegetables, but late this summer I acquired a firepit in my front yard, and it is fair to say  that it is one of the best small investments we ever made.  The pit itself is just a literal pit, a big hole in the dirt, skillfully lined with bricks by a landscape crew. Then there is a drop-in steel grill with a grate which is easily raised and lowered for precise control, and I wish I could remember where I bought it because it is the best ever.  Most important is the fuel, almost completely hardwood in my case although I start fires with twigs and small branches scrounged off the nearby walking path.

Cooking with wood is a whole different experience than cooking with charcoal, and I had not done it for about 25 years, so it took some time to get back in the swing.  When I want to just fire up the grill and cook something without undue fuss, I resort to my beloved Big Green Egg.  Cooking on the fire pit is more a process and an experience than just getting dinner ready. First, there is building the fire. Then, there is sitting next to it feeding it the right kind and amount of wood and giving it a few pokes at the right time to end up with a wonderful bed of red-hot coals  a couple of hours later.  Then there is cooking the food itself, and this is a hot eye-stinging experience that is somehow more pleasurable and more primal than any charcoal cooking could ever be.  The finale can then go one of two ways: either the coals can be damped with a bucket of water so that you end up with biochar for the garden or a bed of charcoal for the next fire, or more wood can be thrown on the fire and the diners can gather around it contemplatively with wine and marvel at their good fortune to be alive at this particular moment.

Don’t think that this is only an activity for carnivores. Pescatarians will find that wild-caught salmon is perfect for the grill, as long as you’re careful not to overcook.  Any vegetarian or vegan would love firepit cooking, for the rich meaty belt that hardwood smoke lends to vegetables. Eggplant, zucchini, and carrots are all wonderful sliced and grilled. I like to rub them with olive oil mixed with salt and a little chile chipotle. Wild mushrooms are lovely grilled, and store-bought mushrooms approach the savor of wild ones when grilled. Oyster mushrooms are especially suited to grilling.   Potatoes and sweet potatoes are both really good when pre-baked, pressed flat and about half an inch thick with your hand or the bottom of a glass, salted and brushed with olive oil or bacon fat, and grilled  just until the outside gets crisp and browned.  Sweet potatoes are very quick to burn because of the sugar they contain, so they need to be kept on a cooler part of the grill and be brought along more slowly and cautiously.  I understand that some people grill kale leaves very successfully, although so far I have not made that work well. And the more tender leaves of romaine lettuce are really delicious when the heads are grilled in halves.

One of my favorite recent dinners involved large shrimp seasoned and grilled in their shells, served on a bed of grilled romaine lettuce made by cutting heads of romaine in half, drizzling them with my mother’s marinade, and grilling them over very hot coals for 2-3 minutes on each side.  I am in favor of taking the grilled romaine into the kitchen and slicing it crosswise before plating it, for more graceful eating. The ribs of the romaine  leaves become softer, sweeter, and a culinary revelation. I would think that the same thing could be achieved with Chinese cabbage. Another small drizzle of marinade when on the plate adds to the general savor.  In the photo above you see the grilled treatment given to little dark blue Magic Molly potatoes, which I intend to write about in another post.   In general we eat low-carb and avoid foods like potatoes, but the occasional treat does not come amiss. Overall, this is a meal that makes you realize that nothing more miraculous has ever happened in human history than the taming of fire. It made us more civilized and brought wolves in off the tundra to be our companions. We co-evolved with them for the next 40,000 years to the benefit of both parties, and their descendents still seem to enjoy hanging around the firepit.

For more on the entrancing world of wood fired cooking, read anything by Francis Mallman, particularly his first book, Seven Fires.