How Much Can You Squeeze Into a Day?

This weekend was supposed to be a gastronomical get away with friends.  We had planned an long leisure ethnic tapas style dinner, followed by walks to a highly recommended ice cream shop and a night cap or two before spending the night at a hotel.   The dog has reservations at his favorite dog sitter who has a doggie door, that he just can’t get enough of.   Work circumstances for Mr. Ranger Sir have gotten crazy.   He  has been gone all week and will not be home next week.    He squeezed a single day off  Saturday and came home for a little R&R.  There was no way our out-of-town rendezvous was going to happen.

He came with plans for doing  dirty laundry and wanted nothing more than to sleep in his own bed for hours.    Unfortunately for him the birds we had not  butchered because of nasty weather were getting wild.  They were starting to fight.   They were picking at everyone’s feathers and some of them were start to have naked areas.   Yep with the precious single day at home we spent three hours of it butchering 11 chickens.   We started at the crack of dawn and got started before the predicted record highs for Montana became a reality.    We got rid about half  our flock.   Gone are all our roosters and the broody girls.  We have 12 birds left, one from the 2011 flock, four from the 2012 flock and the other seven are what is left of this year’s chick order.   We will have to butcher one more time before the snow flies and get rid of about half of what is left, but that is for another day.

Next came laundry, laundry and more laundry.   I can’t say a bad word about this because Mr. Ranger Sir is sure he does laundry better than I can.   After 35 years with this man, I just get out of the way and let him do it.

Then we cleaned up the coop.   We laid in fresh straw, cleaned containers, topped off food and reminded ourselves about why we don’t do this many birds.   The remaining flock is so much more settled and our role to keep they healthy, clean and fed just got easier.

We cleaned up and headed to town.    Lucky for us going to town included a stop at the dump, because the butchering  We decided we deserved a two hour time out, and took in a movie.  It was cool, mindless and fun.    Next it was off the K-mart to pick up a few supplies and then the grocery to find food to stock my husbands pantry next week in while on assignment.

Together we cooked up a couple of pork chops with a most amazing mango pepper sauce, along with a salad.     It was nice to sit at the table and try and catch up with all that had gone on, and try to make plans for the up coming week and beyond.

The last thing of the night, Mr. Ranger Sir packed up his bags with clean clothes, groceries, renewed supplies.

It wasn’t the day either of us had planned but it was full of what need to be done.  It is amazing what you can accomplish if time is short.   You can squeeze so much in and even unexpectedly have a little fun too.

Knowing Where Your Meat Comes From

There are not many true butcher shops left today.

This week with all the horse meat controversy going on in Europe it made me think again about how important it is to know where your food comes from.  It is something that none of us can do all the time, but maybe we should spend a little more time thinking about how we can take baby steps in the right direction.   Lots of baby steps can together make a big difference.  Now days so many folks have no idea about where there meat comes from.  We have pre-cut meat coming to our supermarkets ready packed  in those Styrofoam containers, some injected with gasses to keep them looking better longer.   We in this country want good cheap meat.   I would argue that cheap and good don’t go together.   It doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive, but you do get what you pay for.

In high school I read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair.  It forever tainted my view of the US food system.   It was a novel written to expose the plight of the working poor, but the pictures he painted in my mind of the Chicago meat industry have never left my mind.    I have always though much more about where all my food comes from ever since.  During the Clinton administration,  we for the most part returned meat inspection to an honor system by processing industry.   We have fewer food inspectors on the US payroll and we are having repeated cases of contaminated food in our consumer food system being reported.   I question if self policing is in our best interest. 

Think just a few years ago pink slime was in the news here in the US.   Now it has blown over.  Pink slime may be gone, but if you don’t believe that something else has replaced it  I would have to say you are deluding yourself.   Those big meat packing houses are looking at the bottom line, and not looking into your face as they hand you ground beef you just ordered like the local butcher shop.   If you wonder why ground beef in the roll is so much cheaper, than the stuff at Sam the  butcher’s shop, ask yourself are they really both the same quality.  I doubt IBP or some other big packing house really cares about what you think or say.   Sam the local butcher knows that if he has crappy meat it will get around town and he won’t be in business long. 

Growing up we did not live on a farm, nor grow our own meat.   My parents did work with local sources and would buy a whole beef or hog and have it butchered locally.   In the rural area I grew up in almost every town had a meat locker and a local butcher.    Once your was cut and wrapped we would bring some to our home freezer but most of it was stored at the local meat locker.  We could not store that much meat at home.       For you those who are unfamiliar with the term a meat locker was a place generally owned by the local butcher.   They came into play when electricity in the country wasn’t so common and even if it was a freezer in the home large enough to hold your beef was not easily found.  Local butchers had large walk-in cooler/freezers to age beef that they would cut and sell. This huge room that was the walk-in freezer also had rows of baskets you rented to store your frozen goods.   You then put a padlock on the basket  so only you have access; hence the term meat locker.

Today we source our beef and lamb from  local ranchers.   Our chickens are  from our own flock.   Fish at our house comes from local streams, rivers and lakes.   That is not possible for everyone.  The reasons are many why not everyone can do that.   What I am hoping you will think about after this article,  is that frequently your local butcher or meat shop may be one of those baby steps you can take.   It may not be as convenient as the supermarket in your city.   It likely won’t be quite as cheap.   I am thinking you will  know a little more about how your meat has been handled, and at the same time support a small business owner.   Pretty good combination in my book.   Hope so for you too. .

Procrastination Pays Off – For the Chickens

Each fall we butcher part of our flock of layers to end up with about six to overwinter. We have a flock that is always in a state of rotation.   Each spring we get a few new chicks and each fall we cull older birds and poor layers to get down to our optimum number of six.    It works great as chickens lay best in the first two years.   After that they start to slow down.   That two-year limit also works good you as far as eating goes as well, as after two years they really limited in their use to stewing and stock.

This year we procrastinated our last butcher cycle.   We knew we wanted to get rid of three birds, but were having troubles deciding who was on that last list of the year.   The hens were laying unusually well even though the days were getting shorter.  We only had one poor layer who was on the short list.     We only had one hen was on the too old list.   We kept on talking and debating who the third one should be.  No single bird rose to the top of the list of the remaining birds.  We thought with time it would become obvious to us.

We were lulled into thinking we had plenty of time to get down to our magical number.   This fall was unusually warm.   It seemed like  winter was a long time away.    So we continued to put off the decision who to put on our final list of the year.  We did not feel the clock ticking because as long as we can run a hose, we can butcher.    I know Grandma’s from years gone by probably butchered year round, but I am not quite as tough as her.

Finally we went from late summer to a full-blown winter.  Cold sub-zero and lots of snow.    We had a snow storm that gave us the most snow in a single snow fall in 10 years.   It seems that our procrastination paid off big for our birds.   That debate on who should be number three, resulted in us having nine birds for the winter this year.