Monday, July 25, 2016

Sticking Out Your Tongue

This weekend Tricia and I brought the milking buckets out to the barn for the afternoon milking.  The cows are always way out in the pasture eating grass. Normally Daisy looks up and sees us and she'll start walking toward the barn - not because she likes us, but because she knows that we're going to give her a scoop and a half of Dairy Ration with a cup of alfalfa pellets on top and maybe, a drizzle of molasses too.

Rosie, on the other hand, ignores us.  We bang on the side of the bucket.  We clap our hands.  We call her name.  No response.  So I walk way out into the pasture and get her.  When I walk up to her she lifts her head and slowly begins ambling in with me.  Every third step, however, she looks down,, stops walking and stretches her neck out and grabs a big mouthful of green grass.

I watched her for a minute and took a couple photographs.  Here's the weird thing. Cows have no top front teeth.  They only have bottom front teeth.  So they can't bite grass like a person eats corn on the cob.  So what does Rosie do?  She uses her TONGUE.  If you watch her, it is truly a sight to see.  She sticks out her long tongue and wraps that tongue around the grass and pulls it into her mouth, breaking it off. It is pretty amazing to watch.

When I watch her eating grass, I think how much that would hurt if I would try to eat grass like that. The sharp grass would cut my tongue.  OUCH!  But cows' tongues are different.  If you've ever felt the tongue of a cow, it is like sandpaper and is a tough, big muscle. It is made for the job of eating grass.  She breaks off the grass and moves forward and does the same thing - again and again and again.

Rosie's tongue
She rolls that grass around in her mouth, mixing it with saliva and swallows it whole.  The ball of grass goes into her rumen, the first stomach, where bacteria in the rumen begins to break down the grass.  Much later, she'll mosey over to the shade, sit down and belch up big wads of grass that she'll chew (her cud).  Then she'll swallow it again and it travels through her other three stomachs, where the grass is fully digested and that nutrition is converted into milk.

It all starts with the cow's amazing tongue.  But now it is time for Rosie to put her tongue back in her mouth and walk back to the barn with me to get milked.  She can come back out and eat grass once we're done milking.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Making Tamales

We have been wanting to make homemade tamales for a long time now and finally on Saturday, we did it!  Tricia is of Mexican heritage and she grew up making tamales.  In addition to being able to enjoy eating delicious tamales, it was a nice family tradition.  Everyone had a job to do.  We decided to incorporate this family tradition in our family.  Tricia called her mom and got some tips from the expert and then we got started.

We had a 9 pound (Bone-in) chuck roast from the steer that we butchered and we cooked it for four to six hours with onion, garlic, chili powder, salt and pepper.  It yielded 3 1/2 pounds meat once we shredded it, removing the bone, reserving the broth and 1 pound (or 2 cups) fat.  We didn't throw away the fat, though. The fat or tallow is an important ingredient in making tamales.

That is a big chuck roast!
Tricia shredded the beef roast up real good, chopping it with a knife.

She moistened the meat with some of the broth and added chili powder, garlic, cumin and salt.

Then she began moistening her corn husks while we worked on other tasks.  The husks were weighted down so that they would get wet, making them easier to work with when we started rolling them.

She poured 8 cups of dry masa harina in a big bowl.  This is some non-GMO masa that she purchased from Azure Standard Co-op.

To the masa she poured 2 cups of warmed beef tallow, 6 cups of warmed beef broth, 4 teaspoons salt and chili powder.

Then she mixed it all up, kneading it with her hands until the consistency became just right.  She had to add a little warm water until the masa was perfectly workable.

Now here is where the fun part came.  To set the mood, we put some salsa and mariachi music playing in the background sung by Selena (who was from Corpus Christi where Tricia is from). Then the assembly line started. Tricia cut the corn husks after drying them and using a butter knife, we spread the masa onto the husks - not too thick and not too thin, enough to cover the husk.

Russ took one rounded teaspoon of meat and lined it a little to the right of center on the masa.

Then you simply roll it up, pinching the bottom and folding over the top of the corn husk.

It started off kind of slow, but Tricia told me that this old gringo (me) got pretty fast at it.  We stacked them in dozens off to the side.

When all was said and done, we had enough masa to make 7 1/2 dozen tamales. Our meat would have made about 8 1/2 dozen tamales had we not run out of masa. Now that we have our quantities figured, next time we'll make 10 dozen tamales and that should need 4 1/2 pounds meat, 11 cups of dry masa and 2 eight ounce bags of corn husks.

Of the 7 1/2 dozen we made, we decided to eat 2 dozen of them for supper.  We stood them up to steam them, adding water in the bottom and we allowed them to steam for 45 minutes.

Then, it was time to eat!  I kind of tore these up getting them out of the husk, so it is not a great picture, but you'll have to excuse me.  I was more ready to eat than I was at executing a really good picture.  We added some homemade salsa on top.  There wasn't much talking around the table as we were busy eating.  They were really good!  I think Tricia was pleased with the outcome.  I know we were.

Tamales freeze well, so we froze the remaining 5 1/2 dozen in the deep freeze. Tricia will bag these up in Zip Loc bags and we'll be able to thaw them, steam them and enjoy them again sometime soon.

Homemade tamales - a new tradition in our family.  Good to eat and a lot of fun to make!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Cleaning Up After the Bees

We’ve had a colony of bees living in the hollow column of our side entrance for years now.  Due to the location of the hive, we’ve been unable to get any of the honey, but we’ve enjoyed them living there due to the fact that they pollinate our plants.  In a post from early May, we showed you the bees bearding up outside the entrance to their hive.  They either do this when it is too hot or when a new queen is leaving in a swarm.

During the last week of June, we noticed diminished activity in the hive, with only a few bees flying in and out.  Then, one afternoon we opened the door and smelled a foul odor.  It was a sickly sweet fermented odor, with a slight alcohol scent.  We looked down at the base of the column and noticed honey running out of the bottom.

Fermented honey (meade) running out of the bottom of the column
It really stunk and it was attracting bugs.  I knew that something had to be done to clean out the honeycomb filled with souring honey out of the column.  I got our jack and a 4 x 4 and jacked up the roof of the side porch enough so that I could pull the column out.

The fiberglass column, even though it is hollow, was very heavy and as I pulled it out, maggots began falling from the cap of the column that contained some honeycomb.  it was just a nasty exercise. Benjamin helped me pull the thing out of the way so that we could start working on it.

Pulling the column out
As we pulled out the column, a bunch of honeycomb with rotten honey and maggots poured out.  
Quick inspection showed that there was a lot of honeycomb still in the column, lining the interior and going about 4 feet down.

Using a T-post I started scraping the interior and pulling out honey-saturated honeycomb.

Here is a closer look:

The Honeycomb hideout
It was pretty nasty stuff:

I wish we could have gotten to this while it was still good
We sprayed as much of the honey and honeycomb out of the column as we possibly could and sprayed a bleach and water solution on the inside out outside of the column to try to knock down some of the awful smell.

We had a big pile of honeycomb and sticky rotten honey by the back door that fell out when we moved the column and another pile that we scraped out in the yard.  We shoveled all of the honeycomb that we removed into a 5 gallon bucket and we threw it in the pasture.  We learned a couple of things in the process:

1.       Chickens like to eat honey-drenched honeycomb, and
2.       Black socks and flip flops aren’t going to get me on the cover of GQ magazine.

Oh, one other thing we learned: I’m going to talk to some beekeeper friends of mine.  I already miss the bees.  I want to see if they’ll bring a new swarm of bees to our house.  This time in a beebox and we'll put it in the backyard.  We'll be able to get the honey off of this one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Strange Fruit Taste Test

We had our niece and nephew visiting with us from Houston for the week.  They love helping out with all of the farm chores and have named our guinea fowl interesting names such as “Beak” and “Marshmallow” and “Pepper.”  Our niece and nephew have spent a great deal of time out in the pasture and up in the loft of the barn where they discovered a broody hen sitting on a nest of 13 eggs.  (No wonder we’ve been collecting fewer eggs!)

In the evening we have been playing games.  They taught us a game called “sardines,” which is simply Reverse Hide and Seek.  In this game, one person hides, the others look for them and as they find them, they hide with them.  The last person to find the hiders is “it” and they hide for the next round.  We also have had interesting conversations at supper time and we got to talking about our favorite fruits – mine is mango.

We got to talking about durian fruit.  Yuck!  I would NEVER try that.  Then, Noah, our nephew, told us about Dragon Fruit.  I had never heard of it.  He told me he’d like to try it.  So, at lunch on Monday, I went driving around Lake Charles in search of strange fruit.   At Albertson’s I found the following “strange for us” fruits – from left to right: Mango, Papaya, and DRAGON FRUIT!!! 

Mango, Papaya and Dragon Fruit
Who would have ever thought?  Noah was pretty fired up!

Dragon Fruit, also called pitahaya, is the fruit of a cactus that grows in Mexico, Central America, and in Asia.  The flower of this cactus blooms only at night and are pollinated by bats and moths.  It is a weird looking thing – a bright pinkish-red thing with fleshy soft spines with a yellowish tinge on the top.

Dragon Fruit
Time to try our cornucopia of tropical fruits.  We gathered in the kitchen and cut up the mango and promptly devoured that thing.  Delicious!  Even the huge seed was stripped of all its flesh.  Then we cut open the papaya.  As opposed to the large seed of the mango, the papaya has many small seeds resembling the poop of our baby goats.  That’s not very appetizing, I know.  I scooped out all of the seeds and sliced it up.  It was good, but it doesn’t really compare to the sweet awesomeness that is the mango.

Alright, time for the pièce de résistance.  I cut the Dragon Fruit in half, revealing a bright fuchsia outer layer and white flesh, speckled with tiny white seeds!

Cutting open the Dragon Fruit
I peeled back the rind and pulled out the flesh and began slicing:

Ain’t that something else?!

We assembled a nice platter of strange fruit for us to snack on, papaya at the upper portion of the plate, dragon fruit at the lower right, and mango on the lower left.

Our Strange Fruit Tray
I have waited until now to tell you how the Dragon Fruit tasted. With a $9.75 price tag, I really expected the Dragon Fruit to cause a flavor explosion on my taste buds coupled with fireworks, flames billowing out of my mouth like a fire-breathing dragon and a burst of energy that would make me fly around the room. I think my expectations were too high. It didn’t happen.

The Dragon Fruit had a subtle scent, reminiscent of a rainforest with a slight oakiness, hints of leather and a finish of berries, vanilla, coupled with cherries on the tongue. Okay, I’m lying. The Dragon Fruit smelled fresh and had the taste of a kiwifruit with a bit of watermelon. You can eat the seeds, similar to kiwi. It was really good, but from a sheer taste standpoint, we agreed the strange fruit ranking was:

1. Mango,
2. Dragon Fruit,
3. Papaya

It was a fun experiment and we all enjoyed it – even the ‘big’ kids, Tricia and I. We’ll do it again soon. I already saw another fruit we’ll try – quince. I’ve never eaten quince. I’ll tell you this, though – I ain’t trying durian, no sir!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What’s in the Hen?

In Yesterday’s Post about butchering the Barred Rock Hen that kept escaping, I hinted at something interesting that I wanted to show you.  Perhaps you’ll find it interesting, too. I know I did.  We’ve butchered hundreds and hundreds of Cornish Cross meat birds over the years.  Those birds are butchered when they are between 8 – 12 weeks old, so their reproductive systems aren’t fully formed and visible.

In butchering the hen that was laying eggs, though, her reproductive system was, of course, fully formed.  I was able to see, up close and personal, a chicken anatomy lesson.  While interesting, it was also a little sad because you could see all of the eggs contained in the hen that will never be laid.  I’ll lay (pardon the pun) the blame for that squarely on her shoulders though.

Warning: GRAPHIC

So when I eviscerated the hen, here’s what came out:

I arranged it all on the cutting board where you can see the eggs in chronological order.  According to this informative site: it gives a great explanation to what is going on within the hen.  I’ll give the Cliff’s notes from the article mentioned above.  I found it so educational. The yolks are developed in the ovary and then goes into the oviduct.  Within the oviduct, changes occur that add the albumen or egg white and then the shell, and this creates what we all know to be the incredible, edible egg.  It takes a little longer than a 24 hour day for the complete transformation from a yolk to an egg. 

Here is the full reproductive tract visual aid that I snipped from the aforementioned website:

Image Credit
If you follow the diagram above, you can follow the process of the creation of the egg.  First, the yolk enters the oviduct which is the long tube.

The infundibulum is where fertilization takes place.  An egg does NOT need to be fertilized in order to be laid.  It will just be non-fertile.  Many people falsely assume that you need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs.  This is not true.

The magnum is where the egg white (albumen) forms.

The isthmus is where the shell membranes form.

The Shell Gland is where the shell forms.  The shell is made of calcium carbonate.  This is why it is very important to give your hens a good supply of calcium.  We offer ground oyster shells free choice at all times.

The vagina provides the muscle to push the egg out.

And that is how the hen lays an egg.  Let’s take a closer look at the hen’s ovary from my dissection, shall we?:

So many eggs, you can't count them!
You can see many ‘future eggs’ (really the ovum) in various stages of development.  So you can look at this and get some idea of the number of eggs that were sacrificed by me butchering the hen.  If this was a goose laying golden eggs, I made a HUGE mistake!  A Barred Rock hen can lay up to 280 eggs per year.  I didn’t try to count all of the ovum, but it is a fair guess to say that there are hundreds of ovum in the photo.

Looking closer at two of the larger ovums (yolks) you can see that these were almost fully developed and the resulting eggs would have been fully formed and laid within the next few days.

I just thought it was a pretty neat biology lesson. 

We can see a thousand miracles around us every day. What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?”
 S. Parkes Cadman

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Stiff Penalty for Trespassing

Last week IN THIS POST we explained our frustrations with one disobedient barred rock hen that has been escaping the pasture fence every single day.  She has 3 acres of grass to free range on.  But noooo…  The fugitive hen somehow escapes and has scratched around the base of one of our blueberry bushes and killed it.  Each day when I’d get home, I would get the net, chase her down in the yard and toss her back over the fence.  Sometimes, she’d see me coming and run quickly and squeeze back through the fence.  Another afternoon last week, I spent $65 and 30 minutes affixing a smaller mesh fence to the area where we thought she was squeezing through the holes in the hog wire.  We spent far too much money and time trying to keep her within the spacious confines of the pasture.  Desperate times call for desperate actions.

Thursday I caught her outside the fence for the umpteenth time and looked her in the eye and warned her, “If I catch you out of the fence again, you’ll be called before a jury of your peers and if found guilty, justice will be executed swiftly and you’ll pay dearly for your crime of trespassing.”  Friday I returned home to find the hen in the backyard.  She didn’t seem the least bit remorseful.  Somewhere in the distance a dog howled.  I put her in “jail” until I would have time for jury selection, trial, and the sentencing phase of the Our Maker’s Acres Family Farm judicial system.  Once behind bars, she added insult to injury by attempting to bribe me, laying an egg to prove her worth and value.  I was having none of it and expressed to her that I can’t be bought.

Heartbreak Hotel
Saturday morning the courtroom was called to order and with the flock looking on, she was found guilty by a somewhat unsympathetic and biased judge.  She was sentenced to death and the gallows were constructed in the limbs of the pear tree, a nice pastoral place in front of the garden picket fence. 

… And a partridge chicken in a pear tree!
I started a pot of water scalding and with a sharp knife, the long arm of the law administered the rueful remedy to the barred rock’s roaming.  Justice was meted out.

By the time she had bled out, the water had reached 145 degrees and I dunked her several times and pulled out all of her remaining feathers.  If you recall, I had trimmed both wings a few days prior in an unsuccessful attempt to keep her in the pasture in the event she was flying over the fence.

Once she was plucked clean, I quickly pulled her head off, cut her feet off and gutted her, burying her feathers and entrails in the garden where she’ll grow some mighty fine vegetables this fall.  Then I left her carcass to age in a pot of ice water for the afternoon.

Aging the hen all day in ice water
This little parable was a teachable moment (hopefully) to any of the other hens that watched this spectacle in the event that any of them should adopt the fugitive hen’s repeated parole violations.  The grass in NOT always greener on the other side.  While I would have much rather have her still on the pasture laying eggs for us, I must admit that it was nice Sunday morning and Monday afternoon to NOT have to waste time catching her.  She’ll make a nice meal for us one day soon, too!  By the way, I have an interesting (albeit gory) think to show you about this hen that I found very, very interesting.  I’ll likely show you in tomorrow’s post.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Making Homemade Corn Tortillas

We had made some homemade corn tortillas in the past with some corn that we soaked and put in the food processor to make the corn masa.  While they were good, the dough was hard to work with and the consistency just wasn't right.  I don't know if maybe the food processor didn't get the corn ground up as fine as it needed to be.

Anyway, Tricia wanted to try again, so she ordered some organic corn masa from Azure Standard Co-op.  It came in the delivery last week in a 5 pound bag.  She added some warm water and salt to some of the masa and let it sit for an hour. Then she kneaded it with her hands, making a nice dough.

Ready to Roll!
She grabbed a nice-sized amount in her hand and rolled it into a ball slightly larger than a ping pong ball.

We have a cast iron tortilla press that we use to press out fresh corn tortillas.  Just place the ball in the center between two pieces of plastic (so it doesn't stick).

Applying some pressure
When you open the press up, you have a perfectly round corn tortilla, ready to put on the griddle or comal or skillet.

Tricia placed the corn tortilla on the heated comal for a little while.

Then she flipped it over once it had risen a bit.  The fragrance of the corn tortillas cooking filled the kitchen!

Fresh Corn Tortilla ready to eat...
Tricia had deboned one of our chickens and seasoned it with cumin and other spices.  She also made some Mexican rice.  Another side dish was refried black beans.  She soaked her beans and then cooked them.  When done, she used an immersion blender to puree them.  Then she added a tablespoon of oil to a skillet and added the black beans.  Over time the water will steam off of the beans and the process of stirring them makes for great, flavorful refried black beans.  Not appetizing to look at, mind you, but delicious.

What a meal!  Stay tuned as we'll now make homemade tamales with the masa.  This ought to be fun to make and even more fun to eat!!
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