Sunday, January 25, 2015

Betwixt Two Snows, And Chicken Stock a la Foot

 I can't decide if we've endured enough winter just yet to warrant a cry for green growing things and fuzzy peeping things, but the wish for the lush and the warm and the long days of summer is sitting at the edge of my mind, growing more stubborn by the day. I think maybe it's just an inevitable facet of intertwining one's life with land and beast that you find yourself with one foot in the current season, the other in the next. Gus's new winter mittens are hot off the needles and I just picked back up his sweater, which is finally approaching the two-thirds mark. And all the while we're thumbing through catalogues, circling our favorite breeds of chicks to raise and new veggies we want to grow this year.  So here we are, for the most part happily, in a place of both Winter and Spring, trying to not wish either too much closer or farther away. Trying, and mostly succeeding, to accept the beauty of another blanket of snow, the forced rest of another sick day, and the pleasure of last year's roots roasted with two years past's home cured prosciutto. Truth be told, it is not too terribly hard. 

Chicken Stock a la Foot

In the past few weeks, bookended by two great snows, we've really been used up nose to tail. Every inch of us tried. We've been physically and mentally strained with cracked ribs and scary infections, changes at work and disappointment with things we have no control over. And while I'm wont to applaud any act of using something up in its entirety, I must say I would like in the future to use a little less of ourselves, or perhaps spread the using out a bit more over time. We haven't found a stretch of days off that hasn't had one of us in bed for one reason or another and it feels like maybe something, somewhere is waiting for us to cry uncle. So, uncle! A thousand times over, she says from her sickbed. So in keeping with our current life's theme of Using It All Up, a brief how-to for stock made with chicken feet.

I'm not a believer in specifics when it comes to making stock. In our house what finds its way into the stock pot has more to do with what we've eaten the previous week rather than any sort of adherence to a recipe. For a good stock I've learned all you need are basics. Some veg scraps, salt, and then of course animals parts if you wish to make something other than a vegetable stock.

For years I've heard the praises of a chicken stock made with chicken feet and quite honestly, I couldn't imagine chicken feet making that much of a difference. But after a three rooster culling a few weeks ago we found ourselves with feet a plenty and I thought might as well! And here I type converted. A better stock has never left my kitchen. So, if you find yourself lucky enough to have access to chicken feet, use them. Trust me.

How to Prepare Chicken Feet for Stock

Put a small pot of water on to boil and prepare an ice water bath.

Clean chicken feet and rub them in salt.

Once your water is at a boil, drop salted chicken feet in the water. Allow them to boil 30 seconds to a minute, or until their color has gotten vibrant, much like you would when blanching a vegetable. Do not over boil or the skin will be really difficult to remove.

Remove your chicken feet from the water and immediately plunge them into the ice water bath. Allow them to cool for a minute or so. This will make the peeling easier.

Trim the first knuckle off all the toes and very carefully make a long cut from the top of the foot to the bottom. Begin peeling from this cut. There are two layers of skin that you want to removes from the feet. When all the skin is removed your feet should be a light fleshy color and look like bone, tendon, and fat.

Now you are ready to make stock. Combine your feet with veg, salt, water, and any other bones you might wish to use for your stock. Boil away and taste perfection.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

In Which We Are Animals

Recently Gus has been of the mind to wonder how nice would it be if we were animals? He considers it while dangling a yo-yo-cum-horribly insensitive dog alarm through the stairs over sleeping pups. He asks it of us from the sidelines of whatever too-big-for-you-who-are-still-so-little task Craig and I find ourselves wrapped up in. And it's never just animals that he wonders us to be; there is always the stipulation that we imagine ourselves Animals With Nothing To Do. It's terribly sweet and naive, for, save beasts led by human hand, I think we could agree animals most often find themselves in positions of having everything to do. But what I hope for him is that as he ages out of a wholly innocent mind into one that bears the weight of life and death with all its joy and turmoil, he can cling to this perception of his. That to meet one's own needs isn't a burden of everything to do at all, but rather a privilege of the living. And until then may he have as many days spent as Animal, chasing sun spots 'round the house, cup of switchel in hand and an avid reader of all Winnie-ther-Pooh's tales by his side.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nog for the New Year

Happy New Year's Eve from a darkened northern corner of the states. I'm up before sun and family, and am happy to see that there is in fact a time of morning at which the chickens are not demonstrating their ultimate power over me by roosting mere inches away from my front door. As I wait for the last day of 2014 to crack itself open, and really it can take its time, I'm caught up with the age-old signpost for new year behavior: the beloved and bemoaned resolution, or intention if we're feeling New Age-y today. I want to hate resolutions. I want to say that today, any day, is the day for change, for righting the course or making one's self better, but the truth is I believe in and feel the power of a fresh year. Despite it being just another rotation of the earth, only slightly different than those preceding, New Year's Day has a weight to bear that's all its own and I can't help but take it a little more carefully into my hands.

Last night as we decompressed from the day, a child fresh in bed and the kettle close to a whistle, I called Next Big Animal. And I'm sure you're just as unclear on what that means as Craig was at the time, unless of course you've found yourself in a similar situation needing to call Next Big Animal for yourself. What I mean is that I'm tired of waiting. No more cows, save those that come by way of the maidens already in our charge, and perhaps, much to even my own disappointment, no more pigs for now. Sheep is the word. And if we're being honest, Patience is also the word. Wouldn't it be something to just buy a flock? And before that to have bought all the cedar fence posts one would need so as to have Peace regarding one's livestock and the road that runs right in front of their pastures? Is it not one of the the great ironies of the world- the money and resources needed to farm? But as my loving husband said to pull me out of an anxiety spiral set off by talk of water pumps and permanent fencing for our growing herd, let us live in today, with today's problems. Indeed.

The eternal struggle to find balance was at an all-time, tipping-towards-an-utter-lack-of, destructive high at the end of this current year, and I've only just realized how deeply affected we all were by it in the past few days as things have eased up. As we move into longer days in the new year I'm committed to seeking balance, as cliche as that may ring. I'm reasonable enough to know there is no ultimate balance, each day a different set of circumstances with a different set of needs, but a consciousness set towards striking somewhere within range of that elusive ideal should help avoid the crash and burn I felt, and thus so did the entire family, in the past month or so. Right? I need to believe that family, farm, and shop can exist healthily, productively, and happily in the same realm.

A few days ago, as I was coming up for air and returning to my most basic and essential habits, I made homemade eggnog. It's always a great victory when in the dead of winter I realize I can make something we all love almost entirely from local producers. Now, Craig would tell you I made sweet milk. And Gus, I never got much of a critique beyond seeing the bottom of a nog glazed jelly jar. But myself, I was quite pleased and told the naysayers they could keep their paws off my sweet milk, thank you very much. What ultimately brought the homemade eggnog into question was a dearth of creaminess. I, in my quest for an All Things Maine Eggnog, opted out of using cream. Although its base was a creamy raw milk, it was still all milk, all the way, whereas a typical eggnog is made somewhere in the 40/60 range of cream to milk. It is perfectly fitting though, to emerge from a fog of life lived in extremes with a recipe that lacks traditional balance.

When the clock ticks us into to a new year this late evening, I hope that you all find yourselves in a place of contentedness, whether that be in a cozy bed long since asleep or with your lips firmly planted on someone you love, or at the very least someone you think of fondly. Perhaps you're not one for resolutions, and if that's the case I hope your journey gets its breath of fresh air whenever you see fit. But, if you are that sort of person, go forth! Seize that energy that wells up in so many of us this time of year and do your best to extend it indefinitely. And now, as for me, the sun is up, full and proper, and there is much to be done.

Homemade Eggnog

First and foremost, I cannot stress how essential it is to gather your raw milk and pastured eggs from trusted sources. Of course you can sub in some large scale dairy, but I would never ever suggest that you eat raw eggs from the grocery store. At this point in the season our egg basket is so low that we eat them fresh and can't justify sacrificing them for a treat like eggnog. Instead, I seek out farms who produce eggs ethically and humanely, as closely to the way we care for our own hens as possible, to sub in when our numbers fall short. My hope is that all who try this recipe will do the same.

As luck would have it, we were completely out of nutmeg when it came time to add the spice so I had to improvise, resulting in an eggnog that could be mistaken for a chai. Perhaps we've discovered, at least in part, why some were less than believing in the homemade nog. That being said, I'm a convert to the multi-spice eggnog and I think you will be, too, if you give it a try.

It's also of note that homemade eggnog is not your mama's eggnog. The ingredients and their quantities make for something that more than verges on healthful. Perhaps we shouldn't wash all our meals down with it but you need not serve yourself seconds with a side of guilt.

6 yolks from eggs of hens on pasture
1/4 cup raw honey
5 cups raw full cream milk
2 tablespoons genuine maple syrup, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon*
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cloves

*if you happen to have nutmeg that you can grate fresh, grate 1 teaspoon and reduce cinnamon to 1/2 a teaspoon.

Whether by hand or by machine, whisk egg yolks until fluffy and a touch lighter in color. Next, thoroughly blend egg yolks and honey. Once mixed and the seizing up of the honey due to the cold milk can be avoided, add in other ingredients. Mix thoroughly and serve liberally. Enjoy as far into the new year as your heart desires.