Archive for December, 2012

A Very Merry Christmas to You!

Posted on December 21st, 2012 by Tonia 2 Comments

The world is tucked in for the night under drifts of soft snow.
The chickens are nestled all snug in on their shed.
The dogs are anxious and ready to go.
They know at Grandma’s house lots of treats will be fed.
But the roads are icy so we’ll have to drive slow.

Have a very merry Christmas, all! We are heading off to be with our families for the holiday. Looking forward to the good company and good food. Meet you back here in about a week!

Tonia, Mike, Charlie, Jack, Cleo, the chickens and the horses.

Natural Beauty: Winter Routine + Why You Should Stop Eating High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Posted on December 20th, 2012 by Tonia 6 Comments

I can feel it happening–the itchy, tight feeling my skin gets as we enter winter and the air becomes dry and cold. I believe the not-so-scientific term for it is “winter skin”, and it can actually be painful. You know what I’m talking about–that feeling that you will die if you don’t scratch the itch immediately, only the problem is that everywhere itches!

Thankfully there are a number of ways to combat winter skin and keep yourself feeling and looking your best. Here is my recipe for success/winter beauty routine:


Olive Oil and Sugar Scrub: Follow the link and whip up a jar of this glorious scrub. Use it in the shower after your usual soap. It exfoliates dead skin and leaves you moisturized and protected. Hot water is very drying…But I love a good hot shower. The olive oil in the scrub will help keep the water from drying you out, and contains fatty acids that are great for your skin {You can also use it to make homemade hair conditioner!}

I also like this recipe. It’s more time consuming to make, but the ginger and coconut together smells amazing. I add a little bit of orange essential oil as well, which makes it smell like sherbet!

Coconut Oil: This oil improves skin firmness and elasticity, and conveniently hardens into a solid at any temp below 75 degrees. I keep it in the bathroom vanity and slather it on all over my body after showers. It’s very light and absorbs quickly. I even use it on my face and it does not make me break out, even though I have sensitive skin. I buy a tub of it {the organic kind} at the health food store, and it’s very economical.


Argan Oil: Rich in Vit. E and fatty acids, this oil gives your face a beautiful glow and smooth texture without sitting heavily on the skin. It’s perhaps a little too much for the summertime {unless you have dry skin}, but it’s perfect as a daily moisturizer in the winter. It’s pricey, so I use it only on my face.

I wear less make-up in the winter because it tends to dry my skin out {I use this in the summer. LOVE it.}. My daily winter make-up routine consists of a little eye-brow filler and some cheek color. Pretty easy!

I love the Argon Color Stick by Josie Maran because it is moisturizing, but recently I came across this blog post, showing how to make cheek stain from beet juice. I tried it, and I LOVE it! It works great and the color is really natural and pretty–like you just walked in from the cold. It also lasted all day without needing to be re-applied.

The only trick is to not cook the beets too long. The juice turns brown instead of staying that pretty purple-pink color if you do. I tried to make this cheek stain in large batches so I could give it to friends as a gift, and found that it was better done in small one-off batches. You don’t get much juice out of a couple beets, but since a tiny bit of it is enough to color your whole cheek, a little goes a long way.

Since I wear less makeup in the winter, I don’t feel the need to I wash my face every day. Sometimes I splash it with water in the morning to get the sleep out of my eyes, but I don’t wash my face with soap more than once every few days. Soap dries out my skin and the hot water expands my pores–two undesirable things. When I do wash it, I use a face soap with exfoliates in it to slough away dead skin. If I can feel a break-out coming on, I use a homemade mask like this one to draw out the impurities in my skin.

I used to have problem skin–zit break-outs happening on a regular basis with very little “clear” time in between–but I have seen a dramatic change in the past year and I believe it’s due to two things: Not washing my face more than a couple times a week, and avoiding high-fructose corn syrup like the plague. I discovered both by accident.

Mike and I went camping last fall with a couple friends, and I did not wash my face for a week. When we left home I had zits in the usual places: my chin and forehead. When we emerged from the woods, my face was dirty from hiking and camping but perfectly clear of acne! I decided to wash my face as infrequently as possible after that, leaving my skin alone to do its thing. It is, afterall, an organ. My skin is now capable of achieving a natural balance of oil because I’m no longer stripping it of its natural oil and then replacing it with different oil (from a moisturizer) all the time.

These days, when I get a zit here and there I know it’s because of keeping a poor diet that week (like around the holidays when I eat too many sweets). I’m especially sensitive to high-fructose corn syrup. Last summer Mike announced that he had read somewhere about how high-fructose corn syrup causes inflammation in the body and that we should purge our home of anything that contains it.

Into the trash went the katsup, the salad dressing, the crackers, the cookies, and more. I was shocked at how many things had it in it, especially because we try our best to keep whole, unprocessed, organic foods in the house. But it’s a sneaky ingredient and it really is in almost everything that comes in a package. Tossing out all that food was a great wake-up call.

Since then we haven’t eaten the stuff unless it’s completely unavoidable, like when you’re stuck on a plane and you’re super hungry and they bring you a packet of those little gingerbread cookies and so you eat them. Desperate moments of weakness aside, my skin thanks me for abstaining from high-fructose corn syrup. I’m sure there are many other health reasons you should not eat high-fructose corn syrup as well, but for me having clear skin for the first time since I was 13 is reason enough. I am so, so, so happy to have left the problem-skin era of my life behind me!

Winter Storm + (Almost) Famous Friends

Posted on December 14th, 2012 by Tonia No Comments

We woke up this morning to white light streaming in through the windows, which can only mean one thing: Fresh snow! A whole foot of fresh snow–to be exact–stealthily fell during the night. And the forecast calls for more to fall over the weekend, so I guess it’s time to break out the ice skates and skis and snow-pants! My friends Sarah and Ashley had the right idea this morning, and ended up appearing on the local news when they were spotted out on a trail with their skis by a reporter (at 1:03 in the video below–which probably won’t work if you’re viewing this on a mobile device, sorry!)



Lookin’ good, ladies!!

We’re planning a weekend of slow mornings spent with delicious books and multiple cups of coffee, skiing, sauna, and belly-warming soup made from the contents of the root cellar. And I’m buckling down and working on a few handmade Christmas gifts as well.

What do your wintertime activities look like?

***Update: Unspeakable evil happened yesterday. While I was peacefully sipping coffee and writing this post, 20 children and 6 adults lost their lives in Newtown, CT. This news is absolutely crushing. I am brought to tears every time I think about it. We are shutting off the electricity in our house tonight and lighting candles in our windows as a vigil to the innocent lives that were lost. I hope you’ll join me in praying hard for the families that are suffering.

Raising Backyard Pigs: Butchering

Posted on December 12th, 2012 by Tonia 36 Comments

Well, here it is. The promised pig butchering post. Please be aware that the images in this post are upsetting–even to those of us that eat meat–and I encourage you to not look at this post if you don’t want to see a dead animal/some blood. We are choosing to share this story and these photos because we want to discuss with you, our brave readers, what it really means to be an omnivore. Most of the world consumes meat products daily without a second thought to where it came from/what the life and death of that animal was like. If these photos disturb you, then please take a moment to think very carefully about where the meat you eat comes from–or whether or not you even want to eat meat at all–because I assure you that this is about as “nice” as it gets in the world of animal slaughter.

First and foremost, we want to say THANK YOU to our friends Jenn and Trevor, who helped us with the entire process. They arrived bright and early in their work pants and mud boots, sipping coffee, and they didn’t leave until well after dark when the very last pork chop was wrapped and taped and laid to rest in the freezer. You guys are amazing and I don’t know what we would have done without you! Thank you.

Mike prepared for this day by helping to butcher a hog at a nearby farm and reading nearly every book ever written on the subject. While we intended to prepare some of the traditional American cuts, we also wanted to prepare the meat for some of our favorite traditional Spanish and Italian specialties. Doing so requires a slightly different approach to the butchering process.

While you can gain nearly all of the knowledge you will need to properly butcher a hog from books (this one helped us immensely: Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing) and YouTube videos, nothing beats experience. Any kind of butchering experience will help, but knowing and seeing the anatomy of the hog and understanding the natural anatomical guides would be very difficult without experiencing the process firsthand. Mike had previous experience from butchering deer but stressed that it is both figuratively and literally, “a different animal.”

It’s not the same thing as hunting. When you hunt deer, you’re not killing an animal that you have an emotional connection to. And most of the time you’re physically removed from them as well–too far away to see their eyes or hear them breathing their last breath. When we killed our pig, we were kneeling right next to her. We petted her and thanked her for her life. She was eating breakfast, and then it was all over. Mike used a gun and she dropped immediately.

We all cried. But I was–even then–struck by how fast it all went and how humane it seemed. She was alive, and then she wasn’t.

After the hardest part was done, I was overcome with energy and the desire to get to work. There’s something therapeutic about physical labor, but I think what I was feeling was more than just a desire to distract myself. I didn’t want any of the meat to go to waste. I wanted us to do the very best job we possibly could, to honor her life.

The first task at hand was to move the carcass over to the scalding tank, dip it in, and scrape the hair off. Seeing as she was about 345 lbs, this was a job for the tractor. Trevor and Mike wound wire around the legs, clipped the wire to a pallet on the front of the tractor, and slowly transported her to the tank.

The water needs to be around 165F for scalding hair. We built a fire under the tank to heat the water, and then kept it from getting too hot by running cold hose water into it now and then.

We submerged the carcass until the hair pulled easily from the rough part of the shoulder, and then it was time to start scraping. The tool for scraping off hair is called a bell scraper, and it is your friend. A knife would work in a pinch, but the bell scraper makes this tedious job go much smoother. It is only necessary to remove the hair from the sections that you want to keep the skin-on (some ham and bacon recipes require this). You can filet the skin off of the rest.

Once most of the hair was removed, we cleaned the skin with the hose and moved the carcass over to the barn. This was an exciting moment because it was when we finally were able to weigh her and see how big she was. I guessed 325, Mike guessed 320. She was 345 lbs!

Mike made the first cut, down the center of the belly, so we could remove the organs. This part was fascinating. The insides were so clean and beautiful. Anatomy has always interested me, and it was so neat to get to touch every organ and examine them up close. Bodies are amazing.

We removed the liver and heart and packaged them for the freezer. We then pulled out the small and large intestines and removed the sheath from around them (an external lining that fixes the organs in place.) We squeezed any remaining contents out of the intestines, ran fresh water through them with the hose, turned them inside out and soaked them in water. They are then placed in a salt brine for storage until they are used as casings for sausage.

The small intestines are generally used for fresh sausages like bratwurst and chorizo and are fully edible, while the large intestine is used for traditional European recipes like Soppresata and other salumi varieties. The large intestine is generally not eaten, but used as a casing that is peeled away upon consumption. They are commonly called hog middles.

After removing the head and jowel meat, Mike and Trevor sawed the carcass in half so we could start to section it into the different cuts of meat: hams, belly, picnic ham, shoulder, etc. This was an exhausting job, as you’re cutting through bone. At this step, many folks follow the process similar to butchering a deer–removing limbs and cutting away pieces from the carcass while it hangs. There is no right or wrong method, really. However for our purposes, “halving” the hog was best. We wanted to end up with bone-in porkchops, which require this step. It also allows you to lay the half-hog on a table and to methodically partition it into its respective cuts.

Jenn and Trevor worked on skinning the parts of the carcass where we didn’t need the skin on while Mike cut up the other half on the butchering table. Skinning portions of the hog allow you to gather back fat, which can ultimately be turned into lard, or even more preferably, used in sausage. As Mike would finish each cut, he would pass the meat to me and I’d package them in layers of freezer paper, tape each one tightly, and label them.

This is the pork belly, which is what bacon and Pancetta are made of. In this photo Mike is sectioning the ham {hind leg} away from the belly. The ham can be used for American-Style glazed holiday ham or can be made into your own version of Italian Prosciutto or Spanish Iberían Ham. It is best to use a giant meat clever and a mallet instead of a bone/meat saw. A saw tears the meat while a clever leaves a clean cut.

This is what one of the hams looked like after it was packaged. HUGE!! I could barely lift it! It is okay to freeze hams that you intend to cure and/or hot smoke, though if you intend to salt and air-dry a ham (Prosciutto) then it is best done fresh.

This is what over 300 lbs of meat looks like in the freezer…When it was all said and done, we only had about 20 lbs of waste. The only parts we did not use were the head, the stomach and the gall-bladder (all of which we could have used, but we’re not particularly fond of the products they make–such as Head Cheese.) It felt really great to have so little waste! The fact that every part of a pig’s body is useful and edible is the main reason it is the most popular meat animal in the world.

The next steps for us are to render the lard we saved, cure the cuts that need curing–such as the belly and hams–and to make different kinds of sausage. We will follow up with posts about these projects soon, so stay tuned!

So tell us…after seeing the process from beginning to end, how do you feel about eating pork? I’m anxious to hear your thoughts. I’ll leave you with the closing point that it is our belief that this pig’s life (and death) was much more humane than it would have been in a commercial slaughter-house.