Meekle’s Blog – An Insight into Downsizing

Very Cold Morning
December 31, 2008, 8:52 am
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Just got up this morning – expecting a bit of a frost – nearly broke my arm falling (read sliding) down the steps. it is minus 6 celcius outside at the moment. quite a heavy frost. Even the cobwebs are frozen!

Thankfully i had the foresight to empty the water drinkers for the hens last night so all i had to do was to refill them this morning, not spend hours trying to defrost them first.

However the outside tap is frozen up and i dont fancy forcing it as knowing my luck it will break and i will then have a world of trouble when it thaws out so i am getting stern looks from the good lady because of the shavings and poop in the kitchen sink as that was the next nearest place for access to clean water – well thought i might as well give the drinkers a good clean as well whilst i was at it!!

Anyways, i have put the water back out for the chickens, but because i was worried it may refreeze again, i have put a couple of drops of glycerine in the water as this will stop it freezing so easily, plus give the hens a bit of an energy boost! reead it somewhere in a Katie Thear book……

However, for all that cold weather – i am still getting an egg a day on average from the Light Sussex hen (nicknamed Susie by the kids). She has started early this year so I wouldnt be surprised if she went broody come March – which should be in line with the others coming into lay.

At least this means that I am getting a source of protein in the form of eggs at the moment, however, between a family of four they are best used daily as pancakes or similar to stretch rather than trying to do fried eggs for each person! i woud use up nearly 5 days ration in one go!

I am down to my last basket full of logs today, so i need to get out there and either find a few fallen trees, or get a load ordered in. It will cost around £40 – 100 per load depending on how many i have. The small tralier for around£40 lasts me around 3 weeks of burning on tick over during the day with a boost at night when we are all sat around the fire, so hopefully £100 worth will see me right for a whole month of heavy buring!

Right – off to get some rock salt for the path before i attempt to break my neck again

Anyone else has some fun in the ice today??

December 29, 2008, 6:54 pm
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I fancy keeping some bees! I use a lot of honey and given the price of it – not too mention the decline of the native bee due to various bacteria and virii, i fancy a hive of my own.

So i contacted the local bee club and i now have two choices. Go to a one day course at a local college to learn the basics for £65 or attend one of the bee clubs courses which run over 7 nghts (theory) and seven days (practical) for £15…. gee now let me think?????

Musings from the day
December 20, 2008, 6:17 pm
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Well i have spent the day foraging for wood for the open fire to keep the house warm. the house itself is centrally heated using an oil fired boiler, but the lounge has an open fire so on the days when we just need a drop of heat in the lounge it is cheaper to light the fire.

Around us are lots of hedgerows and coppice’s, and quite often when you drive about you will see a fallen tree or branch on the roadside. So today i have scoured the lanes and collected some branches and the like and cut them up into small logs around 8″ long. I have stacked them against the side of the house on the least exposed side so that they can weather and dry out. Burning a newly cut log can be a waste of time as the heat from the fire tends to be used to dry out the log before it can be burnt, whereas a properly “seasoned log” that has been stacked for a while will burn better and longer and give more heat.

Another consideration is the type of wood. I cant be too fussy at the moment, but if you burn a softwood like pine, expect lots of sparks and spitting as it really burns very quickly and spitefully. Burning a hardwood like oak or ash produces very little sparks and plenty of long lasting heat. the majority of the wood i scavenged today is blackthorn and hawthorn so i expect it to spark a little and burn quite hot, the blackthorn is particularly dense grained which made it hard to split. This hopefully means it will burn for a long time.

A good guide to types of wood for buring can be found here

Home Cured Bacon
December 20, 2008, 6:07 pm
Filed under: Recipes

One of the best things in the world is to get up to a home cooked breakfast, knowing that you have restricted the amount of junk and chemicals going into you via additives, by making the food yourself from the word go.

Were you aware that the white scum that is left in your frying pan when cooking bacon is formed from a whole host of chemicals injected into the bacon to cure it and to hold water into the bacon making it look bigger and better value than it actually is? These chemicals are also used to “imprve the taste”

Loo at a commercial bacon and you will see all sorts of chemicals in the bacon including pottassium sorbate. This is used to force the bacon to hold more water. As soon as it starts to cook the water is released thus causing you once so large bacon rasher into a much smaller piece. The plus side is for the bacon producer, who sells you the bacon based on its weight – the more water it holds the heavier it is and the more he can charge you for it!

Anyways, how do you make your own bacon? Quite simply by getting a cut of pork (usually loin or belly) and adding salt. Having said that – although it will taste like bacon, it wont be as good looking as real bacon as when you cook pork cured in normal salt, it goes a grey colour when cooked – like an ordinary pork chop goes.

What you need is some proper curing salt. this is salt with an added chemical called Sodium Nitrite. this can be found naturally occurring in sea salt, but you can not guarantee how much is in each batch of salt, and the main reason we add it is to restrict the growth of the botulism bacteria and to help the bacon keep its pink colour.

Take your chosen piece of pork loin to cure, ideally with rind still on. Weigh it and measure out the right amount of cure mix. I use the basic bacon cure from Weschenfelder … f93ceec083 at the rate of 35g per kilo of pork. I make a sweet cure up for the black bacon using 35g of cure, 15g of granulated sugar (preferably silver spoon as its british) per kilo of pork.

I use the premade mix as it contains basically salt, with the addition of a small amount of sodium nitrite. this sounds bad, but it can be found naturally in sea salt.
Measure the thickest part of the loin to determine the cure time. 1 day per 1/2″ thickness, plus 1 day. So an average 2″ thick piece of pork would require 5 days to cure into bacon.

Once i have the right amount of cure out, i pierce the thick parts of the pork with a cocktail stick, to allow the cure to penetrate deeply. Apply the cure mix to every part of the loin, focussing 75% on the meat and 25% onto the rind (if retained)

Once you have rubbed in all the mix, place the pork into a plastic bag or a covered pyrex dish and keep in the refridgerator for the required time. Turn the pork over each day to ensure the even coating of the cure. You will notice after the first day some liquid has accumulated in the dish. Pour this off as it will discolour the rind.

Once the pork has cured for the prescribed time, remove from the dish and wash off any remaining cure. Dry it off with paper towels. At this point you have made basic sweet cure bacon. You can stop here if you like, wrap the bacon in muslin and hang to dry out either in the fridge or outside if it is colder than 4 degrees for a day or two. the longer you hang it the harder it becomes and therefore the more water you have driven out. This means less shrinkage in the pan.

If you want black bacon, once you have dried off the bacon, rub in a mix of spices at the rate of 1 and a half teaspoon per kilo of the following mix.

half tsp ground corriander
half tsp cinnamon
half teaspoon ginger

Once you have rubbed this all over the bacon, pour over some black treacle and massage into the bacon. Place in a clean pyrex dish and cure again in the fridge for a further 3 days, turning each day as before. Remove from fridge and wash off excess treacle.

You will now find that when you slice the bacon, you will have a black rind running all around the surface of the bacon, and the meat inside will have a dark ruby colour. It cooks beautifully without shrinkage and the taste is splendid.

So Far Today
December 19, 2008, 11:48 pm
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In the run up to Christmas, we have been into the main town in our area to do some banking to ensure that the relevantbills are covered for this week anyways! So what have we done to increase our life enrichment?

Today – we have taught our daughter how to make proper sponge cake – not one in a polythene wrap. Not only has it had the benefit of teaching her some basic maths (8oz + 4oz equals what? for example) but also science with the art of blending certain emulsifying agents (eggs) together with oils (margarines etc) etc together with starches (flour) to create cake batter. Plus we then had the enjoyment of consuming her hard work!

We also had a fourth egg from our hens. We have had hens in one shape or another now for nearly six years, but with the recent move to our rural location in the last couple of months, we have been able to build a proper, safe pen (cant free range due to high fox activity in the area) for them to live in. We have some old hens from our last house, including Elli our rescued battery hen, and a light Sussex called Susie. In addition to these we have two new POL (Point of Lay) Hens called Cochin hens, that appear to have trousers! They are phenomenally feathered birds, with loads of dense feathers – even down to their toes, which makes them ideal for our location as we are a bit exposed to the elements here so they will keep nice and warm.

Since we moved them over to here they went into a moult and we did not expect them to start laying until the beginning of February at the earliest, but this week we have been grateful to receive 4 eggs in 6 days from the hens – three of which were definitely attributable to our old hen Susie, and one we think is from the new Cochin hen, Blossom.

We keep the hens on a staple ration of layers pellets, even though we don’t expect them to lay, as the extra protein and nutrients required for laying hens is welcomed by them during the winter as it helps them keep condition. This food is always available to them in their main house come rain or shine as it is protected from the weather thus allowing them to come and go as they please without the food spoiling from rain lashing in! We supplement their food with table scraps such as stale bread, vegetable peelings and the like.

Recent government dictate states we cant give meaty scraps to birds involved in the food chain (i.e egg producers) in case of disease transmittal across species as was seen with BSE and CJD. However, we still give them the odd bit of bacon rind as they really love it. Keeping the hens in a pen allows us to move the pen every week or so to new grass. the supply of fresh grass means that the birds can scratch amongst it for goodies that really benefits them and gives beautiful almost orange coloured yolks.

We had a breakfast of a bacon sandwich, made with our own cured bacon and home made bread. If i had been able to find a local supply of plums i would have made the brown sauce too!

I will give you the recipe for home cured bacon in another post, but trust me, once you have tried it you will not want to buy supermarket bacon again!

December 19, 2008, 9:27 pm
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This is a new blog for me, the idea being to let you into the inner workings of how I have gone about trying to downsize my life with the family and hopefully help the planet at the same time.

Up until very recently, I have been employed as the director of a small architectural practice, with a nice income and more ways than i can count on how to spend it. the recent downturn in the current economic climate has lead to the company i worked for closing up – an me unemployed just before Christmas!

Thankfully my wife (some would say long sufferring) has already purchased most of the required presents, therefore, all we need to do is to make a Christmas out of it. I was earning somewhere around £1000 per week, now i am reduced to £94 per week. Obviously something has to give, and therefore we would like to downsize on things – have to downsize on things – to make ends meet.

We already had a head start on the idea, as both my wife and i have a keen interest on home skills and home grown things, but this recent turn of events has kick started it!

So my main priorities now are to keep the house and the sanity of my family going until such a time as i can rejoin the rat race. Paying for the house and basic bills is pretty much covered by the various insurance policies i had in place for that, therefore i will not bother the casual reader with the financial in’s and outs of the day to day running of the household, more to do with the various methods involved in surviving the lean times.