Pin It Crippen Creek Chronicles: 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Home Smoked Bacon

“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
-Doug Larson

Home Smoked Bacon

Col. Kilgore (Apocalypse Now) may love the smell of napalm in the morning but I prefer the smell of bacon. And I don’t mean the smell from a squad room full of cops. I’m talking about the smell of bacon frying in a cast iron skillet. (It’s ok for me to make that joke---I was one.) The pleasure is even greater with the knowledge that you have cured and smoked it yourself and raised the pig that provided it. While most of you reading this are not in a position to raise your own pig, we can help you out with that task, but that’s a discussion for another time. In the meantime, get down to your local butcher and get a nice piece of pork belly and let’s get started.

Here’s a recipe and method from The Paley’s Place Cookbook

3-5 pounds fresh pork belly skinned
1 teaspoon curing salt (optional)
1/4 cup freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup ground bay leaves
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt

To cure the meat, place the pork belly in a nonreactive storage container and rub thoroughly all over with curing salt. Rub the top surface of the belly with half the pepper, half the bay, half the sugar, and half the salt. Turn the belly over and repeat with the remaining pepper, bay, sugar, and salt.

Cover tightly and refrigerate for 2 days. Turn the belly over, cover, and refrigerate for 3 more days. Remove the meat and pat it dry with paper towels. Discard the curing liquid that has formed in the container. At this point, the bacon is ready to use as is or to smoke.

When the curing was done, I couldn’t wait to try it so I fried some up and found it just a little too salty for my taste so I submerged it in a container of cold water and refrigerated it overnight. I tried it again the next day and was very pleased with the result. The salt balance was perfect.

Then I smoked it for 5 hours using apple wood until the pork belly reached an internal temperature of 150 degrees. The taste and texture was amazing although I think the next time I will probably reduce the smoking time to 3 hours. Don’t hesitate to try this. It really is easy. Once you’ve tried it though, you may never settle for store-bought bacon again.

Fresh Pork Belly

Out of the fire

And into the frying pan

A couple of farm-fresh eggs to complete the experience

Have you ever done your own meat curing? Would you share your experiences with the rest of us? Since we just got our pig back from the butcher we will be venturing into more charcuterie so look for a posting soon on home cured pancetta.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Good Shepherd

If you have visited Crippen Creek, then you know very well that Jessie, our German Sheperd is a good watch dog, as she assertively challenges anyone approaching the house. She has never been trained as a herding dog and I have always wondered if she got in the pasture with the livestock if she would herd them or hurt them. Today I found out. Although German Shepherds were originally bred for herding, it seems they are mostly used in police work and as guide dogs, leaving the herding work to other breeds.

I was returning to the barn with the tractor, Jessie trotting along side and was shocked to see the pasture gate wide open and five of the sheep were out. I panicked a little fearing that Jessie would give chase and the sheep would scatter to parts unknown and never seen again. Jessie's herding instincts kicked in and she immediately started driving the sheep back to their rightful place. As soon as one was in the pasture she turned around and went after another one and had them all back in less than 5 minutes. So three cheers for Jessie!

Jessie and her flock

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't Count Your Chickens

"Don't count your chickens before they are hatched" is how the saying goes. And the same can be said for turkeys. The history of that saying comes from an Aesop Fable known as The Milkmaid And Her Pail. According to, it goes like this.

Patty, a farmer's daughter, is daydreaming as she walks to town with a pail of milk balanced on her head. Her thoughts: "The milk in this pail will provide me with cream, which I will make into butter, which I will sell in the market, and buy a dozen eggs, which will hatch into chickens, which will lay more eggs, and soon I shall have a large poultry yard. I'll sell some of the fowls and buy myself a handsome new gown and go to the fair, and when the young fellows try to make love to me, I'll toss my head and pass them by." At that moment, Patty tossed her head and lost the pailful of milk. Her mother admonished, "Do not count your chickens before they are hatched."

"So where am I going with this?" you ask. Several weeks ago I made a post about Turkeys that I received in the mail. I ordered 6 and received 11 of them surmising that the hatchery planned a high mortality rate. When they arrived they all looked like baby chicks although the 5 extra ones were a different color. I'm thinking this is a great windfall if they all survive. Well so far they have all survived and are thriving. They are all out of the brooder and on pasture. However the six that I ordered actually look like turkeys and the five extras are Rhode Island Red Roosters. What I have learned is that those roosters were sent along as sort of "packing peanuts" to keep the turkeys warm. I've tried separating the roosters from the turkeys by putting them in the chicken yard with the laying hens but they are having none of that. They insist on finding their way back to the Turkey yard and so there they will stay until Thanksgiving.

Eleven Turkeys? arrive in the mail

These are definitely turkeys

Hmmm, what's wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today's Harvest

Gardening has been exceptionally difficult this year in the Northwest due to a very wet Spring. Over 8 inches of rain fell in Skamokawa during the month of May so our garden got a late start this year. Summer seems to have come in fits and starts and has never really taken hold this year so I guess we will be grateful for whatever we can harvest this year. The basil has done very well.

Fresh Basil

Pesto Genovese ready for the freezer

Eggplant with more still coming on

First picking of Romano Beans

A mere handful of Haricot Vert

Tomato plants loaded with green tomatoes

One ripe heirloom tomato

We are still holding out hope for the tomatoes to ripen but it's a race against time as we are feeling fall in the air.

We failed again in growing garlic. I'm sure my Sicilian grandfather is rolling in his grave.

How about you? How has your garden fared this year?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Thanksgiving Preparations

Is it too early to start preparing for Thanksgiving? It's not if you are raising your own turkey. And that is what we started doing today. Eleven of them to be exact. We have never raised turkeys before so I only ordered six just to keep it manageable. They arrived in the mail and when we opened the box we were surprised to find eleven poults. I'm guessing that the hatchery expects a high mortality rate which gives credence to the stories I hear about turkeys being born trying to die.

If you are interested in ordering a pasture raised turkey this year, let us know and we will put you on the list but won't ask for a deposit at this time since we don't have a real sense of what the survival rate is. We'll keep you posted on their progress.

Have you ever raised a turkey? If so how about sharing your experience with the rest of us?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream

One day I was making an apple pie, and as one thing leads to another, I thought some ice cream would go nicely with this. While vanilla ice cream is certainly a classic pairing with apple pie, it just seemed a little boring. Then, I thought, since caramel goes well with apples, why not make some caramel sauce. But then it seemed like it was getting too involved so I decided to make a caramel ice cream. A little internet search turned up this gem from my latest favorite dessert author, David Lebovitz. I lack the ability to describe just how delicious this is. David is bold enough to claim that this recipe is better than the caramel ice cream at the famed Berthillon in Paris.
If you have an ice cream machine and get it out and try it for yourself. It's more involved than a simple vanilla ice cream but certainly worth the effort. Here is the recipe in David's own words. I see no reason to deviate from it.

If you like this, you will probably enjoy his books, The Perfect Scoop and Ready For Dessert.

For the caramel praline (mix-in)

½ cup (100 gr) sugar
¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel

For the ice cream custard

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided
1½ cups (300 gr) sugar
4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter
scant ½ teaspoon sea salt
1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a medium-sized, unlined heavy duty saucepan: I use a 6 quart/liter pan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.

2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)

Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it's just about to burn. It won't take long.

3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring (don't even pause to scratch your nose), then pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and lift up the baking sheet immediately, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

4. To make the ice cream, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water so they're floating. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts/liters) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.

5. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2.

6. Once caramelized, remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.

The caramel may harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.

7. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly. Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C).

8. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.

9. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

10. While the ice cream is churning, crumble the hardened caramel praline into very little bits, about the size of very large confetti (about ½-inch, or 1 cm). I use a mortar and pestle, although you can make your own kind of music using your hands or a rolling pin.

11. Once your caramel ice cream is churned, quickly stir in the crushed caramel, then chill in the freezer until firm.

Note: As the ice cream sits, the little bits of caramel may liquefy and get runny and gooey, which is what they're intended to do.

And since we are well into the ice cream season, be sure to check the latest posting from The Kitchenmage about no cook ice cream base. I have not tried it yet but it is high on my to-do list.

And what about you? Have you tried making your own ice cream? Do you have a favorite or unusual recipe to share?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Stock

Summer seems to have finally arrived and so has our summer livestock.
Two weeks ago the Freedom Rangers arrived. Freedom Rangers are not a military rescue unit. They are the heritage breed broiler chickens that we free range on pasture and offer a sustainable and humane alternative to factory farmed chickens. They have been in the brooder for the last two weeks but they are feathering out nicely now and were introduced to pasture today.

Freedom Rangers

The new batch of pigs arrived a week later. That was a case of deja vu all over again as the first pig slipped under the hot wire and led us on a two and half hour chase. We finally gave Jessie, our German Shepherd a chance to help and she did a fine job of chasing the little porker right into my arms. The only problem was that when I grabbed him he started squealing like a stuck pig. Now this set Jessie off who kept trying to bite the pig while I'm trying to carry him over to the pig pen. I'll give Jessie the benefit of the doubt that she thought the pig was trying to hurt me and this was her attempt to protect me. After his second escape five minutes later I was seriously considering roast suckling pig for dinner. We finally got him settled with his siblings and now that he knows where his food and water is he seems content.

Escapes and chases notwithstanding, the pigs continue to be our favorite critter to raise. Probably the biggest challenge is keeping them cool on a hot day as they
have no sweat glands. Nothing like a little mud to keep a pig cool.

And sometimes those with sweat glands like to play in the mud.

The Freedom Rangers will be available by late August, the pigs will be ready by mid October and Crippen Creek Spa Mud is available year round. Call or email to place your order.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Country Life (and death)

We were driving down Middle Valley Road recently when we spotted a bald eagle in a field. He appeared to have a firm grasp on some creature and was feasting mightily. We couldn't quite make out the object of his desire but fortunately we had some binoculars in the car and saw that the cuisine du jour was a coyote. We watched him for several minutes and took a few pictures but our zoom lens is woefully inadequate.

Meanwhile three turkey vultures circled overhead patiently waiting their turn. I love the fact that we can actually stop our car in the middle of the road for over 10 minutes and not create a traffic jam. After the bald eagle got a bellyful the turkey vultures swooped down and one by one took their turn, presumably in some sort of pecking order.

They are lucky that our neighbor Andrew didn't find the coyote first as he probably would have scooped him up to make a new hat.

I'm trying to encourage Andrew to turn the pelts into some sort of a travel bag and start a new line of "carrion" luggage.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Since starting our "green acres" adventure four years ago, we have added livestock as our knowledge, courage and infrastructure would allow. We started easy with three laying hens that we housed in a small portable chicken coop, commonly called a chicken tractor. Anxious as a kid at Christmas, I went out everyday to check for our first egg only to be disappointed. Several weeks went by with no eggs. However one day after returning from a weekend in Portland, I checked the coop and found two of the largest eggs I had ever seen. I told Kitty that we had hit the mother lode but upon close examination I found that one egg had the word "ouch" written on it and the other, "Happy April Fools Day." A neighbor had stuck a couple of peacock eggs in the nest. Well, those hens never did turn out to be productive layers but since then we have had as many as 30 hens and have been amply rewarded with more than enough eggs.

After some experience with laying hens we graduated to chickens that were raised strictly for meat.

As part of our continuing education about where our food comes from, we learned some butchering skills.

One of the best things we learned here is that chicken feet make the best stock.

Pigs were next and by now most of you know of our hilarious pig chase. We look forward to getting our third batch of pigs around the end of May. So far they have been the most delightful animal to raise.

Last year we added ducks, a delicious addition to the farm.

For the past couple of years we have been working on fencing our pastures and now have at least one pasture that could contain some sheep. Although we have not done much research on sheep we have acquired enough confidence and courage to take on our first flock of sheep. Admittedly much of that courage comes from the fact that our neighbor Andrew Emlen who sold us the flock has pledged to mentor us.

Andrew Emlen teaches the fine art of shearing

The breed is known as Black Welsh Mountain Sheep. They are a small hardy heritage breed, obviously with black wool that may be of some interest to spinners and weavers. Of course as their name implies, they originated in Wales and were first introduced to the United States in 1973. There are several characteristics of this breed that especially appeal to us. One is that they are resistant to hoof rot, a common malady for sheep here in the rainy Columbia Pacific Region. The second is that they seldom need human intervention when they are lambing. Sticking my arm up a sheep's bum in the middle of the night is not high on my bucket list. Third, they are great mowers. I'm always excited when I can get one of our animals to help with the chores. They're quieter than a tractor and leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Last but not least, they are a good source of meat, especially as mutton. While mutton has had a disparaging reputation over the years, it is being rediscovered with a new found appreciation. Mutton is loosely defined as lamb over two years old. My limited experience is that it tastes like lamb but just a little more so. In other words, it's more flavorful. This makes me think that people who do not like mutton either had some really old mutton, improperly cooked or perhaps they just don't like the taste of lamb.

As novice farmers four years ago, the "yolk was on us," but we have learned a thing or two so you won't be "pulling the wool over our eyes" quite so easily now.

We have not decided just how big a flock we will raise and how many will be for meat and how many to keep as mowers. So we would like to hear from you. Do you have experiencing raising sheep? Do you enjoy eating lamb? How about mutton? Are you a spinner or weaver with any interest in black wool?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Too Cute For Words

Monday, January 11, 2010

Duck Tales

2009 may have been the Year of the Ox for Chinese New year but it was the year of the Duck here at Crippen Creek. In last month's post we talked of the Muscovy ducks that we were raising and mentioned the addition of Norman the Duck to our flock. His picture garnered much attention and many inquiries. I mentioned some of his exploits on Facebook and Norman developed such a following that he almost had his own fan page. The first chapter in our story tells how Norman the Duck came to Crippen Creek in the words of his rescuer, Norm Sharp.

"This duck was abandoned in a fenced rain 'catch pond' in Oregon City during mid-summer. I noticed it was different than the wild ducks that come through and soon learned it could not fly. I assumed it to be domestic, most likely a cross. At the time I was learning a classical Brazilian piece on the guitar, written by Marco Perreira, called Marta. As I went through the catch pond area, early in the morning on walks I would whistle that song as I walked out of the neighborhood. The duck started swimming toward me when I would whistle Marta, and it would swim next to me until I disappeared. I began to feed it some duck food I picked up and it knew me and would approach closely when it heard the song. This continued throughout summer and fall, I, all the while threatening to capture the duck and call my friends Don and Kitty.

The opportunity came in this recent freeze. After several days of sub freezing weather, the pond was frozen virtually solid. At about 3AM, the 9th of December, my little peepers opened and I said to myself, enough. I waited until the most reasonable hour of 530AM, 17 degrees, and with salmon net and dog carrier in hand I went over the fence, dressed in black. The duck was in a small part of the feeder creek that was not frozen and had about a three foot circle of unfrozen water around it. I approached the duck and it jumped out of the water and I attempted to net it. We played chase on the frozen ice for about a minute until I managed to get the net over it. Once I grabbed it, it calmed down, like it knew me and completely relaxed. We went to the little kennel and it now became a part of the back seat of my Volvo.

It went to work with me that morning, as I called several rescue places with no luck, er, duck. friend Don was coming to Portland to catch a train. I surprised him at Union Station around 4PM and we chatted for a bit. Don needed a coat as he'd forgot his: I needed a home for the duck. We walked to the barnyard smelling car and viewed the duck. Don said it was a fine specimen.

I took the duck home that evening, made a cage out of the dog pen, some hay, and a cover (it escaped and was following me around the garage). It seemed agitated at first, then I managed to pat its' belly. It calmed, rested in my arms and I petted it for a long time. Lori, who had patiently helped, looked and said, "it's name is Norman."
It would have been Marta had it been a girl.

So, at 5AM in the morning the next day, myself and Norman were en route to The Inn at Crippen Creek Farm. When I arrived, I placed Norman in the lot with all the other ducks and chickens, who eyed him with suspicion (city duck vs. country). He tentatively stepped from the cage and entered into the world of Crippen Creek Farm. Several nervous looking white ducks were posed like gangsters, checking him out. He chose a solid tactical position, as Normans are prone to do, and returned the stares, sizing up the new locker room. The chickens cared less and acted like they were waiting for a bus downtown.

I did write an impassioned plea to the owners of Crippen Creek to place Norman into a semi-retirement status with the caveat that he behave and that his captor have visiting rights."

Norman the Duck Finds His Special Purpose

When Kitty and I returned from our North Dakota trip, we found Norman the Duck settling in at Crippen Creek but still trying to figure out his place in the flock. He was pretty much a loner (that should have been a red flag) but then noticed that he was making nice with our Kahki Campbell. Then one morning, it was like someone flipped a switch. Just as Navin R. Johnson in the movie, The Jerk, found his 'special purpose,' so too did Norman the barnyard stud. Although he hung out with Campbell, it was the Muscovy hens that became the objects of his "affection." But there was just one little problem that I forgot about. We have one more Muscovy duck...Boris, the drake. I should have known from raising chickens that with only 3 hens, that 2 drakes is one too many. Now Norman the Duck turned his attention to Boris and challenged him for the pecking order. Although Boris is twice the size of Norman, he is younger and inexperienced and no match for Norman. Normally we do not interfere with pecking order squabbles among our livestock. It's just the natural order of things. However, Norman's challenges went beyond the pale. He had clearly established his dominance but tormented Boris, pushing him into the electronet fencing and and pecking most of the hair off Boris' neck.

Boris the Muscovy Drake

Norman the Duck Goes to Duck Jail

We are not mean to our animals and we do not allow mean animals a long stay at Crippen Creek. Before decapitating or relocating Norman, we decided to see if rehabilitating his was a possibility. So we incarcerated Norman in the chicken tractor for several days. Hoping that a few days of solitary confinement would allow Norman to reflect on the error of his ways, we released him It took him less than 30 seconds to find Boris and pounce on him with a vengeance. So it was back in the slammer for Norman until we could figure out our next course of action. I didn't think a mean duck would taste very good so he was spared that fate. In the meantime, our beloved Campbell died and her death will remain a mystery. Norman had an airtight alibi and there was no sign of a predator.

Norman the Duck Gets a New Home

Sunrise and Jessica Fletcher

We had to make a decision soon about Norman's future. Turning him out in the wild did not seem fair since he couldn't fly and keeping him penned up surely would have brought about the wrath of some animal quackavists. So I turned to our good friends Jessica and Sunrise Fletcher. They have an idyllic pond on 40 acres at Lucky Mud with no competing ducks. Fortunately they agreed to adopt Norman and he took to their pond like...well..... like a duck takes to water. (sorry about that last line...I couldn't resist). Thus ends the saga of Norman the Duck.

Norman on the pond at Lucky Mud

Future duck tales will be about their preparation and consumption.