Saturday, April 27, 2013

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

The "bottom" half of our yard looked like this when we bought our house.  I call it the bottom half because it sits down off the retaining wall that runs along the right side of this photo.  Behind the privacy fence is a glorified ditch that usually has a small stream of water running through it, and our yard extends beyond this ditch.

This space has come a long way with the real transformation being once we decided to turn it into the animal yard.

We now house rabbits and chickens in this yard. It has worked out wonderfully for this purpose because it keeps the chickens out of the top half were the majority of my garden is located. But I'm always looking for ways to utilize our outdoor space to its full potential.

For several years we've talked out taking down the privacy fence to be able to fully see our yard. I would garden there, but the ground slopes down to the creek, it receives shade most of the day, and the oak tree roots are practically throughout the whole area. So, recently we decided the best way to use this area of the yard was to expand the animal yard and give the chickens even more space to free-range since we've denied them access to the top half. We ran fencing and took down the privacy fence that separated these sections. It basically doubled their space, and I think it turned out great!

Our dilemma was how to bridge the "creek" as we call it. We ended up spanning a 2x4 and then buiding the fence across the 2x4. After that, we used some of the old privacy fence boards to run the span of the creek to keep the chickens from running all over the neighborhood. The last thing we did was attach a piece of hardware cloth to let the water flow. Since the flow is never heavy, it won't be hard to keep that flow-through area clean.
I think the flock likes it.
Happy homesteading,







Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Say kee-fur, I Say kuh-feer

Can we just meet in the middle and share a common love for kefir? 

Recently, I had been researching yogurt making and just couldn't take the plunge to start doing it. Working full-time makes my life crazy and I don't have time to add another "need to monitor" project to my list. Some days I wonder how I get what I do done, so monitoring the temperature it takes to make yogurt just seemed too much for me. I considered a yogurt maker, which would certainly simplify the process, but that's another appliance to buy, store and maintain.

So, when a friend offered me some kefir grains in exchange for a jar of honey, I started doing some research.  You can find a multitude of websites that discuss kefir, but by far the most informative website I've found is this one:

Kefir is SOOOO easy to make.  You put some milk in a clean sterilized jar, add the grains to the milk, cover the jar, leave it on the counter for 24-48 hours, strain the grains from the milk, and you're done.  It's tart, creamy, full of good for you stuff, and very versatile.  And the longer you let it sit, the tarter and thicker it gets, and if you let it sit long enough, the curds will separate from the whey, and you have the perfect opportunity to make a variety of products.  I've stopped buying yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese from the store, and whenever I can eliminate another store bought item off my list, I'm a happy camper.  It means I'm less dependent on the food industry and more self-sufficient.  Unless I do something to kill the culture, my kefir will live indefinitely.

I started out putting it in smoothies, which is fabulous, but the more research I did, the more I realized how versatile it is.  If you drain the whey from the curds, you get a product ranging from a mock sour cream to a soft spreadable cheese.

I recently took a cheese-making class and during the class I started wondering if I could use kefir to make something other than the soft spreadable cheese I had been making.  The teacher led me to this website:  You'll note it is from the same person as above.  I'm looking forward to trying some of the hard cheese recipes.  What I love about these cheese recipes is that the kefir works as the coagulant and you don't have to use rennet.   

I've used kefir in the place of 1/2 of the milk in my favorite pancake recipe.  It gives the pancakes a sour dough flavor and makes them very light and airy.  I now use it in the place of the sour cream called for in my ranch dressing recipe.  I've also made this pudding, subbing coconut milk for the milk:  This was my first experience with chia seeds, and they do remind me of tapioca like the post suggests.  It turned out yummy. 

My most surprising use for kefir is using the whey to tenderize venison cube steak.  I always have venison cube steak in my freezer.  It's my least favorite cut, and though I have tried every recipe and technique known to man, I could never get it to tenderize.  Therefore, the cube steak packages would get relegated to the bottom of the freezer.  In the back of my mind, I had remembered reading that whey is a good tenderizer, but I had never tried it since I never had whey on hand.  One day, I had some leftover kefir whey, so I decided to give it a whirl with some cube steak.  I let the cube steak sit in the whey for a few days because I put off cooking it thinking I was doomed for failure.  Man, am I glad I took the risk.  That cube steak was the most tender I've ever eaten, fork tender I'm telling you.  Even Nate commented on it.  Now, I don't have to fear the cube steak! 

Here are some other recipes to consider, though I haven't tried any of these yet:

Kefir Eggnog

Apple Pie Kefir Ice Cream

Kefir Butter

Kefir Cottage Cheese

Kefir Avocado Soup

Kefir Cheese in Olive Oil

Whey Lemonade

By the way, the chickens love whey, but for all of you dairy farmers and cheese makers out there, you probably already knew that. 

Happy kefir making,