Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Keeping an Old Skill Alive

Isn't it strange how sometimes when you least expect it,
something strikes you or takes you by surprise?
A week or so ago, I ran across an add in one of our semi-local publications.
It was from a woman who wanted to learn how to sew by hand
with the specification of "without a machine" as if "by hand"
meant in addition to a machine.

I read and re-read the little plea for help.
It struck me for some reason~
weather it was shock that she hadn't been taught such a thing as a child,
or wasn't able to work it out,
or self-reflection that perhaps I should be more grateful
that I know how to hand stitch (and actually enjoy it,)
or actually a bit of sadness that she hadn't been able to find someone near her
to show her such a basic skill.
Perhaps it was a combination of all the above.

I did respond via email but also hoped that mine was one of many
and that perhaps a neighbor a few doors down would walk over
to her house and say plainly, "Here, let me show you. . ."

With that, I would like to show you folks the most basic method
of hand stitching for general purpose.
Please keep in mind, there are many ways to hold a needle
and just as many variances as to preferences for this method or that.
This is just one of those many ways.
This is a regular running stitch.
This stitch is the most basic stitch for holding two pieces of fabric together~
Keep in mind your "fabric" can be anything from a silk scarf to canvas tarps.
I used two different colors so you can see it better, 
and two strands of dark thread to stand out even more.
Also, you would usually have your edges even, 
I staggered them so you could see.
The physics of it is that the needle goes up and back down through the fabric
spanning the length of your seam.

Though you can do this by poking your needle down and pulling your thread through then poking the needle back up and pulling the needle through for each and every stitch, the easier and usually more efficient way to accomplish this is to "stack your needle" or "stack your stitches" (I've heard it said both ways.)
To do this hold the needle kinda at a slant and move it up and down through the fabric maybe 3-4 times then pull the thread through the fabric.
You will figure out what is comfortable for you depending upon the size of your needle and the thickness of your fabric.
I also used a large needle to demonstrate.
I would recommend a thimble or even a piece of duct tape 
on your "pushing finger."
The goal is for your stitches to be as even as possible.  
Also, the smaller your stitches, the stronger your seam will be.
This stitch can be done in a straight line or around curves.
If you get a little "off straight," either pull it out or
make a very small stitch to get it back in line.

Once you reach the end of your seam, to create a knot,
take a very small stitch in the seam allowance, then before pulling the thread tight, pass your needle under the loop,

pull your thread, then go under your next "loop" with the needle,
pull your thread, then do it one more time.

I typically go through the loop at least 3 times but often 4.
Snip close to knot leaving a very small tail to ensure it doesn't unravel.
With that, you have just hand stitched your seam.
At this point, you would open your two pieces of fabric
and iron or press open.
Typically, if using two different colors, you would press toward the darker color.
Sorry I took the picture before I made my knot.
This is indeed slower than using a sewing machine,
but it requires no expensive devise, no electric to operate,
no maintenance, oils, or up-keep, and very little space to store.
The only supplies needed are needle and thread, scissors (or sharp teeth,)
and the item which you are stitching.
This should get you started.  Warning, it's addictive:)

I will also apologize if a few of the pictures are a little less than perfect.
It's a challenge to show stitching while hugging a tripod with a camera
beeping and ready to snap a picture:)


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Bear Tag Filled

We have bear in the freezer!
Oops - not that bear!
(Sorry, I have a warped since of humor.)

Got her within a mile of the house last weekend.
She was a 2-3 year old sow.
That was Sunday evening, and yep, you guessed it,
we had to be to work Monday morning:)
That part actually wasn't too bad.
It is beginning to get dark early enough that we
finished up just about bed time.
By we on that part of course I mean Mr. LB.
He actually likes skinning/dressing them out.
I am in charge of getting and having everything ready.
Hanging bag, vinegar water, wash bowl and rag, wheelbarrow (for guts) etc.
Once it's all cleaned, we go over it with a mild vinegar water
just to make sure it's actually "clean."
We let her hang two full days before we started working on her.
If it had been a little cooler, we might have waited another day.
So Wednesday night we began the process.
Bear is a lot of work to clean and process.
It took us (both) 3 evenings, and I finished rendering the last of the lard 
Saturday morning.
I've heard of quite a few folks who hunt avidly who don't like to eat bear.
There are some unique features to processing bear
that make me wonder if they had ill-processed meat.
First, bear is a member of the pork family so cook it thoroughly.
We find the lard superior to pork lard.
Our cast iron hasn't looked better since beginning to use it several years ago.
The other thing about it is that it doesn't have that "pork smell" 
when frying an egg and potatoes or whatever we happen to be cooking.
It just seems cleaner that way.
A little caveat here on how I render bear lard:
I send it through the grinder first. 
(I should share: we have an unfinished kitchen. We finally picked out countertops this past week so hopefully within a month or so 
we will have a 'real' kitchen:)

Then heat it on the barbecuer burner outside.
This is just beginning to turn and look at all that lard already.
It will kinda resemble lightly-browned burger when ready.
Grinding it first makes the heating/rendering part go really quickly.
I then pour it through a lose-weave cotton cloth 
(looser weave than a sheet, but tighter than cheese cloth.)
It is a yellow color until it cools then should be a soft white.
I got just shy of a gallon and a half of lard from this one bear!
We do store it in the refrigerator for good measure.
The clincher is that bear fat (not rendered) can go rancid even in the freezer.
If folks try to cut up a bear like they would a deer or elk,
it would taste foul by the time they pulled it out of the freezer.
We didn't always know this either, but knew we didn't like bear fat on the meat.
In fact, last year, we had a bear given to us by a neighbor.
(He shot a bear right behind his house and was expecting company about a half an hour later.  We all have bear tags up here since they can be a nuisance.)
I didn't have time to get all the fat rendered into lard so threw a bag of the unprocessed fat into the freezer.
I took it out and rendered it later when I had more time.
Here is how it set up using the same process as above.
Yes, it was still in the fridge - please don't judge:)
I want to save the jar and hadn't had time to dispose of it.
In addition, if the un-rendered fat is unknowingly used in the burger
and proceeds to go rancid, the whole package will carry that flavor.
This is definitely one of the advantages to doing our own cutting and wrapping.
We cut and wrap the meat according to the ways 
we prefer to cook it for our meals.
Our favorites are to include it with elk meat and beef fat in sausage,
in Mediterranean like we sometimes do venison (recipe here) 
or barbecued bear kabobs. 
Recipe: I use Sweet Baby Ray's as a base.
Mr. LB likes it, but I don't really care for it.
To this base I add Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic, onion, parsley, and a little ground savory.  Let it marinate at least over night but up to 2 days.
Then barbecue slowly.
Sorry, I don't have a picture of after they were cooked.
It was getting late, and we were hungry. 

We have tried roasts before, but because we remove the fat, 
it cooks up to be a bit on the dry side.
It is now deer season so we might be burning the candle at both ends of the day for another week or so.
Please forgive me if posts are a bit sporadic.
More "how to" or at least "how we do it" posts coming.
In the past few weeks, we butchered lambs, cut and hauled 4 cords of wood,
processed about 70 lbs. of tomatoes, and have Mrs. Calabash back in service
so there's plenty to share.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Traditions by Any Other Name

It's just a way, a way of living.
We move about tending animals, foliage, and soil alike
while the seasons change around us.
It's what so many generations before us did in some fashion or other.
Putting-by in order to keep ourselves and our families
 through the cold months of winter ahead.
For centuries, this was just referred to as living.
In recent years however, there seems to be an infatuation with names.
Like members of an elite club, members proclaim that they are preppers, homesteaders, locavores, etc.
There are of course good qualities to each and all of these; however,
if we look a little deeper, there is a word that encompasses all of them.
That word is tradition.
It's not a name, just a word.
Traditionally, people worked from their homes, providing for themselves and making do with what was available to them either by their own doing or by procuring necessities through trading/bartering with neighbors for goods and services.  Doesn't that sound familiar?
Those of us who partake in such ventures today are considered by some to be anomalies, rebels, or outcasts.
But those of us who are doing the partaking know better.
We know with a knowledge greater than that portrayed by the consumer society that what we are doing is right.
How do we know?
We are following Mother Nature's example and in return, 
she usually helps us out.
When we plant the seeds, she waters.
When she provides the sun and warmth, we provide the water.
When she forgets to take care of the animals, we step up.
When we aren't there during the birthing of a lamb, calf, or kid, she usually handles it just fine.
It's a partnership, working together in tandem and taking turns.
In return for working with her, we are rewarded.
We are rewarded not only with clean nutritious foods and physical well being, but with that knowledge as well.
As the summer heat begins to ebb, the heat in our kitchens and around our homes is turned up.
The sound of the pressure cooker hisses, the knife claps against the wooden cutting board, canning jars and lids clank and chime, and the dehydrator hums along all joining in chorus to create a commotional hymn.
Meanwhile, out back, baskets and bowls are being filled.
There are now fewer animals to feed during the cold up-coming months.
And there is a woody scent and a slight haze trailing from the smoker or smokehouse if you are so fortunate.
We are those who know how many quarts and pints of veggies, how many pounds of meat, and how much feed for the stock we need to last us through the year.
We plan, work, prepare, and preserve accordingly.
We carry on, keeping alive and honoring the ways of so many 
who have gone before us.
And it's with gratitude and great reverence that we pass these skills and this knowledge on to the next generation.
It's not for any kind of monetary pay or prideful glory.
It's because, it's just the right thing to do.
This is tradition and indeed,
this is living.  


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Why Harvest Mullein?

Have you harvested your mullein yet?
I can hear you through your computer~
Harvested my mullein? Huh? What?
You didn't misread that.
I usually keep a few leaves of dehydrated mullein on the shelf.
Some time back, I ran across it and figured since I haven't even had a cold in over three years, it was safe to get rid of it.
It grows plentifully around these parts and is also affectionately referred to as fisherman's toilet paper due to it's soft "furry" leaves.

Shortly after Mr. LB returned from Alaska,
he came down with what I call the post-flying crud.
It's that cold you get from breathing recirculated germs on the plane.
And of course, I had pitched the mullein.
I did make him some tea from the fresh leaves,
but the dried leaves seem to work better.
Mullein (according to my research - see disclosure) is a natural expectorant.
Mullein tea consumed 2-3 times per day helps break up
the phlegm and mucus that clog the system when fighting a cold.
It is important to strain it through a coffee filter or cotton cloth
to remove the 'hairs' since they can cause further irritation to the throat if consumed.
I am now dehydrating more mullein to keep on the shelf.
I suppose it's one of those things that is easier to have and not need
than to need and not have.


And now for the fancy disclosure:
It's actually sad that this is even necessary.
I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or medical professional of any kind.  What we do in our household is based on the research we have done and what we deem appropriate.  We are not suggesting that you do the same.  You are responsible for the decisions regarding your health and wellness.  We are not responsible for any decision you make.  So to clarify, I am responsible for me.  You are responsible for you.  
Whew, glad that's over with.