Thursday, 10 September 2015

This Is the End

This will be my last blog post.
Three/four years ago, when I told people what we were going to be doing with our lives, lots of them said lots of encouraging things about our decision. A lot of these people suggested I keep a blog and/or post lots of stuff on facebook because they wanted to see what we’re up to. This, I have attempted to do.
There were others who were less than positive. People who couldn’t understand why we would give up our “comfortable” existence for a life of, what they saw, as uncertainty, financial insecurity and not “normal”.  A lot of whom weren’t very good at disguising this fact.
We want to live a life where we take more responsibility for the consumption of Earth’s resources, our food, the materials we use for construction etc etc. It has not been easy and living in the part of the world that we do, it is not entirely possible to be as self sufficient as we would like. We still consume. We still buy things harder-core followers of our life style would disapprove of. I probably should have whittled my own copy of Battles of Westeros out of bamboo or knitted my pants from nettles.
Now we’re here and living our chosen lifestyle, I have become increasing disillusioned with modern society and its wilful ignorance. We seem content with the banal, the deliberately thick, the unquestioning status quo and selfish wants. Choosing to ignore or even deliberately work and argue against those who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances than us. The current refugee crisis, for me, has extenuated these issues. I frequently find myself in online discussions with people using “national pride” as thinly veiled racism. I am constantly amazed at the amount of media (social and otherwise) time given over to “celebrities” whose sum total of their achievements appears to be a bikini shoot, sleeping with someone else’s partner and/or sex worker or just generally being an unlikeable twat. I could go on and on and on. My wife and I have actually conducted a bit of an experiment on facebook. Noting how many people show some form of interest in our various “shares”. Put something up like some new ducklings and or a picture of Isaac doing something cute and people are crawling over themselves to “like” and comment. Put something up uncomfortable like fois gras production or pig farming, one possibly two “interactions”. A symptom, I feel, of the mass media fed world we now find ourselves in.
Something that I have also grown to dislike is the self congratulatory social media presence. Look at me. Am. I. Not. Great. I baked a cake. I bought a new phone. I went for a stroll. I got up this morning........and so on. (Only mildly less annoying than the “I’m angry/upset but I don’t want to talk about it. But, please everyone ask me about it so I can feel something” status) Then, I realised, I’m just as bad. I have pictures of things I’ve made/done online. I keep this blog solely for the approval of others. Are we just doing this to seek approval for the life choices of which we aren’t sure we should have made? I’ve shared a funny dog. Just yesterday I shared something I saw about being at university in the 90s. It was funny and I think I “got” most, every single thing on the list. Why did I share it? I don’t know. Perhaps for some reason hoping to engage in some sort of nostalgic conversation with old friends. But why? My engagement with FB and the content that is frequently on there is a source of discourse in my own mind. Were it not for the fact that it is the only source of communication between me and a small number of friends and clients I would have closed my account a while ago. I still enjoy it as a way of keeping up to date with some of my interests (films, ASOIAF and general board gamery) but I am increasingly failing to see the point in it. I will, in complete contradiction to everything I’ve just said, share this new post on the aforementioned site! What a hypocrite.

The keeping of this blog, for me, is merely an extension of the issues above. I have not posted anything for a long time here because of this and this is the last hoorah. I feel that I wasn’t keeping it because I had something valuable to share with the world. I wasn’t going to start some form of lifestyle or political revolution. Like everyone else I’m probably just looking for some form of reaffirmation of my own decisions. However, this stops today. I’ll leave the blog up. If someone wants to have a go at pallet furniture or rearing their own meat because of something on here, then great. But doubt that will happen. This isn’t a cry for help. I’m not after a whole load of people to give me a self esteem boost by self pitying fishing for compliments. It’s just a statement of intent. Perhaps I’ll change my mind. Who knows? For now it’s goodbye. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

May the catch-up be with you.

SO, yet again it’s been a long time since the last post. Reason for this is simple. Life has got in the way, a wedding, livestock, good weather, DIY, Game of Thrones, work and planting have all contributed to a general amount of laziness when it comes to writing posts for the blog. Due to mounting pressure (Hopwood!! Might get her back by getting her to play Russian roulette with some Correzienne mushrooms in October!!) I’ve finally given over some time to do a bit of a catch up as far as life here at Chez Powell is concerned. I’m afraid it’ll take, yet again, the form of a list and I’ll stick in some photos where I can.

Things we’ve done since Feburary.
Staring with the one that’s taken up most of our time. We’ve planted/sown the vast majority of the garden, including This is unusual as I’m a bit of a plant Nazi. If it doesn’t produce food or directly contribute into the production of food then normally it has no place in my garden. However, some flowers have been planted including some that have no apparent use what so ever other than to look nice. Perhaps I’m going soft in my old age. Less of a plant Nazi and more of a VNP (Vegetable National Party) member. Although I have also planted up some anti insect plants near the door to deter the little buggers from the house. In addition to the “normal” veg there is also some experimental perennial ones in this year. I’ll write a separate one for them if/when they start producing. Lots of experiments in companion planting happening this year as well so I’ll post on that when the pictures look more impressive!
Anti insect plants, geraniums, tansy and rue in pallet planters.
Increased the animal stock. Six ducks, one rabbit litter of six, for new chickens with some eggs currently waiting to hatch in an incubator lent to us by some very nice people who also sold us two new pigs.
This years first rabbit litter.
Some of the new birdies.

Charlotte and Babe

Built more animal housing from pallets

Built a planting bench.....from pallets.
Built more fencing including a little picket style fence for the front of the house (from pallets) as well as pig fencing.

Strengthened up the polytunnel. It took a bit of a battering this winter in the wind so I’ve used, you’ve guessed it, pallets to reinforce some the side supports/hoops.

Acted as vet. Since the arrival of the baby chickens the weather’s been rubbish and they keep getting colds so barely a week goes by without one spending a couple of days in the kitchen under a heat lamp!
A hot chick under a red light!!

This little chap now lives with the guinea pig as he ran away and we couldn't find him for 4 days so he can't go back with mummy.

Lots of work away from the “farm” as well for both of us, which is good as it means we can pay our taxes!!

Yet again I promise to AIM to have less of a time lapse between this and the next post but time simply slips away. Perhaps I’ll fill the time with nice pictures of flowers.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Pallets 101

Today we got a garden/porch chair. It didn’t cost us a thing, bar some screws. I made it from pallets. Lots of this going on at the moment and the internet is full of spectacular things made from them. Some big some small but all great. I even found a man who had covered his allotment in them then used plastic bottles to increase his production space with vertical gardening. Whilst there are lots of ideas there isn’t a lot of info on how to get from pallet to creation. I’ve put some of my creations on before and I’ll try not to repeat too many. Rather than set of instructions on how to make something I thought I’d go for general things I consider when thinking about a pallet project.
Today's creation

Rabbit run in progress

       Quality of pallet. Is it even worth picking it up? If it’s smashed to bits, rotten and generally falling apart then my advice, unless you’re planning a bonfire, don’t bother. It will simply sit in your garden/shed rotting further and taking up space.

       Treatment. Some pallets are treated with some unpleasant chemicals to preserve them. Don’t use these indoors or for chairs, play equipment etc. Use them for gates, fences and things people won’t be spending a lot of time on. Look for heat treated ones for “people used” items. You should be able to find a HT on a spacer to tell you if it’s been heat treated.
Seating area. Looking for a fire pit for the center

       To cut or not cut. Can I make what I want without cutting it up? Pallets are generally very strong. Think about their original purpose. If you start butchering it will it loose its integrity? If you go for cut, where will you cut? I generally try to keep the spacers on if I’m going for this.


Dining Table. No cutting required.

Work top. Butchered another pallet to fill in gaps.

  Pull it apart. The trickiest part of adapting a pallet for further use. Sometimes they come apart like a dream, leaving you with 10-15 planks of wood where what you make is limited only by (in my case) skill and imagination. There are several videos on you tube. I go for a combination of masonry chisel, hammer and crow bar to “gently” prise apart rather than the smash the end technique as it leads to more splitting. Sometimes you simply have to give up on a pallet and cut it instead and use smaller pieces joined together.
No right angles allowed mirror.
Window boxes. Ready for summer.
Chicken house.
Number one rule. You need to be adaptable. You probably won’t be able to make the item you’ve found on the net. You won’t have the same size and/or type of pallet.
Bathroom mirror

 Yours will split when you try to screw them together. The planks will break when you try to pull it apart. Yours will bend and warp. Believe me I’ve had all these problems and more, sometimes resulting in tool throwage! My biggest problem is forgetting the number one rule. But, this is the joy of pallets. Your creation will be unique. No one will have one quite like you. If you want one like everyone else, go to Ikea! Who wants to be the same as everyone else?

What have you made from pallets? Share in the comments below.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pork Preseves

Well it’s snowing outside so a perfect excuse to down tools for a while and write the next post. This one’s about putting longevity into your meat. There are several ways of doing this and we’ve had a go at lots this year. So, in order of success.
Wet cure – A wet cure is simply putting your meat into to a brine solution for an allotted time and then hanging for a week or so. You can add all sorts of weird and wonderful things to your cure from beer to coke. It’s the first time we’ve done this so I kept things simple. Just salt and water. All was going well until it got warm and damp here weather wise and the temperature in our normally freezing cold storage room shot into the early teens and we lost just over half our wet cure meat. For the most part not too bad but the biggest blow was the two hams. Any that wasn’t too gone off was rapidly boiled up for the dogs so they were quite happy about it!
The brine bucket

Curing nicely

Profiting from disaster

“Canned goods” – By this I mean the things we cooked up and put into parfait jars. This year we made: Rillettes, which is a bit like a coarse pate, the meat is salted, shredded then cooked in its own fat. Rillons, like the rillettes but using belly meat and it’s kept in chunks and cooked in wine first, very nice. Finally confit, which really is just chunks of pork, salted over night then cooked in lard and it’s delicious!

Stored rillons.Yum yum!

Rillettes cooking away.

Nicer than Intermarche!

Saucissons – These are air dried sausages. Essentially you make a salty sausage mix and hang to dry until they go hard. The flavour improves with time so the longer you can resist temptation the better. We made two types, a plain one and a sort of chorizo flavoured one with lots of garlic and paprika. Both are very good and are a real success this year.


Hanging out.
Dry Cure – Easiest to do and our most successful. Simply rub salt into the meat each and drain off any liquid that comes off. In the case of the hams I set up a box with holes in it to allow the liquid to drain and covered the meat in salt. Again you can add things to your salt mixture to add flavour. I did some bellies adding in sugar, pepper, bay leaves and juniper berries to make a sort of pancetta. We also had a go at lonza and coppa which are entire muscles kept whole and given the salt treatment.
Bellies getting a salt rub. You pay good money for that at a spa.

Ham going into a salt storage

Next time there will be more dry curing and “canning” as these were by far and away the most successful methods. We did also fill one and a half freezers and cook a whole shoulder a couple of days after butchery, which was slowly consumed over about a week in a variety of leftover pork dishes! Starts all over again this spring as the hunt now begins for two more piglets for chez Powell. Oink oink.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

All brawn and (this time) no brains!

Despite a promise that I would knock these pig related posts out quickly I haven’t done so. “Why?” I hear you cry in despair. “We want to see more meat processing. We want to be aware of where our food comes from.” The weather is pretty much the reason. It has been unseasonably warm here in the Correze. This has meant more work outside,  both here and job wise. I was picturing months on end stuck indoors with snow mounting up outside. This has not been the case.

So on with piggy processing. Day 2 was butchery and some offal processing. As far as butchery was concerned I did lots of you tube watching and came up with a plan for how to carve them up. Lots of joints for roasting, lots of mince for sausages and sausisson, head and feet for brawn and a whole range of odd and sods for curing and cooking.

Rolled belly.

Chops, loin roast and a bit of bacon

Offal wise. Liver went in pate using Ray’s Liver Pate recipe from River Cottage Meat. Hearts are being saved for a favourite of ours, devilled hearts on toast.


 The left over liver went in with kidneys to make a sort of haggis/faggot concoction which we can’t decide whether or not it’s a haggisy faggot or a faggoty haggis!

Wrapping a big "Haggot" in caul fat

Finished little ones

Finished big one.

Look at all that meat. Scandal that this is often thrown away
The much under used heads (Minus the cheeks which were removed and brined to make Bath chaps) went into a pot with a couple of trotters to be picked over and pressed into the resulting gelatinous stock to make brawn. This is a sort of pate/terrine, very popular over here but all but forgotten in Britain. Probably because we don’t like to be reminded that our meat was once an animal with a head. Quite happy to eat it all mashed up in a cheap supermarket/fast food burger though!

Hello there!

The finished Brawn.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

One giant leap for self sufficient kind.

The last week and a half has marked somewhat of a milestone in life here at Chez Powell. The pigs went to slaughter and we’ve been processing pretty much every day since. Rather than try and cram all of this into one post I thought I’d break it down a little. This also means that I am now “committed” to writing a couple of posts in relatively (for me!) quick succession
Summer running
The last supper
Of course, if you want to eat pork, first of all you need to kill a pig. At least you do if you haven’t gone out to the supermarket to buy it. Before this you need to rear it and look after it. We’ve tried to keep our pigs as humanely as possible. They’ve been kept outdoors and their food was a mixture of bought from our local mill, which is organic and all locally sourced, and veg garden waste. Their pen surrounded an old lime tree to give them shade in the sun along with their pig ark for sleeping and rain/snow protection. I think that even if you don’t have the opportunity to rear your own pigs you should at the very least demand more humane standards from your supplier. A common complaint about pork reared this way is that it is too expensive for the “average” family to afford. In answer to this I say, don’t buy it then. Forgo it this week or month and get some as a treat. In western society we eat too much meat and perhaps if we ate less the welfare of our animals would improve.
Day one of our processing was slaughter. I felt it was important to go with them and I was there when the final deed was done. I felt that it was part of my responsibility to the animals to see it through to the end and make sure it was done properly. Which it was and was done very quickly.  Other than being somewhere a bit new I don’t think they pigs knew much about it. It’s an odd mixture of sad to see them go, a realisation that such a big animal is going to die to feed you but proud that a massive step has been taken in self sufficiency and the knowledge that we gave them the best care we could (certainly a lot higher standard than your average supermarket pig would have had). Once you have a dead pig that isn’t the end. You need to drain the blood and remove the hair and top layer of skin. This was done with blowtorch, scraping and washing as we went along. The guts were taken out, which we kept, and the pigs were sawn in two.

A census pig tried to test me once!
 The plan here is to use every bit of the pig for something, so, the end of day one was actually spent dealing with some of the bits that go off the fastest. This included; soaking the caul fat (a layer of fat around the stomach used for wrapping things like faggots in water, attempting to wash out the intestines and knocking up some spiced liver for tea. (No fava beans or Chianti though!)

Dracula's midnight snack

Number one of these is the blood. The last two to three hours of the day were spent making black puddings. Essentially what you do is mix the blood with sautéed onions, fat, cream, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and then pretty much whatever else you want as flavourings. We kept ours simple this year throwing in a few spices only. Then you fill some casings and simmer for a bit. 
Stuffing the pudding!
The most difficult part is filling the casings. After it took nearly two hours to make twelve and we lost three when they exploded in the water we decided to simplify things by cooking it up as a “cake”. This was then sliced up and put in the freezer in breakfast portions.  As the next day was going to be spent butchering four sides of pork and it was now nearly two in the morning the bed did call.


One happy customer

The biggest disappointment of the day were the intestines and stomachs which I just couldn’t clean out and they kept splitting. Spilling their contents all over the bath! However I read about the old cabbage trench that British farmer/smallholders used to use before the world went all squeamish about dealing with waste. They would dig a trench and everything would go into it. Urine, poo (human), chicken and rabbit inners etc etc. At the end of the year this would be covered in compost and the following spring the cabbage break would be planted on it. Inspired by this our inners started off the new compost heap with everything from this year’s heap that hasn’t broken down yet on top of them. This heap won’t go on the garden until Spring 2015 so plenty of time for it to break down and release all those nutrients into the compost.

Next post, Days 2and 3: Butchery and offal (Yum yum)