Pete's random thoughts

Monday, February 27, 2006

My hunter-gatherer diet

Tomorrow marks two weeks that I have been eating what I am calling a "hunter-gatherer" diet.

The final straw was when I went to the supermarket and every single piece of pork there had a label on it proudly declaring that "for enhanced flavor" the meat had been brined in pork broth and that it may contain up to 12% water weight.

Think about this. I take it to mean that when the hogs are slaughtered, they are all soaked together in some kind of saltwater brine to "enhance flavor". That means that if one of those hogs just happened to have it's intestines cut into while being gutted, then ALL of the hogs have now been marinated in the same nasty germ ridden stew. Gross.

On top of that, we have to pay for the extra 12% water weight that the processor so graciously added. It's just wrong.

They have been doing the same with chickens for years. In a big automated machine the birds are run through a scalding tank to loosen the feathers for easier feathers and to distribute the fat under the skin for a nicer looking carcass. I'm not saying scalding is wrong, it's something we do at home too, but we change the water several times over the course of butchering day. A little cleanliness goes a long way with raw poultry...

So anyway, I've decided to make a clean break from modern processed food and take the plunge into home made everything. Some of it will be implemented quicker than other parts of it. Since it was an abrupt decision, I didn't have time to prepare for it by laying a supply of foodstuffs. For now, I've eliminated refined sugar and white flour. I'm pretty close to not having any meat in the house that wasn't butchered here (if not born here, that part takes a little time).

For breadstuffs, I am starting with whole grains. Last night's wheat and rye bread made with molasses was sort of a failure in that it didn't rise very well, but it really fills you up! For breakfast, I generally have rolled oats simmered with berries or nuts that I've crushed with a mortar and pestle. SOmetimes I simmer meat in it, like bacon or beef jerky.

Another breakfast option is samp, which is basically grits simmered with fish, fruit or meat. It's really good with clams.

I plan on freezing or drying as many wild berries as I can get this summer so I won't have to rely on frozen supermarket berries next winter.

I'll probably have to make a trip or two back to Massachusetts to stock up on "right off of the boat" fresh fish, which I will be able to freeze, salt, dry or smoke.

I drink around a gallon of unsweetened iced tea every day, and hope to phase it out in favor of foraged herbal teas (teaberry etc). I'm not a big soda drinker, but right now there is a 2-gallon jug of ginger beer "working" upstairs on the counter. It is made with an 18th century recipie using just a "hand" of ginger, water, lively yeast and molasses (to feed the yeast). This is the first batch I've made in years, and I'll keep the "lees" from the bottom of the jug for the next batch's yeast and to make bread with.

It may be a little late to do it tonight, but Caleigh and I will be starting seed for our garden indoors, so the plants will be ready to go outside ASAP when spring gets here. It's a much longer term project (in the smae way that raising our own beef is) but I want to plant some fruit and nut trees too.

I started eating this way on the 14th, 13 days ago and have lost 15 pounds so far. The only drawback is that I have an assortment of junk foods here that need to be eaten by somebody other than me. So if you stop by, be prepared to help me out by eating a Ring Ding...

Making my food entirely from scratch is a great feeling. Instead of just heating something up and eating it, I'm involved in the whole proces and thus appreciate it more. There is less to be taken for granted.

For instance, I'm going to go cook dinner as soon as I am done here. I'm having trout and asparigus, with homemade salsa on the side to be eaten with corn tortillas (pretty good livin' for a hunter-gatherer, eh?). The salsa is already made, the asparigus is easy to cook, but I'm going to complicate it by straining the water it was cooked in and saving it to make the next loaf of bread with. The fish will just be fried. The tortillas, however, need to be made from scratch. I'll probably have an hour into this meal, which will really whet my appetite.

It will cost the same, or maybe a little less, than a "storebought" meal. Better quality, better freshness, and as Wendy says: it's made with love. The only way this meal would be better is if I were to cook it over an open fire!

It's a good life.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rudy is dying

The little runty calf named Rudolph is not going to make it. He was runty from the start, and I suspect he didn't get to nurse from his Momma, so therefore didn't get any colostrum. Dairy calves have a 50% survival rate, and it looks like he is on the losing end of the 50%. He's had "scours" for a day or two, and although I've been giving him the reccomended treatment, he's not doing good at all. This morning he can barely walk, and won't eat. It's sad, but it is a part of farm life.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Don't have a cow man! - Have two...

I went to the livestock auction again on Tuesday. The goal was to get some feeder pigs, maybe a calf, and whatever looked like a good deal for the freezer.

There were only three pigs. A feeder that sold for $61 (too much for an auction piglet, that's a breeder price) and two GIANT sows - 652 and 700lbs! Too big for me to deal with. Sure, I could have loaded them into my truck with the ramp at the auction barn, but how would I get them out once I got home?

There were no smallish critters that were selling cheap, and lambs were bringing big money (Ramadan shopping?). What I ended up trucking home Tuesday night were two bottle calves.

This one is a Holstein. He weighed in at 86lb and sold for $2.75 per pound. He's a fine specimen of a Holstein. I had about an hour before the auction began to wander around the barn playing with the critters and checking them out. There were several calves that really stood out as being robust, lively and healthy. He was one of them. As always, there were a few professional buyers for livestock dealers there who apparantly also felt he was a good animal, and that's what drove the price up.

Next in line behind him was this little guy, who appears to be a Jersey cross. He's shaped like a Jersey, but is a dark chocolate color. Kind of runty, he only weighed 50 lbs and sold for a whopping $11. On the way to the auction, I had stopped and picked up a bag of milk replacer (basically baby formula for cows) and a couple of 2qt bottles. The pair of bottles cost $11.98, the calf cost $11. If we can get him to adulthood, it will be $11 well spent.

Many calves come up for sale every week. Dairy cows need to be bred annually to keep them lactating. Female offspring are often valuable to dairymen, but males are just sold off fast. It's a sad state of things that baby cows are treated as an unwanted by-product of milk production, but we will do what we can to give these two a good life.

Wendy named the runty one "Rudolph" after his reindeer namesake on the island of misfit toys since he seemed a little lost at first. He befriended the dog before he decided to hang out with the other calf. Caleigh named the Holstein "Rockidu" (she likes to make up foreign sounding names...whatever!) so we ended up with a "Rudy" and a "Rocky".

We feed them twice a day, they are drinking a total of a gallon of milk replacer per day. Next week I'll introduce some feed as they drink to get them used to eating grain. Rocky was picking at hay in the goat's manger this morning, I don't know if he was actually eating it of just mimicking the goats.

A Holstein bull can get to around 1700lb at maturity. The Jersey might get to 1000-1200lb.

Friday, February 17, 2006

A wild day

Wow, what a day! This morning started off with a broken pipe on the 2nd floor, which of course leaked down into the gun room. All plans for the day were cancelled as Steven and I first took care of the leak and then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon cleaning up the mess. The good news is that we had a good reason to clean and oil guns. One particular shelf was soaked, it took the brunt of the water. On it is a 1919a6 (semi) and a display DP-28 along with associated tool rolls etc. The whole shelf was soaked with the exception of an army-issue pocket bible from WW2. The guy carried it throughout the war, and it somehow protected him, then it somehow protected itself from the mini-flood! Here's a pic.

The water poured over the edge of the shelf onto a rack of bolt guns. The only thing that really needs careful attention at this point is a GI captured Nazi banner that was displayed on the shelf below it. It's pretty fragile and I have wet it with a diluted detergent and water mixture to clean it, then I will vacuum it dry through a piece of muslin. I learned that technique on a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Textile History Museum, who does a lot of conservation work for other museums. What I learned today was to give CAREFUL consideration to where things get displayed, that there is more to security than concrete and steel doors.

While Steven and I wiped down and oiled rifles, Wendy washed some WW2 German belt buckles. Fortunately, nothing was ruined and no inventory was wet, just my 20th century military rifles. They have been through wars, so a bit of yucky water won't harm them as long as we cleaned and oiled them.

A bit of a side note, one of the rifles is a Lebel, a French rifle that was used in WW1. This particular one was cut down in the "R35" modification that turned it into a carbine. I'll save the long story for when I feature it as a "gun of the week", but when it was given to me, I assumed it had a really bad bore because I couldn't see anything reflecting in the barrel in daylight. Well, when we cleaned it up to oil it, we discovered that the reason the bore was so dark is that it was plugged with an old spider's egg sack. After running a bore brush through it followed by an oiled patch, the bore shone as if it were unfired!

Just as we were finishing up in there, Wendy intercoms down that we'd better get outside quick because the rabbit shed had just blown away. Our meat rabbits were housed in one of those 10 x 20 portable garages that are made of plastic tarp fabric and steel tubing. It had lasted almost two years, then a 50 MPG gust picked it up and threw it across the yard, destroying the frame. Now the mission shifted to cobbling together a new shelter for the rabbits because it is supposed to drop to the single-digits tonight. We managed to salvage the fabric from the old shed and build a new one under the deck. It only has to work for a few days because tomorrow morning we start work on a permanent structure that will consist of a series of shed-type buildings connected with a pole-barn type roof. It's money and time that I'd hoped to not spend until the spring, but I guess there is no better time than the present!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Doing the laundry-1775

We get a lot of stuff from freecycle, and give a lot of stuff away. What we have been accumulating is building supplies with a plan of building a few sheds and a little cabin in the spring.

On a trip to pick up a roll of roofing, the guy who had it offered me some other stuff. Instead of sorting through it, I offered to clean out his shed and disperse the stuff for him, either to other freecycle people or to the local "swap shop".

In the boxes of stuff was a little stack of art prints, suitable for framing. Several of them were prints from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one in particular caught my attention. It shows a ruined bridge, a group of washerwomen on the bridge's footing, and a guy across the little river "checking them out".

At first, I got a chuckle out of the guy checking out cleavage, thinking that not much has changed since the painting was done in 1775. Then I noticed the clothing details. The guy is interesting in that he is wearing a fabric cap under his tricorn. I've never seen that done before.

It's the woman who really stand out though. There are a few people on the bridge, and they are dressed in typical bedgowns like we are used to seeing. The women under the bridge, doing the laundry, however, are wearing jumps and sleeveless bodices!

Yup, the very garments that have stuck in my craw at reenactments for years. Jumps and stays are undergarments that you rarely see in English paintings because it was not socially acceptable to wear them out in public. This would be akin to walking around on Main Street in a bra. Nonetheless, you see this manner of dress at most reenactments becasue it is simpler and more comfortable than dressing truly correct. I think most guys are happy enough that they were able to convince their wifes to come to the reenactment at all, so they don't really puch the "authenticity" issue with them.

This painting is really unique in that it shows common working women in the mode of undress out in public. The only women so dress, however, are the ones actively working at a messy job. This does not mean women should be wearing sleeveless jumps around camp, but it does mean that even in the 18th century women took pains to not ruin their clothes.

The same thinking applies to men. You never seem men wearing just a shirt and rarely see them wearing just a waistcoat over a shirt. Almost always do men wear a jacket or coat. The only exception to this are when you see scenes of men working at a messy job like blacksmithing, or perhaps in a street brawl (gotta love Hogarth).

With no further adu, here is a part of the painting showing the jacket-less washerwomen:

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gun of the Week - BREN Light Machine Gun

It's snowy and lonely up here in the winter. I thought I would start uploading pictures to show off some of our collection in a sort of virtual museum until we can get the real thing built.

The gun I want to showcare this week is the BREN Light Machine Gun. It was the workhorse of the British military during and after WW2. Very adaptable, it could be used as a squad automatic weapon, an anti-aircraft gun with the proper tripod and there was alos a sustained fire tripod setup that it could be mounted on. It fired the .303 caliber rimmedcartridge that the Enfield bolt action rifles used, so it was relatively simple to keep ammo in supply. The gun loaded from a magazine on top, which required the sights to be mounted on the left side of it, since you couldn't use them in the traditional location on top of the barrel.

The design originalted with the Czech ZB series guns, and it went through several simplifications as the war went on. This particular example is a BREN MkII. It has been demilled by a series of cuts through the reciever. Displayed with it is a period magazine carrier with a dozen magazine in it and a "holdall" which contains a spare barrel, spare parts and armorer's tools to maintain it.

This one was made in 1943. It is marked Inglis which means it was made in Toronto, Canada. There are also some Greek markings on it where it served after the war.

Here's the photo of this week's gun: BREN LMG

Next week: the MG-34

Frontier life vs. Modern America

It's snowing today, a Nor'Easter. If you aren't from New England, a Nor'Easter is a storm that travels up the Atlantic coast and usually ends up as a pretty good blizzard. I check the weather on the website, and as of last night they were predicting 10"-18" for Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Hopefully, we are just outside of the "Southern" area in NH, and will get less. They were predicting 4"-6" for our zip code, which is located just 30 miles north of the 10"-18" area!

This is only relevant to today's post because we had planned on taking Caleigh out for the day to celebrate her success at learning to read, and in light of the storm, chose to play it save and stay in today. I took the opportunity to stay in bed late and read the story of Mary Rowlandson's captivity.

Here is a synopsis of the Mary Rowlandson story:

While King Phillip's War raged around her, this 40 year old wife and mother was taken captive when her little New England village was raided by a Native war party. Thirteen people in the town were killed and scalped before the town was put to the torch. Her husband, a preacher, was out of town at the time. Mary and her baby were wounded in the attack, and her two older children were taken captive. Twenty four people were taken captive that day.

Her captivity lasted 11 weeks and five days. In the time she was held captive, she was able to earn some food and trade goods by sewing and knitting for Indians in the party. A week into the trip, her wounded little one died in her arms and was buried in the forest. She tells of starvation, of exhaustion, of despair. Her son was held captive with another Indian family in the party and they were able to talk on occasion. There is one instance where an Indian, apparently as a joke, tells her that her son's master has killed her son and that they have eaten him but he has only eaten a little, and that he was very good to eat.

Her "master' treats her well, but his wife treats her badly. Some Indians give her food, others refuse. The story is told from her perspective and it is interesting to see how the Native culture was structured. Ultimately, she is brought to Mount Wachusett (today a ski area) and ransomed for twenty pounds worth of trade goods. She passes through the ruins of her town, Lancaster Massachusetts, on the way to Boston to be reunited with her husband. They got word that her son was ransomed at Major Waldron's in the seacoast New Hampshire area and head North to get him. While on the road, they learned that their daughter was brought tot he English in Rhode Island, so with the exception of the baby who was lost on the trail, the family was made whole again. Destitute, but whole.

The ransom was raised by townspeople in Boston and Portsmouth. Englishmen banding together to help out a stricken family. I wonder if we would do the same today?

There is a paragraph in the story where Mary talks about meeting with a relative (brother in law?) on the way home and he asks if she had seen his wife. She had, the unfortunate woman had been shot and killed while leaving the house, then burned beyond recognition. It turns out the poor husband had helped to bury her without even knowing that it was his wife! Such was daily life in wartime New England. These are just a few of thousands of stories of deprivations that took place in the era. In the 1740's, hardly a day went by without news of a raid somewhere in New England.

Please don't read this post and think I am Indian bashing. Atrocities happened on both sides. I'm just looking at the experiences of a typical New England family and viewing it from their perspective because it is easy to compare my home of the frontier to theirs at this moment.

When Mary told her story, she constantly refers to how thankful she is to God that she has as much as she does when she gets nourishment, no matter how meager. By meager, I'm talking about some crumbs of a journey-cake that she found in the bottom of her pocket, a horse hoof, etc. Things that even she knew a dog would pass by.

I look out my double-paned window and watch the storm. Upstairs it is seventy degrees thanks to the oil furnace. Down here in my office, it's a bit chilly, so I've got an electric space heater going, aimed at my desk. I am trying to decide what to eat: leftover roast chicken, leftover American Chop Suey, or maybe I should make a soup out of some other leftover chicken and a leftover pork roast? She was thankful for crumbs, and here I am today which leftover food to use.

In one instance, Mary talks about getting in trouble with her captors for moving a branch that was keeping the heat of the fire from her tired, starving, aching body (that had a bullet hole in it, by the way) and I have turned on an extra heater because it's "chilly" down here.

When we don't have the latest, the fastest, the biggest or the flashiest, we think it is the end of the world. With very few exceptions, we, as modern Americans, live overly comfortable lives with nothing real to complain about. There are no warring tribes roaming our countryside, raiding, pillaging, killing babies that are too young to travel and capturing family members to ransom. It does happen elsewhere in the world, but not here. Our biggest inconvenience is a traffic jam that makes us wait five more minutes to get to the fast-food restaurant. Now we can watch TV and play satellite music on our cell phones and if we don't have one of those phones, it's just a tragedy.

We are pretty spoiled as modern Americans, yet we find things to complain about. We have so much that we don't know what to do with it all. Look at the landfills, drive around on trash day and see the massive piles of stuff that get thrown out simply because it has gone out of style. Nothing is ever good enough for us. No matter how good we have it, we always want more. Why? Is it a drive within our psyche that makes us keep pushing, trying to do better than the generation before? Of is it just plain gluttony?

The Rowlandsons had the same drive, they moved to the frontier in an effort to improve their lives for their children. That was the spirit that built America. What happens to us now that we have conquered all of the frontiers and still have that drive? We seem to constantly need to improve what we have: bigger TVs, faster computers, bigger SUVs. We cut down orchards to build McMansions and then need to import fruit because the orchards are gone. As a society, we have conquered the frontiers and are now trying to conquer each other in a self-destructive show of conspicuous consumption. When we have it all, we still aren't happy.

The CDC says that 64% of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight. Not starving, not digging for groundnuts and eating tree bark: OVERweight. In just over three hundred years we have gone from a seminal population that was barely surviving the odds to a nation of people who are too well fed. Americans spend $30 billion each year on weight loss products. That's just over $100 for every American. $100 is three times what it cost for Mr. Rowlandson to buy back his wife from her captives.

What would Mary think? Would she be proud that the nation she helped to grow has become so prosperous that we spend $30,000,000,000 every year to keep our prosperity from killing us, or would she be saddened to the point that she would encourage her family to seek out a new frontier where people were a little more real and a little more thankful for the prosperity that they have been blessed with?

I've got work to do today, but part of me wants to go out into the woods and try to find some groundnuts, then spend the night huddled by a little fire just to get a little feel of what my forebears went through. It won't even come close to reality. My daughter is still alive, I don't have a bullet hole in my side, my wife won't be lying dead in the snow outside my front door, burned beyond recognition, my nice warm house will still be standing when I return and well stocked with food.

We must never forget the lessons history has taught us. Our forebears suffered immensely in way we cannot even imagine, yet we are never satisfied. The sacrifice of those who went before us has lost it's meaning to us today, and that is the biggest tragedy that we have to deal with.