Christmas gifts made at home

Summer is starting slowly this year. Yesterday the sun was up early and bright, but this morning it is cool and grey.

IMG_0403-0

 

But that won’t stop the Christmas cheer! Tonight is the big night, dinner with family and opening gifts at midnight. I bought some gifts, but some we made.

I have been weaving.

Scarf

My youngest daughter has been sewing.

wpid-Gifts.jpg

And my oldest daughter baking!

wpid-Cookies.jpg

Wishing everyone a Christmas full of love and happiness!

Opening night

Last night we officially opened Casa Escuela! With friends and family, food and drink, music and fire.

IMG_0331

The day started early, preparing food and decorating the house with our art.

IMG_0326.JPG

As our kids got out of school they joined us, adding to the festive feel of the house. Well, I am not sure festive is the right word to describe their running and jumping!

IMG_0323.JPG

IMG_0322.JPG

IMG_0318.JPG

IMG_0316.JPG

The evening was great, and we all had lots of fun. We may have ate and drank too much, and definitely laughed till our sides hurt, but it is not every day that you start a new adventure!

IMG_0320.JPG

Casa Escuela is close to my mother-in-law’s house, so yesterday I was also able to walk over and visit her. This week she had her third session of chemotherapy. She is feeling a little tired, and experiencing a little hair loss, (and her fingertips feel like she is touching electricity), but overall she is doing well and maintaining a positive attitude. This makes me so happy.

IMG_0300-0.JPG

And in case I needed something else to celebrate, WordPress informed me that yesterday was my four year blog anniversary! What a lot of changes from my first little craft studio to where I am now!

Solar ovens in the valley

Last week, before my daughters went back to school, we had a day in the Elqui Valley.  We joined other people with solar ovens at an ecological camp ground.  The camp ground uses reed beds and natural spring pools for swimming pools.

Natural spring pool

We had a picnic and my youngest had a swim.

Steps between pools

We also walked down to the river where there are natural swimming pools and paths to follow and explore.

The Elqui River

While we had lunch and explored my yarn was dyeing in my solar oven and rice, cake, and sausages were cooking in the other ovens.

Solar ovens dyeing wool and cooking food

Rice cooking in a solar oven

There was a solar water heater on display, made with plastic tubes encased in recycled plastic water bottles.

Solar water heater and information about solar energy

 

Sharing food and ideas

After three hours in the oven my yarn was ready to remove and left to dry.

Solar dyed yarn

We had a lovely day chatting with interesting people and seeing how other people live with their surroundings.

 

Decorations around the camp site

 

 

You don’t need electricity to pluck a rooster – Or how this magnificent bird became Coq au vin

The beginning

I have to start this post with a warning.  If you are vegetarian, or do not like to know where your food comes from, then best not continue, just skip it, this one gets ugly.

Okay now that has been said I can continue with my story.  It started Wednesday night around 1am when I woke up to a sound in the night.  I thought it was an earthquake because the dogs and birds were going crazy.  Our dog continued to bark so I went to see if there was something outside, however when I switched on the light there was no electricity.

Not unusual for us.  Sometimes this is because some one is stealing the cables that bring the electricity to our farm from the road.  So when the lights go out we have to go outside and check.  Not very fun at 1am, but my husband ventured out to see what had happened.  He could see emergency lights on the main road so we figured a car had crashed into a post.  Nothing we could do for now, back to bed.

In the morning there was still no electricity, (a pick-up truck had crashed into our post, then into the large cement one, which then fell on top of the truck.  Surprisingly the  driver was okay and we suspect alcohol).  It didn’t look like we would have electricity for the rest of the day, (it took two days to fix) so I thought since there would be no TV or computer I would attempt to pluck a rooster.

The end

First the rooster had to be killed.  I have done this before, but not very well, and “killing not very well” is not a nice way to be killed.  I asked one of the men on the farm to kill the rooster which they do by wringing it’s neck.

Dead rooster

Here the normal way to pluck is wet plucking a bird.  This means the bird is dipped in very hot water to loosen the feathers.  This makes plucking much easier but then the bird has to be dressed and drawn, (insides removed),  immediately.

I wanted to try dry plucking the bird and then letting it hang for a few days before dressing.  The men on the farm thought I was crazy, they had never heard of leaving the insides in.

Once the rooster was dead I started plucking.  This is the first time I have done this by myself.

Plucking the breast

I started with the breast.  It is a strange thing to do, you have to be firm to get the feathers out but gentle so as not to rip the skin.  And I must admit, the few times I ripped the skin my knees went week and my girls and I squealed “eeewwww!”

Plucking the leg

After the breast side I turned it over to work on the back, leaving the wings for last.

Plucking the back of the rooster

It was slow going, about two hours to pluck the rooster but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  The end result was a bit ugly, but I was quite proud of my first go!

Not bad

The instructions for plucking and dressing the rooster I got from, “The Self-Sufficiency Bible” by Simon Dawson.

A year ago, when I was at a hand spinning demonstration in Arlington Court, Devon, I met Mr. Dawson and bought his book.  It gave me the courage to try doing all this by myself. I hope he doesn’t mind me including his links in my blog.

His blog is http://theselfsufficientwriter.blogspot.com/ and his web site http://www.hiddenvalleypigs.co.uk/  for any one who is interested.

After plucking I left the rooster to hang for two days in a cold, secure storeroom, then on Saturday I dressed it.

Ready to be dressed

I started by removing the head, feet, and wing tips.

Removing the feet, pulling out the tendons

Next the crop is loosened by the neck.  Then a cut is carefully made around the vent.

Cutting around the vent

This is when it gets messy.  The cut has to be made big enough to slide a hand inside.

Carefully I started to bring the inside bits out, starting with the gizzard.

The gizzard comes out first

Everything out

Once everything is out, the rest of the vent is carefully cut out lifting everything out together.

All ready to cook

Sunday I cooked the Coq au vin!  The recipe I use is from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s, “The River Cottage Meat Book”.  I love this cook book and recommend it to anyone who raises there own animals for food.  I have done the recipe a few times so now I follow it loosely, depending on what I have in the kitchen.

A few of the ingredients for the Coq au vin

Dusted in flour and browned.

Frying the thighs then adding them to the pot

Adding the red wine.

Red wine to de-glaze the frying pan

Then let it cook slowly for a couple of hours.  Delicious!

Ready to eat

Most people who know me will be surprised that I can pluck, dress and draw a rooster, but this photograph shows that it is obviously something I have wanted to do for a long time.

Me and a friend, I am the one smiling!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

I tend to get a bit emotional when I break things in the kitchen.  I think I put too many memories into objects; memories like the romantic night drinking champagne with the black stemmed glasses, or the blue mug we bought when we first moved into the house.  Breaking these items was a bit teary…

A couple weeks ago while moving some plates I knocked four bowls onto the floor and two broke.  I wasn’t too sad, but they looked so pretty, the black, red, and now white, that I just put them to one side.

Bowl and pieces

 

Now what to do with the pieces?  I could use them in a mosaic, or to decorate the garden, or in the fish tank… Anyone have any ideas?

Cooking with the sun

A couple of years ago I was the president of the “Parents Association” at my daughter’s school.  This was a two year position, (that actually slid to two and half), and entailed a lot of work, mainly raising money for the school.  However, the “Centro de Padres” was lucky enough to win a grant which we used to learn how to build and use solar and adobe ovens.

With 15 other mothers we spent a year building solar and mud ovens, learning to cook with them, participating in workshops and demonstrations, and getting to know each other better.  It was a great experience, if not a bit stressful because it was a government grant with my name on it.  These are a few of the pictures I took to document the process.

 

Mothers learning how to make solar ovens with the teachers and students watching.

 

Students working with us. It was the first time many of them had used power tools, they had a great time.

 

The girls also had a go with the tools.

 

Getting dirty building the adobe wood burning oven. It uses wood more efficiently than an open fire.

 

Empanadas cooking in the oven.

 

All of us at the end of the project, me in the middle.

We all received a solar oven that we could continue to use in our own homes.  When you drive through the “pueblo” you can see some of them in use during the summer.

I have used mine for cooking, but also use it for dying wool, especially in the winter when the temperatures are lower.  I put hand spun yarn in jars, (or a big pot), with different leaves, flowers or onion skins.  The water does not boil and I can leave the wool “stewing” without worrying about over cooking.  It brings the water up to temperature very slowly, and then in the evening I leave it to cool slowly through the night.

We are now into autumn here and so last week before the temperatures dropped I cooked a black banana bread.  The recipe is from the internet, but it is just like one my mom used to cook when I was little.

 

Banana bread cooking in my oven.

It cooks at a low temperature for two and a half hours, but because the sun wasn’t strong it took longer and didn’t go as dark as it should have.  It was very sticky, (instead of moist), but still yummy.

 

Banana bread cooked in the solar oven.