Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bridge Building Progress at Las Flores

It's time for another bridge construction update!



Standing back, you can get something of an overview of the progress thus far.




Here's an even better view of the progress, from the other side of the river.




Without further commentary, here are scenes from a day at the jobsite:























On this particular day, the crew included my hubby, all three of my sons, and a future son-in-law (who was home on break from the air force academy). I know you're all wanting a picture of the future son-in-law, so here you go:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Miniature Tomatoes


My success with growing tomatoes has not been anything to brag about so far. I've tried heirloom seeds, locally purchased seeds, and regular hardware store packet seeds. I generally get nice looking plants, until they're about 18" high or so, and then things go downhill. I've gotten some tomatoes, but not enough to make up for the time and materials spent thus far.

However, we have a volunteer tomato plant growing in the garden right now, which is producing hundreds of tomatoes. I think this may be a naturally growing local plant, as we occasionally find these plants growing wild around the property. The catch is that these are teensy tiny, miniature tomatoes. I've neglected and abused this plant, the hornworms have taken a shot at it, it's the dry season and I don't make a point of watering it - but nothing seems to even slow it down. Boo brings in a bit more than a quart container of tomatoes from this one plant every day.

These tiny tomatoes taste like regular tomatoes, except that the proportion of skin to "insides" is high, and obviously skinning these tomatoes would be a ridiculous endeavor, so they're not great for cooking or sauces.

They're my one tomato-growing success, however, so I just thought I'd share that with you!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bacon . . . HOMEMADE Bacon!!!!!!!


Sunday morning we had bacon and eggs for breakfast. We don't currently have chickens, so we didn't produce the eggs, but . . . amazingly enough . . . it was homemade bacon!!!!! Oh, and our apologies for the poor photos in this post - we've been teasing Boo that she was so distracted by the bacon she was unable to concentrate on her photography!

Of course, this was meat from our recent pig butchering. I found a recipe for making bacon, which didn't require any ingredients I don't have. Here is the recipe, along with detailed instructions.

There was a bit of trial and error involved here. I followed the instructions on the website, except that we had already removed the skin from the pieces of meat. Oh yes, and the website said to trim the meat to a nice rectangular shape. No way - I'm not wasting any potential bacon in order to have my meat look tidy. Every bit of our meat became bacon, and the slices are . . . rustic . . . in shape. Fine with us; we'll call this "Artisanal Bacon" and pretend we paid more for the trendiness of it. LOL

I halved the recipe, and still had lots of the mixture left over, after I had coated the meat with it. Then the meat sat in the fridge from Monday until Saturday, soaking up the "cure." On Saturday morning we baked the bacon in the oven for several hours at a low temperature (as directed on the website).

Here's what the meat looked like after it was baked, and before it was sliced (this is one of the two pieces). Please notice the artisanal, non-rectangular shape. LOL

After the baking, Rachel sliced some of it up, and we fried a few pieces. They were toooooooo salty! Oh my, almost inedible. Turns out, five days was much too long to let the meat soak up the cure - probably because my pieces of meat were small (because we butchered a small hog).

However, the next morning, I pulled out more of the meat, and I soaked some of the slices in water for 20 minutes before frying them. These were perfect!

And so, we had delicious bacon and eggs for breakfast!

Later, we used some of the bacon to flavor a yummy bean soup Rachel concocted for dinner. The soup also contained home grown miniature tomatoes.



I'm not sure any of my new homestead-y skills impresses me quite as much as having achieved homemade bacon. I'm mighty pleased!

Next week, however, we're going to make our first attempt at homemade ham, and will possibly have that ham for our Easter dinner. I'll let you know.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Puppy's First Bath

Here's the puppy we've chosen to keep from our recent litter of labs. Her father is getting elderly, and we wanted to make sure to keep his genetic material around, since he's an especially large and handsome dog.

She doesn't have a name yet . . . anyone want to offer naming suggestions? (Oh, and her eyes aren't really purple - they're kind of hazel at the moment, and we think they'll likely settle into a light golden brown, like her father's eyes.)

It's the dry season


Things are really, really dry here now, although it still rains fairly often up on Celaque mountain, so the rivers have a good bit of water in them yet. At our place, there isn't much green to see, except for the pine trees.

Boo took some pictures this week, for fun and to improve her camera skills. I thought I'd share some of those, to document the dryness of the season.





The deciduous trees have dropped most of their leaves.



The grasses are all dried up.



Everything is covered with a layer of dust.


We should have another month of very hot, very dry weather, and then we can expect the rains to return. Everything will turn green, we'll have trouble keeping up with the rapid growth of weeds and grasses, and we'll be fighting to keep muddy dogs out of the house.

Even dry season has some charm.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pictures of the pig butchering - part 2

WARNING: IF YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE PICTURES OF A HOG BEING BUTCHERED, DON'T READ THIS POST! If you are interested in our butchering, you might want to read Part 1 first.

Below, you can see pictures of the guys removing the skin off the pig carcass. We'll be using the skin to make pork rinds (for now, it's all in the freezer, until I have a chance to find out how to cook pork rinds).




There was so much skin! I shared with Russell and both the workers, and still have a pile of it in the freezer!


Here's the almost finished skinning job. After this was done, the guys were finally ready to cut chunks of meat!


Here's a fresh pork shoulder.


Here are the ribs, about to be cut off the carcass. I can't look at them without thinking about them on the barbeque grill.


If you squint, and use your imagination, you can see what I see when I look at this picture . . . two hams!

That's it for pics of our butchering. In answer to an obvious question, we butchered this pig while it was still awfully small because we didn't have housing for it any longer (we still have three smaller - but growing - pigs in the pig fortress), and also because we wanted this first butchering to be a less daunting task than it would be with a larger pig.

Now that we have a bit of experience, we can take on a larger hog, and eventually be ready for butchering a cow!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pictures of the pig butchering - part 1

You are being warned: if you don't want to see pictures of a pig being butchered, then DON'T READ ANY MORE OF THIS POST! I did try to be judicious in my choice of pictures, so you won't see the ones which I thought might be most offensive - but it wouldn't be possible to illustrate the butchering of a pig without showing pictures with some level of "yuck." And honestly, I thought the process was pretty fascinating, so I'd like to share the photos with those who want to see them.

Nuff said? Ready or not, here we go . . .

First, the guys had to get the biggest of the pigs out of the pig fortress, and tied to a tree where they had decided to do the butchering. During this part of the dry season there aren't many leaves on the trees, but they hoped for some shade while they worked. They also wanted to use the tree to hang up the pig carcass, so they could butcher it off the ground. (We looked at blogs and videos of butcherings - sometimes this is done with the pig lying out horizontally, sometimes with the pig hanging head down. Russell - who is in charge of this event - chose the head-down position.)



Russell borrowed a pistol from one of his Honduran relatives, and used that to shoot the pig in the brain. After being shot, the pig flailed about quite a bit. I knew this would happen, from our research (I liken it to the "chicken running around with it's head cut off" scenario), but it was a bit of a nuisance. We'd read that we needed to cut the pig's neck as quickly as possible, while the pig's heart was still beating, as the pumping of the heart would help push out all of the pig's blood. Working together, the three guys together held down the now-dead pig, and "stuck" it in the neck, to drain out the blood.

Next, the guys worked on removing the hair. Here in Honduras the pig skin is always cooked up into a treat - pork rinds. So, the hair removal had to be done quite thoroughly - nobody wants to eat hairy pork rinds! In our internet research, we mostly saw people immersing the entire carcass into a huge kettle of boiling water, which would loosen the hair so that it could then be scraped off. The process here involves adding chalk to boiling hot water, pouring the chalky water over part of the hog, covering that part with sacks to hold in the heat, scraping the hair from that part, then repeating this process until the hair is removed from the entire animal.



Removing all of the hair took a long time. It worried me a bit, as we have to keep this whole process moving along, to get the meat into the freezer before it starts to spoil. Tools used for the scraping involved putty knives, the edges of sharp knives, and broken pieces of ceramic roofing tile.

There was a lot of hair on one little pig! It's easy to see how people used to gather enough to stuff furniture with!


After the pig was hung up on the tree, the hair removal process continued, until the guys were finally satisfied with the job.


Then the pig's head was cut off. No pictures of that will be posted . . . feel free to thank me.

Russell carefully makes the first cut. Cutting too deep could open up the intestines, causing no end of grief. Since Russell hadn't ever done this before, he took it slow.




Here are the guts, all removed from the carcass. We kept the liver, for Allen, Russell took the heart (just because he thought it would be fun to try eating one of the edible organs), and the rest of the edible parts of the guts were given to the workers. I hope you're not grossed out by this picture. I find it oddly beautiful, myself.

Next the carcass was washed down, in preparation for cutting up the meat!

That's all for today - I have other things to do besides blogging, you know. For instance, I need to mix up some cures to turn some of this meat into bacon and ham. Yummy - I hope!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Yikes!

I just went through the photos from the butchering. Boo did a great, thorough job of documenting the whole thing . . . but the pics seem a bit graphic to me. I'm going to have to sort through them before I figure out what I will and won't be posting.

Ohhh, here are a couple of pictures that just look like meat, rather than looking like dead animal. You (most of you) are okay looking at meat, right?

Here's Russell holding up a small ham (ummmm, sorry about it still having the foot attached).


And here are some ribs, just ready for the grill!

The pig is dead

Here's the pig, just before . . .

The bull is looking on. Is that sympathy?

Things are a bit busy just now. I'll post more pics in a bit.



9:45am update: Today is Allen's one day off for the week. He's trying to stay out of the butchering . . . so instead, he and Gus are making up some bookshelves! We had the lumber already sanded, just needs to be cut, nailed together, stained, and sealed. We need these bookcases to use them as a "wall" between Gus and Josiah, when they share Gus' room, so they can each have some privacy, and a place to put things (um, like clothing, for instance).

Having carpentry going at the same time as butchering is keeping us on our toes. Of course, I still have my regular chores to keep up with (laundry and dishes), and I'm wanting to put out a nice lunch for the workers, so I have a couple of chickens roasting in the oven.

The butchering crew is working steadily on cleaning the hair off the pig's skin. I'll explain how they do this, with pictures, later.

2:15pm update: The butchering is done! I've got all the meat packaged, and it is either in the fridge or the freezer. Allen kept the liver, but we gave away the rest of the organ meat, the head, and the back.

I need a rest. Pictures will come after I've had some time off my feet!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gearing up for the slaughter . . .

I'm really busy today, trying to get everything ready for the butchering tomorrow. I'm glad we decided to butcher the hog while it's still on the small side, because Allen and Russell figure I'll be dealing with about 70 pounds of meat - that sounds like a LOT of meat to enter the kitchen all at once!

I'm figuring on freezing some of the meat (note to self: go clean and organize in the freezer, to make more space), and sticking some into the fridge to deal with a bit later (note to self: clean out the fridge, too). I'm hoping to can much of this meat, but I don't think I should try to take on canning the same day as butchering. The meat in the fridge will be canned in the next couple of days, and the meat in the freezer can be successfully thawed and canned after that.

In other climates, people butcher when the weather is cold, so that the meat can sit out (in a safe but cool place, like in a shed). This gives the workers time to process each piece of meat, and is also said to improve the flavor of the meat. Of course, we don't have that option. We'll be cutting up this hog and preserving the meat as quickly as possible, before the meat starts to spoil - and I'll be doing this while Rachel is out of town, which isn't the very best plan, but we'll make do.

Anyway, today is a preparation and research day. If possible, I'd like to try curing ham and bacon, but that might be too much to take on along with our first butchering.

Now I'm off to go watch more videos and read more step-by-step instruction guides (oh yeah, and clean out the fridge and freezer). Wish me luck!



2:30pm Update: The chest freezer is cleaned out! Ben and I did a thorough job organizing and cleaning out the frost build-up. There should be plenty of room for as much of the meat as we wish to put in there!

Now I'm back to the more restful work of researching on the internet, while my hands thaw out. Then I'll tackle the fridge!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Now here's something new . . .

If everything comes together right, we may be butchering our first hog this weekend. Allen has an experienced fellow coming over to do the work/show us how.

I'm excited, and nervous . . . and thinking about pork . . .

I know you're going to want pictures, right?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The kids are home!

Rachel, Gus and Boo have been away almost all of the past month, helping with translating for a visiting team. It was a good opportunity for them to stretch their wings a bit, without us parents watching over them. I'm told they did great! Gus had his 18th birthday away from home, which was a bit sad.

But now, they're back!

Well, Gus and Boo are back. Rachel came back as far as the city of Gracias, and went directly to Russell and Iris' house. This is the week she and Iris cook the meals for the pastor training school, and she stays with them during that time, so I haven't seen her yet. This month's school session ends today, which means she's now done cooking, but I still won't be seeing her until Monday. This is the weekend when the Honduran Air Force Academy has their annual open house - so she's headed to Comayagua on the bus, to visit with her boyfriend, Brandy, who is a student at the academy (she'll stay at the home of missionary friends, so she's not completely unchaperoned - but she's 20 now, so she's old enough to do these kinds of things on her own, occasionally). We're all excited for Brandy, as just last week he had his first opportunity to actually fly a plane! After the weekend, I do sort of expect Rachel to make her way home to us.

Gus has been home since the weekend, but today is the first day since his stint as a translator that he hasn't gone to work at the bridge project. He wasn't feeling well last night, and is taking a rest and recuperate day today.

Boo came home sick (upset tummy, fever, and swollen tonsils), and has been laying low for a few days. Today, for the first time since her return, she's feeling well enough to work on something. She's doing some cleaning and organizing, as she gets the gift box project going again. This month with the kids away put that project way behind schedule!

We do need to get the gift box situation finished, as we're expecting a new house guest/helper in a couple of weeks. Josiah will be staying in half of Gus' large room. Currently that "unoccupied" half of the room is full of supplies for making the gift boxes . . . so that project needs to be put on the front burner, or we won't have a place to put him! Unlike Katy, who mostly helped us around the house (specifically, she put in lots of time on the gift boxes), Josiah will be heading out with Allen every day, to work at the bridge project.

Ben and I have been having some fun one-on-one time while the others were away, but he's awfully glad to have his siblings home again. Apparently I'm not quite as entertaining as they are.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Another day on the bridge project

Once the wall had been poured as high as ground level, the men had to pass the buckets of cement and the stones up to workers standing on scaffolding, to pour the next level.


One end of the new wall runs under the existing bridge. The increasing height of the new wall under the old bridge is making for some tight working conditions. You can just see the planks of the existing bridge along the right edge of this picture.


Now lookie here! Allen and the local government each purchased a brand new cement mixer to use on this project! We're pretty hi-tech now!

I asked Russell for some details: it seems that it takes a crew of about twenty men to keep one mixer going all day. Some of these men (usually local volunteers) bring buckets of sand and gravel from the stockpiles over to the mixers. Certain workers are assigned to pour the raw materials into the mixers, keeping track to make sure the correct proportion of each kind of material is maintained. Some of the most knowledgeable of the crew (normally Allen, Russell, Gus, or certain ones of our regular paid crew) run the machines. Next to each mixer is a large pan, into which the mixed concrete is poured. More workers (again, this work is generally done by the volunteers) shovel the mixture into buckets and carry these buckets to the men on the scaffold, who are also members of our paid crew. Our guys on top of the scaffold put the concrete and rocks into the wall panels.





Another level of the wall completed!