Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Mighty meaty

It's been a highly sociable week. On Saturday, my daughter and two grandsons came for an overnight visit. It's the first time the boys have stayed with us and grandson number 1 was very excited about staying on 'Grandma's farm'. They arrived mid afternoon on Saturday and played a bit, ate supper and got settled in for the evening. On Sunday morning it was still damp outside, but dressed in our not-so-glamorous waterproofs, we still managed to get outside and do a few chores. My older grandson helped us to move flexible fencing, feed the chickens and ducks and move wood chippings onto a particularly soggy and slippery area in the duck enclosure. 

 My daughter took this photo of us on our way to get yet another barrow load of wood chips, it made me realise that I really need to invest in some waterproofs that don't give me a Michelin Man look. I loved spending this precious time with him and hearing his squeals of delight as we raced around the yard. It seems riding in a wheelbarrow is the mode of transport for a five year old, although I'm not sure which of us enjoyed this more!
 Yesterday morning Mr J and I cleaned out the chicken shed. The eight inch deep bed of sawdust certainly made interesting scratching material for the chickens and it also helped to soak up some of the rainwater that was sitting on the surface of the ground unable to drain away fast enough.
 The chickens will scratch through this and turn it over and over during the winter months and then, in the spring, I will fence some of the area off and plant kale, spinach and other vegetables that the chickens like to eat. It will be quick and easy to feed the chickens some of their favourite leafy greens when they are growing in the chicken's field.
We then refreshed the deep bedding sawdust in the chicken shed and I treated the perches and fixings with diatomaceous earth as a preventative measure against red mite and then we headed indoors for a quick wash so that we didn't smell of chicken poop for the rest of the day.

Martha of @MarthaRoberts arrived early afternoon to deliver a couple of boxes of pork. I met Martha via Twitter, which has proved a great place to get to know some like-minded smallholders. She has a smallholding near Abergavenny on which she raises rare breed pigs that happily spend their days foraging on her hillside amongst woodland and grass. 
Photo courtesy of  Martha Roberts

A few weeks ago I asked Martha for a half a pig when the next batch of free range animals were despatched. She gave me plenty of notice so I was able to make sure that we had lots of space in the freezer.

I asked for some of the parts of a pig that aren't as popular now as they were in the past. So yesterday I took delivery of my half a pig together with some liver, hearts, kidneys, hock and leaf fat (the fat from around the kidneys).

I'm going to make liver pate, a coarse pate for Mr J and a smooth one for me. I'm going to render the leaf fat to make lard, which is high in omega 3 and I understand that if it's rendered very slowly and makes a very white lard, it is perfect for pastry as well as for using as a cooking fat. I'd like to try a rich slow casserole with the kidneys and slow roast stuffed hearts.

I'm really keen to experiment with old recipes and find ways to use as much of the carcass as I can because I feel that so much of the animal must go to waste. While we love a pork joint for a roast dinner, there are an awful lot of other dishes that can be made using other cuts.
Photo courtesy of  Martha Roberts

This experimentation has a reason. Mr J and I have been discussing our mid term plans for the smallholding and have decided that we may have a couple of pigs in the future. This certainly won't happen in 2017 and depending on how far we get with upgrading the dilapidated piggieries, it may happen in 2018 or later. In the meantime, we can learn how to make the very best use of as much of a pig as possible. There are some parts of the animal that I can't face trying, it makes no logical sense at all, but still, I don't fancy the lungs or spleen despite finding several recipes of how to cook them.

I've been searching through my mother's cookery books (like this 1961 edition of Mrs Beeton's) and looking online for recipes, hints and tips of how to prepare our new food. My plan for the next couple of months is to try out new recipes and decide which appeal to us the most and to share the successes on my blog. 

This morning Helen and Jane came to visit. Actually, Helen came to collect the flexible fencing that she kindly lent to us earlier in the year. We spent a lovely couple of hours drinking tea, eating cake and talking all things smallholding. Helen keeps pigs and Jane has sheep, so we swapped stories of muddy incidents, rainy days chasing our animals and shared lots of laughter.

This afternoon I started turned my attention to the pork. I started with the easiest joints to cook, the roast shoulder joints with crispy crackling.



I unwrapped the joints and left them to get to room temperature. I put them into a roasting tin. I scored the skin and rubbed some sea salt over the skin and into the scoring and put them into the oven on 220 degrees C. After about 25 minutes I turned the temperature down to 170 degrees C and cooked the joints until they were ready (I like meat well cooked). I poured off some of the fat and juices into a bowl after the first hour and again once they were cooked. Once they are cold, the fat and juices can be separated and I will freeze the juices in small portions until I want to use it as a base for gravy.

This evening's supper was a celebration of smallholders' food. We had roast pork, crackling, apple sauce that I made in September using our neighbours' windfall apples, gravy and purple sprouting broccoli which I picked from the garden just before dusk. We took a few moments to appreciate how lucky we are.
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Monday, 21 November 2016

Coping or managing

Most of my blog posts are about what we are up to, what's changing on our smallholding and how I've tackled various tasks with the poultry, vegetable garden or food forest. But sometimes the reasons that we've chosen this lifestyle become clear to us once again and although I try not to bleat on about being unwell, I think it's also useful not to pretend that all is hunkydory, because it's not. That said, we have better health than many people and better than many of our friends and family, so I do keep a sense of perspective and write with the knowledge that in the grand scheme of things, we are very fortunate.

It's been a funny few weeks. My thyroid has been playing up and I've been working with my GP to try to get it under control again. I had a marvelous spring and summer in terms of energy and pain levels and I have learnt how to better manage both, but at the end of September I started feeling not as well as I could (read about it here)

It seems that every now and then I will have a blip, one that I cannot manage and find it hard to cope with. Now I know how that feels and how it affects me, I can find ways to deal with it and act more quickly to counter the deterioration. 

One of those ways is to get a blood test as soon as I start feeling ill so that the GP can adjust my prescription. But this is easier said than done, getting a blood test can take two to three weeks and the GP appointment is usually a week after that. Once the prescription has been changed it can take a couple of months to feel the full effect of the new level of medication. So potentially once I start feeling unwell, it can be three months or more before I am back to feeling like me again. Clearly this is not an ideal situation, but it is one that I am going to have to learn to cope with.

Anyway, back in September a blip (often known as a Hashi's attack) caused my thyroid to function less well again and my GP increased my prescription with a view to getting my hormone levels correct, for how I want to feel, again. I have muddled through the last couple of months knowing that the medication level wasn't high enough and as instructed, I booked another blood test for six weeks after the last GP visit. Those blood tests were last week and the results show that there has been a slight improvement in the hormone levels, hooray! Although they aren't at a level that allows me to feel fully well, boo. And this week, I have been experiencing yet another blip, double boo! So today was the day to see the GP and I was going to tell her I felt I needed to increase the prescription and to talk to her about this next blip that I am having which will be knocking my thyroid function yet again. 

Unfortunately my GP is unwell and my appointment has been cancelled and there isn't another appointment for three weeks. So I have booked another blood test for two weeks time so that my GP and I can discuss up-to-date and relevant results rather than a month old results. It is not my doctor's fault that she is unwell and in the meantime I have the choice to self-medicate and increase my dosage or continue in this downward spiral of dysfunction.

Here's what I have learnt about my illness. Hashimoto's is an auto-immune disease and only attacks the thyroid, which means my body thinks my thyroid is a problem and is attacking it (doh!) and little by little is destroying it. Once my thyroid is totally destroyed I will no longer have Hashimoto's thyroiditis. There will be other issues to contend with if and when that stage comes, but at least the Hashimoto's will have gone. The thyroid is the gland that controls most of our hormones and our metabolic rate is all tied up in the same system. People with hypothyroidism are often (but not always) overweight as their metabolisms don't process food in the same way. They can also have all sorts of other issues as a result of a slower metabolism, like slower heart-rate, poor digestion, swelling, pain and weaker immune systems.

The prescription that is usually given in the UK is a synthetic replacement of a hormone called T4 which the thyroid converts into T3. T3 is the form that the body can actually use to regulate all the functions that the thyroid is supposed to regulate. It seems to me that it would make more sense to prescribe a replacement of the T3 hormone, but what do I know?

When a Hashi's attack occurs the thyroid function decreases and so more T4 is needed for the thyroid to convert it into T3 and so the spiral continues. Many folks find they get to a level and stop having attacks and can function fully on their synthetic replacement, for others it is harder or more complicated. So far I am pleased to say that I seem to be responding well to the synthetic replacement and as long as do several other things to support my systems, I can trundle along pretty well.

As result of either the Hashimoto's or adrenal fatigue (which most UK doctors don't recognise) I do not absorb nutrients as well as I could previously, so I take nutrient supplements every day. These include several vitamins and a handful of minerals. A catch-all multi-vitamin doesn't work for me, so I take individual vitamin and mineral tablets at different times of the day because trial and error has shown me which times of day to take which supplements to have the most positive impact.

And, there are several things I don't do any more to help my system work more effectively. I am now on a caffeine free, alcohol free, gluten free and as much as possible an organic diet (yes, mostly that feels pretty fun-free too!).

I know this isn't my usual type of blog post, but occasionally I feel the need to take stock and to remember that even though I don't feel 100% healthy all the time (or any of the time), I have achieved an enormous amount on the smallholding over our first year and that's something to celebrate!

Time for a cuppa!

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