Saturday, February 20, 2016

Making sausage

I have this insatiable need to know stuff. If it catches my imagination, it is a lost cause. I will find out.

I'm not so much about blogging, but it's that curiosity bump that just won't go away.

I wanted to try my hand(s) at making sausage. Fresh sausage is no fun, but I don't have a sausage grinder or a sausage stuffer and really I try to stay away from things that might not be available at some point. Like electrical gadgets that do nothing but stuff meat into pig intestines...

I used a simple recipe I found on It was intended as a fresh sausage, but I figured it was worth a try.

The initial batch I used hamburger (20% fat) instead of pork because I couldn't find any ground pork.

Most of the fresh "sausage" I wrapped and put in the freezer. But I took two pieces a step further. I added a little more salt, since I knew it would be curing for a while, then wrapped one in plastic and stuck it in the back of the refrigerator. The other I packed tightly into a small jar, then inverted it into a larger jar so it had air on all sides, spread salt over the outside and left it, also, in the refrigerator.

Today, a month later, I pulled them out and put both pieces in a 200 degree oven for a couple of hours (since I don't have a smoker).

I made...sausage, or something. Not quite sure what I'd call it. It's not like any sausage I've ever had before.

The two pieces are very different.

#1, packed sausage. Very solid, and very dark. VERY salty. The texture is like jerky, or one of those "beef sticks" that are sold in supermarkets. The outside is chewy but not tough, the inside more like pepperoni but not at all soft or smooth as pepperoni would be. I can tell it could do with a higher percentage of fat. The flavor isn't familiar but it doesn't taste "off" or bad in any way. The color is a uniform dark brown all the way through. The core temperature was up around 160 degrees.

#2, wrapped sausage. I can tell the two were from the same batch, but good grief the difference. This one is visibly raw (although it doesn't smell like it's gone off either) and crumbly. The outside inch is dark gray, the inside still slightly pink so I'm guessing that either it didn't age long enough or the air getting to the outside is necessary for aging. The core temperature on this one was also around 160 degrees after 4 hours in a 200 degree oven.

I'll cook #2 for dinner tonight to make sure it's safe. The other--I think it's fine the way it is. Now I need to get some glass or metal tubes to use for molds and try it again. A higher percentage of fat this time, and a little less salt.

I know now that sausage CAN be made without the casings. Now to experiment...

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Back pain

I have a bad back. When I was about twenty I worked at a mower shop and someone had wedged a full sized lawnmower into a tiny car-- I think it was a VW Bug or some such thing, but I don't remember. What I remember is twisting as I worked the mower out of its nest and feeling something pop.

It didn't hurt then, but it certainly did later! Ever since then I've struggled with back problems. If I twist wrong, lift wrong, the stupid thing pops out of place, and the muscles then hold it out of place with muscle spasms. I can spend anywhere from a few hours to a week flat, struggling to even turn over.

In all the years between I've learned a few things, however.

  1. When your back is out, sleep with a flat pillow under the small of your back to hold it in the proper curvature. If you sleep on your side, sleep with a pillow under the arch of your waist.
  2. Walk with one shoe off and one shoe on. When my back goes out one leg appears shorter than the other because of the way the spine curves. If I can lift that side, there isn't as much pain and the muscles heal faster as the spine is forced back into the proper position.
  3. Roll off the bed (or couch) onto your knees rather than trying to sit up. Much easier to get into a standing position from your knees. My bed is high enough that I can roll off into a crouching position, making it that much simpler.
  4. If you must sit up (for example you're on the floor exercising) pile cushions on that side to help with the lift. Roll up onto the cushions, then onto your knees.
  5. For those times when your back is good, always exercise. Get some exercises to do and do them every day. Remember to exercise the whole body, not just the back muscles--this means abdominal too. If you feel that twinge that's your back saying "Hey, I'm here!" be proactive. Try to get that thing popped back into place BEFORE it becomes a problem, and be careful how you lift or twist. Increase your exercises, and include some leg stretches that will help in popping it back in.

Years ago I went to a quackopractor for this problem, and while he didn't impress me at all there were a few things he did that I was able to use. This isn't a condemnation of chiropractors by any means, but this one was a waste of time. Thus, quackopractor. One thing he did was to put my knee over the other knee and push it down.

I thought, hey, I can do that. So when I feel that twinge I lay flat on the floor, hook one knee over the other and gently press the upper knee toward the floor. Then repeat on the other side. Often this pops it back in, but most often I just use it as addition to my regular exercises.

The spine is really a set of cushioned hinges, held in place by muscle like stretched rubber bands. Many of our back problems are caused or exacerbated by muscle problems. If one muscle isn't strong enough it can't maintain the tension and the opposing muscle can't relax, which pulls the spine out of place. If a lot of muscles aren't strong enough (or one is too strong) they can snap the spine out of place by themselves. Thus, the reason for exercising evenly on both sides. However, if the spine itself has a weakness and slips out of place the muscles (stretched rubber bands, remember?) will contract and hold it in place--the wrong place.

This puts additional strain on the muscles, and together with torn muscle tissue and swelling cause a great deal of pain. Most people reach for the painkillers.

While ibuprofen and acetaminophen are generally used as pain killers, ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and acetaminophen is a muscle relaxant or anti-spasmodic. Taking the two together (as many people do) gives you the pain killing, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic relief needed for mild back pain. However, I hate taking medicine for any reason. I react to some of the more common ones, and since I don't take them on a regular basis they often have unexpected consequences. One ibuprofen will put me to sleep for twelve hours or more, and they both make me groggy and irritable. I don't like the way they make me feel, I don't like the aftertaste, and I don't like staring at the world through a cotton-candy screen.

So I've come up with herbal alternatives.

A cautionary tale. Many years ago I was just starting to work with herbs. I was under the impression that they were perfectly safe and nothing could go wrong. I had no idea about herb-drug interactions or herb-herb/herb-food interactions. It had simply never occurred to me that such a thing was possible. I looked through my books and found a handful of herbs I had in the garden that were listed as anti-inflammatory or anti-spasmodic. I made a tea of them, and while it tasted absolutely nasty it did help the back pain. Great. One more thing nailed. Happy with that, and high on herbs, I went to work. At work, sitting for hours on end, the herbs wore off. Without thinking about it I reached for the ibuprofen and acetaminophen. It helped a little. Wanting to make it all better, I drank some of my herbal concoction. A few minutes later spasms started that made it impossible to do anything except sit there and cry. Instead of being an ANTI-spasmodic, the combination had created a spasmodic.

I somehow got home, and it was months before I dared do anything more with herbs. I have since narrowed it down to one particular herb in my concoction. The herbs alone are fine. The pharmaceuticals alone are fine. But add in this particular item, on top of the herbs and pharmaceuticals, it reverses the effects and turns into a VERY strong spasmodic.

Back Pain Recipe

This was my first (and worst) experience with interactions, and it is the reason I warn beginners to be very cautious when working with herbs. They are much better for you than pharmaceuticals, and often work better, but they don't come with warning labels or dosage charts. Any warnings are either the voice of experience or bitter experience. One or the other.

The most important thing with back pain is prevention. Exercise every day, exercise evenly (front and back, both sides) and at the first twinge take preventative action. Be careful how you stand, bend and twist. Be careful how you lift. Don't take on things that will strain your back and don't be afraid to ask for help if necessary. The last thing you want is to have to have help for the rest of your life because of a few minutes of I-can-do-it-myself pride.

When prevention fails, be gentle and stay down as much as possible. Move slowly and carefully (as if you could do anything else!) and try to keep the spine in its normal shape. Heat helps. Anti-inflammatories and anti-spasmodics help.

Keep exercising.