Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pickled Deer Heart

Now that DH got a deer, it's time to make a hunting season tradition:  pickled heart.

It's a pretty simple process.

First, clean the heart well under running water.  Make sure the water gets into all chambers of the heart and any blood clots get flushed out.

Then, trim off the top of the heart, where the aortas come out.  They are rather tough and not nice to have in your mouth.  Also trim off any fat that might be on the heart.  Some deer have fat, others don't.  In the two pictures below, you can see a little fat (the white stuff) around the top of the heart.

Next, put the heart into a sauce pot that is big enough to cover the heart with water.  Now cover the heart with water ;-)

Put the pot on the stove and heat to boiling.

 Once it comes to a boil, put a lid on the pot and turn the heat down to a simmer.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the heart is cooked completely through.  (When it's done, it will be uniformly brown all the way through if you slice it).

Remove the heart from the pot and put on a cutting board.  If you have dogs or cats, don't throw out the liquid that remains in the pot.  I save it and add it to their food for extra protein and a treat.  You could even use it yourself as a soup stock, but we aren't that gung-ho here.  Mainly because the liquid doesn't smell all that appetizing.

Allow the heart to cool enough that you can handle it without burning your fingers.  With a sharp knife, cut into 1/4" slices (slicing 'around', not the 'long way' ie. top to bottom of heart).  You do start at the top and work your way to the bottom, though.  Hope that's not too confusing.  As you are slicing, you may or may not have to do some trimming on the inside, where the valves are.

Place the slices into a deep dish or a bowl.  Add sliced onions and 2 Tbsp pickling spices.

 Over this, pour enough water/vinegar solution (50/50) to cover the heart and onions.

Refrigerate overnight before eating (if you can wait that long!)

As a side note, a deer heart (or other large mammal heart like a hog or steer) makes a great hands-on science lesson for a kid (or an adult!).  When washing out the heart, if you squeeze rhythmically, you can actually imitate the pumping action of the heart in a living animal, with the water moving in and out of the chambers of the heart.  Try it!  Let the water run in one of the aortas but not the other; squeeze the heart to 'pump' it, and see the water come out the other side.

Monday, October 29, 2012

First Deer of the Season!

At this little place here, we are doing the happy dance.  We have fresh venison hanging in the barn.  This is the earliest in the fall that we've ever had fresh venison.  On Saturday evening, DH took his first bow season buck, ever.

DH has been hunting for many years.  Before I met him, he was a deer hunter.  Even while still in high school,  he would get home from school, grab his bow or rifle (depending on which season it was), and hit the woods until after dark.  I've heard stories of him doing homework in the deer blind.  (Now whether he really did or whether he just said this to convince our straight-A chasing son to go out and hunt, I'm not sure.)

In college, and for the first ten years of our marriage, his hunting time was greatly diminished.  He had neither the easy access to huntable land, nor the time to sit every evening.  When we purchased this little place here, he was able to start bow hunting again, for the first time in a long time, because every weekend he could roll out of bed, put on his cammies, grab his bow, walk 250+ yards through the field, and into the woods to his tree stand.  No long drive up north to his boyhood home necessary.

Even so, it has taken until now for him to harvest a buck with an arrow.  Saturday evening, he shot this nice eight point whitetail (could have been a 10, had it not broken off two tines) with the crossbow that he purchased last year.

It wasn't a glorious shot, exactly.  He came in from the hunt with a strange air about him.  I thought he'd perhaps gotten a deer, yet, he seemed kind of down.  It was a weird vibe; part tribulation, part self-disgust.

Turned out he'd gut shot the deer.  In his lack of experience with the crossbow, he'd forgotten it doesn't behave exactly the same as a compound bow, and not exactly the same as a shotgun or rifle, either.  He'd twisted and turned a little, and somehow in doing so, his arrow had gone slightly awry.  It hit the deer, and went all the way through.  Not what a sweet spot shot should do.  The deer was phased, but neither dropped, nor dashed off like a hit deer will do.  Instead, it ran a short way, then walked off out of sight further into the woods.  After waiting about fifteen minutes, with the sky now almost completely dark, DH climbed down out of his stand and went to retrieve his arrow, which he could see stuck in the ground about 12 yards away.

The arrow had blood on it, and another, darker substance.  There was no blood anywhere on the ground that DH could tell with his little tracking flashlight.  With a sinking feeling, he realized the deer was gut shot.  They can go quite a ways with a gut shot before eventually dying.

We hunt for meat, to feed our family. This isn't a sport so much as an extension of gardening.  It's more about the nutritive food value than about a trophy for the wall.  We get rather attached to 'our' deer, and don't shoot them just for the thrill of killing something.  We want our shots to be good, and the death to be as quick and relatively painless for the deer as possible.  Which is why I've only ever taken two deer myself; I only shoot them standing still and standing at a certain angle and distance.  One of mine dropped dead on the spot, the other ran 50 yards and then dropped dead. Both very easy to recover. I don't want to take a chance shot at one on the move, wound it, and have it suffer infection or be brought down by coyotes because I've weakened it.  Death by coyote is certainly not as pleasant as death by well placed shot from a hunter.

So DH really felt bad that the deer was not only suffering, but that we might not be able to retrieve it and use the meat, thus making it a senseless death.

We ate dinner quickly, then DH, DD2 and I went out to see if we could track the deer despite it being night. We spent an hour and a half carefully combing an ever widening area of the woods, beginning at the point where DH had shot the deer.  We could not find any blood, only a little hair and a very few spots of something that looked rather like diarrhea.  More confirmation that it was, indeed, a gut shot.  Possibly intestinal, by the looks of what we were seeing spotted here and there on the ground.

But the trail was pretty much non-existent, and in the dark we weren't making any progress.  So we called off the search until daylight.

In the morning, DH was able to find the deer rather quickly.  In fact, it was just about 40 yards from where we'd ended our search the night before.  All he had to go on, though, was two hairs, scuffled leaves, and a handful of small blood spots, which eventually led to a larger spot of blood where the deer had rested.  And from there, it hadn't gone much further before collapsing.  Near impossible to see with a flashlight on fallen leaves at night.

He feels much better now. Still remorseful that it wasn't a better placed shot, that the deer had to suffer for more than a few minutes.  But glad that he was able to recover the deer in a timely manner, and that the weather was cold enough overnight none of the meat spoiled.

Fresh inner loins cooked in onions were the victor's lunch on Sunday.

DH's 8pt buck;
hanging weight 145 pounds

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My First Brussels Sprouts

Well, not exactly the first, if you're thinking in terms of "She's never eaten Brussels sprouts before?".  I have.  And as a kid I hated them from the first time they were put in front of me.  Nasty, mushy things, I can't even recall the taste because it was the texture that was repulsive.

I'm that kind of a person; one that texture/touch/feel matters a lot to.  Tapioca pudding?  Can't do it, feels lumpy and nasty in my mouth. Shredded Wheat or Triscuits?  Ugh, I have a brillo pad in my mouth! Lace on my clothes?  Can't do it, it tickles and itches until I think I'm going to go insane.  Stiff socks?  Nope, nope, nope.  I spend extra money for soft socks and they are one of the few things I actually dry in my dryer during the summer time.  Massage?  Um, don't touch me!!  Most ordinary massage techniques just feel uncomfortable to me and not relaxing in the least.  Forget manicures and pedicures; having my nails filed gives me the willies.

So, for a long time, Brussel's sprouts were out, for me.  Then I realized, as a mature thirty-something, that there were a lot of foods I eat now that I didn't eat back when (like, before I cooked all my food and had to rely on someone else's cooking) and that the difference was mostly in how they were prepared. Preparation can really make or break the texture (or taste) of a food. Going on that premise, I mustered my courage, purchased some 'fresh' sprouts from the grocery store, took them home, and steamed them.  I've found that I like a whole lot more vegetables if they are steamed rather than boiled.

Those sprouts were edible!  Not only were they edible, they tasted good!  Somewhere between asparagus and broccoli was the flavor on my tongue when I bit into a steamed Brussels sprout.

From there, the goal was to grow my own, as is my goal for most of what I eat.  This proved to be a challenge.  I could get the seeds to sprout, no problem.  I could get them to grow into seedlings, no problem.  I could get the seedlings transplanted out to the garden, no problem.  I could get the transplants to grow in the garden, but I could not get them to produce those sprouts!!  The sprouts might get as big as peas before repeated freezes killed the plants, but I just couldn't get them big enough to eat.

Until this year.  Oh hallelujah, I finally got to harvest this little place here Brussels sprouts!  Despite what others might say about the 2012 growing season, with it's drought and it's heat, at this little place here I had the most productive garden ever.

It's hard to describe why this small quantity of sprouts makes me so happy.  Partly because now I won't have to buy any from the grocery store for quite a while (we rarely eat Brussels sprouts, so this amount should feed us six meals or at least six months, LOL).  But mostly because I did it!  I actually got some to go from seed to garden to table.  It can be done!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Love Eating Local

Recently, DD1 was briefly home from college on a short mid-term break.  One of the things she has missed most in her  almost two months away at school, has been home cooking.  Homesickness has been surprisingly hard for her, and apparently just about every meal in the cafeteria was making it worse.  Her first complaint about college food, two weeks in:

"the chicken isn't right"

A few days after the chicken text, I got this text:  "the corn is mushy".  Followed by, in the next two weeks:  "I'm not eating these eggs, they're gross," "I want real potatoes, not instant," "even the cookies are not good," and "I want milk, not white water." 'White water' is what my family refers to skim milk as.  We're whole milk drinkers at this little place here.

It was a great day when she texted me: "Broccoli for lunch!  Yum!  They got it right!  I think I was the only student who ate any.  I even had thirds."  Eating broccoli was not anything new; my kids all love broccoli.  I used to make baby food broccoli when they were too little to chew it.  But the fact that she was excited and had found something that was cooked 'right' and tasted 'right' that was good news. I thought perhaps the homesickness was abating and that she was necessarily adapting to a lower standard of food; that she was able to accept the commercially mass prepared type of fare the college cafeteria offered.
Setting culinary precedents for my children's palates is one thing I never considered when I began cooking from scratch, then growing and preserving our own foods. At first, my incentive was purely financial--it just cost less to buy ingredients and put them together than to buy ready-made or boxed mixes of stuff.  Then came the discovery of how fake stuff in food, and by that I mean imitation flavorings, artificial colors, preservatives, etc, affected DS2's asthma and eczema. It was his health that really nudged me to organic gardening and producing as much of our food as possible.   If bug spray or a chemical additive in his shampoo, lotion, or laundry detergent could have such a negative effect on his well being, what about chemicals on his food?  What about the pesticide on his veggies?

An interesting thing I noted along the way:  when we ate more home grown food, we all got healthier.  When the entire Christian Kindergarten through Eighth Grade school  that my three oldest kids attended was suffering from the flu and strep throat, my kids were healthy.  Not a single sore throat, not an upset tummy, no hint of a fever.

Then came the day when I tried to make an appointment for DD2 to have her pre-kindergarten physical, and the doctor's office didn't have her in their computer. . .because she hadn't been to the doctor since the last round of vaccinations she got about the time she turned two years old!!  She hadn't needed to see a doctor, hadn't been ill, in three years! This was during an age where most kids are coming down with illnesses nearly monthly because supposedly their immune systems are still developing, and are weaker than those of older children.

It wasn't just the kids who were healthier, either.  DH's cholesterol had dropped since his last physical exam a few years earlier, when we were still eating store food even though a lot of it was cooked pretty much from scratch.  He didn't need to take sick days from work (not to say that at times he didn't wish he needed to, but he just didn't get sick).  Similarly, I was healthy as a horse, despite working with the horses in all kinds of weather, including windchills of 20 to 30 below zero sometimes.

It was for money and health that I fed my family the way I did.  It never occurred to me that I was setting them up to be disappointed in the food they would eat when they left my table and went out into the world as adults.

Which brings me back to loving eating local and DD1's recent visit from college.  While she was home, we ate lots of her favorite from scratch things.  One of these, I realized as we sat at the table devouring that particular meal, was not only from scratch, it was totally from this little place here.  I had made venison gravy (venison stew meat simmered until the gravy is naturally thickened and the meat pretty much falls apart) over mashed potatoes, with whole kernel corn on the side.  The venison was from a deer that DH harvested last fall in our own woods.  The potatoes I had grown in the garden this summer, and harvested just a few weeks earlier.  The corn, too, was grown in my garden, and had been canned (my first home-canned corn!) the day before I left to take DD1 to Minnesota for college.

You can't get more local than that.  I love eating local.  It not only tastes good, and is nourishing to the body, but it's nourishing to the soul.  It gives me a great feeling of accomplishment when I serve a meal that was grown and harvested right here, by our own hands.

As a side note, the three of my kids who so far have left this little place here for other dwelling places all cook. They do so because they don't feel cooking is a bother. Rather, they see it as a way to eat decent tasting and textured food. Not only do they cook in their own homes and/or dorm kitchens, they all scam home grown food off of me every time they come home to visit.  I can't tell you how many jars of dilly beans and other things have been raided from the cellar by DS1 and taken back to South Carolina with him.  Or how many jars of blackberry jam (DS2's favorite) have been smuggled to the U.P.  I do know how many potatoes DD1 took back to Minnesota with her though; just as many 'real potatoes' as she thought would get her through until she comes home again for Thanksgiving break!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Some Improvisation Required

My chicken coop used to have a very nice glass window in the front side.  A large, wooden framed window that I had gotten for free at the end of someone's driveway many years ago.  Then, about two years ago, the glass got shattered.  I'm not sure exactly what happened; I went out to feed the chickens on a very cold, windy Christmas Eve morning and found glass all over the ground.  I don't know if the wind rattled it just right, or the cold was just too cold in combination with the wind, or what happened. All I knew for sure was that there was shattered glass in front of the coop, and a big gaping hole letting in not just cold air but whatever chicken-eating critter might come along.

Using what we had on hand, DH and I removed the window, covered the frame with visqueen (thick plastic sheeting), and then put the window back into place (it sits in a sill DH made for it when we originally installed it and is held in place by a piece of wood on each the top and bottom, that swivel.)

That quick fix lasted, until this week.  The visqueen had apparently been through too many sunny days, windy days, rainy days, snowy days, hot days, cold days, and it gave out.  On an extremely windy day, I went out to find it in shreds, and my chickens once again vulnerable to the elements and four-footed chicken killers.

Not having DH home to help me with another quick fix using more visqueen, I called on my Marine Mom skills to adapt, improvise, and overcome.  I dug into my bin of old sheets that I keep around for tossing over the plants in the garden when an early frost threatens.  I pulled out a fitted sheet that was just a little bigger than the window frame.  I removed the frame, put the sheet around it, then stuck the frame back into place.

Voila!  Rain can't get into the coop (well, unless it's really driving hard), and neither can coons or possums.  And the chickens, while they don't get a clear view of the outdoors, do get a custom drapery for their window until DH gets home and can help me with a more permanent solution.

my temporary solution 

Love my quick fix?  LOL

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Got The Hubby's Out of Town Blues

DH is traveling again.  Nothing new; he's been doing it for almost 18 years.  And, even before that, we spent three months living apart during the week while he worked at a new job hours away  and the boys and I stayed behind at our old house until the lease was up (and DD1 was born; between being 7 months pregnant and having 3 months to go on our rental agreement, relocating the whole family didn't seem like the best decision at the time DH accepted the job that paid twice as much as the one he had).

Just because he's been away, frequently, for so many years doesn't mean I have gotten used to it.  Doesn't mean I particularly like it.  Sometimes, it is nice to have a break from him--come on, wives, admit that you've thought more than once that you'd just like your hubby to go away for a while so you didn't have to deal with his dirty underwear on the floor, chest hairs on the bathroom counter, beard hairs in the sink, the farts and belches. . . But usually his absence is just disruptive to the routine of life, and kind of lonely.  He's my best buddy.  How many of us aren't lonely when we're separated from our best buddy for too long?

I'm not sleeping well in his absence.  The bed is too big, and too empty.  Not to mention cold.  He's my furnace.  Who needs an electric blanket with a big warm hubby next to them?  I think I should put the flannel sheets on the bed, just until he returns.

He calls when he can, but, it's just not the same as being able to talk to him face to face.  Especially when two minutes into a conversation, the only time in 24 hours I've heard his voice, he starts to cut out because of call waiting on his cell phone and says "Oh, got to go, I've got a work call coming in, sorry."  Sorry.  I know he's sorry he can't stay on the line until I've had more time with him.  But that doesn't make it any easier for me.  In fact, it just adds to the feeling of his job being more important than I am.  Of his job trying to pull our family apart.  Being two time zones away from each other, I'm usually fast asleep by the time his  ten-to-twelve-hour (and sometimes up to fifteen hour!) work day followed by dinner with his traveling crew ends.  And when I'm getting up in the morning, it's still the wee hours of the night where he is, so we can't talk then either.

It isn't easy to keep a family together like this.  Not when Dad has to miss birthdays, important school events, and other milestones.  On one hand, the kids say "Oh, I'm used to it, Dad's been gone my whole life," as a way of dismissing his travels.  On the other hand, they are now old enough to realize that having Dad popping in and out frequently wasn't ideal, and that they don't have quite the same type of relationship with their father that their friends have with theirs.

It's hard on a mom to see that. It's hard on a wife to have her husband gone on their anniversary more years than he's home for it.

Some would say that at least we are still married, and that the kids have had a Dad involved with their lives.  Yes, that is true.  There are worse things than a father/husband whose job takes him away regularly.  Yet, then again, it seems like we're always in transition; being a mother-run home for a week or two, then a two-parent home for a few weeks, then a one-parent home again.  It's tough with fluctuating power.  You just get into the groove of things, then they change up and you have to get into a new groove.  Yet as soon as things start to run smoothly in the new groove, DH is coming home again or leaving again, requiring yet another transition.  It's hard to make plans, it's hard to maintain consistency.  It's hard to feel secure.

I didn't intend this post to be a downer.  Usually I try to keep my posts upbeat, or at least informative.  Maybe this one, while not much of either, will at least touch some wife/mother out there who is going through something similar and let her know that she isn't the only woman in the world dealing with this.  If that woman is you, well, I send you a big cyber hug because right about now, you're probably really craving hugs.  I know that I am.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Farm Justice

We've had a few chickens go missing around this little place here lately, as well as two barn kittens.  Then DD2 found a possum eating cat food one evening when she went out to check on the barn cats and make sure they had water.  The same evening, I found legs and feathers from one of my pullets--a pullet who had been happy and healthy earlier that day--also in the barn.

So, we had a suspect in the crimes.  The evidence--fresh chicken kill--combined with being caught near the scene of the crime, was pretty damning.  It was time to administer some farm justice.

For those of you who love all animals, and believe that people should just let them live their lives however they choose, I would suggest you stop reading now.  For those of you who know how farm justice works, or those who are seeking what to do in similar situations, say, the slaughter of your chickens, let me tell you how this particular case played out.

Used to be, our dogs were our possum and woodchuck dispatch units.  Little Dog, our Jack Russell Terrier, was particularly fond of killing possums and would gladly drag out of hiding possums bigger than he was.  Old Dog, too, used to delight in shaking possums until their necks snapped.  However, Little Dog passed away almost two years ago, and Old Dog at age twelve and a half, is too unsteady on his feet to shake anything but his own tail.  So, it's now up to me to rid this little place here of livestock annihilating critters.

Since possums tend to be nocturnal creatures, moving around in the dusk and darkness, it's kind of hard to catch them in the act.  It's even harder to shoot them holding a .22 in one hand and a spotlight in the other.  So, to even the odds in my favor a little, and to make sure the offender doesn't suffer unduly during the carrying out of it's death sentence, I employ a live trap.  This works well for raccoons too.

The latest case went like this:

1. I set a live trap in the barn near the cat feeding area, and baited it with a dish of cat food.  Experienced cats won't bother the trap, having learned not to go into it.  Kittens, however, don't have this knowledge yet.

2.  Released a kitten from the live trap the next morning.

3. Reset trap that evening, and baited it with more cat food.  Told the kittens to wise up and not make the same mistake twice.

4.  Checked barn in the morning, found wise kittens greeting me at the door, and an unhappy looking possum in the live trap.  Possum proceeded to hiss at me and show me it's needle sharp teeth.  I laughed, because I have the upper hand, and there's nice sturdy wire between the possum's teeth and my body.

5.   Carried the live trap out of the barn.


6. Went to the house to fetch the camera (so I can have pictures with this post!) and the .22.

7.  Returned outside.  Took mug shot.

7.  Ignored the cute and innocent demeanor the possum was now using to try to convince me I had the wrong critter.  Uh, huh, not going to work, buddy.  It was only minutes ago you were threatening to eat me alive with those sharp teeth if only I'd let you out.

8.  Conducted swift trial:  you are a possum, possums kill chickens, I have had dead chickens lately, chicken feathers found in barn, you found in barn, now found in trap in barn, case closed.  Gave possum the death penalty.

9.  Put the end of the .22's barrel up to wire opening in live trap.  Aimed at possum's head.  Released safety, pulled trigger.

10.  Dead possum.  Took out of trap (after death throes ended), tossed body into loader bucket of tractor, transported body to woods where the local wildlife will benefit from the death.

Farm justice.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Little Sewing

On my post from Wednesday, I mentioned thinking I might do a little sewing to relax after a day of various physical labor type activities.  It was a little tongue-in-cheek, since my post was titled Women's Work and was pretty much about a rather manly job like tamping clay floors in the horse barn.  However, by the time I got done with dinner, and the dishes were washed, sewing did sound pretty inviting.  I am currently participating in a couple of online quilt block swaps, and as a result, sewing is one of the items on my to-do list.

I tackled the quilt block for one of the swaps.  In this one, a square of fabric is provided, and each participant adds whatever coordinating or contrasting fabrics they wish, as well as chooses their own pattern for the block.  The provided fabric had a brown background, which was a challenge for me as I don't use browns very much in my quilting or sewing.  At first, I didn't think I had anything in my stash that would work with the swap fabric.

But then I stopped concentrating on the brown, and looked at the other, less noticeable colors in the fabric.  Suddenly, I had several fabrics that would go well with the brown one.  Once I had a few fabrics in mind to work with, it wasn't hard to find a pattern.

What I chose to make is  the Zig Zag Path pattern, from the book 5500 Quilt Block Designs by Maggie Malone, which I received as a present from my mother about half a decade ago. (Thanks, Mom!  I love this book!)  It was the illusion of motion that drew my eye to the block (I tend to gravitate toward motion type blocks for some reason), and the simplicity of piecing sealed the deal.  Here was a perfect relaxing project to wind down my active day.

My finished block:

It really is a lot more square than shown in the picture.  I need to work on my camera skills for taking pictures of quilt blocks; they always come out looking wavy in photos.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Women's Work

At this little place here, "women's work" is pretty much anything that needs to be done that is within the realm of physical possibility.  Tools to aid in lifting (such as a tractor with loader bucket) make this just about anything a man can do.  There's not much that can't be done with the right (or sometimes not-quite-right-but-managed-to-not-kill-myself-using) tool.

Here's some "women's work" I did this morning: patched a large hole in the clay floor of a horse stall.  A very good illustration of why you don't want rats or woodchucks to move into your barn.  They might not be all that big, and they might not eat much (compared to a horse), but they are destructive.  Repairing a floor is no small task.

This particular hole required about two muck buckets' worth of semi-damp clay, a shovel, a tamper, and of course, a tractor to lift and carry the way-over-my-70-pound-weight-capability buckets of clay.

It's a job that requires much muscle (good upper body workout), as well as the know-how and a pinch of artful finesse.

The hole in question.  About 6"-8" deep, roughly 20" wide and not quite 4' long.  It actually goes under the wall, but what is on the other side of the wall is another repair (thankfully only 1/3 the size) for another day.  Like maybe tomorrow, so I don't cripple myself.

The hole, with clay shoveled in.  This picture was taken after I'd all ready filled the hole half-way, tamped, moistened, and added more loose clay to bring it to the level I needed.

Doing the finish tamping in the corner; this is the stage where the artfulness and know-how come in.
You want your clay not just tamped firm--very, very firm--and level, but also blended to the existing floor, so that when you are done, no one can tell where the hole was.  Especially the horse, who might be curious about the difference in the floor and try to paw up your work.

More tamping.

This project took about an hour and twenty minutes, a good hour of which was tamping.  The tamper weighs about 16 pounds.  Try to imagine lifting that about mid-shin height over and over for an hour.  It not only winds you, it's rough on the shoulders and upper back.  Hence my decision to leave the hole on the other side of the wall for another day.

The tamper does the job, though.  And burns a lot of calories (I celebrated by eating a cookie with lunch, lol).

The finished repair job.  The clay is so firm a 1000 pound horse can step on it and not leave a hoof print.

Just one example of the kind of girly stuff I do.  ;0)

This was after my once a week 3-mile run, and before I cleaned out the chicken coop, did four loads of laundry (hung on the line since the weather was beautiful today) and moved 30 bales of hay.

I think I'll take this evening easy.  Maybe do a little bit of sewing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

I Survived the Drive!

LOL.  I reported for jury duty yesterday morning.  Did the early morning commute in the pre-dawn, on the crowded expressway, dealt with the frequent coming on of brake lights, the near-traffic jam (twice), the several hot shots cutting in and out of traffic narrowly missing causing accidents. . .

I arrived downtown a good twenty minutes early.  Thankfully I located the nearest parking garage (with only a minor "oh my gosh, I'm in the far right lane and need to turn left in 20 feet!" incident), maneuvered the Suburban into it--with inches to spare on the roof rack, got a parking spot (first floor!  Yay!), and found the court building with no problem.

From there it was a long wait.  Can't go into details, but I almost made it onto the jury for an armed robbery case.  Almost, because I made it into a chair in the jury box (after two other people had been dismissed from  same chair), went through the questions by judge and both lawyers, then I too was dismissed.  I think, by the time I'd gotten into the jury box, the jury was too heavily loaded with women; they'd all ready dismissed about seven potential jurors for various reasons (knew people involved in case, had heard of case, bias, hard of hearing, etc) and by the time I sat down the jury was looking 70% white female above the age of 30.  Which, to my line of thinking, isn't exactly a jury of your peers when the defendant is a 20-something man of non-Caucasian heritage.

But anyway, I made it to the big city and back.  Now I just have to call in daily after five p.m. for the rest of this week to see if I have to report for a different case on a different day.

In retrospect, I shouldn't have stressed so much. When I looked out my window on Sunday evening (the day I was panicking about jury duty downtown) and saw this:

I should have realized that everything would be fine.  It's not too often you see a double rainbow.  Especially not on a day when you feel like everything is out of control.   What a pertinent reminder that everything really is in control, even when we are overwhelmed.  It may not be the control we want to have over things, but they are in control.  Better control than we are capable of ourselves.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Oh No! Jury Duty!

Several weeks ago, I got the dreaded jury duty summons in the mail.  At first, I couldn't believe I had gotten one again so soon.  Then I realized that it has been 5 years and 2 months since I last served on a jury.  And, according to the letter than came with the summons, you aren't excused from duty unless it has been less than twelve months since you last served.  So, apparently 5 years isn't so soon after all.

Now, I enjoy my right to vote.  And as a consequence of enjoying that right, I recognize my responsibility to serve on a jury when called to do so.  That's not to say I'm jumping for joy today when I called to see if I need to report to court in the morning (I do).  On the contrary, I believe I had a full blown panic attack after hanging up the phone.  Pacing, hyperventilating, elevated heart rate, overwhelming feeling of dread, feeling of being trapped. . . yeah, I think that qualifies as a panic attack.

You see, I have to go into the city, downtown, to that court.  The last time I served, it was at the little county seat courthouse just twelve miles away.  Twelve mostly country miles, on two-lane quiet roads, and there was ample (and free) parking around the courthouse.

Tomorrow I have to report to the bigger court, in the much bigger city that is a 30 minute expressway-at- rush-hour drive.  And when I get off the expressway, I have to navigate busy two and three lane one-way streets in a city I am not familiar with.  I have to locate parking--apparently it is two blocks to the nearest parking garage--and I have to make sure I have funds to cover said parking.  Then I have to walk from the parking garage to the courthouse building, figure out which door to enter, and find the proper room to report to.  Oh, and be there on time.

I hate cities.  I am not comfortable driving in them. I am not comfortable walking down the street in them. I don't relish being in places I'm unfamiliar with. I'm shy; I'm not comfortable around people I do not know.  I do not want to go there.  I do not, I do not.  I wish there were a way to get my name changed from that roster at the downtown court and put onto the county courthouse roster for the same day.  Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

So, sucking it up, and praying for peace of mind and no more panic attacks, I prepare to do my civic duty and show up for jury duty in the morning.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chocolate Mint Cookies

Back in January, I noticed some dark chocolate and mint chips on clearance at the grocery store.  Apparently they were a holiday item.  Liking mint, and being that they were only seventy-five cents a bag, I bought out all they had left; about four bags.

On the back of the bag, was a recipe for chocolate mint cookies.  Sometime during the spring, I made a batch.  Oh my goodness, were they good!  So good that they didn't even last 24 hours.  Which was bad for someone trying to conquer the sugar monkey and lose weight.  I put the rest of the bags into storage, lol!

I sparingly used them in the last six months until they were gone. Or so I thought, until I found one remaining bag last week!  Chocolate mint cookies immediately started calling to the sugar monkey on my back.  *sigh*

I decided that perhaps making a batch and sending them off to DD1 at college might be a nice surprise, and something to cheer her up.  She's had a rough transition; homesickness hit her unexpectedly hard.  I would, of course, keep a few (very few) of the cookies at home--afterall, I can't very well make the house smell like cookies without DH and DD2 getting to eat at least one--and send the majority of the batch to her.

Thinking the dear readers of this little place here might be interested in trying these cookies for themselves, and knowing the holiday baking season will soon be upon us again (watch for these chips to come back to the store!  Or, you could use a different brand that is mint and available year round), I took pictures of the process so I could write a blog post about it.

Chocolate Mint Cookies
(recipe from the Nestle Dark Chocolate & Mint Morsels package, but I changed it to leave off all the name-brand flour, cocoa, etc.  Any flour or cocoa will work, obviously)

2 cups flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 bag (10 oz) Nestle dark chocolate & mint chips

Put your flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a mixing bowl.

Stir them together until they are uniform.

Then put your butter and sugars in another, larger mixing bowl.

Blend them together until they are creamed.

Then add your vanilla and eggs to this.

Stir until well blended.

Now, take your first bowl with the flour mixture, and gradually add it to the bowl with the butter mixture, stirring well.

This takes some time, and starts off really dry.  Don't despair!  Keep stirring!  It will all blend together eventually; it might take five minutes or so.

Once the flour mixture is all incorporated into the butter mixture, pour in the bag of chips.

Stir those in well also.

Now take a tablespoon to scoop out the dough.  Put the dough on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake at 325 degrees (yes, 325!!  I thought it was a typo the first time I read it, but they do cook at such a low temperature) for 11-13 minutes.  I usually go about 12 in my oven.

Remove from cookie sheet, and cool on a wire rack.

Try not to eat them all in one day!  ;0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Apple Danish

Last weekend, for DD2's birthday, I made an apple danish for breakfast.  Now, before I show you pictures, let me say I wasn't going for beautiful food.  I had a few spots where the crust was too big and instead of cutting off the excess and throwing it away (or feeding it to the chickens), I just folded it over the top and the crust was extra thick in those spots.  My family likes it that way.  So remember, this is real food made for real people, not gorgeous food for a magazine spread.

Making a danish is pretty simple if you have made pie before.  It's very similar to pie making.  You have a bottom crust, you have a filling, and you have a top crust.  At the end, you put on a glaze before serving.  Pretty simple.  Like pie making, it is kind of time consuming, so it's something you probably don't want to do on a day when you have to be up, fed, and out the door early.  Give yourself a good hour and a half between when you start making the danish and when you want to serve the danish.

Here's the recipe I used:

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
scant cup lard (say, 1 cup less about 2 Tbsp)
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup milk

In medium mixing bowl, combine the salt and flour. Cut in the lard until mixture forms small crumbs.  Then combine your egg yolk and milk, and pour those into the flour/salt/lard mixture.  Stir until dough clumps together.   If your dough is a bit sticky, sprinkle w/flour.  Also coat your hands with flour before picking the dough up, then divide dough in half.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one half of the dough into a 15" x 10" rectangle.  Transfer that to a greased 15" x 10" x 1" baking pan.

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
6 cups sliced, peeled apples
1/4 cup melted butter

In another medium mixing bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, and cinnamon.  Add the sliced apples and the melted butter, then stir well.  Spread the seasoned apples evenly over the dough that is in the baking pan.

Take the other half of your dough, roll it out to 15" x 10" and carefully place it on top of the filling.  Trim edges if desired (or just fold any long spots back into pan).

1 egg white
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tsp water

Now, lightly beat your egg white, and brush it over the top layer of dough.

Bake the danish at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or until golden brown, as seen below.

just out of the oven, nicely browned on top

Let cool for at least 10 minutes before making the decorative glaze by mixing the powdered sugar and water until it is a drizzling consistency.  With a spoon, drizzle glaze over danish in whatever pattern you wish.  The hotter the danish, the more the glaze with thin and spread.

with glaze dribbled over top after cooling slightly

This tastes wonderful served warm, but is equally delicious eaten cold the next day.  It makes quite a lot, so you should have leftovers, unless, of course, your hubby and kids keep snitching pieces of it for a snack all day long.  Not that anyone at this little place here ever does that, no. . . 

Monday, October 8, 2012

If I Had a Kitchen Like Yours

I've heard this time and time again in the last nine years.  "If I had a kitchen like yours. . ."

". . . I could cook every day too."
". . . I would can too."
". . . I'd be able to bake more often."
". . . I'd make my own bread too."
". . . I could teach my kids to cook like yours."

I do have a nice kitchen.  Scratch that, a wonderful kitchen. A kitchen that many wives are jealous of. It was designed and built for me.

However, it was also designed and built by me (mostly.  I did consult two kitchen designers who couldn't believe what I was telling them I wanted drawn up.  And DH did do a lot of the building too).  I had to earn this kitchen, both in culinary skill, in food production volume, and with the muscle and sweat of physical labor.  I don't know too many women who can say they held a cupboard up on the wall so their husbands could screw it into the studs.  (Those things are heavy, believe you me!)

My humble beginnings in the kitchen started as a child helping my mom bake Christmas cookies.  As I got older, we also did a short (very short) stint of canning tomatoes.  By the time I was a teen, I was cooking dinner two nights a week when my mom worked, as well as doing the majority of the baking (boy, did my dad miss his weekly cookies when I moved out!).

The first place DH and I lived together was a single-wide trailer, with a very small kitchen.  So small the table was in a corner of the living room, as there was no space for it in the kitchen.

It was at this table that I rolled out my first pie crust, with a drinking glass (since I didn't own a rolling pin yet) and in that dinky kitchen that I baked my first apple pie (in a round cake pan, since I didn't own a pie plate yet).  Yet people tell me if they "only had a kitchen like yours" they could bake pies too.

The next place was slightly better, another single-wide trailer, but with a kitchen big enough to fit the table into.  In that kitchen I made my first cinnamon rolls from scratch.  Yep, I have people who tell me today "If I had a kitchen like yours" they could make breads and rolls too.

The third place we lived was an old farmhouse, with an enormous kitchen.  Enormous in that it was a third of the downstairs of the house.  Tons of floor space in that kitchen.  But no counters.  It came equipped with a sink, a range, and about two cabinets.  No fridge (we used an old Kelvinator DH's dad had taken from a remodel job a decade before), no counter space, nowhere to store food.  In this kitchen I not only made breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, I also packed DH a lunch before he left for work every morning (this was the first place we lived after he graduated from college.)  Everything was prepped, mixed, and assembled on the table.  Which then had to be cleared and washed before serving the food that had just been prepared there.  If people "only had a kitchen like yours", with tons of work and storage space, they could save money by brown bagging for lunch too, as well as not eat out for dinner so often.

The fourth place we lived had a smaller kitchen, but it at least had a counter.  We still had to use the old Kelvinator for a fridge, though.

ignore cute little boy under sink (it's a wonder he didn't grow up to be a plumber);
focus on ugly old fridge on right side of picture

Sometime during our year in this fourth home, the latch on the door handle for the Kelvinator broke.  Being an antique, parts were not readily available, so we used a bungee cord to keep the door shut.  In this kitchen I made my own baby food (cute little boy can attest it was healthy and thoroughly edible, hence his growing big and strong enough to terrorize the kitchen cabinets), and also began my journey into child-requested birthday cake designs.

DS1's race car cake for his 4th birthday
(think early '90s nascar style car)

Several moms have told me if they "only had a kitchen like yours" they would bake cakes too instead of buy them.

The fifth place we rented, the kitchen was similar to the fourth in size, but much much darker.  Everything was brown, the wall paneling, the floor, the cabinets, the counters, the sink. . . Hardly a motivating work ambiance.  Again, we had to provide our own refrigerator, so continued to employ the trusty ancient Kelvinator with the broken handle.  More homemade baby food (DD1 had arrived by then), more birthday cakes, and we hosted our first extended family Christmas.  With about four feet of counter space, I cooked up a feast for more than a dozen people.  You guessed it, if people "only had a kitchen like yours" they could host family events too instead of going out to eat for holidays.

Note bungee cord on handle of fridge. 
 Other end was fastened to the cabinet above.

The sixth kitchen was small again, no counter space, although it came with a refrigerator. What a novelty--a door that seals shut on it's own!.  However, while it had a fridge, in this one we had to provide our own stove, so for the first month we were there I had no stove or oven and cooked all our meals on a single hot plate, with the electric griddle, or in a crock pot.  If they only had a kitchen like mine, they could cook every day too, they tell me. . . it would be so easy to make meals for a family.

That was the last place we rented, as after nearly a year and a half at the sixth house, we were able to find a small home on a small acreage that had a mortgage payment less than our monthly rent.  So we bought it, and moved five people into a 900 sq. ft home.  Where the kitchen had one small counter (in the corner, so less than two usable feet, actually), a range, no fridge, and the washing machine sat in the kitchen next to the range.  It was also original 1960's decor that the house had been built with (we bought it Nov. 1996. . .), but it was ours. In that kitchen I made yet more baby food (DD2), and began my canning journey.

After a year at the seventh place, the first home we owned, and adding our fourth child, we began to remodel.  One of the improvements we made was to move and expand the kitchen (pre-renovation, it had been two small bedrooms).  In the end, I had a kitchen that was about 10' x 10', with an L shaped counter top and cabinets between it and the attached 'dining room' which was roughly 8' x 7', not counting the hallway that passed through one side..  Yes, this was a much better work space, and I was able to cook, bake, and can much more easily than in any of the previous kitchens. Not to mention host more birthday parties, Easters, Thanksgivings, and Christmases.

When we built the house at this little place here (our eighth residence, if you're still counting) we had the kitchen designed for: feeding six people daily and twenty or more on occasion, baking, canning, and brewing.  The five-burner cook top easily accommodates a 5 gallon pot, or five smaller pots at the same time.  It holds two canners boiling away, and still has room for cooking dinner at the same time.  The 6 foot by three foot counter on the island is perfect for kneading bread dough, or rolling out pie and pastry crust; or for holding a bushel's worth of canned tomatoes, peaches, or applesauce while the jars are cooling.  It also makes a great buffet line for extended family holiday gatherings or high school soccer team dinners.  The double wall oven has roasted at 36 pound turkey at the same time as baking dinner rolls or green bean casserole and candied sweet potatoes.  The pantry holds several weeks worth of food.  It is, truly, a dream kitchen.

the pantry

my 5 burner cook top

double wall oven with counter space between it and the fridge

island, cook top and sink area

sink area, dishwasher, more cupboards and counter space

view from the doorway to the mudroom,
 showing island and more cupboards and counter space past the pantry

It is a kitchen that has to be earned to really be appreciated.  It is a kitchen, that most people, if they were handed it, still wouldn't make full use of it.  You either cook, or you don't.  You either bake, or you don't.  You either can, or you don't.  If you do, the kitchen has very little to do with it.  If you don't because you don't have the right kitchen, you most likely never will.