Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Yarn Along 2016.41: Not Much To Show

Happy Yarn Along Day!  I'm joining with Ginny on this sleety cold afternoon to see what everyone is knitting/crocheting and reading these days.

As for me, I don't have much to show.  Not reading anything per se--although I have several books on hold at the library that I need to pick up later today--and not as much progress as I had hoped on my knitting. I have about 1 1/2 stripes yet to go before I am done with the leg of this sock and am ready to start the heel.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Come On Baby Light My Fire

Heating season is officially upon us.  Yesterday evening, DH finally lit a fire in the wood boiler.  I think this is the latest we've ever fired it up; this October has been especially warm. Even on the not so warm days it's been pretty sunny so we've had a little passive solar heating keeping the house warm enough to be comfortable most of the time.  I get cold easily, so comfortable means that it was in the range of 64 degrees and above.

I think that good weather was sort of, maybe, a negative thing.  Because it allowed DH to keep putting off tasks that normally would be done by now.  Like replacing the chimney on the wood boiler; the chimney that had developed a small hole and resultant leak (and decreased function) last winter.  He finally got around to replacing it, well, yesterday afternoon, a few hours before lighting the fire.

Another task that normally is done by now is splitting and stacking the winter's worth of wood.  On the left of the boiler in the picture above, you see what is left of last year's wood that didn't get used.  To the right and behind the boiler in the picture, is the humongous pile of aged wood that we brought in from our random stacks in the woods (from where we cut and stack downed trees each winter and leave them to age and dry for two or more years) this spring and summer.  He will probably be getting the splitter out of the barn soon and tackling that pile. He has three weeks of vacation from work that he always saves for late October through Thanksgiving time--prime deer hunting time; that gives him plenty of afternoons to split wood between the morning hunt and the evening hunt.  ;0)

What matters most is that even though it's gotten cold outside, in the house it's nice and toasty, thanks to the fire going in the wood boiler.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

How To Eat Venison

I would like to thank Kat, who commented on Monday's post and posed the question "What do you like to make with the venison?".  That comment, and question, made me realize that I am again doing what I often do, which is assume everyone is like me and lives like me and knows what I know, and therefore I'm not really doing a whole lot of describing of the things I do on a regular basis and take for granted.  Like eating venison.

So thanks, Kat, for commenting on that post and asking what you did.  You inspired this post.

Once upon a time, I didn't eat venison, wasn't around people who ate venison, and when I met DH and (eventually) he offered to cook me dinner, which was venison, it seemed like a strange and exotic food.  As the years went by, and we had land available to hunt on without traveling for hours to get there, venison became a staple in our diet.  To the point that I eat more venison than I do beef (which is saying a lot, since I love beef!).  And I forget that once upon a time, like most people, I had no idea what to do with a deer's worth of meat (anywhere from 40-80 pounds of meat, usually).

We process our own deer rather than send them somewhere else to be cut into tidy packages of meat ready for the freezer.  Through the years we've experimented with different ways of cutting the meat, but have realized there are some things we just aren't fond of.  Like venison soup, made with bones.  So we don't save those anymore.  Or venison roasts, which are kind of dry since venison is a very lean meat.  So we don't cut part of the deer into roasts.  What we do end up with are five 'kinds' of meat: steaks, stew meat, jerky meat, tenderloins & backstraps, and ground venison.

The largest muscles we cut into steaks. Typically these are the large ones in the hindquarters (more specifically, the muscles you would think of as the 'butt'). The smaller ones of the hindquarters and the larger shoulder muscles of the front quarters (plus the ends of the large muscles that would make too tiny of a steak), we cut into 1" chunks for stew.   Some long, tender strips of meat, (from anywhere on the deer) are set aside to be made into jerky. The 'outer loins', or backstraps, which are the two muscles that run along the left and right sides of the spinal column, are cut into half, giving us four good sized hunks of meat.  The 'inner loins', or tenderloins (the two muscles running along the 'bottom' side of the spinal column which is inside the rib cage of the deer) are usually the first things eaten after a deer is harvested--they never make it to the freezer. Tenderloins are the most awesome cut of venison you could ever eat. And everything else gets run through the meat grinder, twice (usually a coarse grind plate the first time, and a finer plate on the second grind) and made into venison burger.

What do I do with it from there?

Well, the tenderloins are so tender, and narrow, that we just cut them into 1" wide pieces and saute up with some onions and garlic and eat for breakfast.  A little salt and pepper before they go into the pan, and then you just stir them around until the onions are soft (and the loins are still pink inside).  You don't want your loins cooked well done because that makes them tough and chewy.

The backstraps are reserved for grilling.  In our house it is sacrilege to pan fry or bake a backstrap!  Like the tenderloins, you want them to be rare to medium rare for the best flavor and texture.  A loin cooked until it is brown all the way through is like eating leather.  No matter whether we are grilling the backstrap as a whole piece of meat, or cutting it into 'filet mignon', I like to season it liberally with garlic powder and onion powder, and then a lessor amount of pepper and seasoning salt, then let the spices soak into the meat for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

The steaks we typically pan fry; seasoning first with seasoning salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, then coating lightly with flour and pounding (with the edge of a plate) on both sides to tenderize the meat.  You can use either olive oil or lots of butter in the frying pan to fry the meat in.  Either one tastes good.

Other than that, I use the venison exactly like you would cook any similar cut of beef.  Steaks can be cut into smaller chunks and used in shish kebabs.  Or substituted for beef in the round steak and brown gravy recipe my mom gave me decades ago:

3 pounds beef round steak (or similar amount of venison steak)
1/3 cup flour
3 Tbsp shortening
1 tsp onion powder
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup water

Cut the meat into serving size chunks (or, if the steaks are relatively small, leave them uncut), and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Dust with the flour, then  pound meat (I use the edge of a plate). Flip the meat over, dust with the flour again, and pound at a 90 degree angle to how you pounded the first side.

In a skillet, melt the shortening over medium heat.  Add the meat, turning once to brown both side.  Mix soup, water, and onion powder in a mixing bowl, and pour over meat.  Simmer, covered, for approximately 1.5 hours.  Serve over cooked rice, noodles, or with mashed potatoes.

Stew meat can be used just like beef stew meat.  And ground venison is just like, yep, you guessed it, ground beef.  With the exception that ground venison is super lean and when you start with a pound of raw meat, you will end up with a pound of cooked meat.  A quarter-pound venison patty will still be a quarter-pound when it's cooked and served on a burger bun.  Very filling!  More bang for your buck (ha, ha, get it?  A hunting/venison pun!).

One other muscle that we eat, that I didn't mention when describing how we process our deer, is the heart.  Since it is taken out, along with all the other internal organs, during the field dressing process, I forget to include it as a cut of meat.  Here is our recipe for pickled heart, or it is also good thin sliced and sauteed up like the tenderloins.

For some other venison recipes I have posted in the past, check out this one for a soup not made with bones(!), this one using stew meat, this one for sloppy joes.  Like I said, you can substitute venison in pretty much any recipe that calls for beef.  You can use ground venison in meatloaf, in meatballs, in spaghetti or lasagna, in chili, in goulash, in Hamburger Helper, in stroganoff. . . the possibilities are endless.  We also use it to make summer sausage and hunter sticks, although those are DH's secret recipes that he is still developing--along with his perfect jerky recipe--and I'm not even privy to what all ingredients (and amounts of those ingredients) are in them, so I can't share that info (yet).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Yarn Along 2016.40: Did/Didn't

Happy Wednesday!  It is a beautiful, sunny, autumn day at this little place here, with about half of the trees finally showing their fall colors.  I am joining Ginny this afternoon for this week's Yarn Along.

In the past seven days I haven't done much knitting.  I've done a lot of riding (five times!), some badly needed cleaning/purging of the mudroom closet, the big monthly grocery shopping, dug four rows of potatoes, and helped DH retrieve and process the buck he harvested on Friday night, among other things (like, say, work, cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, etc.), but I haven't hardly knit at all.

I did finish the first of the striped socks I am making for my Dad's Christmas present.  Well, finished if you don't count the fact that I need to weave in all those ends still.

What I didn't do is knit more than the cast on and first nine rows of the second sock.  I'll have to put in more knitting time in the coming week if I want to finish this pair on schedule (the end of October).

I did finish the book I was reading last week, The Year I Met You.  I really enjoyed the story, and recommend it if you want something that is light and easy to read, yet makes you think a bit too.

I didn't start a new book yet.  I've been reading selected articles in the current issue of Dressage Today magazine instead.

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Romantic Night in Deer Season. . .

I had plans for last Friday night.  They went something like this:

DH would get home from work early enough to bow hunt in the evening (his goal). While he was out hunting, I would prepare a nice dinner of salad, lasagna and garlic bread.  Once darkness fell, and he returned from the woods, we would have an enjoyable, relaxing dinner accompanied by a bottle of Merlot I had bought just for that evening.  When dinner was over, he would help me wash the dishes, which he does about half the time now that all the kids are moved out and the dishwasher is (again) broken. After that, we could watch a DVD, or play a game, or who knows what might happen (a favorite dinner and a bottle of wine, you know). . .

How Friday night really went down:

DH came home from work early enough to go hunting.  I began dinner preparations, starting with the salad and moving on to browning the meat and boiling the noodles for the lasagna.

About the time I put the (frozen) ground beef on the stove to cook and put a pot of water on to boil for the noodles, my cell phone rang.  It was DH. How unusual, because he doesn't talk on the phone while he's hunting; normally he would text if he needed something or wanted to share with me something he'd seen in the woods.

I answered my phone in a whisper, as is the appropriate volume for talking to someone who is hunting.

"I just shot a nice eight point.  I'm coming in.  Is dinner ready?" Came DH's not quiet voice in my ear. "We'll eat, then we can go out and track him after he's had a chance to pile up."  Pile up meaning collapse and die.  Don't want to track too soon and end up chasing the injured deer around. Better to let it lay down peacefully and bleed out.

A deer!  Fresh venison!  Oh joy!  Meat for the freezer!

Unfortunately, as I had just then started the actual cooking of lasagna ingredients, dinner was an hour off yet, going by the original time table of it not being dark enough for DH to return to the house until about 7:45 p.m. There's really no way to hurry a lasagna when you're making it from scratch.

So DH returned to the house, all jittery and full of post-deer shooting adrenaline. I continued my dinner preparations while he paced the kitchen and recounted (about three times) the story of spying and shooting this buck.  As I was finishing layering the lasagna and sliding the baking dish into the oven, he decided that he just couldn't wait any longer and he was going to go track his deer for the thirty minutes remaining until dinner was ready.

Even though his shot was a little further back than he had initially thought, it was a good clean kill shot, and it only took him about fifteen minutes of following the blood trail to find his deer, laying head first against a tree and most definitely dead.  Satisfied that it wasn't going to be lost if he went in and ate dinner, he returned to the house, suddenly ravenously hungry now that the adrenaline was wearing off (and it being an hour past our usual dinner time when he's not hunting).

So we did have our nice dinner of salad, lasagna, super garlicky garlic bread (when you make your own, you can put in the perfect amount of garlic, LOL) and that wine.  Although we only had one serving each of everything, then it was out to the woods to retrieve that buck!

Being as the tractor is currently out of order (ahem, I broke it the weekend before.  Actually, the snap ring in the right front axle broke, but it happened to be me driving the tractor when that happened and the wheel fell off. . .) we hitched up the wood hauler trailer to our 4-wheeler and drove that out to get the deer.  We had to park that in the southeast corner of our woods road, and walk in about 100 yards to get the buck. Bumbling along in the pitch black darkness of the woods with just little flashlights (so as to not scare off any wildlife in residence), DH led and I followed, trying to neither trip on fallen trees or roots nor get whacked in the face by branches or brambles.  Oh what a romantic evening!

But wait, it gets even more romantic!  Once DH had brought me to where his deer lie, I got to aim my flashlight beam on the deer's nether regions and hold the buck's hind legs apart while DH got down to the business of field dressing it.  Because we'd all ready decided that with the number of downed trees we'd had to step over on our way from the woods road to the deer, there was no way we were going to drag that thing back to the trailer and haul it to the edge of the field (where the light of the full moon could be utilized) before gutting it.  That thing was too long and weighed too much for DH to pick up by himself and heft over fallen logs, and I wasn't going to be much help trying to hold a flashlight (so I didn't trip over stuff) and heft half the weight of a deer with one hand at the same time.

Once the buck was hollow inside (in other words, gutted), DH attached his drag harness to the deer and himself, and began towing the deer through the woods, with me walking beside and helping to lift the carcass whenever we came to a downed tree across our path.  Huffing and puffing,and only arguing a little, we finally made it to the waiting 4-wheeler and trailer, where we hefted the deer onto the trailer and headed back to the house.

On the ride home, sitting on the trailer beside the buck, I couldn't resist taking a few pictures.  Which, being cell phone pictures at night, mostly came out lousy.  So you don't get to see how cool the full moon actually was.  And you only get kind of spooky looking pics from my view on the trailer.

riding through the field in the dark

my silent and lifeless traveling companion

When we had the deer at the house, we had to hang it off the back deck in order to reach it with the hose to rinse out.  What with gutting it before removing it from the woods, we weren't sure what kind of debris may  have gotten into the open abdominal cavity while dragging it to the trailer.  Typically we can drive the tractor pretty close to where a deer lies and just toss it into the tractor bucket, not worrying about how much it weighs, and allow the tractor to carry it to where ever we are going to dress it.  Boy, it would have been nice to have the tractor usable.  Perhaps someone shouldn't have broken it.  Isn't this romantic?

The tractor is nice not just for the hauling of the deer, but for easier hanging.  You can just let the hydraulics lift the loader bucket (and the deer) as high as needs be.  Not so when all you've got is a couple middle aged married people, and a deer prone on a trailer maybe two feet off the ground.

Between DH and I, and a little help from an extra rope, the header on the deck, and the 4-wheeler, we did manage to hoist that buck up high enough to get his rear off the ground so that he wouldn't be sitting in the runoff water from washing his insides. (Yes, yes we did tie a rope to it's antlers, throw the rope over the header, then tie off the other end to the 4-wheeler.  I got the honor of driving the quad ever so slowly forward while DH watched to see if the rope was going to break--and hopefully catch the deer if that happened--before the leverage we'd created lifted the deer high enough to tie the original rope off to one of the posts).  Once the buck been washed, we had to lower him back onto the trailer, and drive him to the barn where the gambrel and scale are located.  At the barn, we had to hoist him again, although we didn't have to pick him up very far to be high enough to attach to the hook on the rope hanging in the barn rafters, and from there a pulley system made for easier lifting.

All said and done, DH's 8-point buck weighed in at 150 pounds, dressed. Not bad at all.

We did end up drinking that bottle of wine.  It just didn't happen until after 11 p..m., which was what time it was when we came inside the house to clean ourselves up, put away the dinner leftovers that still sat on the table, and really be done working for the night.  The bottle was barely finished and our eyes were barely still open before we crawled into bed and fell asleep.

So much for romance.  But then again, romance and deer season are kind of mutually exclusive.  You gotta feel the love in the teamwork of dressing and hanging a freshly harvested deer because that's about as close to romance as you're going to get.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yarn Along 2016.39: Stripes!

I'm joining Ginny this afternoon for the weekly Yarn Along.

Moving right along on my stripe-y socks for Dad's Christmas present.  Sock number one is full of stripes, and nearly ready for the toe decreases.  I predict it will be off the needles by the end of the week.  There are tons of ends to weave in once that happens, then it will be on to sock number two!

I've been taking copious notes as I go about inventing this striped sock pattern, so hopefully the second sock will turn out identical to the first.

I'm also indulging in another Cecelia Ahern book; this one is The Year I Met You.  I am liking it very much so far.  But then again, I have yet to meet a book by Cecelia Ahern that I didn't like.  They are a perfect mix of ordinary every day gritty life and innocent fancifulness, and are always easy to read.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Every so often, I will get a few eggplant seedlings and grow them in my garden.  Most of the family isn't too hot on eggplant, so I just grow it for me, and once every few years seems to be enough.

I love the color of eggplants.  I like how versatile they are for cooking; how, like zucchini, they don't have much taste of their own and thus take on the flavor of whatever you cook them with--spices, tomato sauce, cheese. . .

What I like most about eggplant is the name they go by on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean:   Aubergine.  It just has such a lovely sound.  Much more exotic and appealing than 'eggplant'.

This growing season has been one that I snuck some eggplant seedlings into the garden.  And, with our hot summer and then regular rains since mid-August, those seedlings grew really well.  I have harvested a few beautiful, heavy, purple veggies (or, are they fruits?   I think, like tomatoes, which they are related to, that they are technically fruit) in the last couple of weeks.

They look so lovely sitting on the counter.

They taste so good in recipes such as cheesy baked eggplant or eggplant parmigiana.  And, apparently, you can slice, blanch, and freeze them for making yummy eggplant dishes when summer is over.  I think I am going to try that with one of these, since with only DH and I home, the dishes I've cooked have only required one eggplant instead of the 2-3 I needed when the kids were younger and all at home. DH doesn't like it quite enough to eat it regularly, and I wouldn't want my pretty aubergines to go to waste!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Yarn Along 2016.38: Making It Up As I Go

Happy Yarn Along Day!  I'm joining Ginny today to see what everyone is knitting/crocheting and reading.

First, I have two finished objects to show off.  I did get DD2's Stylish Squares lapghan done in time to mail off for her birthday--which is tomorrow.  She texted me on yesterday that the package had arrived, and did it have food in it?  Since I said no, no food included (sometimes I home baked treats), she is waiting for her birthday to get here before she opens the box.  So she has no idea what is in there, and I am dying of suspense to see what her reaction will be to her new squishy, big, colorful blanket.

It did turn out pretty big; not quite as long as a twin bed, but at least six inches wider (I know, because my original intent was to use her empty bed here at home to block it on). A perfect size for her to wrap up in on cold winter U.P. nights while she studies or does homework.

In my haste to get it packaged up and sent off on it's journey to her, I didn't get any pictures of it completed.  But I do have a nice one that shows off the colors pretty accurately, so I'll share that one.

I also completed the dish cloth I was making last week for my chicken-themed kitchen.  Can you see the rooster design?

I have to confess I don't bother to block dish cloths, I just put them to use immediately after they are made.  It's not like I'm going to take the time to block them after each trip through the washing machine anyway.

Now I am working on my October sock project, which will be a Christmas present for my Dad.  I am making the pattern up as I go; using a basic ribbed sock recipe, plus my favorite heel, and adding in stripes. So far I have the cuff and roughly a quarter of the leg of one sock done.  Pretty soon I need to do some math, because I have a vision for how I want the heel area to turn out in terms of what color heel and how that is going to tie in with the stripes, but I also want to vary the widths of each pair of stripes (a stripe in the main color and a stripe in the contrast color constituting a 'pair').  So I will have to do a little figuring as to what color I need to be at (and how wide of a stripe) when I get to the part where I divide for the heel.

In the meantime, here is a picture of my progress so far:

I am using Knit Picks Comfy fingering in Douglas Fir for the main color, and Ivory for the contrast color.  Because, you see, my Dad is a Michigan State fan (MSU's colors are green and white).  When I knit him a pair of socks last year--the first I've made for him, I chose what I thought was a nice manly color that wouldn't be too wild: dark blue.  And he loved them, except, he said, why did I make him University of Michigan socks? (U of M is maize & blue);  now he wouldn't be able to wear them on game days. (Being that MSU and U of M are rivals).  So, I decided that the next pair of socks I made for him would be in MSU Spartan colors and that since they would be both green and white, they would not be tame; they would be a bit wild and garish.  Which means that I can't hardly just choose a width of stripe and repeat it throughout the entire sock. No, I need different widths of stripes, and the stripes need to extend from cuff to toe.

In the midst of this crazy custom sock making, I have started reading another Amish murder mystery: A Perfect Square by Vannetta Chapman.  It's enjoyable so far, and since I've liked all her other mysteries I've read, I expect to like this one too.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Lard Restocked

For many years, I had access to pig fat and would render it down into lard.  Lard makes great pie crusts and cookies, among other things.  But then Mother-in-law stopped raising hogs (sister-in-law took over, but only raising one or two for her son to take to the Fair as a 4-H project) and I no longer had a 'lard connection'.

It's been a few years since my supply of home rendered lard ran out.  I had gone back to using vegetable shortening (since lard at the store has preservatives in it to make it shelf stable), but we missed the texture lard brings to baked goods.

So, when DH found out that (for some reason) his mother had raised a hog this year, he requested the when she had it butchered, she please save the fat for me. Visions of luscious, flaky pie crusts danced in his head.

Guess what I was given last week.  If you said 'pig fat', you're right.  A whole plastic grocery bag full of pig fat.

Which I spent most of Saturday (with the exception of the two hours I slept in, and the other two hours I was away having a super awesome riding lesson) rendering into lard.

I ended up doing the rendering in two batches; one before my riding lesson, and one after.  The picture below shows the color difference between the cooled lard (first batch, on the left) and the hot lard as I filled jars while making the second batch (on the right).

The method I used is the same one I blogged about in this post, way back in 2012, which apparently is the last year I had pig fat from Mother-in-law.

My rendering this time yielded 10 pints (or, a gallon plus a quart) of finished lard.  With just DH and I home, and a whole lot less food being consumed, that lard ought to last a good while.  I'd say a year, at least.