Monday, November 26, 2012

Life After Turkey

There is so much beauty living here on the ranch. This was the view last nite while I was feeding one of my horses.

There are things I would rather be doing than cook, but there IS a satisfaction that comes from using my own ingredients that can't be bought. We do have 2 standing freezers and a room dedicated to nothing but pantry, but in the long run, we eat better, healthier and save a lot in the long run. 

Having a freezer full of beef, lamb and chicken, and plenty of canned goods on the shelves is a comforting feeling. Notice the Tattler reusable canning lids. Love that I don't have to throw them away and can use them again and again!
I also have whatever I need on hand, at all times, only needing to grocery shop about every 3 months or so. If I run out of something, which is rare, someone from the ranch is bound to be heading to town in between trips.

The newest addition to the kitchen is my Atlas Pasta Roller. I love this thing. Randy loves this thing. It’s amazingly simple to make homemade pasta. My favorite recipe so far, is 1 cup of semolina and 2 eggs. Mix it up, let it rest, then  roll it between the blades, taking down the thickness a little each time. Put the cutting blades on and roll out your lasagna or fettucini or whatever. We have made fettucini and I was shocked and amazed when Randyman put his stamp of approval on it because he doesn’t often comment on things, even when I beg for his opinion. The hardest thing about making pasta setting it out to dry.

I have been using a broom handle hung between two chairs (when I’m not busy riding it, of course). This isn’t the greatest arrangement, because as you know, we have very tall dogs who might be tempted, but until Randyman builds me a pasta hanger, or I give up and buy one, we will just have to live with that risk. After it has dried for an hour or two, you can throw it in your boiling water for a couple minutes and bingo! You have fresh pasta. I have dried some for a few days and put it in my regular pasta containers to see how long it will keep.

Meanwhile, I still buy most of my pasta at the store and only do this for special occasions. I have to choose the best use of my time and this isn’t always it.

Thanksgiving was great. We are finally recovering. Randyman ate 3/4 of a peach pie by himself, so I think the freezer recipe for the peaches off of my tree is a keeper. We were musing on how much better the chicken we raise tastes compared to commercial chicken and wondering if it was the same with turkey. Looks like we will be finding out next year. I'll be researching and probably raising a couple of broad breasted for Thanksgiving, but also raising some heritage birds that can reproduce in case we really like this. Randyman's idea this time. I didn't argue though.

EmmaLouMoo has a new beau. I am SO happy because I was afraid we wouldn't get her bred this year as it's pretty late. But we have the best boss in the world and he had the boys bring in one of the bulls whom I refer to as "Bennie" as in Benihana. I love Teppanyaki!

Sushi likes him a lot. She had dinner last nite with "Uncle Bennie" while Emma had a 'girls night out' at dinner with Annie.

As we didn't want a repeat of last year when the bulls kept leaving poor EmmaLou in the lurch and jumping the fence in the big milk pasture the trio has to be locked in, so the sheep and dogs had to move. The sheep were NOT happy with me last nite.

But the good news is, Thing1 is walking much better. I was able to take the splints off of one leg and he is traveling fine. Once it strengthens enough, I will take off the other. I used a crocheted wrist warmer to wrap around it for padding and cut a piece of pvc to use as a splint. The PVC is on the back of his leg to prevent it from bending and I used a vet wrap to bind it. Just in case someone else needs to do this, it works very well and is easily removed and replaced again. 

I was prepared to have Randy kill the two extra roosters and the mighty ugly hen until last nite. She laid a green egg, so she gets a stay of execution because I think the kids will be tickled by that when they come to visit next summer. So looks like I will just be canning two alarm clocks. Life is good.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Life in the Fast Lane

Earlier this month was another one of those weeks where I didn’t get outside much. It was cold, windy, rainy, snowy...and generally not appealing nor friendly to my condition, so I did what I could inside. 

There is always something to do here, but sometimes those things are set aside to enjoy some of the unusual perks and rare opportunities presented living here on the ranch such as when the balloonists came and we got a free ride in a hot air balloon. It was amazing. Ranch kid #5 and I went in a balloon with a lady pilot. Unfortunately, I have acrophobia and couldn't get off my knees. I did my best taking pictures but a good number of them were from the angle of looking up #5's nose.  She was, however, very patient with me as she has always been.

Then just a short time later, a guy showed up with a cute little Candy Apple Red helicopter. Again, I couldn't resist, I HAD to have a ride in it. Besides, I was about to go into surgery for a total knee replacement and I just figgered, in case I didn't ever wake up again, it would be nice to know what the ranch looked like from up above so I could spot it. That was an amazing experience, especially when the pilot decided to chase a coyote for a ways!

There were a lot of new folk here at the ranch for the week. They were 'camping out'  hoping to set a new landspeed record on the lakebed. This was to be their trial run, but the weather had not been cooperating. When the lake bed is dry, its awesomely flat and smooth and speed records have been set here in the past, but when wet, it is a fearsome mirey muck of a mess. A vehicle can instantly sink. It seemed as though all plans would have to be cancelled, but then as luck would have it, there was enough wind the last night to dry off just what they needed to run the tests, so Randyman and I joined up with everyone else and went to watch.

We drove the 6 miles down to the hotsprings, which is  on the ranch and turned down the new road the boss had put in to access the dry lake bed. We caught up to the group and it was a little nippy with the wind blowing off the icy Steens.

Huddled in our coats and gloves, we gathered around as it was explained to us that our best spot to watch from would be a mile down from the start and a quarter mile over from where the car would run as that is about where he would fire the afterburners. They set cones out to guide the pilot and we used those as our landmarks. They handed out ear plugs and told us to keep our engines running, because if the car loses control at high speed (we are talking excess of 600 mph) we would only have seconds to jump in our trucks and get out of its way. The rocket cars don’t steer or corner well, you see.

We followed one another around until we figured we found the right spot and we all waited a good long while in the cold wind. The ranch cowboys had all taken the day off to watch, so we had a slew of pick up trucks all parked in a row, facing the direction of escape, just in case. I asked if anyone had a rope to tie from my waist to the bumper in the event we DID have to jump in the truck and move quickly. Otherwise I would surely be left behind, because I am slow to climb in. I figured being dragged away would be better than nothing.  No one had any, so I opted to stand in the bed of the truck instead. I wasn't the only one, one of the kids chose to do the same.

The flare went up and the first brake test began. The rocket car sped past us then slowed down and stopped only a mile or two away. The first test was stopping without brakes. We all sped over there and just when we caught up, it took off again. We raced alongside (quite a ways off to the side) and kept up to about 100 mph while I hyperventilated, then was waaaaay out in front of us. This time it used the brakes to stop. I asked someone how fast he went and they said it only went about 200-250 mph for the tests. I get nervous around 40-45 so it was pretty exciting to me.

The steering wasn’t good, it was pulling to the left, so it was loaded back on the trailer, towed back to the starting point and they worked on it a bit while we all sat back at our appointed spot, waiting to see  helicopter with a camera crew  show up.  They are making a documentary of this. It has been in the works for 13 years so far. The pilot said one of the brakes didn't feel right, as though the liquid (which I assume cools it because 200+mph friction probably gets a little toasty) coolant might have frozen.

Not having spent the week getting to know everyone, the way the rest of the ranch did (both cuz I didn’t feel good and also cuz...well..they are people and you know how that goes for me...) I didn’t learn as much as I might have liked. But I did learn that right behind where the pilot sits is a whole computer network which records all kinds of data while he drives. They analyze all that and make whatever changes or preparations are necessary. From what I understand, the current record is 763 mph. They have to get to top speed, hold it for 1 mile, then turn around and go the other way and do it again within 60 minutes.  I’ve read that challengers hope to hit 1000 mph. I am totally baffled at why anyone would want to go that fast on land. 

I clearly remember back as a kid, blasting down a sidewalk on roller skates and colliding with a giant dogdoo. My skates stopped forward motion instantly but  my face kept going. The concrete was hard and I have never had much appetite for speed since then...or dogdoo either.
But, I digress. There are batteries that run the computer networks and they don’t hold a charge for very long, so as soon as the car stops, they have to plug it in to both recharge and retrieve all the data.

The helicopter finally arrived, the flares went up, we had our earplugs in and were waiting for the big thrill and big noise as the afterburners went on and the car sped past...

it leapt forward...

 then slowed down...

then kinda fizzled.

 As it turns out the steering quit working and one of the brakes literally broke. In spite of it all, the pilot was cool and unruffled.

 I was impressed, because I would probably have left a little weewee trail all the way down the lakebed if it had been me...and that's with NO problems. 

We were really starting to get ‘into’ the spirit of it all,  when we were told it would probably take some months to manufacture a new brake, so the fun for now, was over.

WE kept sneaking behind the afterburner, which was still warm and out of the wind while the camera people and helicopter people interviewed the pilot/owner.

We headed back to the ranch, waiting until they come back for  the next test and for the attempt at the record. The people involved were all really very nice, so maybe next time, I will bravely venture out of the house for more information.

Everyone involved was, of course,  really good at math and computers, electronics and all those kinds of cerebral things. One of the younger guys was enjoying the company of the cowgirls and explained he was not in the market for a brilliant girlfriend who knew all about science and math but just preferred to meet someone who came with no drama. A cowgirl might be just what he needs. 

One of the girls said she felt kind of 'dumb' talking to the guys cuz they knew all kinds of things she had no clue about. A neighbor, trying to encourage her, said 

“Oh, don’t let them make you feel stupid. It’s not rocket science you know...”  

But, is.

For more info, go to

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Goin' With the Grain

Living as far as we do from town, freezer space is at a premium, so I make all our bread from scratch as it’s easier to keep the ingredients around and besides nothing is more delicious than fresh homemade bread.

There are a few things in my kitchen that in my mind, make life a LOT easier. A stand mixer, several sizes of glass measuring cups for liquids, (multiple 1 cup, 2 cup, 4 cup and 11 cup)several sets of stainless steel measuring cups for dry measure, a danish dough whisk for stirring dough and a couple sets of measuring spoons. These all get used frequently and are kept out within reach, either on my open shelf, in a crock or hanging from the cabinet. A grain mill is a handy thing to have as well, as I have recently begun to mill my own flour and keep 3 kinds of wheat berries in large food safe buckets with  a bay leaf inside and gamma lids. They will store this way indefinitely and I mill flour as I need it. The bay leaf keeps weevils at bay. If I am going to do a lot of baking, I will mill a week’s worth of flour and keep it in the fridge, but let it warm to room temp before using. I also have on hand, loaf pans,  various sizes of baking stones, a clay baker and a couple of different brotforms (dough basket) and a pastry cloth.

For some of the bread I make, I will need to feed my sourdough starter. I keep a pretty good sized jar of it, so I will just put 1/2-1 cup of flour in with 1/2-1 cup of warm water to feed it. I’ll cover it back up with the cloth I keep on it (you don’t want to cover sourdough with a non permeable lid as it needs to draw yeast from the air). I use a widemouth canning jar with a square of cloth and a canning ring or rubber band. This keeps everything out of it, but allows a free exchange of air. Most of the time, I have my starter in the refrigerator. I take it out and feed it several hours before I need to use it and let it warm up to room temperature. I don’t keep it out all the time as I would then have to feed it everyday, and it would also interfere with cheesemaking. Never make bread and cheese the same day, as the yeast in the air will cause problems with your cheese.
Sometimes you might have to pour out some of the starter to make room for more flour and water. Anytime you use your starter you are going to get some build up on the side of your jar and inside the rim. Every now and then I take this buildup, set it aside to dry completely then put it in a baggie in the freezer. I've also been known to spread some thinly on wax paper and set it out to dry. This way if something should ever happen to my original starter which is now several years old, I can rehydrate this and continue on as before. I can also ship it to friends who would like to start making some sourdough of their own. There are tons of horror stories about someone cleaning out a refrigerator and dumping out the starter thinking it was something old. Some starters may have come West in wagon trains and it would be a shame for them to go out of existence this way. Mine was started about 10 years ago in my kitchen, but it improves with age and I have no desire to begin all over. *note Keep starter in a non metallic crock & use non metallic spoons, etc to stir it.

While the starter gets happy and starts to party, I mill some Hard WHITE or Hard RED Wheat flour. I am currently still learning to work with 100% whole wheat breads so I have been using 50% whole wheat flour and 50% commercial bread flour in order to get a nice rise out of my bread without dough conditioners or added gluten. I experiment with those as I have extra time.

Real home milled whole wheat flour has the bran, the germ and the endosperm. With commercial flour, even commercial flour that claims to be whole wheat, the wheat germ is removed. This is to prevent the flour from going rancid so quickly. The truth is, that hours after milling, the nutrients in wheat begin to dissipate. If you have ever bought whole wheat flour and found it smelled like cardboard, it’s gone bad. Typically, commercial flour has had all the beneficial nutrients removed in order to enhance shelf life. The bread you buy today isn’t much more than filler, without much nutritional benefit at all. All manner of things have been added to it from wood pulp to a product derived from human hair, to make it more cost efficient.
By milling your own flour, you save money, have a fresher healthier product with lots of fiber and vitamins. The first thing we noticed when using our own flour was that we don’t eat as much. The real whole grain bread products are so filling we consume only about 1/2 as much as we do with stuff I used to make with commercial flour. The flavor is superior. Instead of the bitterness found in commercial whole wheat flour, there is a sweetness. There just is no comparison.

Hard Red Wheat makes a darker and more deeply wheat flavored bread. I like it best, but Randy likes the Hard White Wheat, which is a bit lighter. Soft White Wheat is low in gluten and is considered Pastry Flour, used for cookies, cakes and things of that nature. My grain mill doesn’t grind as fine as what you might buy in the store and my flour absorbs more liquid so I sometimes have to make adjustments for it. My pastry flour I actually grind twice and sometimes I will sift the pieces of wheat germ out of it to be used in something like cereal.

One recipe we like is adapted from a King Arthur Sourdough recipe online. It calls for 5 cups of flour, so I will mill about 2 cups of wheat berries. 
The 2 cups of wheat berries, once milled, gives me about 3 3/4 to 4 cups of flour. I put 2 1/2 cups of the flour into a quart glass measuring cup and add 1 cup of plain yogurt. Yogurt helps keep bread moist and soft. I almost always have yogurt on hand because I use it for different things and having the cow and goats around, I usually have a good supply of milk. The yogurt mixed with the fresh milled wheat will help to break down the phytic acid, making nutrients more available to us. It will also help to soften the wheat germ which tends to break the gluten strands when bread rises, leaving it flat and heavy. If I don’t have yogurt on hand, I can use buttermilk, milk, whey, or water with a little apple cider vinegar in it. I just like the results with the yogurt the best.

I mix the yogurt and flour with the dough whisk, cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside for a few hours, or overnight.

After I get the dough made, I knead it on my pastry cloth which I have sprinkled some flour on. It makes it a lot easier to clean up if I use the pastry cloth for kneading dough, cutting out cookies or making pie crust. All I need do is sprinkle it with flour, or in the case of cookies, powdered sugar, do what I have to, then shake it over the trash can to let the excess fall off, fold it, and put it in a freezer until I need it again. It’s a great little timesaver.

After rising it in a bowl, I put it in a well floured brotform to rise the second time. I use a piece of parchment paper to flip it from the brotform onto a baking stone and bake it. Once out of the oven, I butter the top because Randyman likes his crust soft. This makes a huge loaf of bread. I cut it in quarters and freeze 3 of them until we are done with the remaining one. 
I might throw together a sponge with my leftover flour and some more sourdough for making waffles in the morning. This is some seriously good stuff!

Sourdough Loaf

2 1/2 cups fresh milled WW flour
1 cup yogurt
1 cup sourdough starter
2 tsp yeast
1 TBL sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups bread flour

Soak WW flour overnight in yogurt.
Put room temperature starter in mixer with sugar, water and yeast to proof yeast.
Add salt, yogurt mixture. Mix and slowly add bread flour until dough pulls away from bowl. Knead by hand or with dough hook.
Rise til double in warm place
Deflate, fold in thirds and stretch into a ball and place in well floured brotform, or shape into loaves and put in loaf pans.

Rise for second time then bake at 425 for 30-45  min.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Elbow Deep in Sheep

I should know better. I should never second guess the Polarbears. 
Bruno snapped out of whatever was ailing him almost immediately after being allowed to come in and sleep with his head on my lap. It appears that he may not have been fevered after all, (as i had no thermometer there was no way to be sure) but instead it seems that the combination of having sold the goats and then confining the dogs to the small pasture with the sheep for a few days to let them bond better caused him to both grieve the loss of part of his 'family' and somehow feel that I was not happy with him. At any rate, he is a happy, hardworking dog again. That didn't keep me from misjudging once again though.

The next day I turned them out again with the sheep, in the back pasture. It wasn't long before i saw Cletus in the front of the house again. So I walked him back out where Bruno was guarding the sheep and told Cletus in no uncertain terms to stay put.

A couple hours later, I went out to check on everyone and both dogs were exactly where I had left them...but there were NO sheep! Not one. Not even a trace. I excitedly said "WHERE ARE MY SHEEP???"
The dogs nonchalantly got up, stretched and began walking slowly thru the pasture. I followed Cletus, with Bruno walking beside me, quite a long ways until he came to the wide, rocky, dry streambed. Certain that there was no earthly reason the sheep would leave all the feed in the pasture behind me to cross the rocks and recalling the wild goose chase EmmaLou had led me on, I headed back the other way to see if they were hidden in the tall grass, or had found a hole in a fence somewhere. Cletus sort of shrugged, and laid down where he was. Bruno followed me a few steps then stopped and laid down himself.

 I searched everywhere but found no trace of the sheep. I got the 4 wheeler as I couldn't walk much more and came back to search again. Cletus joined me this time and I checked through the willows, through Mister's pasture, out where the calves were, back at the corrals, but no luck. At one point, Bruno suddenly jumped up from where he lay and took off like a shot towards the horse pasture a mile away where the cavvy currently grazes. He didn't stop or slow down until he was almost in the center of it, just in front of a bank of trees.

 I never saw what he was after, but I could just barely see him at a distance, stopped with his tail tightly curled. I finally went and got Randy and told him all I knew. He came down with me and we searched again. Bruno showed back up and he and Cletus followed me around totally unperturbed, with not one concern or thought of the missing sheep. I was terribly disappointed after all the bragging I had done on them.

After about another 45 minutes of searching, Randy hollered out that he had found them. I headed over and saw that they were about 30 yards from where I had stopped following Cletus. Not only had he been leading me to them, but he and Bruno both stayed close by the flock while I searched everyplace they weren't!
I have to think a coyote must have tried to sneak up on them which is what caused Bruno to take off in hot pursuit. It is hard to see the dogs when they lay in the high weeds. At any rate, it seems they do a lot better job than I was giving them credit for.

Last night when I went out, the sheep and dogs had come into the little pasture for the night. I looked and noticed someone was missing. Madge is the only mature ewe as well as the only one bred early. I went out to Mister’s pasture where they like to  gather and sure enough, there was Madge. She has always been the odd one out, as she almost never hangs with the rest of the flock.With a lot of coaxing, Cletus and I managed to get her most of the way back. Her bag has enlarged a great deal in the past couple of days and her ‘girly parts’ are lookin’ pretty floppy so I decided it’s time for her to go to the lambing shed. THAT took some work on the part of both Randyman and myself as she did not want to go. After fussing around and failing with her for 15 or 20 minutes, I went and got some grain. She immediately followed me to the shed. I love a greedy animal. It’s only a vice in humans, in critters, it’s an asset as they will do anything for food.

This morning she is very much in labor. I am hoping against hope she can do this on her own this time, as well as hoping for twins.

I grabbed a cup of coffee and settled on the couch to watch her on the closed circuit camera that is in the lambing shed. I could see that she was definitely in the beginning stages of labor. Things moved along quickly as she paced, ate a bite of breakfast and paced some more. I had been hoping for twins as they tend to be smaller and the last lamb she had was enormous and I had a hard time helping her deliver him as we could not get his head and shoulders out even though everything was quite normal. I looked forward to staying in and watching the show on camera this time.

It wasn’t long before the baby crowned. I smiled and as I looked closely at the monitor, I noticed there were no feet!
I grabbed some lubricant, latex gloves, disinfectant and baling twine. The dogs met me at the door and we went in to check. I waited for Madge to relax a bit and did a quick check...there were no feet in the birth canal. I had to wait until she stopped pushing and try to get the lamb back inside, but he started breathing already. I lubed up and managed to push my arm in past the cervix and found the shoulder and one leg... After several attempts I was able to bring the one leg forward, but I couldn’t get to the other one. Randyman showed up while I was elbow deep in sheep and I had him tie the baling twine onto the foot of the leg I had already gotten forward and hold tension on it when needed. I tried twisting the lamb into better position, but no matter what I did, I could not get the other leg forward. Not being able to push the lamb back into the uterus made it very difficult as there was not enough room to work with. I figured there must be a second lamb which made it impossible to push the first guy back even for a minute. In spite of all the time it was taking us, and the stress on both of them, the lamb would occassionally shake its head which encouraged me to do whatever I had to, to keep it alive. We kept traction on the lamb and when Madge pushed again we were able to extract him. No sooner had I set him aside for her to dry off, number 2 crowned. It was in the exact same position as the first lamb. This time, I was able to push the head back in and had more room to reach in and bring the leg forward. This lamb was smaller and but I had just as much trouble with the second leg so we chose to deliver it with just one leg forward also. It came pretty easily and Bruno resumed the drying off of the first one while Madge worked on the newer lamb.

Twin ram lambs. I have named them Thing1 and Thing2. They are typical boys. Thing 2 has already gotten himself stuck behind the tarp which acts as a roof for the shed, has gotten his leg stuck through the cattle panel that holds up the tarp that acts as a roof on the shed and continues to walk around until he runs into a wall, gate, leg or other immovable object. They are dry now and actively looking for the cafeteria. She didn’t have much when I checked to make sure her teats weren’t plugged, but I think she will let down once they start nursing. At least she is letting them try, unlike last time, when it took her 3 days to let Stewie nurse.

All in all it was a pretty good morning. Bruno stayed with them for awhile, watching from his chosen spot in the back of the shed, out of Madge’s way. Everytime a lamb wobbled by him, he gently reached out and licked it clean a little more, just like its mama does. Madge is happy. I called the boss in town and asked him to bring me home some oxytocin to help her pass the afterbirth if she needs it and an intra-uterine bolus to help prevent infection, since I had to intervene. He couldn't find any. She managed to clean on her own, so I used a teat infusion from my milk cow as a preventative antibiotic for the uterus. Hopefully, that will do.

It always makes me smile to see the miracle of life happen right in front of me. What an amazing and creative God we have. The little guys are knuckled over because their tendons in the front are too short. I'll have to splint them today, meantime, they are doing GREAT!