Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Creme de le Creme



Check out the cream line on these jars of milk. EmmaLouMoo is not ALWAYS this generous, but I do get a half gallon of heavy cream from her every day.


As I bump along in my life, it occurs to me how much nicer a lot of homemade products are and how expensive it is to buy them. 
I can’t help but think how throughout my lifetime they vilified butter and pushed margarine, only to later discover margarine is very unhealthy for you, whereby real butter actually has many health benefits and as a complete product is good for you. I have to be suspect of something that never goes bad...I heard margarine is 1 molecule shy of being plastic and I suspect its true. Cool whip is another product I find disturbingly stable.
The same vicious and biased battle has been waged over Crisco and Lard (look up the history of it, Crisco was not even meant to be food.) The egg has been victimized as well as real milk, grains and just about everything else. I just can’t bring myself to eat substitutes. There is nothing like the real thing and I believe God knew what He was doing when He put it all together for us. I don’t think you can improve on raw ingredients.
I for one, cannot survive eating just vegetables and even if I could, there would not be much satisfaction in it for me. I have to consider that no matter what I eat, if its not done in moderation and  balance, even WATER can be toxic. Yes, there is a woman who died from drinking too much water. She did it all at once but none the less, it proves my point. The food is not the problem. Our appetites and behaviors are the problem.


I had to chuckle some years ago, as I read a post from a woman who wanted some ideas of meals she could make for her Grampa. Apparently Grandma had passed on some years before, leaving him alone and in his 90’s. He still lived alone and stubbornly refused help from anyone for anything, doing his own house work and even gardening. She thought maybe he would accept some pre-made dinners. She made the comment “he doesn’t eat healthy like we do, he just eats things like meat and potatoes and such.”
...and yet he is 90, and lives independently. That says something about so called ‘healthy eating’ to me.
So much of our life is centered around food. We have ‘dinner parties’, meet people at restaurants, have folks over for meals, plan dates around food, fond memories and character are built around the family dinner table and it’s the gathering place for most all holiday celebrations. It’s just a very important part of life and sustenance, there is no getting around it. 
To me, if it’s real food, its ok to eat. Everything from wood pulp to human hair is being processed and added to our daily food chain in order to increase profits. Factory farming injects everything from growth hormones to unimaginable stuff into our meat products to increase the weight. Nearly everything you buy in the store has things you cannot even pronounce, much less spell. Nothing is done to increase value, just profit. There was once a time when turning out a superior product was the goal of most companies, now it’s frequently to see what they can get away with.
Along with all the processed and synthetic foods there seems to be a rise in autoimmune diseases (I know, as I am a victim), heart disease and all kinds of other maladies. If we think this is not linked to the way we eat, we are kidding ourselves. I really think my diet in my younger years contributed greatly to the problems I suffer from now. I do know that even though Randyman and I consume an AWFUL lot of ‘unhealthy’ animal fats, because I cook only with real butter, lard and use lots of milk products, we raise lamb, chicken and beef and I feel better than I did years before. I believe this is because our food is more natural and other than his addiction to soda pop and chips, we don’t eat anything processed. I make our bread, our broth, our dairy products and just about everything else. 
I am a raw milk advocate, because I know firsthand, the benefits it has brought me personally. I do, however, understand the need for pasteurization of commercial milk, because of the often incredibly unsanitary conditions it goes through during processing. Not everyone is in a position to have their own goat or cow. Never the less, there are things you can do at home, to improve the quality of your dairy products, even if you cannot get good clean raw milk. You can make your own milk products, saving money, producing a superior product and controlling what goes INTO your body.
So, even if someone is not fortunate enough to have a goat or cow, there are things that can be made better and cheaper without much work, from (ugh) commercial milk and cream. 
Now, bear in mind, I DO have a cow...and goats, so I have never made anything with commercial milk. But you can. 
Some of these things are just plain decadent. You may not need them often, but when you do, why not just make it yourself? WE can still take pride in producing a superior product, even if commercial manufacturers do not. Our friend the chef, lauded the flavor and quality of my butter, cream cheese, sour cream and other stuff, which made me smile pretty much all over. He has asked me to freeze it and ship it to him, as he loves it.
Cream Cheese is almost sinfully easy to make. It’s one of my favorites, as it is practically foolproof and I do so love a good cheesecake. It’s also great to mix up with some powdered sugar for blintzes, or to dump some jalapeno jelly, or chili sauce with crab over for a great dip and let’s not forget cream cheese icing on top of carrot cake or homemade cinnamon rolls.
I use 3 quarts of heavy cream to 1 quart of milk, or even half and half. Warm it to 86 degrees, stir in 2 TBL of live cultured buttermilk, using an up and down motion to stir, not round and round, then put 2 DROPS of rennet in 1/4 cup of cool water, mix it into the cream , cover with a clean cloth and let it sit for 12 hours. I put the cream pot in a larger pot of hot water to do this, so I don't burn the cream with direct heat.





After 12 hours you should have a curd mass, so carry it to the sink, and CAREFULLY ladle it into a muslin lined colander. 
I use a cheese ladle.






Make sure its a BIG piece of muslin as this makes a LOT of cream cheese. Tie up the corners of the cloth, hang it over the sink, or over a bowl to drain for another 12 hours and thats it. I use a big jelly bag. 


Amazing how much money they charge for this stuff in the store.
You CAN adjust the amount of heavy cream to milk to affect both the flavor and the calorie content of the finished product.




Buttermilk, by the way, is a ‘mesophilic culture’. There are other cultures that fall in that category, even clabbered milk, which you CANNOT get from pasteurized milk as all the beneficial bacteria in it has been destroyed. But live culture buttermilk is one type of this culture and can be used for lots of different stuff, like making cheeses.
Use this same buttermilk to culture a half gallon of heavy cream for making cultured butter. The resulting butter will be more flavorful, break faster and give a better yield than just plain old sweet cream butter. I always have this visual of cultured butter at the opera or museum, but it’s just not so.
I put a bit in my jar of cream and let it sit out over night or for a day or so until it thickens. (cover loosely) Pour it into your KA with the whip and a cover (definitely one of those pour covers) let her rip. When the butter breaks, you will have little rice sized pieces of butter clumping up. Strain the new buttermilk into a sterile quart jar and save to culture the next batch and to bake with. I use a funnel and a nifty little strainer to do this. Then I slosh the butter in the strainer under cold water under until it runs clear. I work the butter in the metal bowl in a wee bit of cold water, changing it often until all the buttermilk is worked out of my butter, then I work out the water with a little kneading and shape it. It’s important to get all the buttermilk out of the butter, or it will go ‘off’ quickly.


 I use a couple of different butter presses. I have an old antique wooden press that makes close to 1 pound bricks and a small one that makes pats. You can work the salt in at this point, if you want salted butter. I only salt the butter we will use on the table, so salted butter is always shaped in a little ball to fit my Butter Bell, or in the pats. The rest is in bricks or balls that are measured to 4 oz for cooking. I do this so I can distinguish my unsalted butter from the rest, as it is for cooking and making ghee.
The buttermilk is now used to culture other stuff, make bread or biscuits, pancakes or waffles, or marinate chicken to tenderize it. What I don’t use goes to the chickens who love it.
Another product you can make with a minimum of fuss or tools, is sour cream. My cream is raw and very, very thick. (thank you EmmaLouMoo!)



Because its so thick I thin it a bit so I use about 3 cups heavy cream to a cup of whole milk. Warm it to about 80 degrees or so and stir in about 1/3 cup of live culture buttermilk. Put it in a sterilized container, like a widemouth canning jar or something, cover with a paper towel and set it somewhere warm for a day or so. Like yogurt, the longer it incubates the more tart it becomes.Not too high tech! It won’t be AS thick as commercial sour cream because they add stuff to theirs for thickening.
Because I get 1/2 gallon a day of heavy cream from EmmaLouMoo, (I am talking ‘scrape off of the spoon thick” heavy cream) I make a LOT of butter. It won’t keep forever, not even in the freezer, so every few weeks I make ghee. Ghee is awesome stuff. It’s basically, ‘oil of butter’. It’s about 1 step further than the clarified butter you use to dip lobster or crab in.
 All of the milk solids are cooked out until just the purest stuff is left then it is strained and poured into sterile jars. It keeps somewhere close to forever in the pantry. Ghee has an extremely high smoking point (something like 400 degrees) so I use it instead of butter for stir frying, frying eggs, making cheese sandwiches, etc. It doesn’t burn like butter. Its perfect for sauteing and ...its HEALTHY!
It’s a very popular ingredient in eastern cuisine and I understand there is Ayurvedic ghee that is over 100 years old.
All there is to making ghee is to dump about 5 pounds of UNSALTED butter in a big pot and melt it down. Let it keep simmering until it separates. Skim off the foam that comes to the top and toss it out. It will eventually become very clear and golden with all the solid bits on the bottom. At this point I carefully pour it into another container, making sure none of the stuff on the bottom goes with it. Then I wash out the pot, dry it really well, pour the liquid back in and let it go for a little longer, to make sure ALL the water and solid stuff has been cooked out of it. Then I let it cool a bit, strain it into sterilized pint or half pint jars, cap them and put them in the pantry until I need them.



One of the simplest “cooked” things to make with milk, is yogurt. All that is required is some milk, a little powdered milk and some starter culture. The easiest way to acquire starter is to buy some plain, live culture yogurt at the store, and use some of it to kick start your batch. Then you can hold back some of your own yogurt each time to culture the next batch. This is good for several generations before you have to go back to an original starter again. With a pot, a thermometer, and someplace to incubate your yogurt you are good to go. I already blogged this some time ago, so we won’t harp on it.
Cream Cheese
1/2 gallon heavy cream (not ultra pasteurized!)
1/2 gallon whole milk (not ultra pasteurized!)
2 TBL live culture buttermilk
2 drops liquid rennet in 1/4 c water
Warm milk and cream to 86 degrees in clean stainless steel container.
Stir in buttermilk using up and down motion
Make rennet solution last so it doesn’t weaken and stir in using up and down motion.
Cover with clean cloth and sit aside for 12 hours.
Look for clean break, CAREFULLY ladle out curd and drain in cloth bag for up to 12 hours.
Salt if desired.
Cover and keep refrigerated for up to a week or freeze
Sour Cream
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup live culture buttermilk
Warm cream and milk to about 80 degrees, stir in buttermilk.
Pour into sterile container and cover with paper towel and rubber band for 24 hours or so in a warm place. (think water heater closet)
It WILL thicken more once chilled but will not be as thick as commercial which has thickeners added to it along with other stabilizers.
Cultured Butter
1/2 gallon heavy cream
2 TBL live culture buttermilk
Stir buttermilk into cream, cover with cloth or papertowel and allow to sit for 24 hours or more to thicken.
Churn until cream breaks into rice sized pieces of butter and sloshy liquid.
Strain buttermilk into sterile jar.
Wash and knead  butter in cold water until water runs clear. Knead out additional water, salt if desired and shape. Refrigerate or freeze.
Ghee
3-5 lb of unsalted butter
Melt in large heavy bottomed pot.
Simmer until milk solids have fallen to bottom of pot and water has boiled off, removing foam now and then, careful not to stir everything up.
Butter will clarify and become a clear golden color.
 This takes about 20 minutes.
When most of foam has stopped, strain into another container, careful NOT to pour milk solids into container. 
Clean pot throughly, return ghee to pot and simmer a bit longer to make sure all milk solids and water have been simmered out of it.
Let cool a bit then strain again into sterilized canning jars.
Put on lids.
Refrigeration is not necessary.


When you have made these items, then you can make this.
An incredibly rich and moist chocolate cake made with homemade butter, homemade sour cream and topped with icing made with homemade cream cheese. Ahh life is good.






Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Round About






I woke up this morning to find the world clothed in white. What was an ugly tumbleweed last night morphed into a delicate filigree of shimmering ice.
The pups laid out in the snow, instead of on the porch like usual. They are extra vigilant today. Our friend said he heard coyotes all around last nite and he stepped out and saw the Maremma’s running from one place to another in an all fired hurry. The weather and the full moon must have brought out more predators than usual.
All the animals are kind of zoned out. EmmaLou didn’t want to come in for breakfast or milking this morning. She just stood in the middle of her big pasture and stared out at the range. She didn’t even clobber Cletus when he gave her his daily morning smooch on the nose. THAT concerned me, but I finally managed to convince her to come with me for milking. Afterwards she returned to her spot and spaced out again.


Cletus woke us up at 5 a.m. barking at something. Bruno was out on patrol. It’s amazing the way they have worked that out, that Cletus usually stays with the livestock while Bruno does perimeter checks every night. Although I have seen them out together, its not until after he’s gotten all the animals up by the house first. Since Bruno didn’t show up while Cletus was barking, I mused about what he might be saying...seeing as how he wasn’t going after anything, just moving up and down the fences, either warning off the intruder, or maybe calling Bruno for help. Randyman said he was faking something out and telling it “WE’VE GOT YOU SURROUNDED. LEAVE NOW OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES.” 
He said Cletus was moving up and down the fenceline to make it sound like there was more than one of him. I told Randyman to go back to sleep.



There have been more deer around the house. The pups don’t even bother to get up when they go by. It’s just amazing. They can be sound asleep but if a strange dog or hunter go by the front of the house, they are ON it! And I can’t sneak away by myself, even on foot. Ever since our friend has come with his dogs, the pups are out front early every morning. He says they are gentle and greet his dogs, but I also know they are there to keep an eye on them. By the time I get up, my dogs have come back to the back yard again.
The sheep all seem content. Rosemary found a nice spot to sit out breakfast. She’s going to be a real heartbreaker, with that pouty lower lip.



As for me, I surprised myself today. I found a treadle sewing machine on Craigslist and I bought it. 
I have wanted one for ...well, forever, I think. I’m not sure why, its just one of those things. I don’t know when we can go pick it up, as the fuel for the trip cost as much as the machine, so either someone will have to pick it up on their trip to town, or we will have to wait 3 months  until our next shopping trip. Either way, I am excited. It has all the original parts including a box of feet. It’s in working order and it looks great. I really think I will get more sewing done as I won’t have to do it on the kitchen table in order to plug it in. I won’t have to trip over the cord anymore either and I think I will enjoy it more because more of me will be moving. I hate sitting still.

Today is Dulce de Leche day. Our friend is going to help me make some from scratch. He promises it will be worth the effort. I know he’s right, because everything he has made us is amazing. He has made eating an experience, not just something you do. For 18 years, Randyman has begged me for the perfect soft oatmeal cookie like his gradeschool cafeterialady/busdriver used to make. I have apparently never been up to the task. Our friend is going to make him some tomorrow, and I am certain he will not disappoint. In return, I am sending him back to Nebraska with a lot of homemade butter and a promise to send him some more of the Bay Rum soap that he loves, as soon as I get it cured. Only 2 more days and he’ll be gone for another year and the cycle begins again, of waiting with anticipation to see friends and family on their annual visits and I will treat them with the great stuff he taught me. Such are the things that make life sweet.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Country Fare







Our visiting friend, the chef, invited some of his friends from the other side of Oregon to come and hunt with him this weekend. The night before they came, he was showing me how to work with recipes using homemade butter, as it behaves differently than commercial butter when baking, as evidenced in prior posts.
 We will once again have light, puffy eclairs and no more ‘buttcrack’ cookies.
Since we spent so much time on this stuff, he ‘threw together’ a shrimp scampi for us. It was perfect.



The pups have been amazing. The hunters were told in advance about the Maremmas, so they didn't panic when the 'polar bears' appeared to check out them and their hunting dogs. The pups were vigilant, but totally unaggressive. However, when anyone's dog approached our gate which leads to the back pastures and the livestock, the Maremmas left no doubt that there would be a heavy penalty for trespassing there.

Since the guys also are staying in cabins, everyone will eat dinner at our house.
After a long day of chukar hunting in the rain and snow out on the desert, they headed down to the hot springs. Before that, they stopped by the house and dropped off lasagnas, cheese bread, a huge bag of lettuce and fresh caught salmon from the Oregon coast. These were REALLY nice guys.
I had already made a huge meringue for a Pavlova and a couple loaves of artisan bread so I threw the lasagnas in the oven to heat and pulled out some homemade butter to thaw.
They got back in perfect time, the lasagna tasted fantastic ( I forgot how much I really do like Costco’s lasagna) and the guys sang the praises of homemade bread and butter. They were super friendly, really nice and full of questions. It was  a great evening with good company and lots of laughter. Our friend had shown me how to make French pastry cream the night before, as we were going to fill eclairs with it, but decided it would be really good on the bottom of my Pavlova. Pavlova is a giant meringue, baked until crispy which is cooled, then filled with whipped cream and fruit such as raspberries, strawberries and kiwis. I had found some blackberries and raspberries at the store when we took Cider to the vet, so he took the top off of the meringue, slathered the bottom with the French Pastry Cream which was SUPER rich, having been made with fresh eggs and EmmaLouMoo’s heavy cream, then covered it all with berries. He took more fresh cream and made whipped cream which covered it all and we served it up.
I never had a chance for a picture. The guys inhaled it, making all kinds of moaning noises and one man kept repeating over and over “This is the best thing I have ever had, this is just the best thing I ever had”. Another was saying “Wow! What would this cost in a restaurant? This is amazing! What IS it??”
I had to agree. It was pretty good stuff.

One of the guys did dishes, another invited us to go to the Oregon coast and visit them. For someone who spends so little time around people, it was almost overwhelming. These were really great guys and I can only imagine how swell their families must be.
The conversation turned to rendering bear fat and I mentioned I would love to have some to make some soap with. They were all fascinated by the fact I make soap so they all took some to try out. I had to laugh as they were passing samples around so they could all get a sniff of the different ones I have cured already. One feller already wants to buy some for his wife.
Tonight we’ll have the fresh caught salmon.
I pondered how when we lived down in the rat race in California, I never had an Executive Chef come to cook for me, never had people stop in with fresh caught salmon and most certainly didn't have the time, or the means to make homemade butter, cream cheese, or fresh whipped cream.
I was never invited for a hot air balloon ride or a ride in a little red helicopter down there, which is just a couple of the many neat experiences we have had here.





Living out in the middle of nowhere definitely has its perks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Think I Can



In these days of a failing economy and few jobs, American families have been told they must ‘tighten their belts’...ponder where THAT saying came about...I’d say it has everything to do with going hungry. It’s a little offensive to think someone could flippantly tell someone to be ok with their family going hungry. 
That said, there ARE a number of ways to eat hearty and healthy and eat more economically. They require an initial investment, but will save time as well. A couple of hundred dollars spent up front will save you money, work, freezer space and improve your health most likely, as you will be eating healthier. Less processed foods=better nutrition.
My own particular situation is not nearly as difficult as many of yours, because I live on a large ranch and raise a great deal of our own food. But freezer space is still at a premium and so is time, as animals don’t take care of themselves and neither do vegetable or herb gardens. They require a great deal of time every day. 
So here are some things that even someone who lives in the city can do. You can store food in a pantry, a closet, an extra room, or even a garage where you could put shelves no matter where you live.
A large pressure canner along with the jar lifter, magnet, funnel, rack and a pair of rubber gloves as well as some canning jars (often found very cheaply at yard sales) is one of the best investments you can make. Even if you freeze foods, it costs money to run that freezer and they are taking up space that could be better used freezing something else. Besides, there is such an event as a power outage, or freezer failure. Once food has been canned, it costs $0  to maintain. Just stick it on a shelf until you need it. I highly recommend the Ball Blue book, or even better, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The latter one has 400 different recipes as well as all the basic information you will need for pressure and water bath canning.
So here is the thing. Every time you roast a chicken, roast 2. Save the bones and carcass to make and can your own chicken stock for making other stuff. Every now and then I pull all the chicken carcasses and left over veggies and make a gallon or so of stock with it.
Debone the second chicken and make soup with it. One chicken will make about 6 quarts of canned healthy, delicious homemade soup for a quick meal whenever you need it. Soup is a really good way to stretch the grocery budget.
If you have enough soup canned, then pull off the meat and process just the meat for enchiladas, or tacos or another dish. It will save you the time of roasting or cooking the chicken and is a LOT cheaper than buying frozen chicken breasts. I prefer not to have to thaw everything before I use it. IN addition to that, I don’t tend to lose things in the pantry the way I can lose them in the freezer.
Anyway, like I said, save all your roasted vegetables. The leftover bits of onion and carrots can go in the stock pot with the carcasses when you are ready, instead of throwing them in the garbage (ours usually go to the chickens, so they still aren’t wasted...) put them in a freezer bag marked for stock. Same with beef bones and such.
This will cut your cooking time down considerably and free you up to do other things.
With stews, double or triple the recipe and can what is left the next day. Again, here is a homemade meal you now only have to prepare once but it will feed you well, several times.
Same with chili.
I figure if I spend a day making soup and canning it the following day, (mind you, we also have it for dinner that particular night so the making of it shouldn’t really count...) I could easily put 36 quarts of soup on my shelves in a little more than a weeks time. That would allow me to have soup all winter and still have enough for company. Of course, I won’t, but its nice to know I could. But in 3 days this week,I have a dozen jars canned and another 6 or more quarts ready to can. That’s on top of milking EmmaLouMoo, feeding critters, and all the other stuff we do everyday. Its really not that time consuming...once I have the jars in the canner, I have 100 minutes before I have to come back and turn it off. I can find lots of entertaining things to do for 100 minutes.

I can take a walk down in the old milk pasture...




I can take a nap with Cletus and EmmaLouMoo...

or I can wait patiently for Lamby to come tell me she loves me...


or I can watch Stickman, the crazy rooster and his psycho hens walking on the rock wall...






Then come screaming back to the house to make sure I haven't been gone too long.

Some of the soups I am currently canning are: Chicken Tortilla Soup, Lamb&Barley Soup, Cheesy Chicken Chowder (which I add the roux and cheese to after reheating) Potato Soup (same thing with the roux) and Clam Chowder (again, the roux can go in quickly when its reheated). That gives us 5 different soups for lunch or dinner.Add to that Venison, Lamb and Beef stews and Chili. All I will have to do is pull out a wad of Boule dough and either make bread bowls out of it, or just bake it as is, for a hot fresh loaf to go with dinner, or maybe just some cornbread to go with my chili, although I love making Frito Boats...that delectable dish with corn chips smothered with chili and sour cream, green onions and melted cheese that you get at the Little League games. Real gourmet stuff.
Without much effort I can have 60 or so meals on the shelves ready to go.
It gives a whole new meaning to fast food! 
Those are the main things.
If you have a lot of fruit make jam or marmalade with it. 
Almost anyone can grow tomatoes. If you live in an apt, and have a balcony you can grow them in a container. (This, from someone who had not a single ripe tomato in the garden last year due to a lousy spring)
Canning your own tomato products will save a lot. It’s plenty easy to make your own spaghetti sauce to can, put up diced, stewed or other tomato products that cost way too much to buy. I can bruschetta, ketchup and other products we use all the time and pay good money for, that cost only pennies to make at home, not to mention they taste better and are healthier. I make up my own pizza sauce and I might just be canning instead of freezing that soon.
Homemade BBQ Sauce, like many sauces is easy to make and can yourself. I do believe the canner will easily pay for itself the first couple of months you put it into action, even without a vegetable garden. You can always buy stuff at a farmers market if you need to. Home canned is ever so much better than commercial and there is no comparison to the flavor and quality control of ingredients. I say go for it. It took me a few years to figure out how much easier my life could be, if I just spent a couple of weeks putting food by. If I can do it, you can too. You can. You really can can.



Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rosemary



We no longer have a 6-pack of sheep.




One of my little DorperX ewes lambed early this morning. I had just separated her finally, last nite, so either she was holding out, or I did it just in the nick of time.





We were in eating breakfast,which our friend the chef, fixed for us. We are going into Burns today to take Mr Cider to see the vet, as he hasn't been feeling up to snuff. It was below 20 degrees so this little one plopped into a chilly world. Everything must have gone swimmingly, because she was up, dry and had already suckled. The pups were sooo excited!
I made them stay out of the corral while I went in to see if it was a ram or ewe lamb and check out Mama. Cletus was so desperate to get closer, he went under EmmaLouMoo's corral gate, through 2 pastures and back around to the gate behind the sheep pen so he could get a closer look. He really loves his pets.
There was a bit of a battle between the Maremmas this morning because Cletus really wanted to see her and it's Bruno's job to take care of the newborns and their mamas. He thumped Cletus to remind him.























Cletus reassured EmmaLouMoo that he still loves her too.




Cletus wants to keep her.
I believe we shall call her Rosemary, because I just LOVE rosemary and lamb.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hard to Swallow




Its that time of year to begin planning next year’s garden. There is a lot to it, as I have moved everything and need to fence the chickens out. After two very cold, wet summers, I am going to try putting up some row covers to keep things warm so maybe I won’t have crop failures this year. I really need to have enough food to can and get us through the winter. 
A trip to the grocery store typically takes 17-20 hours or so, as it’s 4 hours to get there and with the price of fuel, we have to combine doctor appointments, errands and pick up livestock feed and medicines the same day. Freezer space here is at a premium, as all our meat has to be frozen. There is no running into town for a burger! Therefore, everything is made from scratch and canning is a huge help. I had done just a little canning before we moved here, as back then the store was exactly 1 mile from my house as opposed to 230 miles.

Necessity is the mother of invention. I am SO glad we live here and I have had to change the way we do things. Our food is an experience now, the flavor is better beyond belief, its much, much healthier than what we used to buy and there is the satisfaction of having provided and my time being well spent. I’d much rather be canning, or making bread than sitting in front of a soap opera, or talking on the phone, or fighting the crowds at a mall buying stuff I don’t need. For the things I do need, well, there is the internet.
Homegrown food tastes better, because its fresh and it doesn't have a ton of weird stuff in it like fillers and preservatives. Who wouldn't enjoy homegrown tomatoes or strawberries, or fresh eggs, homemade bread, or butter??






I have to freeze some things that I don’t think can well, like our squash. Mostly I canned green beans, corn, tomatoes and chicken broth. It hadn’t occurred to me until today, when I ran across someone else’s blog, that I could be canning my stews, soups and chili, for a quick and convenient meal, instead of making everything from start to finish every day! I am pretty excited about this. I have a few recipes that I absolutely love and having it already put together and on hand is something I really do look forward to. This year I plan to can 3 kinds of stew, beef, venison and lamb. All three recipes are a bit different and should be a luxury to have on our shelves. All that I would have to do then, is make bread or dumplings to go with it. In addition, I hope to find some chicken quarters on sale and can cooked chicken to pull out for making enchiladas and other things. Chicken Tortilla soup should can well also. There are a number of things I could be doing on the days I feel good, so I can work less on the days I do not.
 I shouldn’t be surprised that it hadn’t occurred to me to can meals, as I am the person who walked out and gave my chickens some stale bread then found myself in the house adding ‘Dried Seasoned Bread Crumbs” to my grocery list. It was a real revelation and extremely humbling when I realized what I had just done. Sometimes I am just a little slow on the uptake.
This morning, I took a bunch of fall apples from the trees by the pasture and started a batch of cider vinegar. It seems to be fairly straightforward and I am anxiously looking forward to see how it turns out. Buying the real apple cider vinegar in town is $8 a gallon. Making it is free.
The other thing I am currently investigating is a grain mill. Milling my own cereals and flour would be a huge savings and would be a huge improvement in health and flavor over what I am using now.
Our friend the chef cooked up one of our ‘meaties’ last nite. These are the chickens we raised last summer for the freezer...or should I say, Cletus raised them, after all, it was Cletus who kept them safe and baby sat for 2 months.
I can truly say, it was the most delicious chicken I have ever tasted. He took fresh garlic, chopped onion, fresh rosemary and thyme from my garden, mixed it with a little olive oil and slipped it under the skin of my chicken. Then he wiped off the outside so it was good and dry, sprinkled liberally with garlic, kosher salt and pepper, then he drizzled melted homemade butter all over it. It was then placed breast side down on a rack and put in a 350 degree oven on convection. Onion, chopped celery and baby carrots were strewn in the pan underneath the rack.
While the chicken was roasting, he poured some of this morning’s heavy cream in a pan, adding just a bit of milk to thin it, because our cream is so thick and heavy it doesn’t pour. I trotted out to the garden for a couple more sprigs of rosemary which he dropped in the pan with the cream. It was set to simmer and infuse the rosemary into the cream. This was later used to mash potatoes, and I can tell you, it was awesome!
The chicken was turned over half way through baking so the skin would be nice and crispy all the way around. After he was done, the chicken and rack came out and flour was mixed in with the vegetables and juices in the bottom of the pan to make a sort of roux. Liquid was added and it was set back on the stove to simmer and thicken. The veggies were then strained out and we fell on this meal like a duck on a bug and ate ourselves into happy oblivion. We shoveled it in and like to choked ourselves, it was that wonderful.
I tend to think and write about food quite often. Nearly everything we have here is geared to food...our chickens, eggs, lamb, beef, milk...but I want you to understand, I come by it honestly. I come from a family who really loves to eat. We will eat just about anything.
Case in point...
My dad has a couple of medications he is supposed to take every day. (Who doesn’t?)
My stepmom ALSO has a couple she has to take. She, however, has found it to be very convenient to put her new, small hearing aids in an empty pill bottle.
By her sweet nature, she is always taking care of my dad and generally brings him his pills.
By his own nature, my dad is fiercely independent. A few weeks ago, he decided to get himself his OWN pills.
Shortly after, my stepmom came to him with a glass of water and more pills.
He said he’d already TAKEN his pills.
She said, no he had not, she had them in her hand.
After much back and forth and investigation, it was discovered that dad had swallowed
HER HEARING AIDS!
My gawd I love that man!