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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

SOTS (State of The Station) Update

I suppose if we can have a State of the Union Address, the least I can do is sit down and update any one reading this about what all is going on around the Station.  Even though we are in the very heart of a Plains winter, things have not slowed down here.  Projects have been piling up, some are kind weather dependent, others can be planned, plotted, purchased, and even completed indoors, during the most wicked of weather.

Freyer vs the Snow - He plays the snow is lava.

As you remember, shortly before Christmas,  contractors were able to take full advantage of one not too horrible day, and managed to assemble the shed in the pasture. And then came the snow and the cold, the bitter cold, for weeks.  The camel colored blob stared back at me every time I looked out over the pasture, it's giant mouth agape.  We just had to have a nice day, or two, and get that beast painted.  Surely we would thaw a little bit in January?

As I poured daily over weather models, watching wave after wave of arctic air descend from the North or moisture laden air sweep from the Pacific Northwest.  I re-evaluated my list of projects to those that could be tackled inside.  The walls of the livestock barn needed built up and kick boards installed.  I could do that inside, unheated, but still inside.  I called up my local mom and pop lumberyard. While I waited for delivery, I decided to walk the orchard and do the winter clean up and pruning. Two hours later, I had a pile of plywood in the workshop driveway.  How's that for service?

Sadly, the driveway isn't where I was working.  All 22 sheets of plywood had to be dragged to the livestock barn before the next snow.  Sigh.  Did you know that a sheet of 3/4 inch ply weighs 70 pounds?  My flock of supervisors were of no help what-so-ever, but offered a number of suggestions.

A long, very long, extension cord from the workshop and a pair of saw horses, and a circular saw made quick work of the wall panels, and a portable power supply gave me the ability to run the drill with a screw bit to get the walls up.  Our cordless screwdriver just wasn't up to the task.  It took three full days, but the walls in the stall area are up.

The next day, which was a little warmer, coming in at 32 degrees, was filled to building the frames for the corral fence that are under the barn porches.  My fence guy wasn't comfortable doing it.  He just couldn't see what I was describing, so I said I would tackle it myself.  The second day of this project was still 32 degrees, but the wind was starting to howl.  The final boards went up and the confused birds in the corral couldn't figure out how to get back out and had to be shown the door.

The birds were lucky to get out for a few days and wander around, because the next day brought a blizzard.  What a mess.  It started just before sunrise but didn't really get going until morning.  Almost everything was closed. Every enforcement official was begging people to stay off the road, so naturally Doc's job was open for business.  He made it to the University, where classes were in full swing, but there was no way he was going to make it back home, uphill, down country roads, where snow plows weren't even risking going out.  Doc got to spend his night the dorm with The Boy (with full University permission.), which meant I got to plow snow all the next day and try to explain to the chickens why they couldn't come out to play.

The snow quickly melted away, and they contractors came (finally) to install the gutters on the livestock barn. While they worked outside, I worked inside on the lights.  Yes, lights. No, the livestock barn doesn't have power.  I found LED shop lights that put out an insane amount of light, can be hooked together in series, and run off the portable power supply! BOOM, let there be light.

The temperature was teasing me with warmer weather.  I wanted to paint the shed so badly, but the temperature just wasn't reaching the 50 degrees, without howling winds, that I prefer to paint in. But models suggested it was coming.  (But I've seen THAT before.)  I decided that the shed would have to wait, but the barn square that was going on it didn't need to, but for that, I needed a nice piece of 2x2foot plywood.  A trip to the Big Orange Box was necessary.  As long as I was there I decided to grab the paint for the shed.  It was there I noticed that the new paint only needed 35 degrees for 4 hours straight to cure!  Well that opened up a whole new world of possibilities!  But first the barn square.

A simple bold pattern using the colors already around the farm that can be easily seen from the road.  I tweaked a pattern that I saw on a small decorative cutting board in the Mennonite thrift shop and added a few touches of my own.

Temperatures continued to tease.  We were hitting 40 far too late in the day, so the next project was up to bat.  The kick boards in the barn.  Doc had to help me with this one.  Five 70 pound sheets of wood needed to get down to the pasture.  He helped me get them into position until I could get two support screws into them to hold them up.  When this was finished, I was left with finished walls 4 feet high and walls and studs above that.  I COULD just paint it all and call it a day, but the thought of painting all those exposed 2x4s was sickening.  For 5 sheets of half inch plywood and some elbow grease, I could have easy to paint walls.  And as long as I was ordering plywood for the rest of the shed, why not order the plywood for the rest of the inside of the livestock barn.  A quick cell phone call to Mom and Pop Lumber, and two hours later, another large stack of plywood.  But this time I was home and he drove right up to the barn to dump it.  I only had to pull it 10 feet to a dry interior.

This time my helpmate was at work, but I wasn't going to let a 35 degree morning, albeit windy, go to waste.  There was no way I was going to be able to control full sheets of plywood in 25mph winds, AND be able to lift them, hold them, and secure them 4 feet off the ground alone.  I decided to cut them as close to in half as the stud spacing would allow and take them down the hill in smaller pieces.  It took a ridiculous number of trips up and down the hill, and a silly amount of swearing, but the final pieces of wall were up by lunch.

Well by lunch it was 45 degrees and would stay at least that until hours after sundown.  Again I tromped up the hill and returned with my ladder, rollers, and can of bright Lapis Lazuli paint (think dark, bright chickory flower blue).  Each of the three coats was interrupted by me having to break up fights between Andy and Wookie, but eventually the interior was complete.

The next day started out warmer and was a designated shed painting day!  The textured, grooved wood proved to be a royal pain to paint and about an hour into the project of the day, my body was screaming from days of long hard work.  This day was the last in a while that I could paint, so I pushed through and kept painting.  The day allowed for three solid coats of storm paint in Dark Truffle brown.  The only downside was that I was unable to reach the top 12 inches of trim work on the downhill side. Being trim, I couldn't paint that area with the small roller.  Disheartened, I decided to mount the new quilt square and call it a day.  (I did call the neighbors on that side of the shed and apologize for the unfinished top, and assured them it would be painted as soon as we hit 40 degrees and either Doc was home to hold the taller ladder for me or my arms grew 6 inches, whichever came first.)

Three days later, Doc was indeed home, took the long ladder down the hill for me and held it until I could paint the tiny area that was still tan.  As long as he was being handy, I had him drag the ladder into the corral and hold it for me as I installed the screech owl house.  Yup that's right, a screech owl house.  Why not?

This amazing little house quickly became my project nemesis.  Hang a bird house, easy right?  Sure, 10 feet up.  No problem.  I have a ladder.  The post it goes on is on a slope, so just lean the flattened ladder on the hill against the post and hold onto it with one hand, lift the bird house up with another, hold the top hinge door open to access the screw holes with another, hold the bolts with another, and then simply grab the drill to secure it to the post.  What you don't have 5 hands?  Ya, me either.  Once your kid is out of pre-school, all those extra, invisible mommy hands magically disappear, unless you have more toddlers in the house.

I finally came up with a plan about 3am one day.  I would hang a large head roofing nail to the post.  Attach a sawtooth picture hanging bracket on the back of the owl house, and use long pieces of painter's tape to hold the top hinged door open to access the mounting holes.  With Doc holding the ladder, I hung the house on the nail, pre-drilled the holes for the bolts and mounted the house and tossed in handfuls of bedding.  PHEW.  We mounted a perch post and called it a day.

I still have plenty of projects lined up, but the light is on at the end of the tunnel.

The wood in the corral still needs painted, as do all the wood walls in the livestock barn.
I need to finished the wood walls in the non-stall area of the livestock barn.
Dirt and gravel needs added to the corral and shed area.
Sand and gravel needs added to the stall area.
The stall walls need (ordered) and assembled with a LOT of wood pieces.
Rubber floor mats need (ordered) and installed.
The electric fence needs installed, all 7 wires and the control box needs mounted.
The rain barrels need installed and their lids built and painted.
The chicken coop needs a fresh coat of paint as does the concrete on the house and the posts on the deck.
All the fun stuff for critters needs installed, stock tanks, tools, feeders, bins, etc.

As if my list wasn't long enough, I also decided that raised bed planters are the way to go.  Sure why not?

Chicken Update

OH, remember how I said Andy and Wookie were fighting?  Boy, oh Boy were they ever.  Wookie is about half again as large as Andy, big boy. He was in the spa for almost 3 weeks while he rested his twisted ankle from a hen chase down the hill.  Doc and I were headed into town and I decided to toss Wookie back in the coop before we left.  BAD IDEA.  He had been gone so long that he and Andy were no longer tolerant buddies (father and son).  A battle for the Alpha rooster happened
while we were gone.  When we returned, the run was splattered with blood and the coop looked like a scene from a horror film, a dark mass cowering under the nesting box.  I thought it was Wookie, daddy having put him in his place.  To my surprise, it was Andy.  His giant comb a target for an angry, hyper, hormonal child.  A week in the spa for Andy, but he would not return to the coop.  Even when free-ranging they steered clear of each other. So he lived in the workshop with Cirrus, who was molting.  This past week they noticed each other again.  One fight I broke up was so full on that Andy broke off a spur.  Wookie had to go.  He now lives on another acreage with two hens of his own.  I will miss Wookie, he was gorgeous, and sweet, snugly, and a good protector, but peace in the coop is important.  Andy is again king of the coop.

The Icelandics are crazy.  They all have their coop names now.  We have Freya, and Freyer, Delmar and Inar, and finally Ari and Astrid.  They all sleep outside in the run, even when the temperature drops to the -20's. Amazing.  They are fast, skittish, smart, and very inquisitive and vocal.
Top L to R Merriweather, Freya, Astrid, Freyer, Inar
Bottom Ari, Delmar

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Triple E- Born Out Of Necessity, Improved Upon With Love, Dedication, and Experience

On Tuesday I was visiting with Pat at Liberty House, just passing the chit chat of the week and discussing her newest project, internet sales of some of her antiques (which will be totally awesome), when, for whatever reason, her mind just jumped and mentioned that I just HAD to see a website called TripleEEquine.com.  In the context that she was mentioning it, I though that one of the young ladies at the ranch was her new internet sales webpage designer.  In reality, it had nothing to do with her new adventure at all, but I didn't discover that until I got home and checked out the site.
Online, the TripleE is a gorgeous site, and it was LOCAL! Well I'm all about checking out local spaces and sharing them with you.  Even better, I needed stall ideas, and after a quick email to the owners I was generously invited out to see the space in person.  Yesterday morning, bundled up like I was headed on a trip to the Antarctic in July, I drove across the country to visit the Triple E Equine Ranch and Horse Hotel and Deluxe Bunkhouse.
Yes, that's a HIghland on the left.
It was a chilling 10'F as I pulled up to the meticulously kept farmstead.  Only a couple of large dents in the grain bins betray the history that lead to the creation of this beautiful space.  On Mother's Day, May 11th, 2014 an EF-3 tornado torn through Beaver Crossing, Nebraska and surrounding farmsteads.  What would normally be the end of the story for many families, or at least a return to the status quo, was actually the nucleus for the for the Eberspacher household.  Climbing out of their tornado shelter, they were with damage and destruction and the daunting task of rebuilding.

The family, who had been active in horse shows and riding had a training and riding arena, along with all the support building and stalls that are found on an active farmstead.  Digging in and deciding to rebuild, the family designed not only an area for themselves, but one that could be utilized and enjoyed by others.  During the design process, their oldest daughter, Emily, was enrolled in the Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program and was charged with an assignment that would fill an under utilized niche in the agricultural community.  What she came up with not only impressed her professor, but set the family in a new direction with their rebuilding.  The three young ladies, Emily, Hanah, and Sarah put their heads together and brought the paper plan to life, became equal co-owners of their own LLC.  Living only a mile and a half south of the interstate, the ladies, supported by their parents, decided on building a Bunkhouse stop for for those traveling with their equine best friends.  Their motto is "A place to rest your boots and hooves" is well reflected in every aspect of the project.  

I'm sure the project required several family meetings around the dinner table.  After all, years of traveling with their own animals had given them great insight to what worked and what didn't work when it came to lodging and traveling with Equine companions. After all, you can't just pull up to an Embassy Suite and walk in with Buttercup for the night.  So as long as they were rebuilding anyway, they decided to do it right.  As long as the contractors are there, what's tacking on a small set of living quarters at the same time?  Actually, anyone that has gone through a construction project knows it's exactly the right time.

The frigid 10' morning was quickly tempered by the warm outstretched handshake and sunny smile of my hostess for the morning, mom, Angie.  She is gracious, welcoming, and oh so generous to spend time on a Saturday morning to show me around the farmyard and all of her new buildings.  I was there to see how she arranged and built her stalls, flooring, and managed her barn.  I figured someone that has been doing this their whole adult life and has made this into a business would certainly know what they are doing.  Boy was I right!

The immense riding arena is attached to a large center isle concrete floor stable with 8 12x12 foot stalls that have multi-layer floors with bounce but are also non-slip.

There is a large hot water wash stall, a tack room, and areas for feed and bedding, and a vibrating therapy pad area with large bay doors for easy access. 
The stable, in turn, is attached to what the family calls the Bunkhouse.  Don't let the term Bunkhouse fool you. 

Bunkhouse implies a shelter with the very basics.  When I hear bunkhouse, I envision dusty floors, an old cast iron stove, chipped mismatched dishes, an encrusted cast iron skillet, and a duct taped old rocker with crocheted granny square afghan tossed on a tired old sofa.

This place is SO, SO far from that!  It's a fully furnished,top of the line, luxury 2 bedroom guest house.  The family supported the local Habitat For Humanity in its rebuilding, all while providing top of the line furnishings for those that come across this gem on their travels.  The fully furnished kitchen has cherry cabinets, granite counter tops,  a slate back splash, access to the large laundry room, and a large viewing window to the riding area.
Both bedrooms are fully carpeted, and the rest of the space is a beautiful wood laminate. The furnishings are modern and comfortable.  The family room is filled with comfortable leather furniture and a large, flat-screen TV. 
The bathroom sports a split design, so that guests can have full privacy in the bathroom and large walk-in shower, while others are using the large vanity area.
Off the kitchen/family room is a mud room area with a spacious coat rack and storage bench.  Just the place to kick off your riding boots and put on those comfy lounge socks.  If you get a chance to travel through, be sure to put your pin in the visitor's map and sign the guest book!

Not only did I get to meet three of the five Eberspacher clan (dad is a full time farmer and Emily is off being a grown-up- having graduated and is now working away from home as a Veterinary Assistant), but I was given a tour of the other areas of the farm as well.  I met Earl, the family's house pig, who is JUST A RIOT, two of the farm's cats, but also the small herd of miniature longhorn cattle, the horses, the llamas, the blank Angus, and a herd of miniature horses, plus a white mules and some seriously adorable mini donkeys.

Speaking of which, meet The Bugs - Lady and June.  My new reasons to work faster on getting the barn walls and stalls up faster!

photo by TripleEEquine

A Giant Thank you to Angie, Hanah, and Sarah for the great morning!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Cast Iron Blueberry Muffins

Is there anything that can get your mouth drooling faster in the morning than the smell of blueberry muffins with cinnamon topping cooking?  Even the smell of bacon doesn't rate that high.  There is just something about the sweet tang of the fruit and the warm buttery goodness of the batter that just makes you want to sit in front of the oven window like a child and watch them cook until the chime from the timer snaps you out of your trance and the countdown until they're cool enough to touch begins.  The anticipation is palpable.

Anyway you cook them, blueberry muffins are delicious.  Cook them in cast iron and the hot metal caramelizes the sugar and creates a slight crust on the exterior of the muffin, which ads yet another layer to an already amazing flavor profile. Something you cannot achieve if you bake muffins in paper cups or non-stick muffin tins.  Can you make this in papers or a muffin tin?  Sure you can. Can you make this in a cast iron skillet if you don't have a cast iron muffin pan?  Absolutely!

Muffin Batter

2 cups of all purpose flour (8 ounces by weight)
1/4 cup of white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 egg
3/4 cup of milk
5 Tablespoons of melted butter

1/3 cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen - I just use frozen)
2 Tablespoons of all purpose flour

2 teaspoons of white sugar
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of cardamom (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375'.

Grease your cast iron muffin pan wells and place the cast iron in the oven to preheat.

Mix your berries with the 2 Tablespoons of flour to coat and set aside.

Mix together the dry ingredients and set aside.

Mix together the wet ingredients and add to the dry.  Mix gently 20 strokes and fold the blueberries into the batter.  DO NOT overwork the batter.

In a small bowl, mix your topping ingredients and set aside.

Remove the cast iron from the oven (don't forget your mit!) Fill the wells to 3/4 full wi
th the batter.  Sprinkle the tops with with the topping mix.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the muffins are golden brown.  Allow to coo
l a few minutes before removing from the pan.  Eat warm or cool on a rack.

If you are using a skillet-

grease and pre-heat the pan as above but reduce the temperature to 350'.   Pour the batter in the skillet and bake for 30-35 minutes.

If you are using a muffin tin/papers -
Grease muffin tin wells or line with papers (DO NOT preheat pans.) Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Beauty of Cast Iron- In the Spirit of Banging a Pot on New Years Eve

Cast Iron, you either love it or hate it.  With the overwhelming abundance of cookware on the market; non-stick, ceramic, stainless steel, copper, and coated aluminum- dear old cast iron gets a bad wrap as "old fashioned", heavy, hard to care for, and hard to clean.

The fear of cast iron runs deep.  But the stories are usually quieted once a person gets into the habit of using quality cast iron.  Yes, they are heavy.  No, they cannot go into the dishwasher. But as for hard to clean, or hard to maintain I say, "Bah, humbug!"
Cast Iron Full and Half
Bread Stick Pans

Most of us just plain do not have the experience of using cast iron cook- and bakeware.  I didn't grow up with it in my house; even my great-grandmother I believe only had one skillet, which only came out when she made eggs or pan fried ham steaks. No.  We grew up using cast aluminum and stainless steel. Our only exposures to cast iron was a simmering vat of stew or cobbler while camping.  Beyond that, it was watching Cookie on Bonanza slinging beans off the chuck wagon, or Caroline Ingalls slaving over her cast iron stove at Nellie's place, flipping whole sides of beef for each order.

[Boy Scouts claim have a ready relationship to cast iron (we once even had a camporee themed "cast iron chef"), but with the exception of dutch ovens, Scouts also favor lightweight cookware. -Doc]

It has been pushed aside in favor of "better", more modern, and lighter equipment.  I can't tell you how many modern pans I've been through.  I started with cast aluminum odds and ends and moved to modern stainless steel with double bottoms to provide even heating.  These main sets were my staple though a ridiculous number of moves and they were always supplemented by the newest must have fry pan, roaster, muffin tin, cake tin, or whats-it.  As the moves wound down, I started putting money into hearty, long lasting pieces.  These were generally enamel coated cast iron pieces that I would pick up at local flea markets or yard sales for a song.  I remember my first piece was a combination handled pan and small handled frying pan that flipped over was the lid for the pan, LeCreuset and it cost me a staggering $5.  Its even heating, easy enameled clean up, and heat retention was my Siren's song to finding more and more pieces.

Dutch ovens were next.  All of my dutch ovens are enameled inside and out as I choose to store food in them for reheating. Some of those foods can eventually pit iron, and who wants that?

Some of the Dutch Ovens. Two are currently in use and missed
their photo op.

It was a long time before I made the leap to other items, I will freely admit it.  I saw the crusty gross pans the boy scouts would use on their camping trims.  I had images of bacterium and left over food particles managing a flawless synchronized swimming routine to the Nutcracker Suite music every time I watched them cook.  Not having the immune system of a 10 year old boy, I pushed the use of fully cast iron cookware out of my thoughts.

[Hey!  Well, okay.  Suffice it to say that there's a difference in cleanliness when the boys clean up vs when they dally around too long and the adults have to clean up so the boys can get on to their next event. -Doc]

Meanwhile, at a clearing house store, I happened upon a cast iron enameled 9x13 baking dish that was being sold as a set with a enameled on the exterior only 11 inch skillet.  Well, I wanted that baking dish, and for $15 the skillet could come along for the ride.  I immediately put the baking to dish to use creating amazing lasagnas, chicken and rice, cakes, and brownies.  The skillet was shoved to the back of the cupboard.  Until one day, due to chance and the weather, it came out to fulfill its  skillet destiny.

It was a chilly and quite blustery day shortly after we had moved into our new house.  Hamburgers were on the menu and the grill had been preheating on the deck for about 20 minutes, or so I thought.  Plate of pressed patties in hand, I went out to drop them on the grates.  Instead of being greeted with the satisfying sizzle of meat meeting heat, there was silence.  The wind had blown out the fire.  I started the fire up again and returned 15 minutes later...to a cold grill.  Low gas levels combined with high winds were just too much for that flame.  I returned inside and was resigned to plan B of just cooking them on the stove top.  My new gas range was quite powerful, even on its lowest BTU burner.  My stainless steel skillet had already shown me that its double bottom was no real keeper of the flame.  Many eggs, hash browns, and stir fried meals had met their early doom in that skillet.  Something reminded me that I had ANOTHER skillet, buried deep in the cupboard.
The combination LeCreuset in the bottom right corner and the
frypan that started it all in the back right corner.

I dug it out to the clatter of shifting and falling stainless steel pots, pans, and lids.  It sounded like an elephant walking though a cymbal shop. I finally found her and placed her triumphantly atop the burner.  She was pre-seasoned, but just in cast, I warmed her up and wiped her down with the tiniest amount of Crisco, just in case.  I brought her up to full temperature and dropped the seasoned patties in, a satisfying sizzle erupted from the surface.  When I flipped them, they had formed a remarkable crust, one usually reserved for flattop grills at roadside greasy spoons eateries.  I plated the finished burgers and looked in dismay at the pan.  Bits of cooked-on seasoning, meat, and fat had accumulated on the bottom.  I wondered about tackling that.  I decided to treat it to a deglazing just as if I was making gravy.  As the meat patties rested before dinner, the pan cooled. I added hot water and brought the pan temperature back up.  It came as clean as when I brought it home from the store.  I poured out the liquid and sealed the iron with a quick Crisco wipe. 

That was it.  We were now a cast iron house.

Each trip to my local antique shops, consignment shops, and thrift stores became a treasure hunt.  Sure there are many modern makers of cast iron; Lodge, Staub, LeCreuset, even the Food Network has its own line of wares.  But have you SEEN the prices on some of this stuff?  Insanity rules, and the price holds at what the market, and name brand junkies, will bear.  I, however, refuse to pay hundreds of dollars for name.  Just ask my orange tractor!

Cast iron cook- and bakeware is constantly circulating out of homes and ending up in shops as grandparents move into care homes or their new owners abandon them for what they hope are better modern tools.  Buried, unwanted, on shop shelves were the future work horses of my kitchen.  Better yet, they were selling for a song.

Cast Iron Muffin Pan
It was about this time that my sister called me from 900 miles away.  Her son, now a scout, was cooking like mad in cast iron, for both practical camp purposes, and for a badge.  She started cooking in cast iron to test out recipes before they tortured a whole troop with them.  The same woman that, on her last visit to my place, asked how I could stand working with something SO heavy, was now a convert.  I was now shopping for two!

We shared lists of what we had and what we were still keeping our eyes our for.  We compared notes on companies, cleaning and seasoning methods, and endless text messages back and forth while we were out shopping.  We both have rules for our purchases: We will not spend a fortune. We will not have duplicates. We will not purchase things we don't plan to actually use.

Our combined efforts allowed us to fill in the gaps.  The shops in her part of the country seemed
spent, overpriced, and few and far between.  Antique stores, small and large, priced items based on a quick google search and a famous name, without regard to age, quality/condition, scarcity, or funk level.  While here, the Griswold name, brought larger amounts, but not anywhere near what it was demanding out East.  Not being name snobs, we just kept looking.

Neither one of us needed Dutch Ovens, so skillets and gem pans were our goal.  Suddenly, I was seeing them everywhere, usually overlooked, and shoved to the back of a shelf in favor of more popular items. 
Aebelskiver pans were popping up everywhere for $5, no one knowing what they were, or thinking they were of archaic use.  Gem pans of every shape, size, and manufacturer: mostly of the companies that shipped here by catalog in the 1930s, carried by the train or postman, or hauled in by those that settled here.  Few shoppers know what they are for, so they sit and gather dust or knick-knacks.

Cast Iron tools and bakeware from
1897 Sears and Roebuck Catalog

For the most part I have found Wagner, BSR, and Griswold here, with the ocassional surprise finds of Vollrath, R&E Manufacturing, and Favorite by Piqua, Waterman, and of course Lodge.  Using my imagination I can see how these pans, know in the region they are manufactured, worked their way here.  I think most came from mail order, but the brands in the old catalogs are not stated and the pictures of the item are just generic representations by the printers.  It's amazing that a muffin pan that I paid $25 for sold in 1897 for 17cents.  Yes, I have pans, that I use regularly in my kitchen that are from the 1860s.  How's that for value and product longevity?

Many items that we bring home aren't much to look at.  In fact, most are downright ugly.  They're so coated in gunk, old burned on food and grease, that you can't even see numbers or makers marks.  Some are so red with rust that you wonder what is holding them together.  A deep cleaning, some rust removal and a grand seasoning is all it takes to bring back their identity and their lot in life.  Using cast iron not only makes you more familiar with its power, but makes it better.

So get out and cook!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ending the Year on a Sweet Note

Another brutally cold day in the middle of the country on the Great Plains.  Today's daytime high was 2'F.  Two sad little degrees is all we could muster.  And today is the warmest day for the next two.  The hens are out of the wind and any drafts, and are quite well fed, but they are getting stir crazy at being stuck inside. With wind chills heading towards -30-40 degrees, there is NO WAY they are setting one toe outside.  It's bad enough that we have to dress like the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man when WE have to go out to take care of them.  I refuse to knit sweaters for them or fit them with little tuft muffs.

Stir crazy is starting to work it's way through the house.  Any time I am forced to stay inside, is the time I want to go do something the MOST.  Another book down, another blog post, more laundry and thumb twiddling and I'm ready to start talking to sock puppets.  So imagine my surprise when The Boy worked his way up the steps from his computer kingdom and asked if he could bake.  "Sure, have at it. Whatever you want to do, as long as I don't have to clean up after you." was my reply.

The pots and pans started to rattle.  I heard the KitchenAid going and the washing and cracking of eggs.

Imagine my surprise when he appeared with these AND the kitchen was clean.

Chocolate Souffle

It's a Festivus Miracle!!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Golden Goodness

Christmas this year was spent in quiet solitude.  Not only because we live in the open country, but because Mother Nature decided to grant the wish of those, who for some unknown (to me) reason, want a white Christmas.

A snow storm falling throughout Christmas Eve, a huge shopping and travel day, meant we were staying home.  The morning was spent revving up the tractor and the snowblower and clearing not only the long driveways and around the chicken coop, but also the 450 yards of road we are responsible for.  The blade on the tractor made quick work of the white plague, but with the temperature hovering at 7 degrees, and the windchill well into the negatives, it was still a long, long hour.

The hens took it in stride.  The Icelandic chicks are still sleeping outside in the run, which hasn't dipped below 0'F, even though we woke up to -17'F this morning, with a windchill of -30'F.  No one is allowed outside at these temperatures as the slightest breeze will rob their fluffy feather coats of their stored body heat.  So, the past few days they have been stuck inside with extra feed, treats, and pats on the head.

But I digress.

After the snow was taken care of, and the residents of the hen house given plenty of attention, we resolved to spend the rest of the day in the quiet warmth of the house.  I snuggled into my spot on the sofa and disappeared into my latest good book.  A half hour later, I was finished with it. Hmmm....what to do next?

I COULD break out the next book on the pile (my 10 year old kindle died, so I am back to paper).  I COULD bake cookies.  I COULD clean.  (LOL, ya, that wasn't happening.)  I already had laundry running. I finally decided to crack open the internet and peruse the great www and see if I could find a recipe to play with some of my antique cast iron gem pans.  One recipe had me clicking on another, which gave me yet another idea to type into the search engine.  On one page an add popped up on the sidebar, as they often do.  This was an add for Lyle's Golden Syrup, which I haven't had in the house since about a decade when we lived near a store that imported items from Great Briton.  It's been so long that I didn't even remember the taste of it.

Seeing that ad made me think of Treacle Tarts.  YUM!  I then wondered what else could be created with the glorious goo.  A quick search revealed a long list of pies, tarts, cookies, quick breads, puddings and custard.  My mind was whirling with possibilities, but where to find Golden Syrup?  Even if it wasn't Christmas Eve there wasn't a store within at least an hour drive that MIGHT even carry it.  I was just about going to give up, when I thought to myself, "why not google it?  At worst the internet will say no."

YOU CAN make Golden Syrup yourself and many reviews said it was better than the stuff you can buy.  Well, I'm stuck inside all day, why not make a batch?

I came across several recipes, which were all basically the same.  It all came down to reducing sugar, water, and lemon juice down to a syrup after bringing it to a boil.  There were several methods for this and after several I got the gist of it and tossed some ingredients in my smallest pot and got cracking.

Golden Syrup

2 cups of granulated white sugar
2/3 cup of water
fresh juice from one lemon - try to make it pulp and seed free
1 Tablespoon of Light Kayro syrup (this keeps crystals from forming) If you are opposed to using corn syrup, you can omit it, you will just have to wash down the sides of your pot with a brush dipped in water as you reduce the liquid to send the sugar crystals that form there to whence they came.

Add all three items to the pot and set the burner to Medium, Medium/Low.  You want to SLOWLY heat the liquid to dissolve the sugar.   When the liquid is clear, slowly raise the temperature until the liquid comes to a simmer, NOT a boil.  Stir it about every 15 minutes.  I tested the liquid every once in a while by placing a drip from the tip of a spoon onto a white plate.  As the liquid reduced and came closer to the right consistency, the drop would stand up more and more on the plate: going from a gooey pool on the plate at the start, to being pale yellow pearls near the end.  If you have a candy thermometer you are shooting for about 225'F, and the remaining liquid will be about half of what you started with.  My super slow approach took about two hours of minimal hovering.

I let the mixture cool about 15 minutes before I poured it into a clean glass jar.  It is the most lovely shade of deep, honey.  My first taste brought back every memory of that sweet, citrus tang!

Now what to do with it?  I almost don't want to part with any of it!  After the holiday, I really didn't want to to tackle another sweet.  I am sick of sweets.  What to do? What to do?  Back to the internet!

Again with the pies, tarts, cakes, cookies, quick breads, custards, puddings. Wasn't there anything else I could do with this amazing stuff?  Sure it looked fabulous on the top shelf of the refrigerator, back lit by the icebox bulb, and it was amazing right off the spoon, but that privilege has always been reserved for sweetened condensed milk.  Just when I was about to resign myself to a nice Treacle Tart, I found it.

GOLDEN SYRUP Sandwich Bread - DEAL! It's cold out, and nothing beats the smell of bread baking!

It is a straight forward put out by the BBC Food Channel, and I couldn't believe there were no reviews on it yet.  Don't let the metric measurements turn you away.  1oz of Golden Syrup is about a Tablespoon.  I used kosher salt for the sea salt.  1/2 an ounce of fresh yeast is roughly 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast (or one envelope). 8 ounces of flour is roughly 2 cups of NON-packed flour.

If you CAN weigh your flour, I do recommend it.

I used my KitchenAid mixer with the dough hook to put this together.  I placed the flour, salt, and yeast into the bowl, and then added the milk, syrup, butter combination to the bowl. I turned the mixer on to level 1 until the flour was fully incorporated and then turned it up to level 3 for three minutes, scraping the bowl down as needed.  After turning off the machine, I covered the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour.

After the hour, I placed the dough on a floured board and cut the dough into two pieces. I kneaded each piece just until the dough was well shaped into a tight ball and put them into my larger bread pans, 5x10x3 inches. The recipe calls for greasing AND flouring of the loaf pan. Next time I would skip the flouring.  It left a pasty, floury coating on the loaf and isn't needed if the pan is greased.  I prefer the new Pam canola oil in the pump spray bottle, but whichever method you prefer is fine. A final rise until the dough doubled and then follow the rest of the instructions.

Following the baking directions for time and multiple baking temperatures works beautifully!  This recipe yields a lightly golden loaf, that is moist, soft, delicately flavored, and fine crumbed.  It rises well, which I am guessing is due to the vitamin C (lemon juice) boosting the yeast.

Happy Baking!

Sunday, December 24, 2017


OK, I'll admit it.  I don't like cereal for breakfast.  Dry as a snack is fine, but I really just do not care for slimy, cold, wet mush in a bowl ruining my milk.  I much prefer a warm breakfast that will stick to my ribs and keep the hungry monster away until I can pull myself from whatever project I'm working on and get to lunch.

As the frost settles on the rooftops, and the northern winds begin to howl, my morning menu shifts from toast and eggs to porridge, either oat or rice.  Extra-thick cut oats from Bob's Red Mill are my favorite long cooking oats. They cook up nice and thick, hearty, with an amazing texture.  They don't turn into wallpaper paste like quick or instant oatmeal.  My hands down favorite is RICE porridge.  It cooks up just like long cookie oatmeal, or more familiarly, like Risotto.  Both rice and oat porridge act as an amazing base for whatever the maker wants to toss into them; fruit- dried or fresh, nuts, sugars, yogurt, cream, butter, anything is fair game.

The big drawback is the time it takes to cook it.  Both types of porridge need cooked for an extended period of time, and watched like a hawk, and stirred to prevent sticking and burning.

I've created a work around for Rice Porridge, or Risgrøt in its shortened form.  I bake it in my enameled cast iron dutch oven.  The prep to get it into the oven is minimal, and can be accomplished in the time it takes to do other small morning chores and doesn't need babysitting.


1 cup of SHORT or good quality medium grain rice. I splurge and use Arborio Rice, a short grain rice that is creamy and tender.

2 cups of water

Place both into a 3qt stove top and oven safe pot or dutch oven.  Heat over medium heat on the stove top, stirring occasionally, until the rice takes up most of the water.

most of the water has been absorbed into the rice

ADD 4 cups of milk.  I've had perfectly fine results with fat free milk.  The higher the fat content milk you use the thicker and creamier the end result will be.  Return to medium heat on the stove top and heat until it just reaches a simmer.  Remove from heat and cover.

Place into a 230' oven for one hour.

Remove from oven and stir gently. It will thicken slightly as it cools.  Eat hot or warm, and top with anything you want.  Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  It is easily microwaved to reheat.

I top mine with a pat of butter, maple and brown sugar, and lots of cinnamon.

It's just as easy as that!

Verner, our house Nisse, and a hot bowl of Risgrøt.

For an extra treat: take your left over cold Risgrøt, and turn it into Riskrem, or Rice Pudding - which is NOT as sweet or as pudding like as American pudding.  For 2 cups of leftover Risgrøt:

1 cup of very cold heaving whipping cream
3.5 Tablespoons of white granulated sugar
2-3 teaspoons of vanilla

Whisk until it turns into fluffy whipped cream, but not so long that the butter solid separates from the cream.

Fold whipped cream into left over Risgrøt and refrigerate.  Serve cold.  It can be topped with traditional berry sauce or jellies.