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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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Winter and the weather that accompanies it tend to force me inside and make me want to bake.  We, in Eastern Nebraska, have been quite lucky this winter, so far.  The weather, while cool, has yet to be frigid.  In fact, until today, I was still wearing shorts.  Granted, I would wear sweatshirts and a jacket, but shorts were still the order of the day.

Today's Icy View

With the Winter Solstice this morning came howling winds, a temperature drop, freezing rain, graupel, snow, and my long jeans.  The calendar also says that Christmas in in 4 days. Christmas in the country is different.  There is no crazy hustle and bustle, no sense of urgency to spend, spend, spend.  No insane desire to decorate, inside or out.  And unless you have an office party, or school classroom of kids that demand you provide sweets and goodies, great piles of holiday treats don't get made either.

It's not that I don't WANT to.  I just don't NEED to and we certainly don't need the extra calories just sitting around here.  Growing up, the house was filled with holiday goodies from Thanksgiving to after New Year's.  Looking back, it was an insane amount of sweets.  But I do get a hankering for them; cookies- all varieties of drop and pressed, date and coconut balls, brownies, cakes, pies, seven layer cookies, fudge, rum balls, whoopsie pies, ice cream, toffee, and candies.  I mentioned in a previous post about a family tin that we had that always held a variety of goodies at anyone time.  Even in the summertime, you could open that stored, empty tin and smell the ghost of seven layer cookies.

My sister bakes like a mad woman possessed at Christmas.  She runs a cookie exchange/give away for all the employees of a very large city middle school.  EVERY employee goes home with a plate of mixed cookies.  She bakes 14 dozen of cookies, fudge, and date balls, and other parents do the same. They get together and mix up the cookies, make up the plates and hand them out.  Of course, as long as she's baking for others, she puts some up for her house too.  She makes the BEST brownies!

I personally love buttery, almost raw, soft sugar cookies with a nice buttercream icing.  I've never ever had a decorated holiday cookie that was beautifully decorated and delicious.  It's either one or another.  I also cannot comprehend spending all that time on a cookie that will be gobbled down in under 30 seconds.  I do like to look at them.

So this year, it's just Doc and me.  The Boy is home for the term break, but the need to go all out and bake all those goodies just isn't there.  And I wasn't going to do it. Nope wasn't.  That was until this past week. My sister kept posting her cookie baking adventures, which made me drool.  Contractors coming (or not coming) and going kept me stuck at home, Christmas music kept playing on the radio, and it got cold.  Out came the butter.

Doc signed us up for 7 layer cookies for an office party, and when cut in pieces, the giant pan of brownies wouldn't all fit into the container going to town.  Those taunting little bits of holiday heaven, pulled me back into holiday baking like a Siren's song.  I've managed to behave, for the most part.  I don't make anything new, until the previous sweet is gone, either consumed or shared.

A Twitter acquaintence posted her trays of lovely holiday cookies.  Shamed into baking, I got out the faithful Sawa 2000 cookie press.  Yummy, but oh such a pain in the rear, rather the hand. 
The old Sawa is a fabulous vintage press and always releases great cookies, but oh that handle!  I made almond, coconut, and mint press cookies.  The smell of butter and hot almond extract........

Brain trigger!  (after all, smell is the strongest of the memory trigger senses)

KRUMKAKES!  While growing up, Pizzelles were always around at Christmas.  My mom had a pizzelle iron from the 50s that belonged to my great aunt Martha.  It was boat anchor heavy, the cord made the UL inspectors loose sleep, and got hotter than the sun.  It was finicky, spat hot batter out the side if over loaded, but made the best Pizzelles.  The iron was beautifully decorated and broken down into quarter designs.  When done the cookie could be kept whole, or snapped into smaller wedges.  The old girl finally gave up the ghost.  We went years without them.  I finally broke down 4 years ago and purchased a new fangled, modern press. 
This one is actually a Krumkake press, which is all one design, non-stick, and thermostatically controlled.  It also makes a thinner cookie than the pizzelle iron.

Today, my house smelled gloriously of hot almond extract!  Krumkakes are traditionally either rolled into a tube shape or cone shape while still piping hot and than later filled with creamy goodness.  We like them plain, and for storage, I just keep them flat.


6 eggs
1 cup of white sugar
1 cup of softened butter

cream these together until the mixture is light and fluffy

1 Tablespoon of Vanilla
2 teaspoons of almond extract
1/8 teaspoon of ground cardamom (optional)
1.5 cups of all purpose flour

Pre-heat the krumkake iron and lightly grease if necessary.  I use a #40 disher to place a large scoop of the batter on the center of the iron.  Gently press the iron shut.

I don't trust the darkness control on my cooker, and choose to just check for color as I cook.  The darker the color, the more crisp the final cookie will be when it is cooled.

When your cookie has reached the desired color (I prefer light and golden), remove it from the iron using a small spatula and place on a cooling rack until completely cooled.

If you are going to roll or shape the cookies, do it immediately after pulling off the iron.  Keep on the mold until completely cooled.

Store cooled cookies in an sealed container.

ManSpaining crosses the Species Barrier

gerund or present participle: mansplaining
  1. (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.

Doc and I spent a weekend digging another French Drain.  Living on a hill, a property shaped like a bowl really, they are an easy fix to guide water to where you want it, and away from where you don't want it.

Like all of our projects, it wasn't easy.  Not that it isn't an easy project, we just kept running into snags.  We are placing it just uphill of the new barn to divert water racing down through the orchard to keep it from running into and under the barn floor, and wicking up through the gravel into the barn.  We opted for flexible french drain and marked our 100 foot run with the intention of digging along the line and to one side 8 inches deep.

Last weekend, we headed to the hardware store and had two options: buy the tubing and the sock, or buy tubing with the sock already on it.  The covered tubing didn't have a price on it to compare the two, so we had to track down an employee to price it out for us. It turns out the stuff that was already covered wasn't in inventory, AT ALL. So they sold it to us, 200 feet for a song.  That's enough for this project and for the drain IN the barn and uphill from the loafing shed!

This past week, the weather was lovely.  I grabbed my spade, let the chickens out, and turned on my radio.  I worked my way to the spray painted yellow line, placed my blade along side of it, and jumped onto foot brace to make my first cut of the prairie sod.  It is also when I bounced OFF the prairie sod and landed square on the back of my front.  Both the chickens and the Prairie soil laughed.  It was like concrete.   We have gone a long, long time without rain, and our normally lovely soil was a brick.  I managed about 30 feet long and 2 inches deep, and 12 inches wide before I gave up.

Doc went out on Saturday, armed with his new shiny pick ax, looking every bit of the cartoon character he's named after to attack the ditch.  Bless his heart.  I took the tractor across the road, having taken pity on the neighbor that was attempting to move 20 cubic yards of river stone by hand into his flower beds around his house. Two hours later and all 20 cubic yards were moved and the flower beds were done.  Not surprisingly though, the ditch wasn't.  But Doc was. LOL.  He agreed our dirt is hard when it's dry.  Really Hard.

The next day we went into town to buy a single bottom plow implement for the tractor.  At least we THOUGHT it was for our tractor.  The website said it was.  The measurements matched.  Alas, while it did FIT the tractor, little Hansel was unable to lower it enough to actually DIG into the soil.  Instead it just tickled it a little.

A full afternoon of begging and pleading with the soil, attacking it with the plow blade, the transplant shovel, physically removing hens who thought this was just the best darn-sneeze shield free buffet line they'd ever seen, and more swear words than a dictionary can hold, the ditch was finally deep enough for a layer of gravel and the french drain.  I covered the whole thing and used the harrow to smooth it over.  In the Spring, I will seed it and cover it with a protective mulch netting.

Doc came home and another project was magically done by gnomes while he was gone.

I hear you.  You're saying, "what on Earth does that have to do with ManSplaining?"

Ya, I'm getting to that.  So while Doc is looking over the finished project, impressed, we were distracted by a noise, an abnormal noise, coming from the coop.  Of course odd noises are always coming from the coop, but this one was really odd.  Think someone strangling a Sand Person from Star Wars, while juggling upset roosters, underwater.  Weird, RIGHT?!

Doc and I, each with one eye-brow raised, looked at each other and wandered over to the open coop door and leaned in to see what on Earth was happening in there and WHO was making this noise.  What met our eyes, left us with the confused look Donkey gets on Shrek, and then ultimately giggling.

It was Wookie (formerly Nod) the Cockerel.  He was jumping in and out of a nesting box, while Rose, Princess (formerly Blynkin), and Olive watch on.  All I could see was their fluffy butts, however I'm sure if I could see their faces, they'd look like Donkey from Shrek too.

Here was this absolutely MASSIVE Cockerel, jumping to and fro, trying to make the egg song, but sounding like a teenage boy going through puberty trying to sing Ave Maria.  He was showing the hens that the nest boxes were a nice and safe place to lay eggs.  This is nothing new to us.  All of our cockerels and roosters have done it at some point.  But here's where it went all silly.

He was showing them how to nest, because obviously as a 6 month old boy, he knows exactly HOW to do it, and apparently they were doing it all wrong.  He surveyed each box.  He stomped in each one, apparently testing the viability, spring, and freshness of the pine fluff.  After selecting the best box, he showed them how to twirl in circles.  He demonstrated the proper way to toss pine fluff and decorated their back with it.  He even dug and nest and settled in.

Certainly after all this effort, the detailed charts, the power point presentation, and the live demo run, the hens would leap forward, thank him for his brilliant display and correction, sit down in a box and lay a few eggs.

The coop was silent, but through the silence I swear I could hear the two old hens (3.5 years old) and the little pullet - his older sister, laughing.  The two older hens wandered off, having enjoyed the lunacy of the show.  His sister, flipped her imaginary long blonde hair over shoulder with the wave of her hand, put her nose in the air, as if to say, "Boys" while rolling her eyes, went outside and sat on his crowing perch.

Yup. ManSplaining.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Forcing Fall

We may have not had Fall on the farm, but there are places around that make sure that the Fall experience is available to all.  It's concentrated activities and surroundings ensure that those that visit are fully immersed in apples, pumpkins, squash, corn mazes, bonfires, colorful leaves, and rides in a hay rack.  Destination farms, orchards, and patches have sprung up across the country from outside large cities to give urban dwellers a taste of the country life, and hidden outside small towns and villages to allow those without the means to a farm access.

Even way out here, in the middle of nowhere (or the middle of everywhere-as I like to say), there are several destination orchards/berry/squash patches.  Even holiday tree farms with holiday villages and activities attached.  Families that have brought their generations together to pool resources, manpower, and land to create a cottage industry that becomes a tourist spot for the growing season.  They start with berries in the spring, farmers market produce in the summer months, and then shift to apples, raspberries, squash and corn mazes in the fall.  November-April are reserved for planning, maintenance, and expansion.

They all start small and add on experimentally as they years go by, and as finances allow.  They tweak what they do to fill a niche in the market and to best fit their skills and ability.  I have been to 8 such places within a two hour drive of the house.  They range from quaint to almost a theme park.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was on my own this year for apple picking season.  Over the years I have found my favorite spot for picking (until our own orchard is large enough to produce what I need), and have pretty much abandoned the others, being too far or too expensive per pound for the effort.  The same is true of squash, or pumpkin picking.  While we did used to put a knife to a gourd or two every year when we lived in the city, there really is no need to mutilate a squash for decorative reasons when no one can even see the front porch from the road without bird watching glasses.  I do however still purchase pie pumpkins for puree, and larger squash to cut up and freeze (or not) for the flock.

I made a grand adventure on the spur of the moment this year to go to a family patch/market about 2 hours from here.  I justified the trip by tacking on a trip to the last KMart in the state.  The market was lovely and was filled with not only produce and products, pumpkin and not, but also had locally created art and candles.  The outside was meticulously decorated with cream cans, rusty trucks, hay bales, and country decor.
The squash variety was great and sorted, but greatly overpriced, especially for the drive. (I also learned that the KMart had closed 5 months earlier. Nuts.)  I purchased a few nice gourds anyway to support the local economy. 
(On the way home I stopped at the local feed store that was selling my same pumpkins and gourds for only $2 each.-Sigh, I just couldn't win on this trip.)

A couple weeks later and I was ready to try again. This time I DID have my buddy with me.  The Boy was home on Fall break.  We were both itching to get out and see something other than our own hilltop, but we also wanted to go somewhere totally new to us.  We opted for a pumpkin patch that we had heard about incessantly every Fall, almost to the point of brainwashing, since we moved to the state.  A place started in the 80s by a family that wanted to sell pumpkins when the bottom fell out of the farming market.  I asked local people if they had ever been there, and the answer was the same, it was too expensive or "we haven't been for years and years." 
Foam Ball battle barn.

Well seeing as we didn't take our annual trip the the Moon, and the University was now feeding The Boy, I figured that I could certainly shell out a few dollars to go to a tourist hot spot for the day.  An hour later and we were pulling into the parking lot into what I thought was an AWESOME parking space.  It turns out these people have taken lessons from Disney World in park planning.  We followed traffic into the lot and right there, up front, a car pulled out in front of us, 20 spaces from the entrance.  DEAL!  We parked the car and started the walk towards the crosswalk through the tree line.  Uh HUH.  Those of you that have experienced the Disney lines, know what's coming.  As we cleared the treeline, hidden from view of the road, and the parking lot, loomed another gigantic parking lot.  I mean GIGANTIC!  (A later peek at google earth, showed that there are actually 4 more lots, hidden from view for busy days.)  This lot was about the size of the inside of a National Football stadium and UPHILL.

After we slogged up this not so gradual hill, we caught a glimpse of the line.  It was a Monday, towards the beginning of October, so I figured it wouldn't be busy.  20 minutes later and $24 lighter we walked through the gate.  These were discounted tickets as it was a Monday.  To be fair, the quality of the buildings, and the cleanliness of the restaurants (yes, PLURAL), food stands, camp grounds, orchards, entertainment areas, and playgrounds were meticulously planned and built.  I know I spent the next couple of hours walking around, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other people, with my mouth hanging open in awe.

It had adorable animatronic shows, live shows -including pumpkin chunkin', hay rides, apple picking, a barn where the kids could battle each other with foam ball guns, air guns that shot rotten apples at giant steel targets, Halloween shops, eateries to include a candy shop and turkey legs, a huge children's play area and petting zoo with a train. 
It was crazy! I heard that in the evening they have bonfires and s'mores and glow in the dark activities.  I now know WHY families go year after year, and I now know why it's so pricey.   

We decided that it was a nice one time trip for us, but it would be great if you had little kids OR if you were a high school age kid there for the evening festivities with friends.  We agreed that the most clever bit was the giant bins and flower beds filled to overflowing with pumpkins, gourds, and squash of every shape and size for purchase.  All arranged at the EXIT, so you can buy it on the way back to the car.

Our only negatives are:
Closed- yes it was a discounted day, but all of the small shops and eateries were closed, which was disappointing.
Food Quality - I'll say it, YUCK.  (And like most parks, overpriced)  We HAD to eat lunch, so we chose to settle for the open eatery near the entrance - We had two small hot dogs and a bottle of water and a soda, and we were at $12. But it held us over until we stopped at McDs on the way home.  We also decided to treat ourselves to a whole pie to take home for the fridge.  We picked out a fudge pie at the pie barn.  A whole building dedicated to pies and sweets, and it has to be good right?  Nope.  You know the watery, fake chocolate goo filling in those unrefrigerated hand pies you get for 50 cents?  Yup, that.  We threw the pie in the trash after one bite.  A $20 pie.

Fortunately you CAN take food and water INTO the park and picnic or snack, I now know why.

All in all, we had a good time, albeit pricey.  So, if Fall refuses to come to you, go out and find it!

(IF Winter refuses to come to you, celebrate! But I don't think we'll be that lucky.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Æbleskiver - Bite size pieces of Danish Heaven

When it comes to breakfast, I'm not generally a fan.  No matter the hour, I'm not really awake yet and to have a really delicious breakfast you need to put some work into it.  The brain cells have to be kicking.  This either means settling for cereal (which I REALLY don't care for), making a nice breakfast casserole the night before for a mindless reheat in the morning, or attempting to put something together as complicated as the International Space Station communications system on the number of brain cells held by a goldfish, all while being distracted by the growlings of your own stomach, and the grumblings of every one else waiting on food.

My breakfasts usually fall somewhere between cold, soggy chunks of cardboard from a cardboard box and things that require a tri-fold brochure of instructions and an ingredient list as long as your arm.  Most days a protein bar on the fly, or a bagel with peanut butter or cream cheese are the meal of choice.  After all, the bagel can be toasting while I'm out feeding the flock their gourmet breakfast. (Somedays, their breakfast is nicer than mine - warm oatmeal, fruit (albeit bruised), and left over fridge goodies.)

Yes, I know I have chickens.  WHY aren't I eating EGGS for breakfast?  They're free.  They're high in protein. They're delicious. They're quick and easy to make.  Well, sometimes supply is outstripped by demand, and I forget to put eggs aside for us.  Sometimes, I just cannot stand to look at another egg.

Breakfasts are just plain necessary.  You are literally breaking a Fast.  Your last meal or snack was probably around 7pm the night before and you've gone all night, almost 10 or 11 hours without eating or drinking.  Your body needs fuel to get going and get those brain cells kicking so you can make it to lunch without eating a coworker.  As a child, and actually well into my 20s, I was a breakfast skipper.  It's not good for you.  By my late 20s, I finally figured that out.  But I was still not a fan of breakfast.  I think it's just that I'm just not a morning person, period.

I do enjoy complicated typically breakfast food for an evening meal, but it's important to note that by the evening meal, I am working on all cylinders. Rarely, once in a blue with pink polka-dots moon, I actually get up at 430 in the morning, fully awake and hankering for FOOD for breakfast.  Not just sustenance to get me to lunch.  This past Monday was the day.

But what to fix?  I enjoy pancakes.  I LOVE waffles, especially with homemade syrup and sausage patties and scrambled eggs.  But this time all I could think of was a big batch of aebleskiver.  If you've never heard of them, don't worry, you aren't alone.  Think of them as pancake balls, but BETTER!  Like doughnut balls, but better.  They are light and airy, can be filled or not, can be sweet or savory.  The Danes knew what they were doing when they came up with this menu item.  Traditionally it is only served during the Christmas holiday season, but why wait?

By now you've either scrolled down and peeked at the photos, or you've clicked on the above link and noticed that these treats are perfect little balls.  "They look complicated" "Round is hard" "HOW do you cook THOSE?"  Well there IS a trick, an aebleskiver pan!  If you are an antique shopper, you've probably seen the cast iron pan and looked right over it.  OR you've looked at it and wondered why there was a cast iron pan created especially for cooking golf balls, and put it back down after snapping a quick photo for a laugh on your twitter feed.  THAT was an aebleskiver pan.

There are many newer pans on the market, made from space age non-stick materials. But I really enjoy the heft of an old, well seasoned, cast iron pan.  My own is from a local antique store and has ridiculously deep wells.  Other pans, new and old, typically have half-sphere wells.  Either works well, you just have to practice with YOUR pan and YOUR stove top to find the best temperature and cooking time for YOU.

For the batter you CAN cheat and use prepackaged pancake or waffle mix, but I find that when you do, the balls are more dense than traditional aebleskivers.  After all, you are making pancake or waffle balls.  The traditional recipe is not that hard or time consuming to make.  Once you've had the original recipe(s), of which there are hundreds on line, and then have a mix recipe, I'm certain you'll stick to an original one.

Here the recipe I use that I find the most tasty for both my empty balls or filled balls, both sweet and savory fillings.


3 eggs total- separated
3 egg whites from above
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 egg yolks from above
1 Tablespoon of white sugar
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt (OR 1/8th teaspoon of regular table salt)
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of vanilla
pinch of cardamon (optional)
pinch of cinnamon (optional)
1 3/4 cups of buttermilk (OR 1 3/4 cups of milk with 2 teaspoons of vinegar added- allow to sit for 5 minutes)
6 Tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled
9-11 ounces - by weight- of all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon of melted butter to grease the wells in the pan


Beat the egg whites and Cream of Tartar until stiff peaks form and set aside for later use.
In a mixing bowl,  combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt, baking soda, vanilla, and spices (if using). Mix until well combined. SLOWLY add the milk and cooled, melted butter. Add the flour gradually until it is the consistency of a medium pancake batter, not runny, but not thick like cookie dough.  It should run, but not like soup or stew.  Small lumps are fine.

Fold in the eggs white and set the batter aside while you heat the pan to a medium temperature.  It is better to start low and work your way to a higher temperature.  Cast iron holds heat for a long time and lower temperature takes a while.  Burned aebleskivers are not yummy.

When your pan is ready, use a pastry brush to quickly wipe each well with a little of melted butter.  I use a large cookie disher to fill my wells- to just under the top edge for unfilled balls and 3/4 of the way for balls I am going to fill with goodness.

Filling:  Use your imagination.  From cooked meats, little bits of fruit or jelly, Nutella, chocolate chips, it's all fair game.

For filled cups: Fill wells to 3/4 full and add your tiny bit of filling to the center, then add more batter to near the top of the well.

So now you've put batter in the well, now what?  Let it cook for a bit, until you see the edge dry out and stop shining, just like a pancake.  Using a skewer, poke the ball about halfway up the side and into the cooked shell.

Pull the shell halfway up the side of the well, which will spill uncooked batter into the hot well.

Let that cook for a bit and turn the ball one last time, which will pour the remaining uncooked batter into the hot well, and complete the ball shape.

When they are finished, I put mine on a plate covered in a paper towel, and set them in the microwave to keep them hot. (do not turn the microwave on, just use it as a hot box to store the balls.)

Serve hot with syrup, or more melted butter, jelly, or confectioners sugar.  Go wild!

They freeze well and microwave for a quick breakfast when you want them.  OH, and they are delicious cold too!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Life is More Simple in the Country

It's not more simple.  We just make it look easy.  But trust me, it's not.  We earn that hot shower at the end of the day, and trust me, that Select Comfort mattress is heaven on Earth, and sleep comes fast and hard.

It's been two solid months since I've been able to find the time to sit down and blog about the station.  The silly thing is, I can't really place my finger on WHAT I was doing, or what I accomplished over those two months, but it has been non-stop.

Being pampered by the Chicken King
The calendar was filled with the normal daily chores that are found in any household and augmented by the chores of an acreage that is racing the clock, ending one season and beginning another.  The approach of Fall was heralded by dropping of The Boy at The University. So while academically we were in Fall mode, Mother Nature was still burning the summertime oil.  It was hot, miserably humid, a lack of rain, which sent the pollen and dust counts sky high, and I was down one farm hand.

The chickens constantly reminded me that I was doing everything wrong, but as long as they had water and got their fill of tasty treats and spent the day out on long walks, I seemed to be forgiven for not being The Boy.  After all, the sun was warm and the bugs were plentiful. If you're a chicken, that's pretty much all you need to make you happy.

The chore chart on the laundry room black board seemed to grow instead of shrink.  For every chore we erased, we came up with two more that needed added. Even the tiniest chore takes time, most are mediocre, like swapping the winter and spring clothes in your closet.  Others are necessities, and require either perfect weather or more than one person to accomplish.

Painting the posts on the barn and house need warm and dry weather, but can be done by one person.  Done.

Doc playing the Pied Piper in place of the Chicken King

Replanting new trees and shrubs can be done alone, but need to be done early enough to get some rain to start a strong root system or you'll be hauling water to feed them.
Orchard Clean-up

Closing up the chicken coop for the frigid winter months, needs done after it's done being hot, but before the chill starts in.  It also requires a windless day, or 12 foot panels become wings that batter the carrier.

Posts on the barn are painted and the coop is closed up for the

September was full of these little odd jobs and a few side trips.  Merriweather decided this would be a romantic time to go broody, so we obliged and gave her 6 eggs from a friend's farm an hour away.  She would be hatching 6 Icelandic eggs.  She's a great broody hen and spent the next 2 weeks terrifying the rest of the coop with her moody antics until I moved her to the broody coop to hatch in peace and quiet.  I think I actually heard a cheer from the main coop that day.

I treated myself to a day painting out on the last weekend of September.
It was cold and windy, and the minute pirate bugs made being outside miserable.  Not only do they bite but they landed in, and blew into the paintings, making little "snow" angels as they struggled to remove themselves from the artwork.  When I took a break for lunch and came home, I was warmed by the sight of 6 tiny, fluffy, baby vikings.  We just call them the hoard.

Baby Icelandics

The hoard outgrew the broody coop in a week and Doc and I moved them to the barn, where they spent their days playing in the dirt and tormenting their mother and the rest of the flock.  Nights in the 20s, forced us to move them into the warmer, insulated workshop were they spend their days tormenting their mother and us.  They are growing like mad, and I THINK we have three cockerels and three pullets.  It is so hard to tell at this age.
The hoard is taking over, which is I guess what hoards do best.
October is when the real work began.  Harvest in the region was about to go into full swing.  A few more weeks of dry weather and the hills would be filled with the hum of combines and grain trucks. The days were warm.  The skies were crystal blue, and the fields were a raw umber until they blazed with gold in the sunset.

The beginning of the third week of October marked the shift of the seasons.  The winds began to howl.  Days of high winds brought dry air from the south gusts repeatedly hit 45-50 mph for an entire day.  The wind was warm, but it drove dust and pollen, making being outside like being in a sandblaster.  The next day it was as if the state took a deep, calming breath to relax.  The air was warm and still, and it gave everyone a chance to repair and pick up after the windstorm.  The state exhaled the next day.  Winds greater than the previous storm spent the day blowing from the North this time.  While the major storm only lasted one day, winds in the 30s lasted the next week, and with it - cold temperatures and rain.
Snow on the Pumpkin

The pressure to finish chores was palpable. It was a race, and the last echo from the starter's pistol was fading away, and I was standing on the starting line stunned.  Just as the leaves were changing from their Summer wardrobe to their glorious Fall attire, the winds stripped them bare. Gone.  It was all gone.  Fall lasted two days, and I missed it!  It was fast and furious.  It reminds me of the kitchen scene in A Christmas Story when the Bumpass dogs tear through the house, destroy the kitchen, eat the much anticipated Christmas turkey, and break down the back door.  I felt like Ralphie, standing in the kitchen doorway, lamenting on the lack of future Turkey deliciousness.   Sigh.
Measurable snow on Halloween.

I rallied by going apple picking.  After all I still needed to make gallons of applesauce and apple butter.  During the picking, I realized it was the first time in 18 years that I had gone picking without my little apple buddy.  On the upside, the apple products turned out delicious.
Amazing meal of cream cheese and homemade apple butter
on a toasted bagel.

Wykin, Blykin, and Nod grew like weeds and started taking their place in the flock.  I decided I didn't need TWO cockerels from this generation, so I watched the boys carefully and decided who needed to find a new home.  It was a tough decision.  In the end, it was Wykin who moved 12 miles up the road to his own flock of Red Star hens.
Wykin with his new flock.  When I left, he was already dancing for his new ladies.  

Nod is now called Wookie for the loud growling noise he makes.  Blykin is now princess as she looks like Princess Leia in her flowing white pant suit.  Wookie is dancing for the flock and his stomping on the ladies is driving Andy crazy!  We are still waiting for Leia's first egg.
Wookie overseeing hay moving.
We still haven't managed to get a fence up around the pasture, so there are no large critters to report about.  All the guys that do fencing are busy with harvest, and after harvest comes deer season.  I hope to hear from someone after that!  I've done the math for the supplies I need to build the stalls in the barn, but have yet to order them.  I can always work in the barn in not so nice weather, so those chores weren't even on the winter prep chore list.  With the sun setting before 5pm, all chores are up to me during the day, and I'm only one person.
Ellie caught in the cookie jar.
Donder shocked us with this GIANT 110 gram whopper!
That's a standard size playing card.  Yes, it was a double yolk.

The children's book I'm writing is plugging along.  For a while, I was making it to a quiet library chair (with access to a Starbucks) once a week, using a day that was going to be too cold or too windy to get chores done at home.  It turns out I really cannot work on this book at home.  There are too many other things that need done, or steal my time and attention.  What started out as a picture book evolved into a short story, and has now mutated into a grade 2-4 chapter book.

So there you have it.  It's not that I didn't post for Fall 2017.  We simply didn't have one!