tough times make us thankful

Sunshine? Sometimes you have to make your own. Thanks girls...
Sunshine? Sometimes you have to make your own. Thanks girls…

 

Aaarrrrgggghhh! That’s right, I’ll say it again – AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!

It’s been some week, filled with high highs and low lows.

So, this isn’t the usual Thanksgiving post, filled with cozy recipes and turkey tips. I resisted the factory turkey shaming too. This year, my thoughts are more about how, in the midst of even our most grumbly, hum buggy, mundane days, it’s good work to step back and reflect on the lessons of our daily grind.

Can we meet our individual challenges with grace,  temperance and yes, thankfulness? 

In the high-highs department, I was very excited about the new roof on the barn. Which fast tracks us to the low-lows department where my new roof blows off in our super-heavy windstorms.

But guess what?  The roof just neatly flipped over to a safe, open spot protected from wind and animals and no one was hurt. Sure it’s a bit rumpled, and I’ll have to work around it until it can be repaired, and it will cost more money that I don’t really have.

Sum total: Grateful

In suburban/urban life, it’s easy to ignore the unimaginable fact that things are not as buttoned-down as we believe. But farmers are reminded daily that life is filled with variables we simply cannot control. You can act in ways that influence the outcome, but you will never have complete control.

And, the true significance of events can never be understood as they are occurring, for in every event there are elements of both good and bad. Exactly the opposite of our American culture of constant commentary, instant summation and on-the-spot analysis.

The parable of the Taoist farmer is the perfect example:

There was once a Taoist farmer. One day the Taoist farmer’s only horse broke out of the corral and ran away. The farmer’s neighbors, all hearing of the horse running away, came to the Taoist farmer’s house to view the corral. As they stood there, the neighbors all said, “Oh what bad luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”

About a week later, the horse returned bringing with it a whole herd of wild horses, which the Taoist farmer and his son quickly corralled. The neighbors, hearing of the corralling of the horses, came to see for themselves. As they stood there looking at the corral filled with horses, the neighbors said, “Oh what good luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”

At that same time in China, there was a war going on between two rival warlords. The warlord of the Taoist farmer’s village was involved in this war. In need of more soldiers, he sent one of his captains to the village to conscript young men to fight in the war. When the captain came to take the Taoist farmer’s son he found a young man with a broken leg who was delirious with fever. Knowing there was no way the son could fight, the captain left him there. A few days later, the son’s fever broke. The neighbors, hearing of the son’s not being taken to fight in the war and of his return to good health, all came to see him. As they stood there, each one said, “Oh what good luck!” The Taoist farmer replied, “Maybe.”

My roof event was just one happening in an eventful week. There was other juicy stuff too: sudden & wicked cold, frozen tractor engine, frozen hay, car wouldn’t start, fencing blew down, cows escaping, pigs nearly busting loose, but know what?  I managed, and for that, I’m thankful.

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What doesn’t break you makes you stronger, right?  May be. What hard-to-love things are you thankful for this year?

crazy talk: blame it on the green corn moon

Green Corn Moon-Suki & Strawberry

Strawberry Moon gets her bath under the rising Green Corn Moon

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Monday Moo-sings

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Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project widened my perspective with this thought-provoking paradox: the opposite of a great truth is also true.  Take a minute, read it again, and chew on it for a while. It’s true, though we don’t care to acknowledge such a horrible possibility. That means we would be wrong (bawk!) even when we’re right! (bawk! bawk!!)

But Nature doesn’t care if we like her truths or not.  She’s not taking sides – she’s more Switzerland than Switzerland.

Unhampered with confusing conflicts like ego, emotional attachment or sentiment,  Nature couldn’t care less who has the higher moral ground. She’s hard at work making sure no space is unoccupied. What does Nature abhor? A vacuum, that’s right.

There is no single solution, explanation or reason for any of the world’s major quandaries.  Today’s issues are thick, tangled, juicy and complex like Nature herself. Yet, ever so simple. Nature isn’t about the individual at all. She is busy keeping on keeping on.

Nature doesn’t care if you are kind, deserving or bursting with character and integrity. If you can’t get the job done, no matter. Someone will. It’s a basic matter of usefulness and stark consequence with Her- no place for emotional attachment.

Ever vigilant, Nature keeps a relentless, steady, never-resting pace, marching on and on to No Place in Particular.

Nature’s lunch isn’t spoiled by horse slaughter, human trafficking, mountains of plastic or Banksy’s Meat Truck. Starving children? Yawn. You humans are so amusing.

It’s up to us to do the caring. Or not, Nature doesn’t mind if we don’t.  Whatever we do, she won’t be left empty-handed. Cockroaches, rats and a reptile or two will be just fine.

See? I told you full moons make us crazy…

eagle brand, schmeagle brand: sweet jars of DIY heaven

Sweetened condensed milk

What do fudge, iced coffee, caramel, ice cream, cream liqueurs & pies have in common?  Sweetened condensed milk, that’s what.

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I don’t have a great answer to explain my snootiness about store-bought sweetened condensed milk. It just seems super commercial and over-processed which is not my cup of tea.  And, it’s never been a sacrifice. I had no use for it, so it was easy to ignore.

But, once I started down the caramel candy, ice cream and cream pies rabbit hole,  avoiding sweetened condensed milk began over-complicating my life. The thought my results could be better if I weren’t so stubborn started  creeping into my brain.  Finally, the Huffington Post pokes me with  proof that Sweetened Condensed Milk is the best stuff on earth.

UNCLE. I give. How did I not know what an international phenomenon sweetened condensed milk is?  And so, this time, I have to admit I may be a little bit wrong.

I say a little bit because in my wish to support local farmers, buying Eagle Brand isn’t really part of the solution. But in fairness, the list of ingredients on a can of Eagle Brand is exactly the same as home-made: milk and sugar. And that’s how the idea for this compromise was born.

Be warned:  homemade sweetened condensed milk is amazing in every way and well worth the time spent. Which, I won’t lie, is considerable so pick a weekend you’re going to be close to home. The recipe is simple – hardly a recipe really.  My favorite kind.

And, this basic recipe is a springboard for many, many ideas. Honey, maple syrup or maybe apple cider molasses to sweeten? A little cardamom or nutmeg? Chocolate? Hmmm.

Maintaining the temperature is truly the single, non-negotiable aspect. Let it get too hot and the milk will form curds. Once that happens, game over, you’re done. Throw it to the pigs and start over because you’ll never get the smooth, creamy, liquid fudge-y texture that makes this stuff so addictive.

Sweetened condensed milk- bordon'sSweetened condensed milk overcooked

On the left: shiny, super smooth & dense. On the right: So, so close but I blew it. only about $20 dollars of local honey & milk, no big deal…  stick with the cheap ingredients the first time.

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Use a stainless stock pot on the stove set at the lowest temperature or a crock pot with a “keep warm” setting. I prefer the crock pot – by alternating between the Keep Warm and Low settings you can maintain the temperature without fear of scorching and easily put the process on hold when you need a break.

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Equipment:

  • Crock Pot with Keep Warm setting and lid or stainless stock pot with lid
  • Thermometer

Ingredients:

  • Gallon Milk
  • 5 cups sugar or 3 ¾ cups honey

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To speed things up, I began by heating  my milk and sweetener in a covered stock pot on the stove over medium-low heat just until steam rises – pay attention, you don’t want the milk to boil!
Transfer your mixture to a crock pot set on Low. Do not cover.  A  thermometer helps you monitor the temperature: it should remain between 150 – 160 degrees.

The milk will reduce to nearly ¼  its original volume.  You can use a metal ruler to gauge the reduction by measuring the depth of your liquid at the start, divide by four to guesstimate the final depth then measure throughout the process.

Since I’m not that familiar with sweetened condensed milk, I actually used a can of Borden’s as a guide.  When my texture was nearly the same stiffness (remember your liquid will thicken a little more as it cools), I stopped and poured my milk into sterilized jars.

sweetened condensed milk thermometerSterilizing jars

Using a Crock Pot & Thermometer  allows you to easily put the process on hold when you have to run out to feed the pigs. To sterilize jars, simply wash in hot, soapy water, rinse thoroughly, nest in a small baking pan lined with a towel and allow to dry completely in a 250 degree oven. pour warm liquid into warm jar & seal.

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If you need to put the process on hold while you feed the pigs, grab a bite or get some sleep, simply switch the setting to “keep warm” and cover to stop the reduction process. When you’re back, return the setting to low and remove the lid.   It was a little busy around here, so I stretched it over a full 24 hours, taking care to not allow the temperature to go below 150.

The result is recipe-ready sweetened condensed milk comparable to store-bought in texture.  From a gallon of milk, I ended up with about 40 ounces or a quart and a cup and a half.  Since most recipes call for a 14 ounce can, I figure this batch will make five recipes plus some extra for my morning coffee.

“Can this be canned?”  I know you’re about to ask. Well.  You didn’t hear it from me, and you definitely won’t hear if from the USDA, but on old homesteading boards I hear tell of pressure canning at 12 – 15  psi for 13 minutes. Another mention of water bath canning for two hours that supposedly does not affect the flavor of the milk as much. Freezing would be another option to consider.

I don’t really know for sure, but I tend to be bold and will probably try pressure canning for myself. What I do know is that it keeps at least two weeks refrigerated.

Good luck with that. 

Daisy

Daisy knows I’m a horrible multi-tasker sure to blow a few more batches. She’s banking on it. Don’t rain on her parade by telling her about the crock pot thing…

Easter Blessings and a perfect recipe for left-over ham

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A more beautiful day for Easter could not have been had. At least here in Pennsylvania. I hope you enjoyed a lovely and blessed day wherever you are and whatever you believe.

Since I am admittedly a bit wild and uncivilized, there was no church service to spiff up for. Instead, I went to the Church of the Great Outdoors and enjoyed a walk around some hard-to-reach corners of the farm neglected over the winter.

And looky, looky! Well Hel-lo Easter Blessing.

Molly got sick and tired of all those amateurs fussing and swishing their tails, sighing and looking at their bellies. She decided to show those vapid girls how a pro gets down.

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No fuss, no muss, just found Molly in the woods with her new little Lady. Cleaned, fed and hardly even wobbly –  Molly is the best. I’ve been hoping for a heifer from Molly for a long time, particularly with the Destroyer for a Daddy. It is a very promising cross for which I am very grateful and excited and she is beautiful.

Working in a local, nose-to-tail butcher shop as I do, we’ve been busy making ham, talking about ham, wrapping up and sending home lots and lots of hams. Holiday over, now what to do with all that leftover ham? To that I say, “Ham Loaf”.

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 Tender, moist and subtle ham meatloaf topped with spiced fruit – Homey supper and great next-day sandwiches

_________________________________________________________________________You say you’ve never heard of Ham Loaf?  Around here, people take their ham loaf seriously. I did not grow up in a ham loaf home, so I had no idea what all this ham loaf business was about.

Doing a bit of asking around, I got the gist of the recipe and right away knew that the rich, sweet loaf of ham and pork topped with a mustard + brown sugar glaze was not for me. But, for some reason, I knew the idea still had promise.

Cue up Lianna Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. I know, I know, I’m all Lianna Krissoff this, Lianna Krissoff that, but seriously.

More often than not, I get a great idea from one of Lianna Krissoff’s books that is a modern, healthy throwback to something old-skool. Never pretentious, always original and delicious, the sidebars and variations alone share a wealth of tips & tricks to change your cooking ways for the better. And when it comes to ham loaf, Lianna did not let me down.

This ham loaf is lighter, less sweet and lets the flavors of the ham shine through. The ground turkey or chicken is a perfect – though non-traditional – partner for the ground ham, but if you don’t have those, plain ground pork (not sausage) is fine too.

And, if you happen to have pickled fruit or fruit relish in your pantry, this is a recipe where that home-preserved fruit will really shine. Check out the printable recipe here.

I’ve seen the ham-loaf light.  How do you do ham loaf?

On previous Easters here’s what we were up to:

is there anything nicer than a sleepy Sunday morning?

Easter egg glut? Pickle ‘em!

 

 

 

 

 

in which we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

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Hmmmmmm. Is it really St. Patrick’s Day already?

What should we talk about?  Irish Soda Bread?  NOBODY will be writing about THAT.  Irish Stew? Ditto. Irish ham? Colcannon? Guinness? Whiskey? The Corned Beef that actual Irish people don’t eat?  Yawn.

I have been working on some whole grain/wheat projects and spent a couple of weeks learning about and baking some authentic Irish soda breads. So far, one big thing I have learned is that aside from brief curiosity, my taste-testing friends prefer their Americanized fiction of Irish traditions much more than the real, farmstead and/or poverty-born deal.

Which fact has annoyed some enough to create an entire Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread with a very entertaining website and Facebook page.

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Call me odd, but I love the rustic character of irish soda bread. With very few ingredients, the freshness of the wheat flour is critical.  A perfect trifecta of  substantial whole wheat, rich, homemade butter & summer fresh peach jam. Who needs raisins?

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The real beauty of Irish farmstead food is that yes, it is simple, but because the home-raised and/or foraged ingredients can be so pure, fresh, wholesome and full of flavor, everyday food carefully prepared can be sublime.

Of course we know that Ireland has had her struggles with shortage and famine.  Simple things we Americans take for granted, like raisins and sugar for your soda bread  would have been special luxuries for too many Irish.

The last couple years I wrote about some pretty serious Irish topics, but really, who are we kidding? St. Patrick’s Day in America is just an excuse to misbehave, have celebrations, skip school, get rowdy and drink beer. Green beer. Lots of it, right?

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You first; No you!  It’s A Pig-Jam!  everyone’s afraid to jump off the trailer after a move. No point in rushing them, pigs operate on their own time. One day later, they’re jumping on and off with gusto. 

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Around here, those best able to devote themselves to the proper celebration of St. Patrick’s Day are the pigs. I know, I’ve been delinquent about filling you in on all the recent porky details, it’s true.  Raucus? Bawdy? Chaotic? Enthusiastic? Lawless, Loutish, Wild, uproarious, Unruly, Disorderly, Calamitous, Boisterous, Unrestrained and Pure-Gleeful-Mayhem?

I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you know how to use a thesaurus without my help. Let’s just say there’s face stuffing, racing in circles until they fall down, snuffling, brawling, barking, chasing, stealing, biting, snuggling, and some general rooting, mayhem & destruction.  Then, revelry over, the pile of snoring pigs catches up on their beauty sleep.

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Do not disturb:  A snoring pile O’ pigs

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Next comes the big, greasy morning-after breakfast (remember those?) to be followed by another power nap. The best nap ever they tell me. The restorative power of that grand nap gives them the energy they need to get up and do it all over again.  Every. Single. Day. It’s rough being a pig around here, I don’t know how they do it.

‘Tis shameless they are.

a steamy cuppa valentine love

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Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

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Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day. And while I’m weary of the commercialized aspect of the day, you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not love one big collective day of appreciation for the special people in our lives.

We Pennsylvanians will tell you that this winter has been an old-fashioned, mettle-testing trudge. We’ve been very fortunate here in Western PA  – unlike our neighbors in Eastern PA who are suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re just inconvenienced and fatigued.  The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. Is it really too difficult to heat a pan of milk?

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But then , one day Molly at Remedial Eating wrote about something that stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

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Who am I kidding?? Try 3 or even 4…

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Of course, once that idea was planted, variants were inevitable. What about the hand crafted stoneground chocolate I bought from Rancho Gordo?  Maybe not for everyone, but definitely for me. A little grittier and cinnamon-ey, this is dangerous.

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How do I love thee Rancho Gordo? Let me count the ways…

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So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small gift ideas, here you go. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache. A steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.

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 heating up the milk too difficult?  there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!

Previous Valentine’s Day ideas:

Glazed Strawberry Poptarts

A Sweet Sack of Homemade Caramels

snow day

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Don’t ask me what she’s doing – she has an inside to go to.

This is Bess.  You know Bess.  She’s the cutie at the top of my blog every time you visit.  Hard to believe, time certainly flies.  Today Bess is a goofy mother-to-be, and a carbon copy of her eccentric mother Bling.

Yesterday during the snow storm I had to deliver fresh hay to the Ladies. Lots of it.  They’re hoovering through their hay twice as fast as usual and the streams are all frozen so it’s been a bit rugged around here.

Thankful for small blessings like tractors that start, hot running water and new hay bales not coated in a one-inch-thick crust I have to chip open (Note to self: devote a post to that muscle-soring ridiculousness), I round the corner and this is what I see:

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What?? Are you kidding me?

IMG_2586Whew! All is fine, just a little nutty.

Teenagers!

Check out these other snowy days:

in which we hear it for the boys

in which we decide we like it

in which we reflect on the beauty of a long winter’s nap

in which we laugh: good golly miss molly!