Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Back to the Prairie: New Arrivals

   Patches of leftover snow dot the soggy prairie soil forcing the continued use of shoes. The trek down to the barn is filled with the unique sounds only prairie mud and rubber boots can make. No one is watching; full liberty to splish-splosh and swoosh into every single puddle and patch, giggling all the way.
   Nearing the barn the kitties venture from their cozy hideaways to scavenge the land. I lose myself in the wonder at their fickle attempts to avoid getting muddy; tiny paws held up trying to flick away every spot of mud and puddle. The sound of grandpa's tires on the gravel stir my attention; a new excitement is to be shared!
   His familiar greeting calls to me you up for all day? causing me to rush to his side. There we meet together near the barn door where the old fence is just right to climb up on. Sloppy boots steady on a rail, gloved hands hold the top one tight; I lean over as far as I can. Together we watch.
   Little tails swishing; wet noses are sniffing...there are new arrivals on the farm. Venturing near us, soft brown eyes so gentle and sweet look cautiously; tiny hooves make tiny prints in the soft earth. Stretching further my ungloved hand rubs the warm fur; cream and clay colors decorate their bodies. A rough tough finds ringers to lick causing a burst of giggles to escape; startled he runs away.
   Grandpa's blue eyes sparkle as a smile graces his weather worn face; he loves new calves as much as I do. Together there we watch their wandering and whining as they get to know the land. A warm comfort fills my soul as I close my eyes and stretch my face toward the soft spring sun breathing deep the familiar scent; feed and fur, fodder and hay. Hope for the upcoming year is sparked when there are new arrivals on the farm.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Now I See"

A moment....a torn random scrap of paper....a borrowed pencil....a moving outpouring from within. Simple, to the point...
This is the rough pencil sketch of an original charcoal drawing from the hand of my oldest daughter. A reflection of the eye...moved to tears...touched deeply... grieving the cost of sin..the price...realization of who we are in light of it. She drafted during a sermon (yes, her Dad's) on a scrap of paper she found in her Bible.

Raising teens is hard..period..sometimes you just don't know how you're going to get through the next five minutes..much less the rest of the day. Things get intense - emotions run high - sometimes your heart just breaks and no one seems to realize it. And then..when you least expect it..a glimpse..a moment...a reminder..right when you need it.

Today, I needed this...a peak at her easel...a touch from inside...encouragement for this moment..Thank you, Heavenly Father...You saw my need and gave me...a moment.

***This is a repost from 2010. I came across this piece of paper today while cleaning up the study and my heart was moved once again. Amazing how our emotions stir with just a little thing as this.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Garden & Table

   Butter crunch bib lettuce has been gracing our table for months now..and will for many more to come. Drizzled with our own dressings and tossed with a few flax seeds; excellent side for roasted meat or a pasta dish.

   Tasty mint transforms into refreshing tea. Our family loves a tall glass of cold mint tea after a long stint of garden work. No sweetener needed..this tea is beyond compare!

   Crisp broccoli, bright green chard, spinach and kale just keep coming. Lightly sauteed with a drizzle of oil, a clove of garlic and a pinch of crushed red peppers..excellent and nutritious!

   Cabbage heads are starting to make their way to the table in the form of crunchy slaw. An occasional sauteed side dish may make an appearance, but only once in a blue moon..I'm not a cooked cabbage fan. We do put up a few crocks of sauerkraut, but not many.  

   Then there are the beets. Now, beets on our little farm are typically fodder right along with turnips and mustard greens, yet..there are a few rare years when they make it inside. Not well grown here in my area, beet tops are generally all we harvest; dried or fresh the flock and herd love them. When the roots come in at any decent number I see it as God's guidance to make my grandmother's pickled beets (the one and only way you will ever see me eat a beet). Let me share her recipe as she gave it to us.

Pickled Beets

the base

1 1/2 cups vinegar
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon 
2 Tablespoons salt

Place in a heavy sauce pan and bring to boil, ensuring the sugar dissolves. Pour this over beets in canning jars and seal. Makes 6 pints.
To get fresh beets ready to pickle cook beets with tails and 2 inches of tops still on. Cook until skin rubs off. Dice and put in jars.

   That's it..unless you count the tripled version she had noted on the side of the recipe. Basically beets are a tricky crop everywhere and she made them according to how many were harvested. The base was made up in batches after the beets were prepared and she knew how much she needed. I only recall one other beet dish she served and it was a cooked buttered beet and as far as I know we do not have her recipe. Just as well...if I am eating beets it is because they are her pickled ones and I am honoring her memory. Otherwise the livestock can have them!!

   Hope you all are planning and preparing for garden and table days of you own!!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Farmhouse Cooking....Exploring Yogurt and How to Make It

   Here on the farm, we have been making our own yogurt for several years. Experimenting with various methods yielding various results gave us some good experience to go on. Here are my conclusions:

1. Yogurt culture from an existing yogurt is preferred to powdered culture starter.

2. Using our Excalibur dehydrator is our number one preferred method of maintaining culture temperature. We prepare the culture and milk, place in dehydrator, set temp, and allow the process to work 8 hours or overnight.

3. Second choice would be using the pilot light in my gas oven, placing prepared culture and milk in mason jars, placing the jars in a warm water bath and letting the process work overnight.

4. Canning jars are best choice for storing yogurt. We keep ours in pints or quarts.

5. It really is very easy and yogurt keeps well.

   So, how do we make yogurt? Let me walk you through the steps. Today we will demonstrate using a  powdered culture and a Yotherm insulated container. **Note: The Yotherm and powdered culture came in a cheese making kit we purchased, so giving it a try was only fair.  The results were pleasing and I do recommend it as a good method, however, I would not have purchased it personally because I already have two methods I really like and I feel using an existing culture is more economical.

On to the process. You need:

1 quart fresh milk (store bought, organic, goat, cow..even reconstituted dry milk...whatever you have)
1/4 cup fresh culture (or one package of powdered culture)
stock pot and spoon
canning jars (or your choice of storage container)
a Yotherm (or your oven, or a dehydrator your jars will fit it)

Here we go:

fresh milk and starter culture
   Gather your supplies making sure all utensils and surfaces are clean. Milk absorbs odors and oils so I recommend you work in a clean kitchen (no compost scraps on the counter or such). If you were using an existing starter, I recommend Dannon naturals plain or Stony Creek; I personally have used both successfully.

heating milk to temperature
   Pour the milk into a stock pot. Using a low flame (or setting) heat your milk to 185 degrees stirring occasionally to prevent foaming over or scorching. This step is vital to obtaining a thick yogurt. You may also add in 1/4 cup of powdered milk for added thickness. To get a custard-style thickness (like a Yoplait cup) add in one packet of unflavored gelatin before you begin to heat the milk.
   I have tried several different thermometers, and the digital one seen here is my all-time favorite. Temperature settings, timer, and digital reading really helps ( I use it in all my cheese making).
   Once you have obtained 185 degrees, remove the milk from the heat and cover it lightly (I use a flour sack towel). The towel prevents the milk from forming a "skin" while cooling. Here we want the milk to cool to 110 degrees before adding the culture. Anything warmer will kill the culture and defeat the purpose.

Yotherm ready for yogurt culture and milk mixture
    When you milk has cooled to 110 degrees, stir in your culture (powdered or previous batch). Pour the culture/milk mixture into your Yotherm being sure your lids are on tightly. If you are using the oven or dehydrator method you would put your culture mix into their storage jars (remember the pint or quart mason jars).

Yotherm wrapped in towel for extra insulation
   I wrapped the Yotherm in a towel for extra insulation. From here you must decide how long to culture. Standard recipes recommend six to eight hours for good culture development, soft set yogurt and mild acidity. If you prefer better lactose digestion and a higher pro-biotic culture, leave the yogurt overnight.
   If using the oven, place your jars in a warm water bath (water about 115degrees), turn on your oven light and let set overnight.
   If using the dehydrator, place the jars in the dehydrator, set the temperature for yogurt (most have a guide on the dial) and let set desired length of time.

   When the yogurt is finished culturing (Yotherm method) place it in jars or your desired storage container. Remove from the water bath if oven method, and pull from dehydrator if that method is used. Refrigerate the now ready yogurt in its storage container until you are ready to use it.

    Happy and healthy eating from our kitchen to yours!

   A great big thanks to the farm kids who helped in this post not only with the photography, but in working through the test runs on the various methods and cultures.


 Deuteronomy 30:11-14
King James Version (KJV)
 11For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
 12It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
 14But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

So many things I need to do.
A long, long list I can't get through.
Plant and clean and weed and prep,
I can't remember if I swept.

A cup of coffee
a silent prayer.
May the Lord please get me there;
The place where I may sit and rest
'cause at my task I've done my best.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

My Windmills

Where I came from, Kansas, there are windmills in every farmyard. Many are working mills that pump water for gardens or stock troughs; some are just novelties from days gone by. When my family moved to Texas, many years back, there was an obvious lack of windmills...I now know why...there is hardly ever any wind! Yet...for me..there had to be farmyard needed them...for me a windmill is a thing of comfort, recognition..a novelty from my past, my people, the roots that I grew from.
So, I have set in my farmyard several in front of my house, dead center of the garden in the greenhouse garden plot, off center in a raised herb in the corn field pasture, near the grazing pen of hens..and a miniature red one, right in the middle of the iris bed.
Each one is different in size and color ..they have been collected over the years that I have lived here. On breezy winter mornings, they turn and whirl..reminding me of the Kansas winds. It is a marked moment around here, because our Texas area is not know for breezy days...we all stop our activities and go to look at the turning and whirling of our windmills.
These treasures of mine have withstood the test here in our stormy state; surviving tornadoes, hurricanes and sheer winds. Several times my dear husband and the farmboy have needed to pound one back into shape after severe weather has toppled them over - or dropped a tree on them. Yet, they stand...a reminder of strength..of the bumps and dents here in our lives. They are special to me...I love them.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Saying Goodbye to Patch

   A family farm is full of life and often touched by death. Tonight we say goodbye to our dear friend, Patch. He moved to our farm from the big city only a few short years ago. Already an older dog, he enjoyed sunning in fresh green grass, hearty meat bones and chasing the poultry. He and Hadassah (our lab) shared rawhide chews, long walks to the pond and regular romps in the pastures.
   Unfortunately, age and arthritis took its toll on our dear chocolate dalmatian; he passed away under a favorite oak tree near his dog house. Hadassah lovingly licked his face as we carried him to his final resting place...a grassy corner of the garden near the greenhouse. There he rests in a place of honor..missed and loved.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Growing Growing Growing

   The greenhouse is bursting with beautiful life. Tomatoes and peppers are shooting toward the light; strong stems support the little canopy of leaves. Each day they seem bigger and stronger as they prepare for life in the big garden plot.

  Our seeds and soil seem to be getting along well together; every seed we planted this year sprouted right up! Tomatoes, both red and yellow..large and little, came up in abundance. Pepper sprouts of the sweet and the heat variety are thriving nicely. The abundance of overflow will be available for you local friends soon!

   Then there are the herbs; delightfully aromatic..both savory and sweet. Some are ready for planting out this week, and some are just peeking through the soil. It's always such a blessing to gather snippettes of tastiness to flavor our daily dishes.

   Then of course, there is harvesting from the fields; cabbage and kale, chard and broccoli..tasty onions and leafy lettuces. Our farm boy brought us a beautiful crunchy head of cabbage for dinner tonight..I think some Asian Slaw is on the menu!

Asian Slaw

The Dressing
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon honey 
 Toss this well and add to shredded fresh cabbage. Add shredded carrot and apple, if desired. Finish this off with a hand full of slivered almonds and a spoonful of flax seed. Enjoy!