Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dreaming of My Prairie

The Old Picnic Table

   Summer days bring with them memories of long ago. A time of gathering and glowing with the kiss of the Kansas sun. Prairie grasses waved in the sun; children climbed silos; and 'old folks' told tales. Walk with me through the years, back to my growing up days, were I ran free in the summer sun. Walk with me back to the prairie.
   You could tell family was coming to the farm; my grandmother would get antsy in the kitchen. Days and days of baking and preparing would yield a tell tale sign of a family gathering. Our standard fair: hamburgers on the grill with all the fixings.
    In the farm kitchen we stood pressing patties (heaven forbid someone suggest pre-made). Cheese slice wrappers lay between each one to keep them from sticking- she had saved and washed those wrappers just for such a need. Treats were made and placed on the old card table: cookies and pies, sometimes a cake, too. With all the work, there was always the concern- might not be enough.
  As the afternoon sun shifted in the sky and chores were finished the grill was pulled to the side of the house where the garage doors open - the same place we would sit and clean garden vegetables- the place where you could see the barn, shop, some of the fields, and most importantly- company driving up the drive.
   Grandpa and Uncle Randy would haul the old picnic table around there for us. I would run from the house to the picnic table setting out all the necessities: ketchup and mustard, pickles and onions, lettuce and tomatoes- my grandfather's favorite chips- bread for the burgers and drinks for everyone (iced tea, of course).
   The grill fired up as family members backed the trucks up near our picnic table; there were never enough places to sit! Some of the used the tail gates for placing the food items, some sat on them to eat. Bread slices were graced with hot hearty burgers- each dressed their own just as they liked it. My grandpa loved to stuff bar-b-que chips in his, naturally, I had to give it a try...yum! Sitting by him, my feet dangled from the bench swinging left and right (at least till someone noticed- sit still, you're shaking the whole table)
   When the sun fell in the sky, the family lingered there at the old picnic table. The chatter of catching up, of reminiscing, of goings-on filled the air. Food was carried in and desserts tasted as my cousins and I chased lightning bugs; giggling and running in the prairie winds. Even as I headed in to bed, they lingered around the table- visions of the day danced in my dreams.

   The old picnic table now makes it's home with me, way down south. Never do I pass it by that I don't see the gathering of family or hear the chatter of loved ones. When we sit at the old table, I share the tales of long ago, when my family gathered on the farm with simple food, simple lives, simple fun.


Farmhouse Dill Pickles

4 qts. medium cucumbers
8 sprays of dill
4 garlic cloves
1 qt. vinegar (here I used white)
1 c. salt
3 qts. water

The day before, we wash the cucumbers and cover them with water in a bowl. They stand overnight.

The next way, put a spray or two of dill and one clove of garlic in each jar. Pack your cucumbers (prepared as you like) into your jars (size of jar depends on your preference...I use whatever is available). Combine vinegar, salt and water in a pot and bring to a rolling boil. Fill the jars to overflowing with the vinegar mixture. Now seal them in your water bath or pressure canner.

You can dig in anytime you want, but for best flavor, we let them cure for six weeks in a dark pantry before opening.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When the Garden Goes South

It started innocent enough; longer strings of cool weather yielded a nice extended harvest of greens and spring crops. Then the wild ride began; heavy rain; flooding; sheer and tornado winds. Now repeat all of that in cycles for a few months and you have the current disaster that is my garden. :0

This shall be the summer of the snail. Continued damp conditions alternating with intense heat and humidity have opened the door to a diabolical army of slimy voracious snails. They are on everything: kale, green beans, tomatoes, and even the squash. I tried picking them, squishing them, feeding them to the ducks.. then there was some herbal chemical application; today we must accept it; the majority of the garden has gone south!

When you can't beat them- heat them. Beds that have become overrun to the point of no return are currently being pulled out, fed to the flocks, and covered for the rest of the season. It's time to solarize the soil and hope for the best next time.

Solarizing the beds offers the garden a chance to fight back as naturally as possible. Beds can be emptied then covered with a black or clear covering allowing the heat of summer to 'cook' the impurities out of the soil. This intense heat can kill out pests, their eggs, and weed seeds that have taken up residence in the bed.

In addition to solarizing, we are considering adding new beds to the area. This will increase our ability to rest and rotate more efficiently next season. The greenhouse is due for some attention as well; the outer cover is split and the doors are bowing from weather and wear. Maybe the decrease in garden needs will lend me time for that task.

Today I take a deep breath, straighten up tall, and remember that fall will be here before I know it. Cooler weather will bring a renewed hope for the beauty of growing things.

Maybe I can get some of my closets cleaned out too?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Falling Off the (Canning) Wagon

Hi, my name is Michele and it has been one year since I last canned fresh produce. Hi, Michele.

Once upon a time my shelves were filled with all shapes and sizes of tasty things grown and processed right here on my little farm. That time is not now, for it seems my little garden and my little kitchen are somewhat bare as I transition from growing family to empty nest. No longer does my table feed many, instead it often finds me with a small plate and a big book.

Looking back over the past years' pictures, my heart longed for the snap and pop of lids- the hiss of a pressure vent- and the colorful stain on my hands. I miss harvesting and chatting- snapping, cutting, and peeling. There are no countertops full of resting jars, bowls of beans, or baskets of peppers. My garden is much smaller... much emptier.. as are the shelves.

My jars sit quietly beside my canners- hidden in the darkness of the pantry.

It seems I have fallen off the canning wagon. What shall it take to get me back on track?

Monday, June 13, 2016


Sometimes things just break. No matter how hard you feel you have been trying to do the right thing, it just keeps falling apart.
So when do you know it's time to walk away?
What effect will this have on other aspects of your life?
When do you accept it?
We easily see things from our point of view and struggle to see things from another's eyes.
How do we know when they are right?
What is the response to it?

Today.. it all falls.
Sometimes things just aren't okay,
and the right response just isn't obvious.
you need a revelation.

Friday, June 10, 2016

My Thought on the Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker)

I have always found pressure cookers a bit intimidating- which is funny, since I use a pressure canner. Go figure. Anyway, a recent sale online prompted me to look deeper into the 'Instant Pot' cooker. Many wonderful responses came from all over the web- friends far and near encouraged me to jump on the boat and grab one up... so I did.

Five months of eyeing it warily as it sat in the box in the corner of the kitchen and I just now mustered the courage to use it. The verdict is in- I love it! Simple instructions and a plethora of available recipes on the internet have made this a counter top staple.

What have I used it for?

*whole chicken
*whole roast
*bone broth
*frozen chicken pieces

How amazing is it to pull something together in half an hour?

This particular pressure cooker can be used as a slow cooker or even a rice cooker- one of the reasons I chose this brand. The preprogramed timers do work nice, however, I often manually adjust to cook a bit longer if the cuts of meat are tougher.

Overall, I love mine- no I am not getting paid for this- just sharing my experience using it to get whole food on the table in reasonable time. Did I mention I made chicken soup for a sick relative in 30 minutes using a frozen chicken? Let me just say- for me, it has been well worth the investment!

Share your experiences!!! and Recipes...:)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bone Broths and Nourishing Soups

 I can't stress enough the blessing of freezing/canning your own stock! There are many natural broths and stocks available for anyone who doesn't have the time or the means to make their own- but I have to say, once you make your own it is impossible to go back.

Feeling a bit drained these past few weeks led me back to the kitchen for some hearty bone broth and nourishing soups. To answer a few questions: yes, my stocks are drawn from bone; yes, they take a few days to make (oh my it's worth it); and, yes, you can use beef, chicken (fish- I don't, but you can).
I cook for stock 24 hours..12 with meat (if applicable)/12 with bones and juices; this way all the nourishing goodness is pulled into the broth. Once drained, I freeze broth for future use (freezing some of the meat for emergency meals). *Note: we process our own meat, however, you can purchase bones from butchers, and farmsteads. Also, I do roast any uncooked bones to bring depth of flavor and decrease the 'scum' that can rise.

As far as vegetables..we use what's on hand..soup is flexible and our tastes can vary (not to mention garden availability). Sometimes it has tons of veggies; sometimes only a few..but in abundance. Herbs...if fresh are available, they are preferred, but since I dry my herbs for winter, I use them when I don't have fresh or I don't want to slosh through the mud to get some.


1 whole bird, skinned and washed (or roasted beef bones)
8 cups water (or enough to cover bird in pot)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 onion
5 garlic cloves, smashed
2 chilies (fresh or dried)

Place all ingredients in a stock pot (or crock pot) and cover. Simmer 12 hours- low and slow. Remove the bird- take the meat off the bones and refrigerate until needed. Place the bones back in the stock pot and simmer 12 more hours..skimming if needed.
The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it is. 
After 24 hours, strain through a fine mesh sieve (or cheese cloth), discarding bones/veggies. 
Either freeze the stock in quart containers or place it in a large pot and make soup.

Broth from above (fresh or thawed)
4 onions, coarsely chopped
8 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 celery stocks, coarsely chopped
2-4 zucchinis, thick sliced
1 small head broccoli, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 inch of ginger, grated
2-4 tablespoons sea salt
2-4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
small bunch basil, rosemary, sage and oregano
a large bunch of thyme
chicken meat from earlier cooking
fresh parsley (to top at serving)

In a stock pot, simmer all ingredients (except the meat and parsley) until veggies are fork tender. Stir in meat just to warm..adding parsley at serving time. 
This soup freezes well in serving portions or quarts.

   We have been eating this soup for several years now; when recovering from illness, detoxing after heavy meals (or seasonally), and after a nasty migraine. Today, well- I am simply eating to get back on track!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Find the Moments

I am a real person- flawed and messy. My life is not all together. Over the course of my journey no part of my existence has been perfect- not my parenting, my marriage, my work, or my walk. Never do I want the illusion of perfection. That said, I see families struggling, falling, and hurting all around me.. seeking some sense they are okay. To you I say, we are all struggling- our struggles may be different, but still struggles. No part of family is easy; you have to find the moments.

Some of us hold beautiful memories of our family life: childhood experiences we keep near our hearts. It may be a mealtime around the table, working side by side in the garden, or just sitting on a bench waiting for the next thing. These are memories made in random moments that grounded us in the midst of chaos and busy schedules. While we have these memories, we also need to ensure our children have them.

Sometimes the moments are random: stuck in the car during traffic, cleaning stalls, or sitting down for a breath. As adults, we need to seize these random times and embrace them as precious; wait for the still of things to bring a relaxed time for open, non-confrontational communication. Here is where they tell us their troubles, share their hearts, and maybe even seek our counsel.

There are moments we need to plan for: sipping coffee before the day starts, an afterschool snack time, or a weekly family dinner. These moments are consistent times for our children to know we are there for them; they can share, question, and consider things that really need to be. Knowing these times are available to them will help them feel secure in talking to us.

Our children need this as much as we do, but our aging families do as well. Moments like these give value to our elders and remind them they are still important to us. These moments feed us just as much as it feeds them- for we are still forming bonds and memories, too.

This week I seek the memory of moments- times of bonding, caring and forgiveness. The season of my life is changing as I face aging family members, young adult children, and the time of grandparenting.

The moments may look different to each of us, but let's not neglect having them... one day they may be all we have.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Wet But Not Washed Away

Dear Everyone,

It seems I cannot remember how many days it has been since the flood and rains began- but I do know it has not stopped. Our little homestead has not suffered any significant damage so far; God has been quite merciful! That said, many around can not say the same.

Homes, vehicles, and anything not rooted down are washing away in record breaking flood waters. Trees continue to fall offering their own form of devastating damage. Roads remain or become impassable on an hour by hour basis. Livestock struggle to be relocated. Let's just say- this are dire and they are not going to improve soon.

While we are fine, and our family are accounted for- our hearts and hands go out to those in need, helping in any way we can. Our office takes calls daily assisting our community in finding resources and services they need. At home, we make contact and offer assistance wherever we can. It is time to come together and get through it.

Let's take a moment today and consider the needs of others while it is in our power to do so.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Questions Answered: The Issue of Wet Hay

Many of you are already aware of the severe flooding in southeast Texas where my homestead resides. While my homestead did not suffer damage, we did wash out from heavy flooding. One question that has passed my inbox quite a bit lately is the desperate issue of wet hay.

* First and foremost- wet hay can be a dangerous host for mold spores which can devastate not only the health of our livestock, but our health as well. Practices for hay also apply to feed. Now, on to the questions:

1. How can I keep my hay dry during floods? Storing hay can be challenging, especially in my area because the weather can change in an instant. Ours is in an awning type stall, up off the ground, and away from blowing rains. My advice: in a stall, trailer, or shed off the floor (pallets work well). In an emergency cover it with tarps.

2. What if my hay got wet? Open it! We use square bales which we can break open and 'air the flakes' with fans. It won't keep mold out forever, so use the wettest bales first. If you see mold or if the hay smells musty, don't risk it! I put my wet hay in the compost- if it is moldy, cover it with a tarp to prevent the spores from dispersing.

3. How do I know the hay I am buying didn't get wet? That is tricky. Knowing your supplier is the best advice. In a pinch: touch it- it should feel dry and healthy, smell it- no must or wet barn smell, and if unsure stick you hand in the bale- if it's wet leave it!

4. What's the risk? "Molds commonly found in hay include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporum, Fusarium, Mucor, Penicillium, and Rhizopus. These molds can produce spores that cause respiratory problems, especially in horses and, under some conditions, will produce mycotoxins." (University of Minnesota Extension) Horses, ruminants, and poultry are equally susceptible to the toxins moldy hay produces. So are we!

 During the terrible storms this past week, my hay storage did remain dry as did my feed; we were fortunate. I hope this helps.. for more information or for specific questions please contact your local extension office and speak with your Agriculture agent. They are there to help!!