Friday, April 22, 2011

It's Definitely Spring

Spring.  How long I have awaited you!  Ok, so our first winter in Tennessee only lasted about 2 months, but we were really hoping for a bit warmer winter weather.  Then the weather couldn't make up its mind what season it was.  But now, spring weather is officially here to stay.  How do I know? Chicks, mud, and grass.

First, the chicks.  Yes, we have been incubating eggs and hatching chicks for several months, but that's not "natural".  Natural is broody hens in the barn...

...and under the rabbit cages.  (Personally, I wouldn't have chosen to make my nest in manure with the chance of more manure falling on top of me, but hey, I'm not a chicken.)

Spring is being suprised by a hen (who you thought had died) and her 8 new chicks and being able to watch her feed your first completely free-range chicks.  Never seen free-range chicks forage? Go ahead and watch the video...

It wouldn't be spring without getting the truck stuck in the mud and pulling it out with the tractor.

And it wouldn't be spring without having green grass once again.  Grass so tall only the riding lawn mower could finally find the lasso Matt looked so hard for the day Hairy Larry escaped. (Miss that story?  See "One of THOSE Weeks", April 10, 2011).  Grass alive with little, teeny, tiny black snakes.  Grass that proves the grass really is greener on the other side.

Have a Happy Easter and enjoy some Spring!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mmm, Mmm, Good Home Recipes

I am not one for following recipes.  In fact, when I try to follow a recipe, dishes do not turn out.  (This isn't usually a problem, except when it comes to chocolate chip's a good thing I love chocolate chip cookie dough!)  Over the years I have come to adapt and am now "a great cook" according to my husband, who was afraid when we got married that he would have to sneak fast food the rest of his life just to keep from losing weight.  The following are some of what I have made lately.  Please feel free to try any dish.  Most are simple and quick.  Also feel free to play around with my dish guidelines (I hesitate to call them "recipes" as I do not actually measure while I am cooking and these really are just guidelines).  Starting with our favorite:

 This dish looks difficult to make, but it really simple and can be made in about 30-45 minutes, less if you already have goat cheese made.  (We do not keep it around and I usually make up a small batch just for this.)  I would also like to note a cold stuffed chicken breast makes for a great "sandwich" in the car on the way to work the next morning! 
Brown 1/4 pound sausage.  Mix with 1 1/2 cups crumbled goat cheese and 2 Tablespoon parsley.  Cut a slit into 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Stuff with goat cheese mixture.  Slightly beat an egg.  Roll each chicken breast in the beaten egg then roll in cornbread (or corn muffin) mix.  Fry in vegetable oil for 5 minutes on each side on medium-high heat.  The chicken will turn out crispier if left uncovered, but I usually cover the pan to reduce the mess.

If this isn't quick and simple, I don't know what is!
 Take a roughly 3 pound pork roast and place it in a crockpot.  Add a 1 pound bag of baby carrots.  Add 3 or 4 potatoes, cut into about 1 inch chunks.  Add about 4 cups water.  Let set on low heat all day till you get home from work (about 9 hours) then set to warm while you do chores (about another 1 1/2 hours).  If you don't have chores, enjoy right after work!

In case you have guessed by now, my crockpot and I have become great friends since I started both working full time and building up the farm with Matt.  It's a convenient way to make quick but healthy meals when all of us are busy during the excuses for a McDonalds or Pizza Hut stop here, much to Isaac's dismay! 
The evening before, quick soak a pound of dried great northern beans by boiling them in a medium pan full of water for approximately one minute.  Dump the beans and hot water into the crockpot and allow to sit overnight.  The next morning you can dump the water and add fresh (to reduce the likelihood of gas) or you can retain the same water (which I do when I am really in a hurry with no adverse affects).  Add about 1 cup of salt pork, cut into 3 or 4 pieces.  Add a few dashes of garlic powder if you'd like (and have time).  Set on low and forget about it till you get home from work (about 9 hours).  Set to warm after work if you are rushing out to chores or just enjoy.  Tastes great with some corn bread!

Matt LOVES biscuits and gravy, so I try to make a batch whenever we have the extra milk and the extra time.
Take 1 quart milk (we now use goat milk, but I used to make it the same way with cow milk) and heat over medium heat.  While the milk is warming, brown 1/2 pound can use up to a pound if you like your gravy meaty.  When the milk gets good and hot, begin to whisk constantly and add flour, a little at a time, until milk starts to thicken...about 1 cup, give or take a little because I just keep the bag of flour next to the stove and keep adding small amounts by hand, which I recommend you do, too!  Once the gravy is thickening, add the browned sausage (and a little of the melted fat for extra taste, if you like), and salt to taste.  Serve over your favorite biscuits, homemade or store bought.  ***For a great variation, and my personal favorite gravy, skip the sausage and add bacon fat at that point.  We freeze bacon fat in ice cube trays and I add 3 or 4 cubes of bacon fat to the milk gravy.  Mmmmmm.  (Don't let my nutrition professors find out about THAT recommendation!)

If you have a favorite dish using farm fresh ingredients, please share...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

One of THOSE Weeks

We've all had them, days or weeks where nothing goes right.  This past week was like that for us, with last Saturday being the worst.

I woke up and went out to feed the animals, only to discover a water leak had soaked the entire feed room.  Most of the feed was salvagable, but we lost about 50 pounds of chicken layer feed, 50 pounds of corn, and about 20 pounds of animal feed.  We also fed about 250 pounds of (wet) chopped corn over Saturday and Sunday...we usually use about 50 pounds per day.  The animals thought it was a great treat.  I think they were disappointed to be put back on regular rations.

While we were getting that mess cleaned up, the mule ("Hairy Larry") was watching our comings and goings.  He must have been devising a plan because he timed it just right that as the gate swung open, he ran past.  He hung out in the yard for awhile.  He even walked back to the barn once, walking back out before we could get to the door.  I guess he wanted to get to explore like all the other animals that have escaped during their time here, because before long he ran past us and trotted off down the center of the road.  At that point all I could think was how pretty he looked, like a lone mule on parade.  Seriously, if YOUR mule were headed off by himself, you would have to think something like that or you would start crying!  I hopped in the van and found him about a half mile from home in someone else's pasture.  I parked in the ditch and yelled for him.  He looked at me and actually took a few steps towards me, but then he must have decided the grass really IS greener in other pastures, because he turned around and started eating again.  I told Matt I had found Hairy Larry.  He went to grab the lasso...and it was missing.  The last time he had seen it was the last time the pigs escaped.  We spent almost an hour looking for it with no luck.  He finally created a make-shift lasso out of rope and we took off on the 4-wheeler to the last pasture I had seen Hairy Larry in.  Only he wasn't there.  We rode around through people's yards (if it was your yard, we really are sorry, we would rather have been anywhere but there, I promise), stopping occassionally to stand up on the 4-wheeler or crawl through weeds to get a better look at what would always turn out to be a cow.  We finally were headed home when I saw him.  We spent about another hour running him in circles...and flipping the 4-wheeler on top of ourselves...until we finally trapped him in some stranger's barn.  (There was a car in the carport, and I did knock on the door with no answer, so again, we are sorry for trespassing.)

With Hairy Larry safely in our own barn, we headed off to take Isaac to get his eyes checked.  Sure enough, he needed glasses.  We tried to get lunch while we waited for his glasses to be ready; we really wanted to try the new Chinese restaurant.  We were told it has a buffet.  It didn't.  Then the van started making strange, loud noises...and I needed to drive to Illinois the next day.  I called around and ended up renting a car from Avis.  (Which actually turned out to be a good deal, because it was so much more efficient on gas that the cost of the rental plus gas was cheaper than what we usually spend on gas.)  Back home again, we moved around some chickens and I got a huge scratch on my face from a chicken I wasn't even trying to catch.  

Am I leaving anything out?  Probably.  Last weekend was a HORRIBLE weekend.  But you know what, it can always be worse.  And things always get better!!!