Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

He did it again....

Because really, one elk in a season isn't enough... right?

He shot this big boy on Sunday evening (once again leaving me worried, not calling until after midnight because he had to quarter it out and that takes a long time when you're by yourself.) We didn't have my dad's help like we did with the cow back in August so it took us two days to butcher it all.

It seemed like a lot more meat than last time, but I figured it was because it was just the two of us... until we weighed it. 185 pounds total. He was flippin' enormous.

The biggest difference is in burger meat - 30 pounds from the cow, 92 from this bull. And you have to add pork fat to the meat when you grind it, so we'll end up with about 120 pounds of ground. Seriously, who can eat 120 pounds of ground elk?

When he shot his cow we bought a chest freezer to store it in. There are some garden veggies in there too, but not many. We managed to fit a little more than half of the bull in there. My fridge is full of raw meat, the kitchen freezer is full and there's still another 10 or 15 pounds out on the front porch in a cooler.
Not to mention the fact that we actually have to grind all this hamburger meat before it can be used as hamburger. Right now it's just hunks of tough muscles, scraps, and rib meat. That'll be a days long job if I end up doing it alone. I'd employ the help of my husband on his next days off, but... ahem... he'll be hunting again.

I'm not complaining. I feel doubly blessed. I'm just overwhelmed. This is so much meat!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

'09 Garden Totals

I kept a running total of the produce I harvested from the garden this year to get an idea of how much to plant next year. It's easy to forget picking 100 pounds of tomatoes when it's done over the course of four months, and end up planting 30 plants the next year to increase yield. That, and it's darn satisfying to look at the sheet with hash marks all over it - it's like a photograph of the yield from all the hard work for the past half of a year.

So altogether, here's the list:

16 heads of garlic (I've already planted next year's garlic bed - 65 cloves this time)
46 radishes (which none of us really eat, but are fun to plant and pick)
52 beets
8 heads of lettuce
85 bell peppers (from 9 plants)
100 pounds of tomatoes (from 10 plants)
8 pounds of snow peas
3 pounds of spinach
1 pound of green beans (my beans sucked this year. That pound came primarily from two volunteer plants in last year's bean patch that I decided to let grow.)
3 lbs carrots (a pitiful amount, but I've never had any success with carrots, so this is pretty exciting to me)
10 zucchini (I'm the only person in the history of genetically altered vegetable seeds than can have six zucchini plants and only harvest 10 zucchini. And we don't eat summer squash anyway.)
5 pumpkins (Three of which are still sitting on top of the fridge awaiting their fate as pumpkin glop. Pumpkins are so darn time consuming!)

So there we have it. That in addition to the 100+ pounds of meat my hubby provided kept us pretty well fed all summer, with enough to carry us at least part-way into winter as well.

Maybe tomorrow I'll post the list of foods I preserved. Since I know you're desperate to see it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Procrastination and avoidance

First thing yesterday morning, I knew it was one of those kind of days. The kind where I'm already cranky because I'm PMS-ing and then I find a mysterious blue substance staining all of the whites I pulled out of the dryer, and the first grader whines about having to complete six math problems and color a few leaves...

Yeah, well I was so not gonna sit around at home all day and be cranky and irritated. So we packed up, put on our hikin' shoes, and headed to Rifle Falls (after an uber-healthy meal of chicken nuggets and a Quarter Pounder with cheese.)

I love Rifle Falls. I lived in Rifle as a young teen and we visited the falls quite a few times. In fact, it's where my first kiss was. (I can hear the collective "awwwww" from you now.) I've always loved it there. Plus, it's an easy hike for a six year old an an independent two year old who forgets she's still small and refuses any and all help.

We took our Nature Study Notebooks along and did some sketching so we could call the whole thing a field trip instead of just procrastination and avoidance.

Cora ended up on her bottom most of the way down. I offered to help, I swear I did. But of course, she can do everything by herself because she's a Big Girl now and doesn't need her mama.

All in all, it was a good day. Much better than it would've been if we'd have stayed home and grouched at one another. We got home in time to make an elk meatloaf for dinner and give little girls their baths. Might have to remember this as far as PMS coping skills go.

And today? Today I'll try to identify the mysterious blue crap that stained all the whites, and I'll thank my lucky stars for Saturday morning cartoons while I get this house in order.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to bake a darn good loaf of bread

I know I already posted my bread recipe, but reading Katey's blog the other day made me realize some people think bread making is a mysterious, scary undertaking that requires tons of work and preparation and skill (and I used to think that), so I'm going to re-post it and walk through bread baking, step by step, in case there's anyone else who can use the extra help.

Step 1: In a large mixing bowl (or in your KitchenAid, if you are lucky enough to have one, using the dough hook) add these ingredients:

2 cups of whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour, or Golden Buffalo whole wheat flour, my favorite)
1/6 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup honey (do the oil first, in your 1/3 measuring cup, and the honey will slide right out)
2 heaping tablespoons of vital wheat gluten (try Bob's Red Mill, found at most health food stores and even in some Wal Marts nowadays)
1 even tablespoon yeast (buy it in the jars and put it in the freezer. It keeps a long time, and it's much cheaper than those silly little packets.)

Mix that all together a bit.

Now on the stove in a small sauce pan heat 1/2 c. milk and 1 1/2 c. water. Stir every so often to keep the heat evenly distributed and poke your finger into it often - you want it to be hot enough that you can't keep your finger in it for more than a second or two, but not hot enough to scald or start boiling. If it isn't hot enough, it won't activate the yeast, but if it's too hot, it'll kill it. This is something you figure out after a few tries.

Once the liquid is hot, add it to the bowl and mix well. Make sure you scrape the sides and get it all mixed in. Then cover the bowl with a tea towel, push it back on the counter, and leave it for half an hour or so. You'll know it's ready for the next step when the dough has climbed at least half way up the sides of the bowl - it gets pretty darn poofy.

When it's at that point, turn on your oven to the lowest setting and put a big glass bowl of hot water in it. When the oven has preheated to that low setting, turn it off. This is where you'll let your dough rise.

Add a tablespoon of salt and about 2 1/2 more cups of flour to the bowl and mix it all in. If it feels really sticky still, you can add more flour (I don't usually need to.) Now, you knead it. If you have a KitchenAid, you can cheat your way right through this - just turn it on, lock the top and let it go for about ten minutes. (A great time to get dishes done or knit a few rows.) If you're not so lucky, you'll have to knead by hand. (Consider employing slave labor.. err, kids... if you have them handy.) Knead and knead and knead - you'll probably want to go 10 or 12 minutes. I'm not sure it's possible to over-knead bread dough. I never have, anyway. The final product will be lighter and fluffier the more you knead it, don't skimp on this part, even though it's the hardest! (Try using your kitchen table instead of your counter - the lower surface is easier on back and shoulders.)

Grease your pans and shape your dough now. This recipe is enough for two regular size loaves. I usually make one regular sized loaf in a loaf pan, a short twisted loaf, and some dinner rolls. (I put the dinner rolls and the twist on a cookie sheet.) Once everything is shaped nicely, put them in/on greased pans and put them in the oven with the bowl of water. Leave them there until they rise. (Don't keep opening the oven to peek. Use the light - that's what it was made for. Drafts slow the rising process.) You'll be able to tell when they're ready, they'll have nearly doubled in size (or more, if you're lucky!) Rising can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on things like elevation, humidity and moisture, etc. I usually leave mine for 30-40 minutes and that's plenty, but do what you need to to get the dough big enough.

When it's finished rising, turn the oven on to 350, leaving the bread in the oven where it was rising. I usually remove the bowl of water, but you don't have to. Don't worry about preheating - set your timer for 22 minutes and let them bake.

When the time goes off, pull out the loaf pan (it usually cooks a little slower than twists or rolls) and gently knock on the bread (yes, like you're knocking on a door.) It should sound hollow. If it doesn't sound hollow, put it back in the oven for another 4 minutes or so. Do the same to the rolls and/or twist if you made those. When it sounds hollow - it's done!

If your bread is getting brown on top before the timer is going to go off, slide a piece of foil, shiny side up over the bread. It'll stop the browning.

Take the loaves out of the pan immediately and let them cool on a wooden cutting board or a cooling rack if you have one. Leaving in the loaf pan will result in soggy bread sides - ew.

They say not to cut into bread until it's completely cool. I'm not sure who they are, but they are crazy. :o) As soon as the bread doesn't burn my fingers when I touch it, I slice off an end, butter it up and enjoy it - the kids usually do too. And it's never caused any problems, far as I can tell.

So that's it. It's not hard. It does take a little bit of time, but it's so worth it.

Oh, and bread freezes. Once it's cool, put it in a ziploc bag, squeeze the air out, and toss it in the freezer. It'll thaw in an hour or two and taste almost as good as fresh. That means that, if you have a mind to, you can make four or six loaves at one time and have them waiting in the freezer when you need them.

Happy Baking!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Me Monday

As I was driving out of the parking lot at Target, I did not scream and slam on the breaks when I discovered an enormous spider - in a web - next to my steering wheel in the van. (How on earth did a spider get into the van to begin with, let alone have time to fabricate a fancy little home for itself next to my steering wheel?)

So of course, when the van was stopped, I didn't stop and get out and stare hopelessly at the spider and wonder how we'd ever get home. I definitely didn't look around for a man to come and help me because, afterall, I'm a proud woman who doesn't need a man's help with such things... right? And I certainly didn't drag my six year old out of the back seat and give her a piece of toilet paper and instruct her to do away with the creepy, leggy thing. She's a six year old girl for heaven's sake. She shouldn't have to kill bugs for her mama!

In the end, it wasn't me that ended up using a kid's book to smash the little booger into oblivion on the dash board while I let out a high-pitched shriek. C'mon now, I'm more mature than that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fallish Bits

Fall is the time for long walks through the neighborhood, looking at changing trees and collecting pretty leaves.

Since our gardening is about done it's freeing up lots of time - no more hours spent canning, chopping, and freezing, no more spending the evening hours outside working and playing. That means more time for fun stuff! For some new ideas, I went to the Family Fun website and picked out a couple that looked cute.

First up, Spider Snacks:

So simple, but really was a hit. Cora insisted on making her own: it looked a little bit more like a crab than a spider, but I don't think she cared.

We also made an Apple Tree bag:

(Sorry the picture is upside down. I don't wanna fight with it.) Simple project, (nearly) instant gratification, and it's something that will get used regularly. (I really can't stand children's art projects that serve to purpose other than to keep the kid busy for an hour. We have plenty of them, but I'd rather see a useful purpose behind a project, ya know? Cuts down on clutter.)

All this extra time we have on our hands has given me plenty of time to make and sell pumpkin hats - seems all I have to do is take my kids out in public wearing theirs and we drum up plenty of business. Love free advertising!

'Tis all for now. Gotta get to work on Halloween costumes now. :o)

Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm twitterpated.

She finally said it.

She said "I lubboo." And yes, it melted my heart.

The first time Chloe said it was while cooking with me too. I guess that means those are pretty special times for little ones.

Hopefully she doesn't realize that she can say that and get away with pretty much anything... at least for a few weeks while it's still new and exciting for me. She may be right smack dab in the middle of the Terrible Twos, but she sure is a sweet li'l thing!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hey look, it's a.... ?

My mom dressed Opie up as a clown this time for the local animal expo's pet costume contest.

He really has a pretty good attitude about being forced to wear a skirt and being paraded around for all the world to see.

People would look and point and laugh and say, "Oh, look at the ____."

You can fill in the blanks. Mostly he was called a pony or a baby horse. But then there were a few that thought he was a goat, and one kid even yelled, "Hey Grandma, look at the camel!" Seriously. It's almost like they're city folks or something...

Monday, October 5, 2009

A sweater

I got up half an hour ago, thinking it was already 6:30. Then I looked at the clock a few minutes ago and realized it's only 6, so it must've been 5:30. Love when that happens - it's like an extra hour got added to the day.


I made a sweater.

It's for Chloe. I used the KnitWare software again for this... I'm still not sold enough on this software to actually purchase it, since things seem to turn out a little wonky without some tweaking and altering and constant measuring. But it's a pretty little sweater.

Yarn: Lionbrand Homespun, cream colored, with some scraps of off-white and pink unidentified eyelash as trim.
Needles: 10 1/2 circs and dpn's

It's yard saled yarn - cost something like $2.25 to make it. And apparently Blogger felt like turning the photos, so you'll have to look at the screen sideways to see what it's really like. I'm too lazy to fight with it - sorry.


I think it's funny that when my kids see me coming at them with a tape measure they just stand still and put their arms out to their sides, no questions asked. Smart kids. :o)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The end of the garden

It just figures we'd have an early cold snap while we're out of town. The tomatoes, peppers and basil all got frozen around the edges and the beans and squash are blackened. I ravaged the garden Thursday night picking every last thing I could salvage. Only the beets, spinach, radishes and some lettuces are left in the ground. Then I started tearing out plants, piling them on the lawn for Dear Hubby to mow over and then add to the compost bin.

It's always sad to see my babies die after I've worked so hard to get them to live. But by the time fall comes, I'm so ready for it. I've been working every single day for weeks now to preserve every bit of garden bounty, peeling and chopping and canning and freezing. I'm ready for the break. I'm ready to start eating the yummy goodness that's waiting for us in the pantries.

I'm not quite done yet though - I still have to do something with the forty pounds of tomatoes I picked on Thursday night, once they ripen. There are tomatoes covering every horizontal surface anywhere near my kitchen right now.

I stole the kid's craft table and stuck it in the kitchen with a tablecloth over it...

And this is the cabinet in the hallway outside of the kitchen.

Besides, that means I can start planning for next year's garden. And I have big plans. :-)


A great way to use up some super-ripe tomatoes: Fresh Tomato Soup

3 - 3 1/2 lbs ripe tomatoes
1 2/3c. chicken broth
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tsp sugar
3 tbsp tomato paste
basil - a small handful should do.

Peel, core, and quarter the tomatoes. Place in a large pot and pour the broth over them. Bring just to a boil and then simmer about 10 minutes. Mix in the other ingredients and simmer 2 more minutes. Then process in small batches in a blender until smooth. Return to the pot, reheat but do not boil.

I served it with cheesy garlic bread. The girls both had seconds. This is good stuff! It probably freezes well, too.

A note on Small Batches in the blender: there's a reason for that. If you put steaming soup into a blender, try to put the lid on, and then turn it on, it will explode. Something with the pressure build up from the steam, I guess. Trust me on that - it takes more time, but it's worth the small batches so as not to have to mop the floor ( again.) I learned the hard way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Back from The City

Every so often, I need a quick reminder about why I detest The City. It doesn't take long - a couple of days, maybe - and I'm pining away for our "small town" again. (Which is funny, because our town isn't really all that small.)

We went to the zoo and the museum. It was educational and interesting, as it always is.

Cora insisted that her father carry her pretty much the entire time, despite the perfectly good wagon we brought along. Never will he convince me that he hasn't spoiled her.

The polar bears look miserable at the zoo. 80-degree weather on the Colorado plains doesn't seem like an appropriate polar bear habitat.

Hippos are cute little tubs of lard... until you see one relieve himself. It's messy and it's disgusting and I will never see hippos the same way again. (I know you were desperate to hear that, so I wanted to make sure I told you. You're welcome.)

Walking around in an enormous bird cage filled with pretty birds that people spend all day feeding will inevitably lead to someone getting pooped on. Just so ya know.

The museum had a new exhibit about the body. It involved some hands-on science experiments in a real 'lab'. I'm glad Daddy was there to field this one and I think he enjoyed it as much as his young lab partner.

There was an exhibit (that I failed to photograph) called The Fate of a Granola Bar. It shows in a little jar what a granola bar looks like after you chew it, after it goes through the stomach and is digested and mixed with acids and stuff, all the way through the large intestine and then out... well, you know what happens eventually. It was fascinating - but how did they get little jars of half-digested granola bar? The whole body exhibit was full of interesting and slightly disgusting facts about our human bodies. Neat stuff.

So anyway, yeah, we're home. It was good to go, good to get back. That'll likely be the last trip until next spring so I'm thankful we got away.

I'm not quite so thankful that it decided to freeze while we were gone. I'll pout and lament about the mutilated, blackened garden tomorrow.

I just re-read my post and realized in one way or another, I mentioned poop three times in one post. Awesome.