Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Life As We Know It


It has not escaped anyone's notice that life as we know it has changed.

For instance, this is now our classroom:


All the comforts of home. Because you ARE home.

The boys now meet with their teachers and classes in that spot right next to my bed, for the sole reason that this room has a lock inside the door and thus can exclude any unwanted siblings. Which is all of them.

They use A.'s work laptop to do this, because we discovered that of the two laptops and one desktop computer in our house, A.'s is the only one with both a functioning microphone and webcam for video conferencing.

So for the moment, the three boys are using that laptop for their school meetings, I'm using it for my online teaching, and A. is using it for his law practice.

Convenient.

On the plus side, our food supply situation has actually somewhat improved. The school decided to temporarily allow community members to place orders for limited items through the school's Sysco delivery. This means that every Wednesday, a truck arrives ten minutes from my house with gallons of milk and pounds of ground beef, potatoes, rice, flour, sugar, butter, and all kinds of other things.

Unfortunately, that list of limited items doesn't include fresh vegetables, but I can get four gallons of milk and 36 pounds of butter, so that's fun.

Also, Rafael stopped by yesterday with a box of food for us that he couldn't use:


Cubby helpfully sorted it for me.

It was mostly a lot of dried beans, brown rice, and Cream of Wheat, although there are two bags of  instant dry milk, which is a pretty hot item these days I understand.

We have watermelon seeds sprouting, as well as some pepper seeds (FINALLY). The small tomato seedlings are growing rapidly, as are the basil plants. We expect beet seeds and carrot seeds outside to start sprouting any day, and the lettuce, radishes, and arugula are growing apace.

So that's how it is for us. How's your life these days?

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Two-Year-Old Life Coach


Poppy has composed an original song that she will sing--well, more like chant--spontaneously and frequently. The lyrics are:

Don't be afraid
Don't be afraid
Don't be afraid
The sun will come up in the morning.

Or, if I were to transcribe it the way she actually says it, it would be:

Don' be 'fwaid
Don' be 'fwaid
Don' be 'fwaid
Sun'll come up in the monin'.

An excellent mantra for all of us these days.

Poppy also advocates flinging yourself down and screaming and crying when it all gets to be too much and you need to rage against the injustice of life.

In between those episodes of emotional venting, everything should be as normal as possible. Play. Talk. Laugh. Eat. Read books. Make silly faces.


Like so.

And don't be afraid. The sun will come up in the morning.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday Food: And Then There Was Mutton


Friday

Short version: Scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, refried beans, carrot sticks with curry dip, cookies

Long version: I thought I was conquering the excess egg situation in my refrigerator when I was down to only five dozen eggs. Then our neighbor brought us three dozen more, and here I am, with ridiculous quantities of eggs in my refrigerator.

Not that I am complaining, given the difficulty some people seem to be having getting eggs at all and here they are just appearing at my door. Luck of the Irish, I guess.

It's been awhile since I've made the curry dip, which is simply mayonnaise and sweet curry powder, and it really is very good. Good with the carrot sticks, of course, but particularly good with the roasted potatoes.

I made chocolate chip cookies as a reward for the children. They really did remarkably well during their first week of Mom School. I know, you're not supposed to use food as a reward. I did anyway. So there.

Saturday

Short version: Elk, mutton, cornbread with or without cracklins, frozen green peas

Long version: This was the day A. slaughtered the wether. He always removes the tenderloin while he's skinning the carcasses, because those are the pieces of meat that run on the outside of the animal, on either side of the backbone. They're easy to take off without cutting the whole animal up, so we almost always eat those first.

The tenderloins were pretty small on this sheep, so I added some elk to the marinade too and cooked them both together, just pan-frying them. I set up a taste-test with some elk and some mutton on everyone's plate and had them all guess which was which. They all guessed right. That wether made some good meat.

Cracklins are the bits left from rendering fat. They're traditionally used to flavor cornbread. I didn't have any stone ground cornmeal left, so I made these muffins instead, but in pans because I loathe cleaning muffin tins. I made one pan plain and one pan with finely diced cracklins. A. loved the cracklin cornbread, though it wasn't so popular with the children.

Sunday

Short version: Elk stir-fry, rice

Long version: Nothing to see here. Just the last of the bag of elk marinated and put into stir-fry. Jack was very happy.

The two older boys have been spending a lot of time riding Samson around our ghost village and letting him graze, so we don't have to feed him so much hay.


Good for the horse, good for the boys. And good for Mom to have two of the four children out of the house for awhile.

Monday

Short version: Creamy green chili chicken stew, cheese, root beer float popsicles

Long version: One package of chicken drumsticks simmered until the meat could be stripped, and there was good stock. Then onion, garlic, green chili, juice from a can of tomatoes, diced carrots and potatoes, and a can of corn Miss Amelia gave us added to the stock and chicken. Sour cream at the end to make it creamy and tame the green chili a bit.

This was one of those stews where I just kept adding things until I somehow ended up with a totally full pot. That's cool, though, because I purposely made a lot so I could bring some to Rafael and his wife. I would've brought some to Miss Amelia, but I think she's staying with her daughter in Santa Fe right now.

When the MiL came to visit, she brought the ancestral popsicle molds. These were the popsicle molds she used when A. was a boy. She has no further use for them, and I certainly do, so she passed them on to the next generation. I still have that flat root beer in the refrigerator, so we made the same popsicles as before, with the root beer, cream, and vanilla.


Popsicles and goons.

Tuesday

Short version: Barbecue pork, sourdough biscuits, baked beans, frozen green beans

Long version: The pork was simply one of A.'s chunks o' butt (heh) cooked slowly in the oven, then shredded and mixed with barbecue sauce.

While that was in the oven, I also put in the beans. That was just some already-cooked pinto beans that I had frozen, which I put in a casserole dish with diced onion, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, vinegar, and maple syrup. I don't have a real baked bean pot, but then, these aren't real baked beans. So I can bake them in this cool Art Deco casserole dish the MiL got me from our very elderly neighbors' estate sale when they moved.


Much prettier than a bean pot.

The biscuits peeking coyly into that photo are these biscuits. I made them because I was already in the process of making bread, so I just took some of the dough out in the morning to serve as the starter for the biscuits. Hard to beat hot biscuits.

Wednesday

Short version: Jack's special mutton bits, leftover pork, roasted potatoes, carrot sticks with ranch dressing

Long version: This was the day we butchered the wether (it hangs a few days to tenderize and improve the flavor), which is why I had planned on leftover meat. The last thing I want to do after handling raw meat all day is cook any.

However.

While A. was doing the initial cutting, he set Jack up with his own cutting board and a paring knife to work on a small piece of meat. What Jack did was cut that one piece into many very small pieces. So I cooked those for him, because he was very proud of his end product. I just fried the pieces with paprika, garlic powder, and salt, and he ate them with ketchup. He was very happy with this.

I was very happy with the ranch dressing and roasted potatoes. Just as good as curry dip and roasted potatoes.

Thursday

Short version: Italian sausage, pasta, green salad

Long version: This time I roasted the Italian sausage, which is a much better way to cook it than spattering grease all over my stove top.

For the pasta, I just mixed in butter, cream cheese, garlic powder, and pepper. So good.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week? And a bonus Bizarro World question: If you've been to a store lately, what's the situation there? I haven't been in about four weeks, but I've heard from others that our regular stores are pretty depleted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Springing


The peas are planted! A single Very Fancy Tulip survived the voracious gophers last year and is coming up near the driveway! I'm eating (a small amount of) arugula!

And the apricot tree by the door is in full and very impressive bloom.


Hello, Spring. We're so happy to see you again.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Homesteady Sort of Day


A. discovered during shearing that one of the sheep that had been sold to us as a bred ewe was, in fact, a wether. That is, a castrated male sheep.

A. found the silver lining, though. His exact words were, "What the hell? This thing isn't going to give me a lamb. Oh well. We needed more meat, anyway."

After the fleece was removed, all we had to wait for was appropriate butchering weather. When we woke up to 34 degrees with clouds today, A. decided the time had come.

The wether was duly killed, gutted, skinned, and hung up in the shed to age for a few days. As A. was gutting it, he discovered this sheep had a great quantity of fat around its kidneys, known as leaf fat. This fat is the best, purest, and mildest tasting fat on an animal, and A. was very excited to see it.

He proudly bore in a big pan of fat and deposited it in the kitchen.

Based on a lot of past experience, I knew that the best course of action was to render it immediately, lest I end up trying to store an unwieldy pan of fat in my refrigerator.

So I immediately cut it up and put it in my cast-iron dutch oven to render.

Cubby was very interested in this and hovered over the pan. "Can I make a candle from it?" he asked.

Huh. Can you? Well, I didn't see why not. I mean, I know people make candles from beef tallow, which is very similar in consistency to sheep tallow. So I quickly looked up a few sites about making tallow candles, and we made one in a jar.

All you have to do is render tallow*, pour it into a jar into which a wick has been suspended, and let it harden.

You can buy wicks online (of course), but I already had cotton kitchen string, so we used that. I saw on one site that soaking the string in a solution of water, salt, and boric acid makes it burn slower and more evenly, but we didn't have the boric acid, and our wick worked just fine as is. All we had to do was drop the string in the melted fat and put it in the freezer to harden and get stiff so it would be straight.

The hardest part was getting the wick to stay up straight in the jar. The top of the wick is wrapped around a pencil that is placed over the top of the jar. A dab of hot glue was recommended on the bottom of the jar to hold the wick straight. I don't have a hot glue gun. The best I could do was some bright blue Elmer's with glitter in it.

It sort of held the wick, but there was a lot of minute adjustments, dropping the thing entirely and starting again, many, many times (plus, I must admit, some cussing--it was really frustrating) before I decided it was good enough and let the tallow harden.

After an hour or so in the refrigerator, we tried it out. And lo and behold, it burned.


This little light of mine . . .

Yes, my wick is still not straight, but nonetheless, we burned the candle all through dinner. Despite the frustration with the wick, it was fun. Maybe next we'll try making a dipped tallow candle. We got nothin' but time, and there can never be too many lights in the darkness.

* I didn't use A.'s precious leaf tallow. We still had some regular old fat from the wether we butchered last spring, so I used that.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Friday Food: We Need 103 Candles


Apparently, two weeks ago was my one hundredth Friday Food post. Let us all applaud the utter absurdity of my writing down every single dinner I make. With excessive commentary.

Done applauding? Okay! On to 103!

Friday

Short version: Scrambled eggs, oven fries, leftover pinto beans, steamed or roasted broccoli

Long version: I still had eight dozen or so eggs in the refrigerator, along with three egg whites left from when I made the custard. Scrambled eggs took care of the whites and at least some of the eggs.

I was going to make tortillas, but I figured it would be a better idea to keep chipping away at the sprouting potatoes. Nobody complained about the fries.

Saturday

Short version: Breakfast sausage patties with cream gravy, mashed potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, green salad

Long version: I had about half the tube of breakfast sausage left A. had bought, so I fried it in patties and made cream gravy in the pan with cornstarch and milk.

There wasn't really enough sausage, so I had a salad with some leftover carnitas pork and roasted vegetables, to which I added some dandelion greens I dug up when I was preparing more ground for planting cabbages. A spring tonic. With pork.

Sunday

Short version: Green chili beef stew, cornbread

Long version: I had a few cups of beef stock in the refrigerator I needed to use, and also a few cups of chicken stock I had made with the chicken bones left from dinner a couple of nights previously. So I took out a package of beef stew meat and used it, the stock, carrots, potatoes, and some of the roasted green chili we froze in the fall. It was quite good.

I made the cornbread to finally finish the last half cup of stone-ground cornmeal that's been sitting in the freezer for months. I needed a cup for the recipe I use for all-cornmeal cornbread, so I just used half a cup of masa, too. This actually made a very good cornbread. With honey, it was a good dessert.

Monday

Short version: Scrambled eggs, leftover stew, pinto beans, tortillas and cheese, carrot sticks

Long version: So many combinations possible with these foods, and as a family, we covered them all.

I cooked some dried pinto beans just to have on hand, and then added those to the leftover stew for me and Cubby. Jack ate a tortilla with cheese and pinto beans. Charlie ate his eggs in a tortilla and cheese as a taco. A. ate his eggs on top of tortillas and cheese.

Poppy ate everything, because that's what a two-year-old wants at all times: everything.

Tuesday

Short version: A very-not-Irish St. Patrick's Day feast.

Long version: We were supposed to go to a St. Patrick's Day dinner fundraiser at the village restaurant for the local EMS company, but that, along with everything else, has been postponed.

Plan B: Pasta with the last of the pesto still in the freezer from last summer. If not exactly Irish (or, uh, at all Irish) it's at least green. But then I remembered I was out of Parmesan cheese.

Plan C: Pesto pizza.

I was already making bread, so I just used some of the dough to make a pizza. Half had pesto, half had a bit of leftover pizza sauce from the last time I made pizza, all of it had asadero cheese.


I should have left a strip of white dough in the middle and then pretended I meant for it to look like the Irish flag.


St. Patrick's Day never tasted so good.

I also made some of the Italian sausages the MiL ferried here from Albuquerque, at the taste of which the whole family once again blessed the MiL's name.

As a nod to Irish cuisine, the children ate some raw cabbage as their vegetable. An odd assortment for a meal, but delicious nonetheless.

Wednesday

Short version: Carnitas tacos with homemade corn tortillas, refried beans, green salad

Long version: The last time A. went to the store, he returned with two ENORMOUS packages of pork butt. Seriously. They were obscene. Like almost twenty pounds each.

I've never seen such large packages of meat at that store, but then I remembered it's branding season on some ranches. This means the ranch wives are buying large quantities of food to feed the gathered branding crews.

Funny story: Last time I was at that same store, I was talking with the guy bagging up my groceries, and, obviously taking note of my very large quantity of food, he asked me if we were branding. Nope, just feeding my own crew of not-at-all useful junior cowboys.

Anyway. I cut the butts (heh) up into about eight large chunks. The carnitas were made from one chunk. There are many carnitas in our future.

Oh! And a good discovery this time. When I made tortillas, the seasoning on my cast iron griddle pan takes a hit, because the tortillas have no fat in them. But! If I use some of the rendered lard from cooking the pork to fry the pork pieces in, that re-seasons the cast iron right away.

Then I can use the rest of the lard to make the refried beans. It's all very efficient and pleasing. And, of course, delicious.

Thursday

Short version: Elk bites, oven fries, green salad

Long version: Marinated elk chunks fried with paprika and served with ketchup. And oven fries. There are never enough oven fries.

The day is coming soon when "green salad" here will mean MY LETTUCE, HOORAY! Soon.

And maybe "oven fries" will mean OUR POTATOES, HOORAY!


However, given that we just planted the potatoes two days ago, that will not be soon.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week? And, more importantly, how are you doing during this bizarre moment in history?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Let It Be Known


The first garden produce of 2020 has been consumed.

Okay, so it wasn't much. I just thinned the arugula and added the thinned plants to my salad of roasted sweet potatoes, toasted nuts, cheese, and broccoli. But still! Fresh greens! On March 18!

A. said I had to write about it so we would remember next year when the first harvest was this year. Because this blog is pretty much the only way I remember anything anymore.

Also in Breaking Garden News, yesterday I transplanted our measly five tomato seedlings into their own pots and put a heating pad under the pepper seeds to try to encourage them to just sprout already. Today's gardening fun will probably be planting more tomato seeds, since our planned trip to the small city with a nursery has been postponed indefinitely.

And since that was a topic of very specific interest to me, how about something of more general interest?

Did you know that A.G. Thomas was a famous British composer who wrote the opera "Esmeralda"? I did not either, and neither did Cubby until he was directed to choose any entry he wished in the "T" volume of our encyclopedia to write about.

When it comes to expanding your knowledge base, the sky's the limit with a 1970s World Book Encyclopedia set and excess free time.

I suspect today's carefully-planned at-home school curriculum* will include a time to listen to that opera. If I can find it online. Because I'm all about child-led learning.

* Sarcasm. So much sarcasm.