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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Another Day of Academic Rigors (and Planting)

You know my tongue was firmly in cheek when I wrote yesterday's post, right? I applaud anyone who manages to maintain some semblance of real school work with children at home, but I am not that motivated to do so, I'm afraid.

However! I did make my older two children do one sheet of handwriting practice this morning, because their handwriting is abysmal, to the point that it negatively affects their grades.

I also had them each do one page of math problems, as well as fifteen minutes each of Spanish and typing on their computer.

Do you know how much whining I heard about this? SO MUCH WHINING.

And then! Then I had the gall to make them read about Ireland and St. Patrick in their encyclopedia*!

And the crowning indignity? When Cubby asked me what the Reformation was, after coming across the term in the passage about St. Patrick, I made him look it up himself.

"So what, you're just going to make me look it up every time I have a question?" complained Cubby.

Dingdingding! Got it in one!

Anyway. All of this torture lasted for a whole hour of their day, which is clearly excessive.

The rest of the day was spent in wholesome outdoor activity. By which I mean, planting.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day and our Irish heritage (which, yes, both A. and I, and thus our children, can truthfully claim), I planted cabbages.

There are never enough empty milk jugs in the spring.

Also potatoes.

My helpers and I planted an even fifty potatoes. I didn't intend to have a round number, but I found it very pleasing.

I also planted some spinach and carrots, which aren't particularly Irish, but I'm hoping will grow well.

Oh! And check out my lettuce!

Grow, babies, grow. So I can eat you. Ahem.

So there you have it. Planting and not really teaching. The current story of my life.

* A. bought a set of World Book encyclopedias for five dollars at the thrift store a month or so ago. I freely admit I rolled my eyes at this purchase, but I will also admit that now I like having them. Because when the kids ask me a question, I can send them to a book rather than having them looking at my computer. Anything to keep them off screens as much as possible.

Monday, March 16, 2020

How I Homeschool

I fear that I, uh, don't.

Today was the first day of the three-week (yeah, we'll see about that . . .) school suspension. I thought, "Hey, what a great opportunity for Cubby and Charlie to do some things they don't normally get to do at school! Geography! Typing! Spanish!"

Let me tell you what we actually did today, which was sunny and almost seventy degrees.

We put some potatoes outside that were already sprouting to sprout further and get ready for planting. I put seventeen potatoes in the sun and had Cubby help me figure out how many potatoes we might potentially get from those seventeen potatoes. We came up with 134*. (Math!)

The shearer came and we all stood around watching him work and helping however we could. Cubby took care of the gate so A. could go in and out with the fleeces, I wrote down the ewes' ear tag numbers along with a description of each (so we can figure out which ones to cull), and A. actually caught the sheep and moved the fleeces. (Agriculture!)

Cubby on gate duty.

That's a lot of wool.

A. dug many feet of dirt so I could plant 500 beet seeds. Cubby filled pots with soil and planted watermelon seeds. (Botany!)

The boys made boats out of paper and had a contest to see which ones would sail the longest in the bathtub. (Science! And also, lots of screaming and tears about cheating!)

So, all in all, a most academically successful day.

I was obviously born to be a teacher.

* They're really big, so our calculations included cutting each potato in half and getting a minimum of  four potatoes from each half planted.

Sunday, March 15, 2020


We got official notice last Thursday that all schools in New Mexico are closed until April 6. That same day, our priest notified us that all church activities, including Mass, are suspended until further notice.

That pretty much eliminated all of our outside social and work obligations in one fell swoop.

So here we are, at home.

I suspect this is not as disconcerting to us as it is for most people, as we are perfectly accustomed and willing to manage on our own. We go weeks at a time without going anywhere but church and school, anyway, so it's not as if our routines depend on getting to a store or sports events or music lessons or, well, anything.

My brother joked that we practiced social distancing before social distancing was cool, and I think there's a lot of truth to that.

We are very lucky in that A. already does his main work remotely, we have no medical conditions of any kind in our family, and we never have to worry about running out of food or supplies because we always buy them in large quantities. Or, you know, grow and make them.

This morning we did church at home. I read the readings for the day and A. explained them to the kids. Then they had their post-church waffles as usual.

Tomorrow the older ones will be required to do some school-ish things (handwriting practice, reading history books or the encyclopedia, Spanish lessons online), but I'm not going to force them to do, like, actual lessons related to the math they were working on at school or whatever.

But otherwise? We'll just be here, tending our garden (the arugula is almost big enough to eat and I'M SO EXCITED), shearing sheep (a shearer is coming tomorrow, and A. is excited about that), and generally living our lives in a more or less normal fashion.

Keeping calm and carrying on is the order of the day. I hope it's the same for you.

Over and out.