Saturday, October 31, 2020

Boo! Time To Butcher a Bull!

Warning: Dead animal photos ahead.


Yesterday, A. made a real grocery run for the first time since August. He went because we had an appointment to get the dogs neutered first thing in the morning. So he left at 6:30 a.m. and returned home around 3 p.m. with a van full of animal feed, groceries, and two very unhappy dogs.

I was still putting those groceries away when our elderly neighbors about five miles away called to ask A. to help them with a bull they had found with a broken leg. It was going to have to be killed--large animals like that are done for if they break a leg, unfortunately-- and the vet they called had told them that if the bull wasn't running a temperature, they could butcher it. 

So they had to take the bull's temperature. And you don't do that for a bull with one of those handy forehead thermometers. No, you have to shove the thermometer into its rectum. 

A. thought this might be a dicey proposition for two eighty-something people and a large bull, so he offered to go help with that. And off he went.

Ten minutes later, the FedEx guy showed up with two big boxes of pantry things I had ordered from Walmart. I was still putting those away when A. called from the neighbors' house to tell me he was on his way home to pick up coolers and all of the family so we could all help butcher the bull.

This is what being married to A. is like, yes.

As soon as A. got here and we had loaded the coolers and made sure everyone was wearing coats and boots, we slithered our way up the muddy road to the neighbors' house.

The bull had been killed near their house, thankfully near the driveway. A. was in such a rush because by this time it was 4:15 and we were going to be out of daylight to work by in just a couple of hours. So A. dropped to his knees in the mud and snow and started skinning.

The neighbor helped some, but given that he's got more than 40 years on A., A. tried to spare him as much as possible.

A. has butchered a lot of animals, but this was significantly different because of the size of this particular animal. There's no way to hang something this big without a tractor to lift it. He couldn't hang it and gut it, as he would with a sheep or a deer. 

So he butchered it the way the Plains Indians butchered buffalo: on the ground.

First he peeled the hide off on one side and cut away the meat on that side. He started to put the meat into the coolers, but it was still steaming hot, which is definitely no good. We needed to get the meat cooled down. And how would we do that without a walk-in cooler?

I know!

The neighbor supplied some very large trash bags, which we spread in the snow so we could lay the meat on them and let the snow chill the meat.

Just chillin'. (Why yes, I do crack myself up.)

Somewhat disturbingly, some of the pieces actually twitched once they were on the snow, as the muscles cooled and contracted a bit. The children thought this was the coolest thing ever, and monitored the meat to see if they could find one that was twitching. 

Little ghouls.

My job was mostly to arrange the meat on those bags as A. tossed it on there. I spread it out and kept flipping the chunks over to cool both sides. I also pulled the bags onto fresh snow as the snow underneath melted. 

A. was cutting as fast as he could this whole time, while our neighbors continuously sharpened knives to keep him supplied with a sharp blade at all times. They have a lot more experience sharpening knives than I do, so I was happy enough just to do the meat flipping.

After A. got as much meat off the one side as he could, we needed to flip the animal. It was still hundreds of pounds, though, so the neighbor got his winch puller and put it on the bull's hind feet. Cubby cranked the winch while A. heaved on the front of the bull to flip it.

Heave ho!

Then more cut cut cutting as fast as possible as the sun set and the light faded. The last bit had to be done with some handy solar lights the neighbors had.

Spotlight on the bull.

When the light was completely gone, A. called it quits so he wouldn't hurt himself. We loaded all the meat into both our coolers and the neighbors' coolers and headed home. 

A. skinned and cut up almost that entire animal in just a little over two hours, which is a pretty impressive feat. 

We just left the coolers of meat in the car overnight, because it was cool enough to do that, but it was too warm today to leave them there. We needed to get them in the freezer. But in what? I didn't have enough plastic wrap or ziptop bags on hand to store all this meat. 

We thought A. would have to take a trip to the closest grocery store (120 miles roundtrip) to get supplies, but I decided to call the guy who runs the tiny store in the village first. I asked him if he had any gallon ziptop bags and he said sure. I asked how many, and he said he buys them by the thousand.

Oh. Okay then. 

So A. only had to drive 20 miles roundtrip to buy 200 bags. Sweet.

We hauled the coolers out and spread the meat out on top of one of the freezers to dry out a bit as we started the butchering and packaging.

Welcome to the meat market.

At this point, it was just standard butchering procedure for us. I set up the dining room table with the cutting boards, knives, bags, and large pots for stew meat pieces, along with a bucket for the dog scraps, and we got to work.

Three hours later, all that meat was trimmed, cut, packaged, and in the extra freezer we brought over just last week from the abandoned house next door. That freezer must be at least forty years old. I was sure it wouldn't work, but A. plugged it in and it started right up. So we brought it over here, thinking we might need it if Cubby gets an elk on his hunt in December.

Instead, we filled it a third full of approximately 250 pounds of grass-fed beef that we got for free. A happy Halloween indeed.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Friday Food: Squashsquashsquash



Short version: Split pea soup with bread and butter, leftover steak, bacon

Long version: When I cleaned out the over-refrigerator freezer a few weeks ago, I found two ham bones I was saving for something. "Something" with ham bones almost always means beans, and I have like three pounds of yellow split peas, thanks to the commodities deliveries and our generous neighbors.

Split pea soup it is!

I made it with some chicken stock I pulled out of the freezer, and I think it was better than the last time I made it. Not sure why. Maybe yellow split peas are better than green? Maybe I didn't have homemade stock the last time? Whatever. It was good, and all of the family that ate it, liked it.

Charlie and A. don't eat beans much, so they had leftover steak, plus some of the bacon I had cooked to crumble on top of the soup. And just some raw tomatoes and sugar snap peas, to check the vegetable box.


Short version: Brisket, mashed potatoes, mashed calabaza, leftover roasted green beans

Long version: Well, I did it. I bravely cooked one of the intimidatingly giant calabazas that A. grew this year. Not without A.'s help, though, because those suckers have some incredibly hard skins. He had to use our meat cleaver to hack it apart.

This was the one that had the really long neck, so I had him separate that from the seed cavity part. I wrapped the solid neck part up and put it in the refrigerator to cook another time, and put the two halves of the seed part in the oven with the brisket.

Calabaza is an interesting squash. The flesh is very yellow, and it has a sweet, almost delicate flavor. I ate a piece raw and it was like a cross between a cucumber and a honeydew melon. For dinner, I just mashed some with butter and salt and Cubby and Jack told me they liked it.

Say what? Any of my children admitting to liking squash? It's a harvest-season miracle!

Okay, so they didn't like it enough to eat more than the tiny serving I put on their plates, and Charlie and Poppy claimed not to like it. Although Charlie said it wasn't as bad as most squash, and he didn't treat us to a performance of Death by Squash, so I'll take it.

And speaking of squash! We had exactly four pumpkins that volunteered in the garden this year. Very handy for making jack-o-lanterns with our four children, which we did this night:

Pure chaos. And seeds evvvverywhere.

The children drew the faces and A. did the actual carving. Hooray for A. (The one brighter pumpkin is one Charlie got at school, not one from our garden. Obviously it has thinner skin.)


Short version: Roasted chicken, rice, roasted bell pepper/onion/calabaza, chocolates with peanut butter

Long version: Sunday is supposed to be homemade dessert day, but . . . I didn't make a dessert. Unless you count spreading peanut butter on squares of Ghiradelli dark chocolate left by my mother. I counted it. And everyone ate them with no complaints.


Short version: Leftovers of various kinds

Long version: I was in no kind of mood to make dinner after getting home from my day of freezing at work. However, the troops must be fed.

A. and Charlie had a concoction of leftover chicken, mashed potatoes, frozen peas, and cheese. Poppy, Cubby, and Jack ate some vegetable soup I had made the day before for lunch. Plus some cheese. I had a salad. And then I crawled into our heated bed and thawed out.


Short version: Pork roast, roasted potatoes, roasted tomatoes, mashed calabaza, ice cream with chocolate shell

Long version: Before my mom comes to visit, she always goes to Costco and buys treats for us. And by "treats," I mean large bags of avocados and seltzer. This time, however, I asked her to get some meat for us. We were getting pretty low, and weren't planning a trip to the Outside World for another couple of weeks.

Before she came, both she and my dad mentioned that they had a lot of meat for us. And when they got here, she apologized for the quantities, saying that she couldn't find any single packages of anything at Costco.

That's a good thing for our household of unrepentant carnivores.

One of the things she brought was a pack of four individually sealed pork sirloin roasts. I made one of them this night. All I did was season it heavily on the outside--some of the leftover steak seasoning from our fancy steaks, plus extra salt and garlic powder, and thyme--and put it in a 400-degree oven until it was done. 

Everyone went into raptures over this pork. I'm not sure why, exactly, but it was a big hit. All four of the children had seconds of the meat, which almost never happens.

We had the ice cream because A. ventured out during a lull in the storm to the tiny store in the village to get milk. We were completely out. While he was there, he saw the store had ice cream, so he got that, too. It was vanilla. I made the chocolate shell for it.

Do you know what chocolate shell is? It's a product you can buy at a store that you heat up and pour over ice cream, where it hardens into a sort of candy coating. 

Well, you can buy it at a store, but you never should. You know why? Because you can make it at home in literally one minute with two ingredients: chocolate chips and coconut oil. This time I used half a cup of chocolate chips and maybe a teaspoon of coconut oil. Melt in the microwave until you can stir it all smooth, and that's it.

Random photo break! Charlie and Jack inadvertently put on exactly the same outfit a couple of weeks ago, and thought it was very funny.

Perhaps I should diversify my clothing purchases for the children?


Short version: Real tacos

Long version: So, when I say we have tacos--which I say a lot--what I really mean is we have taco meat in corn tortillas. And the tortillas are just heated up in a microwave. I don't think this is what most people mean when they say tacos. To most people, tacos mean crunchy taco shells. I never buy those, but my mom did!

Not sure why she brought us a box of taco shells, but she did. And with them, I made real tacos. It was a nice novelty for the children, but man, what a mess. Soft tacos are way easier for kids to eat neatly.


Short version: Fried pork and peppers, garlic bread, tomato salad

Long version: When I took out the pork roast for Tuesday, I took out two. I ended up only cooking one, so this was the other one. I cut it into steaks, then halved the steaks, then seasoned them with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, and fried them in bacon grease with a few random banana peppers from the garden.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Snowy Stuff



Snow dog.

Snow girl.

Snow cyclops (and its creator).

Snow clothesline.

Yup, that sure was a lot of snow. Almost two feet, actually. It's already starting to melt, though, which means that soon it will be a lot of slop. But hooray for moisture!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

A Significant Weather Event


We need to talk about the weather. It is insane. Like, "had too many drinks and has a lampshade on its head" out of control.

I can't even count how many times in the past two months we've had temperature shifts so dramatic we practically got whiplash. Such as the temperature dropping forty degrees in 24 hours. Or the temperature rising forty degrees in 12 hours.

One thing we have not had, however, is any kind of precipitation. Dry as a bone here on the high plains for months now. This is nice in a way, because we haven't had to worry about hail or tornados this year. Not nice, of course, because drought of any kind is Very Bad for an agricultural community.

So when we saw snow in our forecast, we were initially very happy. Moisture! Hooray!

Then the forecast developed a little further, and we saw that the snow was going to be accompanied by 20-mile-an-hour winds. And that the temperatures at night were going to be in the low teens. And it wouldn't get above freezing during the day. AND that this was going to continue for three days.

Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Yesterday was the first day of the stormy weather. We woke up to 15 degrees and snow blowing around, but no significant accumulations and school wasn't cancelled, so off to school (or work, in my case) we went.

To find that the elementary building's furnace wasn't working.

Yes. A non-working furnace on what might be the coldest day of the year.

Luckily, the kids at this school all live on ranches and definitely do not spend their days in climate control, so they're pretty hardy. Unluckily, it was 46 degrees in the school while I was sitting there going over long division with the fifth graders. 

I repeat, 46 degrees.

I was extremely grateful I wore my warmest wool coat (this one!), because I didn't take it off all day. 

Meanwhile, one of Cubby's classmates was sitting there calmly doing his math work in short sleeves. It was 46 degrees!

Incidentally, did you know that dry-erase white boards don't erase fully when it's that cold? I didn't either, but now I do.


Random break for an old photo of Poppy in her snow gear.

Ready for a school in which the furnace isn't working.

There was working heat in some other classrooms around the campus, so I spent some time shuffling kids around, letting them all have a chance to thaw out away from their refrigerated classrooms while the poor maintenance guy had what is undoubtedly his worst day of work in awhile. 

There is no calling a service person when you're a hundred miles from anywhere. He was on his own.

He did eventually get everything working in the early afternoon, although the building never really had a chance to warm up before school was dismissed an hour early due to the worsening snow. And the fact that several of the kids had a couple of hours of driving before they would be home.

Thankfully, we don't have school today, so we can all huddle in by the woodstove as the children get on and off the various Zoom classes they are now expected to attend, thanks to the laptops provided to them by the school. Whee.

So, how's the weather where you are? Anything dramatic?