Friday, July 7, 2023

Friday Food: Patriotic Ugly Cakes


Short version: Steak strips and gravy, mashed potatoes, frozen peas

Long version: I used sirloin steaks for this, which are very lean and boneless. I just cut them into strips, browned them in leftover pork fat, then cooked them with onions, parsley, and the remains of the pork liquid from, uh, before our trip. It was in the back of the refrigerator and had been covered in the fat, so it was still good. Nice and gelatinous, and added a lot of flavor to the beef juices. To those juices, I added cornstarch and milk to make gravy.


Short version: Sheef cheeseburgers on homemade buns, oven fries, green salad with vinaigrette

Long version: Does anyone else remember those old Sizzler commercials from the '80s that tried to get people into the restaurant between lunch and dinner by asking if they thought that meal should be called "dunch" or "linner"? 

No? Just me?

Well, anyway, I had the same sort of question about these burgers. I used two pounds of ground beef and one pound of ground sheep in them. So, are they sheef or beep burgers? I decided beep burgers sounded stupid, so sheef it is. Ahem.

In any case, the sheep meat had a lot more fat in it than the ground beef, so it was a good combination. Also, by request, I smashed the patties firmly as I put them in the pan, so as to make very thin hamburgers. This takes more time, because more individual burgers have to be made, but they were good.


Short version: Bull and rice casserole, baked custard

Long version: I took out one of the bags of prepared (pressure-cooked and food-processed) bull meat from the freezer, knowing that meat works best in a casserole. So a casserole is what I made.

I literally threw the following things into a Pyrex casserole: rice, bull, the rest of the pork juices and fat, frozen onions, frozen peas, garlic powder, shredded cheddar cheese, and a random cup of milk I found on the counter from a child who didn't finish it.

It came out surprisingly well, given the complete randomness of its preparation.


Short version: Salmon/tuna patties, spaghetti, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: If I wanted to be really obnoxious, I suppose I could call these suna patties, since I used both sorts of canned fish in them. But that would be annoying. The patties were good, though.

I made the spaghetti with just butter, garlic powder, and Parmesan. I think this is the first time I had made pasta this way for my children. At least one of them declared it the best pasta ever. Of course it is. It has virtually no nutritional value.


Short version: Independence food

Long version: The major components of this meal came right from our property. A. did his annual barbecue to cook sheep ribs, which are his favorite food.

I boiled the potatoes I had harvested a few days previously and just doused those in a lot of butter and salt. 

We have a TON of lettuce at the moment that will shortly be too bitter to eat, so I made another green salad. The ranch dressing included parsley and dill from the garden as well.

I made Grandma Bishop's Chocolate Cake, with the addition of some chocolate chips. Why not, right? I figure Americans have a reputation of being sort of extra, so I might as well gild the lily. The chocolate chips all sank to the bottom, so when I flipped the cakes out, there was a layer of chocolate at the top. This was very good.

We had two cakes only because the only rectangular dish I had to bake the flag cake was quite small. So I made another small cake in an oval dish and used my imagination for the decoration.

My signature Ugly Cake. But patriotic!

The cake was only nominally from the property. I used the strawberry-rhubarb puree I had made earlier in the day to make the stripes on the cake, as well as the lettering on the extra cake. 

The frosting was a buttercream that I made without consulting a recipe for amounts, and then I added too much milk and had to add more of the other stuff and . . . well, it kind of got away from me. It was a bit runny, but it firmed up nicely in the refrigerator and received enthusiastic praise from the children, which is all that matters.


Short version: Pizza, meatballs, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: I made one cheese pizza and one pepperoni. 

The meatballs I made for me. I used a pound of ground sheep, with zaatar in the mixture, and cooked them in the juice I drained off a can of tomatoes opened to make the pizza sauce. They came out well.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: Pizza, meatballs, potatoes . . . leftovers.

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

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Tips: Lime Preserving Eggs

Somewhere in my wanderings on the Internet in the last couple of years, I came across the idea of preserving fresh eggs in a solution of water and hydrated lime. I vaguely thought about doing it last year, but never did.

This year, however, I mentioned the idea to my friend who has many more chickens than I do, and from whom I get extra eggs in the spring. 

Pretty! And clean, which, as you'll see, is more important than pretty.

She had also heard of it and wanted to try it. So I did some online research, collected a bunch of eggs from her, and tried it.

And now I'm going to tell you all about it! Whee!

First, I have to say, because it bugs me that people seem to repeat this without doing any of their own investigations: Lime preservation of eggs is NOT the same as water glassing. Many online homestead-branded people seem to call lime preservation water glassing. They are not the same thing, although the process is similar. Water glassing eggs requires sodium silicate. Lime preserving eggs requires only hydrated lime.

I did lime preservation because we have a fifty-pound bag of hydrated lime in the barn already for A.'s masonry projects. 

Which brings me to the next point: What lime am I talking about?

Hydrated lime is also called pickling lime. If it's labeled this way, it's probably sold in much smaller quantities. At a building supply place like Home Depot, it would be labeled "hydrated lime" or "slaked lime." It's sold in much larger quantities when labeled this way, but all three are the same thing. It's a white powder that is mildly irritating to skin if you submerge your hands in it like A. does for masonry, but I never had a problem with the small quantities I was using.

That leads neatly to the next point: quantities.

The ratio repeated over and over online is one ounce of lime in one quart of water. But is it a liquid ounce, which would be two tablespoons? Or an ounce by weight, which is more like four tablespoons? I don't know. I saw somewhere (yes, this is very scientific) that two tablespoons is about right, so that's what I did. All I did was fill a half-gallon canning jar with two quarts of water and four tablespoons lime, put on the lid, and shake it up. Then I poured it over the eggs.

And about those eggs . . .

The eggs cannot be dirty in any way. BUT. They also can't be washed. I used only the eggs that came out very clean from the coops. This is why it was helpful to be getting extra eggs from the glut my friend had: I knew she hadn't washed them, and I could pick through them for the very cleanest ones.

They have to be put carefully in a non-reactive container. A lot of people recommend five-gallon buckets with lids. I don't. That's far too big to be practical. It gets much too heavy, and I would think the weight of the eggs on top might crack the ones on the bottom.

I used a smaller bucket with a lid that had held 12 pounds of honey, as well as some old commercial-sized sour cream containers with lids I got from the school cafeteria.

So! Really all it is is layering the eggs in the container and then pouring the water+lime until the eggs are completely submerged. I found that I needed to leave several inches of space--maybe four?-- over the last layer of eggs to have room for the water at the top to completely cover them.

Then I put the lids on, labeled them with the date, and stuck them under Poppy's small table in the corner of the dining room.

Along with some extra lemon juice, and Poppy's "Mary Poppins" bag. You'd have to ask her about that one.

All together, I put around six dozen eggs in those containers. And then I just left them there. I started using them around May, when I was no longer at school and getting eggs from my friend. (She works there, too, so once school was over, so was my easy egg supply.)

I am now using eggs that were put in those containers almost five months ago, and they are still perfectly fine. I do check each egg before I put it in anything. Cracking them into a separate bowl individually is the safest way to check them.

Quality check before making scrambled eggs.

To be honest, though, since the best way to check the eggs is to smell them, I usually just crack the egg and then sniff in the crack before I open them up. If the egg was rotten, I would know it immediately.

I did have one egg that seemed to kind of explode when I cracked it, like it was pressurized. Oddly, it had no off smell at all, but I still gave it to the dogs. Better safe than sorry, right?

The only difference between these eggs and fresh eggs that I can see is that these are more likely to spread in a pan, and the yolks are more likely to break when I crack the egg. I've used them for fried eggs, scrambled eggs, and in baking. I haven't tried hard-boiling them, just because I can't check them before I boil them.

All in all, I was very pleased with how well this worked, and will likely do it again next year. It's really nice having a supply of home eggs on hand when I don't have a glut of them. I haven't had to buy eggs from a store in months, and that's just the way I like it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Growing Food: A Garden Revolution

Happy Independence Day! My garden staged a revolution while I was gone, and as is so often the case in such situations, there were casualties.

See, what happened was, the very morning we were leaving, we awoke at 2 a.m. to the artillery fire of hail on our metal roof. The hail was the size of shooter marbles, and there was a lot of it. We also got almost two inches of rain in half an hour. It was a violent storm, and it did some damage.

Immediately after that, while we were gone, the temperatures rose into the low to mid 90s. Our neighbor was coming to take care of the animals, and his daughter was nice enough to water the garden for me a couple of days. Which is why they saw when the dreaded harlequin bugs arrived. I got a text from our neighbor with the sad news that bugs had taken over the garden, along with photos of the damage.

It was extensive. It was mostly the rutabagas and cabbages that got decimated, of course, because harlequin bugs prefer plants in the brassica family.

The one-two-three punch of hail, heat, and harlequin bugs (alliteration alert!) made for a pretty sad garden when I returned.

Sad, denuded rutabaga.

Sad, dead potato.

Oh, and those rutabagas? I harvested them, because some of them had gotten pretty big already, so they were fine to dig. I was excited, because I love rutabaga.

Too bad these were turnips.

Big! But . . . turnips. Boo.

I realized this when I was peeling them to cook them. They were white inside, and the experimental raw bite I took was distinctly peppery. Rutabagas are yellow-fleshed and sweet. I found my seed packet from Seeds 'n' Such to check that I hadn't accidentally ordered the wrong thing, and nope. Those were supposed to be Laurentian Rutabagas. They are not. They are turnips.

A. said, "Hey, at least you know turnips grow here!"

Yeah, but I don't really LIKE turnips. I like rutabagas.



I harvested the rest of the cabbages and started a crock of sauerkraut as well. I think I lost at least three tomato plants to the hail, but the rest seem to have new growth on them. The snow peas gave up entirely after being infested by the bugs and withering in the heat. About half the basil plants, which were still quite small, died.

I also dug up three dead potato plants, in addition to the random garlic plants that were in the potato bed.

Not bad for just a few potato plants. They don't typically grow great here, but at least we got something.

You know what grew nicely while we were gone, though? The weeds. Of course.

So I've been spending the past few days weeding, watering, and salvaging. As well as squishing swallowtail caterpillars, which are determined to eat all my dill and parsley. I can typically keep up with harlequin bugs by picking them off and dropping them in soapy water, but they multiplied too much while we were gone for that to be effective. In an effort to keep them off the rest of our plants, A. sprayed the dead pea plants, rutabaga tops, and cabbage plants after harvesting with some pesticide we had.

Gardening feels like nothing so much as an ongoing battle sometimes.

So tell me, fellow gardeners: How are things in your garden on this holiday?

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Snapshots: There and Back

As I mentioned, we traveled to Tucson last week via Las Cruces, New Mexico. I am really bad about taking pictures when I'm traveling, but I did get some this time! Let's see what I managed.

Our very first stop in Las Cruces was Cowtown Boots, for, um, boots.

There were plenty of options.

Poppy's favorites were these not-at-all-understated women's boots.

This photo does not even do justice to how sparkly these boots are.

Much to Poppy's disappointment, we did not buy the bedazzled boots, instead leaving with just the one pair of leather-soled riding boots we had come for.

After that it was on to our hotel in Las Cruces. The hotel itself was nice enough, but the surrounding area most definitely was not. There were encampments of junkies in empty lots all around this area of hotels that was right off the freeway. It was quite unpleasant. The hotel did have its own pool, though, thankfully free of junkies, that the children got to swim in.

That was the first pool of many on this trip.

The next day was the judo tournament. Our judo club is quite small, as you might imagine given our very unpopulated location, but we did have four competitors in this tournament, three in the junior divisions, two of which were my sons. 

The judoka line up for the opening ceremonies by club. Our small group is in the middle where they were concealed by the larger groups.

My boys got second and third in their divisions, and their teammate got second in his. So that was neat. and also, since this was the New Mexico State Games, apparently means they're eligible to go to the national competition next summer in San Diego. We're planning on going as of now, although the idea of anymore travel at the moment is not an altogether pleasant prospect.


We didn't wait around for the end of the tournament for the medals, because we still had a five-hour drive ahead of us and a swimming pool awaiting us, this time at my parents' house.

Conveniently in shade at the end of the day, which means the dreaded sunscreen needn't be applied.

The next day we went to see A.'s family at his dad's apartment complex, which also has a pool. The day after that, we went to see my brother and his family at their house in Phoenix. Pool again. Day after that was both grandparents' pools. The children spent hours swimming on this trip, in four different pools. It's about the only outdoor activity that's possible when it's 110 degrees every day, which it was. It's all the kids want to do anyway, so it works out.

Do you remember the house in my parents' neighborbood that upset me so much I referred to it as an architectural affront? Well, it's all done and landscaped, so we took a walk to see it.

Still looks like a bunker or something.

I guess the trees help a little, although all those pointy cacti do not.

Still not a fan, in case you couldn't tell.

We left my parents' house on Wednesday early in the morning. The first place we stopped was in Bowie, Arizona, for a bathroom break, coffee, and ice for the cooler. 

Did you know that Bowie is the hometown of the character of John Rambo, as played by Sylvester Stallone? I didn't, either, but Bowie wants you to know that it is.

Do kids today still know about Rambo?

The drive took us just under 12 hours. People frequently ask me what our kids do in the car on long trips, since we don't have iPads or anything. For this trip, the answer was make candles.

Like so.

I had bought a bag of those little Babybel cheeses for the car trip. The packaging of these includes a wax covering that is opened with a little strip of paper. The children spent quite some time molding the wax around these paper strips to make candles. They even manufactured candle holders out of juice boxes. 

Of course, the first thing they did when they got home was see if any of these candles would burn. They were very proud to announce that at least one of them did.

Incidentally, however, I would not recommend this car entertainment if you have a nice car that you care about, since the wax does have a tendency to stick to things in the heat, and is red. You can imagine the state of our van after seven years of traveling with small children, so I don't care much.

And then we made it home to our wide-open skies, where the dogs were thrilled to see us and the horses were ready to be ridden.

That tiny speck in the distance is a kid on Cora.

There you have it! My life--and travels--snapshotted.