Monday, October 31, 2011

Cattle Ranching: Out on the Range

Last week I mentioned an overnight business trip to check on the progress of our little herd of cattle.

Some time I'll have to tell you about the trip itself, 'cause it was a doozy! But for now...

Here is part of the ranch; the area where the cattleman works his horses.

Horses on this ranch, you see, are vital. You could die pretty easily in a rollover accident on a 4-wheeler in this range land.

Horses can carefully pick their way down these cliffs.

Other wildlife are pretty good at it, too. I heard there are bears and cougars on this ranch, but mercifully we didn't run into any of them.

This is what we came to see!

Mamas and babies are pretty well bonded.

The calves are chubby and fat.

Coats are sleek and shiny.

Lookin' good, sir.

We'll stay away from those!

Yep... everything looks good!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ofelia's Fate Revealed



No real surprise, actually. Poor Ofelia isn't pregnant.

HOWEVER, I really can't bear to eat my first milk cow. No, we never got a drop of milk out of her, but she was awfully cute, she gave me hope for being a milk maid, and she was a mascot of sorts for the farm.

So we cancelled her date with the butcher and are sending an infertile beef heifer in her place. No, Ofelia's not going to retire and live out the end of her days with us. We are going to sell her at the cow sale, where, most likely, she will ultimately meet her maker... but she won't be buried in our freezer.

Who knows? Maybe somebody will buy her as a dairy cow and give her another go! Good luck, Ofelia.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Date With Fate

Poor Ofelia, our dry milk cow.

She is going to be preg tested this Friday.

The results of her test will determine whether I clean out my freezer or call to cancel her butcher appointment on November 29th.

She's such a cute cow, and she has a lot of personality. It will be dreadfully sad, but a milk cow who can't have calves (and thus produce milk) is a useless eater on a farm.

Sometimes farmy life isn't much fun.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Countrified Business Trip

I'm on an overnight business trip right now.

No presentations, no Power Point slides, no high-powered meetings, no executive dinners, no convention centers, no training, no networking, no conferences...

...we're checking on the state of our cattle.

As such, I'm riding on a four-wheeler with my husband in ranch land country, looking for our little herd and noting observations of cow and calf health in the herd book.

Our luxury suite for this business trip? A trailer on the ranch man's land with no electricity.

Does life get any neater?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How to Render and Can Tallow

Yesterday's riddle was: What do candles, soap, and french fries have in common?

The answer: TALLOW!

Beef (bison & sheep) fat = tallow. Pork fat = lard. Chicken (duck & goose) fat = schmaltz. Whale fat = blubber.

Why on earth would you want to render beef lard?

Because it makes the best french fries on this side of heaven.

If you, like me, are trying to get away from highly processed, hydrogenated, or rancid oils, then you'll find it's all fine and dandy until you try to go and fry something.

Olive oil has a very low smoke point, so you can't fry in it. Coconut oil (because of its high smoke point) is great for deep frying, but it's danged expensive at about $50 per gallon. Palm oil? $30 a gallon. Beef tallow cost me (to home render) less than $5 a gallon, which is roughly the same price as a gallon of cheapo vegetable (soybean) oil.

Not only is it cheap, but it goes with french fries like Johnny and June, Sonny and Cher, Milo and Otis! or something like that.

Won't it clog all of your arteries and lead to certain and sudden death? Uuuum... no. Read about it here or here (the second link is about lard, but same principles apply).

Where To Get the Stuff?

Well that's fine, dandy, and great you might say. But where the bazookie do you get grass-fed beef fat? Not at your local grocery store, I can assure you. Yes, they might actually sell beef fat, but you'll probably pay more for it (and it's probably feed lot grain fed high Omega 6 stuff) than if you go right to the source.

CALL A BUTCHER. The guys who have little independent shops that cut up deer for hunters? The guys who will come to your farm to slaughter your hog? Those are the guys. They're everywhere. I never knew butchers existed apart from the guys in the box stores who wear white coats and icky gloves... but once I started looking for them I realized, butchers are everywhere, and despite the fact they kill and gut animals for a living, they're really nice people.

I went to a butcher and asked for "10... no, nevermind, just 5 pounds" of grass-fed suet (the good fat around the kidneys). "How much is it?" I asked. "Ahh... $1 a pound." He ended up giving me 10 pounds for $5 (or 50 cents a pound) just 'cause he would've thrown it away otherwise. He was glad to be rid of it.

Another source, of course, would be straight from a farmer who raises grass-fed beef cattle. Most people don't ask for their suet on a 1/2 or 1/4 beef, so it's discarded.

The Method

Alright, so you've got your beef fat.

Now what?

Chop it into small pieces. Freezing it for 30-45 minutes and then grinding it in a food processor or meat grinder is the best way (because it's quicker to chop and it renders more quickly), but chopping works well, too.

Be sure to cut off any meat that's left on the fat. It'll look like this:

Now, there are (at least) 3 methods for rendering it into tallow.

#1: Stovetop (low heat), until fully rendered.

#2: Oven (250°), until fully rendered.

#3: Crockpot (on low), until fully rendered.

Which one did I do? Why, all 3 of course, to compare for future reference.

A deep skillet for the stovetop:

A dutch oven for the oven:

And my trusty little crock pot:

Which method won?

#1: The stovetop was by far the quickest method. But I also had to stir it every 20-30 minutes or so for a few hours. If you've got nowhere to go for an afternoon, this was (for me) the quickest way.

#2: The oven was the longest but resulted in the least odor while rendering. The smell of rendering tallow isn't awful but it's not like frying bacon, either. The oven trapped the tallow fumes really well, and was pretty low maintenance (just stirred every hour or so, though I probably didn't need to because nothing was sticking).

#3: The crockpot was the easiest... set it on low and let it go. This is how I'll be doing it in the future. I just set it on low, stirred it in the beginning because I was nervous, but then just let it go and forgot about it. It actually rendered more fat from the suet than the other two methods, too (very even heating).

How long does it take? My pieces of fat were big so it took all afternoon... it's not an exact recipe. Just render until the pieces of fat are really small.

Pot covered or uncovered? I did both, and it didn't really matter, except covered cooked faster.

Is it shelf stable?

It can be. Most people put it in the fridge, but canning it is super easy.

There is no method from the USDA about home-canning lard or tallow. But I got a good seal from just the hot-packed jars. Many claim it's perfectly shelf-stable and works just fine. If you're nervous about it, keep it in the fridge or freezer... but that space is at a premium for me so I canned it according to these simple instructions (in fact, after reading several other articles, I didn't even water-bath it).

So there you have it.

I've already fried onions in the stuff and lemme tell you, they were incredible.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Riddle

What do soap, candles, and french fries have in common?

Answer (with pictures) tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Good Story is Hard to Find

Right now, our book club is reading short stories from Flannery O'Connor, a Catholic, 20th century American author.

The reading is rough, gruesome, grotesque, violent, tragic, and shocking. I've never had a taste for her writing. I know she writes about flawed characters who have an encounter with and are touched by grace. I know her stories are deeply Catholic. I know she writes with shock value to wake up her culture-drugged readers. I know she's hailed as one of the greatest writers of our time. But her stories to me, who love a good fairy tale with a happy ending, are hard to read; not because they challenge my beliefs about what a good story should be, but because they leave ugly and scary images of death, violence, and betrayal in my head.

Not all of her stories, mind you, are brutal. I think this book club is helping me to grow in an appreciation of her writing, but I'm still not a die-hard Flannery fan. We meet again tonight to discuss another of her stories... maybe my literary couth-ness conversion will continue.

Have you ever read Flannery O'Connor? What's your take?

Monday, October 17, 2011

He Told Me So

It was 6:15am. All I wanted was the warmth, comfort, and security of my soft fluffy bed. I was groggily lacing up my shoes and zipping up my thin jacket, bracing myself against the gripping chill of a Stygian, tenebrous Autumn morning.

"I think we should bring the camera on our walk this morning," my husband said.

*grumble grumble* was all I could mutter.

"We see so many neat things on these walks, I think we should bring it."

Whether by my icy blank stare or a further grumble, I'm not sure, but somehow I kaboshed his suggestion.

Once we reached the park, of course, my "I want to go back to bed" mantra melted away and bite of the crisp October morning invigorated me to the core. The blood was rushing, my heart was pumping, and I was grateful to be alive and inhaling the beauty of this place.

We've seen some pretty spectacular sights on these morning excursions. Triple rainbows, spawning salmon, samurai Egrets, river otters, whole flocks of Canadian geese alighting on the fiery sunrise-lit glassy waters... I thought we'd seen it all. And then we saw... him.

Sleek ebon body, bipartite white stripes, defiant top-of-the-food-chain mien. Any ideas?

Without a shred of mercy, Pepé looked directly at us, lifted his tail, and started to do the skunky handstand. I knew for sure I'd be soaking in vinegar baths and avoiding polite company for the next two months.

My husband calmly and firmly grasped my hand, we halted, backed up, and walked in another direction. I was mentally cancelling all of my dinner engagements when I looked over my shoulder, preparing to face the bilious blast. Pepé was waddling away!

We crossed paths, less confrontationally, with the skunk several more times during our stroll. At each encounter, the remembrance of my grumpy grousing returned to reproach me. How fun it would have been to photograph the fetid fink!

When, at last, we were within the safety of my sedan, the corners of my husband's mouth were scarcely concealing his impish smile. He never said it. But we both had a good laugh as I wryly and ruefully remarked, "You were right."

Friday, October 14, 2011

One Amazing and Two Funny Items

I got a good chuckle out of these items, stolen from others' blogs and Facebook pages. I hope you'll enjoy them, too.

Funny 1. (from All Things Gale)

Funny 2. (from ConservaMom)

Amazing. (from A Liter of Light)

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie

My husband and I are going to glean apples this week to make another year's supply of free apple juice. But before we start apple saucing, apple buttering, and apple juicing, I had to put some of the already-picked apples to a more decadent use.

Behold the Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie.

This dessert is apple pie, caramel apples, and cheesecake all in one bite!

It's extraordinarily rich, so a small piece will go a long way. It took a fair amount of effort to make, but there are (less tasty) shortcuts you can take. It's a great way to start off the Fall apple season!

To take some shortcuts, you could use a pre-made graham cracker crust, jarred caramel sauce, and already whipped cream... but I wouldn't recommend it, as the slightly more laborious effort is well worth it.

Caramel Apple Cheesecake Pie
Printable Version

For the crust:
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
5 1/3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
½-¾ cup caramel (from Annie's Eats)
1 cup chopped pecans

For the apple filling:
5 tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
5-6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

For the cheesecake:
8 oz. cream cheese
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the topping:
¾ cup heavy cream
3-4 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
¼-½ cup caramel
Chopped pecans (or walnuts)


To make the crust, preheat the oven to 375° F.  Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan with parchment paper.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter.  Toss with a fork until all the crumbs are moistened and the ingredients are evenly mixed.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared springform pan and press the crumbs in an even layer over the pan bottom and about half to two-thirds of the way up the sides of the pan.  Bake for 6-8 minutes, until golden in color.  Let cool for about 10 minutes.  Pour a layer of caramel into the bottom of the crust and sprinkle evenly with the chopped pecans.  Refrigerate the crust while you prepare the filling.

To make the apple filling, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Mix in the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute, until bubbling.  Mix in the apple slices and toss well to coat.  Cook over medium to medium-high heat until tender and most of the liquid has been reduced, about 15-20 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes and pour into the prepared pie shell.  Set aside.

Reduce the heat of the oven to 350° F.

To make the cheesecake layer, combine the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1 minute.   Mix in the vanilla, egg and lemon juice until fully incorporated and smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Spread the cheesecake filling into an even layer over the top of the cooked apples in the crust.  Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, carefully remove the sides of the springform pan.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.  Spread gently over the top of the chilled cheesecake layer.  Top with dollops of caramel sauce and swirl with a knife to create a marbled effect.  Sprinkle with a handful of chopped nuts, if desired.  Slice with a long, thin knife to serve.

Recipe Source: from Annie's Eats originally from Mimi Hodges, the winner of Good Morning, America’s “Pie of Emeril’s Eye” Contest, 2000

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Little Joys

Few kitchen implements give me more joy than a good sharp knife. To slice and dice and chop with ease makes tedious prep work enjoyable.

Today I was graciously gifted with a Rada tomato knife. It's a one-job piece of cutlery, designed specifically for the purpose of slicing tomatoes, which it does with a precise delicate dexterity rarely found in the world of serrated stainless steel.

Oh happy day!

Do you have any semi-frivolous kitchen gizmos or gadgets that make your life easier? Do share!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Secluded to Social Butterfly

This past Summer was the pinnacle of freedom, or so I thought. I woke up when I wanted, did what I wanted, went where I wanted, and had absolutely zero obligations to clunk up my schedule. I only ventured forth from the house to the library, grocery store, Adoration and to Mass. I had little or no society and a great many weeks holed up in my cozy house, lacto-fermenting things and reading great literature. It was fun for a while.

Socialization for me, an introvert, can be rather exhausting and sometimes even onerous. Try as I might to be a hermit, though, I really do need other people. This Summer of isolation was a great wake up call for me. Not only were the days stale and unchanging without others' ideas, quirks, and personalities, but my self-centeredness and introspection skyrocketed and suddenly every minor annoyance around the house was a crisis and every minor ache was coddled as a great ailment. In the decadence of self-indulgent living, I had to create tension and burdens. SICK, isn't it? Living for myself, while temporarily thrilling and exhilarating, quickly became flat, boring, and utterly meaningless.

Last Saturday, my husband and I kick-started a new social season by going to two parties, and the next three weeks of my calendar are booked with social engagements almost every night. I'm really looking forward to it! We're doing a book club, Bible study, Pinochle night, dinner parties, prayer groups, and volunteering. Part of me wants to pull the covers over my head, but the other part can't wait to stretch my social comfort zone.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Do You See What I See?

It's hidden rather well.

But we had a visitor this week.

Actually there were 15 pleasant pheasants present (the other 14 are not pictured).

Pheasant season opens here in about 2 weeks. Good luck little guy.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dream House Inspirations

Now that things are winding down for the year on the farm and the frenetic Summer hay season is coming to an end, my husband and I are starting to think about our dream house, again. We're probably not any closer to actually building it, but at least we have enough time to talk about it, now!

The planning stage of any project, for me, is so fun. I've pinned a lot of ideas on Pinterest, but I'll share a few here with you.


Image: Meggielynne

All of the paneling is very grand, too rich for our taste, but the dark/white stairs and large, open, balcony entryway are quite nice.

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This entry is so full of natural light -- quite beautiful.

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This is actually how I usually envision our entryway; full of light, leading right to the light/dark stairs.

Under the Stairs:

What to put under the stairs? Storage is most practical, but these are other ideas...

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Gimme a book and a I'm there.

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I can't decide if this is brilliant or insane. It would be a great place for a bathroom, but it might just be too cramped in there for visitors to feel... er... at home.


My husband often comes home from the farm quite covered in the good earth (i.e. dusty dirty muddy). A mudroom entry would do wonders for my floors!

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The coat hooks are too close to each other to be practical and there's not enough room for muddy boots, but the beadboard paneled walls and ceiling along with the sidelight window door are a beautiful way to design a mud room.

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What a mudroom! With a sink, it'd be just about perfect.

Dream Kitchen:

A dream mock-up I made on Ikea's kitchen planner

White cabinets, lots of (butcher block) counter space, and an island with a sink and dishwasher in it are some of my housewife hopes. I don't think wood floors in the kitchen are such a great idea (the number of times my dishwasher has leaked) but they sure are pretty.

Here are a few more kitchen design inspirations:

From: Things That Inspire

French doors to the back porch are beautiful. The crown moulding is lovely and the open dining room space is bright and cheery.

Image from: Black Eiffel

The tile color on this backsplash is beautiful, as is the crown moulding above the cabinets... not to mention the six burner double oven SubZero gas stove.

Image: This & That

I really love both the faucet and the stain on this butcher block counter. I'm paranoid about water on wood and despite 30 coats of seal I could never feel comfortable about having butcher block counters next to a sink, but for the rest of the kitchen (away from the sink) I really like these counters.

Image: unknown source via Pinterest

Again, butcher block over white cabinets with a nice faucet and lovely crown moulding.

Image: Brylane Homes

Peel and stick backsplash! Doesn't get much easier, nor much prettier.

Front Porch:

A wrap-around porch is one of our dreams. Our acreage has a beautiful view of the river and porches are great gathering places.

Image: Flickr

This is just beautiful. The flowers, the ferns and the furniture are so lovely! The deep porch would be wonderful for entertaining.

Image: Bourbon and Barbour

This is a rather shallow porch, but I do really like the shutters on the house and the lantern above the door.

Living Room / Living Spaces

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Outdoors / Backyard / Gardens

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This is actually a do-it-yourself project, and my husband and I think we can do it. He likes it, too.

Source unknown

The firepit is do-it-yourself, too, and not terribly expensive. The rest of it is quite a nice 20 year plan dream.

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Leading to my milking barn, of course.

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Maybe a little juvenile, but I like it.

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In my dreams I'm a master gardener too, of course.

So what is this place going to look like from the outside? Well, in my dreams, something like this:

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Tell me about your dream house! I need more inspiration.