Saturday, April 30, 2011

Worst outbreak since 1925

I understand the death toll from the series of storms and tornadoes that hit the south is now up to 343, making it the second deadliest series of storms to hit the U.S. since 1925.

I cannot even begin to fathom the level of destruction left in the wake of these terrible storms. Our prayers are with the survivors as they rebuild their lives.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Haltering Victoria

This morning we finally got around to fitting little Victoria with a halter. She didn't like it, of course! But it's the first step toward halter-training an animal.

By the way, see those ornery-looking scabs on her head? Believe it or not, they're beautiful (to me, that is). Those are the residual scabs left over from when we dehorned her. They're healing up exactly as they should. It means the dehorning went well.

No Dallas trip

There had been some discussion with the publishers of the Simplicity Primer about sending me to a Preparedness Conference in Dallas over Memorial Day weekend, with an eye toward promoting the book.

Today I spoke to the show's promoter, a darned nice fellow named George Shepard. I asked if there was room to slip me in as a speaker/presenter. Bottom line, no -- they're booked solid with speakers.

However one thing led to another during our conversation, and Mr. Shepard suggested I write a piece on the subject of Prepping for a magazine called Republic Magazine, which he owns. Sounds like the nature of the magazine is right up my ally. I've spent today polishing up the article and hope to send it tomorrow.

So... no Dallas trip. Maybe next year!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Here's some "awwwww" factor for those needing a Lydia fix.

Here she is, greeting Older Daughter in the morning. Such enthusiasm! (Notice the blurred tail.)

Here she's taking an afternoon nap in my office. I just love it when she sleeps at my feet.

Canning pepperoni (well why not?)

I confess, I'm one of those bothersome types of canners who will look at virtually any food product and ask myself, "Can I put that in a jar?"

This happened recently with pepperoni while I was making pizzas for dinner. As I removed pepperoni from the bulk bag, I wondered - "Can this be canned?"

My friend Enola Gay had already done so (no surprise there!) so I decided to give it a go. Half the fun of canning, you see, is to try new things and see if they work out.

By now you're probably asking yourself, why the heck would I want to can pepperoni?

It's because I can make from scratch everything else on a pizza -- the dough from our own wheat, the sauce from our own tomatoes, the mozzarella cheese from our own cows -- but what's a good pizza without pepperoni? It would be nice to have some canned up for a "bleep" situation when a hot pepperoni pizza could lift everyone's spirits. Anyway, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

So I started with five pounds of pepperoni purchased at the wholesale grocers.

I stuffed as much as I could into wide-mouth pint jars. This particular pepperoni is large, so next time I think I'd use pepperoni with a smaller cut. As it was, I had to kind of squish the pieces into the jars. I could fit half a pound into each jar. I did NOT add water to the jars -- I dry-packed them.

The default time for canning pints of meat is 75 minutes, 10 lbs. pressure.

Pressure building...

When I removed the jars after processing, it was too dark in the kitchen to take good photos (this was last night) but the results didn't look promising. The contents looked black and greasy. Yuck.

This morning, after the jars had cooled, it still looked... well, less than appetizing.

The pepperoni had shrunk down and released a lot of its fat.

When I pulled it out of the jar, it was very greasy.

But when you think about it, there's no more grease in the jar than was originally in the pepperoni itself. Conclusion: I think pried apart and put on pizza, it would be fine. However it would NOT go well on sandwiches. (Don sometimes likes to make pepperoni sandwiches.)

All in all I would do this again, and probably will. I like having odd and handy things canned up in my pantry, and I think you'll agree pepperoni falls into that category.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Canning question

A reader posted a question on a temporary blog post I took down, but I didn't want her question deleted because I thought it was a good one. She wrote:

Speaking of canning (you're my 'go-to gal for all things canning), I have wanted to email you, but couldn't find an address on your blog. I did the fizzle fazzeled before my canner's pfhitting finished, i.e. I fell asleep while canning chicken in the pressure canner!!!! Thank goodness nothing exploded, BUT, the bottom of my canner is now rounded rather than flat (boohoo). Can I still use this canner, or should I bite the bullet and get a new one. PS: it's a Presto 16-quart (gosh, where did I first learn about that)? While I feel this is an inappropriate place to ask this question, I would love your input. Thanks.

Off-hand I'd say the canner is ruined, but since I've never encountered this kind of problem, I can't say for certain. I would absolutely contact the manufacturer and explain the problem (though understand it's in their best interest to suggest you purchase a new canner). Has anyone else experienced this issue? Is her canner ruined?

This reader's experience underscores the importance of vigilance during canning. Once -- only once -- did I get close to blowing the roof off our house because I forgot to check the pressure canner. Foolish me, I got involved in writing on the computer. By the time I remember and scrambled into the kitchen, the canner pressure was in the screaming red zone. I turned off the heat and got the hell out of there. Thankfully nothing happened but it taught me a harsh lesson: pay attention. Now whenever I use the pressure canner, I clip a kitchen timer to my collar and set it to beep every five or six minutes to remind me to go check the pressure. I haven't had a near-accident since.

Canning mustard

Today I canned mustard. Or to be more accurate, I RE-canned mustard.

If you remember, I like to buy things in bulk whenever possible. That includes condiments. Trouble is, I don't like big honkin' containers of condiments taking up refrigerator space. So whenever possible, I re-can things into smaller jars.

Last year I tried this with mustard and it was such a success that I knew I would do it again. We just finished up the last of the re-canned mustard yesterday, so today I canned three large jugs of mustard.

Three jugs at 105 ounces of mustard each equals 315 ounces, divided by 16 ounces (for a pint jar) equals a bit under 20 pints of mustard. So I washed 20 pint jars.

Last year when I heated the mustard up in a pot, the very bottom layer got burned despite my stirring. The burned taste carried over into the canned mustard. It wasn't bad, but it was there, so this time I used a double-boiler system to avoid burning the mustard.

Filling clean jars with hot mustard.

Twenty pints, just as I calced.

Naturally I used my beloved Tattler reusable canning lids.

Into the canner. Mustard is acidic enough that it can be water-bath canned.

I only have room on my stove for two oversized pots which held a total of 16 jars, so four jars had to go into the canner during a second round. (I managed to break one of the jars, so I ended up with 19 finished pints.)

The mustard is processed for 20 minutes at a rolling boil.

I find this to be a very economical alternative to buying the little bottles of mustard bought at the grocery store. Of course it helps to have lids and jars already in stock!


Isn't it interesting. Ben Bernanke does the unthinkable and holds a press conference...

...and gold goes whoosh upwards. I wonder why?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Next Contest Entry!

Howdy All. Here's our next entry in the Safecastle Freedom Award 2011 contest.

Just a note: We've received quite a number of contest entries (thank you all). So if you've sent one and haven't seen it yet, don't worry! Everyone who sends an entry (assuming you've followed the very basic rules) will be posted.

So without further ado: From Jane

Baby Steps

I wrote about my baby steps on my blog last year and got a “silly face” from my girl friend who I grew up with but now lives in Chicago. She teased me that my baby steps were pretty gigantic, but now in retrospect, I realize that we have different goals so mine seem gigantic to someone not aiming for the life that I am.

When I married my husband I was totally un-educated. What I mean by that is I didn’t know a thing about critical thinking or a world beyond the TV and public schools. In order to marry him he asked me to agree to 3 things. Number one, to be willing to be a pastors wife…eeek really? Um ok.(disclaimer, he’s not a pastor but has always had the desire to be one) Number two, to NOT have a career and stay home with any children that we had …eeek, am I dreaming?! yes please! Number three, to Homeschool our children…what the what?? I had NEVER considered this before. I KNEW I had hated public school. I KNEW I did not learn much at all and it sucked the life out of me. “Ok.” I said.

After a few years of marriage I learned some other things. We don’t take public assistance, no matter what. I had a hard time with this, but my husband held fast even through very trying and poor times. It was his job to provide for his family and that he did. We didn’t (and still don’t) take the many programs that are practically pushed down your throat. Public health care for pregnant women and children. Public food assistance for them as well. Public funding for homeschool with just a few (a lot) of strings attached. And those are just the ones that I personally was very tempted with. I won’t go into all the reasons why he said no, most who read this will understand already and those that don’t might never.

We will own guns. I had a hard time with this too. I didn’t understand the need. My father never seemed to care if he had one or not (he did) and never taught us kids to use it. The statement “Slaves don’t own guns, Free people do” rings so clear to me today. Though I loved my childhood and the innocence that my parents let me have, we were slaves. We have that freedom and we NEED to exercise it for many different reasons. I am now, finally, at the place where I feel comfortable, not weird and now almost naked with out my side arm.

We will let God decide how many children we have. This was always something I desired too. I could not imagine what number would be perfect. So far at 6, it’s great, but the kids really want a baby for Christmas, hehe.

I never really liked gardening. In fact I was actually mad when 2 people got us plants for our wedding gifts. My mother never had a garden and the thought never crossed my mind…that’s what the produce section is for, right? My husband and I lived above a garage in a cute little apartment for four years. My mentor (the woman of the house) gave me a garden spot to grow my produce and flowers. Her husband would fertilize it for me even, with their rabbit manure (how gross I thought). She wouldn’t really take no for an answer and gave me all my starts and I enjoyed my teensy garden and keeping her company that first summer. I was hooked.

More children leads to more things needed for them all to do occupy themselves with. I knew I didn’t want my children playing lots of video games. I was blessed with a space-cadet animal lover for a first daughter. She still asks us for new animals every week. In reality it was Martha Stewart’s beautiful eggs her hens produced. The green eggs stuck me and I had to have them. So I needed a coop and some chickens because you just can’t buy green eggs at the store, so we got them. (we don’t even watch TV anymore, but thanks Martha)

Now my chicken coop is in between two fenced in runs, the chickens get one side one year and the garden the other, and then they trade. This way I don’t have to collect and then spread the rich manure, they do it for me.

My daughter has wanted a horse since she could talk, been obsessed. I, of course, wanted to fulfill her dream because it’s the one animal I had also always wanted. Well, my mom promising that when I grew up I could get my own horse wasn’t such a great idea because she forgot to ask my husband. We have the space, but who has the money to buy all that hay? (Especially in Alaska, ouch!) My daughter also discovered she liked goats and has been nagging about horses and goats for quite a while, so I’d started collecting 6’ high dog run fence panels off Craigslist because I’d heard they make good goat fencing. Last year I was picking up my third load of free goat manure and I finally asked the lady how it was to keep goats. She told me how simple their housing was even in the cold and what they ate and gave me a phone number of a local reputable breeder. 2 months later we had 2 newly freshened Nubian does giving us 2 gallons of milk a day being milked by my animal crazed daughter who loves (almost) every minute.

Now that goats were off my mind, my mind wandered to food storage. I realized that I would love to have a “mini store” in my garage so that I didn’t have to run to the grocery store if I ran out of spaghetti sauce…so I bought 3 cases and thus began my food storing. In about 8 months I have a years worth of many of the dry goods. I’m not finished but happy with the start.

All of these baby steps might be huge for someone with 1.2 children living in the city. But for me it’s just the beginning to the life that I want us and my children to lead. I know that I’m naturally lazy (day to day sort) and all of these things from homeschooling to goats to fence building gets me off my butt. I love the feeling of accomplishment after a long day. I also never realized how much my kids, er children, would actually enjoy their hard work until one night we were having a little feast in the kitchen. My son pointed out, “look, all of the food we’re eating we made ourselves.” He was right. It was smoked salmon, goat cheese, hard boiled eggs, caribou jerky, goat milk and ptarmigan nuggets. The best feeling came over me when my husband beamed at his family.

Whether or not my children decide to live this way, we know we have done right by them to teach them these basic things that nobody knows how to do any longer. We are always learning and taking new steps. At this moment we have eggs chirping ready to hatch, a goat ready to kid and bees in their way to us. What more excitement could you ask for?

Our baby steps have led us not to an easy life, but a very rewarding and happy one.

Country Jane, learning to walk

Monday, April 25, 2011

Butchering Pearly

I'll repeat my warning I put up every time we butcher: DO NOT READ THIS POST if you are vegetarian or have a squeamish stomach. This post shows pictures of our heifer being butchered. I don't want anyone whining that they weren't adequately warned about the graphic nature of these photos.


Okay. That said, today was the sad day we had our injured heifer Pearly butchered.

Normally I don't get sentimental over our livestock. When it's time to butcher a steer, it's no big deal. But this is the first time we've had an injury on the farm so severe that we couldn't let the animal live.

If you recall, Pearly cut her ankle on a sheet of roofing tin I carelessly left on the ground. The cut was so deep it severed her Achilles tendon. We've had her in the barn for the last week since she could barely hop around on three legs. Fortunately the mobile butchers were scheduled to be in our neighborhood today, so Pearly didn't have to suffer too long.

My normal morning routine (for the cow/calf pairs currently residing in the driveway) is to put their hay in a couple of wheelbarrows, then let the animals out one by one. Since I didn't want them in the vicinity when Pearly was butchered, this time I let the animals out, but didn't put out any hay. They milled about in confusion.

I wanted all the animals down in the pasture, out of sight of the barn. We haven't put the animals in the pasture yet this year because the grass isn't tall enough and we don't want them eating it down too quickly. But this was a special occasion. Once I put some hay in a wheelbarrow, they followed me readily enough.

A couple hours later, Potlatch Pack showed up. The business is run by Mel and Chance, an uncle/nephew team.

The first thing to do, of course, is the actual killing. Notice the quiet and respectful stance Chance takes as he approaches the animal. He keeps his rifle tucked out of sight until just before he aims.

These guys are experts. One shot -- that's it. Very quick, very humane.

They dragged her out of the barn and hoisted her up to drain the blood.

The men wear waterproof aprons and holsters with knives. They constantly sharpen the knives on a sharpener which also hangs from their belt.

Skinning. In their capable hands, this procedure takes only ten or fifteen minutes.

They use a modified chain saw to cut the carcass in half.

The men are constantly hosing themselves down, as well as their tools and the carcass. They keep everything very clean.

See that white sack? Sadly, it was as we suspected -- Pearly was quite pregnant. That's the fetus.

Hanging the carcass to finish skinning and finish cutting in half.

Into the truck, along with the carcasses from a neighbor's farm.

The men have barrels for putting unwanted organs and other parts, but they always empty the stomach because otherwise it would take up too much room. This is the half-digested hay from the stomach.

But how far along was the fetus?

The men have seen fetuses in endless stages of development. A cow's gestation is nine months and ten days. They estimated this one to be 7 1/2 months along. It was a girl. Notice the pearly-white hooves, just like her mom had when she was born.

In the end, the men buttoned up their equipment and left me with so little to clean up that I was done in two minutes. These guys are consummate professionals and it's no wonder their reputation as experts is widespread in this region. They took a sad situation and did the job quickly and cleanly. We're grateful they're here to do it.

I sometimes say this blog is to share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly about rural living. Today was a little bit of all three. The good is we will soon have meat in our freezer. The bad is we lost an otherwise healthy heifer. And the ugly is we lost an unborn calf as well. Such is life in the country.