Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Visiting my parents

After two days of hard travel, Older Daughter and I are down in Southern California visiting my parents.

We took Hwy. 80 from Reno over the mountains, skirted around Sacramento, then headed south on Hwy. 5. It's a long drive through a mostly empty area. California is the nation's most populated state by far, so I'm always amazed at just how much emptiness is here. Lots and lots of agriculture, though of course it's completely dependent on irrigation, which is a very political subject.

At one point we passed a long traffic jam in the northbound lanes due to road construction, something we (thankfully) didn't have to deal with.

This is an interesting little "vista point" where some decent views are possible, including the California Aquifer which passes right by. However we bypassed it this time and just blasted through.

Temperatures were easily 100F as we drove, and we felt very sorry for the range cattle that had no shade. Areas that did have shade had animals just crammed underneath.

In fact, as we crossed the low coastal range, the temperature hit 108F. Whee.

Finally we hit the coast. Here's Pismo Beach...

...forever associated in my mind with Bugs Bunny.

It was nice to see the ocean again.

After a couple more hours on the road, we finally fetched up to my parent's home. I'm grateful their area has far lower temperatures than the inland locations. We'll be experiencing 60s and 70s over the next week.

My mom (at 92) is confined to a wheelchair due to a stroke, and my dad (who turns 89 in less than two weeks) is her primary caretaker. Our job for the next few days is to be as helpful as possible: errands, shopping, cooking, some yard work. I have three brothers, and I'm profoundly grateful they're so much closer and are able to help my parents far more often than I can. One brother is only an hour's drive away, and the other two live in the Bay Area.

Our timing on this visit is no accident ... because we'll get to see Younger Daughter too! She flew into Virginia this week for a few days of technical training, and on Saturday she's flying west. We'll pick her up from the airport Saturday morning and will have only a single day of visiting with her. Older Daughter and I leave on Sunday (I'm dealing with job commitments myself), and Younger Daughter will stay on a couple days longer with my parents. So we're having something of a small family reunion, in itself is a gift to my folks.

So if I'm silent on the blog for the next few days, dear readers, please forgive me.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

On the road again

Greetings from Reno, Nevada!

Yes, Older Daughter and I are on the road, traveling down to Southern California to visit my parents.

It was a long day of driving through a lot of empty spaces.

I've been on this route several times now, and – especially if you're just blasting through to make Reno by any decent hour – tedious beyond belief. Older Daughter and I swapped off driving and listened to a number of podcasts during the journey.

The desert has its own beauty, even in 100F temperatures, but we were pretty tired by the time we fetched up to Reno.

What kept Older Daughter going was the thought of sushi in a fancy restaurant on top the hotel we were staying in.

The nice thing about Reno is you can get decent hotel prices outside the weekend. We have a very nice room...

...with a very nice view.

Older Daughter got her sushi, and I settled for tempura.

Now we're back in our room, digesting, watching the colored fountains below our window.

Comically, I was taking a before-bed shower when, in the shower itself, I dropped a bar of soap (slap!) on the tiles. An instant later, the fire alarm goes off. Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Oh great! I dropped the bar of soap and set off the fire alarm!

Hastily I rinsed off and got dressed, and Older Daughter and I made our way down eight flights of stairs and outside, where things seemed curiously calm. We made our way back into the casino and inquired at the front desk, where we were told someone had accidentally triggered the alarm on the ninth floor. Still, as we made our way back to the room, we figured it was really the bar of soap on the eighth floor that did it.

More driving tomorrow. Onward!

Friday, June 21, 2024

Canning chicken

Earlier this week, we had a couple of cold and rainy days. So cold, in fact, that the higher elevations got some snow.

It was a good time to do some canning.

I had a 40-pound box of boneless skinless chicken breasts taking up room in the freezer, so I pulled it out and let it defrost overnight (though most of it was still frozen by morning).

I pried off a portion and put it in a pot to boil.

While the water was heating up, I pulled some canning jars out of the barn. Older Daughter has been using smaller quantities of chicken when preparing meals, so from now on I decided to can chicken in pint jars instead of quarts.

The jars were dirty and dusty, so I used my handy-dandy improved jar washer to get them clean.

My canner holds 18 pints at a time, so I washed just enough jars for the first batch.

When the meat was cooked enough...

...I pulled out a few pieces at a time...

...and started cutting them into small enough pieces to fit in the jars.

Adding a half-teaspoon of salt to each jar.

Topping off each jar with clean hot water.

Into the canner.

Meat in pint jars is processed for 75 minutes at about 14 lbs pressure (for our elevation).

While the first batch processed, I started on the second batch.

First batch done...

...and second batch into the canner.

I processed a third batch the next day. Altogether I got 43 pints of chicken. I could probably have compressed it down to 40 pints, which follows the rule of thumb of about a pound of meat per pint.

Before dating and storing the jars in the pantry, I gave them a good scrub. Jars fresh out of the pressure canner get a sort of "scum" on them, especially those on the lower level.

Then came the tedious task of scrubbing the rings. Uncleaned, rings can rust and get nasty, so I always scrub them after each use.

I also scrubbed and rinsed the inside of the canner, and upended it to drain.

This canner (an All American) is unquestionably one of the most valuable tools I own. I bought it shortly after Don and I were married in 1990, and I've processed thousands upon thousands of jars of food in it. With maintenance, it should last the rest of my life and probably the lifespan of our daughters as well, if not longer. Hard to beat quality like that!

It's a good thing I canned the chicken when I did. The weather is warming up and we're seeing temps in the high 80s and low 90s. It wouldn't be any fun canning in these conditions. But now we have an extra 43 pints of chicken in the pantry.

Why you shouldn't invade America

A friend sent this.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Pickling tip

A reader just sent in the following:

"I’m not sure how best to share this. My wife ran across this on Facebook from user Yummy Best Recipes - 🚨Just a little warning for all who are canning pickles or anything using vinegar.

This year you cannot just grab a plastic jar of vinegar or even pickling vinegar without checking the label. Safe pickling requires 5% acidity....for the first time we are seeing 4% acidity vinegar... on the shelves. That renders anything pickled in the 4% NOT shelf stable. There are several canning FB pages where everyone is warning ...for the first time ever...to check those labels or you could be throwing out many jars of unsafe pickled veggies.

I thought you might like to share."

Thank you, dear reader! The warning is confirmed in this article.

I'm not overly fond of pickled foods and don't do any pickling myself, so I was unaware of this issue. Be safe while pickling!

Monday, June 17, 2024

Cow update

You might be wondering how our new cows are doing.

They spent about a week in the feed lot, for several reasons. One, we wanted them to get used to where the shelter and water are located. Two, we needed to treat Maggie's horn buds with fly spray. And three, we wanted them to get used to us as their caretakers.

Oh, and four: The feed lot is where the COB (corn/oats/barley) can be found. We give them each a modest scoop in the evening, accompanied by our call: "Bossy Bossy Bossy Bossy BOSSY!!" (Named after our very first cow.) We want them trained to come to the "Bossy" call. Here they all have their noses in buckets.

For about a week, I took a book and a crate, and just sat in the feed lot for an hour or so each evening, watching the animals and talking to them in a friendly tone. One evening I heard a crashing of hooves, and a cow elk came down the hill, bypassing the corral without noticing me.

By the time I'd snatched up my camera, she saw me and passed down into the woods, where she regarded me with the deepest suspicion.

Another time while sitting in the feed lot, I noticed one of Maggie's horns that had fallen off a few days before.

We've never banded horns before, and it was interesting to see the band.

I must admit it did a nice job. Except for the dramatic bleeding that happened just before the horn fell off, it was a tidy process, and apparently painless.

One afternoon I went out to check on the animals and they were ... gone! But how...? They were surrounded by six-foot horse panels!

A fast look revealed the rubber fasteners designed to lock the panels together had snapped on one panel. With such thick rubber, we hadn't factored in that the horse panels have been sitting unused for several years, during which time the rubber cracked and weakened in the sun. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the cows pushed open a hole and slipped through.

The trouble is, they slipped into a portion of property where we hadn't finished fencing. They were all happily grazing on the green grass and were nowhere near the fences, but we couldn't risk keeping them there.

So, armed with PVC push poles, we recruited Older Daughter's assistance and guided the animals into the one pasture that was fully fenced and ready for them.

While the cows happily explored their new digs, Don and I wired every horse panel together with wire to reinforce the rubber fasteners.

We were pleased to see the cows had no compunction about coming into the feed lot for water and to rest while chewing their cud. This is good. We want them to associate the feed lot with comfort and security.

Meanwhile it's wonderful to look out our windows and see the pasture with cows in it.

Maggie was a little skittish at first, but she's taming down nicely. And boy does she love her COB. This is a good thing – it will make training her to milk all that much easier.

Here she's watching Darcy with great curiosity as we take him for his evening walk.

Each evening we put a scoop of COB into each bucket and start yelling "Bossy Bossy Bossy Bossy BOSSY!!" We want the animals locked into the feed lot each evening, and what better way to lure them in than with grain?

Maggie and Mignon (the Angus calf) respond with alacrity, to the point of stampeding into the corral. Fillet (the Angus mom) ... not so much. While she loves grain just as much as the others, she doesn't like being told what to do. Generally she moseys up when she feels like it, long after the others have finished their treats, and condescends to accept her own portion of grain. Last night Don stayed up by the gate with the bucket while I went down and shooed her uphill toward the barn. She went with a good enough nature, but she had to be prompted at the beginning.

Still, I'm not worried. Fillet is literally beef on the hoof. She's due to calve in late January or early February 2025, and once her future calf is old enough to wean, we'll probably put Fillet in the freezer and concentrate on Mignon as the matriarch of our beef lineage. Mignon is turning into a total sweetheart.

So that's your cow update.