Grits and Happiness

It’s Sunday, you know, one of the seven days a week I reserve for experimentation. Today it’s about food and gardens.

First, grits. My man loves grits sweetened with a little bit of maple syrup. Yeah, South meets North at the table. Well, I like cheese, and I’m going to try to come up with a cheese grits recipe.

Two recipes I found online had this in common:

4 cups liquid

1 cup grits

4 Tblsp. unsalted butter

salt and pepper

sharp cheddar

The main difference between the two was the type of liquid used. One recipe used chicken broth, adding a couple tablespoons of heavy cream at the end. The other used whole milk and water. That’s where I’m leaning.

I will stir in fat and cheese at the end, as both recipes do, but I aim to add a tablespoon or two of powdered cheddar and some good Penzey’s seasoning, either Fox Point or Sunny Paris. Because the mix will already be pretty salty, I’m leaning toward the unsalted Sunny Paris…and a little garlic.

If it doesn’t work, I’ll feed it to Dale and go on.  Maybe try again using broth.  Keep you posted.

Eggsperimenting

Corny? Yeah, but what else do you call it when you have questions about eggs that must be answered.

It’s a fact that chickens lay better at some times than they do at others. Light makes a difference. My girls lay well during the coldest time of the year because they have 24 hours a day of red heat-lamp light. I get eggs during the long days of summer if it doesn’t get too hot and if the bull snakes don’t get to the eggs first.

When times are good, I have a surplus of eggs. Can I preserve some for when I don’t have enough?

Today, I slightly beat two large eggs and poured them into one of those single-serve sauce containers. I slightly beat three bantam eggs and poured them into another container. The amounts are roughly the same. Either will be just right for one pumpkin pie or for any recipe calling for two eggs.

What will be their consistency when they thaw?

Will they cook in the same way as eggs that weren’t frozen?

Also today I put three hardboiled eggs into a freezer container. In about a week, I’ll take out one of them, thaw it for a day, and eat it. If it takes longer to thaw, I’ll know that after I peel and cut the first one.

Can we dehydrate hardboiled egg slices?

That’s an eggsperiment for another day.

Peas and Carrot Soup

When the temps are in the teens and the chickens are secure, it is time to experiment in the kitchen. We had a roasted chicken this week so I have a nice broth with which to start.  One should never let a roasted chicken carcass go to waste.

How many ways can one make chicken soup?

I start with dried garden peas. I bring water to a boil and add salt and peas. I boil the peas for two minutes, cover the pan, then turn off the heat. The peas rehydrate for 30 minutes.

They are not as soft as canned peas. My man is a texture person. He likes pudding and overcooked veggies. I could eat them, and so could he in an emergency, but he wouldn’t like them. Does salt affect the texture? Perhaps the peas should be boiled like dried beans.

So, change of plans. I get a can of sweet peas out of the pantry, but I’ll go ahead with the other dried veggies—carrots, onions, and celery. I’m a seat-of-the-pants cook, but for you guys, I’m measuring. Here’s the recipe.

About 1/3 of a 16-oz package of lasagna corte (dried corn noodles)
6 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons dried diced carrots
1 tablespoon dried diced onions
1 teaspoon dried diced celery
1 15-oz can of sweet peas, drained
leftover chicken, if you have any
seasoning to taste

Add pasta to boiling, salted water. Boil briskly ten minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Drain.

Combine broth and dried veggies. Bring to a boil. When they have boiled five minutes, stir in cooked pasta and remaining ingredients. Return to boil, cover and turn heat to a simmer for 15 minutes.

The verdict? This is comforting, hearty, and easy. It’s definitely another recipe to add to the chicken soup file.

Cold Front

Six days until Thanksgiving, and we’ve had one light freeze on the banks of the creek here in north central Oklahoma. It’s the new normal. Don’t you hate that cliché, new normal?

It’s 83 degrees here, and the wasps are coming in. Looking for warmth or for a place to die? I don’t know, but something tells me the weather is about to change. For those who have been paying attention, this is not the same thing as “the climate is about to change.” I mean, it’s 83 degrees. Fahrenheit.

The climate has already changed, and is changing still. But today, I’m looking at my little square of earth in what used to be Zone 6 and is now more like Zone 7, and I’m doing what farmers and gardeners have been doing for centuries: I’m getting ready for what’s coming in. Planters with moist dirt are emptied and cleaned. Garden hoses have been put away, and I’m closing up windows and doors on the coops. The chickens will need extra hay, too.

Inside, my cats want to snuggle. In fact, one of them is helping write this piece. The dogs will bless the couch and chair all night long. Hunters are out, so the dogs are sticking close in the late afternoon, too.

My security? Good Lands’ End flannel sheets! It pays to be prepared.

You Call This a Writing Break?

It’s Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month, and being the rebel that I am, I’m working on a nonfiction book about farming. I’ve been writing all morning when I look out the window to see the water fount in my front chicken coop lying at an angle on the ground.

It was inevitable. I have several of these heated water founts, and only one with its original handle. After a season or less of hanging on a metal S-hook, the plastic handles give way.

My Nanowrimo writing goal is 2000 words a day, and I’m halfway there, but chickens must have clean water at all times. This won’t wait. I hit the Save icon, and go outside to fix what’s broken.

First, I wash out the base and the barrel. I don’t want to work with dirty equipment, and the water fount has to be washed every time it is filled.

A piece of the handle is stuck in the hole. I tap it out. Then I go in search of a piece of baling wire. I recycle the wire from my square bales of hay, and I try to keep a clean wind of wire inside my barn.

I keep a length of plastic water hose there, too. And a tool bucket. I grab my wire nippers, my favorite needle-nosed pliers, and a pair of utility scissors. I’m ready.

I slide the plastic water hose over the wire before I fit the wire into the holes that once held the plastic handle. The water hose is necessary. The wire alone cuts your hand when you’re carrying three gallons of water.

After I’ve secured the wire, I refill the fount. But first I have to devise a stand to hold the once-flat barrel. The new handle doesn’t lay flat, but two blocks, a couple of inches apart to accommodate the handle, does the trick.

It has been less than half an hour since I saw the broken fount. I return the repaired water fount to its hook, and before I walk away, two of my hens are drinking.

Not all fixes are so simple. I was ready for this one because it had happened before. I had all my tools and parts where I could find them. Like a Scout, this farm girl was prepared, but she knows the next job might not be so simple. Or expected.

It’s So Easy to Fool a Human

This summer, with a flock of yearling hens and a dozen or so older ladies, I was averaging a dozen eggs a day. But as the year turned toward fall, and some of the girls molted, I started getting only three or four.

Yesterday, I didn’t get a single egg. I was even thinking I might have to buy eggs before spring when I will raise a few pullets with my meat birds.

Then, today! Today I got seven eggs. I know, the average of three to four still holds, but… Yeah, things are looking up.

Post-Apocalyptic

The squirrels are busy today piling up acorns. I’m a home canner, and I’ve been checking my pantry. Like the squirrels, I have backup sources for winter food. And I can go to the grocery store. Even in snow, three miles to town isn’t far in a car.

I imagine my ancestors as they cured, dried, and canned to prepare for the lean months. Outside of war zones, most of us don’t have this life and death purpose regarding food. Do we miss the struggle? Could this be why so many post-apocalyptic novels are published?

What is apocalypse anyway?

Ask the people of Barbuda. Their island was demolished by Hurricane Irma. Uninhabitable. They all had to evacuate.

Ask the people of Puerto Rico. Ask the people of St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John. No clean water. No supplies coming in. No necessary medicines.

I’ve been a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction since someone gave me a battered copy of Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon in the early 70s. But this isn’t fiction, folk. And no amount of ammo, rice, and beans can take the place of good public policy.

What are we doing now to make sure that post-apocalyptic fiction doesn’t become reality?

A Day’s Work

The past two days I signed copies of Froggy Bottom Blues, my new picture book, at EncycloMedia, an event for techies, teachers, and librarians in Oklahoma City. I drove home Tuesday evening to tend the chickens.  During the night, the rain started.

On Wednesday morning, I drove 85 miles to Oklahoma City in the rain.  On Wednesday evening, I drove 85 miles home in a downpour. I must have timed it just right for maximum water. Every once in a while I’d get a flash flood warning on my phone.

The new normal in Oklahoma seems to be monsoon followed by drought. I will not complain about rain.

Tired, but happy, I stopped in town for supplies, chugging damply from store to store, before I tackled the muddy road home.  Back at the farm, I changed my shoes, petted dogs and cats, checked in with my man who was off on his own adventure, and went out to take care of chickens.

I gathered the eggs in the front pen, but I ran into a big rat snake in the second. She ( Or he. How can you tell?) was hanging out of a nesting box, lumps along her length to let me know where my eggs had gone.

I caught her with my handy catcher and released her over the fence onto the creek bank. She was making the girls nervous. I will shoot a moccasin, a copperhead, or a rattler, but I consider a few eggs a small price to pay for the work rat snakes do on the farm.

After a cup of strong coffee, I fixed supper then settled in to read a couple of the new books I brought home from EncycloMedia.

I love quiet endings.

Going Wild

I’m an old woman with lots of interests and not enough time. There’s no way my garden will ever have a manicured look. My mantra is, “Get a little bit done every day.”

Of course, that doesn’t just apply to weeding and watering. And some things don’t wait. When the peaches are ripe, I can and dry and freeze. When the tomato plot is dry, I water. When the chickens need clean water…every day…I’m out there filling founts and scooping out poopy hay. And lines of a poem wait for no one.

The garden, on the other hand, does what it does regardless of what I do or don’t get done.

Along the actual rows of okra and tomato plants, I weed. The chickens love it when I do, because I throw the treats into their runs. But I note with dismay that corners and empty stretches of the garden not only grow weedy, but the weeds go to seed. That doesn’t bode well for next year.

I have noticed that cleared and planted sections surrounded by weedy beds don’t seem to dry out as quickly. I’ve had fewer insect problems this year than usual, but who knows if it’s because of nearby weed plots.

Perhaps we try to be too pristine. We don’t want weeds competing for nutrients and moisture. But what if there’s a middle ground somewhere between total control and no control at all?

I’m going to have to put some thought into how to set up a repeatable experiment here. And make sure there is time to keep one bed weed free without adding mulch that the other beds don’t get.

Meanwhile, I need to do my little bit for today. This weed job requires a face mask. Who knew ragweed bloomed in August?

Everyone?

Weeds and Chiggers

I live in a highly populated neighborhood. There aren’t many humans, but other species abound.

This year a lot of frogs moved in. As I walk through the damp garden, they jump away from my giant feet. I must appear to them as an Olympian appeared to the ancient Greeks.

The chickens grab up any poor frog that strays into their pens. Coyotes, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat grab up my poor chickens, too, if they get the chance, so I keep them penned in large, covered runs.

Do I feel guilty for penning them? Yes. Do I wish they could be out scouring the ground for ticks and other pesky locals? Again, yes.

My garden extends from the largest run. I don’t plow. Instead I add wood chips, compost, straw, paper sacks, cardboard, crushed eggs shells, and whatever else will break down and make my hard, clay soil fertile and friable.

If you don’t plow, you get a lot of reseeding. I have about 20 square feet of marigolds rising up in one section of the garden. When I see the first ferny leaves in spring, I weed around them and surround them with vegetables.  They stand three or four tall and are striking against a backdrop of okra. The same goes with the arugula patch that started with one plant several years ago.

Aw, but the lemon balm! I should have noticed that thin, square stem. This mint relative has taken over a big chunk of my garden. Fortunately, the chickens love it. And it makes good tea and an excellent room freshener. I’ve just had to make the garden bigger.

I have several garden hoes, but I mostly pull weeds. I stack them, root and all, into three piles: suitable for chickens, not suitable for chickens, and burn these suckers. The latter stack is reserved for brambles and vines that try to swallow my fences.

The chicken weeds and lemon balm I carry by the armload into the runs.  The chickens do come running.

Despite my daily routine of bug spray on work socks and flesh, I always bring a few chiggers in, too. These tiny residents are undeterred by the greasy spray on my skin.

Do frogs eat chiggers? Does anything eat chiggers? They have a purpose for being here, right?