Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CSA member submitted recipes: Autumn Sausage Stew With Butternut Squash

For our January CSA distribution, our 10lb shareholders found a new type of hot sausage in their shares. CSA members Brett and Jen commented that not only was the sausage fantastic right from the pan, they used it in the following recipe to make a delicious stew.

Thanks to Brett for passing the recipe along!



Autumn Sausage Stew With Butternut Squash

This stew combines delicious spicy sausage with butternut squash and
other autumn vegetables. Serve this stew with cornbread, or hot baked
rolls for a hearty fall meal.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Ingredients:
•1 small butternut squash
•12 ounces spicy Andouille sausage or similar sausage
•2 teaspoons olive oil
•1 cup chopped onion
•1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
•1 tablespoon flour
•1 cup vegetable broth or chicken broth
•1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, diced
•1 cup frozen baby lima beans
•1 cup corn kernels, canned and drained or frozen, thawed
•1/2 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper, or to taste
•2 teaspoons sweet paprika
•hot sauce, to taste

Preparation:
Carefully cut the squash in half and scoop out seeds. Peel with a
vegetable peeler. Cut into 1-inch cubes and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven or kettle over meidum heat, cook the sausage in
olive oil until lightly browned. Add onion and celery and cook until
onion is tender. Stir in flour until well blended. Stir in vegetable
broth (or chicken broth), tomatoes, and lima beans. Bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add squash and corn to the stew, along with salt, pepper, and paprika.

Cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, or until squash is
tender. Add hot sauce and serve with cornbread.
Serves 4 to 6.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pa-Pa the Peacock

Last month my grandparents moved and were unable to bring their feathered friends with them so we adopted their 13 laying hens and a peacock. I have very fond memories of peafowl from my childhood. Growing up, there was a farm behind my grandparent's home with many peacocks (and peahens) and I can remember watching them perched on the barn roof: their long tails draped behind like a regal cloak as they made their haunting calls - Yeee-ow! Yeee-ow!

I am a bit fuzzy on details since there are many grapevines to get news and gossip all the way out to the ranch, but apparently when the farmer passed away, he left the farm to my grandparents which is how they ended up with peacocks in the first place. As I've heard, there were more peacocks at one point and they went to live with another farmer but the fowl roosted on the neighbor's garage and the neighbor shot them. The friend who took the peacocks called my grandpa to let him know that the others were gone and there was only one left and he didn't look so good so maybe my grandpa should come take a look. Apparently "take a look" meant "take it home" because the friend loaded the bird up in my grandpa's truck.

Once Grandpa got him home it was clear why the peacock was not doing so well - a giant tangle of fishing line was wrapped around his leg so tight it had rubbed his leg raw and cut into the skin. After tedious hours with the scissors and much tender care, Pa-pa the peacock seemed to be doing better. His one leg is so covered with scar tissue now,  it is twice the diameter of the other leg but he gets around just fine. After such a traumatic experience, Pa-pa deserves a forever home and he's found that in the ranch.

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Papa and I are about the same age (peacocks can live up to 30 years in captivity but average 18-20 in the wild). He may very well be one of the same lovely birds I remember watching as a child as I strained my slender arms through the fence to collect cast off iridescent feathers.

I adore Pa-pa and I'm fiercely protective of him. He's not just a pretty yard ornament; he was a special gift to me and it is up to me to honor him and give him a good life. So here's a friendly warning to visitors to the ranch: The ranch is my home and home to animals that are not only my livelihood but also my friends. Letting your dogs roam unsupervised to chase or harass (or worse, maim or kill) my stock in the name of letting them run free because "it is the country" is very disrespectful and I do not forget these things. Woe to he (or she) who leaves his/her dog unattended to harass the lame, geriatric peacock that symbolizes my childhood...

Well now. Let's close on a lighter note! Here are a few interesting things about Pa-pa:

- He keeps to a very similar routine each day. He has a very specific pattern he walks around the barnyard and house so depending on the time of day, I usually know where to find him.

- He doesn't like stairs much. I think this is because his leg still bothers him. He also doesn't do much flying which is fine by me since I don't much want him roosting in the trees.

- He is almost completely silent. Now the mating season is in the spring, so maybe this ole fella has a few calls left in him but I've only heard him make a noise a few times and it was a scolding call when I got too close. It sounded like a kazoo and scared the bejeebus out of me the first time I heard it.

- Apparently last spring, a neighbor boy lost interest in his pet chicken and the hen came to live with my grandparents. All the other hens were so mean to her that Pa-pa took "Baby" under his wing and they became good buddies, even snuggling up together at night. Now that Baby is grown, the friendship is not as strong but I do see them together occasionally

- He has developed a taste for dog food. In general, I don't feed pet food to the chickens but Pa-pa does not provide meat or eggs for me so if eating dog food makes him happy, so be it.

- This may sounds strange but sometimes I get the feeling that Pa-pa is clairvoyant. There have been several occasions where I have been working and "had a case of the sads" or felt depressed or lonely and I've looked up and there is Pa-pa watching me. At first I thought this might have been related to his new-found appreciation for dog food (see above) but the ways he looks at me is very different. He's startled me a few times questing for a handout, but when I am feeling down and peer over my shoulder to see him right there staring at me, I am never spooked, there is just this wave of calm that washes over me and I feel better.

Well that turned into an interesting post. Now you can think I am both a mama grizzly and a crazy person! It's a two-for-one kind of day today. At least I have an awesome peacock friend though :)

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A day in the life

It’s a farm-style breakfast today – eggs and hash browns. I forgot about the bacon in the bottom drawer of the fridge. The boys don’t mention it. I can see the grey sky looming to the west down Barn Canyon.

“You know, if it is too muddy, we don’t have to move them today,” I say.

“It’s not that bad out,” says Nathan with a shrug and a look that says “you can come if you want but it is OK to stay here”. A typical farmer response. I decide not to read into it too much and wander off to find my hat.

The mud is really bad. I slurk my way across the hill to push a few stragglers up to the corral. I leave False M behind; it’s wet and rainy and I can see her hip is bothering her so there is no sense in pushing her up to meet the others. We’ll keep her here at the house where she will be on good feed and not have to travel too far to get it as long as the poor old dear can slog through the mud.

With everyone else in the corral I wander up the hill to close the gate, the mud grabbing at my boots. I’m secretly prideful that I had the foresight to remember to bring some sticks; the rubber boots are a no-brainer but the sticks are the secret. I can glurp and glop my way through the eight inches of mud with relative ease; it’s not a graceful walk but it keeps me from getting bogged down.

Jake rounds the corner – stick-less. Before he reaches the really churned up parts, I pass him one of my two sticks, more of a rough branch really. It’s by far the sturdier of the two. I keep the small one for myself. It is much shorter, just barely hip-height and it has a little nub where my thumb can rest. Unlike the branch, it has been worn smooth with use. I greedily wish I had both sticks: the rough branch is far more practical, I could really lean on it if I got bogged down but the other stick has character.

While my stick may not keep my boot from getting stuck while my foot walks right out into the mud, it is filled with impractical nostalgia. I am The Shepherdess. I am a Scottish shepherd moving my flock across great green pastures, the dogs working in tandem to keep the flock together taking direction from my lilting whistles. The dog... the dog! Wait where is the dog?

I snap back from my pastoral nostalgia. My dog, Zoe, only occasionally heeds my whistles. I am low on her chain of command. She’s Lloyd’s dog but will take commands from Nathan too. With me she plays the “multiple parents” card, seeking out Lloyd or Nathan when I give her a command she dislikes.

I see Zoe working with Nathan to move the bulls out of the bullpen so we can walk the herd through their gate to an adjoining pasture. It seems everything at the ranch is a little puzzle like this: we have to move the bulls before we can move the calves. We have to move the calves out so we can bring the heifers in. We have to remove the battery from this truck before we can start this tractor. We have to air up the tire before we can use the ATV.

With the bulls out of the way and gates normalized I slowly put pressure on the cattle to move out of the manger. They did not get fed this morning and are hesitant to go. Some of the calves just turn and stare at me, planting their hooves and refusing to move. Angus are notoriously headstrong. I can’t wait to see this year’s calf crop in the next few months. Our newest bull is a Hereford which is a more docile breed, willing to please and work with you.

I try to work the calves slowly and carefully. At this age their flight zone has no danger gradient. From here they are calm and curious, wondering why I am in their manger but a couple steps closer to this one calf and he could spook sending panic through the herd. I really don’t want to get this bunch all riled up.

Calves can be difficult to move. This group consists mostly of yearling replacement heifers and beef steers. There’s a handful of others: a first calf heifer, several second-calf heifers an older brood cow and False M. Since we are walking the calves to little hay shed for winter feeding we are betting on the older cows to help lead the way. Normally we would truck the calves after weaning but the mud makes that option unavailable.

Nathan and Jake sort out Margaret, the first calf heifer, from the rest of the group. She is due to calve in a few weeks and having the heifers down at the house for calving makes it easier to check on them and intervene should anything go wrong. I can already see her bag is starting to fill out so she should be close, but the first gestation can be tricky maybe it will be a week, maybe a month. I hope everything goes OK, she’s one of my favorites.

Margaret bellows when she sees the herd take off up the hill and stomps around frantically. She doesn’t want to stay here with geriatric False M. What an odd couple they make. Margaret a coming two-year-old on the brink of having her first calf and False M, soon to be 19 and with so few teeth it is amazing that she can support herself let alone a calf. Maybe she is pregnant too. I didn’t think she was last year but she surprised me. Either way she has a forever home at the ranch, she’s in the book, she’s part of the legacy.

Margaret is part of the legacy too. The ranch has run a closed herd for decades, buying new bulls to cycle genetics but not new cows. All the ladies on farm are mothers and daughters, sisters and aunties. There have been several cattle books through the years. Lorene kept one up when she married Lloyd but after the girls were born, recordkeeping lapsed.

False M is in the book. There are photos of her at a few months old and as a spry yearling. There are notes on her dam and sire as well as the calves she’s produced. Maybe some of her daughters or granddaughters are here today, it’s hard to tell. Many of the records just list the average price at auction for that year’s calf crop.

There are three identifiable cows left in the book: False M with the red slash across her face, Spats with the black “V” on her white face and her dainty white spats over her hooves and Amphetamine, a red, white-faced cow with small freckles on her white face.

Amphetamine is our lead cow. She’s part Hereford like her half-sister False M and displays the same docile, calm manners that make the breed easy to work with. A calm, well-adjusted leader keeps the rest of the herd calm. At sixteen, watching her lead is like watching video of an elephant matriarch moving her family across the savanna. I may not be able to see the path but she knows where it is; she’s followed these trails all her life, carrying on the legacy of the herd before her.

Maybe that’s why I advocated for Margaret so much last year when sorting calves. Surely there are some of Amphetamine’s daughters in the herd but in a sea of black cows, how would you know for certain? I would always be able to pick out Margaret; she’s a black and white version of her red and white mother. She may have been smaller than the others but she was my favorite and at least she could be a productive member of the herd instead of just a pet.

From the corner of my eye I see the last of the herd pass by the orchard and hop on the ATV to pickup Nathan. I make a quick promise of an apple when I return to Margaret and head up the hill.

I hope I gave Jake clear enough instructions. He was to ride ahead and close some gates, open others. I feel like I did a good job explaining what to do. He’s a smart kid, my brother-in-law, but I have a habit of giving way more detail than necessary. All I can do is hope that he took care of the gates and is positioned properly so the cattle don’t spook when they see him at the crest of the hill.

I pick Nathan up and he drives us up after the cattle. They start to spread out a little and we veer off the road to the right to put pressure on them from the side. The ATV lurches and the wheels start to spin throwing thick globs of mud. Curse this mud. It is January, it should be 20 degrees and frozen why is it 55 and rainy? Nathan puts the ATV in reverse and we get back on the road. I can see the cattle hitting the crest of the hill and Jake slowly moving in from the right to guide them around the bend in the road. At least that is going as planned.

It starts to rain. Precipitation has been falling this whole time but we have moved from mist to sprinkle to drizzle to all-out rain. The ground is so saturated that as soon as the cattle pickup their feet, their hoof prints are immediately filled to the brim by murky water. It is actually really beautiful; I wish I had my camera. Probably better that I don’t though as the sky has opened up and started dumping buckets on us.

The notion strikes me that perhaps I am a little under-dressed for the weather. My jeans are soaked and I am pretty certain that if I put up my hood now, I would just pour all the rain that has since collected down my shirt. I glance at Nathan, he’s wearing a flannel shirt and jeans. I try to keep helpful comments like, “wow, it is really raining!” to myself. Somehow, I think he already knows that. Jake is the best prepared for the weather of all of us, with insulated coveralls, overboots and a hat plus he has a wet dog riding on the back of his scooter.

The cattle move along at a mostly walking pace until they encounter the rabbit; that’s when everything comes to a standstill. Though Zoe checks every time she goes by just in case there is an actual rabbit, the rabbit is actually a mailbox of sorts. A Volkswagon rabbit left parked at the end of the county road many years ago for use as a UPS drop box. The UPS man has since made nice with the postmaster who lives nearby and leaves packages with her instead of driving all the way out.

For now, all the rabbit does is interfere with moving cattle between pastures. A good lead cow like Amphetamine saunters by the rabbit every time like it is not even there which encourages the rest of the herd to follow. Margaret is the same way; she is always the first to walk through any gate or chute. But today all I have is a bunch of spooky calves and a handful of teenagers. They stop, stare and shuffle around nervously but with gentle pressure they finally decide there is nothing to be scared of and carry on.

Jake rides ahead to open/close more gates and Nathan and I follow the herd along the road. At the bend they will no longer follow the road and instead walk along the hill. This isn’t exactly a very mature group of cattle but several of them have walked this way with the herd before. They know the legacy of the trail. Of course they also know the road as the one older brood cow decides she will follow the flat road instead of walking cross country. Everyone else follows the trail.

I also know the trail and know that the ATV can’t follow it and if you stay on the road the cattle stop walking and fan out to graze. I hop off and walk behind the herd to keep everyone moving as Nathan rides ahead.

I am soaked now. My Christmas Carhartts still so new and stiff cling to my thighs and my two long braids wick the rain from my head down inside my coat. My rubber boots have long since dismissed any claims of being waterproof and my left sock has completely fallen down and is all bunched up, I can feel the slippery clay soil rubbing between my toes. I don't even care.

It’s just me now. All I hear is the sound of the rain, of my boots slapping against my legs, “Thoc! Thoc!” and the surprisingly quiet steps of the herd. As they move through, they leave for me a perfumed cloud of sage and I am ever so content.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New friends

There's a bunch of new friendly faces running around the ranch. We're getting ready to head to Portland for our CSA delivery so I will have to share more details when we return. Until then, here's one of our newest residents.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Icy realm

What do you get when you combine saturated soils with freezing temperatures?

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Frozen waterfalls. Icy pillars of stalactites meeting stalagmites. Delicate icicles clinging to the rimrock.

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What do you get when you try to capture the reflection of the sun shimmering across the frozen crystals?

Why an ice spear to the face and a wet camera lens of course!

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Worth it though. I've tried taking photos of the rimrock many, many times but I can never capture the intricacies in color and texture of the moss clinging to the rock; it always looked so washed out and just plain weird. Not today though, today it was the perfect backdrop for the icicles.

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I'm lichen it! :)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ranch recipes: Beet chocolate chip cookies

When you live so far away from the store, you have to be creative in the kitchen with what is on hand, not exactly what the recipe says it requires. I'm the kind of person that believes that cookies are especially forgiving of unusual ingredients. As long as there are enough familiar flavors, (sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate chips or dried fruit) people seem emboldened to eat anything with the word "cookie" in it.

Of course, knowing your audience always helps empty the cookie platter. Maybe the following recipe is for "Beet Chocolate Chip Cookies" or maybe they are "Red Velvet Cookies" or "Valentine Cookies". I've praised the delicousness of beets and their many uses before but no matter how scared you are of vegetables, a cookie is a cookie and these cookies look pretty tasty.

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Purple dough fades to pink cookies
Beet Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1 c brown sugar
1 cup beet puree ( I roast my beets, puree and freeze but you could also use canned beets)
1/2 t vanilla
2 c AP flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chips (white chocolate would be especially pretty)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add beet puree and vanilla.
3. In another bowl mix dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon).
4. Add dry ingredients to beet mixture and stir with a sturdy spoon. The batter will be very thick, sticky and potentially uncooperative. About this time I give up on the spoon and start mixing with my (clean) hands.
5. Add in chocolate chips. I found it easiest to knead them in by hand to get them evenly distributed.
6. With your hands, roll the dough into ping-pong sized balls and place on cookie sheet.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let rest a few minutes then remove to cooling racks.

Cheers!