Friday, May 22, 2015

Bringing Lunch out to the Field

I write this at my desk as I'm sitting in my 12 foot by 10 foot office enjoying some leftovers from last night's supper consisting of smothered chicken and rice and gravy with fresh picked squash and onions sauteed in butter.  Leftovers are delicious.  I try to eat lunch in the office everyday as I don't want to do the fast food route.  It requires some consideration, though, as some of my colleagues probably don't appreciate the smell of fish, curry dishes, or liver heating up in the office microwave.

Lunches at work were once much different when my "office" was the cab of a John Deere or New Holland tractor. There is a Kenny Chesney song that contains the following lyrics that brings those days back to mind:

Plowin' these fields in the hot summer sun
Over by the gate lordy here she comes
With a basket full of chicken and a big cold jug of sweet tea

I fondly remember those days.  I would be plowing the field in the 'back 40' and around lunchtime I could look on the horizon and see dust rising up on the dirt road leading to the field.  Those dust clouds signaled the arrival of lunch.  My Dad would come and deliver me a hamburger, fries, and a Dr. Pepper.  I'd gobble it down and start plowing again, singing loudly to every country song that came on the radio.  Dad would also bring a Dr. Pepper and honey bun out at break time.

When I was much younger than that, my Mom would drive out to the farm at lunch time and bring us hamburgers and fries from a restaurant in Oberlin called the Frostee Drive Inn right there on Highway 165. It doesn't exist anymore, but they had some good burgers.  I think it has something to do with years of grease cooked on the griddle that imparted a rich flavor to the meat!  They had great root beer floats, too.  We'd eat out in the pecan orchard or sometimes just eat right out on the tailgate.

Sometimes we'd have lunch in the 'camp,' warming up TV dinners in the microwave with the little window unit struggling to keep us cool.  Many times we'd drive in to the Texaco station in Oberlin and get a 3 piece chicken tender basket. "Gas station chicken" is always so good!  We'd drive back out to the farm and park underneath the shade tree by the cemetery and enjoy our lunch while listening to the news on the radio followed by Paul Harvey's Commentary (Good Day!).

Lunches weren't always purchased, though.  Most times we would make them up the night before at home, packing them into Igloo coolers for our culinary enjoyment the next day.  I can remember eating lots of bologna sandwiches, chips from a box that contained all the varieties to choose from, and pickles.  Sometimes the 'cooler' wouldn't live up to its namesake and the heat would have caused the lunch meat to turn grey instead of pink and the mayonnaise would have turned translucent, violating Board of Health rules, I'm sure.  But heck, we'd eat it anyway and we're still alive and kicking.

We also ate many cans of this:

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Ah, Vienna sausage.  When you lifted the ring on the top of the can with your fingernail and pulled the top off, you were greeted by seven little sausages looking at you, yearning to be freed from their tight confines.  They also needed to be liberated from the "jelly" that surrounded them.  What was that jelly, anyway?  I haven't eaten Vienna sausage in years.  I seem to recall that there was a BBQ flavored Vienna Sausage as well.  You know, every once in a while, we'd slice the sausages long-ways and lay them between some Evangeline Maid or Bunny Bread to make a Vienna Sausage Sandwich.  Vienna Sausage is a very versatile product!

Another thing I haven't eaten in years was this:

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An Olive Loaf Sandwich!  Made on white bread with yellow mustard.  Olive Loaf was the king of lunch meat at our house.  I feel negligent in that I never introduced my kids to the most supreme of luncheon meats!  Those olives and pimentos were sprinkled evenly through the meat similar to chocolate chips in a cookie.  There had to be some sort of a trick to keeping the olives in suspension like that.  It had to take a brilliant mind to conceive such a product.

Once you dined like a king on this wide array of lunch offerings, you just had to wash it all down with something sweet. We would either have some Little Debbie Cakes that we would break out or we drive to Buddy's and get either a honey bun or one of these to go along with our Dr. Pepper:

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We called them Stage Planks.  They were wonderful and tasted like gingerbread, but had a pink icing on top.  Supposedly they originated in New Orleans and were named for the gang planks that they would let down from the paddle wheel steamboats on the river to let people and cargo off of at the docks.

Well, it is one o'clock and thus concludes my culinary trip down memory lane.  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blue Bell Ice Cream - A Parable

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The words to the song on a recent Blue Bell ice cream commercial went as follows:

"I remember our old country home. Clean fresh air and flowers growing in the fields, along the path, behind our swimming hole. Momma hollering through the screen. "Would you kids like some homemade ice cream?" That was such a simpler time and place. Blue Bell tastes just like.... The good ole days." 

Not true.  I think Momma would holler: "If you want some homemade ice cream, you better come turn the crank. It's your turn!"  I can remember making ice cream well back when we were kids.  We would take turns cranking, adding ice and rock salt.  We'd be tired from cranking, but so excited to eat some delicious homemade ice cream.

We normally make homemade ice cream with the fresh cream from our Jersey Cows, but when we do purchase ice cream, we purchase Blue Bell.  We could pry the rim off a half gallon and armed with spoons, destroy a container of Moo-lenium Crunch, or Cookies 'n Cream, or Mint Chocolate Chip.

When I was in the grocery business, I sold many a container of their ice cream. They operated to exacting standards.  If our store's ice cream freezers had trouble and would barely begin to defrost, they would make us throw all the ice cream away, issuing us "hot box" credits.  They didn't want any ice cream to be sold that was sub-par.  We've toured their factory at "the little creamery in Brenham" and would agree that compared to many brands, Blue Bell is indeed "better by a country mile."

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And then absolute disaster struck.  A listeria outbreak that sickened many and killed 3 in Kansas led to a total recall of all products.  The CEO has made an agonizing decision to stop production, lay off many of their employees, and begin a long and tedious process of breaking down their production facilities piece by piece and thoroughly cleaning and repairing them.

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According to This LINK:

Inspectors found that the company's process for sanitizing equipment was inadequate. The plant failed to monitor the temperature of water used to clean equipment. Additionally, the building itself wasn't constructed in a way to prevent drips and condensation from contaminating ice cream and packaging materials, the report stated.

Experts say that listeria is tough to get rid of and can live on surfaces like drains and pipes for years.
"To get rid of it they'd have to take the equipment apart and clean it. It's a big job to control listeria in a plant," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, a director of food safety for Center of Science in the Public Interest.

Listeria is a particularly virulent and insidious bacteria.  Refrigeration does not kill it.  It will continue to replicate even in cold temperatures.  Since we milk our own cows and drink raw milk, we've educated ourselves on the potential dangers and have put in steps in our milking regimen to proactively eliminate the chances of contamination.

In researching about listeria, we've learned that bleach will kill it, but the more important thing is to find the source of contamination.  As the CEO ordered the cleaning/disinfecting of their factories, I began to think of the parallels.  A parable is "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning."  Believe it or not, I think there is a parable in the Blue Bell disaster that came to my little pea-brain when thinking about it.  I'm no preacher - not even close, but just as I would be negligent in saying nothing as you ate a big bowl of listeria-laden ice cream, I would be equally negligent for not sounding the alarm that our factory has been contaminated and for not letting you know what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. Stick with me for a minute...

You know we're all contaminated, right?  When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden, we became recipients of original sin and that curse brings with it sure death.  Horrible, I know.  Things could have been so good, but instead we carry this curse.  Creation carries this curse of sin, death, toil, heartbreak, and destruction.  Everything is contaminated.  Sin is in every nook and cranny and it replicates itself, living on forever and infecting everyone and every thing.  Things that were created to bring such joy and satisfaction are now infected and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Or is there?  If we take a close look at our factory (our bodies) in light of Scripture, we can ascertain from looking at the forensic evidence that the source of the contamination is Sin.  God hates sin and as a result we carry the penalty for it - a Death Sentence!  But wait... Fortunately, we can receive a pardon.

You see, if we let him, our CEO (God) can come into our factory and completely clean it up, disinfecting it with an agent much stronger than bleach - His Precious Son's Blood.  His blood will cover the infected surface areas of our factory, making us sparkling - like brand new!  When our "production line" is re-opened, it'll be like a completely new factory.

The Gospel is simply Good News.  It's nothing difficult.  It's actually very simple. God provided His Son to be sacrificed on a cruel cross for our sins.  We all sin. There's nothing we can do to remedy it - except Believe.  We Admit that we are sinners.  We Believe that Jesus Christ is who He says He is. We Confess our sins and understand that we have responsibilities as followers of Christ.  We read His Word, learning, growing in Truth and we fellowship with other believers in a local church committed to teaching the Bible.

That's it! You know, hopefully Blue Bell will recover from all this.  Blue Bell once had an ad campaign where they boasted that the cows thought that Brenham, Texas was Heaven.  If you listen to the Good News of the Gospel and accept it, there is a 100% certainty that you will recover and will live in Heaven for eternity.  That's Good News, indeed!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Clipping Wings

Pullets are young hens that are less than a year old.  Every year we hatch out and/or order some pullets to replace those in our existing flock that perished during the year.  We do lose a few hens each year from predation and a few simply to old age every year and in order to keep the level of egg production steady, we keep rotating existing hens into the flock.

Our process isn't a perfect one and others might have a better way, but the method we have found that works best with us is as follows.  Once the chicks reach about four weeks old, we move them from the brooder into the chicken tractor out on the pasture.  We keep giving them chick starter and fresh water and push them to fresh grass each day.  The chicken tractor they are in has no bottom, so the birds are able to forage for grass, bugs, seeds, etc.  They poop, fertilizing the grass and each day as we push the tractor, we are effectively broadcasting fertilizer that will cause the grass to grow green and lush for the cows.

The chicken tractor has nesting boxes in it and once the birds get around 24 weeks old and we can see their bottoms getting 'fluffy,' we know that they will lay their first eggs.  Once we find eggs in the nesting boxes, we set them completely free to free range over their 3 acre pasture.

The pullet chicken tractor
Last week we found one egg.  The next day we found two and the next day six.  Yes, it is time to give these young ladies freedom!

Ready for Freedom
But as they say, freedom isn't free.  It is going to cost them something.  In this case, the feathers on one wing.  You see, although chickens can't really fly too much, they can fly over the four foot high perimeter fence and we can't have that.  There is the garden to think about.  They'd pick it clean. There's also danger outside of the fence like dogs or other varmints that would like nothing better than a chicken dinner.  

So in order to discourage flight, I clip their wings real short on one wing.  I use tin-snips to clip the wings.  They work good on metal and equally well on feathers. Also, originally I was clipping both wings, but someone (wise) told me that this was a waste of time and effort.  By clipping one wing, it makes the chicken off balance and they can't fly.  See, I would have never thought of that.  I would have continued clipping both wings, but this saves me a lot of time and effort.  I like learning things - even simple things that allow you to work smarter and not harder.

Getting her wings clipped
I simply clip back the wing feathers almost to the wing itself.  The birds will go absolutely crazy, causing a big ruckus with lots of noise and drama, but it doesn't hurt them at all.  I climb into the tractor with the clippers and as I get one clipped, Benjamin opens the door, counts the number of birds one by one, and I gently toss the hen out for her first taste of freedom.

A pile of feathers
Amazingly, the birds will end up eating all their feathers.  The feathers are high in protein and probably good for them, but it is sort of weird, though.  I held up one of the birds so you can see the clipped wing.  Now they will eventually grow back, but it takes a good while and we'll just do the whole process all over again.

Clipped wings
We leave the door to their chicken tractor open for two reasons.  First, they are creatures of habit and they'll return to the roost in the tractor each night.  This means they'll be safe from owls and other nocturnal predators.  Secondly, they'll return to lay eggs in the chicken tractor and this keeps us from having to hunt for their eggs around the pasture each day.

Ahhhh... Freedom.  Ain't it great?!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

We have a couple of palm trees in our backyard that have grown like crazy. Apparently, they like the location that we planted them in.  I only wish that they were the type of tree that produced something to eat.  What they do produce is a bunch of fronds that turn brown and die.  The fronds have large thorns on them that you have to be real careful when you carry them or they will stick you. (Experience speaking)

While nice to look at, they really don't provide anything of benefit.  Or so I thought...

Flocking Together
They provide an excellent place for birds to build a nest.  The other day I got out an extended wooden pole saw similar to the one in the photo below and began to cut off the dead fronds.  It won't be long before I'll have to get a ladder to perform this task as the trees keep growing and growing.

While I was cutting, I noticed a bird flying around.  As I looked closer, I identified the bird to be what we call a Mexican Dove, but I think the correct name is the Common Ground Dove.  They are much smaller than the Mourning Dove or the Ring-Necked Dove that are also prevalent around here. A closer examination showed that the dove had two little ones in a nest she had built in a cozy place where I had previously cut a dead palm frond off.  It created a perfect protected indentation to build a nest.  If you look closely at the picture above just a hair above the center, you can see two birds sitting in their nest watching me.  Their mom was not to happy!
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I watched the birds for about a week.  They grew very quickly.  Before I knew it they were testing their wings out and flying in short hops out on the palm fronds.  In fact you can see one sitting on the frond after a test flight.  He's right in the center of the photo below.

One Dove out of the nest and on the frond
And then the next day, as we watched them, they both flew off into a neighboring pecan tree and we haven't seen them back.  Benjamin likes to shoot doves with his pellet gun.  We have a few doves in the freezer right now.  After watching these grow up, he said he'd be a little hesitant about shooting any more around the house, but I assured him that there are tons of doves.

It is that time of year when all the birds are hatching.  If you walk around the yard, you see pieces of egg shell in the grass, signalling that another bird has hatched.  If you look closely, sometimes you'll see little birds that try to fly before they are ready and end up on the ground.  This young bird below is one of those.  He's a baby Mockingbird, I think, and I saw him in some Indian Hawthorn as I was mowing. When I got Benjamin to show him the bird, the little fellow was gone.  I don't know if his mom somehow rescued him or if he fell prey to the cats that patrol the area.

Mockingbirds are appropriately named.  The other morning as I walked to work, I saw one mockingbird sitting on the top of a light pole and this bird went through 7 or 8 different songs of different birds, mimicking their song like an Elvis impersonator.  It was almost as if he was showing off.  He wasn't finished with his song list either, but I had to go inside.

I haven't talked about Penelope, our India Blue pea hen lately.  She has a great personality and a regal head dress that she wears with pride as she struts around. The old girl is still around and like clockwork everyday, she flies into the yard and then later on flies up into the very top of a tree to roost for the night.  The poor girl needs a mate.  She had her feathers all fanned out and ended up laying 5 eggs on top of the barn that she sat on, but they are not fertile since we don't have a peacock and they didn't hatch.  

Penelope, the (lonely) Peahen
I really need to remedy that.  A mate for Penelope would be cool to have around:

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Oh, but the price is sort of prohibitive!  On Murray McMurray Hatchery, they sell an assortment of 8 peafowl for $392.40!  That's almost $50 per bird.  I'm going to check around locally and see if anyone has a peacock for sale at a better price.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saving Red Romaine Lettuce Seeds

One of the many benefits of purchasing seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds from THIS WEBSITE is that along with every order they send you a packet of free seeds.  In Louisiana, we call this "lagniappe," and it means 'a little something extra. It's always a treat to get something for free, right?  Getting an extra packet of seeds gives you a unique opportunity to try seeds that you might not otherwise try.  It is also a nice gesture of goodwill that makes you want to continue doing business with them.

With my most recent order, the free packet of seeds was a package of Lemon Queen Sunflower Seeds.  I'll plant those as soon as the torrential rains stop.  My order last year contained a packet of Red Romaine Lettuce Seeds.  We love fresh garden salads with a mixture of several varieties of lettuce and this seemed like a neat thing to try to add some red color to our garden (and salad bowl), so I planted a row of them. Here is a photo of some mature red romaine lettuce I took back toward the end of February:

Red Romaine Lettuce
Since this variety is an heirloom variety that is open-pollinated (non hybrid), you can save the seeds from year to year.  We like to save seeds from items we like and keep them stored for later use.  We'll show you how we saved the seeds from the red romaine.  We keep picking off leaves and enjoying salads until you notice the plant bolting (going into the seed production stage).  When the plant starts to put on seeds, I find the lettuce to get kind of bitter tasting.  Pretty soon you'll see the plant send up a shoot with flowers on it.

Red Romaine getting ready to flower
We allow the plant to completely flower and begin to dry up.  You will see white, dandelion-type, feathery things sticking out of the dried flower buds.  Just like a dandelion, the "wings" have an individual seed attached to the base and as it catches the wind, it will break off from the flower bud and fly across the landscape on its 'wings' or parachute until it lands, depositing its seed where it will grow next year.

The flowers of the red romaine
Except with our red romaine lettuce, we won't let it do that.  We want to interrupt that process and capture the seeds before they take flight.  I take each flower in my hand and using my fingernails, I pinch the wings and pull up.
Dried flower ready to yield seeds
When you pull, the flowers have a single, tiny seed attached to each wing.  I suppose you could break off the seed from the wing, but that is far too tedious of a job for me for right now.

Seeds of promise
I stored the seeds in an airtight container like an old ibuprofen bottle, ensuring that the seeds stay dry, cool, and out of sunlight.  I'll make sure to label the bottle.  This fall I'll pull out the bottle and after I work up a row, I'll pinch some of the seeds between my thumb and index finger and sprinkle into the furrow.  The red romaine will spring up from the ground and yield more healthy salads for the family.

Seed Saving
When I finished up with just the seeds that I had gathered, I had roughly the same amount of seeds saved that I started with when I got the free packet of seeds from Baker Creek.  That's what I call the gift that keeps on giving!!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Feeding Cows Like they did in the 1800s

In the 1800s there were times that it was hard to keep your animals fed during harsh winters in the north.  Fortunately, someone smart determined that Mammoth Red Mangel beets was an answer to help feed livestock until the Spring grasses came in.  Farmers would plant fields of these things. They are called 'mammoth' for a reason.  They grow up to two feet long and up to 20 lbs!

I bought some seeds just to try them out and each year I plant a row of them.  They grow large and have an enormous, sweet beetroot and lots of edible leaves that both the cows, chickens, and goats enjoy.  I picked this one just to give the cows a little snack to go along with their nightly ration.

Behold the Mammoth Red Mangel beet
Now this one didn't get two feet long and it didn't weigh 20 lbs when I picked it.  It is time that I pull the beets up and feed them to the cows to make room to plant okra in the garden, so I'm pulling the beets before they are full grown.  Maybe this fall I'll plant them earlier so that the beets have time to reach their full growth potential.  I'd like to see if I could grow one that weighed 20 lbs. or so.

Sweet Snack for the cows
In similar fashion to the way we do with turnips, I slice the huge beets into 1 inch thick disks and then slice them into quarters.  The cows are gluttonous and will eat the things whole if you let them, and I don't want them to choke.

Sliced up and ready to eat
Tricia gave each of the cows bite-sized pieces of the mammoth red mangel beets and they were very happy.

Daisy is enjoying a sweet snack!
The beets are very sweet.  I didn't try to eat them, but I did lick one of the pieces and it was sugary sweet.  No wonder the cows love to eat them.  Fortunately, the grass is growing, enabling the cows to have grass to eat, but they are eating it almost as fast as it grows.  All three of them are pregnant and those girls can flat out eat lots of grass.  The beets provide a little sweet dessert for them.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What Kind of Flower is This?

While I was doing my evening chores something yellow caught my eye.  It was a strikingly beautiful flower beneath the Confederate Jasmine.  The filament and anther portions (remember high school biology?) seemed to almost glow with brightness.  Can you guess what type flower this is?

Backing up the picture a bit, I'll give you a hint as we see three flowers on the plant in different stages of bloom.  If you look closely, you can see part of the plant that is a dead giveaway to tell you that the flower is from a...

PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS!  I don't recall where the cactus came from, but it keeps growing and growing.  Fortunately, cacti don't need much water, because I forget to water it.  It is just watered by rainfall, but yet it thrives right there tucked between the air conditioning unit and the jasmine.

It is planted in an old terra cotta frog planter that I inherited from my grandmother. After reading the following from Wikipedia, I think I'm going to make sure that this cactus stays within the confines of the terra cotta frog!:
Prickly pears (mostly Opuntia stricta) were originally imported into Australia in the 18th century for gardens, and were later used as a natural agricultural fencing and in an attempt to establish a cochineal dye industry. They quickly became a widespread invasive weed, eventually converting 101,000 sq mi (260,000 km2) of farming land into an impenetrable green jungle of prickly pear, in places 20 ft (6.1 m) high. Scores of farmers were driven off their land by what they called the "green hell"; their abandoned homes were crushed under the cactus growth, which advanced at a rate of 1,000,000 acres (4,046.9 km2; 1,562.5 sq mi) per year.
I certainly don't want to be forced off my land by the "green hell."  It wouldn't make me very popular with the neighbors, either!

Keep it contained, frog!
Okay here's another one for you.  I snapped this photo on the same day as it was blooming on the back patio.  It has very distinctive looking flowers.  Do you know what plant this flower is from?

Well, it's from the Aloe Vera.  We keep a huge plant on our back patio and it gets used from time to time on burns or skin irritations.  The plant multiplies like crazy and produces 'pups' on the side of the main plant. I need to divide them and re-pot them into separate containers as this one is quickly outgrowing its pot.

The 'mother' aloe vera with 'pups'
Last but not least, I was checking out the garden and saw this.  What plant produces this flower?

This is the flower of the potato plant and it blooms toward the end of the plants' growth cycle.  It basically is a signal that lets you know that it is about time to start digging potatoes.  Funny thing about it, is that usually the flowers dry up and fall off, but sometimes, they'll form something that looks like a small tomato.  This is the true fruit of the potato plant, but they're not edible.

The potatoes definitely are and we'll be digging them up real soon! 
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