Tuesday, May 3, 2016

You Can’t Eat the Whole Bucket of Beans in One Sitting

A long time ago when I was a young boy, if I put too much on my plate but couldn’t finish it all, my parents or grandparents would turn to me and say, “Your eyes were too big for your stomach, huh?” When the green bean harvest is coming in strong, there’s no way to eat them as fast as you pick ‘em.  And you don’t want to do that anyway.  If you do it right, you can enjoy the best of both worlds – you can enjoy ‘just-picked’ green beans right out of the garden AND you can do like a squirrel and sock some away for later months when it is either too hot or too cold to grow them.

But you want to store them right.  Mushy dark green beans aren’t very appetizing.  We blanch our beans and then when we pull them out of the freezer, it is really hard to tell by color, taste, or texture that they are not fresh.  Here’s how we do it:

First we wash them and snap off both ends of the bean.  We don’t snap them into smaller segments.  We leave them whole, but that’s just our preference.

Let's Blanch Some Green Beans...
While I’m washing and snapping, I get a big pot of water boiling.  Once it reaches a rolling boil, I drop in the first batch of beans.  I try to guesstimate about the amount that will fit in a quart-sized freezer bag.  The water will stop boiling and I continue to watch it closely.  As soon as it reaches a boil again, I set the kitchen timer for three (3) minutes.

Set the timer for 3 minutes

During that three minute period, I wash the sink down, fill it halfway with cold water and add ice.  When the alarm goes off, telling me that the beans have boiled for three minutes, I QUICKLY pull them out of the water and dunk them in the icy-cold water.  The point of the exercise is to immediately halt the cooking process.

Cool them down quickly!
Then, of course I start another batch blanching.  Blanching inactivates the enzymes that are present in vegetables that mature the vegetable or fruit.  Blanching will allow you to freeze the green beans while maintaining their color, texture, and flavor.  The color of the beans are just beautiful.

Beautifully colored
I drain them and them pack them tightly into quart-sized freezer bags, label them with crop and date and then arrange them in the freezer.  In January when the sky is grey and temperatures are frigid, we can walk to the deep-freeze and pull out a bag of ‘fresh-picked’ green beans to enjoy. 

4 quarts of fresh green beans ready for the deep freeze
One gallon frozen and (hopefully) many more to go.  I’m thinking about pickling some green beans and also canning a few as well.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pickin’ a Mess of Green Beans – April 2016

The month of April was as perfect as perfect can be for growing green beans.  Perfect temperatures.  Perfect rainfall.  Just perfect.  The first variety I planted was our old standby – Contender Green Beans.  We’ve found these to be solid producers, consistent, tender, and best of all – good eatin’!  I planted them (two seeds wide – 6 inches apart) back on February 20th on a row 18” wide and 24’ long.  The young leaves are Kelly green, while the older leaves are almost blue, letting you know that they are enjoying the composted chicken manure that was amended into the garden soil prior to planting.  At the flowering stage, I top-dressed with a sprinkling of the same.

Healthy Contender Green Beans
To crowd out weeds, I mulched the young plants with a thick layer of chopped up live oak leaves and grass from the first mowing of the year.  This will rot over the course of the growing season and become organic matter.  It is also what I call my “earthworm magnet,” as the decomposing leaves attracts earthworms almost faster than a plate of rice & gravy does to Cajuns.   I grabbed a colander and bent over at the beginning of the row at the first plant.  There are green beans of all different stages on the plant.  That’s good news.  I use two hands to pull each bean so as to not damage the plant.  If you are in a rush and use only one hand, you run the risk of breaking off more than just the bean, but the entire fruiting stalk of the plant that contains other (unripe) beans.

Different Stages of Development
To show the full cycle, the picture below shows that while we are picking mature beans, there are plenty of immature beans as well as blooms.  This lets you know that there is a nice, steady stream of green bean inventory that will need to be checked and harvested every 2-3 days or so.  I like them to be young and tender, before the beans inside the pod have swollen.  Actually the one in the picture above was a little too big for my liking, but sometimes they are hiding in the foliage and you miss them the first time you pick.  No worries – they’re still good.

Blooms and pods
I filled up a nice bucket of beans on this day.  They were clean and bug free with little to no damage.  Sometimes the beans will be discolored or diseased from touching the ground, but these were all perfect.  The chickens clucking just across the fence are generally the recipients of any damaged beans.  They’ll eat anything that we won’t.

Bucket 'o Beans
I took the bucket of beans into the kitchen, washed them up and snapped off the ends of the beans.  People called these beans “string beans” because in the past, you’d snap off the ends and remove a long string from the pod.  The string was inedible.  Contender green beans don’t have this string, so you don’t have to worry about the step of ‘stringing’ them.  They are ready to eat.

Mountain 'o Beans
Speaking of ready to eat.  I’m ready to eat a nice ‘mess’ of beans – the first beans of the season.  I dug a few potatoes from the garden and we cooked the baby potatoes along with the green beans with a generous amount of butter.

A nice Mess of Beans (and baby potatoes)!
A mess of fresh picked green beans.  It don’t get much better than this!  Tomorrow we’ll show you another thing we do with them. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Planting Trees

This past week I read a neat little story that was only 4,000 words long.  It was called, "The Man Who Planted Trees."  It was written by a French writer named Jean Giono and was published back in 1953.  I highly recommend reading it.  You can read the pdf version BY CLICKING HERE.

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It is about a man in 1913 who is walking through the Alps and walks into an area that is dry, desolate and uninhabited.  There is no water.  The hiker finally finds a well, but it is dry.  He stumbles across a shepherd who saves him by taking him to a spring.  The hiker stays with the shepherd for a while and observes him collecting acorns, sorting them meticulously.

Image Credit
He curiously follows him and discovers that the widowed shepherd has taken it upon himself to restore the desolate valley by reforesting it - one tree at a time, even though the land does not belong to him.  He travels for miles, using his walking stick to press holes into the earth, dropping an acorn in the hole and then repeating time after time after time.  The hiker is impressed by the man's resolve and lofty goal.

The hiker leaves, fights in the first World War and returns seven years later to find thousands and thousands of saplings.  The valley is well on it's way to being restored.  Once dried streams are beginning to flow and the shepherd has gotten rid of his sheep and is now keeping bees to help pollinate the land.

The old man planted trees for 40 years!  Over the course of time this once barren landscape had become lush, vibrant, and alive.  People saw the beauty of the land and over 10,000 people moved in to populate the beautiful valley that the old man has singlehandedly transformed.

I had just read that story, when a gentleman came by the house the other day and began telling me about all the different beautiful birds he's been seeing at his house - birds like scarlet tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and indigo buntings.  I told him I never see those birds and asked him how he gets those colorful birds to go to his house?

His answer?  He said, "I'll bring you the secret next week."  So this afternoon the gentleman drove up to the house and got out of his pickup truck with a Tupperware container and handed it to me.  It looked like it was filled with blackberries, but they weren't blackberries - they were mulberries.  He told me that those birds return to his house every year and eat the fruit from his mulberry trees.  He told me to go back in the woods behind the house and sprinkle the mulberries around.  If I'm patient, he said, I'll have mulberry trees bearing fruit in about 5 years attracting birds and making enough for us to eat as well.  I can remember that my grandmother and grandfather had a mulberry tree in the back of their house and have good memories of eating the fruit and staining my hands and mouth with the purple juice when I picked and ate them.
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Will my mulberry trees transform the land the way the old shepherd did in the book I described earlier?  Perhaps not.  But in a little way, maybe I can be "the man who planted trees," and those trees will grow and bear fruit and bring a little more happiness to us (and some pretty songbirds as well).

Friday, April 29, 2016

Making Haroset

Last Friday was Passover and although we aren’t Jewish, our family has long celebrated Passover from a Messianic Christian perspective.  We have a Passover Seder and have a big family celebration.  One of the favorite parts of the meal is eating the haroset.  Haroset comes from a Hebrew word meaning clay or mortar and in the Seder meal, it is meant to remind the Israelites of when they were slaves in Egypt and were forced to make bricks.  Haroset is a sweet dish made with apples, lemon juice, mango, pecans, honey and cinnamon.

In one part of the Seder, we eat bitter herbs (horseradish) on top of matzos to symbolize the bitterness of sin/slavery.  Our eyes fill with water as the horseradish clears our sinuses and we think about the bitterness of being in bondage – as a slave or as a slave to sin.  Then the very next thing we do in the Seder is to put more horseradish on top of matzos, but this time we cover it with Haroset and then eat it.  The sweetness of the haroset overwhelms the bitterness of the horseradish.  This symbolizes the Hope we have in Jesus as He covers our sin and gives us FREEDOM.

It is one of those times where the meal lasts for a couple of hours, filled with good food, fellowship, and meaningful storytelling.  We eat lamb (we hardly ever eat lamb), have great leftovers for a couple of days and that means the lady of the house doesn’t have to worry about cooking all weekend!  But one thing we always say every year is this, “Why is it that we only eat haroset on Passover?”  It is so good and spread on top of matzos is a great breakfast or snack.

There is no rule that states that you can only eat haroset during Passover.  In fact, I read online that Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream makes a haroset flavored ice cream.  Interesting!  If you’ve never tried it, here’s how we make it.  You can make it, too.  We follow the recipe from here: Splendidtable.org and here’s what you need to make this simple, but delicious dish:

v  2 Granny Smith apples
v  Juice of 1/2 lemon
v  1/2 cup fresh mango, peeled and diced
v  1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
v  1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
v  1 tablespoon honey
v  1 tablespoon Port or sweet wine (we substitute grape juice)

Peel, core, and dice the apples and sprinkle with lemon juice.  Place all the ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse a couple of times to break it up and mix and then sit it in the fridge for a few hours for the flavors to meld.  Then it is time to eat.  Enjoy!

Haroset on Matzo
Haroset.  It’s not just for Passover anymore!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

2016 Meat Birds at Nine Weeks Old

Last Saturday we butchered all of our Cornish Cross Meat Birds that met our butchering goal of 6 pounds since a 6 pound birds yields a 4 1/2 pound carcass. Out of 26 Cornish Cross meat birds, 13 of them met those standards.  We butchered them and they now reside in our deep freeze.  I figure that we'll probably butcher the remainder of the Cornish Cross birds this Saturday and that will leave just the Red Rangers to grow for another 4 weeks.

With 13 less mouths to feed in the chicken tractor, I was thinking that the birds would have more space around the feed trough and thus less competition for feed and they should grow faster.  Let's see how that theory played out.  Since the Cornish-X bird we were tracking with the zip tie around his leg was butchered, I just grabbed an average sized bird out of the 13 left.

One of the remaining 13 Cornish Cross birds being weighed
Whoa!  How about that!  He weighs 6 1/2 pounds.  Yes, he's ready to go on Saturday.

6 1/2 pounds
The Red Ranger still has his zip tie on so I brought him into the garage for weighing.

Red Ranger sitting on the scale
Now this is mighty strange.  This week the Red Ranger weighs exactly 2 pounds 15 ounces.

2 pounds 15 ounces
That is not good at all.  He weighed 2 pounds 15 ounces last week!  What's going on here?  My theory tested out for the Cornish Cross birds, but not the Red Rangers. To be honest, I don't know what happened there.  
As the table above shows, the Cornish X bird grew about a pound from last week and weighs a pound and a quarter more than at the same time last year.  The Red Ranger (disappointingly) weighs exactly the same as last week, but is still 10 ounces heavier than at the same time last year.  Hopefully, he'll resume a nice weight gain again. 

We'll butcher all of the remaining Cornish Cross birds this Saturday and then that will leave just the roughly 25 Red Rangers in the Chicken Tractor to grow for another (maybe) four more weeks before butchering.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Work Hard and Then Play Hard

This past Saturday we worked our rear ends off.  After doing the normal milking and feeding and regular chores, we pitched in and butchered about half of our Cornish Cross Meat Birds.  Then we cleaned everything up and headed out across the road to pick more dewberries along the levee and ditch.  I guess we picked another gallon of berries to freeze.  Tricia made a fresh dewberry pie with homemade crust and it was sweet. We savored every forkful as we sat outside with a cup of coffee.

As we looked at the big blue tub of chicken carcasses chilling, we remarked about how hard we had worked.  The afternoon was perfect, with a nice breeze blowing. We had more work ahead of us later on as we had to re-sharpen our knives to cut up the chickens into our standard 8 piece cut-up - actually nine pieces if you count the neck/back/ribcage portion that we use to make delicious and healthy chicken stock with.  As I smacked my purple lips, dyed by the dewberries, I said, "C'mon ya'll - we work hard and we're gonna play hard."  "Time for a treat."

We loaded up in the car and drove into town to our favorite old Drive Inn - The Rocket.  The Rocket Drive Inn is a fixture in Jennings.  I wish I could have found out when it first opened, but I can't find it anywhere.  I do see that Mrs. JoAnn has owned it for 38 years, but I don't know if she is the original owner/operator. Jennings is big enough where it has most of the big-name fast food chains, but in my book, The Rocket outshines them all.  The chain places don't even come close.

The Rocket Drive Inn in Jennings, Louisiana
On this particular day since we just had homemade pie and coffee, we didn't order food.  Instead for a little treat, Russ and Tricia ordered milkshakes and Benjamin and I had Root Beer Floats.  We sat at one of the tables under the awning and enjoyed the ambiance of old school Drive Inns at its best.  It was a little like stepping back in time.  It's off the beaten path a little ways and most travelers getting off Interstate 10 for refreshments don't make it this far before being lured away by Popeye's, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Sonic and Wendy's, to name a few.

That means its mostly locals who sidle up to the window and place their orders. The menu is expansive and varied.  There are items such as Tasso Sandwich, Egg Sandwich, Grilled Liver, etc. New additions such as Fried Pickles, Natchitoches Meat Pies, Sweet Potato Turnovers, etc. are painted on the windows.  The service is polite and friendly and you wait for your meal as it is made to order by friendly people with smiling faces.

The Rocket Drive Inn wouldn't be complete without a rocket out front.  It has a light on the very tip of the rocket.  A nest of birds had made a nest in the very bottom of the rocket, so the engines haven't fired off any time soon, but it is poised for take-off.  By the time I walked back to the table, our thick milkshakes and root beer floats were almost gone.

The namesake of our favorite Drive Inn
I haven't found anything on the menu that isn't delicious.  Their old fashioned Cheeseburger is goooood.  The bun is buttered and toasted on the griddle.  The meat is fresh and hand-formed - not the cookie-cutter frozen patty from a box in the freezer.  Fresh cut tomatoes and onions and lettuce and some pickles adorn this masterpiece.  Eat one of these and you'll never pull through the drive through of Mickey D's or BK for a burger again.  The old fashioned onion rings hit the spot.  

I really like the catfish sandwich.  This is a fried catfish fillet (not a frozen square cod patty).  Banana splits and ice cream in a bunch of different flavors are also delicious  options.
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We generally like to grow and produce most of our food on our little farm, but sometimes the milkmaid (Tricia) needs a break from the kitchen.  On those occasions, The Rocket Drive Inn, with its nostalgia, good food and friendly service, is on the launch pad right there on Shankland Avenue, ready to blast off!  (Okay, I'm hungry for one of those burgers now!)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Thanks for the Memories, Penelope...

Born: ?  Died 04/25/2016

We have some sad news to report today.  Just yesterday in a post we talked about eating 4 of Penelope the Peahen's eggs for breakfast.  This afternoon Benjamin was picking dewberries on the side of the road and came across Penelope.  She was dead - apparently the victim of a motor vehicle accident.  Benjamin came back to the house and told him mom.  We were sad.  Poor old gal.

She was just a big old bird, but she had been around for, I guess, about 3 years now and we had grown attached to her.  Her formal name was Penelope, but lots of times, I'd call her "P," for short. She was quirky and had a neat personality.  Penelope looked regal with her 'headdress.'  She'd fly over the fence and strut around the yard, walking like an Egyptian, we'd joke. As we drove to church yesterday morning, we looked out and she was strutting across the neighbor's side yard.  We made up a silly song about her and laughed at her wandering ways. 

She would come and go as she pleased.  We didn't purchase her - she kind of purchased us.  She just showed up one day and stayed around.  In the evenings she would fly to the very top of either a live oak tree or a pecan tree and roost for the night, safe from predators.  Although we live in what I would say is "the country," the blacktop road in front of the house is a busy road, with people coming and going and driving quite fast - too fast, to be honest.

Penelope got a little too brave for her own good and got out on the road.  Poor Penelope wasn't prepared for the vehicles that speed up and down the road and met her cruel ate.  We'll miss that big old goofy bird.  Thanks for the memories, P!

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

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