Thursday, June 22, 2017

Treasure in the Garden - Butternut Squash Spoon Bread

Each afternoon when I get home, I grab a bucket and go looking through the garden for the freshest, most delectable treat that I can come inside and turn into a meal. Especially at this time I'm picking a lot of cucumbers.  I like the crispness and flavor of a Boston Pickling Cucumber, but for cutting up and eating raw, there's nothing that comes close (in my humble opinion) than a Suyo Long Cucumber. They originated in Northern China and have small seeds.  Long is their middle name for a reason!  They mostly get to be 18 inches long and are quite hard to keep in the bucket.  It actually looks like a bucket of snakes.  I'll take them inside and cut them, adding apple cider vinegar and some kosher salt and black pepper and a splash of olive oil.  It makes for a nice lunch tomorrow.


But hold on just a minute, there's something else in that bucket...  A couple of butternut squash.  Butternut squash is so sweet and delicious.  How can we prepare these?


Well, we're all about trying new things and the October 2011 Southern Living Magazine had a recipe for Butternut Squash Spoon Bread that looked very interesting.  I don't think I've ever eaten spoon bread.  Corn bread?  Absolutely.  But not spoon bread.  Let's give it a try...

2 cups buttermilk
4 large eggs, separated
2 cups pureed butternut squash (doesn't get much fresher than this!)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter melted

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cook buttermilk over medium high heat, stirring often, 4 to 6 minutes, but do not boil.  Remove from heat.

Lightly beat egg yolks and stir in squash and cheese.  Combine cornmeal and the next 4 ingredients and another bowl. Pour warm buttermilk over squash mixture and whisk until smooth.  Let stand for 15 minutes until lukewarm.

Brush a 2 1/2 to 3 quart baking dish or 12 inch cast iron skillet with melted butter. Stir the remaining butter into squash mixture.

Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form.  Fold into squash mixture and then pour mixture into dish.

Bake at 350 F for 30 to 35 minutes or until top is golden and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.

Well, how did it turn out, you ask?  Well, take a look below...


Spoon bread is different than corn bread in that it is more of a pudding than a bread.  It is light and airy.  Actually, it is more like a souffle than anything, so Tricia served it in our souffle cups.  It was still warm - right out of the oven.


The taste?  Well, it was heavenly.  I told Tricia that each bite kept getting better and better. This recipe is a keeper and we will keep it in the rotation.  The pics don't really do it justice, but butternut squash spoon bread is a hit!


In researching spoon bread, I learned that this dish originated with the Native Americans.  They called it "awandaw."  It was common during the Revolutionary War times and George Washington loved it and served it often at Mount Vernon.

I'm glad that Southern Living Magazine gave us an opportunity to discover this old dish in a new way, by incorporating sweet butternut squash into it.  We have some leftovers, so I'll grab by spoon and eat more spoon bread tomorrow night.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Spring Tomatoes are Officially Done

This afternoon I cut down the twine support from our Florida Weave Trellis that supports our tomatoes and pulled up the t-posts that anchor the trellising system.The tomatoes were about done.  I stacked up the cut vines and I'll compost them.  First, I threw the remaining tomatoes that were ravaged by stink bugs to the chickens.  They gobbled them up with the quickness.

Overall, we had a really nice crop this year.  If I had a "do-over" I would have transplanted them into the garden a couple of weeks earlier.  Early tomatoes don't have to deal with the heat and bug pressure, but you run the risk of frost damage. We ate plenty of tomatoes sliced.  We made lots of pico de gallo.  We made Italian tomato salad. We put up many pints of stewed tomatoes.  We put up many quarts of salsa.  Here's a few other things we did with the tomato crop:


We cut up the tomatoes, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh rosemary, and put on the dehydrator overnight.  Here is a post that explains how to do it step by step either in the oven or in a food dehydrator.

The flavor is concentrated and the rosemary adds a nice flavor to the dried toms. They are almost like candy.  We store them in either pint jars or Zip Loc bags and snack on them all the time.

I almost forgot to mention that we also made tomato sauce.  It is a pretty easy task that involves blanching the tomatoes, removing the skins, coring out the stem and any blemishes and then cooking them down.  We use an immersion blender to puree the tomatoes once they've cooked for a while.


We let the tomatoes continue to simmer for hours until its reached the consistency we're looking for, then it is time to put them in jars, top with salt and a tablespoon of lemon juice and then process in a water bath processor.


In most canned tomato sauces they must run the tomato sauce through a sieve to remove the seeds, but we always skip that step and can it with the seeds.


We finished up with a nice little batch of tomato sauce and this should build up our inventory in the pantry and hold us over until the fall tomatoes come in.

Now that the rows of tomatoes are pulled up, I'm thinking about what to plant in that space.  Right now, purple hull peas seem like the logical choice.  It's almost time to plant the fall crop of tomatoes!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rotating the Cows Through Paddocks

Five cows and four goats on three acres puts a strain on the pasture.  We'll be getting rid of the bull in a month or two, so that should help, but the cows clip that grass down and groom it better than a finishing mower.  It looks like a manicured lawn, doesn't it?


I have 7 paddocks separated by portable electric fence that is rolled up using a Gallagher reel.  I use step-in fiberglass posts to hold up the electrified poly wire powered by a Gallagher Solar charger.  The sun charges the fence and makes the grass grow.  How about that?

I keep the cows on one paddock for two days and then I move them into the next paddock. As you can see below, there is fresh, tender growth on the grass.  This is the most tender and nutritious part of the plant, and the cows know it.  Right over the electrified fence, the cows can see the tender growth, beckoning the herbivores to come eat.


The cows are very resourceful.  They will crane their necks under the fence as far as they can as the photo below indicates.  One careless lift of the neck, however, and they'll feel a pop that will send them running!


The cows have been conditioned to come running when they hear me rolling up the fending on the reel.  That signals to them that a new paddock is opening up.  It is like ringing the dinner bell to the bovines.  They will come running, enter the new paddock and immediately begin eating grass.  Crunch, crunch, crunch...


We still supplement with hay, but if you are a cow, this is where you want to be - on a fresh new paddock that has just been opened up.  In just two days, they will have this grass eaten and will be ready to move to the next paddock.  And so it goes until fall when the grass peters out.  Rotational grazing has helped us better manage grass consumption and contributes positively in animal health.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I Thought That He Walked On Water (Happy Father's Day)

Randy Travis has a very distinctive voice.  Last night we rode into town to the Rocket Drive In and had burgers and root beer frosties. On the ride back home, we listened to Classic Country and sang along.  Good Food, good music - a good Saturday night.  Randy Travis sang a remarkable song called, "I thought that he walked on water."

If you click the red arrow below, you can watch the video of that song, and I've cut & pasted the lyrics to the song below.  Then below that I have a few thoughts regarding that song and what it means to me.



He wore starched white shirts buttoned at the neck,
And he'd sit in the shade and watch the chickens peck
And his teeth were gone, but what the heck,
I thought that he walked on water

He said he was a cowboy when he was young
He could handle a rope and he was good with a gun
And my mama's daddy was his oldest son,
And I thought that he walked on water

If the story was told, only heaven knows
But his hat seemed to me like an old halo
And although his wings, they were never seen
I thought that he walked on water

Then he tied a cord to the end of a mop,
And said, "son, here's a pony, keep her at a trot"
And I'd ride in circles while he laughed a lot
Then I'd flop down beside him

And he was ninety years old in sixty-three
And I loved him and he loved me
And lord, I cried the day he died,

'Cause I thought that he walked on water

If the story was told, only heaven knows
But his hat seemed to me like an old halo
And though his wings, they were never seen
I thought that he walked on water

Yeah, I thought that he walked on water

The song is a touching one about a boy singing about his great-grandpa and how he looked up to him.  As I sit here this evening on Father's Day, I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for and have a fifty years of great memories of my grandfathers and my Dad. I think that they walk(ed) on water.

My grandfather on my mother's side was a good man.  He was a selfless individual who cared about his family, his friends, and his community.  I remember there was a man in town named Mr. Charles.  Mr. Charles had a disability that rendered him unable to walk or talk.  My grandfather (we called him "Poppy") would pick him up in his Ford Bronco and take Mr. Charles to church on Sundays.  My grandfather taught me to compost.  I can remember him telling me how many years it takes to create an inch of topsoil.  He served in the WWII European theater and loved his country.  Most of all, he loved us deeply and sincerely.

My grandfather on my dad's side instilled in me the love of agriculture.  He wore a white Stetson straw hat and cover-alls.  He took time out of his schedule to spend with me, teaching me to work the soil and plant vegetables and and experience the miracle of seeds popping up out of the ground and yielding a bountiful harvest.  He taught me to fish.  He enjoyed watching me get involved in 4-H and showing livestock.  In his later years, he got involved with raising beef cattle and that, in turn, got me interested in doing the same.

My dad sought out and married a wonderful woman in my mom and they continue to be great parents to this day.  My dad taught me the value of hard work, of persistence, of virtue.  He made sure that I was in church on Sunday and disciplined us so that we had a keen understanding of the difference between right and wrong. Don't misunderstand that he is a hard man - he isn't.  He is patient and kind and understanding even when we didn't deserve it.  I had an opportunity to work alongside him farming and I still consider those years some of the best of my life. He taught me to be a man and modeled to me how to be a husband and a father to my own kids.

My Dad's shoes, and those of my grandfathers, are impossible to fill.  While they are (were) not perfect, they are (were) giants in my eyes.  They say we stand on the shoulders of those who precede us, and I think that is true.  I am who I am today because of what I learned from my grandfathers and my dad.  I thank God for them. I wish my grandfathers were still alive to tell them Happy Father's Day. Fortunately, I can still wish my Dad a Happy Father's Day.  Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Jump!

A trampoline has long been a fixture at our house.  We're actually on our second trampoline as a hurricane turned the first one into a twisted mass of steel about 15 years ago.  We purchased another and it has stood the test of time; however, we did have to replace the mat this past fall.

The trampoline originally came with certain safety features like foam padding that covered up the springs, designed to keep you from falling through.  Those are long gone now, disintegrated by age and wear.  It also originally came with padded posts around the perimeter that held up a net enclosure that kept you from bouncing out when doing flips. The net got ripped and eventually dry rotted a couple of years ago. I took the posts off and re-purposed them.  The posts are now the anchor points in the garden for a trellis that supports my birdhouse gourds and luffa gourds.

 The kids jump and whenever their friends come over, they jump.  The kids find new and creative ways to add to the "trampoline experience."  They pulled the basketball goal next to the trampoline and fly through the air, dunking the ball. What fun!


It sits underneath sprawling live oak and pecan trees that keep you in constant shade.  Tricia calls this area the "grove" and it is the perfect place for jumping on the trampoline.


Big Boy, our Great Pyrenees, take great pleasure in the trampoline as well.  He digs monstrous craters underneath the trampoline and reclines in the cool dirt in the shade. The only problem is that when it rains, his craters fill with water and he has to dig new craters. He will jump up on the trampoline from time to time.  I wish he'd stay up there rather than excavate our yard, because when it rains, all his loose dirt washes away and goes down the bayou.  He's causing quite the erosion problem.


The other day, the neighborhood kids came over and asked if they could jump. "Sure," I said.  When I walked outside, they had pulled the trampoline right next to the cattle trailer. "Watch this, Mr. Kyle," they would yell.  Then they would bounce real high and jump on top of the cattle trailer and then jump off and back onto the trampoline.  You'd be surprised how high you can jump.  Gravity is a powerful force. I walked away thinking that is exactly some of the things my brother and I did as kids growing up.


A few days later, however, I was getting competitive pricing on homeowner's insurance to try to get some lower rates.  One question that every insurance company asked was, "Do you have a trampoline?"  When my answer was "Yes," the follow-up question was, "Does it have protective netting and padding?"  When my answer was, "No," I think I heard a cash register in the background at the insurance company go" cha-ching."  Needless to say, we're staying where we are with insurance for the time being since this new policy would be quite a JUMP up from the current one.  I don't have the heart to get rid of the trampoline.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Crawfish Boil for Russ

When Russ graduated from LSU back in May, he wanted to have a crawfish boil in the backyard and celebrate with family.  That's just what we decided to do.  My Dad was able to get a few sacks of crawfish from the farm and we washed them up real good in a washtub in the backyard.  The weather was absolutely perfect for a boil.


The crawfish were perfect, too.  They were clean and a nice size.  We started up the fire on the burner and waited for the water to come to a boil.


While waiting we seasoned the water, cut up lemons, gathered onions, potatoes, corn, and garlic and visited.

The boys got out the Marlin .22 and set up a target and began sighting it in.  Pretty soon, though, the smell of Zatarain's Crawfish Boil seasoning wafted through the air beckoning hungry target shooters to eat.


My sister, who is a professional cake baker, made purple and gold cupcakes for the graduate.  They looked good and tasted good, too.


The crawfish were boiling in the heavily seasoned water and it didn't take long for them to be ready.


We spread out newspaper on the table and poured the hot, boiled crawfish on the table.  Everyone rolled up their sleeves and began peeling crawfish and eating until their bellies were full.


The crawfish were delicious.  We enjoyed each other's company.  Russ wasn't fired up about us singing, "For he's a jolly, good fellow," though.


We actually had some left over that we couldn't eat.  No worries.  We gathered around the island inside (because the mosquitoes started really bothering us) and peeled the rest of the crawfish, packing the tail meat into quart-size Zip loc bags.

We had quite a few bags when we were done.  Some got given away, some got frozen.  In a few days, Tricia thawed out one of the bags and made a big, delicious casserole baking dish of CRAWFISH FETTUCCINE!


What an enjoyable evening!  We celebrated the graduate with good food and family togetherness.  Let the good times roll!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rat Killers

It has been almost 3 complete years since our two cats died.  Sheltie and Christie were sisters and were 13 years old when the last of their 9 lives expired.  We've missed having cats around. We've also missed their ferocious desire to hunt out and kill rats, birds and the occasional squirrel.

Since their demise, the rats have grown in number.  As they say, "When the cat's away, the mice play." We've seen the population of rats in the barn skyrocket and have even seen a few in the garage.   It was high time that we restored order around here.  We began looking around for kittens and found a couple of kittens from a friend on Tricia's facebook.  The kittens were sisters.  A few days ago they brought over a laundry basket of kittens and Russ and Benjamin each picked out one.

Russ' kitten is the one on the left and Benjamin's is the one on the right.  They are living in the garage for now, but we'll introduce them to the barn at some point.


At first we were a little concerned about how they would fare with Big Boy, our Great Pyrenees dog.  Big Boy makes sport of chasing down and violently killing possums, rabbits and other varmints.  We were thinking that Big Boy may enjoy eating our new kittens, so we kept the kittens in a kennel for a few days.  Then we released them while we kept a close eye on Big Boy so he wouldn't snack on the kittens.  Believe it or not, Big Boy wasn't interested.

How could you eat a kitten in a Croc?  Really...


For some reason they like sitting in my Crocs.


I have made a personal note to make sure I check the Crocs before putting my feet in them.  The kittens show lackluster skills in using a litterbox that the boys set out in the garage and I don't want to find a 'surprise' when I slip my feet into the Crocs.

Although I'm not a cat person, I have to admit that they are kind of cute.  They need to grow up quickly though.  Some of the rats on the property are much bigger than them.  The cats will have to earn their keep around here by putting a dent in the rat population.  We'll be anxious to see how our new Rat Killers perform.
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