Sunday, January 23, 2011

Life Is Good: Bubble Bath!

NOTE: A big part of our lifestyle is enjoying the little things and celebrating the simple joys of life, so I chose not to post this essay under Off Topic.

I found myself in a very unusual position today. I was on the computer working on the usual business when suddenly it occurred to me: I was alone. Mr. Farmer was driving his brother home, and both children were next door playing some kind of collaborative game. The television was on, the dog was resting quietly, and the only other sound was my fingers on the keyboard. It took a moment before I realized my situation, and I actually had to give some thought to what action I should take. Mothers of the world, say it with me: When the children are away, Mother will TAKE A BUBBLE BATH!!

I knew I had to act quickly. After all, I am not delusional. Nothing in this world that is worth having can be accomplished without good, old-fashioned, hard work. So I grabbed the bathtub cleaner and went to it. I sprayed down the sides and bottom of the tub, stepped back, and took stock of the bathroom situation while the cleaner did its magic. The sink needed a wiping. I can't enjoy a bath (getting clean) in a dirty bathroom. Especially if there are smells involved in that dirt. So I got the toilet cleaner and took care of that business as well. I wiped down the tub, started running the water, and finished the sink and toilet. Bath time!

Bubble baths are not just for farmers' wives.  Little Miss Farmer loves a bubble bath as well. At 12, you might think she is either too old or too young to enjoy them, but she does just the same. Mr. Farmer even enjoys a good soak now and then, when the work makes him sore and tense. Bubble baths are universal.

In the interest of good taste, I will end the details here. I can tell you, however, that there was nudity involved. There was also scented salts, many bubbles and lots of hot water. The greatest joy of all is that no one called, no dog barked, and no one came home until long after I had finished.

Life is indeed good.

The bathroom has been redecorated since this picture was taken, but it's the best one I have right now.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cooking: Gravy

Three Ways to Make Gravy. One Post. What could be more efficient? I'm going to arrange the 3 gravies in order by effort level and the order I learned to make them. Coincidentally, those orders are the same. Also please note that these are not recipes, per se, but techniques. Cooking is an art, not a science, remember?

*** Sausage/Cream/Mushroom Gravy ***

This is my mother's gravy. Cheap, quick, and easy for a super fast (30 minutes!) dinner that is pure comfort food.

In a large skillet, place Sweet Italian Sausage and enough water to half cover it. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat. When the liquid is almost gone, prick the sausage, allow it to brown, and turn it over. Allow the 2nd side to brown, and remove from the pan. There should be a little brown smudge on the bottom of your pan if you did it right. Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and stir to bring up the yummy goodness. If you like, now would be the time to add a quartered, thinly sliced onion and just a little bit of oil. Cook the onions until soft. Finally, add a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup to the pan. Thin with a little milk if it is too thick, and cook until smooth and yummy.

Serve with the sausage, rice or noodles, and the veggie of your preference (we like corn with this).

*** Quick (But Occasionally Lumpy) Gravy ***

This is also my mother's gravy. While I have only seen her make it for Thanksgiving, I have tried it myself and find that it works well for chicken and pork as well as turkey.

Over low heat, in a small saucepan, warm meat drippings if they have cooled. In a separate bowl, cup, or whatever (I like my big Pyrex measuring cup, because it has a spout. You'll see why in a minute.), mix a few tablespoons of flour with about a cup of cold water, milk, or a combination of both, depending on if you want a gravy-gravy or a cream-gravy. Stir it up as well as you can, scraping the bottom. It should be thin and watery. Pour (see why a spout helps?) the slurry into the pan with the drippings slowly. I like to pour it through a sieve, slotted spoon, or tines of a dinner fork to catch any lumps. The chance of lumps increases as you get to the bottom of the liquid. Raise the heat under the saucepan to medium and bring almost to a boil. The gravy will thicken as it cooks. If it gets too thick, you can thin it out again. A little salt and pepper to taste, and you're done!

*** Never-Lumpy Gravy ***

This is Mr. Farmer's gravy. It starts out with a roux (pronounced "roo"), which is a fancy French word that means "fat and flour". Yeah, we're making elementary school paste, and then we're eating it. It is delicious.

You make the roux by mixing equal parts fat and flour in a saucepan over medium heat until completely combined. Then you add liquid (water, stock, or milk) a few tablespoons at a time, and keep stirring to combine. It is a LOT of stirring. Each time you add more liquid, you increase the temperature slightly. Do not add the next bit of liquid or increase the temperature again until the entire mass is the same consistency. Never stop stirring, and do not turn your back on it! Repeat until your gravy is just slightly thinner than you want your final product to be. Turn the heat back to Low. Add salt, pepper, and spices to taste, and keep stirring until desired thickness is achieved. Remove from heat immediately.

Leftover gravy of this type will thicken as it cools, but probably will NOT need thinning as it will become thinner when you reheat it. And it won't have lumps if you keep stirring and don't add the liquid too quickly. I promise.

The 2010 Christmas Smoked Turkey
But wait... there's more...

*** Bonus Cheese Sauce ***

If you use the directions above, and the fat is butter, and the liquid is milk and/or cream, you can make an amazing cream sauce. Season with a touch of garlic and add Parmesan cheese at the end and you have Alfredo sauce! With a bit of horseradish, it becomes a great cream sauce for veggies. And of course, with Colby, Cheddar, or Monterrey Jack cheese you get a topping for baked mac and cheese that is to die for.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pigs: Tiffany, Prince of Darkness

Out of respect for my desire not to house pigs in the summertime due to the smell, Mr. Farmer patiently awaited the birth of the fall pigs from a past supplier. The dam was a new sow to that particular farm, and this was to be her first litter. Her keeper was concerned when she went days past the expected delivery, and that concern turned out to be well founded. Four days past due, she delivered 14 still-born piglets. Five days past her due date, having failed to serve her intended purpose, she was sent off to the butcher in an attempt to recuperate some of the cost of that failure. It was a disappointing day all around.

October and November came and went without sign of a single, properly-priced piglet for our small needs. Overpriced and low quality could be found, but nothing like we were able to acquire last year. Mr. Farmer was about to break down and attend a livestock auction that, while promising, was an investment of unknown certainty. Finally, like a Christmas Miracle, an ad appeared for newly-weaned piglets: make your offer.

The offer we made was low- just $25 each. The seller was in need of cash, and Christmas was right around the corner, so he accepted. The van was readied, and the piglets were loaded. In the fuss of loading the pigs, and assuring that they came from different litters for breeding purposes, 5 were loaded instead of 4. There were 4 females and one male, all with distinct markings. We had a pen full of piglets before Christmas morning came.

After a few days of adjusting, our helper/investor/friend brought his girlfriend by to see the lot. Being a city girl, she immediately started ooh-ing and aah-ing over the cute little piggies. She was reminded of the fact that most of them would be on her dinner table in less than a year, and that she should not get attached. In spite of the men's advice to the contrary, she began naming the pigs. She started with the black pig with an even white stripe across its back. She said it should be called "Tiffany"- like the jeweler- because it wore a pearl necklace. Naturally, she had just given the name "Tiffany" to the only male in the pen.

I didn't object to the naming of a breeder boar. After all, his odds of surviving past puberty are far better than those of most of his sisters and cousins. Of course if he fails to uphold his duties I will allow Mr. Farmer to make what use of him that he sees fit, named animal or not. The name stays.

The following day our friend's son had the poor timing to be around during care and feeding time, so he was enlisted to help. Young Master Farmer and Friend were then introduced proudly to Tiffany. They responded with age-appropriate eye-rolling until Mr. Farmer stated that the boar's full name is "Tiffany, Prince Of Darkness". They were pleased with the name and now they even join in with the jokes. Tiffany even has a rapper name: T. - P.O.D.

Thus was Tiffany, Prince of Darkness, christened.

Tiffany, Prince of Darkness
January 2011 - About 12 weeks old

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Off Topic: Musings on Being 33 Years Old

As of this writing, I am 33 years old. Solidly in my thirties, I am compelled to take the time to consider this leg of my journey and decide if this decade of my life is what I've heard it would be. Many of the axioms are true. Some of my own preconceptions were a little off. My kids can't imagine being this old, but I am overwhelmed by all the adventures that are- God willing- still ahead of me. Age is just a number (old saying), but experience cannot be denied (Mr. Farmer).

I would have to disagree that I am old enough to know what I want to do but young enough to still do it. When I was very young, I wanted to be a wife and mother, and I am. Professionally, I wanted to write. I figured I'd go to college, learn how to do something in the psychological realm, do it for a few years, and gain some experience on which to base my writings. Instead I pursued goal number one first and found that the subjects of raising children and being a wife and mother are subjects with which the literary world is completely saturated- ironically by people with experience predominantly in the psychological realm. So this leaves me with my blog about the only thing people seem to find unique about my experience: all this old-fashioned, farm-like living that my family practices a mere 5 miles from town. I am young enough to still have time to experience things to write about, but I am not certain what those things will be. I really don't know what I want to do next - yet.

I would prefer to illustrate my mature, yet still youthful, mental state by saying that I am confident enough to try some new things, but experienced enough not to try others.  Since I turned 30 I have lost a significant amount of weight, started writing again, and learned how to cook well. These were all major hurdles for me. I stepped out of the bounds of the mindset that I could not change my habits. I allowed Mr. Farmer to drag the more social me out into public. I joined a committee. I wore a short skirt. But I did not go skinny-dipping, nor did I stay out all night (okay, maybe just that ONE time). Not because I was afraid, but because I felt the consequences outweighed the value of being able to say, "One time...". Happiness is about balance, and I think I have found that.

Thirty-three is good. I still have my health and my mind. I have hope for the future and experience to make that hope reasonable, not just pie in the sky. There is so much more to come, good or bad, but plenty to look back on and think about. Now is a good time. But then it always is, isn't it?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Life Is Good: Work Ethic

There are 2 different sides of my life. On the homestead, there is a husband and 2 children counting on me. Additionally, there has almost always been a dog, frequently another small pet or two, and currently livestock as well. All of these count on me for very basic things like food and safety as well as less basic things like attention and comfort. I have a paying job as well. There are other managers and executives who count on me to get things done, keep things running smoothly, and report back on day-to-day business. The staff counts on me to answer questions, solve problems, and back them up when things go wrong. All these people/animals are counting on me to balance all this need in a way that takes care of everyone. I take that responsibility very seriously.

Some days you feel like doing things, others you don't. Essentially, each and every day you need to decide what you are going to do and how much effort you are going to put into doing it. There are a lot of factors that influence people's choices of whether or not to go to work or do work. When making those kinds of decisions, I usually base them on the fact that someone is depending on me.

Sick children, unreliable child care, and child related appointments and commitments are sometimes unavoidable. It is not impossible to balance children and work, however. A little planning is all that is necessary to deal with the appointments and concerts, parent/teacher conferences and such. These things are known in advance, so it is not that challenging to arrange for someone else to take care of the professional work that needs to be done. Preparation is the answer to emergencies as well. Babysitter sick? It's going to happen, so you should have a backup or two that you can call on. Kid sick? Again, if you have a couple people you know can watch the little darling throw up all day or who can run Princess Phlegm-Factory to the doctor, you won't have to miss that meeting or leave your co-workers without your expertise or someone to do the heavy lifting. Anything can happen, so the more eventualities you prepare for, the less unscheduled absences you will have at work.

Everyone loves a snow day off- adults included. A working snow day means you have to get dressed, clean off a car, shovel, shower, dress, and go to work on less than ideal roads, surrounded by inexperienced and nervous drivers. By the time you get there, you are exhausted, your nerves are shot, and - oh, yeah- you are practically the only one there. D'oh! Who wouldn't prefer to sleep in, eat a big breakfast of pancakes and bacon (that you wouldn't have time to make or eat on a working day), then lie around in pajamas sipping cocoa until noon? But if you work in an office like I do, a snow day is chaos for co-workers and clientele alike. The work still needs to be done, and there is less help to do it. The reward for all your dedication is nothing more than a bad day at work and the satisfaction of knowing that the majority of the workers will be begging for sympathy while you are the example they are using to say, "Well SHE made it to work, and she lives on a mountain, in a low-budget, private community without the most modern snow-removal methods... and she drives a sedan!"

All this aside, going to work on a snow day has long-term rewards that outweigh that single bad day. Your boss(es) will remember your dedication, especially after a whole day of hearing horror story after horror story from those who made it and those who didn't. If you're lucky, maybe that co-worker who makes you crazy will choose not to brave the storm, and your day might actually go smoother because of it. And most of all, you have saved that emergency day off for a real emergency- like if you were to get the flu or the power goes out so you oversleep for lack of an alarm clock.

If I didn't sleep well, have a minor cold, or am heartbroken because of some major stress, I might want to stay in bed. If I do, the children might not get lunch money, which means a mushy PB&J instead of a hot lunch at school. They might forget to walk the dog, who will then be miserable until he breaks down and goes on he floor- then gets punished for it. My son may try to cook a hot breakfast unassisted, creating a large mess and a bad burning smell. Someone I promised to call that day from the office won't get that call, and they will think my company doesn't care about their business. Some manager may need historical information to make a good decision, but since I usually have those things, (s)he will have to wing it. Another supervisor will have to carry my share of the load, unprepared. In light of all these possibilities, maybe that extra couple hours of sleep isn't worth it.

Being responsible means thinking about the impact of being irresponsible. If I fail to do what I need to do, for whatever reason, others suffer. So I have options set up for childcare issues. I get up an hour or so early if there is snow on the ground so that I can get to work on time. I force myself out of bed when I have obligations, even if I don't feel like it. The rewards are undeniable, and the advantages to small moments of self-indulgence are negligible.


NOTE: This is a rant. I chose to word it in a positive fashion, because I am a positive person. What I really meant to say was something along the lines of "Don't people realize what their ridiculous excuses lead to?" Rather than say that, I figured I'd answer that question, and blow all their excuses out of the water. NO EXCUSES. TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cooking: Pork Shoulder and Sauerkraut

The traditional New Year's Day Feast in my home is Pork and Sauerkraut. I love a picnic shoulder roast any time, and when pigs are in short supply, the price at the grocery store is generally quite low for pork roasts at New Year's. One day I will do a full post about New Year's Traditions and Superstitions, but I can sum up most of them as this: Whatever happens on January 1 will foreshadow the year ahead. So, in this case, the idea is that you should eat well on the first of the year, and eat rich, fatty foods, to ensure you will not starve in the coming year. Personally, I'll take any excuse to make a pork shoulder...


About half an hour before cooking, preheat the oven to 450. Do not skip this step. It makes he difference between a nice roast and a so-so roast.

Rinse the shoulder in cool water, pat dry, and place in baking dish or pan, at least 2 inches deep. (Optional) Rub all over with salt, garlic powder, parsley, and rosemary (fresh, if possible). Allow roast to rest until nearly room temperature.


Place skin side up on middle rack of the oven. Close the oven door and immediately turn down to 325. NO PEEKING FOR AT LEAST AN HOUR! Cook 40 minutes per pound.


At the beginning of the last hour, remove the roast from the oven and drain off the fat. Reserve it for gravy or au jus. Add sauerkraut to the dish and return to the oven for the final hour.


Once the internal temperature is 170, remove from the oven and allow to rest at least 15 minutes. This keeps the juices in. Serve with potatoes, or bread and butter. Or BOTH.

2010 Roast Pork Shoulder with Sauerkraut