Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Antique Tractor Games: may the odds be ever in your favor.

There are many reasons that I love my lifestyle and growing up in a rural community. One of them is the annual tractor games at the local Tavern. Yes. Tractor games. Tractor fishing! Tractor basketball! Tractor balance beam! Tractor Plinko! Tractor drag the chain into a metal box faster than everyone else! Tractor poker run! The list goes on and on. 

Tractor Basketball!

Tractor Balance Beam!

The games are a blast, and it is great to see all the old tractors actually being used. It's even better to see the older guys passing on the love of their equipment  to the younger generation. 

There were countless boys and girls of all ages competing - many of them on tractors that had been purchased new by their great-grandparents.

It was at one of these shows that my grandpa's got into an argument over whether it was better to plow with mules or with horses. Those are moments that are precious to me.

They are almost as precious as watching my grandpa's face as I drove by on the Massey Harris #30 that my great-grandfather bought new in 1950. His smile lit up the park I tell you. Just like my late grandpa's did when I used his Case SC a few years ago.

It definitely makes up for how much I suck at tractor basketball. And yes. I managed to miss the basket even when I could literally touch the hoop. I have skills.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

This is not the greatest post in the world. This is just a tribute.

Okay, so it might be the greatest tale in the world, but probably only if you can picture it properly.

I don't know what it is about me taking a vacation that motivates the cows to go above and beyond their regular shenanigans. 

"I say, old girl, did you hear that the mistress is going to Tennessee to spend a wonderful weekend in Gatlinburg with her girl friends?"
"Oh? Jolly good."
"What kind of surprise should we send her off with do you think?"
"Oh I know. Why don't we all break out through two fences and go graze in the soy bean field. That'll give her an awfully good fright. Don't you think?"
"Oh, now that's a bloody marvelous idea old girl."

No. I don't know why my cows are British, but they are. Deal with it.

So, the night before I left for Gatlinburg I heard a moo echoing across the hills. I thought to myself, "That sounds like it came from the bottoms. That's impossible. It must be a trick of acoustics. The cows can't be down there." I didn't even stop to lock up the puppies. I jumped into the Mule and drove down the lower road (basically a field road), just to convince myself I was hearing things.

I probably should have given you a spoiler alert, I wasn't hearing things. I got to the bottoms and looked across the drainage ditch to see the ENTIRE herd grazing in the bean field. I'm not just talking grown cows, the old girls brought all the calves with them on their little jaunt. I saw red and spun around as fast as I could, racing back up towards the house, passing the puppies who were having BIG fun running free down the road for the first time. I was momentarily convinced that I would never see them again, but you know what? I had more important things to worry about. The cows were out. In the BEAN field. Is there a grass fed exception for when your cows are jerks and get out into the bean field? Does it count if there aren't bean pods yet? Thank God the Missouri cows are good cows. Ugh. I sped past the pups and left them for dead.

I grabbed a change of shoes and threw grain at the horses to keep them at the front of the paddock, and not at the back where I planned to open the gates and rustle the cows through like a cowboy out of a Roy Rodgers song.

What actually happened was me getting to the bottom of the hill and finding that my ATV wasn't quite all terrain enough for the job. So I took off running and screeching like a banshee at the herd of cows. Yippee ki yay my friends.

I swear that the cows think I am possessed.

Between my heavy breathing and my cursing I am sure that the neighbors probably think I am too.

Who am I to argue with results though? I was able to circle around the herd and start it moving out of the bean field and up the hill towards the hay field without having an aneurism or passing out from lack of oxygen, so I consider it a win. I'm really not a very good runner, but when the cows are out I somehow turn into a cross country athlete capable of leaping downed trees and ditches in a single bound. It's kinda like the Matrix, only with spider webs and low limbs instead of bullets.

So, I go charging up the hill after the cows waving my arms and any deadfall I can grab around in a weird move reminiscent of an ancient tribal dance that is FREAKISHLY effective at making the cows head towards home. Only instead of chanting, picture it with Tourette's. That's me when the cows are out. Then I start winging the deadfall at their heels, because I am out of shape and I can't run anymore. I am also not able to hit the broadside of a barn, let alone a heifer clocking at 35mph. It motivates them though. Those ole gals ignored my open gate and ran straight through the vinyl fencing (twice) to get back in their pasture.

But the bulls didn't.

Brisket and Dale decided to get in a headbutting contest all the way up the hill. If you haven't ever seen two 2,500lb animals attack each other it is a thing of beauty. It is incredible. It is majestic. It is EXTREMELY infuriating when you just want them to go back in the damned fences where they belong because you had other things to do tonight rather than chase them all over God's creation.

There is a certain level of mad that a usually rational human being can get to when working with livestock. At this level of mad it doesn't matter that the creatures you are working with can very easily kill you. I think it must harken back to our primal days, because you transform into a predator. Prey animals must fear you. Long story short, you become a total moron and decide that you can take a 2,500lb pissed off hunk of beef. It doesn't matter that the other 2,500lb hunk of beef is having problems standing up to your chosen target. You're an apex predator and you will be respected, dammit! Or die trying I guess. (FYI: I don't recommend doing this. In retrospect it was incredibly stupid.)

So what did I do? I took my stick and I threw it at Brisket's nose.

Yes. Brisket, the bull that was smart enough to try to drown the other bull in the lake last year. Brisket who can push Dale through a high tinsel fence. Brisket the bull who shoulders and charges into the tractor and budges it.

I hit that bull in the face with a half rotten stick from 40 feet away.

He turned and looked at me and I about peed my pants. Oh, he was mad. How dare I have the audacity to mar his money maker with a stick? I suddenly regretted my actions and tried to figure out where I could run that he couldn't get me. The Mule was too far away. The board fence wouldn't slow him down much, but maybe? Nope.  I was going to die this day, trampled to death in a hayfield. I faced my fate's narrowed and slightly hate filled brown eyes, my last thought's prepared to be: "There are worse ways to go I guess." and "I should have grabbed another stick."

Then it happened. You know those moments that can only occur in movies, like when the bad guy is crossing street and gets hit by a chance truck or a train? What happened next was like that. Only it was Dale who broadsided Brisket and shoved him right through the fence. One minute Brisket had turned to face me, and the next his eyes bulged out and Dale was churning up dirt as he rammed his big black head into Brisket's side repeatedly, half tossing him forward. Brisket forgot his hatred of me and tried to turn to face Dale, but he was well within the confines of the paddock before he broke free to lock heads again.

I stared at the hole in the fence amazed. He didn't even break new boards! It was incredible. It was magical. I was alive! I guess he owed me from the day I hit Brisket in the head with rocks and dirt clods until he stopped trying to drown him, but still. Dale is officially my favorite cow. Sorry Sweetie Pie, I love your hugs but he saved my life.

And that, ladies and gentlemen is how I got covered in seed ticks and spent my entire vacation itching.

Oh, and the puppies made it home safe and exhausted from their big adventure. God, I LOVE livestock!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The greatest, and most interesting tale you've never read.

Lordy, but when it rains it pours.

Last week I was drafting a riveting tale of cow escapades when the sheriff called, because the cows were out on the black top again. Ironic.

Between putting them back in, fixing fences, breaking my mower, and fighting with the floor sander I never got around to telling you the fascinating story. I promise I will, but not right now because I am currently running around trying to get things lined up for my subcommittee meeting on the Evergreen Cemetery tour before I go home and wrestle with the floor sander again. Oh, or move round bales off of the field. Or fix my mower and mow grass. Or rescue a chicken from a horse trough. Or maybe see my boyfriend and his brand new heifer!

So many options, and so many apologies for dropping off of the face of the planet.

I have so many great blogs in mind when I am wandering the fence rows, or mowing grass; and then I never seem to have the time to write them down.

But I will.

And you will be amazed.

Or probably just a little amused. I can at least hope for amused.

Watch out. It's coming.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Another #FarmGirlProblem

I saw this the other day on Pink Tractor's FaceBook page:

Hay in the bra is a permanent problem. There should be some sort of public service announcement out there. I swear. I don't even know how it gets there, but somehow it appears even on days when I haven't touched a tractor or a bale.

It also gets in your hair. And your shoes. And in your pants.

Hay chaff is the STD of the farm world.

With the weather that we are having in southern Illinois right now (110 degree heat index and humid as can be) all I can do is sigh with relief when I walk into the ac and peel off a layer of dried grass into the bottom of the shower.

Well that and be thrilled that no one I know is making square bales. I do not relish the idea of putting up 200 squares in this weather. Yikes!

Stay cool everyone!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July from the cows and me!
Red Devon are hella patriotic! Just not so photogenic...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


That's right, even after a weekend gardening and mowing in tank tops I'm still rocking a fantastic farmer's tan. 

I find that it perfectly accentuates my red neck.

And it makes me very patriotic.

That's right. What's red, white, and blue?

Me (my arms anyway) when I drive a New Holland...

Bwahaha. I'm so clever!

Clearly I need more spaghetti straps in my life.

Or better sunscreen for my forearms. Whoever said you can't tan through SPF 30?

I am BRANDED FOR LIFE! I swear that tan line never leaves. Even if I apply self tanner like  a madwoman, say to be a part of a wedding, it is still there. Lurking. Just waiting for a chance to shine. Preparing to proclaim to the world that I am a farm girl.

You know what? I am strangely alright with it.

It may be a farm girl problem, but I kinda love rocking my farmer's tan!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Don't hate.

My dad called me as I was headed out the door for work to tell me that there were calves in the neighbor's yard and I needed to check the fences. Sadly, this isn't an entirely unusual occurrence. You see, the same fluff that makes calves so freaking adorable also insulates them pretty well against the zapping power of the electric fence. It has to be pretty dang hot to keep those bouncing bundles of joy contained and safe from the dangers of the blacktop. And also keep our neighbors happy, because even though I think calves gamboling around in my flower garden would be the most perfect photo op ever; it isn't everyone's cup of tea. There's no accounting for taste, ya'll.

So anyway, I had a lovely morning playing farmer, fixing fences, and attempting to find all of the cows as they happily munched their way around five acres of two foot tall grass. While it is true that cows will "bunch" around a feeder, when they are grazing they spread out man. Regardless, I think they're all there, but a herd of all black cows moving around where you can barely see them makes it hard to be sure. The IL farm doesn't ear tag anyone so it is hard to know if they've been counted or not when I can't see their faces to know who they are. 

I got the fence hot, and rigged it in a few places because I didn't have the tools with me to fix it permanently. That's going to be tomorrow morning's project. Dad has promised to teach me how to restring a broken high tinsel (really heavy duty steel wire that doesn't work like the light duty wire I am used to) section.

Now here is where things divulge from farm life to my personal beliefs, so if you don't really care about that then I encourage you to take this cow picture and go with my blessing, or file this one under knowing your farmer. Either way.

Have a Crooky!

After I finished up with my farming for the morning I made a decision. A decision that I knew would have some repercussions, namely  that it would make feeding later a bit of a difficulty. A decision that I don't regret in the least.

I decided to wear a maxi dress and jacket, and I believe that EVERY person other than Captain America had something to say about it. Please note that I still hadn't done my hair, or worn make up, and this thing was like the yoga pant of the dress world.

What I did not anticipate was the barrage of questions: "Why are you so dressed up?" "Who died?" "That jacket doesn't go with that." "You can't work in that." "You're overdressed for feeding aren't you?" This and comments like them, from at least eleven people.

My inner monologue had a field day. "Because I wanted to mess with your world view." "I'm actually my own evil twin." "I wanted to spend all day defending my clothing choices." "It was hot." "It was easier than trying to find a clean pair of jeans," as most of mine have some sort of marking on them whether it is a stain from the cows or from farm equipment repair. "I just got the dress and I delight in it." "I just wanted to?" "It is coral, so I probably wouldn't wear it to a funeral." "Overdressed? Pioneer women pulled plows in dresses, you know." The list goes on and on, but it raises the question, why do I have to defend my choices?

As long as I am not indecent or breaking any policies on my dress, of course. If I was running around like Lady Godiva on a four wheeler I could see someone stopping me and asking what made me make that particular clothing choice for the day. (Ease of cleaning by the way, that is all I can come up with. Or maybe a severe mental break...)

I just wrote about my realization that I was a farmer, and you know nine times out of ten I dress like one, but I am also a grown woman who likes to wear something that flows around my ankles when I walk every so often. So what if I have to hike it up and tuck in in my bra to make it a mini and keep it from getting puppy prints on it? That's my prerogative.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: when did it become our job to judge one another, and not just delight in each other and the unique qualities that we each bring to the table?

I think that goes far beyond clothing choices too. I am PASSIONATE about what I do, and how I think that livestock should be raised; but I have to appreciate what other farmers do and why they make the choices that they make when it comes to their life and livelihood. Grassfed beef, free range chickens, and organic gardening are clear choices for me, but I don't have to bring anyone else down to bolster that belief.

I'm not sure all other farmers could rock a coral maxi/mini dress and muck boots, but I can; and similarly to my beliefs about the food industry and animal husbandry I respectfully refuse to apologize and make excuses for that, even while acknowledging that it isn't for everyone.

Now, if you don't mind, I am going to go spin circles in my flowy skirt to Taylor Swift's "Shake it off" and see if the cows try to eat it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

I think I'm just a farmer.

I just saw a Facebook post about: "Is the term'Farmer's Wife' outdated in 2015?" And while, no, I don't think it is. That is something that has been bothering me. There has been a big push to recognize women in farming lately; and I get it, but at the same time I don't. I've grown up a farmer's daughter. I have believed that I would be a farmer's wife. But I am both of those things, and neither of them. I'm a farmer in my own right. When push comes to shove it isn't going to be just my future husband and hypothetical sons out there working. I will be too. I already am. And you had better damn well know that any daughter I have will be too. If she is efficient enough to do it in a sundress, who am I to say no? She'll be doing her own dang laundry though.

But that wouldn't make her less of a farmer. And it doesn't make me less of one.

Why haven't I embraced it? Why haven't I stopped being a farmer's daughter and taken my mantle of farmer and worn it with flair? Because , let's face it, bedazzle that B***** because I'm rocking it already. I'm wondering how many of you are in the same boat. Am I the only one?

When the fence is down, who fixes it? Sometimes I do.

When the cows are out, who threatens them with death and curses until they go back where they belong? Sometimes I do.

When there is a cow having birthing problems, who is shoulder deep in her lady parts trying to save the calf? Sometimes I am.

When the fields need brush hogged, who is out there working on their tan? Sometimes I am.

When it comes time to work cows, who face plants in all the cow mud? Me. Right here. This girl. 
Pretty much always. I'm a clutz like that.

When there is anything going on with the farm, who is involved? Sometimes I am.

You know what, just because I have to preface those things with "sometimes" doesn't make me any less of a farmer than my dad (who sometimes, okay, frequently isn't around!). It also doesn't make me less of a farmer than my friends who work day jobs and farm on the evenings and weekends. They are only farming "sometimes" too. And you know who else is "sometimes" farming? Their wives.

Most of the row croppers I know have wives that can drive a tractor, or pull wagons to get the harvest in. They feed bottle calves, chickens, children, and hungry husbands. They handle mowing or watering, or whatever they have to do when their loved ones are occupied elsewhere. A few of them are even stay home wives and get the great jobs of riding around the county looking for the missing cows that broke out of the fence, because "they didn't have to work." Hah. Right. Because in addition to taking care of all the things that you don't have time to, they can whip up a church picnic worthy cake in the blink of an eye. Who says that isn't work? I'm frankly in awe of their level of awesome.

Guess what gals, you aren't just farmers wives or daughters. According to the dictionary, you're farmers. "A person who owns, or manages a farm." "A person who cultivates land or crops, or raises livestock." Bottle feeding calves is raising livestock. It's really freaking cute livestock. And technically I think farm kids could count as livestock if push comes to shove. Goodness knows that you have a hard time separating them from the livestock in many cases! ;)

Now, I'm not trying to go all "girl power" on you, but seriously, let's give ourselves the respect we deserve.

Because we are awesome, and we are farmers.

But I guess we are more than that too, and if THAT is what "farmer's daughter", "farm wife", or "farmer's wife" means to you then I get it; but I should start making "Farm goddess" t-shirts, 'cause what you guys do just isn't humanly possible.

PS: If any of you feel like taking a lowly farmer under your wing and telling me your church cake recipe, or how on earth you manage to look that nice and still walk on actual dirt please feel free! God knows I could use the help! :D

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fact (that is actually an opinion): Rabbits are the enlightened spiritual leaders of the animal kingdom.

Sunday I looked over at Captain America and asked him, "What do you think that other couples do on their weekends?" We had spent all day Saturday working on the IL house, and were at the Missouri ranch to  check the chickens and cows when we found Ellie May ready to calve. He shrugged and went back to Googling "how long should a cow be in labor," as I turned back to begin hour three of staring at Ellie May's vulva, wondering if we needed to call a vet, pull the calf, make her a cup of tea, drive her down a bumpy road, or just leave her the hell alone.

I also started wondering if adoption was not perhaps the way to go. Nothing like watching something in labor for several hours to make me want to never have kids. Ouch. Some pain transcends verbal communication. I feel for you, honey.

Long story short, we had to pull the calf. It was a new experience for me, though similar enough to pulling foals (thanks mom!) that we were able to get the job done. The heifer was stillborn - and had probably died a few days before labor started. No wonder Ellie had been in stage two labor for at least five hours. The baby's movement helps to stimulate contractions.

That brings us to three dead calves and fourteen live ones for the year so far, not good odds, but it happens I guess. Let's be honest, nothing but zero losses would be considered good odds.

But that is another thing that helping mom out with foaling a bunch of thoroughbreds has taught me. Sometimes you just have bad runs. It just happens. It is tragic, and horrible; but it is life. We went five years without losing a single mare or foal despite correcting what feels like 100 dystocias; and then in one year we had a foal puncture through the birth canal (thus losing both the mare and baby), one foal break a leg (and have to be put down), one foal whose dystocia couldn't be corrected, and two stillborns. And again, not bad odds when you consider that we were foaling out between fifty and seventy mares a year. But dear God it sucked.

So, while Captain America wasn't due yet, the fact that we hadn't lost a calf or had any problems calving at home for at least ten years makes it seem a little better.

I just wish that that mattered. That I could look at it all as a numbers game. Unfortunately, I can't. I cried for Ellie. I bawled for the heifer that lost one of her first babies last week. She had twins and one of them didn't make it. My heart broke for the momma whose baby was just a little too big, and took a little too long to get out because she calved in between my moving hay at seven pm and my going out to check them at ten the next day.

When those gals look at me like they want me to fix their baby something breaks inside, because I can't. As much as I want to, I can't fix dead.

Heck, I can't even fix the fences half the time. At least not well enough to keep my dang kamikaze calves in. I swear, it is like they don't feel pain. Brats.

So why do it? Why spend all the time and money to curse and cry and have to change plans and break dates and show up at the local farm store wanting to buy field fence only to have the sales guy get snotty when you (a girl) want to buy and install it to keep your a$$hat kamikaze calves from breaking through the vinyl board fencing that the horses live in AGAIN?

Because I can't look at it like a numbers game. I can't look at them and see dollar figures and widgets to be sold.

I look at them and I love them (yes even when they are being a$$hats...). And I personally feel like I owe them that much. I don't have a problem with grocery store carnivores, vegetarians, or vegans. However, when I look at that burger on my plate? I see a cow, and I feel better knowing that that cow was happy. That it had a good life. And that it was loved. If I am going to eat it, I feel that it deserves at least that much consideration. In my mind a little appreciation and respect go a long way.

I read in an animal communication book once that the communicator asked a meat rabbit how it felt about being destined to be dinner. I am paraphrasing the bunnies answer: "I am happy here, with my friends. There is plenty of room and sunshine. We all get eaten. It is our life before then that matters." Word, my fluffy friend. We all get eaten. It IS what happens before we die that matters, after that what do we care who eats us? Does it really matter if it is an earthworm and bacteria, a coyote, or something else? 

Seriously, who knew that bunnies were the enlightened leaders of the animal kingdom?

I can't love every cow. I can't save every calf, but at least I can look at them with respect, and I can make sure that the cows whose lives I touch are as happy as I can make them. If I don't raise them, then someone else will; and I don't and won't know that they will get the respect they deserve.

Plus, I think the desire to kill teenagers is universal. I would be lying if I didn't admit that that helps. I may or may not have spent four hours last week chasing a heifer who broke out of the fence around screaming something about being an "apex predator" and that "I would eat her raw, if she didn't get her butt back in the fence"...

I think we bonded. She's going to be a wonderful mother one day. Ah, the circle of life. *Cue the Lion King music*

Here's hoping that the odds get better ya'll.

Friday, April 10, 2015

That feeling when the cows are out.

I had a very long post floating around in my head for today, but instead I just got a call that the cows are out. So I leave you with this instead:

That pretty much sums up my feelings right now. Happy Friday everyone!

Monday, April 6, 2015

This is why I can't have nice things.

That is what my legs looked like at the end of Friday's feeding.


Because the ole gals have been chatting around the hay feeder and decided that the new fangled birthing options out there sounded like they'd be great to try. Here's a hint, cows shouldn't have water births.

They should also not have births close enough to the lake that the calf could fall in and make it look like a water birth.

They should also not ATTACK people who happen by on the tractor in the nick of time, strip their shoes off (because I have lost boots by wading in lakes before), and jump in valiantly to save their newborns from hypothermia or drowning.

You'd think they'd be grateful, instead I'm nursing a few bruises and pulled muscles from running away from an angry momma. Fortunately my dad heard all my yelling (something along the lines of: "You stupid witch! I'm trying to help! I'm not the one who decided to have a baby in a f-ing lake!") and interceded with the four wheeler and a big stick. 

Everyone is fine, other than me with my lower back which was twisted in the getaway - or by face planting because I didn't put my boots back on (which really, look at my feet, you wouldn't either) and slipped on the "cow mud" by the feeders. 

Friday was not my day.

This is why I can't have nice things...

But Saturday was. Isn't he the sweetest? Really, who needed a decent pedicure anyway?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Cow Tip

Today's Cow Tip: Watching a pregnant cow's vulva is a lot like watching a toaster. Watched toasters never pop, and neither do cows.

Despite all of the Googled "imminent calving" signs being present, they wait until you're gone for the weekend and there is a change in barometric pressure.

Cows are jerks.

I have to go away to see family for Easter. I'm expecting every dang cow in Illinois to drop a calf while I'm gone.

You hear that Brisket? I'm watching you.

Have a calf!

Sweetie Pie, Honey Bunch...

Remember how I told you that Captain America bought me a milk cow? Well, after what feels like a month of staring at her, willing her to calve, she did it.

Sweetie Pie, what do you have there?

Is that a new baby?

Introducing: Honey Bunch!
(You know that I love you! I can't help myself...)

Seriously though, I'm in love!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Simply Divine Sandwich Bread

Well, after a fantastic Valentine's weekend full of terrific gifts (He loved the picture, btw! :D And I got the most beautiful lilies and new measuring cups<- so excited!), and most importantly quality time, I'm ready to share with you that awesome bread recipe I mentioned last week.

It is adapted from one of the old handwritten recipes that my grandma left me years ago. It is perfect for toast or sandwiches. It is perfect for eating warm with butter. It is, in short, just all around awesome.

You're going to need:
Ten minutes to make the sponge, at least an hour of unattended rising
Ten minutes of kneading, at least an hour of unattended rising
Five minutes of punching and separating, at least an hour of unattended rising
30-45 minutes to bake
An oven
Greased loaf pans (two metal throwaway, or more if you use smaller glass pans, or a cookie sheet if you want to roll this into balls and make hamburger buns)
A large bowl
Plastic wrap
4 TBS Olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 1/2 TBS Yeast
8+/- Cups Flour
3 Cups Warm water
3 TSP Salt
2/3 Cup Honey (I even had super old honey that had dried out and crystallized - it worked great!)
or 1/2 Cup white sugar

I personally use honey rather than sugar. Yes, it takes more flour. Yes, it is still delicious. If you want to play it safe and use sugar be my guest, but for what it is worth Captain America says the honey tastes better and I tend to agree with him. It also seems to help keep the bread moist - which with the lack of preservatives is a good thing to me.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for about five minutes. Add four cups of the flour, 4TBS olive oil, 3TSP salt, and whatever sweetener you're using. I generally add the honey first so that I can swivel the spoon around in the warm water to get it all off, but that is personal preference. Mix all of those ingredients up and cover with the plastic wrap. Let it rise until it is doubled.

Mm, spongey?

This mixture is what is referred to as a sponge. It generally only takes an hour to rise, but the longer you let the yeast sit and do its thing the better your bread is going to taste. Plus, the longer you let things sit the easier it is to work bread baking into your routine. I frequently begin the process on my lunch break and then bake in the evening or even in the morning before work.

They grow up so quickly!

I'm getting ahead of myself. After your sponge has doubled in size you need to add more flour. I generally add three cups and begin incorporating it with one hand (the texture is silky and a pleasure to touch). I then add the next cup (and maybe a little more) a little bit at a time until the dough all sticks together and you can touch it with your clean hand without giant clumps of dough sticking to you.

Punch that dough down. Have stress? Knead that bread. Here is the secret to our grandmother's not killing their husbands (not documented - but pretty sure).

As you can see above, I have taken to kneading the bread in my giant bowl and just drizzling the whole thing in olive oil and tossing it a few times to make sure it is covered, but you can easily knead it on any flat surface and place it in a separate oil coated bowl to rise again.

But why make more dishes? Hmm?

Cover that baby in plastic wrap, you can use the same stuff as before, and let it rise until doubled. It generally takes about an hour, but the temperature of your room has a lot to do with it. Generally 70-80 degrees makes all the little yeasties happy. But if it is colder than that and it takes a while to rise, or if you just ignore it for an extra two hours worry not! You aren't a bad baker. You're imparting more flavor into your bread. Now it isn't just bread, it is ARTISANAL sandwich bread. You're welcome.

KiYai! Bread punch!

Punch the dough down and let it rest for a minute or five before you divvy it up into your greased loaf pans. This recipe makes two loaves if your using the standard metal throwaway pans from a local super center, or three smaller loaves. Or a bunch of  hamburger buns. It's pretty flexible. Just remember that whatever you put it in it will double in size. You're warned. If you throw the whole thing in one loaf pan be prepared for Breadzilla overtaking your oven. Cover those pans with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled. An hour on the counter, overnight in the fridge, again you're not ignoring it, you're imparting flavor.

When you're ready to bake, PREHEAT your oven to 350 degrees. I mean it. This is not a take and bake pizza that can be thrown in cold and bake as you go. Bread needs the oven to be piping hot to bake correctly. After your oven is properly preheated throw those loaves in and don't open it for at least 30 minutes. It will take 30-45 minutes of active baking time depending on your oven and your pans.

You can tell they are done when the top is golden brown and they ring hollow when tapped. Make sure to let them cool on the top of the stove or counter before you cut into them. The insides are still baking and you don't want to let that heat and moisture out too soon.

These loaves freeze VERY well in gallon freezer bags. Thaw them overnight in the fridge and toss them in the oven to warm up and you have a dinner addition that is sure to wow guests. Or just yourself. Just be warned it is really easy to eat a whole loaf!

This bread stores very well in gallon freezer or storage bags, I would strongly recommend using them. As it is a preservative free product it will dry out and become unappetizing rather quickly if you just leave it on the counter. It is great for bread pudding then, but it gets a little crumbly for anything else.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Redneck Love Poem: New Holland's missed marketing opportunity

My Valentine's day poem options to accompany this lovely water color I did for Captain America (also known as this is what happens when you say I can't buy you anything for V-day, ha):

Our baler is red.
Our tractor is blue.
I'm so lucky,
That I found you.

The baler is red.
The round bale is tan.
I am so glad,
That you are my man.

Balers are red.
Tractors are blue.
There's nowhere I'd rather be,
than haying with you.

Balers are red.
Tractors are blue.
Oh hell, the cows got out.
No one I'd rather curse with than you.

The balers are red.
The tractors are blue.
I think New Holland missed a marketing opportunity.
Don't you?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Catching up, traumatizing tile death, and delicious repercussions of the grocery challenge

Hello, my name is Lauren and I am a grocery addict. I have been clean for almost a month.

Well, it is 2/13/15. I have officially not been inside a grocery store for over a month (1/9/15 and going strong-ish). Okay fine, except for one night when I broke down and bought two bags of lettuce and some grapes because I was craving salad so badly. I was weak. It was so wrong, but oh so right. I've never been that thrilled to have a little mixed greens in my life. Note to self, add a nice lettuce mix to the seed order to prevent this in the future.

I have not been completely successful in not spending much this month. The house remodel always sneaks up and is like, "Oh by the way Lauren, you need to order $200 worth of waterproofing supplies or else your bathroom walls are going to rot off and you will be tragically crushed to death under a mountain of shattered subway tile and broken dreams."

FYI, this is what $200 of waterproofing looks like.
At least it is the first two coats of it.

Then I got a gym membership, because well, if the firefighters are going to have to shovel me out from under all that tile I want to look good under there. You've got to plan ahead for these things, people.

And I had to pay a vet bill. And the cats ran out of litter. And I felt badly for the birds and bought more seed. And I spent a small fortune on moth balls trying to get my new pet skunk to move. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

I guess the moral of my story here is that life happens, and then my best laid hopes get a little waylaid. But not a lot waylaid, because I have still managed to not spend nearly as much as I have in the past, and my cabinets are looking much less like a hoarder's. I am actually going to challenge myself to extending the grocery free challenge a little further.

Okay, after I buy milk and some meat other than bacon, and some greens. But other than that one trip, no more groceries for March. I'm giving myself a $50 limit. We will see how that goes. Every time I eat out of those cabinets I just keep reminding myself that it will be one less thing to have to pack. One. Less. Thing.

This challenge has been a lot of fun in many ways. I have been forced to be a little more creative with my cooking - which is always interesting. I'm not so sure Captain America will agree, but I haven't really minded it. In fact it has given me a kick start to begin baking bread again. Because when your grandma gives you 40 lbs of flour for Christmas and you are really craving toast there is only one natural solution if you are abstaining from grocery stores.

Get in my mouth. Right now.

In other news I have two great bread recipes that I have perfected over the last month... And a fantastic cinnamon roll recipe that I found in a catalog and have been wanting to try when I have milk again. I hadn't planned on milking Sweetie Pie this year, but if I keep this up I may have to change that plan. Or figure out how to make almond milk from the three bags of almonds that I have. Hmm...

Sweetie should calve in the next month, by the way! I can't wait to meet my new little Sugar Cake, or Candy Heart (unless you've got more suggestions for a  Valentine's baby). Then we will have all the excitement of trying to find a second calf for her. She makes too much milk for one calf to keep her from being incredibly uncomfortable and having health problems. Sources say she can feed three calves at once. Yikes. I may have to pull a Cleopatra and take milk baths.

Hope you all have a happy and productive weekend! 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My new neighbor

I've got a new neighbor that has been keeping me pretty busy lately. With his all night long parties that continuously awaken me between 11 and 1 am you'd think I could call the cops and get his stuff shut down.

But, no.

Wanna know why?

Because my new neighbor is a skunk. Yes, a skunk. I adore skunks. I think they're adorable, and have even been known to cry over them when they get into tussles with Susan the Skunk dog. Really! I love watching their little koosh ball tails shuffle around in the horse barn. They're totally precious. I'm generally a live and let live person. But no more.

You see, this new neighbor of mine "goes off" every single night. He has been for about a week and a half now! I had to have my coworker smell my hair because my nose has been so accosted by this little sucker that I literally smell skunk everywhere I go. I will be sound asleep and then a stench so bad I can taste it (yes, yes, that's actually a thing) will awaken me and cause my eyes to water and me to desperately try to asphyxiate myself with a pillow. 

I have rigged skunk traps, but they have been unsuccessful thus far. Also, Thank you Google, but moth balls and vinegar soaked rags apparently do not drive skunks away like crosses and holy water do demons in bad horror flicks. The power of Febreze compels you! Ugh.

I was hoping to catch him in a live trap and re-home him somewhere where his perfume wouldn't be so noxious, but I've gotta say... I'm getting desperate. Maybe it is the lack of sleep. Maybe it's the taste of skunk flavoring my mouth at one am. Maybe it is the fact that every time I turn on my dryer I have to rewash everything because the poor darling gets startled.

One way or another, this skunk has got to go.

Not this actual skunk. This was actually a good skunk.
This was the late, great Hambone, may he forever eat dog food in the sky.
I almost had him tame.
I bet he would have prevented this interloper, jerk, from hanging around...
Great, now I'm rambling. I need sleep.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

My Awesome Budgeting Challenge AKA: more money for fun things, less for sauerkraut...

With the New Year here I am seeing a lot of the blogs I follow talk about budgeting.
The first one I read: Yeah, budgeting. I should do a better job of that, but I don't really spend to excess. I mean I don't even have television or internet. I don't go shopping recreationally. I keep my thermostat on 60 in the winter and 80 in the summer. I practically live like an Amish! Pah.

The third one I read: Hmm, the difference between wanting something and really needing it. I should do a better job of that... I justify a lot of stuff that I probably don't need after all *Cough*Gurney's flower order*Cough*

The seventh or eighth one I read: Hold the phone! Don't spend anything for a month?! What is this lady? Crazy? A spending reset? Nope. Nope. Nope. How would you LIVE? But my grocery shopping! I can't give up my grocery shopping!

Well, you can guess which one I am going to attempt... Yup. No spending on anything other than house payments, insurance, utilities, fuel, prescriptions, and pet care for a month. That still seems like a pretty big list, but I can't exactly cut those things out comfortably. A nice thing about budgeting when I don't *have* to is that I can leave myself a little bit of room. This isn't quite as bad as my graduate school $500 a month spending freeze where I literally only had that much to work with. Since I got paid on the 15th, that is when this little challenge officially began.

I have kept track of my spending for the last two years in an Excel sheet and I have noticed that with the exceptions of things like gifts around the holidays or remodeling expenses, the majority of my charges go to the grocery store of all things. Go figure. So that is where I am focusing my energies the hardest. 

But I might starve! Haha. 

I'm going to have to eat tuna for like a month.
Not because there aren't other choices mind you.
I apparently just horde tuna. And sauerkraut.
That just, does not sound appetizing at all. Ech.

I figure what the heck. It can't hurt to give myself a jump start on 2015 savings (I've got trips and other exciting things to save for by golly!) Besides, I am hoping to be moving into my new house soon and if I make myself eat my pantry clean there will be that much less I have to move. Win-win, right?

Let's just pray that the Pinetree Seed Catalog doesn't roll in until after February 15th...

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Love will find a way... or a hill, which is like the same thing.

Captain America lives about an hour and a half away from me. So, on nights that I stay at our "Missouri Farm" I have a good chunk of time in the morning to pray, get my mind clear, and well, appreciate all the cows.

Look, some people get distracted by pretty girls or guys walking down the street. I almost run off the shoulder trying to get a better view of the new calf that I glimpsed. You have your morning routine, and I have mine. Coffee, check. Affirm that I am going to be a better and more patient/understanding/loving/selfless/etc. person today than yesterday, check. Nearly kill myself cow watching while driving, check, check, check. Don't judge!

Anyway, there is a farm I drive by that has this big ole' Hereford Angus cross (black cow with a white face) I watched her have the cutest little calf last year, and then I saw the tiny little bull they put in with her. Seriously, he was short. Well, guess who calved last night? Yup. That's right. Love found a way.

It reminded me of last summer when CA and I turned out our bull, Sampson, who is admittedly still a youngster and growing into his role of herd sire. He was at least a good six inches shorter than his lady friends, but he is resourceful by golly. Love will always find a way, and in his case the way love found was to stand his lady in a hole. Yes, that's right. He has a "love hill." I had heard of it happening with little donkeys and big mares, but never with cows before. Who knew? That's problem solving right there!

It is a testament to the tenacity and resourcefulness that we put into relationships and life that no obstacle is insurmountable, even when it looks like it is. Oh, well, and "spring fever" helps I guess. But seriously, I mean if a cow or donkey can beat a 2 foot height difference, really? You can do anything! All it takes is a change of perspective and a can do attitude and you can move mountains, or build love hills. Whatever you're in the mood for.

That cute little white faced blob by her momma's legs was the first glimpse of spring and the new year for me. My heart leapt, my car swerved just a little bit, and my faith was restored.

It's a new year. Anything is possible.