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Farm Life

Food – Glorious Food

Month by Month

Red Sky in the Morning

The poem goes…

Red sky in the morning; sailor’s warning.

Red sky at night; sailor’s delight.

So if I wake up to a sky like this

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I should expect rain later in the day.

Usually when I see a sky like this,

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we have rainy weather.

Not today, though. It is sunny and the clouds are bumping across the sky.

But since I woke up to a sky like this,

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maybe it will rain later tonight, while I am busy with other things.

And that’s okay.

Rain or no rain, I am grateful to be able to wake up and see such a sky. Such a display of light.

Makes me appreciate where I live that my mornings can have a backdrop as spectacular as this.

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Fall Clean Up and a Disaster

The weather cooperated yesterday so my sons and I got some fall cleaning done. There is much to do on the farm, and I need the help of two strapping 20-something males to do a great deal of it.

As we waited for the weather to warm-up before we headed outside for outside work, Tim and I took on the task of cleaning out cupboards in the guys’  room. We sorted through clothes and made a pile of those that no longer fit. We have some set aside for Goodwill and some other items are bagged up for our next garage sale.

And while this task needed done, what really needed our attention was the putting away of the window air conditioner in their room. Understand, this poor unit has survived at least 10 years of over-use (in my opinion). The guys like to make it so their room is like Antarctica. Think meat locker. Think stalagmites (or is it stalactites?) of ice hanging from the ceiling – okay, not that bad.

They love their air conditioner and it is always an effort to get them to let me remove it from their room. But, the time had come, so this is what we did.

Also understand – I hate stink bugs. I’m sure this is not their true name, but they are bugs and if you touch them, they produce a musky, blah, stink.

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They also love to try to get inside the house when cold weather comes. They really try to gain access via the window air conditioner. I don’t know where they live all year long, but come fall – they try to live in my house.

Along with ladybugs, whom I don’t mind, unless they are those Asian beetles sent to save us all from aphids, and which now also try to invade the house once it gets chilly.

So, get this picture in your minds. We need to remove the screws holding the air conditioning unit in the window, as well as the duct tape and foam used to seal the thing in an effort to keep the bugs out. I have the Electrolux in hand to sweep up any invading stink bugs, lady bugs and, oh yes, wasps that have also conveniently made a paper nest on the window ledge where the AC unit is.

We take out the screws. Remove the duct tape – all’s good and then we attempt to remove the foam. Oh no. The foam is stuck to the window and glass. Jammed actually. Rats!

I put down the Electrolux nozzle to help Tim with the window. We get it to move a bit, and yes, you guessed it, stink bugs came crawling out of every crevice. Tim grabs the sweeper and quickly turns it on. I give the window a good shove hoping to pop out the insulated foam, which I am able to do just in time to watch the air conditioner fall backwards out of the window, hit the box bay roof below it, thankfully miss our newly installed gutter and plunge to the muddy ground below.

Tim made a valiant grasp for the AC cord, but missed, thank goodness, as it probably would have ripped out of the unit. Or if the cord had held on, the unit would have swung in and broken the main box bay window.

We both just stood there looking at the air conditioner – on the ground. In all the  commotion, the stink bugs flew away, not into the house. Figures.

Breaking free of my stupor, I stated an explicative and ran downstairs and out the door. Amazingly, except for being covered in mud, nothing was broken on the air conditioner. Not the little slidey accordion thingies on the sides; not the filter in the front – nothing.

I picked up the mud slicked piece of machinery and began wiping it off with wet paper towels. Tim helped me carry it to the basement just about the time my dad walked over to taste the prune cake I had just made.

Yes, I said prunes. Don’t judge. The recipe was one I found on www.thepioneerwoman.com’s website. The cake is really, really, REALLY good. Go to her site and find it, bake it and eat it. It’s the right thing to do – as Ree would say.

Wait – now I’m hungry and have to go get a piece. Hold on.

Ahhh… what a fantastic cake. It’s great with a glass of milk, that’s all I’m saying.

Anyway – back to the story. I told my dad about the air conditioner fiasco, which made him smile;  laugh actually. He says what I already know,  “Don’t tell your mother.” There are just some things moms do not need to know about and air conditioners falling from the second story of one’s home would be such a thing.

After having his good laugh, my dad comes up with an idea. “Let’s fire that thing up and see if it still runs.”

I’m sure the poor machine has suffered internal injuries beyond repair. I am sure if I turn it on it is  going to blow up. Can air conditioners blow up?

I voiced my concern to my dad about the blowing up thing. His response, “I can only hope. That would be fun.”

Geez my knees!.

Well, I plugged that puppy in and guess what? It ran like a dream; it did not blow up. Not even a clunk or clank. Go figure.

The moral of this story? Don’t let a stink bug (okay, a million stink bugs) freak you out. And learn to laugh at your mistakes like my dad did.

And just so we’re clear – Stink bugs… go live somewhere else. Leave my house alone and no more trying to destroy the air conditioner.

Thank you.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks Delivered to my Doorstep

I pre-ordered The Pioneer Woman Cooks from Barnes and Noble. I never pre-order any book. I love rummaging through bookstores way too much. Like I love hot, buttered, salty popcorn.

But I had to have this book ASAP. I discovered www.thepioneerwoman.com about a month ago and I am addicted to Ree Drummond’s way with words, her story,  kids, photography, cooking. She calls her self a “ding-a-ling” and her kids “punks.” What’s not to love?

Now, back to my dilema. Why shop on-line? The closest decent bookstore is a half hour drive from the farm and I was guaranteed The Pioneer Woman Cooks would be delivered into my greedy, eager hands near the book’s release date. It came the day after the book was released on October 27th.  Thank you Barnes and Noble.

So excited at having this much anticipated book in-hand, I emailed Ree herself and sent her pictures of my actually opening my B&N package containing her book. Yes, I am wacked.

Here is what I sent her. Follow along with Ree…

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The package fresh from Mr. UPS.

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The tear strip was a piece of cake. Made me feel very strong.  My book was just one hearty rip away.

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See, I am very strong. Humor me, please.

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I’m almost there.

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Why do packages come  smoothered in “I could care less” promo material?

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The back of the book looks interesting, but I must see the front.

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Gorgeous. So well done. My fingers are twitchin’ to start flippin’ pages.

So happy to have it in hand.  Toodles as I take a few hours for myself and enjoy visiting with Ree.

Fall Finale

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Fall at the farm has been filled with color.

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I love the yellow against the blue sky.

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And the red leaves next to the white fence.

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The lake reflects the fall colors like a mirror.

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But my favorite is the orange of a Cinderella pumpkin kissed with frost.

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The snow will be flying soon; sooner than I’d prefer, but for now, the colors of autumn are more than enough to put a smile on my face.

Birthday Dinner

My oldest son turned 25 yesterday. I had him when I was only 10 – jk. I know he is getting older, but I am at 29 and holding. Regardless, he loves to eat; wouldn’t know it by looking at Mr. Lean, but he does. And he loves stuffed, baked pork chops.

I learned how to cook out of necessity when my brother and I shared an apartment at Ohio State University. My brother was in dental school. I was a junior English/Education major. He studied a lot. I learned to shop, cook, clean and complain. I remember speaking to my mom on the phone one night after shopping for and making dinner topped off by my doing the dishes. Dear brother? He ate and left for a study session. I said to my mom, “If this is what being married is like, no thanks.” She assured me it wasn’t. I think she might have lied a little.

Anyway, if I wanted to eat food like “Mom used to make” while in Columbus, I had to make it myself. Mom gave me her recipes, and I practiced on my brother. He was a tolerate test subject, and I got pretty good at putting ingredients together which often resulted in fairly edible items. The stuffed pork chops were always a hit and became a family favorite. So stuffed pork chops it is for my son.

Here is how I make them…

Using any bread you might have on hand – Italian or artisan bread with a nice crust works best, but hot dog buns can do in a pinch – tear about 8 slices of the bread into bite size pieces and lay the pieces on a cookie sheet so the bread can dry out.

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Do this about three hours before you make the stuffing and to help the bread dry out, mix the bread around with your hands every now and then as you pass through the kitchen to get a snack. Hey, no snacking! You’re having stuffed pork chops for dinner. Geez!

Once the bread is dry, chop up one medium-sized onion and two stalks of celery.

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Using a large frying pan, melt one stick of butter (1/2 cup), add the chopped onion and celery and cook until the veggies are translucent; about 5 minutes. I also chop up fresh Italian parsley – about 1/4 cup – and toss that in for good measure.

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Pour the dry bread into a large bowl. Season the bread with 1/2 tsp of ground sage, 1/2 tsp of dried thyme leaves, and 1/2 tsp of poultry seasoning. You can also add parsley here instead of with the onion/celery mix. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything around to distribute the spices.

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Once the onion/celery/butter mixture is cooked, dump this onto the bread/spice mixture and mix again.  Grab a lump of the buttered, spiced bread and give it a squeeze. If it kind of holds together – you’re good to go. If it falls right apart, melt another half stick of butter and pour it over the bread, mixing again. Be sure to taste the bread mixture to see if you’d like to add any additional spices.

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Next, grab three or four thick center cut, bone-in pork chops.

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With a super sharp, serrated knife cut a decent size pocket into the side of the chop with the fat on it.  Set these aside.

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Now, you will need something to close the stuffed pocket on the chop. I use those skinny wooden skewers some people use for shish kabobs, but I score each one in the middle and snap it in half, otherwise it would not fit in my roasting pan. I also soak the wooden skewers in water for a few minutes so they do not burn to a crisp while in the oven.

With stuffing made and pork pocketed, take a small scoop of the bread mixture and stuff the pocket – not too tight -

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and then run a skewer from one side of the pocket to the other.

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Repeat for all chops. Remember, after you begin stuffing the pork chops, no more tasting of the stuffing with your porky fingers. Not to say your fingers are fat; they are just now covered in raw pork juices. Taste the bread before you stuff, then no more until after it is cooked!

You will have leftover stuffing, so grease a 2 quart casserole – I use Pam because I am lazy – and dump the rest of the stuffing mix in the dish.

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Crack open and lightly beat an egg and pour this over the stuffing mix in the casserole, then mix it in. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Put a lid on the casserole or cover in aluminum foil and set aside. This extra stuffing only takes about 30 minutes to cook, so do not put it in the oven yet.

Place the stuffed chops in a roasting pan that has a lid. The only roasting pan I use comes from my collection of vintage Savory roasters. That’s another blog entry – did I mention I make my living (well, part of it) as a freelance writer and I mainly write  about antiques and collectibles? Got lots to share there too. I will do up a story on Savory roasters in the near future.

So the chops are in the pan. Season the chops with ground pepper and garlic salt – I LOVE garlic, and pop the uncovered pan into a pre-heated 400 degree oven. The goal now is to brown the chops without burning the stuffing. Good luck. Come back in 15 minutes to check.

In the meantime, I prepare my sides. I have one done – the extra stuffing; but I still make a couple others so I have leftovers – hurray for leftovers! My boys like rice, so I will make some plain rice that they then coat with gravy – yum, but I also make another starch, and I need a veggie.

Usually with pork I make baked squash – my other starch. Any kind will do – butternut, acorn – or this odd little number I picked up at my favorite farmer’s market. To bake squash, I simply split the squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place it cut side down into a greased (Pammed) 8 x 8 in pan.

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The bowl behind the squash is my "compost" bowl. All veggies scraps are collected and will end up in my compost pile

I put this in the oven after the chops are browned. The squash needs about 45 minutes to cook and I like mine really soft.

Okay – 15 minutes have gone by. Time to check the chops. But first, quarter a small onion and gather together a few garlic cloves. Also snag two cups of water. Take the roaster out of the oven. The chops should just be starting to brown. Pour the water into the pan, toss the onions and garlic around the chops and put the lid on the roaster. Put the roaster back in the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees and go do something for an hour.

Check the chops every 15 minutes or so to see if they need more water added. Do not let them dry out. The onion, garlic, pork chop drippings and water are simmering away in that pan creating the base for the upcoming gravy. If the chops dry out – no gravy for you.

With a half hour to go before the meat is done, put the extra stuffing into the oven along with the chops and squash. Start your rice so it is ready, and now get the veggie going.

Since my oven is full, I will have to skip roasting my brussel sprouts and instead steam them. Quarter (or if they are small, halve) half a pound of sprouts and put them in a medium saucepan. Add enough water so the sprouts are sitting in water, but not covered. Next add a two teaspoons of granulated sugar – you heard me. These little babies can be bitter, so we are going to sweeten them up. When the meal is 10 minutes from being done, bring the sprouts, water and sugar to a boil, turn down to a simmer, stir occasionally and watch.  The sprouts are done with they are a bright green and can be pierced with a fork.

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Again, make sure you do not boil the sprouts dry. Turn off the heat, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper and you will have edible little green gems.

Take the roaster from the oven,

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remove the chops to a warm plate and cover. With the roasting pan sitting on the stove top, turn the burners onto medium. Make gravy by combining 1/4 cup flour – I use Wondra instead of plain flour since it mixes easier – and enough water until you have a thin floury mixture. Scrape the brown bits from the side of the roasting pan all while bringing the pan juices to a simmer. Slowly pour in the flour/water mix stirring constantly until a gravy forms. If it seems thin, do not panic. It will thicken as it cooks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and turn off the heat.

Pull the casserole of stuffing from the oven and stir.

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Pull the squash from the oven and cut each piece in half.

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To assemble the plates – each person gets a chop (remove the skewer), a quarter of the squash (put a chunk of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar on top of the squash – yum) a scoop of rice (I sneak a garlic clove from the roaster and mash it through my serving – I told you I like garlic), a scoop of sprouts, and a scoop of stuffing if they feel they’d like more than what is in their chops. Pour gravy over the chop, and if desired the rice.

The finished product!

Happy Birthday Tim!

First Frost

The first frost of the season decided to take out some of my annuals that were still hanging on. The begonias got bit as did the petunias. I will probably let them try to regain their composure before relegating them to the compost pile. I am always amazed at how some annuals often re-flower and produce some of their best blooms after a first frost. But only if we get a really nice, long, warm Indian summer.

However, it is time to cut back and deadhead the perennials. I always tend to hold back on cleaning up my garden space. I hate to do it too early as the birds – the black-capped chickadees, the tutfted titmouse and finches love to eat the seed heads of the purple cone flowers and black-eyed susans.

I find the sunflowers heads are usually the first eaten with the birds vying for the plumpest seed against the colony of chipmunks that have burrows in the rocks lining our driveway. I love that these seed-eaters are so thorough. I also love to see where these flowers will pop-up next spring. My birds and chipmunks are great at dispensing flower seeds all over the property!

That Country Life

IMG_0378Thirty-eight years ago, my parents bought a farm in Ohio. A farm that consisted of 65-acres and one old farmhouse. I was 11; my brother was 13 and we were in heaven. He wanted mud; I wanted animals. Coming from the suburbs of paved roads, manicured lawns and upteen shopping malls, the dirt roads, open fields and lack of neighbors should have seemed boring and austere. Not for our family. We couldn’t wait to get our hands dirty, get horses, put in a pond, drive tractors, have collie puppies. We did all that and more.

Years have passed, and I’m still here; albeit in a house my ex-husband and I built 28 years ago just on the western border of the farm and that I now share with my two sons. My parents still reside in the original farmhouse. We see each other everyday; chop wood together, plant gardens together, and love being a family together.

I remember talking to a childhood friend that stayed in suburbia when I moved away. She would often field questions of just where our family went when we left so many years ago. Her response, “Sue’s living that country life” and that’s how this blog got its name.

My plans for That Country Life are many. I hope to share the day to day rhythm of the farm.  Plans are in the works to again have animals in our now silent barn; a fantastic structure where our registered Morgan horses once lived.  I want to tell people about our small apple orchard, the pond’s habitat,

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how to take care of a raspberry patch. Our farm is host to numerous bluebird houses – I am the county coordinator for the Ohio bluebird society. I raise, tag and release Monarch butterflies.  There is just so much to do and see, and I can’t wait to share.

Please stop back often for updates, new photos, links to my favorite finds, and my must try recipes among other information. Thanks for stopping by!