This is not our new farm but isn't it beautiful? Our old ranch.
We bought the farm.
Not the way you think but you've probably figured that out already. We bought a small farm. Just north of Fresno near the little town of Madera. Madera is in the middle of California and the raisin growing capital of the world. But the road to get to Madera was anything but fun. What got us through is that we are stubborn when we really want something. We don't give up easily.
By the way, I'm going to re-name my blog once we get there so I'm entertaining any ideas from out there in the peanut gallery. Bring 'em on!
I'm going to miss this ranch a lot. What I'm going to miss most is the utter peace. No freeway noise. No neighbors mowing lawns. No nothing. The only thing breaking the silence is the honking of geese flying in to the lake or the random motorcycle way out on the road. Our new place will be peaceful but not like this. The neighbors will be within a stone's throw and there isn't a lake for the geese to fly in to.
But this will be a place where every little dirt clod kicked over has a purpose and makes a contribution. A place where we can build things that make sense to us. According to our plan. That we come up with.
We almost didn't get it though. It's a seller's market for fixer upper property in California. Buyers from all over the world and mostly the Orient are coming in to California and buying up property cheaply with cash, fixing it up and re-selling it for a profit.
We started looking in July of last year. We made offers on 3 places only to be skunked by cash buyers every time so when we saw this place on the internet we called up the listing agent and, sight unseen, we made an offer. We knew from painful experience that we needed to get our foot in the door immediately or the place would have an offer on it and we would be left out in the cold. This way we might have a chance. We could always back out if we saw and it wasn't right.
So we made an offer for more than the asking price that was still in our comfort zone and not out of line with the comparables. Then we took a chance and agreed that the owner could stay on a bit after closing to move herself out. Lo and behold, we got it! Just so you know, we did see the place and we did decide it was perfect.
Honestly, it feels like a bit of a miracle.
Four acres, flat and arable, with plenty of water, trees, outbuildings (in need of repair but, so what, we can do it!) and a modest house. You're going to be hearing a lot about our homestead in the next few months. We're starting from scratch on just about everything including the kitchen garden, livestock, chickens, pigs, geese, and ducks.
Now we just have to get a mule!
At the beginning of January 2016 I posted an article about how to preserve lemons. It takes at least a month for them to be ready to use. Here's one recipe that worked out well for us. I've added some notes that may help you make it even better. The olives, olive oil, onions, chicken and lemons were all locally grown foods.
Chicken With Preserved Lemon And Green Olives
Makes 2-4 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions, grated or very finely chopped (I grated mine in a food processor)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large chicken breasts (or 1 whole chicken, cut up in pieces; thighs work, too)
(Since the olives and preserved lemons are salty I suggest adding salt to taste at the table)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Peel of 1 large or 2 small preserved lemons
12 to 16 green olives, pitted and sliced
In a heavy-bottomed pan that can hold all the chicken pieces in one layer, heat the oil over a medium flame and add in the onions. Stir over low heat until they soften. Do not burn. They may brown slightly but mostly keep them soft.
Add in the garlic, saffron and ginger and mix.
Lay the chicken pieces in over the onion and season with pepper. Then pour in about 1 cup of water. Simmer, covered, turning the pieces over once or twice. Add a little more water if it becomes too dry. If you are using dark meat, to avoid overcooking the white meat lift it out after about 15 minutes and put it to one side. Continue to cook the dark meat for another 25 minutes or so, after which time return the white meat to the pan.
Take your preserved lemons and peel away the flesh. Cut the quarters into strips.
Add the lemon juice, chopped coriander, parsley, preserved lemon peel and the olives.
Simmer uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes, until the reduced sauce is thick. If there is too much liquid, lift out the chicken pieces and set aside while you reduce the sauce further, then return the chicken to the pan and heat through.
Put the chicken on a serving dish with the olives and lemon peel on top. Enjoy!
It's 1889. My husband's grandfather's family has just immigrated from France to Bakersfield, California to open a bakery. They bring their old country ways and embark upon creating a little French community where they've finally settled. In later years my husband remembers the smell of the loaves coming out of the oven early in the morning. It brings back fond memories of "Papa" and now French bread is his favorite food.
Nowadays we go to the grocery store and I have to bite my tongue as he goes around to each potential bread loaf to "squeeze the Charmin." If it's hot and soft he buys it. Yesterday as I was cleaning I wasn't expecting to find loaves of bread in the pile of stuff my husband got from his dad after he passed but I was hoping to find a French bread recipe. I didn't find one. No doubt the recipe was never written down and if it was it would probably be "wheat flour and yeast mixed, kneaded, then baked in a hot oven with the steam at the right time." Steam makes the wonderful crunchy crust and soft interior.
What I did find was an old tabloid newspaper. A treasured memento of times gone by. "Pacific Rural Press", 24-page edition. As I held it I could see it coming off an old fashioned Guttenberg printing press sheet by sheet into the hands of the pressman. He hold it up and looks for imperfections and finding none he puts it in the pile for collation and folding. Who was he? What was his life like? A closer inspection reveals the publisher's name: Mr. A. T. Dewey. Nothing further is noted.
On the front page there's an article about "A Pen of Premium Berkshires" at the State Fair. On another page is a letter to the editor from a writer who makes a good, strong case that coyotes should not be killed. There's an article on how to make cheese at home and three pages concerning affairs of The Patrons of Husbandry also known as "The Grange." There's medical advice, a Young Folks Column and a recipe for getting rid of ants (half full saucer of molasses to which is added a tablespoonful of Paris green, stirred well) (what is Paris green, I ask you?). How about this cake recipe? "One teaspoonful of soda, one cup sour cream, one cup of sugar, one egg. Flavor with lemon. Flour to make a moderately stiff batter, and bake slowly." Why, the newspaper even has international news. How timely this news is one can only guess but it's there nonetheless.
When I read it I see how similar are our interests to the people of 1889. The only differences are our technological advances. Otherwise, we are the same.
I was gifted with a couple gallons of cow's milk recently. Friends had bought some for the youngsters that were visiting with their parents. The said youngsters did not drink much of the milk and not being milk drinkers themselves or wanting to waste it they asked if we would like the milk. I said yes of course and set about figuring out what to do with it. Time was running short when all of a sudden the answer popped into my head. Paneer cheese! So easy to make and so good in many dishes, especially East Indian. Here's how I do it and a suggestion for what to do with it afterwards.
Makes a little over a pound of cheese.
1 gallon whole milk (not UHT pasteurized)
1/4 - 1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 salt or to taste
Big heavy bottomed pot
Small flat plate & weight (can be a can of something)
Pour the milk into the pot and set over medium heat. Bring the milk to just below boil at around 200 F. Stir the milk occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot to make sure the milk doesn't burn. Use a thermometer if possible. The milk will be steamy when ready.
Remove the milk from heat and stir in the lemon juice. The milk should begin to curdle immediately.
Cover the milk and let it stand for 10-15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, the curds should be completely separated and the liquid should look yellow and watery. If the milk hasn't separated, try adding lemon juice a tablespoon at a time. I used Meyer lemons and I don't think they are as acidic as regular lemons. I had to add more lemon juice. Also make sure you are not using ultra high temperature pasteurized (UHT) milk. This kind of milk doesn't separate.
Set a colander over a big mixing bowl and line it with a few layers of cheesecloth draping over the sides. You can secure the sides with clothespins. Carefully pour the curds into the colander. The whey will collect in the bowl beneath.
Gather the cheesecloth in your hand and gently squeeze to remove the excess whey. It could be too warm to hold so you might need to wear rubber gloves.
Open the cheesecloth and sprinkle the salt over the curds. Stir gently and taste. Add more salt if desired.
Transfer the curds (still in the cheesecloth) into a bowl over the colander. Fold the cheesecloth around the curds. Set a small plate on top of the package and weight it. I used a big jar partially filled with water. You could also use a large can of something like tomatoes. Press for at least 15 minutes but don't worry if it goes longer.
Once pressed, your paneer is finished and ready to use. You can use it immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. Refrigerated paneer will be firmer and less likely to crumble than fresh paneer.
You can drink the leftover whey straight or in smoothies. You can use it in place of water in any baking recipe.
I have heard: if you are on a septic system you should not pour the whey down the sink drain because it can ruin your septic system. I have been trying to research if there's any science behind this or if it's a tale spread by people who think they know or have been told something that is not true. If you know anything about this I'd like to hear from you.
Easy Paneer Curry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
14 oz can diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1/2 to 1 pound paneer, cubed
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste
1/4 cup cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic slowly until they are soft and golden brown. Sprinkle the cumin, coriander, turmeric, and chili powder over the onion and garlic. Continue cooking until the seasonings are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Pour the tomatoes into the skillet. Cook until the excess liquid evaporates and the oil separates, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the paneer, chicken broth, sugar, and salt to the mixture. Stir gently so the paneer does not break apart. Cook until the paneer begins to absorb some of the liquid, about 10 minutes. Stir the cream into the mixture and warm for another 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro to serve.
You can add peas and green beans to this recipe.
Back in old Ioway the deer would browse the corn fields and get nice and fat in the winter. At my mother-in-law's she even had a conservation easement (or whatever it's called) to let a certain number of acres stay in corn just to feed the deer. That was nice for the deer and nice for the hunters. You know how people love corn fattened beef, well, corn fattened deer is almost the same thing. Out here we don't have corn. We have rice. It doesn't "finish" the game in the same way but I'm not complaining.
The other thing that makes winter nice is winter bird watching. I could sit at my window for hours watching the birds that come to my feeders. I have a hummingbird feeder in the back yard and a regular feeder in the front. We get doves, jays, acorn woodpeckers, chipping sparrows and finches.
This winter I decided to make some suet bird feeders just for a little extra winter re-charge for my little friends. It's easy to do and a good winter kitchen project for the young ones.
Make Your Own Suet Bird Feeder
1/2-1 cup rendered fat (beef is best but you can also use pig fat. I go to the local butcher and get a pound or half pound very reasonably. To render the fat chop it up small and put it in a crock pot on low if you are busy or high if you can pay attention. Let it melt and then skim off the "debris" which is bits of skin or meat. Strain it and you're all set.)
1-2 cups bird seed (don't waste the birds' time with cheap seed. Tractor Supply or similar stores have a great inexpensive wild bird food that has a nice balance and variety. In the old days Gramma would crack corn and get some millet or sorghum from the fields. Then she'd add sunflower seed from the garden.)
Medium sized bowl
Cake pan or any other small shallow pan
Non-stick aluminum foil
Small welded wire to make cage holders
Render the fat. It doesn't have to boil. As a matter of fact, don't boil it. Here's how the beef fat looks in my little crock pot before it melts. I cut it up into small chunks to make it melt faster. It will take a few hours to properly melt.
Add to the bird seed mix and mix evenly with a spoon.
Spread it in a pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. One to two inches thick should do the job.
Pour the mixture into the pan and put it in the refrigerator or out on your winter porch until it's nice and firm. It won't take long.
While it's solidifying make your cages. Cut your wire cage into 3-4-inch square shapes, miter the corners and with pliers bend it into a little cage.
Pop it out of the pan and break it into chunks that will fit in your cages. If you have too much, you can freeze it.
Nail the cage to a tree or something solid and insert your suet chucks.
Squirrels love this stuff, too. They might be the first ones to figure it out. Sit back and wait. Birds are masters at finding food so it won't take too long.
While the rest of the country is smothered under a blanket of snow, we here in California are just getting started with citrus season. Meyer lemons are loading down the trees and mandarin orange stands are advertising their sweet goodness. I guess folks in Florida and Texas are enjoying similar bounty and aren't we lucky? When I went to Santa Cruz recently I spied a Meyer lemon tree in my daughter's backyard. The poor tree's limbs were being weighted to the ground with hundreds of the characteristic yellow-orange globes. They're that orange-y color because a Meyer lemon tree is a hybrid of a lemon and a mandarin orange. May I have some? I said. My daughter says, of course, have as many as you like. My mind went immediately to preserved lemons, which are so lovely in Middle Eastern dishes and anything else your little heart desires. So I set about loading up a shopping bag with a bushel of the beauties. I lugged them home and today I made 8 pints of lemons, 4 plain and 4 with Middle Eastern spices. It takes a month for them to get to the place where they are ready to use so today I will tell you how to do it and then in a month I will make something with them and share the recipe with you.
makes 4 pint jars
4 lemons per pint (Meyer lemons are in season in January and February, have yellow-orange flesh, a smooth rind, and a sweeter flavor than other lemons.)
1/4 cup sea or kosher salt (more as necessary)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (as needed)
Optional Moroccan seasoning
1 small cinnamon stick
5 to 6 coriander seeds
3 to 4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 sterilized 1-pint mason jars. (To sterilize a mason jar, place it upside down in a steamer and steam for 10 minutes. Using tongs (wrap the grabber end of the tongs in rubber bands for a better grip), remove the hot jar and dry it on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. To sterilize the jar's top, dip it in boiling water for a couple minutes, then remove with tongs. You don't want to melt the rubber liner.)
Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/4 inch of the bottom. Don't cut all the way through.
Sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then close the fruit into normal shape.
Put 1 tablespoon of salt on the bottom of the mason jar. Pack in lemons one by one and push them down, (I used a wooden pestle) adding a bit more salt between layers. If you want to now's the time to put in the optional spices. Whatever you decide, press the lemons down to squish their juices out and to make room for more lemons. If the juice released from the squashed fruit does not cover them add freshly squeezed lemon juice. Do NOT use reconstituted lemon juice or water. Leave about 1/2 inch air space before putting on the lid.
Set the lemons to ripen in a warm place. Leave for 3 to 4 days. The lemons will let loose more of their juices and the skins will have softened some. Open the jar and press the lemons down as much as you can. If you need to, add fresh lemon juice to cover them entirely. I'm glad I gleaned a lot of lemons because I had to use a lot of extra lemon juice to cover them.
Each day while they are ripening shake the jar to distribute the salt and juice.
Just so you know if a piece of lemon is not covered, it will develop a white mold that is harmless. Just wash it off when you get ready to use it.
After 30 days use the lemons as needed by rinsing them under running water until the salt is gone. Then remove and discard the pulp. By the way, take the lemons out with clean utensils to avoid contaminating the inside of the jar. This way, the remaining contents of the jar will not need to be refrigerated. Preserved lemons will keep up to a year, and the pickling juice can be used again two or three times in a year.
Here's a vision of things to come: preserved lemons go good with chicken and olives, with butter in potatoes, risotto or couscous. You can use them in dishes calling for garlic and cilantro, dried apricots and honey. At the end of the month I will show you how to make chicken with preserved lemons and green olives and one other dish.
Thanks to NPR of Southern California for their support and inspiration in creating this blog. — Reneé
My sister came to visit from Colorado this year. We have had plenty of time to reminisce about when we were kids and it seems like only yesterday.
Early in the morning on Christmas day the house was dark when we woke. At the end of the hallway we could see the glow from the lights on the tree and we felt the energy rising in our chests. Santa had come and what would we find? We kids were completely entranced by the magical transformation of the living room from an empty room with a tree to piles and piles of presents on Christmas morning.
We kids believed in Santa Claus and we didn't have a clue about why Mom and Dad were so bleary eyed on Christmas morning and hard to pry out of bed. Now I know why. Of course, we all know why. It was from late night assembling and wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. Dad was barely able to keep his eyes open but he dutifully opened his bottles of Old Spice after shave and shaving cream and loved every single silly thing.
I still remember the sled and the doll and the chair and the record player. What a time it was.
In the days prior to Christmas we had gotten the large parcel from Grandma Frieda like we always did. Gramma Frieda would make fudge with walnuts and Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. Sometimes she made sock monkeys. We loved getting those large parcels in the mail.
Then on Christmas day dad would make oyster stew. It had been a tradition in his family. I never found out how or why the tradition began. Maybe they wanted something super special and oysters were not something one would find in Ohio on a regular basis. I didn't really like the oysters themselves. The texture was something more than a finicky child could bear. But the taste of the oyster crackers swimming in that milky broth with butter was heavenly. Now I've gotten over being finicky and the oysters are heavenly, too.
Artie's Oyster Stew
2 pints oysters (shucked with liquid)
1⁄2 cup butter
3 tablespoons shallots (minced) (optional)
1 quart half-and-half or evaporated milk diluted by half
salt and pepper
dried or fresh parsley flakes (for garnish) (optional)
Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook shallots until tender.
Pour the milk into large pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and shallots, stirring constantly.
Just before the mixture is ready to boil add in the oysters with their liquid. Season with salt and pepper. Don't let it boil or the milk or cream will separate.
When the oysters begin to curl they are done.
Garnish with dried or fresh parsley flakes and serve with crusty bread and butter or oyster crackers. We just fill the bowl with a bunch of crackers and pour the stew in over top. Heavenly.