I water my garden every day. I have to. There's no rain coming from the sky to help me out here. So I'm happy to say I have a robust crop of two kinds of Japanese peppers: PIM green bell pepper and Shisito. I have also Thai hot chilis coming in.
Unfortunately, I also have a robust crop of tomato hornworms. For some reason the worms are ignoring the tomatoes and going gangbusters on my pepper plants. The very day I was taking off for a weeklong vacation to see my sister in Colorado I noticed that something was eating the leaves. Upon investigation I was shocked and annoyed to find at least seven of these Godzilla-like behemoths munching placidly away. Oh, you buggers!
So there I was picking off these monsters in between breaks to pack. It was: What's more important? Packing or picking hornworms? I absolutely knew I could not leave the hornworms for a week to do their business. I would not be coming back to any pepper plants if I did. So, truthfully, it was picking hornworms that was more important. As I picked worms I thought, "Hmm, well, I can do without this in Colorado ... I can do without that ... Whatever I forget I can get there or borrow from my sister." All you gardeners know what I mean. When it comes to protecting defenseless vegetables from marauding insects, there's only one course of action and that is ... action! No procrastination allowed! So what if your plane leaves in two hours? You've got to pick the hornworms!
Reader, I made it. I made it to the plane but not without a modicum of anxiety. It was worth it to know that my pepper plants would thrive. I'd do it again any day.
That's a quarter next to Godzilla the horn worm. Sorry the picture is so bad. I had to go pack.
So I got back home and all my frantic work went for something, and I have really nice peppers but, of course, the worms are back again. I picked off seven more the last few days. I'd like to know how do they get so big so fast? I figure some winged insect (butterfly? moth?) comes along and lays eggs and then they hatch and then there should be baby worms but, NO, I see nary a one until I see the Godzilla hanging off a stripped stem. No matter. I know what I have to do. I pick them and give the hapless things to the chickens who are happy to see me coming with the juicy morsels. Hey, it's the circle of life, right? If you're going to eat my vegetables it's only right and fair that someone else eats you, right? I feel no remorse. Jai Shri Hare. Go on to your next incarnation.
This morning I saw this beauty. I love you, praying mantis! I love you and the little frogs that live in my garden. I am so happy to see you all. Live long and prosper! I'll get the hornworms and you can have everything else. Teamwork. So nice.
I took a break from blogging because I was on a road trip to Kansas with my sister for a couple weeks. Everyone joked, "Is this going to be a re-do of Thelma and Louise?" I said, "No, unless it is the version in which Thelma and Louise live and they take another road trip 30 years later. In our fictitious version we've left our rotten husbands years ago and no sleazy bar crawler will look at us much less a Brad Pitt look-alike at a roadside motel. If we went in to rob a convenience store the proprietor would laugh himself silly. No, this isn't Thelma and Louise. Let's call it Toni and Lucille."
When my sister and I made plans for me to visit her in Colorado, I immediately thought, "Road Trip!" and stated emphatically that I wanted to take a few days to see the Flint Hills, Dodge City and wind up in Topeka to meet the staff at Capper's Farmer. So that's exactly what we did. I can say most sincerely that the staff at Capper's is a jolly bunch. My sister and I enjoyed talking and lunching with them. Thank you, Capper's!
Then we hit the road. The last time I was in Kansas was when I was 10. We were headed to Los Angeles from Iowa to visit my mom's sister. All I remember is peering out the window of the tiny travel trailer in the early dawn and being flabbergasted by the sight of .... nothing! The horizon was flat as the proverbial pancake. Featureless, amazing, thrilling. This time I found that my 10-year-old remembrance was woefully incomplete.
Not only is Kansas beautiful, it is varied in terrain. The east is rolling hills, wooded for the most part. The middle is covered by the Flint Hills, north and south, and gorgeous. It is only the west that is flat. Even then, if you look close, you see lots of interesting detail especially in the Tall Grass Prairie.
We start our road trip in Colorado with a detour but in no time at all we see the "Welcome to Kansas" road sign. Our first stop is Hays. This is one of the beautiful limestone homes they have there. I love the spreading elm tree in the yard.
Among the early residents in Hays were groups of English settlers, some of whom built the first church in the town, the Presbyterian Church that now houses the Ellis County Historical Society's museum. I love this beautiful church with its amazing windows in the waning light. Most of the stone work in Hays was by Germans who came to Kansas by way of Volga, Russia.
(Half of) Buffalo Bill (his upper half) stands firm in downtown Hays, Kansas.
Would any of you fence builders care to guess what happens when the wood rails rot? How are they replaced when the posts are stone?
On the next leg we see more evidence of expert masonry in Alma, Kansas.
I'd live here.
Or here ...
They have great cheese in Alma , too.
After Alma, we're back on the road to the Tall Grass Prairie Monument.
Along the way we stop at a marker that explains all the stone fences. In 1867, the pioneers didn't have easy access to barbed wire. But they had stone ... and a lot of time ... and patience ... and permission.
This is a section of one that goes on for miles.
Welcome to the Tall Grass Prairie.
This barn is on the property of the National Tall Grass Prairie Monument. Pretty impressive. When I think of all the work that went into it I think, where's the Ben-Gay?
The largest hand dug well in the world is in Greensburg, Kansas. It is a marvel of engineering and was completed in 1888 as the town's original water supply. It's 109 feet deep and 32 feet in diameter.
In Dodge City we miss The Annual Cattle Drive through downtown. On the outskirts of town we see the feedlot where the cattle probably came from.
Near Oakley, Kansas, Taos Pueblo Indians came looking for relief from the oppression by the Spanish.
In Oakley we get up to some high jinks at the gigantic sculpture of Buffalo Bill chasing down his quarry. I'm making like the Road Runner. Meep Meep!
The marksman and horseman in me can't help but critique the sculpture. No way would he have been shooting from horseback with the heavy Colt-Paterson Model 1839 shotgun.
I think I make a pretty good-looking Buffalo Bill, don't you?
My sister and I had a grand time in Kansas. There was so much else to see and we were limited for time. We can't wait to go back and pick up where we left off.
I come from a long line of women plagued with the worst dry feet on the planet. My mother, grandmother and I have the type of feet that get severely cracked and sore. This happens every summer. I guess it doesn't help that all three of us have a predilection for going around barefoot in the house and out in the yard and garden. I guess we just love the feel of the earth between our toes. Dry cracked feet is the price we pay for the freedom. Yes, wearing shoes and socks would be much more sensible, but we aren't. Sensible, that is. There's something earth mother-ish about running around barefoot.
Everybody swears by Bag Balm, and it has been around a long time. However, my grandmother was a dyed-in-the-wool do-it-yourselfer. She came up with this recipe, and we all think it's better than Bag Balm. (No slur intended against BB. It's great if that's what you prefer!) She made her own balms and ointments all the time.
This recipe is very flexible. Use more or less of the key ingredients and you get a different consistency. You can experiment around to see what works for you. I'll tell you what I do to get a firm consistency that is really effective on dried cracked and sore feet.
Basic Recipe Ingredients:
2 ounces shea butter (No. 1 key ingredient; relatively soft; very emollient)
1 tablespoon cocoa butter (No. 2 key ingredient; firm; has moisturizing properties)
2 tablespoons beeswax (No. 3 key ingredient; very firm; strong moisture barrier properties)
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil (No. 4 key ingredient; adds antioxidants; softening)
Don't forget the olive oil.
2 to 3 drops rosemary essential oil (energizing, fights tension and fatigue)
2 to 3 drops sage essential oil (purifying)
2 to 3 drops peppermint essential oil (aromatic tonic)
2 to 3 drops red cedar essential oil (calm and balance energy)
4 to 6 drops tea tree oil (antibacterial, antifungal)
Digital kitchen scale
Hand grater (Don't use a mechanical device. You'll gum it up. Watch the knuckles.)
Measure out your shea butter.
I got a digital scale a while back and I love it. I always know exactly how much something weighs. Down to the decimal. It does other types of measurements, too. So, yeah, I love it. In the olden days an analog kitchen scale would have worked well enough. Put your shea in the top of the double boiler and set it to a slow boil. I don't have a special dedicated double boiler so I use a stainless steel bowl set inside another pan. I put a clothes pin on the side so I have something that won't conduct heat to hold on to and steady the bowl. Once the shea melts, and it will melt pretty quick, you can turn the heat off. You don't want the shea to boil. You just want it to melt. Meanwhile grate your beeswax and cocoa butter.
Add it to the shea. Stir with a wooden utensil until everything melts and blends. Add your olive oil and essential oils. Stir to combine.
Take a whiff of the scent. You can add more essential oil as you like. Always add one drop at a time. You can't take anything out so if you overdo it your goose is cooked. Easy does it.
Once you have it the way you like, let it set until it firms up.
If you find you like the consistency, warm it up again to melt and carefully pour it into your heat proof container.
The divot is where I stuck my finger in and used some!
Don't be concerned if your consistency is too soft at first. This recipe "cures" and becomes stiffer in a few days so unless you want a very stiff consistency (which is what I like), you should go easy on the beeswax. Beeswax is what causes the ointment to stiffen. If you like it softer, I suggest adding a tablespoon more shea butter. I like it firm so I added a tablespoon more beeswax.
Use this on any part of your body that needs extra help. It's great for feet, but it also works on elbows and hands.
On the ranch we have need from time to time for equipment or livestock. Sometimes a time-honored tradition, the auction, has been the right place to get what we need. People on homesteads, farms and ranches have been going to local auctions since what seems like the dawn of time. I remember my grandfather talking about an auction a long time ago where he found some valuable equipment for this farm.
So when we needed sheep to train our herding dog, we went to auction and bought four sheep that were perfect for the job. Recently, we needed an equipment trailer so we headed off to a Ritchie Brothers auction. (Ritchie Brothers is the Big Time, just so ya know.) That time we got skunked. We were outbid on the regular trailers and the only ones left had air brakes and we don't have air brakes on our truck. Oh well. That's auction for you. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
A Brief History of Auctions
No one knows exactly when auctions first came into being. There is research that says wives in Babylonia were purchased through auction. I'm very happy those days are gone! Auction comes from the Latin word "augeo," which means "I increase". Auctions are not as common as haggling or setting a price, but sometimes they're the place to go when you want a lot of choices. The most common type of auction today is the English auction, which means the bidding is "open ascending price." There are other types where it's the opposite but I've never seen them.
The "auction chant" is a personal style of the auctioneer. The only thing that all auctioneers do is they state the current bid and the bid they want to get next. They'll say something like "one dollar bid, now two, now two, will ya gimme two?" and any variation of that. The slurring of words in between the bids keeps the momentum going. Listen carefully and you'll hear the numbers.
The Auction Itself
For this article I'm going to talk about live auctions. There's been a surge in online auctions and that's OK if you really know the item you're purchasing. For the average Joe, though, the live auction is the best way to go because you can see and touch the item you want. You'll usually find the yard on the edge of town. Sometimes there's a little cafe at the auction yard where you can get a bite of lunch. There used to be a cafe at the Petaluma, California, auction yard called Mike's at the Yard (maybe it's still there) and they had the best hamburgers for miles around. (But no French fries. Mike says, "They're not good for you.") No matter where the auction is held there's always excitement in the air.
Just so you have a feel for what goes on, you might think about visiting an auction without bidding. That way you can get used to what happens, get familiar with where the livestock are kept or where the equipment is on display. Ritchie Brothers is a huge equipment auction. You can find any type of farm implement and many other things from small to gigantic.
Scoop me up!
When we went to Ritchie Brothers it was a hot June day. They had shuttle buses from the parking lot and jitneys taking bidders from one end of the enormous yard to the other. They also had shade structures and free water. People came from all over to buy anything as simple as a ladder to heavy earth moving equipment.
Lots 'o' Ladders
When you go to an auction you should figure out when your items are up for bid and then get there early. You want to inspect the items you're interested in. If you don't know that much about the item you want, think about asking an experienced person to go with you. Once you make a purchase it's final and you can't change your mind. Everything is sold "as is." That being said, usually the yard certifies that the livestock is in good health and the equipment works.
The first thing you do when you arrive is register as a bidder.
They'll give you a number card and answer any questions you might have. Know before you bid how you're expected to pay. Some places only take cash. Also you'll need to know if they want you to take the items with you that very day. If it's livestock, you should bring a suitable trailer. I once saw some guys putting a pig in the back seat of their sedan! I thought, "I hope you guys put a tarp down first!"
When the auction begins don't be shy! If the auctioneer doesn't see you, raise your hand higher. Go ahead and wave it. Usually, however, the auction has assistants (ring men) and they are keeping an eye out for the bidders so you don't have to jump up and down.
At Ritchie Brothers they have lots of ring men watching out for the bids
If at some point during the bidding you get cold feet or someone bids higher than you want to go you can quit and no one thinks ill of you. But once the gavels bangs and the auctioneer yells out "Sold!" it's a done deal. Then you go pay for your item and take your booty home.
We've also sold animals at auction. We enjoy the opportunity to network with other sellers. Many sellers are involved in agriculture like us, so this gives us the chance to share information and find new resources within the agricultural community. It's fun, too. I love having lunch at the auction even though it's not gourmet food. We find that an auction is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon and get together with our friends and acquaintances to hear what's going on down on the farm.
Some typically used terms:
Absolute Auction: All items will be sold no matter what the bid. There are no reserve or minimum bids.
Auction with Reserve: Some or all of the items must meet a minimum bid before the auctioneer can sell it.
Choice: More than one item is offered at the same time. The bidder can take as many as they. If any items are left, the remaining go up for bid again.
All for One Money: Multiple items may be offered at once and the bidding price is for all items.
Here are some photographs of a few things we saw at Ritchie Brothers.
The auctioneer in his booth. Sold American!
Beaucoup des Bobcats
More generators than you can shake a stick at.
Oh, drive me home, please!
Look at the cute Gator over there on the right with its dump bed.
It looks like a pink disker but I bet it's only sun bleached.
Beautiful good size tractors.
Nice trailers to go behind your SUV.
The hoods aren't broken. They're popped so you can have a look-see.
Marty said, "I want it!" I said, "Not on your pea-pickin' life!"
If you would like to make your own tortilla press, please read my previous blog post.
This recipe will make anywhere from 8 to 16 tortillas, depending on how large you make them.
2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lard if needed
1 cup hot water (this is important as it softens the lard to the right consistency)
In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Add spoonfuls of lard, then use a pastry cutter or your fingers to combine ingredients. Mix until it resembles coarse crumbs.
Slowly stir in hot water and mix together. Lightly knead dough 30 to 40 times, or until it becomes a cohesive ball of dough. It shouldn't be real sticky. Cover with tea towel and allow dough to rest for 1 hour or more.
Roll into whatever size balls you like. It all depends on what size tortilla you want to end up with. Put on tray, cover with tea towel, and allow to rest for another 20 to 30 minutes.
When ready to make tortillas, heat cast iron griddle or pan to medium/medium-high heat. (Check out your heat. If it's too hot they will burn. If it's too low they will just get crispy before they get brown.)
Put large piece of plastic wrap on your tortilla press. I wish there were some other way to keep them from sticking but I haven't been able to come up with a way.
Press dough balls until very, very thin.
Carefully peel tortilla away from plastic. It has a fair amount of lard in it so it should stay together in one piece.
Cook tortillas one by one on each side for 20 to 30 seconds, removing when they are slightly brown.
This one puffed up while I was cooking it. Just poke it a little with the corner of your spatula and it will deflate. Cover your tortillas with a towel to keep them warm.
For a simple meal I make hamburger meat with taco seasoning and assemble tacos with sour cream, salsa, cheese, avocado and lettuce. So easy. So good!
I had a hankering for homemade tortillas one day recently, but my personal experience making them has not been, shall we say, highly successful. They always turned out too thick, too chewy and oddly shaped.
I got my inspiration from the lovely Indian women in Mexico near San Cristobal de la Casas who made them completely by hand. They worked the dough and then cooked them on big metal plates over an open fire. Boy, oh, boy, were they good! Since there's only a small likelihood that I will ever be able to catch up to their expertise in my lifetime it seemed that I needed some mechanical assistance. You can get beautiful metal tortilla presses from Williams Sonoma and elsewhere but that's no fun and ... expensive! So we decided we would make our own. Phooey on buying one! I looked all over the Internet for a design. I could find some but the instructions seemed incomplete. Making our own tortilla press showed us where the design flaws are so I pass this on to you so you can make an even better one!
2-by-10-inch wood (did you know that a 2x10 is actually 1 1/2 inches by 9 inches?), cut into three pieces: 1 – 9-by-9 inches (Top) and 1 – 10 1/2-by-9 inches (Bottom) and 1 – 2-by-9 inches (Presser Bar)
1 – 16-inch 2x4 cut into 2 equal pieces (8 inches long each) (Support Bars) and notched at the bottom 1 1/2-by-1 1/2 inches
1 – 15-inch 1 1/2x1 1/2 wood (Handle)
2 – 2-inch removable pin hinges
4 – 3-inch wood screws
1 – 5-inch bolt with washer and nut
Skilsaw, table saw or hand saw
Power drill or hand drill
Hand sander (A power hand sander makes the job go faster but sanding can be accomplished without power tools. It just takes longer.)
Sandpaper, rough P36 and fine220
Here's a hand-drawn schematic to label all the parts.
Find your wood. We got free wood from the lumberyard in the discard pile. Make sure it is straight! Ours had a slight camber to it, which we remedied by matching the pieces exactly. But we'll allow that if your pieces are perfectly straight you will have an easier time of it.
I wish we had a table saw but my husband is very adept and safe with a Skilsaw. However, a table saw would have made it a lot easier. Also we did all the drilling and cutting by our firewood kindling cutting area so any debris would not need to be cleaned up.
Make marks on the board where you are going to cut it.
Sand the wood.
Cut your wood to the specified size.
Sand the edges.
Here are all the pieces lined up and the bolt that is going to go through the Handle and the Support Bars. Then we placed all the pieces loosely together to show you how your tortilla press is going to go together.
Drill two holes in each Support Bar at the bottom for the wood screws to go in when you attach them to the Bottom.
Drill a hole all the way through the top of the Support Bars and Handle so the Handle and Support Bars will line up correctly for the bolt to go through.
Glue the Presser bar to the Top. This has to set overnight so we balanced big books on top of it and put up our feet.
Attach the Support Bars/Handle assembly to the Bottom. Put the bolt through the Support Bars and Handle before you apply the glue and put in the screws. This is so you know you have correctly positioned the handle and it will move up and down freely. Then take the Support Bar/Handle assembly and glue the notched sections of the Support Bars. Position them in the center on the Bottom. Screw the wood screws through the support bars into the Bottom.
Make sure the notched part fits snugly on the bottom with no gaps.
Position and screw the hinges to the Top and Bottom.
I used a small hatchet to carve the handle to a roughly round and hand friendly shape and then I used a small hand sander to smooth it down.
That's it! A very simple mechanical device with a minimum of working parts.
My next blog post will show you how to make simple corn and flour tortillas.
I was going to write about how to make a tortilla press this week. I had been hankering for homemade tortillas for a while. Unfortunately, I am abysmal at making handmade tortillas thin and round, especially round. So I prevailed upon my Jack of All Trades and Master of Same to make me one. (If you're wondering that's my wonderful husband.) With me assisting, of course, camera and whatever skill I can muster we designed and built a tortilla press this past week. I am sad to report that it needs to go back to the drawing board. I'm sure we can solve the design issues this week and I'll tell you all about it in my next blog.
Anyway, that's the plan.
So instead of showing you how to make a homemade tortilla press using free materials around the farm I am going to share with you an unusual salad that is right in season and absolutely delicious. You might think it sounds weird but, trust me, even though it's one of those combinations that doesn't jump right out at you as being a good one. It is.
I got this recipe from a friend years ago and at the time I pretty much memorized it. It's a good thing, too. I have never been able to find the recipe anywhere since. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough.
Greek Fresh Peach and Roasted Bell Pepper Salad
Green bell pepper (bell pepper and peaches should be about equal in volume; half peaches, half peppers)
Salt and pepper
Fresh peaches in season (Freestone are easier to work with but you can use Cling as well. You can also use Nectarines.)
Cut bell peppers in half and get rid of the seeds. Slice them in thin strips.
Put them in a bowl and sprinkle a bit of olive oil on them along with a little bit of sugar and salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to coat the strips. Preheat the oven to about 375 F. Put the bell pepper strips in to roast for about a half hour. After about 15 minutes, check them and turn them. You're looking for them to get brown around the edges.
When they're browned take them from the oven and place them in a bowl. Now take about 1 teaspoon cumin seed and in a hot dry iron pan roast them until they turn a little brown. Be careful not to burn the seeds. If they start smoking, they've burned so you have to start over. Shake the pan as they brown. That will help them not to burn and for you to keep an eye on them.
When they're browned, immediately add them to the peppers. Add cayenne pepper to taste.
Peel and slice your peaches. Put them in with the bell pepper when the peppers are cooled. Give the whole she-bang a good squirt of lemon juice. The juice of one lemon should do it. Sprinkle with a little salt and serve. This is good as a side dish, or if it's a hot day, have a big glass of iced tea or chilled wine (or retsina or ouzo, whatever is your "pizen!") and just this salad for a light supper.