Archive for January, 2010

A few weeks ago the Dot Earth  blog on the New York Times included a fascinating photograph of animal tracks in the snow.  The tracks indicated a conflict between predator and prey, a raptor attacking a rodent.  Since we had a relatively big snow fall over about 36 hours here from Thursday through Saturday, I was reminded of the Dot Earth blog when I trudged out in the snow.  Following along the creek behind my husband, I almost lost his tracks when I headed uphill following another set of tracks.  We crossed them again on the bluff line, where the hoofprints were better preserved on the flatter terrain.The perpetrators were deer, who used a cut in the bluff line to get down to the creek from a nearby field.

Of course, our cats’ tracks are all over the place, including near these hundreds of bird tracks and more deer tracks.

and near these mouse or rat tracks (coming in a bit fuzzy from the left and then ending in two streaks near the feline paw print).  The good news for the mouse is that the cat tracks look older, although it does look like the mouse tracks end abruptly.  Any thoughts from readers?

These mouse (or rat) tracks fascinated me for how far that they ran across the wide expanse of snow.  The mouse ran from an old, downed pine tree to a holly bush. Then I found more tracks from the holly bush to the front porch, for a total distance of at least a hundred feet.  Was this mouse meeting up with the mouse that disappeared on the other side of the porch?

My husband also ran into Spit, the possum that hangs out around our place, last night in the alley between the house and garage.  (Actually, they both caught each other by surprise and both nearly scared each other to death, according to my husband.)  I looked this morning to see if I could see where Spit went–and where he’s been hanging out, because until last night we hadn’t seen him since the cold snap in early January.  These must be his prints, venturing out briefly and then turning around and, apparently, following a ledge around the house, to crawl under the back porch.  Spit’s prints appear raised in these photos because of oddities of photography and melting snow.And here are the possum tracks turned around on each other:

By the way, I found more mouse tracks near Spit’s tracks.  The cats better get back to work, instead of constantly begging to come into the warmth.

You may also be interested in Tracks in the Snow, Revisited, where I captured the perpetrator of a bizarrely backwards set of isolated tracks.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full links to this site are welcome.  Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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I learned this recipe for vegetable soup from my Georgia grandmother.  She made it with whatever meat she had on hand, often pot roast.  My mother rarely made pot roast, so she cooked up ground beef.  I use whatever poultry I have on hand, but you could easily make this a tasty, healthy vegan soup that meets all your nutritional needs in one bowl by leaving the meat or poultry out.  This soup fits the old Southern “meat and three” (or meatless and three!) meal of beans, grains, and nutritious vegetables.  It is a bowl full of warm flavors.  You’ll want to make a big pot of it, because the flavors will continue to meld into something even more wonderful after the first day.  And if you think you’ve made too much, don’t fret!  This soup freezes well too.

All measurements are approximate.  As I’ve said before, use what you have!  By the way, I used frozen garden okra and beans and home-canned tomatoes.  The home-grown frozen and canned ingredients make this recipe even more frugal.

Makes at least 5-7 cups

  • one large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup okra, cut into thin slices across the grain and then chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup beans (baby limas or “green” (wax, pole, bush) beans–if using “green” beans, cut into short pieces)
  • optional:  1/2 cup to 1 cup leftover turkey, chicken, or pot roast or browned ground meat
  • 1 pint to 1 quart tomatoes and tomato juice (start with less, add as you need or want)
  • 1/2 cup-1 cup corn, off the cob
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by dicing the onion and sauteing it in a heavy-bottomed pot.  While it sautes, prepare the okra.  Are you turning up your nose at the okra? Trust me on this one.  Okra, it is true, can be slimy and disgusting if improperly prepared, but we’re using it to thicken the soup.  It’ll add a mild flavor similar to a bell pepper, and if you don’t tell anyone there’s okra in it, they’ll never know. Once the onion gets a little  color, add the okra.  Turn the heat down to almost nothing, and put a lid on the pot.  Set the timer for an hour.  Stir occasionally, adding a small amount of water or broth as needed to cook the onions and okra into a soft mass.

Meanwhile, prep the rest of the vegetables.  After an hour, add the carrots and celery and a bit more water or broth to cover and cook on low heat about 10-15 minutes.  Now add the beans, the meat or poultry (if you are using any) and about half of the tomatoes and tomato juice.   Add more tomato juice and tomatoes if you’d like extra tomato flavor and/or juice. Simmer for twenty minutes to half an hour or even an hour, adding more tomato juice as the liquid cooks down.  Add the corn, heat thoroughly, and serve. You’ve got a delicious, rich, virtually fat-free meal, all in a big bowl.

We like this soup with traditional cornbread and bread-and-butter pickles (sweet and sour pickles with onion and mustard).  If you’re feeling decadent, a good sharp cheddar alongside tastes good but by no means is necessary.

Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) Directions

To make this recipe work in the slow cooker, I recommend pre-sauteing the onion.  I also recommend pre-cooking the okra.  You can put everything in at once, but you’ll risk folks recognizing the okra if you don’t pre-cook the okra.  Of course, if your family likes okra, it’s no big deal!  Just toss everything in, turn the cooker to low, and walk away for the day.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2010.  Short excerpts with full links to this site are welcome.  Contact me for permission to use photographs.

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Cole slaw has the refreshing flavor of summer, but the cabbage that makes up most of cole slaw is primarily a winter vegetable here (although I do get it to keep growing all summer with careful planting placement).  On warmer winter days, cole slaw with pulled chicken barbeque feels like a summer picnic, although slaw is plenty tasty as part of a good vegetarian meal too.  The colors can be bright enough to attract the pickiest kids.  Cole slaw can also be incredibly frugal.  And the fresh veggies are really healthy–just keep the dressing light!I made this cole slaw from all-local, organic vegetables either from our own garden (the peppers via the freezer) or from Conway Locally Grown.  You can vary quantities and ingredients depending on what you have on hand, but this slaw contains

  • thinly sliced green cabbage
  • thinly sliced red cabbage
  • grated carrots
  • grated colorful radish
  • thinly sliced roasted red pepper

I find that it’s easiest to slice the cabbage thinly if I begin by cutting a wedge out of the head and then cutting off the wedge instead of the whole head.

The dressing is what really changes slaw’s flavor.  I like to make mine with leftover pickle juice.  For a frugal, delicious sweet, sour, creamy dressing, I use mayonnaise mixed with bread-and-butter pickle juice.  You could use any sweet pickle juice.  If you are serving the slaw with salmon, try using dill pickle juice.  It won’t be sweet, but it’ll be tasty.  (You may want to increase the ratio of carrots to increase sweetness.)  If you want an Asian flavor, try using pickled ginger juice.  Here’s the basic measurements I use as a foundation.  You may want to add a little more of one of the ingredients after you taste the mix.

  • 1 tablespoon real mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon pickle juice

Start light with the dressing.  You can always add more later!  Enjoy.  My husband likes to put his slaw on barbeque sandwiches.  You might like it that way too.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2010.  Short excerpts with full links to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome!

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Barn Cats

This is a barn cat.

What?  you say that doesn’t look like barn?

Okay, it’s not the barn. It’s the master bed.

Yes, he does look like he’s made himself at home.  And, yes, he is a large cat.

If you want to have good barn cats, you need to take good care of them.  That means feeding them good food every day, giving them fresh water, “fixing” them, and taking them to the vet regularly.  If, like us, you live near a lot of predators who think your barns cats are good eats, you  need to make sure they’re inside some solid building at night.  And when it’s bitterly cold (like it was here a few weeks ago when I snapped this picture), bringing your “barn” cats into the warmth is good.  It’s not necessary to share your pillow, but I was about to wash the sheets anyway.

If Old Man Winter is gunning for you tonight like he is for us here in the Ozarks, I wish you safety and warmth.  We’re hoping the ice quickly changes to snow.  And, yes, the “barn” cats are inside and warm, looking like they were born royalty.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2010.

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Imagine my surprise Monday evening when I caught a spot of purple in my front lawn.  Yes, my crocuses are starting to bloom–a spot of flowers in January that I did not expect at least until late February.  Tonight I remembered the crocuses as I watched weather forecasts.  Thank goodness my husband had already thought to cover them.  I hope in a few days I’ll be able to report that they weathered the storm.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2010.

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The Food Network has a show (not among my favorites, to be frank) called “The Best Food I Ever Ate.”  Given that this month’s NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) theme is “best,”  I thought I might reach back in time more than a quarter century to the best meal I’d ever eaten to that point–and perhaps the best meal I’ve had since then.  The restaurant was Snow Squall in Portland, Maine.  The day was close to perfect.

I was wrapping up my college career, and my old roommate and I decided we had had enough of senior booze cruises and wanted to see things in New England that we had never seen.  You see, we were both Southern peaches out of the orchard.  I started reading places to her from a road atlas from Cape Cod to Maine, and she would  reply, “Oh, that sounds nice!”  As we took off in my old car (newly brought to college because plane tickets had gone up so much), I asked her to pull out the Maine map and asked for an interstate number.  She said, “I have the main map, but I don’t see that number.”  A few frustrating minutes and missed exits later, she realized we were going to Maine, not Cape Cod, and we were heading the right direction.  Even though it was 27 years ago, I still remember the day.  We went horseback riding on Old Orchard Beach.  Then we changed out of our horsy jeans and went swimming (oh so cold!) in Lake Sabago (is that the name?) and then rented paddle boats.  Finally, we found a quiet place to change into skirts and sweaters and reported to the maitre de at Snow Squall.

Of course, the wonderful day full of surprises, picking our next destination out of a hat of brochures we’d picked up at the state line, made dinner that night even more special.  The day felt like first love, although it was the love of adventure that had us feeling so giddy.  This was also the most I’d ever spent on a meal before, although the cost doesn’t seem so bad now.  We started with a bottle of wine and the most delicate calamari I’ve ever had.  It was so thinly sliced and delicately prepared that it had none of the rubberiness of standard calamari.  We also selected salads, which had a homemade dressing and came with several tiny bento box-style bowls of toppers, like poppy seed.  Our main dish:  stuffed lobster.  No stuffed lobster I’ve had since then has ever been so good, so I quit ordering them.  The lobster meat dominated the dish, with just enough crumbs to serve as a binder.  I know what was best about it was not only the light hand of the chef but the sheer freshness of the lobster.  It tasted like the ocean we’d been playing next to all day.  It was perfect.  I’m sure we had dessert too (it was one of those days), but it was that heavenly ocean-infused lobster that will always stay with me.  It made me understand why Maine lobster is really only worth it if enjoyed in Maine.

I looked up the Snow Squall tonight and was excited at first to see that it’s still open.  The menu revealed it is not the place I remember so fondly.  I saw little of that truly fresh-caught seafood, so I did a bit more digging and found out that David Gooch, who owned the restaurant for 23 years (including when I visited), sold it in 2004.  It closed shortly thereafter and just recently re-opened.  What is my advice for Heather LaRou, Snow Squall’s latest lessee?  Get back to the seafood roots of the place.  You’re on the water, with those fragrant ocean breezes all around you.  Where is that delectable, local Maine lobster?  And, Mr. Gooch, thank you for that meal.   I will always treasure it.

Readers, what has been your favorite local seafood?

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Today is Robert Burns’s birthday, and since I’m both of Scottish descent and lacking meal ideas, I decided to dedicate tonight’s dinner to Scottish traditional food.  We’re having rumpledethump (onion, mashed potato, and cabbage casserole), smoked salmon, and oat bannocks alongside Bellhaven Scottish ale.  I may also add leek and tattie soup–better known as potato-leek soup.  Let me know if you are interested in recipes.  I’ll post them if they’re good!

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Barley is a superb grain that health experts have been touting among the healthiest foods you’re probably not eating.  (Coincidentally, I found this reference that popped up yesterday.)  I like barley’s nutty flavor and have since I first tasted it, but I don’t always remember to include it in my meal planning.  Tonight, though, we’re having a risotto-style barley with carrots and celery.  My husband says you could easily pass this dish off to non-barley eaters as “rice on steroids.”

2 good-sized servings

  • 1/3 cup pearled barley
  • 1 to 2 cups water, mushroom broth, or chicken broth (I’m using mushroom and chicken broth)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped carrots
  • 1/4 cup celery
  • optional:  shitake mushrooms, chopped
  • pat of butter
  • a little olive oil

Begin by sauteing the carrots and celery (and optional mushrooms) in the butter and oil for a couple of minutes.  Now add the barley and let it cook a couple of minutes, stirring regularly.  Now add 1/3 cup liquid.  Stir, cover, and reduce heat.  In a few minutes, add another 1/3 cup liquid and repeat the process.  Continue adding liquid until you’ve got the creamy consistency that you want.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Eat.  Enjoy.

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Upcoming posts

Family business has kept me on the road for a few days.  I’ve been pondering future posts, however.  Expect an upcoming post on roasting jalapeno peppers, even after freezing.

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I am on the road on family business this weekend, and last night in my eagerness to get to my overnight destination, I actually ate chicken strips and an egg roll from a convenience store.  I really wish I hadn’t.  At my final destination tonight, though, I was delighted to be able to have a health meal tonight–soup, salad, half a good sandwich on whole-grain bread–courtesy of Panera.  Panera is a blend of St. Louis Bread Company and Au Bon Pain.  That means it’s part artisan bread company, part French bakery.  The result is a really tasty, fairly healthy road meal.  And when I want the best fast food on the road, I hope to find a Panera.

Of course, there are other times when I’m willing to try something different.  This summer in Colorado I ate lunch (superb Mexican food) from an RV set up in the parking lot of a grocery store.  It was some of the best food on the whole trip–no joke.

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