Fast Food and Hard Labor

It’s been a busy day. I’d intended to make dinner and put it in the crockpot this morning and slept in instead, so I left for work without doing it. And then I found a craigslist offer of free railroad ties and set it up to pick them up after work. And finally, my other job asked me to come in this afternoon. So I left work in Concord at 1 pm, headed for the ties. Got there and someone else had beat me to them. Mumble, grumble, smile politely at the nice people and chat about the garden they are building. They tell me that they won’t take all of the ties, yay! After they leave I back in the truck (which I hate doing. I’ve only been driving for a year and backing up scares me silly) and pick the first one up. OOF… they must weigh about 120 pounds each. Getting myself and my work clothes (I had dressed casually, but not in grubbies) absolutely filthy and sweaty, I loaded a round dozen of the ties. My arms gave out then, and the poor truck had developed a definite down tilt to the back. I’m not sure what it is rated for, but I’m pretty sure I had a half a ton of timbers in there today. It’s almost 2 pm now. I hit the house at 2, I have to be at the library at 2:30. Wash hands, prep dinner. Fast food indeed – I have 20 minutes to execute dinner, wash, and complete a wardrobe change!

Venison Stew

1 1/2 lbs venison, cut into thumb sized cubes

3 tbsp fat

approx. 1 cup flour

2 large onions, rough chopped

4 carrots, rough chopped

8 oz sliced mushrooms (these were pre-sliced, and I would have added more if I’d had them in the frig)

2 tbsp chopped garlic (yes, pre-chopped thank goodness!)

7 potatoes cut into “spoon size” pieces. I determine how many potatoes by one for each person eating that night, plus one for the pot. I used Yukon Golds, as they were what I had on hand.

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups red wine

6 cups water

salt and pepper

I browned the venison, once I’d cut it, in about 3 tbsp mixed butter and bacon grease (I didn’t have enough butter to hand, so I grabbed my container of bacon grease I always save and tossed that in, too.) I used more grease for this than I usually would because venison is so lean it would have scorched without it. As it was browning I threw in the one onion I’d chopped first, and then a scoop of flour, about a cup. While this was going on, I was chopping the vegies and throwing them with the wine and water into the crockpot, set on High (if you are going to cook this all day, set it on low). It was time to leave, so I scraped the meat, onions, and crispy goodness stuck to the bottom of the 14″ cast iron skillet I was using into the crockpot. I stirred, lidded, and ran for the door. Usually if you are cooking on High, this will take about 4-5 hours to finish. I’d managed it pulled together in 15 minutes. If I had had parsnips, and possibly fresh beets, I would have thrown them in there, too. I did toss in a couple of little tomatoes that were getting squishy in the vegie drawer.

After my work at the library was done – it’s not a long job, fortunately – I headed back to the house. Dinner already smelled divine. I grabbed the shovel and headed out with the bag of Bayberries in hand to plant. Decided I would use them to guild a couple more rocks in the pasture that hadn’t been marked with blueberries. After that, I planted the little figs, which are only a couple of inches tall. They went in a front flower bed for now. It’s on the south facing side of the house, which has a nice micro-climate. It warms up in the spring a good week early. While I was doing that I dressed the bed with mulch and built a brick border. Backed the truck (argh!) into the side yard to off load the timbers, which weighed even more the second time around. But I have enough for a nice start to my kitchen and herb garden now, and all it cost me was some hard labor.


Pot Full of Sunshine

I was making dinner last night, just a simple spaghetti for the three of us adults as the kids were all out for the evening. While I was pulling together the ingredients from the pantry, I was thinking about how satisfying it is to be able to cook with things I put up from the garden last summer. And about what goes into our cooking pots and ultimately into our bodies. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a health nut. My kids (and me, and Dad) eat things that they probably shouldn’t. But I do try to practice moderation in that. Too much is not good for them, and the more I can feed my family off the farm, the better control I have over their health.

Tomato Goodness

Take this pot of spaghetti. I can’t control the pasta. We don’t grow wheat, and although we may in the future, chances are I won’t be using it to make pasta from. I just don’t have the time. And I can’t afford it, when a pound box of noodles is less than a dollar. But I can control the tomato sauce. I made this quart I put in the pot myself, out of the greenhouse full of tomatoes we grew last year. Every one of those lush red beauties was a handful of distilled goodness made of sunshine and soil. Tomato sauce is incredibly easy to make and put up, so I did a lot of it, knowing my family would eat it up. And I can control the sausage. The pound that went in my pot tonight was store bought, but this time next year I expect to have a freezer full of sausage and other choice bits from the pigs. I can grow onions, and most of the spices, and the garlic…

So in a nutshell, I mixed up a pot full of sunshine last night for dinner, and it was so good we ate it all!

Spaghetti Sauce

Brown in a heavy-bottomed stockpot:

1 lb sausage or ground beef

2 tbsp chopped garlic (3-4 cloves)

1 large onion, chopped

1 tbsp italian seasoning

Once onions are translucent, add

1 qt. Tomato Sauce

If the tomato sauce is very acid (like mine) try adding 1-2 tsp of brown sugar. Simmer for at least 15 minutes. This is great if you toss it in a crockpot on low in the morning for dinner.Serve over pasta or rice with parmesan cheese.


We’d planned to get pigs for a while… they were supposed to be piglets, you know, little 20 pound babies that would elicit adoring “sqee!’s” from my daughters. Well, I finally spotted a litter on craigslist that wasn’t too expensive (the price of piglets around here is outrageous!) and pounced on them. Yesterday we were supposed to prepare for them, and today pick them up. Well, best laid plans often go awry, and we had to order the pig panels for their panels. They will be in on Wednesday, but for now we had to improvise. and old chain link dog kennel will do for a couple of days.

One of the piglets is almost a hundred pounds… we’ve named her big Bertha and we may very well keep her for a brood sow.

Two pigs in the back of the truck

So once we got the piglets pigs home and settled, we started in on a little spring cleaning… the front of the house. Everybody but Dad pitched in, as he went down to the sugar camp to boil maple sap.

Johann meets a pig


First Crocus!


Chickens outside the greenhouse finally.

Jerusalem Artichoke

While we were working in the front bed, Pippa figured out she could pull the stalks of last year’s Jerusalem Artichokes out, and the tubers would come with it. She shouted “Look Mama! I’m fishing and I caught two fish!” as she brandished a stalk with two oval tubers dangling from it. I told her that was great, and whatever she caught we would eat with dinner that night. Glady made dinner, a cheeseburger soup, which we added the chopped tubers too in lieu of potatoes. It came out very well. Rich and satisfying after a hard day’s work.


Raking the beds out for the daffodils to come up.


Cheeseburger Chowder

1 onion, chopped fine

Brown that in the stock pot with a drizzle of olive oil. Then add:

1 lb ground Beef

Brown that and drain well.


29 oz (give or take a few oz’s) Chicken Stock

1 can pepper jack soup

1 can cheddar soup (or just 2 cans cheddar soup)

salt and pepper to taste

10 shakes (more or less, to your family’s taste) Chipolte Tabasco

7-8 large Jerusalem artichoke tubers, well scrubbed and peeled and diced

After it has simmered for 15-20 minutes, until the tubers are fork-tender, add:

1 c milk

1/2 lb grated cheddar

Stir until melted and serve.

Topping ideas: Relish, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes. It’s great served in a bread bowl, but Juliet is allergic to gluten, so we eat gluten-free a lot these days.



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