May 31, 2021

Oh, yeah. Meatballs.


Continuing on with my journey into the world of pressure canning, this morning I turned six pounds of ground chuck into five quarts of meatballs in beef broth. I'd hoped to get six jars, but I didn't allow for the way hamburger shrinks when cooked. Trust me, I know better. 

This is more of an experiment than the chicken breast. We like meatballs but they don't figure high in our meal rotation. If these have a good flavor and texture, that could change. I do like the idea of opening a jar and having the meatballs ready as compared to pulling them out of the freezer and have to not only heat them but thaw them first. Plus, they tend to dry out in the freezer no matter how well the vacuum seal holds. The jarred meatballs will not have that problem. 

To process the meatballs, I first formed them and put them in the oven for thirty minutes to render out the fat. Then they went into the jars while hot, and I filled the jars with hot beef bouillon broth. Remember - hot food goes into hot jars goes into hot water in your canner. Three hots. Meat of any kind in quart jars is then pressure canned for ninety minutes. You need to pressure can meat for it to be safe to consume. Do not water bath meat. 

The Lord of the Manor hasn't said too much about the meat canning. I think he's withholding judgment until I open a jar and use it in a recipe. I'm sure the next time we have spaghetti, there will be meatballs in the sauce. Beyond that, meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy was a staple in my mother's menu rotation. I'm also thinking of meatball sandwiches and Swedish meatballs. The poor, misguided man has come to terms that just because I'm in the final countdown to retire, it doesn't mean I plan to make cooking to feed him my life. 

I do know that if the meatballs turn out the way I hope, I'll process more. Canned meat is shelf-stable meat. If the electricity goes out, we can eat meatballs or chicken. They might be cold, but the food will be pre-cooked and ready to eat. That's a win I can really get behind. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 28, 2021

Ugly chicken? Nope. Beautiful chicken.

 Last summer, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew it was time to get serious and become a prepper. Not a doomsday prepper, but a prepared pantry prepper. I decided to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother and practice home canning. Never having used a modern pressure canner, I did what a lot of people do - I clicked over to YouTube and started watching. It didn't take me long to settle on a 23-quart Presto canner. 

One of the channels I watch belongs to a lady in Minnesota. She has quite the prepper pantry and I'm sure she needs it, living in a more northern clime. She does a lot of canning and puts out a lot of videos with some really good ideas so I watch regularly. Chicken is one of the things she cans, and she calls it "ugly chicken."

I did, too, until this morning. 

This morning I jarred sixteen pints of chicken. This meat is now preserved and is shelf-stable. A power outage won't thaw it out and ruin it. It's fully cooked and ready to eat, add to soups, add to potpies or casseroles, or drain and make chicken salad. 

No, there's nothing ugly about this chicken. It's beautiful.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 15, 2021

Outdoor living

I've always wanted to spend more time outdoors. I remember the summers of my youth when I was rarely indoors. My mother always had to come outside and bellow for me to come for what reason she had at the moment. My father instituted the porch light rule. I was to go nowhere in the neighborhood I couldn't see the porch light. When it came on, I was to come home. Yes, I grew up in a much different world - a country world. 

Adulthood stripped me of those carefree outdoor days, but retirement may just give them back. This is the year of some patio improvements. 

There are several reasons for installing an outdoor work/cook space. One - we can (yeah, that's a given). We enjoy grilling and since we screened the patio we can add eating outside. Before the screens, the insects kept us from truly enjoying outside dining. Another reason is so that I'll be able to do some of the canning outside and not risk damage to my solid surface stove. Our new work/cook station has a Formica countertop and that will be quite handy for all sorts of projects. Who doesn't love an easy clean work surface? 

And then there is the extra storage for a lot of gardening items and drawers for our outdoor grill implements, lids, oil, and more. 

I'm really looking forward to summer evenings on the patio this year. We may even break down and get a new television with a remote control that works. Of course, I'll need a good lounge chair if that happens. 

Somehow, I don't think that will be a problem.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 14, 2021

The historic stone fence

 The north side of the manor is bordered by a tall and wide stone fence. I'm about five-foot-eight and it towers over me by a few feet. The best guess estimate is that it's at least twenty feet wide at the base. Yes, it's massive. 

One of the things I would love to do is to dry stack the section I can see from the patio and sunroom. It's never been stacked, so it will be quite a challenge. I've always loved artwork depicting medieval walled gardens. The same for the modern urban backyards featured in so many home and garden television programs. A walled garden has that unique blend of fresh air and privacy. I have plenty of both so maybe it's more of an aesthetic for me. 

My grandparents purchased the land I live on during the Great Depression for $236. They were more fortunate than most in that they both had jobs. One worked days and one worked nights and they didn't see each other at all Monday through Friday, but they did what was necessary. They made weekly payments to the man who sold them the land until the debt was paid. 

I refer to this stone fence as historic because it's actually listed on the property deeds going back into the 1800s when the manor was part of a land tract known as P--s Resurvey. When my grandfather first planted an orchard here, folks from the area would bring in stones by wagon and toss them on the stone fence. It was a local thing and certainly explains how the thing got to the size it is. 

I don't plan to stack the entire length of the stones. I'm not that crazy to attempt a job like that. I think a section behind the house, picnic table, and the firepit would be just enough. But if I get bored in some future time, or maybe get ambitious, expansion is always on the table. 

And I will be on the lookout for the not-so-friendly neighborhood Contortrix Agkistrodon. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 9, 2021

Taking pantry inventory


We knew it would happen - we need to inventory the pantry. I keep a spreadsheet of what's in the dry pantry and what's in the freezer, but I get remiss about adding and subtracting items. Generally, this isn't a problem because the pantry isn't so huge we can't remember what's in it. Taking an inventory is more about refreshing the memory than updating a spreadsheet. That's not to say the spreadsheet isn't important. 

Our spreadsheet has both food and non-food items on it, and a couple of cross-referenced columns for things we buy only at Sam's Club and/or Costco. Theoretically, I should be able to check the spreadsheet and see if we need to make a run to the big box store but it only works if I keep the spreadsheet up-to-date, which I've admitted to doing a not-so-great job of. 

In this past year, we moved the pantry to an unused bedroom. The Lord of the Manor has some physical limitations and it's not safe for him to go up and down the stairs. Thankfully, our house is a rancher so building a shelving unit was both practical and easy for him. (Silver lining - the den is now all MINE.) The pantry is still growing as I add more home-canned items, but it will never be huge. If we have enough guests at once, plenty of room remains for them to sleep comfortably in that room and to easily grab a midnight snack of the Little Debbie of their choice. 

In the future, we will likely add to the spreadsheet. We don't really know everything we have in the shed or in the bins marked "electrical" or "plumbing." It's likely we often purchase little things like fittings when we should have checked the bins first. I have a lot of gardening stuff and I really should keep a list so I know what fertilizers and weed killers I have on hand, and how old they are. 

Taking the occasional inventory of the pantry is the only way I know to stay organized enough to be able to honestly say I'm saving time and money by having a working pantry. We won't go into detail about how well the pantry served us during the pandemic of 2020. Suffice it to say it did, and it's been worth all the effort we put into it.  

Take the time to plan a pantry and begin to work your plan. It won't happen in a week, or even a month. Building it to a good working level takes time, but it truly is worth it. If you'd like to know more about how we set about getting ready, you can visit the static page in this blog at Building the Pantry

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 8, 2021

A magical moment

Yesterday, it was cloudy and rainy all day, and a bit chilly for May. The rain isn't all that worrisome. May is historically our rainy season. 

But then, about eight o'clock last evening, the sunlight found its way beneath the clouds and the manor simply glowed! The pictures do not do the moment justice. 

I was in my sunroom, which doubles as my office, and it was magical. There are some things a camera can't truly capture and this was one of those moments. Yes, you can see the streams of sunlight and how green the woods are in spring, but the glow is something you feel as much as see. 

And it was so quiet! Nothing stirred in the woods. No deer, no birds, no squirrels. For about five magical moments, the world was still. It was amazing. 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 7, 2021

I worked for that money

I sent my Federal tax return in weeks and weeks ago. As of yesterday, my refund has not been issued.

The Fed still has MY money. Okay - no they don't. They've given it to other people under the guise of "stimulus payment."

I do not like this. 

What can I do?

I've done it.

I've instructed the guy who does payroll where I work to deduct as little Federal income tax withholdings as is legally possible. I've already paid in a bundle and that's all they need from me since they won't issue my refund. 

Yes, I'll have to pay a wee bit when I file next year, but that's fine. I accept. 

Can you imagine if everyone working did this? Do you think the politicians would notice?

I'd move on to the State, but my refund came back promptly, so I'll let them slide - for now.

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor

May 6, 2021

Strange bedfellows

The Second Amendment provides a mechanism for the people to overthrow the government by allowing the common man to own and use firearms. The right to bears arms, as it's stated. 

I'm someone who likes to eat food that I've preserved because I know exactly what is in the jar (and it's NOT chemical preservatives). 

So here we are at the beginning of the summer of 2021 and I can't buy ammo or canning jar lids. Now if that's not the strangest combination of shortages, I don't know what is. What's even stranger is that Blogger REFUSED to load a picture I'd titled "ammo."  

Ah, but is it really strange? I do not think so. You can call me crazy but I really think the "little guy" is under attack from all sides. 

Blogger also refused to upload the picture of canning jar lids at first. I had to do a screen snip. What the hell is so dangerous about canning lids? 

I'm getting very suspicious about some of these shortages. I live in the country and we have copperhead snakes for neighbors. I need bullets. And as for not uploading a picture of a bullet, I don't think a PICTURE can harm anyone. People are fucking nuts these days. The gun doesn't pull its own trigger.

As for the jar lids, it makes no sense at all that I can purchase all the jars I want (the jars come with lids and rings) but I can't get just the lids. I have jars. MASON JARS don't even need to be recycled! Just wash and re-use. Is it a problem that I want to can fresh veggies, make and can homemade salsa, and cowboy candy? Boy, that's a subversive activity. 

This is why we country folk turn into preppers and even hoarders. Manufacturers have no clue as to what is really important to us. We don't need no stinkin' diamond rings, Ubers, or meal delivery. We need everyday items like canning jar lids. 

I think we're all being played by the government and the people pulling the strings behind the government. They're setting us up for something big. 

Just saying. You know...while I'm still free to say it... 

The Lady of Holly Tree Manor