October 31, 2023

Don't blink - autumn is over

Just three days ago I was outside taking photos of our lovely, lovely autumn to make a collage to remember 2023. 

And it has been a lovely fall! The colors, the sunlight, the glow in the afternoon - beautiful! I've loved every moment I was able to be outside. 

We all knew it wouldn't last forever, but I lit the first fire in the wood stove in what seemed like the blink of an eye. 

It wasn't a "blink," it was just three days. That's pretty fast for around here. We usually take a long, slow slide out of autumn. Overnight the trees dropped half their remaining leaves. 

I'm reminded of how my grandmother would take me outside as a child and we'd gather up different colored leaves. She'd then iron them between two sheets of wax paper and stick the sealed sheet on the refrigerator to remind us of autumn. I was tempted to do that this year, but I have no one to share it with. 

I'm not particularly sad about getting the wood stove going. I've worked hard over the last eighteen months to "lay in" a supply of firewood. It would have been a complete waste to let those downed trees simply rot away. Yes, if I knew someone with a mill, I could have sold them, but there isn't a sawmill anywhere near here, so they went for firewood. 

I'm not alone in lighting a fire in the stove. The scent of wood smoke is heavy on the breeze this evening. I noted, when Deuce and I were out walking, the cousins have smoke coming from their chimneys, too. 

It may seem like cutting and splitting firewood, and keeping the stove hot is a lot of work, and it is. But it is also one of the simple country pleasures that bless my life. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, woodstove, firewood, simple country pleasures, autumn ending, hard work, sawmill, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life

October 29, 2023

The Mad Canner: Beef broth

A few weeks ago, I canned a big batch of chicken broth for the pantry. Checking the shelves, I knew then that I needed to do beef broth as well, but my local grocery didn't have any marrow bones available. I wasn't in a hurry so I waited until they had what I wanted. 

I don't create beef broth the exact same way as I do chicken and turkey. With poultry, I've roasted the bird before I cook the bones. I don't add a lot of salt or anything else because I don't want whatever recipe I use it in to be over-seasoned. Beef broth is different.

I tossed the rinsed marrow bones in my larger crockpot with two ribs of celery, a chunk of yellow onion, three beef bouillon cubes, about a teaspoon of peppercorns, and a couple of bay leaves. I added as much water as the crockpot would hold, turned it on high for ten hours (overnight), and then cut it back to low until I was ready to strain and process the first batch. If you like your broth to be a darker color, save your onion skins and add that when you're cooking the bones. I don't feel the need for a dark broth. 

Meat broth needs to be pressure-canned to be safe. The guidelines for my elevation (above sea level) call for pints to be processed at pressure for twenty minutes. I did two batches for a total of sixteen pints. 

Beef broth comes in handy for more things than soup, although that's our primary usage. If we have a beef dish for dinner, adding some beef broth to mashed potatoes kicks the flavor up a notch. You can cook rice or pasta in beef broth to rev up the flavor. You can also drink broth as a hot beverage although we really don't. 

But back to soup, I've been hungry for beef barley soup. Having the broth and some stew beef chunks in jars makes soup-making easy. I haven't yet read where barley is safe to home can, most grains are not, so until I read a process has been approved, I'll make it from "scratch" each time. 

It's not difficult to make beef broth. The crockpot does the bulk of the work, and the rest of it is simply having a good book to read while the Presto canner does its thing. I'm calling it a lazy day's work well done.

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, home food preservation, beef broth, crockpots, home canning food, rural living, country lifestyle, gardening

October 20, 2023

Work continues in the woodyard

It is that time of year - time to cut, split, and stack firewood. My cousin and I have been hard at it for the last week and we've barely made a dent in the logs harvested from taking down the leaning maple. I suspect we'll be burning firewood from that harvest into the 2025-26 season.  I have wood stacked in places I've never stacked before. 

Working with my cousin is enjoyable but challenging. He's a lot stronger than me so he gets ahead of me. He runs the splitter, and I load the firewood into the John Deere bucket to take and stack. Generally, he's got a pile for me to scoop up by the time I get done stacking and get back to him. 

I have the rack inside the shop full of firewood. That's inside and ready to go. There is a stack just outside the basement door which I will rotate in when there is room. It might get a bit damp, but it'll have time to dry back out before it's burned. After that stack is inside, I may or may not bring over some of the poplar to stack outside the door. It depends on the weather. I may just hold off and drop it directly down the outside basement steps. It's great to have the John Deere! 

It's so easy to move wood with the tractor. I rest the bucket against a woodpile and give the firewood a shove into the bucket. Sure, I have to pick up any pieces that miss, but very few do. Then I simply drop the load down the steps, go inside and open the door, and stack what I dropped in the inside rack. When you have a repetitive task, you find ways to make the job easier. 

Living on the side of a mountain can be a lot of hard work, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I was raised by adults who believed work was good for a person, and that it gave a person purpose. They were correct. 

I've been on the receiving end of a few nasty comments over the years. How it must be nice to have been given acreage. Yes, it was. But our grandfather would not have given each of us property if we hadn't proven we were willing to work, both at our jobs and in our personal lives. It's not that difficult to do when you have good examples to emulate, and our grandfather was the best. 

We know the value of having firewood on hand. Our local power grid is about to be overloaded and we know it. We may be in the dark this winter, but we'll be warm. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, firewood, John Deere, country lifestyle, rural living, hard word, autumn rituals, family

October 14, 2023

Stove-top potpie the way my grandmother made it

The times they are a-changin'. 

"What's for dinner?" is the question every woman in her right mind never wants to hear again. I decided to head it off yesterday and fix chicken potpie on the stove. Not baked in pie dough, but cooked in a big pot on the stove. 

The spousal unit likes baked chicken pie. I do not.

The spousal unit made a derogatory sound when I informed him dinner was stove-top chicken potpie. 


I was not pleased with his attitude, and from now on, if he wants a baked chicken pie, he can make it. 

Should I mention I spent the day using a chainsaw to cut firewood rounds, burning a small brush pile, and mowing the grass? Should I mention he did not assist me in any tangible way?  Yeeeeeah. And I should have made pie crust? Noooooo.

I actually did ask him to do two things that, a day later, remain undone. Ask me what he's getting for dinner today and that's correct! Leftover pot pie. 

It's going to be a fucking...long...winter. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Mam's Chicken Pot Pie

1 quart jar of home canned chicken broth
2 cups diced, cooked chicken
4 small potatoes, diced
1 small onion, diced
Pot Pie bows
Rivels (very small flour & egg dumplings)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder (or two cloves of garlic, smashed)
Parsley, salt, and pepper to your taste preferences 
My addition: a bit of dried rosemary to taste

Heat the broth in a big stock pot. Add potatoes, chicken, onion, seasonings. Heat medium low until the potatoes are about half cooked, then all the pot pit bows. Continue cooking until the pot pie bows are tender. Add the rivels and simmer for ten minutes. Let stand five minutes, then serve. 

Rivels: 3/4 cup AP flour and one egg. Whisk together until all the egg is incorporated and the mix is clumpy

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, Chicken Pot Pie, grandma's cooking, dinner, country cooking, rural living, country lifestyle, a writer's life, Milwaukee chainsaw, John Deere x370 mower

October 9, 2023

The Mad Canner: Apple Pie Filling and Curried Apple Chutney

It's apple season! 

Forget those western Red Delicious apples you get at the supermarket. You know the ones - mealy and mushy and no crunch. Give me local apples from a fifth-generation orchard! Fresh, crisp, crunchy and delicious! It's worth the thirty minute drive to get there. 

This was the year I needed to make apple pie filling and curried apple chutney. There is enough applesauce, apple jelly, and apple butter in the pantry to see us through to next season, so I could concentrate on what we were out of. 

One half bushel of Cinnamon Crisp apples produced thirteen quart jars of apple pie filling and twelve half-pint jars of chutney. The peels and cores made the local deer pretty happy, too. 

Working with apples is labor-intensive. Apples need to be peeled and cored, sliced and diced, and blanched and/or cooked before being water-bath canned. I much prefer pressure canning because I believe it produces a more reliable, long-term seal, but it is what it is. I like to hear that instant "pop" of the seal setting when I lift a jar from the Presto canner, and it takes a bit longer when water-bath canning. All of the jars pictured did seal.

To make the job of peeling easier, I have a spiralizer attachment for the KitchenAid mixer. I can't say it does a perfect job, but man does it cut down on the time. A simple manual chopper diced up the peeled apples for the chutney. 

Both recipes are in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is pretty much the canning bible. The National Center for Home Food Preservation uses pretty much the same recipes

I won't need to make the chutney again for probably three years. Yes, if the seals are intact, the product can last more than the eighteen months Ball states. You need to be more diligent in listening for the seal break when opening,  and remember - when in doubt, throw it out. Never consume anything you're not one hundred percent sure about. Unlike me, Himself isn't a lover of the chutney so it doesn't get served frequently so it's in the pantry for a longer time. Now that I'm retired, the apple pie filling may or may not be enough for an entire year. We'll see. 

I've been reading more apple recipes in the Ball book. Apple season isn't over here, and the Cinnamon Crisp apples have become my new favorite. Yum! Himself has requested apple dumplings (a freezer item) and I think I'd like to make some apple jam for on pancakes. We need to be out and about later this afternoon, so maybe we can take a bit of an extra drive for another peck of apples. Probably for sure. 

Canning may seem like an old-fashioned activity, but it's really food science. And it's time management. An afternoon spent canning apples netted twelve side dishes for twelve dinners, and made baking pies quick and easy. And you know what? When I walk into my pantry, all the pretty jars put a smile on my face. 

The Lady of The Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, apples, home food preservation, canning food, pantry preparedness, time management, rural living, country lifestyle orchards, Ball book, Presto canners, pressure canning, water bath canning, chutney, a writer's life

October 5, 2023

Tree carnage (the tree service was here)

Our number finally rolled up to the top. The tree service rolled in yesterday at about 2:00 PM. By 4:30 PM, their job was done, I'd paid the man, and they rolled out of here. I'm a couple thousand dollars poorer, but it was worth every penny not having to clean up the brush. 

We sat on the sunroom porch and watched the action. The owner of the company and a certified arborist did the chainsaw work, and three Spanish-speaking men chipped the brush and other chores. 

I'd hired them to take down the leaning maple. That tree has been leaning since Hurricane Isabel in September 2003, but the situation deteriorated recently. The tree it was leaning on began to show signs of stress, so it was time. Then to complicate it more, a week or so ago, the top broke out of a neighboring tree and landed on the leaner. 

We expected them to work from the top of the leaner down, cutting off branches until they'd untangled the intertwined branches and limbs of both trees. They did not. 

The arborist went up in the bucket and did some cutting, dropping several large branches before securing two ropes, the precise location we couldn't pinpoint. He then came down and he and the owner had a conference before the owner set to work with his chainsaw. 

He notched the supporting tree, and then the leaner. When he moved behind the leaner to make his cut, we realized their plan was to drop both trees at once. It worked and once the trees were on the ground, the chipping began. 

They cut firewood poles and moved them to an out-of-the-way spot. The resulting mulch from the chipping was dumped on a pile to cure. I'll use that next year to mulch weedy areas along the stone fence. They even raked up the leaves. The only job left for the cousins and me to do now is work the pile of firewood poles at our leisure. 

It was worth every penny. I think I'll have them come back in a few months and take down another maple that could become a hazard. 

We generally like to do things ourselves, but 1)we're not getting any younger, and 2) we're smart enough to know when to call in the professionals. 

The view from my desk is different this morning, but it's a change I feel good about. I can't say that about much. 

The Lady of the Hideaway

Holly Tree Manor, The Hideaway, tree trimming, rural living, country lifestyle, arborist, woods, maple trees, Hurricane Isabel 2003, a writer's life, tree service, new views, firewood