Dozer, the Bulldog

Dozer, the Bulldog
Feeling the "Bern"

Ellie Mae

Ellie Mae
No time for gates...

Ollie Mac

Ollie Mac
My cooking assistant

Ollie and Annie

Ollie and Annie
Azorean grandmother


38 years on this mountain, come May 31st...



Papa and Ollie Mac

Papa and Ollie Mac
Priorities, Baby


Annie, my Sweetest of Apple Blossoms

My first portrait

My first portrait
"Mr. Farmer"

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

Mark's E-mail address

Sunday, September 30, 2018

What's One Hour?

I can’t define true love any better than the next guy, but I do know it when I encounter it. True love is putting one foot in front of the other, and carrying onward and upward, even though your partner-in-life, your wife of 36 years, is an hour away.

What's one hour here and there, among friends? I'm not sure about friends, but for lovers, it's an eternity.

If this were January, and someone were willing to look after my flock of chickens and feed my two kitties, I could entrench myself in our little apartment down in Willits, break out a jigsaw puzzle and a good book, and take a long winter’s nap.

Realistically though, it’s the last day of September and the farm is jumping. With the showers arriving yesterday, there was a frenzy of activity to prepare for rain. Tools, a roof still awaiting installation of metal roofing and an assortment of items best covered, required immediate attention.

Sunrise in Willits, Friday morning, as I arrived.
I returned from a 24-hour visit to Willits, Saturday morning, fully expecting to have to put down some 30-weight tar paper on the roof of the little 10-by-12 storage unit I built earlier this month. Instead, I found the chore already done, HeadSodBuster having stepped up and taken care of business Friday evening, just to make sure the rain would not catch us napping.

The chop saw(s), Skil-Saw, tape measure, chalk line, pencil, paint, and electrical cords were all placed in the new storage unit, much to my delight. It was just HSBuster’s way of lending support for Gluten-Free Mama. 

Having determined that life up here on a remote ridge-top, an hour away from her primary caregiver, was not practical, we made the move at the beginning of August. Since then I have commuted, going down every fourth or fifth day, to ferry GF Mama around town, taking care of logistics. Should she need immediate help, we are lucky that Ben-Jam-In lives down in Willits, also.

Friday night GF Mama fixed me up some soft-shelled tacos, heated perfectly in the oven, and we dined in, sumptuously. Saturday morning found me scurrying back up here, not even pausing at April May’s, on the north end of town, to pick up a much-needed latte. 

If I'm not careful, I will kill the job...
When I found out that the pressing business of preparing for rain had already been attended to, I went back to finishing the installation of trim boards and thresholds, in the newly remodeled bathroom and laundry room. 

Around lunchtime, SmallBoy brought in the three packages of frozen cube steaks that were originally scheduled for HSBuster’s birthday, and deposited them on the kitchen counter. “What do you say, Pops?”

To which I responded, “Is this the day, then?” in reference to an earlier conversation, in which I had volunteered to cook up some chicken-fried steak. Mind you, I had never cooked this dish, but I did know how to google recipes. The first two I looked at had in access of 20 ingredients, and since I was not going to town I was easily able to reject them. The third had salt, pepper, eggs, flour and nothing else. I was ready for action-ready for danger. 

Additionally, I had also signed up to prepare the requisite home-made French fries that HeadSodBuster had requested for his special dinner. Never in the history of our universe, have enough of these precious fries been actually prepared for any given meal in this household. The best one can do is arbitrarily select a number of potatoes to be prepared, and go for it. I figured twenty smallish specimens, fresh from Irene’s farm, was the proper number for the six of us, and it was as good a number as any other. 

As for the six of us, there were HeadSodBuster, BossLady, SmallBoy, farmhands Tim and Danielle, and I, munching away. We laughed through “Cool Runnings,” as we informally dined, plates sitting on either TV trays, or perched on laps. Though a fire in the wood stove would be necessary in the morning, Saturday evening was still reasonably pleasant, despite the rain showers.

Gluten-Free Mama picking pears...
It would have been GF Mama who cooked the steaks, while I prepared the French fries, in a perfect world, but this is not a perfect world. That being said, I can envision a world far more bleak than this one, so I hold my tongue and thank my lucky stars that I can still drive back and forth to see my love.

Only one week ago she was up here on the mountain to celebrate HSBuster’s birthday, so there is that. On a good day, I could whisk her up here for a quick visit, and return her to her safety zone in Willits, so there is that, as well. A little of anything goes a long way these days, so when you have a lot of something, like love, you are in good shape for the shape you are in. 

Love is the greatest power, you know.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Make Your Own Catsup

This is the second piece about using Heinz tomatoes, as opposed to whatever happens to be on hand, to make sauces, this one focusing on catsup only.

Before you even consider making catsup/ketchup, examine your motivation: Are you trying to duplicate what you buy in the store, or are you interested in something unique and tomatoey, with which to garnish your French Fries? If it’s the former, then good luck with that; if you are aiming for the latter, then have I got a deal for you.

For me half-pints are the perfect size.
It’s not that home-made catsup can’t taste like what you buy at Raley’s; it’s just that if that is what you want, why bother? Why not just go buy a bottle of Heinz tomato catsup and save yourself the trouble? You know? Not that there is anything wrong, per se, with coming up with a carbon-copy of Del Monte’s version, but that should not be your primary goal.

With that thought prominently in mind, I am going to share three recipes for making your own catsup, all of them tasty, and all of them different. Two of the three I have made and been delighted with; the third I have never tried, but wanted to give an alternative to the two already presented. Which is which is immaterial. 

I wash and quarter them before running them through the
[electric] food strainer.
The recipe I want to start with appears in Ball’s “Complete Book of Home Preserving-400 delicious and creative recipes for today.” One reason I chose this one is because it shares many of the same ingredients as Gluten-Free Mama’s recipe, though there are a couple added, and a couple left out. In case you were wondering, out of a strong sense of self-preservation, I never considered asking GF Mama for her own, self-created, recipe. 

I have no compunctions about recipes; if I created it, I am interested in sharing it. I started making catsup thirty years ago, with varying degrees of success. I will confess that I WAS trying to duplicate the store-bought version, and was secretly disappointed with those early attempts. On the outside I was good to go, but still, I had that need to reproduce, that which had always been available.

A few years ago we went electric...
I see it differently now, one hundred percent, having long since learned to accept and embrace the fruits of my labor, and not look for something that simply reinforces the familiar. As I wrote in my last piece, all efforts at producing sauces and catsups are tasty and unique, with the only judges that matter being you, and those around you.

Tomato catsup:

3 tbsp. celery seeds
4 tsp. whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks (4 inches long) broken up into pieces
1 1/2 tsp. whole allspice
3 cups cider vinegar
24 lbs. Heinz tomatoes, cored and quartered 
3 cups chopped red onions
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup pickling or canning salt

You’re going to tie the celery seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks and allspice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar and spice bag and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let stand at least a half-hour before mixing it with the next step.

We grow our own.
That would include the tomatoes, onions and cayenne, which you bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently, before reducing the heat and boiling gently for 20 minutes. Add infused vinegar and boil gently until onions are soft, about 30 more minutes.

You can transfer the mixture to a sieve placed over a glass or stainless steel bowl, and press with the back of a spoon to extract the liquid, but for this amount, a food mill or strainer would be infinitely better. Discard solids.

Return the liquid to the pan, add the sugar and salt and bring to a boil over a medium fire, stirring occasionally to make sure it does not scorch. I mentioned in the earlier piece about having a diffuser between the pan and the flame, but this is not essential. You just need to know that if you scorch the sauce, your catsup will be a total wash-out. 

Cook this mixture until it is reduced by half, or to your desired consistency. This recipe suggests that around six hours is the length of time needed. Place the ketchup into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Wipe the rims, remove air bubbles and center seal on top of the jar. Tighten the ring until resistance is met, and then increase to finger-tip tight. Place them in the water bath and bring to a full boil. To find out how long to boil the jars, you can easily google the information. I usually put catsup into half-pint or pint jars, in which case the processing time is fifteen minutes. 

I still sterilize the jars and lids, though research indicates
it is not necessary.
Recipe # 2:

1/2 bushel of Heinz tomatoes (A bushel is 56 pounds, so half would be 23. This is three pounds more than a lug, which is twenty pounds.)
1 medium onion
1 clove of garlic, peeled and diced
2 tsp. red pepper (cayenne)
3 cups cider vinegar
3 tbsp. salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
4 tbsp dry mustard
2tbsp. Lea & Perrins Sauce
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Again, for this amount of catsup, you pretty much need to have a food mill, one which strains out the seeds, peels and any blemishes. Otherwise, you will need to run the whole mixture through a blender at some point, and that is a challenge.

A difference between this recipe and the first one is that no spice bag is needed because all of the ingredients are ground. Therefore, you are going to combine strained tomatoes, onion, garlic and cayenne pepper, and bring it to a slow boil, before reducing the heat and simmering until the whole batch is reduced by half, depending on your own desired thickness.

Times vary but cooking down your mixture will take between 6 and 12 hours, so keep in mind the ongoing effort to stir frequently and be careful of scorching. A diffuser will help with this. As you get near to your desired consistency, add the remaining ingredients, stirring occasionally, and simmer until you are ready to put it into jars; then follow the steps above.

And now, the stars of the show!
Recipe # 3:

5 lbs. Heinz tomatoes
3 medium red onions
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
1 tbsp. mustard seeds
1 tbsp. allspice berries
I tsp. whole cloves
2 tsp. celery seeds
1 slice fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. coarse salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper

You are going to bring the tomatoes, onions, pepper and garlic to a boil, and cook on a low heat for thirty minutes, until the veggies are soft, so you can run the whole mixture through a food mill or strainer. Because there are not so many tomatoes, you could also press the mixture through a sieve by hand.

Once this is done, place the peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice berries, whole cloves, celery seeds, ginger, cinnamon stick and bay leaves in a spice bag or hunk of cheesecloth that is wrapped up, and add them to the mixture. Add to this the brown sugar, paprika, mace, cider vinegar, salt and cayenne. 

Cook down to the desired thickness, around two hours, remove the spice bag/cheesecloth and process as above.

Whether you choose to start small and then expand your horizons, or go for all the marbles right out the gate, is more a matter of experience and confidence than anything else. You might even start with a lot of tomatoes, and try two different approaches, just for the sake of comparing the two. 

The thing I try to keep in mind is that I do not preserve tomatoes or make catsup to save money; I do it to enjoy the taste of organically grown tomato goodness, all year long. And I enjoy the process immensely. By the time you calculate the cost of the tomatoes, jars, ingredients not already on hand and any other incidentals, you realize you are not in it for the savings.

Face it: You just want to dazzle friends and family with some home-grown catsup, and what's wrong with that?