Zoolander and the Ten Commandents

Just hanging out, a Saturday night, watching “The Ten Commandments” on an Easter Eve.

All of a sudden Debbie blurts out, “Zoolander.”

Me, startled out of my reverie, “Zoolander?”

Debbie replied, “‘Zoolander’, and ‘Coming to America’, don’t you see how derivative they are?”[1]

I love my Debbie. The things that she says never ceases to amaze me.


1. “What???” I said. “It’s like when you’re painting,” Debbie said, “sometimes it’s just a really pretty green.”

What???

More Life With Lemons

With an abundance of cured lemons, we made chicken with cured lemons tonight. You’re supposed to cook it in a tagine but we have no such thing, so I made it in our cast iron dutch oven.

Chicken with Cured Lemons
1 chicken, cut into pieces, skin removed
1 large onion, chopped
about a 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
a dash of dried parsley, or some fresh parsley, chopped
a dash of dried ginger, or some grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1 lemon’s worth of your sliced cured lemons, seeds removed.

Take all that, mix it together and let in marinate for several hours or overnight.

1 handful olives (green or black, whatever you like), pitted and cut in quarters or halves
olive oil
water or chicken stock

When you’re ready to cook put a swirl of olive oil in your tagine or a dutch oven.
Spread the chicken out in the pan, and put the marinade over it evenly.
Sprinkle with the olives
Add the water or chicken stock, you want at least enough to braise the chicken. But beyond that add as much or as little as you like to make it soupy or stewy.
Bring to a boil on the stovetop, then turn down to a simmer and cover and cook for about 60 minutes.
Flip the chicken pieces over and cook for another 30 minutes or so. Add more liquid if it’s looking dry, or cook with the lid off if it’s looking too soupy.

After 90 minutes the chicken will be meltingly tender.

Serve with coucous for the total Moroccan experience.

I made a coucous salad with dried apricots, almonds, and apples, with an apple cider vinaigrette. It was just delicious, but I would’ve rather had just plain coucous to soak up the lemon chicken sauce.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

I’m sure, like me, you have a container of cured lemons in your refrigerator you’re wondering what to do with [1].

Actually, Paul got me Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook for Christmas. In there were a couple of recipes for cured and preserved lemons. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so a few weeks back I made a batch of cured lemons.

Cured Lemons
3 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt

Scrub the lemons and then slice them about an 1/8 of an inch thick, pick out any seeds.
Mix the sugar and salt together
Put a layer of the sugar/salt mix in a container
Put a layer of lemon slices in the container
Cover with a layer of the sugar/salt mixture
Repeat until it’s all gone, ending with sugar and salt on top
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 weeks

Tonight I made a garlic cured lemon aoili to use as a sauce on sautéed fish.

Cured Lemon Garlic Aoili
About 4 cured lemon slices
1 clove garlic
1 cup mayo
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp water
Dash of sriracha or Tabasco or cayenne pepper.

Discard the lemon pulp and dice the peel finely
Dice the garlic clove
Put everything in a food processor and give it a good buzz.

We sautéed a piece of red snapper (any white fish would work fine) with salt and pepper and then spooned the aoili over it.

The Delicious Plate

The Delicious Plate

There was no need to salt the fish, the aoili was plenty salty. The aoili was wonderful, it was lemony and salty and sweet. If anything the curing intensified the lemon flavor.

Life has given me lemons, and it is good!


1. What? You don’t have a container of cured lemons in your refrigerator? Why not? Why are you wasting your time reading this? Go get those lemons preserved!

Keep On Truckin’

We like to get our grain bins emptied before planting season. Once we get started planting it’s mid-June at least until we come up for air. By that time it can be getting hot and the grain in the bins is more likely to have spoilage issues.

Plus it’s a lot more pleasant to shovel corn when it’s 50 degrees rather than when it’s 80.

So the last few weeks have been a stream of days of loading the truck.

Filling the Truck

Filling the Truck

And driving to the elevator to unload it.

Terry's Grain Emporium

Terry’s Grain Emporium

That covered white area in the foreground is one of two enormous piles of corn on the ground. Over 1.2 million bushels of corn in those piles. That’s a lot of corn they have to move before this fall!

We’ve got maybe 6 more semi-loads to go and then the bins will be empty, ready to fill again with wheat this summer, and corn and soybeans this fall.

The farmer’s labor is a treadmill
All round the year he treads in his own tracks.
- Virgil, The Georgics

Many Gifts

The stack of books beside my chair tonight.

The Bookshelf

The Bookshelf

A nice stack of books for a cold evening when winter refuses to yield to spring, and a pad and pen to take notes.

Top background, “The Virtues of Ignorance.” A powerful group of essays on the limits of knowledge. Underneath, Debbie’s “Bullfinch’s Mythology” (speaking of hubris).

Top foreground, “Dear Editor” by Amy Newman. Haunting modern poetry, a gift from sister-in-law Kathy. Then Virgil’s Georgics. It’s just what I hear at modern farming conferences, except it was written in 29 BC. And on the bottom “The Lover’s Dictionary.” I got that for Debbie two years for Valentine’s Day. Like most gifts, I got it because I thought it was cool.

Actually, all of these were gifts. Thank you all.

So many good things to read…

A Marvel of Modern Technology

It isn’t fancy. It isn’t hi-tech[1]. It’s just an auger[2] with a motor on the end. A bin sweep.

Wonder Tool

Wonder Tool

But what a back saver. You set it on a post in the middle of the bin above the unloading auger, plug it in, and then all you have to do is give it a kick every minute or so to keep it chewing away at the corn, and sweep up the few inches of corn it leaves behind.

It used to be, back when I was a lad, we shoveled every bushel[3] that gravity didn’t carry away for us. Nowadays once we’ve rassled the sweep into the bin the work is done.

There are lots of fancier gadgets that you can spend a fortune on for moving grain, but an auger with a motor on it is a marvel to me.


1. “It’s not high technology, it’s just nuts and bolts” Graduated by John Hiatt.

2. An Archimedes’ screw, for the Sheldon Cooperish among you.

3. A bushel is of course 4 pecks, or roughly 1 1/4 cubic feet. The bin we were cleaning out today has about 2500 bushels that have to be moved by the bin sweep, or in the good old days, by shovel. When you’re on the business end of a shovel you gain a quick appreciation of what a bushel is and what an auger and an electric motor will do for you.

Sharpening the Blunted Plowshare

Whenever wintry rain confines the farmer
Much he can do betimes that otherwise
He’ll have to hurry when the skies have cleared.
Ploughmen beat sharp the blunted ploughshare point;

Virgil wrote that in the Georgics in 29 BC. That’s still good advice today. We’re working on things so we won’t have to hurry whenever it finally warms up this year.

We don’t plow, so we don’t have any blunted plowshare points to sharpen, so instead I updated the firmware in our planter monitor today.

Updating

Updating

It took about half an hour to complete the updates. I’m glad I listened to Virgil and didn’t wait until the day we were ready to plant to do this.

A Brisket

In an impulsive moment I bought a brisket.

A Brisket

A Brisket

I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was unwilling to admit it. So when the kid at the butcher shop asked if I wanted a whole one, I said sure. I then staggered out of the butcher shop with 12 pounds of brisket, but fortunately that was balanced out by the consider number of dollars I left at the butcher shop.

I got that big slab of meat home and looked at it. I’d never seen such a thing. I thought a brisket was a nice rectangular slab of uniform thickness. This was 5 inches thick on one end as it tapered to point. There was fat 2 inches thick in spots. What do I do with this thing?

Being a modern fellow I turned to the internet [1]. I quickly found a video showing how to separate the point from the flat and I was off and running.

I trimmed the excess fat from the point and the flat and trimmed them up. Debbie and I cooked the fat down…

Cooking Fat

Cooking Fat

and made suet for the birds.

Suet

Suet

Debbie mixed sunflower seeds in with the suet while it was still liquid.

The meaty trimmings we ran through the meat grinder and made hamburger.

Hamburger

Hamburger

It was so ridiculously delicious that we’re thinking we’re going to start buying cuts of meat and grinding our own burger.

I took the point, put a dry rub on it overnight, and then smoked it in my Jay Rosswurm Signature Big Stone Cooking Area for 8 hours.

Smoked Brisket

Smoked Brisket

As has been the case this year, it was so cold outside that I had trouble keeping the temperature up in the smoker. So after smoking it for 8 hours, I wrapped the brisket in foil and finished it the oven for 3 hours at 300 degrees so I was sure it cooked through.

It was mind-boggling delicious. Rich, tender, and smoky. That’s only half the point above. We devoured the other half in a frenzy before I remembered to take a picture.

With the flat I made corned beef. I cured the beef in brine and spices for 10 days in the refrigerator, and then braised it on the stove top for 3 hours with cabbage and potatoes.

I’d only ever had grocery store corned beef, which I love, but it’s mainly just salty. This corned beef is spicy, not salty. Not ‘hot’ spicy, but redolent of cloves and cinnamon and allspice spicy.

Corned Beef

Corned Beef

By happy coincidence the corned beef was ready on St. Patrick’s Day, so we enjoyed it with a couple of Killians!

The recipes:

Smoked Brisket
Rinse the brisket and pat it dry.
Rub it with a mix of salt, chili powder, and sugar. Add paprika, cumin, cayenne, etc, as you like.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day unwrap and smoke with indirect heat for 8 hours or so. Use a mix of woods for smoking for a rich, complex smoky taste.
If, like me, your smoker doesn’t hold the temperature at 250 degrees or so, finish the brisket, wrapped in foil, in the oven at 300 degrees for 3 hours.
Allow the brisket to rest for 15 minutes to an hour or more, and then slice thinly across the grain.
Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce.
Corned Beef
2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt petre
1 cinnamon stick (crushed)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
8 cloves
8 allspice berries
12 juniper berries
2 bay leaves (crumbled)
1/2 teaspoon ginger

You can play with spices all you want, but don’t mess with the ratio of water, salt, and salt petre unless you’re fond of botulism.

Stir everything together and bring to a boil. Then let it cool to room temperature.

When it’s cool put the brisket in and put a plate on top to keep it totally submerged. Refrigerate for 10 days, checking it every day to make sure it’s still submerged. Give it a a shake or a stir when you check it to circulate the brine.

After 10 days, remove the brisket and rinse it.

Put the brisket in pan and cover it with water and a few onions, carrots, and celery and cook on the stovetop for 3 hours.

Add some cabbage and potatoes after about 2 hours if you like.


1. I’d of been much better off if I had consulted with my high school buddy Jan Ernst who works at the meat counter at Egolf’s IGA and is a magician with a knife and a piece of meat.

Corn Shelling

I took my open-pollinated white corn over to the farm this week and Tom and I shelled it.

We have this old corn sheller that someone put an electric motor on.

Sheller

Sheller

It makes short work of shelling the corn from the cobs. But you still have to strip the husks off the corn by hand. After picking corn by hand, and then husking it by hand, you get a real appreciation of modern diesel powered machinery.

I had two 30 gallon garbage cans full of corn. That resulted in about 50 pounds of shelled corn and a 30 gallon can mostly full of cobs.

Cobs

Cobs

I’m saving the cobs to use for smoking meat or fish later this year. I remember Dad smoking fish with corn cobs when we were kids. It’s supposed be a mild, sweet smoke.

The best ears we shelled separately to save for seed. That’s old-style genetically modified organisms, saving the best traits for next year’s seed. Here’s Owen and me posing with one of the trophy ears.

Me and Owen

Me and Owen

Owen and Me

Owen and Me

I have about 25 pounds I’m saving for seed and to grind into corn meal and to share with friends. The rest we’re feeding to the steers.

It’s kind of silly. We go through maybe 3 pounds of corn meal in a year. And we have 10′s of 1000′s of bushels of corn out in the bins to feed to the cows. But it’s satisfying in a way that can’t be measured to grow the seeds that Dad’s friend Sam Taulbee gave me, year after year. To plant them in the earth with my hands and harvest them with my hands. To pick up each ear and look at it and select the best for next year.

It’s good to remember past years, and to try to make next year better.

By the Dawn’s Early Light

Spreading fertilizer on the wheat by the dawn’s early light.

More Spreading

Spreading

More Spreading

More Spreading

We’re putting nitrogen on the wheat. It’s just breaking dormancy after a miserable winter. Weather conditions are absolutely perfect. We’re below freezing at night, so we can run the fertilizer trucks over the fields and not tear them up, and above freezing during the day, so the fertilizer will gently dissolve into the soil with the melting frost.

Once the wheat starts growing when it warms up[1] it’ll take up all that nitrogen and turn green and lush.

Unless it rains too much first, in which case all that nitrogen will end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

Seriously though, I worry about that and we take steps to mitigate it. We split apply our nitrogen. We’re only putting a portion of what we need on now and we’ll come back late in April and put the rest on.

That way if we do get a heavy rain we don’t lose too much. Losing N down the river hurts our pocketbooks[2] and hurts the environment.

And the nitrogen we apply now is in the ammonium form[3], so it is less likely to either volatilize into the air, or to leach out into the water.

Being green[4] just makes sense!


1. It is going to warm up someday, I’m sure of it.

2. That N ain’t cheap, I tell you what! I’m not entirely altruistic.

3. Ammonium Sulfate, 21-0-0-24S to be precise. Using this formulation isn’t all altruistic either. That 24S means we get 24 pounds of sulfur with every 100 pounds of product too, and sulfur is an essential ingredient for crop growth.

4. “green”… “nitrogen”… Hahaha! Get it?[5]

5. Yeah, I hate puns too.