Capturing Beauty

This morning when I went out to open the door to the chicken coop,and  the morning sky took my breath away.   It was just before sunrise and the sky was just a little darker and it captured the beauty of the hint of what was yet to come.   In the West the full moon was setting with a bit of cloud capturing it almost as to prevent it from setting, and to the East the sun was glowing into the clouds hinting that the it would soon come over the ridge.   I wanted to rush in and get my camera, but before I could make the trip the sun had risen and the moment was gone.

It make me think of some of the great painters of the west, those who captured what they saw on canvas before photography could. How many days did Thomas Moran get up  and melt those images he was seeing each day when he painted the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone?  Did he imagine that years in the future that we would still be looking at his paintings with awe.    I have seen this painting, sat in front of  it in a crowed art museum and heard only  the  winds and the sounds of the water in the distance.   I did not smell the sanitized museum air, but the smell of pines giving off their scent in the warm afternoon summer sun.     

Did he know that his use of the oils would capture the image as no camera  or print can?  Did he know that his paints would allow us to smell the moisture on the clouds, or imagine that we saw them move as they must have for him?   Were these paints done on huge scale, some as large as 7 foot by 12 foot, because anything less would be an insult and even this size was barely doing them justice?  How does one paint a canvas so large, or how does one bring such beauty down to a canvas so small in comparison?

I have been lucky enough to see some of these paintings in person.   I saw  The American Sublime: Epic Landscapes of Our Nation, 1820-1880,traveling exposition in 2002.  I now seek opportunities to see the work of Moran, Cole, Church and others; not that I get many opportunities in SW Montana.     In some ways that it has made me come to appreciate the art of this period even more.   I have seen  many of these places  in person.  I know how hard it is to keep that memory of that perfect light of a favorite spot you have been.   I also imagine how they must have felt capturing these images to share with others.    They had great responsibility, they were seeing phenomenal places of great spiritual meaning for others who could never make the trip they were making.  Today they preserve these places in our changing world forever.

Salvation Army of Food

Sometimes I think of our house as the Salvation Army of food.   I say that because our friends seem to share not only their garden’s abundance they can’t use but those things that they get, they are not sure what to do with.   My close friends know that I grew up in a home where we ate lots of small game that have never ate.   They seem to think with this background that there is nothing that I can’t cook.

Case in p0int every year we can depend on  our friends who purchased a 4H hog to give us  pork hocks.   It seems to them that pork hocks are just unimaginable for use.  I on the other hand have no problems with hocks.   Unlike the hocks you would find in a grocery store these are large, wonderfully smoked and meaty.   We turn out the standard fare Senate navy bean soup and a Caribbean bean black bean soup that can’t be beat.  Sometimes there is enough good smoked pork to make scalloped potatoes on one of those hocks.

Two days ago our 4H hog buyer  gave us  pork neck bones.   This cut of meat is not something you find every day at your supermarket or local butcher shop. Even I was a little befuddled as to what one does with this.   I ended up cooking them all day in the crock pot.   Then I deboned the meat and made with a red lentil and yam soup.   It was pronounced a keeper by husband.     It was a North African recipe and had a bit of feel of a curry.   I served it the next day to a guest for lunch.   It was a nice the second time around.

Thanks to my mom who would cook anything my dad brought home.  Thanks to my granny who said eat one bite of it, you don’t yet know if you don’t like it fixed this way.   Thanks to my grandma who cooked Sunday night dinner every week with new recipes from your cookbook collection.   You made me the broad-minded, adventuresome cook I am today.


Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

One of the many snapshots I took. This was taken in Glacier National Park.

It has been a long time since I have traveled much for my job.   In my previous corporate life I traveled frequently.   That travel took me to cities across the country. Recently I have been traveling lots for my job.  It has taken me no further than the edges of the state of Montana.

One of the amazing things about Montana is that so wide that in a single state you go from the wide open prairies across the mountains to the other side of the continental divide.   On the far north side is the “Crown of the Continent”  Glacier National Park, and on the southern edge is the thermal wonder Yellowstone National Park.   We have badlands that will compete with some of the best in Makoshika State Park.

Being on business, traveling with others , time commitments to keep, and not being on my own dime, kept me from stopping as much as I wanted to.   I wanted to pull out my camera, and wished for time to get get that perfect shot.  I looked down roads and wondered what I would find with a little detour.   I wanted to walk out in the the landscape, lay down and listen to the wind, take deep breaths and smell the world at that moment.  Instead I have add a few more places that I need to go back to and spend some more time at.

A New Challenge Collard Greens

Regular basket for this week.

This week my Bountiful Basket included lots of fun goodies and only one of them may me think hmmmmm.   Collard greens.   I have never made or even tasted them in my entire life to my knowledge.   So I will be searching for a recipe on the net.    My husband said he is sure that Paula Deen has something that will use them with lots of bacon and butter.  Those two fats can make anything yum!

This week I ended up with a “conventional basket” (non organic).   I really feel like I got quite a stash for only $15.  Look at the picture to see how much produce we ended up with.

I am discovering it really is quite a challenge to get all my fruit ate.   Last week my DH had to bring a treat to work and he made a banana cake with a white cake mix.   We still ended up freezing a few mashed banana’s and now we start again.   We did freeze some cauliflower as well.

Tonight we ate a leftovers with homemade Margaritas on the rocks.  So we started already on the limes.   I grilled some mixed veggies as well. So started on basket even on the first day.   Tomorrow  will start menu planning to work on getting meals that utilize as much of our stash as possible.   I am not a honeydew melon eater so will likely share that with others.  Two English cukes is a lot and so will send one of those on as well.    Beyond that even if I am gone for three days lets hope that we can get through this all before we need to decide if we are in or out for the next box.

Let the next two weeks  journey into healthful eating start.


Sometimes being a brother is even better than being a superhero.  ~Marc Brown

I have always known there was nothing like the love of brothers and sisters.  Growing up my brothers and I have fought like cats and dogs, yet I knew they always had my back.  We have left the nest, got jobs, had families and gone our own way.  One brother has traveled the world and another lives in the town we grew up in.  My youngest brother still has one in high school, while the oldest is working on grand kids.   Life has taken each of us on a different course, yet when we get together there is still that connection.  A good safe connection; that knowledge that time doesn’t diminish bonds.  As strongly as I feel that bond with my brothers, my cousins are living that bond.

My brothers and me

My cousin has an illness that is requiring a bone marrow transplant.   She has two brothers, one a close match and one a perfect match.   Her perfect match brother is giving his sister the gift of life, some of his bone marrow.  That is love.  He has his sister’s back in a way no one else could.    My cousin will spend the next 28 days in the hospital.  She is undergoing chemotherapy getting ready to receive the marrow and all that goes with it.  I pray for her and a speedy recovery.   I also pray for her brother who has stepped up to share with his sister in her greatest time of need a piece of himself.

Smoke And More Smoke

Once again today we are socked in with thick smoke.   It comes from wildland fires miles away, but settles in our valley.  Some days less, more often so thick that you can’t see a half a mile away.    Today is another one of those days;  visibility is less than a quarter of a mile, ash is falling and coating everything and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality says our air is very unhealthy.  It is so bad in southwestern Montana that many outdoor activities have been canceled, including Friday night sports.

Like so many Montanans I am  looking forward to winter.   Not because I relish an early winter, but because most  days this fall have been covered in smoke.   In the snow and cold I can put on more clothing, but in air this smokey you can not really do anything but stay indoors.  And like so many it quickly drives me nuts to be confined inside.   So if my choice is smoke or snow I say bring on the snow!

Chicken Isn’t What It Used to Be

I just read a great blog article on meat cuts from Kitchen 101.   It reminded me of a great article by Gina Bisco on cooking with heritage chickens.   I have supplied links to both and they are worth a visit to read.   So many folks today don’t know any more about the meat they buy in the grocery other than the price per pound.

I am an owner of a small backyard flock whose size ranges from as many as a dozen in the summer to six over the winter.  My backyard flock is always a mix of ages and breeds. We eat both the eggs from our birds and our chickens themselves.   I  have to deal with the reality of culling hens from my little flock.   Culling sucks, enough said.  But with this comes an assortment of really good eating, that modern recipes have no idea how to handle.

Modern egg laying chickens are a specialized breed. A chicken’s best laying production usually tops out at about two years of age.   Production birds that lay the eggs in your store, don’t usually live to their second birthday.   Production birds are egg laying machines and don’t end up on your table after their useful life.   There isn’t enough meat on those bones, and it isn’t the big breasted bird you find in you meat department.

Modern meat birds are also an extremely specialized breed.   These birds without any growth hormones, just years of selective breeding have given us a bird that almost everyone today considers normal.   These birds are highly efficient with food, growing from chick to dinner table in as little as six weeks.   These birds are susceptible to a host of health problems because they grow faster than often their legs or heart can handle.

Heritage dual purpose birds are the breeds your grandmother or great-grandmother had.  They could lay eggs and when the family was ready they could be dinner.  They ended up as fried chicken on a picnic, Sunday’s roasted chicken, or chicken noodle soup.   They are the breeds that are the basis after much selective breeding that made our modern production egg and meat birds.   They are not as productive as modern egg layers, nor do they have monster sized big white meat breasts.  They are a jack of all trades and a master of none.

One of the problems of having a flock of old-fashion dual purpose birds is that the modern cookbooks and online recipes call for that famous skinless boneless chicken breast.  That monster blob of white meat that  can serve two with only half a breast.   It is easy to cook; easy to cut; without much form and can take on almost any taste.   Old-fashion birds actually have assorted classes based on their age and size.   They are broiler, fryer, roaster and stewing hen.   Those are listed from youngest to oldest, smallest to largest.  These like the many cuts of meat from your four-legged meat source also need different kinds of cooking methods, to be at their best.  For this you need to get out to your favorite used book store, library book sale, or scour estate sales for old cookbooks.

If you have a dual purpose or heritage flock, you first need a print out of Gina Bisco’s article.   She has done her research and brought it all together in a single source.    Armed with knowledge of your butchered bird and cook books that actually call for broilers, fryers, roasters, spring chickens, stewing hens you are on your way.  Once you understand how to use your chicken no matter the age, you will then be empowered to know how to use them in your modern recipes and understand any adjustments you might make.

If you have a back yard flock and have had less than stellar results when cooking them, I hope you will be inspired to take another look.   If you have purchased chickens at your farmer’s market and gotten something you did recognize as chicken, hopefully you will now.    Most of all I hope you will appreciate the depth of character a chicken can provide and not always insist on the mass of white meat known as skinless, boneless chicken breast.