Our Mission

To live a self-sufficient and organic lifestyle for the next half century. With the Grace of God and the power of prayer, we will succeed. Nothing is impossible with His help. It wouldn't be us without laughter and joy at the Cockeyed Homestead.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Cockeyed Christmas Gift Wrapping with Creativity Gene

Before my stroke, gift wrapping was no problem. But gift wrapping post stroke being left with one functioning hand and arm is a nightmare. Thanks Barb, for the topic of this blog and Christmas is upon us once again.

Regular gift wrapping post stroke involves using nose, knee, elbow, or whatever other body part you can use to help hold the paper while you tear tape, position it, and press it down to hold it together. Being a contortionist would help, but I am not one.  It was too much work when dealing with upwards of ten presents to wrap for the holidays birthdays were bad enough.

Now being an extraordinary, creative person, my gifts were a feast for the eyes. Plain and ordinary gift wrapping wouldn't do.You see I did a Japanese gift wrapping technique of folded paper for my gift
Ribbons & bows added later
wrapping. Intricate pleats and folds were made into the wrapping paper for each and every present I gave. No plain ribbons or bows either. Pleats that formed triangles, squares, crosses, and hexagons were all within my realm of talents. Each present had a gift attached to the wrapping as well. Be it a hair clip, a refrigerator magnet, X-stitched or crocheted  ornaments, or something to keep and use...a double gift. Maybe a little hint as to what was inside. A case of my hand crafted beer had a bottle opener on the bow for my brother-in-law. My homemade wine for my stepmother handmade redneck corkscrew (a 4" screw, a screw driver, and a pair of pliers). Hand quilted potholders for the bean pot and bowl set I made for my newlywed nephew and his wife.You see our family does handmade gifts to exchange among ourselves whenever we can. We would go bankrupt buy gifts for each other. I have seven brothers and sisters between natural and adopted siblings, their children and spouses alone equal THIRTY-ONE plus their children is a passel of gifts to swap. Even if I only did my immediate family of my children, spouses, and grandchildren, I'm talking about EIGHTEEN gifts. It's enough to put a serious hurting on anyone's wallet having to buy one present a piece. Let alone wrapping those presents one-handed. Nobody gets only one present, and siblings and parents (grandparents) are always included.

So the first year after my stroke, it was your standard gift bags. None were gorgeous or special. Anyone could stuff a present into a premade box or bag. But what's a one-handed person to do? I've never been a fan of premade boxes. Although colorful, after a while you end up with several presents in the same printed box. Nothing original or creative about them. Totally impersonal. It gnawed at my creative, extraordinary in nature. How could I make these special like my old gift wrapping? I couldn't. Being two weeks out from my second (third) stroke, it was impossible.

The next three years after my first stroke, I tried a different approach. I used rubber stamps to decorate plain gift bags and boxes. It added color, glitter, and decorated them. It was better, but no where near as creative as my Japanese pleated gift wrap. It did have some duplication of designs. How many different rubber stamps and ink can you buy for just one holiday? Every year they came out with four or five new stamps to keep things fresher. There is a limit because you have to store them all for the next year. It turned out to be more expensive than any other option in stamps alone.

For 2017, I sewed fabric gift bags. I was definitely more creative. There are a small ton of holiday fabrics to pick from. I could customize the sizes of the bags too. Each were creative and unique. There isn't a local fabric store in town besides Walmart. So I had to go to a neighboring city to find a Joann's or Michaels to get the variety of fabric, notions, and ribbons to make them unique.

That brings us to this year 2018. I could have done the same as last year, but decided to do something different, but the same...sort of. If you do the same thing every year it's not creative, just repetitious and boring. I'm going back to paper gift bags. The twist, I downloaded a pattern to make the bags myself. I can use store bought Christmas gift wrap and plain paper lining to strengthen the bags. I would create them myself. With the holes at the top, I can thread an assortment of ribbons. The pattern is simple enough with very few cuts and folds. All of the folds are straight. A glue stick to put it all together, and I'm done.

I could even make them out of Christmas fabric, iron-on interfacing, and fabric glue next Christmas. I thought about it too late for this year. I could even change the pattern a bit and add a closure flap. But next year, I'm trying a new crafty/old crafty thing for Christmas too, so fabric bags will be more appropriate. For now this cures my creative, unique, handmade gift wrapping bug.

Maybe by next Christmas, I'll have some use of my nonfunctioning hand and fingers back again to go back to my Japanese folded paper wrapping technique. It's two more days until my neurosurgeon gives the final thumbs up for the rhizotomy and schedules me for surgery. I can only hope and pray.

Y'all have a blessed day.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Cooking with Chef Jo: Cockeyed Christmas Ornaments From the Pantry

For several decades I've made salt dough ornaments for my Christmas trees and wreathes. I happened upon a recipe for cinnamon ornaments this year and thought I'd combine the recipes. These are nonedible, but the combination of these two recipes will make them durable and smell good enough to eat.

For this recipe, I'll shop in my pantry and craft supply shelves to get everything I need. No special trips to the store.

The "Shopping" Trip
  1. From my pantry I'll need: flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, applesauce, and cloves. I'll grab my parchment paper and baking sheet pans, and holiday cookies cutter from the inside pantry.
  2. From my craft supplies I'll need: puff paints, a bottle of glue, a spool of 1/4" ribbon or elastic cording, two rubber bands, and a straw.
  3. From the workshop, a bit of sand paper.

I tend to stick with one shape a year. This year it's gingerbread men. If I still had children and grandchildren around, it would be multiple shapes to allow for more creative expression. Since I keep one and distribute the rest among other family members two dozen will be plenty. So that how much the dough I'm making.

The Recipe
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup ground cinnamon
1/2 tbs ground cloves nutmeg
1/2 tbs ground cloves
1/2 cup applesauce
1/8 cup all purpose glue (Elmers)
1//2 to 3/4 cup water

The How-to
  • Add all ingredients in a bowl and combine until a thick dough forms. Similar to cookie dough consistency, but drier. Add or subtract water to achieve this.
  • Place a rubber band around the ends of your rolling pin. You want your dough to be rolled out to 1/8" to 1/4".
  • The rubber band thickness should give you this thickness when doubled or tripled on the ends of your rolling pin.
  • Roll out your dough to 1/8" to 1/4" thick. A dusting of cinnamon on your rolling space will help your dough from sticking to the surface. Or you can roll between two sheets of parchment paper. Remember, the thicker you roll the dough, the longer it takes to dry.
  • Cut out the shapes and place them on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1" apart. Unlike regular cookies, these will not rise and spread. They will shrink.
  • Now take the straw and punch a hole in the top of each ornament. Don't worry if the hole looks too big. This is where you will thread the ribbon through during the decorating stage.
  • Bake 200 degrees for two hours, or leave them on the sheet and let them air dry for 4-5 days. I have an older gas stove so I leave the ornaments overnight to dry by the pilot light heat within my oven. After the time has elapsed, you will notice the ornaments gave shrunk a bit because the liquid has dried.
The Finishing Touches
Once the ornaments have dried and thoroughly cooled, you can decorate them as much or as little as you want. I always put my initials and the year it was made on the back of each ornament with a sharpie pen. Every artist signs their
work, don't they?

If you end up with sharp rough edges, just take a bit of sand paper to smooth it out.

Oh that ribbon you pulled from your craft supplies, cut it into 8" pieces. One for each ornament. Thread the ribbon through each hole and knot to form the hanging loop.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

We're Still at it- Putting the Orchard to Bed

We're down in the orchard this week again. We're a few weeks late with this project. The outside temperatures during the day are a brisk 40 ish degrees. The on and off again cold rains have put us behind. We're putting the orchard to bed for the winter. I bought two rounds of straw. They were cheap enough at $40 a round. That's a lot of straw and we're spreading it by hand! If we could just snap the twine and netting holding it all together and simply roll it out on the tiers it would be easier, but they are so blasted big and heavy, we can't.

We dumped one round on one side of the orchard and the other on the other side. About midway down on the five tier levels. We were thinking smarter than harder. We each grab a cart and wheel barrel full and spread it along each tier. Once we reach the other side, we do it again. This time with the other bale. It would go faster with many hands, but we've only got three so we keep plugging away at it. Between the two of us, we can cover a 4'x75' tier in a day laying the straw 12" deep. This is on top of the wheat, barley, oats, and wheat orchard grass we planted in the spring.

On top of the straw we are broadcasting bone meal, blood meal, and sifted manure and straw from the bunny barn and chicken coop to speed the composting process faster. The larger chunks have been broken down to where they are in usable 1/4" size. Mel built a compost/manure screen to do this. Then, we spread another 6" or so of straw on top.

Fresh chicken manure is nitrogen rich, but it will break down with the straw and rains so it will be plantable by spring.While most compost mixtures are 2:1 carbon to nitrogen our orchard leans more the 4:1 carbon to nitrogen using half aged to fresh chicken manure. Yes, chicken manure has that much nitrogen. The late fall/early winter rains will water it in.  Eventually, snowfall, will do their part in keeping the mixture moistened during winter.Thank you Mother Nature. Again, we are working smarter not harder.

How do I know this about fresh or half aged chicken manure? The straw bales that we seasoned and planted in last spring, we broke apart this fall. We seasoned them with hot chicken manure. They were cooking and fertilizing our Roma tomatoes all growing season. When we pulled the last of our tomatoes up, the bales fell apart. Other than a very thin outside layer of wheat straw, it was all compost inside. All I had to do was pull off the baling twine. Neat, huh! I figured to get two years use out of the bales, but that didn't happen.  Each of the bales were also full of earth worms, a double whammy of benefits. The same will be true with the orchard.

This should be the last time we have to do so much in the orchard to build up the heavy clay soil. They say, the third time is the charm, I'm hoping so. All will be tilled in to lighten the clay even more in the spring. The whole area will be sown with orchard grass and wheat to keep weed seeds from coming up in the orchard. We had fewer and fewer sprout the last two years. The whole area besides where the apple trees, fruiting bushes, and grapes are. We can now dig down a foot and not hit any hard, compacted clay or granite. That's been the whole point of doing this. It will only get better from here.

The year after, spring 2020, we'll be sowing dye source, wild flowers on the lower tier under the pecans and black walnut trees to hold unwanted weeds to get a foothold. They'll self sow themselves while the two-year old trees mature. I've read that there is concern that black walnut trees can poison and area for edible crops, but dye source flowers should do well. At least until the canopies of the trees block the sun. Then, we'll sow orchard grass back into that area and plant the wild flowers for dyes one tier up. But that's a job for four years from now.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Cooking with Chef Jo: Soup's On

Welcome to the cooking recipes and how-to day at the Cockeyed Homestead!

Today is another soup's on day. Like last week, this recipe is another canning recipe too. As I've said, I don't know how to make a small batch of soup. So we eat what we want one night and I can the rest. You can freeze this also after it's fully cooked.

I mention last week that Mel loved a mixture of my chicken and vegetable and cream of mushroom soup. Last week, I gave you the recipe of my chicken and vegetable soup so this week, I'm following it up with my cream of mushroom soup.

A word of warning, the powers that be DOES NOT RECOMMEND canning dairy. Do so at your own risk. I've been canning dairy products for years with no problem. But do what you will, you can always add it later when cooking. I'll add the substitutions in the recipe.

Once again, I'm making a large batch and canning it for later use. This soup can be eaten plain or added to various recipes. I always keep at least a case or two of pint jars of it on hand. My recipe is also concentrated so you will have to add milk if eating it plain.

Jo's Cream of Mushroom Soup
Makes 3 1/2 gallons of soup or approx 20 pints

20 lbs of mushrooms (assorted)
1 head of garlic, finely minced
1 onion, finely minced
5 ribs of celery, finely minced
2 tbs thyme, dried and crushed fine
1/2 gallon half and half (substitute water if not canning dairy)
8 qts stock (*vegetable, chicken, or beef stock)
1 cup cooking Clear-Jel or other canning approved thickener**
3 qts of water
2 sticks of butter (use the real stuff please or use vegetable oil if not canning dairy)
3 tsp salt, if you did not add it to your stock
* I usually use a combination of chicken bone broth and vegetable stock in mine.
** Do not use flour or corn starch substitute. It will break down in the canning and storing process.

Clean and slice your mushrooms into bite sized pieces. Remember, they will shrink when cooked. Finely mince your onions and garlic. Add to a hot stock pot with melted butter. Cook well until the onions and mushrooms are cooked and slightly browned. There will be yummy mushroom juices in the bottom of your pan. You want that too. It will take 10-15 minutes under medium heat. Keep stirring. You don't want this to burn.

Add your thyme and stir.

Reserve a qt of water. Add water and stock to the mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil.

Mix Clear-Jel with the reserved water. Mix until smooth.

Add Clear-Jel slurry to the soup. Stir well and bring to a boil.

Continue cooking until thickened over medium low heat until it's the consistency of a runny pudding. It coats the back of your spoon thickly.

Add the half and half. Simmer 30 minutes. Do not boil!

The liquid will be thinner, but will thicken up more in the canning and cooling process. Standard jarring technique for pressure canning. Clean hot jars. Your altitude for pressure setting. 65 minutes for pints, 90 minutes for quarts. Because I use chicken broth and half and half in my soup I can as if I was canning meats. I usually do this recipe in pint jars because the standard can of cream of mushroom soup is 15 1/2 ozs so it makes for easy substitutions in recipes.

To serve: add 1/2 a jar of milk to a pint of canned soup. Heat through and eat.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

One of Those Kind of Days- Murphy's Law

I awoke this morning feeling great. I'd actually gotten eight hours sleep. I said good morning to my two cats, Lil Bit and Patches, who sleep with me on my twin sized bed. I dutifully gave them pets and rubs. I said good morning to Herbie, who again is sleeping in my room, and ruffled his ears.  It was a beautiful, sunny day although chilly (46 degrees). Yes, I had slept in a bit and the sun had already risen. I stretched my old bones and was greeted by the usual breakfast cereal-- snap, crackle and pop. Sounds great, right? It goes downhill from here.

I had a full day ahead of me, so I threw back the covers and thought I'd get started. I got my customary growl from Patches because she had to move so I could get up.  She jumped off the bed in her usual morning snit. I noticed that I only had one sock on. I searched the sheet and quilt for the wayward sock. It was nowhere to be found. I opened my sock drawer. It was within easy grab of my bed. None. Then, I saw the clothes hamper by the door. Fuming at my shortsightedness of not putting my clothes away the night before, I grabbed my pants from the end of the bed. Putting on my leg brace, the undeniable urge to urinate hits me. I hurriedly put on my shoes and headed to the bathroom half dressed.

I just barely make it. I reentered my bedroom and grabbed my flannel shirt forgetting to do up the buttons before I put it on. Grr! I take it off, do up the buttons and slide it on over my head. As usual the night's fire had burned out. The house was a wee bit chilly. I can hear the gusts of wind whipping around the trailer outside. I go to the wood stove to start a fire.

My digital thermometer reads 52 degrees inside, but my computer tells me it's 46 outside. It wasn't supposed to hit 60 until noon. A fire was definitely in order. I loaded the paper, kindling, and a few smaller splits of wood into the fire box. I no longer use matches but a bbq torch for better access. This was a new one with the child safety feature of a button you have to push before lighting the torch. I hate these. I can't light them, but I tried. After two attempts, I grabbed a cigarette lighter.  Before I could even close the door, the flame went out. I couldn't even catch paper on fire! I tried five times before I finally got it lit. Oh boy, I thought, today's going to be one of those kind of days.

I went into Mel's bedroom to wake her at 10 AM. I got a muffled, "I didn't get to sleep until 6 this morning." She wasn't getting up to do her chores so it was up to me. Now the rabbits and penned chickens have been without food since 8PM except for hay. They needed to be fed so I dutifully went out to do Mel's usual chore. As I exited the porch I was immediately swamped by chickens yelling at me about how hungry they were.

"Okay guys, follow me." I made my way to the rabbit barn where the trashcans of feed were kept. The wind had blown wet leaves onto the porch and ramps. I slid down the first ramp barely keeping my balance. It was the longest ramp at 10'. I reached the bottom unscathed and thankful. I stepped onto the landing by the food storage building. More leaves but I was careful. At my scream while sliding, the chickens scattered so I didn't have them to contend with. I reached the ground which was a muddy mess from the rains we'd had the day before.

I made it safely the ten feet to the bunny barn. Everyone was glad to see me. The rabbits rushed to and fro in their cages, Gimpy and her sister, Gimpy too, were squawking loudly, "I'm hungry!" I petted each of the chickens in turn as I opened each of the J feeders for the rabbits.I told them, "Just a minute, girls" as I made my way to the feed bins. We empty the feeders at night because of rats. I toss the chicken feed out of the bunny barn to the waiting chickens and pour a scoop of feed into Gimpy's feeder. Then I proceed to the rabbits. I filled all the J feeders with a cup of rabbit pellets. They'd have to wait on their greens. Since I was doing this chore, I wasn't picking their "salad" of weeds and grasses. Now, it's getting to be pretty slim pickings.

I do the cursory glance at everybody's waterers and then, the fun part of this chore begins. I begin by opening each rabbit's cage. They'll pop their heads out because they know what's coming. It's lovin' time. I'll pick up each rabbit and pet their heads, ruffle their ears doing an ear mite check. Give each big, loud smoochies on their noses while I check out their bellies, and my hand will run across their bodies and paws checking for problems. Then, it's back into their cage and on to the next one. Usually this is a two person job making it a quick chore. This morning it's just me.

I make my way up the ramp to the landing and make my way up the big ramp. I'm halfway up when my braced leg goes out beneath me. This time it was chicken poop under the leaves. I fall down hard landing on my functioning knee. A wave of pain traveled up to my hip. I knelled there for a few seconds, and finally sat down for a few minutes until the pain dissipated. The wet from the leaves soaked my jeans to the skin. I pulled myself upright and hobbled into the house.

The welcoming heat of the wood stove was absent. The fire had gone out. The whole stove was warm at best. I could put my hand on it. Growling, I repeat the process of earlier and relight the stove. Now, I'm checking it every twenty minutes to make sure it's still going. I doctored my skinned knee and put on another pair of dry underwear and pants. The fire is still going. It's almost as warm inside as outside now...somewhere around 60 degrees.

It's 1PM and Mel finally is awake, but tired from not enough sleep. She's going to be hung over the rest of the day. Meanwhile I still have my chores to do.

About 3 PM,  I'm still pulling up plants in the garden to put it to bed for the winter. There's so much to do before putting it to bed for the winter. I pulled at one of the tomato plants to put it into the compost bin. It couldn't be rooted that deep. It was planted in a straw bale. I pulled and it wasn't budging so I pulled harder. BOOM! I was on my butt in the garden when the roots finally gave way. Another pair of jeans soaked through to the skin by the time I finally got up. This time from the wet straw and compost I covered my garden with.

Ah heck, it'll wait until tomorrow. At this point, all the good feeling I had from the restful night's sleep fizzled. I limped inside the house to change yet again. The fire had died so no warmth to warm my aching body from two hard falls. I'm letting Mel fight with it this time. I'm fixing Pasta e Fagioli (one jar didn't seal properly)for supper with some sharp cheddar cheese toast. I'm keeping it simple. The way my day has been going, I'll just blog the rest of the day. Nothing can go wrong just blogging, right?

Y'all have a blessed day!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

New Added Day to the Cockeyed Homestead Blog-Recipes n Cooking How tos

 I'm adding a new recipe day to my weekly blog. Recipes will be featured on Wednesdays. It's Cooking with Chef Jo. It seems to be a popular topic.

Is there any food more loving and comforting than a bowl of hot soup? When you are under the weather? When you are cold? When you are bone tired? When you are wet? Nothing will warm you or make you feel better faster.

Confession time, I don't know how to make a small pot of soup. By the time I add everything I want to... my pot is full or I've graduated to a larger pot. Today, I'm making my 16-qt stock pot full of soup to can and eat tonight.

Ours is not as pretty as this one, but it works!
Since the weather has turned colder, it's the perfect time to cook on our wood stove heater. Might as well have it do double duty, right? I do my bone broths this way too. Why not? Both require a long cooking time. Our old Suburban wood stove has a grate on top that opens up to reveal a cooking surface. The surface is old and rusted from years of use. Thank you Joe and Ellen for this stove. To combat this problem, Mel had replaced her gas stove when she bought this place so we has the old irons from it. Two fit perfectly on top of this wood stove.So I open the grate each winter for my canner pot full of water for humidity, and cook on the other iron.

We eat a lot of soups during the winter. One of Mel's favorites is a mixture of my cream of mushroom  and my chicken and vegetable soups. I went to our stores building and pulled my last jar of chicken and vegetable soup. Guess what I'm cooking on my wood stove? You got it.

It's super simple to make if you've canned or dehydrated your vegetables in advance, but easy enough if you haven't. It's just a lot of chopping. Now we culled Houdini a few months ago. I pressure cooked the old rooster to tenderize him. I also canned his meat. The meat is good and tender now. I canned this old bird to use for soups so I diced the meat into quart jars. Now for the recipe. I've include grocery store items for noncanners. :o)

Jo's Homemade Chicken and Vegetable** Soup 
Makes 14 qts, or 4 1/2 gallons of finished soup

2 quarts of chicken meat, or 3 lbs of diced chicken meat
6 large onions, diced
2 lbs of celery leaves and all, diced
10 cloves of garlic, minced or 3 tbs garlic powder
1 3" piece of ginger root, minced or 1 tbs ground ginger
2 lbs of carrots, diced
4 lbs potatoes, diced *(can substitutes turnips or parsnips for potatoes)
2 qt jars of diced tomatoes, or 2- 28 oz cans
2 qt jars of green beans, or 3-28oz cans
2 lbs of frozen peas
2 pint jars of whole kernel corn, or 2 cans
2 lbs cabbage or kale, diced into bite sized pieces
6 qts of chicken bone broth or stock
Enough water to fill the pot
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tbs oil
4 large bay leaves
2 tbs thyme
1 tbs oregano
1 tbs sage
1 tbs of kosher salt, adjust to taste
2 tsp black pepper

Coat chicken in flour. Brown the chicken in about a tbs of oil. Do this in batches. Yes, you can coat already cooked chicken. Remove chicken from the pot.

Add another tbs oil to the pot. Add onions, celery, garlic, carrots, 1/2 tsp of salt, and ginger. The salt will help the veges sweat faster. Stir cook until half way cooked. Add about two cups on broth. Scrap all the yummy goodies off the bottom of the pot.

Add remaining ingredients. Let cook for three hours loosely covered on medium heat. Stirring about every 30 minutes.

Now if you or canning this soup, When you add the remaining ingredients, stir well and ladle into jars. Pressure can per your altitude, 65 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts. I don't can on my wood stove because it's too hard to maintain the heat.

* I'll use a combination of parsnips, turnips and potatoes when I'm canning this soup. The parsnips and turnip keep their shape better during the longer canning time.
** I don't peel my root vegetables. I just give them a good scrubbing. (except for the onions, garlic and ginger)

You can add noodles, rice, spatzelle, or dumplings later to jarred soups.


Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Cockeyed Pasta e Fagioli Soup and Canning it too

Of all the varieties of soups I can Mel loves this one the best. She's  in good company. The stories behind me making this soup goes back some 25 years.

At my old church, there was a large crowd of homeless and unemployed people in our town so we opened up a ministry to help feed them. Wednesday night we opened our doors to feed these people. Our church operated a neighborhood, and widows and orphans food pantry service. The first  time I made this soup one of our freezers in the church went out. On average there would be 100 to 200 people at the Wednesday night service.

I was in charge of menu planning. My being a lay pastor and chef made me voted in as chairman of this committee a no brainer. We had twenty pounds of Italian sausages in that freezer along with 20 lbs of kale and ten pounds of diced carrots all thawed. I needed a recipe that fed people and used up these items. Believe me when I say that I was getting pretty adept at finding recipes that would use all the meats and vegetables in the broken almost 25 cu ft freezer. It was loaded. At first, I thought sausage dogs but there was a 50/50 mixture of hot and mild sausages. I knew most would want the mild leaving me with a glut of hot sausages. That was no good. Pasta e Fagioli was the answer.

I grabbed a case of tomatoes, 10 large onions, and a couple of sleeves of celery from our cold storage. Going into the dry storage, I grabbed the 10 dusty boxes of ditalini pasta (nobody wanted and was just taking up space), 2- #10 cans of diced tomatoes, and a #10 can of dark red kidney beans, 4  jars of Parmesan cheese, a jar of beef base, 3 bottles of V8 juice, and a #10 of great northern beans. I was set! All I needed to purchase with the garlic and bay leaves. We had plenty of fresh oregano, basil, and rosemary (my donation from my garden).

A quick run to the store for the two items and I was ready to cook. My bread dough that I made earlier was ready to be molded into seven french loaves. I did that and set to work removing the sausages from the casings. By now the other five ladies in our group arrived and started prepping the vegetables. One of the ladies started browning and breaking up the sausages. Many cooks working together make large meal preparation a breeze. We made thirty gallons of soup that night with not a drop left.

When my husband was ill, but not on hospice services yet, he had frequent doctor appointments in Savannah (72 miles from home one way). We always made a point of stopping at  Olive Garden for their all you could eat soup, salad, and bread sticks lunch special. By the time Olive Garden came to our town, he was too ill to go. His favorite soup... Pasta e Fagioli. He tried them all at one time or other, but he decided this was the one he liked best. So within a year, I started making it at home until he could no longer eat it. I froze the uneaten portions for later enjoyment. With my homemade Italian sausage, he preferred mine over Olive Garden's.

So today on our homestead, I'm making Pasta e Fagioli cockeyed style and canning it too. In case you didn't know, Pasta e Fagioli translates to pasta and beans. I started it a few days ago by purchasing the ground pork and ground turkey. I do a half and half mix because of my pork sensitivity. I make mine in between a mild and hot so it's spicy but won't burn the roof off the top of your mouth. I mixed the seasonings into the meat and let it sit in my refrigerator to marry and honeymoon. I made a total weight of 5 lbs. Three lbs for the soup and two lbs for caseless sausage dogs later. Caseless sausage is meat formed into sausage links and frozen. You brown them off while partially frozen, and then  cook it like cased sausage.

I diced all my clean vegetables yesterday. Being a one-handed chef has it's limitations. I'll take these short cuts when I can. I'll have my butcher grind my meat instead of me doing it. If the meat was home grown, I would be the butcher. I bought my kale already cleaned and cut up in the bags from the grocery store. But other than that, I did my own carrots, onions, celery, and garlic.

Here's my recipe. Keep in mind all of this made 4 gallons of soup.

3 lbs Italian sausage (mix of mild and hot)
*2 lb of ground beef (optional)
3 large onions, diced
1 bunch of celery, diced
1 lb of carrots, diced
12 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lbs kale, cleaned and chopped
1 gallon bag of frozen plum tomatoes or 3- 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 qt jars of beef broth
2 qt jars of chicken broth
4- 15.5 oz cans of cannelini beans, rinsed (or great northern or white kidney beans)
4- 15.5 oz cans of dark red kidney beans
1- 8 oz jar of real, grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbs dried oregano
2 tbs dried basil
1 tbs dried rosemary crushed
1 tbs dried red pepper (you can add more if you want it really hot)
3 tsp black pepper
3 large bay leaves

1 tbs salt (taste soup first if using commercial broth. You may not need it)
2-3  qts water
2- bottles of V8 juice
**5 lbs of ditalini pasta or other formed pasta like macaroni or ahells

Brown the sausage in 4 gallon stock pot. When partially cooked add half of your aromatic vegetables (onions, celery, carrots.and garlic) Cook, stirring occasionally for ten minutes. Your vegetables will be cooked and tender.

While these items are in the pot cooking. Place your frozen tomatoes in a sink of lukewarm water. I turn the hot and cold water on full while filling the sink. Pour tomatoes in the sink of water. If your like me, I cored and x marked the base of my tomatoes before freezing them. The skins slip off the tomatoes after a couple of minutes. Chop the partially thawed tomatoes and add them to the pot. Stir well.

Add the oregano, basil, rosemary, pepper, bay leaves and remaining vegetables into the pot. Stir well and cook for ten minutes.

Add the beans, cheese, and kale to the pot, and add the V-8, broths, and water to the pot. Simmer for ten minutes. The kale will have shrunk down.

If canning, ladle soup with plenty of liquid in each clean and hot jar. I use my dishwasher to heat my jars, or you can place them in the oven on warm for a few minutes. You don't have to sterilize them because we are pressure canning this soup. Leave 1"head space. Process for 65 minutes for pints, 90 for qts at 5,10,15,20 lbs of pressure depending.on your altitude. For me, it's 65 minutes at 15 lbs of pressure for pint jars. Notice there's no pasta in this so it's just Fagioli at this point. Pasta will be added later. Or, if you are feeding a crowd add the pasta to the soup. Add more liquid if needed after the pasta cooks and bring to a boil and serve. **NOTE: this will make 5-6 gallons of soup total volume when pasta is added depending on the pasta used.

To serve this soup after it's canned, cook your pasta in salted water as usual, but don't drain the water. Add the jarred soup after the pasta has cooked and bring to a boil. For us, it's two handfuls of pasta to a jar of soup. Serve with crusty bread or bread sticks. Or, be like Olive Garden and add a Romaine salad. Enjoy.

* I added the canned ground beef because Mel didn't like the texture of it. A hide in plain sight and no waste kind of thing.
** hold off adding if canning this recipe.

There you have it...my cockeyed Pasta e Fagioli. It may not be an authentic Italian version, but it's mighty tasty. Today was a perfect day to make this because it was all cooked on top of our wood stove. It's the first day we've had it running all day for heat. So the bread sticks are in the oven. I left enough soup from canning 30 pint jars to enjoy all winter to have some two nights' dinner. On a colder winter night like tonight, it's a blessing! Coupled with my fresh made garlic bread sticks and a small handful of grated Parmesan cheese dressing the soup, it's a winter or anytime meal fit for a king.

Y'all have a blessed day!