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, 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!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

It's Cold Here Now

We had our first frost in late October. There's something magical and almost ethereal about a frost covered landscape although short lived. Now we're getting into the colder temperatures going into winter. The wood stove with its toasty warmth keeps us warm. The trees are beginning to look bare as they have shed most of their fall colors. A few still have leaves dangling and a good wind would probably blow them loose. The nights are mostly in the 30s-40s. Yes, winter is on its way. All plant life is settling in for their winter slumber.

Bye bye Bayonet 8/17
I pulled up the last of the unwanted weeds from the bunny patches. I left only the goodies they love to eat alone. The Spanish Bayonet that our hero Bobby dug up with his bobcat last August, came back with a vengeance this year by sprouting ten little plants from roots not dug up. I dug them up with a spade as they popped up. Matter of fact, since they are an evergreen, they are still popping up. I expect this to continue for several years until I get it all dug up. Anyhow, the unwanted weeds should be less next year.

The weather has been crazy this year. We didn't have much of a spring or fall this year. I think about a week or less temperature wise. It's very unusual to have 89+ degree temperatures in the spring and\fall,  but this year we did. It made for an early, wet, long, hot summer. It makes me wonder if we're going to have an equally cold, long winter too although it's been late in starting. It may drag on until May. It has before with snow falls in April.

Now that would be a serious kick in the pants, if I couldn't plant until June. Just when I was starting to get used to having four seasons again after thirty years of living in coastal GA and FL. It would be like living up north of the Mason-Dixon line with a very short growing season instead of the GA foothills.

I haven't gardened like that in forty years. My garden may look like the picture in order to get even half the harvest I got this year. That's insane for Georgia. I'm not equipped for that eventuality. It would take some major cash to buy row covers and insulated tubes. I couldn't do that in the orchard. But we'll see when the time comes.

There's no predicting or second guessing Mother Nature. I may be concerned for nothing. I need to take my own advice and not borrow trouble. Bad or not right things are going to happen. You can't be prepared for everything in the beginning, or even in the middle of homesteading. I mean, unless you have a million bucks (to possibly waste) and a place to store it all. That's not us or anyone we know. If you are that person, throw a little cash our way. Even another $20K would do it. Another $40K would put us totally off grid and 90% self sufficient (we can live very nicely without the last 10%). <laughing>

For now, I'll sit by the wood stove, bathed in its warmth, and let the temperatures drop. I have my fiber to blend, sort, and spin, or my hands busily working on this or that knitting project. Rest assured that after its slumber, spring will come again.

Y'all have a blessed day!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Cooler Weather is Finally Here~ New Project, Fall/Winter Routines, and Polar Opposites

It's the time of year we usually hate. The cooler weather is finally here. It's time to move inside from our back porch living. For months, we've used our back porch as a living area. We moved one of our TVs in there, cooked our meals and eaten out there. Mainly because it's been too hot inside to do it. It's with a sadness that we move it all back indoors.

But before we move it all back indoors, we do a fall cleaning top to bottom. Every piece of wood furniture get a coat of oil based, homemade furniture polish. All the wood soaks up the oils hungrily. All cabinets are emptied and cleaned. All the mattress are turned. Everything dusted, etc.

You ever notice how one project leads to another, and yet another? I noticed that our kitchen cabinet are looking a little worse for wear. It's my winter/spring painting project.

Originally, these cabinets were bought at the Restore. I actually love the detail on these cabinets. They were painted white. Mel did nothing other than give them a good cleaning and hung them. The person who had them before, painted the hinges too. Yuck! They are solid wood which is a definite plus and a rarity these days. I'll have to do a light sanding of the cabinets first before I paint them.

My choice of paint, an oil based enamel paint. Yes, I know they now make a latex enamel paint, but it just doesn't wear as strong or as long as oil based enamel does. I originally painted my crown molding of my old homestead with it. I had to repaint it in two years. I went back to my old tried and true oil based enamel. After ten years, it still looked great. My kitchen cabinets get a weekly scrub down and I need a paint that can withstand the abuse.

I'm thinking a semi gloss rather than a high gloss, but it will depend on what I can find when I purchase the paint. I think I'll just update the hinges, knobs, and pulls. I could try to sand all the paint off the current one, but I'm picking my battles. I may still opt for sanding them down the hinges and replace the pulls while I recouperate. It's enough to buy 12 packages of new hinges and 23 new cabinet pulls. If I calculated it right, the whole project will cost under $100. Not too shoddy for a kitchen revamp. What I'd really love to do is replace the linoleum floors in the kitchen and bathrooms, but that's opening up another can of worms.

I might actually get started this winter. I figure two cabinet doors and their cabinets a week and I can have this project done in 6 weeks. I'll give myself 12 weeks to be safe. Yes, I'm being optimistic because I have a major surgery scheduled for this winter too. I can hang the painted cabinet doors by their hinges between two chairs in our back porch to dry. This way I can do both sides and edges at the same time.Whether I can do the actual cabinets themselves will depend on the amount of fumes the paint gives off. With the house closed up for winter, this is a huge consideration.

I could wait for spring when the weather is warmer. but springtime around here is hectic with planting and spring cleaning before we open up the house again. So maybe I'll leave the cabinet doors off and drive Mel nuts. <grinning>

Polar Opposites Coming Together as a Team

It's often said that two, nonrelated females can't live in the same house for long. That's not true. My grandmother lived with her roommate for fifteen years quite contently. Females tend to be set in their ways and have distinct ways of getting jobs done especially when they are middle aged. Mel and I are past that as sexagenarians. As she puts it, "We've done our bit for God and country. We don't need men in our lives to muck it up." Or, as I put it, "I've had the love of my life and I'm getting too old to train another one." Don't get us wrong. We like our male counterparts, we just don't feel the need to have them constantly under foot.

  • In case you haven't noticed, or didn't know. Mel and I are the Odd Couple. She's Felix Unger to my Oscar Madison. She's a semi neat freak to my semi slob. In my defense, I'm not quite as bad as Oscar. My mobility, pain, and chronic fatigue issues make picking up after myself and other things challenging. In Mel's defense, months can go by without her dusting or vacuuming. 
  • She rarely cooks and hate preserving food. I love it. I like rich and different flavors and she could care less. 
  • I can't stand a messy sink and have to wipe it down immediately. She can leave the cap off the toothpaste, yucky water, toothpaste splatters and stuff in her sink. 
  • Her method of gardening is sprinkle various seeds wherever and stand back and watch them grow (if they grow). I'm more methodical and hover over them nurturing them until they produce. My way is definitely better for the long run for a decent harvest. This year proved it. None of her seed strewing produced and mine see my previous year end tally post.
  • There are things that she does that drives me nuts and things I do that drives her nuts. It's a two-way street, but we manage to get things done because we have a common vision.

Now that cooler weather is again upon us, we are in close quarters again. This creates a certain amount of tension as you can imagine. We both have to focus on peace and tranquility.

For example, with the fall clean up, everything gets moved around to her liking. I honestly could care less so long as I have clear walkways. I prefer having my medicine box by my computer and she wants it all put in my bathroom. That's okay for her, she's got one pill to take once a day. I've got some twelve prescriptions with some pills taken up to four times a day. She'll put my pill minder in my bathroom. I'll move it back by my laptop.We agree to disagree although her reason for wanting this is valid.... to protect our pets.
  •  I like a lot of light to read and do whatever. She is perfectly content to read by candles or oil light. She's at the formal dining table with her laptop and books while I'm at the breakfast table with lamps shining bright. There's no way we could work at the same table. 
  • Because of my strokes, I cannot read at night because my mind is too tired from the day's activities. She reads at night. 
  • I go to bed early, and she's up until the wee hours.
  •  I'm an early riser and she rises late. 
  • She's sensitive to any light while sleeping. I am not. It plays havoc in the early hours when I have to most energy to do things in the dark before sunrise. 
  • As a consideration for both of us, we use ear buds while at our respective laptops. We are far enough away to do our own thing, but close enough to share whatever we find or if we need help.

Even with the cooler/cold weather, I'm finding outdoor things to do. We have two large, black garbage cans that we collect kindling for the wood stove in. I've steadily been filling them with branches, breaking them into  6"-12" that we've gathered into pile throughout the year. We fill a 5-gallon bucket from the trashcans for in house use. Breaking branches over 2" thick with one handed is difficult. I'll do what I can to strip the smaller branches off to fill the trashcans.

Those larger branches are dragged to a space behind the workshop where Mel will either chop them up with her chop saw or her small chain saw during the winter to supplement our firewood stores. As you can imagine, there's quite a few branches that fall during the year from our over treed acreage. There's no shortage of branches to pick from within our half acre of cleared land.
It's teamwork towards a common goal.

It also gives us a break from each other. I can find tons of busy work for hours outside if the need arises. So does Mel. Plus, I have doctor and therapy appointments, grocery and assorted shopping to do that gives us our needed space apart. At times when her seasonal depression is at its worst, it's a blessing.

There's rabbits to tend too also. So we stay busy during the late fall and winter months. She does the bucks because they are rowdy and playful. They would be difficult for me to do one handed. I do the does except for Cara. Cara is still in junior mode and a handful. It's teamwork towards a common goal.

It's usually about five months of not gardening going on here. There's combing, blending, spinning and packaging of angora fiber that we've collected all year long. It's just too hot and busy to do it any other time of year. All the gathering, washing, and dyeing of the fiber (angora, sheep and alpaca wool) is done in early fall and spring when the outside temperatures are coolish. To everything around here there is a season and work to be done.

All our other fibers blending are locally sourced. I don't see us raising alpacas, but Baby Doll sheep or Angora goats are a definite possibility. We have no interest in raising Alpacas, but luckily there's a homestead within 20 miles of us that does.We do occasionally buy from other non-local vendor when I want something special like merino wool or sari silk, but those times are rare. We try to produce what we can here or locally. This is done together or do whenever task that lasts all winter.

We've decided to wait and breed of English Angora does in the late winter/early spring. The nighttime temperatures are very close to freezing now freezing, we don't want to lose any kits to the sharp temperature fall offs. Only one of the does is an experienced mama. The chances of a first time mamas giving birth on the wire cage bottom (not in the nesting boxes),or not pulling enough hair to keep her babies warm enough are chances we aren't willing to take. So we'll be breeding three does in the spring with babies ready for their fur-ever home just after Easter.

Since it got colder so fast and after much discussion, we decided to breed  our does starting in February of next year and breed the does 30 days apart. This way we'll have litters to sell in April, May, and June. We won't glut the market nor have tons of babies at once to get adopted.

Well that's it for this week.

Y'all have a blessed day!