Monday, November 30, 2009

Sugar Cane and Turkey

All moving and remodeling things must pause for harvest and holidays and we've had both this last week. After unpacking as much of the kitchen as possible in the couple of days I had available, I took a break for Thanksgiving and for harvesting our sugar cane. We finally faced the challenge and cooked one of the giant turkeys we raised this year. It fit into the oven just fine.

However, there was a bit of an issue getting it into a pan.

Even after thawing, the turkey sat on top of my roasting pan, obviously way too big for the largest pan in my house. So Kurt ran out Thanksgiving morning and brought home the largest disposable pan he could find.

It just fit and we bent up the sides for extra holding ability. But the pan was shallow. Too shallow. I used a cookie sheet for support and to catch any drips AND I installed an oven liner.

Praise God we were able to cook the thing. I wasn't sure we'd be able to do it there for awhile. And really, the fire that happened when the shallow disposable pan filled up with juices and overflowed caused very little damage to the inside of my new oven. And really, had I seen the instructions warning against putting the liner on the bottom of the oven, we may not have had any damage at all from the fire itself.

Several people suggested I cut up the turkey to cook it, but I wanted to stuff it and stuffing a turkey cut into pieces just didn't seem right.

Besides, I'd made my own bread crumbs for the stuffing already and really wanted to use them. The stuffing turned out really good and I am glad we roasted our turkey the old fashioned way, though I really am going to have to find a larger roasting pan for the future. We gave two of these giant turkeys to friends and both of them had extra large roasting pans from their mothers. I'm pretty sure my mom doesn't have one for me. I'll have to figure out something else before Christmas or cook a smaller turkey.

We were very blessed to be allowed to harvest the sugar cane from our old house in Brewton last week. We pulled a borrowed trailer to Brewton and cleared the field in about three hours with a single machete. We pulled the cane home and the day before Thanksgiving, while I baked pies, the kids stripped off leaves.

Stripping leaves is not an easy job because the leaves are sharp and will slice up your arms. Gregory has really made a huge effort to be a good and reliable worker lately (after a couple talks with Bob the Builder and his parents) and he did the bulk of the stripping work.

I am so proud of Gregory. Not only did he work hard and make sure all the leaves got stripped in a single day,

but he maintained a really good attitude throughout a very long work day.

I really appreciated his attitude since Gregory doesn't even like the cane syrup. He is the only one in the family who doesn't like it.

Gabrielle helped without complaining as well.

Michael sort of helped.

But mostly he just played.

The kids only had one day to strip leaves instead of the three they had last year if they didn't want to do it on Thanksgiving. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we traveled back to Brewton to press the cane at the Wilsons' house.

I love the Wilson family. They are such great people. I really respect the lifestyle they lead. They raise lots of their own food and work together as a family. And they have THE BEST way to cook in winter.

The have a fully functioning, intended for the job, wood-burning cook stove.

I LOVE this stove. It keeps their home so warm and cosy (though I think they have a wood burning stove in the living room for heat as well). And they cook on it too! How cool is that???

Pressing the cane this year was much like last year.

Mr. I.J. drove the 4-wheeler down to the pasture with the cane mill to watch.

Though this year he selected a few stalks of sugar cane to plant. He told me he wanted some cane for "chewin and a bit of juice".

While some of the men piled up the cane and then fed it into the mill. Mr. John David once again spent hours driving round and round keeping the mill cylinders in motion. While I wasn't at the house visiting with the Wilson sisters, I sat and visited with Mr. I.J. I enjoy the stories about his younger days in Brewton, especially the stories about raising and processing sugar cane. He told me they used to make Whiskey from the cane juice skimmings. He told me about pressing cane and boiling it down late into the night and about selling the syrup. He told me a little about the mule that once powered the mill. Some of the whiskey stories made me laugh. Part of me wanted to know how to turn skimmings into whiskey, not to drink it or anything, but just to know how to do it. And really, it is not like I would ever try making it. I just like knowing how to do things, things people don't do so much anymore. In the end, I never screwed up my courage far enough to ask how.

The men took shifts, straining to push the large canes in between the pressing cylinders.

Jason walked over to say "hello" and took a shift as well.

Gregory took frequent shifts throughout the day.

The men had to be ever mindful of the beam going around and around. It got me a couple of times before I remembered I did best visiting with people instead of trying to push sugar cane into the mill.

Gregory had an enjoyable chat with Mr. I.J. over one of the turkey sandwiches I'd made for lunch. Gregory also borrowed Mr. I.J.'s cup and drank a whole lot of the cane juice. He doesn't like the cane syrup, but Gregory drank more cane juice than anyone. We were warned the juice has a bit of a laxative effect, well quite a bit, but it didn't seem to phase Gregory.

He worked all afternoon with few breaks.

And I think he only got bonked once.

Unlike me. I should have sat in the chair like Kurt or stayed away all together. You don't really get hurt or anything since the pole proceeds at a slow, steady pace. You just get pushed and then embarrassed.

The entire time we spent with the mill, the Wilson sisters played with Michael.

They are such sweet ladies. At one point Miss Wanda pushed Michael on the swing.

He told her "yes" when she asked if he wanted to go high.

I really don't think he knew what "going high" meant. Either that or he changed his mind quickly. But he never said a word and Miss Wanda didn't realize how terrified Michael was until I said something to her - after I took a blog picture.

Once we got home with our eight and a half, five-gallon buckets of sugarcane juice, I started the race to boil it into syrup. Sugar cane juice spoils rapidly so it needs to be condensed to syrup quickly. Cane syrup is shelf stable and lasts for quite awhile.

When we moved into our Foley house, we upgraded some of the appliances. I saved the old stove with the idea we could build an outdoor kitchen of sorts for cooking cane juice into syrup. We still need to build something to protect the syrup from falling leaves and bugs so this year we once again boiled the juice in the house. I talked Kurt into bringing the old stove back inside (since we have room where the refrigerator is supposed to go after the floor gets installed). Then I convinced him I should use both stoves to process the cane juice faster. Kurt simply had to convert the cord on the old stove to work with the dryer outlet, which he did. I love my clever husband.

Working with two stoves cut the process from four days to two, much to my relief. It also kept the juice sweeter which makes for better syrup in the long run. I told Kurt I like having two stoves and want to keep both of them inside for now. He doesn't like the idea but I figure as we get stuff put away and messes cleared up, there might be room for the extra stove in the laundry room.

Each five-gallon bucket holds enough juice to fill up a large stock pot.

And with four stock pots going at the same time, condensation filled the house pretty quickly.

And naturally that meant "rain" once again dripping from fixtures, vents and even the ceiling. I thought a dehumidifier would help so Kurt dug ours out of the workshop. We've had it stored for at least four years and I was glad to have a reason to use it again.

I meticulously cleaned up the dehumidifier and plugged it into a kitchen wall outlet. The small explosion and burst of flame flipped a breaker and ended my hopes to remove moisture from the air. Kurt tried to fix it, but a mouse had long ago attempted to establish residency in the inner workings of the machine. Either the nest or the mouse snacking on the wires caused the dehumidifier to short out and the explosion made it permanent. Lousy rodents. I'm glad we have cats now and I hope this particular mouse became dinner for one of the cats at some point.

Kurt thinks our "barn cats" have been overly tamed by the kids, but we still see them with mice periodically. They are doing their job and I am glad they are around, no matter what they do to the screens.

After a good 12 to 13 hours, the sugar cane juice foams more orange and with smaller bubbles, signaling that it has become syrup.

We got five and a half gallons of syrup this year. I'm so grateful to have it around again. We ran out a couple months ago and oatmeal is just not right without it.

I had to stay with the syrup all day, each day again this year, but didn't get much knitting done. While I did a little knitting on the second day of processing, on the first day I cracked and shelled the bag of pecans the Wilsons gave to us as we were leaving.

I'm so grateful for the people who share things like pecans with us. I wish we had a producing tree ourselves, but since we don't, I am grateful for friends who share.

On the pet front, Strider has become a much happier dog.

He likes to sit on the top of the hill left from our pool installation and sometimes chase chickens. We are trying to break him of the chicken thing. He is supposed to protect them. Silly dog. I'm really going to have to pray for the means to distract him with dairy goats as soon as possible.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ongoing Projects

Although remodeling related tasks continue to absorb a great deal of our time in our new home, we are starting to settle into a more normal life. (Though if you ask Michael, he will say, "I want to go back to normal; boxes aren't normal.") I'm not as picky (though I will confess the piles of boxes are starting to drive me a bit batty). Kurt and I are finally sleeping in a bedroom and for me, that feels nice and normal.

We've been sleeping in our bed in our own room for more than a week now and I just love it! In the morning, dancing beams of sunlight reflect off the pool onto the ceiling in our bedroom to greet me. I love the look of sunshine reflecting off water and praise God the swimming pool ended up in exactly the right place.

I've started unpacking kitchen stuff in earnest.

I love my new kitchen so much. I've been doing all sorts of cooking just because I can. I've made homemade pasta more times since I got my new kitchen than I ever did the whole time we lived in Brewton.

I've discovered homemade noodles are wonderful cooked in the chicken broth left over when I boil a stew chicken for ginger chicken.

I love all my counter space. I probably don't have any more counter space than I had in prior homes, but I've never had it all in one long run and the sheer length of it makes all the difference.

I love my kitchen. I love the impractical "Shoreline Green" color on the walls and I love, love, love the counter tops and cabinets Bob built. And it just keeps getting better as Kurt builds my pantry space in the laundry area. God is so good. By all rights, considering our own resources, I never should have been able to have such a nice kitchen. But I do.

We brought home our new livestock protection dog last week.

He is still a puppy. A 55 pound puppy. We brought him home hoping he would keep our chickens safe from predators and would put us closer to raising dairy goats eventually. But "Strider" is such a cute little guy and we've all spent too much time playing and interacting with him. I suspect he would rather be a big pet than a working farm animal.

But poor Strider was so sad when we brought him home. He missed his goats and his family and it just broke our hearts. In fact, Strider managed to get out of the fence his first night with us and we despaired of seeing him again. But lots of prayer and God's mercy brought Strider home the following morning. We are so grateful.

Even though Strider looks forlorn in these first day pictures, he is starting to become much happier with his new home here. We are very glad.

In the meantime, Gregory has done a great job returning dirt to the back deck foundation by the pool. However, when it started raining a couple days ago, we gave him an inside job.

Gregory is removing Thinset from the concrete sub floor in the kitchen. On day two of the job, today, Gregory recruited some help.

Michael really loves helping and really threw himself into the project. I love the way my children want to be a part of the projects around our home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Sometimes I can hardly imagine we have been living in Foley for almost a month. From an unpacking stand-point, hardly anything has changed. Every day or two we rearrange stacks of boxes to find something or move them out of the way for construction, but we've unpacked very little. However, the house itself has changed a great deal.

We finally saw the end of stump 1 and stump 2.

The large machine in the back of the above picture quickly ground the stumps into the beginning of my new compost pile and the Bobcat hauled it to the new garden site.

After triumphing over the stumps, the pool installers quickly built the pool.

I like the idea that beach sand sits under the pool, though sometimes I think it would be nice to have a beach too. I wanted to create a beach by the creek at the back of our property but everyone I know insists it will wash away when the creek floods during heavy rains or tropical weather. Sometimes I hate practical details.

Once the pool contained water, the kids decided to try it out. Had it not been so cold, I might have been tempted to join them since to this day we have still not added chemicals to it.

But I am a wimp and wouldn't even get in for poor little Michael who wanted to swim so much. He ended up being a good sport about the whole thing and watched from the deck when I assured him the water freshly pumped from our well would be too cold.

Our kids and our neighbors' kids convinced each other to brave the cold for a good 45 minutes. Dallas, our neighbor, watched his kids freeze in our pool, probably grateful his kids could swim well enough that he didn't have to get in himself.

We love the fact the stumps required so much earth to be removed because now the pool is in a perfect position relative to the deck. However, because so much dirt was moved from the foundation of the deck, we are having to fill in the area between the deck and the pool with some of the removed earth. This is no easy job and Kurt and I figured it was a great opportunity to develop the kids' work ethic.

Actually, we gave the job to Gregory and he recruited his siblings. He even put Michael to work. Michael loved helping and for awhile, worked harder than anyone.

Normally Kurt and I would help, but we have so many projects going right now. Fortunately, God has graciously supplied help for our many projects.

For example, until a few days ago, several people worked very hard to put as much dry-wall dust into the air as possible. And, the more dry-wall dust in the air, the more dry-wall dust on all of the surfaces and in all the cracks and crevices in the house. Multiple applications are best for full coverage.

We have some wonderful friends who've been helping us tear down and rebuild our home. Our neighbor Dallas is one of them. He got sucked into our house remodeling projects when Kurt needed some help removing a wall and applying final coats of mud.

(I won't go into the pleasures of sleeping on the dining room floor next to the area where walls are coming down and dust is being set free. You will have to imagine how fun it is to have such work take place next to you during normal human sleeping hours.)

I will admit I really like the open look of our kitchen now that the structural wall separating it from the living room has been removed. I especially liked it when the ceiling didn't come crashing to the ground. Especially since it was 2:00 a.m. and I was trying to sleep next to the area in question. I will confess I worried when Kurt and Dallas wanted to hurry and remove the wall before "Bob the Builder" saw what they were doing. (Bob has been pretty much in charge of projects and keeping us reasonable during the whole process here.) I recalled when we talked to Bob about the wall, he said something about structural walls and then sort of ignored it afterwards. However, even Bob liked the end result when he saw it.

When Bob arrived about a week ago for a 3 day remodel marathon, things started moving fast. He brought the most BEAUTIFUL counter tops and open cabinets for our larger kitchen. (He built the cabinets and the counter tops in his home workshop and is a custom cabinet maker [and homebuilder] by trade. If you are in the Pensacola area and ever need cabinets [or a custom home], you really NEED Bob's telephone number!)

For hours, all I could do was stare at them. They are so pretty and there was a time when I really feared I would have to live with the dilapidated pink counters that came with the house. Once the counters went down, Kurt helped install a brand new sink. I'm so excited about all of this I won't even let Gabrielle do the dishes. I don't think she minds.

Bob also sort of taught me how to install tile in the sun room. I helped with the Thinset anyway; he did all the hard parts.

Before we started the floors, Bob removed the wall the prior home-owners installed in the doorway between the master bedroom and the sun room. Eventually we'd like to add French doors to the opening.

Unfortunately I had to order the grout I wanted for the sun room tiles so the work in that room stopped. But we were able to move everything from the master bedroom into the sun room so work could start there. I started by painting the walls a nice pretty green and right before he left, Bob gave me a quick lesson in laying the snap together wood floor.

I got about 5 rows down when I noticed the floor had started unsnapping. So I pulled it apart and tried again. And again. And again. My neighbor Dallas saw my distress and he came to the rescue. But he made the mistake of trying to teach me. And once I started helping, the floor had to be pulled out and redone because all of my work started coming apart. (Dallas says it is not my fault, but I don't know how he arrived at that conclusion.)

In the end, on the seventh try, Dallas and my husband got the floor down, including the closet.

Kurt started reinstalling the molding yesterday. Today I noticed a couple rows of floor in the closet coming apart. I care, but I'm sorta wishing I hadn't noticed it maybe. . .

While we were still trying to install the floor, my friend Cathy from church and my neighbor Donna came over and helped paint some of the kitchen.

The kitchen still needs work, but I already love it a great deal. When things get crazy and they do, it is my happy place in the house.

Michael and the other kids are getting tired of living out of boxes. Gregory says it is like a camping trip that never ends. I agree.