Collards were a staple in our house growing up. It was a common Sunday afternoon event for our family to take leisurely drives out in the country. From the backseat of the family station wagon, I would see huge collard plants growing out in the sandy fields. Later, my parents would stop at the roadside farm stands to purchase them. On New Year’s Day, the tradition was that eating collards helped insure that money would come your way throughout the year and Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice) would bring good luck.
I have been cooking a lot this holiday season and a large amount of it has been party food. On Christmas day I bring a dish and gather with my husband’s family at one of my sister-in-law’s. This year after so much party food, I felt the need for something green and nutritious so I cooked a bunch of collards to take. My brother is the collard cooking king in the family so I gave him a call the day before, “Hey George, remind me of how you fix the collards?” They are so easy and so good.
If you go to the grocer and buy collards they are usually tied up in a bunch. When you see it you’ll think there is no way that your family will eat all of them. Do not worry, they will amaze you and cook down to less than half the original volume.
I am only 5 days into my holiday break and hooweeee, has it been busy! Saturday night, while we were in Gatlinburg, the first lambing of the season occurred. On Monday night, Miss Piggy decided to get in on the action and went into labor. This was a first for us so there was a lot of hand wringing and whispering about what we should do but she paid us no mind and farrowed 11 piglets all on her own.
Tuesday, the kitchen sink clogged and we spent most of the day snaking the lines to no avail. There was a lot of grumbling and throwing of the snake around but the clog didn’t budge. The snake broke so a run to the hardware store 15 miles away was in order. That night another set of twin lambs appeared. Wednesday, after more snaking with the new snake and gallons of hot water later finally the clog left the premises.
We are installing a new chimney pipe for the woodstove so about the time the clog cleared the bucket truck showed up. Friends came over to assist so there was lots of yelling back and forth from our living room to the roof. The pipe was installed and yay (!), no one fell off the roof.
Friday morning when we went to let the sheep out into the big field we found that 2 more sets of twins had been born during the night. That’s eight lambs so far!
The end of the year is always a busy time on the farm. There’s usually lambing going on, bottle calves to feed and all the festivities of the holiday season. Miss Piggy is expecting to give birth at any moment! The university I work for closes for almost 2 weeks at the end of the year but this year I decided to end one year and start the next by spending more time with my family, friends and animals so I took some vacation time to extend my holiday break.
To kick off our holiday season, the husband and I decided to get away for the weekend. We decided on Gatlinburg, Tn. It’s far enough away that we feel we are on vacation but still close enough that if anything happened on the farm we could get back home in 3 or 4 hours. Our oldest son farm-sat for us and was gifted with the first set of lambs of the season while we were away. It was an easy birth, mom and lambs are in great shape, he moved them into their jug (pen in sheep farming) easily, took pictures and sent us a text letting us know.
We haven’t been to Gatlinburg in years and were surprised by how much it had grown. It’s mostly wall to wall shops now. It was very pretty at night as the town was decked out in holiday lights. We walked the main strip once but mostly just enjoyed the surrounding area as we are not shoppers. Happily our motel, Zoder’s Inn & Suites, was located in a quiet area at the beginning of the strip.
I know you are thinking, yuck it’s a motel, but motels are very common in Gatlinburg and are usually well kept due to the high demand of tourists. Zoder’s offers a little bit of everything, rooms, suites, cabins and townhouses. When looking for a place to stay, they offered a creekside room with complimentary breakfast, milk and cookies at night and wine and cheese in the evening. Complimentary wine! All for a decent $98/per night – sounds like my kind of place.
The creek runs through the property and all the rooms along it have a balcony. The room we stayed in looked to be one of the originals as it could have used some updating but it was very clean albeit a bit musty. A couple shots of air freshener to work it’s magic while we went out to dinner took care of that. The grounds were very pretty with their holiday decorations. There is also an indoor pool/hot tub, racquet ball courts, exercise area and an outside pool which we did not take advantage of. There is a grill area with a fire pit that I would have liked to enjoy but was a popular spot with lots of folks settled in around it both evenings we were there.
All in all we had a very relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable weekend. We are back on the farm and ready to meet lambing and the holiday season!
I have made vanilla extract in the past with bourbon and while I liked it I have been wanting to try a more neutral flavored alcohol. So with some downtime around the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I decided to make a couple of batches. There was a bit of rum left over from the last margarita blitz so along with that I picked up a bottle of vodka on my way out of the city.
Making vanilla extract is so easy I don’t know why I haven’t been making it all along. It does take some time for the vanilla beans to infuse the liquor but still – so easy and much less processed than store bought vanilla. I had quite a few vanilla beans on hand as I pick them up at my local food co-op and whenever I see them on sale in the grocery store. There are also online sites that you can order them from though I’ve not done that yet.
I started with the vodka, 6 Madagascar vanilla beans and a clean, sterilized bottle. I just happened to have a cute little herb bottle that I had saved and an old liqueur bottle. Cut the beans in half longwise, then in half or thirds across, put the beans in the bottle and top with vodka. Leave enough head room in the bottle to be able to shake it. Put the cap on and be sure to label it so you won’t have to guess as to what is in there later.
Next up was that bit of rum which fit perfectly in the small herb bottle I had on hand. I usually keep a stash of bottles and jars just for times like this.
Once everything is bottled, give it a few shakes and store somewhere dark and cool to infuse. Mine are residing in the back of a bedroom closet. I’ll shake them a few times for the next couple of months then will check the flavor. I usually let mine sit for 3 or 4 months but depending on how many beans you use, the flavor may be where you want it in just a month or so. Enjoy!