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A Story of Stuck and Strength, and Best Chili

Dear friends and customers of North Mountain Pastures,

Snow! We are wondering how you all are doing, here in central PA and D.C. Warm and dug out, we hope!

There is one week left until our first CSA deliveries of the year. Plenty of time to sign up before it starts. If you love the CSA, please tell your friends to get in while we still have spaces.

News from the farm: A Story of Stuck and Strength.

We hope that you all are managing in the snow. The farm is doing great, but we did have some adventure over the weekend. On Saturday, Brooks was plowing the lane out to the pigs, when the skidloader missed the buried road, and went off the side by a couple of inches. Knowing that he was on the edge of slipping off the lane completely and not wanting to get the skidloader stuck, he came to request my help with the jeep to give a little pull. No such luck; the skidloader and jeep spun wheels. “I need to pull it out with a tree,” he said. This has happened before, the skidloader being stuck, mostly in that very spot under various mud and ice conditions, and amazingly it is possible to pull out with the assistance of a chain around a tree. “I need a longer chain,” he said. But alas, lack of foresight had rendered his chains useless, buried under 24 inches of snow, in some vague area. After some pointless digging and swearing, with a lack of options, he tried another last ditch maneuver of spinning the machine around and using the bucket to leverage himself backwards up the hill. By now, skidloader was over the side of the bank, 20 feet down the sloping hill.

It was also dark, and Brooks knew he had to get the skidloader out, but was going to have a beer and let it wait till morning. Because a plan had formed.

Sunday morning was beautifully sunny, and the snow sparkled. Wearing sunglasses, Brooks and Kaj took off for a spot close to the power lines, about a quarter mile from the house, where he knew the exact location of a winch that we use for pulling chicken hoop houses in the field. Why the winch was still out there is another lesson in … well, yeah. So they hiked up and over one of the steeper hills on the farm, found the winch (which is a setup of cable, motor, battery, and metal weighing well over 100 lb), dug it out, and carried it back. Oh, and they took a break for some sled runs in the middle of this iron man feat of strength and endurance.

An hour later, the skidloader drove up to the barn, and Kaj ran in to tell me how he had helped. “Mom, the winch was hooked up to a TINY tree, and it DIDN’T even hurt it!!” A small tree, about 10 inch diameter, had indeed been the only one in a position to assist, and after trying two larger trees that were further away, Brooks had to use the “tiny” tree. How amazing that those roots, and that little trunk were strong enough to withstand the forces, unharmed! Stronger than the jeep, stronger than the pull of the intimidatingly huge and powerful skidloader.

So we are all plowed out, and the animals have plenty of hay and bedding. We really enjoyed watching the ducks decide to stay in the barnyard after attempts to fly into the yard as usual and being completely submerged in snow. A big thanks to Serby and Argus, our maremma livestock guardian dogs, who were completely unaffected by the weather, other than to be pleased as kids to see the snow. They ran back and forth between the house and barn so that a nice path was ready for us when we went outside.

Recipe: Best Ground Beef Chili Ever?

I was craving chili last week, and without even looking for it, stumbled on this recipe for Best Ground Beef Chili Ever from Cook’s Illustrated. There is a fascinating technique, with pictures and explanation, for browning the beef after mixing it with baking soda. Apparently this helps the moisture to remain in the beef, meaning it browns better because there is less liquid that comes out in the pan. Who knew? I had to try it.

Was it the best ever? Well I’m not sure about that, but it did win on two counts, which matter very much in my book: 1. ease and simplicity, and 2. the children liked it.

Here is my even more simplified version.

Anna’s Simple Ground Beef Chili

This recipe can be scaled up. I wanted to make a big batch to have some to freeze for the next time I got a craving, and I did this times 4. I also wanted to use dry beans, but you could substitute canned. There are also countless ways you could jazz it up with vegetables, but the whole point is that this chili is super plain and simple. Basically just meat and beans in a rich tomato-y sauce.

Ingredients, for each 2 lbs of ground beef:

½ lb dry beans (I used a mix of kidney, chili, and pinto) or 1 15oz can of beans

¾ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon himalayan or celtic sea salt

4 Tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 onion

3 cloves garlic

1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

First I soaked the beans overnight, and rinsed them and set them to simmer lightly salted until they were soft, about 1.5 hours. The ground beef needs to be mixed with the baking soda and salt and let sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile chop and fry your onion and garlic in a little lard or bacon grease until soft. Then the meat can be browned in a large skillet. For a giant batch of 8 lbs I used a roasting pan set over two burners like this:

Break it up with a spatula and scrape the bottom until browned bits are sticking to the bottom. The combine the beef, onions/garlic, spices, canned tomatoes, vinegar and cooked or canned beans. You may need to add some water at this point, it should be stewy looking, with liquid barely reaching the top, not dry. Let simmer for up to 2 hours, says Cooks Illustrated. While I do agree with their assessment of ground beef requiring the same low and slow treatment as a chuck roast, because that’s sort of what it is, I’ll be honest, I only let mine go 45 minutes because then it was lunch time and the cornbread was ready, and it was really great. Leila said it was the “best soup ever”, and some visiting children also gobbled it up.

Enjoy with the works, and be nourished and warm.

Thanks for supporting locally grown foods!


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