Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Perfectly Imperfect

A few years ago, Krispy Kreme opened a store nearby.


I use nearby as a relative term. It was actually 175 miles away, but in rural Montana terms, that's not so far.

Sadly, I only had one opportunity to taste the doughnut perfection before they closed their doors. 

While I realize that I will never duplicate the Krispy Kreme doughnut in my kitchen, I figured it couldn't be too difficult to produce something edible. My mom used to make raised doughnuts, so I found her recipe.

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I found it slightly lacking in details.

I was a bit concerned about the number of doughnuts that 13 cups of flour might produce, too. Since I planned this project to take place after the kids were put away in bed, and I really didn't want to be up at 2 a.m. making doughnuts, I decided I better reduce the recipe.

After consulting another recipe or two, arrived at this compromise:

  • 5 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water 
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 5 cups flour
Dissolve yeast in water with sugar in mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid). Melt shortening in milk. Add to yeast mixture. Add all other ingredients, ending with flour added one cup at a time. Continue to add flour until dough no longer sticks to sides of bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about an hour. Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness on a floured cutting board and cut with doughnut cutter. Re-knead scraps and roll out as needed, but try not to work too much flour into dough. Set doughnuts on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30-40 minutes. Heat a quart of vegetable oil to 360 degrees. Carefully lower 2 or 3 doughnuts into the hot oil. Turn over when the bottom side is golden brown. When both sides are golden brown, remove from oil and place on wire rack with paper towels underneath to drain the excess oil. 

Glaze:
 
Melt the following ingredients in a small saucepan:
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons hot water
Remove from heat. When doughnuts have drained excess oil, dip each one into glaze and return to wire racks to dry.

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This recipe made 16 large doughnuts. They turned out pretty well for my first attempt, but they are definitely shy of perfection. I overcooked a few of them, and I am not especially pleased with the glaze. It tasted good, but it was too runny and then became clumpy by the end of the project. 

But you know what?

It tastes perfectly imperfect.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Memories

Long ago, when I first began writing newspaper columns about life on the farm, I was a new mother of an only child.

And while life seemed very much different back then, it seems that it was just as exasperating as it is now that the kid and critter count is much higher. In a spring cleaning of my hard drive, I ran across an old column that brought back a memory and made me smile:


My husband and I decided upon our marriage that we would like to raise our family in the country. We had both been raised that way, so our bias was strong toward that manner of upbringing. The benefits seemed clear; country kids have all of the great outdoors in which to play, they are taught responsibility at a young age, and rural schools are focused on individuals.

What we didn’t realize, of course, was that raising kids in the country also has a few drawbacks.

My two-year-old son thinks he’s a dog.

I’m not kidding.

Riley doesn’t get out much, so his playmates are rather limited. He has two cats, eight chickens, and a border collie/Australian shepherd mutt named Mitch.

The chickens aren’t real good company, so for awhile Riley befriended the cats. He drug them around by their tails, and in return he allowed them to groom him. He would come in from the yard with 25 cowlicks all over his head and a smile on his face.

The smile was partially due to the fact that he let the cat in with him, and he would chase it around saying, “No kitties in the house!”

He still associates with the cats from time to time, but his real fascination is with the dog. It began with the doghouse in the back yard.

Doghouses, of course, are just the perfect size for toddlers to hide in. Mitch was quite surprised to find a little boy in his doghouse one afternoon, but he didn’t let Riley bother him. He ate some food from the dish in the doghouse and went about his way.

Three seconds later, Riley was eating dog food from the dish in the doghouse.

He wasn’t just picking it up and eating it. He had his face in the dish.

I yelled. I screamed. I forced him inside. I did just about everything I could think of to keep him from eating the dog’s food, but it was to no avail. The only way to prevent it is to remove the dish, and that makes the dog mad.

Riley has also taken to eating like a dog when he’s at the table. He begs for food and won’t take it unless you feed it to him like you would feed scraps to the dog.

If I’m not watching, he drinks from the bowl of water we leave out for Mitch. He puts his face down and laps it up, just like his hero.

Yesterday I looked out the kitchen window only to see him sitting beside Mitch, scratching at his face like he had fleas. He probably does.

People tell me not to worry. Kids will be kids, and it’s just a stage.

That’s easy for them to say. We recently visited my dad’s house, and Riley was “helping” Grandpa wash up in the bathroom. Dad’s dog snuck in behind them and began lapping up water out of the toilet.

I’m sure that Riley stored that image in the back of his mind somewhere, so for now we’re carefully watching his bathroom behavior, and my gray hairs are multiplying daily.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just Rolling Along

While you wouldn't know it by looking at the snow flying today, we are rolling right along into spring. The calving is two-thirds complete, a few blades of green grass poked through earlier this week, and a little boy in my house is putting in orders for a birthday cake. I'm not sure how I can top last year's effort, but in a few days, I'll attempt it.


Meanwhile, the school year is showing signs of winding down as well. One of the benefits of a small school is that each spring, the entire school takes a "physical education" day. Half the kids went skiing, and the other half went roller skating and bowling. 

Because I am one of "those" mothers, I stalked them.

And I'm so glad that I did.

Watching the three kindergarten boys bowling was one of the highlights of my week. (For those of you who may be unfamiliar with just how rural we are, my kids attend a K-12 school with a rather low enrollment. When I say three kindergarten boys, I'm referring to the entire kindergarten class.)

I also learned a thing or two about roller skating.

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For example, it's important to have a wide stance.

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It's equally important to learn how to stop with style.

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And if Mom says you're too little to roller skate, it doesn't hurt to smile.

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And beg.

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Eventually, someone will bring you a pair of Barbie roller skates, and your brother will teach you how to do it with NO help from Mom, thankyouverymuch.

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But it's very, very important to stick out your tongue when you're concentrating.

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Perfect.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I'm Not A Gambler

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To be completely honest, I'm not a real fan of pigs. They rank somewhere near chickens on my list of favorite animals.

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I'm usually not one for placing bets, either, but I would wager that these may have been the only pigs who went to church last Sunday. 

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I'm not sure if it was the atmosphere or if it was just a coincidence, but these little hogs were on their best behavior during several hours of 4-H demonstrations. 

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In fact, they behaved better than another youngster I know who tried to upstage her brother's robotics demonstration by making faces behind his back.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sure Am Glad

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that I'm not a cow.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Self Restraint

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Self Restraint (Noun): The act of pursing one's lips together fiercely to avoid telling one's daughter, age 7, to fix the comma splice on her 4-H demonstration poster.

Instead, I taught her the difference between your and you're. 

I don't have that much self restraint.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Drama

Some people might think that life here in the middle of nowhere lacks excitement.


In fact, our lives have been quite full of drama lately.

We might not have amusement parks in this region, but we have been riding the roller coaster of March temperatures that have ranged from -17 to 60 degrees.

We don't float in the social circles of millionaires, but we have certainly been fielding a lot of invitations from chemical companies, livestock pharmaceutical representatives, crop insurance agents, and even government agencies these days. They don't serve shrimp and caviar, but I'll take a donut or a good burger over a clump of slime any day.

We might not have date night, but you can't beat the marital bonding that happens when you are experiencing that meaningful silence with your spouse while you're doctoring a cow.

We might not have time to watch many soap operas, but we have plenty of drama right in our own backyard.

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Remember this idyllic scene?

One calf was pulled off to bottle feed, and the other went out to the pasture with its mama. A couple of weeks later, Mama was experiencing difficulties of the digestive sort. 

After some meaningful marital bonding at the squeeze chute, we doctored the cow, started teaching the other twin how to drink from a bottle, and kept them in the corral for observation.

Mama's digestive troubles are clearing up. Her milk supply, however, is sadly lacking. Her calf has learned how to dodge and dart so that catching her to feed her the bottle turns into a half-hour session of "tag," which makes me chuckle at all those poor saps who pay money to go run on a treadmill every day.

No riveting soap opera is without a death here and there, so yesterday we lost a good steer calf just for good measure.

We're not lacking for drama and excitement around here. It's just that our excitement can be the result of an experience that other might find less than thrilling, such as this morning when I stepped in the sick mama cow's first solid poop since the beginning of her digestive system episode. I realized when I was congratulating her on a job well done that some people might not understand my jubilation. 

That's just because they haven't been the ones to coax the wild calf to drink from a rubber nipple while getting soaked in milk and splattered with the mama's snot as she expresses her displeasure two inches from my face. 

I, for one, am ready for the end of this little drama.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sure Signs

The sun is racing to beat me out of bed in the mornings, a sure sign that spring is hovering around the corner.


Other signs are cropping up as well.


The kids are riding their bikes until dusk and coming into the house with jeans so caked with mud that they barely bend at the knees.


My memory has a temporary lapse as I forget about hot July winds and look optimistically at the seed catalogs, mentally designing my garden and flower beds.


The neighborhood sheep are white once again, a year’s worth of dingy wool shorn off in anticipation of lambing. I slow down as I drive by their pasture. My mind wanders back to a childhood of springs spent searching for newborns in the corral, holding slimy legs in my hands and hoisting them to the barn with a bleating new mama following close behind.


Snowbanks wear a coat of dirt blown across them with the inevitable wind of spring. Every third day the wind changes, bringing a temperature change of 40 degrees in either direction on the thermometer. Rain one day gives way to snow the next, but the wind is reliable.


The sunshine gains intensity until it actually warms the soul, and its permeating rays bring a sense of peace that counteracts the sense of urgency that spring brings to the farm. As the snowbanks recede and the fenceposts lean, the softening of the soil beckons the farmer away from the livestock and into the fields.


Calves buck their way to the top of the manure pile, daring their cohorts to push their way to the top and challenge the king. Their mothers, once expressing a snorting concern over this boisterous behavior, are now too preoccupied with finding a hint of green pushing up through the bleached remnants of last year’s grass.


A quick glance out the window has me wondering about the gestation period of barn cats.


Flyers for auction sales, chemical representative meetings, and bull sales fill the mailbox. Swimsuit catalogs remind me how glad I am that my kids have all graduated from the Moms and Tots swimming class and can go in the pool unassisted. The local co-op is advertising branding supplies, and the coffee shop is abuzz with speculation about who will put down the first seed of the season.


The five-year-old asks for an empty jar and returns to the house triumphantly displaying the first captive beetle of the year.


The savory soups of winter lunches give way to crisp lettuce salads and grilled steaks.


Firing up the barbecue grill elicits questions from the kids about when we can go camping. Other moms start inquiring about a convenient time to have the Little League planning meeting, and the kids are humming the music they will perform at the spring concert at school.


And then one day, when the signs of spring have been converging over a period of a week or two, I look out the window and see snow flying by. Sideways.


Over cups of hot chocolate, we watch the temperature dip below zero again, and we reminisce about yesterday when the kids emerged from the school bus without their coats.

The surest sign of spring for me is the current state of my porch. Snowboots lie in a tangle with mudboots. Snowpants are heaped on top of sweatshirts, and winter parkas comingle with windbreakers. Baseball caps are hanging next to fleece hats, and amidst it all is a melting pile of snow, a hunk of muddy manure, and a dirty calf bottle.


Spring is here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Chain Reaction

12c

This is the dog

12d

who growled at the cow

12b

who mooed at the kids

12a

who were feeding the calf

12e

who was happy.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Question of the Day

Tonsils and adenoids: take 'em or leave 'em?


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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Favorites

I'm thinking that March really isn't my favorite month.


The wind, the snow, the subzero temperatures, the way the colds have turned into superbugs instead of regular viruses. . . altogether, it's just not very appealing.

After considering the other months of the year, I think I've settled on a favorite. I think I prefer May, and these are just a few of the reasons why.

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(Have I mentioned that I like sheep?)

What's your favorite month?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Today Is Almost Over

I tend to be a person who sees the glass half full. I try to live by the Serenity Prayer, and most days that philosophy works for me.


In that spirit, I have set out to find something good about today. Here's what I came up with: Today Is Almost Over.

That's the great blessing of life. Tomorrow will dawn a new day. 

I'm hoping that the new day will not involve a little girl with a fever of 104.6 degrees. I'm praying that the kids won't cough themselves to sleep tomorrow night. I'm fervently wishing that I will not be involved in another cow rescue operation involving a stomach tube and a bucket full of mineral oil. I'm willing the cows to stop calving until the temperatures creep above zero. 

I am thankful for my blessings, but I can't say that I'm sorry to see today end.

I can almost smell the morning coffee.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Reminder

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After checking the cows in the bitterly cold wind tonight, I just needed to prove to myself that winter always ends at some point.

It's nice to remind myself of what summer will bring.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Crime and Coincidences

Anna: Did that girl just run over her?

Matthew: Yup.

Anna: Then you need to give her a coincidence.

Matthew: A what?

Anna: A coincidence. Oh, wait. Um. . . a consequence. Yeah, a consequence. 'Cause she did something wrong.

Matthew: Yeah, that's why the ambliance is here. 'Cause she got stuck on the car with a suction and her brain is hurt and she's not gonna be that smart anymore.

Anna: Okay, well, you need to decide on her coinci - I mean consequence then.

Matthew: Okay. 911? Take her to jail (pointing at little sister). She needs a consiequent.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You Go First

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No, you go first. Really. I insist.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's My Sister's Fault

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As the baby of the family, I learned early on that I could usually blame someone else for whatever trouble I created. . . and get away with it.

So it's easy for me to say that my current chocolate addiction is my sister's fault.

Last weekend, I loaded up my four urchins and headed over to her place to watch her three while she and her husband enjoyed a well-deserved weekend away.

Aside from the incident in which her youngest child nearly severed a digit, the weekend went very well. I found that caring for seven children is, in many ways, easier than caring for four. And you don't have to put any leftovers back in the fridge after a meal.

As an added bonus, their cows have not started calving yet. I didn't have to go out in the cold and check for calves at night.

I slept for eight hours. In a row

My sister didn't realize how easy I had it while she was away. She felt so sorry for me staying home with seven kids while she cavorted around Seattle that she brought me back this:
and this
and this.
All I can say is that I'm hooked, and they have a website.

And it's all my sister's fault.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eliciting Inspiration

I haven't been writing much lately. Oftentimes when I write a piece like Powdered Sugar Donuts, I have a dry spell. Nothing that crosses my mind really seems worthy of putting on paper. 


Unfortunately, my occupation as a twice monthly columnist does not tolerate writer's block. Every two weeks, I have to put something down, whether it's worthy of publication or not.

To provide some inspiration, I sometimes make a list like the one I'm sharing here.

Today's weather: Rainy. In March. This is very unusual in Montana, and I guarantee you that we have not seen the last snowfall of the year. Meanwhile, my backyard is a swamp with a leftover snowbank in the middle. My porch is a gumbo collection center. Our calving corral is poop soup. (Sorry.)

What I'm reading: The Shack. I'm a little more than halfway through. It's not quite what I expected when I began the book. Has it shown me new perspectives? Yes, although I'm sidetracked by the awkward writing. Changed my views? No. Made me wonder why the author would portray God as a sarcastic woman? Definitely.

My music mood: Don Williams, Alan Jackson's hymns, and Alison Krauss. 

Supper: Rib steak, mashed potatoes, lettuce salad, strawberries, and grapes.

Dessert: Another strawberry. Fresh fruit is a delicacy around here.

Grain market: Down again.

Weakness: Chocolate. Hugs from toddlers. Babies.

Goal: Peace.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I Dare You

The cutest calf contest has officially begun. We have a definite contender.


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I'd like to get close enough for a good look. There's only one problem.

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Mama is not signing up for the photo shoot.

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Actually, Mama is not impressed with my presence whatsoever.

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I get the distinct feeling that Mama is not, in fact, impressed with my existence. I think she's saying, "I dare you to get any closer to my baby."

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She sure does have a cute calf, though. Thank goodness for zoom lenses.


 
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