Ranch Wife Musings | Nothing to It

It starts with the simplest of requests, made as we drink coffee and eat breakfast. “Do you have time to help me vaccinate calves in the hayfield?” Well, of course I do.

The exercise is simple. Nothing to it, really. We approach the agreeable new mama in a friendly manner and explain our task. We quietly lay the calf on its side and vaccinate it and give it an ear tag while the mother cow patiently chews her cud and looks on pleasantly, thankful that we are so diligent about the health of her calf.

Oh, please.

It has to be a comical sight. It’s cold out, so we’re bundled up like Arctic explorers (or at least I am), hardly able to bend over due to the spring load effect. We are armed to the teeth with ear tagger and notcher, vaccine gun holstered in my coat, and a lariat hanging from the left handlebar. Brad is driving standing on the left running board of the ATV, I’m perched precariously on the right side, sharing the back with Pearl and both pups as we whizz and bounce around the frozen hayfield looking for new calves. And then a snow squall blows in from who knows where.

The wind is biting and freezing our faces and hands, as we try to stealthily approach the mama cow without raising suspicion, but those cows know the sound of the ATV and what it means. A cow with a suspicious look might as well be plotting murder. We steal her calf, which promptly starts bawling and screeching, and all the threatening pounds of the annoyed mama comes barreling down on us with her head lowered and snot flying. Geez Louise. Well, at least now we can read her ear tag, and fish the correct tag out of the plastic bag. Gosh, I thought there were only 8 tags in here, not 800. Meanwhile, the dogs go tumbling off the four wheeler to hide, the vaccine gun gets stuck in my coat pocket, while the ear tag won’t go on the tagger because the plastic is stiff with cold and so are my fingers. Brad is hanging on to the roped calf and trying to talk down the mother cow, but his occasional choice words ruin the calming effect, while I’m trying to tell everyone, cow, calf, and pups, that “everything is going to be just fine.” Finally I get the tag on the tagger but the calf screeches again as Brad tags his ear, and mama cow starts bellowing, which scares the calf even more. The calf jumps and prances on the end of the rope and the ear tagger goes flying, and the mama races off ten or so paces, just enough time for Brad to flip the calf on its side and sit on it. I finally get the vaccine gun out of my coat and hand it to Brad as the cow comes barreling back over, raining snot, clumps of dirt and grass flinging up behind her. With a yell, Brad manages to simultaneously vaccinate the calf, release it, and jump behind the four wheeler, with agility that would put the best bull fighter to shame. With a parting snort, the cow gathers up her calf and moves off.

We rescue all our scattered items, load the pups back up from their various hiding places, and go on our merry little way.

Just like that. Nothing to it.

| Ordinary Joys |

“The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things.”

Hans Christian Andersen

We thank God before meals for the food that He provides…But I doubt that we always feel the full magnitude of what all we are thanking Him for. It isn’t just that He provides. It isn’t just that there is food on the table. It isn’t just the joy of being able to put nourishing, homemade food in front of family or friends, or to gift someone a loaf of bread. When was the last time I thanked God for the sense of taste? Of giving us the capacity to enjoy a meal, not just for the nourishment but for the pleasure of eating it? God didn’t have to create us with a sense of taste, with the ability to actually find wholesome pleasure in a meal, to be able to enjoy delicious food. But He did. He could have made the satisfaction of our basic needs boring and uninteresting, but He didn’t.

So I’m thankful for the ordinary joy of ordinary food, for the pleasure of a good meal, and for a God who is glorified when we enjoy what He created for our enjoyment!

Recipes | Green-Tea Kombucha

Over the past several years, I have grown to enjoy home fermentation projects, from yogurt to sourdough, and of course kombucha. Kombucha is one of those weird, hippie-esque beverages originating in Asia somewhere a few thousand years ago that gets really, really mixed reviews. It is pretty simple, honestly, just a fermented sweet tea with or without the addition of fruit or fruit juice. It is touted for many health benefits, boasting healthy probiotics similar to yogurt or other naturally fermented foods and beverages. Good kombucha is pleasantly effervescent and has an appeal reminiscent of wine, if it is a lighter kombucha, or even beer, if it is a stouter one. As a product of fermentation, there is alcohol in it, but very little. I specify “good kombucha,” because some of what you can purchase at stores has strange things added to it or has fermented too long and has turned vinegary, both of which can affect how palatable it might be.

I am far from being an expert on making kombucha. If you want expert advice, I suggest any number of books that exist on the subject, or websites or Facebook groups dedicated to “home brewing.” I have a very simple recipe that a friend gave my sister several years ago, and I’ve just tweaked it here and there to suit my preferences. All I’m sharing is a recipe and method that I have found to work reliably.

To make your own kombucha, you need the following:

A half gallon jar

A scoby (what? See below)

2 cups of mature kombucha

4 cups of brewed green tea (with 1/2 cup sugar dissolved)

First fermentation:

Brew tea, either green or black or a combination, though my preference is green tea – I like to do 4 green tea bags in 4 cups of hot water, add the 1/2 cup sugar while it is hot, and let it cool before removing the tea bags. This will take a few hours, so plan accordingly.

Place your scoby and the 2 cups of mature kombucha in your brewing jar, and gently pour the cooled sweet tea in with the scoby. The scoby may or may not float, which doesn’t matter. It will form a new layer on the top of the tea, regardless. Cover the jar with a coffee filter (or square of muslin or paper towel), secure with a rubber band, and place in a warmish location. And wait.

Depending on how warm your house is, your kombucha might brew as quickly as 1 week, or might take closer to two. If you’re doing this in the summer and your house is very warm, it might be done even quicker than a week! Taste it after five days or a week and see how the flavor is. If it is lightly carbonated and not too sweet, then proceed to the second fermentation (described below). If it is pretty flat and very sweet, let it sit another few days. Err on the side of checking too soon, since once it has gone to vinegar it isn’t very salvageable, except to save 2 cups back for a new batch.

Second fermentation:

If you like the taste of the kombucha after the first fermentation, you sure don’t need to proceed to a second! If you want a fizzier tea, proceed with the second fermentation.

Leaving 2 cups of kombucha and the scoby in the jar (to be used as the starter for a new batch just like above), pour off everything else into a smaller Mason jar or a bottle with a swing-top, such as these by the brand Otis. Add a half a cup or so of fruit juice (I use homemade cranberry juice), close the lid, and let it sit for two days or so. This is called the second fermentation. The remaining sugar or any added sugar from juice or fruit added at this phase feeds the scoby and the fermentation continues, but with the sealed lid, the carbon dioxide formed during fermentation is contained resulting in natural carbonation. This part of the process is probably the least predictable and takes some trial and error, and honestly I rarely get the perfect second fermentation. Too long of a first fermentation and not enough sugar remaining (and not enough added for the second ferment) and there isn’t enough sugar to get the carbonation. The temperature in your house will affect this as well, with how quickly the fermentations take place. If you get a good first fermentation, though, the kombucha is still delicious.

After a few days, taste the bottled kombucha and see if it is to your liking! If it is, congratulations! Keep in the fridge to prevent it over-fermenting and getting vinegary. It will continue to ferment a little in the fridge.

If it isn’t quite to your liking, seal it up for another few days, or even add a little more fruit juice for some sugar. Depending on how good the lids are on the jars or bottles you’re using, you might want to crack the lid after a couple of days to prevent the pressure from building with the carbonation and exploding the jar. I have heard reports of this happening, though I haven’t had it happen to me…yet. Some people put their bottles in cardboard boxes, or you could also wrap the bottles if you’re concerned about them exploding.

A couple of notes:

What in the world is a scoby? Actually, “scoby” should be spelled “SCOBY,” since it is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Basically, it is a bacteria and yeast mushroom that grows on the top of the brewing kombucha, and is what metabolizes the sugar to produce the fermentation that makes kombucha so nutritious and delicious. It is also called “the mother.” With each successive fermentation, the scoby will add a new layer on the top and eventually you’ll be able to separate or divide the layers into separate “mothers.” People who have been brewing kombucha forever often keep scobies in “scoby hotels,” for future use. This is the easiest way to obtain a scoby, from a person with extra to share – just be sure to get 2 cups of mature kombucha from them as well. There are places online where you can purchase scobies, or you can make your own, which I will explain in a future article. Scobies are perfectly safe to handle, with a weird rubbery texture, just handle them with good hand hygiene since they are a colony of bacteria and we want to keep the scoby clean of bad bacteria.

Black or green tea: Generally kombucha recipes call for black tea. I prefer green. Most store-bought kombucha is a mix of the two. Take your pick! I think the green has a lighter, more delicate taste.

The amount and kind of sugar: My original recipe called for 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups of tea. After trial and error, I found that less sugar produced a better kombucha and I’ve settled on 1/2 cup of sugar. I tried 1/3 of a cup, but the kombucha wasn’t as fizzy. I have heard of people using other kinds of sugar, even coconut sugar, but I just use plain white sugar. I found coconut sugar to have a weird aftertaste.

Juice or fruit: As I stated in the recipe, I use homemade cranberry juice for the second ferment. There is no added sugar in this juice, which I like, especially since I actually want the kombucha to be low in sugar at the end of the process. You can use any juice, though, and if your first fermentation is giving you a low-sweetness tea, maybe you’d want to use juice with more sugar, to give a little punch to the second fermentation. You can also add pieces of fruit during this phase.

Bottles or jars: For the second fermentation, you can use anything that can seal. Just make sure you use a quality bottle that can hold up to the possibility of a lot of pressure building up. The Otis brand swing-top bottles get great reviews on Amazon for kombucha brewing and are what I’m just starting to use. Swing top lids are nice just because you can always unseal them, even if the pressure builds up, unlike with Mason jar lids where the lid can become difficult to get off. There are plastic lids with rubber seals that are made specifically for fermentation.

So there you have it! Again, this isn’t my expert recipe. This is my simple recipe that I use for kombucha that I thoroughly enjoy drinking! Maybe you will, too! Happy brewing!

| Ordinary Joys |

“The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things.”

Hans Christian Andersen

Romans 1:20 talks about how God’s divine attributes are clearly perceived in His creation design. If you want to see miracles, just look at the beauty of this earth! Creation just sings that there is a God who created all that we see and loves what He created! Few things convince me of this more than the joy God’s furred and feathered creatures bring to His humans, the deep love that can be shared between a human and an animal and yes, I believe it is reciprocal. I think animals have way more to their minds than we give them credit for, much more capacity for emotion and connection. It goes beyond instinct. And I believe that this intellect and intuition is something that brings glory to the Creator! God didn’t need to create any of what He created, and He sure didn’t need to create a human-animal connection that is so joy-giving. Yet what He created He looked at and “saw that it was good.” Isn’t it amazing that He did what He did? That He has created a world that can bring so much joy and goodness and pleasure? Because He didn’t need to.

The delight and peace I feel with my animals is one of those ordinary joys that really is anything but ordinary.

Ranch Wife Musings | A Life Brim-Full of Life

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:8-9, 15) And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28-28)

Of all the occupations that exist, the only broad category that existed prior to the Fall was that of the cultivator, the farmer, the gardener. It was the original work God created for Adam and his wife to do, to be keepers of God’s Garden, stewards of His Creation, keepers of the fields and the trees, the livestock and other animals. They were to carefully and responsibly manage the world that God had made. To take care of it. To tend it. To cultivate it. To nurture it. And even after the Fall, this mandate was to continue to be carried out by everyone, but it is especially seen today in those who live and and work as the cultivators, the growers, the caretakers.

It is National Agriculture Day, and most people will zero in pretty quickly on the farming and ranching side of agriculture, and may have a pretty specific idea that comes to mind without thinking of just how gloriously broad this category is, encompassing or touching so many of our most basic needs! Where does your bread come from? The milk in your fridge? Meat? Eggs? Pet foods? Medicines and herbs? Wood to build homes, or wood to heat? In some way, shape, or form, agriculture is involved.

But this isn’t purely utilitarian. So much of the flavor and beauty of living has at its root in the growing and cultivating of life. Trees and shrubs for landscaping. Cut flowers for bouquets. Succulent fruits, nourishing vegetables. Cotton and linen and wool to make textiles for beautifying our homes, all rely on agriculture. Beauty is cultivated, and the abundance of life is made even more abundant.

In so many cases with farms and ranches and the working of livestock, it is generational work, one in which the oldest generation is teaching the youngest generation, where knowledge and skills and values and morals are being handed down, where the family unit truly is the center of the endeavor. It makes me think of God’s command to His people, all the way back in Deuteronomy, the command to “Honor your father and your mother….that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 5:16) One of the great joys living in the agricultural community is seeing families working with families, spouses working with spouses, and being able to live and experience that myself.

And this life! It is the satisfaction of taking a seed and watching it grow and bringing it to harvest. It is the joy of delivering fresher-than-fresh eggs to a neighbor, or serving a loaf of homemade bread to a friend. It is the heart-warming delight of watching a mother cow get her new calf to stand and nurse. It is the pain of seeing death. The uncertainty of dry dams and wildly fluctuating cattle prices. The trust that God will provide. It is a life of working alongside loved ones, to fellowship and break bread, where family upon family from the broader community come together, where names are known from one part of the state to another, simply by virtue of being a part of this community, the ranching community. It is a life and a livelihood richer and sweeter than I could have imagined before God married me to a rancher and into one of the kindest families I’ve ever met, into one of the strongest communities I’ve ever seen. This life is a constant reminder that all that we have is from God, and He has given us the job of stewarding it well. Taking what is and making the most of it, making it more, making it feed our families, our communities.

It is a life brimming full of life.

Weekly Photo Roundup | March 12 – 18

Mud. Animal antics. Homemade bread. Baskets and baskets of eggs. More mud! Feeding cows. Puppy mischief. Live calves. A good save. More mud. New chicks. It was a good week.