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Making Your Own Cottonwood Bud Oil

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Spring time in the Rockies!   What a beautiful time of year!   The grass is beginning to grow, the baby calves are being born and it looks like summer is within sight!

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We recently watched a reality show where the people made their year’s supply of a wonderful salve that they claimed to use on everything from sore muscles to diaper rash.   Also known as balm of gilead, the salve contains a bounty of medicinal properties.   It’s made from cottonwood buds whose resin contains “salicin” – which is the same compound that gives aspirin it’s pain relieving, anti-inflammatory benefits.   Using the balm as an external rub will reduce joint pain (as with arthritis and rheumatism) and will ease sore muscles.

Because cottonwood is high in antioxidants, it is useful for healing the skin, including sunburn.   The buds are also antiseptic and can be added to other oils to prevent rancidity and molding.

Since we live on a creek bottom full of cottonwood trees, my interest was piqued.

The best time to harvest the buds is in late winter to early spring – so I grabbed a plastic bucket and headed for the woods.

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I picked these buds in early February – they were just beginning to swell.   You can see the little drop of resin.

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While most recipes called for placing the buds in olive oil, I did find one recipe that used rendered beef fat.   I have LOTS of that – beautiful grassfed beef fat – rendered and frozen in blocks.   It got my vote!

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I placed the frozen fat in my crock pot and put the temperature on low to let it melt.   After removing the buds from the twigs I had gathered, they were chopped quickly in a blender.

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Then, I combined the melted beef fat with the chopped buds in the crock pot – and gently simmered for about 48 hours.   Upon waking on the second morning, our house had a wonderful, aromatic smell!   The resin from the buds had turned the rendered fat a slightly orange-ish hue.

I strained the mixture through cheesecloth, wringing to extract all of the oil.   At this point, the oil is done – but it is runny (like a baby oil consistency).   I wanted to use it more like a salve, so the oil was then warmed with a small amount of candellila wax to “thicken” it.   Use about 1 ounce of wax to 5 ounces of oil.

It was poured into jars and then cooled, sealing with a canning lid.   Store your salve in a cool, dark place.

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A note of caution – I have read that people who are allergic to aspirin may also be allergic to cottonwood bud oil.   Please check with your doctor before using if this is the case.

This lovely salve has been our “go to” for arthritis pain and sore muscle rubs.   It helped a friend who rubbed it on his elbow afflicted with tendonitis, and it calmed an injection site from a tetanus shot.   I think we will be gathering cottonwood buds for years to come!

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The “Fruits” of our Garden

It was an idea that I had been brewing all year – having a farm-to-table dinner with the bounties of the ranch. Boy, did we have fun!

We invited friends from our neighborhood to join us for the fixings. For two days before the party, we gathered and chopped fresh fruits and vegetables.

 

Our evening started with cherry tomatoes stuffed with mozzarella and basil and a charred corn and avacado dip. Baked potatoes and homemade bread (yup, Mom's recipe from my blog earlier this year) coupled with our grassfed beef smoked to perfection. One neighbor accepted a “throw down” challenge with the beef, and he and Kevin each prepared their prime rib and New York strip roasts with their own secret seasonings and techniques. Fresh corn on the cob was mouthwatering, and the watermelons were ready for the picking. We finished off our evening with apple crisp and strawberry rhubarb crisp. Many enjoyed our homemade wine with the meal.

I'd love to share one of the appetizer recipes – it's a hodge-podge of garden veggies that is light, colorful and healthy!

 

Charred Corn and Avacado Dip

2 ears of corn

2 avacados, diced

2 jalapeños, seeded and diced

1 red onion diced

A handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 can (or fresh cooked) black beans, drained and rinsed

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Remove the silks from the corn, soak in water for 10 minutes and then place corn on a hot grill for 10 minutes, rotating several times. Cool and remove the kernels from the cob. (note: I have made this several times when corn on the cob was not in season. I simply cooked the frozen or canned corn on the stove in a pan with a bit of EVOO).

Combine all of the remaining ingredients and refrigerate for one hour before serving.

Enjoy!

 

Lolli – Our Ranch’s Best Help

Many ranchers have the dependable Border Collie or Heeler to help in the daily ranching chores. We have Lolli, our Chocolate Lab, whose enthusiasm for life is contagious. She waits by the door every time Kevin heads for his coat. She hops up into the old ranch truck and heads out to check cattle and feed. Don't ever leave her home……she pouts.


We had a crazy storm yesterday. The temperature dropped like a rock and the winds howled for hours on end. We both hoped that the momma cows would not think this a good day to calve, but some times I think the big change in the barometer must do something to them. Inevitably, a calf ends up being born in a storm.

All looked good at about 6:00 pm as Kevin and Lolli fed. It wasn't raining or snowing yet. Everyone munched their dinner quietly. But by bedtime, the rain, now mixing with snow, had coupled with a driving wind as he and Lolli headed out to check the expectant mommas. A few minutes later, they were back. #53 had given birth and the little calf was alive, but wet and shaking. Out we went – Kevin hopped the fence and stole the calf away from a most indignant new momma cow. We jumped in the truck and headed for the house – rubbing the calf with towels and leaving the truck's heater on full blast. We carried the shivering little heifer to the kitchen where (thankfully) our wood stove was blazing.

Lolli sprung into action. By golly – in her mind, if that calf's momma wasn't going to finish licking off this poor, shivering baby, then she was taking over. And took over, she did!!!

 

We rubbed and Lolli licked. When we felt the calf was dry enough, we fixed a bottle of colostrum to hold it over until the storm let up. We made a makeshift pen around the calf so it couldn't get on the carpet. Lolli laid there forever – just wishing she could get in there and lick that calf some more!

Well – with a sleepless night behind us and the wind still howling, we fed the little heifer some more milk replacer and put it out in the garage. She wobbled to the boot closet and proceeded to nap. I guess sleeping on the boots and shoes beat the cold garage floor.

The storm has left us now. #53 and her newborn calf have been reunited. But, one time, this afternoon that little calf let out a beller…..I looked down at Lolli as she peered in through the panel. She whined, in response.

Checking the alfalfa….


Such a help in the vegetable garden…

 

Hunting with Kev….

Lolli is a keeper!

 

Grassfed Soap

When I would pass someone a bar of soap that I had made, their smile used to turn to wonderment as they looked at the label. Sure, it's a hefty bar – big enough to be comfortable in Kevin's large hands. And sure, it has a fabulous fragrance. It's even a pretty color. But, oh…..it's made from beef tallow? Really???

 

Yup. I have been making soap for a few years now. I love the joy of giving someone a gift that I have made with my own two hands. I enjoy including a soap shaped like a duck or cow in my grandkid's Christmas stocking, or adding a few bars of soap made especially for an infant to a baby shower gift.

I had always purchased the soap oils online and had accumulated lots of great recipes. It was fun to try new fragrances like sandalwood and pine – and had totally fallen in love with a cinnamon-orange scent. So it seemed like a perfectly natural progression (to me, anyway) to render down the fat from our beef and use it in a soap recipe. After all, our pioneers did it…..

The search began for a recipe using our tallow. Kevin and I wondered whether it would smell funny (who knew?) I figured that some people might be put off by the whole idea even though tallow is actually turned into a different substance through saponification when it is combined with lye. They fear they are spreading animal grease all over them! Actually, some of the characteristics of using tallow in your soap are a creamy lather, mild cleansing, and a fairly hard soap.

Before I get into trouble with anyone, let me first clarify by saying that we raise grass-fed/grass finished beef and our ranch is certified with the Animal Welfare Approved Association. Our cattle are humanely raised without feedlots, antibiotics or hormones, In the interest of trying never to waste, the use of tallow seemed a natural progression.

The recipe I have been using is a blend of coconut oil, olive oil and beef tallow. The amounts I use are as follow:

44 ounces beef tallow

20 ounces olive oil

20 ounces coconut oil

12 ounces of lye

32 ounces cold water

The coconut oil adds a wonderful sudsing quality to your bar, and the olive oil gives it it's mildness.

Well, the soap has been a hit. One friend called to tell me that she had had a patch of skin on her face that she just couldn't get rid of, and it was going away since she started using this soap. She wondered if her old commercially-made soap had been giving her the irritation. We will never know.

I do believe, though, that the less chemicals and preservatives we use, the better we live. The soap makes it just one step closer to healthy living .

 

 

 

How ’bout Planting an Extra Row?

Spring is springing!! The strawberries in my high tunnel are blooming with the great promise of nummy goodness in the near future. The broccoli that we planted last fall made it through the winter and is making heads as we speak. The recently planted lettuce, spinach, beets, green onions, broccoli and radishes are peeking through the soil, the carrots and cauliflower have yet to show their faces. My high tunnel is reaching some crazy warm temperatures – over 120 degrees and we have just finished the month of March. Special care has to be taken daily to roll the sides up on the structure to provide cross ventilation or the fledgling plants will wilt.

We have been checking soil temperatures in our fields and outside gardening areas. Besides the soil temperatures being a concern, our farm needs to also grow the supplemental forages for our grass-fed beef. Colorado has been coming up short in the moisture department for the last couple years which seriously decreases the time the cattle can graze a pasture. We have had to rotate the cattle through the fields quickly to protect the grass from over grazing. Most of our crops withered in the field in 2012, so careful thought has been given to a great forage that we could get to maturity!!!

With the hope that we could take advantage of our spring moisture, we began to plant an oat/pea mixture that will germinate at 40 degree soil temperature. The weatherman says we could get some precipitation in the next couple of days – so with 53 degree soil temps, the tractor and planter went into action last night. C'mon rain!

My outside raised beds have really warmed since our big snow about ten days ago. It's time to plant the onions, kale, and lettuce out there. We are going to put the onions in a block planting – every 4-6″ every direction. Onions are sensitive to photoperiod, so the earlier the planting, the larger the bulbs. Our raised beds will provide uncompacted soil and great drainage.

Gardeners across the country (even the world) have such a power to provide. A few extra seeds here and there – and with love, sunshine and water we can share our surplus with food banks. Our little town has a wonderful community outreach program. Many times, as I drop off my extra produce (course I have to look through the second-hand stuff to see if there is something I just have to have!) my fruits and veggies are already gone from the shelf. Something that seems trivial and extra to me means so much to others. There are many programs out there – Plant a Row for the Hungry supplies food banks with your farm fresh goodies. Many times food banks are only able to keep canned veggies on hand – merely because of the time it takes to store and distribute them. Produce for Pantries connects youth growing produce in school gardens, residents growing in community gardens, and citizens growing vegetables in home gardens to help nourish their neighbors in need. You can participate with a formal program or just gather your goodies and head for a local drop-off place.

So when you start tucking those seeds in the ground, add just a few extra to share with the food banks. Such a simple thing can really make a difference!

 

The Love in a Mother’s Milk

Sometimes nature can be so cruel. A storm has taken hold of eastern Colorado, dropping a good twelve inches of snow. We celebrate the moisture surely, however, also hold our breath hoping that our soon-to-be momma cows will wait for a different day to give birth. Delivering in a storm like this is a rancher’s fear – but it’s hard to control Mother Nature.

We are almost half-way through our calving season. Thirteen down, fifteen to go. It’s a small number compared to the big ranches, but a big amount for us. It’s more than any other year as we continue to grow our grassfed beef operation. All thirteen babies have been successfully delivered, but sadly we lost one of our two-year old heifers about ten days ago. She was a lovely, quiet Angus-cross, but her baby was immense for a first-time momma. She died in childbirth. We have been heartsick at her loss, but smile each time we see her calf – a big feller we have dubbed as ‘Rex’ as in T-Rex. He is a bouncing baby bull calf with an insatiable appetite. He finishes his bottle and looks for more. He wraps his lips around anything that resembles a nipple. Morning, noon and night he gleefully gulps his milk replacer and hunts for more!

We are a close-knit group out here in the country. Your neighbors are as close as family, so when the phone rang yesterday morning and a fellow rancher asked, “do you still have your orphaned calf?” we were not surprised. Our friend explained that he had lost a calf during the storm, and was willing to bring the momma to our calf!

Over they came, pickup and trailer, rancher and momma cow. She hesitantly stepped off the trailers. She had to have been distraught at everything that had happened to her in the last twelve hours, but still – there she stood, calmly looking at our calf.

Our little guy had never had the pleasure of his momma’s milk – knowing only a human’s touch as we tried to keep him healthy. He was clueless! He ran after us knowing a human as his only source of food.

We waited for a little while, watching quietly. She appeared very willing. Her udder was distended with colostrum and milk and she murmured to him. The little guy wasn’t sure, so we decided to milk the cow and put the liquid in his bottle. Coaxing him to come to her with the bottle, we leaned down and transferred his mouth from the rubber nipple to the real thing. She immediately quieted with the pressure being relieved in her udder. The calf nursed and nursed.

We were hopeful as he got his belly full. He fell fast asleep! We too slept well with the hope that he finally had the presence of a mother so willing to love our orphan – even after the loss of her own baby.

As morning dawned, we were eager to see how the two had gotten along. We couldn’t tell if he had nursed on his own, so we guided him over to the cow again. He took to the promise of a full belly even faster than he had done the first day. Even though he needed to be coaxed a bit, he latched on and drank like a pro.

This evening we sat a distance away from them both, watching through binoculars to make sure we didn’t disrupt them. Kevin turned to me and said, “I think he is nursing right now!!!”. Sure enough, his whole face was covered with milk. At one point, the momma cow turned 180 degrees for him to nurse the other side. We were amazed.

We are truly grateful for the friend who lent us this quiet momma and her life-giving milk. The only one who was disappointed with the whole situation was Lolli, our chocolate lab, who loved to catch all the drips off the calf’s mouth as he drank his bottle!!

Easter Dinner – en Croute!

The crew is coming here for our Easter celebration. I'm sure we will have bright eyes and smiles as the little ones come with their baskets to see what the Easter bunny has left for them!

It reminds me of an Easter Sunday just two years ago. Our family was blessed with five Swedish visitors, three of which would stay on with us for almost a month. They were chosen by their school to come to Colorado in a study to compare Sweden to America and how we use our horses! Of the other two visitors, one was a beautiful girl who had spent her senior year with us as an exchange student in the 1990s.

So, what better place to show our American horse heritage than on a ranch? Our eager visitors jumped in head first – learning how to move cattle, tag newborn calves, and even helping on branding day.

It was a month we all remember fondly!

Happy Easter girls!!!

A special Easter Dinner this year will be both Pork and Beef Tenderloins en Croute.

So…what's en croute? Sounds pretty fancy, huh? It typically means “to wrap”, so our holiday dinner will be wrapped in pastry. Since we raise our own beef and pork, we often put the tenderloins away for a special occasion.

Begin by taking a 3-4 pound tenderloin and roast it in 425 degree oven until it reaches 130 degrees. Remove it from the oven and place it in the refrigerator to cool. The reason we do this is so that the meat is “partially” roasted when you fold it inside the pastry.

Next, take 1/2 pound of finely chopped mushrooms and sauté in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add one 8 ounce container of your favorite cream cheese with herbs and garlic. (You can find it pre-packaged at the grocery store, or you can add your own favorite herbs yourself). Combine the mushrooms, cream cheese, 1/4 cup of dry bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons of Madeira wine or fruit juice of your choice. Finish the mixture with one tablespoon of freshly chopped chives and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let this mixture cool.

The recipes that I have always used call for you to wrap your tenderloin in “puff pastry” sheets. Feel free to do that if you wish. I like to prepare a dough in my bread maker, any of your favorite bread recipes will work – just set your machine on the dough setting. This gives you even more control of the flavor surrounding your tenderloin.

Lay your pastry on a lightly floured surface and place the tenderloin in the middle. Spread the mushroom/cream cheese mixture over the meat and fold the pastry around it. Just like wrapping a present! Press the edges of the pastry to seal, and brush your masterpiece with an egg wash. Place in a greased pan for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. (Remember, we pre-baked the tenderloin, so it will basically just reheat inside the pastry envelope.)

 

Pork Tenderloin en Croute

If your group enjoys pork as much as mine does, try this slightly different version:

Using a 2 pound pork tenderloin, wrap with four pieces of prosciutto. Top with two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and a pinch of dried rosemary. You will note that you do not pre-bake the pork before wrapping it in your pastry. Poke three holes in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes double checking the pork's progress with a meat thermometer. Let rest for five minutes.

Have a blessed Easter!