Oaklawn Park

On Wednesday we enjoyed a day at the Horse Races.  This has kindof become an annual Spring Break tradition for us.  Oaklawn Park is a little over 2 hours away in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  They have had live horse racing there since 1904.  The history of Oaklawn Park and Hot Springs itself is REALLY interesting.

Hot Springs has 47 thermal springs that produce water that flows out of the ground at approximately 145 degrees farenheit.  The famous bath houses have been around since the mid to late 1800’s.  They were used as “health resorts” and people staying in the local sanatorium were often sent to the bath houses for a variety of strange and unusual treatments as well as to enjoy the healing waters of the springs.  A lot of the city, including many of the bath houses were destroyed during the Civil War.  During the rebuilding of the city several disagreements arose about which land belonged to whom.  On April 24, 1876 the federal government took over the land title of Hot Springs and set up a special commission to deal with laying out the city, issue land deeds and set aside a certain portion of the land around the springs to be a permanent government reservation.  Hot Spring National Park is the oldest federal reserve in the USA and the Hot Springs National Park Quarter will be the first released in the America the Beautiful Quarters Program which begins this year.

Gambling became a favorite activity in Hot Springs in the late 1800’s and continued until the “illegal” casinos were shut down in 1967.  During this era Hot Spring became the nations largest gambling attraction in the country, outnumbering the casinos in Las Vegas.  Al Capone and other well known gangsters were flocking to the retreats in Hot Springs.  In 1946, casinos were made “illegal” and gambling came to a halt until 1954 when Orval Faubus was elected governor and chose to “turn a blind eye” to the gambling that was going on in Hot Springs.  In 1967 police were sent by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller to board up the casinos and burn all of the gaming equipment.  The Oaklawn Park Racetrack was somehow spared and to this day remains one of only two legal gambling locations in the state of Arkansas.

We arrived and had lunch which is expensive but good.  They have really yummy corned beef and Reuben sandwiches.  After we ate we watched several races.  Richie really enjoys betting on the horses.  He usually only plays on around $20 for the day and still has fun.  He did win $38.00 on a single race which was neat.  I only bet on two of the races. I just don’t get that into the whole betting part but I like to see the horses and watch the races.  All in all it was a really fun day! The BEST part was that I actually got CARDED!!!! I told the guy I had been 21 for a LOOOOONG time but he still needed to see my ID!

Winners Circle – Caught in a Cooking Rut

Congratulations! The winner of the $10.00 Amazon e-card was Graciegreeneyes or Amy Grace of Washington state!!!  I used random.org to select my winner.  We had 12 individual entries and random.org generated the number 4 and Graciegreeneyes was the fourth entry!

Graciegreeneyes wrote:

“My “go-to” dinner has recently become frittata. With 7 eggs a day being produced by our happy chickens we always have the basic ingredients. You can mix it up by switching the cheese/meat/veggies/seasoning, so you don’t feel like you are having the same thing all the time. They cook pretty quickly too, so you don’t need to have too much planning time either.
We are prone to the “oh, let’s eat out” thing too – fortunately the nearest affordable restaurant is 25 miles from here so it serves as a deterrent:)”

There were many really great ideas and I will be featuring them over the next few weeks!  Thanks to everyone who entered!

The next contest will be in mid April, so check back often!

This contest was sponsored by me and Amazon.com has no clue who I am!

Killing The Rooster

WARNING: Some people may find some of the following pictures and content  to be graphic.  I tried to keep it pretty tame but be forewarned!

I butchered a rooster today!  I have never killed and butchered an animal for food before.  My husband killed a deer once but they did all the work – I just watched.  We needed to get rid of some roosters and there is only so much you can learn about killing a chicken from books.  I wanted to get some first hand teaching.

Our friends/family Genger and Lavon raise all kinds of animals and have an amazing garden.  They were “homesteaders” long before the term became trendy.  They have been raising and killing their own chickens for decades.  I knew that these guys would be the ones to show me how to do it.

This morning I rounded up one of the Roosters and put him in the cat carrier to go up to Genger and Lavon’s house.  We arrived just after noon.  Genger began with a rooster of her own.  She showed me how to hold it and chop it’s head off and then how to hold it so the blood ran out.

Then it was my turn.  Don’t worry, my husband didn’t take any pictures of the chopping part!  Levon held the rooster for me but I took the axe and chopped his head off like a pro!  He DID NOT run around HEADLESS afterwards like I had imaged.  I was a teensy bit disappointed but since we held to their legs really good he only shook a little bit.

Next came the scalding.  Scalding the bird helps to release the feathers.  You dunk them in boiling hot water over and over until the tail and wing feathers come of easily.

Here I am holding my freshly beheaded and scalded rooster.

Next come the plucking.  Again this was surprisingly easier than any of the books I had read had indicated.  It was a little time consuming but overall was not difficult to do.

Here I am removing the feathers.
Here is Lavon inspecting my work.

Next we used some brown paper and lit it on fire and singed the bird very quickly to get rid of the tiny little hairs that were left on their bodies.  Then it was time to clean him out.

Cleaning out the rooster wasn’t that difficult either.  We made a V cut near his back end and the insides just pull out really easy.  Then you have to reach in and get the lungs and the esophagus out and make sure no little bits were left behind.  Then he is pretty much done!  I kept the liver, heart and the gizzard. I like the livers but will probably give the heart and gizzard to the cat.

Here is Genger showing me what to do if I want to cut him into pieces.


Here I am cleaning out the guts! (The bowl has water not blood in it - it just got a little red!)
Here I am cleaning out the gizzard!

And just like that I killed and cleaned my very first Chicken!  We are eating him on Thursday. I’ll keep you posted as to how it tastes!

Creamy Asparagus Soup

It’s spring and one of my favorite vegetables is starting to come into season! I LOVE asparagus.  My friend Jonni recently posted a recipe for a Cream of Asparugus soup that she saw in Bon Appetit Magazine.  The recipe looked great but I wanted to make it my own.  I think celery has an amazing taste and is way under-rated in cooking so I added two stalks of celery to the recipe to add a cool sweetness. I also added red onion because I love its wonderful deep flavor.  Additionally, I included shiitake mushrooms because of their earthiness and depth of flavor.  Bumping up the cream a little bit gives it a silkier feel and I finish it off with a little fresh lemon juice to round out the flavor and add a little brightness.  This was a delicious bowl of soup and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

2 Bunches fresh green Asparagus, chop but reserve the tips
1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 Stalks of celery with leafy tops, chopped
1/2 c. shiitake mushrooms, chopped
3 tbs. butter
5 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon

Chop the asparagus into 1/2 inch pieces, saving the pretty tops and setting aside.  In a soup pot saute the chopped onion in 2 Tbs. butter until softened (about 4 minutes).  Add the bottom portions of the asparagus (do not add the tops), the chopped celery and the chopped mushrooms and saute about 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Add 5 cups of chicken stock (or substitute veg stock) and simmer about 15 minutes until vegetable are tender.  Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth.  Add in the asparagus tops and cook 8 to 10 minutes longer, stirring as needed.  Add cream and cook until warmed through.  Add remaining tbs. of butter, lemon juice and additional salt and pepper as needed.

Pour soup in bowl and swirl 1 tbs. of cream onto the tops of each bowl and serve.

Note:  If you wish to store some of the soup in the freezer for leftovers I would do so BEFORE adding the cream.  When you reheat the soup add fresh cream and finish just like the recipe indicates.

Free Range Chickens

The new hen house is mostly finished. I need to make some minor modifications to the roost area and I need to finish the brooder but otherwise it is pretty near complete.  Our 7 birds that were already free-ranging have been living in it since last week.  They seem to enjoy it and because it is nice and dark it has solved the rooster-crowing-at-three-in-the-morning problem!

Last night I went ahead and let the rest of the chickens loose for about 2 hours just to “wet their feet” to being loose.  They all headed in at last-light and seemed to enjoy eating all the green grass and bugs.  Today they have enjoyed their first full day of freedom.  I am letting the two flocks “mingle” and get to know each other for about a week before I try putting them all in the hen house.  Right now we have 6 roosters and I’m not so sure that putting them all in a confined space will go over well.  I plan to butcher three of them on Tuesday and might even do a fourth one.

Hoping to do some major garden work in the next few days! Life is never boring on a farm – no matter how small it is!

Caught in a Cooking Rut! (And a Contest!)

I find if I dont make a weekly menu it becomes so much easier to say “lets eat out tonight!”  My husband and I have gotten in a bad habit the last few weeks and have been eating out 2 or 3 times a week instead of once.  Part of the problem is that things have been busy lately, we’ve both been on and off sick, we haven’t been planning a weekly menu and I am just plain bored with my “usual” dinner menus!

So I am asking for your help with this problem and I’m giving a prize in return!  I will send a $10.00 Amazon E-Card to one lucky winner!

To enter answer the following question in the comments section below.

What is your favorite weeknight supper?  What do you serve with it? (Recipes are welcome and may be featured in upcoming food posts!)

Winner will be selected at random from the total number of entries and will be announced on (or around) March 24th.  As soon as I verify the winner I will send the e-card to their email address!

Turnip Greens, Bacon and Shiitake Quiche

Today was Basket-A-Month day!  After a 2 month hiatus I am so glad to be getting fresh local food again!  Today’s basket was beautiful and contained Turnip Greens, Spring Mix, Shiitake Mushrooms, Bacon, Sweet Potatoes, Brown Rice, Butter, Milk, Cheese, Sorghum (or Honey in some baskets), a jelly and Eggs.  The eggs in the Searcy baskets came from my chickens!  How cool is that.

I LOVE quiche.  Richie hates quiche.  I love mushrooms and dont mind greens.  Richie hates both.  Richie is not here today. I am making quiche!

6 Slices of Alderbrook bacon, chopped
6-8  Shiitake Mushroom, sliced
1 1/2 cups Seven Doves milk
1 pkg. Daley Dairy Cheese, shredded (I used white cheddar)
1 bag of BAM Turnip Greens, stemmed and chopped
4-6 Fresh Eggs
2 Tbs. Fresh Butter
2 Tbs. flour
1/2 red onion, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh ground nutmeg
1 9-in pie crust

Chop bacon and cook over medium/low heat until cooked through. Remove from the pan and add the chopped onion.  Cook 2-3 minutes and add the mushrooms and chopped greens.  Mix and cover. Cook about 5 minutes or so until greens have wilted and are tender.  Season with salt, pepper and ground nutmeg.

In a bowl combine eggs, flour, cheese and milk.  Stir until incorportated. Add in bacon and green mixture.  Stir.

Place the crust in the pie dish and line with foil and add pie weights or dried beans.  Pre-bake your crust at 375 for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove foil and beans and pour in the custard mixture.  Return to the oven and bake about 30 minutes until the top begins to brown and the custard has set. (The middle may jiggle just a bit).

Serve this with a salad for a yummy meal!  Mix a little of that Sorghum or Honey into some balsamic vinegar with a little olive oil, salt and pepper for a yummy dressing!


Student Artists

Did you know that my “paying” job is as a k-12 art teacher?  It’s true! I see every k-6 student in our school on a weekly basis.  I see all of the 7th and 8th graders on a 9 week rotation and I have 3 high school classes that meet daily!  I am constantly switching gears and likely have about 2o different projects in the works at any given time!  My classroom is covered with artwork, both finished and in-progress!

The art gallery in the “big city” of Searcy is currently hosting an art show to display the artworks of kindergarten through 8th grade students in our county.  I have 9 students that have artworks on display and I have recevied so many compliments.  I am so proud of ALL of my students but am especially excited that these nine got to take part in this cool event.

Ashleigh S. – Kindergarten

Tyler M. – 1st Grade

Hannah E. – 2nd Grade

Elijah W. – 3rd Grade

Jamarcus R. – 4th Grade

Ashlynn H – 5th Grade

Sarah K. – 6th Grade

Alex D. – 7th Grade

Megan L. – 8th Grade

Garden Journal 3-9

I am really looking forward to my garden this year and things are starting to come together.  I have been working on my layout plan and I think I have things pretty well situated.   I know this will change some over the next few weeks as I get the beds layed out but here is my basic plan.

I have started lots of herb seeds.  I am getting lots of little sprouts and this makes me very excited for spring.  My parsley isn’t coming up yet but I have done some research and it seems like this is a common problem with starting parsley from seed.  I have already planted my seeds so it is a little too late for me but I found a few tips to help encourage the germination of these seeds.  Several sources recommend freezing the seeds for about 1 week prior to planting to simulate winter.  Most all of the sources recommend pouring hot (NOT BOILING) water over the seeds and letting them soak over night.  When you plant the seeds, lay them on top of the soil and gently press them in.  They should be planted fairly shallow.  You can cover them with just a bit of sandy soil but it isn’t necessary.  I am still holding out hope that my seeds will germinate.  If they don’t I will likely buy some small plants this year and try again with the parsley seed next year.

(UPDATE: Since I first wrote this my parsley has come up and is lookng GREAT!!!)

I am also excited to report that the Daffodils have begun to bloom!!!!  It is still getting down to the upper 20’s and lower 30’s at night so they must be pretty hardy little flowers.  The days are getting a little warmer and spring break is just around the corner (TWO WEEKS!!!) and I am really looking forward to all the wonderful things that spring brings!

The new Chicken House has arrived!  I’ve got to build roosts and put in the nest boxes before I let them move in but I love it and I am very excited to finally have a nice, sturdy structure that looks nice too!

You can see the girls and guys hanging out in the background! They are anxiously waiting for me to install their nesting boxes and roosts so they can move into their new home.  They are also anxious to get let out to roam free and eat all the yummy new stuff growing up in the yard!