Winter Scene

Winter Scene

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Pasta Alla Vodka

I'll admit it: I have often used prepared spaghetti sauce as a jumping off point for a quick meal. And, most of the time, it's an inexpensive canned sauce, not a name-brand jarred sauce. Sure, I add some seasonings, and I stir in browned ground beef. I may add some pepperoni, too, if I'm throwing together a quick cavatini. 

However, after Jill made a from-scratch version the last time we visited, I may be a changed woman.

Her homemade sauce was quick and easy and a whole lot tastier than my doctored-up prepared sauce. And it was still ready in 30 minutes or less. Win - win!

She often serves it meatless. But, because she knows her dad is a "meat-is-a-meal kind of guy," Eric grilled some chicken breasts to go with the pasta. I did the same when I re-created the recipe here at home. We both added a tossed salad. 

Jill says it reminds her of her favorite restaurant pasta sauce. Brooke prefers her pasta without sauce. Rigatoni pasta creates great finger jewelry for kindergarteners - just in case you wanted to know. The rest of us ate it with a fork. 

I've made it twice here at home since. One time, like Jill, I served it with grilled chicken. 
The next time, I added about 3/4 of a pound of already browned hamburger to the sauce. 
The original recipe called for 16 ounces of pasta. I decided I'd rather have it a little "saucier," so I decreased to about 12 ounces of dried pasta when I served it with the chicken. For my hamburger version, I used about 8 ounces of pasta so that there was plenty of sauce.
It's also important to save some of the pasta water as you drain the noodles. I've heard chefs say that on Food Network, but I hadn't necessarily followed suit. The need for this was confirmed this week with one of those random articles that your search engine promotes. I actually clicked on the one titled "36 Common Cooking Mistakes You Should Actually Ditch ASAP" from Buzzfeed. A few of the mistakes were related to pasta:
  • You undersalt the water: When adding pasta to boiling water, the pasta will absorb part of the water as it cooks. If you don't salt the water, the food will remain bland. But if you do, it'll be seasoned from within, which is a sure-fire way to achieve pasta greatness. If you're wondering how much salt you should add to the water, the answer is: more than you think! Italians will tell you it should be "as salty as the sea," and while that's a charming overstatement, it's not that far from the truth. Most of the salt you add will get lost in the water, so to make sure some of it gets in the pasta, you need to be generous.
  • When cooking pasta, you don't reserve any of the pasta water. Pasta cooking water is filled with starch — that will help bind the pasta and sauce together and make the sauce silkier. It's also already salted, making it more flavorful than basic water. So the next time you make pasta, save 1/2 a cup of cooking water that you can then use in the sauce. (This recipe says to save more, and I probably used more than 1/2 cup, but not nearly 2 cups.) 
  • You rinse pasta after draining it: Rinsing the pasta will strip it of its starch, which is something you need if you want to make your sauce super silky and yummy. The only times when it's fine to rinse pasta is if you're making pasta salad or using it in a stir-fry.
Bon appetit!
 Pasta Alla Vodka
Adapted from
3 tbsp. butter
1 shallot or 1 small onion, minced
2 cloves, garlic, minced
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 tbsp. vodka
Salt to taste
8 to 12 ounces tubed pasta, such as penne or rigatoni
1/2 cup cream or half and half
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (plus more for serving)
Fresh basil for serving (if available)
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (opt.) 
In a large skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add shallot or onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes (if desired) and cook; stirring frequently, until paste has coated shallots and garlic and it's beginning to darken, 5 minutes. Don't burn.
Add vodka to pot and stir to incorporate, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Turn off heat.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. (I used rigatoni.) Reserve 2 cups of pasta water before draining. 
Return sauce to medium heat and add 1/4 cup pasta water and cream, stirring to combine. Add half of the Parmesan and stir until melted. Turn off heat and stir in cooked pasta. Fold in remaining Parmesan, adding more pasta water - about a tablespoon at a time - if the sauce is looking dry. Season with salt, if needed. Serve topped with more Parmesan and torn basil leaves. If you don't have fresh basil, you can sprinkle in a little dried basil with the tomato paste, if desired. 

  • We don't like spicy food, so I didn't use any red pepper flakes. I got this recipe from Jill after she served it to us. She didn't add red pepper flakes when serving to us. However, she and Eric added some at the table. 
  • The original recipe called for 16 ounces of pasta. I decided I'd rather have it a little "saucier," so I decreased to about 12 ounces of dried pasta when I served it with grilled chicken. When I added 3/4 pound of hamburger to the sauce, I used only 8 ounces of pasta.
  • As the recipe says, be sure and save some of the pasta water to "loosen" up the sauce. To reheat any leftover pasta, you may want to add another splash of cream. Pasta always needs a little help with moisture when it comes to leftovers, but the extras are tasty anyway!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Neither Snow, Rain, Hail nor Dead of Night ...

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will keep us from our appointed rounds.

It's not just a slogan for mail carriers. Cattle feeders can relate.


Through snow ...

 Sleet ...


Rain ...

Hail? It's usually not a factor during a Kansas winter.

Heat? Also usually not an issue. More often, the rather drafty feed truck cab is plenty chilly.

Dark? While I know some people feed closer to dark, we feed in the mornings. So no gloom of night required - unless we have cattle out. And that has been known to happen on occasion.

Feeding cattle is an everyday occurrence during the winter months for Kansas farmers/ranchers. The pastures that provided plenty of feed for the summertime are dried and brown. So we deliver takeout to the feeder calves and to the cows who are in the County Line maternity ward. 

So what does this every-day routine entail?

First stop for me is the shed to get my trusty chariot. (First stop for Randy is feeding and watering the other livestock - the farm cats.) He usually starts up the loader tractor to warm up, too.


After revving up the feed truck, I get a short concert, if you can call a monotone blaring alarm a concert. 

Until the air brakes build up pressure, the alarm sounds, and I wait to back the truck out of the shed.

I only shared 5 seconds of it: You're welcome!  

Photos by Randy

Next, I pull under the grain bin and Randy deposits grain in the bottom of the truck. He uses the highly-scientific method of yelling, "Up!" when he wants me to move the truck forward to evenly distribute the grain, and then "Hold it!" when he wants me to pause. 

As a courtesy to the "feed truck traffic controller," I keep the heater blower disengaged so I can hear him. Honestly, the heater doesn't work that efficiently anyway, since I have built-in air circulation through both the driver's side and passenger windows.

Then we go 1/4 mile north to the pasture where the trench silo is located, crossing this wooden bridge.

Because the turn radius is tight and to make sure I don't end up in Peace Creek, I pull into a driveway past the actual entrance into the pasture, back up and then come in from the north, where I wait on Randy to open the gate.

file photo from The County Line
The cattle are glad to see me. 

 Every morning, Randy uses the loader tractor to scoop out silage from the trench silo.

We feed the silage that was harvested in the early fall. (Click here to read more about filling the trench silo.)

Randy feeds silage to the cows in the pasture there, putting the feed into a bunk made from boards from an old Peace Creek bridge.
He feeds the cows first to keep them occupied and out of the silo. He then fills the feed truck.


The silage "steams" as the fermenting plant matter is pulled from the silo and is exposed to the cold air.  

Several scoops later, we're ready to be Meals on Wheels and deliver the silage to the feeder calves. 

Once I get a thumbs up, it's time to get the truck turned around and headed back to the corrals.

It's kind of a tight squeeze. My least favorite part of the trip is pulling in and out of the drive and the narrow gate. I reverse my path, again pulling to the north to avoid a swim in Peace Creek. There are no guard rails on that wooden bridge, you know!
Then we go to another pasture where we feed silage to the feeder calves - those calves who were born during our last calving season last January/February. We will feed them into the spring and then sell most of them, with 25 of the heifers remaining in our herd. Randy opens that gate, too. (Yes, I know I'm spoiled.)
We do it whether it's a relatively nice - though chilly - day ...
... or a rainy or snowy day.

 Just like humans, they like their grub on a daily basis.


 Randy also feeds hay as needed ...

... and we haul water to tanks in the various pastures.



"Did you bring the sparkling water for Christmas morning, Bessie?" this cow seemed to ask her companion.
Nope, it was Randy and Kim.
We aim for satisfied customers.
(Note: These photos were taken on all kinds of days - sunny, rainy, snowy, etc., but represent the daily process.)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Mnemonics on the Farm

Mnemonics are useful little tricks or methods - like acronyms or poems - that help us remember important information. Or, put more simply, mnemonics give us clues to remember stuff.    

  • ROY G BIV helps us remember the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. (I just saw this again this week on Kids' Baking Championship.)
  • Lefty loosey - righty tightey. (What direction to turn a screw.)
  • My very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas. (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Nepture, Pluto - the order of the planets - at least, back when poor Pluto was still a planet.)

  I have developed my own code for remembering operations on the feed truck.
Top o' the morning to you!
Bottoms up!
Being left-handed is "in!"
(You notice they all have exclamation points: You might as well be committed to your work, right?!)
Use the top lever first when you're turning on the truck.
Use the bottom lever first when you're turning off the truck.
Front-wheel drive is engaged when the lever is to the left. (I'm lefthanded, so I'll pretend to be "in," though I've really never been "in" anytime in my entire life.) 

My motto? Whatever works.
Randy and the cattle don't care how I get it done.  (They don't even care when I take momentary breaks to take photos.)

As long as I keep the feed coming, everyone's happy.
While I can handle my own feed truck maneuvering, I do need a little help for a clean windshield. 
I certainly don't have to have pristine working conditions. I have mouse/rat bait in the cab of the truck, if that tells you anything. But it's probably best to be able to see out of the windshield - even if my route is in the middle of nowhere.

Since I need a step ladder to get into the truck to begin with, I don't think climbing in more precarious places is advised.

Thankfully, I have an efficient service station attendant who's willing to stretch to those hard-to-reach places.
All those factors led to satisfied customers - whether you're talking the driver or the cattle.

Napkin anyone?

Some of the customers really get into their meals.

You know those escape rooms that are so popular these days? I think this feeder calf was trying to develop the farmyard version of the game. Randy initially thought he might have to provide a little help with the escape.  But, just in time, the calf untangled itself from the bale feeder and headed off for its turn at the bunks.

More on feeding next time. (I figure when feeding is an everyday occurrence, it probably deserves more than a day of reporting.)