Open Fire Beef Stew

Today was very warm for the middle of January. Even though it was a little windy and we had scattered showers, I wanted to cook something on the fire. I started preparing this at about 1:00 in the afternoon. After I put all my ingredients in the pot, I let it warm up on my woodstove then started my fire outside. Here’s how to fix beef stew on the open fire.

Ingredients:

1 lb beef stew meat

1 onion

2 stalks celery

2 carrots

1 sweet potato

2 garlic cloves

One Pint tomato puree (from my canned tomatoes)

½ stick butter

Parsley

Salt and pepper

The first part is done on the stovetop, not the fire. (I mean, it can be done on the fire, but I just used the indoor stove to quickly get the first part done.)

Start out by browning the beef stew meat in oil. (I used leftover bacon grease, but any cooking oil will do.) Heat the oil for a minute, then salt and pepper the meat, and brown on all sides. This just takes a few minutes if the skillet is good and hot. Transfer the contents of the skillet (meat and grease and all) to the stew pot.

Chop veggies. I kept them in larger pieces, because this stew will be cooking for a while and I don’t want it to turn to mush. Add all the veggies to the pot. Add the garlic, minced.

Fill up the pot with water. I used about 4 cups for my pot, but just make sure everything is covered by an inch or two.

Pour in the tomato puree. I used a pint of my canned tomatoes for this. I just blended them up with an immersion blender. I suppose you could leave them whole, but my little boy complains about seeing tomatoes in his food.

Add the ½ stick of butter. Sprinkle in about 2 tbsp dried parsley. Salt and pepper the whole stew. Stir it up good, and get ready to put on the fire!

It would be a good idea to have the fire prepared ahead of time, but I was busy doing other things and didn’t start it on time! So, as you can see in the picture, I just set my pot on my hot woodstove and let it kind of warm up while I was getting my fire ready.

Fire Starting 101:

Find dry kindling. Damp kindling will stall the process considerably. (This I know from experience. I learn the hard way sometimes.)

Today, I shoveled about two heaping shovels full of coals from my woodstove to speed up my fire. I added my coals to the kindling, and we were on our way to a good fire. I slowly added bigger pieces of wood until I had a good fire going.

Usually we have to start all the way from scratch, meaning newspaper, twigs and lighters! But my coals from my stove moved me forward several steps!

(Some of you may be wondering where my boys were during this process. They were playing on porch, swinging in swings, and sitting in the stroller.)

So once the fire has coals built up, it’s time to put the pot on the fire! My beautiful tripod set and S hooks were made by my very talented blacksmith father, Donny. Thanks Daddy! Some daughters like jewelry or whatever, but I like iron-work. Speaking of this, I have to take a minute to talk about my stew pot. The pot belonged to my great-great grandparents on the Abbott side. My daddy got the pot, cleaned it up, and re-seasoned it for me for a Christmas present several years ago. I love cast iron, but I especially love it if it is a family heirloom! This pot may have been used as a flower pot the last part of the 20th century. But once cast iron is cleaned up and taken care of, it’s like brand new. So now I cook in it! I love it.

Back to the stew. This stew is not something you can just leave for the rest of the day. I run out every half hour or so and make sure it’s boiling properly, while also making sure I have plenty of wood on the fire. I give it a stir, too, and make sure it’s not sticking. (Also make sure there is still plenty of liquid.) After about 5 hours on the fire, it’s dinnertime! I taste it, make sure the seasonings are just right, and we eat.

A note on timing for cooking on an open fire: Unlike an oven, where the temperatures are constant, the open fire is obviously not constant. The only temperature I know to describe the open fire is “hot”. So, if you have your pot on a hot fire for several hours, you’ll know when the stew is done. Check the meat for tenderness, and once it’s to your liking, it will be perfect. Cooking on the open fire is not very hard. It just takes time and hot coals.

What are your favorite open fire meals? Share your experiences with us!

The Bedtime Routine (A Guide To Successfully Putting Children to Bed)

I am a professional mother in many ways. Here’s my best tips on how to successfully put your child to sleep for the night. I’ll go through my nightly journey with everyone:

Start a bedtime routine. This includes a certain time on the clock that bedtime starts. I often take a short two minute nap before our routine starts to gear up for game time.

Let’s say I’ll start the bedtime routine at 8:30.

8:30. Give baby his bath first. Tell other children running wild in the house that I am giving the baby his bath, and to play nicely while I’m in the bathroom. Success rate is 50/50 if they actually play nice or tear the house down.

8:35 Baby’s bath is done. He is relatively easy to bathe, he enjoys his bath. I dress baby in his jammies. Other children proceed to play either extremely wildly, or pretty calmly, depends on the mood. This is not too hard of a time. I then move on to the next step.

8:45. I threaten older children with many threats that I am going in the baby’s room to put him to sleep. They must play calmly with their toys while I’m nursing the baby to sleep. As I try to peacefully nurse my little one, the ruckus begins in the living room. I hear running and shooting noises, which if I remember correctly, were just threatened only moments before. I take a few deep breathes. I lay half-sleepy baby down in his crib. Turn on his noise machine.

8:50 “Why are you being so loud, Jack’s trying to sleep!!!” said rather loudly by me. Oops.

8:51 Baby starts crying softly, but I must attend to the older children at this time.

8:55 Bath is ready for older boys, they are ushered into the bathroom and after their ritual of using the bathroom and undressing very slowly, they get into the tub. (Let me just say my middle boy undresses daily like a Houdini. He hates clothes. But at bath time they become very difficult to take off.) They start playing with their bath toys and they are behaving very well. They are enjoying the bath.

8:58 Go make sure baby is ok because he has been crying for several minutes. Put in binky, rock just a minute, and put back down. I think he is asleep.

8:59 Bathe boys in the tub. (Usually John is watching them and helping wash them. I don’t leave my children unattended in bath water.) Oldest child fusses that younger brother should be washed first. Whole ordeal ensues. Washing hair is a traumatic experience for everyone as “soap is in my eyes” is screamed forty times.

9:10 Time to get out and dry off. Oldest boy fusses that his brother should go first. Younger brother is dried off then runs off crying because he is cold. Same for the oldest. They go stand by the stove while I get pajamas. Baby starts crying again. Throw jammies at children and order them to dress while I head toward baby.

9:15 Ten minute warning is given. Play nice for a few more minutes while I try to get the baby back to sleep. I hear footsteps. I’m nursing the baby again because he just wants to be held. Oldest child runs in the bedroom holding a bandana in one hand and toy gun in the other. “Mama put this bandana on me”. I make a very unpleased face and point toward the door. He runs out the door and as soon as he gets to the doorframe starts whooping and running. Younger brother laughs and screams and runs. I hear noises in the bathroom. Runs with baby still nursing to the bathroom to make sure they’re not playing in the toilet. Oldest has to go number 2. This is ok. All is well, back to nursing the baby to sleep. (John will take care of the bathroom situation.) Baby seems very sleepy now, I think he is ready to sleep. Put baby down in the crib again.

9:20 Another ten minute warning is given. I lose track of time. Somewhere between now and 9:30 (which is the official bedtime) I brush teeth. Oldest brother insists younger brother goes first. Two minutes are spent convincing the youngest to open his mouth so the doctor doesn’t have to pull his teeth out. Oldest brother’s turn. Two more minutes spent convincing the child to open wide so I can get the back teeth. He says, “stop touching my head”. I have to touch his head to hold his mouth still. This happens every single night.

9:30 Another ten minute warning. I have to stop here and say that the oldest boy can only count to thirteen. He has no concept of ten minutes, and apparently, I don’t either.

9:35 (Baby has remained asleep. I go check on him. He is successfully asleep.) Score one for Mama!

9:36 “Get in bed! It’s past your bedtime!” I say. “I have to find something to sleep with!” Oldest runs into living room or around his room finding his choice of stuffed animal for the night. With the oldest, it changes every night. The younger brother has a pretty steady choice of stuffed dog that usually sleeps with him.

9:38 Time to read the bedtime story. Before we begin, we must find our spots on the bed. Younger brother can’t be touching older brother, or a fight breaks out. After this, we can begin our story. We’re currently reading Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl. I start the chapter, read a few lines, then stop and tell boys to pay attention or I’m leaving. Read a few more lines. The oldest says, “I need a drink of water.” I look at him and say, “Seriously.” He runs off the bed and makes record time for his water break, declaring “That was fast!”. Yes it actually was very fast, you must have really been thirsty. (Sarcasm.) Read some more, break up another fight, read some more, hold one boy down to prevent fight with one hand while reading with the other, get to the end of the chapter.

9:45 Okay boys! Hugs, night-night all around, kisses several times, says I love you about 12 times, hugs and kisses some more. My heart is bursting because they are so sweet and I love them so much! I turn off the light after tucking the sweet little boys in their bed.

9:45:30 Sit on the couch. Whew, bedtime is over, right? Wrong. Screaming starts. “He’s touching me!!!”. I guess you can imagine what happens next. No further details are needed.

Finally….

9:50 They are asleep… They are ALL asleep! I can finish my unfinished chores and get to bed myself.

That is how you successfully put children to bed. Like I said, I am an expert! I hope you caught the sarcasm in that. I am not an expert or a professional. But after the end of every day I love those boys more than anything and wouldn’t trade a bedtime routine like that for the world. Thank you, Lord, for the boys and the bed time routine.

Why We Do What We Do

I feel like I should go ahead and give sort of a mission statement for our farm, maybe even some history for you folks. Why am I doing this new project? Why do we live like we do? And most importantly in the online world, why would I think anyone would care?

I’ve asked myself these things since I officially launched our farm “name”. Everyone is doing it these days, so I thought we’d join the scene. J&R is the name we both agreed on and it is easy, because it is the first letters of our names. I also have a cute picture that goes back to when we were dating. John painted a J&R on his chicken coop as he was painting the whole coop. I always did like that picture. I thought it would be fun to start a blog and maybe I could help someone out along the way! I have enjoyed reading different blogs here and there, and I feel like ours may be unique.

Our family does things a little differently than others. We choose to be as old fashioned as we can! We know it’s pretty different from the popular culture. I’ll be real up front with everyone: we don’t even have an internet service at our house. That’s right. I have a blog that I write up ahead of time when I’m offline. When I bum wifi off the family, I post my stuff! That’s why I’ll post three or four things at once. We may be the only young family in the U.S. without it. The reason is this: we are too cheap to pay for it! Man, it’s so expensive! 😉 We are quite thrifty and I guess you could say we might be tight wads: You don’t even want to know how long I’ve had some of my clothes! We also use a wood stove instead of “bought” heat. John gets upset if I buy a zucchini or squash out of season, when we have oodles on the table during the summertime garden peak. We avoid debt like the plague. I could go on, but I won’t.

We raise our own meat and produce. My husband spends so much time, after his job, taking care of our livestock and garden. It is so much work for him but he loves it! He will get me any critter I want (– and that’s why we have goats). We don’t make a ton of profit but we do it anyway. It gives me great joy to know what I’m cooking for my family came from our own farm. In the summertime with fresh garden vegetables, our whole plate is from the farm. I love it! We will always point out what is ours during dinner. I guess you could say we are proud of that.

If you know us, we are about as East Tennessee, Appalachian-American as they come. Without going into too much detail (I’m a huge history and genealogy buff) both sides of our families have been in the same part of Tennessee for right at 200 years. Our heritage strongly influences us every day. I keep old photographs of all our great-great grandparents visible so my little boys will know who they were. Many were from Cades Cove, Walland, and Townsend. In fact, John’s great grandparents were the last to move out of Cades Cove after grandpa Kermit died in 1999. I strive to be more like my ancestors. They were godly, hard working people. They have to be remembered. Somehow I hope I can memorialize them in some way because they deserve it.

The main reason we do what we do is that our Lord has blessed us so richly in every way imaginable. The overflow of His goodness to us begs to be shared. Maybe someway I can encourage someone somewhere out there. We love what we do on our farm and we love Jesus. We fully acknowledge that He is the ultimate gift giver. He has given us far more than we could ever have imagined. We’ve had a few (very few) hard times where even then He has been so good to us. Every day on the farm is wonderful. All the glory goes to God, and I have to share it!

Thank you all out there for reading and following. It’s really cool to tell stories and share life. That’s why we do what we do.

How to Fertilize Your Raised Bed Garden…Naturally

It is the middle of January and John has already started preparing our raised bed gardens. He was doing this in the rain this weekend! I looked out the window, and our three raised beds in our front yard looked so neat

. I asked him what he had done. Well first, he had finally cut down our asparagus from their summertime overgrowth. (We are in year two of our asparagus crop.) Then, he weeded the rest of the summer stuff out, and kept our kale and my lemon balm, the only herb that had survived the winter thus far. Then he fertilized the three beds in a uniquely natural way.

We have used this method of “fertilization” for several years now, and our raised beds have performed excellently for all the years we’ve had them. John and little Farmer #2 cleaned out our chicken coop, and put the poop in wagon, and spread it all over our raised beds! Chicken manure works wonders for your raised bed gardens. The chicken compost is naturally full of nitrogen, which is good for the soil! It is also higher in phosphorus and potassium than other common composts. No need to worry if your vegetables will smell like a chicken coop. It does seem to disappear after a few months of rain and winter weather. You will need to do this in the wintertime, or at least a few months before planting your gardens. Too much of this fertilizer will actually burn your plants.

Raised beds tend to drain very quickly. This goes for water, and also for the nutrients in the soil. So, in order to successfully raise healthy vegetation, it must be fertilized. From our experience, chicken poop provides what our soil needs to thrive!

The Joy of Homemaking

I am not the cleanest housekeeper. I struggle to keep up with dishes and laundry. I especially struggle to keep up with boys’ messes. I can’t keep on top of things. I’m lousy at it. But there are little snippets of moments where I think I finally got myself together. I had one of those rare moments the other day. There was still a pile of clothes on top of the dresser, but the inside of the drawer was actually neat. I was promptly putting away the clothes instead of letting them sit on the couch for a week. I felt pretty good about myself at that moment.

I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. I pondered to myself what a joy it is to stay at home and take care of my family. I like these fleeting moments. They only happen rarely. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a stay at home mama all the time. But there are little times where I feel stress free and I feel like I’m actually doing a good job. I smiled to myself and thought I’m pretty good at this thing. I wonder why I think these things sometimes? About 80% of the time, I’m struggling and praying about doing my best. Why do I get sudden feelings that sometimes I do get it right when all week long I am begging to at least survive. I’m thankful for these moments. I’m not going to consider them prideful, because if I just wait 10 minutes, I’ll be humbled again for sure. For example, the cushions might get thrown off the couch, someone might pee in the floor, or I ruin a loaf of bread. I know I have plenty of hard moments, I don’t have to look very far for them. It’s the little moments of pure joy that I’m cherishing. Thank you Lord, for the joy of homemaking.

Welcome to the Farm

Hello and welcome! We are very excited you are taking time to read our post. J&R Farms has been established for about 6 years, but we are just now stepping into the internet world! We tend to be a little old fashioned, so this is a big step for us. The Davis family has been in this farming business for generations. We are just carrying it on and passing on skills to our children.

We are always looking for new ways to bring the old ways into our farm’s life. For example, we butcher our own meat. But we have some cool methods of processing as easily as possible! Look for info in future posts. John is the expert in this area. He is really the expert in all things farming. We raise chickens, turkeys, guineas, hogs, cattle, goats, and one sheep! (Some might say we also raise cats and little boys…) We grow a humongous garden, big enough to feed half the county! John has figured out how to grow just about any vegetable you can imagine. Japanese eggplant, anyone? We even have a fig tree. Every Mother’s Day I get a new tree or plant of some kind! Two years ago was blueberry bushes! I’m hoping a lemon tree will be next year, we’ll see. 😊 So John’s expertise lies in pretty much anything agriculture. He even knows when and how to put chicken poop and ashes in our gardens to improve soil. What a smart guy! He is extremely budget conscious…this means our coops and lots are all handmade and pieced together with old materials. I think it always looks great!

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in anything. But I enjoy a few things. One is cooking all these things we raise and produce! I tell John he does all the work of raising, butchering, and processing, and I get to cook it up and make it taste good. My pleasure! I love cooking, but with three little boys this can sometimes be a challenge. I also love canning our garden vegetables. I put up almost everything that can be canned. Pressure can or waterbath, I love doing it all! It’s a fun thing for me to find the strangest combinations to preserve. One of my most requested is Ginger Peach Jam. Who would of thought it was so delicious? (I’m looking forward to using our figs this year!) I also enjoy making soap and candles. Head over to our store to check out the new stuff I’ve been making!

It’s a fun and busy life. Stay tuned for more posts! Thank you for visiting us!

Okra

I am 23 ½ weeks pregnant. John John and Judah have spent the night with Grandmommy for the first time in months, so John and I have had a fun day to ourselves. We of course chose to spend the morning in our huge garden. (First things first: the musings on gardening are infinitely endless.)

I’m walking around the garden, just wanting to get some exercise. Then I ask, “What’s planted behind that row of corn?” It’s the middle of May, so everything is now growing beautifully. But it’s still hard to tell what’s what sometimes. “That’s the okra,” John said. “It needs to be thinned out.” I have planted okra seed before and learned the hard way that if you plant it too thick, you’ll just have to come back later and pull up some of the plants to thin it out. “Ok, I’ll do it.” I wanted to contribute to the garden, even if I am quite pregnant. So I start pulling up the tender green plants and carelessly tossing them to the side. This makes me feel a little funny inside. “John, I hate thinning okra.” “Well, I do too,” he answered. I didn’t mean I hated it because it was back breaking work… “No, I hate it because it hurts my feelings to pull up these little plants that have worked so hard to grow!” I said with a laugh. He just says, “It has to be done or the rest won’t grow right.”

I doubt John has any idea how long I’ve pondered what he answered. I bent over for quite a while pulling okra and thinking about this life application. First, there is the idea of “natural selection”. Here I am coming through and choosing which little sprout to pull up and kill. This is merciless random killing. I’m leaving a few plants an inch or so apart so they will now have room to grow and produce the amazing vegetable called okra. So in fact, I’m not just killing mercilessly, I’m saving the entire crop! I’ve had to sacrifice a whole bunch to make sure we get anything at all. Interesting.

Secondly, I think about our lives as Christians. The row of okra is my life, or my mind, or whatever. I am pulling up what is choking out my progress. I think I like this application the best. It isn’t as depressing. Here’s too much TV. Pulled and thrown away. Here’s too much sugar. You get pulled and thrown away. Oh, here’s too much gossip. Pull you up and toss. Here’s highly thinking of myself. That definitely needs a handful pulled up and thrown way behind me.

Third, influences in our lives as a family. Who do I choose to move on with, and who do I choose to toss? That sounds cruel. But I think it’s quite cruel to weed out good okra shoots. I decided today that I would text a new friend to sort of extend friendship where I was considering letting it go by the wayside. I also texted an old friend to check on her. I decided some people and their words were not worth spending too much time on. Pluck it out and let it go. We will all grow better because of that.

I think the time in the okra patch was quite valuable. Even though I hurt my back, I am happy to have been able to think of such things. Thank you Lord, for okra.

The Clothes Line

Here I go again with another meaningful life application with my laundry line. Let me just say I love the thought of hanging all my laundry on the line outside. It smells better and it feels like sunshine. One of my greatest loves is the smell of sheets after they’ve hung on the line all day. I may be the only one in the world with this fascination. So be it.

I generally hang my towels out when the weather is nice. They dry fairly quickly, maybe three hours. I love to feel them and smell them. I will of course shake them off to make sure there are no spiders on them. I think they dry better when they’ve been on the line. And they are brighter because of the sunshine.

Now that my boys are outside constantly (it is springtime) they love to play through the towels. I have to admit I’ve fussed a little when they get snapped off the line and fall in the dirt. I don’t like that. I recently took one of my favorite snapshots of my boys. It’s this:

The quality of the lighting is terrible because the shadows are weird. But my heart just loves this little picture. John John is decked out in his superhero cape pretending who knows what with the hanging towels. Judah is just following his big brother around, giggling and squealing through the towels. I couldn’t even get mad when they were smacking my laundry with their dirty little hands and their sticks. I love to watch them play nicely together so I wasn’t going to ruin the moment. The simplicity of this picture and my love of hanging out laundry makes me happy. I just captured one of my favorite moments being their mommy and being a homemaker.

Now I’m writing this with a little boy trying to bite my foot while the other one is enthralled with Narnia on TV. I’m reminded of their sweetness and innocence by looking at this picture and I tame my desire to fuss when I’m getting chewed on. Thank you Lord, for clotheslines.