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Monday, April 23, 2012

Goats: Lucero, NM

Just down the road is the metropolitan area of Lucero, New Mexico, where there are more goats than people.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chicos and Pork Stew

When Paula, who worked for the same educational organization I did in California, learned I was moving to Northern New Mexico, she said, "Ohhhhhh, I miss chicos! My grandma used to make them for me when we went to Ocate to visit!"

So after we arrived, I started looking for chicos.

"I think the guy at the gas station at midway sells them," our friend Ernest said, but the man inside the gas station, midway  between Las Vegas and Mora (get it?) said, "We don't have any more." Someone suggested a roadside vendor, but he was sold out, too. I looked everywhere in Mora and San Miguel counties, but couldn't find any chicos.

I finally found chicos at a farm market in Albuquerque. There they were, packaged in a plastic bag, looking just like wrinkly popcorn or maybe a bag of baby teeth.   

Farmers have been processing chicos the same way for hundreds of years. I guess you could call this a heritage food. Chicos are made by steaming whole ears of corn in the husk and then hanging them to dry. After the cobs have dried, the corn kernels are removed by hand. We're talking serious labor hours when it comes to chicos. If you want to watch how one family makes their chicos, here is a link to a video made by a student in Chamisal, NM, about 50 miles east of where we live.

Unlike hominy, which has had the outside of each kernel and the germ removed using lye, chicos is a whole grain with everything intact. When they are cooking,  a savory popcorny aroma drifts from the pot and throughout the house.

If you don't live in New Mexico but want to give chicos a try, here is a link to one of my favorite websites, Local Harvest.  Here not only can you find New Mexico foods, but food suppliers and farmers in your own backyard.

Don't forget to soak your chicos overnight before cooking since they are a dried grain and need some time to reconstitute. Because they have a long simmer, I just might use my slow cooker next time.

Chicos and Pork Stew (adapted from a recipe by Michele Ostrove  in New Mexico magazine)


2 cups chicos
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound pork loin from either chops or a roast, cut into half inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
2 T chile powder (ancho or chipotle or a mix of the two)
a teensy dash of cinnamon (optional)
2-4 T cooking oil
2 roasted green chiles (Anaheim, poblano, or Big Jim), peeled, seeded and diced or 1- 4 oz can chopped green chiles
1 large onion, chopped
salsa (The chunky salsa in the photo is Antonios, made in Taos)
sour cream (optional, but nice if your food is a little spicy)


1. Soak your chicos in water overnight until they have about doubled in size)
2. Rinse chicos, place in a 4 quart pot with the chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 5 hours. Keep an eye on them and add additional broth if needed.
3. Give your chicos a taste test: They will be firm but chewable.
4. Meanwhile, toss the cubed pork loin with the chile powder, salt and pepper.
5. In a hot skillet, add 2 T oil. When the oil is hot, add the cubed pork and saute until browned but not totally done.
6. Add the pork to the pot of chicos.
7. In the same skillet that has those lovely remaining pork bits and crunchies, add oil, if needed, and then the onion and green chiles. Cook until the onion is translucent. Then add this mixture to the pot of chicos and pork.
8. Simmer for about 1 hour and check seasonings.

Serve with a side of tortillas; top with salsa and sour cream. Yum.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Quilty Pleasures Wednesday: Las Cruces Applique Project and Raw Edge Applique Tutorial

It's been a while since we've had a Quilty Pleasures post, so it's good to be back! Here's a project we are working on at Thread Bear in Las Vegas, NM. It's a Block of the Month project, but Ann, Thread Bear's proprietor and sewist extraordinaire, hasn't chosen our fabrics and kitted them up, but instead has encouraged us to choose what we like, fabric-wise.

This makes for an exciting meeting, looking at the variety of fabrics the members of the group have chosen and gaining experience through others' experiments with our (for many of us) newly acquired applique skills. Some folks are doing hand stitched, needle turn applique while others are using various machine techniques. I'm a member of Team Machine for this one because I really want to finish this project in a timely manner.

The pattern we are using is Las Cruces, by J. Michelle Watts. It's definitely a Southwest style quilt, don't you think? You can find more of her patterns here.

Since Ann was allowing us to choose our own fabric, I decided to get all artsy, so the fabric for each cross (Las Cruces means The Crosses) will represent either a woman I have known and loved, or a group of women in general. It's kind of like Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party, an art installation from the 1970's which is my inspiration for this project, but on a  simpler scale. Much simpler.

So I wanted to show my process for making one of the blocks, minus the borders, which I haven't done yet, probably because it won't be as interesting as the crosses themselves.

I'm fusing my fabric to a base square, then using a machine to applique around the edges. I decided not to turn the fabric under before appliqueeing  because it's going to be a wall hanging and not washed much.

Below is one of the cross patterns, which I will trace onto Steam a Seam 2, using an old lightbox Tom had for looking at his slides. You can also trace by using a window or laying the Steam a Seam or your fave fusible over the pattern and hoping the lines show through.

Here is the traced pattern on the Steam a Seam. Notice that I have traced on the smooth side of the paper that is rough on its back side. You can see the bumpy texture on the paper if you look closely. I bought a lot of this fusible because it's part of the game to make mistakes, trace on the wrong side, etc.

My thumb is on the rough, kind of sticky side of the paper

After tracing each of the design's components, it's time to iron the fusible to the wrong side of your fabric. You are fusing to the wrong side because essentially you are transferring the sticky stuff to your fabric, which you will later iron onto your base fabric. Notice I haven't trimmed exactly on the lines because it's easier to do that after fusing.

So the next photo shows me cutting on the lines. For this pattern, I used a little rotary cutter to cut the straight lines and scissors for anything else. I had to throw the first piece away because I was overzealous went a little crazy with the rotary cutter and cut into the fabric. Aargh! is something you will say a lot while fusing. Or much worse, in my case!

Once you have your pieces cut out, peel off the remaining paper, center them on the base square of fabric and iron them into place. Read your pattern instructions or the guidelines on your fusible material or paper for more detailed info.

 It's time to stitch your design piece to the base square of fabric. I decided to use raw edge applique, stitching around each piece using whatever you call this stitch: buttonhole, blanket stitch, whatever you call it. On my Bernina 440 it's stitch number 45.

Like everything, there's a learning curve involved. It's always a good idea to practice on a few test pieces before jumping right in. Some quilters like to use a fabric or paper stabilizer underneath. I am not using one because everything seems to be stitching smoothly...well, kind of. Below, note a couple missed stitches on the blue one. I'll go back and fix that later....or maybe not. I did the turquoise layer first, then the fuschia, with the gold on top. The thread is Ricky Tims artist thread by Superior and the fabrics are Laurel Burch basics.

And here is the block minus the border. This block is to honor the ladies in Taos who work in galleries, not for the money, but for their sheer love of art. I haven't given anything a final pressing, yet. That's for later.

Now don't look too closely or call The Quilt Police, those tut-tut-ers who want to ruin our fun because this is not exactly centered on the square. It's good enough, and that's what counts.

I hope this tutorial has helped you a bit. It was fun, and now, on to Taos for shopping and lunch!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April in the Growing Dome

April in Northern New Mexico is an iffy proposition. Temps this month have been as high as the mid-70's and as low as 22 degrees F., and when we first moved here I was told not to plant anything outside until June 1. The climate appropriate tomatoes and cabbage I duly planted on June 1 grew poorly due to the variable temperatures, the wind, hail, sleet, poor soil and something called a wintry mix. Of course, I didn't know anything about growing stuff up here, so that had a lot to do with my garden failures.

I started researching greenhouses and discovered the Growing Dome, mainly because I would have a year round growing environment and a warm place to visit in the dead of winter.

I am still learning the seasons inside the dome, with its warm and sometimes moist interior, a place that turns the notion of waiting until June 1 to plant summer veggies upside down. In March two volunteer tomato plants from last year popped up and they now have blossoms on them.
The winter veggie seeds were replanted in late October, after a mishap in September when four beef cattle found their way through the dome's open door, circled around and somehow shut themselves in. Chaos and destruction ensued. No bueno. So now we have winter stuff still growing even though I want to get more warm weather stuff in our growing beds. It's a nice quandary to have, though, because we have fresh produce right here at home.

What I will do is tuck warm weather veggie seeds and plants into the spots vacated by the cool weather ones. The lettuce here is almost done, and the snap peas and beets will go soon, too. My baby tomato seedlings (Amy's Sugar Gem and Stupice) will go here, but I must research to be sure tomatoes like onions next to them, since I just planted those onion guys in between the beets and the lettuce.

Here is a long shot of the winter veggie side of the dome: broccoli. onions hiding under the broccoli, snap peas, the lettuce you saw in the previous pic, more onions, beets, and Brussels sprouts.

Trudy wanted to see how broccoli looks on the plant, so here you go, Trude!

The broccoli part we eat is the plant's flower, with the largest "blossom" in the center. What I do is cut the center broccoli when it's ready and then allow side shoots to grow so I have another batch of the green gems. These plants are so big I may need to rethink how to place them in the beds the next time.

 Below you can see where I have cut the center flower (and we ate it last week). You can see smaller shoots forming where the leaves connect with the main stalk.

And here is another race to the finish: If you look closely at the picture below, there are teensy Brussels sprouts buds forming where the leaves connect with the stalk. I keep worrying that it will be too warm for them to continue growing, but so far, so good.

Amazing, isn't it? If you haven't seen it, there is a good recipe for Brussels sprouts roasted  on the stalk right here.

Okay, what else..Oh, yeah! I replanted these Earth Boxes with a a lemon thyme plant on the right and some rosemary on the left back at the end of October and they did fine all winter long. I need to give the thyme a good shearing because it is blooming. The black water tank is just behind the boxes, the warmest place in the dome during winter because the sun hits the black sheet metal and makes it toasty right there. The marks on the sheet metal are from the steers' hooves, which I think hit the tank as they were going round and round.

So we did okay this winter in the Growing Dome; even Manny, Moe and Jack, the fishies, survived.

On the rebuilt side of the dome, which Tom finished earlier this month, we have tomatoes, Poona Kheera cucumbers, lettuce, green beans, radishes and kale. At the end of April our local nursery opens and I will buy some pepper and chile pepper plants and perhaps a few other things that strike my fancy.

But that is for another time. Cheers, and happy springtime to you all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

International Winner Chosen in Hotly Contested Battle

 Weirdness! This blog had 125 international visitors this past week, but only three entered our giveaway. You big wusses! Or maybe you aren't quilters and had no need for a box of fabric. Sorry, if that was the case.

 Oh, well, too bad for you folks who didn't enter, but good for the contestants, who had a 33.33 percent chance of winning!

The winner is Clare, whose comment is below:

Clare said...
Isn't it amazing when you do something like this and your blog suddenly goes quiet! You know how I found you and you know where I am LOL. I just love looking at your gorgeous photos, especially the dome. Congratulations, Clare! I will be packing up a box of fabric for you and it will be in the mail this week. Yay! Thanks for the comments, people, and I promise to add some photos of Las Vegas, keep up with my recipes, and take some more pics of the Growing Dome and what's inside.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Wine Braised Beef Shanks with Goat Cheese Polenta

Last night we ate beef shanks, a cut of beef I never knew existed until our steers were slaughtered here at the ranch and transported to the Matanza butcher shop in Taos. Marlene, the traveling Matanza Unit butcher, gave us a cut sheet listing the various ways we could have our beef butchered and wrapped, and Greg, the butcher at the Taos Food Center, called me after the sides of beef had dry aged for 21 days, an optimal amount of time to age beef. As a point of comparison, supermarket beef is not aged, or it's wet aged, which doesn't contribute to the flavor of the beef. It costs money to have carcasses sitting around in the cooler, aging, and big beef factories are all about profits rather than flavor.

 From the cut sheet I ordered what we wanted, and Greg let me know right then if the combinations I asked for would work. For instance, I didn't order porterhouse or t-bone steaks because if I got those big steaks, there would be no New York strip or filets mignon, since they are the large and small parts of a porterhouse. To help me visualize what we would be getting, I printed out a diagram of a beef, just like in the cartoons when the farmer looks at his cow and sees the steaks and roasts superimposed on the cow's body. (Unlike the cartoons, a sharp knife and fork did not immediately appear in my hands and my eyes didn't bulge out in a gluttonous frenzy.)

Beef Shanks

So the shank is the steer's leg, cut crosswise, meat surrounding a round bone in each one inch slice. This is a tough cut of meat, since the steer walks on it all the time, but with slow, careful braising, beef shanks can be moist and flavorful. Low and and slow is the name of the game, and I am not talking about classic low rider cars, homies!

Suzanne Tucker /
 Last night was the second time I cooked this recipe, and it was perfect. I used this Emiril Lagasse recipe, Red Wine Braised Beef Shanks. Because my range doesn't have a low enough simmer, I used the oven at 250 degrees for 4 hours instead of simmering it on top of the stove. You might want to test at 3 hours since our elevation is 7200 feet so stuff has to cook longer.

I served the beef shanks on a puddle of polenta, using this recipe, Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta, from The Pioneer Woman's website.

The photo above is the first time I cooked polenta, and you can see how it spread on the plate. I should have cooked it a little longer to thicken. On the second attempt I added 5 minutes, with more lava bubbles (check out the photo below so you understand what I mean) and lots of galooping sounds as the bubbles burst. Cooking polenta, which is essentially a corn meal version of Cream of Wheat cereal or rice grits, is easy if you remember to slowly pour the cornmeal into the boiling water, whisking, whisking, whisking. If you pour it all in at once, it may be lumpy, and you want smooth.

The beef shanks recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of red wine. Don't use your expensive fancy stuff for this, but use an everyday dry red table wine, like 3 Buck Chuck, which we purchase by the case at Trader Joe's.

This is Three Buck Chuck, aka Charles Shaw. In California I think it's still Two Bucks.
Beef shanks requires some long, slow cooking, so I suggest it as a Sunday dinner when you have some time to futz around in the kitchen. All in all, the beef shanks recipe is amazing with just the right ratio of veggies, sauce and meat. The polenta is dreamycreamy and even good for breakfast the next day with a fried egg on top.

Enjoy, and have an excellent weekend! I have some sewing to do! Yay!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

International Readers: Who Are You? A Giveaway Just For Friends Outside the U.S.

When I look at where the readers of The Nickel and Dime Ranch blog are from, I can't help but wonder how they ended up here.

American readers are the largest group, of course, but a significant number of you are from other countries.

I mean, Slovenia? Russia? How the heck did you find out about this blog?

To get to the bottom of this, I am offering a free giveaway, an assortment of fabrics from my ever expanding stash of quilting materials. How much? I don't know, but it will be enough to make a baby quilt or a lap quilt top, for sure.

To enter, just answer these two questions: 1. How did you find The Nickel and Dime Ranch blog? and 2. What would you like to see more of on the blog?

Write your answers in the comments section of the blog. There will be one winner, randomly selected from the folks who entered.

Entries will be accepted until Thursday, April 12 at midnight, Mountain Time.

U.S. readers? I haven't left you out. Check for a giveaway next week!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cattle Cafeteria and the Lunch Lady

 Because the grass is just starting to come back after the (what seems like) long, cold winter, we continue to supplement the Angus Boys' grass with what's left of our hay. They eat hay in the evening to get more fuel calories for the cold nights.

Here's Ms. Pearl, the crazy lunch lady, guarding the cafeteria and making sure everyone has their lunch cards at the ready. This is her Polaris Ranger, and you'd better not get too close!

 Sometimes they just can't help themselves, though, kind of like me if there are chipscookiescakecandyanything at all to eat right out there on the counter. It's there, so why not eat it, lunch card or not?

With the words, "Tell them to get back!" Pearlie Girl leaps from her Polaris perch to send The Angus Boys back to their grass.

With The Boys on their way back to the mundane grass, the words, "Okay, come on," bring Ms. Pearl right back. Sometimes a dog needs a job, and when the dog is half Australian Shepherd and half Labrador Retriever, that means lots of stuff to do.

You need a comfy place to lounge between jobs, though.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter!

I Was Awarded The Liebster Award!

Diane at O'Quilts has awarded me the Liebster Award! I feel so honored that she found me and enjoys The Nickel and Dime blog enough to gift me with this award.  She nominated me for "role modeling that at any age we can do whatever we want and love it and share it." All I can say is when my finger heals, let the games begin!

"The origins of the Liebster Blog award are somewhat unclear but the general consensus is that it originated in Germany, Liebster meaning favorite or dearest, to showcase bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. Upon accepting the award the recipient must then pass it on to five more blogs of note."

Thank you, Diane, and people of The Academy.

Diane's blog covers quilting, gardening, cooking, the joys and difficulties of caring for aging parents and how at the same time we come face to face with our own mortality. Her insights are cogent, bittersweet, and spot on for the baby boomer generation.

My job, now, is to name five blogs that I respect with under 200 followers:

My first award winner is Sue who writes the eBay/RV Life blog, a chronicle of her adventures living in a small recreational vehicle, currently parked in Why, Arizona at an off the grid campground approximately 30 miles north of the Mexican border. I have given Sue this award because of her descriptive writing, her creative mosaic art, her quilts with a modern sensibility, and her ability to run a successful e/Bay business, all while living in her little rv.

Farbstoff, a blog written by Brigitte in Germany, is fast becoming one of my favorite blogs because she has an excellent eye for quilt design and for color combinations that translate well into quilts. That's why I have given her a Liebster Award.

Giantveggiegardener's blog is my third Liebster Award winner because she is a successful gardener in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an extremely difficult place to grow anything. Nonetheless, this Master Gardener's blog is packed with growing tips and the photos of her award winning giant veggies make me wonder if she is getting help from another planet. Seriously, because my growing zone is close to hers, I rely on her expertise to help me muddle through in my quest to become a better gardener.

Marisa at Quilt Otaku is a self-described "wanna-be Japanese quilting nerd," and one of the first bloggers I followed when I began reading blogs. I respect her blog because with each visit I learn a little more about Japanese fabrics, quilting, crafting, and knitting. Besides all that, her photos are imaginative and artistic.

Mamablogue is written by Teri, a stay-at-home mom and teacher who shares art, gardening, and cooking activities for toddlers along with recipes and essays about parenting in San Francisco, where she lives with her wife, Dickie.

There are rules with the Liebster Blog Award. I must

1. Thank my Liebster Blog Award presenters. (Check)

2. Link back to my presenters' blogs. (Check)

3. Copy & paste the blog award on my blog. (Check)

4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to five blogs with 200 or fewer followers that I feel deserve to be noticed and post links to their blogs on my blog. (Check)

5. Let the recipients know they have been given the Liebster Blog Award by posting a comment on their blog. (Checkaroo)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Murphy Comes For a Visit

Murphy and her parents, K and J, came for a visit and brought lots of snow with them!

Here's a short clip of Murphy and Ms. Pearl, having some quality time, playing in the snow.  Murphy has no hangups being around big dogs; she's a girl that just wants to have fun.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Temps in the '70's, and then, Bam!

K and J are visiting and brought snow. Just last week while I was hiking about in my shirtsleeves, I thought, "These little sprigs of grass are cute! I hope we get some moisture soon to keep them growing." I was feeling a little gloomy, worried that the steers would not have enough grass to last until July, which is when the natural grass-fed beef co-op buys them.

So now we have the moisture I asked for: First driving rain, then little hail pellets followed by large, gloopy flakes of snow, until we settled into something more serious. More snow is expected today.

I hope the apple buds are okay.