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Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas in Chico

In my household, Christmas is a time for family, friends and faith.  I was able to go to my hometown of Chico, Ca for the holidays and spend time with my family. On Christmas morning we woke to a white Christmas! Well, for the Northern Sacramento Valley we consider a white Christmas frost. There was a pretty white frost layer on the orchard floor on Christmas morning.

My parents homestead walnut field
My sister's walnut orchard on Christmas morning
My family lives in the middle of a walnut orchard now. In the winter, they just look like giant sticks! In Northern California, a lot of the farmers have started planting walnuts and not as many almonds. Walnuts aren't as susceptible to frost damage due to the cold weather that comes with Northern California. Walnuts also generally require less inputs and man power then almonds. If you drive up highway 99 north of Sacramento you will see more and more walnuts being planted for these reasons.What can I say we are all just nutty!

I have to tell you I was very blessed this Christmas season. I was able to spend almost a week with my family, which is quite rare for me. We ate lots of good food, drank some local wine and best of all enjoyed the company of friends and family alike. Christmas is always a time to look back on how you have been blessed throughout the year. In the past year, our family and friends filled our calendars with weddings, babies, engagements, parties and so much more.  All in all, it's been a fruitful year and I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for us.....

Merry Christmas from the Almond Girl!
Until Next Time,
Almond Girl

Monday, December 23, 2013

Almond Wood and Deep Pit

This weekend we had Christmas with my husband's side of the family and we decided to test out the new deep pit. My husband and his father built a 6 foot deep pit out of an old concrete pipe line they dug up when they were ripping the old field out. They dug a giant hole out at our shop yard and stuck this 6 foot pipe in it. At the bottom of the hole they poured concrete so there would be no air pockets or dirt in the hole. That is pretty much all you need to deep pit meat, a giant hole in the ground! So they decided to test it out for Christmas dinner. 

First, you need to start a fire and let it burn for at least 4 hours to heat the entire pit. What kind of wood did we use?  Almond wood of course, we think it burns the best! Some good seasoned almond wood burns a long, hot fire that is perfect not only for your deep pit, but home fireplace as well. I wouldn't have a fire with anything else! You want seasoned wood that is dried out for an extended period of time, last years wood is the best. Wet or green wood that is cut this season is more difficult to burn and doesn't burn as hot or clean.  


Once the fire has turned to red hot coals, you cover the fire with a steal lid and it's time for the meat! Because this was the first time with our new pit, I think we went a little crazy. We tried 5 different kinds of meat; Turkey, beef shoulder, pork loin, ham and salmon. Deep pit is a great way to use tough pieces of meat that would be hard to cook otherwise. This process makes the meat extra tender. You take each cut of the meat separately and wrap them up in foil, several times. And several is an understatement, you need to wrap them multiple times to ensure no holes are in the foil and the juices won't escape during the cooking process. Probably like 5 times at least, to be safe. Once the meat is foil wrapped you wrap them in burlap sacks that have been soaked in water. If you don't have time to soak them in water you can hose them down several times as well. You want the burlap wet so it doesn't burn during the cooking process. So you wrap the meat in burlap and tie with wire to ensure it is tight. Make yourself a loop with the wire so you can pull the burlap wrapped meat out once done.

Cover the hole with another lid and sand. The sand seals the lid to keep all the heat in the pit. You should also hose down the sand to ensure no air pockets are there and all heat is staying in the hole. Now it's time to be patient and wait about 12-18 hours. 


Times up! Now its time to pull the meat out. Shovel all the sand off the pit, take off the lid and you have a sweet surprise waiting for you. Once you pull the meat out, take the burlap off. This was Massey's favorite part, dogs love to lick the flavors off the burlap, I should have grabbed a picture of all the dogs surrounding the used burlap...too funny! Now you want to take the foil wrapped meat home and place in a warm oven until its time to eat. The meats all cooked and if you leave them wrapped in foil they will stay warm and retain all the juices if you wrapped them enough times and nothing is leaking out!


 It's dinner time and there is a house full of people that are ready to sample all this meat! Make sure when you are shredding or cutting into the meat that you wear gloves or have hot pads on hand, the meat is hot! I of course need to tell you that it was all delicious! I would have to admit that the turkey, beef and pork were my favorite in that order. Turkey was moist and fell right of the bone. I am not a ham fan in general, but I did try it, it was a little too salty for me. I am sure you could guess that deep pitting a salmon for as long as you do a turkey, wouldn't be necessary but once that thing is sealed you don't open it. Salmon is meant for the grill if you ask me, but it was all an experiment. I hope I inspired some of you to try deep pit if you haven't done so already.

Beef
Pork
Turkey
Ham
Salmon
Our feast!
So from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and I hope you enjoy your bountiful feast!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas almond cookies

It's the holiday season and that means Christmas cookies and sugary sweets everywhere. I like to bake an assortment of different kind of cookies and such to have around during the holidays. It comes in handy when your going over to someone's house for holiday dinner, if you forget to buy a friend a gift, or just want to bring some sweets over and brighten someone's day. Of course I like to incorporate almonds as much as I can when it comes to holiday baking. By no means am I an aspiring baker or a Betty Crocker, I just like to bake and have fun in the kitchen. The two recipes I am going to share are super easy and fool proof. I actually acquired these recipes from an email chain around the holidays a couple years ago.

First almond recipe: Almond bark.



All you need is one package of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of chopped almonds. You could use all mint, white chocolate, dark chocolate, any kind of chips you wish. This time I used a mixed bag of mint and dark chocolate chips.








You simply bake the chocolate chips on a lined cookie sheet at 325 degrees for 2 minutes until they are shiny. The chips will maintain their chip shape. Take them out of the oven and with a butter knife, swirl the chocolate around.








Then scatter the chopped nuts over the melted chocolate. Lift the pan and drop the pan a couple times for the almonds to settle. Then place in the fridge for an hour to cool. Once cooled, break the bark into your desired sizes! I told you it was easy!










Second almond recipe: Almond snowball cookies.

Mix together 1 cup butter, 1 cup powered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/4 tsp salt until its creamy. Then add 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup chopped almonds and mix well. Form dough into balls as big or small as you like, mine are about 1 inch wide. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Once completely cool, place cookies in ziplock bag with powered sugar and shake to coat the cookies. That's it!

 










Hope you enjoy my almond Christmas cookie recipes and don't eat to many sweets this holiday season!

Until next time,
Almond Girl

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hedging time on the farm!

The temperature has started to drop and it is most definitely winter now. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were still enjoying our 70 degree days and wondering how long fall was going to last for us in the Central Valley. Now that the colder weather seems here to stay, the fall leaves are saying good bye as well.  After the leaves have turned their color and winter weather turns to cold, the trees go to sleep for the winter months. The fall and early winter is time to prune the trees and what we call hedge.

Hedging is essentially cutting the middle branches out of the center of the rows and creating space for sunlight to reach its way into the rows of the orchard. The trees need sunlight, just as we do, for nutrients to help feed the trees in the development of almonds.

Massey, our black Labrador Retriever, loves to walk through the center of the orchard with us to take advantage of the sun that shines through. When almond trees are fully grown they can get up to 30 feet tall and spread out their limbs to be just as wide. If we didn't hedge the rows, the branches would block all the sun from coming into the orchard. During harvest time, the large trees would also block the harvesting equipment from being able to drive through the center of the rows. So when the trees get to be big enough, you need to start hedging the rows.



The Hedger machine is an implement that is attached to the front of the tractor. It has sharp steel saw blades on either side to cut the branches as it drives through the field. The blades are designed to cut any branches that may be in the center of the rows. We run the hedger through the field alternating rows every year, so we don't hedge the whole field every year.  We don't want to cut every row every year, as the trees don't grow back enough to grant the need for pruning each year.  You do need to be careful not to remove too many branches because you still need those almonds on the trees when it comes time to harvest.

Once the hedger goes through the field, it leaves all the branches on the orchard floor. A tractor pulls a brush shredder through the field to turn the brush into small wood chips. The soil loves this part! The soil takes in the wood chips as organic mulch and uses the nutrients to rebuild the soil.

It is the life cycle of the tree branches, they come from the soil to build a tree, and we return them to the soil to help the tree produce fruit!

Until next time,
Almond Girl


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thankful

The holidays are always a time to reflect on what you’re thankful for. During all the hustle and bustle, it is nice to stop and think about all that we have in our lives.

I am thankful for family. Last week was thanksgiving and my family came down from Northern California to spend the holiday with us. I am thankful for the chances we get to spend time together. I am thankful for the memories, laughter and smiles that are created during our visits.

I am thankful for the opportunity my parents gave me of growing up on a farm. Working in the fields during holiday vacations and summer break, I was able to appreciate the land around me. I may have not liked the physical labor all the time, but looking back on it now, it strengthened me as an adult. Having the chance to work alongside my father, sister and cousins was a great experience I wouldn’t trade. I grew up raising sheep and swine for 4-H and FFA. I am thankful my parents gave me the opportunity to learn responsibility and finance at a young age. Having the chance to care for animals and watching the babies be born every year, is one of God’s many blessings.

I am thankful for my new family. I am lucky that my husband was also raised by a farming family. He grew up driving tractors, irrigating and tending to the land. He has the opportunity of farming with his father and grandfather and learning from them every day. I am thankful for them for passing down the passion of farming to my husband, so we can pass it on to our children someday.

I am thankful for the land. We may struggle with a reliable water supply, rising land costs, sharing our property with mineral rights owners and the ever unpredictable Mother Nature, but in the end we have a chance to nourish and love the land. We feed the land and the land feeds us. I am thankful for the crops the land produces, so we can help feed the world.

I think during the holiday season, it is important to look back at what we have been given over the past year and be thankful. Thankful for the opportunities we had, for the ones we didn’t have and the ones we have yet to encounter.

Until next time,
Almond Girl