#1 NYT bestselling author Linda Lael Miller
What’s Cookin’?

The whole house smells mighty good as I write these words.  I have a small turkey stewing in my 18-gallon roaster/slow cooker–the big bird, reserved for Thanksgiving, when my dear friends Jean and Curt will be visiting, is still in the freezer, awaiting the big day.

Since my food-preservation odyssey began, I use that big appliance so often that I just keep it on the counter.  I’ve had it for years, and it sat gathering dust in a closet forever; truth to tell, I was disappointed in the thing, since, being a naive cook at the time, I purchased it to roast–well–turkey.  I know all you veteran cooks out there see this coming–the roaster roasts, all right, but it doesn’t brown the meat or poultry in the process.  Who wants to eat a white turkey, no matter how juicy?  Not I.  So I put the thing away and forgot about it–until a couple of years ago, when I got on a bone-broth kick.  :)  Out came the oversized crockpot, and it proved to be just the ticket.  These days, I use it for making stock and huge batches of soup to put up for those snowy nights this winter.  (Nothing like a good, hearty chicken stock when the cold-and-flu season is in high gear.)

So, why am I cooking a turkey in the thing, you may be asking, quite understandably?

Because I plan to can the meat for use this winter–it will be great in casseroles, soups or just warmed up and served with some of my homemade cranberry sauce.  And once the turkey is ready to be put into Mason jars and pressure-canned, I will strain the broth–bye-bye white turkey skin–and can that, too.  I’m what they call an ingredient canner, since most of what I put up is meant to be paired up with something else.  It will be lovely, after a long day of writing, to whip up an easy, nutritious meal.  (If you’ve canned your own food, you know that the quality can’t be beaten by anything on the shelves of your local supermarket.)

I am by no means an expert at this enterprise, mind you.  I know how to use a pressure canner safely–for years I was terrified of the things: we’ve all heard the horror stories–and I am very, very careful to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter.  Although today’s canners have extra safety features, there are dangers–a plugged valve, for instance, can still result in a nasty explosion, the kind that requires an unscheduled kitchen remodel, at best, and very possibly a long stint in the burn ward.    Not a happy prospect.  I had to learn to trust myself to concentrate on each task–I have ADD, so concentration is a challenge–but I do it, step by step.  My only regret, where stocking the pantry is concerned, is that I let fear stop me for so long.  Canning is a homey pleasure, and the satisfaction I derive from it is well worth all that paying attention.  :)  It’s nice to know there is plenty of food in the house, lest we get one of our famous wind or ice storms, or simply find ourselves snowed in, since I live in the country.

Another great thing about my newest hobby is this: I don’t have to wait for harvest time to tackle a batch of this, that or the other thing.  I recently re-canned tomato sauce, for instance, having purchased several gigantic cans of the stuff–who knew?  I buy chicken drumsticks, thighs and breasts on sale, and can them.  The drumsticks and thighs look pretty unappetizing in the jars–which is why they’re usually referred to, at least on YouTube, as ‘ugly chicken’–but they are absolutely delicious.  My next project, after the turkey and broth/stock will be elderberry syrup, which is a great cold and flu preventative–with the added benefit of tasting wonderful on pancakes or ice cream.

So, I admit it.  My name is Linda and I am powerless over canning.

 

It’s probably true that….

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  For right now, I figure I’m strong enough, thank you very much.  I’m hoping I get to coast a while before I have to undertake any more heavy-duty learning experiences, but since I’m not in charge of the universe (thank heaven), I’ll just have to wait and see.

Before I mention some of the gifts my time in the dark night of the soul gave me, I want to answer a few questions I’ve seen in the comments.

Are there more books to follow THE YANKEE WIDOW?  Absolutely.  WIDOW is the first in a series of 3 novels, covering the lives, fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Winslows and McBrides, with plenty of stage time for Enoch and Jubie and their children.  Together, the stories constitute a family saga spanning two generations.

At present, I’m writing the book I call WEST OF YESTERDAY, the story of Rogan McBride and Amelie Winslow, and the continuing adventures of Bridger and Caroline, with old characters returning and new ones turning up as well.  The book is set in the South, immediately after the war, amid the ruins of the only world Amelie has ever known.  Little wonder she has her reservations about a certain Yankee major.  Rosebud, an ex-slave and formidably intelligent woman, is a real force of nature, and I am enjoying writing about her.

The third book, still untitled, features Caroline’s daughter, Rachel, all grown up and facing challenges of her own–big ones.

The paperback version of THE YANKEE WIDOW will be released in June of 2020.  COUNTRY STRONG, a contemporary western romance and the first in a new trilogy, is scheduled for October.

Another question I receive often is, how are the animals on the Triple L these days?

The dogs, Tule and Mowgli, my little LA street pups, are thriving.  My elderly cat, Wiki, is still with me, and though he had seizures connected to renal failure, he’s on strong meds now and, so far, he’s been seizure-free.  Due to cuts in staff–my wrangler moved back to Canada–I had to give up the horses, as I couldn’t take care of them on my own.  My nephew, Andy Wiley, and his lovely wife, Angie, re-homed them for me, making sure they all ended up with good homes.  Andy and Angie are not only horse lovers, but they’re practically whisperers, too.  Although it broke my heart to see my 5 remaining cayuses go, it was a real comfort to know the Wileys would make sure they were well taken care of.

And, yes, I still miss those critters.

Now, for the gifts that came out of those dark, dark days.  Some of them, anyway–I keep finding new ones.

#1 I found out what good, loyal friends I had, and what a blessing it is to have a family who loves you.

#2 I discovered art, and the power of vibrant color to ease sorrow.  I’ve been painting for several years now and, while I’ll never be a fine artist, I’m pretty good at acrylic pouring–I’ve even sold a few pieces here and there.

#3 Although I did my share of bitching and moaning, I have–and had–so much to be grateful for.  I’m closer to God than ever before.

#4 I did some container gardening this past summer and learned–at the age of 70–to can fruits, vegetables, meats and soups.  My mother and all my aunts canned, of course, but I never really took an interest until I watched people on YouTube putting up tomatoes and other delicious things.  Whammo.  Looked like fun to me, so I started sealing things in Mason jars and I love seeing my pantry shelves packed with bottled love.

#5 (This one will surprise you.)  As my interest in gardening grew, I naturally got interested in composting, too.  Now, I have an entire worm farm in my basement, and the little critters are busy creating truly excellent fertilizer for next year’s raised beds and containers.  I fuss with those worms practically every day, and feed them well on the pulp from my juicer, vegetable scraps, even toilet paper rolls.  

#6 I’ve become an orchid whisperer of sorts, if I do say so myself.  Again, via YouTube, I’ve learned to love these exotic and somewhat temperamental plants and I take real pride in caring for them.  Last count, I had 24 of them. 

#7 Dustin–Jenni’s husband–and I have begun to experiment with raising vegetables hydroponically, again, in my basement.  (It’s a large space, housing my art room as well.)  We hope to raise kale, tomatoes, green beans and carrots, among other things, indoors over the winter, and I’ve planted garlic for next year.  (I put garlic in practically everything I cook, besides dessert.  Onions, too.)  I’ve made and preserved Sweet Onion Jam (yum), cranberry sauce, split pea soup, pork and beans, and just about every kind of stock there is.

Turns out, I’m a fair hand at cooking.

 

 

“Keep your ear to the ground” referred to the practice of plainsmen listening to the ground to hear hoof beats. It became the westerner’s warning to stay alert.

READ MORE WESTERN FACTS »