Friday, July 30, 2010

Survivor Carrot

You may remember the saga of this year's carrot bed. I planted it twice. The first time all of the tiny seedlings disappeared. The second time there were 4 survivors. I planted Envy soybeans around them and left them to their fate. They did surprisingly well, even if there are only 4 of them. This guy is 5 oz. He will get eaten this weekend. More garden pictures soon. It's going a little crazy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Live in a Zoo

We now own chickens!
Yesterday afternoon, the Eugene Backyard Farmer tweeted that they had two three-week old red sexlinks available. Somebody had decided they wanted a different breed and they brought these back for a trade. Half grown chicks, well past most of the tricky bits of raising babies, seemed like an ideal way to start chicken farming. They are past needing a heat lamp and only need about 4 more days inside before they can start spending daylight in their tractor. A week of that and then they're living in it full time. The tractor gets delivered tonight. Right now they're living in our bedroom, by the sliding door during the day and locked in our bathroom at night.

Since they're layers, we can name them since they'll be with us for a couple of years. I've gotta admit they so far don't have qualities that would make me get emotionally attached to them like I do with fur creatures. That's a good thing since I'm already quite aware that I have no desire to run a chicken retirement home. For names, we're currently considering Sealey and Temperance or Sweets and Daisy (courtesy of the TV show "Bones") even though they're two girls. I also like Lily and Vivian in honor of the synchronized swimming star sisters from "Pushing Daisies". Lily's even a redhead in the show.

On the fur creature front, here is the least blurry picture I could get of Marbles, our most troublesome foster kitten. He's been limping for two weeks now and Greenhill arranged to get x-rays for him this morning. Apparently, he's got femoral head necrosis. In layman's terms, the "ball" of his ball and socket hip joint on the right side is basically gone. The vet says it's likely the result of an injury he received very early in kittenhood. My research into the disorder suggests it could have even been due to something that happened before birth. He doesn't seem to be in any pain - he just isn't able to use that leg, understandable since he effectively doesn't have a hip. That hasn't stopped him from becoming the heaviest of the three kittens though; he's almost 5 pounds now!

All three are almost done with the ringworm treatments and the cultures will hopefully come back on Monday, clearing them for adoption after another two weeks of treatment just to be really, really sure. Ringworm is quite the persistent fungus.

The vet is tentatively thinking Marbles' hip can be fixed with surgery but I'll get to know more on Monday when everybody goes in for their check-ups.

Cherry Pie!

Somehow, I'd never had the pleasure of making a cherry pie before yesterday. After the filling was into the jars there was some left over that wasn't enough for a 5th quart. Oh darn...
It was so delicious. I used the recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. I think that it's the almond extract that really makes the flavor pop. I was so excited when we went to Hentze Family Farm on Sunday and they not only had sour cherries but they also had the Clear Jel required for canning pie filling. Apparently there's no substitute that thickens like corn starch but doesn't behave badly during the canning process. They only have pre-picked, pre-pitted cherries for sale (how else is a farmer going to make a living except with value added products?) so the 8+ lbs. I bought (apparently an even 10 lbs. before pitting) were $22.50, a little richer than I usually buy my fruit. A total of $5 per pie for all ingredients starts seeming well worth it though when I dig into such a tasty treat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Racking Day

Today we racked the cherry wine (started 7/12, 1 gal) and the apple cider (started 7/1, 5 gal). They both had used up all their sugar and were down to a specific gravity of 1.000.

We racked the wine and left it as is. We're supposed to rack it again in a couple of weeks and then every couple of months until no sediment settles at the bottom. It started at 1.090, which means it has an alcohol content of about 12%. We tasted a sip. Right now that's a very young wine but it has potential. It is very fruity.

The cider got racked and then we added 4 cups of sugar to bring the specific gravity back up to 1.020 and added 1/2 t potassium metabisulfite to kill the yeast so they don't ferment the new sugar. That batch started at 1.060, so it's about 7.5% alcohol. We'll bottle in a few days and let it age a few weeks before we have cider again.

We also went to Bite of Eugene today - a very good thing. Tomorrow, I've got a lead on some peaches and pie cherries. Nums!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Meet Sheldon

I was rather thrilled when I found out that the theme of my new nephew's nursery was going to be turtles in blue and green because I've been dying for a reason to make Sheldon ever since I saw him. I used simple cotton "Sugar 'n Cream".

I made two changes to the pattern. I used yarn to stitch on eyes rather than sewing on plastic so there wouldn't be a choking hazard. The pattern also calls for creating I-cord for the outside of the turtle shell. I wanted something combined the top and bottom a little more seamlessly so I single crocheted two rows that incorporated the top and bottom both times. I was very pleased with how it turned out.

Now that dear baby just needs to get born!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Weekend Score

On Sunday Q was kind enough to take me up to the farm where we picked 8 lbs. of blueberries and 12 lbs. of sweet cherries (both $1.25/lb.) and just enough peaches for Q to have snacks for a few days. The free stones won't be ready until August so no canning peaches for a while.

I am aware that I have forsworn bananas because of the large number of food miles they carry but I couldn't help picking these up when we saw them at the grocery store on the way home. I mean, I come from a long line of bargain hunters and $.28/lb for the red bands was more than I could pass up. I assuage my guilt by telling myself that the market can't be making money at that price and they'd go to waste anyway if no one bought them. They add a lot of sweetness and body to the morning smoothies, which makes them pretty valuable in our eyes. So, yeah, that's what 35 lbs. of bananas looks like.

Q was awesome and pitted cherries while I quartered them into the citric acid water. It took less than 2 X-File episodes (we're watching through season 1 again) to get them all done when we double teamed them. The weather's been cool-ish ever since though and I think I need to resort to the electric dryer rather than solar.

The blueberries were washed, frozen in single layers on rimmed baking sheets, and then poured into freezer bags. They made about 2 gallons and are also smoothie fodder.

My favorite morning recipe (for 2)...
1 1/2 c frozen whole strawberries
1/2 c frozen blueberries
1 c frozen peaches
2 frozen bananas
2 T peanut butter or 6 T MLO high protein powder

There are 8 freezer bags of bananas in the deep freeze along with a smaller bag in the upstairs freezer for the next few mornings. There were also some delicious peanut butter on banana incidents in the last few days.

I took a bowl full of peels out this morning after I finished processing the last few pounds. I turned the compost a little to get to the center. The place where Q put the banana peels on Sunday is FULL of worms. A lot of them seem to be the red wigglers I released from our now defunct worm bin. I guess we now have a really big worm bin. I can't believe how quickly the compost is breaking down lately. Yay dirt!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Garden Tour Day!

Today was the neighborhood bike tour of gardens and yards with a focus on sustainability. It was nice and we saw some great stuff. A lot of our neighbors are doing interesting things. It was especially amusing to meet another one of those women who's me in 30 years. She was talking about fermenting pickles on her counter, juicing plums and making vinegar, and making her own cheese. It was satisfying. Many of our neighbors have fantastic chicken set-ups too, which makes me want to have chickens even more. Combining what I saw today with what I already knew about, I think we may be approaching a one chicken per capita density in our little neighborhood. :) We didn't end up taking pictures but the organizers were taking a lot, so I'll post a link to those pictures here when I get one. Garden tour meant that we did a bit of extra effort for sprucing up the yard.

The poor pea trellis had collapsed under the weight of the vines.

Most of the peas were ready or past ready so I removed most of the vines. I've got about 20 pods getting really dry in the sun for planting next year. I also got about 3 lbs. of shelled peas that went into the freezer. The last vines are a bit behind the others and I'll hopefully get a few more ounces of snacking peas before those vines come out in the next week or so for fall garden planting. Behind the shellers, I also left a couple of snow pea vines to finish ripening a few pods for seed. The garlic that had been growing between the rows since last fall was harvested at the same time. I got a beautiful head for replanting and 4 oz. of cloves that were pureed with some olive oil and frozen, ready for marinara making in August.
Q, bless his heart, finally got the last boards up to get rid of the gaps in the back fence. (Notice the more reddish boards.) He had an incredible trial resetting one of the posts that had been placed out of line to accommodate the trees since the stump remains were now just where the post belonged. After he finally got the new post set and the old panels up, there were gaps where boards had broken or they were strangely sized since moving the post changed the distance between them.

I posted the permaculture plan that was put together for us last year along with a colored version of what we're actually doing. I can't seem to follow a recipe no matter what form it is in.

The front row of plants got a good weeding and all the dead lupine stalks got removed to give them more space. I fear we won't get a good crop on these this year because the wet, cold spring hung on so long but we'll see.

The war on grass also continued with a LOT of hand removal in the strawberry bed itself and liberal application of boiling water on the grass coming up in the paths. It's a pretty cool trick. Pour boiling water on any undesirable plant and it smells like cooking greens and kills the plant to the root. You just can't use it when the weeds are next to plants you want. I guess there's no way completely around just getting down on my knees with my weed remover and a bucket.

The corn desperately needs to be sidedressed since it's far taller than my knee at this point. It's growing well despite my neglect though.

Beans look so happy when they really get established on a trellis.

Cherry success - the dried cherries finished drying today so they're now in partially filled jars for conditioning. They still kept some of their color. I ended up with 15 1/2 oz. from the 5 1/2 lbs. I'm considering getting another 5 lbs. of sweet for drying when I go up to Detering's farm to pick sour pie cherries. Q's request is canned cherry pie filling.

That trip is probably also going to encompass some peach picking, since processing the desired 50 quarts of canned peaches is best done in increments. Q has an adorable habit of occasionally accidentally eating a whole quart of peaches when he wants a snack. As he puts it, he'll be eating and then notice that there are only a couple of halves left in the jar. At that point it seems silly to store them so he finishes them up. :) He's also willing to have them in his lunch every day.
Cherry failure - The cherry soda experiment was... a little?... overcarbonated. :) I think that next time I'll just make cherry syrup and we can add soda water to make cherry soda. Thank heavens for the seltzer bottle. Q likes this stuff well enough to finish the bottle though. He says it's a little bit like a very young, sweet cider.

And I leave you with my latest obsession - grilled cheese dipped in marinara. It's the perfect meal for the night after we do pasta because we never use a full quart of marinara for the two of us. Speaking of, it's a good thing tomato season is almost here because I'm down to my last three jars!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Answer to a Bee Mystery

For anyone who reads this blog and was as puzzled as we were by the weird bee behavior of a few weeks ago, we got an answer last night at the potluck. Another local novice beekeeper had a similar experience and he called up his mentor after it happened. Apparently it was a "cleansing swarm" - everybody exits and takes all of the yucky stuff out of the hive, gets some fresh air, and then return to business as normal. This sounds pretty close to my original guess of a "bee holiday".

Solar Energy

Cheaper than solar panels, yes?

It's been perfect weather for line drying - hot and dry and slightly breezy - so all the laundry has been getting done. After the cedars got removed, Q moved the end hook for my line to the fence so I could have more space (I've got a retractable line like this), which is excellent since we got a HE washer over the winter so loads are a lot larger.

It also seems silly to be running a dehydrator and blowing warm air around in the house that we air condition. Besides, it would take a lot of trays to dry this many cherries - 5 1/2 pounds. My setup is composed of a repurposed light cover (like the put over big fluorescents in public buildings) set on two sawhorses. There's a layer of tulle below the cherries and a layer above. They're pretty well protected from anything that might be interested in sampling and from any wayward dust. I take up the corners of the tulle to make a bundle at night and take them in for storage in the fridge.

This is the beginning of the second day. They dried for about 8 hours yesterday. I'm really happy with the way they're keeping their color. I put 1/4 c. of citric acid in a couple of quarts of water and submerged the cherries as I quartered them. I know quartering seems like overkill but the halves were a little large in the baked goods last year and it's quite a bit easier to cut them fresh. Dried fruit is so sticky and leathery.

There were still 2 1/2 lbs. of cherries that didn't fit on the dryer yesterday so I juiced them for fun and tried to modify our ginger ale recipe to make cherry soda. Even with straining then, there's still a lot of debris in the bottle. It carbonated really quickly and is now in the fridge. It will be interesting to see if it's any good. We have to strain ginger ale when we make it anyway, so pouring it through a filter won't be anything new.
The recipe...
  • Combine 1 c. sugar, 1 T citric acid, and 1 t yeast in a 2 liter bottle. Use a funnel!
  • Place 1 qt. of strained cherry juice in a 2 qt. measuring cup. My pyrex measuring cup also has liters so I added water to just a little below the 2 liter mark.
  • Add a little of the diluted juice to the bottle and swirl until most of the sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of the juice.
  • Screw on the lid and leave on the counter (no direct sun) until the bottle doesn't indent when squeezed. (Test how much give it has when you begin so you can tell the difference.)
  • As soon as the bottle is very hard, refrigerate the soda. Drink it in the next few days. Make sure to hold the bottle over the sink as you open it. It could easily be over-carbonated!
I also made what is effectively this recipe for Washboard Cookies from the American Test Kitchen Baking Book for a neighborhood dessert potluck last night. They're quite good - not overly sweet and very buttery. If you make them, DON'T omit the nutmeg like the blog author suggests. It's absolutely necessary to add a hint of spicy bitterness that allows the coconut to shine. Without it, there would be very little dimension of flavor. Like hers, mine also came out soft instead of crunchy but I don't consider this a bad thing. I'd probably try thinner slices next time just to see if I could achieve crunchy, wafery status.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Radish Pods

When I read about eating radish pods over at Aunt Bee's Garden my radishes were just bolting. I used her post as an excuse to avoid work and just let them go to seed. I sauteed them with some butter, garlic, and salt (using my tried and true belief that anything is delicious if cooked in this way). They were very good. When I pick the more mature pods I need to trim off the pointy ends because they get a little too fibrous.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Excellent Traditional Wisdom

We were at a friend's this weekend and he got blueberry juice on his shirt. He thought all was lost but I told he to try running it under boiling water. It worked and he thought it was about the coolest thing ever.

My mom taught me this trick, which she had learned from her mother. I am beginning to think that not enough people know it, since everyone I've ever shared it with has been surprised and amazed. So, in the interest of the good of society...

How to remove grape, blackberry, or blueberry juice - While the stain is still fresh, spread it out flat, holding it over a sink. Pour boiling water through the fabric until the stain disappears. (It happens almost immediately.)

I'll post more tomorrow - it's been a busy day.

I'm an Infuser

I have now joined the ranks of people who have jars full of oil and herbs in their pantry. I ended up with about a cup of dried calendula petals and poured oil over them up the the one cup mark on the pint jar. I'm supposed to leave them in the pantry for a month before straining the oil and making cream with it using some of our beeswax.

We also went cherry picking yesterday and got about 19 pounds. We juiced 8 lbs. and got 8 cups of juice. We topped it off with water and added lots of honey and a little sugar until the specific gravity got up to 1.090. We're going to make wine. Funny to think that we'll know if it's an experiment worth repeating just before cherry season next year. Wine making takes a lot more patience than cider.

The pint jar to the left is full of "cherry bounce". We took the recipe from our brewing book for the concept and then didn't really measure. Q pitted cherries and put as many into the pint jar as he could fit, drizzling in honey every so often. He then poured vodka in until everything was submerged. It's not as romantic sounding as using the traditional cognac or brandy but vodka's what we had. I'll be interested to see how that experiment works out, although I can't foresee any way it wouldn't turn out yummy. :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Harvest In Absentia

Q was kind enough to harvest the garden and blog about it with pictures! Go check it out!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Early July Garden

I'm in Sacramento now for training but here are some pictures I took on the Friday before I left.

Morning tea was after my run and some harvesting. Coop is an excellent book. I was reading parts aloud to Q and he decided that he has to read the whole thing to himself.

Here's the side bed. I need to pull out most of the calendula and lettuce and sidedress the corn when I get home. We've got some calendula drying. Apparently it's an excellent ingredient in a soothing cream after the dried flowers have been infused into oil. I found a recipe that calls for beeswax too so we could use lots of our own production.

Potatoes (need to be mulched)

The perennial forest

The peas are taller than me.

I built this new trellis for the Bingo beans.

The asparagus have finally done something. Currently, it looks like they're all alive.

From front to back:
Misono Green soy, black eyed peas (very small), fava beans, and the Bingos

The carrot bed that I replanted twice and refused to grow more than 4 carrot seedlings was replanted with Envy soy, which is doing much better. (I did leave the four carrots and planted around them. They're looking nice so far.)

The first tomatoes


The whole yard

The harvest

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I've discovered I've got to put things here. I lose scraps of paper. My memory isn't that good. My housekeeping book is invariably in another location from where I am when I need the information (often in another state).

Salad Rolls
The recipe for this really good dressing/marinade is here. I marinated the tofu strips for a few hours then pan-fried them in a little olive oil. Lettuce, carrots, avocado, cucumber and tofu on a rice wrapper. (Yes, I do feel guilty with how many things here aren't local. The lettuce is from the front yard though.)

Laundry Powder
1 c. borax, 1 c. washing soda, 1 bar Ivory soap, slightly less than 1 oz. Fels Naptha laundry soap
Add food processor.
Mix about 1 T with water then pour into the washing machine detergent slot.
So far so good.

New Cider Batch
5 gallons of sweet cider from Detering's ($5/gal)
Beginning specific gravity 1.060
Down to the last 2 bottles from the last batch! This is an emergency!

My Magic Seven Household Supplies

I've always thought that Mexican restaurants really had the right idea. For the most part, their dishes are created from the same few ingredients. Corn and wheat tortillas, oil, meat, rice, beans, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, and lettuce allow a patron to order hard tacos, soft tacos, tostadas, burritos, or chimichangas. Five menu items, 11 ingredients to have prepared. Not bad. From there, minor additions make whole new meals - add one ingredient (enchilada sauce) and enchiladas get added to the menu.

As I pondered this more, I realized that most traditional cuisines work on this principal. It makes sense, there are only so many things a person or village can produce in any given climate.

All of this came to mind today as I went down to the usual cupboard and pulled out the borax, washing soda, and soap to make laundry detergent. It's the same cupboard where I keep the white vinegar, citric acid, and pickling salt. Throw in baking soda from the kitchen I realized that I've got my own household needs "traditional ingredients" list.

Dishwasher detergent - citric acid, borax, washing soda, salt
Laundry powder - borax, washing soda, soap
Baking soda for any abrasive scrubbing (think Comet)
Vinegar for grease removal (I've also heard it works great on windows - but I don't do windows ;p) and yucky laundry (immediately removes any mildew)
Citric acid baths prevent oxidation as I prepare fruit for canning
Borax mixed with powdered sugar is great ant bait
Salt, baking soda, and vinegar for cooking and preserving

Eight uses on the "menu", not bad for seven ingredients!

Now I've just got to get soapmaking under my belt to I can just keep lye in the stash and use all that rendered fat from stock. (No, I don't believe I'll ever feel the need to try to make my own lye from wood ash - yuck.)

It really is amazing how many times I look up some household trick for this or that little problem and it comes down to some combination of those few ingredients. Presto! It's a taco! No, it's a burrito!

It's funny how the more you understand how things work it allows you to simplify and need fewer and fewer types of things. Clothing follows the same progression. When you get right down to it, with the right tools and skills, it would not be tricky to reduce your materials down to fabric, yarn, and some thread. (Wood and leather if you wanted to include shoes.) If you want to be one of those really obnoxious people with WAY too much time, I guess you'd even just need a flock of sheep and a field of cotton. :)

Somehow, the versatility of those substances soothes me. It gives reinforcement that the world works in understandable, predictable ways. My more practical side is also grateful that, despite what advertisers say, I don't need laundry soap, dish detergent, floor cleaner, stove cleaner, counter cleaner, sink and tub cleaner, window cleaner, and so on. Think about how much space grocery stores would save. Think of how much money corporations would lose. It's a very silly thought.

Clearly, the first outside laundry drying of the year has gone to my head! (Yes, it's late. It's been a really rainy spring.)