Monday, March 25, 2019

Maple syrup - done!

One gallon of sweet, delicious organic maple syrup.  Street value about $80 at Aldi prices.

The maple syrup project is done. It was a ton of fun.  I think total I cooked down about 40-43 gallons of sap to get my gallon of syrup.  It took two days outside over a fire, then it was finished in the house.  We still have another 16 gallon of sap in the freezer but we're just going to use that for making iced tea over the next couple of months.

The morning I started this project the fire pit actually had some snow in it.  I put down several layers of cardboard and built the fire on that.

This was my first attempt at a cooking setup.  Don't try this at home or anywhere else for that matter.  I thought that because oven racks could withstand the intense heat of a self-cleaning cycle they would do o.k. over a raging fire.  They did not.  About 1:00 on the first day I noticed they were warping.  Badly.  I pulled them off the fire and tried to press them back flat with my boot while they were still soft.  It mostly worked.  Apparently everyone thought this was a bad idea going in but no one thought to share that information with me. Possibly due to my stubbornness. Replacements would cost about $70 for the two racks.  I'll just deal with warped ones.  The oven came with the house and will probably die someday at which point: new oven racks!

A mere hour after warping the oven racks I set my hair on fire.  It was pulled back into a ponytail but I was crouched down feeding some kindling in and it flared up and... well... yeah.  It wasn't a "stop, drop and roll" situation but still.  Noting worse than hearing a sizzle, smelling your bangs on fire and thinking "oh, shit... how bad does it look? How am I gonna hide this one?"  Good thing there was a haircut scheduled for Tuesday anyway.   It took days to wash the campfire smell out of my hair, I mean it reeked.  

This is the set-up that ended up working.  Heavy metal rods threaded through the holes in the cinder blocks to make a rack.  I don't know what these rods were from, they were here when when we moved in. I liked the cinder blocks because they helped with air flow and I could feed wood into the holes from the side.  They did crack from the heat but at least stayed together enough to get the job done.

It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful to spend two days outside mindlessly tending a fire and sitting in the sunshine. The oldest helped me pick up sticks and we cooked hot dogs and made smores with marshmallow peeps.

It did take a lot of wood to get the job done but not nearly as much as I expected.  My husband and dad had cut down two dead pear trees earlier in the week and I barely touched the pear wood, using instead some maple that we had stacked from last spring and branches that had fallen over the winter.

Empty jugs strung on the clothesline.  Real classy.

The cloth diapers used to strain the mostly-cooked syrup?  Also classy.

We don't have a vent over the stove but two tiny fans worked pretty well to blow the steam out the window.

You're supposed to heat the sap to a certain temperature for it to be "done" but I figured out pretty quickly that my piece of crap candy thermometer was broken.  So I used the other method of cooking it down until it foams up dramatically.  At that point it looked like syrup.  The jars got filled and water bath canned for 10 minutes.

Vodka + lemonade + maple sap = amazing.


Sorry, Bee.  None for you.

Ta-da!  The finished product.  The syrup is fantastic. It's a lovely color.  It tastes like rich maple and vanilla with a very  slight smoky flavor to it which we all really like.

So the syrup project was a huge success.  Will we do it next year?  A gallon is A LOT of syrup to go through so I don't know.  It was so much fun though.  The oldest and I did drink a lot of sap water while outside, right off the tree.  And he'll be old enough to "help" more next spring.  It would be a fun thing to make a tradition out of.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Haha... oops

My husband upon seeing the box: "That had better be fried chicken".

Um, no. Oops. It's spring again at Tractor Supply. And Chick Days are here!
Chick Days = I should just be banned from the damn store for the next month. 


I won't say this was totally unplanned. Most of our birds are solid orange which doesn't exactly spark joy as a grouping.  I'd like to see a more colorful flock in the yard. Also, my ranger hens are aging to the point where their laying has decreased significantly. For us all to sit down to scrambled eggs for breakfast we need 7 or 8 eggs... plus the baby is starting solids.  Pasta, baking, sweet breads... They all add up. Do we need more eggs? Probably not. Is it nice to have them out there everyday? Yep, it sure is. 

Plus! Bantams are tiny so I figure three of them for every full sized chicken? Oh, chicken math.

Here's the new crew so far*

I think these are all Millie Fleur booted bantams. I was planning on hatching some of my own but that rooster is the devil. I am actually afraid of the little bastard and my son is not allowed in the chicken yard currently. I don't want to breed from a rooster like that. He's getting the ax. Then possibly taxidermied. Hopefully one of these babies will be a roo with a better attitude. 

I think this is a porcelain booted bantam which are a lovely light grey. With my luck it will probably be another rooster. 

Two white silkies and one that is blue? Buff? Silkies have black meat and bones and look like vampire chickens. At least one of these is going to be Halloween party dinner.

Here are some standard chickens: Buff Orpington pullet, Barred Rock pulled and 2 Black Australorps (one looks like a roo already)

These two... Buff Brahma bantams? Buff Cochin bantams? Hmmm....

Here they are complaining. Not as loudly as they did when I walked into yoga today with box full of peeps. There was no time to take them home first so into the library with me they came. They were fussed over by the ladies.  I covered the box with my jacket to calm them and we planked and
pigeon-ed to the sound of peeping. 

Spring is here!

* So far... am I done? Maybe. I reserve the right to impulse buy some ducks and any blue or fancy chickens. I'll work out the details later.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Coconut rice with mango and chicken

Because I still don't have the energy to post about Sap Weekend (spoiler: warped my oven racks, set my bangs on fire) here is a really fantastic dinner we had on Monday out of Family Circle magazine. We have several tins of mangos in the cupboards  (looking at your mango lassies, L ;) ) we also had the chicken and the coconut milk. It was SO good. Definitely a make again.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Maple sap iced tea

Iced tea! From trees!

I take back everything I said in the last post about being tired of the sap project because today I discovered.... maple sap iced tea.
We drink a lot of iced tea in this house. Between the oldest and I we drink a gallon every two days.  I blame my southern grandmother who always had a big pitcher of sweet tea on the kitchen counter. The stuff is delicous.

My usual method is bring 1/8 c organic sugar and some water to simmer on the stove, turn off the heat, add 5 tea bags and then when it's cool pour it in the tea pitcher and top it off with enough water to make a gallon.   That's a lot of organic sugar every week.

Today it occurred to me that we have free organically sweetened water right out there in the yard.

I pulled a gallon of sap water off of the porch and used it to heat the tea water and then top off the pitcher. NO added sugar. It's absolutely delicious, in fact a bit sweeter than we're used to. Heck yes I will be taking advantage of this free resource. I wonder if we could make coffee with it too? Can I sweeten bread dough? Pancake batter?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I'm over my head...

...but it sure feels nice.

Oh my goodness. Remember when I tapped the trees? I was inspired by Karen over at The Art of Doing Stuff who taps her single Maple tree. We have some really old Maple trees on the property so I thought I'd give it a shot. I put a total of 6 taps in between three trees. It's been below freezing for a good part of this time but the trees have still produced, and how.

That's about 38 gallons of sap sitting out on the porch. Initially I was freezing it but we ran out of space. So now it's all having a big thaw out outside.

At this point I am scrambling for containers to hold the stuff.  The abundance from these three simple trees borders on horrifying.  It's like when you buy a 6-pack of zucchini starts and, in spring madness, plant them all.  Then every time you walk past the garden there are hundreds of  zucchini that grow when your back is turned?  Every time I look at the trees there is another 3-4 gallons to pour off.  It has to go somewhere.  I'm scrounging water bottles at this point.

Even when homesteading on a micro-level, you can never have too many buckets.
I was not prepared.

Saturday is going to be a big boiling off day.  I'll make a fire outside in the wee hours of the morning and keep topping the pots off.  Meals and cocoa will be cooked over the fire, campout style. I'll record numbers and see how we do with it.   Then I think I'm done with this project for this season.  The initial delight and reverence when tapping the trees (sap! magic tree sugar!) turned to unease within the first day.  It's ridiculous - (I know this on an intellectual level) but on some visceral level the steady drip, drip, drip of the sap from the tree makes me feel like like they're being bled.  These three old trees in the yard; drip, drip, drip.  I admit, it's crazy.  But it's also unsettling

Kind of like ticks. It's creepy.

Stay tuned.  The wood is still fresh and the fire pit needs dug out.  Syrup day is going to be either a success or a disaster.  It's a 50/50 bet at this point.

Tiny Taco Tuesday

Today the oldest and I read one of his favorite books Dragons Love Tacos.  We don't have any dragons lying around but we do have dinosaurs.  Lots of dinosaurs.  So we turned it into Dinosaurs Love Tacos.  It's a harrowing tale of of a little boy, Robbie, who thows a taco party but forgets to hide all of the spicy salsa. 

We made tiny tacos out of construction paper and tape.

And fed them to all the dinosaurs. 

Who promptly set the house on fire with their spicy breath.  We do a lot of improvising with this story. Robbie : "Oh, snickerdoodles!  My parents told me not to have a party while they were gone and now THIS happens!" Dog: "Yep. That was a bad idea".

Dragon: " Hey man, it's not that bad, really. You can barely tell."

Of course the dragons build a new one and it all works out. 

This book is so funny. I wish I could remember who gave it to us, we've had it forever. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Our trip to Columbeeus

Also known as Columbus, Ohio.  The oldest called it Ko-lum-bee-us.  And called the hotel the "Columbeeus House". We met up with some old friends there, a wonderful couple that we were great friends with years ago before they moved away.

  Columbus is halfway between our house and theirs. It was our first time meeting their adorable daughter and she and this guy were best friends for the whole trip.  We had adjoining rooms at the hotel and it was so much fun.  The Holiday Inn was more set up for business travel (no breakfast, no microwave) but at least the bar did let me take martinis up to our room.  These were much needed after the two 20-something bartenders declared that I looked "just like Michelle Pfeiffer!" I do not.  At all. The only things she and I have in common are that we are both white woman.  She is a 60 year old skinny actress.  I am not even 40.  And not skinny.  What the hell.  It reminded me of the time my sister was on vacation and a drag queen told her she looked "just like Sarah Palin!" (circa shootin' animals from a helicopter and seeing Russia from her house). I assure you she does not.  Both the bartender and the drag queen meant it as a compliment.  Both my sister and I wanted to weep a bit.  

It also had a pool, which both of the older kiddos were obsessed with. And I was super excited to bring the vintage train case I refurbished and enjoy a shower with good water pressure.  Yay for hotels!

We went to COSI and saw the dinosaurs.  I thought T-Rex would be bigger, honestly.  

They had a traveling exhibit on mythical creatures.  Here's the famous Fiji Mermaid. A really creepy looking thing with a fun history. I think I need one for my curiosity cabinet.

And a massive unicorn for the kids to climb on.  The funny thing about the mythical creatures show is that my husband and I recognized it as something we had already seen at the Cleveland Natural History museum about 8 years ago, back in our pre-children years.

Water cannons.

The whole museum was amazing.  All of it was interactive.  Without our discount (50% for being members at the Erie Children's Museum) it would have been over $100 for us to go in.  Happily we paid $50.  And it was worth every single penny.  We were there over 5 hours.

I wish my house looked like this.  Or at least one dedicated room.

Look at this amber!

All fossils more or less local to the area.  We are planning a couple of fossil hunting/camping trips this spring so these were really exciting.

This tiny albino alligator looked kinda angry.  Like it was sizing the kids up.  For snacks. 

This!  This guy is LIFE SIZE! Named Gomek, this guy weighed over 1800 lbs and was over 17 feet long in life.  Holy crap.  It was like looking at an elephant or a draft horse.  Except, you know, those animals are herbivores you could probably safely turn your back on.  This guy was terrifying.

There was an amazing kid's place with a big water park area.

I cannot say enough how much we loved our visit to COSI.  Even the food court was fantastic.  The baby and I absolutely devoured a plate of healthy cauliflower/chick pea baked "tater tots'  Heck yes , I will be making them in the future.

The next day we went to the Columbus Zoo.  Which is apparently a big deal as far as zoos go but not many of the animals were out and a certain 3 year old *ahem* just ran around yelling the entire time.  

Here's a picture of the "barn"  Mini goats, chickens, pigs.  It was adorable.  We did see a few of the animals before parting ways for the long drive home.  

This family.  Wow, how I miss them already.  A combined 3 children and how many years after last seeing each other we picked up just where we had left off.  Their daughter and our oldest?  They both have the same favorite bird.  The Downy Woodpecker.  I mean, let's just arrange this marriage now, right?

It takes a village to raise children.  And in this case, we really wish this part of our village lived closer.  I think the best times make you realize what you've been missing out on.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Shooting day

What a fun afternoon. I've reconnected with a wonderful woman I knew high school. We have a ton in common; homesteading, hunting, fishing.  She invited me out target shooting at the club I grew up at. It was awesome.  Absolutely awesome.  I got the chance to become comfortable with my 22 and I can't overstate how much easier it is to learn something new in the comfort of a group of women. 

My first grouping. It got better.

I literally grew up at this club. My father was the caretaker here in the 80's and we lived in a trailer on the property. I have many, many fond memories of learning to ride my bike in the indoor range, stocking the soda machines and running free on the property. It was not unusual for my mom to kick me outside with my little sister to run in the fields with the instructions "if anyone drives up to shoot on the outdoor range, come back to the house." I learned a healthy respect for firearms.  I remember where all the wild strawberries are on the property along with the four leaf clovers.

That orange velvet chair has been there forever.

I sent my dad this text. 

Which is hilarious. 

This would actually make a really cool quilt block.

My groupings by the end.  My scope needs adjusted because they're all consistently low to the target but I'm pretty proud.

Turns out you can go home again, for a membership fee. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Toys from the attic

This afternoon we got into the attic and brought down some toys that the oldest loved when he was little. The baby is just the right age for them now.

Everyone was very excited.

This tiny rocking chair absolutely breaks my heart. My grandpa made it as a young father and my mother and all of her brothers used it when they were toddlers. Then my generation came along and I used it along with all of my cousins.  I grabbed it before the farmhouse was auctioned. And here we are. Another generation of little people and an older generation lost. 

And so it goes, I guess.

A sick week

It's been a bummer of a week.  We're all still recovering from being sick. Lots of laying around, coughing and kleenex.  Cabin fever.  Ugh.  If I hear the phrase "My nose is running!" one more time I might throw myself out a window.

How sweet is this little hat.  It came from the dollar store of all places.

We did have one warm day when we all bundled up and went to the park as no one could stand being cooped up in the house one minute longer.

I think that was Friday.  I drove into town that day and walked a mile to yoga, when I got there I just laid on my mat for awhile, coughing.  On the walk back I stopped at the food pantry to donate a bag of diapers that the youngest has outgrown.  I don't think you can buy diapers with food stamps and I'm sure there's some baby's butt in this town that can use them.  For some reason it looked like someone had donated an entire case of avocados and another one of fennel.  I wonder if anyone that works there suggests recipes to the people coming in.  I mean, what the hell do you do with 50 avocados?   I also talked to one of the ladies working there about donating some vegetables this summer.  It would be nice to make growing for the food pantry a regular thing to do with the oldest.

The oldest: he who brought this plague back from preschool.  Here we are planting about 50 paw paw seeds in a 8 inch pot.

His favorite book is Disney's Davy Crockett.  He has the whole thing memorized and for some reason especially loves the line about "joining General Andy Jackson's army". We built a little log cabin from a kit one afternoon.  It was a lot of fun and he did a great job.

The chicken coops got cleaned out today. I hacked the whole time and needed a nap when I was done.  There are 6 goose eggs and a bunch of green Easter Egger eggs in the incubator.  The heating element went nuts today and they may have gotten cooked. Literally.  I'll candle them on Wednesday and hope for the best until them.

Tomorrow morning (well I guess today as it's now almost 3 a.m.) brunch with friends and Tuesday shooting at the range to look forward to.