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Monday, February 28, 2011

Homegrown tomato sauce, onions, bell peppers, and celeriac leaves in Vegetable Soup

Last night it was garlic in pasta. It was all I could manage.

The Last Day of February

The weather has finally moved from ridiculously cold (for this area) to its more normal dreary damp chill. It will be this way for the foreseeable future, which means that I'm stuck in the house with a bum thumb.  Yesterday, Steve helped me peel off the tape to change it (the doc said it would get dirty and sent more tape home with me, and it did get pretty grotty).  It does not appear to be healing at all well, showing a bit of dried blood along the cut line where it was perfectly clean at the doctor's office.  It still hurts like hell. (I sure hope I'm not turning anyone's stomach.)  It dawned on me that in addition to taking Vitamin C, which is said to speed healing, I should also be forking in more vegetables, which are loaded with Vitamin K, the vitamin of coagulation.  If anyone has any healing suggestions, I'd be glad to hear them.  I'm pretty thoroughly bored out of my skull, inactivity not being my strong suit.

So this morning I ordered my replacement pea seeds, going with Maestro, per Danni's (of Critter Farm) suggestion.  What was supposed to be a fairly inexpensive order quickly turned into around fifty bucks, as I ordered herbs for tea and the herb bed, some of which I need for a special German sauce called Grune sosse (green sauce) which is the traditional thing to serve with a Tafelspitz.  But I digress; I also ordered a Bay Laurel plant, which I meant to order with my citrus last fall but forgot.  Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) is a lovely Mediterranean plant that can grow quite tall in moderate climates.  My mother has one that is a little bit taller than her second story house; she's been supplying me with dried bay leaves for many years.  However, I've been wanting access to fresh bay leaves for awhile- their flavor is different from dried, and ever since reading about flavoring a custard with fresh bay instead of vanilla, I've been wanting to try it.

Photo from here
But I don't need a towering tree of it. The folks in the Mediterranean have a neat trick for keeping its size within reason, however.  They plant Bay Laurels in pots, and where they want them as part of the landscaping or garden proper, they bury the pots, so this is what I'll be doing.  Ideally, I'd like to train it into a lollipop shaped tree, so that it doesn't shade the rest of the herb bed too much, but I may consider training it as a bush shape so that I can grow cilantro north of it. We'll see.  It will be awhile before I have to decide anyway- I'm sure to get a tiny little plant in a four inch pot.

In any case, I can still get dried bay leaves from my mother.  I kind of wish she was here to kiss away my booboo.  That would make it heal faster.  It always worked before.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Kindness of Relative Strangers

Many posts ago, I wrote about the kindness of the people in the blogosphere, specifically the homesteading blogosphere.  Today, I met one of them (in real life!) and she couldn't have been nicer.

Rae and I met at one of the Starbucks in Oregon City, with the intent to go to One Green World after strawberries for me.  I mentioned in my post of 22 February that if I thought I could cram two bales of straw in my wagon I'd do it, and Rae offered to haul them for me in her truck, which was really kind.  So naturally I took advantage of her; she hauled four for me.  She also lugged them into my garage for me, because even if my left thumb hadn't been injured, I still couldn't have lugged those bales.  Hell, I couldn't even pull them off the end of her truck.  (The only thing strong about me is the way I smell at the end of the day.)  So now, thanks to Rae, I'm all set for carbon for the whole summer, I think.  Unless I wind up mixing one or two of them into the wattle and daub for the coop; I'm still working on that idea mentally.

Before I forget, we did go to OGW, and I got my strawberries; a bundle of twenty-five TriStar, for ten bucks, which I think quite the deal.  I also got a new Italian plum, to replace the one that croaked last summer, and I got two olive trees, an Arbequina (Spanish) and a Leccino (Italian).  I even have a good idea where the olives are going to go.  Out front, for sure.  I'm just not sure if I'm going to put them together on one side of the driveway, or split them on opposite sides of the driveway.  Plus, there's a native filbert in the way; I have to figure out what to do with that.

I also got to meet Henry, who is one sweetheart of a dog, so I got a good dog fix in.

So: a new friend, new plants, and a dog fix.  All in all, a very satisfying way to spend a Saturday.

I just hope it was good for her, too.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Snow and Soup, 24Feb2011

We got our snow, although it was largely melted by mid-afternoon.  Then it snowed again, and a little has stuck.

Steve went out for his daily walk all bundled up.  While he was out, I made soup, loosely based on Italian Wedding Soup to use up what we had.  It was good, and I'll give you an idea how I did it, but not a recipe.  I am largely a 'dump cook'; I cook, dumping stuff in until I think it's done.  This is probably not a fair assessment of my skill, because I have gotten much better at it as I've racked up more hours at the stove.  I even have the bad habit of doing things like making pancakes and tortillas without properly measuring things; ingredients get dumped in the flour sifter or my hand until they look about right.  I make great pancakes and tortillas.  Maybe that's why building pasta on the island appeals to me as much as it does; you dump flour on the board, stir an egg into it, knead it a little, let it rest a half hour, and then start making pasta.  I would say it's a piece of cake, but cake is where I do get out measuring cups and a recipe.

So the soup then: I chopped and then sweated a medium homegrown onion in couple tablespoons of olive oil with a couple pinches of red pepper flakes.  Instead of doing the whole meatball thing, I browned little tiny meatballs of sausage, about a quarter pound.  Since I couldn't actually roll meatballs with my bandaged up left hand, I used a melon baller, employing an old German trick; I wet the melon baller first, and the sausage didn't stick to it.  After that was browned, I added two minced garlic cloves, which I only cooked a little, and then dumped in chicken stock, about a quart.  To that I added a frozen package of homegrown Swiss chard.  Then I left the whole thing to simmer.

While the soup was simmering, I mashed about three tablespoons of soft butter and a minced clove of garlic together with some oregano (you could also use Italian seasoning, but I don't have any), and then a tablespoon or so of grated Romano (you could also use Parmesan- I just prefer Romano cheese).  That was spread on six slices of crusty bread, and browned under the broiler.

To serve it, I put a slice of the garlic bread in a bowl, ladled the soup on top, and sprinkled a little more Romano on it.

I'll make this one again, as long as all the kitchen stars line up and I have all the ingredients together again at the same time.  Which is probable.

Today, Friday, has dawned absolutely clear and cold; it's really beautiful out.  I'm going to send Steve up the hill with the camera for his walk and see if we can get a nice picture of Mt. Hood for you.  I hope so; it's beautiful where I live.  Every time I feel down for not living in the country I have to remind myself that I'm still supremely lucky to live where I do.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's Snowing

It first came down as hail, and started piling up.

But now it's snowing. The temperature is dropping as well, so even if it's not sticking now, it's going to stick later.  I wonder what it's doing in Portland?

I don't know why, but it seems that it's colder here in December and February than it is in January.  I need to remember that next winter and burn my fuel accordingly.

I am sure glad that I haven't put out my lettuces yet!

First One

I don't care that today's high is only thirty-eight, tomorrow's is thirty-six, and they're predicting snow on the valley floor- the first snow this winter.

Spring is on its way. You wanna know how I know?

Asparagus; that's how!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Too Late For Stitches

I wound up with a butterfly bandage and a splint, so I won't be doing much of anything for awhile.  I also got a tetanus shot, because I haven't had one in years.  It's been so long since I last had one, I can't even remember when it was.  It's probably just as well, because I am constantly hurting myself it seems.  One way or another.

Tonight's Meeting the Starving Challenge meal was homegrown parsnips and onions in leftover stew.

I'm still going down to One Green World in Molalla, Oregon to get my strawberries this weekend though.  I'm also picking up a bale of straw at Wilco so I can cover them.  If I thought I could cram two bales in the back of a wagon, I'd do it because I need the carbon.

Backyard farming is hard when you don't have a truck.

Or a working opposable thumb on both hands.

Monday, February 21, 2011


You can always tell when I've been busy; I don't post for awhile.  Within the last day or so I finished another shelf for the hutch and started another.  Saturday I moved the compost pile and added more straw to it; it was soaked with all the rain we had, so I covered it with a tarp this time.  I'll check in a day or so to see if maybe, just maybe this time it's getting hot.  I sure hope so; potato sowing season is just around the corner.

Today's chores consisted of putting the first coat of stain on the hutch shelf on which I'm currently working and clearing off the bench so that I could start a few more seeds.  Today I started the Stuttgarter onions, radicchio 'Treviso', curly endive 'Tres Fine', celery 'Utah', and broccoli 'Calabrese'.

I also got started on a much needed medicine chest for Steve's bathroom at the bottom of which I'm going to put a towel bar for old-fashioned roller towels.  Steve's hands, being bigger than mine, leave a very wet turkish hand towel, and his bathroom is much colder than mine, so his hand towels sour in a twinkling, or so it would seem.  I have an extremely sensitive nose, so I decided that what that boy needs are some roller towels.  So I searched around online and found a source for 'huck' toweling.  I'll blog all about it later after I'm done so you can see what I'm talking about.  I was making decent progress on it until I slipped and shoved a brand new, three quarter inch wood chisel into my left thumb.

I'm looking into stitches and a tetanus shot tomorrow.  I really hate when I hurt myself; I can't put any pressure on my thumb without opening it up, and it's cramping my style.  I'll be more careful next time and I have an idea for a better approach to what I'm doing.

In the meantime, though, ho hum.  I can't do anything until I get past the gushing portion of the recovery.
But what a dummy, huh?

Oh and speaking of whoopsie, I think I have a few peas sprouting, but it might be too early to tell just yet.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Homegrown leeks, with carrots, and baked chicken and mashed potatoes

Homemade Ginger Ale Experiment

I hadn't planned on making ginger ale, much less writing about it, but sometimes when life hands you a bowl of simple syrup that's too dark for making limoncello, you make the best of it, and the best of it was ginger ale.  It happened this way:

Steve and I have been buying organic sugar for a few years now, and I've never really had an issue using it for anything, so when the limoncello recipe I was using said to make a simple syrup of granulated sugar and water, I did so.  But it came out pretty brown, and I thought, I can't use that for limoncello! It will completely spoil the lovely lemon color!  So as I stood there regarding it, wondering what the hell to do with it, I thought to myself, 'well, there's your caramel coloring'.  And then I flashed on it: send Steve to the store to get regular white sugar and some ginger, and make ginger ale!'  Which was pretty brilliant, I thought.

The ginger he brought back was nice- no blemishes and nice and juicy.  I weighed it: six ounces.  I peeled it with a spoon, which is the absolutely easiest way to peel ginger.  Then I sliced it all up as thinly as I could and set it to boil with a gallon of water (sixteen cups).  I also threw in one star anise, one clove, and the seeds and scraped half of a vanilla pod.  It takes awhile for that much liquid to come to a boil, but it finally did and then I boiled it for maybe ten minutes.

The dark simple syrup was added to the ginger water and boiled for a minute or so, and then the whole thing was ladled through a fine mesh strainer and funnel into a gallon jug to cool.   What didn't fit in the jug was put back in the big glass batter bowl.

At this point I should probably admit that I wasn't using a recipe, and from this point on was relying heavily on Steve's brewing experience.  He also bottled beer the day before, so there was still a large bowl of sanitizing liquid on the counter.   Star-san is a couple of acids that sanitize brewing equipment, and doesn't need to be rinsed out of, or off your equipment.  I used it for sanitizing ladles, and funnels, and fine mesh strainers, etc.

To a quarter cup of filtered water (we don't have spring water running from the tap), I added a quarter teaspoon of baking yeast. Steve says that baking yeast is the same strain of yeast that is used for ales, but the difference between baking yeast and ale yeast is that they've been selected (as in horticultural selection) for different jobs. It bloomed, and because the ginger ale hadn't cooled enough yet, I added a gravy ladle full of the ginger ale to the yeast to feed it.  Once the ginger ale cooled into the eighties, I pitched the yeast and stirred it into the ginger ale.

I bottled it in flip top beer bottles right away (Steve had some clean ones leftover from the day before's bottling), and left it on the counter to start carbonating the ginger ale overnight.

Bitten by the homemade soda bug, I started researching root beer the next morning, and this is where I scared myself.  Most home soda makers bottle in plastic bottles because it's too easy to have a glass soda bottle explode and become extremely dangerous. One fellow said he came home to find his glass bottles had exploded and shards of glass were imbedded in the walls at eye height.  Also, most home soda bottlers don't leave it at room temperature longer than twelve hours; I was past that by several hours and in glass, so I quickly and gingerly (no pun intended) put all the bottles away in the refrigerator.  You may be wondering why the danger with soda and not so much with beer.  At the point beer is bottled, the yeast are pretty much dormant because they've eaten all the sugar in the malt in the beer.  The beer gets bottled with a controlled amount of sugar, a teaspoon, and the yeast wake up again and eat that sugar creating bubbles.  They're done when the teaspoon of sugar is all gone.  In soda, you have a great deal more sugar, and the yeast will go nuts at room temperature.  If left out long enough, they'll keep eating and producing gas to the point of explosion.  The trick with soda making is to let them eat enough sugar to create the right amount of bubbles and very little alcohol, leaving most of the soda sweet, and then get the bottles cold quickly to make the yeast go dormant again.  One of the things that I also learned in my research was that a quarter teaspoon was about twice what I needed, and then I'd further grown my yeast prior to pitching by feeding it.  So I was very nervous about my ginger ale.

We tried the first bottle yesterday.  With both of us wearing safety goggles, I held a clear proofing bucket over the bottle over the kitchen sink, while Steve pushed open the flip top. I'd have taken a picture of it, but both our hands were full.  It went poof! But he's opened beers that made more noise than that. Actually, when Steve opens a flip top of beer, it usually sounds like a champagne bottle.  As you can see, the bubbles were pretty perfect.  The effervescence was just right, however the soda was a little sweet, and there was an odd, faintly sulfurous bouquet to it.  All in all, it was still pretty good and had a nice, lingering, gingery bite.  We are going to share one of these a day until they are all gone, which should be in a little over a week, since I had enough for eight bottles.

I think I ought to wait until all the soda is gone before I decide to do this again, but I'm pretty sure that I will.  The next time, I will not make it quite so sweet, and I'll use less yeast, more like an eighth of a teaspoon, and I'll use a proper ale yeast and not baking yeast.  I would also use vanilla extract at the end, rather than using the bean, because I had to filter against those tiny little seeds to keep them out of the beer bottles.  The whole process has me intrigued though, and I'm researching root beer from scratch, which is fairly difficult, because the FDA has taken sassafras out of the consumer loop due to the presence of safrole in it which is a carcinogen.   Well, it is for lab rats; you'd have to drink like fifty root beers a day to have it start being a problem, but I think the ensuing obesity-related diseases or diabetes would probably get you first.  One fellow said that his grandmother had a cup of sassafras tea every day and lived to be eighty-nine, and did not die of cancer.  I'll have to come up with a recipe that doesn't use it though, because I probably will not be able to get my hands on it; I can't buy it and I don't live in the right part of the country where it grows wild.

Once I have a recipe for ginger ale that works and a process that's not so scary, I'll post about it again, if you want to try it at your own risk.

The limoncello?  It was a complete success, and I'll post about that another time.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can't Call It That Anymore

The book I'm currently reading and plan to review for you is one that I'm finally getting around to, The Urban Homestead, by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen.  Prima facie, it looks like it's going to be a good book, but regardless of which way the review goes, I'm not sure you'll be able to buy it much longer.  Even though they originally published years ago (I'm reading the 2010 edition, but I think they originally published in 2007), they may not be able to sell it shortly. It looks like the Dervaes family of Pasadena has trademarked the words 'urban homestead' and 'urban homesteading'.  I've read they've already sent cease and desist letters to a public library that was offering  urban homesteading classes and Facebook has shut down many Facebook pages once they were informed of the trademark.  I can't seem to find any real concrete facts about what happened, but I can report that there is quite the brouhaha brewing over this turn of events, and folks are plenty angry about it, and rightly so.

Trademarking is supposed to be a way of protecting a product, and I can see the sense in wanting to protect something like, oh say, Barbie tm.  But urban homesteading is not a product; it's an idea, or a concept.  What if King Gillette all those years ago trademarked the term 'close shave'?  How would we describe the idea of a close shave without using 'close shave'?  In this day and age, someone can trademark the term, and then no one will be able to use the two words together to sell razor blades or any other shaving product.  That's how this trademarking crap works. And from what I understand, nothing gets grandfathered with trademarking, which is why I'm afraid that Coyne and Knutzen may be ordered to stop selling their book.

I think that the real shame in all of this lies with a judicial system that allows entities to trademark or patent things that should remain in the public domain, like ideas or concepts, rather than just sticking to products that they actually own.

It's a shame also that the Dervaeses felt compelled to take out these trademarks which are earning them incredible enmity from a wide audience.  Oh, and by they way, I think I have to properly credit them with urban homesteading and link to them to make sure I don't get myself in trouble.  I'm not even sure that will work.  Let me be clear that I am not trying to make any money with the two words used together; I'm just trying to point out that it's a sad thing in this country when a concept gets trademarked so that others can't use it. It's also sad that just when a movement was starting to really get off the ground, someone who you'd think would be nurturing the movement and leading the way, seems to want to monopolize it, which is a sure way to slow it down, if not grind it to a halt.

I used to be able to think of myself as an urban homesteader, but not anymore.

Oh wait!  I don't think they trademarked 'urban homesteader'!  I might just be alright here.

I'm not even sure how I feel about all this.   Just one more thing in a long list of wrongs.

This was another wrong.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Simpler Living Doesn't Do It For Me

Library copy

As someone who embraces homesteading, simpler living to me means trying to provide more of my life's inputs myself, and distancing myself from things that require more of life's inputs to maintain. Simple living and homesteading are what used to be called 'plain living'.  Nothing fancy.  I spend most of my days in overalls and muck boots, and I'm very happy with that.  I don't like the idea of having to find and then wear the little black dress and strappy sandals for a night of dinner and clubbing.  Sooo not me.

When my sister and her family were here last summer, both she and her husband had their Crackberries with them.  Between the two of them, they have eight, I couldn't get over this, eight phone numbers. And both of them were keeping up with emails and a couple of business calls while they were 'on vacation'.  My sister has a lovely home in a nice part of San Francisco, and I love to visit, but you know what? I am seriously glad I'm not living her life.  I do have a cell phone, but it's not a smart phone, and I doubt Steve and I will ever go that route.  There is such a thing as being too connected. I am really glad that we decided on a small house with a small mortgage that we have a good chance of paying off in not too much time.  And in the meantime, I'm happy with the slower, homebody kind of lifestyle that Steve and I lead.

Now, obviously, in this day and age when you can buy just about anything you need, making your own beer and pickles and tomato sauce complicates your life.  There is no arguing with the fact that it's easier to go buy them.  I think that making your own beer and pickles and tomato sauce is infinitely more satisfying than buying them, however, and to make life simpler if you're doing this kind of thing, you have to trade off. You have to pick and choose what you do.  I multitask a little bit, but I really prefer to do one thing at a time, so that I can do it well, and enjoy it for what it is. Homesteading is a lot more satisfying than working ever was because I get more of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I ever did at work. Eventually, I'll go back to work (this recession has to give up some time) and I'll keep up with my homesteading.  It will require a little more juggling, but I don't want it complicating things anymore than it has to.  Working for a wage has to be worth the time spent doing it, you know?  That may be too easily said, coming from a kept woman, I know.  But I really want to save this simple life that I've created, and hopefully simplify it further.

Part of what I was looking for in the Simpler Living book was more ideas on how to live a plain life.  I would also hope that a book titled like this one would have an interior- the layout, the pictures, the writing- that would evoke a sense of calm.   Simpler Living didn't do that for me.  In fact, it did just the opposite.  Its interior was jangling, the way that too much information and too many images can be jangling.

If you have the same kind of frenetic life that my sister has, you might find Simpler Living really helpful.  It does have a LOT of information in it, maybe too much, but it seems to be more geared toward simpler ways of living a modern lifestyle so that you can pack more productivity and stuff into your day.

That's not what I want, and I'll go out on a limb here and guess that's not what my readers want either.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Homegrown carrot in salad

I actually found a carrot that had overwintered in the Hoop De Don't, so it found an honored place in tonight's salad.  We also had leftover Schinkenknudeln and green beans in Paulandaise sauce (I'll do recipes sometime), but I think the carrot had the sole starring role from the garden today.

Give Peas A Chance

The only reason, the only reason that we are having a return of winter weather is that I planted peas a couple of days ago.  They're calling for a chance of snow on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday mornings, with a few freezing overnights.

I really thought I was behind schedule on the peas.  We've been having beautiful sunny days in the fifties the last couple of weeks. The birds are boisterous, the tulips and daffodils are popping up, there's a ton of new growth on the roses and new buds on everything else.  Everything was giving the appearance of an early spring, so I planted peas.  Then Ma Nature sucker-punched me.

I noticed today that some of the peas appear to be popping to the surface, but I don't know if that's because they're starting to sprout (probably not) or because I did a crappy job of getting them into the ground (more likely).

Danni, who writes the On the Way to Critter Farm blog suggested I throw a hoop house over them, and posted a link (that guy has some really good ideas, Danni, so thanks for that).  I was only able to manage a half-assed hoop house today because I'd forgotten that I'd cut up the half-inch PVC I used last year for this year's Hoop De Don't, which is a half-assed hoop house on steroids.  By the way, Steve is none too pleased with me for all the money I spent on it, and then didn't use it this winter.  The biggest reason I didn't use it was because it was a hassle to get into- I hadn't wanted to have to frame a door, so I made it as a giant version of last year's hoops, and it didn't work.  The fellow* over at YardFarmer on YouTube (the guy that Danni linked) built a hoop house very similar to my first one, which was also a hassle to get into, but he has a couple of ideas for rolling up the sides so that you can work in the hoop that I liked. The ends of his house were almost as cumbersome as mine, and I didn't like that he left the ends somewhat open.  I'm going to give it some thought and see if I can't come up with the right thing that will make hoop houses a lot easier to put together and use.

In the meantime, I think I'd better order some more pea seed.

* Be forewarned that he's a little boring.  He has really good ideas, though.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Homegrown onions, pickles and ketchup on Sliders

...and oven-fried shoe string potatoes and homegrown parsnips.  Great way to do parsnips, by the way.

Valentine's Day

I want to say a few things about Valentine's Day, because honestly?  I think it's so unnecessary.

Steve and I decided early on in our marriage, like before the first one together, not to celebrate Valentine's Day.  I didn't want him to feel obligated or pressured to find some wonderful thing every year to express his love for me.  I wanted him to be able to do that anytime he felt like it in any manner he wished.  Consequently, the only time he ever bought me flowers, which are a wasteful extravagance, was when he thought I was depressed and that they would cheer me up.  I wasn't depressed, but I was very touched by his thoughtfulness.

I didn't get married for the first time until I was forty-one, so I've spent my share of years as a single woman, believe me.  Not having a Valentine on Valentine's Day was just not something that overly bothered me.  I know that it does a lot of people, but I wasn't one of them, for the most part.  Many years ago, I dated a man who did not give me the fairly inexpensive cordless screwdriver that I very much wanted for Valentine's Day; instead he sent me a much more expensive, ostentatious floral bouquet which he had sent to my office.  His gift wasn't for me because his intent wasn't to make me happy; his gift was for himself because his intent was to show off.  So Valentine's Day can be a double-edged sword, if wielded in the wrong hands.

Of all the gifts of love, self-love is the greatest, because if you love yourself, you're more likely to be able to give others the right kind of love.  Self-love is nurturing and strong.  Cultivate self-love; don't wait for someone to do it for you.

However, no matter how much you love yourself, sometimes you still crave the companionship of another person.   If you're praying for the right person to show up in your life, sometimes it helps to say the right prayer (sometimes it also helps to throw a little feng shui in there too, but I'll get to that later).  For years, I prayed for a husband, and at one point God sent me one- it turned out he was somebody else's husband.  So that was the wrong prayer.  It finally dawned on me that it wasn't a husband that I wanted so much as it was a long and happy marriage, so I prayed for that instead; I said a big, fat prayer, and then turned it over to God and forgot about it.  I didn't say another one.  That was in December of 2000.  At this time, I also read up on feng shui, and put a few cures in the love and marriage corner of my house. And forgot about those too.  Then I started dating a fellow in January.  We dated for three months, and then had a pretty bad fight one Saturday night.  Sunday night we apologized to each other.  Monday night we decided not to see each other anymore.  Tuesday I had a migraine.  Wednesday, I came to work and my boss wanted to see me in her office.  She told me that someone was interested in me and it was Steve.  I told her I had to think about it and I'd let her know the next day.  I did think about it.  Steve was awfully staid and business-like at work, and I didn't know if I could get excited about this guy.  But there was something awfully weird about the timing, so I decided to go for it.  I told her the next day that he could call me, which he did that night; that was on Thursday.  We hung out together at Karen's going away party that Friday night, and had our first date that Saturday night.  This was roughly in April. We were married the following November, and have been married nine years.  I don't know if it was the big, fat prayer, or the feng shui cures, but between them, some serious juju happened, and I found the great love of my life.

This is the same great love that bought a second fermenter so that he can brew enough pilsner for me, and the same great love who keeps my library card in his wallet so he can pick up my holds for me.  The same great love who is amazingly untrainable in some ways, but who does my math for me because I can't. The same great love who doesn't need Valentine's Day to prove it.

I wish the same Great Love for everyone, and if you're still waiting on it, don't forget to love yourself first.  Everyday is Valentine's Day if you don't confine it to February 14th.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homegrown onions, in salad

Homestead Update, 13 February 2011

I got a lot done today, both things I'd been putting off and things that really needed to get done.

Minding my peas and queues
It was high time I got the peas planted, so into the first planter box they went.  Peas are a new crop for me, and I dutifully inoculated the seed before planting it.  The instructions on the seed packet said to thin peas to one inch apart as they do better with some crowding.  My feeling is, with a seed as big as a pea, why not just plant them one inch apart and not waste seed?  I planted a few radishes and carrots as well.  When the peas are done, they'll come out and a zucchini plant will go in.

Most of the afternoon was spent on planning for the chickens.  I finally decided where to put the chicken coop, which was a big deal for me.  It really helped that Steve doesn't mind having a view of the back of the coop from his office.  He took the dimensions from the Fresh-Air house and figured out for me what I need to do to scale it down. Since I need to keep the ratios roughly the same, and since he's volunteered to go in there from time to time "as a member of this family" as he put it, I need to keep it fairly comfortable for him as well.  I could fit in a coop that was only five and a half feet tall but he couldn't, so I couldn't scale it down much; this is still going to be a big coop.  This could be good thing, though, because we do have a lot of rain days, so it would be nice to be able to leave the girls inside if I needed to and they'd have plenty of room and no crowding.  Because it's open on one side, they'll still get plenty of fresh air.  My plan is to round up the girls in a movable pen during the days when the weather is nice and I can be out there working while they're enjoying some grass and bugs.  I mean, it would nice to be able to free range them, but I have to face the heavy raccoon population in this neighborhood (thanks to my neighbor) so playtime will have to be supervised.

The only problem with the spot that I chose was that there was a cherry tree in the way.  It's a dwarf Lapins and it was just vaguely starting to bud, so I decided not to waste anymore time.  The currant bush, which is also still dormant, got dug up and moved to the south side of the hazelnut trees, and the Lapins went into the hole the currant had been occupying.  This is not the first time I've moved a dormant tree; we'll just see if I'm as successful.  I suppose I should tell you here that I did all this by myself because I have a history of moving dormant trees, some of them more than a couple of times- different years of course, but I knew that there would be no end to the complaining if I'd even so much as hinted that Steve should help me (never mind that tomorrow is St. Valentine's Day, Lochinvar), so I handled the moves by myself.  I hoped to make up for uprooting both by filling their holes with some nice compost instead of clay, so hopefully they'll both find their new homes to their liking.  The spot where the chickens are going also had a small rosemary bush in the way, so that got pruned back and moved as well.  It went into the center of the bed that I've decided to devote to herbs, so I went ahead and transplanted the perennial herbs I had on the deck last summer into the bed as well.

The only thing left to do before I can get started is to pull out the pressure treated lumber holding up the flower bed and replace it with the last of the plastic decking that was left from pulling the deck apart.  Last year I reasoned that it was only flowers going into that bed so I could use the pressure treated wood there, but those flowers are supposed to be for my bees, so now I'm wondering: what was I thinking?  It may not be a problem for the pressure treated stuff to be holding up the flower bed, but it's a better use of the rest of that plastic decking, and the coop would be a better use of the pressure treated lumber.  I just hope I haven't poisoned the flower bed!

Next up, I need to draw myself some plans for the coop, and see if I have enough lumber lying around to get started.  I know that I'll have to see what I can find in the way of windows at the Rebuilding Center up on Mississippi in Portland.  I'll need two or three rather long and skinny windows for the top, but I won't know what size I'll need until I do a rough drawing, and then once I get up to the Rebuilding Center, I'll have to see how close to those dimensions I can get.  Kind of a roundabout, half-assed way to get something done, but I really want to use what I can around here, and try not to buy too many things new for the coop if I can help it.

One other piece of research I need to do:  I need to find out what the minimum gauge is on welded wire that will keep out raccoons!  I'm going to need this coop to be a Fort Knox, so the biggest expense is going to be the wire.  I have to get it right the first time.

Winterized Overalls

There's an old adage that says that necessity is the mother of invention.  I would put it to you that laziness in the mother of invention.  Well, maybe sometimes.

I have a pair of good overalls that are flannel-lined that Steve bought me last fall; they are for wearing in public.  He bought me a pair of fire hose cloth work overalls at the same time, but I didn't think to see if they had a flannel-lined version.  However, I quit worrying about buying flannel-lined overalls for working because I've taken to wearing my pajama bottoms under my overalls.  I did it one morning because I was too lazy to strip off my jammies and put on a pair of underpants and then climb into my overalls.    What a happy discovery!

All I can say is I highly recommend jammies under overalls.  Nice and toasty.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Homegrown garlic, in Fondue

....mmm....melted cheese....

Fresh-Air Poultry Houses: The Classic Guide to Open-Front Chicken Coops for Healthier Poultry

Now that the bee hive is done, I've resumed work on the hutch for the kitchen, which is Goal Number One on my list, and one I don't expect to take very long.  The next project after that is to get the hen house done.  Miriam of Mucky Boots Farm suggested that I read Fresh Air Poultry Houses, by Prince T. Woods, M.D.

Another library copy
Originally printed in 1924 as 'Modern Fresh-Air Poultry Houses', it's been republished by Robert Plamondon of the Norton Creek Press.  I've actually been following Robert's blog for awhile now and ran across the book there.  While Robert doesn't post very often, his blog has a wealth of information on the raising of chickens.  One page in particular has some very interesting information on it which I think anyone raising or contemplating raising chickens ought to find useful.

So I was glad to be reminded about this book, which I borrowed from the library. I'll be honest here; it was written in 1924, and a great majority of the book seems to be an argument in favor of using open air housing, a nail which he hammers over and over and over to the point that I found myself skimming over vast sections of the book. He also spent most of the book describing housing sufficient for 100 birds at a time, which is twenty times the number approved by my local municipality, and which might be useful for someone who wants to keep a hundred birds at a time, but isn't what I want to do. However, I am convinced enough that it works and am willing to try it for my hen house.  I finally found what I was looking for on pages 124 and 125: dimensions and descriptions for a 6X10 house small enough for my backyard.

So the gist of the review of Fresh Air Poultry Houses: The Classic Guide to Open-Front Chicken Coops for Healthier Poultry is that the information in it is worth reading.  Borrow it if you can, buy it if you must, but don't expect detailed plans.

I'm glad I read it, and have a better idea of what I'm going to do, but since I have other ideas about this hen house that I'll be making, I'll be using the information from the book as a guide only.  I'll have to create plans from the ground up (literally) for myself from scratch.

Which is kind of a funny chicken pun.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pizza, with canned home grown tomato sauce

For Jules: Cream of Leek and Celery Soup

This recipe is for Jules, who asked for it.  It's a good use for the end of the celery, where you have the heart and maybe a couple of pale little stalks left. It's also a good use of one of those tiny little cloves of garlic that you find at the center of a soft neck garlic.  In some dishes, the French want the garlic to be a subtlety, and not clobber you over the head with its flavor; they specify 'enough garlic to fit on the end of a knife', which is what you want here.  Be sure to temper the egg correctly, or you'll have Cream of Leek and Celery Egg Drop Soup.

3 T butter
3 small to medium leeks, cleaned and finely sliced
the heart of celery, including the leaves, finely sliced
½ tsp sea salt

Melt butter in 3 quart saucepan on medium low heat.  Add leeks, celery and salt and sweat the vegetables until they are soft, but not browned.

1 tiny clove of garlic

Mince the garlic finely and add as much as will fit on the tip of your knife.  Cook it with the leeks and celery until soft (watch that it doesn't get brown).  Turn down the heat and shove the vegetables to the sides of the pan.

2 T butter
2 T flour

Melt the butter and add the flour; cook the roux for a minute or two, and then mix into the vegetables.

2 cups chicken stock
white pepper, nutmeg

Stir in the stock and add a good grinding of fresh white pepper and nutmeg.  Bring the heat back up to medium and cook until the vegetables are cooked through, about 10 minutes.   Blend the soup until smooth with an immersion blender, or whirl in blender in batches and return to pan.

1 cup milk

Add the milk and bring to almost to a simmer.  Once the milk is added, don't let it boil again.

1 egg

In a bowl, beat the egg.  Temper the egg by briskly whisking in two or three ladles full of hot soup, which you pour slowly into the egg. Once the egg is hot, whisk it into the soup.  Let it cook until it's a little more thickened while stirring, about a minute or two.  Turn off the heat, check the seasoning and serve in shallow bowls.

A nice crusty bread and butter, and a salad rounds this soup out nicely.  Serves two.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Homegrown leeks and garlic in Cream of Leek and Celery Soup

The Deliberate Life - The Ultimate Homesteading Guide

One of my goals for this year is to reduce active spending, so I've taken to checking with my library system first if I run across a recommendation on Amazon that I want to read. I'll borrow it first, and then if I like it, I'll buy it.  I was very glad to take Self-Sufficiency back to the library  and leave it there, for instance.

I've just finished Deliberate Life - The Ultimate Homesteading Guide, by Nicole Faires, and have to say that the title pretty much hits the mark.  It was published in 2006, so it's not terribly old, and in view of the extensive bibliography, I can say that it was well researched. Well-researched and timely.

If you plan to really chuck it all and head out to the country, this would be a good book to take with you because it gives instructions for choosing and buying land.  And if you were to load up a conestoga wagon, you'd want to consult this book because it lists everything you're going to need.  It covers the usual homesteading subjects, like gardening and animal rearing, but it also covers things that most homesteading books don't: getting water in the wilderness or at home, disposing of your waste, making tools and farm equipment, how to prepare and spin flax for making into linen, etc.  I can't give enough examples to give you an idea of what this book covers because it's pretty exhaustive.  If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that the subjects of a lot of the articles are posed as questions, which I find annoying, but that may actually be useful for some readers.  Okay- two criticisms: I wish there had been more pictures, especially for dicey subjects like butchering animals where it really helps to know what you're doing.  Pictures would have gone a long way there.  But as far as useful, usable information goes, this book is hard to beat.

I think in times of hardship (which I, for one, firmly believe are coming), this book would be useful for everyone, country or city dweller alike in one degree or another, and would be a great reference to have in your homesteading library.

I'm going to add it to mine.

* per the comments, this book isn't available unless you want to donate a kidney for it or something.  The author has a new book coming out in March, which looks like it's going to be much of the same thing, except it will have more pictures.  I can't recommend the new one, not having read it; I just wanted to make you aware of the situation....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Leftover Leberknoedel, with sauerkraut made from homegrown cabbage and onions

Oh Bee Hive!

I finished my top bar hive, and now all I need to do is place it in the yard.

Open, with the top bars in place

Closed, with the lid

I'm going to wait for the weather to warm up, and then I'll tape the top with gutter repair tape that we have on hand.   Steve had purchased some for the gutters, which really need to be replaced but we're waiting to do that when we replace the roof, some day.  We have exactly what I need to put five stripes of the stuff on the roof, with the fifth one going along the ridge.  Enough down to exactly the last inch, as in twenty-one feet, eight inches, which I find remarkable.  In case you're wondering, that hole in the lid is for ventilation of the 'attic', which is the area between the top bars and the roof.

This afternoon after getting the second coat of paint on the hive, I tackled the raspberries.  I am regretting not staying on top of the weeds last summer.  I'll be digging out Tulameen and Autumn Britten suckers, and my neighbor said that he would take them. Given that he's seventy, and the area he's thinking about putting them is currently covered in that Himalayan blackberry that's pretty much covering the state of Oregon, I think I have more bramble clearing in my future.

So I have another project in mind for Steve's bathroom about which I'll be posting in the future, and the hutch to finish.  Then I can tackle a bench and table for the kitchen and other things on my list.  And it's time to get peas and parsnip seeds into the ground.

But take a look:  I crossed part of another goal!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My First Valentine And A Grammar Lesson

So I talked to my mom today.  I usually talk to her a couple of times a week, which is up from the old once-a-week since we had our lovely visit together.  She explained that she spent the day tooling around the other side of Mt. Diablo with my older brother in order to get some snapshots of it.  She is supposed to be painting a picture for my youngest sister's mother-in-law's office.  Fortunately, my mother likes Judy, so she's okay with the effort.  Plus, she got a swell ride on a beautiful, sunny, winter day out in horse country, as she called it.

I told her what I did today, which was the laundry, and I finished the bee hive and put a coat of paint on it.  She wants to see pictures, so I'll have to manage something for a woman who is not online.  I came very close to telling her that I also spent part of my morning making her a Valentine so that I could stuff a See's Candy gift certificate in it, but stopped myself just in time.  That's right -I made my mommy a Valentine - what of it?

I'm just glad I still have a mommy to make a Valentine for (she said, ending her sentence with a preposition, a sin with which her mommy would never let her get away!).

Mom is my first Valentine.

Beehive Update

Thought I'd update you on the bee hive- I'm almost done!

Yesterday I spent a good deal of time getting the number eight hardware cloth attached to the bottom of the hive (see my post on how to mend screening and hardware cloth). I learned that the hardware cloth is actually a little fragile, and suspect that a skunk or raccoon would have no problem tearing through it with sharp claws, so once the hive is done, I really need to concentrate on how I'm going to set it up so that it's varmint proof.

I got the entrance and landing porch done as well.  I read one fellow's assessment that he's observed that there are no porches on trees, and that landing porches only provide a place for mice to sit before entering the hive.  This is the same guy, however, that built a ramp in the bottom of the hive to assist the houseworker bees with shoving detritus (read: dead bees) out of the hive.  That seemed like a good idea, so I put in a ramp.

But I like porches, and since I made the slit only three eighths of an inch high (standard bee space), I don't think mice can squeeze in through that so I went ahead and attached a porch.  I'm willing to risk it.

I got the frame for the lid done, and the roof boards cut as well.  The next time I tackle this, I'll glue and nail on the roof boards, caulk all the gaps, and then hopefully I'll have enough gutter repair tape for waterproofing the roof.  It's quite reflective, so it should help with the summer heat. I read that reflective or white roofs are the best thing for a bee hive for the summer.

After I finish the hive, I'll paint it with some of the white paint that we have for painting the pergola.  I'm hoping that the white paint and reflective roof will do a great job helping to keep the bees cool next summer.  By the way, only the outside of the hive will get painted.   I decided to dispense with painting the top bars with beeswax because the same fellow who doesn't do porches has observed that the bees build stronger combs that attach better to the bar without it.  This is fine with me, because I wasn't sure how I was going to melt wax without setting the house on fire.  Melting it over a gas stove just seems like asking for it, to me.

So the next project is the chicken coop, but I can't start that until I finally decide where in the yard to locate it, and that is proving to be a very difficult decision to make indeed.

I'd better do it soon, though.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How To Repair Wire Screen or Hardware Cloth

Sometimes, your hardware cloth or wire screening gets a hole in it. It's actually pretty easy to fix.

Cut a patch out of the same material a little bigger than the area that needs to be fixed.  Cut right next to the wire so that you have spikes sticking out... this.

Bend all four side of sticky pieces up using a needle nose pair of pliers.  Take particular care at the corners and make sure they are pinched together like the above.  By the way, this is really hard to do without your glasses.

Attach the cut piece from the inside of the screen, pressing all the pokey edges around to clasp the screen with the pokey edges of the patch over to stick it to the screen.

La voila!

Homestead Update, 07 February 2011

I've been busy!

This week I rewired the raspberries, after taking a hint from the commercial berry farms that line Interstate 5 south of Wilsonville.  We were on the way home last weekend when I saw them and realized that I needed to fix mine.  While working on them, I noticed that one (only one) of the raspberries looked and behaved very differently from the other raspberries, such that I suspect that it's actually a Boysenberry and was stuffed in with the raspberry order.  We're supposed to get some good weather this week so I'll cut it back, dig it up, and replant it with the rest of the Boysenberries.

I weeded the flower bed.  A lot of the daffodils and tulips are poking up already, and there are growth buds on the roses and the lilac. Spring is still only a promise at this juncture, but I'll take a promise right now.

I set up the new composter and moved the compost into it. There was a lovely bunch of compost on the very bottom of the pile which I left in situ and covered with a tarp.  I think I'm going to use it for starting the potatoes which should be here mid-March.  A couple of days after filling the new composter I went to go check on it.  It still isn't heating up, which I think means that it needs more carbon.  Which means that I have to pull the composter off the pile, set it aside, and move the compost into it again while incorporating more straw, which I have, fortunately.  I am so asking for a compost thermometer for my birthday, although I did hint to Steve that it would be good for Mother's Day as well.  That is the closest holiday I can think of for getting a gift, even though I'm not a mother.  I already requested chocolates for Valentine's Day, which we never celebrate, actually.  I'm just jonesin' for some good chocolate.

Then this last week I also had my contractor in to measure for the new closet doors for the guest room.  I've ordered solid core doors so that I can hang stuff on them.  We're switching the closet doors in the guest room from sliding doors to doors that open out, so that I can use that closet as a 'craft closet', not that I'm a crafter.  It will be a great place to stuff all my knitting, sewing, and embroidery supplies, which are all things I enjoy but rarely do.  I'll create a desk/table situation in there so that I can set up my sewing machine when I need it and use it for doing up the bills.  I also plan to stuff the household books and the contents of my desk in there so that I can get rid of my desk.  This is all in order to make enough room for a daybed and trundle for the guest room, so that we'll have proper accommodations for visitors.  As it is, the guest room is impossibly tiny, so utilizing the closet better will go a long way to making the room work better.  In case you're wondering, this is one of the things I have on my list.  It's number seven.

Top bars
In other news, I've been working on the bee hive and I've got the great majority of the top bars done.

What they look like inside the hive
What they look like on the hive

Yesterday while slaving away on the lid, I managed to lock up my regular chuck, so I can't remove the one and a half inch bit from it.  I'm not sure what I did wrong or what I need to do; I've never locked up a chuck before.  Fortunately, it's not part of the impact driver that I use- it's a separate chuck that holds regular drill bits and fits in the driver which doesn't hold regular drill bits.  If worse comes to worse, I'll throw the whole thing out and get a new one.  In any case, I can't drill entrance holes for the hive until I figure out this conundrum because all my spade bits fit a regular chuck.  Unless the hardware home improvement store has spade bits for an impact driver….nah- I better replace the chuck.

Then for dinner last night, I made something I've never made before. When Steve and I were last in Germany, after a morning out and about, we'd gotten back to our hotel at around two in the afternoon.  We'd missed lunch, it was too early for dinner, and there was no place else to eat in this tiny hilltop village where we were staying.  So of course we were famished.  The proprietress said that they had some liver dumplings they could serve us, if that would do?  They did fine- they were delicious, and I remember the sauerkraut on which they were served was the best I'd ever eaten. (I still don't know what it was that made it so good.)  Last spring when I ordered my quarter steer, I asked for the liver, too, and got it.  Last night I finally got around to making us liver dumplings.

Uncooked dumplings. See? not so bad....
I was freaked out about the whole  grinding-up-the-liver idea, but the texture of the beef liver was more like regular meat than the texture of calf's liver or chicken liver, so it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Leberknoedel cooking
We had it with homemade sauerkraut that I put up late last summer from homegrown cabbages.  Dinner was very good, and I'll definitely do it again!


Which is a good thing because I still have a bunch of beef liver in the freezer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Homemade Gnocchi, with red sauce from homegrown tomatoes

For Kitchen Mama: Panade

I didn't really use a recipe per se, but adapted one to suit how much bread and greens I had.  I think the making of panade is pretty loose anyway, so here is what I did:

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C

Butter a casserole

Large onion             cut in half, slice in 1/4" pieces
                                   and saute in oil, until tender,
                                   but not limp.  Add....

Couple cloves          sliced thinly (and a pinch of
of garlic                    red pepper flakes, opt.)    
                                   once the garlic is cooked
                                   but not brown, transfer
                                   to a large bowl to cool.
Large handful          chopped- wilt in same pan
of greens                   and when done, add to                                         
                                   ingredients in bowl

3 cups stale             cube in 1 inch pieces
bread                        and add to bowl and toss

4 ounces                   grate and add to bowl
Swiss cheese

salt and pepper        add salt and pepper and
                                   toss.  Dump all into
                                   buttered casserole and
                                   press to fit evenly

2 cups chicken        heat and pour over
stock                         ingredients in casserole

Romano cheese       grate over top (opt. - if
                                   you do this, you
                                   should cover the

Bake at 350F/180C for an hour or until bubbly and golden.

I've seen recipes that had mushrooms in this as well, so I think you could do with whatever you have.  The original recipe calls for Swiss chard, which I don't like, so I used kale and collards.

This was really good with a glass of chilled dry rose.

I also had a serving of this fried up in butter with an egg on it this morning for breakfast- delicious!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Panade, with Swiss cheese and homegrown onions, kale and collards

Good Idea No. 10

For a long time I was dealing with loading the wood stove wearing a regular pair of work gloves, which was better than nothing.  But I can't tell you how many times I left grill-patterned singe marks on my forearms.  It was obvious that I needed a pair of hearth gloves, but I've seen them go for as much as forty bucks!

Then one day I'm at the Home Depot in their tool department. Welding gloves, $14.97 a pair; long gloves that are well insulated. What do I care they say 'Lincoln Electric' on them?

They work great.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Grilled Leftover Roast Beef Sandwiches, with Swiss cheese and grilled homegrown onions

...on bread that Steve made.

It went really well with the last of Steve's stout, which we shared.  Thank goodness it was a twenty-two ounce bottle.

Does Anybody Know....

.....what these things are?  I found a huge cache of them in my compost pile.  Not knowing, and wanting to err on the side of caution, I put them in the green garbage.  I'm sure glad they were completely still, or I'd have really come unglued.

Man I wish I had some chickens!

Oh This Is Just Too Upsetting!

Monsanto wins again.  I just don't know what we consumers are going to do.  It seems our justice system has really been hijacked by evil corporations and our government no long works for us.