Friday, May 19, 2017

Cleaning and clearing out the stuff, so much stuff!

I've been mentioning here and there about clearing out kitchen stuff in anticipation of the kitchen being done. I've found some cool stuff, some weird stuff, and some useless stuff (at least useless to me). 

One thing I've realized about all this stuff is that cleaning up first requires making a huge mess. How huge? Take a look:

My Room: wrecked again
Cooper making use of assorted blankets/linens 
Dining room? Maybe?
It's supposed to be a dining room!
The good news is I got so much done. Emptying the boxes and really going through them resulted in actually putting things away instead of just shoving it into another room or closet. I donated boxes of stuff and feel good that someone else will get use out of it; and I love the fact that it's out of my house. My project room is better organized and I even cleaned out the dressers in there, sorted the items by type, and labeled the drawers so I have some hope of finding the pillow fabric when I need it. The upstairs bathroom, which has been treated as a big storage room for four years, now contains only bathroom related items, and we'll be able to work on the room when it's time to install the actual bathroom. 

All-in-all, it's been a pretty good May.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Catching up on May

May always feels so busy. Getting the gardens ready, enjoying sunny days and pleasant weather (okay, not so much this year since it's been so cold but there have been some nice days), spring cleaning the house, and all that stuff.

The yellow delicious apple tree has blossoms! Definite win there. The McIntosh is just starting to leaf out, and the honeycrisp has leaves but no blossoms. The cherry tree has lots of little leaves and the plum tree looks dead. Hopefully it's not.

Pretty artsy, eh?
Chicken meet blossoms
 The Goldfinches are really enjoying the thistle feeder. I wish I'd gotten one of these years ago.
A typical view
And since I'm now having to keep the chickens in their pasture more often I decided to build them a salad bar. Basically you make a box and cover it with hardware cloth. Then set it on the ground, plant seed, and let it grow. The chickens can't get to the seed so it has time to actually germinate and when the plants get big enough you move the box to a new location and repeat. The chickens get to eat what you planted.
Building the box - did I mention the cold weather in May?
Inside the pasture
It's been a couple weeks since I planted it and the seedlings are coming along nicely. I'll move it after Memorial Day and get a new plot going. If this works really well I'll probably build more boxes so I can have multiple grazing areas growing at once. 

The cold frame I planted isn't exactly setting records for germination. The cilantro has come up great but very little else. Looks like the seed was just too old. So I'll get starts and plant them Memorial Day weekend instead. And I'll refresh my seed supply.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Planting the cold frame

This post is documentation for the cold frame - boring to all but me. Sorry.

I banged together a quick & dirty cold frame the other day and decided the dirt inside was finally warm enough to put in the seeds. Here's what I planted (on April 28th) and the seed packet info so I'll know when to harvest stuff.

Zinnia: height 12"-18"; days to germinate: 7-14; blooms summer to fall

Pansy: not a bit of info on the packet.

Crimson Sweet Watermelon: plant in hills, days to germinate: 7-14; maturity 85 days; harvest when bottom of melon is yellow and when the little "curlicue" of the stem dries up (and how cute is it that the seed packet actually put curlicue in quotes?)

Mammoth Russian Sunflower: height 9'-12' (yes, feet); days to germination: 7-14; blooms midsummer to fall

Compact Basil: height 10"-12"; days to germination: 5-7; maturity 70-80 days

Sweet Basil: height 12"-24"; days to germination: 5-7; maturity 65-75 days

Cilantro: days to germination: 7-10

Parsley: harvest in 40-60 days

Rosemary: days to germination 15-25; maturity approx 150 days(?!?) (and they want the plants 36 inches apart. 36! No rosemary in upstate NY is going to get big enough to need 36 inches between the plants; obviously I need to apply a big of gardening common sense).

So, a mixed bag of info on the ol' seed packets. I'll pick up starts for most of my veggies or direct sow them at the end of the month. I plan to scatter old seed for the chicken garden just like I did last year. Hopefully it'll do just as well - I got a decent harvest of squash and corn for the birds.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Birds

Another find while cleaning out boxes was this terra-cotta bird feeder. Had a hard time using it at the old house as rain always managed to get into the feeder cups and soak the food. But now I've got it under our protective eave and it's staying nice and dry.

The chickadees seem to love it - they use the perch and even sit on the very top. But they're the only birds that do. Nothing else is frequenting it. 
A very happy sun
Of course the red feeder is seeing a lot of action. And new this year is this fella. Depending on the identification site it's either: a Rosefinch, a House Sparrow that's been eating things with red coloring, or a Purple Finch. I'm never going to be a birder...
I see you
It's a very open community around the feeder. All are welcome.

I can at least identify the chickadee
Here's another view of the mystery bird. Quite a bit of black on his back/wings. Maybe a Pine Grosbeak? Humph.

We typically get American Goldfinches too but I didn't get a shot of one this time. I need to pick up a thistle feeder as that's their preferred food. Would love to attract more variety - and maybe I'll eventually figure out how to identify them. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A creative use for wooden wine boxes

While trying to clean up and put away all the kitchen stuff lately I found a couple of wooden wine crates that I've been hoarding saving for a special project. Deciding that I really needed to get some items off the countertop I figured I could make a couple wall boxes out the lids and some hardware cloth (one advantage of getting chickens? I now have scraps of hardware cloth all the over the place). 

I sealed the box lids with poly, attached some end boards, trimmed the hardware cloth to fit, and then used small fence staples to attach the wire to the boxes. A pretty quick and simple project.
The materials
Tall storage
Flat storage 
Taters on the left, garlic and herbs right
I really like how they came out and I'm already getting good use out of them. Wondering where I got the crates? Ask at your favorite package store next time you're buying wine. They don't always have them (and even if they do have them they don't always give them out), but I've been lucky enough to score some great looking boxes a few time. Just gotta ask. Now to figure out what I'll do with the bottom portions of the crates...
It's starting to come together

Monday, April 24, 2017

Spring Update

Typical for our area, the weather has been all over the place - cold and windy, cold and wet, warm and sunny - pick a temperature and you'll probably get it (yes, we hit 86 one day). I like this type of topsy-turvy weather though as it gives me a chance to pick a project based on how looks outside. Spring cleaning is actually pretty pleasant when it's sunny but cold out. And there is no better feeling than getting out when it's finally warm enough to do some winter cleanup. So far I've raked the yards, torn down a raised bed that was in a bad spot, used the lumber to build a cold frame, cleaned out the chicken coop, cleared off the porch, got out the patio furniture, and planted trees. 

The streams aren't running as hard since all the snow has melted off. We had to do a fair amount of maintenance on the runoff area as water had spread out into the woods with all the leaf litter filling in the drainage ditches. Even with all the snow we got over the winter the thaw was quick and the water level has already dropped considerably.

Normally gushing this time of year
Outlet area under driveway
Barely see the waterfall on the left
Cooper and the chickens have been enjoying any chance to get out into the sun. 

Cleaning up after I raked
Don't panic! These chickens are not dead! They're loving a dustbath in the sandy soil of the east yard. 
Rubbing her head in the sand
I have a bench seat out here and they'll gather at my feet, dig into the sand, and coo. Actually coo. It's the most pleasant, peaceful, and contented sound I've ever experienced.
Ahhh...
Indoor projects have involved lots of cleaning. I've dug out most of the kitchen boxes that have been waiting patiently for unpacking and actually managed to empty 12 of them. And, as expected (after all, it has been packed away for 4 years), there is stuff in them that we don't really use. Why do we have so many drinking glasses??? However I have found some items that I've actually been missing. Pans, utensils, fun decorations, it's a mixed bag, er, box.

Friday, April 21, 2017

A craft project - drawers into shelves

I got a couple of old drawers from my Mom. They were kinda ugly but built really well and I thought I might be able to turn them into wall storage in My Room. 

I washed them thoroughly, put on a coat of primer, and then painted and stenciled them. I chose a couple colors that bring out the blue butterflies in the curtains. 

Spice jars full of office supplies
I'm still figuring out what I'm going to store on the shelves. Looking for function here, so I don't want to just decorate them. I did know I wanted to hang my ironing board though so added hooks to one. Worked a treat.
Too bad my iron doesn't fit...
And I think they add a nice touch to that corner of the room. I'll likely add little shelves to the tall one so I can store sewing thread there. Or maybe tension rods that I can use to hold ribbon or lace. Something will come to me I'm sure.
Ugh, need a new cover on the ironing board!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Adding fruit trees

We've given up on the apple orchard that we planted a couple years ago. Why? Because the spot we chose is simply too far from the house to provide protection from the deer. The fence we put up? Ha. Not even going to go there.

So we decided to start over and put the trees up in the chicken pasture. It's fenced, it's close to the house, and it's got chickens - what could be better?

Here's what we got in order of planting, left to right, front to back (that's not going to do you any good but I'll be able to identify the trees based on it). I'm including notes from a variety of sources here so that I can easily refer back in coming years. 

"The large, golden fruit of the yellow delicious apple tree ripens late, developing a fine, sweet flavor. While they are best known as fresh eating apples, yellow delicious also work well for pies, applesauce and preserves. They also store well, keeping 3–6 months if refrigerated." source
Yellow Delicious - perfect for my strudel
"In summer, this variety yields sweet, purple-red plums; in spring, it offers white, fragrant flowers; and in fall and winter, the tree offers structural interest and a great place to hang holiday lights. A heavy bearer, Methley grows clusters of plums all throughout the tree. Disease-resistant to fungal diseases like rust.  Ripens in mid July. Self-pollinating." source
Hardy to zone 4! Mary's Jam - oh yes.
"Cold-hardy native of Canada. Round, red, mildly tart fruit has a soft texture when cooked. Gives apple sauce and cider a spicy kick; bakes up juicy and tender. Ripens in mid Sept." source

Pies! Applesauce!
"A heavy producer. The number of deliciously tart cherries from one of these trees will amaze you. The fruit is perfect for juice or any number of dessert recipes. The sturdy, vase-shaped tree is a beauty in the landscape. Bears just a few years after planting. Disease-resistant to brown rot and leaf spot. Developed by the University of Minnesota, introduced in 1950. Cold-hardy. Ripens in mid-June. Self-pollinating." source

I love cherry pie
"Outstanding fresh-eating qualities make this variety an American favorite. Fruit is aromatic and sweet as honey with an explosively juicy, crisp texture. Grow this naturally compact tree even in small spaces. Originates from Excelsior, Minnesota in 1974. Cold-hardy. Ripens in early September."  source
Our "out of hand" apple
I think I got a decent mix of product - some for baking and canning, some for eating straight from the tree. All should tolerate our growing zone and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the deer can be kept out of the chicken pasture. We've managed to keep them away from the two small peach trees that are up near the house so I do have some expectation that I'm not actually insane.

Monday, April 17, 2017

It's the little things...utensil organization

I love having an organized kitchen. In fact, that was one of the driving considerations in our kitchen design - how do you set it up so that stuff actually fits well and isn't all jumbled together? I think we've done a pretty good job of it and once the kitchen is finished I'll do a post on what's in all drawers, but for now, here is my silverware drawer. Organized? Yes. Maximized? No.

Definitely some problems: it's hard to reach the items stored way in the back; there is wasted space in the white trays; and the trays get dirty and do not look clean, not even after bleach. Little things. Annoying things.
Hate those white trays
Chris to the rescue! Store-bought wood trays are great but they come in limited sizes and configurations. So I told Chris what I wanted and he cut some strips and voile! Problems solved!  The pine strips are sanded smooth and tabbed to fit snugly together. This is a test run so we've taped them for now and if I like the set up we'll pin and glue them together later.
Much better
I like that I didn't have to do the entire drawer. The bulk stuff is contained yet there is plenty of room and easy access to the items that don't need corralling. Nice!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sadness

I lost two chickens today. Happened between 1pm and 4pm while I was over at Dad's house. Cooper was with me and the cat was locked in the house. Not sure what took them but I found the wings and feathers of one bird right next to the house - I mean within 15 feet. Nothing visible of the other bird; maybe I'll find some evidence tomorrow on our walk of the property.

We've had signs of a fisher and a coyote in the area, but they hadn't come close to the house. And how weird is it that they left her wings? And lots of feathers? I've heard tales of blood drained or the entire bird carried off, but this seems like it actually took time to dismember and eat her.

Looks like we need to rethink the whole "free-range' concept. At least as far as leaving them out when we're not home anyway. Doubt this would have happened if we'd been around, but you can't guarantee that either. I admit we depend on Cooper to alert us to ground predators and that's likely what this was. So maybe we'll just confine the chickens when we're not around...not sure and it's too fresh to make any real decisions. For now we'll just be sad and mourn.

The cruelty of a March snow & some chicken notes

We were seeing grass. Actual green. The woods were clear of the white stuff. Trees were starting to bud. It was Spring! And then March whacked us with 8 inches of wet, heavy snow. Doesn't sound like much? When the snow is this wet it weighs down branches, bends trees, takes out power lines, and causes heart attacks when people shovel it. It's not the depth, it's the weight. 

Fortunately, it's also pretty. And March isn't totally mean - you typically get warm(ish), sunny days after the snow that lets it melt off fairly quickly (in relative terms anyway). This snow came on March 19 and by April 9 it was gone completely. The ground was fully frozen so when it started melting it signaled the start of upstate NY's unofficial fifth season - Mud Season. Yup, it's a thing.
Chicken coop decoration
Future greenhouse site
Shoveling a path for the girls
Figured this would be a good place to add some chicken notes since it comes at the end of my first winter with birds. 

The coop design is great. It was easy to maintain, the open area underneath gave the hens a spot out of the snow-covered pasture where they could peck and relieve some boredom as well as giving me a storage area. The run gave effective shelter especially once I added lots of straw for them to burrow into during the day. Throwing in scratch seed kept them busy and helped turn the straw (compost!). Stapling up plastic around the west/north corner kept the snow from blowing into the run and helped keep the straw dry. 

I have New Hampshire Reds and they are amazingly hardy. They came through the winter with minimal weight loss, almost no frost damage to their combs, and maintained a laying schedule that averaged 5 eggs per day for the six hens. Granted, they're young, but I was still pleasantly surprised.

I fed them layer pellet (free choice), provided grit and calcium (again free choice - they went through a lot of calcium by the way), and supplemented with cooked oatmeal, garden squash, and kitchen scraps (mostly greens). The electric water heater worked perfectly. I had one instance of frozen water and that's when the temps dipped to 10 below zero overnight. So incredibly glad I bought the heater instead of hauling water jugs every morning. That one day was bad enough. 

Winter cost averaged $1.11 per dozen and I expect that to drop as free-range foraging starts with the spring. Actually, they're already out and about turning leaves and eating bugs so the feeder is emptying much slower than it was. I'm up to 450 eggs so far this year already. And I'm desperately searching for recipes that use eggs - lots of eggs.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Drawers and shelves - the North wall again

The corner of this expanse of counter is kind of tucked between the long tool chest and the wall. I didn't want to have an actual corner-run of cabinetry so we had to come up with something that would allow me full access to the area even though the space between the cupboard and tool chest was kind of tight (it's 13 inches so not super tight, but definitely kinda tight). 

I did some magazine surfing and Pinterest looking and found a nifty photo of stacked horizontal storage. Perfect! In this area I store my half sheet pans and racks, muffin tins and cake pans, pyrex casserole dishes (round and rectangular), as well as my cast iron skillets. Each shelf is spaced so that I don't have to stack disparate items (I hate stacking - I always end up needing the thing on the bottom) while at the same time maximizing the kind of things I can store in there. The smallest openings are 3.5 inches (for flat pans and racks) while the largest gap is on the bottom at 6 inches (for my cast iron). There is easily enough room in between each shelf that I can reach all the way to the back if needed. And Chris has assured me that if I find it's a pain to get stuff out of the back of the shelf he can easily make the shelves pull out like a drawer. We'll hold off on that as I haven't needed it so far.

Accessible storage! Woo-hoo!
It's wonderfully organized and I can easily get to the stuff I use frequently. My half sheet pans are pulled out all the time and I'm no longer shifting other things off them to do so.

As for the other three storage sections, they'll be drawers. A mix of shallow and deep for storing everything from tart pans to cereal boxes.
The first drawer of many
You may have noticed that I've added to what's stored on the counter and underneath the stacked bookcases. My glass mixing bowls now reside in easy reach on the left side, while brown sugar, the egg bowl, and my glass measuring cups are accessible under the right. I've also joined the ranks of "those who decant" and I've got cereal and snacks in glass jars in between the cases. Once I get the cleat system installed those will go on a variety of shelves and boxes on the wall.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The North Wall of the Kitchen

In on-going kitchen news, Chris has been working away at the section of counter/cupboard that sits on the North wall of the kitchen. This expanse of storage runs ten feet from fridge to wall. Ten glorious feet of storage. Awesome!

Cherry fronts, ash top
Once again we used steel wool & vinegar to bring out the tannins in the wood and then I coated it with mineral oil.
Wonderful grain
We get lots of morning sun on this wall and it really glows on the countertop.

In my original plan for the layout on this wall was for floor to ceiling cupboards. Once I lived in the house for a bit I realized that I didn't like that idea. I was afraid it would loom over the kitchen and look lopsided. So I was just going to put up open shelves or something like that. Then we went to an auction and found some fantastic barrister bookcases. Gorgeous! And I thought, well, why not put those on the counter? If I hate it I can just use them somewhere else in the house, right?

Assembling the sections
I filled them with baking stuff, cooking ingredients, and bar glasses then tucked frequently used items under the leg openings. A ladder is required in order to get to the top shelf so I put things I seldom use up there. The storage space is extensive, the glass fronts keep out dust, and I love the apothecary vibe. Not positive what I'm going to do on the wall in between, but the front runner at the moment is a French-cleat system made of cherry - decorative and functional! Which seems to be the theme of this kitchen. Looks nice? Great. Works great? Perfect!

Still figuring out what goes where...
I've got kitchen gear still tucked away in boxes so the layouts will change as the storage options continue to grow and I unpack. Chris is busy working on the drawers and shelves for the lower section and I'm sure I'll change things around as I figure out just what I've got and where I want it. I do know I'm going to be doing some serious purging as I haven't seen the content of those boxes in three years. It's going to be like Christmas when I open them again.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Heading to Texas to buy Italian wine? Makes perfect sense...

Way back in 2008 I went on a fabulous vacation in Italy. It was a Tuscan Women Cook trip and I still can't recommend it enough. The host/owners, Bill and Patty, had us cooking with the women of the village, exploring restaurants and shops, and going to great vineyards. All of the vineyards had wonderful wine, but one really stood out to my taste buds - Andreucci Wines. I bought a lot of it, payed to ship it home (ouch), gave some as gifts (mistake - everybody loved it but it meant less wine for me), and it was gone way too soon. And I couldn't get more without paying much, much money because he didn't distribute in the U.S. No!!!!!!!!

Okay, enough background. Last fall I got an email saying that Bill & Patty had sold TWC (to a couple of former guests, pretty cool) and were now opening a vineyard in Texas (huh?!?). Apparently the hill country of Texas is great for certain kinds of grape. Specifically, the kind of grapes that Andreucci Wines uses to make their amazing wine. And while the vines are slowly growing up, they're going to import and sell the Italian wine at the vineyard in Texas.

What does all this really mean? I was heading to Texas to buy Italian wine. Road trip! 

Fortunately my brother was willing to go along since Chris would once again be left to take care of the animals (yes, he gets to travel too - check out this trip as an example). 

We made it into Kentucky the morning of the second day and spotted the Jim Beam distillery signs. Of course we had to pull in.
Bourbon at 9AM? Why not...
We didn't want to spend an extra couple hours doing the tour and tasting but it was gorgeous weather and we enjoyed wandering around the outside exhibits. We're also going to see if we can convince anyone else in the family to do a bourbon trail tour. Heck, we went to Scotland for a scotch tour - at least this way we don't have to fly anywhere.
Mr. Beam himself
A day later, after much excellent food along the way, we made it to Fredericksburg Texas. A town founded long ago by Germans. As a result the town is full of German-related restaurants, bakeries, and touristy type stuff.
It's a beautiful town
Just one of the beer gardens
Lots of shops, a chocolatier, two tea shops, and a truly exceptional Pacific War museum.

Deck-mounted torpedo tubes
Of course we were there for wine! And there was lots of it - Texas hill country is full of vineyards and many of them have tasting rooms on the Main Street. I confess I bought some. Probably not as much as I should have, but I figured we could always do another road trip.
The gorgeous Flavio 
In all, the trip was great. We ate amazing food at small family-owned restaurants. We had horrible barbecue. Twice! We took a side trip to Dauphin Island, Alabama and had the best Shrimp Po'boy I've ever eaten (and I lived in Louisiana for years). We visited with my nephew and his sweet wife. And we got to see some true Americana...
In a random convenience store. Because, why not?
Realizing that this blog is small enough that I probably don't have to worry the FCC is watching me, I still wanted to point out that no one gave me anything for mentioning them or reviewing them. I just loved the wine, the trip, and the whole darn experience. Thanks Matt, for going with me!