Saturday, October 21, 2017

Apple butter and apple sauce with my Squeezo

I've always wanted a Squeezo. They're just so usefully cool. I wasn't enthused about paying a couple hundred dollars though. And I don't know what garage sales everyone else seems to go to, but I have never seen one at a yard sale, let alone one for $5 (the same holds true for American Harvester pressure canners - nope, don't see those cheap either). 

Anyway, Chris was browsing around eBay and found this beauty, made a bid or two, and ended up with it for $70 including shipping. It even came with the original booklet. Pretty neat.

Apple season finally rolled around and I got out my equipment. Handy pictorial in the booklet for assembly instructions meant it went together quickly and easily.

Ready and waiting
I used the Ball Blue book recipe for apple butter. Cooked the quartered apples in apple cider for 25 minutes and then fed them through the food mill - skins, seeds, and all.
No need to peel or anything else
With a bit of pressure and speed on the handle (I was turning too slowly at first) out came sauce on one side, bad bits on the other.
Separating perfectly
Then I started cooking down the apple butter. Um, yeah, I'd never made apple butter before and didn't realize just how long that would take. I actually started it in my regular stock pot then figured out that I needed more surface evaporation and switched to the dutch oven. Next time I'll do it in the crockpot (uncovered) and let it cook down all morning.
Slowly evaporating
The apple butter finally cooked down enough and I waterbath canned it. The bit of extra that wouldn't fit in the jars got used immediately on toasted homemade bread. Oooh, really good.

Next up was canning apple sauce. Again, used the Ball Blue book and was surprised to see that you don't need to use a pressure canner to do apple sauce. Well, that makes things easier, doesn't it?
My biggest stock pot
I steamed a half bushel of apples for 15 minutes and then fed them through the Squeezo.
A lot of apples
One nifty thing about the Squeezo? You feed the trimmings back through the hopper and process them again. You don't get an extreme amount of extra pulp but certainly enough to make it worth doing. The apple sauce came out great and that completed my canning for the season. Next year I'll do tomato sauce too. Yum!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dying white stuff blue

Chris wanted to try to bleach art on a shirt. Do we did some internet searches, found a recipe for DIY bleach-pens, and made some up. When we used it on some old clothes however it didn't do a darn thing. Not sure if the bleach was old (can bleach get old?) or if the shirts were beautifully colorfast. So we figured, why not dye some shirts and then bleach them, right?

I picked up some RIT dye and we got to work.

Mixing the dye
Interesting tie-dye effects
I had a cute PJ set with embroidery on it that I wanted to do something interesting to. So I tied it up in an unusual pattern and got to dipping.
Come out really cool
All together we dyed 8 t-shirts and 1 PJ set. Lot of dying!
Lots to play with
Then we chose one of the shirts and tried our bleach art again.
Hmmm, I'm concerned...
It didn't work. I guess the bleach was no good anymore. And unfortunately the dying didn't work either. We must not have followed the directions carefully enough (although it sure seemed like we did) because everything ran together and just turned various semi-solid shades of blue. Argh. 

We're not giving up though. I went and got some red dye and we'll see if we can make some interesting and weird purple patterns. (In reading up on dying techniques I think where we went wrong was in not rinsing enough. It seemed like the water was clear but I'm guessing not).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Garden harvests

Remember how I said the garden wasn't very successful this year? Well, here's some evidence.

I planted three potato hills. This was the first harvest:
The great potato harvest
Fortunately the other two hills, which I let go nearly a month longer, yielded a few more potatoes. I got enough to make lunch for us any way. And they were delicious!

The tomato plants finally started really producing as we got some hot weather in September. And I harvested those two wee watermelon.

Beefsteak & cherry tomatoes, cukes, watermelon
Both were roughly this size
Fortunately the watermelon were actually really yummy. Much more like the watermelon I remember from my youth - sweet, juicy, and chock full of seeds.
We also had some volunteer sunflowers. Love the design of the seed ring.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Miscellaneous Stuff

It's funny how much miscellaneous life goes on while you're doing big stuff. Chris is working on kitchen cabinetry, a pit greenhouse, and general house maintenance; I'm installing hardwood floors and keeping up with the usual housework and cooking. 

We're also managing to enjoy all the other stuff that happens along the way:

Sewing a woobie for my Great-Niece
Very picturesque plum jam
Surgery on the squash plants
Vine borer - the reason for the surgery
Enjoying the eclipse
Washington county fair
We go on old folks day - pulling trials, horses & antique tractors
One of the old tractors
Harvestor, not a horror movie prop
Much like my Dad's 
Freaky rooster
And his freaky hen
A good idea for a stream foot bridge

Monday, October 9, 2017

Kitchen progress - the historical tour

Okay, so it's only 4 years, but it's our history so I'm sticking with the title. Chris has been diligently working on finishing my kitchen cabinetry and I'm going to do some posts on that soon. But I was looking through old pictures and realized that the kitchen has come a long way since we moved in. We've made many plans about layout, lived with improvements and additions, and changed those plans to accommodate how we really live and cook. It's been a true luxury having time and skills to make this kitchen our own.  

Move-in day, February 2013
March 2013 - gained a temporary sink
April 2013 - added chrome racks
August 2013 - added the tool chests (love those things) 
July 2014 - moved the butcher block for the 5th time
August 2015 - added window trim 
Oct 2016 - barrister bookcases for future use 
Back in November of 2016 we officially began building the cabinetry. January 2017 saw the install of the antique kitchen sink. And then the last months have been spent building the rest of the cabinetry, making many, many drawers, trying out various ways of attaching silverware as drawer handles (that'll be a post - most of the methods failed and I've finally found one that truly works), and setting up the kitchen in general. I've now got tons of storage space and a really nifty cleat system that I haven't figured out how to fully utilize yet. As I said - many posts to come. But it's been fun looking back on where we've been.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not the best garden year

This summer has been very wet and cold so it's no real surprise that the garden didn't do all that well. Here's the overview:

Cucumbers: decent eating harvest though not enough to do pickles (at least not enough to do my own pickles - I gave Dad enough that he put up a few quarts of dills). I planted MarketMore cukes and wasn't overly impressed by the flavor as the skin was tough and bitter. I simply peeled them for salads but if I'd wanted to do sweet pickles I would have been pretty peeved. 

Cherry tomatoes: slow to mature, slow to set fruit, and slow to ripen. I put in six plants, lost one to a critter, and the rest have produced about six ripe tomatoes per day. That's right - six per day. They went straight into salads or onto pizza. The plants now have lots of green maters but they're rotting rather than ripening (still cold and wet).

Beefsteak tomatoes: Argh. Set fruit early but again, rotted before ripening. I've gotten maybe four tomatoes off six plants. 

Zucchini: good harvest and great flavor.

Summer squash: minimal harvest, great flavor.

Watermelon: two melons. Two. About the size of softballs. Haven't cut them open yet so not sure if this worked or not. I'm betting not.

Kale: self seeded last year and I've cut it several times this year. A bit bitter but pretty good.

Herbs: oregano went wild as usual. Basil did well after a slow start and I made enough pesto to last us through the winter. Lemon thyme finally started growing and I have high hopes it'll survive the winter. Rosemary is doing surprisingly well planted between the patio stones. Dill is awesome. Cilantro has survived judicious harvest practices and is still producing. It never went to seed. Parsley never came up. 

Potatoes: dug up one hill and got six wee taters. Will dig up the other two hills as soon as the plants die back some more.

That's it. Not exactly a stellar harvest season but the cucumbers and squash kept us well supplied through the summer. Definitely need to do some crop rotation next year and will see about making better use of the cold frame. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Regrowing bok choy

Have you seen those posts on Pinterest that list all the foods that regrow from the roots? You know the ones - they trumpet "never buy X again!". Well, I decided to give bok choy a try. I had two heads that I'd purchased from my favorite organic farmers so I thought that'd be a good place to start.

Step 1: eat the bok choy. I did this quite successfully.

Step 2: place bottom stem into a shallow dish of water.

Step 3: wait. And wait. Eventually little leaves will start to form in the center. 

It's working! I'm getting leaves!
Step 4: when they've begun to form little root tendrils, take them to the garden and plant them.
Transferring to the garden
Cooper is always helpful
 Cover the entire bulb with soil, leaving only the leaves sticking out.
Cover carefully
Step 5: wait. And wait. And wait. Eventually you'll get all excited because it looks like it's actually going to work. The leaves grow and all looks well. Here's where things went awry though. Instead of heading up like bok choy is supposed to do, mine bolted.

After 45 days of growth
Maybe it was too hot? Although given the wet and cold weather this summer I have a hard time believing that was the problem. The good news is that lots of little seed pods are forming so I'll be able to experiment with seed collection, storage, and planting. I'll let you know how that goes next summer.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Our new pottery wheel

As mentioned previously Chris enjoyed the pottery class so much that we decided to pick up an inexpensive kick wheel from Craig's List. Gotta love Craig's List!

A kick wheel is just that - a wheel that you manually kick to create the required spin. That generally involves a super heavy hunk of concrete or stone or something on the bottom of a post that's attached via some wicked good bearings to a plate of some kind.

Ours is concrete with a wood frame. We primed and painted the metal post, painted the plywood frame, and got potting.
That bottom wheel is super heavy.
Black frame, red pole, excited husband
Demonstrating how to throw a pot
I'm really bad at it so far
There is obviously a heck of a learning curve to this thing. So far Chris has been showing me how to center the clay and it's way harder than I thought it would be. If the clay isn't centered properly your pot will be thicker/thinner on the edges and will wobble big time. The whole process has been fun and we definitely need a splash guard on the wheel! Chris also got a free treadmill off Craig's List and he's coming up with ways to attach the motor to the wheel so you don't have to kick it. Too cool.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Cooking - even when you mess up, it's often still yummy (Plum Jam)

Plum jam is a favorite of mine yet I've never made it. Well, actually I made it once, under the supervision of my Grandmother when she showed me how to make her version. Unfortunately her version was a freezer jam and my freezer is stuffed full at the moment. So I figured I'd just whip up a canned jam instead. Easy, right?

I used the instructions in the Sure-jell pectin package. Seemed pretty straightforward, chop the plums, cook with a bit of water, measure out the exact amount of fruit, add the pectin, boil hard, add the sugar, boil hard again, waterbath can, you're done.

My first problem was with "chop the plums". Their definition of a fine chop and mine differ. Unfortunately, mine wasn't fine enough so my pieces of plum failed to cook down in the 5 minutes specified. That's okay, a recipe at this stage is just a suggestion, so I cooked a bit longer to break them down. Since I now needed to measure out exactly six cups of fruit I realized that my chop size was going to impact how full my measuring cup actually got. A larger chop means less fruit to fill it (at this point I degenerated to a mental rant about canning recipes failing to specify weights). I decided to just pack the fruit into the cup and hope for the best. I had a lot of fruit left in the pan but I'd figure out something to with it later.

Added the pectin and started cooking to a rolling boil. My fruit is still too chunky without enough liquid to actually roll. It got there eventually but boy did it take a long time to release enough juice. In the meantime I kept mashing the plums with my spoon to help things along. I seriously thought about taking my immersion blender to it (and I probably should have) but I'd reached that stubborn stage where you just want to see how it all works out.

Added the sugar and finally got enough liquid so now things are progressing more smoothly. Rolling boil achieved, timed, and now ready to can.

The actual canning went very smoothly. I skimmed off the foam, filled the hot jars, processed, and everything sealed as it should. My yield, most likely because I had less fruit than I should was only eight cups, not ten. The jam was actually solidifying while I filled the jars (again, probably due to my pectin to fruit ratio) so no problem with set. The bit of extra jam left over was mixed in with the foam and stuck in the refrigerator. I'm happy to say it was fantastic lavishly spread on our breakfast toast.

Oh, and the extra cooked plums? Keep in mind that they were just barely cooked (10 minutes in the pot) and still quite firm. I spread them in a small baking dish, stirred in some cardamon scented sugar, topped with a sugar/flour/butter mixture and baked as a Plum Crisp. Surprisingly good.

Friday, August 18, 2017

More pics from the game camera

Deer: shy, aloof, quiet shadows passing through the woods...

Yeah, right. Our deer blow, call, and stamp. They also love to pose for the camera.

Nice buck enters stage left
"Is that a camera?"
"It is! It is a camera!"
"It clicked! Run!"
Same buck, re-enter stage left 
"Ignore camera" 
"Did it get me?"
"My left side is my best. I look so noble."
"Hee hee hee." 
Same deer again?
Nope, this time a doe who also likes the camera
"Get a close up"
"Oh, too close?"
"Fine" Exit stage right