Thursday, November 27, 2014

A snowy Thanksgiving

We got over six inches of snow yesterday and it's just beautiful. The trees looked like they've been frosted and the ground is smooth and white. We'll head out for our morning dog walk soon and mess it up with tracks and footprints but for now it's a soft pillowy landscape.

I've been up since 5:30 doing this and that for my Thanksgiving prep. I enjoy all the fussing and cooking so no hardship there. We've simplified the meal over the years so instead of fixing many different dishes today I'll make them one at a time over the next several days. Today is roasted turkey with gravy, stuffing, and corn. Tomorrow will be leftovers plus mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole. Saturday features all those leftovers and green bean casserole. Oh, and I'll be making chocolate pecan pie with homemade vanilla ice cream somewhere in there too. Basically this approach means that I get to sit here, drink coffee, and do a blog post on how very thankful I am for this life we lead instead of scurrying around trying to get everything to come out of the oven at the same time.

Probably wouldn't work if you were hosting, but we take a more intimate approach and it's just Chris and I until Sunday when we have a leftover party. Everyone brings their leftovers (bonus points if they've been turned into a new dish) and we get to enjoy the company and food without the stress that seems to haunt a formal Thanksgiving meal.

I use the Cook's Illustrated updated Julia Child turkey roasting method (how's that for mouthful?). You dismember the turkey and then roast it in pieces nestled on top of a mound of stuffing (my Mom's recipe of course). It's like having a stuffed turkey but faster and you don't have to worry about the white and dark meat cooking times because you actually start them separately. Sounds weird but works great and it's not actually that much more effort. Although it is pretty funny to see me wrestling a turkey carcass trying to get it to come apart. I've learned to buy smaller turkeys and make sure my swearing is kept to a mutter. Wine helps too.

Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving and take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people who make your life a good one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

2014 Wreath Party

Last year I threw a wreath making party. A great time was had by all and we decided to make it an annual event. I gather natural materials from the property (boughs, pine cones, that weird garland like stuff that grows on the ground, and anything else that catches my fancy), and the guests bring their own forms, wire, and purchased decorations. 

Materials: pine cones, garland, and tools
Gathered pine and hemlock boughs
It's loads of fun and we do a lot of eating, drinking, joking around, and of course - we build wreaths. 

It didn't explode!
Careful selection of materials
Improvised wreath form - extra electrical wire

"I have a vision"

Vision realized!
It's going to be a kissing ball...
Unfortunately, I am not a good wreath maker.
Attempting to add embellishments 
So sad.
We decided to do a wish ball this year. Chris took bittersweet (seemed appropriate), decorated it with a bit of fresh pine for crackle, and we all tied on our wishes. Then we burned it to send the wishes out into the universe (roll with it, we were having fun).
Wish ball
Apparently it worked because I was able to improve my wreath. I added additional branches to make it more full and round. I tucked in some corn tassels and repositioned the pine cone cluster.

I also added some bittersweet berries so I had some red to pop against the green. The bird's nest was a lucky find in one of the boughs that I had gathered (didn't even know it was there until I'd cut the branch down). It's a fantastic creation of pine needles and birch bark.

Love the wee bird nest
I think it came out much better.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 24, 2014

She's a jungle kitty

The cat has resumed her walks with us despite the cold temperatures and snowy terrain. 

She'll hang back, get "lost", and then gallop up behind us all wild-eyed and puffy tailed.
Checking out my brother's new driveway
 She really likes it when we get off the path so she can navigate obstacles and climb on dead trees.
T'bd - the wild kitty
And, of course, the dog gets into the act as well - running across her path, making her madly climb tree trunks, and then getting chased in return.

Apparently she still likes her creature comforts though.

She wasn't happy I found her
And apparently we need to put the closet doors on sooner rather than later.

On top of my beautiful wool shawls. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Equipment area

I was going to title this post "Equipment shed" but realized that this doesn't quite qualify. It's more of a lean-to type thing. Rough construction at its best. 

Fresh cut limbs as support
It will provide covered storage for all the stuff that seems to accumulate on a homestead - old sinks that will someday be installed on the garden shed, water barrels destined for the garden, sawhorses that need a spot to live when they're not being utilized - the kind of stuff that is wonderfully useful and really ugly. 

Slab wood for the roof supports
All the wood is fresh cut and came from clearing the space for the shed. The slab wood is from the saw milling we did this summer (boy, that wood just keeps coming in handy).
Good use of the chainsaw
So far Chris says he's got $5 invested in this project - he had to buy a box of screws. I'm thinking he's gonna end up with some change leftover.
Two bays wide
It'll be roofed with more limbs and slab wood for this year. If it's still standing in the spring, we'll invest in some roofing tin and call it done.

Definitely need to straighten that post
Fortunately this area is behind the tractor shed and hidden from sight. And once it's done we'll be able to store all kinds of useful stuff in it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

What to do with those Halloween pumpkins...

So, what do you do with your Halloween pumpkin once the holiday has passed? I thought it would make a nifty bird feeder!

Step 1 - cut it in half. That's pretty much the only step.
I threaded baling twine through some holes that I made with a screwdriver (this is a very exact process, isn't it?) and then tied the twine to sticks to get that special rustic look.

Hung it on a shepherd's hook, filled it with sun flower seeds, and voila! Attracted some birds.
Not at all shy. I'm a few feet away.

They like our purchased feeder too.
 I like how the orange pumpkin stands out against the fading Autumn colors. Bright and happy.
See, rustic.
Cooper likes the dropped seeds.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pressure canning

We like to eat a variety of beans - pinto, kidney, chickpea, cannellini, black, and so on. Canned beans are more expensive than dried beans but oh so much more convenient.

I decided it was time to figure out how to pressure can dried beans so that I could take advantage of the cost savings without giving up the ease of a quick meal.

Step one on my pressure canning journey was to take a class at my local cooperative extension office. If you haven't tried this, I highly recommend it. I was new to any kind of canning and these classes gave me much more confidence. Plus they were fun. They offer salsa, jams and jellies, pressure canning (basic and meat), as well as others.

The set up. Those are my extensive notes.
Per the canning instructions (found here and here) I soaked the pinto beans overnight and then boiled them.
Cooking the beans, heating the jars.
My only complaint with most canning recipes is that the yields are always wonky. I can understand it with fruits and veggies as those cook down to varying degrees, but I thought a bean recipe that started with pounds and ended with pints would be a bit more exact.

I had more cooked beans than I could fit in my canner so I portioned them out for the freezer. We'll see how I like that storage option too.
Excess beans for the freezer
Then I started the canning process. A bit nerve wracking for this novice, but it went according to plan. I was impressed with the directions that came with the pressure canner (thanks Bailey for letting me borrow it!) as they were clear, easy to follow, and detailed enough to provide some confidence.
Building pressure
In the end I got 8 pints and 5 freezer bags of beans. Took all morning but most of that time was hands-off. I just had to hang around the kitchen to keep an eye on the pressure canner. Not exactly a hardship.
They look so pretty. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The upstairs dressing room - fully functional at last

We've been putting the finishing touches on the dressing room. Things like a large mirror so you can actually see what your outfit looks like (not that our typical uniform of ratty jeans and a paint splattered sweatshirt are exactly high fashion), and a variety of hooks for hanging robes as well as work clothes that you want to let air out. 

We had some great boards left over from the sawmill escapade. Note that great is subjective. My fine furniture making husband about had a heart attach when I told him I wanted to use the boards with "character". 
Cherry boards with character flaws
And we had antique door knobs that I thought would make wonderful hooks. But I couldn't figure out how to convert them. The bar that connects the knobs through the door is square and 3 inches long; not something that you can easily mount on a board. 

Well, Pinterest to the rescue! I did a quick search and found several different tutorials on how to turn knobs into hooks. Some were a bit more involved than I wanted since they had you pour resin into the knob and then drill it out to fit a hanger bolt. Loved the bolt idea, didn't relish buying a big can of resin for five little knobs. Then I found this tutorial and it worked perfectly. It allowed me to take these:

My materials
 and turn them into these:
Glass knobs done, brass yet to do
Then I grabbed the boards and we cut them to size.

Sanded them lightly and wiped with water to get rid of dust and to raise the grain.

Then I applied clear poly.
Cherry board with clear poly - no stain. Look at that color!

Walnut board - again, no stain. Wow.
The walnut was so gorgeous that I had Chris apply a salad bowl finish to a cutoff and turn it into a breadboard for the dining room table.

Then it was just a matter of hanging everything up. First up was an antique mirror that used to hang over our fireplace mantel.
Antique ogee-edge mirror
We knew it was old, but hadn't realized just how old. Look what we found on the back of the mirror.
1908 - pretty cool.
 The brass knobs were mounted on the cherry and placed near the closet for robes.
 The walnut board and glass knobs will be used for outfits and airing work clothes.
I really wish the picture showed this better. It's gorgeous.
The middle knob is actually a very light amethyst. Unfortunately you can't tell, but if you look at the before photos above, you can just make it out.

In action

Robe guest appearance

Ignore the bedroom - it's still in process
So the dressing room is now fully functional. Things that still need to be done: closet doors, trim on doorways (three), doors!, baseboard, and hardwood flooring. Since all those things extend into other areas (bedroom, bathroom, loft) they'll be tackled as those rooms are done. 

Baby steps.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Kayaking the Kayaderosseras

Some friends and I kayaked on the Kayaderosseras Creek at end of August. It's a pretty creek with lots of sweeping bends and tree-lined banks. The current is generally gentle although there are a couple spots where it was swift (most notably right where you put in - could barely hold still long enough for everyone to launch). There aren't many houses on the creek so you get a nice sense of privacy for the paddle.

Kayaderosseras Creek (say that 5 times fast!)

Lots of sun and mist
We paddled for a few hours and came out at Saratoga Lake (passed Lake Lonely on the way too). That was my first time on the lake and it was a bit busier than I enjoy. We fought our way across (waves, wind, some powerboat traffic) and had to cross a main travel lane (5mph max, no wake). I think next time I'd rather get out at Lake Lonely as it's a smaller lake with less motorized traffic. Both lakes charge a small fee to park or use the launch.

The paddle was great and it's always fun to go out friends. I'd definitely do the Kayaderosseras again.