Tuesday, September 30, 2014

GRIT Day! Circular Sock Machine

Good morning- I just uploaded today's post over on GRIT, and it should be live shortly. Keep an eye out for it later today. In the mean time, here's a short documentary that I found on YouTube about the history of the Circular Sock Machine that I thought was pretty interesting. Enjoy!

Here's "The Wonderful Knitting Machine, Part One":

...and here's Part Two:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Onward and Upward

Happy Monday, everyone! It's going to be a busy day here, so I'm going to keep this first post short, for now. I've decided to take the plunge and open up an Etsy store; my personal goal is to get at least 15 items photographed and listed today.

Photographing things like yarn can be challenging, at best. Indoor lighting adds color casts that need to be corrected, otherwise the actual product photo turns out quite different than the "real life version". So, I'm planning to spend my morning fiddling with lighting and staging so that I can get the photos just right.

So, that's the scoop for now. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Around the Web

Happy Thursday, everyone! If you're with me on Facebook or Instagram, you may have already seen the photo of my "new" Circular Sock Machine. I will freely admit that I'm a bit smitten, and a lot of my online activities this week have been fiber-related. Blame the weather change... I can't help it.

Speaking of weather changes- ours has shifted dramatically in the last 48 hours or so- to the point where my tomatoes are exhibiting blight-like symptoms, and nearly everything else is being taken over with powdery mildew. Warm + Humid this time of year is not a good thing for the garden. Everything is on its last legs, anyway, so resistance to any pathogen is decreased. I'll be ripping out plants in between rainstorms, to salvage what fruits and veg that I can, and destroying the infected plant material so that the pathogens can't overwinter in my garden or compost.

  • Tomato blight is destructive and FAST- here are some precautions you can take. 
  • Powdery Mildew... nearly every gardener's nemesis. 
  • Fall is a good time to pick up new chickens if you need to add to your flock. Here is an article on quarantining, and why you should do it. 
  • I love, love, love rooftop gardens like this one. Not to get too soapbox-y about it, but I think they should be a requirement in most cities. 
  • I don't know which I like more- the foliage photos or the chowder recipe. Jen's blog, Use Real Butter, never disappoints!
  • Smoked Salmon. Need I say more?
Don't forget to stop by Facebook and vote on the project you'd like to do for the Knit Along next month. Remember, these are both great projects for beginners, so it's a great opportunity to learn!

What have you been checking out online this week? 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Heirloom Life Gardener- WINNER

Please join me in congratulating Kimberly Luke- she's won the book giveaway!

Special thanks again to the folks over at Baker Creek Seeds who kindly provided the copy of the book for our contest.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Candle Safety Tips

This is nice...

In today's post over at GRIT, I'm sharing an experience we had recently with an out-of-control candle. Here are a few tips to go along with that post:

  • Be sure to place candles (in holders) on non-flammable surfaces such as tile, glass or metal. 
  • Keep lit candles away from walls, towels or curtains- at least 12 inches, to be safe. 
  • Don't burn candles while you're sleeping, or in unoccupied rooms.
  • Keep a saucer or lid handy when burning highly-fragranced candles. If the wax catches on fire, you will need to extinguish it by smothering.
  • Teach your kids and model safe habits with regards to matches, lighters and candles. If you're careless with fire, they will be too.
  • Make sure you locate candles where pets or kids can't knock them over accidentally. 

...this is Not. 
Sure, a lot of this seems like common sense- but as you'll see from my post, things can go wrong even when most of the precautions are taken. (My mistake? Burning a candle in an unoccupied room. Fortunately, the other safeguards kept it from turning into a big problem.)

PS: Don't forget about the giveaway! You have until 11:59 pm tonight to submit a comment on either of the giveaway posts on Facebook, to be entered into the drawing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Autumnal Equinox and Gratitude

"The Mystic Wood" by John William Waterhouse
It's official- tonight, at 7:29 pm (PST), is the Autumnal Equinox. In Greek mythology, this is the time when Persephone (the Goddess of vegetation) goes back to the underworld to live with her abductor/husband, Hades. It's also the time that the ancient Celts called Alban Elfed, which means "the light of the water". Traditionally, this is the time of the second (and final) harvest of the year, and a time to be thankful for the bounty that spring and summer gave.

Now, I'm not interested in getting into a discussion on religion versus mythology, but thankfulness... well, I think we can all get behind that. This past summer has been one of the most bountiful times I've experienced here in my garden. Potatoes notwithstanding, I've put away more food this year for the winter than I can ever recall, and there's still more coming.

The chickens have been something else, too. Some of the new girls are still getting their systems up to speed, but even with that plus the shorter days, we're still getting on average 6 eggs a day. I'm going to test freeze a small batch of eggs today, to see how they turn out once thawed- stay tuned for more on that.

The beef "experiment" is also a reason for me to be grateful. We got everything back from the butcher last week, and we were definitely right to get another freezer ahead of time. We have 174 pounds of meat, plus an additional 17 pounds of soup bones. In looking at it all, I don't think Alex and I have ever eaten that much meat in a single year, but I suppose I could be wrong. It's a little daunting, to be perfectly honest- so I'll be scouring cookbooks for creative ways to work through it all. (And there's still rabbit in the freezer too! Yikes.)

I've also had time on my hands, for which I am extremely thankful. For the first time in ages, I've had the summer to focus on things that are important to me. Growing food, raising animals, finding a place to volunteer, working on the blog and writing in general... I've certainly been blessed, in that regard.

Last, but absolutely not least, I'm thankful for my family and friends- and you too, dear reader!- I couldn't do any of this without the support of such wonderful people in my life.

What are you most thankful for?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy Friday!

Fig Jam in the making. It turned out great; might even be
the best thing that's ever happened to yogurt, IMO.

Giant Pumpkin. 1,330 pounds!

These displays are one of my favorite parts of the fair. 

Love the tree in the center of this one!

The dahlias were outstanding- probably the best looking flowers being judged.
Some of the roses were quite nice too, but they were a little older looking.

There were a lot of  bite warnings on the animal pens, but this was the most artistic.

What did your week look like?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Today's Thursday, Right?

Jeepers... I'm having a terrible time keeping the days straight this week. No idea why; it's not like I've been out of commission or anything- maybe it's because I have something scheduled for each day this week. I keep having little freak-out moments, like I've forgotten an appointment or something.

Besides that, yesterday was a BLAST at the fair. I got some great photos and we had a great time walking around and looking at the exhibits and animals. The only downside? We didn't check the schedule close enough, and all of the fiber animals (sheep, goats, alpacas, etc) weren't showing until today. Yep... so aside from the petting zoo, and a little bit in the artist's shop, there were no fleeces or fibers to be found. I did meet some really nice ladies though, in the fiber arts corner- there were a few spinners and weavers set up, so I chatted with them for a while. I think fiber people are some of the friendliest folks on the planet! (Oh, and in case you were wondering- yes, I bought a little bump of roving from the shop, as a consolation prize.)

  • Speaking of consolation- Fiber Fusion is only one month away. Yahoo!
  • Another update already? I just installed 7! Two iOS 8 update tips and tricks, courtesy of my dear friend Joe. 
  • This recipe for pork chops with a chanterelle sauce sounds divine. I've never heard of skyr before, so I really appreciate 1) learning something new and 2) when acceptable substitutions for hard to find ingredients are provided in a recipe. 
  • Ooh. Ginger Apple Cream Scones? Yes, please!
  • My oven is about to get a workout... another version of a roasted tomato tart!
  • Speaking of tomatoes: How to ripen the green ones. If you, like me, have a bunch of them on the vine as the weather starts to change, this could be invaluable. 
  • Or, you could try pickling them. (And by pickling, I mean fermented, of course.)
  • Looking for some sheepy goodness on Twitter? Check out @herdyshepherd1 for some fantastic pics. 
What have you been checking out online this week?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Making Stock

I use a lot of stock in the kitchen, for everything from the base of a soup to cooking rice or other grains. Does a recipe call for adding water? I'll often sub in stock instead, as it adds nutrients and depth of flavor that water alone can't bring.

Canned or boxed stock from the grocery store can get pretty spendy, though. Even if you skip the organic, and wait until the cans are on sale, you're still (at best) paying dollar for 12 ounces of stock- along with the extras like preservatives and too much salt. Sure, the cans are handy to have in a pinch, but I'd much rather make my own. Not only does that let me control the salt level, but making my own stock lets me use up scraps from the kitchen that would otherwise go to waste.

I keep a designated container in the freezer for veggie scraps. It's nothing fancy, just a one gallon zip-top bag. Every time I cook, I put whatever vegetable trimmings from cooking that meal into the bag, until it's filled. I mostly just keep onion ends and skins, garlic bits, carrot peels and ends, celery leaves, tomato cores and the occasional parsnip for my stock because those are the veggies I prefer. I leave out all brassicas- things like cabbage and broccoli are a little too funky in stock, and potatoes because they'd break down and make everything cloudy. Nothing moldy or slimy- it has to be good enough to eat, after all.

Next comes the chicken... I love making a roasted chicken for dinner. When I don't have time to do it myself, I don't mind picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. For $7 we can get at least two meals out of one chicken; even more once you factor in the stock. The bones are really what we're after; once we have our main meal, I'll take whatever meat is left and set that aside for leftovers. If my veggie scrap bag is full, then we move straight on to stock. If not, the bones go in their own container in the freezer, until all of the ingredients are ready.

Once I have everything I need, I break out my roasting pan. The bones and veggies all go in the oven, for at least an hour, at 300F. Roasting them together brings out a whole lot of flavor, and while it's not technically necessary, I think it's worth taking the extra time and wouldn't skip the step. Next, I take everything out of the oven, and the contents of the roasting pan goes into my slow-cooker. I add water to the roasting pan, to loosen up any of the pan drippings- exactly like I would to make gravy. The pan drippings go in the slow-cooker as well, and then I top it off the rest of the way with more water, making sure everything is covered with liquid. On goes the lid, the temperature gets set to low, and I walk away. Well, mostly away. I'll walk back occasionally to stir and check the seasonings- stock definitely needs a little salt, once in a while. I find though, that if my chicken was seasoned well enough to begin with, adjustments are slight.

The longer I can let this cook, the better. This is where my stock crosses over into bone broth territory; I don't consider my stock done until the large bones (like from a drumstick) have softened and start to crumble. What's happened by this time is that the water has begun demineralizing the bone, pulling out calcium and bringing a ton of minerals and amino acids into play. Bone broths are nutritional powerhouses, and are a cornerstone of many traditional diets.

Once I see the bones start to soften, I separate the liquid from the solids by using a colander lined with cheesecloth. The bones and veggies have given up all that they have by this point, so once everything is strained, the cheesecloth bundle goes straight out to the trash. The stock then goes into the fridge, covered, for an overnight chill to make defatting the stock easier. The fat will solidify on top of the stock, making it easy to lift or skim off.

After it's been defatted, I'll either can or freeze my stock, depending on how much time I have. Either way works just fine. Since stock is considered a low-acid food, it needs to be canned in a pressure canner, for about 20 minutes- which ends up being around an hour total with the warm up and cool down factored in. (So yeah, I freeze a lot of stock, except after Thanksgiving, when I have turkey stock to contend with. Bigger carcass means LOTS more stock.)

If you wanted to make some vegetable-only stock, you wouldn't need to cook it for nearly as long- just simmer a couple of hours on the stove, after roasting the veggies at say, 250F or so. Besides that, the possibilities are endless... Beef, Pork, Rabbit, Chicken- those stocks are all made the same way, either with or without veggies added. I think fish stock is done differently, but I don't know for sure. (If I need a fish-based broth, I just use bonito flakes. It's way easier to store.)

Do you make your own stock?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Potato Bin Wrap Up

Happy Tuesday! Since I did the first potato bin post over on GRIT, I figured I should post the follow up piece over there as well. Check it out, by clicking here

Monday, September 15, 2014

Who's Up for a Knit Along?

Like clockwork, once the weather starts to change even the slightest bit, my hobbies shift as well. I'm itching to knit something these days, and it's too warm during the day to work on something huge. So, while I was surfing Ravelry for ideas, I started thinking about organizing a knit-along (otherwise known as a KAL) and making it a group thing. Who's with me? (Fellas, I'm talking to you, too. There are lots of guys out there who knit, so don't be shy! Think about it- how impressed would your lady be, if you knit her a gorgeous gift?)

My goal for our KAL project is that it will be easy enough for beginners to work through, yet still interesting enough for an advanced knitter. We'll have updates on FB, and our new knitters can get help from anyone in the group, including me, if they run into trouble. I'd also like it to be a small enough project, that it could be wrapped up in no more than 3 weeks. With the holidays coming, this would be a great way to kick off the making season!

I'm a huge fan of scarves and cowls when the weather gets cool. So, I've picked out two possible projects for our KAL, and I'd like to hear your feedback. If you're not on Ravelry yet, you'll need to sign up (it's free) to access the patterns. Not all of the patterns available on Ravelry are free, but the ones I've picked out below, are.

My first choice is "A Noble Cowl" by Emily Kausalik.. I knit this cowl a few years ago, and I get compliments on it every time I wear it. I love the way it fits, and it's definitely a wardrobe staple for me. Also good to know: it was the first pattern project I ever tried, and it wasn't hard at all. If you're a newer knitter, this is a great project to get you used to following patterns and what-not.

My second choice is this "Spring Moebius Cowl" by Haley Waxburg. I haven't knit this one before, but after reading through the pattern, it's just a series of knit and purl rows, so it looks super easy to make- perfect for someone who has never knit before, even.

What do you think? I'm also open to suggestions, if neither of these are grabbing you. Go ahead and browse the patterns on Ravelry (you can even view my Ravelry profile, here) and post a link to the Facebook page, if you see something else that you like more. Let's plan on choosing our final project by Friday, September 26th- this way, we can gather our supplies over the next couple of days and be ready to kick off the KAL on October 1st.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Photos

The fun just keeps coming! 

Pink Heirloom Beefsteaks on Monday

When life gives you eggs... make french toast! It freezes well!

Foraging in the evening light

A new friend at the farm!

We're getting about 8 eggs a day, now, give or take. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Around the Web

Port Gardner Bay, 2011
Sunsets are coming earlier and earlier- we're losing between 3 and 5 minutes of daylight, daily- and I can definitely feel it. I love our extra-long summer days, and I know this is the trade off... but still! And the mornings definitely have that fall chill... the thermometer read 40F when I let the dogs out this morning. All told, it makes this a busy time for folks like me who have lots to do outside, still.

I have taken a little time off from the outside chores, though, to peruse the interwebs-  and here's what I found:

  • This Fig Jam from WellPreserved looks fabulous.
  • An interesting read on another aspect of the local food movement. (Thanks, Val!)
  • Cheers to San Francisco, where leaders are looking to boost the urban farming movement.
  • So long, iPod- it's been fun. 
  • These potato skins look perfect for foodball football season!
  • A rabbit ravioli recipe! Whole Larder Love, indeed. 
  • Brilliant! A fermenting glossary from Phickle. 
  • Beautiful harvest pics from my favorite Matron. I can only hope to have as productive a plot, one day. 
What have you been checking out online this week? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Free Preserving Class

I stumbled across this the other day, and wanted to share it with you: the National Center for Home Food Preservation has a free, self-paced, online class on food preservation techniques! I enrolled the other day, and it took about a week for everything to get set up, but I'll be starting the class later today. I enjoy learning new things, so any time there's an opportunity for a free class on something I'm interested in, you can bet I'm going to sign up for it and/or tell everyone I know about it.

The course is offered through the University of Georgia's Cooperative Extension program, and there are four units, according to the syllabus: Intro to Food Preservation, General Canning, Canning Acid Foods and Canning Low Acid Foods. I'm hoping they get into drying and other methods in the first unit, but even if they don't, this looks promising. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

Are you going to sign up? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the course!

PS: Don't forget about our Fall Giveaway! Leave a comment on the blog post to enter; I want to know what hobbies you have that get you through the winter months!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Making Yogurt

I'm kind of fussy when it comes to yogurt. I like a few of the brands out there, but more often than not I find most commercial yogurts to be thin and overly sugared. Perhaps worst of all, I'm seeing more and more brands of yogurt with so-called "added fiber" in the form of inulin (a.k.a chicory root extract, or fructoogliosaccharides) on their ingredients list, which I'm totally intolerant of. Between that, and all of the preservatives... well, I'll just pass, thanks.

Besides, it's really easy to make yogurt at home. I have this little 1 quart yogurt maker that I bought a few years back, and I love it. I think calling them "yogurt makers" is sort of a misnomer, but yogurt incubator just sounds weird, I guess. That's all it does, though: keeps the temperature at a cozy 110F or so, which is perfect for the bacteria to work their magic.

The recipe I use is equally simple:

  • 1 Quart Whole Milk (1/4 cup set aside to thin starter yogurt)
  • 1/2 cup yogurt. I use a Greek-style yogurt with as many different kinds of live cultures as I can find. (Zoi, Oikos and Fage are all ones I've tried, with success.)
  • 2 Tablespoons powdered milk. This is not necessary, but I use it to boost the protein and make a thicker yogurt. Feel free to use or omit, as you choose.
First, I take the milk and powdered milk, and stir them together in a saucepan over medium heat. My goal is to bring the milk up to a low boil, without scorching it. Once it starts boiling, I take it off the heat and set the pot aside, so it cools back down to somewhere between room temperature and 110F.

While that's heating up, I like to pour the reserved 1/4 cup of milk into a small measuring cup, and add the 1/2 cup of yogurt, stirring gently until well blended. I try to get rid of as many yogurt lumps as possible, so that it's evenly distributed throughout the batch when all is said and done. I also prefer to get this done as early in the process as I can, so that the yogurt starts coming up to room temperature. In my mind, the bacteria needs to wake up from their refrigerator-induced slumber and could use the head start. I may just be projecting, though... not being a morning person, and all.  

Once the milk has cooled, I add in the thinned yogurt. If the milk is still on the warm side, I'll temper it by adding some of the warm milk to the thinned yogurt first, much like you'd do making an egg custard. It brings them closer to temperature, without shocking the thinned yogurt with an abrupt change in temp. Once everything is combined and smooth, I fill the jars per the manufacturer's instructions and put them in the maker. I leave the jar lids off but put the machine lid on, and set the timer for 12 hours. Once the 12 hours is up, the jars come out, lids go on, and into the fridge they go for about 3- 4 hours to stop the culturing process. 

Once chilled, they're ready to eat. I like mine over some granola with honey or maple syrup for a little sweetness. If you prefer fruit yogurts, just add a dollop of your favorite jam right before eating. No preservatives, nothing you can't pronounce... just happy, yogurt-y goodness!

(Want more info on making yogurt at home? Check out this page over at Cultures For Health! They have a TON of information on all sorts of cultured foods.)

What's your favorite way to eat yogurt?

PS: This post has been shared on the Homestead Blog Hop. Click  the link to see more like-minded posts from around the web!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Photos

Well, we made it through another one... happy Friday! With the weather starting out soggy, it wasn't the greatest week for taking photos. In looking through what I did take, most the good ones went up on Instagram and Facebook pretty quickly- I need to learn to pace myself, I guess. :)

I did head out this morning to take some pictures of the rabbits I've listed on Craigslist:

Silver Bun

Cinnamon Bun
Not the most artistic pics, I know, but they'll do for CL. If you're in the area, and want to buy a rabbit, the ad is here. I just need to downsize the herd before the weather changes, so I'm not feeding extras through the winter.

The weather is supposed to be nice this weekend, so I'm looking forward to getting to spend some time in with my camera again. (What am I going to do on Fridays, once winter comes??) I've been working through the Craftsy photography class I signed up for, which is great. It's packed full of so much information, and I'm finding out about features my camera has that I didn't know existed! In working with the settings on my camera for the class, however, I've discovered that there's a speck of dust inside my camera lens, which is a bummer. I'm going to have to send it off for a fix at some point soon.

Let's see... what else? Oh! Alex scored us a pair of free tickets to the Washington State Fair; according to their website it's the "largest single event held in WA state". I'm looking forward to heading down that way to check it out- it's probably been more than 10 years since we went, last.

Do you go to your state's fair? What's your favorite part?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Links Make the World Go 'Round

Happy Thursday everyone! Oh, and if you're a fan, Happy First Day of Football Season! Go 'Hawks!

I've been running around outside in between rainstorms trying to get things buttoned up for the season. Now, they're calling for sunny days and temps back up in the 80s again, through the weekend. I don't know about you, but 20 degree swings in temperature from one day to the next really throw my system out of whack. I stacked firewood by our back door yesterday, which is going to feel (and look) kind of goofy come Saturday when it's hot out. No harm done, I suppose; at least it's off the list for now- and I needed to make room over in the main stacking area for when Alex brings home the rest of this year's wood, which should be soon.

Here's what's caught my eye online, this week:

  • I was just talking about this the other day, after reading some of the comments after the butchering day posts. (By and large, the comments were very positive- and the overall tone stayed civil. That's awesome.)
  • My dehydrator is packed full of pears and plums, at the moment. Here's a handy reference sheet for drying fruits and veggies, at home. 
  • What the heck? Fake cell phone towers??
  • I use a version of the Deep Litter method in my chicken coop, year-round. Properly managed, it's a clean and efficient way of housing the birds, without all of the fuss of cleaning poop boards daily or emptying out the coop weekly. Here's another article on DLM, from Mother Earth News on it, too. 
  • I love stacking firewood... it's like my own personal game of homestead Jenga. 
  • Does anyone out there freeze kale or other greens? I have a ton of it right now, so I'd like to preserve some for the winter. I've just never tried it, myself. 
  • I know we have a few die-hard cast iron fans among us, so this one's for you! Check these recipes out... the pizza is on my list to try, for sure.
  • As if feral pigs weren't bad enough. (Totally random, I know.)
  • Simple and Beautiful. This photographer sees things in a way I absolutely relate to. 

Well, the morning fog has burned off, so it's time for me to get outside and tick off a few more chores from my list while the sun is shining, but before it gets blazing hot out there. Have a great day, folks!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

We Have Another Giveaway!

As much as I can grumble about the shift away from summer, the truth is that I love Autumn. I'm an October baby, so really, I shouldn't be too surprised- it's in my blood, after all. One of the best things about the changing seasons is having an opportunity (excuse?) to hunker down with a good book when the weather doesn't lend itself to my being outside.

That being said: Could there be a better way to kick off the upcoming season than with a book giveaway? I think not! I'm super excited to announce that the wonderful folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds have generously given me a copy of their beautiful book The Heirloom Life Gardener to share with one lucky reader.

Much like their stunning catalog, the book is packed full of great information as well as some truly beautiful photos. It's definitely a lovely addition to any gardener's bookshelf, if I may say so.

About the book, from the Baker Creek website:

"The Heirloom Life Gardener is the first comprehensive guide to heirloom gardening—whether you're just starting out in your backyard or have been gardening for years.

The Heirloom Life Gardener is not just another boring how-to book based on the latest gardening trends. It is a fun-to-read book that weaves Jere's and Emilee's personal lives and life-long adventures in gardening into a resource of tried and true methods of gardening based on necessity and economythe way it is done at Baker Creek.

Both beginning gardeners and already successful gardeners will benefit from tips to help them avoid many costly mistakes. 240 pg. Colorful Hardcover. "

Still want to know more? The book was featured on NPR, too! Click here to check it out.

To enter the giveaway: Leave a comment here, or on Facebook, and tell me what you're looking forward to doing this coming Autumn and Winter, now that the gardening season is winding down. Are you a crafter? A quilter? A four-season outdoorsy person? I want to hear about it! 

The fine print: US entries only, one entry per person. Entries accepted until 11:59PM on September 23, 2014. Winner will be picked via a random-number generator. I have not been compensated for this post, aside from being given the copy of the book to giveaway, and my opinion of the book and the company remain my own. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I hope you're having an enjoyable weekend... I am! I've been busy canning around 50 pounds of tomatoes, with the help of my mom and sister. We even squeezed in one quick batch of Vanilla Pears for my mom, this morning. It's been a lot of work, but well worth the effort!!