Friday, December 31, 2010

Very Happy Chickens

We've been talking about expanding the run for ages. Technically speaking, the enclosed run is big enough for our 8 girls. But... who doesn't like a little more space, right?

Our plan was to "some day" dig up the back fence and move it back to the alley which will give us a ton more space. Who knows when we'll get around to that big project though! Finally, in October, we decided to give them what space we had.

We had to move out piles of rocks, gravel, bark chips, wood, etc! But in the end, we had some very, very (very!) happy girls.

In the new year to come, may you all be as happy as chickens with a whole new run!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Basement pantry

In our first root cellar at the last house, we stored all our root vegetables as well as our canned things. In my last root cellar post I mentioned that this could sometimes be a little scary if things got very cold. We didn't want our canned things to freeze - and possibly expand and crack jars.

So this time Jeremy built the shelves for the canned things on the outside. We had a mess of canned goods in various places around the basement and it was a real pain finding anything.

The week after Thanksgiving Jeremy finished the shelving...

...and about half an hour after he was done I'd organized everything!

We've got the dehydrator, canners, car boys (for when we make booze some day), and lots of canned things: pickles, peaches, pickles, relishes, pickles, pears, applesauce, pickles, chutneys, beans, jellies, chutneys, jams, apple juice, chutneys & pickles! Somehow it doesn't looke like much, but those jars are all four or five deep. Behind the concrete pillar we have the apple juice, beans, and some mystery item I can't identify in the picture.

It felt very good to get everything out and organized and take stock of what we have.

Blogging... oh yeah...

It has come to my attention that my devoted fans (one of them at least) would really like it if I would post something again!

Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Things have been very, very busy for me (and I thought for sure I had posted something a few weeks ago...) but now that the holidays are over I should be back to regular posting again.

I have several now historical posts to share about things that happened months and months ago! But there isn't much else going on around here...except snow and more snow and planning for the coming year.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and I hope you're all ready for 2011!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

This is a Thanksgiving table runner I made for my mom. I actually made it for her birthday (which was last month) and I got it in the mail to her in time for Thanksgiving. =)

But the bigger gift, I think, is that I get to be home for Thanksgiving this year! Now that is something to be thankful for...

Love the material on the back of the runner:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apple Dumplings

The apple dumpling tradition continues. This year of course we couldn't do it on Thanksgiving because I'll be home! So we invited a bunch of friends over for the Sunday before. There are so many more people in town the Sunday before Thanksgiving versus Thanksgiving day!

I think we fed 12 or 13 people. I made a double batch of dumplings, and still several of us only had halves.

There always has to be a glitch though, right? So last year it was cooking the sugar sauce till it was like toffee or hard caramel and then apples were a bit dry. This year I did the sauce right, but the oven decided to heat unevenly. And I mean really unevenly. After about 45-50 minutes of cooking I was checking an apple on the far right of the pan and it still felt hard, like hardly cooked. So I kept cooking, and cooking, and checking. Apples still hard. But for some reason I never looked over at the apples on the left side of the pan (a mere 8 inches away) until I realized they practically melted they were so cooked! And even though they'd turned to applesauce, the apples on the other side of the pan were still tough! So weird.

So for the next batch I turned the pan around three times while cooking and it worked like a charm.

Our friends came out, braving treacherous icy roads, and brought hot cider, banana bread, waffles, raspberries & blueberries with whipped cream, crustless quiche, and bacon. One of our friends brought over a new box of Yorkshire God tea. My hero!! We never buy the Gold because it's more expensive. And it's so darn good, we can't get used to drinking that and then go back to the regular. =) So I made pot after pot after pot of tea.

And of course we used Jeremy's great grandmother's china again. We ran out of chairs in the end and it was pretty packed with all of us in that kitchen.

My grandparents did up their will before my grandma died 9 years ago. I'm going to get their dining room table some day complete with leaves for extending the table and 8 chairs! It will be such a moment when all our friends gather around my grandparent's table and use Jeremy's family's china and my mom's recipe for apple dumplings.

(Of course it will also mean that my grandpa has passed which will be very sad. =( )

Anyway, here is the recipe which I didn't share last year.

Mom's Apple Dumplings

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine 2 cups water, 2 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Bring to a full boil, occasionally stirring. Set aside. (Which means turn the heat off!)

If you're sharing this task with someone else, they can peel and core 6 apples. Dip them in lemon-water or vinegar-water which keeps them from browning.

Combine 3 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Cut in 1 cup of shortening (butter, Crisco, etc) until coarse crumbs form. Sprinkle mixture with milk while tossing with a fork, adding enough milk until soft dough forms. (This will be between 2/3 to 1 cup of milk.)

Shape the dough into a log and cut into 8 equal pieces. (The extra pieces are for decoration.)

Roll out each piece on a floured surface – round shape is ok. Place an apple in the center of each pastry piece and you can put a littl butter in the hollowed out apple. You can put some brown sugar and cinnamon mix in the core, but you don't have to. Mold the pastry around the apple – press edges to seal. Repeat with rest of apples.

Place in ungreased pan – one big enough to fit the apples so that they don't touch each other, and deep enough so that when the sauce bubbles up it won't overflow. At this point, you can whip up a bit of egg white and brush dumplings with this. Roll out the rest of the dough and cut out some leaves, make veins with tip of knife, tip one end in the egg white and then press onto top of dumpling.
We usually do 3 leaves to an apple. You could have someone else cutting out the leaves and getting those ready while you form the pastry around the apples. When all pastry has been brushed with egg white, (and sprinkled with a bit of sugar if you want – not too much), pour the sauce around the dumplings and bake at 375 degrees for 40 – 50 minutes, until the apples are tender and the pastry is brown. If the apples are not done yet and the pastry is getting too brown, cover with a piece of foil.

Don't those just look good enough to eat!!

We usually roll up some dough for a stem in the apple, which I didn't do in this last batch. And, I've always cut out bit leaf shapes and cut in the 'veins' like my mom's directions say; but this year I used a tiny cookie cutter Jeremy got for me of an oak leaf. Took way less time!

Can't wait to have these again on Thanksgiving morning! =)

Monday, November 22, 2010

About that root cellar...'s actually been done for some time now. I've gotten behind on my blogging!

Last time you saw the walls go up and the insulation going in. Now the insulation is all done and the sheathing is all up.

Jeremy is quite proud of the ceiling in the cellar, which he pieced together from lots of different scraps. Whatever we can do to not have to buy new sheets of wood!

Stepping in the door you see our potato box to the right (with some garlic in bags on top of it), some bags of carrots, and our onion bins.

On the opposite wall are lots of apples in boxes of leaves and I think those are some squashes on our re-purposed Ikea shoe rack. The empty boxes on the left are waiting to accept more veggies.

This is what keeps it cold: a vent through the window coming right into the room. There's a damper in there so we can adjust the flow of cold air. The glass block window also has that window-vent in the middle that we can open to allow lots of cold air in. We painted the block a darker color to keep the light out, but I think I'll have to hang a curtain there to really keep the light out.

And this is how we keep track of it. 41 degrees in the chicken coop, 43 degrees in the root cellar. The chickens are just fine, but the root cellar could stand to be a little bit colder.

What's next? Jeremy is building some shelves on the outside of the cellar to hold all of our canning things. We kept our canned goods in the last cellar, but it's really not necessary. And it left us a bit worried a few times when the cellar dropped below freezing. We didn't want to accidentally wreck our canned things!

More on this when Jeremy finishes building and I finish organizing. =)

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Okay, it actually snowed very briefly a couple weeks ago and then it was one week ago when we got our big snowfall - probably around 12 inches. It was apparently the biggest pre-Thanksgiving snowfall in 30 years. And since it was so early in the season the snow was incredibly wet and heavy. A lot of people lost trees and branches as the snow kept coming down and weighing everything down.

This is the view out the window-seat window, looking into the backyard. This is what we woke up to last Saturday morning.

And the only other pic, in the side yard.

I just love how the snow sticks to every last surface. It even stuck to every bit of bird netting we have outside!

Jeremy and I worked hard the week before the snow getting the garden cleaned up and put to bed. (The chickens helped with this of course.) The last thing we did was to get some old storm windows and put them around three sides of the chicken coop and tie them down. This way the chickens still get light, we get to see them, and they are a bit more protected from snow drifts and wind.

So we're pretty much ready to settle in for the winter I guess. Just in time: it's supposed to start snowing tomorrow and Monday, and then we should be getting a bunch more snow for Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Finishing the path

Last fall we had a whirlwind effort to get our brick path in before the snow flew. It stretched from the front of the house, all along the side, and right back to the chicken coop and garage. But we didn't have time to do that little bit that comes from the sidewalk to the house.

It was on our to-do list all summer, and, like many projects around here, I just didn't think it would get done this year. But I kept telling Jeremy that it surely wouldn't take that long. =)

Finally one day Jeremy got out some tools and started digging up that (pathetic) pathway. The concrete was so thin he just had to bang on it with the crowbar a bit and it broke into lots of pieces.

We (mostly Jeremy) got the slabs of concrete up and moved to the back and we thought we were done. But then Jeremy brought out the shovel to start digging and hit concrete! There was a whole extra layer of concrete about 1/2 inch under the dirt for about half of the path. I don't know what people were doing or thinking way back when these layers went down...

Anyway, we now have a lot more concrete stacked up which we'll use to finish our terrace next spring/summer. For now it's just stacked on the back side of the terrace, in two layers of course.

The path was "in process" for about a week or so and getting in and out of the house was very interesting.

But finally Jeremy started putting rock down...

...and laying the brick!

It's done now and fabulous. Wonderful to see and much easier to shovel!

One part of this that was enjoyable (now that it has passed) was sifting out the rock. A friend had given us a large load of rock just as we moved in 1 1/2 years ago. The stuff sat by the fence all that time - Jeremy didn't really want to use it in the path with all the dirt there was in it. But there was nothing else to do with it and we can't really afford to buy a whole new load of rock.

The pile of rock happened to be in the newly expanded chicken run (more on that later!). So Jeremy and I painstakingly sifted out all the rock while the chickens milled around us looking for bugs and worms and creepy crawly things as they were sifted out of the rock. The chickens certainly had a blast and I think they're a little sad that we're not out there helping them dig up tasty morsels every day!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Another fix-it project

An acquaintance wanted me to fix a coat she had. It was her favorite and she'd had it for years so of course it was quite worn. Actually, the outside was mostly fine; it was the lining she was concerned about. It was made of shoddy material. Here is a scrap of the sleeve lining I took out:

Threadbare and shredded on the bottom. Most of the lining was like this. Ack!

The owner had started on making a new lining but gave up. She handed over a bag of silk scraps and the partially made lining and I set to work!

Success! My favorite part was learning how to do these little pockets. I've never done ones like this before (I don't even know what the technical sewing term is for them).

Most of the repair projects I have now aren't that interesting - just patches and zipper fixes. Of course I've got other sewing projects going on - but I can't tell you about them until after Christmas!! =)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Drowning in fabric

Where does the time go I ask you!?
In my case it goes to work and then as much sewing as I can squeeze in. In addition to sewing lots of things for the Farmers Market, during September and October I took on the crazy project of helping someone make a wedding dress and bridesmaid dress. I hope to post pictures soon.

I'm trying to get into sewing Christmas presents - but I've got some mending work to do first, and now I'm making a quilt for someone to give her daughter for Christmas! I'm excited because this is my first big paid project. Pics or details when I get that done.

And do you all remember that quilt I was making earlier this year? The top is finally done!

I got the top done in time for our open house last month. But then we promptly folded it up and put it away. I still have to put together the back, baste the whole thing together, then quilt it. Some day, some day...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to (NOT) cane a chair

Jeremy inherited this lovely rocking chair from his grandparents.

Actually, it's kind of a sad rocking chair. As you can see, the caning is coming out.

The arms are a bit high. And I'm not sure what happened to the rockers. It kind of looks like someone attached slightly warped boards to the bottom of a regular chair to make it a rocker - meaning, it doesn't really rock much. But hey, it's got loads of character!

We've talked about re-caning it someday, but frankly I'm not interested in spending the time/money/energy to learn that skill. (Does that make me a bad homesteader?) Besides, I've got some crazy sewing skills and I'm starting to think just about any problem can be solved with a needle and thread (or duct tape).

So I grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and cut out the rest of the caning. (I'm sure that's how the professionals do it.)

Then I made up a canvas seat that wraps over the top on all four sides and ties together under the seat.


It seems to work just fine. I might make a nicer one someday, but at least we don't have to worry about falling through the seat anymore!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Root cellar: day two (and three...)

Way back in May when we started work on the root cellar again I never guessed it would bog down and stop after only a couple days. Sometime in the last several months Jeremy (and an intern?) put up the studs in the wall and the door. And that's where it sat all summer.

I had begun to think that the root cellar wouldn't happen again this year because there are too many other projects. But then I remembered something: Jeremy doesn't really like to work in a messy area. Its true that when doing construction things get messy. But it's different if you created the mess this morning or yesterday, versus 4 or 5 months ago. In those months, the basement got messier and messier and piled higher and higher with stuff. And the truth is, Jeremy doesn't like cleaning that much and I do.

So how do I get him interested in working on a project again? I clean things up. I spent a few hours reorganizing boxes and piles and sweeping up junk, and the very next day Jeremy started working on the root cellar again! It's like a miracle. =) (But one which I completely understand. In college, I was unable to start doing my homework until my room was clean. I know, I'm weird.)

Anyway, Jeremy put in some electrical in case we need that and put plastic on the exterior of the cellar - walls and ceiling.

This is looking into the cellar through the door. I think Jeremy is going to paint over the glass block window because it lets in a lot of light.

The ceiling:

With help from the intern, Jeremy got the sheathing up on the walls. Then comes the fun part. He's leaving a gap at the top through which he'll pour in the bags and bags of blown-in insulation we saved from upstairs. We love recycling!

These two are filled (nearly) and just need sheathing on the outside.

It's coming together quite nicely and I'm looking forward to getting some root veggies, onions and garlic, and apples to store for the winter. We're going to build a wall of shelves on the outside of the cellar for storing all our canning things, empty jars, and canned goods.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A month or so ago some of our chicken-keeping neighbors down the block had to go out of town. They left the chickens in the care of their housemates. The housemates, not being used to chickens, were not prepared to deal with a case of sour crop that hit one of the chickens.

What is sour crop? Well, I'm not entirely sure, but I can try to explain it. The crop is where chickens sort of chop up and begin digesting the food they eat. Sometimes they eat too much or too fast or something bad for them and that affects the crop. In this case, the crop (which is in the chest) feels like a big squishy water balloon. With many crop issues you have to massage the crop to help food go down. With sour crop, you also have to help the chicken barf. Yes, chicken vomit.

So we went over a couple times a day over that weekend to tip the chicken upside down and see if she'd vomit, then massage her crop. We also gave her a bowl with water and apple cider vinegar to help, and no food. Don't want to add more to that mess!

Oh, I should say 'we' as in Jeremy. I watched, but he's the one that got chicken vomit on his pants, and he's the one that did the massaging. I did the...moral support. Yes, moral support.

It seems to have done the trick and the the chicken is just fine these days.

Anyway, a couple weeks ago these friends came by with an incredible gift basket! A fresh loaf of bread they'd just made, some things they had canned, and a beautiful basket. Such a great thank you gift! It's great to have so many chicken-keeping, canning/preserving, homestead-y friends in this neighborhood.

Isn't that a sweet gift!? =)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bike bag

I've been biking to work - 6 blocks, not a bad commute - but the transportation of things to and from work was a problem. I don't have a rack or basket or panniers or even so much as a milk crate for my bike, so everything had to go in the backpack strapped to my back. That gets to be a pain after awhile (at least I thought so).

So what's homesteader to do? Fall back on my sewing skills of course!

I took my beloved backpack, which I've probably had over 10 years, and made some modifications. It was an ideal candidate since both the zippers were broken and half the seams were falling out. (Hey! It was my beloved backpack!)

My beloved backpack - the front pocket has been removed. I took off all the patches and sewed them back on the smaller, new bag.

I cut the seams apart at the front and back, on either side of the zipper, half-way down the bag. I also sewed on these little velcro straps.

I sewed the zipper part closed all the way around the bag - don't need that broken zipper any more!

Now you can start to see it... the top half of the back of the bag became the flap and the zipper part was sewn together to be a carrying strap.

I think this was a sheet. I used it to make the lining for the bag.

Voila! When I'm riding I stick the strap inside the bag, then I can take the bag off and carry it by the strap. I think I want a better way to attach the bag to the handlebars, but the velcro is fine for now.

This has worked out pretty well ... though there are still times I wish I had a nice big milk crate on the back of my bike instead. =)