Friday, April 13, 2012

Blog switch

Lots of things I want to post about (a yummy shiitake risotto dish we just made, the overachieving plants sprouting in the basement, things blooming and popping up all over the yard, etc) but it will all have to wait.

I'm digging my Vicarious Travelblog blog out of mothballs to, hopefully, blog about my impending trip to Kenya. That's right! I'm going to Kenya in two days! It's for a worldwide conference of Quakers (of which I am one).

In any case, I won't be posting here till May. If I get a chance at all (fingers crossed!) I'll be posting at my other blog.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Noisy girls

We have five nest boxes, but will those girls spread out and use all of them? No. Will they take turns? No. At least they're splitting the egg laying between three boxes instead of trying to get all the eggs in one single box.

And it also seems like at least 10 at a time are feeling the urge to lay an egg which means they need to cluck and screech and carry on. First announcing, "I'm going to lay an egg!!" Then following that up with, "I laid an egg!" It gets kind of noisy around here in the mornings.

Here are several of the hens trying to use the same boxes at the same time:

Jeremy just had to get a white egg layer ("how novel!") so we got these silver leghorns - which I've whined about before. They are very flighty. And they are very noisy. Occasionally I've been coming up to the house and I hear this awful screeching sound, like a child is dying in the alley. No, just one of the leghorns. I managed to catch one on video to give you an idea. This video is nothing compared to when they really get worked up. It gets much worse. They really do carry on about the egg laying.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

While perusing the internet some weeks ago I stumbled on this way of dyeing eggs. As I searched more, it became clear that I was one of the few people on the planet that hadn't heard of this or tried it yet. But I wasn't going to let that stop me!

First I blew out some eggs, which I've never done before. It is not that easy, especially if you make the tiniest holes in the ends of the eggs because you don't want to have big huge holes.

Anyway, I won't give all the details here because if you just search for dyeing eggs with ties you should find a bunch of people with advice. Martha Stewart apparently started it - or at least got the idea out there.

So you take a piece of silk, which can be from a man's tie or any other bit of silk, and you cut it to fit your egg. Wrap around the egg. Wet it first because this makes it much easier. (I tied the one up in string as an experiment.) You want every bit of egg to be touched by the silk.

There are many variations on the next step. You want to wrap something around the eggs to keep the silk on. You can use strips of fabric (which I did), or stick them in bits of panty-hose, or other ideas. Look at some different blog posts for ideas. I tied the silk on with threads at either end, but I don't think that was necessary; probably just twisting and folding down, then wrapping the cloth strips around would have done it.

Next is to put them in a pot of water, so the water covers the eggs, and add 1/4 cup of vinegar. Now is when you find out that blown eggs don't sink to the bottom - they float on top. So you'll want to weigh them down so they're in the water. I just stuck our colander on top and made sure the water was covering everything.

Simmer for half an hour. When they're done. Take them out of the water and let them sit till they're cool enough to handle. Then unwrap the fabric and silk and, voila!

They look all fancy and complicated, but they really aren't. I found that several had filled with water so I had to blow them out again. But water is easier to blow out then egg whites!

I was going to do a whole dozen, but I came to my senses (after blowing one or two eggs) and only did six. I have some ideas for doing it better next year. Jeremy says he likes the irregularities and spaces where the dye didn't transfer. But I don't. I want them to be perfect! And they will be. Next year.

Happy Easter, and I hope all your egg-dyeing adventures go well!

Friday, April 6, 2012


Back in December, Jeremy and I were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of breaking glass. It's amazing how quickly you can go from dead-to-the-world asleep to extremely awake when you hear a sound like that.
The only sign that we were sleepy and not fully-functioning was that we incautiously turned on all the lights and crept downstairs to see what was going on. As we came down the stairs I began to hear a strange whining/hissing sound. What could that be?
By the time I'd gotten a step or two into the living room, my brain had woken up enough to know exactly what had happened: one of our bottles of cider sitting out in the living room had blown up. The hissing sound? The bottle next to it just getting ready to pop.
There was glass and cider everywhere. Sleepiness returned long enough for me to decide to open that bottle a little to let the pressure out right there in the living room. Very silly. It was a Mt. Vesuvius gusher - I don't know how so much cider could have been in that bottle.
We got everything cleaned up and put the remaining four bottles in the kitchen. It was such a bummer because we had saved those half dozen bottles out for a Christmas present!

When I came home from work the next day Jeremy told me another bottle had exploded during the morning. Cider and broken glass all over the kitchen. (In fact, we're still finding bits of glass around!)
Some night awhile later I vaguely heard a dull thudding sound in the night; but I didn't think much of it. The next morning we saw a tiny little brown glass bottle on the floor in the kitchen. Now how did that get there? It was such a mystery where it came from I was worrying it trying to figure it out. Then I opened the lower cabinets where we keep our booze (wine, whiskey, etc). Ah. There had been one last cider bottle that had only been half full. It took longer for it to explode, which it did, throwing cider and glass all over the inside of that cupboard and breaking some other bottle as well. The explosion must have been big enough to push the door open, and that little bottle had rolled right out.

Finally, the last bottle of cider had broken!  But believe me, this was only the middle of our adventures with cider.

Back up a couple months to October. We'd been talking for some time about making some booze and wanted to start with hard cider. The original idea was to get apples and press them, making our own juice. But I, wisely if I do say so myself, decided that was ridiculous. We didn't know what we were doing and I'd hate to wreck a whole batch after spending all the time making the juice. So we bought fresh squeezed (or whatever they do to apples) apple juice from a local farmer at the farmers market.

We poured all the juice into one of our lovely inherited carboys. I know we added sugar (white and brown) and yeast, but I can't remember now when or how much (sorry - this isn't a recipe!).

I do remember that we didn't water down the yeast enough so it was more like a paste that we were trying to get into that tiny carboy opening. Of course it ended up slathered all around the edges. So I took our tiny rubber spatula and went around the opening to scrape up as much of the yeast as possible so we could get it into the cider.

And then the unthinkable happened. As I was scraping inside the neck, the rubber part popped off and dropped off the stick part and sunk right to the bottom! Oh. My. Word. I had this moment of wide-eyed incredulity before the immensity of this disaster crashed over me. We had been working so hard to keep everything sterile and clean so there weren't any contaminates that would mess with the fermenting and turning all this into hard cider. Well, I'm sure you've all seen the nasty insides of spatulas when the top comes off. Sick. And that was now floating in our cider!

So I berated my incredible stupidity for a few moments, and then we decided on our next course of action. We had to transfer all that cider to the other carboy so we could get that blasted spatula out.

Then cross our fingers that everything wasn't wrecked. So we did that. The next part is to put some vodka in the the little lid thingy (that's the technical name I believe).

You set that on top and wait for it to get bubbling. I believe this little stopper serves to let air out but nothing else in. And if it should suck the stopper in a bit, it just adds some vodka to the cider. Mmm, tasty.

Now I'm a bit fuzzy because I thought this process was supposed to take some time - weeks at least. Maybe it was supposed to be in a certain temperature and light environment. But at some point the bubbles would slow to a halt and that's when it would be done. And that happened for us in less than 10 days. I'm not sure what happened (maybe it was that magical stuff in the spatula) but our cider was ready to go.

Actually, first we back-sweetened it (which means putting some nice sweet apple juice into it so it's not so bitter) and added some yeast inhibitor stuff to stop the yeast from doing it's thing. Then, making as much of a mess as we could, I stood on a chair and held this tube thing while Jeremy filled each bottle. This is a special tube thing that has a stopper on the end so it only fills the bottle while you're pressing the end down into the glass. Or something like that. It's pretty cool.

Then we used our handy new tool and new caps from Northern Brewer to cap the cider.

We used recycled bottles as you can see. This fun experiment netted us 35 bottles!

And it was TASTY! Went down really smooth and then I felt drunk as a skunk after I'd had barely half a bottle. (I am a light-weight of course.)

Jeremy was so excited about our cider he was giving it away left and right to everyone we knew; and before we knew it was all gone!

We got started on our second batch a week later, in early November. This time we did it in a bucket and kept it at the appropriate temperature and light.

This batch stayed in the basement for a month before it seemed ready for the next step. I don't quite get it, but the next step was transferring it to the carboy so we could store it in the back hall and trip over it for three and a half months.

Now, it turns out the bucket is bigger than the carboy so we had extra cider. It was fine at that point (it would just get tastier with this second sit), so Jeremy put the cider into six and a half bottles. (You know where this is going.) I don't believe we backsweetened or put the inhibitor in, so a couple weeks later, after the yeast kept working and bubbling in those tiny spaces, there finally just wasn't room anymore, and CRASH! In the middle of the night. (Why do I feel like saying, "And now you know....the rest...of the story.")

Anyway, this last week Jeremy finally bottled all that cider and there is a lot. We had one ourselves, gave one to a friend who gave us lots of advice, and took one to a party. We're trying to save them a bit now - especially since there aren't any local apples around to make another batch.

This summer Jeremy wants to try making a beer.

And we're dying to get a recipe for Sumac Wine and try making that. We had some a friend made and it was some of the best wine we've ever had.

Yay for booze!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I had no idea...

...that sage was a perennial. I had to look it up in the new herb book we Jeremy got for his birthday. And there it was in black and white: sage is a perennial. Even so, I never would have believed that to be true for Minnesota.

But today I was doing some work in the yard and I looked over to where the two dead, dried-up, abandoned, dead sage plants were... and they were getting green.

I think it must have been our warm and short winter; I can't think of how else a plant like this could have survived. Now I wish I'd left the rosemary and parsley outside too. They probably would have survived - nothing survives living inside our house.