Welcome All! I'm a dreamer, I hope you are too! A Posse ad Esse, or From possibility to reality, is a general state of mind. I hope you'll share your possibilities with me as I will with you. Namaste~

January 30, 2009

Master Gardener week II

Week two is in the books and it was a really good one! Wednesday we talked about nutrients and I have to say I was curious at the beginning of the class if it was going to be all 100% NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) and chemical fertilizers. Although the majority of the class dealt with the nutrients NPK (as well as the other Macro and some Micro-nutrients.) it didn't particularly focus solely on artificial fertilizers. In fact the teacher made it a point many times to point out the organic options and how the same nutrients could be provided through compost and other amendments.

It was really heartening to hear all the questions about composting; how to do it, what it looks/smells like, what goes into it? There really seems to be an awareness that there are other alternatives out there to the petro-chemical based fertilizers.

Friday we covered woody plants. Basically trees and shrubs for the most part. This was the instructors admitted favorite class and it showed. He was very very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of great information. We covered pruning techniques and why to do it that way. We learned about a lot of the habits of trees and why so many of the problems that they get come about. Anyone know the difference between a "sucker" and a "water sprout"? I do, and they aren't the same thing like I thought they were!

Next week is the class that I'm really looking forward to, plant propagation. We're meeting at the Botanical center and learning to propagate different types of plants. The exciting thing for me is that with any luck, I may be able to start propagating some of the specific species of plants that I grow in the garden this year like tomatoes! I'm hoping to be able to carry some of them over through into winter with the greenhouse and who knows, maybe I can propagate a second generation from them for next year. Now I'm probably getting a little ahead of myself but heck, a guy can dream right?

Hope you all have a great weekend. The weather's supposed to be nice here for the most part so maybe I can get some chores done.
Till Monday~


Hi all! I've been busy as heck this week so forgive my absence. I have two co-workers out of work so I've had to cover their stuff, and still manage to work the extra time to make up for the Master Gardener class so I've been just plain ole tired at night and needed to catch up.

I also have some really good news that I'm just bustin to share but I'm not sure yet if the time is right. Suffice it to say that I will be earning a couple of extra bucks doing something I love and will be meeting one of my "bucket list" goals in the process. Sorry to tease you with that, but I'll get more info to you as I can.

I thought I'd share a little triumph with you all tonight. If you've read this blog for a while you may remember my uncle that passed last year. I've been meaning to post on this for some time, and just never got around to it. A~ and I went down to visit his wife this fall, and she asked me if I would like to have a couple of his plants. She wasn't able to take care of them, and knew I would love them.

Among the plants were two dwarf citrus trees, a kumquat and a Meyer lemon.

They weren't dead, but they weren't healthy either so I just watered and hoped for the best.

This last week they've really blossomed...No, really I mean one of them literally blossomed. The lemon tree.
Oddly, it's the scraggliest looking one of them. (The one on the right.) I guess it doesn't know how bad it looks.

All I can hope for these is that they stay healthy through the summer. Hopefully, by next fall I'll have a brand new greenhouse to put them in for next year.

All the best to you all until tomorrow.

January 26, 2009

A Better Trellis - part two

After my last post about "building a better trellis" I had a couple of questions that I wanted to take a minute to address as well as to share a couple of other options that I've used.

Wife to 1, Mom to 5~ liked the look of the trellising system that I wrote about, but needed a little more detail on how to grow her tomatoes.
Here you go:
This picture was taken in the '08 garden in August. It's helpful in this circumstance because it allows to you see the new framework system as well as my typical single frame tomato trellis so I can point out the differences.

The raised bed in the front is growing green beans up the twine while the raised bed in the rear had two varieties of tomato's. The single frame is made of electrical conduit and is approximately 6 - 6.5 foot tall. You can see that by August the tomato plants were already grown up and over the tops. I should add that these are indeterminate tomatoes, not determinant. The difference is that indeterminate tomatoes lend themselves better to climbing and trellising than do the determinant ones. In my previous post I showed this image: This is basically a hybrid of the single frame's tall single post to tie the twine to, with the ease and stability of the square trellis system. This is what I will be doing this year. I tied the strings to the bottom beam and then ran them up over the top beam and tied it loosely. (not too.) I place a string in the center of each square foot up the middle.

As the tomatoes grow all I had to do was gently guide them around the strings that I had tied in place. The tomatoes will naturally want to climb, they just need some support. One thing I may do is rather than tie the strings to the top of the center beam, I may tie it to the outer top beams so as to allow the tops of the vines to grow out onto them. Stay tuned in a couple of months for even more detail. For now, here's a close up of some San Marzano tomatoes growing up one of my string trellises. Pruning and training allow the plant to focus on producing tomatoes rather than plant vegetation.
Bill~ asked me at what interval I planted my green beans and how far apart are the twines? Here you go bill:
For beans and cucumbers, which are the two crops that I used these trellises for this year, I spaced beans at three plants per square foot. I alternated plants, zig-zagging along the bottom of the bed and trained the plants to grow up the strings that I had tied at approximately 6" intervals. For my six foot deep raised beds, I was able to plant 18 plants on each side of the center beam for a total of 36 plants. For cucumbers I planted them straight in line at two per square foot inline.

On the sides of the beds this year I grew onions, zucchini, herbs, a wild tomato, and carrots. I think any plant that can stand a little shade will be fine though.
And that brings me to Wendy~ who made the comment that she could see covering these trellises with plastic as a make shift greenhouse. Well, Wendy...There you go, These work very well for that as single frames, but I see no reason that they couldn't work fine as the square
trellises either.

My whole point in designing these trellises was to try to come up with something that I could modify easily and that would be versatile enough to be used season after season. They seem to have fit that bill so far I think. I look forward to hearing about your experiences with it!
Till next time.

I just couldn't wait...

I know, I know I was supposed to wait at least two weeks for the optimal flavour but, and this is the talking myself into it part of the post, I figured that if I didn't at least try the beer, then I wouldn't really be able to tell how much difference there was in the beer from one week to the next so I broke one out on Saturday. I only opened one of the beers thought so don't worry, I'll be enjoying better aged beer next weekend too.

So,wondering how it was aren't you? IT was really good actually. I don't know how much better a weeks gonna make it, but I'd drink this stuff clear though the Superbowl with no problems!

It didn't really form a good head or anything, that may be part of what is yet to come, but there were bubbles in it so the carbonation is developing. As far as testing the beer, I don't know what a week is gonna add to it, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Till next time...

January 24, 2009

Master Gardener week I

This week was the first one for my master gardener class so I thought I might start a regular habit of posting up a couple of the things that we covered each week and what it was all about.

Day one:
The first class was on Wednesday and, since it was the first class of the series, we just kind of went over the basics of what is required of us. One of the original purposes of the Master Gardener program was to offer affordable training to the public in horticulture and agriculture in return for their participation and volunteer time helping to diagnose problems and offer instruction to the public as an authorized representative of the Land Grant University in the area. Ours happens to be Utah State college.

Everyone in the program that wishes to complete the course and be officially "Certified" as USU Master Gardeners will need to complete 40 hours this year in volunteer time at least 10 of which will be served performing diagnostic services for the public. One benefit of the program is that we will be provided with a very thick folder (about 4.5 in.)that, from what I understand, will be filled with information when the class is completed. That's a good thing if you take into consideration that the instructor warned us that the amount of information that will be imparted to us is about on the ratio of 1 class period = one semester in the University Ag program.

Day Two
Today was day two and we covered the way in which plants are classified (family, genus, species, etc.), what the basic parts of a plant are and much other such info. It's a lot like going back to high school biology.So much information to absorb, so little time! At least we don't have to take any tests to complete the class.

That's about all I have for this week, but stay tuned next Saturday. I'll make sure I post up something for each class.
All the best to you all, have a great weekend!

January 22, 2009

Building a better trellis

Hi all!! I'm taking the easy way out tonight and sharing a slightly modifies article that I wrote and have shared on different days on the two other locations where I regularly contribute. (Grit Magazine and Simple Green Frugal) I know many of you may have come here as a result of my writing there, and in fact may have read this post previously, but my regulars here that might not "get out much" :) haven't had the chance to read it so here goes... (Maybe you could check out some of my older posts?)

In my garden, I use a sort of variant of Square Foot Gardening. It works well because of the fact that I only grown on approximately 4-500 square feet. My biggest difference is that I generally like to keep things relatively informal. Part of my logic behind this is that I like to "leave my options open" so to speak. I've found that in the garden, as with many other parts of life, if you follow too many rules, or perhaps guidelines is the better word, by doing it the way that the "experts" tell you to do it, you run the risk of missing the opportunities and flashes that are possible through experimentation.

One such "flash" came to me early last year and I went with it. The result, I think, is one of the best from any of my gardening technique trials that I've had and I thought that with a lot of people just starting to try and figure out what their gardens will look like this summer it was a perfect time to share it. What it is, is a trellising system that allows me to use my 4 x 6 raised beds in many different configurations depending on the crop that I wish to grow there that particular year. In doing so, it also frees me from the chore of having to rebuild or move trellising apparatus every year, or worse yet every season, because it can be quickly tweaked to serve my needs. I've built one over each of my 4x6 beds and can either set it up as needed, or ignore it altogether and use the beds as though there were nothing there at all.

I put together a couple of renderings of the basic structure to give you an idea of how it's built. The ones I have in my garden were made largely from recycled 2x4'sthat I ripped in half to make 2x2's, although I did have to purchase a few. I joined them very basically with long grabber screws (course threaded.) and some corner triangles for strength.Basically, it’s just a cube that’s been built on top of an existing 4x6 raised bed. The image above is of the system in a straight configuration. Across the bottom of the raised bed, I ran a piece of 1x2 scrap wood that I could tie twine off to and then ran that up to a third top piece that I added. You could actually run the string out to the edge pieces to support the top of the plants when they reached above the top of it as well. My beds are 6 feet deep so I would run one string in the middle of each sq foot to support, for instance, a tomato plant. Here's another way of setting it up that I'm calling the "V-configuration". This was the original catalyst for this whole experiment. The reason I did it, was to try and solve a problem that I continually had with growing my pole beans. The issue I was having with conventional ways of doing them was that in my raised beds I either had to only grow one row per bed so that I could easily get to them, or I could grow them in a grid which inevitable turned into a nest of vine in which I couldn't find the dang beans! Also, in a four foot wide bed, I had a hard time reaching in easily to access the beans. I could get them, but always felt off balance. This "V-configuration" was developed to grow the beans on the inside of the bed allowing the edges to be used for other plants and, as they got taller and taller, to bring them out into my reach for harvesting from the side. It worked great as you can see here.OK, not the greatest picture of me... but the beans look good right? I have a small wheeled garden cart that I can sit on and could actually just sit down and slide along the paths as I picked. It was perfect.

I also made another version of this that ended up as a sort of "Double-V Configuration".Some of you may remember something that I tried this past summer to make a little different use of the space around my plants another way. You can see on the top of the bed here that there are two 1x2's holding the strings down. In the space between them, I planted a crop of carrots just after my cucumbers had come up. They grew there with plenty of sun initially and since they are cooler weather crops, did just fine in the shade from the larger plants. I will say that I should have planted them earlier than the cukes to have gotten better results, but it's a method that I'll definitely try again!

Interestingly, there are a couple of additional benefits to this system that I hadn't even thought of. Wind tolerance for instance. We get some nasty micro-bursts during the summer storms here and I've had problems with single frame trellises getting blown over from the force against the large plants growing up them. I watched my beans getting blown around severely with this, and yet lost not a one of them! In fact, I noticed later that some of the strings had broken from the force, but since the vines reached the tops of the frames, they no longer needed the strings anyway. Also, the frames can be used to support either shade cloths for the hotter climates or tarping to protect from frost and hail in other climates.

So there you go, my way to build a better trellis. I've tried to come up with some cool catchy name for it, but have come up short. Any suggestions, I'd love hear them. Also, if any of you decide to give this a try, I'd be honored if you'd email me a picture or two, I'd love to see how you're able to suit it to your own needs.

Till next time everyone...all the best!

A couple of good reads

Last week I was reading a post at a blog that I like to check in on, Backyard Farming, If you're in Utah like me you should drop in an check it out, they're local. Anyway Megan, one of the writers there, posted a nice read about a couple of books on farming that she had found through the library and got me thinking to myself. "Self" I said," You haven't searched the library in a while, and I don't think you've ever searched under the subject 'Farming'. You should do that." So I did.

What I connected with are two really great resources! I mean, I think that titles say it all, _Successful Small Scale Farming...An organic approach_ C'mon, has that got my name written all over it or what?
It's full of great information. A lot of it is geared to actual small scale farms, like how to plow in different seasons and such. But throughout it are some real gems.

The other book, I just straight-up fell in love with! _Country Life, A handbook for realists and dreamers_. It's so full of incredible illustrations and great techniques I wouldn't even know where to start gushing about it!

The first book is certainly on my list of future reference materials, but the latter is on my "must find it somewhere and get this book" list. I am after all the consummate dreamer. I always have been, I always will be.
A lot of libraries allow online searches nowadays. I encourage you to give them a look. You never know what's out there. We don't need to own ever book in the world, sometimes they're great just to know where they are when you need them. Other times, you find one you just gotta have. The nice part is getting to really check them out before you decide.
All the best guys... see you tomorrow.

January 21, 2009

Hope and Change...

Big words huh? So what now? Most of you know that I'm a Conservative. I believe that for the most part we are a conservative nation as well. I don't mean Republican; putting party labels on things, in my opinion, serves no end but to pull people apart into opposing camps and as long as we're pointing fingers across isles we won't get anything meaningful done. I mean conservative as in I want to "conserve" family values, I want to "conserve" our environment and our resources and I want to "conserve" the stability of our economy. I voted, but I didn't vote for Obama, for that matter I didn't vote for McCain either. So now, I'm in the position of HOPING that CHANGE really is possible some how.

In his inauguration address, our new President Obama said these words,

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."

I don't know how that strikes me to be honest. I believe it on the face of it, but somehow it just rings too... what's the word... naive perhaps? As I said, I agree with it on the face of it. There have been multitudes of people, as he said, that have laboured in obscurity. And our freedoms have come to us via no small loss. Is it still true in the majority though? Are we still willing to earn it?

Our journey has had shortcuts and settling for less. More and more of it of late as a matter of fact. I know I'm guilty of buying the cheaper items because while it may be lesser quality it is more affordable than either paying more or not getting the item. It has become a journey, in no small part, for those who prefer leisure and seek only riches and fame. If you're not sure of that look only to the selfish corruption in so many corporations and banks or to the vapid fame of the reality shows where anyone can sell themselves for a bit of spotlight.

Yeah, I'm all for hope and change, I guess I just need a little more "meat" to understand how we're going to get there.

I pray for President Obama, that he will have wisdom in these very trying times. That he will be able to prove to me that he is more than a slogan and that he can continue to find that elusive way to inspire the American people even when they get tired of the sacrifices and inconveniences that are facing many of them. I pray that we, the American people can live up to our own expectations and rather than follow an inspiring speaker, can lead the way to what is right and good for us in the long run not necessarily just today.

I have hope. Hope for change and hope for our future. I hope you do too.


January 20, 2009

Anniversary weekend '09

We had a great weekend here. It was A~ and my anniversary this weekend, actually it's next Sunday but we always celebrate it on this weekend courtesy of the long MLK weekend. As usual, we made out annual trek through the desert to Wendover. We like to have a few drinks, gamble a little and just of be a couple for a couple of days rather than just Mom and Dad. We didn't win at all (we left a little money for seed for the next visit) but it wasn't a total loss. I guess since we've made it a tradition of heading out there for 7 years now, we've made it to the frequent donors list. Because of this, we were able to get a free room, free $10.00 cash and have accrued enough "comp" dollars that we could pay for our food while we were there. Of course any money that we got for "free" from them was actually harvested from previously planted "seed money". So what, we had a great time!

So, wanna see what a free room looks like?Not too shabby huh? Of course it's nothing spectacular either, but it's was in the budget if you know what I mean...

The weekend wasn't just about the free room or the fun we had there necessarily, It was about the trip and the time. A~ and I have always been able to pass time together. Since we first found each other nearly ten years ago, we've just enjoyed each others company. I always enjoy these times when we're just riding along together listening to the radio, singing along or talking about what we dream of doing. I'm really lucky to have found such a perfect companion.

So, besides all the gushing about how much I love my wife...I thought I'd give you all a little picture, a few actually, of the stark yet interesting landscape we were kept company by throughout our drive. It's different, I think, than almost anywhere else.
At any one time you can feel like you're completely alone. No one in front, no one behind, just you, the hum of the road under you and the desert.
Then, at other times, the Salt Lake reaches out to greet you and rides shotgun alongside the road for miles and miles.
We stopped at the Bonneville Salt Flats visitor center this time, something that we've never done before. It's really a pretty unique feature to this part of the country. It was created by the same natural method that built the salt ponds where we harvested our local salt last year.
I love this picture... I thought it gave a good idea of the vastness of the salt flats. They just go on and on and on.... And then there's the "Tree of Utah". It's the beacon on our trip, and let's us know that we're almost there. It's not pretty per se, but it grows on you I guess...pun intended.

I Hope you liked joining us on our little trip through the desert. I've got a HUGE week coming up this week, so I'll do my best to keep up with you. A~ and I start our Master Gardener class on Wednesday so I'll let you know how that works out and what I can expect.
All the best to you all!

January 19, 2009

Makin' Beer (bottling the brew)

A couple of weeks have passed now since I first posted on my inaugural beer making adventure. The instructions said to let it sit for at least 7 days, and better is longer. Since our house in the winter is kept at a (not-so) balmy 63-65 degrees, I had a hard time finding a location that was good for the constant temp of 68-76 degrees (F) that the beer fermentation required. I was able to sit the little keg on top of the fridge and toss a couple of tea towels over it to keep the temps close to the low end of the range though so I figured a little longer ferment would do me well.

So far, all is well. I bottled the beer up Saturday, and it came out clear and clean with a good, slightly yeasty, beer taste. It wasn't at all sweet, which I read is a good sign. Here's the "fruits" of my labors. You can actually see that one of them is a little cloudy. That was the first one poured.True to it's claims, there was enough beer in the keg to fill all eight one liter bottles, and still had enough for one glass full. The last glass is really cloudy because it is from the bottom of the keg, but it gives a good idea of what the beer is looking like. Judging from the initial tasting it should be really good! Awwww the amber nectar!I thought it would be fun to put the beer right up there next to the packaging too. It's not often any more that we the consumer can really say that we bought a product that lives up to the images and claims on the package. So far, I have to say I'm impressed. I've invested really no more than an hour over all, and in a couple of weeks I'll have what promises to be very tasty home brew.What more could a guy ask for? Now, Andy from TX left a comment on my last post telling me about all grain beers, ones where I can "forget about the can opener!" I can see my self getting to that point pretty easily I have to say. A~ and I are already looking into growing some hops this summer. Has anyone done this before? Any suggestions?

Also, did you know that Hops are really healthy for your chickens? Hank Will, the editor of Grit magazine (where I also post a regular blog.) posted a really interesting article about it HERE, give it a read if you love beer and are raising chickens.

Stay tuned in a couple of weeks for the official uncorking... Hmmm, that works out just perfect for the Superbowl??? What a coincidence....or, was it?

Take care all..

January 16, 2009

A little follow up

I thought I'd write a follow up to explain a few more of the things that I have planned for the greenhouse that I wrote about yesterday.

When I say it will be a solar greenhouse, I more correctly should have called it a passive solar greenhouse shouldn't I have? I mean really, aren't all greenhouses solar? The thing that makes it a passive solar greenhouse has a lot to do with a couple of the things that Eric and Rhonda both mentioned. Thermal Mass. If you look again at the drawing I did. The heavy square shapes on the left side of the picture are the thermal mass walls that I hope will serve as both insulators and solar collectors. In the final iteration of this plan, I want the north walls to be made of stuccoed straw bales. Straw is a great insulator, and the stucco should hold some heat. In addition, as Rhonda mentioned, the floor is already solid. I paved it with recycled urbanite (old concrete) when we first built it. I also plan to build a low wall along the south end of it from more stacked concrete to capture more heat as well.

The idea of the roof design, is so that the over hang of the top piece will effectively shade much of the inside of the greenhouse during the Summer months, while allowing and reflecting light back into the house in the winter months. That sun should warm the concrete flooring and radiate that heat back out overnight. Eric, I am aware actually of the paraffin powered pistons. They're on my list for sure.

As for the pergola structure that is already in place, most of it will be re-fitted to become the greenhouse. I don't know about the existing trellising, but I definitely want to have some kind of support inside so that I can grow year round.

I can't tell you how exited I am for this project. It's been a long time coming. If this unseasonably warm weather of ours keeps up, I may have to start working early!!

Stay tuned.

January 14, 2009

Big plans and good news.

Sorry I didn't post yesterday. I went out for dinner with my family and took a night off. I had some pretty great news yesterday and thought I deserved it. The news? Oh just a promotion at work that came kinda out of the blue! I'm now officially a software engineer. (I was already, but now I get to say so...) I do have to admit that with the economy in a pretty dismal state, and knowing that there are friends of mine that have had a fairly rough go of it lately, I felt more than a little reticent about posting the good news up here but at the end of the day it's not just a blog about gardening, homesteading or living a little more sustainably, it's a blog about me. So that's the good news.

Now, what's all this about big plans huh? Well they're plans that A~ and I have been kicking around for some time now and finally have decided on. You may remember the pergola that I built for A~ for mothers day a few years back. This isn't the best picture of it, but you get the idea. Anyway, We've decided that we don't use it nearly as much as we had hoped that we would so it's getting..."modified".

We decided that we need a greenhouse much more than we need a little used pergola. So the big plans are....drumroll please...A solar greenhouse for the backyard. When finished it will be 10' X 12', I'm designing it with good solar gain and shading principles (I hope anyway, I'm no architect.) so that in the winter I should be able to maximize the amount of sun that the greenhouse gets while the awnings and angles should allow some shading in the heat of summer.

I've got a couple of dwarf citrus trees that have been clinging to life in the house this winter, as well as a fig tree, that I want to be able to keep out there over winters. Two of the biggest reasons for wanting it, are to be able to start our spring veggies out there and then to prolong some of them over the winter months. Next year we're hoping for fresh tomatoes in January!!

So, if any of you have any suggestions based on my drawings, basic as they are, I'd love to hear them. I hope to only have to build this baby once. It may take a while, perhaps even more than one summer building a little at a time, but it'll be a great addition to the ole 'stead don'tcha think?

All the best till tomorrow.

January 12, 2009

A real treat!

I thought I'd share what a great Mom I have. Not only does she read my blog, she takes some of my cues by hanging her clothes out and starting a compost pile, and now she's hooked her "little" boy up with some winter goodness! Check these out...Huh? Was I lying? My mom sent these to me nearly two months ago (actually could be longer, I can't remember the date.) out of the blue. When I was 15 and we moved into the house they live in now there was what I remember thinking was probably the ugliest, scraggliest little tree in the corner of the parking area to the side of the house. I later learned that it was a pomegranate tree and that I liked pomegranates! I didn't live there for too long after high school and really didn't pay attention to it the last time I was back there, but that sucker is now taller than the garage!

According to Mom, they got 140 pom's from the tree this year! She sent me a few along with a note that I could store them for a couple of months very easily. I, of course, figured that that was worth a try and they've sat in the back of the fridge since I got them. Today I decided the time was "ripe" and dug one out for a taste test. It was perfect just like she said.

I also thought I'd pass on the tip that she included. Cut them open with a knife, but peal and separate the seed pods gently under some running water to keep from staining your fingers. Miracle of miracles, I can go to work tomorrow after having handled pomegranates without looking like I killed someone the night before!

Thanks for sharing Mom! Now I just need to establish some good lemon tree root stock so I can cut a grafting from your lemon tree. The lemons you brought me last year are still the best ones I've ever had!

Love ya Ma!
See the rest of you tomorrow...

Breaking in a new toy

A while back, before Christmas actually, I treated myself to a little present. It's something that I've been looking for here and there, but it hadn't ever presented itself at the right time. This time however, during a trip to Ikea in Salt Lake City, I found this awesome clay cooking vessel and it was gonna be mine!There were only displays left of the shelf but I would not be deterred. After not taking the standard "We don't sell the displays" line to heart, I found another member of the sales staff and HE agreed that they would since it was the only ones left. I had to pay full price, but really all I was missing was a box...no biggie!

So, what's the big deal? Bread baby...bread. Last year, along with I think everyone in the homesteading blogosphere, I got hooked on the NY Times no knead bread. My problem was, my cast iron pot was 1, too stinky to use in the house (don't ask, long story.) and 2, too big to use in the oven very easily. I have heard of a "la Cloche" to bake in, but that's a tool that can only be used for baking where as this one can serve multi purpose. Also it was cheaper so that was a big selling point as well.

So tonight I christened it, and it baked a bread with a crisp crust, that looks great. I can't wait to get into it.I've been reading about the five minutes a day bread recipe too, any one have any experience with it? I'm not sure it would really fit our needs as a day to day bread. We have three kids in school that need lunch time sandwich bread mostly, but I'd still like to try it out perhaps.

I look forward to playing with this further throughout the year. I'll keep you posted.
Till tomorrow.

January 8, 2009

The hardboiling dilemma

I learned something kind of surprising over the holidays. Although fresh eggs are tastier, healthier and just generally all around better eggs, they do have one shortcoming. They don't hard boil worth a D***!

A couple of days before Thanksgiving A~ and I began trying some different methods of hard boiling them so we could have some deviled eggs with some semblance of a decent appearance. It wasn't happening. You may know what I'm talking about. That incredible stick to the shell power of fresh hard cooked eggs is more that my usually nimble fingers could work around.

So I consulted one of my go to people for all things chicken, or egg.. or whichever came first.? Anyway, Laura over at (not so) Urban Hennery comforted me with the knowledge that her eggs do the same thing. and her most consistent solution; old eggs. That's right, old eggs. It seems that as the eggs age, the proteins in the egg kind of mellow out and let the shell go. Huh? Maybe that's the reason eggs bought from store shelves average 30 days old already? Anyway, we decided to start saving a bunch of eggs separate from the rest so we had them available when we wanted hard boil some for whatever reason.
As you can see, we came up with a really technical way of coding them as well. 1-1 in our code means the eggs were set apart during the first week of January. It's rudimentary I admit, but it works well. I now have a bag of hard boileds in the fridge at work to eat for breakfast and they slide right out of the shell!

So, if your new to raising your own eggs, save yourself the frustration of sticky shelled eggs and let them chill out for a week or two in the fridge. You'll be much happier with the results. I promise. Have any other ideas for ways to hard cook fresh eggs that works well for you? Leave a comment share it with the rest of us would ya?
Catch you tomorrow.

interesting thread...

This was supposed to have been posted this morning... Guess I was tired and didn't click the publish button, OOps.

Just wanted to drop a quick FYI out to you this morning. As you may or may not know, I also write for Grit Magazines blog section of their website. The editor posted a great blog up yesterday and another last night based on some commenting that we had had between us. Both are well writen and very worthy of a read.

My response to both is also up and I invite you to take a jaunt over and check it out.
I'll be back up here again tomorrow.
All the best

January 7, 2009

Creamy Curry Butternut Bisque

I decided to so a little food experimenting the other day. I put up a few good sized butternut squash this fall, a first for me, and since I really don’t have any experience cooking it I felt a little experiment was in order.

Ok, ok, you caught me... I have cooked it before. But only like once and it was just steamed with some butter and brown sugar and wasn't really very good at all, so I don't count it. I decided to try something a little different with two of our butternuts and went with a creamy, bisque-like, curry soup. I'm happy to say that it came out much like I had imagined that it would. I don't often cook, and even at that I don't often cook with a recipe. A guideline yes, but a true recipe not so much. It's a blessing and a curse to be so comfortable winging it and it has re payed me with both some very tasty dishes as well as some real dogs! This one falls into the former category.

So then, first and most importantly, let me introduce the main stars of this show. A couple of nice sized home grown butternut squash and some smallish but very tasty homegrown storage onions from the cold storage.I might mention that I decided to try storing my butternut squash outdoors this year after reading about someone else that uses their front porch as their long term storage option. I kept them out back inside of my small metal shed and well, they froze. It was just too cold out there. The good news is that they seem to have frozen once and then stayed that way so the damage to the texture of the squash was minimal. After a couple of days on the kitchen counter they defrosted nicely and were still very firm.

The ingredients:
•2 med - large butternut squash peeled and chopped to about 1 inch squares.
•Approx 2 cups of onion sliced evenly
•5-6 cloves of garlic. Peeled and rough chopped
•Curry spice and seasoning mix in a small dish. (The seasonings contained about 80% curry seasoning, and the remaining 20% as a mix of onion and garlic powder, pepper, some ginger and a couple pinches of cinnamon.)
•One can or approx 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth.
•Cream or milk or both as you prefer.

Cook the onions with about 1/4 stick of butter tempered with a bit of olive oil in a good sized sauce pan until they are nearly translucent and then throw in the garlic. (Tempering the butter with olive oil raises the temperature the butter can reach without burning and lets the onions cook better at this point. Tempering is a fancy pants term that just means putting the oil in the hot pan first and then adding the butter.) When the garlic gets to the point that it's softening and getting well cooked in, toss in about 3/4 of the curry seasoning mix. The heat releases the oils and flavors in the spices and sort of "wakes them up" for the most flavor.

Cook all of this over medium-high for a few minutes stirring occasionally to keep it from burning or sticking too much then add about a half cup of the broth. Stir this really well and make sure to scrape up any little bits of the onion, garlic, curry that may be sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is called deglazing a pan and will get you lots of good flavor for whatever you are cooking.Now add the chopped squash, the remaining seasonings and the rest of the broth, turn everything together, cover and bring to a slow boil. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered until the squash is completely soft. I added some more butter at this point, but I'd say that was entirely optional, I just like the buttery flavor with squash.

Once the squash is soft, I used a potato masher to break up and mash all the ingredients together. Once you get it well mashed, you may find it to be like a thick applesauce consistency and want to add either some water, or better yet more broth, to thin it a bit. (Don't make it too thin, because we still need to puree and add cream.) You'll also want to add salt to taste at this point as it will still be rather bland. Cook it for another 15 minutes or so on low, and get out either a food processor or stand mixer. If you use a stand mixer you may need to do it in two batches. Pour everything into the processor leaving a little bit of room at the top. Blend until mostly smooth. Now add the milk or cream or, as I did, about even of each and mix further until your happy with the texture and flavor.

And there you go. My Creamy Curry Butternut Squash Bisque.
I topped it with a few sliced onions and some paprika and it was really good.

I did make an interesting observation though, quite by accident. Although not a spicy soup itself, it compliments spicy food very well. We were having buffalo wings for lunch the day that I made this and I had a small bowl of it at the same time. It went really well together strangely? The next day when I ate it for lunch I added a few chopped pieces of a hot pickled pepper to it and it went good together as well.

I hope you give it a try. Let me know if you like, or as always if you have any suggestions that may make it better.
Till next time

January 6, 2009

Where are all the plows?

As far as I can tell, my communities latest victim of the tight economy has been our local snow removal budgets. This afternoon graced us with a few new inches of the white stuff and this is what we have to show for it.
Ok, ok...so it's not a blizzard or anything, but it caused plenty of problems this afternoon. Before leaving work I got an email giving notice not to take the freeway either north OR south as there was a 16 car accident one way, and a 9 car mix up the other. Lucky for me, neither was required. A~ had called me before I left as well, to tell me that the roads were a mess and that there had been no plowing done in the 6 hours of snowing that we got, she was right. I crept home safely and was thankful for 4wd.

The thing is this, the snow wasn't really all that bad. Oh sure, it was like 6 inches all told, but for us that's really not all that much. The problem happens when people, who have become used to regularly cleared and salted roads are now thrust into the world of our fathers. I always wondered why my dad always packed chains when we would come to Utah in the winter to go skiing. I'm guessing that the roads weren't as consistently plowed as they have been in the recent past. If we just drive slowly there's no problem, but factor in too much speed, cellphones and texting and well, you get the drift.

I'm guessing that we may yet see more of this kind of cutting back in the future, particularly in the areas of public services. I mean when it comes to things like removing snow, funding schools or keeping the trash disposed of will probably take precedence as it should.

Just an observation of how the times are a changin'. Noticed anything like this in your neck of the woods?
All the best till tomorrow.

January 5, 2009

While the kids aren't here...

Dad's make beer!!

Or at least that's the way it worked out this weekend while the boys were down in Salt Lake for a couple of days. A~ and I took the opportunity to stop off at our local thrift store the D.I. and I found this baby brand new, complete and from this year.(The malted hops in the kit were still fresh and the product catalog for ordering new supplies was for 2009.)I'm guessing someone got it as a Christmas gift and just couldn't see making the effort to make it themselves. Their loss, my gain. These retail normally for about $35.00 so, although home brewing is something I've been wanting to try and I think this will be a easy way to test it out, I wasn't willing to shell out forty bucks to do it. But $12.00...that I can do!

Besides the ingredients that came in the kit, I had to muster up some basic tools to use in the kitchen, all of which were chemically sanitized before using. I never thought about it, but I guess beer yeast are a pretty particular bunch. The purpose of the sanitizing is to keep any "rogue" bacteria from fouling the beer.
After sanitizing and prepping everything, the next step was to mix the "wort". This basically consists of mixing the packaged ingredients which include a premixed and hopped malted-barley solution that was a lot like molasses. One of the ingredients was a package called "booster" that was basically corn syrup solids. Not my idea of top notch beer making ingredients, but I figured that it's a first batch and this was what I had.
After mixing the wort all that was needed was to pour it into the keg with a few gallons of cold water and place in a 68-76 degree spot to allow fermentation to take place. That was the biggest challenge of the whole process, finding a place in the house that was that temperature. During the winter months about the highest that our thermostat ever adjusts itself to is 66 deg (F) but is usually set to 62. I did manage to find that the top of our refrigerator was about 68 deg this afternoon, so there it sits. I'm guessing that the fermenting in beer is a lot like that of lacto-fermentation. It will still work, but may take a little longer in the cooler temps.

So, in about two-three weeks, I should be bottling this up and in another couple of weeks should be enjoying some fine home-brew. Well, that's the plan anyway. Wish me luck!