Thursday, January 27, 2011

Maple syrup

It took almost a week and a lot of hard work but we have 100% pure maple syrup.  And it came right out of our backyard.  Amazing.  It is so delicious it's hard to describe.  It has a sweet maple flavor but also has just a hint of forest flavor, like you know it's the real thing.  Despite lugging over 6 gallons of sap up from our woods everyday this week we only ended up with about 4 cups of maple syrup but we will savor every drop of it.  It was a neat learning experience.  After tapping the trees and collecting the sap I boiled the sap continuously on the stove for four days, adding more sap as it came out of the trees.  Yesterday our weather changed and we didn't get any sap so I continued to boil it down until it changed colors and became more concentrated.  At a certain temperature it becomes syrup and not sap and after it reached that I tested it with our hydrometer to make sure it had the right density.  Then I filtered it through a wool cone to get rid of all the sugar crystals:

After it was filtered I canned it in mason jars.  The cleanup was a bit busy with maple syrup on everything!

It's another one of those things that we love: being able to make something instead of buying it. We only tapped four trees this year and it was a success so I imagine next year we will expand to more taps. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

We have sap!

I collected over 12 quarts of sap today from our four taps!  I can't believe it!  I was wondering if we would even get anything, let alone 12 quarts in a day and a half.  It's all very exciting!  It's said that there is about 2% sugar in maple sap water therefor it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.  So, if we were to make syrup with just what I collected today we would end up with about 230 milliliters of maple syrup.  I believe that is less then one cup.  We'll have to keep collecting maple sap to say the least.  Right now I'm freezing all the maple sap until we have enough to boil. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Maple Sugaring

Here in Tennessee we have to tap our maple trees in January in order for any chance of collecting maple syrup.  Up North, tapping won't begin for another month but this week the weather is perfect for us.  At night it will be in the teens and during the day it will be above freezing.  We were hoping to tap a week ago but our sugaring supplies were on back order so hopefully it's not too late.  Nowadays maple supply companies sell disposable sap bags for collecting syrup, but I've really been trying to cut back on how much plastic we use so we went for the more expensive galvanized 16qt buckets for collecting - plus I like the look much better then plastic bags hanging everywhere.  The buckets aren't cheap though so we decided to tap just a few this year to see what happens. 

As it turns out it seems like maple sugaring can be really easy or really complicated.  I didn't know much about the process until moving here and doing some research.  However, I did grow up going to the Maple Syrup Festival at Camp Lazarus in Delaware, Ohio when I was little and was always fascinated by the maple syrup demonstration at the Ohio State Fair each summer.  For now, we are opting for the really easy (or at least the easiest) form of maple sugaring.  I simply drilled a hole (about 2 inches in) on the sides of our sugar maple trees using a 7/16" drill bit.  This left a nice wide slightly angled hole to hammer our spouts into.  We bought Grimm spouts that have a hook on them to hold the buckets.  After hammering the spouts in, I hung the bucket and attached the lid.  Now we wait.  If it works, we should start to see sap flow and eventually have enough to boil down into 100% pure maple syrup.  More complicated versions of collecting maple syrup involve miles of plastic tubing, vacuums that suck it out of trees, giant underground holding tanks and impressive steam rooms.  We don't have that many sugar maple trees so for now I think we'll stick to the simple way. 

Collecting maple sap and making maple sugar goes along with my goal this year of making more and buying less.  We actually go through a decent amount of maple syrup in our house and we always buy 100% maple syrup - not the stuff that's made from corn syrup with added coloring!  We love cast iron and purchased an antique Griswold cast iron waffle maker last year.  Homemade waffles on the cast iron waffle maker have become a household favorite and they are always better with maple syrup.  I also like to put maple syrup in my yogurt and oatmeal.  I'm looking forward to having our own maple syrup in the fridge this coming year.  Lets hope it all goes well!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to: Make your own chicken stock

One of my favorite things to make is homemade chicken stock.  Homemade chicken stock is better for you then store bought (less sodium), often in my opinion tastes better, is cheaper than store bought and it makes use of kitchen scraps.  This is how I make our chicken stock:

  • First, throughout the month while cooking, save any left over kitchen scraps that would otherwise be thrown out or composted, i.e. left over chicken bones, whole chicken carcasses, ends of carrots, ends of celery, ends of onions.  Freeze these until ready for use.
  • When you have enough scraps (at least one left over 'whole' chicken, several carrots, celery and onion) take them out of the freezer and add to a large stockpot.
  • Add enough water to cover your veggies and bones.  
  • Add salt and or pepper, and any kind of seasoning that you desire such as poultry seasoning or thyme and rosemary.
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Allow this to cook for at least 4 hours.  Add more water if necessary to keep your veggies and meat just under water.  The longer you cook it the better it will be.  
  • Taste and add more seasoning throughout cooking it to your desired taste.
  • When done, let cool.  
  • Remove veggies and meat.   
  • Using a fine sieve, pour stock into freezer containers.
  • Label and freeze.

  The best 'chicken' stock I've ever made was from our Thanksgiving turkey this year.  It was wonderful and I made turkey noodle soup with it.  I always try to keep some stock in the freezer because it's great in soups, pastas, and other homemade dishes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bambino Taffy Toddler Hat

It's pretty ironic that almost a year ago when I started this blog I started with a knitted baby hat and now a year later I'm knitting another baby hat.  This time it's for a girl.  Our friends are welcoming their 3rd daughter next month and I thought I'd knit them a cute hat.

I didn't have any yarn that was girlie enough though so I had to go shopping for some yarn.  There are several yarn stores in Knoxville, TN but I hadn't been to any of them yet.  I took the opportunity and headed to Loopville which is located in West Knoxville off of Kingston Pike.   I really liked this store!  It was a bit small for all the yarn they have in there but it was nice to see so many varieties.  I also saw a few things I've never seen before like Be Sweet Bambino Taffy hat kits.

I couldn't resist.  It has enough yarn to make one Sweetie Pie Hat which will fit ages 6 months to 1 year.  The yarn is 70% organically grown cotton and 30% bamboo.  They have all different colors including boys and girls but I fell in love with Peppermint Stick.  It's also nice because on the yarn label has the Sweetie Pie Hat pattern on it.  So, I left with Peppermint Stick and just finished the Sweetie Pie Hat.  Isn't it cute?  I love that it has hearts in it; so darling.

I also like that I was able to try a few things I've never done in knitting before like make bobbles and Icord.

Mine came out a little bit big, but she'll grow into it.  If you'd like the pattern you can download it on Ravelry or it's on the label of each Bambino Taffy yarn.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Birds, birds, birds

Red-bellied Woodpecker

When we lived in New Mexico I fell in love with hummingbirds. There were so many different kinds out there it was fascinating. We also lived very close to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Bird Refuge and we were so spoiled with different bird sightings. I wasn't terribly into bird watching before moving to New Mexico so I'm glad moving there gave me the new appreciation I have for birds. Now, I have a whole new region to explore in terms of birds and so far at our house we've had a healthy helping of visitors to our bird feeders.  Lew got me the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region for Christmas and I've been enjoying looking up some of the birds I've been able to take pictures of:

Tufted Titmouse
Downy Woodpecker

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Female Cardinal
American Goldfinch


We've also had a Heron in our front yard, a male Cardinal, Blue Jays, a Carolina Wren,  a "Yellow-shafted" Flicker, and a Pileated Woodpecker but I didn't get pictures of any of them.  I'm looking forward to this spring to see new birds that start migrating.  The previous owner of our house told me that he once had orioles nest in the box in our front yard - that would be neat!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jan. book: Guide to Tennesee Vegetable Gardening

Going along with my list of things I'd like to do in 2011 I'm already starting No. 6 on the list:  Read more.  So my book for January was a Christmas present from my mom, Guide to Tennessee Vegetable Gardening by Walter Reeves and Felder Rushing.  And although this is a gardening book I will be reading it front to back - I've already read through a lot of it.  It's nice because it goes into the soils of East Tennessee and within a specific type of vegetable, say watermelon, it tells you what kinds do well here and what kinds don't.  The only con about the book is that is doesn't go into detail about problems with each plant.  We, having just come from a very dry climate, are worried about how the humidity will effect our garden this year and the book doesn't really go into that.  But, it's a great resource for helping me plan out our garden this year and I'm really enjoying it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Last year a lot happened in our lives.  We moved across country from New Mexico to Tennessee, we bought our first house and we started our little farm.  We still feel really lucky for everything that happened and fell into place for us.  And while 2010 was a good year I'm looking forward to 2011.  This year I have a few resolutions or goals to work on.  

1. Have a garden.  We've already made some preparations to have a garden.  We dug up a large space in our front yard tilled the dirt and added mushroom compost this past fall.  We'd love to add raised beds there with a small fence surrounding them but at the very least we'll be able to throw some seeds down this spring and hopefully have a few vegetable plants.  I'd love to have at least tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and peppers.  I can't wait for seed catalogs to start arriving - I love to look through them and plan.

2. Raise a pig.  We have enough acreage to have a few more animals and we've recently been talking about getting a pig to raise for meat.  While the thought of raising a cute little piglet just to later eat him/her breaks my heart, I don't generally think twice about it when I buy pork at the store and I have no idea where it came from, if it was treated humanely or what it ate.  I think that if you are going to eat meat, it's best to raise it yourself, treat it well and feed it right and then it will feed you well.  So, come this summer we may find ourselves looking for a pig to raise.

3. Remodel the loft.  We have a nice little loft over our garage and recently we've been talking about remodeling it.  Perhaps this is a good year to get the ball rolling.

4. Add gutters.  Believe it or not our house didn't have any gutters when we moved in.  It hasn't really been an issue but we know it's something we need to fix.  It will make our house look nicer, protect the siding of the house more and once up I can then start working on a rain barrel system for our garden.  I've also seen a gutter system hooked up to a chicken waterier and I'd like to look into to something like that for the coop. 

5. Landscape.  We have several seeds in the freezer right now that will be ready to plant this spring including persimmons and witch hazel.  I'd like to get these planted in pots and hopefully when they are big enough plant them around our property.  I'd also like to start working on a pollination garden by the barn.  We currently have a bat box over there and this summer I'll add my hummingbird feeders.  I'd love to plant some native honeysuckle and other butterfly and hummingbird friendly plants.  Also, this past fall I planted almost 100 bulbs up by our mailbox and I am so excited to see what it all looks like this spring. 

6. Read more.  I know this may seem silly to most readers who can and will read a book in a day, but I have a goal of reading one book a month this year.  I really need to get into the habit of reading more.  It's good for your brain and good for your soul.  We don't have TV (although we do have instant Netflix) so I should have plenty of time to accomplish this goal.  I have several books in mind to start with including a few we got for Christmas.

7. Eat local - more.  For some reason we are always pleasantly shocked when we go to a locally owned restaurant.  "Wow, this is really good... Wow, this is made with local ingredients.... Wow, I've never had anything like this" But yet, we haven't made it a habit to go to local restaurants and more often we end up at a chain and we leave disappointed with our choice.  So this year I want to make it more of a habit to support local restaurants that are good to their employees and use local ingredients.  For New Years we were in Asheville, NC seeing the Avett Brothers and we ate at the Early Girl Eatery.  It was awesome.  It's a local restaurant that uses local ingredients and supports local farming.  They serve what's in season and we left really loving Asheville's slogan, "Buy Local.  Put your money where your heart is."  So with this in mind this year when we order pizza it won't be from a chain and when we go out we'll try and find a cute little place that is locally owned and operated.

8. Make more, buy less. Going along with number one on my list, I'd like to make it a goal to make more of what we need and buy less.  I've been pretty good about this with food.  I make all of our yogurt, chicken stock, some potato chips, some of our bread (I'm hoping to make all of it this year, although I've run into a few problems), granola, and thanks to Santa we'll be making most of our pasta this year.  We also have eggs from our chickens.  I also make our laundry detergent.  I've made some of our socks, hats and scarves.  And of course I make 99% of the cards we send out for holidays, birthday's and special occasions.  This is usually the economical way to go: make what you need and not buy it.  It's also usually healthier and better for the environment.  So, along with what we already do this year I'd like to add a few things to the list.  A few to tackle:  make butter, make some of our cheese, make suet for my birds, get better at making bread, of course grow more of our food and can it this summer, and try again (maybe) to make our ice cream (we tried to make ice cream last year and it was expensive and didn't work).  Also, Lewie would like to go trout fishing and hopefully we'll get a freezer full of local fish to eat this year instead of buying it and we plan on getting some mushroom logs going so we don't have to buy as many of those and can harvest our own.

9. Paint our ceiling.  When we moved into our house I spent two weeks painting the entire inside.  The only thing I didn't get to was the ceiling.  It is in desperate need of a good paint job.  There are several different kinds of paint on it and it bothers me.  Hopefully this year I can finish the job.

10. Take a bee class. The University of Tennessee offers a bee course every spring to become a Beemaster.  I would LOVE to take this.  We would really like to have bees someday.  Probably not this year, but hopefully sometime in the future.  Honey bees have been dying in alarming rates and more bee keepers are needed to help farmers pollinate their crops - 1/3 of all food gets pollinated by a bee.  We'd love to have bees to help pollinate our garden and we'd love to have their honey.  Local honey and bee pollen is good for allergies so we use honey in our coffee and tea and I try to cook with it too.  We support honey bees and I hope to take the Beemasters course to learn more about bees, how to raise them and how to help with the bees that are disappearing.

So, that's a small (although large) list of things I'd like to pay attention too, think about, and do this year.  I'm looking forward to 2011 and all the new things we'll experience and all the new adventures we'll have.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Our first egg!

It was a Christmas miracle!  We got our first egg from our chickens.  It was a total shock.  We had almost given up that we would get eggs - it seemed like it would never happen.  We were out closing the chickens in and I had to go in the coop to check the water and there is was sitting in the center of the one of the nesting boxes.  A perfectly oval white-speckled brown egg.  That was Christmas Eve and on Christmas we got one more egg so we were able to eat our first chicken eggs on Christmas.  It was pretty neat.  I made bacon cups with them - line bacon in muffin pan, bake until crispy, crack egg in bacon cup, bake again until done.  They were very good.  Other then the egg event, we had a really nice Christmas.  The girls got hot oatmeal breakfast from Santa:

and the boys got wet food (their favorite):