Saturday, March 24, 2012

Taking the plunge

For years I have wanted to keep chickens. I've read, and dreamed, and planned. I chose a breed (Barred Plymouth Rock--good egg layers), discovered chickens are legal in my area, and learned about chicken tractors. I made some changes in my morning routine to give me time to attend to them, and I've finally done it. I asked for a coop for my birthday, and my b/f and his father gifted me this:

 And here are the future inhabitants:

Two Plymouth Rock chicks, and one Light Brahma. The LB was chosen when the b/f discovered that the PRs wouldn't be the little yellow puffballs that he imagined. I'm enjoying them so much; everything they do is adorable. The b/f keeps shaking his head and moaning, "What have I done?"


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Got a new Kindle?

Did you by any chance get a new Kindle for Christmas/Hannukah/Solstice/Whatever? If so, I'd like to encourage you to check out one of my favorite authors: Dani Amore.

Dani is a new, independent author. You'll see that the Kindle versions of her works are pretty cheap, but don't let that fool you; I've paid much more for books I have enjoyed far less! If you enjoy mysteries and/or thrillers, I really think you'll enjoy her books.

No, I have no affiliation with the author. I just like her work and want to read more of it. I figure healthy book sales are a good way to encourage more books. So please, check it out. Then you'll know what I'm talking about when I say I can hardly wait for Murder With Sarcastic Intent.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Makin' rum balls

Made rum balls today; the b/f's father would never forgive me if I didn't make these for him. Also making oatmeal cookies and spritz. Feeling a little sick from taste-testing everything, but I have to make sure they're good, right?

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's Apple Butter Time!

Actually, anytime you can buy apples is apple butter time. Which is the same as saying that anytime is apple butter time. But this weekend I decided it was apple butter time for me. I've never made apple butter before, but had read so much about making it in the slow cooker that I wanted to give it a try.

I bought just over 3 pounds of honeycrisp apples as the local farmer's market. To that I added four apples that had been in our refrigerator's crisper a little longer than optimum. They hadn't gone bad, but they weren't crisp anymore, which is how I like my apples. I'm guessing it all added up to about 4 1/2 pounds (a couple of those crisper apples were pretty big).

After washing them and removing all those silly little labels, I cut them up and tossed them in my biggest pot - cores, skins and all.

I added two cups of apple juice. The juice I used was unfiltered, so it was more like apple cider.

I brought everything to a boil and boiled for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the apples were soft.

This is why I didn't have to peel or core; my Victorio strainer. I just recently bought this thing, and I love it already. All the cooked apple glop went into the strainer, and I started cranking.

Applesauce came out of the strainer part.

The parts that weren't applesauce plopped into another bowl. This stuff went into the compost.

I measured the applesauce into my slow cooker; I got 8 cups. I added brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves and started it on low. I think my slow cooker must be slower than most, because after 12 hours on low (with the lid propped open a little for 10 of those hours), it still wasn't cooked down enough. So I cranked it up to high for about 4 hours or so. Even then, I was getting a little bit of liquid separation when I put a spoonful on a chilled plate (like they show here), but it was really thick and held its shape well, so I decided it was done enough. Also, I was pretty much out of time if I still wanted to can it. (I just noticed that site says nothing about a chilled plate; I was sure I saw that somewhere. But maybe I was testing wrong. Oops.)

Doesn't that look dark and rich?

I ladled the finished apple butter into pint jars. I forgot to take pics at this point, but I did remember to taste a little bit of the butter remaining in the pot after filling the jars. It was super yummy; very pronounced apple flavor. Much better than any apple butter I have bought!

After processing in a water bath for 15 minutes, I had three lovely jars of apple butter. I figure there is about a pound and a half of apples in each jar. Two of those jars will be gifts, but I am definitely keeping one for me!

Here's the recipe in a more useable form:

Apple Butter
makes 3 pints

4-5 lbs apples, cut up (Peel and core if you don't have a strainer designed to remove peels, etc.)
2 cups apple juice or cider

Combine in large pot and boil for about 30 minutes, until apples are soft. Process through strainer or food mill to make applesauce.

8 cups applesauce
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Stir together in slow cooker. Cook for a couple of hours with lid closed, then prop open lid with a chopstick or wooden spoon. Amount of time is going to vary depending on your slow cooker. I recommend trying 8 hours on low. If that isn't doing the job, set it on high, but keep an eye on it.

Once apple butter is done, you can freeze it, or can it. To can, process for 15 minutes in a water bath canner. These folks have some good instructions on water bath canning if you aren't familiar with it.


Saturday, December 03, 2011

I went to San Francisco, and all I got was...

I went to San Francisco on business for a couple of days this week. The work I was going to do was a piece of cake; should be able to finish it up in a day. Then the second day I would go in, hang around for a while to make sure all was well, then slip out early and do a little sightseeing.

They say that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. I think something similar applies to IT work. One of the computers I had shipped out earlier was damaged in transit, and was unsalvageable. No problem; they have a spare computer, I'll use that! The spare was dead, too; I suspect a failed video card. We managed to wrangle a third computer by the end of the first day, and most of the second was spent getting that ready and testing it.

So, no sightseeing, and the only picture I got was of this black squirrel I saw on my way to lunch on Day 1:

I had never seen a black squirrel before, so I guess the trip wasn't a total loss. Every time I look at this picture, I want to pick him up and pet him.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

Hanging in there

The herbs along the front walk are still alive, in spite of 90-degree days for weeks. They haven't gotten as big as I expected, so there is quite a bit of space between the plants. I planted additional herb seeds - chives, cilantro, and cutting celery - and they all sprouted, but the excessive heat proved to be too much for them, and they finally gave up. I'm trying again, starting them indoors; maybe next month I'll have more herbs to add. My Egyptian walking onions are due to arrive in August, so perhaps by first frost the front walk will be liberally lined with herbs.

Speaking of the heat, the birds have been slaking their thirst by pecking at my tomatoes. So I improvised a bird bath by placing an upturned composter lid in a bed of excess mulch. I fill it each morning, and they really seem to enjoy it.

The cats and I enjoy watching them from the dining room window. And no more holes pecked in tomatoes since I set this up, so everyone wins!


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gardening challenges

Aside from the usual gardening challenges - this year, that includes a cold, wet spring immediately followed by 90-degree days - this is one of my gardening challenges I am attacking this year. That's the strip of dirt between our front walk and the garage. In the past, I've done the usual thing and planted flowers. Unfortunately, this strip receives very little rain due to the eaves overhead. Since I don't use the front door much, I often forget about the flowers baking in dry dirt between double heat-sinks of building and concrete. It doesn't help that I don't get terribly excited about flowers; they just don't excite me like growing something I can eat does.

My goal this year is to avoid this turning into bare dirt with a few dried-out plants to shame me. My efforts started last fall, when I planted a bunch of daffodils. Flowers that come up year after year when it's still cold outside do excite me, so that worked out well. I was so overjoyed to see something green that I kept checking on them, and therefore remembered to water. But, as you can see, their time is over, with just a few leaves lying about now.

Now we are in phase 2 of the Front Walk Challenge. I've planted a few herbs which are supposed to handle heat well. Starting from the right, we have thyme, then purple sage, globe basil, and golden sage. The golden sage has been heaved out of the ground twice so far by moles, so it is struggling a bit, but the others seem to be doing well. At least, they aren't dead yet! But I still have quite a bit of space, so I'm thinking of other things to put in there. I've ordered some Egyptian walking onions, which sound interesting. The only thing is, nothing I've read tells me how tall they get. I hope they don't look too crazy once they get going. I think it would be really cool to harvest tiny little onions from just outside my front door. And, of course, I'm more likely to remember to water cool, edible growing things. I'll post additional pics as the season progresses.