Thursday, December 30, 2010

Whey delicious.

I made butternut squash pear soup tonight using the leftover whey from yesterday.  Only one word can describe it: DEEEEELICIOUS!  I started with a recipe I found online, but added whey more (haha) to it since I didn't have nearly enough cream cheese that the recipe called for and also wanted to add some of the pears that we canned this summer.  Here is the improved recipe:

1 large butternut squash
3 cups whey
half an onion (chopped up all fine like)
one carrot (also chopped up all fine like)
3 or 4 canned pear halves (and 1/2 cup pear juice)
2 ounces cream cheese
a couple shakes ground sage
a couple shakes cayenne pepper
1 cube vegetable bouillon 
olive oil, salt, and pepper

Directions:  First, cut the squash in half and scoop out the guts.  Put them cut side down on a baking sheet and throw into a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  In the mean time, chop up the onion and saute them in olive oil or butter, pretty much until they are caramelized.  Add the carrots and saute them until tender.  Dissolve the bouillon into the whey and add it to the onions and carrots.  Chop up the canned pears and add those as well, along with the pear juice.

Let this simmer for a little while, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Once the squash is nearly cooked through, skin and cube it.  Add it to the soup and let simmer for about 10 minutes.  This should soften everything up and get it ready for blending.  I used a hand blender, but I'm sure you can do it with a regular blender too.  However, if using a regular blender, you might need to add more liquid since this is a pretty dense soup.  But that's just a reason to add more pear juice or whey.

That's it.  Serve, and enjoy with some home-baked whey bread.  (I also topped it with kale sauteed in sesame oil.) Oh yeah...

Yum Yum Yummy-pants.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Everyone Loves Cheese

For my birthday last year, my sister got me a cheese making kit.  I love it, but I was always a little afraid of it.  I had read about cheese making disasters, and I HATE throwing food away, so it caused me to hesitate in trying my hand at it.  However, considering I have the time now, which I know will be limited later, I thought better now than ever.  In addition to reading through the instruction manual that came with my kit, I did some online research.  Of course, I found a ton of stuff, a lot of which was contradicting and confusing.  After some research and several youtube videos, I found that there are a lot of things that are called "cheese" and are all totally different.  The really easy stuff is barely cheese and more like cottage cheese; NOT the cheese that we all love.

After my research I decided to follow this website, because it didn't claim that cheese-making was "super easy" and it also explained things pretty well.  It gives a list of 7 cheeses to try to make from easiest to hardest and overall, looks pretty legit.  The first 2 "cheeses" it says to make are yogurt and labneh, but I decided to go straight to the rennet cheeses, since the other two aren't cheesy enough for me.

Ok, so here goes.  First, the milk.  I got a gallon of Twin Brook Creamery 2% milk (you know, the stuff that comes in those cool glass bottles?), some buttermilk, 1/8 tsp of CaCl, and dissolved 1/4 tablet of rennet in 1/4 cup of water.  I put the milk in a stainless steel pot and slowly heated it to 65 degrees.  Mind you, this doesn't take long since that's just room temp.  Getting it as close to the temp noted is key.  Get yourself a good thermometer.  Next I added the CaCl, then buttermilk, then rennet, stirring well each time in between the additions.  I took it off the heat, and let it sit overnight.

Just a pot of room temp milk.
Now it's really important to let the pot sit overnight undisturbed to let the magic happen.  I have a hard time with this sometimes and get too impatient with my food.  But this time, I was sleeping so it was ok.  Now, for anyone who has put any thought into making cheese and has done any research has definitely heard of the elusive "clean break."  This is when the solids have successfully curded.  Apparently this is hard to achieve and can only be done when all of the conditions are right.  Considering this is my first cheese making attempt, I was prepared for this to give me trouble.  BUT, when I woke up this morning and checked...
Ta daaaaaaa!  Perfection.  I did what I was supposed to do to check by sticking my finger in it at a 45 degree angle and pulled up.  The curds cracked like they are supposed to and the whey that filled in was clear.  Awesome.  This meant I could move on and cut the curds.

This is done by inserting a knife at a 45 degree angle and cutting all the way down to the bottom, making slices about an inch apart.  Turn the pot 90 degrees and do the same 4 times to get all sides.  Hopefully the picture helps to explain what I'm talking about.
 Now, take a piece of cheese cloth big enough to be able to fold it a couple times.  I used a piece that was big enough to fold twice in order to have a stack of 4 layers.  Lay the cloth in a colander over a bowl and ladle the curds into the cloth.  There were a lot more curds than I though there would be, so I had to do a lot of hand squeezing in order to get it all into my cheese cloth. 
Next, rig up some device that you'll be able to hang your cheese on.  Make sure there is a bowl underneath to catch the whey.  (Save the whey, there are a lot of things you can do with it.  It's apparently full of protein.)  This should hang for 12 hours.  (Or less if you're impatient like me and keep squeezing it every time you walk by.)  If you are going to wait, probably a good idea to keep it in the fridge for the 12 hours.

Once it has drained, it will look like this.  This is when you add the flavor.  You can add, garlic, herbs... whatever.  I kept it simple and mixed in 1 1/2 tsp of sea salt.  Once mixed in, I put it back into the cheese cloth, but this time in a round mold.  I set a bowl with a weight in it on top, to squeeze more liquid out.  (Sorry, no picture of this.)

And that's it!  Once you've waited as long as you can wait, and as much moisture as you wish is out of it, it's finished.  I took some to a dinner party tonight, along with some baguette slices that I made with some of the leftover whey.  (It's true, whey makes delicious bread.)  I took a quarter slice of my cheese and drizzled some olive oil and served it with a sprinkle of pepper.  Pretty gourmet, if I say so myself. 

So there you go.  Simple fresh cheese.  Like the website says, this is a good beginner cheese.  I'm happy it was a success and feel more confident to try my hand at the next step on the list.  Now what to do with all that whey...

Monday, December 27, 2010

School's out! It's Christmas time!

Merry Christmas everybody!  Ours was quite nice.  My grandma came up from California and as usual, we've had too much food and too little sleep.  Grandma is going home today (tear) and slowly but surely real-life is showing itself again in the form of messy houses and ongoing master's projects.  Here is a recap of the last couple days,

Christmas eve was started with lunch with my fam, then Shawn and I drove over to Poulsbo for dinner with his very loud and proud relatives.  Christmas morning started with the regular breakfast-crepe-pigfest back with my family, then after clean up was present time.  There was a surprisingly similar theme of sustainable and eco-friendly things among the gifts that were shared and half of them were hand-made.  I could just list them, but I feel like being a little creative.  It's not like there aren't enough remakes of the 12 days of Christmas anyway.

The 12 Gifts of Christmas
For the first gift of Christmas, my sister gave to us,
A bucket of elephant poo.

For the second gift of Christmas my sis and I were given,
Two chicken books,
And a bucket of elephant poo.

For the third gift of Christmas I gave to my ma and sister,
Three Harry Potter passes
Two chicken books, 
And a bucket of elephant poo.

For the fourth gift of Christmas my Parents gave to gave to Als,
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
Three Harry Potter passes,
Two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 5th gift of Christmas, I gave to my Shawnie,
Five months of XM radio!

A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
Two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 6th gift of Christmas my parents gave to Shawn,
New Zealand Rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
Two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 7th gift of Christmas, we gave to my papa,
A hand-made viking lawn game,
New Zealand Rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
Two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 8th gift of Christmas, we gave to my grandma,
A giant book of memories,
a hand-made viking game,
New Zealand rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!

A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
Two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 8th gift of Christmas, Als and Zack gave to me,
A sustainable surge protector,

A giant book of memories,
a hand-made viking game,
New Zealand rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
two chicken books,
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 9th gift of Christmas, my Shawnie gave to me,
A mate gourd and bombilla,

A sustainable surge protector,
A giant book of memories,
a hand-made viking game,
New Zealand rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 10th gift of Christmas I gave to parents gave to us,
Wool and possum gloves,

A mate gourd and bombilla,
A sustainable surge protector,
A giant book of memories,
a hand-made viking game,
New Zealand rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
two chicken books, 
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 11th gift of Christmas, my parents gave to us,
A dual toilet flusher,

Wool and possum gloves,
A mate gourd and bombilla,
A sustainable surge protector,
A giant book of memories,
a hand-made viking game,
New Zealand rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
a 45,000 year old rolling pin
three Harry Potter passes,
two chicken books,
and a bucket of elephant poo.

For the 12th gift of Christmas, my sister gave to her man,
12 flying ninja hippos,
A dual toilet flusher,
Wool and possum gloves,
A mate gourd and bombilla,
A sustainable surge protector,
A giant book of memories,
a hand-made viking game,
New Zealand rugby pride,
Five months of XM radio!
A 45,000 year-old rolling pin,
three Harry Potter passes,
Two chicken books,
and a bucket of elephant poo.

There were other gifts, but these are just the notable ones that would fit into the song.  They may not seem that exciting, but we were all pretty happy with this year's haul.  It was definitely a little more low budget than usual, but I don't see anything wrong with that.  Sometimes it's the most inexpensive stuff that means the most to someone.

There was a lot of cooking done too, and almost every meal that was dined on had some element that came from someone's backyard.  Breakfast always included berries (blueberry and raspberry) out of my parents awesome berry patches, eggs from our chickies were used as often as possible, and pumpkins from our garden made a reappearance in a couple pies.

But don't be fooled.  We don't just eat and open presents in our family.  We also play LOTS of card games.  Countless rounds of scotch bridge were played, each one full of drama and shouting and no one won or lost a game twice.  (Well, I may have lost the last two we played, but oh well.)  Cribbage and Pedro also came into play here and there, (Pedro is a Portuguese card game that brings out the competitive spirit in all of us) and all in all, we had tons of fun.

With all the festivities coming to a close, I am definitely feeling a little sad, but also ready to get back into a calmer, more reliable schedule.  A lot of things have been neglected, the chickens haven't had as much outside time and my house is a mess.  I still have one week until school starts, so I plan on really doin' some fun stuff, like trying my hand at cheese-making.  I'll make sure to let you know how that goes.  Until then, happy homesteading!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

School's out! It's friends time!

I can proudly say that I have spent the last two evenings, count them, TWO evenings in company of good friends.  Last night was printmaking-crafty-time with some good people from school.  Everyone brought their speedy cut, carving tools, and bench hooks and we all worked on our projects together.  It was fun and nice to be able to have conversations about something other than school.  I decided thank you cards are always nice to have, so I made this print:

Tonight was spent hanging out with old friends from waaaaay back.  I was in charge of dessert, so I made almond cookies and candy cane chocolate bars.  There was a new addition there, of course, with baby Carmen making her appearance.  We made sure she felt nice and comfortable.  So comfortable in fact that she pooped and peed her pants 4 times!  She's cute.

I also have a dog friend staying with me, while his mom (Shawn's mom) and the rest of Shawn's family visits Grandma in Arizona.  He's a little high maintenance, too sensitive, and won't eat his food, but he's cute.
He stands up like this when he wants me to pet him.
We got three eggs again today.  That's becoming pretty much the norm. Having a two-egg day is almost rare.  So that puts us at 45 eggs in 27 days.  Oh yeah.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

School's out! It's cooking time!

I cook a lot.  I pretty much try to cook something for dinner every night.  Some people, it turns out, think I'm crazy.  But my parents did that for us growing up, so I thought it was the norm.  What, you don't cook every night?  But, the last three weeks saw a major decline in my cooking due to the major increase in school work.  We ate a lot of frozen stuff and mac 'n cheese.  But now, since school is officially done (for now, not including stuff I have to keep up on for ongoing projects), I can cook again.  Yay.

I had been saving my last sugar pumpkin because I always wanted to make pumpkin soup and serve it in an actual pumpkin.  I took on that challenge last night.  I looked up how to do it online and followed the directions.  Well, not for the soup but for the pumpkin prep.  I cut off the top and cleaned it out like a jack-o-lantern.  I sprayed the pumpkin with cooking spray and put it in a 325 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  During the hour, I sauteed my onions and celery, blah blah blah... whatever, I made the soup.

After 45 minutes or so, I checked the pumpkin and it looked perfect.  Still nice and firm but also starting to soften up.  I took some of the meat from the inside and added it to the soup, making sure to leave it nice and thick to help keep the pumpkin's structural integrity.  I ladled the soup in the pumpkin and it looked great.

So why don't I have a beautiful picture of a glistening golden pumpkin filled to the brim with delicious creamy pumpkin soup?  Because the pumpkin failed.  Apparently, pumpkins cook a lot faster on the bottom than the sides, and the bottom of my pumpkin just gave way, letting all of the soup pour all over the stove.  Lickily, 80% of it ended up on the cooking sheet so I was able to save most of the soup.  FML.  I cleaned out the pumpkin and threw it back in the oven to cook the rest of the way so I could puree it like the rest of its friends and use it for more delicious things.

So that's it.  I'm never going to try it again.  The need is out of my system.  My sister made me feel better though.  She pointed out that in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver did the same thing.  That must mean I'm just like her.  I'm cool with that.

Since I am vehemently opposed to posts without picures, here's a picture that has nothing to do with what I just talked about:

Nikolai, cock down.

Monday, December 13, 2010

School's out! It's crafty time!

First of all, I wanna congratulate everyone who just finished or is about to finish with fall quarter!  A giant e-five goes out to all!  Booyah!

To celebrate, (and to reward myself,) I went to the art store on 45th by Petco.  What an amazing store!  First of all, it's HUGE and everything is super cheap.  On top of the already crazy low prices, ALL of their printmaking supplies are 50% off until Christmas!  I bought what I thought was a lot of stuff, but it only ended up being 7 bucks.  Super sweet.

Anyway, being a poor grad student, I have been busy hand-crafting a lot of my gifts for the season.  Each year I usually go into mass production of something that can be appreciated by many just to keep costs down and be efficient.  I've made fudge, truffles, and fingerless gloves in the past, and this year it's cards made from block prints.  Did I just give away a surprise?  Maybe I should have waited until after Christmas to post this.  Oh well.

I learned the basics of printmaking last year at IslandWood, and I've become obsessed.  I have about 6 or so prints, some I made at the 'Wood, some I've made since I've been home.  I just made a Christmas one, you know, just in case I feel like sending some out this year.  Today was just a printing day.  Here are the fruits of my labor.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chickie ER visit #2

Abby had to go to the chickie ER today.  Let me tell you in fairy tale form:

Once upon a time, there are three chickies.  Abby is the alpha.  She always follows the humans, chases intruders out of the yard, and is super smart.  Frannie is the big one.  She looks like a scary vulture but is actually really sweet and is the best mommy.  Mabel is the dumb one.  She's very vocal and sometimes picks on the other two, but she sure is purdy!  One day, Lady Owner came home to find Abby with an injury on her head.  Oh no, thought Lady Owner, who looked closely to find Abby's comb partly torn off.  Lady Owner couldn't help but panic, since Abby is her favorite. (Don't tell the other two.)  She called the vet who said there was a cancellation that evening and she should bring Abby in to get it checked out.

At the vet, Abby acted her usual self and hammed it up.  Everybody thought she was super cute, just the bees knees.  The doctor looked at her, gave her some gas, sewed her up, and gave her a pain injection.  Luckily Lady Owner was able to get her in so quickly that antibiotics were avoided.  All was happy again, and Lady Owner was relieved as she took Abby back home.

However.... When Lady Owner and Abby got home... oh no!  Abby's stitches were busted open!  Bad girl Abby!  Even though the vet's office was closed, Lady Owner (and Man Owner, since he was home from work,) had no choice but to take her back in, this time as an emergency.  Poop.  A different vet looked at Abby this time and sewed her up nice and tight, and even added glue to make sure it stayed together.  Even though she's a bad girl, Abby was able to win over this dr's heart as well with her tender, mild-mannered attitude.  Man Owner made sure to keep an eye on sneaky Abby during the car ride home so she couldn't ruin all the dr's hard work for a second time. 

Lady Owner and Man Owner were super hungry so they decided to drive through the giant golden M on their way home, (much to the chagrin of Lady Owner.)  The cashier at the M thought it was funny that there was a chicken in the car, especially since Man Owner ordered chicken nuggets. 

Once home, Lady Owner and Man Owner had to sit and watch Abby for a while so she or her sisters don't try to rip out the stitches.  Frannie and Mabel seemed ok, but that Abby, she's still tryin' to scratch 'em out.  The two tired owners tucked them into bed with hopes that when they check on her in a few hours, everything will be in one piece.

It was an exciting night.  Lady Owner is down $300 had to miss an important event at her great learning establishment.  But it's ok, Abby's owner's love her and will do what they have to do to keep her happy and healthy.

The. End.

Here are some pitchures.  They're hard to take when no one is holding her.

Dinosaur eyes.
This is her Badass face.
(You might be wondering why this is ER visit #2.  #1 was by Frannie when they were still babies.  She got really sick and had a bad fever, and was pretty close to dying.  But she got antibiotics and got all better.)

In much happier news, today was our first 3-egg day.  That puts us up to 16 eggs in 15 days.  This is official proof that Mabel is now laying.  I know for sure who laid which eggs today, so I can compare them to see any differences in them.  Maybe I'll be able to tell who lays what from now on, when they're not all in sync.  Fannie's are the darkest, Abby's are a little lighter, and Mabel's are the lightest and a little rounder and smaller.  (They're all brown.)  Frannie lays first around 11am, Abby lays around noon, and Mabel lays sometime in the afternoon.  Or so it's been so far...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wish Granted!

I had one of the most exciting days of my life yesterday.  Well, maybe not ever, but definitely up there.  I got to see both Abby and Frannie lay an egg!!!  These were egg #'s 8 and 9.  It was so fun, even though I ended up sitting out in the cold waiting for about 45 minutes.  It was totally worth the numb fingers and toes.  I took video of it, and decided to have fun with the editing.  Enjoy!

If the quality is not so good, blame blogger you can watch it here on YouTube instead.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This, That, and the Other Thing

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  Ours was pretty swell, my parents ditched us for New Zealand, so Shawn and I (team 1), with my sis and her man (team 2) decided to host Thanksgiving at my parents house.  Team 2 made the turkey, complete with stuffing, and the sweet potatoes.  Team 1 made the rolls, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (more on that later).  We had a total of 19 people at the house, most being other orphans like us who had no other plans for the big day.  Everyone ate until they couldn't breathe, and all was good.

There they are in their 350 degree sauna.
Now about that Pumpkin pie.  Oh my heck.  It was so delicious!  About a month ago, I took three of my sugar pumpkins and pureed them and froze them.  I don't know if it was the recipe or the pumpkins that made the pie so good, maybe a combo of both.  So, since they were so delicious, I decided to puree three more of the orange beauties that my garden grew this summer.

3 pumpkins = 8 cups puree = 4 pies!  YES!
The whole process does take a little bit of time and it can get messy, but it is totally worth it!  You can do it when you have the time and just freeze it until you find yourself in need of some pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, or any other delicious pumpkin-inspired recipe.

So for some reason, Shawn and I hit the jackpot for the absolute best pies ever.  Here is the recipe for one pie.  Of course, we doubled it because in my family, pumpkin pies always come in twos.
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust 
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine all ingredients and mix well.  Pour into prepared pie crust.  Place in oven and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Lower temp to 350 and bake another 40 minutes or until pie is firm.  Let cool, and enjoy!  Don't forget the whip cream!

So far, Abby wins.
In other news, we got egg #4 today.  We started a tally so we can keep track of how many we get from them.  So far, we're pretty sure all of them have been from Abby, since they are always 2 days apart and laid around noon.  (Except the one from today, it was earlier than noon.)  Let's see how long the tally lasts.

Lastly, since it is officially after Thanksgiving, we got to do this: ------>

Happy holiday homesteading my friends!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Uber awesome, fantastic book!

Have you ever read a book that was soooo good that you purposefully read it slower?  I mean read only a few pages a day or read and re-read bits over and over again?  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver did that for me.  Ho-ly crap, it's so good.  Its kind of a how-to book that she wrote about her family's year of only eating what they or their neighbors could produce.  Like super-duper locavore style.  The book goes through the year, month to month, and describes what she and her family did to keep their bellies full.  They grew tons and tons of vegetables, baked their own bread, had their own livestock, and went to the local farmers market to supplement what they couldn't produce themselves.  Each member of the family got to choose their one thing to buy that didn't fit the rules, to keep themselves sane. The book includes recipes after each chapter and hilarious stories of trying to breed her turkeys, her adorable daughter's egg business, and the stresses that come with literally living off the land.

I wanna do this so bad.  But I don't think I can. :(  For lots of reasons.  First, I need more land.  We ate pretty darn good this summer off the vegetable garden I planted, and we still have some leftover in the freezer, but it's definitely not enough to sustain any longer than the summer.  Second, I could buy food at farmers markets, but again, not much longer past the summer.  I would have to have a HUGE freezer and can like a crazy woman to last me through winter. Thirdly, I definitely can't kill anything to eat it.  I applaud Barbara for being able to "harvest" her turkeys and chickens and letting her kids be involved with it too.  Unfortunately, I am a product of my generation that is totally disconnected from my food.  I am of the generation of "beef doesn't come from a cow, it comes from the grocery store in a plastic wrapped container."

Jeez, how unnatural we humans are these days.  We eat food that doesn't even resemble food because it has gone through so many rounds of processing, and injected with so many ingredients that we don't even recognize.  HELLO, it's slowly killing us.  Cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart problems, it's all because of our lifestyle and the toxic food we eat.  I wanna go back to eating like the hunter-gatherers, eating what we can find, when we can find it.  Well, maybe not exactly like them, of course I would want to prepare it a little more, but you know...

I went vegetarian a few years ago because of my disgust with our meat industry.  I'm sure most people, if they really thought about it, would feel disgusted with the way meat is produced in this country.  It's unsustainable, inhumane, and just plain gross.  Sometimes I will eat meat if I know it came from a sustainable farm where the animal got to live a life that it evolved and meant to live.  I like to call this "happy meat."  I guess I could just eat meat as often as regular people do, since happy meat is available at a lot of places, but I also have a problem with killing things in general, whether to eat them or not.  That's totally f'ed up right?  If I was dumped onto a farm in the 1800's I wouldn't survive.  No way Jose.  I would just cuddle with all of the furry creatures and starve.  I guess I feel like I have no right to eat the meat of a creature if I couldn't kill it myself.  It's just not fair to whatever is giving its life so I can live.  And there's no way that's ever gonna happen, so I guess I can't eat meat.

When we first got our chickies, we were asked whether we were going to eat them.  I said no because I know I could never do that to my lovelies.  But logically, I probably should.  They only lay for a couple years, and then they just become backyard bulldozers, destroying everything in their path.  In our case, they will just become pets.  I will thank them for their service by letting them live out the rest of their post-menopausal lives as my feathered companions.

So I will end my book-review-turned-soapbox-tirade by saying, read the book.  Barbara Kingsolver is amazing, what she did/does is amazing, and I wanna be just like her.  My copy was actually signed by her when I went to see her speak at Bainbridge Island high school last winter.  What a great night that was!  Thanks Susie!

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's EGG time!

Way to go ABBY!
Yes indeedy.  Abby has provided!  Shawn and I went out to check on the ladies, since it's pretty darn cold out there, and to let them out to have their first snow time.  Shawn said he saw Abby earlier in the day sitting in her nesting box so out of curiosity, I went to check it out.  I really didn't think there would be anything but lo and behold!  Isn't it a beautiful sight?  And look at the perfect little bowl she made out of her straw!  Oh, we are so proud of her!  
Perfect, just perfect.
I was thinking that the first one was gonna be small and funny-looking but it's perfect.  It's not even that small... well, it kind of is, compared to the store-bought ones in our 'fridge, but it doesn't matter.  I feel like my wish has come true.  We made sure to change their food to layer feed, (thank goodness we bought some yesterday,) and I cleaned out the nesting box of any and all poo. 

Chickie prints!
I even got a snow day from school.  At first it was an accident because the bus drove right by me without stopping so I missed my first class, but my evening class was canceled too, so it just turned into a snow day.  I'm house sitting my parents house while they are in New Zealand for 3 weeks, (lucky ducks) so we took their/our dog out to Hamlin park for a nice winter wonderland hike.  I even did some homework in between.  What a great day compared to the crappy one I felt like I was having yesterday.  I think I've got my motivation back so, you're goin' down homework!  I might even give myself some crafty time.  AND thanksgiving is approaching. I'm thankful for my chickies, my kitties, my Shawn... and this video of the chickies having their first snow time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Homestead Hiccup

I have to admit, my homesteading has come to a screeching halt.  Well, kind of.  Doing cool new stuff that would be interesting to blog about has taken a back seat lately.  I blame school.  I have A LOT of stuff looming over my head and it's preventing me from doing the things I want to do.  This gives me a sad face.  Well, I could do some cool fun stuff, but I don't because if I do, then I would feel bad for procrastinating.  But instead, I procrastinate by doing even less productive things because I don't want to get started on a fun project that could take up a lot of time.

Maybe if I get one of these....
I will feel like this. :)

I gotta get me outta this funk!  I promise I will post something cool really soon.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chicken FAIL.

I spent the whole day cleaning out our chicken coop today.  Why?  That crazy awesome rainstorm we had last night flooded the whole thing to the point that there was an inch of standing water in it.  Luckily, it was night time and the ladies were up sleeping on their roost.  They did, however, act very surprised when we barged in on them and turned the light on to find the disaster. 

This is why it happened.  Well, first some background info: For those of you who haven't been to our house, or "the fun house," as my gramma likes to call it, we have a pretty sweet party shack in the back yard.  It's a very well constructed extra building that was clearly built for the sole purpose of partying.  Now I don't know why since the last owners of our house were super duper old, but hey, maybe they were that cool.  Old man Al really spared no expense on this thing: there's an uber rad retro bar with sparkly counters, a wood stove, propane rotisserie, speakers rigged up on all corners, and to top it all off a wagon wheel hanging from the ceiling.  Rock me mama like a wagon wheel, rock me mama any way you feel...

Behind the party shack is an extra shelter that looks like it was built for storage... of party supplies, I assume.  That is what we turned into the coop.  We tore off the fiberglass roofing and added a real roof, with shingles we found under our house, cut a small door so the ladies can access their run that we built onto the outside of the shelter, and added a big door to keep them safe.  It's really more square footage than they need, but hey, even chickens can appreciate living in a mansion, right?  It's got concrete floors, so there is no chance of anything digging up into the coop to eat them and it saved us from having to build a coop from scratch.  All in all, a pretty sweet setup, they have everything they need.  This is when they were babies... awwww.

Here's why it flooded.  You can't see in the picture, but the gutter for the party shack runs through the top edge of their coop.  Usually this is not a problem.  It was a little leaky at first, but duck tape fixed that problem months ago.  There is, however, a very poorly constructed connection in the gutter in the middle of it where there's another downspout.  And when it rained like it was the apocalypse last night, it was just too much water for the gutter to handle at once, and it spilled over into the coop like a waterfall.  FAIL.

So today, since I had no school, I got to pull everything out of the coop, scoop all of the wet, angry straw and wood shavings out and use their heat lamp to dry the whole thing out.  Whatever, it's done, I'm over it.  I'm just glad it didn't rain today, and I guess it was something that we were gonna have to do sooner or later anyway.  I even cleaned the gutter out thinking maybe there were leaves and stuff impeding water flow, but no, there was just that much water.  Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to prevent this from happening again, (if it rains as hard as it did last night... please, no) other than plugging up the downspout, which might cause the whole roof to fill up with water and... I don't want to explain it, I just know that that would cause bigger problems.  All I can hope for is no more 3 minute angry rainstorms.

On a much more exciting note, Abby has been showing signs of her maturity lately.  Her comb and wattles are fully developed and a bright red, and she's been hanging out in her nesting box too.  However, she is also looking for a striking young lad, and seems to think that Shawn and I are what she's looking for.  Every time we approach her, she squats down and opens her wings a bit.  At first we thought she just learned to accept when we pick her up, but I think she thinks she's gonna get... um... fertilized.  I'm hoping that this also means eggs soon, I hope they lay a few before the winter makes them stop.  We kinda feel like expectant parents.  (Actually, we know A LOT of people poppin' out kids these days, and we just want to feel like part of the club.)

BUT, I'm not ready for them to be grown up yet, so here's a picture of them when they were still awkward looking.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's a zoo 'round here

After hearing about the crazy selection of furry and feathered friends we have around the homestead, I'm often asked about the interactions between all of the residents.  I guess initially it's a little concerning when you hear of three cats living with a tank full of fish and a parrot, not to mention the three velociraptors, I mean chickens we have as well. 

Well, here is proof my friends, that all is hunky-dory 'round these parts.  This is a pretty common scene around here; chickens peering into the house, Skipper on top of his cage, and Gus being in the middle of it all. 

As far as the cats and Skipper the parrot go, they hardly notice each other.  Pretty boring.  When the chickies were little, the cats were super interested in them and would get into stalking position, but now that they are big and have little chicky attitudes, they chase the poor kitties around the backyard to the point that Gus is sometimes afraid to go outside.  Abby, the one on the left, is super territorial and will chase anything that comes into the yard: squirrels, chickadees, crows, flickers, jays, you name it. 

All these animals were not acquired at the same time.  I don't know how it happens, but animals just have a way of accumulating around me.  It's a lot of work sometimes, but they are all my friends, and so worth it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Meet (insert fun name here)...

This is my rain barrel.  I asked Shawn for ideas on a name for her but he looked at me like I was psycho, so I don't have a name for her yet.  Poo.

I got her this summer.  She was kinda expensive, but I really wanted her so I paid the money.  Hooking it up was really easy, and she's full all the time with over 60 gallons of free water!

Now how to use it?   Since my garden is pretty much retired for the winter, I don't need to water anything outside.  Therefore, I have turned it into a kind of game to find as many uses for the water as I can.

We are not advised to drink the water, since we don't know what kind of toxins the roofing materials are leeching into it, so that's out of the question.   I've found that filling up our washing machine with it for the first wash cycle uses a good amount, (maybe 8 gallons or so?) since we still have a top loading washer.  I don't know how I would be able to do it with a front loading washer.

I also try to use it to fill the toilet tank back up after each flush.  Not a super pain in the ass, just a little extra effort remembering to do it.  The only annoying part is to always remember to have a bucket full of rainwater ready in the bathroom for when it's needed.  I think I've gotten Shawn into doing it, though sometimes he forgets, and he asks me to hide the bucket when we have guests over.  I can do that, I don't need everyone to think I'm crazy and I wouldn't want to embarrass him either.

Other than those two uses, I haven't been able to come up with much more.  It's nice to be able to use it as an outside faucet to clean the dirt off my hands and boots and gardening tools when I'm finished with my work, and the chicken waterers are rinsed and cleaned with it too.  They do get to drink fresh water, though.

All in all, every gallon of water I use out of the rain barrel makes me feel like I am a responsible citizen of this community.  It's free, (I don't think I'm going to go through the trouble calculating money savings,) and it's also nice to be able to use water that has not gone through the whole treatment process.  I heard somewhere that it is technically illegal to harvest rainwater, since it is "owned" by the city, but that's just one of those silly laws that is on paper, but no one cares about.  Does stealing rainwater count as stickin' it to the man?  I'm so hardcore.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Several people have asked me how I de-knit sweaters. So for you folks out there, I'll try to describe the process as best I can!

Let me give you a couple tips on how to choose good de-knitting sweaters. First, you want to choose good colors and the bigger the sweater the better, because you get more yarn that way. This is up to you, but I always check the label to make sure that it is 100% cotton because it is nice and soft and a natural fiber. Bigger yarn gauges are easier to take apart too, so thicker sweaters are better for that. Zippers, buttons, and other embellishments will make the process harder so simple designs are the best. The last thing you want to check for is the seams. I've only encountered this once after de-knitting dozens of sweaters, but there are some out there that are made with large sheets of knitted "fabric" that is cut then sewed. You'll end up with lots of short pieces of yarn which is worthless. So make sure the seams look like they are edges of knitted panels. Sorry if it doesn't make sense, but you probably don't have to worry about it.

So here is the victim. Nice colors, eh? The cashier at Goodwill even commented how nice the colors were and what a great buy it was because it was Liz Claiborne. But I did have to pay a little more than usual for it (9 bucks) probably for the fancy brand. I didn't have the heart to tell the cute lady that I was buying it to destroy it so I just told her that I was getting it for the nice colors. Sorry cute Filipino lady!

Ok so, first thing you want to do is wash it and then cut any and all tags and other crap off of it. Do it carefully so that you don't cut the yarn, and try to get all of the threads out because they might catch up the unraveling.

I always start the process at the wrists. Find the seam and look through it for what I call the knot tail. It's a thick little tail formed by knots that you should find woven into the end of the sleeve. It looks like this. Now you want to cut this off at the base, where the two strings come together. Once you cut it, pull apart the seam and you'll see the thread that is holding the seam together. If you pull on it, it should pull the whole seam apart, and if you're lucky, keep going all the way down body on the same side. It might get caught at the armpit, but a few snips of more knot tails here and there should let it go. Do it to both sleeves.

Now your sweater should look like this. Next, find more little tails hidden into the seams holding the sleeves to the body. They should unravel the same way as before. Usually the collar is a separate piece also, so that will have to be separated as well. (If the sweater is a cardigan, the skinny bits where the buttons or buttonholes would be are separate pieces too.)

At this point, all of the panels (besides the shoulder seams,) should be taken apart and look like this. At this point, put the body aside and focus on the sleeves. Always start the unraveling at the top of the sleeve where it was connected to the shoulder. There is no easy way to find the beginning, just poke around, make some cuts and you'll find it eventually. Start balling that stuff up baby! (This is when it really starts getting satisfying :P)

Now the shoulders are the hardest part. These are reinforced with regular thread, and sometimes with extra fabric, which makes it virtually impossible to take apart. So you'll have to cut it as close to the seam as possible. It does make a small mess and there will be some waste of yarn, but you'll get past the mess and the piece will unravel much like the sleeves. Unravel the rest of the pieces, collar, pockets, whatever you have left and that should be it.

Now it is time to look at your final product with satisfaction. Yessssss... Doesn't it feel good to think that you paid just a fraction of what you would pay at a fancy yarn store for the same amount? Sure, it's a little bit of a time commitment, but you can do other stuff too. In this case, I watched two sweet episodes of House. Jealous?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Knitting Pattern of the Month

Now that both baby showers have come and gone, I can finally post about the baby blankets that I have been knitting lately. I've made three of these in the last 6 months and, logically, they have gotten easier each time. This is the last one I made for Lindsey with lots of fun colors! It's not too girlie right? I forgot to take a picture of the one I made for Zita, but she said she would send me one. It's mostly different shades of blue with some grey and tan mixed in.

The pattern I used is called Entrelac, and can be found here. It is a little confusing at first, but once you get your mind wrapped around it, technically, it's not hard at all. It does involve a lot of turning the project, which can get a little annoying at times, but it's worth it.

I added a hood to one of the corners, because hoods are just fun and cute, and the kid can play with it once they get older. You know, to extend the use of it a little. It's not part of the pattern on the link, I just half-assed it by folding down one of the corners about an inch or two and picked up 20 stitches from the folded edge to start. Then I worked in stockinette stitch, picking up more stitches as the hood expands down on each side. The bottom 2 inches or so is 2x2 rib. I went until it looked about baby/toddler head size and bound off. I also made fun ears by picking up 8 stiches where the ears would look ok and worked about 4 lines in stockinette before decreasing by ktog and ptog on either side until 2 stitches were left and then bound off.

The key to making the hood is to initially fold a bit of the corner down so you don't end up with a point at the top of the hood. The last thing you need is for your kid to look like part of the baby kkk. Not funny.

Now you might ask: "where did you get that awesome yarn?" Well, my friend, it is actually recycled yarn from sweaters I buy at Goodwill! Yep, I go to the local thrift store, (usually the Goodwill down the street,) and peruse their awesome sweater collections and find sweaters with colors I like. I then take 'em home, unravel them and BAM! I have tons of cotton yarn for less than 5 bucks. Awesome. I have a sweater here that is awaiting its demise, so I will take pictures of the de-knitting process and show ya'll how it's done. Until then, happy homesteading!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Wheels on the What?

I have spent many hours over the last several weeks riding the bus. All in all, I love it. I pretty much have door to door service to campus on one bus and never have to worry about parking, traffic, gas, and all those lovely things that come with driving a car. I know this sounds nuts-o, but I feel a sense of freedom with my U-Pass. I can go anywhere (well, anywhere the bus goes,) and I don't have to feel guilty about driving. Should I feel guilty about driving? Hell Yes! We drive way too much!

I used to be afraid of the bus, like getting on the wrong one and ending up stranded in no-man's-land, but thanks to metro trip planner and onebusaway, I feel way better about it. Today I even got on a bus without being 100% sure where it would go. It took me close enough where I needed to be so it was sweet.

So I love the bus. I really do. But here is a list of things I don't love about the bus:

1. Getting assaulted by backpacks. (Yo, your backpack is bigger and sticks out further than you think.)

2. People who think their backpacks deserve a seat of their own.

3. Not having anywhere to look besides the person sitting in front of you. You know, when you sit in the seats that face sideways? I end up either closing my eyes and pretending to sleep or looking out the small piece of window not taken up by their heads. And there's only so many times you can read the ads in the bus. But even still, I end up looking at people and accidentally meeting eyes with them, who are I'm sure dealing with the same awkward feelings as I am.

4. Getting motion sick :(

5. Super grumpy bus drivers or drivers that don't enunciate well.

6. The stinkies/crazies. 'nuff said about that.

7. People standing too close to me. I didn't know I had personal space issues until recently.

8. Not being sure whether to move into a newly open seat when you're sitting way too close to a stranger but only have one more stop to go...

But at the same time some of these things make riding the bus interesting.

Now onto something completely different: We got a new cat tree. The one we had was falling apart, even after we rebuilt it last year. The kitties just loved it to death. Nikolai's brother Andre had one that he wasn't using, so we traded a dome heater with his ma and pa and got ourselves that one. I think they like it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm Calling It...

It's official. My soybeans this year are a big giant, FAIL. Seriously. Imagine an F as tall as your house, bold, black, jumping up and down, pointing at you and saying "Hahaa!" like Nelson from the Simpsons... and on fire.

I generally harvest the pods in September-ish, but this year I started them a little late so I was giving them a little more time. When looking at my soybean patch, you can't help but think to yourself, "My, what a splendid field of soybeans those are!" But don't be fooled. On closer inspection, the pods are virtually EMPTY. WTF??? I know right? I guess I didn't really see any of them flower this year so that probably is why. But why no flowers esse? I usually get the seeds from the Central Market bulk department. I buy raw soybeans and germinate them inside for a week or two, then plant them outside. Doing it this way is much cheaper than buying the actual seeds, and soybeans are kinda hard to find as seeds anyway. This has worked beautifully in the past, and so I had no reason to think it wouldn't work this year.

I really had no reason to think anything was wrong. In fact, I was really optimistic about them because the seeds germinated beautifully as usual and the plants themselves grew bigger then ever. People would come over and say, "what's that?" And I would proudly report "those are my soybeans, aren't they pretty?" And my parents were super jealous of them because mine were growing way better than theirs. I planted them in 5 nice neat rows and was even called OCD because they looked so freakin' good. But alas, nothing became of them.

WHY???!!! I thought I bought organic beans, but what if I didn't? Were they out at the store? Did I settle with non-organic? Would I do such a thing? If they weren't organic, were they Monsanto-tainted, complete with the terminator gene that strips all seeds from having any possible chance of reproducing? MONSANTOOOOOOOOO!!!!

I made myself feel better by making coleslaw with the last two carrots that were still in the ground and the last half of the cabbage we pulled two weeks ago. And looking at this picture makes me feel better too:

Shawn and Abby are really excited about all the pumpkins we harvested. Oh the possibilities!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pears Be Gone!

I mentioned in my first post that we had a really good year of pears. There were so many on our tree at one point that the thing looked like a freakin' weeping willow, it was so weighed down with fruit. We had to duck even lower than usual to get to the chicken coop.

At one point around late-august, the tree started dropping 'em all. I really didn't think I was going to do much with them because the tree never did so well, and the fruit was just so damn ugly. And, just like in the past, the guys were just as ugly as ever. BUT, when you peel them and cut them open, they're beautiful. Super white, juicy, and sweet. Once I realized how many of these little sugar treasures I had, we busted out the ladder and just started collecting them. 15 minutes and a fat lip later (Shawn accidentally dropped one right on my face,) we had about 15 pounds of pears. Whoa.

So went to canning. We got 5 pints plus several small jars nicely set. Half of them went straight to friends, family and helpers. (As you can see, Nikolai likes to help me out around the house.)

A week later, I had another 10 pounds of pears. I didn't feel like canning anymore, so I took it upon myself to find as many pear recipes as I could. This resulted in pear gorgonzola penne, pear and butternut squash soup, carmelized pear appetizers, and a pie. Nevertheless, we are pear-ed out.

But guess what? I still have pears in my 'fridge! So tonight, I decided to make pear applesauce cake. (Since my refrigerator also houses some uneaten applesauce.) Even now, with the cake in the oven, I am still being haunted by 7 small, semi-shrively PEARS. I give up. They win. But I suppose there are worse battles to lose.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Bible...

Check this out! This is currently my favorite thing in my house. My dad brought it back from my gramma's house for me, and I nearly pooped my pants when I saw it. He brought it back for me because of all the green tomato recipes. (Since this summer left us with A LOT of those.) But who cares about green tomato recipes when there are 8,000 other cool things in here!!!

Think about it: Do you think you'll ever need to know how to draw maple syrup? How about help an orphaned bird? Braid a rug? Grow super salad greens? Breed livestock? Heal with natural remedies? Break your cat's bad habits? No worries, this book has your back! I've only looked through a tiny fraction of it, but oh man, it's 475 pages of totally amazing.

The home remedies section reminds me of Hogwarts Potions class.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Start a Blog? Why not?

So here I am, joining the masses of bloggers. Here goes nothin'!

Over the last several months, I have discovered a new hobby: urban homesteading. I guess I don't know the exact definition of homesteading, so I made one up to fit what I do. My guess is it involves gardening, harvesting, and preserving and collecting food to subsist on. Living a minimal lifestyle, off the land. Now, I know I don't nearly have enough garden space and resources to live on year 'round, and I could definitely live simpler, but I try to improve everyday and do the best with what I've got. That's why it's a hobby, not a living.

I hope this bloggy thing will keep me motivated to keep doing the things I've been doing. I hope the posts will be about the projects I take on and hopefully the idea of sharing it will motivate me on those dark, rainy days when all I want to do is be lazy and order in.

A quick summary of my summer doings: Of course, like every year, I planted a garden. Only this year, I planted twice as much as I usually do, and tried some crops I've never planted before. It was a lot of work, but I like playing in dirt and hanging out with worms so it was ok. The harvests were awesome, I still have green beans and broccoli in the freezer and it looks like a couple small zucchini are still trying to grow. Can't wait to harvest the seven, count them, seven small sugar pumpkins and turn them into deliciousness.

We also got chickens. My dream come true. This meant building a chicken coop and run, which turned out to be a ton of work, especially since we tried to use as much salvage wood as possible. In the end, we ended up using an existing wood shed as the base structure and building the run onto it with mostly wood and shingles we found hidden under our house. Of course we had to buy most of the hardware, two sheets of plywood and 1/2 inch chicken wiring. Total cost: maybe $150? Considering the coops that you can buy costs at least twice as much? Not so bad, I think.

We also had a great apple and pear year so a couple dozen pounds of pears were canned and several apple pies were made. I did lots of other stuff, but I think I'll save those for later posts. (What the hell am I gonna write about in the winter anyway?)

Ok, that's enough. Back to knitting.
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