Friday, January 30, 2015

Speaking of Chicken...

Puck and I didn't build snowmen during our recent "real" snow, like all the neighborhood kids, but we did get out there and make some tracks and pose for photos.  It was a lovely snow, but it didn't last very long.  The invasion of neighborhood snowmen are now sad dirty snow blobs with bits of sticks and rocks embedded in them.  

I keep a pair of Brandon's rubber boots by the back door, and every morning I slip my feet into them on my way to take out the compost, feed the chickens, and collect the egg.  Three chickens, one egg.  Pitiful.  I'm not sure why I prefer to wear Brandon's boots instead of my own, since his are at least four sizes too big and I end up waddling around the yard like a duck, but somehow it just seems right.  Especially since the boots are so big my giant fuzzy socks and pajama legs easily slide into them.  Sometimes I imagine the dog and chickens are embarrassed by my outfit, and that makes me laugh.   

Snow elephant!  The elephant and the stand were gifts from my aunt.  She gave me the elephant before I even had a yard to put it in, and once I had a yard, she gave me the stand and all the parts to make it into a functioning fountain.  Water comes from the upraised trunk and pools in the basin below.  I've been contemplating the elephants new location at the farm.  It resides near the house right now, because it needs electricity to run the water pump that makes it a fountain.  But when the water leaked out and the pump stopped working, we never fixed the fountain part and it became a planter.  But, if we are going to move it, that would be my opportunity to fix it, right?  I wonder if I could make it run on solar power? 

Doesn't the coop look cozy in the snow?  

June's black feathers seem so dark amid all that white snow, that she's like a black hole.  Like the absence of chicken. 

Speaking of chicken... I ended last weeks juice fast by cooking one of Joe's delicious giant chickens.  I wasn't the only one who was excited by this, and I had to keep a close eye on my sneaky kittens while the chicken was resting in the sink.  This chicken weighed more than Ditto, so it would have been funny to see him try to eat it, but I hadn't juice fasted all week just to let the cat get my reward.  Pst!!

I had intentions of cooking the chicken in my Instant Pot, but the chicken was too big to fit.  Then I remembered the dutch oven that Shanna and Byron gave me for Christmas last year.  It worked perfectly!  I cooked some chopped sweet potatoes and onions on the stove top for about ten minutes, then placed the giant chicken on top, oiled and seasoned it, and put the whole pot in the oven to bake with the lid on.  

The dutch oven is cast iron with a pretty blue enamel.  It weighs a lot, especially with the lid.  The chicken weights a lot.  The whole thing combined made me glad I've been doing my back exercises regularly, because it was heavy, but totally worth it.  We had chicken in meals all weekend, I made three batches of chicken broth from the bones, and I made a black bean soup with the leftover chicken and broth for Brandon to eat this week.  That was one big chicken!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Work! for the daylight flies;

Work! for the night is coming; 
Under the sunset skies, 
While their bright tints are glowing, 
Work! for the daylight flies; 
Work! till the last beam fadeth, 
Fadeth to shine no more; 
Work! while the night is darkening,-- 
Night, when man's work is o'er.

- from The Night Cometh written by Anne Louisa Walker, 1861

Work! before the weekend is over, when we have to go back to Work!  We enjoyed working at the farm house last Saturday, when Brandon installed our first junction box as we redesigned some light locations, and I completed a much needed construction site clean up.  Our work was frequently interrupted by the lovely snow outside, and the sunset in the photo at the top.  There were no clouds, but the sky was layers of pinks and the sun was a perfect circle of vibrant orange, falling so fast we could see it's motion as it sank behind the neighbors barn and hay field.  

The focus of our work shifted from the upstairs ceiling, to the pantry off the kitchen.  Prepping the pantry ceiling led us to rethink the location of one of our lights, which we moved from inside the pantry to the living room ceiling.  This meant cutting a hole in our newly installed ceiling boards, which made us a little nervous.  

I don't know why we were worried - we can cut holes in things like pros these days.  If you can see in the picture above, we installed a small can light to the right of the chimney, to make a display nook on the chimney for a piece of sculpture.  We also ran a wire to make a second nook on the other side, but then decided in favor of asymmetry, and are not going to expose both sides of the chimney, which left the wire in the pantry.  We really didn't need a second light in the pantry on the same switch as the nook light, so Brandon installed a junction box so we could move the second light out into the living room and make a reading light for the corner.  In the photo, Brandon is practicing sitting under the light and holding a book, you know, to make sure it works.   He gives it two thumbs up for imaginary book illumination.  

The melting snow provided a good opportunity for observing how our new gutters are functioning.  We had to hire someone to re-morter (tuck point?) and seal the portion of the chimney that sticks out of the house, because water was seeping into the bricks and wicking down the chimney to the upstairs wood floor.  I'm pretty sure we could have done the job ourselves if the work had been anywhere besides the top of a two story house.  Ladders are scary.  While the guys were there working on the chimney, we hired them to put up some gutters too.  We now have gutters, but we need to do some drainage work around the house foundation, or put some pipes on the ends of the gutters to direct the water away from the foundation.  At least that work will be on the ground.   

This the view from our door.  On evenings with sunsets like this, I wish the entire west side our our house was made of glass.   

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I Come Bearing Gifts

Since we are all dying to know how my new kombucha brew is coming along, I took some photos of the recent feeding and bottling.  As you can see,  I switched from the easy to clean mason jars with their handy screw on lids to the glass beer bottles with ceramic flip caps.  I like these bottle so much, I was willing to drink an entire case of Grolsh beer just to get at the bottles.  That's how much I love my SCOBY - I'll drink beer for it!

As you can see from the particularly gloopy looking SCOBY that formed on the top of my brew, my kombucha is thriving in my counter top farm.  

To harvest my kombucha tea from under the biofilm on the surface, I just tipped the jar and let the tea flow from under the film.  Since the SCOBY is larger than the opening, it stayed in the jar without a problem.  Near the bottom of the jar was some cloudy sediment and strands of SCOBY, so I stopped pouring off the tea when the sediment started to be disturbed.  The tea is a lovely golden color with tiny bubbles that stick to the glass.  It's quite pretty and appetizing once it's away from that ugly SCOBY.  

For this batch, I put a teaspoon of tart cherry juice concentrate in each bottle, and then filled the bottle to the neck with the kombucha tea.  The ceramic caps make a very tight seal, so the all the gas from the organisms, as they digest the sugar in the cherry juice, will be trapped in the tea, making it fizzy like a soda.  

Even though I've been juice fasting from Monday morning to Friday evening, I allow myself kombucha, and since I don't get other snacking events during the fast, it's become a special treat.  I put ice in a fancy glass, anticipate the POP! of the cap and the aromatic mist that comes off the bottle, and I admire the color and flavor like it's precious wine.  Anyone in the house with me gets a fancy glass of it too, even if they don't really want one, and we clink glasses and make a toast.  Cheers!  

While I was bottling, I was steeping some fresh tea in water to add back to my SCOBY and residual kombucha in the jar.  Since I have several large SCOBY's now, I was considering feeding the ugliest ones to the chickens and only keeping the pretty smooth one in the photo on the left.  But then I though, why waste it, why not spread the joy of kombucha brewing to a friend at work, and let her have the pretty SCOBY.   Jamie walked through the kitchen as I was divvying up the fix'n's, and when I told him I was giving the extra SCOBY away, he worriedly asked "Does she know she's getting one of those?"  Like everyone wouldn't enjoy this gift!  

Later, when Brandon came home from work, I proudly showed him my kombucha gift, to which I added sweet tea and covered with a paper towel tied down by one of my precious twisty-ties from my collection.  He was also concerned, and wanted to know if I had warned my friend that I was giving her one of those.  What's with these guys?!  Of course, it is like giving someone a chore, since it's one more thing to feel guilty about if you let it die because it wasn't fed.  But now that I know how to make more, no one has to worry.  

My brew is already making another SCOBY.  Be warned friends, I come bearing gifts!  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fossils, Interns, and Witch-Hazel

Jamie and I were fortunate last week to spend a couple of days working outside in the sunlight.  I've had so many weeks working in the office that I was beginning to forget the joys of getting paid to be outside.  It's amazing how a few days of working in creek beds in the mountains can really make the work week speed by.  

I always enjoy working in streams.  I like the fish, bugs, and wildlife, but also the sunken treasures.  Last week I found the coil from a stove-top buried in the sediment.  I had so much fun excavating this treasure that I decided to leave it for the next explorer.  I'm generous that way.  Even better than buried trash, this stream had fossils.  Pretty spiraling fossils, like the one embedded in the rock pictured above.  This one was a keeper.

I also took the rock above home for my fossil collection.  It looks to me as though there are different types of organisms fossilized in this small stone.  How amazing to see evidence that what is now a forested stream flowing though rugged mountains was once the bed of an prehistoric ocean.  I wonder if my oven coil will eventually be preserved in stone for explorers of a future millennium.      

Despite the sun, the air and water were very cold, so we were taking risks by walking on the slick bedrock of the stream with only our muck boots.  This reminded us of a long ago summer intern, who on her first day on the job stepped from the truck to the creek, and within two steps fell backwards, and through some strange body contortion, that I think was intended to help her levitate above the water, managed to land on the back of her head, and completely submerge her entire body in about eight inches of cold water.  Ah!

The wind was blowing, so we were working quickly to grab our water samples before the impending storm.  As we helped the half drowned girl to the shore to assess the damage to her head, the strong winds blew a tree over on the hill slope above the stream, which sounded as if it was going to continue to crash through the undergrowth as it come our way.  The rest of, recognizing the sound of a falling tree crashing through the forest, ran from the base of the hill in an effort to save our lives, but the poor intern just sat there in her sodden clothes and looked up the hill toward the danger.  What's that noise?, she asks.  Thankfully the tree stopped before she was smooshed, and the rest of us were wearing enough layers that we could sacrifice a few clothes so she didn't have to ride home soaking wet, because of course, she had brought nothing as a back up.  This is when I realized that not everyone has heard a tree fall in the forest, and that not everyone has experience walking on slick rocks, or thinks to bring at least a dry pair of socks.  Since then, I've probably been annoyingly cautious with newbies.  I can't keep them from slipping on slick rocks, but at least I can warn them that if they hear a loud scary noise in the woods - run!  

I saw something last week that I've never noticed before.  She these small greenish flower shapes on this twig?  I didn't recognize this small tree growing on the banks of the stream, and there were many of them.  It turns out that this is witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which blooms in the fall, and leaves these flower shaped structures once the real flowers are gone.  I know witch-hazel when it has it's leaves, and I've seen the strange yellow flowers in the fall before, but this was the first time I ever paid attention to it's winter appearance.  There's always something new to see.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Custom Made Character

A person who doesn't know what they are doing yet can only plan so far ahead, right?   Well, there are lots of little areas in our construction where we haven no idea what the plan is, but we trust that some solution will present itself when the time comes, and the upstairs ceiling is one of those places.  I don't know if you can tell from the photo above, but Brandon is putting a twelve inch board horizontally on the ceiling, right where it meets the wall.  We put the wood strips on the sloped ceiling from the peak to the bottom of the beams, but really had no idea what to do about the little piece of ceiling below the beams, since the wood stripping doesn't do angles, and not all of the beams are level with each other.  

We settled on just using a wide board here, and cutting smaller boards as a sort of face plate between each beam, to cover the gap between the wood strips and the wide board.  I think it looks pretty good, really.  Whenever we make up a solution like this, I tell my self this is the custom part of a custom made home.  Sometimes I call it character.  Sometimes I hope I can hide the custom character with paint, a rug, or some furniture!  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Palm Oil is Orange, and I Probably Shouldn't Blog About Food While Fasting

I stumbled across red palm oil at the co-op recently.  I wasn't sure what it was, but it was less expensive than the coconut oil, and it says "organic superfood" right on the label.  These days I'm a sucker for anything claiming to be a superfood, so I added it to my cart and when I got home did some hasty research to see what exactly I purchased.  Folks on the interweb are saying that is has lots of healthy stuff, like carotene and vitamins, but that the production of palm oil in southeast Asia is killing orangutans.  Uh oh, I like orangutans!  Fortunately, this brand is from palm trees grown in Ecuador, where there are no orangutans, and the farms are small and managed organically.  Whew.  

The oil is a beautiful orange color, like pumpkin.  I tasted some on a spoon, and it has a earthy carroty flavor.  I decided it would be best used in a flavorful dish, where the flavor of the oil wouldn't be too strong.  Last Friday was my first opportunity to try cooking with the palm oil, since I've been juice fasting during the weekdays.  After I took the photo above and a few others, I was standing by the stove while the skillet heated, sipping my beverage, listening to my tunes, and admiring the orange color of the oil while deciding which photo composition I like the best, like I do, when the oil took on a life of it's own, and tried to run for it.    I guess the oil melted from the spatula balanced on the edge of the skillet, and the then unbalanced spatula flipped through the air, in a physics defying arch, splattering oil on the wall, ceiling, down the front of the stove, on the floor, the dog, everywhere!  Doh!  

I immediately began to examine myself, hoping without hope that I didn't have a big orange stain on my new pajamas.  Brandon't mom gave them to me for Christmas, and it would be nice to not stain them immediately, right?  I had no idea this oil would be so dangerous.  I was lucky this time.  Although, in my efforts to clean the orange oil off of everything else, I let the skillet get too hot, and the oil started to smoke, most likely turning it from a healthy superfood into cancer causing vapor. I started to panic, alarming the army of cats who were helping me clean up the oil splatters.  Ah!   This oil is damaging my calm!  I guess when they recommend medium-heat saute, they mean it!  As you can see, the oil I wiped from the wall is definitely colorful.  Beware the danger.   

Now, I should probably remind you that while I was struggling in the oil vapor filled kitchen to simply saute some chopped vegetables, I hadn't eaten any solid food all week, just drank vegetable juice, and I had been looking forward to eating and cooking, and suddenly everything is out of control.   I had to take a few deep breaths to keep from feeling like I was taking part in one of these vintage kitchen slapstick routines.    

I was hoping the red palm oil would turn the onions bright orange, but they were only subtly different.  I found the smell of the palm oil to be very nice.  Of course, since I hadn't eaten any fats all week, it may not have been the best time to judge.  I'm going to add to the list of juice fast benefits, which includes feeling better, clothes that stop shrinking when washed, and and increased desire to clean my house, the way it also makes getting to cook food seem super special instead of a chore, especially if made with superfoods!  dum da dum (super man theme song? No?).  Seriously, I was so excited by the sights, sounds, and smells of this food, that I couldn't help but take it's picture.  And now, I'm rattling on about cooking like it's the my greatest adventure, and I'm sure it's because I haven't cooked or eaten food since Sunday.  I have, however, organized most of my closets and cleaned out all my junk drawers.    

But guess what?!  It's Friday, which means I'm excited because I'm making dinner again tonight. Maybe I'll bore you with photos of food again next week, because tonight a chicken is on the menu.  Not that my carrot/beet/orange/ginger lunch juice wasn't delicious, but it was no chicken!  Mmmm... chicken.... 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cloud Splitter

On Saturday, we took advantage of the beautiful winter weather and hiked with friends in the Red River Gorge.  We are fortunate to have this national natural landmark within an hours drive from our house, and every time we visit I wonder why we don't go more often. But then the next day, when I whimper when I walk down the stairs, I remember!  This hike was worth every aching muscle.  

Luckily for us, our good friends hike in the Gorge so frequently that they know how to find the best trails, and the trail they recommended to Cloud Splitter was spectacular.  Sections of the trial follow ridge tops, so we could see tall sandstone cliffs and deep forested valleys.  

On the left side of the photo above, you can see how the edge of the trail is a steep drop, and how ice fallen from the overhanging rock above added an extra thrill as we hiked so near the precipice over chunks of ice.  

As the sun warmed the rocks, we would sometimes hear the avalanche of ice sliding from the cliffs, like distant thunder.  Needless to say, I hiked quickly past the ice sickles!  

Parts of the Gorge are designated as National Archaeological Districts due to the prehistoric artifacts found in the rockshelters, which protect them from the elements.  Our hike on Saturday brought us under one of the largest rockshelters I've ever visited.  I had to hang back far enough that I couldn't see Brandon hiking near the edge of the rock shelter because I didn't want to witness when he was impaled by falling ice, and he didn't want to hear me give him constant warnings.   The dense evergreen mountain laurel and hemlock trees make for beautiful green forests, even in winter.  

Once we reached the bald rock on the edge of the ridge called Cloud Splitter, I got to exercise some rarely used rock climbing muscles.  And since I don't trust my rock climbing muscles, I compensate by uselessly clenching my entire body, as if somehow that will keep me from falling, which means my legs were beginning to feel like mush.  

Near the top, there's a short section of climbing that involves using a rope that someone has conveniently tied to a small tree.  Having mercy on the poor tree, Brandon and I watched our friends scamper up the rock using the rope, then opted for the less thrilling crawling ascent on the other side of the rock that utilizes tree roots.  It was perhaps a less dramatic entrance, but I felt more confident scooting on my knees than dangling from a string.  

I take it as a compliment that my friends thought it was even an option for me to climb the rope!  Later, on our descent, I overheard a young girl who was scaling the rock with the rope heatedly telling her boyfriend, who was yelling encouragement from the top, that " I AM NOT enjoying this!".  I wanted to tell her that the view from the top was totally worth it.  

We ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we took in the view of the Red River below.  Despite the breeze, we were comfortable sitting in the sun on our warm rock after the exertion of our hike.  

Since everyone in our group is going on the high altitude hike we're planning for this summer, we had a good time planning for our big trip, and had lots of laughs.  As you can see, Brandon gets quite animated when telling stories on a precipice!    

This trail had it all - cliffs, rockshelters, views, forests, ice, and even a cave.  We only made into the entrance of the cave, even though our friends have been all the way through and tell us that it comes out on the other side of the ridge.  I would love to try it some day, but when I saw how difficult it was for my nimble companions to clamber up some rotten logs and squeeze through some tight gaps, I decided to stay behind and guard our bags instead of taking a chance with my mushy leg muscles.  Maybe after a few months of training for our big hike I'll be in better shape to try the cave passage.   

Even though we didn't make it all the way through the cave, it was still fun to stand in the bottom of a crevice in the rock and see the slim piece of winter sky above.  

One of our group used his cell phone to map our path, and you can see in the image above, that we made a giant loop.  In the end, we hiked over seven miles, and the terrain was challenging.  We celebrated our achievement in front of a fire with beers and kraut covered hot dogs at a local restaurant and hiker hang out, and no beer ever tasted so great!  Miraculously, my mushy legs transformed themselves in to stiff boards on the drive home, so that climbing from the car elicited involuntary groans.  Thank goodness for the hot tub!  
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