Showing posts from February, 2016

Dinner Roasting on an Open Fire

Week two of maple sugaring is in the books. It was a quick boil today, since we didn’t have all that much sap this week. What we did have was partially frozen this morning, which makes it even faster to process. Unless it’s sub-zero, sugar won’t freeze, so you just toss away the bits of ice that have formed — it amounts to the same thing as boiling, since nature has separated out the sugar, just with cold instead of heat. 
Anyway, we used the coals of our fire to make dinner:

Notice that we’re all holding our hands way off to the side: That fire is hot

Dinner featured a remarkably summery spread made of our winter vegetables. The hot dogs are garnished with homemade, canned dill relish and tomato ketchup. We still have red and white potatoes for frying (though we’ll have to take an inventory before we eat any more to make sure we have enough seed potatoes left for spring planting). There’s also coleslaw from one of our storage cabbages, garnished with a bit of carrot (of which ther…

The Orchard Renovation

We've been talking about it on and off for several months now, but this week we finally committed to plans for revamping our orchard. Now that everything is bearing, we've been able to see which varieties are doing well and which leave something to be desired.

But what really gave us a push in the direction of making some choices about our trees were the losses we sustained last season. Our stunted Granny Smith was completely buried by the blizzards of 2015, and it was broken beyond saving. We also lost our best peach tree to insect damage, and the other peach and nectarine can't be far behind. Despite our efforts at sheltering it, two very harsh winters in a row kept our fig tree from ever taking off.

And even though our apricot is a fine-looking tree, we've eaten a grand total of one apricot in the past five years. So we decided to cut it down and try something else, even though the tree itself is healthy.

It's no small thing to cut down a tree, which is why we …

Late Winter Notes on the Chickens

We've been enjoying a very mild weekend, and since we tapped our maple on Tuesday, we've collected three five-gallon buckets of sap. That means it's time to break into our wood pile and get cracking on boiling for the year:

We decided to go all-in on a real woodpile this year, instead of cobbling together donations and those expensive packages of firewood from the grocery store. 
What a difference a year makes in our sap storage facilities, though:

Ordinarily we keep the sap buckets packed in a snow bank to keep it cold, but that isn't an option this spring. Almost every bit of snow has melted already! We didn't have much to begin with, and what we did have got washed away in the rain and melted by the nearly 60-degree day we had on Saturday. These are in the shadiest corner (note yet another broken fence section in view — even when winter doesn't deliver in snow, there's always plenty of wind).
Once we set up the maple sugaring brick oven, we decided to g…

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Did you know that Saint Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeeping?

Though in our climate it’s nowhere near time to think about beehives and nectar flows yet, Old-World beekeepers might be gearing up for the thaw and eventual arrival of spring by the Ides of February. 
We’re not expecting our new box of bees to arrive until mid-April, but in the meantime we’re still enjoying a sweet Valentine’s Day, courtesy of last fall’s honey harvest. Hope your holiday is just as sweet!

Our Fine Feathered Friends

Since setting out our Christmas bird feeders a few weeks ago, the first two have been demolished. At first we thought that they blew away in a snow storm, but upon closer inspection we realized that one was on the ground, halfway eaten. The other was completely gone, but the string remained, so something pulled it down.
It’s entirely possible that something was a deer; Kirk found fresh tracks one morning when he went out to shovel: 

But there have also been lots of visitors to the one left one the ground. I interrupted a small flock of sparrows pecking away when I went to look, so I figured I’d go ahead and replace one of the feeders
It only took a few minutes for several little birds to figure out that the black seeds are the good ones:

The chickadees (as you see here) are the most interested, and they manage to hang on to the feeder to get the seeds. They’re also fairly acrobatic when it comes to getting what they want:

It’s too bad the window screen is blocking the view in the p…

Honey in Coffee

Though we haven’t quite committed to a No Sugar Buying Challenge (yet), we have discovered that it’s probably totally possible for us to accomplish. This is due mostly to the fact that honey is delicious in a cup of coffee:

I am, admittedly, addicted to my morning cup of coffee, and I do tend to drink it fairly light and sweet. Committing to using honey and maple syrup in my coffee felt like a big stumbling block at first, in the event that we try to rely on only our own sugar production. 
But really, honey in coffee is very, very good. It doesn’t have that sharp, metallic ping of cane sugar. Instead, it’s got a mellow flavor that plays well with coffee. It kind of disappears and lets you taste more complexity in the coffee, so honey works best with medium roasts.
I’m a convert! And it reminds me that maybe we should lay down the rules for a No Buying Sugar Challenge as we head in to maple sugaring season again.

Winter Cilantro

The kitchen renovation that made it so difficult to take care of canning and cooking this fall did have an upside for the garden (you know, in addition to looking so much better):

We replaced our exterior kitchen door with a much better one, which leaves the old storm door available for cold frame duty. While it’s not a perfect fit, it’s pretty close. It’s also a major upgrade, since it’s so much heavier than the old windows we had been using (as is the old window on the far end, which is also from the kitchen reno). This thing holds in much more heat, and it’s not about to be blown away by the wind anytime soon.  

And because it’s so much better insulated now, we still have cilantro. This photo isn’t great because it’s reflecting the sky above, but you can see lots of green cilantro in there.
This gave Jonas some fresh ingredients for a very carefully crafted tray of nachos:

Since it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow, it may be a while until we can dig out the cilantro for more besp…