Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wine making - problem solving

I am finally moving forward in the wine making adventure.  I ran into a bit of a snag on the whole process right at the beginning and wasn't sure what was going on.
I had everything mixed together and sealed in the bucket.  I was checking in on it daily like the directions stated.  The goal is to give the mixture a stir and to measure the specific gravity as the wine ferments.  After a couple of days, I got worried.  The specific gravity wasn't changing.  In fact, nothing seemed to be happening at all.  I added some yeast nutrients to see if that would help.  It didn't.  The only other thing I could think of was that the yeast that had come with the kit had gone bad.  I had no idea how long that kit sat on the shelf before I bought it (or if it was exposed to extreme temperatures).  It took me a week or so to get over to the local wine making supply store, but I finally purchased some new yeast.
The new packet of yeast did the trick!  The day after I added it, I went to check on the "must", and was surprised at the change I found.  The juice was bubbly and acted like champagne when I tried to measure the specific gravity (lots of fizz and bubbles).  It continues to progress and tonight the specific gravity is getting closer to where I need it.  Today it smells like alcohol.  It is encouraging to see the change after the frustration of a couple weeks of nothing happening.
My only concern now is that I added too much yeast nutrient to the must.  I don't know what that will do to the finished product -- if anything at all.  Only time will tell.
Soon, I should be able to move the wine to the secondary bottle.  I'll have more photos at that time.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An update

Life is always busy for me around the holidays.  I've been spending my free time doing a bit of Christmas shopping and now I have to focus on getting the house ready for guests.  My family is coming over on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day to celebrate at our house.
I know I have been neglecting my blog lately.  Here's what's new:
The ground is covered with snow and it is absolutely beautiful around here.  I love the way pine trees look in the snow.  We have tons of birds at our feeders -- I can sit in my chair in the living room and watch them for hours (if I had the time).
Charlie and I bought a chest freezer to hold a pig that we bought from Uncle Dave (our prior landlord).  Yesterday we went to pick up the meat from the butcher.  Charlie mostly had steaks, chops, sausage and bacon made from the pig - no hams (the extra processing costs more).  We gave the hocks to his dad to make soups with this year.  After putting everything into the new freezer, I still have room for my freezer jam and plenty of room for storing more produce this year.  I enjoy canning and the idea of not needing electricity to put food by -- but I also enjoy how fresh food tastes when it is frozen instead of canned.  We will need to invest in a generator this Spring in case of power outages -- losing $300 worth of meat is not something I want to risk.
We also bought a new refrigerator/freezer at the same time we got the chest freezer.  Our old one was the original from when they built the house in 1975.  The seal was bad, it was making funny noises, and I know it was using much more electricity than it should have.  I'm hoping that even though we have a chest freezer now, our electric bill should go down just because both appliances are more efficient than the old fridge.
Next on the list is a new oven... but that is going to wait a while longer.
Other than the new appliances and the purchase of a pig, life is pretty much the same around here.  The stray cat is pregnant (either that or she is just getting fat from all the food she begs from me) and we are waiting for her to have her litter.  Work is work -- we are both blessed to have jobs that keep us very busy.  I got my first seed catalogue the other day and I get to start day dreaming about how much better my garden will be next year (hey, I can always hope).
That's about it.  I will try to post again soon.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wine making -- the beginning

Wine making has been something that I've wanted to try for years.  For some reason I thought it would be difficult or take a lot of equipment.  A few of my friends have been fermenting various things and having some pretty decent results, so I was inspired to tackle the project myself.  
I purchased a simple one-gallon equipment kit from a beer and wine making supply shop in Grand Rapids last weekend.  I also picked up a hydrometer at the shop as it wasn't included in the kit.  After looking over the recipe book that was included, I decided to try lemon wine to start.  I had a lot of lemon juice in the freezer from another project I am working on (I'll tell you more about it after Christmas).  The recipe called for some white grape concentrate and some yeast energizer.  Luckily, I found a supply shop in Saginaw where I could get them -- so Charlie and I made the drive on Sunday to get the remaining items that I needed.  You could certainly piece together the items you need without buying a kit, and you might save a buck or two -- but I was more interested in saving time.  
So, the basics:  1. Sterilization is very important.  You don't want wild yeasts and funky stuff growing in your wine.  You add a Campden tablet (included in the kit I got) which contains sodium metabisulfite.  It acts as a sterilant and antioxidant.  I'm assuming this is the stuff that causes problems for people with sulfite sensitivities.  2.  Keep the air out.  The kit also comes with an airlock that allows carbon dioxide to escape while preventing air from entering.  3.  Patience and observation.  Obviously it takes time to make any fermented item.  Observation is the stage I am in right now with my batch.

On Wednesday night I mixed together lemon juice, white grape concentrate, sugar, water, Campden and yeast energizer.  I covered it and let it sit for 24 hours.  Thursday night it was time to add the packet of yeast and cover it again.  This morning I sanitized my hydrometer equipment and did a test.  

The hydrometer helps you test when the wine is "done" -- it tests the specific gravity of the solution it is floating it.  You don't have to be a scientist to do this, you just have to be able to read measurements.
My recipe calls for a specific gravity of 1.04 -- mine is at 1.12 right now.  After a few more days (testing on a daily basis), I should be able to syphon it into my secondary (the white bucket is the primary, a 1-gallon glass jar is the secondary) and let it do it's magic for a couple of months.  Then it gets bottled.  It is that easy.
The equipment ended up totaling about $40.  The white grape concentrate was NOT cheap.  $15 for one liter (but it will last a while).  The lemon juice was something I already had on hand that I didn't want to waste.  Considering this equipment will last a long long time, I think it was a pretty good investment.  I'm excited to try different flavors.  Now I'm going to be on the look out for orchards and u-pick places that might want to get rid of their left overs.  I also want to find some elderberry bushes next Spring and see what I can get when the fruit ripens.  Lastly, I want to plant some fruit vines/canes/trees around our property so I can grow my own.
Be warned -- I have no idea if I am doing things correctly.  I probably should have spent some time reading a book about wine making first.  I just decided to jump right in with the very basic instructions that came with the kit.    Luckily, I have friends that have been doing this for a while, and another friend that works at her family's vineyard (I would adore that kind of career!).  If I need help, I have some support from people who know what they are doing.
Stay tuned for more updates...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Uncle Cheetah's

Over the weekend, I spent some time in Grand Rapids with my friends and family.  My friends and I went out to a pizza joint that had karaoke going on.  It was really good to get the old crew together.  My mother took me to a place that she knew I would love.  She was right!  
It is called Uncle Cheetah's Soup Shop -- and they have some amazing food!  You can sample any of their soups before ordering at their soup bar.  They offer about a dozen soups and they let you know which ones are vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free.  They give you a homemade roll to go with the soup as well.  Mom and I actually ordered a half a grilled cheese (on dill/onion bread with white cheddar, goat cheese and sea salt -- amazing!) to go with our soup.  The shop has a great atmosphere and they were playing music from the 20's while we were there.  I will definitely be going back.  Check it out if you live in Grand Rapids or if you are visiting.  It is across the street from the Wealthy St. theatre.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Feast day

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving feast day!  May your table be full, your family close, and may you have much to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

30 years ago

Approximately 30 years ago this photograph was taken.  Guess who was having fun in a pile of leaves...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This weather changes me

The weather has turned cold, damp and dreary in the past week.  It isn't any big surprise, really.  I mean, it IS November in Michigan.  Something happens to me around this time of the year... I change.  Nothing as dramatic as when a werewolf changes from a man to a wolf.  But to me it is as noticeable as that.
I get this intense urge to craft and create.  Even if I don't have a major project going on, I need to find some kind of creative outlet.  Unfortunately, I still have to work some crazy hours at work (it has been 2 1/2 years of overtime hours each and every week) and that makes it hard to start anything that takes any amount of time.  I have a few projects in the works right now for Christmas gifts -- but I can't tell you about it, because some of the recipients of said gifts will be reading this blog.
What about you?  Does the cooler weather trigger a crafty instinct in you?  Do you give homemade gifts at Christmas?  I love hearing what my blog readers are up to, so please comment.  Happy crafting!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Farm stand and a couple cuties

Mom and I went to a local farm and nursery during her visit.  I have plans to visit it earlier on in the year next year.  I was pretty impressed with what they had.  There were bins full to the brim with squash of every variety imaginable.  I stocked up on what I thought I'd be able to use this winter.  Next year, I intend to grow some of my own.  In fact, I bought an heirloom pie pumpkin for the seeds as much as for the flesh -- you can be sure I'll be saving some of them for my garden (and still have plenty to roast).  
I also bought some onions (mine didn't grow well this year - I had plenty of pearl onions though) and a huge cabbage.  

Of course, my mother and I cannot pass up adorable kittens without picking them up and letting them know how adorable they are.  There was a whole batch of kittens that lived in the green houses and farm stand.  Aren't they handsome?  For a quick minute, I thought Mom might smuggle one home.  

I spent all day so far just grocery shopping and cleaning up the kitchen.  Oh, and I baked a squash to have later for dinner.  Alas, I have to get the yard winterized -- I can tell that snow is not far off for us.  Time to get moving if I am going to get anything done today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My new friend -- puff pastry

My mother came over for a visit this past weekend for a much needed "girls weekend".  We had a great time, even though the Christmas shopping crowds seemed to start early this year.  I had absolutely no groceries in the house due to all the long hours I'd been working -- so we went to the store to figure out what to have for dinner.  Somehow we decided to make brie en croute with raspberry jam.  This was my first time using puff pastry and I have decided I love the results!!!

Have you ever had this stuff?  The brie gets all gooey and melty and the puff pastry is so flaky and delicious!  I really liked the seedless raspberry jam in there.  It added an interesting level of fruity goodness.  I don't think I need to add another recipe for this on the internet.  Just check out the Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry site.

We had only used half the package of puff pastry, so the next morning I tried a recipe I intend to use Christmas morning (My family is coming my way this year).  Basically, you scramble an egg with oregano for about a minute then put it on one end of half a sheet of pastry.  Top it with some cheddar cheese and a thick slice of tomato.  Wrap it all up and bake it for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees.

You absolutely MUST try this!  I'm really sorry to my gluten-free and vegan friends -- you are missing out on one of the most amazing breakfasts I've ever tasted!  I'll admit, our dinner/breakfast concoctions were very rich and not exactly healthy -- but they were good for the soul.  They were a perfect addition to a lovely weekend with my mother.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I've been very busy with work lately -- working lots of overtime.  The paychecks are good, but I haven't really gotten out much.  Subsequently, my blog has been kind of neglected.  Anyway, I'd like to kind of catch up on a few things.
The same day I shot the portrait of Sassafras, I got some photos of the stray cat and her baby.  The baby kitty was finally getting friendlier (it was very wild compared to mama cat -- who rubs against my shins to get food).  Sadly, I found the baby kitty had been hit by a car just a couple of days after taking the photos.  I know that stray kitties don't have a long life span, but this was particularly tragic -- she was just a baby.  :(

(The black one is the baby, and the grey one is the mama)

Sassy doesn't mind that the baby is gone though.  She doesn't like sharing her backyard with the other cats.  Sassy doesn't go outside a lot, and she has always been a scardicat.  She goes outside when I am out there but when the stray cats come around, she goes on the defense.  The day we shot the photos, the kitten was trying to play with Sassy - unaware that Sassy wasn't really amused.  I snapped a photo at the very instant Sassy decided to take a swat at her.  I guess she just got a little to close to my big old cat.

I've been feeding the birds and enjoying their presence right outside our front bay-style window.  I've had finches at my thistle feeder, a couple varieties of woodpeckers on the suet, bluejays going after corn, and chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, and juncos enjoying the sunflower seeds.  Oh, and a tufted titmouse just flew up to remind me that they like the feeder too.

A pretty chickadee -- when our trees still had leaves left on them.  
All the leaves came down last week with that huge windstorm that rolled through the midwest.  I work in customer service at one of the large electric providers in Michigan -- needless to say, we were busy this week.
Last night I met up with three of my friends from work as they were getting ready to go to the bar.  I had fun taking photos of their transformations.

Getting ready

Elizabeth as a sadistic June Cleaver, Cristin as Marilyn Monroe, and Nikki as a sexy skunk.  We also hung out with Liza (Elizabeth and Nikki's good friend) and some of their guy friends...

Liza as a peacock 

"Where the Wild Things Are", "The Hangover", and a couple of beat up zombies.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Another Autumnal Photo

Sorry, folks, for only posting photography lately.  I have been very busy with work and find little time to do anything else that is really noteworthy.  I have a two-day weekend though and should have something to discuss after that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fall Photography

Here are a few snapshots I took yesterday morning around the yard.  It has been a lovely weekend to be outdoors.  I spent some time today to pull all of the plants from the veggie garden and put some of the herbs into pots for the winter.
I've also added a few photos that I shot with my TTV camera in the previous post.

Through the Viewfinder Fall Photography

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Plan B

This past weekend I made it to Grand Rapids to check out Art Prize.  Art Prize made it's debut last year and was a hugh hit.  What a genius idea!  Gather artists and their work from around the world and set up different venues around the city to draw in masses of people.  Businesses benefit, the artists show their work, and thousands upon thousands of people experience a free art exhibit as big as a city.  The people vote on their favorites and the winning artist gets a fat check.
I've placed my vote for "Plan B"-- a collaborative project that several of my best friends have been involved with.  It is in Ah-Nab-Awen park near the Gerald R. Ford museum (seen on the left side of the photo below).

So what is it?  We are currently living in Plan A -- a world driven by oil and coal -- non-renewable resources.  Plan B explores the "post peak oil world where electricity is only intermittent and almost everything used to keep daily life humming along has been made out of preexisting products and materials. A combination of very old technologies with what can be patched together out of the rubble of what has been made before, fallen apart and left behind".

They have a functional kitchen, tents made of recycled billboards, a stage that runs by bicycle power, water filtration (also pumped by a bike), chickens, rabbits, a garden, and the Wonder Wagon.

People are living in Plan B Town for the entirety of the Art Prize exhibit.  My good friends have been spending most of their free time down there.

Here is a photo of my best guy friend (besides my husband of course) starting a fire to make tea.  

I wanted to stay longer, but had to make it home the same day.  Anyway, if you are anywhere near Grand Rapids right now -- you gotta check it out! 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Scenery from Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Here are a few snapshots I took while coming home from Minnesota last weekend.  The first three photos were shot at Agate Falls.  The next photo (of Lake Superior) was shot near Au Train.  The last one (Lake Michigan) was shot from US-2 near St. Ignace.  It was a beautiful day and the trees were gorgeous!  Someday I am going back to Agate Falls to spend more time.  The U.P. is an enchanting place.  We both love being there!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Zucchini bread

It has been a long time since my last post.  I am sorry about that.  I just got back from vacation in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  I have a couple of photos that I hope to post soon.  For now, I wanted to get this post completed.  I made zucchini bread and wanted to give out the recipe.  

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups zucchini - grated (and peeled if you like) -- squeeze off excess juice
1 cup oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
optional - 1 cup nuts (I don't use the nuts myself)

Beat eggs.  Add next four ingredients and mix well.  Add dry ingredients and mix completely.  Bake 1 hour at 325 degrees.  Makes 2 loaves.

This recipe has been widely used by my family.  Zucchini bread is definitely a childhood favorite of mine.  
Whenever I have an over abundance of zucchini in my garden, I grate it up and freeze it in 2 cup portions.  That way I can have zucchini bread all year long.  Yum!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Easy compost bins

I put together a couple of compost bins last weekend and managed to fill them up this weekend.  They were really easy to make too.  I just bought some wire fencing from the tractor supply store and some zip ties.  I formed two round bins -- about 3 feet in diameter.  I used the zip ties to keep the bin closed.  I can easily snip those off to open it up and get the compost out.  

I placed them on the side of our property -- because compost piles are not exactly pretty to look at.  Last Fall when we moved into the home, we raked a HUGE pile of leaves into this area.  I stacked it up the best I could, but the wind and snow flattened my pile out over the winter.  Some of it has decomposed, but a bunch of the leaves look like they did last fall.  I'm hoping these compost bins help speed things up.  I also need more nitrogen to get things going faster (I don't have a good source for manure yet).  I may need to make another one to hold this year's leaves.  Anyway, I'm happy with how they turned out.  I'm looking forward to having all that gorgeous compost to use in my garden next year.

Farm tour and barn party

Saturday, we went to a dairy farm owned by one of Charlie's cousins and her husband.  Joan gave us a tour of their barns and showed us all the cows.  Later in the evening, they had a party for her husband's 50th birthday -- complete with a live Polka band and a large potluck (featuring cheese and chocolate milk).  Good times!  

got milk?

One of the younger cows

The bull -- and some of his ladies

Time to eat

Milking time

Cake by "Rose Knows Pastries"

The band -- "Polka Riot"

Let's polka!

Partying - late into the night