Sunday, January 30, 2011

Weekend snapshots (from my cell phone)

I took a vacation day on Friday and headed to Grand Rapids.  Grand Rapids holds a special place in my heart.  Yes, my family and closest friends are there, and visiting them is very important to me.  But there is something else.  Grand Rapids has a particular "vibe" to it.  It is creative and diverse.  It has the feeling of a big city but the people are friendlier.  
I took a few snapshots with my new cell phone while my mother and I were out and about. We went to Global Infusion to get tea for kombucha making (I brought my mother some mother to make kombucha herself).  The store carries fair trade treasures from around the world and also a huge selection of tea, coffee and chocolate. 

My favorite purse came from this store.  After my first one wore out from use, I got another one.  I saw the same purse in espresso brown and almost bought it for when my current purse wears out.  I was strong though and resisted the temptation.

Mom and I also went to the Grand Rapids Art Museum to see the "Diana - A Celebration" exhibit.  I wish I could have taken photos inside, because the exhibit was very interesting.  I was, however, able to take a photo of the entry way.  Because we were there in the evening, there was a pianist and wine available as well.

This is the view directly outside of the GRAM.  On the right there is an ice skating area with free skate rentals.  The downtown area of Grand Rapids is lively and beautiful.  

My family said some magazine had listed Grand Rapids as one of the top ten cities in the U.S. that are dying out.  I was shocked!  I have to disagree with their conclusion.  Grand Rapids is alive and well -- and getting better day by day.  New businesses are popping up, and old buildings are being renovated and revived.  That is impressive considering the horrible economy in Michigan right now.  

Anyway, I sound like an advertisement -- I know.  It is probably odd, considering how much I enjoy living out in the country.
I am back home now and spent a relaxing morning cleaning and sorting through last years seeds to see what I need to buy.  The sun is streaming in to the south side of our house -- keeping the house warm and saving on fuel oil.  Charlie and I are going to get motivated and get out of the house.  I think we are going to use a gift card from Christmas and eat out.

Tea towels

By request from "starlighthill" after my last blog post -- here are some of the tea towels that my grandmother embroidered for me.  I adore the playful squirrels -- I use these towels all the time in my kitchen.

Here are some of my new towels that she gave me for Christmas.  Aren't they lovely?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

My favorite things

There are things that inspire me, that bring joy to my soul, or that remind me of someone special.  I've decided to share some of my favorite things when they pop into my head.  
Tonight I find myself craving the warmth of the sun.  It has been particularly cold and dreary here in Michigan lately.  I'm constantly cold and find myself somewhat depressed (seasonal affective disorder?). So, tonight as I was looking through photos from last summer, I remembered how nice it is to hang clean clothes on my clothes line.  Who would have thought that some rope between two poles would bring me joy.  But it does!  
Clean clothes hanging on the line remind me of how grateful I am to have my own washing machine now and that I don't have to go to the laundromat.  It reminds me of the fresh air and warm sun -- and the smell of the green grass and honeysuckle.  This photo reminds me of how helpful my husband was with stringing up the new rope so I could hang the clothes.  The tea towel hanging on the line was given to me by my Grandma after she embroidered squirrels and the days of the week on seven retro towels for me. 

I just cannot wait for a nice warm sunny day.  I figure two months from now and we could be getting some occasionally warm days (40-50 degrees would be amazing right now!!!).  Until then, I will just be dreaming about it.  

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Kombucha is a healthful beverage made with the help of a creepy looking blob of yeast and bacteria also known as a "scoby".   Kombucha is said to have antioxidants and help with digestion.  It also tastes very good -- kind of sweet and tangy at the same time.  My first taste of kombucha came when my mom offered me a bottle on one of our sunny convertible rides to Lake Michigan.  It was refreshing and fizzy -- but expensive.  At around $4 for the bottle, I couldn't see myself buying it very often.
Well, it turns out that kombucha is not hard to make at home.  You do need some starter, which can be found online or from someone else that is already brewing kombucha.  I got some "mother" kombucha from my pals Jen and Rich last weekend when I visited.  This is what it looked like when Jen sent it home with me. 

I then boiled a gallon of water (do not use chlorinated water as this would kill the delicate cultures that cause the process to work) and added 1 cup of sugar.  I turned off the heat and stirred in the sugar until it was completely dissolved.  Then, add tea bags.  Jen said she uses 8 tea bags for one gallon.  Other recipes I see say 5-6.  This should be tea without additives if possible -- and it should have black, green or white tea as a base.  Jen has been experimenting with flavored teas (and I sampled several - yum!), but I started with white tea for mine.  After brewing, remove the tea bags, cover the pot and let it cool down to room temperature.

At this point, I put my tea in my brand new crock (Christmas gift from Mom) and gently added the "mother".  I let it do it's magic all week -- but was sad because I couldn't see what was happening inside the crock (it is one of those beautiful stoneware sauerkraut crocks - from the Yoder department store in Shipshewana, IN -- love it!).  I switched it over to a gallon glass jar yesterday.  This photo is deceiving though -- kombucha really should have some fabric over the mouth of the jar, secured with a rubber band.

The yeast and bacteria live off of the tea/sugar and the scary jelly-fish looking blob grows bigger.  Mine grew another layer on the top so I have two kind of separate pieces now (because I moved it to another jar - normally you wouldn't disturb it as much as I did).  When the new layer is about 1/8" it should be done.  I'm gonna let mine go a couple more days because it was still quite sweet when I tasted it.  As time passes, it gets more of a vinegar flavor.  I've got mason jars with plastic lids to store it in and hopefully retain some of the fizziness.  Before I jar it up, I'm gonna make another batch of tea and let it cool.  The scoby always needs tea and sugar to live in, so there is a little bit of a time investment here. I figure 20 minutes a week is not bad for such an inexpensive, healthful beverage.
Obviously, I am new to kombucha brewing, but there are a bunch of resources available online if you want to learn more.  I really found this site useful.

*It is important to note that when you first start drinking kombucha, you should start at about 2 oz. per day and work your way up to more.  Kombucha can make your tummy rumble (or worse) because of all the probiotics it contains.  Once your tummy is used to all the healthy stuff in it, you can drink a couple of cups a day if you want.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A sense of accomplishment

Ice on the windshield

The weather has been cold and dreary lately but Charlie and I beat the weather today to get a lot accomplished.  It felt really good too -- to be productive.
While I cleaned the kitchen after a week of neglect, Charlie re-attached our mailbox to it's post (I believe a snowplow launched it into the ditch rather than vandals).  We also replaced our furnace filters and ran a bunch of errands.  I've also baked a cake and have bread dough rising.  Tonight is all about relaxing now.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I finally had a chance to deliver some of my homemade Christmas gifts to my friends and now I can tell you about what I made.  I made Limoncello for the first time and gifted bottles of it to some of my friends.  You can find all sorts of recipes for limoncello on the internet, so I'm not going to post one -- just the basic idea.  

I used approximately 20 lemons and 2 - 750 ml bottles of everclear (grain alcohol).  You only use the zest of the lemons -- I used a very sharp paring knife to be sure I didn't get any of the white pith.  The pith will make your limoncello bitter.  You could also use a zester but then you have to use filters to get the particles of zest out of the alcohol.  Anyway, I let the lemon zest soak in the strong alcohol for one month to infuse the alcohol with the essence of the lemon.  

After one month, I made a simple syrup (about 4 cups of water and the same amount of sugar dissolve over heat) and blended the syrup with the alcohol.  Immediately the alcohol gets a nice cloudy quality to it.  I love the way limoncello looks!  I purchased bottles from and bottled the limoncello right away.  The limoncello mellows with age, so it is nice to let it rest for another month if you can resist drinking it right away.  The limoncello should be served ice-cold.  I'm tucking a bottle of it away for a hot weekend next summer -- I think it would be splendid in the heat of summer.

That's all you have to do to make an amazing liquor beverage that is great to give at Christmas time.  It is not cheap, but it is easy (besides the hours spent to peel all those lemons).  When I was done peeling, I wasn't sure what to do with all of the lemons.  I ended up juicing them and pouring the juice into ice cube trays to freeze.  After freezing, I put the cubes in a freezer bag and dated the bag.  I figured I could then thaw them as needed throughout the year for any recipe that calls for lemon juice (I'm suddenly hungry for tabouleh salad - yum!).  

As it turns out, a couple of weeks later I decided to start making wine.  Making limoncello is the reason I chose to make lemon wine in the first place -- to use the abundance of fruit juice that I already had on hand.  As an update on the wine -- today I syphoned the wine into a new glass jar to get rid of some of the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.  I also tested the specific gravity and it is almost done.
Today I am also starting to venture into fermented tea -- or "Kombucha".  My good friend, Jen, gave me a chunk of her "mother" (the mushroom culture that turns tea into kombucha) yesterday when I visited.  I gave my dear friends limoncello and walked away with some of her amazing apple butter and some fungus (and got to try their cranberry wine too).  Stay tuned for more info on kombucha.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wine making - the next step

The wine finally made it out of the primary and into the secondary container.  Last weekend I used a syphon (that also comes with the kit) to get it into this gorgeous one gallon jar.  Have I ever mentioned that I adore containers?  All sorts - jars, baskets, boxes, bags.  I love things that hold other things.  Is that odd?  This even shows in the background I chose for these photos - an Audubon Society bag I got with my membership.  Whoa, sorry for that rant.  I got off subject.
Anyway, the wine stays in this secondary for about 3 weeks now to finish the fermentation process before the next step.  See that funny thing sticking out the top of the bottle?  That is a very important contraption.  

You see, the yeast is still busy at work in the wine converting that sugar into alcohol.  There is a steady stream of bubbles floating to the top of the jar right now.  You can't just put any old cap on the wine right now -- your jar would explode.  But, you can't have it exposed to the air either (all sorts of funky stuff would try to live in it).  This is called an airlock.  There is water inside it.  It allows air to get out of the bottle, but not let air get back in.

It is a pretty nifty contraption if you ask me.  I am getting anxious for my first batch to be finished.  It smells like wine, but who knows how it will taste.
Also, one of the folks that helped inspire me to make wine in the first place may be willing to sell some of his equipment to me.  I guess he hasn't been making wine as much nowadays.  Here is a link to the original post that talks about his homestead.  He had some nice larger bottles so I could make larger batches.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he quotes us a good price.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

200th post - Happy New Year!

Yes indeed!  I have finally made it to my 200th post.  It took 2 3/4 years, but here I am.  I would love to be one of those full time bloggers who manage to post something new and exciting every day or so, but that just isn't my life.  For the entire time I have been blogging, I have been working a crazy amount of hours at my job (and commuting an hour and a half each day).  
When I look back, a lot has happened since I started blogging.  Of course, the major thing is the purchase of our home here in the pines.  Now we are focused on improving the property and personalizing it.  I'm interested in the homesteading lifestyle - or "simple, agrarian self-sufficiency" (according to wikipedia).  Charlie is pretty supportive of the whole thing -- if I want it, he will help me make it happen.  I am quite grateful to have such a supportive husband.  
This year for Christmas, he got me a chicken coop!  I wanted chickens last year but never got around to figuring out some housing for them.  Our shed in the back yard wouldn't work for the task -- the roof is caving in and we are going to tear it down.  Anyway, we assembled the coop yesterday and it is ready to go for this Spring.  It is a fairly small coop, but plenty big to hold 4-6 chickens.  

Charlie assembling the coop...

The finished coop...

The two nesting boxes...
We will probably raise it up off the ground about a foot.  I am also going to be constructing a chicken tractor so they can spend the summer outside.  I would let them free-range, but because of all the trees we have, I'm concerned about predators.  I'm just really excited about the coop and the prospect of keeping chickens!
We have a few more projects planned for this year as well.  We have decided to cut down some clusters of box elder trees in the back yard and to smooth out the ground back there.  Right now there is a steep drop off back there from when the septic field was re-done.  We are gonna try to get a more gentle slope and clear out the brush so that I can plant a small orchard.  I realize it could be years before I get much fruit, but I'd like to use that space for something other than deer/turkey trails.
I'd also like to tear out that old shed, expand my gardening space (amend the soil in a few areas of the yard for plants that won't fit in the raised beds), and plant some fruit trees, bushes, canes, etc.  We also need to get the wood burning portion of our furnace checked for safety and have it cleaned out.  It would be nice to try it out next year, so we may need to stock up on some wood this year.
Other goals:  go fishing more often, explore food dehydration/freezing techniques, look into keeping rabbits, continue pursuing home fermentation, etc.  The list could go on and on.  Right now, we'll see what actually gets accomplished as the year progresses.  Life always seems to have it's curve balls and I hate setting anything in stone.  We also have a trip to Georgia in March (for a wedding) and a week in late summer to do with as we please (perhaps travel west?).  I'm itching for travel so I am really looking forward to these two mini vacations.
2011 has a lot of potential -- I can't wait to see what happens!  I hope you have an awesome new year!