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Weeks of Apples and Treats

Despite my earlier protestations, and with much appreciated assistance, I not only planted what turned out to be an overfilled garden, I har...

September 13, 2016

Honey Crisp Harvest 2016

Here is my crappy apple pic. Why? Well it's the last apple on our tiny tree that made it this long protected by a plastic baggy and an exasperated but vigilant urban grower. Its sole partner for the last month and a half got bitten and dropped carelessly to the ground yesterday. (Yep, the only two fruit out of twenty)
Today this beauty of a Honey Crisp was on the ground. Only it wasn't as abused but still marred and obviously molested . Note that the dastardly squirrels have never shown any regard or respect for us or our produce. Tiny punctures and miniscule bite marks have been their hallmark this entire growing season. We have little to no eggplant, horribly chewed tomatoes, and mysteriously missing hot peppers. Honestly, the shock and rage I felt after no less than 9 of 10 mammoth sunflower plants were scaled and beheaded has yet to abate. I've indulged in foodie fantasies involving a family gathering southern style with platters full of freshly roasted squirrels over potatoes and covered with gravy. Sides would include biscuits, cheesy grits, turnip greens (because I'm still bitter), fried green tomatoes, and a masterfully made macaroni and cheese. But alas hunting squirrel in the city is frowned upon and illegal so I'll just wash and savor what's left. I've only waited 3 years for this one fruit....

Happy harvest!


July 6, 2016

Ummm, We Are Chicken Keepers Now...

As cliché as it may sound, I have been very busy....
I know I know, if someone is committed to something as inspiring as a blog on living a wholesome homesteading life and providing practical and tried and true DIY tips they should be better at time management. Well, apparently I am not that person of late. Why? Well, life really does take over sometimes, and then there were these four new little lives that have taken up residence in, and then directly outside of our home. In other words, Hurray for us, We Have Chickens!!!!!!! Soon to be laying hens to be specific.  Well, this journey into raising our own layers has been a true labor of love, a testament to friendship, and the realization of a very long six-year dream. It all started this spring, April to be exact; after the new Urban Ag laws for Minneapolis were amended and put into affect. A crew of three which included me, my daughter, and her close friend (he’s a carpenter) vigilantly researched every chicken coop design we could find that would fit into this vision I had for backyard chicken rearing. I say mine because the husband always gives me the side eye when I come up with a "new idea" for our family. Especially those involving landscaping and getting rid of his precious grass. [a guy thing maybe?] So some of my plans work and some we've had to leave by the wayside over the years but I assured him this was not some sketchy new fangled venture. We both have strong agrarian roots within our immediate and extended families. So the "country life" as our folks call it is literally in our blood. For instance, take my mom who orders meat birds and layers 40 in one whop! ... You get the idea, we've had some exposure a time or two...    
Well, somehow the kids and I pushed passed the scowls and the stank face after we got the call to come pick up our four new hatchlings a day or two earlier than expected. The hardest one to convince we hadn't lost our minds at this point was the dog, which is a whole post of it's own. I'm thinking of calling it How to introduce your dog to new chicks....
Well, after 6 to 8 weeks these ladies which I should mention are: a silver lace wyandotte, buff orpington, red star, and amaraucana (easter egger),  were rearing to go outdoors. We had been gathering supplies and assessing items to re-purpose for the build for some time and now it was go time. Quickly we realized that it would be just as much work and expense $$$ to modify a structure as it would be to build from scratch, so our carpenter friend designed it on paper and then we all got busy. When I say we all got busy, I had to recruit my husband (honestly by day 3 he was smitten with the crazy little cluckers), and our son for some heavy lifting and some polishing up when our carpenter couldn't be here. Not to mention the clean up…J
Over several weeks, and several trips to Menards, Home Depot, Ace, and Fleet Farm we finally finished our build, the permitting process, and most recently the cities requirement for a chicken keeping class. Our coop is roughly 6′ x 5′ (counting the nesting boxes) with additional 8′ x 8′ attached run. We currently have more nesting boxes than we need but have plans to add on more coop space at a later date for more birds. As I already mentioned, we have four curious and rambunctious chickens in residence who are all layers.
This project has left me with an appreciation for skilled laborers, including first our visionary carpenter friend, my husband for his plumbing expertise (chicken waterer and feeder), and those who work tirelessly to grow our food every day. Lastly, I have an immense pride in our one of a kind build (We all learned a ton), and I love the stylish yet rustic look that it has. Our neighbors thought we were building a play house which is exactly the look we were going for.

I'm hoping our journey encourages more city dwellers to take in a bird or two for their many benefits. So far I can tell you that these ladies go crazy for ripe raspberries, bugs that would usually eradicate my squash by this time any other year, fresh grass, weeds, and their poop is garden gold already! You can't beat your own organic fertilizer... and No I do not add it directly to the garden but they sometimes do (I just water it in). They do free-range for several hours during the day so we are vigilant about keeping an eagle eye on them lest a for real eagle or hawk come through for a chicken snack. There are also curious cats, raccoon, weasels and the like... Ayi-yi why did I want to do this again? jk... 
It has been beyond rewarding and eggs will be the icing and candle on top. Can't wait to show that off. I'm sure it will be just too pretty to eat... NOT!!!! Besides our future egg supply I truly enjoy their company when i'm working in the actual garden or on my laptop on the patio. Even when my side-chick Chip randomly jumps onto someones head..... long story.

My Side-Chick Chipmunk - Chip for short
Well, with everything I've shared, I can only hope you will forgive a very long break in between posts. I have found a new calling with these birds for the self-sufficiency and entertainment of my family. These birds really do serve a purpose and are a hallmark for things to come in more Metropolitan areas around the country. I am glad to be on the forefront with my family and look forward to hearing and seeing how more families are taking back control of their diets and what ends up on their plates. 

Diva & Eb
Black Raspberries - Chickens Favorite
Ladies enjoying some good city life

January 30, 2016

Fermentation I can't stop won't stop

Fresh baked sourdough can't be beat. I mean it can be kneaded, punched, and folded but never beaten in the flavor department. Several months ago I binge watched Julia Child's Master Chef series and low and behold there was a chef there demonstrating beautiful handmade traditional artisan breads. Specifically sourdough, from the creation of sourdough starter, to baking a beautiful loaf. Those closest to me know that I've had many a bubbly, yeasty, brewing jar of fermented yum yums around my home. However, after actually making the starter for my own sourdough creations; I could not find the time nor will power to "get my bake on". [life took over] Thank God ferments are living beings that need a break from time to time and don't mind being tucked away in the back of a very cold fridge. Which, is exactly what happened to a very large jar of starter I'd previously made months ago. I'm talking at least four months.... 

To be quite honest I'd forgotten all about the sourdough starter. It was only upon cleaning out the refrigerator that I excavated it and honestly thought for sure the whole lot would have to be thrown out. But being the curious home-scientist wanna be I am, I opened the jar, did a sniff test, then grabbed a large spoon to stir the wet grayish liquid that had risen to the top back into the thicker 'batter' on the bottom. The smell was a little sour, kind of fruity, and the color was quite right. It was then I decided to keep it and move forward with feeding/reviving the mixture. I did this by adding a thick slurry of flour and water to the jar and covering the jar with a paper towel and a canning jar ring so it could  "breathe".  I then let the mixture sit on the counter for the night in a warm place. 
By the afternoon of the following day the starter was alive and kickin! I mean it kicked its way out of the top of the jar. The video below shows just how bubbly the batch was before I started making my first loaf (minus the mess I had on the counter).  I proceeded to make two loaves, one an extended proofed loaf in a pan and the other a standard proofed free form loaf baked on a pizza stone. I will update this post with pictures of the loaves but want to let you know that will power is necessary to allow these baked goodies to cool before slicing them. I know that they're going to be good because number one they're homemade with all of the patience, love, and bad a$$ little yeasties grown with care in my kitchen from a Julia Child master chef recipe. And number two I've been taking my time to get this fermentation thing down pat. There are always little hiccups in the culinary world but consider this, fermentation has been a tried and true method of preparing food for centuries. Well before the Internet, well before PBS, and so on and so forth. Common sense, a clean kitchen, and a little diligent research go a very long way. That is why I will keep doing what I do and brewing what I brew. In this case baking after I brew/grow on my counter-top.. you know what I mean! Be brave, be bold, and bake some sourdough bread with this delicious starter I'm gifting you with below. It's so easy and flavorful you'll smack yourself on the forehead. I'm not sharing my bread recipe because it is pretty standard and I find it's much easier to let people make their own flavor sensitive decisions on some things and that it is more important to know how to create your very own starter and begin playing around in the kitchen from there. That being said, enjoy this starter recipe it's super easy and involves grapes so it is real 'old world' which I love.

How To Make A Sourdough Starter:
  • ·         1 or 2 of Grapes with stem attached (wild/organic)
  • ·         4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • ·         Lukewarm water (filtered, spring, or boiled and cooled)
  • ·         1 tablespoon sugar or honey (or another natural sweetener like agave)
  • ·         Large Jar or bowl
  • ·         New pantyhose that have been thoroughly washed in hot water and vinegar or cheesecloth
  • ·         Coffee filter, Paper towel, or tea towel
  • ·         Rubber band, canning jar ring, or string
Two Loaves Down - Free form has potato and both were yummy!
Place 2 cups of the AP flour into the jar or bowl with ½ cup to 1 cup of water. You are basically making a thick pancake batter consistency. After washing your grapes and leaving the stems attached, you’ll want to place them into a pair of pantyhose or secure them inside a bundle of cheese cloth then place in the jar.

Using the back of a spoon, smash some of the grapes up while mixing into the batter.
Cover the jar with a tea towel and rubber band or coffee filter and canning ring to keep dust/bugs/and other ickies out. Place the bizaar mixture out of the way on or in the cupboard where there are no cool drafts. The next morning give the mixture a good stir and let sit for another day.
When you see bubbles and activity you know you are on the right track. A whey like liquid separates from the batter and it is time to remove the grape sachet and start feeding your new starter. You did this by stirring in 2 more cups of flour, the sugar, and a cup or 2 of lukewarm water. DON’T use cold water! There are living yeast in this jar which make the numminess that is fresh sourdough bread happen.
Cover the jar again with a clean tea towel or coffee filter and place it out of the way until you witness clear signs of fermentation. (bubbles and sweet but soury smell) you may have to give the batter a stir. Continue letting things become more lively in the fermentation department for at least 3 or 4 days. When you have achieved a sour aroma and/or taste if you’re brave enough, then put your jar with a lid into the refrigerator. As I stated this mixture is pretty resilient and will survive by staying dormant for quite some time in between feedings.
A feeding consists of you adding a flour and water slurry (I prefer a thicker one) to your starter every time you remove some. i.e. If your recipe calls for removing two cups of starter, you’ll replace it with two cups flour 1 ½ cups water mixed together and poured in. You could also just add to the jar then mix. It’s important to distribute the yeast from the bottom to the top every once in a while.