Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beautiful Birthday Gifts

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Dinosaurs

We had hours of tv-free entertainment on Thanksgiving, thanks to Ad Tech's "Cool Tool" hot glue gun, a box of supermarket brand dixie cups, pipecleaners and felt. The Lost World was recreated on our kitchen table!

Fall Bulb Planting

Asarum Canadense roots. I ordered 12 from Prairie Moon Nursery, and they sent big, healthy looking rhizomes... I was surprised at how alive they looked!
I also ordered some Trillium grandiflorum from Prairie moon, and they were also huge, healthy looking clumps of roots and shoots.
Here are some of the bulbs... Fritillaria Meleagris (Checkered Lily) and Erythronium Pagoda (Trout Lily), if I remember correctly.
My (first) order from Van Engelen. Here is what I planted this year:

10 Erythronium Pagoda (trout lily)
100 Allium Sphaerocephalon (drumstick allium)
100 Fritillaria Meleagris (checkered lily)
100 Iris Blue Magic
100 Muscari Armeniacum
100 Narcissus Ice Follies (daffodils)
100 Crocus Flavus Yellow Mammoth
100 Crocus Vernus Flower Record
100 Crocus Biflorus Spring Beauty

In addition... from Praire Moon Nursury
12 Asarum canadense (wild ginger)
2 Trillium grandiflorum (large white flowered trillium)

And from American Meadows:
15 Crocus Sativus (fall blooming saffron crocus)
3 Trillium Erectum (Red Trillium)
1 Paeonia lactiflora Karl Rosenfield (Peony)
1 Dicentra White (Bleeding Heart)

That makes... 810 spring blooming bulbs, 15 fall blooming bulbs, and 19 other plants that will supposedly show their heads for the first time this spring. I did give away some bulbs to friends and neighbors, but I planted at least 700. I sure hope some of them come up next spring!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Crocus Sativus, Fall Blooming Saffron Crocus

The one crocus blossom I managed to photograph before it was eaten by our ravenous deer.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mirabelle Plum Wine: Part II

After 5-7 days, the wine should be done with the heavy duty fermentation. You can tell by taking a hydrometer reading, or by just seeing a slow-down in fermentation activity. I decided it was time when my must was less frothy. A hydrometer reading confirmed that the must was more alcohol than sugar or water, with a reading of 0.996.

Remove the pulp and skins. Since I used a nylon bag, this is easy-- just lift out the bag, and squeeze out the liquid until all that is left is a dry pulp.

All of your tools and containers should be sterilized. I have a product called "EZ clean" from the brew store, but you could also use a campden tablet crushed in 1 gallon of water.

Rack the must into your carboy(s). In this case, I am using a 3 gallon carboy. For other batches, I've used 1 gallon glass jugs.

Add water or sugar water to get the volume up to 1-2 inches of space in the neck of the jug. In this case, I sorely underestimated volume, so I added almost a gallon of water and 2 lbs of sugar. The water is filtered, then boiled and cooled to lukewarm. The boiling ensures that I'm not adding any additional microbes, and the cooling protects the yeast from being killed off. After adding sugar water, I was back up to a specific gravity of 1.07.

Finally, add the air trap. I filled my air trap with sulfite water (1/4 campden tablet in 1 quart of water) and put cotton in the top to keep fruit flies out.

At this point, the wine ferments for 1-3 months, or until sediment has built up on the bottom and fermentation slows to a barely perceptible crawl. Some sources suggest that it won't hurt to leave it "on the lees" for 3 months or so.

Shortly after racking to the carboy, vigorous fermentation started up again, no doubt revitalized by the fresh supply of sugar.

Mirabelle Plum Wine: Part I

Mirabelle Plum Wine Recipe (3 gallon batch)
(in progress recipe... adapted from and

12 lbs Mirabelle plums (12 lbs before pitting. Halve and pit the plums, then freeze. Thaw before use)
1 lb golden raisins
5 campden tablets
1 tablespoon yeast nutrient
1/2 tablespoon acid blend
1 tablespoon Pectic Enzyme
1/2 tsp grap tannins
5 lbs sugar
Yeast- Red Star Champagne yeast.
Potassium sorbate (if sweetening before bottling)
filtered water

Mirabelle plums! These are from Cornell Orchards, bought at Indian Creek Orchards in Ithaca, New York. According to the information provided by Indian Creek, these are a particular variety that was developed by Cornell. In any case, they are lovely golden plums with rosy highlights that look a bit like an overgrown grape. They are a sweet for a plum, and seem to have skins that are light on the bitterness sometimes found in plums.

I halved and pitted the plums, then froze them in bags to help facilitate the breakdown of the pulp. I was using a recipe, but the quantity of fruit required seemed vague to me. It called for 9 lbs-- is that before or after processing? In any case, I stared with about 12 lbs of plums, and might have ended up with 6-7 lbs after pitting and processing? I'm a little unsure...

Since plum wine recipes complain incessantly about the lack of "body" in plum wine, I decided to try adding some raisins. These are golden raisins, soaked in hot water, 1- 15oz box.

I pulverized the softened raisins with a soup blender.

I put the plums and the raisins in the primary fermentation container-- in this case, an orange home depot 5 gallon bucket with lid, lined with a nylon bag (purchased from an online brewing supply store).

I added two crushed campden tablets to the plums and raisins. I would have added 3, since my target volume is 3 gallons, but I am assuming a healthy dose of sulfites from the golden raisins. Next time, if I remember, I will add a campden tablet to each bag of pitted plums BEFORE freezing to prevent oxidation-- there was a significant amount of oxidation that occurred on thawing.

Before adding water or sugar, the specific gravity of the must was 1.072.

I added sugar water until the volume was about 3 gallons and the specific gravity was 1.1 (in this reading, the actual reading is 1.14, but with adjustment for the warm temperature of the must, it is about 1.1). I know there is a mathmatical way to figure out how much sugar and water to add... but I did it by trial and error, and took readings with my hydrometer until I got to 1.1.

After allowing the sulfites to work for 12 hours, add 1 tablepoon of pectic enzyme, to help further the breakdown of the fruit pulp.

After another 12 hours, add 1/2 tablespoon of Acid Blend, 1 tablespoon of Yeast Nutrient, and 1/2 tsp of grape tannin. Mix well.

Add your packet of yeast... in this case I used Champagne yeast. It was what I had in the refrigerator. Don't stir... just pour the packet on top, since oxygen is necessary to start the yeast in their fermentation. After an hour, the yeast should be bubbling and foaming-- you can then stir them into the must. Your wine is now underway!

For the next 5-7 days, the must should be stirred at least once a day with a clean, sterilized, non-porous spoon. When fermentation slows, or the specific gravity drops below 1.0, then you are ready to rack (Part II).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cupcakes for Julian

I had a little too much fun with this. Julian's comment to me: "I wish they had all been spiders. They tasted better." Apparently the spiders were grape-flavored... who would have guessed?

Black Plum Wine

Isn't it lovely? This was started on September 7th, and is now looking almost ready for a second racking. This wine started with about 11 lbs of plums (after pitting and partial skinning) and 1 lb of raisins.

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Tomato

Julian holding the first tomato of the season. He got to eat it, too-- he said it was tasty!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Decadent Peach Crisp

Health nuts have given the Crisp a reputation that is anything but decadent. Recipes abound for Crisps that are low-fat, low-carb, gluten-free, etc. If you're looking for one of those recipes, look elsewhere.

This crisp has all of the richness one deserves when indulging in dessert. This is the kind of crisp that is served up in fancy restaurants in mini cocettes garnished with raspberry sauce and mint. Actually, that sounds kind of good... but this recipe is a lot less fussy. Feel free to fuss if you wish, but it isn't required.

For the filling:

Slice about 10 fresh peaches into a 9x13" pyrex baking pan, or similar. The peaches should fill the pan, but leave at least .5 inches at the top of the pan for the filling.

Toss the peaches with:
--the zest and juice of 1 lemon
--1 tbsp vanilla
--4 tbsp flour
--1/2 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
--4 tbsp sugar (or, to taste-- less if the peaches are sweet!)
--pinch of salt

To make the toping, combine in a food processor (or, in large bowl)
--1 cup of unsalted butter (2 sticks)
--3/4 cup of brown sugar (lightly packed)
--3/4 cup of white sugar
--2 tbsp water

Process or mix until light and fluffy. Add
--2 cups flour
--1 cup rolled oats
--pinch of salt

Pulse with the food processor (or crumble together with your fingers) until just combined... should be chunky.

Sprinkle topping onto the peaches.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the topping is lightly browned.

Enjoy in small quantities with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Bending Wood

One of the distinctive features of our house are the stucco arches on the porches. When we decided to screen in part of the lower porch, these arches became a challenge. After considering several options, David decided to bend the wood with steam.
Here is David with the straight piece of wood, cut to length with both ends angled to fit.
The straight wood entering the steam machine.

One hour later, the steamed wood is taken out...

Quickly, the wood is pressed into a rough arch shape.

Here's another view of the wood bending.

The wood is wrangled into place and pre-cut supports are hammered into place.

We did three arches, and as might be expected, the last is the most beautiful curve!

Here is another picture admiring the near perfect curve.

This is the first arch that David steamed, with the decorative rays in place.

So pretty!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Steam Machine

For our current project of screening in a porch to be my temporary studio space, David built a machine to steam wood.

Here's the machine! The body of it is a piece of (6 inch?) PVC pipe.

The steam is produced by a kettle on a Coleman camp stove. (The second kettle is just backup, which we ended up not needing and is being used as a prop for the steam pipe).

Here's the joint where the steam enters the pipe. The original version had a smaller pipe, but the larger diameter pipe made a huge difference in the effectiveness of the machine.

Here's the connection to the kettle. The piece that enters the kettle was shaved to fit.

This is the end where the wood fits into the pipe. The screw cap controls how much steam can escape. The whole cap comes off for quick access.

The machine worked flawlessly-- except when we let the kettle run dry and the plastic handle on the lid of the kettle melted. It now has a wooden handle.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


In June, I bought one 6 pack of tomato plants and a single of a yellow bush variety tomato plant. When I first planted them, I planted 3 to a 1 gallon pot, and they were wanted to be replanted in less than a week! The cheapest large containers I could find were Home Depot's orange Homer buckets, which were $2.35 each. I purchased 7 of them, drilled holes in the bottom, and filled them with two giant bags of Espanoza Organic potting soil. I sure hope these tomatoes are worth all of this effort!

But I do get a kick out of seeing the baby tomatoes growing on my porch!