Tuesday, November 29, 2011


To start this little tale, I should first say that I've struggled with sourdough for a couple of years now.  I know, you'd think after you'd fought with something for that long, you'd just give up.  But after a number of failures, it became a mission to get it right. 

Easier said than done.  I produced a number of bricks from my oven, and a number of mushy blobs.  I can't tell you how many pounds of breadcrumbs it all made.  So, so many.  But, I am pleased to announce that I finally have got it right!

YEAY!  I have been nurturing a starter now since mid-July.  It's still alive!  It's a miracle!  Not only that, but I can actually make a really nice loaf (or two) of bread from it.  There's a secret to it, do you want to know what it is?  Don't knead it!

I know, I'm crazy.  Almost every recipe that I have ever read says "knead the dough until it windowpanes", meaning you knead it for like 10 minutes straight until you can stretch it thin enough to see light through it.  That has only ever produced either a brick of bread so hard you couldn't cut it, or a blob of mush that overproofed.  So I stopped that.  And I do this instead:

First, take your mushy dough out of the mixer when it's ready, and only when it's fully incorporated.  How do you know when that is?  It sticks to everything in sight, but then it peels off the things  really easily when you go to move it.  It's an odd thing it does, but it's alive, so just go with it.  I almost want to say it's got a texture like that green goo stuff they used to sell for kids.  My brothers used to have it, back in the day.  Sticky, but you can scrape it up and move it without leaving residual bits.  Weird.

Anyway, take out the dough, put it on a WELL floured mat, and knead it for a minute or two, just so it feels cohesive and looks a little smoother.  It will NOT pass the "windowpane test", but that's good.  Then flatten the dough out.

Then here's the tricky part.  Stretch it and fold it.

Fold one side:

Then the opposite side:

Then another side:

 (make sure you stretch it each time, that's important)

Then the last side:

Then stop touching it, and cover it up and put it to bed for an hour:

After your hour is over, do it again.  Flatten it out, stretch and fold, stretch and fold, stretch and fold.  Put it back to sleep for a second hour.

I will add here, that I do this all at room temperature.  I don't put it anywhere near a warm surface to rise.  I have found that putting it somewhere warm speeds up the proofing process and I get a flat, gooey mess.  So it just sits on the counter and does it's thing.

After hour two, uncover it and poke your finger in it, kind of hard, but not very hard.  If the indentation disappears, you can do this process a third time.  If the indentation is very deep, you've overproofed and the bread will come out weird.  Next time try just one folding and then do the finger test to see.  Either the starter was very active, or the room was very warm, so it got happy.  What you're really looking for here is for the indentation your finger left to slowly receed, but you can still see it in the dough, shallowly.  When you do, it means your baby is ready to bake. 

At this point, I split my dough into two loaves, because that's just the kind of girl I am, and I score the top, because it's nice.

It's still alive here, and somewhat active, so the slashes you make will grow.  Do it right before you put it into the oven so they don't grow too much. 

Bake the bread at 400F with a pan of water in the bottom, and in 30 minutes (that's what works for me, it may be different for you), pull a loaf out and knock on the bottom.  If it's hollow, it's done.

So pretty!!

This is fabulous bread and totally worth the time and effort it takes.  If you've ever had trouble with sourdough (like I have), try this technique.  I was surprised, but it really does work.  Try it and see!
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The Hide and Go Seek Continues....

This time, into the garage.

This one I understand.  It's sort of nesty.

But this is the one I found first, while I was looking for the spackle.  I don't get it.

Another shot for provenience.

Not even slightly nesty. 

Who knows what a chicken thinks? 

I best go look under the lawnmower.  You just never know....

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dumbest Toys 2011

Normally, I wouldn't write about toys here--there's nothing really to talk about with them.  They're overhyped, most of them are ridiculous and then break.  Around here, we play with Legos, Matchbox cars and the old style My Little Pony.  My husband and I like our kids playing with these, because they are "imagination" toys, where our kids can put them into situations they create.  None of it's pre-done, and the scenarios can always change.  Toy-wise, they're pretty much all my kids really like, and they play together with them, despite the fact that one is a girl and one is a boy, and they are two years and two grade levels apart.  So it's all good.

So, we really don't have a lot of exposure to the new silliness that come out.  However, I have seen some toy commercials lately that have made me say "You've got to be kidding!!!  That's a toy???  What were they thinking?".  And I'm not talking about the dangerous toys on the WATCH list, though, buyer beware there.  I'm talking about the kind of toy that makes you say "Who's the ad wizard who came up with that one??"  (quoting an old SNL episode).

On the top of my list this year as the dumbest toy I've ever seen is this thing:
Photo courtesy the Toys R' Us website

Have you seen this thing???  It's a dog.  That poops.  And farts.  Oh, holy hell.

My daughter told me about it a week or two ago.  She said she heard about a game with a pooping dog.  She said it sounded stupid.  I said there was no way there was such a thing, and she must have heard wrong.  Then I saw the commercial on TV, and lo and behold, there really is such a thing.
Again from the Toys R Us website

Now I haven't made a study of this thing, but the gist of it is you feed it this playdoh stuff and then wait for it to come out the back, where you shovel it with your shovel.  To get it to move through, it seems like you squeeze its leash and it makes lovely farting noises and somehow that moves the playdoh stuff through the dog until viola!--poop city.

What does any thinking person even say about this game?  I don't even know where to start.  The disbelief I felt when I first saw this thing was something else.  I'd love to meet the person who came up with it and ask them why they made this.  What drugs were they on at the time?  How old are they?  Is this a joke?  Are you trying to prove a point about American parents and children? 

So many questions.  We will NOT be owning one of these.  Ever.

My next candidate for the dumbest toy of the year awards is this:

Photo courtesy Amazon.com

Is there an upcoming dentist shortage that I ought to know about?  Is this why the kids are being recruited at such an early age?  Can you see your kids having fun making braces?  "Whoopie mom!  Looks like this guy needs a cleaning AND a root canal!  Guess I'll be able to buy that house in the Bahamas after all!"

Um....yeah.  Ok, that's another one that we won't be owning.

Next up---these:

Who wouldn't want one?  It's a baby vampire.  In a coffin.  Which you can customize, along with their tombstone.  They've got names that have the words "cadaver" and "gloom" in them.  So cuddly and lovable!  And you can feed it bottles of "blood".  Woo-hoo.  It's like a wish, wrapped in a dream, surrounded by cuddly balls of fluffy clouds.

We may skip that one too.

The rest of the list this year contains the following:
Thanks again for the pic, Amazon.com

Because you should always want to know what witty thing your dog is thinking as it Twitters you again and again and again and again.

Because zombie vomit is best shared among friends.  Bon Apetit!

Amazon.com again

What the hell is this thing?  A robot bunny?  I don't get it.  Happily, it's "powered by friendship", so it's got that going for it.  Which is nice.

And last but not least:
Photo from Brookstone

At least I can tell what this is.  It seems to be pretty much the same toy as the bunny-robot thing, but this one only speaks a made up language called "Penguish" and will harang you if you leave it alone, because it wants your attention.  Fun!!  Sign me up. 

I know there are probably so many more, as the American toy market this year is seemingly at the top of it's game, but I have other things to do.  However, enjoy these lovely offerings I have brought you.  Oh, and if you want to read this post with a cuddly undead friend and a bowl of zombie brains, who can blame you?  Rock on!
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Totally. Worth. It

I don't know....can anyone really convey sarcasm via the web?  If not, then I'll tell you off the bat that that was sarcasm, folks.

After all that boiling and melting down of beeswax and other stuff for what seemed like forever, this is the nice beeswax that it made:

Wowee.  Pardon me if I'm slightly underwhelmed.

There was so much "stuff" in the wax that I resorted to squeezing out the "stuff" in order to get the wax it was hiding, which was messy and hot. 

At least it didn't go to waste--I guess.

Well, that's over with.  Now to decide what to do about next year.  Hmm.....

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Expensive Failure

Never let it be said that I don't share my epic fails with you.  The potatoes were one, but this one was probably worse.
Yup, those were the bees.  At least, some of them.  I have no idea what happened to them, so I couldn't even presume to tell you.

I went in to the hive today, as it was mild, to see if they needed the feeder put in.  I will say, it's looked pretty quiet over there for a few weeks.  Of course, it's also been really cold, so I thought maybe they were all laying low.  Not so.  When I got the hive open, this is what I saw:
Empty dead comb after empty dead comb.  Done-o.  Finito.  Adios. 


I have no idea what happened.  It's not CCD, as far as I can tell, because it's not like they just died and left everything behind.  It's like they moved out. 

Maybe they swarmed.  But then there would be some bees left.  Maybe the queen died and they didn't replace her.  I have no idea.  All I can tell is that there weren't enough dead bees in the bottom to make up a whole hive, so most of them went somewhere else. 

You got me.  What a failure.

Anyway, I'm not one to let all of this go to waste.  I scraped a fair bit of comb for the wax and brought it inside to render.

It's not really nice stuff.  Some of it is, but a lot of it is crappy.  I'm doing it anyway, so I can see if there's anything salvageable about this disaster.  I currently have it bubbling away over a double boiler to melt it, and then I'll strain it through some layers of cheesecloth to get out the yutz, which is probably most of it.  Whatever I get will be fine.  Word of advice:  Beeswax fresh from the comb takes a long time to melt down, so be patient.  I've done this method before, and it took a long time.  A long, long time. 

The only question left is; do I get back up on this horse and try again next year, or do I give it up?  There's a lot of expensive equipment involved here that would go unused, so I'm tempted to try again.  However, this was a big, expensive bummer.  Should I sink the money in again or not?  Choices, choices.  I'm going to have to think it out. 

In the meantime, I will render wax.  I'll show you a picture when it's all done, and hope for bee-ter days ahead.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Egg Hide and Go Seek

It's raining today, and the girls get lazy.  They don't want to go all the way back to the coop to lay, so they find a "convenient" spot to put their eggs. 

Can you see them?

Convenient for them, not necessarily for me.

I'm going to have to ask a small child to climb in there after them.

Dangit, girls!
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Molting is Ugly Business

I was in the coop collecting eggs, and I saw Fat Black getting out of her chosen nest box.  It looked like she was walking funny, so I went out and scooped her up to investigate.  I brought her up to the house to take a closer look.  Turns out she wasn't walking funny.  It just looked that way, because she's missing 75% of her feathers, most of which were on her stomach, legs, and rear end.
Missing lots of wing feathers

Tail feathers

Tummy and breast feathers

Fat Black explosion!

It's not a glamourous business.
It's that time of year.  Not a great time for it, but that's nature.  Poor girl must be so cold.  After she was released, I'm pretty sure that she went right back to her warm box.

This is a funny picture for you:  Ghost Black.  She must have moved while I took the picture, and you can see through her head to the wall.  Spooky!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

You DON'T Keep Vinegar in the Bathroom?

After the vinegar was ready last week, and the straining was done, I went out and bought a couple of jugs of cheap wine to make some more-- a red and a white.  I poured them into two gallon containers, added a piece of the white wine's Mother to the red, and covered them up.  Then I looked for a place to keep them.  With the basement being dark, but cold, and the kitchen having no cabinets free, they went into the bathroom, to be stored under the sink with the toilet paper and toothpaste.
It's dark and warm, so done deal.  Now I will ignore them for a few months.

Most worrisome part of this?  My husband went into the cabinet to get something yesterday, and never noticed the jugs.  Apparently he's come to expect that sort of thing from me.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

If the Shoes Fit....

I had to buy new shoes.  That's where it all began.  My trusty crusty work boots had given out on me after nearly a year of hard service. 

Not long enough, in my opinion, but they'd trod their last mile. The tops were cracking, the bottoms worn down, and a tear had developed on one side.

And yes, I had cared for them.  They were tools, and important ones at that, so I cleaned them, waxed them, protected them.  To no avail.  They were doner than done.

I was shoe shopping.  And not just for any shoes; companion shoes that I could rely in in rain, snow, wind, water, mud, manure, grass and thicket.  Alot to ask of anything, really.  I work hard and expect my shoes to do the same.  But have you ever had to look for women's workboots?  You'd think women never work!  News flash to me.  I could go anywhere and to any website, type in workboots and get hundreds of hits.  Add the specifier of "women's", though, and there were suddenly 10 or 6 or 30, but 25 of them had high heels that no sane woman who actually works would do work in.  What a frustrating hunt.  Not to mention the money involved!  Ugh.  Good tools are expensive, I know, but wow.  Some of the prices were completely insane.

After a few days and too many hours, I finally settled.  Meet the new members of the team.

Twisted X steel-toed workboots.  The damn things weigh two pounds each, if they weigh an ounce.  They are rubber soled, nicely treaded and well sewn.  I'm still breaking them in, but so far, so good.  They fit nicely and will hopefully do the job for longer than their predecessors.

But it got me thinking.  Did you ever look at your life in terms of shoes?  Bear with me here:  if I were to look back at my life so far, I could tell you the stages by the shoes I've worn.  In high school and college it was whatever was "cool".  I don't know if I was much of a fad follower, but I know it was form before function.  During my office worker period, it was sensible shoes that were nice looking, but sturdy.  This was probably the time in my life that I owned the most shoes I have ever owned.  I worked in NYC and walked a lot, plus stood on my feet a lot of the day.  As a stay at home mom, I wore socks most of the time, and sneakers when I had to go out.  During my gym rat phase, good sneakers were the most important.  And now, it's workboots.  I love the workboot phase.  I hope I never leave it.  

Well, ok, enough pondering.  I have garlic to plant.  I hope you all enjoy your fall day.  Go on out there and get those boots dirty!
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Off the Deep End

If you were to call me this morning and ask what I was up to, it's a good chance you would have been sorry you'd have asked.  I wouldn't have been too terribly surprised if you'd made an excuse and hung up quickly.
Why?  This morning, I baked egg shells and racked vinegar. 

And yes, I do realize how bizarre that sounds. 

To explain:  the egg shells were from the quiche cooking I did a little while ago, as well as from the number of eggs that were in the refrigerator during the bizarre Autumn storm we just had.  We lost power (what else is new) and there were 4 dozen eggs in the refrigerator.  I don't think they were too badly off, as it never got too terribly warm in the fridge, but I am a "better safe than sorry" kind of girl, and I instead cooked them all up and gave them back to the chickens.  They love scrambled eggs and the warm dinner was a nice change from the cold grains.  I was hoping that they would also keep the girls and boys warm on the inside, because the temps are dropping.  So four dozen eggs were fed to 34 chickens and 1 guinea hen.  They never had it so good.

It left me with many egg shells.  As I have written before, egg shells are good for chickens.  Free calcium.  Normally, I wash the egg shells thoroughly and dry them in the hot, hot sun for a few days, but the temps right now are not conducive to drying anything.  Into the oven they go.  Hence me baking egg shells.  The smell is interesting, I can say that.  Not overly strong (as the shells are really clean), but still there.

That brings me to explain the vinegar.  Back in June and July, I made a whole bunch of wonderful flavored vinegars to sell from our farmstead.  They almost all used either apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.  Now apple cider vinegar is not horribly expensive, but have you priced white wine vinegar?  Ouch.  I vowed right after paying out the big bucks for it that I would find another way.  Enter the great vinegar experiments of 2011.

I started with white wine vinegar.  I got out my glass carboy from wine making, and put in a bottle of fairly cheap white wine.  The next step was to add either started white wine vinegar with Mother in it, or vinegar yeast.  I could find neither, and I didn't feel patient enough to wait for the wine to catch the yeast from the air.  My next best step was to use a bottle of Bragg's Cider Vinegar, because it comes with Mother in it.  Since it was the best I could do, I strained out a bit of the mother and plopped her in. 
This is when I started it.  I optimistically thought it would take two months.  Ha!  When I smelled the vinegar in the middle of September, it still smelled like wine, with a slight undertone of vinegar.  I left it alone.  And forgot about it, honestly.  Then I sniffed it a couple of days ago.  Done!

Unfiltered wine/apple cider hybrid vinegar.  I had filtered it once through 4 layers of cheesecloth here.

My fancy filtering apparatus--a jelly bag set up, sans jelly bag (I can't find it).  In it's place, a well washed, ultra clean muslin piece fastened by an ultra-clean rubber band.  We go all out here, let me tell you. 

The filtered stuff from the first jelly bag filtering, second overall filtering.  Lots of stuff.  I will do this jelly bag filtering a second time, but I don't expect clear vinegar.  I think no matter what I do, it will always be just a little cloudy. 

The Mother of the Vinegar.  It's hard to see here.  She's a nice jelly blob of a girl, but not as strong as I'd like.  I think I didn't feed her as often as I should have.  Some of the Mothers I've seen pictures of you could tire a car with!  I have saved her with a bit of the old vinegar and will give her a new bottle of wine, and she can start all over again.  However, appearances aside, she made a punchy vinegar with quite a kick.  And the fruity wine taste is definitely there in the background. 

All in all, it was a success.  I have next to see if my apple cider vinegar experiment will work, but that's months away yet.  If you want to do this yourself, here's what you should know:

1.  You can purchase vinegar with mother to start the vinegar with, you can purchase just mother from a wine making store, or you can hope your wine will catch the yeast in the air to start. 
2.  Use a crock or bucket or something with a large air opening (my problem here-the carboy's opening is really little).  You need to allow for air exchange.
3.  Vinegar likes the dark and warm.
4.  It's vinegaring when you see little fuzzy pieces of fuzzy stuff in the liquid.  It's kind of yucky, really.  Eventually, the little fuzzy pieces float downward in the liquid and join together.  That's the mother.  When the mother is at the bottom and you can see her there, it's probably done.
5.  It needs to be fed (wine vinegar, I mean.  I don't know about other types).  Give it a glass every once in a while.
6.  Fruit flies (vinegar flies?) LOVE this stuff.  Keep it well covered, or you'll be straining out little fly bodies.  Yuck.
7.  This stuff is alive, just like sourdough starter.  This is the part that weirds me out.  I am so used to grocery store vinegar, which is deader than dead.  Since it is alive, I would expect it to change over time, as all living things do.  Or you can pasteurize it.  I haven't decided if I will do that yet or not.

Between the roasting egg shells and the vinegar, the smell in the kitchen is interesting today.  I think I'll go outside for a while.  Enjoy your days!
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