Friday, August 28, 2015

Blueberry Syrup

Earlier this summer, I got a craving for blueberry syrup.  Which is basically mashed up blueberries simmered until really juicy, then the pulp and seeds strained, a sugar syrup added, then water bathed for 10 minutes.  Super cinchy to make.

Well, as has been typical for me this year, the local blueberry season came and went, and I found myself without blueberries to make syrup from.  But the thought of pancakes drizzled with blueberry syrup this winter just would not go away.

So, when on a day trip with my Mom and DD2 right before taking DD2 up to college, I happened upon several produce vendors selling local-to-them blueberries, I snatched up a 5-pound box.  I would have my blueberry syrup after all!

All I needed was a day without little ones underfoot so I could do all that boiling. . . The challenges of living with someone else's children (aka the grandkids) tend to pop up unexpectedly these days.

Finally the opportunity presented itself and I measured out 2 quarts of blueberries.  Washed, drained, and mashed them. Added a little lemon zest and a couple cups of water, then brought them to a boil and simmered for five minutes.

Meanwhile, I heated a solution of 3 cups of sugar dissolved in 4 cups of water to 260 degrees, as per the instructions in my Ball Blue Book (disclaimer, link takes you to newest edition, which I do not have and cannot guarantee contains the same recipe as my 1992 edition).  Heating sugar solution to that temperature takes a while, so I had time to strain my blueberry juice from the pulp while that was heating.

I started this process with a piece of muslin twist-tied to the legs of the stand for my canning strainer, but the juice didn't want to come out very fast.  I tried pressing down on it, but then some of the fabric slipped, leaving an opening near the top where the pulp wanted to fall out.

So I got the great idea to use a fine sieve instead.  I pulled one out of the cabinet under where I was working, lifted off the strainer, and situated the sieve over the pot.  Then I tried to remove the muslin full of juice and pulp. . .

Let's just say that didn't go so well.  I ended up scraping about a cup of deep purple pulp off my butcher block counter top when the muslin gaped open. . . Now my butcher block looks like this:

Did I mention that blueberries stain?  They stain a lot.  Pretty potent dye there.

I figure it will take the sun a couple of months to bleach that out.  Perhaps I can finally persuade DH that we do need to sand the butcher block and reseal it; I've been asking him to do that for about three years now.

Anyway, I scraped up the boiling hot pulp and tossed it in the sieve, then proceeded to drain out the juice.

Once my sugar solution hit 260 degrees, I poured in the blueberry juice, heated the whole thing back to a boil, boiled for one minute, then added two tablespoons of lemon juice.  Then I ladled the newly made syrup into half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Slapped lids and rings onto the jars. Into the canner they went, and processed for 10 minutes.

Now I have seven half-pints of blueberry syrup for gifting, and for enjoying on my own pancakes and waffles.  (And hopefully sometime soon, a sanded and refinished butcher block on my kitchen island.)

9/14/15 Update:  When I opened the first jar (so far) of this syrup, it is very thick.  Not pourable, but rather spoonable like cooked fruit would be versus running like syrup should be.  I'm thinking either a) I had too much pulp (and therefore pectin) in my strained blueberry juice, or b) that 260 degree sugar syrup is the cause of the thickness issue.  I wanted to make readers aware of how thick my 'syrup' turned out as a warning in case they run into the same thing by following this recipe.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.33: Car Knitting

It's a cool, breezy and overcast Wednesday here; the crazy weather of late August that feels like fall one day and melts us with summer heat and humidity the next. I'm joining Ginny's Yarn Along today.

I did not get any knitting done at all last Wednesday through Saturday.  Too busy attending to all the last minute things involved with packing a child for college hundreds of miles away.  She probably won't be home again until Christmas break, so we had to make sure to round up all her warm winter wear as well as her dorm supplies and clothing for both late summer and fall.

I had thought I would get a bunch of knitting done in the car on Friday as we drove the nine hours to her college.  Ha.  Didn't happen.  I don't know. . . something about a nervous/excited girl, a dad with sending-my-baby-girl-to-college jitters that displayed in extreme grumpiness, and an entire dorm room stuffed into a Cadillac. . . Because you know we had to take the company car since it gets better gas mileage than our Suburban does. . . Things were extremely cramped and the mood in the car was not conducive to knitting.  Stabbing people with knitting needles, yes, but not knitting. So I kept them safely in my knitting bag stuffed at my feet.

However, that all smoothed out once we got there, unloaded the car, and had some elbow room from each other.  There may have even been a smile or two Friday evening.  Saturday was hectic in a different way, with welcome to campus types of things for the freshmen and their parents.  Plus shopping for textbooks and last minute things that we knew weren't going to fit into the car for the long journey north.

Sunday, finally, I got to do some knitting. About four or five hours worth, I think.  Enough to go from Cast-on (where I was at this time last week) on Sock#2 for Dad to about two-thirds of the leg completed.

No reading book to report on this week.  Haven't had time for reading lately.  Several books waiting to be read once I feel caught up on enough stuff to begin a book.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.32: Feeling Accomplished

Happy Wednesday everyone!  It's breezy here and building up to a thunderstorm later today.  I'm joining Ginny for the Yarn Along this week.

I have two finished objects to show off!  First, is the Celtic Cables wash cloth for DD2, done in time for her to pack up for college.  She loves it, as I was pretty certain she would.

Next up, I completed sock #1 of the Petty Harbour socks for Dad's birthday in Oct.

I even got so far as to cast on (but not divide onto three needles yet) for sock #2!  So it's all good.  Right on track with where I wanted to be for this week's Yarn Along, and ready for the big road trip to take DD2 up to college on Friday.  Ready for nine hours of car knitting.  That should be good for most of a sock.

Meanwhile, I also read a great book that I forgot to include in last week's Yarn Along post:  Learning to Stay by Erin Celello.

I have to confess, I wasn't sure about the book when I bought it on a whim (for fifty cents on clearance in Schuler Book's used book section). I mean, it sounded like it could be a good read, but then again, I've run into more than a few that sounded good on the jacket but weren't my style at all once I read a few chapters.

This book definitely was a good one.  It was gripping, it was interesting, it was heart wrenching, I didn't have any problem relating to the main character or the story line.  It is just plain a good book.  Well written, not fluffy, yet not academically dry.  I read the whole thing before the weekend was over.  Guess I have three finished items for today's Yarn Along. :0)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Like a Cracker Jack Box

My new order of chicks arrived on Tuesday.  I swear, that cheeping, peeping box from McMurray Hatchery is like a Cracker Jack box: you just can't wait to open it, dig to the bottom, and see what your prize is.

For those readers who are unfamiliar with McMurray Hatchery, when you place an order, they always give you the option to receive a free surprise chick with your order.  It's typically a cockerel, but hey, it's a free chicken, right?  So who in their right mind would say no to a free chicken?  And a surprise one at that!  You never know what you're going to find in amongst all your purposely ordered chicks.  Will it have fuzzy legs?  Will it have a pom-pom on it's head?  Will it have stripes? Will it have five toes instead of four? What color will it be?

My April order from McMurray contained a white crested Polish chick as the free surprise.  A cockerel, yes, but he's so adorable with his wild mop of feathers that I think he's going to end up with a name and bump Default out of his spot as the official rooster of this little place here.  (Default, by the way, is named as such because my long time rooster, Animal, passed away last summer, and Default happened to be the only male chick in residence.  I had not planned to keep him after figuring out, at about two months of age, that he was a he and not a she. .  . the feed store had said all their Welsummer chicks were pullets.  But then Animal died, leaving me without a head roo, so Default it was.)

Anyhoo. . . poor Default doesn't know his time at this little place here is numbered.  I'm just waiting for the mop-headed cockerel to learn the ropes (and get well trained in Don't Attack The Humans) by Default before moving Default along.

Well, I found the little mop-head to be so adorable, that when I placed my order for the second set of broilers for 2015--plus a few pullet chicks to boost the laying flock--I purposely ordered a couple of Polish pullet chicks.  Thinking ahead, see. . .  Keep the mop-headed cockerel, get some mop-headed hens, hatch some mop-headed chicks.  Sell said mop-headed chicks, or have DD2 exhibit them at the Fair in 2016 (assuming that the Poultry Shows will not be canceled in 2016 like they were in 2015 due to the avian flu outbreak this past Spring).

I also ordered, in addition to the normal Cornish Cross meat birds, twenty Red Ranger broilers to see how they grow.  And then nearly a handful of Araucana/Americauna pullet chicks, because I really like the bearded green egg layers.  Plus another handful of Silver Laced Wyandottes to give them a try (and keep my 2015 group easily identifiable from my older hens, which will be culled in the coming months).

So, when I got the call from the post office that my chicks were ready to pick up, I couldn't wait to get them home and see what was what in that hatchery box.

First surprise was how full that box was!  Somehow when I was ordering 20 of these and 15 of those (my processor needs a minimum of 30 birds to butcher at once or it isn't worth his time and effort to get out, use, then clean up all his equipment) plus about 10 pullet chicks, I didn't anticipate how many little bodies that actually added up to when you stuffed them in a shipping box.

Then I read the label and found that the hatchery had kindly sent me not just a free surprise chick, but also a free Cornish cross chick and a free Red Ranger chick!  Woo hoo!  Gotta love free chickens!  No wonder that box looked well populated.

K3 helped me unpack the box and introduce the chicks to their home for the next three weeks or so (the brooder, set up again in the garage.)  She really likes petting the chicks, but doesn't care too much for holding them; they are too wiggly.  Which is good, because I don't want her to get too attached to them; most of them will be going to freezer camp in October.

Little white pom-pom head is a Polish chick.

A good cross section of the brooder population currently; the reddish ones are the Red Rangers, the yellow ones are the Cornish cross, the others are pullets.

Do you see the grayish chick near the middle left in the above picture?  That's our surprise chick.  He (I'm assuming it's a cockerel since they usually are) appears to be a coloring called 'blue'.  There aren't very many breeds offered by McMurray that come in blue.  I'm thinking he might possibly be a Blue Andalusian.  In which case he will definitely stay as part of my flock because you just can't order those and be guaranteed to get one that is actually blue rather than black or white with a blue gene.  It's all a toss of the genetic dice, and you don't know which chicks will display the blue coloring until they hatch.  The Blue Andalusians are only order-able as a breed; you can't order just blue ones or just black ones or just white ones.

So not only do I need to come up with a name for my Polish cockerel, I need a name for this blue one too.  And not cull out the Blue Andalusian hen I ordered in 2013 (the batch due for culling as soon as this year's pullets come into lay) who turned out to be have black feathers, not blue ones.

Gotta love McMurray and their Cracker Jack boxes of chicks. :0)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.31: To the Toe!

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along on another beautiful and not too hot summer Wednesday.   Hard not to be in a good mood with weather like this.  Plus, I got off work about an hour early this morning (I so love that if I work 'long' on one day, the boss is totally fine with me taking off as soon as the essentials are taken care of on another day) and got to see my morning glories fully opened.

As I had predicted, not a whole lot of knitting got done last week. I did manage to finish the foot of Dad's sock all the way down to where the toe decrease starts.  In the home stretch now!  There's just something about reaching the toe (on a top-down sock) that feels like a second wind. Almost done, less stitches every other round, this part is a breeze.

My plan (or should I say, my hope) is that I can finish the toe in the next day or two, then get the second sock cast on.  In 9 days it will be time to take DD2 up to college, which means long car rides there and back: perfect sock knitting time.  Perhaps I will be able to get sock #2 just about completed on that trip.

Meanwhile, I have 9 days to finish that Celtic Cables wash cloth I showed a picture of last week.  I didn't take a new pic of it for today since I only managed to get 2 rows added since the last Yarn Along.  I should be able to knock that out in nine days.  I mean, it's only a wash cloth, right?  Only 40-some stitches to the row.  With cables. Lots and lots of cables in a pattern that is different every row. . .  which is why knitting the sock has been my 'quick knit for half an hour' project of choice in the past week.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Blackberry Moonshine Experiment

It seems to be a pretty good year for blackberries at this little place here.  My volunteer patch next to the garden has produced a few quarts all ready, with more waiting to ripen to black.  The patches out in the woods have lots of berries on them too.  We've eaten a few quarts fresh as snack food, I've made a batch of blackberry jam out of another couple quarts.  With more still coming, I decided to go out on a limb and attempt to make my own blackberry 'moonshine' this year.

The idea goes back to a handful of years ago, when DH stopped in Gatlinburg on his way back to Michigan from a work road trip.  He discovered Ole Smoky moonshine and their free samples, then purchased a few pints to bring home.  One of those pints was blackberry moonshine.

I'd never had moonshine before, not being much for alcohol.  I didn't care for the White Lightning at all, too dry for me, even when mixed.  Can't stand drinking things that make me choke (such as a wine that is too dry).  I did, however, absolutely love the blackberry moonshine!  Strangely enough, if I drink moonshine I don't get sleepy, unlike when I have too much of other alcoholic things (I'm a real lightweight).

Anyway, when that pint was gone many many months later (I'm not much of a drinker; I can make a six pack last two months!), I began to ponder the possibility of making my own, since Tennessee is rather a far drive just to get another pint or two of the stuff.  I knew wines, liqueurs, cordials, and other beverages could be made with fruit.  So, why couldn't I somehow replicate the blackberry moonshine?  I just needed the proper alcohol for steeping the berries, and, of course, a good crop of homegrown 'organic' blackberries.

Well, this year's the year!  A Google search turned up numerous recipes for blackberry 'moonshine' (made with Everclear).  Most of them seemed to be identical.  So, when I was at the grocery store earlier this week, I picked up a bottle of Everclear. Then the next time I went to pick blackberries (I usually wait 2-3 days between pickings), I weighed out the necessary amount of berries, washed up a 1/2 gallon canning jar, poured in the Everclear, poured in the (washed and cleaned of bugs & other debris) berries, crushed the berries with a wooden spoon, and put a lid on the jar.

Now supposedly all I have to do is store the jar in a dark place (the 'booze cupboard' is appropriate), shake the jar every other day for three weeks, then strain out the berries, stir in a simple sugar syrup (a particular amount of water and granulated sugar heated together to boiling, then cooled to room temp),  and let that sit for another two weeks before sampling.

Easy enough.  We'll see how it turns out.  So far, I'm amazed at how purple it is all ready.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Culmination of The Sheep (Fair Week)

Back in January, DD2 touched a sheep for the first time (that either of us remember, anyway) when she got a temporary job taking care of a local family's small flock of sheep while the wife/mom of the family was in the hospital with kidney failure.  That progressed to a permanent part time job even as the wife/mom thankfully began to recover and recuperate.  And then DD2 decided that she would like to take the wife/mom up on her offer to teach DD2 how to raise and train and show a sheep.  So, in April, they began sheep shopping for DD2's fair lamb (since the family's flock did not have any of the appropriate age at that time).  It turned out that DD2 purchased not one, but two lambs as her Fair project.

I have made a few posts on the subject of DD2's sheep adventures (here and here).  This post is the culmination of that project; this week has been the county Fair, which is the final destination for livestock projects of the edible kind (cows, swine, sheep, rabbits, poultry. . .).  On Sunday, DD2 hauled her sheep to the fairgrounds, where they were weighed, vet checked, and checked in for the market lamb competition.  Every morning since then, DD2 had headed off to the fairgrounds shortly after dawn, where she cares for her sheep, keeps an eye on them, answers questions about them (from the non-exhibiting Fair-goers), and finally beds them down for the night shortly before the Fair closes at 10:00 p.m.  Long days.  Fair is exhausting.

DD2's lambs, in their Fair pen

Tuesday was the sheep show.  It began with a Skillathon; a sort of general sheep knowledge competition.  The kids were broken into three age categories: Junior (ages 9-11), Intermediate (12-14) and Senior (15-19).  DD2 competed in the Senior category, where she took 2nd place!  She was amazed, and very happy, to do so well, being as she has only a few months of sheep experience and many of her co-contestants have upwards to nine years in the sheep program.

After the Skillathon was the Showmanship portion of the show.  Each age category had 3 classes so that no more than 13 sheep were in the ring at one time.  The top couple of showmen in each class came back to compete for Champion Showman of their age division, then the top two from each age division competed against each other for the Supreme Showman (or something like that; I probably have the terminology wrong, but there were 3 classes for Senior, then the Sr Championship, 3 classes for Intermediate, then the Intermediate Championship, 3 classes for Junior, then the Junior Championship, and finally the Champs & Reserve Champs competed for the top honor.)

DD2 (in sleeves) in Showmanship class

DD2 did not make the cut in her class, but she did very well (3rd, I think she said the score sheet had her as) and her lamb behaved well even though neither of them had been in a show ring before.  All her training and practicing has taken place in a barn, in a driveway, and in a field.  A completely different environment from that of a show ring.  But, without a bunch of other sheep and kids, some fencing and a whole lot of spectators, it is kind of hard to replicate a show ring.

She came back later for the Market Lamb class.  Her sheep weighed in at 114 and 120; and since she had entered an individual and a pen, she had to decide which lamb she wanted to exhibit as the individual market lamb.  She chose the lighter one, which had her competing in the lowest weight class.  She and her lamb took 8th place in that.

After all the individual classes were completed, it was time to bring her pair of lambs in for the Pen of Lambs class, where both sheep are in the ring at the same time, with many other pairs of sheep, and are judged not only on their muscling (ie, their edibility), but also on how similar each pair is.  Her lambs took 4th place in their Pen class.

DD2 showing her pen of market lambs with the help of a fellow FFA member

Overall, DD2 was delighted with how she and her sheep did at the show.  She picked up some pointers on Showmanship (watching closely on how those who were in the Championship run handled their sheep), made some new friends of her competitors, and decided that since she will still be young enough to show next year, she would like to raise another pair of lambs in 2016! (Which means, dear readers, that you can look forward to more sheep raising posts next spring!)

Thursday afternoon was the Large Livestock Auction; all the swine, sheep, dairy steers and beef steers exhibited go on the auction block and are sold for dollars on the pound.  The exhibitor who raised the animal receives the purchase price of their animal, with the hope of covering all their expenses for the year and still having some leftover to put into their savings for purchasing new young show animals the next year (or for college; many kids build up college funds by raising and exhibiting livestock through 4-H and FFA.)

auctioning her lambs
(with help from her FFA Advisor's 7yr old son, 
who borrowed one for the PeeWee Showmanship class)

DD2's lambs sold as a pen, meaning the buyer got them both and the price was figured using their combined weights.  Hers went for $2 a pound; which seemed to be a popular price for the majority of the sheep auctioned (the Grand Champion Market Lamb went for $11 a pound, but that was far and away above the price of the rest of the sheep).

So, at a combined weight of 234 pounds, at $2 a pound, DD2 will receive $468 from the sale of her lambs.  That covers what she spent to purchase them from the show lamb breeder, plus all of their feed and still leaves her with a little bit to use toward college.  Her 2nd place award in the Skillathon brought her $200, which she plans to put toward the purchase of her laptop for school.

When asked if all the hours, days and months she spent taking care of her sheep were worth it, she happily answers "Yes.  Because I learned a lot, I loved raising and working with my sheep, and I made a little money doing something I really enjoyed."

And that, people, is why raising livestock and showing them is good for our kids.  Education, responsibility, prioritizing another living thing above themselves, mastering the fear of being in the public eye, and learning that money doesn't come easy.  All great lessons for the coming generations who will run this country.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Yarn Along 2015.30: More Blue Knitting

Joining Ginny's Yarn Along briefly today.  It's Fair Week here, so time is at a premium (no pun intended, lol).

Still working on sock #1 of the Petty Harbour socks for Dad.  I'm about halfway done with the foot, so maybe, maybe, maybe I can finish it in the next week.  Then again, this is Fair Week, so the likelihood of enough knitting time is slim.

As you can see in the above picture, I also am working on another wash cloth for DD2 to take up to college with her.  The color is actually one of the same shades of blue as in the entrelac washcloth I was working on last week, so they will coordinate nicely.

The pattern is called Celtic Cables, so not only is it visually interesting, but meaningful to DD2 since she likes Celtic things.  I knit on it while in the car last weekend driving the couple of hours to and from where I camped and kayaked.  What you see in the picture is approximately 1/3 of the pattern.

Before I started on the cabled cloth, I finished the entrelac one.  Believe it or not, I found entrelac to be something I could do with less attention than the cabled cloth is requiring.  Below is the completed entrelac cloth.

That's all for now.  Hoping to compile a post about DD2's experiences at the Fair later this week.  If not, see you again next Wednesday for the next yarn along.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Seussian House, and Other Objets d'Art

Last Wednesday, I made a passing mention of the doorstop in my bedroom, calling it the Seussian house.

While driving north northwest on Friday evening to go camping and kayaking, I thought about that doorstop and the other objets d'art from my childrens' schooldays that I have scattered around my house.  Things that could have been admired at the time they were made, then stuffed in a closet and forgotten about until eventually they were thrown away.  Things that, instead of putting them aside because they didn't fit the decor, I put to use where they would be seen. So, my house is a little quirky here and there, like the Seussian house doorstop, but it works for us.  And everyday I have little reminders of the effort my kids made to create something I would be proud of. Deep down, every kid wants to make their parents proud, whether their behavior displays that desire or not.

There is, of course, the Seussian house.  A lump of clay fashioned into a tall, narrow 'house', then painted cement gray by DS2 during an art class taken in the midst of his high school career. This is the son that insists he is not artistic (the one who just finished his mechanical engineering degree this spring) yet he has, through his life, made some really outstanding pieces of art whether drawn or sculpted.

Called the Seussian house because it makes me think of the dwellings in Dr. Seuss books.

The Seussian house is an example of his rough work.  An example of his amazing work is a wheel turned pottery bowl he made the same year.

DD1 also took the same art course, just a year later.  Most of her work she didn't care enough about to even bring home.  But she did gift me with what she called a 'square pinky-purple ashtray-looking-thing' that was her best work. She is adamant that she does not have an artistic bone in her body. Whether she does or doesn't, that square pinky-purple ashtray-looking-thing is perfect for holding the small amount of make-up that I own.  So that is how it is made useful to me.

Other objets d'art in use around this little place here are:

a hand-painted bowl done on a 4th grade field trip

a pencil holder made during VBS

a drawing of our house at this little place here;
drawn for an elementary school art fair

Just little things, really.  But isn't it the little things that truly have the most meaning to us?