Sunday, January 21, 2018

The costs of free firewood

Living in a suburb of a densely populated State, I don't have access to a ready source of firewood. I like to have enough of a stockpile of dry, seasoned hardwood for loss of heat in winter, but also fireplace and firepit fires. I can buy firewood for $325-$400 per cord. That is more expensive per BTU than oil heat. 

I choose to be an opportunist, collecting free wood on the side of the road. With free wood, it is fresh cut, green wood. It often needs additional cutting, plus splitting, stacking and drying. Often, the wood is full of rot, full of knot clusters and twisted wood that doesn't split easily. There is also the potential for insect infestation. However, for about 2.5 hours of work, I have 1/5th of a cord of maple that will be ready to burn next Fall.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jam: Mixed Berry

First up, the disclaimer: I am not a professional food safety expert. I am not an authoritative person on Government-approved safety standards for food safety. By following this recipe, you assume all risk and responsibility.

Ok, that out of the way, on to the jam making... 

Making jam is pretty simple. I typically make a couple dozen half-pints of jam per year. It's mostly all the same procedure, as outlined in the de-facto standard, Ball Blue Book. Crushed fruit, sugar, maybe some acid and pectin, heated up, put in jars and processed. You can use most any fruit. I find that I use about 4 cups of crushed/chopped fruit to 3 cups of sugar. Also, I use the jars of powdered, low-sugar pectin. It allows the flavor of the fruit to come through much better when you use less sugar. Anyway, on to the recipe...

Makes 7 half-pints.


4 c. Strawberries 
2 c. Sweet cherries
1 c. Blackberries
1 c. Blueberries
Lemon juice
4 tb. Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar powdered pectin
3 c. Granulated sugar

Fill your canner kettle (or other large pot) with hot water and bring that to boil, covered. When the jam is done, this water should be at a rolling boil. I also typically fill the tea kettle with cold water and bring that to a boil as well. 

I typically can in wide-mouthed pint jars. In this case, I had some oddball 24-ounce regular-lid jars. I had 3 of those, a pint jar, and a half-pint jar ready, with lids and rings. Always have more jars, of different sizes ready and waiting. The jars and rings should be cleaned, but don't need to be boiled. The lids should always be new.

Remove the stems of the strawberries. Put them in a 4-cup container and crush them with a potato masher. Note: You can crush them in anything, but you will need to measure 4-5 cups of crushed fruit. They should crush down to about 2 cups of slurry. A little more or a little less doesn't matter. Stem and pit the cherries. Chop or crush them into the strawberry mash. Add blueberries and blackberries and crush them as well. I ended up with about 5.5 cups of crushed fruit slurry.  

Transfer the mash to a large pot. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of pectin. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often, but not continuously. Once bubbling, add the sugar, one cup at a time, stirring it in thoroughly. Turn the burner to high and stir frequently to prevent sticking. Once the mix is boiling so hard that you can't stir it down, start a 1-minute timer. You WILL get splattered with boiling sugar/fruit mix. At the end of the minute, remove the pan from the heat. 

Using a wide funnel or a steady hand, transfer the jam to your prepared jars. Leave 1/4" of head space. Wipe any jam from the top of the jar witb a damp paper towel. Place the lid and ring on the jar and screw it down finger tight. You want it closed but not wrenched down. Oh, and you will find the now-hot jars difficult to hold. If you have a canning rack, place the jars in it. If not, you should put an old, clean kitchen towel or hand cloth in the bottom of your canner. Place the canner rack into the boiling water. If using a towel, place the jars in one at a time. Process pints and half-pints for 10 minutes. I did my 24-oz. jars for 13 minutes. Remove the jars from the water and place them on a heat-proof surface away from drafts where they will be undisturbed for 12-24 hours. When fully cooled, be sure to label the jars with their contents and the date. If any jars don't seal, place them in the refrigerator.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

5 Hours Or Less: Santa's Village - Jefferson, NH

Reviving the "5 Hours Or Less" tag, we took a quick weekend trip up to New Hampshire. We stayed at The Lantern Resort (formerly, The Lantern Inn and Campground) which is situated in Jefferson, NH, right across the street from Santa's Village. This is always a fun trip, no matter the age. The one hazard is that you will feel compelled to listen to Christmas music when you get back, even if it's July.

Here are a handful of clips from some of the rides.

Log Flume

Ho Ho H2O Bucket Dump

Rudy's Rapid Transit Coaster

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gardening: Drying oregano

I demonstrate how I sun-dry my Southern New England grown oregano. The process takes 3-5 days from cutting to finished product. This should be all the oregano I need for the next year. There are many other ways, but you can't argue with simpicity plus success.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Beer Brewing: Brewing vs. Gardening

I decided to try my hand at small grain growing. And what better grain to grow than barley? It was somewhat of a last minute decision, so I ended up with some subideal conditions and limited choices. Ideally, I should have prepped the bed last Fall and ordered a nice, top-quality malting barley.

Instead, I ended up with a hasty bed prep and the only 2-row barley (Conlon) that I could find in small quantity with short notice. That said, it is coming along nicely. The coverage was a little thin, despite my heavy broadcast seeding. We had moderately heavy rain and unusual some cold at germination time. I didn't reseed some of the really thin areas because I kept waiting for more to germinate. Still, I think it came out pretty nice.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Beer Brewing: Oatmeal Extra Pale Ale

Time to step out on my own. It's really not too hard to formulate your own beer recipes. Take roughly 10 lbs. of grain, with the majority being pale-malt barley, add some hops, ferment with some yeast, beer. A cousin-in-law (is that a thing) went to a restaurant and asked for suggestions of beer choice based on the sign. I suggested the oatmeal extra pale ale, based on the description on the website. She opted for a different one, but I caught the bug.

I decided to make a simple recipe with 2 lbs. of flaked oats and 8.5 lbs. of 2-row pale malt. I'm going to hop this with 2 kinds of hops and ferment with Safale S-05 yeast. It should make a light blonde ale with a good mouthfeel and plenty of head retention at 5% alchohol.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Beer Brewing: The next chapter

I am a really, really bad blogger. I just realized that I started writing this post 6-ish months ago and never finished it. So, here it is... 

Apparently, it was more than a year ago that I first made beer in the modern era. If you read that post, you know that I made beer nearly 20 years ago and it was time to start again. Well, since then, I have brewed a few more beers. I did an American pale ale, an Irish red, and American red, a golden ale, and a couple others that I can't think of. All of these were extract kits with additional special grains. All of them were good, but all were lacking something...

I decided that I wanted more. One problem with kits, aside from the price is that you are limited to only what is being sold. The solution is to go to an all-grain brew. Using all grain adds complexity but it also adds flavor.

So, I went to the net to find a brew. I found a red rye recipe which looked promising. I like red beers. I like rye beers. Therefore, I must like red rye beers. I acquired all the ingredients for the beer and made it up. The process was smooth, although the sparging step was tedious. I tried a continuous sparging, which took a really long time.

The only other issue was that I had a faulty scale. I weighed out the right amount of priming sugar, but the measured volume way way too high. So, I put in the correct volume of sugar. The right amount was probably half way between, because the carbonation level was really weak. It was a nice red color, although, the floral, spicy notes of rye were burried a bit in the end product.