some more on firewood

November 30, 2009

My dad and I went out scouting for new trees today. I kind of consider myself a treehugger, but when I was out wrapping orange tape around the trunk of large trees, I doubted that particular classification. But then I thought about other sources of heat, such as mining coal or natural gas. And I thought about the only thing that really keeps me warm in the winter-sitting by the fire. We aren’t going out and clear cutting our forest. We have 40 acres of trees, and if we collect firewood carefully, it really is a sustainable operation.

Our mission was to find dead standing trees that were suitable for use this year, as well as live trees that we could cut down this year, split next year, and burn the following year. There are so many different elements involved in selectively cutting trees. Things to look for include the texture and type of tree and the location of the tree (closeness to the road and to other trees). It is also important to know if the tree is dead or alive, and whether something is currently living in or eating the tree. We carefully looked at all of these factors with every tree that we banded.

The variety of tree is very important when choosing trees to cut for firewood. Every type of tree has a different character. More ashes, less ashes, higher heat (BTU), easier to light, etc, etc. Some woods even smell better than others, which does actually make a difference. There is a great chart that outlines the specifics on burning different hardwoods on the website Demense. Great if you are collecting or buying firewood. We have been harvesting mostly oak, hickory, and locust. We leave the walnuts, as they have lower BTUs, and create a lot of ash! And if the wood is mostly limb wood it will burn well, but because there is a higher ratio of bark to wood you will get a lot more ash. The limb wood is great for starting a fire though!

Looking up to the sky tells a big part of the story. It is important to pick trees that are crowded in, have less of a chance to reach sunlight, and are leaning heavily and or awkwardly. The hickory in the images above and below is leaning significantly to the right. When we cut it, the space will open up for the surrounding trees to grow. According to my dad we are speeding up the clock a little. Taking down trees that are more likely to die sooner anyway.

Below is another example of trees that are crowded. The tree on the bottom of the image below is banded to be cut for future use. It has grown underneath the rest of the trees, and is growing almost sideways at the top. The tree is still alive, but not getting as much sunlight as the surrounding trees. The tree on the right is a dead tree, also banded to be used this fall. Once these trees are removed, the sky will open up, and the surrounding trees will have more of a chance to grow and expand their canopies.

Another important factor is the path for the tree to fall. When you chop down a huge tree, there is always a chance that it will take some of the surrounding trees with it. It is better to find a path for the tree to fall that doesn’t wreak major havoc on the surrounding trees. And since we are felling these trees for firewood, it is important to have a good access point for the truck so that we can winch the trees out with relative ease.

Back to type of wood. We tested the dead standing trees by chopping away at them with an axe. If they had a nice ring to them, the trees were solid, and good for firewood. We wrapped these trees with two bands of orange tape to indicate that they were ready for use this fall. (We didn’t start the double wrap until after this tree..) Dead trees are ready to cut, split and use right away.

The single band wrap was for trees that are to be cut this year and used later. Trees that are cut alive, or green, take about a year to dry out, and then they are ready to be sliced into rounds and split. It is okay to cut the green wood, but it is difficult to split it because of all the moisture present in the cells. The plan that we have come up with is to cut the tree one year, cut and split it the next, and then burn it the following year. That way the firewood is given a chance to cure, and is great for burning!

It is important to leave dead trees for wildlife too. Ants, beetles, birds, squirrels, raccoons, mushrooms, etc. need homes and food too. We left rotton trees, or trees that had a lot of evidence of animal life alone. There were some trees up for debate here, but we didn’t end up with too much of a feud (for now anyway).

The above tree is home to a whole colony of puffball mushrooms. This picture is only one of the stumps in the small area that is covered with puffballs. They seemed to have taken over. All the trees were elm, and I have always looked for morel mushrooms under dead elm trees, so there might be a connection here as well.

chestnut cornbread stuffing

November 28, 2009

I made it home Wednesday night with a package of cornbread stuffing and a bag of cornmeal. (I wasn’t sure if I would be up to baking the cornbread and all…) But when I woke up Thursday morning, I was kind of excited about making stuffing from scratch. The recipe for stuffing that I came up with was inspired by a recipe from Chestnut Cookbook, the package of stuffing that I brought home, and my sister’s comments while I was cooking.

The steps were pretty simple, but it took a while to bake the cornbread, let it dry out, etc, etc. I was particularly excited because a few months ago I froze some chestnuts that I gathered. (I know that you can bury them in sand, sawdust, or other things, but I didn’t really have time to figure that all out. I was also concerned about the likely mouse problem that could result from leaving a huge pile of unguarded chestnuts in my basement.)

My Approximate Recipe for Chestnut Cornbread Stuffing

1 recipe southern style cornbread from Joy of Cooking (preferably baked in advance so that it can dry out) cut into 1″ cubes

1 lb fresh/frozen chestnuts (still in shells)

2 stalks celery finely chopped

1 medium onion finely chopped

1/3 cup butter

2 generous tablespoons sage (to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

a bit of fresh parsley for garnish

Cut an X into the top of each chestnut and then bake them in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes (or until tender). I bake them in a covered dish, and when I remove the dish from the oven I take a few nuts out at a time, leaving the rest warm for easier shell removal. Remove shells and chop finely. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt butter in large pan over medium heat. Add onions and then a minute or two later the celery. Cook until translucent, taking care not to burn. Add sage, salt and pepper to taste, and chestnuts. Stir for a few minutes, and then add breadcrumbs. Pour in a little boiling water (I am sorry to say, I have no idea how much I used here..maybe about a cup). It should be enough to moisten the breadcrumbs, but not make them soggy. Cover and place in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes to warm before serving. I guess that you could stuff it inside a bird too, but I really don’t have any idea how!

my grandma’s pumpkin pie

November 27, 2009

When it comes to pumpkin pie, this is the recipe that I always use. It is my dad’s mom’s recipe, and since I never met her, it is one of those things that makes me feel closer to her! I love to know that I do some of the same things that she did sometime way back when.

I was so tired last night when I got home from work, that I didn’t have any energy to put the pumpkin in the oven to bake. The result was that I had to drag myself out of bed at about 5:30 this morning to pop the squash in the oven!

Baking pumpkin is actually really easy. Whack off the stem of the pumpkin or squash. You can also use sweet potatos if you don’t have pumpkin, or you want to try something new. Cut the pumpkin in half, from top to bottom and remove seeds and any other stringy things. Place pumpkin cut side down on a jellyroll pan or in a baking dish. Fill the pan about 1″ high with water (if you are in a hurry you can use boiling water here to speed up the process). Bake in a 350 degree oven until completely tender, about 1 or 1 1/2 hours. When you stick a knife into the top it should go in really easily.

Remove pumpkin from oven, take out pan with water, and remove the peel. Place pumpkin pieces into a collander to drain. This is important especially if the pumpkin is particularly moist.

Here is my Grandma’s Recipe for Pumpkin Pie (more or less)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

1 9″pie crust (recipe for about 2 crusts, or one pie crust with decorations, etc) It is best to have the dough prepared in advance so that it can chill in the fridge while you are preparing the filling.

1 teaspoon nutmeg (use a little less if freshly ground)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cardamom (use a little less if freshly ground)

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

6 tablespoons sour cream

2 1/2 cups pumpkin (her recipe calls for 1 3/4 cups, but my sister and I both prefer it with more pumpkin)

Whisk the above ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until ingredients are combined, then add 1 can evaporated milk.

Mix thoroughly and then put through a food mill, or in a food processor. The above image is before the food mill. I personally like my pie with more texture, so I use a food mill, or nothing at all. A food processor takes out all the texture! (NOTE: My  sister purees the pumpkin by itself first. I think that this might be the usual way to do it!!)

Roll out dough and place in the pie pan, cutting edges nicely. I added little leaves that I cut out with a miniature leaf cookie cutter. It was really fun to make them and I loved how the extra detail looked on the finished pie.

Pour the pumpkin filling into the pie and place into oven. After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake until pie is firm, and a knife comes out clean when stuck into center of pie (about 35 minutes more). I placed some parchment paper around the edges to protect the crust from burning. I find that my pies generally take more than the additional 35 minutes to cook. Not sure why.

This isn’t really my favorite Thanksgiving food item, but there is something so magical or whimsical about it that I have to say it is my favorite Thanksgiving idea. Being vegetarian, I have never had the fun of eating turkey. I don’t really have a problem with that, and don’t really feel like I am missing some huge taste or anything. Maybe I just haven’t had any really good turkey yet…some day I will probably get around to trying it, but for now I will be happy with enjoying the company of the wild turkeys that strut down my lane, and be satisfied with tofu turkey legs.

I don’t know who came up with this recipe. But I do have a clear memory of my siblings and I wandering through the woods in search of the perfect “bones” (actually twigs). And then I have an image of tofu turkey legs roasting in the little toaster oven on the counter, probably because there wasn’t any room left in the oven. I can imagine my mom, busy all morning with baking, getting ready for guests, polishing silver, etc, etc, enjoying a quick break when we all trooped outside in search of twigs.

I went over to my mom’s house this morning and borrowed her hand written recipe card for tofu turkey legs. The general recipe is vague. I ended up adding a lot of sage to make the tofu taste good. And quite a bit of pickle juice from some bread and butter pickles that I made in the summer. Salt and pepper, mustard powder, and more sage. And some fresh parsley from the garden (still going!!!). And cornmeal for texture.

I sent Skye out to forage for the bird legs in the yard. He came back in, and we broke off a good bunch for our legs.

Break the branches into as manageable sizes as you want. I think that they end up being easier to handle if they are about 6″ or so long. Generally I would suggest to wash them, but we didn’t and the toasty oak bark definitely gave the legs a nice flavor! It ends up being a bit more rustic that way.

Mix up the tofu, and whatever you add to make it taste good and stick together,  and press it onto the sticks. This step needs to be done carefully. The tofu really needs to be pressed onto to the sticks well, or it might fall off during cooking or transferring…

The finished turkey leg looks lovely on a plate full of thanksgiving sides. We opted for kale over green beans as the kale was fresh and green and in our garden!

I just love the finished dinner plate. Fancy china, freshly polished silver, pressed linen tablecloth, and a lichen covered dirty twig. hehehe

tomten sleeves

November 26, 2009

My tomten jacket seems to keep on going. I thought that I had the sleeves figured out perfectly, using a short row method to create a bit of a raglan shape. This looked really good on one of the people who was making the jacket in my class, but for some reason it kind of backfired on me. Instead of having a nice shapely shoulder, I ended up with an exaggerated football shoulder, complete with puffiness and shoulderpad like shaping…

OK, maybe it wasn’t really that bad, but it somehow didn’t work for me. So, I decided to go with the original pattern, as written by Elizabeth Zimmerman. Keep the arm heading out perpendicular to the body. Sounds good, right? This time the arm ended up too short. I shaped the arm by decreasing 2 stitches every 3 ridges, as specified in the pattern, but because I changed the yarn weight I ended up finishing the decreases too soon. I thought that it might look ok, but have decided to take the arm back, and make the decreases every 4 ridges.

Right now I have one shoulder pad shoulder and one too short arm and I am hesitating to rip either. The sweater is living on my living room floor, until I get around to ripping the sleeves out and reknitting them.

birthdays, moms, and crepes

November 24, 2009

My mom came over this morning with a bowl of crepe batter, a bowl of sugar, her crepe pan, and a bundle of packages wrapped in recycled wrapping paper. I have to say that I have the best mother EVER!!

So we made crepes for breakfast. With sugar and lemon juice. Very simple and delicious. My grampa used to make crepes like that, and also that is how my mom has had them in Germany (and my grampa is German, so maybe there is a connection!).

The crepe batter (she used the recipe from Joy of Cooking) is made using eggs, flour, water, milk, butter, and salt. It is fine to leave some of the lumps, as they work their way out. We used her crepe pan, which is carbon steel, made in France, as well as my pan, which is a cast iron griddle. Kind of a crepe off, to test which pan worked better. We decided that we liked the texture of the crepes from her pan, although the heat was better in my pan. She isn’t used to my stove, so her pan ended up getting a little too hot. (Might be a stove thing more than a pan thing.)

First, place a little oil in the pan. I like to swish it around with a pastry brush instead of paper towel (I don’t actually have any paper towel…). When the pan is hot, not smoking, pour in the batter and swirl the pan around so that the batter evenly coats the bottom of the pan. We used about a 1/2 cup or so of batter per crepe (I think).

A nicely “swished” crepe, waiting to be turned. You can see that it is cooking nicely by looking at the bubbles on the edges. It is good to remember here that the first crepe often turns out a little funky. Just like pancakes. You need to make sure the temperature is correct, and work out any kinks in timing, amount of oil etc. Then things generally smooth out and work well.

Let the crepe cook, until the first side is golden. Flip crepe carefully, using a spatula to lift up the edges.

Cook the second side of the crepe, and then place finished crepe on a plate (this plate can be warmed, or placed in a low oven to keep crepes warm if you are making a large quantity).

When we finished making all the crepes, we sprinkled each crepe with sugar (to taste) and then a squeeze of lemon juice. My mom folds them in half and then in half again.

We ate our crepes at the table with some coffee and a jar of apple sauce!

cleaning vinyl

November 23, 2009

This weekend was spent almost exclusively collecting firewood and cleaning records. I have been meaning to clean my minimal record collection for a long time. My dad kept on telling us about how much better the records would sound if we only cleaned them. He even ordered us cleaning solvent and new record sleeves and plastic slip covers. And I think that we have had them for a good year…

Finally, Skye and I went over to my dad’s house and got to work. He has a really nice setup. A record cleaning machine, and all the bottles and sponges filled with the right things for the appropriate steps. He gave us a thorough tutorial, and I have made notes to outline it below.

Here is a general outline. I might have forgotten to note some of the specifics, but this should give you the gist of things.

Step 1.

Remove records from jackets and discard old and funky inner paper covers (you can save any original ones with things that might be important on them). Place records into dish rack, starting from the back and taking care to place record with side a facing up. My dad’s setup (aka dish rack) fits 12 records.

Step 2.

Place record on table (a turntable of sorts) and screw the top tightly on.

Start the motor spinning, and soap the record up. The sponge catches the soap as the record turns, evening out the cleaning process. The soap cleans out the dirt in the grooves of the vinyl. An indicator of this is the level of gloss on the record. The above record needs a little more soap in the middle where you can see the streaks in the reflection. We had the whole thing setup under a bright window, and this helped to identify if there was enough surfactant present. During this step the record is also intermittently spun backwards, to clean more thoroughly.

Step 3.

Rinsing and vacuuming.

Place the vacuum tube on the record at an angle, and turn on. After one full turn place the “water sponge” down and start washing the soap off with distilled water.The water rinses the record, and then is sucked out through the vacuum tube. When water begins to form droplets you know that the soap is rinsed off (surface tension changes), and the record is clean and ready for the final 2 spins with the vacuum tube. If the vacuum is used for too long, the record will pick up static, which isn’t good, as it attracts dust and other debris right back to the clean record.

Switch record to side b, clean it, and so on and so forth.

The final step (4)  is to replace the clean record in the jacket, using a new sleeve if necessary. The sleeve should be dated, and the cleaning method should be noted for future reference. In my case, November 09, and the soap which was Disk Doctors Miracle Record Cleaner, and the name of the machine (VPI). Then, the newly cleaned record is placed in a plastic sleeve, and you are finished!

Now I am listening to a scrappy old George Jones record that used to sound pretty bad and now sounds much, much better! Cleaning is totally satisfying work!!

slightly broken heart

November 21, 2009

When we were out collecting firewood this morning my dad came up with this beautiful trivet/wall hanging. I remember him making many trivets when I was little, by carefully slicing logs into thin pieces. One year for Christmas he made trivets as gifts for everyone. This one is particularly nice, and we aren’t sure if it will break all the way through, or stay together! It also looks to me as though there are two eyes staring brightly out! The crack down the middle was the home of some ants, so we made sure to carefully remove them all.

Making trivets is really easy. You can slice the wood with a chainsaw, or a simple wood saw (what I would use). The result is always unique, and often very beautiful. Sometimes the trivets will crack when the wood dries out, and this adds more character.

finishing and starting

November 17, 2009

Today was a finishing old drinks and starting new drinks day. There is definitely something about drinks tasting really good after sitting for a while… for different reasons of course! I put up some raspberries in vinegar a month or so ago (when there were lots of them to pick). They sat in my pantry, imparting all their flavor into the apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar that they were soaking in. Today I strained them and made the syrup for a “shrub.”

A shrub is an old fashioned vinegar fruit drink. I have found lots of different recipes and variations, and  the recipe that I used was from The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and other Sweet Preserves (as per usual). I strained the raspberries from the vinegar by passing it through a damp cheesecloth, and then I boiled the resulting raspberry vinegar with some sugar. (I am a little concerned that my house will smell strongly of vinegar and raspberries for a while after the boiling process.)

I tried a teaspoon full of the syrup straight, and it nearly made me choke it was so strong. I added the syrup to water, and it turned into delicious, uniquely flavored, zingy drink. It is almost a better drink for warm weather, so I think that I will try to bottle some of they syrup up and save it for the summer…

On the other end of things, I started a batch Vin de Pamplemousse (I like to think of it as pamplemousse juice as it rhymes nicely), a recipe from Saving the Season, my favorite blog on canning. The recipe, which takes about 40 days to mature, has been conveniently posted about 40 days before the New Year..

The recipe calls for a whole bunch of grapefruit, sliced and placed in large jars with some vodka, sugar, lemon, chamomile, vanilla, and a whole bunch of white wine. I made a single batch, which filled two 4 liter jars, and one 2 liter jar. The process was really fun, slicing and gently crushing the fruit, and releasing the fragrance of the vanilla, citrus, and chamomile. I am really excited for this (warming) drink to be ready!

sunday morning knitting

November 15, 2009

I woke up this morning and settled right down by the fire to knit. There is a lovely little couch, right next to the stove that currently is missing all of its cushions, but does have a sheepskin sitting on it. I got out my two most current knitting projects, and set to work. I am taking two classes at the store, one to make a little lace baby bootie, and the other to make a Tomten Jacket.

Both projects are fun and engaging, with the sweater taking up more brain power, as I am adjusting it as I go to make sure that it will fit well. I am currently working on the sleeves. The pattern, designed by Elizabeth Zimmerman (one of the best knitters EVER) is knit modularly, and while it works really well for a child’s sweater, there are some adjustments that help for the adult version. I made most of it according to the plan, with a few mistakes that I actually like the result of. I was inspired to adjust the sleeves after reading about the version knit by Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed.

Tomten Jacket

I have finally settled on working short rows for a while and then working straight, after trying it on several times this morning, and then again in class with lots of helpful comments and views. There are three of us in the class making adult sweaters, and it is really fun to collaborate together, changing and adjusting the pattern to suit our needs.

Tometen Jacket Sleeve

I spent a lot of time working on the join of the sleeve to the sweater body. In the pattern you are supposed to keep the underarm stitches attached, and then knit two together at the end of each row, thus joining the set in sleeve to the body. I didn’t like the results of doing it this way because the two sleeves were different from the front view and back view. In order to make them the same, I took a technique that I learned from Dolly in a modular knitting class and adjusted it so that I was decreasing on either end of the right side. This was a little tricky to figure out, but the finished result is very similar on both sides of the sleeve. I have been working on writing up the technique, but am not completely finished yet..

Baby Bootie

The second project, the baby bootie was designed by Jeanne McCanless, of Oskaloosa. Jeanne is another of my favorite knitters! She took the pattern from a baby bootie that someone brought to her and figured it out. The unusual design is fun to knit, and a great tiny project to have along (as opposed to the huge tomten jacket). And it is published in this year’s holiday edition of Interweave Knit Magazine!! We are so excited about this!

Baby Bootie

The lace is knit in a “T” shape, and then the bottom is picked up and knit in garter stitch. The finished product definitely looks like it was harder to knit than it actually is. It is a perfect gift project. I am making the booties in red, as opposed to the traditional creme, and am loving working with the yarn!! It is Jawoll, a combination of wool and nylon, made is Switzerland, and perfect for socks of all sorts. It comes with a spool of reinforcement yarn for the toes and heels inside the skein! (I am tempted to start a pair of red and white striped socks or legwarmers when I have finished the booties.)