Friday, September 30, 2011

Planter Box In The House!

There is a real cute cafe in Oregon City called Singer Hill Cafe.  The owner is always doing cool stuff with the architecture and plants inside and out of the cafe.  Naturally, I take pictures of cool things as I see them.  I love using other people’s ideas!  Check out this super cool planter inside the cafĂ©.
Tonight I sprang the idea to my husband of building a planter box into our house and he went for it!  We have three really wide stairs in our house that separate the upper level from the lower.  Up the stairs is the living room which has two bedrooms off of it.  Down the stairs you walk into the kitchen/entry/dining area and then to a hallway with more bedrooms.  There isn’t much visual separation between the upstairs and downstairs.  From the living room the view downstairs is of the kitchen and entry way.
Way too many months ago we started building on a portion of the stairs, a book case on the living room side and a coat closet on the lower level.  We were going to build it half way up and hang a stain glass window from the ceiling above the bookshelf/closet.  The goal was to create a little divide between the wide open spaces.  Our house came with very little storage space and certainly not a coat closet so it made sense. 

Maybe because the project was never really planned out precisely or properly executed and therefore came to a complete and utter standstill, I am not so sure of the closet/bookshelf idea anymore.  I think it creates too much of a block between the levels and hinders the flow of the house. Maybe we will build a planter box like the one at Singer Hill to create some separation between the levels while keeping the space airy and at the same time contribute some beauty and live to our home!

* Update - This is what we actually did with the space

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Update - Growing Tomatoes Up

This year I have decided to grow my tomatoes up, tying them to a cedar stick and pinching off the suckers so they don't get too heavy or lanky. Here is my original post about this year's tomatoes. I want to update you on how it is going.  I am still very pleased with my tomatoes and have been harvesting a lot of delicious tomatoes.  The puny plants that were just never doing much are still not doing much but the hearty ones are putting out loads and loads of big beautiful tomatoes.

I wanted to let you know that I have had two cedar stakes snap on me! One was on a plant in the flower bed in my back yard.  We had a descent wind storm a few weeks back while my family was out camping and I came home to this tomato plant, which was very large, on the ground. It had so many green tomatoes I couldn't bear to cut it down and while the main stock was damaged, it was still connected - just the stake snapped in half.  I pruned the heck out of the plant and propped the stick back up and so far, so good. I think I am going to see a lot of red tomatoes on this one.

The other plant that I had a stake fail on was out front by the street.  It was a yellow pear cherry tomato plant.  I wasn't super attached to it so I just cut the plant down and called it good. I have a bowl of the green tomatoes I salvaged before dumping the plant. They are already starting to turn yellow in my kitchen.

The lesson of the season is that my plants need more support!  I either need to prune more heavily and not let the plants get so large, use more than one stake per plant, or use something sturdier like a metal post. Both of the sticks that snapped were the only support for the entire plant.  I used multiple stakes for some of the other plants and they are as good as gold.

I'm still having fun growing the tomatoes up, just wanted to let you know some of the troubles I'm having in case you ever decide to give this method a try.  I hope wherever you are, if you are growing tomatoes that you are having fun with them!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Canning Strawberry Jelly Using a Juicer/Steamer

Recently my amazing grandmother, my role model and inspiration for all things canning, bought me a stainless steel steamer!  I wanted one last year but was too snobby to get an affordable aluminum steamer and too cheap to get a stainless steel one.  This was just the most surprising and fun gift and I put it to work right away.  Grams was right, it takes the work completely out of preserving jellies and juices!  No more mushing, stirring, and straining!  With a steamer, you simply put the fruit or veggies in the colander on top, fill the bottom pan with water to boil and let the steam magically draw the nutritious juice into a middle cauldron. You drain the liquid via a hose with a clamp into a separate pan for mixing any further ingredients.  (No, I am not being paid by the makers of a stainless steel steamer or I would be throwing out brand names. I can be contacted at if anyone would like to pay me to endorse this baby!)

For my first ever batch of jelly using my steamer I bought a flat of strawberries for $20 from a local chemical free farm.  If I really wanted to be thrifty I would have picked my own at a U-pick farm or called around to find a place willing to discount their day old strawberries.

I was a little worried that the waste no morsel, thrifty me would have a hard time parting with the flesh of my strawberries once the juice had been extracted.  I found that the steamer sucked the strawberries so dry I had no problem getting rid of the remaining bit of brown mush!  It went straight to the chickens without another thought.

I drained my juice into an eight cup measuring cup before putting it into a large pot in order to keep track of how much liquid I had so I would know how much sugar and pectin to add.  Here goes a free endorsement for Pomona's Universal Pectin which is a little expensive at around $5 a box but a fantastic product for thickening jelly with very little sweetener.  For my flat of strawberries I used one box of pectin.  It is well worth the expense if you don't want to add all the sugar needed to get the traditional pectin to set.  My flat of strawberries yielded about 19 cups of juice.  I followed the directions that came with the Pomona's Universal Pectin.  It gives a range of measurements for each type of food and the sweetener you are working with.  I used the lower range and added 2 cups of Raw Cane Sugar to my juice.  Had I been following a traditional or typical recipe for strawberry jelly for 19 cups of strawberry juice I would have used 38 cups of sugar!  You can also use alternative sweeteners like honey, agave an even stevia with the Pomona's Pectin.  The directions specify if you need to add any lemon or lime juice or citric acid depending on what you are canning.

Once you extract the juice from the berries, mix in the pectin, sweetener and any other ingredients or spices you wish.   Just follow the directions that come with the Pectin!  Before you ladle the jelly into your jars make sure the jars are piping hot.  It works to either have them in the dishwasher being warmed or to fill them up and place them in the canner while you bring the water in the canner to boil.  When you remove the jar from the canner, pour the hot or boiling water from in the jar back into the canner.  You can also have a bucket or pan of hot water to keep the jars in.  Unless specified, most recipes assume a hot jar and hot contents of the jar and base water bath or pressure cooking time on those criteria - that the ingredients and jar are hot.

I have always seen my grandma boil the flat lids in a small pan.  After filling the jars she dips the edge of a clean dish rag in a pan of boiling water and wipes the rip of the jars with the hot water prior to placing the lid on.  However I was recently canning with a friend who told me it is no longer necessary to boil the lids, that lids these days are made with a different kind of material that do not require being boiled prior to placement on the jar.  My friend rinses the rim of her jars by dipping her clean fingers in a bowl of hot water and running it around the rim.  That method totally works.  I will probably continue to use a pan with boiling or maybe just hot water for the lids because I like to have hot water ready in case I need to top off the waterbath canner.

After the jars are filled and the rim is wiped you put the flat lid on.  I use a magnetic lid wand to handle the lids though while convenient it is not necessary especially if you are not boiling your lids.  After the flat lid is on place the rims over the lid and tighten with your fingers. The rims are just to keep the lids in place before they seal.
Lower your jars into the canner either onto a rack that is resting on the canner to be lowered in or all the way in to begin with.  Start your cooking time when the water is at a full boil.  The jars should be all the way covered with water.

When the specified time for cooking is up turn off the stove and remove the canner lid.  If you want you can lift the jar rack up and rest it on the rim of the canner.  Wait a few minutes to help with pressure adjustment and then using a jar lifter pull all the jars out of the water keeping them as upright as possible.  I lost my jar lifter (or left it at my friends – who knows) and have twice now made due by using an oven mitt to carefully handle the hot jars.  I just share that to encourage possible rookies who don’t want to buy a hundred tools for canning.  All you need really are jars, lids and a pan big enough to boil the jars in.

The best part of canning for me is hearing the jars seal.  They give a quick satisfying pop soon after being removed from the canner!  I also love seeing the colorful jars all lined up on the counter.  I usually leave them out for a day or two taking my time putting them away!  Before I move my goods to storage I rinse the jars and label them with the contents of the jar if it’s not painfully obvious and always a date (month and year).  You can buy fancy labels, use a permanent marker on the lid or slap on a piece of tape on.  My flat of strawberries yielded me twelve pints of jelly which accounting for ingredients only cost me a little over $2 per pint, a price well worth it for the security of knowing I have a healthy product of which I know the contents.

I’m totally sold on my juicer.  It is really the easiest way in the world to make quick and easy jelly.  I can’t wait to experiment with other uses for my steamer!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trading My "To Do" List for Puzzle Time

I'm not even going to list my long term (one month or more) "to do" list but here goes my short term:
  • Clean up the side yard where the old chickens used to live and where a giant squash plant has taken over. (It's time to rip the squash plant out. I have harvested all I could possibly use and am over it.)
  • Stain the fort before the fresh wood turns brown.
  • Paint the coop trim, put on hardware like door knobs, add wire fencing, finish droppings pits.
  • Take pictures and research the types of chicks I have.
  • Can green beans.
  • Laundry, paperwork, clean bathrooms - the stuff that never goes away and constantly thwarts me.
  • Some gardening such as weeding beds, planting fall crops and harvesting carrots.
  • Finish one of the three blog entries I have started especial on canning while it's still the season!
In addition to this, I have a couple books I would like to spend more time with as well as get some writing done and exercise!!!

This morning I slept in and woke up to a cup of hot fresh coffee on my bed-stand and the sound of raindrops outside my window. I should, could, would throw on some rain boots and start cleaning up the yard but really I just want to spend the day inside. A puzzle sounds like a great way to come together with the family and have some focus so I don't feel out and out lazy.  We can do it in the living room where football is bound to be on all day so we will be close enough to my hubby to call it a family day.
This is my second post about life keeping me from getting stuff done but I'm a type A girl.  I have to remind myself that even if the yard stays messy and the beans don't get canned, the world will go on like it always has!  This shall serve as my reminder for today.  I hope you all are having a fantastic Sunday whether it's busy or quiet!  I would love to hear what you do on a cozy day instead of working.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Free Find Dog House

It might not look like much but this dog house is going to be a real treat for Noah, our stellar mutt, as well as an enhancement to the yard!  It's was so stinkin heavy, once I got it home with the help of my kids, some good leveraging and two trips in two different vehicles (for the record minivans rock for hauling stuff!), I just left it in the driveway. My husband can help me move to the garage.  I found this in front of someone's yard with a "free" sign on it.  Hauling stuff is usually a hassle and rarely fits into my schedule but I'm willing to go out of my way for something I know we will use and value and this will be worth it. Consider this the "before" picture!
Some of us don't have the foresight to take pictures of things before we move them so just know that when put together it is a dog house.  I think I'm pretty clever to get the dog in the picture of the dog house so just roll with it.  I can get like three more dogs his size to fill this dog house! Pretty cool, hu?
The frame of the roof is really quite sturdy.  With some fresh plywood and new shingles it will be as good as new. Since the roof it is already put together, just worn out, I won't have to try and figure out how to do it, I'll just redo what was there.

The dog house looked smaller until I tried to move it!  Objects in the picture are bigger and heavier up close for sure!  All the base needs is a fresh coat of paint.

UPDATE: "After" picture:

Finished product.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pasty Butt

See the chick.
See the chick's bum: Pasty Butt!
Warm water and a cloth.

See me hold pasty butt chick securely so I can gently remove life threatening dry poo.
My grandpa would be so proud and if it's good enough for my kids' bums (it is) than it's good enough for my chicks' bums.
See non pasty butt, greasy bum chick!


For a lot more info on pasty butt check out this great site!