Monday, December 10, 2012

Keeping busy in winter

We froze most of the venison we got this season, but a bunch of it we've been turning into jerky.  I have always liked jerky though I've not eaten it much in my life because I was a vegetarian for so long and because it is usually so expensive.  I never realized how simple it is to make.  All you do is cut the meat thin, sprinkle it with the cure, and dehydrate it for a few hours.  We dried it in Julie's dehydrator, but you could do it in a solar dehydrator or in a smokehouse.    That is my long term wish--to have a smokehouse. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Eating Locally

I have been gradually working towards a more and more local diet since moving to Dancing Rabbit.  I've spent large parts of the season trying to grow my own food, which is part of the reason it's taken me so long to finish building my house.  I've got the vegetable gardening down pretty well and am able to produce a lot of my own veggies throughout the season and even into the winter such that I rarely, if ever, buy vegetables from the grocery store.  I rarely buy fruit, but will stock up and preserve it when it is available locally or on farm.  Strawberries, black raspberries, grapes, and gooseberries are the only things I've been successful with so far.  A few crops like peaches, seem really difficult to grow here organically.  Pears and apples are slightly easier, but my trees are only just getting to fruiting age, and I know they have problems with disease in wet years as well.

Abenaki Calais flour corn
This season I experimented a bit with growing flour corn, with the idea that I might try to produce my own grain to take the place of the rice I buy on a regular basis.  Corn is a crop that is fairly easily grown here, can be productive, and can be stored for use throughout the year.  I do eat corn a lot in my diet already and imagine I could shift my diet pretty easily to have it replace rice.  People like Michael Pollan rant against Americans being entirely made of corn because of the large amount of high fructose corn syrup found in the foods they eat.  I don't think my desire to increase the corn in my diet is deserving of the same critique.  Corn was a staple food of Native Americans living all over North America for thousands of years, and although they didn't chemically alter it to extract corn syrup, they did chemically alter it to make it more nutritious in some ways, by a process known as nixtamalization.

Nixtamalization involved boiling dried corn kernals with wood ash and leaving them overnight.  Then they would wash out the ash and grind the corn into a wet flour.  The boiling and soaking with ash caused the corn to break down somewhat, making it easier to grind.  It also gave the corn a distinct flavor that was the result of the combination of the corn and the lye in the ash.  If you've ever tasted the difference between corn in cornmeal or cornbread and that in tortilla chips or tamales, you probably know the flavor I'm talking about.  Above is some of the corn I grew this season.  I ended up with about a gallon of grain from a small bed of corn, and I plan to nixtamalize it and use it to make tortillas and tamales.  I am just waiting on getting the right kind of flour mill for the wet corn kernals. I could dehydrate the corn after nixtamalizing it and then grind it into dry flour, but I've heard it is much better to make food from the freshly prepared kernals.   In Nicaragua, the women get up at the crack of dawn every day to make tortillas.  I remember watching the family that took care of the farm I worked at nixtamalizing corn over an open fire. Maybe someday I'll have enough corn to do this on a regular basis.

Friday, November 23, 2012

This season: a review

Pug the pug visiting my house and looking for handouts
I haven't really been posting much this season because I've been concentrating on other things, but I do have a lot to talk about now. I've been gradually finishing projects on the house and am now pretty much done with it. There are a few other finishing touches to add, like a stove for the kitchen, the first floor ceiling, a bit more soffit, and the railing for the stairway, but pretty much everything else is done for now.

I had to spend some time resurfacing the earthen floor since the light clay straw insulation sort of failed and had sunk about an inch all around and was cracking in many places. I'm hoping the floor had sunk all it was going to sink, so that when I added the layer on top it wouldn't sink again in time. We'll see, but everything looks fine so far. If it doesn't work this time I'm going to tear it up and put in foamboard insulation.   The picture above shows the entrance pad with tile laid into the earthen floor in the higher traffic area.  I also laid tile into the kitchen area part of the floor.
I finished all my curtains myself in the early spring and got them all up.  It was good to refamiliarize myself with a sewing machine.  The warm windows fabric does make it a lot easier though.  I'm really happy with how they turned out and how they work!  They make the place have much more contrast and give me a sense that I'm in some other country, which is what I was going for.  The picture above also shows the wood rack I built for my firewood, with bin on the bottom for the big stuff and shelves for kindling above.  Of course I've only lit a couple fires so far this year because the weather has been either warm or sunny, and my thermal curtains are keeping the cold out.  I reorganized this part of the downstairs for the winter, complete with comfy chair for sitting by the fire.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More Winter Activities

April finished one of the windows on the strawbale walls.  I now have six thermal curtains out of a total of twelve done and up.  I'd really like to get the rest of them up before the end of winter.  But it looks really good.  Recently I was working on linseed oiling the sills where I'd done tiling.  This should toughen them up so they can resist wear and tear. 

I started some of the earlier starts a little over a week ago. Peppers and eggplant seem to grow the slowest and since I'm able to plant them in the hoop house so early, I had to start them really early. Onions are another early one, but I start those so early because they are the first thing I plant usually.  I'm guessing we will be able to get in earlier than ever since we've had such a mild winter. 

I bought a soil block maker this year so I can do away with the plastic containers I've been using for years that are falling apart.  I'd recommend this method to anyone.  It's really easy and you can make unlimited numbers of blocks. The air space between the blocks supposedly keeps the starts from becoming root bound because the roots just stop when they hit the edge of the block.  I made up my own soil mix out of compost, sand, and a small amount of ash.

This is my first attempt at gouda cheese.  The 4 pound wheel was covered with beeswax and aged it for about 2 months in my cheese cellar. I don't know if it is really gouda, but it tastes good.  To me it tastes more like a mild swiss cheese. I love that it looks like such a professionally made artisan cheese.  A few days ago I started making another wheel of it.  I may try using real cheese wax next time instead of beeswax because though the beeswax did protect the cheese during aging, there was still a pretty healthy mold growing on the rind.  We'll see what happens if I do it differently this time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter Projects and Foods

Winter is probably the least interesting season for me.  Sure I like being able to slow down, read some books, and plan and think about the coming season.  But I think I'd rather everything be green and growing and be able to be out in it.  Of course, thanks to climate change, we have had a record warm winter, so there have been many days in the 50s and 60s in January and February so far. 

This winter I've been working on various finishing touches on the inside of the house.  I was racking my brains to find some good finish for the window sills of the deep wells on the strawbale walls.   I wanted something like tile, that would hold up better than earthen plaster to the wear and tear the sills would be subject to.  The commercial tile I was finding at the store seemed really boring, and the interesting Mexican tile was really expensive and not available at the local stores.  Then I stumbled across some more natural looking slate tiling.  Every piece was unique in its color and surface pattern, but they were all the same earthen hues.  I had the idea to cut them into shapes that would make them more interesting than just one foot squares.  The one foot square fit perfectly in the window sill with enough room to spare.  I cut the slate with a circular masonry blade.