Saturday, November 09, 2013

Preparing for Christmas

Last week I made some candied peel in preparation for plum pudding and mincemeat. After boiling the citrus peel in sugar water for over an hour, I spooned it out to dry and was left with a sweet-tart syrup. Just the right thing to go in the Christmas beer.

Yes, Christmas beer! Last year I made dozens of mince pies - homemade mincemeat in shortbread crusts - some of which Spouse brought around to the neighbors. It was his way of introducing ourselves (well, himself. I shyly stayed home) and sharing a bit of British Culture. This year I suggested that in addition to mince pies we give a bottle of homebrew, hence the Christmas beer.

I've only recently gotten back into home brewing, thanks to Northern Brewer's one gallon kits. They make just enough for a one-beer-drinker household. For a holiday brew though, I needed to not only make more, but to work without a net kit. I had previously bought some crushed grains at Homebrew Emporium with the plan of making custom one gallon batches, but though I'd just go all in and do a big three gallon one right off. I looked around for recipes, settling on this one as a basis for mine. Then I ordered malt syrup (because I wasn't going to try all-grain after so long an absence of brewing) in nice big jugs (the better to portion you with, my dear), hops and yeast. Yes, I didn't go to the local shop, mainly because I wanted to be sure of those specific hops and yeast, and because the MBTA has had diversions every weekend and I didn't want to go out.1

So now the beer is bubbling nicely and it's time to think about plum pudding. I went the lazy route and decided to use whatever dried fruit was in the pantry. That meant a few apricots, some apple and raisins. I really don't like raisins so I chopped he hell out of them and hoped the booze would mask the raisininess. With all the lovely sweet and spicy and boozy flavours mingling, I think the raisins will be well hidden.





Candied Peel

Sliced peel of:
2 oranges
2 lemons
2 cups ginger wine or water
2 1/2 cups sugar
Boil for one hour. Drain, reserving liquid. Store peel in refrigerator until needed

Christmas Beer

3.5 gallons water
9 oz black patent malt
9 oz Cara Aroma
5 handfulls whole oats
2 whole nutmegs, quartered,
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
liquid from candied peel
6 lbs light malt syrup
1 oz Glacier hop pellets
1 oz Willamet hop pellets
Edinburgh ale yeast
Pour water into large pot. Place grains in a mesh bag and submerge in pot of water. Add 1 nutmeg and the vanilla pod. Bring water up to 150 degrees farenheit and hold there for 20 minutes. Remove grain bag and squeeze out. Sparge if you're so inclined.
Add malt syrup and liquid from candied peel to water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the Glacier hops. After 45 minutes, add the Willamet hops. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and put the pot in an ice bath to cool. Once room temp, strain into carboy and add the yeast, second nutmeg and he vanilla pod from the boil (of it looks striped of all vanilla goodness, get half a fresh bean). Set down to ferment for a week.
Place into secondary fermenter for a second week or bottle with priming sugar. Age for at least four weeks.

Plum pudding

1/2 cup each raisins, dried apricots, dried apples, chopped
1/2 cup random booze  -  wine, bourbon, rum, absinth was the combination I had at hand
1 medium apple, grated
3 small carrots, grated
1/4 cup candied peel, chopped
1.5 cups bread crumbs - I used homemade Anadama bread for this
1 cup coconut oil
1 heaping teaspoon mixed spice - nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, mace, clove, allspice
1 cup Whole wheat flour
1 cup Christmas beer (snuck from the carboy)

Soak dried fruit overnight in random booze.
Add everything but the beer and mix until it all seems to be fairly uniformly spread about the bowl.
Add the beer, stirring, until well mixed. Place in greased pudding basin, cover with foil or parchment and tie tight. Steam 4 hours. Cool. If in a metal container, as my pudding mold is, remove and wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Sprinkle on rum, bourbon, or whiskey every couple of weeks, wrapping it up tightly again after. Store in a cool place until Christmas.

1 Plus then I got to order a soda kit for Spouse's birthday

Putting the garden to bed

Child is helping

Thursday, August 22, 2013


So the summer is ending and, while it wasn't a lot, we did manage to grow some things this year.

The most recent item to appear was a cucumber plant. I didn't even know I'd grown one! This plant was doing well but I really didn't know what it was (a good reason to label your seeds when you plant them) until the blossoms started to turn into fruit.


Next up, the tomatoes! We do have a couple "larger" tomatoes, but the cherry tomatoes (did not know we had those, but I got the plants second hand) have turned into a bumper crop. The red ones aren't lasting long as we tend to munch them pretty quickly.

cherry tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes

The potatoes, which I really though would go well, are a bit, um, small. These are the Marris Pipers that we grew in the container. I had anticipated at least 10 pounds but we only got enough for a small colander. They're tasty though!

The other potatoes are even fewer (and many still in the ground), but given the hills weren't particularly big, that's not surprising. The plan for next year is one long, deep bin that we will build up with covering over the growing cycle like with the planter. Hopefully we can get a few pounds out of that.

The Marris Piper harvest

But I'm not ready to give up this year yet! I've started some seedlings inside for late planting. Here we can see some cabbage (left) and cauliflower (right) beginning to sprout! The far left has carrot seeds too. Since the container potatoes have been all dug up I plan to use that bin of dirt for the carrots. Not sure about the cabbage and cauliflower yet though as I'm not sure just how much sun they'll need. They may end up in pots that can be moved around the garden.

Seedlings for late planting

While we didn't get everything we planted, we still did much better than last year. I'm sure next year will be even better, and I've already marked my calendar for when to order seeds and when to start sprouting inside. We're hardly at a level of self-sufficiency, but at least it's a start.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Knitting up a storm

This is a bit of a catch-up on some knitting. I joined a knit-along Google Group and hadn't made anything (wasn't really into the patterns) until June. The June pattern was this market bag.

It also allowed me some stash busting of random acrylic yarn. The handle did end up too long for me (stretches a crazy amount when full) but it works for Spouse.

For July, I suggested an Aran sweater tea cozy. It wasn't chosen, but I decided to make it anyway. Here is the Sprog showing it off.

And a close-up of the front

And here's the back.

This one used some wool I bought at a farm shop a few years ago. I only had one skein so was limited to a small project. This seemed the perfect user for it. And I think the tea pot looks quite dapper!

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Child tends her garden

And here's the video I wanted to post with the garden pictures but apparently I can't post videos from the mobile app.

Things are growing

I'm trying mobile blogging this time,  so it's a quick post

The potatoes are doing so well!  It's almost time to add more soil to form hills.

The peas are coming up too.
And the tomato and peppers are still alive.

The big news from my seed planting is the beans are starting to sprout.

The child's garden is coming along too, in spite of her sitting in it.

Friday, May 24, 2013


The front of our house has a small bed that I dug out and reserved for perennial herbs last year. I had tarragon, thyme and sage but only the sage really lasted. And not just lasted but THRIVED! Thrived like a nuclear-fulled lizard in 1960s Japan.

Sadly, the tarragon, the one I really, really wanted there, did not make it. But the thyme does seem to have survived, even if it didn't flourish like the sage.  There were a couple of leafless plants in the back that I transplanted into the front without knowing if they were perennials too I think one came back.

Perhaps this is mint?
Mint? Maybe?
So I think this random thing is the mint Spouse planted. I plucked a leaf and it was very mity, but there are many groundcover pants in the mint families too, so I'm not sure. with luck, whwn it gets bigger I'll be able to propperly identify it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


So I haven't posted in a while.
We are still dealing with the child's lead poisoning. Her levels went up again, coinciding with he warmer weather and more outdoor time. One possible reason was that the sunlight and vitamin D were expediting the transfer of stored lead from bones to blood. The other possibility was lead in the soil.
child in the driveway
Maybe the driveway isn't the best playground
child in the yard
But then the backyard is suspect too

We started her back on basic iron supplements, but also had the soil tested at the state university. One concern was that the soil in the raised beds was suspect, but there was also an open dirt patch where a tree went down and we were working on getting the stump out. I thought that the front would actually be the most contaminated, but as it happened`that and the raised beds were fine but the back was at medium levels, which is still unsafe for growing food and, to us, playing.

Future home of sunflowers
Future home of sunflowers
Spouse had done some research and found that sunflowers can take some of the contaminants out of the soil.We're testing that with the spot where the willow tree used to be. (The tree came down last fall during a storm and we decided not to put it back when the neighbor told us it had happened before.) I've got two packages of sunflower seeds in there in the hopes that a few flowers come up. If we have a decent enough crop this year, we'll get that patch tested again and see if the lead levels have gone down.

me with pitchfork
I'm bad-ass with my pitchfork
Since the raised beds were okay, that meant we could actually try a garden this year. I had spent a lot of the spring hoeing the beds and adding some extra soil as well as some potting mix made from coconut husks. The beds needed some lime though according to the soil test results so I've gotten that in and will soon be getting what little compost was under the heap in the back.

Pea trellis
Pea trellis
There was enough soil there though to get some peas in this week, and I got to use the handy snap together pea trellis things that the previous owners left in the shed. Not that we need it yet, but it does help mark off where the peas are planted, and makes it look like we have a real garden.

potato container
Potato planter
In the taller of the beds I put in some potatoes. I bought a grow kit and some seed potatoes from Gardener's Supply, but ended up planing those potatoes in the raised bed, along with some red fingerlings that had gone to seed in the pantry, and saving the bag for some Marris Pipers I managed to score online! They're a variety that seems harder to find here, although it's a common chip potato in the UK.

seed packages
Seeds to feed a family
I had grand plans for growing a lot more food this year but the seeds I ordered months ago only just arrived today. I think we'll still try a few, but the majority will have to wait for next year. We've got some seeds starting separately anyway, so we'll just add to that growing batch.
Starting some seeds
Starting some seeds

But some things we won't have to start on our own are tomatoes and peppers!  I managed to score some left-over seedlings that didn't make it into the garden at work. I'm not going to try the upside down tomato planter again (that's going to become a "raised bed" for the child to "garden" in) but will try the traditional way. We have a lot of scrap wood in the shed so since I've already used the trellis, I might try to make some supports for these on my own.

Peppers and Tomatoes
Peppers and Tomatoes

I do have more pictures and more to tell on the front herb garden, but this is probably too long and tedious as it is. So instead I'll just leave you with a picture of my first try at making my own puff pastry: croissants. Plain, chocolate and almond. They were worth the effort!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bay Rum

We started the Bay Rum aftershave tonight. Here am I, disheveled from work, and very sleepy child making the concoction.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Puttering about the kitchen

Over the past few weeks I've used my crockpot more than I had in the previous year or so of owning it. It's a tiny one with only one setting ("On") but it got us a good batch of Hoppin' John on New Year's day, some okay "baked" beans, and most recently I've used it for easy seitan!

I haven't eaten land animals in decades but I do like a chewy, "meaty" mouthfeel in food. So far, the best homemade seitan recipe I have found is from the now defunct blog A Veg*n for Dinner. It's the Seitan Fillet Mignon and I probably should have taken a peek at it before making seitan last night. Still, my batch, based on a ratio of 1 part vital wheat gluten to 3/4 part liquid, was pretty tasty. The biggest boon, however, was simmering it overnight in the crockpot. TONS of flavour and no hassle! I flipped it over in the broth once a few hours after putting it in but other than that I didn't touch it until this morning when I removed it and prepped the crockpot for it's next task of making beef stew for Spouse's lunch.  Given how easy that was, I think it's worth getting the vegan cookbook (so I don't have to keep searching for the site) to have that and her other seitan recipes onhand.


One other other things I've been eyeing in the kitchen is a bowl of bee's wax and oil that I made up to condition some wood. While I planned to use the rest of it to rub on the pantry shelves once we can clear the dishes off of them (when the cupboards are ready to go back up), it got me thinking about homemade cosmetics as it's also the basis for cold cream.

A few years ago Spouse decided to start wet shaving so I got him pre-shave oil, shaving cream, a brush, etc. Pre-shave oil, while sparingly used, is still incredibly expensive! When I checked the ingredients, basically essential oils in a carrier oil, I realized I could make it at home for much less. So now he only uses my oil, custom blended with rosemary, eucalyptus and citrus. Since Spouse is allergic to tree nuts, I use avocado oil rather than almond, which is usually recommended. I find the oil works beautifully for my cold cream as well, and does not have the heavy scent of olive oil.

Now we've decided to go one step further and try to make some aftershave. Spouse doesn't tend to use aftershave, but after I found these recipes for Bay Rum, heimmediately wanted to try. So tonight I shall be going on a booze and spice run and making up a first batch. I'm thinking orange, clove and allspice will be the main scents in this batch, with perhaps a touch of vanilla. If it works, the sky's the limit!