Some Things from Around the Web

A couple of things have caught my eye in the last couple days and I wanted to share:

1.  Someone Worked Very Hard To Make That “Natural” Piece Of Lunch Meat Look Imperfect

Just goes to show you what I’ve always said:  the perception of your enjoyment in food is 50% how it looks,  30% how it smells,  and only 20% how it tastes.  Here is another good example. 

2.  KIDS BRUTALLY VANDALIZE MAN’S FAMILY HOME — BUT NOW HE’S THE ONE FACING JAIL TIME

This one just makes me crazy.  I hope it works out okay for that guy. 

3. Waldo Farmers Market

I’m glad to see more farmers markets out there that aren’t just on the weekends,  this one is on Wednesday’s.  This one is also a bonus because it’s in the parking lot of one of my favorite stores: Habitat for Humanity ReStore.   I shop there for all kinds of different things to fix up the house.

4.  Bad Seed Farmers Market

This one is open on Friday’s.   This is where I found Parker Farms,  which is where I get all our meat from,  that we don’t raise ourselves.

I’ve been sick now for almost two weeks.  It seems like I caught the flu,  then caught a head cold.   I’m assuming they are the same illness,  but it sure seems like they have been two separate things.  I’m so ready for this to be done with.  Something I’ve discovered that I do want to share: generic mucinex in NO Way compares to the brand name stuff.  The brand name stuff is SO MUCH better!  I sure won’t be buying the generic again. 

-Fin

A slow start to a modest garden…

My second year of gardening at my house.  These are two different examples of hugelkulture beds.  Both are heavily mulched on top to help trap additional moisture and reduce the need for watering.  Due to the extended cold and then excessive rain (and some illness on Fin's part), things got started a little late this year.  Either way, the greens are starting to come up, even if they are a little late.

 

The side bed:  Upper left is some type of Kale that regrew from last year.  Other than that, it's all carrot tops that you can see at the moment.  There is Romaine lettuce planted throughout, but that is only visible up-close as tiny sprouts.

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The Raised Bed: Two types of tomatoes in the cages on the left, next to that is a row of okra, and the rest of the bed is 3 different types of squash.

The holes you see nothing growing in either didn't germinate, or they were plucked by the birds and died before I could replant them.  Damn birds.  We'll be reseeding shortly where necessary.

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One of my favorite plants in my yard will be blooming again soon:  My Yucca plant!

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Hopefully Fin will come by and post the specific plants in the comments, because I can't remember them off the top of my head.  Either that, or I will edit this post tomorrow.

Water Bath Canning – Part 2

If you missed part 1 about water bath canning earlier this week you can find it here.

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Ah,  the tools of the trade.  I think this is the canner I have,  although I bought mine at an estate sale about a year ago for less then $5,  so I’m not sure that’s the exact size.
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I regularly see them at estate sales and thrift stores for $5-$15 so I don’t know if I recommend buying one new or not.  It should come with the metal rack you see there though,  otherwise if you have to buy a new one it kind of defeats the frugality of buying a used one.  I almost never see just a rack for sale without the canner,  I’m guessing they don’t hold up as well,  get rusty,  and then get trashed.  Be sure to examine the canner you are considering buying for rust on both the canner and the rack.  Don’t buy it if there is rust present,  trust me,  another one will come along before you know it that won’t be rusty (and probably cheaper too!) and you will regret buying the first one you saw.

I highly recommend getting a wide mouth funnel even if you don’t can a day in your life.
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I have at least 3, maybe more,  and I constantly use them.  They come in handy for filling glass jars with left overs,  dry goods,  or really just about anything.   This is something that gets used in my kitchen on a daily basis.   You can find them at estate sales and thrift stores as well,  usually in the $. 25-$2 range.   I’m currently looking for a stainless steel one,  but no luck so far.  I do run mine through the dishwasher (top rack only) on a regular basis,  so even though this one says hand wash only,  I don’t.  Honestly, if something truly is hand wash only it doesn’t make it long in my kitchen.

I would definitely recommend getting a jar lifter.
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Yes,  you could probably use a pot holder or a towel to remove the jars from the pot,  especially if you use the metal rack to lift them out of the water,  however,  I found the jar lifter to be very helpful in getting a secure grip on the jars while moving them from the pot to my counter to cool.  You actually hold onto the flat pieces,  which are rollers,  and the rubberized side is what grips the jar.   The rollers on the handle give you a far more secure grip on your jars then you would expect.  I really felt that it was worth the money.   I got mine at Ace Hardware,  since I never see them for sale at thrift stores or estate sales,  though maybe you will have better luck then I did.

My next purchase will be a magnetic canning lid lifter.
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I used a pair of tongs,  which worked okay,  but was a bit more of a pain then I would like.   Your supposed to have a small pot of water sitting on your stove just under boiling to heat your lids to sterilize them and also heat the rubber ring to make a good seal.  The magnetic lid lifter helps in getting the lids out of the hot water much easier then the tongs.  I found it hard to just grab one lid at a time with the tongs,  so I’m hoping this little doodad will help with that.  It also serves as a device to run around the inside of your jars to get rid of any air bubbles inside before you place the lids on.   I used a plastic knife (don’t use metal to remove the air bubbles,  it can scratch the glass and cause the jar to break) this time,  but it would be nice to have a 2 in 1 tool in my canning supplies.

Of course you need jars.
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Now,  I don’t think I have ever bought a case of new jars.   I get almost all of my jars from estate sales, and occasionally you will find them at thrift stores.   I try not to pay more then $. 25/jar, unless it is a bit unusual.  Often I can find them for $1-2/box (of 12.) When buying used jars to can with it is very important to check the top lip of the jar to make sure it’s smooth.  Any chips or scuffs in the glass will lead to a failure to seal,  and so make the jar useless if you are trying to can with it.  If you are just using it for dry storage,  it will work fine,  but I prefer to pass on any jar that’s flawed,  there are plenty of perfect ones out there,  no sense in giving yourself room to fail while canning if you forget to check for perfect jars.

Finally,  you need lids and bands.
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The band’s can be used over and over,  the lids can be used for canning only once.   They can be used for dry storage over and over though so it’s worth holding on to them.  Usually when I buy jars they come with the band’s already so I only have to buy the lids.
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They also make reusable canning lids.
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Now,  I’ve never tried them,  and from the Amazon reviews it seems like you’d either love them or hate them.   They are on my list of things to get,  however,  I don’t have any yet.

If you want to use your jars for dry storage I would definitely recommend getting a foodsaver.   They make an attachment to use with jars to suck all the air out.

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This is great for things like chips to keep them from going stale so fast.  It’s NOT a replacement for canning things like jelly for long shelf life,  this is just to remove the air,  like with foodsaver bags.

This is all the supplies I have or want for canning,  next up is to actually can some jelly!

– Fin

Broody Chickens

Two of my chickens decided to go broody on me.

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One has gone broody three times on me since I got her.   I tried putting a golf ball in the other nest box to try to move her over but she went right back to the original nest and then another of them decided she was going to sit on the golf ball.

Well,  since the one has gone broody so many times now I decided she could be productive and hatch out some eggs for me.  I decided to check Craigslist to see if anyone out there was selling fertilized eggs.  I really had no plan in mind on what kind of eggs I wanted but I was hoping for one of the heirloom breeds.  I ended up with birchen marans.

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The eggs are really dark brown and quite a bit bigger then the eggs my hens lay.  I’d say my hens lay a large egg and these were an extra large if you go by the ones from the grocery store.

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I should have taken a comparison picture,  but didn’t think of it.

I bought 16 eggs,  8 for each hen.  The guy gave me 18, two extra to account for non fertility of a couple.   I picked up the eggs on June 2 and put them under the hens that night.   We should be looking at having them hatch around June 22nd or so.

Last night we candeled the eggs. Out of 18 we found 2 that were definitely bad, and one we weren’t sure about so we just went ahead and left it just in case. I imagine it will end up not hatching but since this was our first time we figured better safe then sorry.

I tried to take pictures of the candeling but my camera phone was just not up to the task. We opened the two bad eggs when we got inside just out of curiosity. One was completely unfertile with no blood spot or anything. The other was a dime sized chick that had obviously not made it past the first several days. I would imagine if we were to open the other one that we suspect is bad we would find a quarter sized chick that had died a couple days past the other one.

I am looking forward to the hatching. I am very excited to watch the hens raise their broods. 10 more days and they should be all hatched out!

-Fin

Sad days

One of our dogs died yesterday.

One of our dogs has some kind of cancer that is growing in his stomach,  it will eventually kill him.  Or old age will catch him,  as he is nearly fourteen.  He is doing really well these days tho,  the supplements we have him on seem to be helping for now.  We’ve been preparing ourselves for his passing for a while now,  and spending as much quality time with him as possible.  He is a very good dog.

Our other dog seemed to be bloated Monday night,  he just looked really full to me.  He is not a breed that is prone to bloat so I really didn’t think to much of it.  He seemed to be acting fairly normal aside from that.   I’ve never seen bloat,  and don’t know too terribly much about it.

Tuesday morning he was acting sluggish and didn’t want to move around too much.  I brought him inside and called the vet.  She,  like me,  didn’t think bloat either,  tho his stomach was back to normal now anyway.  We gave him some pepto and he seemed to be improving.

Wednesday morning he seemed fine before I left for the chiropractor,  I’ve been sick this last week and was fighting off a three day migraine.  When I got home that afternoon he seemed to have taken a turn for the very worse.

I think he was just waiting on me to die.  I moved him into the living room and he was gone within 20 minutes.

We are just completely blind sided by this.  It was completely unexpected.

He came to me by a very convoluted story,  from a shelter in North Carolina.  He had a neurological disease that gave him a tremor,  and we never knew the cause.  He was a very special dog,  my blue merle border collie.  I know he had a good life while he was with me.   As near as I could come up with,  I think he was around 9 years old.  He was around a year old  when I got him,  so he had a good long life with me.

I never expected him to live to old age,  because of the neurological thing he had going on.  I just never expected him to go like this.

Goodbye wiggles,  I’m gonna miss you.

-Fin

Flower Bed Update

Well,  it’s starting to fill in:

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There at the end I put some day lilies that my parents gave me,  they seem to be bouncing back from waiting nearly two weeks for me to plant them.  I planted a mixed pack of sun flowers on the left and nasturtiums on the right all the way up the bed.  Right in front of the day lilies I planted some sage in the middle and thyme on the edges.  Then I just dumped in several mixed packets of flower seeds to fill in the rest.   Mostly annuals,  but some perennials as well. 

I do see some weeds coming up mixed in with everyone but I see a lot of stuff I recognize as flowers that I planted.   I am looking forward to seeing it in another month or so when it starts to bloom. 

My rose bush has gone all kinds of crazy this year too:

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I didn’t do anything special to it so I have no idea what is going on but it looks nice and smells wonderful too.   I did tie it up so it’s not laying on the ground a couple days after I took this picture.  I’m hoping that it doesn’t break if we get some good winds here.  I tried to be careful about the way I tied it to keep that from happening,  but only time will tell. 

I’m having some issues with germination of my seeds in the garden again this year.  It’s gotten frustrating for me to have such poor luck for two years in a row.  It’s making me wonder if I have some issue in my garden I don’t know about.  I am guessing my problem this year is a combination of the colder then normal spring and all the rain we have gotten making the seeds not germinate before they rot.  It’s just frustrating.  I know some of the seeds I’ve planted are older seeds,  but some are new this year too so it’s not just that. 

I’m replanting some stuff yet again here this week,  the weather is supposed to warm up and stay warm for a bit.  Hopefully that will solve my germination problem.   I’m just not sure what to do if it doesn’t.  I’m not planning on giving up on gardening,  but I sure do wish it was less frustrating some times!

The other issue I am concerned over is a lack of pollinators I’ve seen in the garden.  I’ve planted tons of flowers as usual to lure them in and I’ve still seen none so far in my garden.  I did see a couple big bees at my parents house last week finally,  but none here.  I’m hoping the weather is affecting them too and I will start seeing them as it starts to warm up.

-Fin

Water Bath Canning: Part 1

I have,  for the longest time,  had a mental block of some kind regarding canning.  I’ve always intended on learing how to can,  I just thought,  for some reason,  that I needed someone to show me EXACTLY what to do,  or I wouldn’t be able to get it right.  This isn’t because I thought it was too hard,  or there was a special trick to be learned,  or anything like that,  it just seemed to me like something that needed to be learned from someone,  in person.  Like I said,  it was just a mental block about the whole thing. 

I had grand plans of going to South Dakota to visit a friend of my mother’s to learn everything there is to know about canning.  In retrospect this seems silly,  but at the time I was convinced it was the way to go about it.  The trip seemed to be a hazy plan “in the fall,  during canning season” about every year since I got serious about gardening several years ago.  Every year something came up and it just never seemed like “the right time. ”  

This spring,  came the tipping point. 

This year,  I have had an absolutely amazing crop from my rhubarb that I planted 4 years ago.  This is the biggest crop I’ve had from it yet.  I was determined that this would be the year that I finally managed to can something,  and I decided that that “something” was going to be shrawberry-rhubarb jelly.  I LOVE strawberry – rhubarb jelly.  Like,  can eat it straight out of the jar love it,  and boy is it be hard to find (especially organic),  and when you do (most of the time at a farmers market) it is usually very expensive.  Now,  I don’t begrudge the cost,  since I know organic produce is more expensive in general,  and organic strawberries even more so, but that just makes it a rare treat indeed. 

I was absolutely determined I would figure out this whole canning “thing.”   This year.  In fact,  this spring.  Right now,  while my rhubarb was producing a luscious crop and strawberries were in season. 

My first major hurdle was finding organic strawberries that actually smelled like strawberrys and weren’t rotting.  This actually proved to be harder then I expected.   Everywhere I went it seemed like their organic strawberries were in one of three categories: 1. Unripe 2. Rotting 3. Nonexistent.  Non organic strawberries were found by the billions everywhere I went,  however,  strawberries are one of the things I insist on buying organic since they are part of the dirty dozen.  Apple’s are another big one for me,  and man,  it’s getting ridiculously hard to find organic granny smith apples these days,  for any price!  I finally lucked out at Costco,  where they were selling 2 lb containers for $7, which,  although double the price of non organic,  is a good price for organic strawberries.  I bought 10 lbs since I wasn’t sure how many I would need for the amount of rhubarb I had.

Allright,  organic rhubarb? Check.  Organic strawberries? Check.  Organic sugar? Check (also from Costco, that’s the best price I’ve found on organic CANE sugar,  since I refuse to buy beet sugar.)  Organic lemons? Check.  Organic pectin? Che…… errrr,  what? I didn’t think this one through apparently.   I actually have no idea if you can get organic pectin or not,  sadly I just grabbed the first thing off the shelf I saw in the canning section at my local Ace Hardware,  which is where I got the canning lids I used as well.  I have since discovered they are almost half the price at the local big blue box store (which I absolutely loathe shopping at with a passion I can not even begin to describe),  which might be enough to get me to shop there if I start doing a whole bunch of canning in the future.  I do plan on investing in some of the Tattler reusable canning lids in the future,  however,  I didn’t want to make the investment until I was sure I was going to be comfortable canning in the future. 

I already had a whole bunch of canning jars that I’ve collected over the years in sizes ranging from 4 oz all the way up to 1 gallon,  in both the wide mouth variety and the regular ones.   For years now I have been using glass jars for storing food both in the fridge and in the cupboards.   Not canning things,  just using them as dry storage for beans,  lentils,  chips,  popcorn,  and things like that.   I’ve also discovered if you store things in glass in the fridge they both last longer AND taste better.   No funky refrigerator taste in the food and no food adding funky smells to the refrigerator.

This has gotten so long that I am just going to end the first installment here and continue on with part 2 in another post.  

-Fin

Dropping Google and Facebook

I've had multiple debates with coworkers on the value of the "cloud" and placing your data in the trust of others.  While I care about privacy, my views are shaded by a distinct pragmatism.  I know many willing to share pretty much everything on Facebook and Google, and others that go so far as to host their own physical email servers and domains.

Looking at current "cloud" data providers, Google was an attractive choice for a few major reasons.  First, all of their services HAD (very important past-tense) the feel of playing along well with others. Google pushed HTML5 and open video codecs, and federated chat servers with others.  And then, you could pay for an ad free experience, which I did.  Facebook has ALWAYS had a rather F-you attitude toward privacy and personal details.  Not to mention, obvious commercial interests and a need to monetize users.

Lately, I've been feeling an increasing level of stress over the sheer reliance I have on these data providers, and their blatant disregard for my privacy.  It will more than likely be a long process, but I've come to the decision that I want my PERSONAL life to be under more of my own control.  I say "dropping google", but "placing softly behind" might be more appropriate.   I'm still, for example, using my google apps subscription currently.

The first step in dropping the G was moving to my own self-hosted blog site. So far, so good. 🙂