Beer making and garlic braiding

Tom and I are attending 'Beer School' through The Kitchn. Last week most of our assignments were preparing us for the actual brewing of beer, and yesterday our task was to go shopping for all the equipment we needed.

We visited our local brew store and had a fun time gathering up our list, which included strange-sounding things like 'hydrometer' and 'airlock.' We also got our grains. We are making an all-grain beer, which is apparently more flavorful but is a bit harder. It was fun to go into the 'grain room' and taste and smell all the grains. We also enjoyed milling the grains right there in the shop.

Employee Nolan helps us navigate milling
We have everything at home now, it set us back about $119 but we already had a significant amount of the kitchen items needed. If you had to start by getting that stuff too (stockpot, thermometer, etc) it would be quite a bit more costly.

I'm guessing that we may begin the brewing very soon. We're excited to get started making our first amber ale!

Today my fruit trees arrived from Stark Brothers, impeccably packed as usual. I soaked them in water for several hours while I prepared the beds. Last week I took out a huge ceonothus and many sunroses from along our North fence. The first thing I had to do today was borrow my father's ax and hack the stumps to pieces. I gotta tell you, nothing makes me more exhausted than using the ax. I always end up with numb hands and arms, literally dripping sweat. How did all the pioneers clear their land with just an ax? It blows my mind, every time I use this tool. Respect, pioneer dudes.

Next I needed to clear the land of mulch and dig some holes. Clay clay clay. Digging is the second-most exhausting thing in our hard-as-rock earth. I shall sleep well tonight.

Sunrose is gone, time for cherry trees...

...and here they are

only the ceonothus stump left.... a plum tree

I put wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of good compost in these areas, and mixed up a huge amount of flower and herb seeds, then broadcast them over the dirt. Tom hooked up drips, and in a few weeks, we'll see how these guys are doing. These trees probably won't fruit for at least two years. Planning for the future, yo. In the meantime, we'll hopefully get a nice pollinator garden going.

By the way, those cinder blocks you see in the plum tree picture are for the new rain barrel I ordered. Turns out, they don't make them the way they did five years ago when we got our old one; they no longer make them with removable lids. So you must use the spigot to fill your watering cans. (I guess it's a safety issue?) Therefore, they need to be up on blocks. Also in this picture is a small strip of bark for Joe. He likes to lie in this spot, and I keep taking away his favorite places. I couldn't bear to do it again.

I also made my garlic braids. The garlic was harvested two weeks ago and placed to cure on top of our chicken coop. It had gotten quite dry in the curing period, so I decided to go ahead and braid it. You start out with three bulbs, wired together. Then you braid, adding another bulb to the middle each time. It's a little like French braiding hair (which I was never very good at). When you've reached the top, you secure with twine, making a knot at the front and then at the back, then making a loop with which to hang the braid.

Still a little green in the middle; that will dry with time

Dad has finished my canning shelf, which has knobs on which to hang these garlic braids, and I'll be installing that next weekend.

You may recall that I made Thieves Vinegar a few weeks ago. I decanted it in to a spray bottle and used it to clean the kitchen, the shower, and our wooden dining room table this weekend. I'm happy to report that it works excellently on all those surfaces. It smells good, too - very minty. And yes, vinegar-y too. But after using chemical cleaners most of my life, it was a nice change. I guess you just have to decide what you want to smell when you're done cleaning.

I put some in another spray bottle to take to work tomorrow - what with the kids' diagnosis', sensitivities, and allergies, we try to use natural cleaning products whenever possible. So we can use this to clean the lunch and station tables when we are done.

I can think of lots of other uses for this too - I'll try it as a clothes softener this week. Vinegar naturally softens clothes and it doesn't leave a vinegar smell on them, apparently. Much better for the environment than regular fabric softeners. Plus, if we go with a graywater system, we're going to need to use different detergents/softeners anyway.

I'm desperate to plant basil and get it started, but I'm loathe to pull out the kale until it's really and truly done. So I'm leaving the kale for now, and I planted some interim basil between and among the peppers. I ordered more seeds and will just plan on succession planting once the kale is finished. I also had to re-seed a few items. You see, we've attracted an intrepid scrub jay to our yard. He came for the chicken coop. He discovered that the chickens will sometimes, in their enthusiastic scratching and digging, pitch a treat out through the fencing of their coop. He sees them scratching and comes down, perches on the edge of a raised bed, and waits for any morsel that comes sailing out. Smart bird. Apparently he's also seen me seeding beds, because I've seen him steal the seeds once I've planted them. So I have to be stealthy. I have to make sure he's not around before I go out and bury and few furtive grains of corn or beans. I feel silly looking out for a BIRD, but there it is.

Finally, we tried to get to the fence gates. We've taken to parking our cars as close to our gates as possible (three gates, two cars - one gate is always unprotected) because the damn deer are hopping the fences to get in, now that they can't get over the fence. Beans - eaten! Strawberries - eaten! ARGH. And we just didn't get to the new fences this weekend. It's top of our list, next weekend.

And that's the news from Poppy Corners this second weekend of May. Have a good week, everyone!

Three Herb-y Projects, an interesting bee experience, and more Urban Farm Tour information

I mentioned over the weekend that having the herb spiral in the garden is really a boon for my cooking, and today I made two dishes that really highlighted fresh herbs. But first, a project: I made  'Thieves Vinegar." I caught a little bit of a P. Allen Smith program on PBS, where he was visiting a farm that still does things as they would in colonial times. They used this vinegar for cleaning everything - wood included. I thought I'd make some and use it to clean the kitchen and bathroom, and maybe even our wood furniture.

Here's how you make it: Fill a mason jar with any herb that smells good to you. I used lavender, mint, and sorrel - all smell delicious (the sorrel smells of lemon), and all are abundant in my garden.

Really pack the herbs in the jar.

Then, add distilled white vinegar. On the program they said they prefer this kind of vinegar but that you can use apple cider vinegar as well. Fill the jar to the top, completely covering the herbs, and screw on the cap tightly.

Place the jar in the sun, protected from rain (if you get rain where you live, lucky you.).

In the program, they put it everything in a crock (like you'd use for sauerkraut), put a weight on top, then covered with cloth tied on with twine. But they said in modern days a mason jar is just fine! So that's what I've done.

After two weeks, the mixture should be ready to decant into a spray bottle and used to clean your house! I can't wait to try it, and I'll let you know how it works.

This is a project I could never do without my herb garden, because the cost of buying this quantity of herbs would be quite prohibitive.

For dinner tonight, I used another great quantity of fresh herbs. First, I made fresh foccacia from a recipe I also saw on the same P. Allen Smith show. (I don't usually watch his show, because he doesn't garden like I do - first of all, he's on the East coast so the plant choices don't translate, and also I don't like his style, generally. However this particular episode turned out to be a winner!)


Pour one cup of warm water into a large bowl. Sprinkle one tablespoon of yeast on top of the water. Sprinkle in two tablespoons of sugar and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Mix well and let sit five minutes.
Then add 3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, one teaspoon salt, one tablespoon olive oil, and three tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs. I used rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram. Mix thoroughly and knead for five minutes on a floured board. Put back in the bowl, cover with two teaspoons of olive oil, and a moist cloth. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

(A quick aside: I've never kneaded anything by hand - I've always used the bread attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer. Kneading this by hand was actually a great thing to do. Five minutes isn't that long, but you start to realize how strong women used to be, and how they had to do this nearly every day, and often for longer than five minutes. You begin to feel pretty badass. Try it and see!)

Scatter two tablespoons of cornmeal on the bottom of a baking pan. (I used a rectangular pan that I often use for brownies.) Press dough into the pan, stretching it out into a rough rectangle. Sprinkle on sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Bake at 450 for 15-20 minutes. It smells heavenly while it's baking and looks lovely when done.

I served this with a mix of chopped tomatoes (not in season, from Mexico, horrors!), fresh mozzarella, a little basil (also not in season!), salt, pepper, and olive oil.

To go with it, I found a recipe for herbed pork tenderloin from The Kitchn. Basically you make a sort of pesto to rub on the pork.

Grilled Herbed Pork Tenderloin

In a food processor, combine 1/2 cup fine cornmeal, five minced cloves of garlic, one cup of minced parsley, five minced springs of thyme, two minced sprigs of rosemary, and 1/4 cup minced sage. Pulse till mixed.

While food processor is running, add two tablespoons of olive oil. Rub this paste over two pork tenderloins, which you've already salted and peppered. Grill.

We enjoyed these dishes! The bread was soft and savory and delicious with the tomato mixture; pork tenderloin is generally not my favorite cut of meat, but I simply loved this preparation - the cornmeal/herb mixture gave the meat a lovely crust, and it was so yummy. The best part is that there are leftovers for lunch tomorrow! I will definitely make both these dishes again.

Now for the interesting bee experience. This morning I was headed out to the garden early to pick kale, and I noticed a scrub jay by the hive. As I approached, he flew to the top of the train shed, and in his beak was a dead bee! He must have picked it up from the bee graveyard at the foot of the hive. I didn't know jays would eat dead bees! That was pretty neat.

I opened the hive again today to check the comb. The good news is that the bees are making comb very quickly. The bad news is that I had to remove more skewed comb. I was so frustrated with this that I moved bars around, hoping that they'll build on the ones I moved to the front of the hive now and leave the others for later. I imagine the queen is laying brood on the very first bar, which is beautifully straight, but she'll need to lay on all the other bars as well, and I don't want to have to remove comb that has eggs or larvae in it. As it is, I feel terrible, because it's full of nectar and pollen that the bees have painstakingly collected.

Finally, the Urban Farm Tour tickets are on sale! We very much hope to see you at our farm, June 6. Here are all the relevant links: