A Wood Stove and Other Things

Organic tree fertilizerWhile we are busy trying to sell our home in the valley so we can permanently move up to our mountain property, we have been able to sneak up to the future homestead a few times these past few weeks to get a few chores done.

One important task to accomplish was feeding our fruit and nut trees.  We stopped at an organic nursery on our way up to the future homestead and found a great organic fertilizer. It has kelp and worm compost and other wonderful things in it, providing not just the NPK that you find in chemical fertilizers, but lots of micronutrients such as boron and copper that are essential for tree health!  We also raked away the last of the leaves and pine needles to prevent any pests from over-wintering in them, and widened the watering berm a bit because the drip line has expanded with the ever-growing trees.  We did a drastic pruning this year, so the trees are actually shorter, but we need to make sure that the trees have a strong scaffolding shape for the future. Unfortunately we got a borer in the largest cherry tree last year, so we cut out as much of the damaged wood as possible and are keeping our fingers crossed that the tree will survive.cap and vent for an outhouse

Another necessary chore was to put a rain cap on the outhouse vent.  When using a venting an outhousecomposting toilet (which is essentially what an outhouse is), excessive moisture is the biggest enemy!  Instead of human waste composting with minimal smell, excessively wet waste will stink to high heavens and become a putrid sludge instead of compost.

If you are eating right now, I apologize.  ;)

We found several caps at our local hardware box store and decided on the one in the picture above one.  It appears that it will do a great job allowing for air flow, yet keep rain out of the vent pipe. Just what we need! Though we haven’t had much rain here in California this winter (we are in our fourth year of drought), the weather report said that quite a bit of rain was expected in the next couple of days, and they were right!  We got the vent on just in time!

february blooming almond tree

Almond tree blossoms in February

Speaking of the weather and the orchard trees:  it has been just too warm up on our future homestead!  Our almond tree is blooming and the pomegranate is starting to leaf out!  This is way too early.  We shouldn’t see this until at least the end of February and more often well into March.  Unfortunately, this probably means we won’t get any almonds this year because a freeze or very heavy downpour of rain will either kill the blossoms or knock them off of the tree entirely.  Oh well.  The tree is only starting it’s third year in our orchard, so I didn’t expect much of a harvest anyway.  Last year it had two almonds that fell off the tree mid-summer.

pomegranate tree leafing out

The pomegranate trees are already getting leaves!

Last, but by no means least, is our new wood stove!  Isn’t she cute?  It’s a little tiny thing, but just perfect for cooking on!  We decided to fire her up right away to burn off that new cooking on a small wood stovepaint smell.  Boy did it stink!  Phew!  According to the instructions that came with the wood stove, we will have to do this a few more times before the burned paint smell is gone, but that’s not a problem.  So now, when our home in the valley is sold and we move up to our mountain property and start building our new homestead, we will have a great way to cook outside without having to use up a lot of expensive propane!

While bringing some wood over to the new wood stove to burn, I found this mushroom on one of the logs!  Isn’t it beautiful?wood stove 7 This wood has been piled up for a couple of years and there were several other types of fungi growing on the wood – slowly but surely decomposing the cellulose – adding nutrients to the organic layer of duff on the forest floor.  Mother Nature at her best!

Thanks for coming over for a visit!

 

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Turkey & Hamburger Soap

Yup.  I did it.  I made soap out of

dun dun duuuuuunnnnn…….

Make soap from turkey fat and hamburger grease

 

Hamburger grease and turkey fat!

Eewwww, you might say.  Well, let me tell you, it actually made quite a nice bar of soap!

Seriously! How to make soap from hamburger grease and turkey fat

Just look at this pretty, creamy white bar of soap!

If this is something you might fancy doing, just save all of your (previously discarded) cooking fats!

All of them. Just keep your hamburger grease in one container, your chicken fat in another, etc., because each fat requires just a slightly different amount of lye (sodium hydroxide) for the chemical reaction of saponification to work it’s soapmaking magic!

When I boiled the Thanksgiving turkey carcass, along with all the skin and parts unknown, before it cooled down too much I strained the broth into a large saucepan, then set it into the refrigerator overnight.  The next morning I had a nice creamy layer of turkey fat sitting on top of some wonderfully healthy turkey broth.  Just carefully lift the fat off the top of the broth, scrape anything off the bottom that isn’t clean white fat, pop it into a container and then into the freezer!  You can also do this with chicken fat, duck fat, just about any kind of poultry you have! Once you have enough for a batch of soap – Make Soap!

Soap from Hamburger grease

You can pour your hamburger grease into a paper cup, cleaned milk carton, cleaned tin can – whatever you have (thought it’s harder to get it out of a can). When hardened, pop it out of the container and store in a baggie or some sort of air-tight container in the freezer.

The hamburger fat?  Well, to be technical, hamburger fat is really just another name for tallow!  When you brown your hamburger, save the fat that you drain off into a cup or tin can, then pour in just a touch of hot water and set it in the fridge to cool. Once the fat is congealed on the top of the water, you have tallow!

Did you know you can also make soap with bacon grease?  Yes Indeedy!

Because of the chemical process called saponification, you can make soap out of just about any kind of fat or oil known to man!  I suppose that if the SHTF anytime soon, I could make soap out of chipmunk fat, though I’m not sure how much chipmunk fat it would take to get a pound of soap!

Sorry, Simon, Alvin and Theodore!  Just joking……. maybe.  ;)

So, here is what I did:

After saving my fats, I had 390 grams of turkey fat and 192 grams of tallow.  I went to the handy-dandy calculator at Brambleberry.com and plugged these numbers into their calculator and found that I would need 192 grams of liquid (for this batch I used water, but you could also use milk, tea, coffee, etc.) and 77.29 grams of lye (sodium hydroxide).  The yield would be 850 grams, which is a little less than two pounds of soap.  Cool!

I won’t go through all the details about how to make soap here, you can find that just about anywhere.  You can also peruse several of my other soap making recipes on the soapmaking tab above, or CLICK HERE.

soap made from turkey fat

This soap cut very easily and was a beautiful creamy white color.

Anyway, I decided, when I reached trace, that I would add in some Rosemary essential oil along with Clary Sage. Not because I was afraid of what turkey and tallow soap would smell like, because I have already found out that the chemical reaction of the lye and the fats make the soap smell clean and very pleasant – even without added scents!  But because I enjoy experimenting with different scents!  I am blessed that my daughter-in-law, Wendy, is a distributor of How to make soap with turkey fatDoTerra, a wonderful brand of essential oil.  In fact, for Christmas she gave me some more, along with a wonderful, handy dandy holder! If you would like to try DoTerra essential oils, you can go to her webpage HERE.  So, when I tested the sage and rosemary EO’s together by taking off the lids and holding the two bottles together, swirling them beneath my nose, I liked the combination. I further tested the blend by adding one drop of the Clary Sage on a napkin, then added one drop of Rosemary right on top, let it sit and blend for a few minutes, then smelled it again. I really liked the blend of these two scents.  It was woodsy and clean smelling with just a hint of manliness – a little like one of my husband’s favorite aftershaves. Also, the scent seemed to barrel it’s way right into my sinuses – so I thought this would be a wonderful combination of scents during the winter cold and flu season!      Right?

Besides….    doesn’t sage go well with turkey? :)

Well…  ahem…   I wouldn’t call it a mistake….     maybe just a little faux pas.

You see – the soap is reallyHow to make soap out of cooking fats nice and seems to clean well with a good creamy lather. However, every time I smell it I am reminded of Turkey stuffing!  The sage scent took over and I think I added too much!  I also found that I don’t need to use as much DoTerra as I would other essential oils.

Next time I make turkey fat soap, I think I will use a citrus blend. ;)

The soap itself is just a bit softer than a pure tallow or pure lard soap would be, but it’s hard enough to work well in the bath or shower, or at the sink for handwashing.  As you can see from the picture above, I got seven nice sized bars of soap.  Not bad from something most people just throw away!

how to make soap from cooking grease

Have you made soap with any animal fat other than lard or tallow?

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Sourdough Pasta

pasta made from sourdough starter

A bowl of chicken and rustic sourdough noodle soup with a side of buttered sourdough bread. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks!

Pasta has always been my “go-to” favorite for an easy, quick meal.  Of course, that was when I purchased the pasta, pasta sauce, the meat or cheese (or both) and spices!  Now that I know better and have more time, I have started canning my own pasta sauce, grinding my own beef and even growing and dehydrating my own spices!  Naturally, I also make my own pasta.  A couple of months ago I began experimenting with sourdough, and when I found a recipe on Cultures for Health for making sourdough pasta, I was all in!

how to make sourdough noodles

This is fresh out-of-the-refrigerator, hungry sourdough. Do you see that brownish liquid? That means this starter is HUNGRY!

My sourdough starter has performed very well.  When I first told people I wanted to try sourdough, I was given all kinds of dire warnings about how I would have to bake every week or the starter would die.  Well, I can tell you now from experience that I don’t have to make something with the starter every week – it hibernates just fine while in the refrigerator!  All I really have to do is feed it by stirring in some flour and water once a week, set it back in the fridge, and all is well! I even forgot it for a few weeks, but once fed and out of the fridge, it perked up just fine! :D

how to make noodles out of sourdough starter

This is my expanding supply of sourdough starter, warm, fed and very, very happy!

Now that I have been experimenting with the sourdough starter for a while, when I plan a sourdough baking day, I make it worth my time!  Instead of throwing away half the sourdough (oh no) and feeding the rest, then repeating every 8-12 hours for at least three feedings, I save all of the sourdough and feed it all!  That way, I can make a lot of stuff with the sourdough!

pizza crust made from sourdough

This is the first batch of sourdough pizza crusts ready for the oven.

This last week I made a bunch (eight, to be specific, but who’s counting!) of sourdough pizza crusts, shaped into rectangles (it fits better on my baking sheets and in the freezer) and partially cooked them before I froze them for future meals. Sourdough pizza is really delicious!

Then I made some bread.  You can see this post on some of the first sourdough bread I made.  The olive and parmesan loaf is wonderful!  On this most recent epic sourdough day, I tried adding Italian flavoring to one loaf – oregano, basil and garlic – and it was really, REALLY good!  I will do that again!

♪♫♪♪ O sole mio ♫♪♫♫

So, let’s see – two loafs of bread, eight pizza crusts…   lots of sourdough starter left!

Hmmm…

Now what…

That’s when I went to the Cultures for Health website and saw it…   Pasta!

I won’t go through all the recipe details here, but in a nutshell you add whole wheat flour to the starter along with egg yolks, mix it up until it forms a nice ball (not much kneading necessary) and then let it sit for at least 8 hours or over night.  This allows the sourdough yeast to work it’s magic throughout the mix. I let mine rest overnight because I figured the longer it fermented, the better the dough would be for my health!  I also assumed it would be easier to roll it out, and I was right.

The next morning I was happy to see that my sourdough pasta dough had become spongy, which is a good thing. Sourdough is more digestible than standard bread and more nutritious, also. Lactic acids help neutralize the phylates in flour which can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. The acids also slow down the rate at which glucose is released into the blood-stream, lowering the bread’s glycemic index, preventing insulin spikes. They also make the gluten in flour more digestible and less likely to cause food intolerance.

Rustic sourdough noodles

I love my pasta roller! It rolls out pasta in 10 different thicknesses and does a much better job than I can do with just a regular rolling pin!

I grabbed a handful of the dough and rolled it flat with my handy-dandy pasta machine. One important note when rolling sourdough through a pasta roller – make sure both sides are floured first!  If the dough is not floured, it will stick in the roller and make an epic mess! Haha – I know this well from experience! Of course, you can roll it out by hand. Once flattened, the pasta dough goes through the noodle cutter, which you can also do by hand. Waa Laa  – sourdough pasta noodles!  (waa laa means “there it is” in redneck French)

How to make noodles from sourdough

“Necessity is the mother of invention”, or in my case, “making do”!

But then, where to hang them to dry?  My dearest has already agreed to make me a pasta drying rack (thank you in advance, sweetheart), but what do I do now? Improvise! :D  This large container with the wooden spoons laying across actually made a decent pasta dryer!

Don’t laugh, it works!

But I didn’t stop there.  Did you expect me to?

I bought a ravioli maker last year because it looked like it would be an easy way to make a lot of raviolis.  I got it on sale at Williams-Sonoma (free shipping also!) and when it came in the mail I had to set it aside because Christmas was coming, the goose was getting fat, and I had other things to do.

Today was the day to try it out.

First, I rolled out some of the sourdough pasta dough and got it pretty thin.  Then, I laid the pasta on top of the ravioli maker after it had been floured, and gently…  oh so very gently… pushed the dough into each depression.

Sourdough ravioli

After placing the dough on top of the ravioli maker, then pressing into each depression gently, I placed the filling into each and then covered with another layer of sourdough pasta.

Hmmm.  I got a couple of tears in the dough, but was able to patch them.  Then I filled each depression with a mixture of cooked chicken, some gouda and crimini mushrooms, all diced very small to fit a good mixture into the pockets.

Making ravioli with sourdough pasta

This was Mmmm Mmmm good! A light bechamel sauce with mozarella topped the ravioli quite well!

Next, another sheet of pasta was rolled out and placed on top of the first!  Then, all I had to do was take a wooden roller (included with the ravioli maker) and roll over the top, and – presto – ravioli!

I can see how I could spend an hour making a lot of raviolis and freeze them for several meals later in the month.  After-all, once you have all the equipment out and everything is coated in a fine dust of flour ;) , you may as well just get a bunch done!  Right?  Just remember to lay the ravioli on a parchment or waxed paper lined baking sheet and freeze for about an hour.  Once frozen, you can throw them into a freezer bag or other freezer container and they shouldn’t stick together.

How did they turn out?  Absolutely delicious!  What would I do different?  I think next time I will add a bit of sauce into the filling mixture so that it is more “full”.  The chunks of chicken and mushrooms and cheese had pockets of air between them after they were cooked.  Luckily, that didn’t effect the flavor, but I need to experiment just the same.

How to make ravioli with sourdough starter

Just for fun, I thought I would show you a few of the “fails”! Remember – flour, flour, flour!

Whew – what a day – actually almost two!  But look at what I accomplished – all done with Frank, my sourdough starter.

Frank?  Well, yes.  I name my cultures…  don’t you?  I decided to call him Frank because my specific culture is San Francisco Sourdough.  Francisco…  Frank… get it?  :D

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Tea of Immortality

In my quest to find a healthier, more self reliant lifestyle, I came across a beverage that has been called the “tea of immortality”, otherwise known as kombucha.  My husband and I are trying to completely kick the soda pop habit, and since kombucha has a natural fizziness to it after it’s second ferment, I thought we would see if this would be a viable alternative.

The history of kombucha is long and varies from country to country, but the truth is that kombucha has found it’s way around the world.  In Germany it is called heldenpilz, in Russia it is known as kvas, and in China they call it cha Ju.  I thought that anything known by so many different names and passed down by so many different cultures must be worth investigating. Kombucha is supposed to be one of the best probiotics around, and as we all know, good gut health means everything!

I got my Kombucha starter from Cultures for Health.  What you get is a dehydrated SCOBY, which is actually an acronym for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.  You can also call it a tea mushroom, Manchu fungus, tea mushroom, etc., but for purposes of clarity, I will call it a SCOBY.  The SCOBY is what turns sweetened tea into kombucha.

how to brew kombucha

I started out with black tea, since this is generally the most recommended type of tea to use for kombucha.

The instructions for re-hydrating your SCOBY are clear and simple. For full instructions or if you want to order a dehydrated SCOBY, you can visit Cultures of Health.  I am not an affiliate of theirs, but I think their website gives out all the information you might ever need on fermented foods.  I used black tea for my first try, which is the recommended tea. You should not use tea that has added oils in it for flavoring, such as Earl Grey, and herbal teas don’t work unless they are used along with regular tea and a mature SCOBY. The sweetened tea, with vinegar and the dehydrated SCOBY is then covered with a coffee filter or clean cloth, placed where it can breathe in room temperature (not in a closed cupboard), out of direct sunlight and where it won’t be moved or vibrated for 30 days.

Brewing Kombucha

A rehydrated kombucha SCOBY, ready to make some kombucha.

After one month, I took the now rehydrated SCOBY out of the jar and, following instructions, placed it in a freshly prepared tea, sugar and vinegar solution.  Did I try the kombucha from the first batch? You bet!  Did I like it?  NO!  It was very, very vinegary!  I could easily swallow a tablespoon per day if this is what I needed to do for good health (I have done this with apple cider vinegar and fire cider), but drink it as a beverage?  Absolutely not!

The good thing is that I knew from reading about kombucha that the longer the sweet tea is allowed to ferment, the more acidic and vinegary it will become, and this batch had fermented for 30 days.  No wonder it was so vinegary!

With the second batch, which is really the first drinkable batch, I let it ferment for the suggested 14 days.  It was apparent that the SCOBY was very happy, because I could see the trail of yeast and bacteria descending from the SCOBY, and a new scoby was forming just under the first scoby!

Brewing kombucha

Look closely at this kombucha brewing. The SCOBY is the thin white layer on the top of the tea, with a new SCOBY developing underneath. You can see tendrils of the SCOBY reaching down into the tea/sugar/vinegar mixture. Looks kinda creepy, doesn’t it?

I will be honest with you.  Looking at this made my stomach a bit queasy!  All my life I have thrown out foods that were moldy.  I know, I know, mushrooms are a fungus.  And cheese, well, cheese is also made from mold, which is a type of fungus.  But seeing the trailing mold running through something I am supposed to drink?  Well, let’s just say I was a bit…  um…   repulsed.  The SCOBY itself looks like something out of science fiction. Everytime I held one, I kept waiting for it to start breathing!

But, you know me.  I am willing to try something if it means better health, frugality or even self-reliant living.  (Doesn’t that all pretty much mean the same thing? :D )  Since I was trying to find an alternative to commercial soda-pop, I was willing to give it a good try.

Brewing Tea of Immortality

When you buy a dehydrated SCOBY from Cultures for Health, they include a package of pH testing strips. These strips ensure that you kombucha is ready to drink by being acidic enough.

After the 14 days of brewing, I tested the kombucha to make sure it was acidic enough to drink.  It was.  Then I tasted it and…

drum roll…

it was still vinegary.

Not as strong as the 30 day vinegar taste, but vinegary just the same.  I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.  I wondered if perhaps this kombucha culture had a bacteria and/or yeast that made a particularly vinegary and acidic tasting tea, because most SCOBY cultures aren’t exactly the same as the next.  Some have more of this yeast and some have more of that bacteria.  I had read that you can start a kombucha SCOBY from store bought kombucha, and since the store bought kombucha didn’t taste as vinegary to me as the ones that I had home brewed, I wanted to see if I could get a SCOBY started with the store bought stuff.

How to brew kombucha

You can see the scoby starting to develop on the top of the sweet tea/vinegar mixture. By golly, you CAN get your own scoby from a bottle of raw, unfiltered, unflavored kombucha!

I bought a bottle of kombucha from our local health food store and, sure enough, there was a glob of “stuff” at the bottom.  I followed the instructions just the same as I did for the rehydrated batch of SCOBY, but instead of adding a rehydrated scoby, I added the entire bottle of purchased kombucha with the glob SCOBY in it.

Yes, I know.  It does look like something you would blow into a tissue!  In fact, I enjoy showing the kombucha to everyone who comes to our home.  Their first reaction is “what do you do with it?” and when I tell them I drink it, their second reaction is always “eeewwwww”.

I get a kick out of it every time!  :D

How to brew kombucha

Two layers of kombucha SCOBY the newest is always on the bottom.

My experiment with the store bought kombucha worked!  Within one week I could see a new SCOBY growing on the top of the tea!  In fact, it seemed like this SCOBY grew a lot faster than the dehydrated one I had purchased.

So now I had two SCOBYs.  I decided to let both of these ferment in new sweetened tea/vinegar solution for just 10 days and then try it.  At Cultures for Health, they don’t recommend fermenting for less than 10 days or the brew may not be acidic enough to kill off all the bad bacteria and such.

The result after 10 days?  Not bad.  Not really good, but not really bad either.

The next step is to try a second ferment to get the natural effervescence like a soda-pop, and also add some flavoring to hopefully mask the taste. ;)Home brewed kombucha

After perusing several blogs on the internet, I decided to try two different flavors:  cherry vanilla (supposed to be reminiscent of Dr. Pepper) and blueberry lemon.  I had one growler (a bottle commonly used by beer brewers with a flip-top “bail type” stopper) from a long extinct craft brewery in Sonora, California, and purchased two more at Ikea for only $3.99 each.

Brewing Fermented Sweet Tea

The kombucha is allowed to ferment a second time with flavorings, so that it will get that “soda pop” fizz and taste better.

I poured the kombucha into each bottle and using a funnel added a handful of blueberries and a few lemon slices to one bottle, and a 1″ piece of split vanilla bean with a handful of dried cherries to another.

After one day I tested the bottles kombucha by opening them and ♪♫♪♪ pfffttt-plunk ♪♫♫♪  they had fizz!  In fact, the blueberries quickly rose to the top of the bottle carried by wings of little bubble angels.  However, I knew from reading other blogs that it was imperative that I let it go through at least 3 days of a second ferment – just to get that really good fizz.

 

Three days later, I put the bottles in the refrigerator in anticipation of drinking the now flavored and fizzy kombucha with dinner.

Fermented Sweet Tea

A cold glass of the Tea of Immortality!

How did it taste?  Well, let’s say it isn’t my favorite.  It isn’t good, but it isn’t bad either.  I think I can easily drink about 2-4 ounces a day, just for it’s health benefit. At first we thought we liked the blueberry/lemon best, but then the cherry vanilla ended up the clear winner. However, this won’t be gracing my table anytime soon to serve alongside dinner.  My husband’s palate is even more sensitive to the vinegary taste than mine is, so no, this won’t be a sodapop substitute for us.

Not yet.

If you know me, you know that I don’t give up so easily!

I want to try a few more rounds of brew using Oolong tea, green tea and white tea and see how that tastes.  I also want to try brewing the kombucha with a little less vinegar to start with, and see if that makes a difference.  So, stay tuned – there will be more to post soon!

If anyone has any suggestions or blog posts about kombucha and flavored kombucha, please leave a comment below!

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