Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Tuesday Postscript - Having the Summer Off

Good morning.  It's overcast and looks like rain today.  I thought I'd give you a little look at what having the summer off has looked like for me.  I haven't had a summer off since high school and that was 20+ years ago.  I've had a few people make off-handed remarks about how nice it must be to "relax" all summer.  While I have done some relaxing my summer has looked more like this...

I get up usually around 5:30 am, grab a cup of coffee and my glass of water, then head downstairs to the computer in my studio.  Contrary to how that sounds, I'm not a morning person and I prefer to have a bit of quiet time before I have to engage in conversation.  I read a few headlines, catch up on the blogs I follow, and then generally write a blog post.  If I've already written the blog posts for the week I will work on scheduling posts for my handmade card business - Inked Inspirations.

Breakfast during the week is had around 6:30 am.  I start breakfast while hubby gets ready for work.  Weekday breakfasts are usually simple cereal and toast or a breakfast sandwich.  We eat together and then he packs his lunch at leaves about 7 am.  I head back downstairs to finish my coffee and whatever I'm working on.  After that things vary depending on the day.  Here's a look at yesterday...

I started my morning by baking a loaf of no-knead bread that has been resting overnight on the counter.  It takes an hour and a half from resting to folding, through baking and cooling.  I spaced on the photos, but you can learn more about my obsession with this bread here and here.

I got my morning cardio push mowing about 3 miles worth of our yard according to the step tracker on my phone.  I'm nowhere near done, there are two more chunks that need to be done, but those will have to be for another day.  

Everything always looks so nice when it's freshly mowed.  You can't tell that our yard is mostly wild strawberries, weeds, sucker trees, and wildflowers once it's been mowed.  We're not lawn people and we don't care that there's barely a stitch of grass growing here.  

While I ran the mower the washing machine was hard at work on the first load of laundry for the line.  Yes, I still hang laundry on the line.  It's a choice, not a necessity and I enjoy it.  When summer hits most of our laundry is line-dried.  I find the ability to hang laundry and listen to the birds and bugs in my yard very enjoyable.  

After all the mowing I made myself some lunch.  This is a bit of grilled chicken, sprouts, tomato, pesto, and arugula on the last of the soft warp bread with a side of Doritos.  

While I was enjoying lunch there were eggs boiling on the stove.  Had one little guy crack, but he turned out ok in spite of the egg you can see cooked to the side of the shell.

Four of those eggs went into some tuna salad.  Not pictured is the apple cider vinegar and the salt and pepper.  I know, someone is going to tell me it needs onion and someone will question the mustard.  We all make tuna a different way.  This isn't even the way my mom makes it.

There was some much-needed watering.  This little bed is under the eve of the roof, so unfortunately doesn't get the benefit of the rain unless it comes in sideways.  While the water did its job on the bed, with me moving it every 15 minutes or so, I folded laundry and watch a Trent & Allie Video on YouTube.  

Once the bed was watered, I added some fertilizer to the rhubarb section.  All the small ones were transplanted from the other end of the bed early in the spring and they need a little boost to get them re-established.  

The herbs were growing a little out of control so there was some much-needed harvesting.  I cut back the mint, dill, sage, and rosemary.  Basil will probably be cut back later in the week.  

The harvested herbs went into the dehydrator and I'll be putting them into jars sometime later today.  These will be great for later in the year when the greenhouse is dormant for the winter.  I do plan to keep the mint, some basil, and the rosemary through the winter as house plants.  

After doing a few more things in the greenhouse, transporting a couple of things, and pruning the squash and tomato plant, I took a shower and put my feet up for a while.  I did a bit of reading on the computer, answered some comments and questions on my Facebook pages, and enjoyed a glass of iced tea.  

You probably thought I was done in the greenhouse after all the herb harvesting, but I had to go back for the lettuce and broccoli for dinner.  Both of these lovely things went into the salad that went with our amazing dinner.

While I waited for Hubby to get home I started the grill and sat down on the porch with a nice glass of Shiraz.  

We enjoyed the surf and turf dinner we'd originally planned for last Friday.  I'm not a but steak eater so I get a small piece of Hubby's Ribeye.  I also get more shrimp than he does.  We shared a baked potato and had a lovely salad that was half from our garden. 

After dinner, the "egg lady" stopped by with an egg delivery and we visited in the front yard for a bit.  The weather was so beautiful all day yesterday.

So, while I don't have to go into a "real" job I'm not laying around the house all summer eating bonbons and watching soaps.  Today I'll be working on some custom card orders that need to be finished up and there will be some baking since it's cool outside.  I'll also be putting apples in the dehydrator and making taco and spaghetti seasoning mixes. 

Let me know if you'd like to see more posts like this.  Have a beautiful Tuesday.  

Monday, July 20, 2020

Monday Postscript - Berry Picking

Good Morning.  It's a beautiful morning here in Alaska.  I have a bit of a busy day ahead of me today, but I'm taking a minute to talk about part of our weekend.  Sunday we went out to do some berry picking.  It's blueberry and raspberry picking season.  

One thing you learn when you harvest berries in Alaska, you have to find your own spot and you don't disclose where that spot is.  Our spot this year was perfect and full of lovely little plump berries.  

Berry season is very unpredictable, some seasons are bountiful and others not so much.  We didn't get a chance to harvest last year, timing and weather were never on our side.  The year before the berries were smaller and not as juicy.  

Wild berry harvesting was never something I did until we moved to Alaska, but they are so easy to find and harvest here.  We have strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries in our yard.  We have our spot for blueberries and we found another great place to get raspberries this weekend as well.

We harvested eight pints of wild blueberries.  Four cups of the blueberries have gone to making blueberry liqueur.  I'll use some of these fresh, but a majority of the remainder of the blueberries will be frozen for the winter.  I'll use them for baking muffins, cobblers, etc. 

I will spend some time today cleaning berries and preparing them to freeze.  I'll flash freeze them, meaning once they are cleaned I will lay them on a tray and place the tray in the freezer.  After the berries are frozen they'll go into containers for use later.  This keeps the berries from becoming one big clump while they wait to be used this winter.  

In our harvesting this weekend we also got a pint of raspberries.  While they are coming into ripeness they're not abundantly ripe...yet.  

The plan is to go back out next weekend to check the raspberries and maybe pick a few more blueberries.

The raspberries that we gathered yesterday went into a bottle to brew and become raspberry liqueur.  

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday Postscript - 16 June, 2020

The rain is back.  I was just starting to really enjoy the sunshine and the rain is back.  I spent some time yesterday working in the yard.  I weeded and mulched the rose bed.  This task was long overdue and I'm glad it's completed.  

I picked another two cups of wild berries.  There is something very enjoyable and peaceful about sitting in the yard picking berries listening to the birds and watching the bees and butterflies travel around our yard.

This batch of strawberries was turned into a puree and went into the dehydrator to become fruit leather, along with a couple of trays of rhubarb leather.  I haven't done much in the way of making fruit leather.  I took them out this morning and both are delicious.  I could have made them a little thicker, but the flavor is fresh and yummy!

There's a lone zucchini growing in the greenhouse, a couple more days, and I can pick it for eating.  We haven't grown zucchini since living in Missouri and I have to admit I'm a little excited to see the fruits on the plant.  

We have plans to travel to town this weekend.  I have finally caved on the discussion about installing a pellet stove.  We've only been talking about it for like seven years.  The plan is for it to serve as supplemental heat to help lower the fuel bill costs this winter.  Some years we've paid upwards of $600 a month to heat our house.  Fuel oil isn't cheap, usually runs about the same per gallon as diesel.  This will also give us an alternate heat source if our boiler goes down.  

Weekend plans also include more berry picking, this time for blueberries.  It's been a couple years since we went blueberry picking, last year just never worked out timing-wise.  There really just isn't enough weekend to get everything done in. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Wednesday Postscript - Schnapps and Liqueur

Good Morning.  Do you have your coffee?  Good, let's chat.  The summer is running away with us.  How is it mid-July already?  I have no idea where the summer has gone.  Living in Alaska, the summer always seems to slide by quickly.  

This year we're trying a little something new for us, we're making schnapps and liqueurs.  The process is really simple.  You'll need a jar, sugar, fruit, and vodka.  There are scads of recipes out there, I started a board on Pinterest for the ones that interest me.  

I started with a small quart jar of rhubarb schnapps.  I started with this recipe and scale it down based on what I had on hand.  I also used vanilla vodka because I had a bottle in the cupboard.  

Rhubarb Schnapps - Day 1 ( 12 June 2020)

Rhubarb Schnapps - Day 11 (22 June 2020)

According to the recipe, this little jar of goodness will be read on Juen 24th, which is a week from Friday.  We'll crack it open and learn the results then.  

Our second jar is Strawberry Liqueur.  This past weekend I picked three cups of wild strawberries and while discussing what to make with them Hubby brought up the chokecherry liqueur my mom makes.  I dug out the recipes I'd sent her several years ago to see if there was a strawberry option.  Bingo!  

Strawberry Liqueur - Day 1 (14 July 2020)

No recipe goes untouched in this house.  Adjustments were made base on the amount of fruit I had.  I also picked up some larger jars at the local hardware store.  This batch is in a half-gallon jar and I used unflavored vodka for this batch.  Now we wait three months before we can drink it.  

Blueberry picking season is just around the corner and we're eagerly awaiting the ripening of our raspberries.  We can't forget cranberry picking season in the late summer, early fall.  I also wonder about rosehips, that might need a bit of research.  I see more liqueur making in the future.  Have you made liqueurs, schnapps, wine, or other homebrew?  

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Tuesday Postscript - June 14, 2020

I've been dehydrating for several years.  I love using our Excalibur dehydrator.  We have the five tray middle from about 10+ years ago.  I also have the sheets for drying fruit leathers.  The companion to our Excalibur dehydrator is our Food Saver food sealer.  We store our dried foods in canning jars and the Food Saver has a jar attachment for both regular and wide-mouth jars.

Over the 4th of July weekend our local grocery always had a big produce sale.  I'll admit, this year I wasn't as impressed with the quality of the produce as I have been in years past.  We did however, make a few purchases for drying to use through the fall and winter seasons.  I dried 16 red and yellow bell peppers, which got me nearly a full quart jar.  We also dried eight pounds of strawberries, getting us roughly two quart jars.  I'm always amazed at how much fresh produce reduces when dehydrated. 

Once my jars were full I added the canning seal and use the jar vac sealing options on our Food Saver.  After the jars have been vac sealed I add the ring and a label.  Then onto the shelf for future use. 

The number one way my dried bell peppers are used is in homemade taco and spaghetti seasoning mixes.  I often use them in soups and stews throughout the winter months as well.  They can be re-hydrated and used in things like scrambled eggs, quiche, or baked goods. 

Strawberries on the other hand will mostly be eaten as they are, although they are delicious in oatmeal and yogurt too.  They can also be baked with, but they never last long enough in our house for me to try that.  

Over the past weekend, I added more dried apples to our stash as well as a bit of pineapple.  Hubby loves the apples and he takes them in his lunch frequently.  The pineapple, once dried, is like candy.  The dehydration brings out the sweetness of the natural sugars and let me tell you it won't last long. 

Dehydrating is an easy way to add food security to your pantry.  Much like canning, dehydration is a form of preservation that results in lining your larder shelves with good food for later use.  All of the things I have dehydrated can go a long way in adding flavor to food if they are used in cooking or baking, but they can also serve as a great way to add extra servings of fruit to your daily snacking routine.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Monday Postscript - June 13, 2020

Overcast this morning, our summer has turned out to be the rainy and chilly version.  I can honestly say I prefer the hotter, smoky summers.  Yes, that does mean dry conditions with more forest fires, but our summers are long on daylight and short on time.  The fireweed is starting to bloom and Alaskan lore states that once the blooms reach the top tip summer has run out.  

I'm eagerly awaiting the ripening of the tomatoes that are hanging on the vines of our many tomato plants.  We have several varieties, all with blossoms and fruit on them.  I'm ready for ripe juicy fruit to make Caprese salad and maybe some gazpacho before the season shifts back into hearty meals and colder weather.  

Our corn is growing well, even with the rainy weather.  Our goal this year is to get a few ears for drying and seed saving.  This is a dent variety from Colorado that is cold hardy.  Dent corn varieties are used for drying and grinding into cornmeal.  No corn on the cob from this patch.

I'm hoping to get seeds from the sunflower and some romaine lettuce that bolted, that I have drying in the greenhouse.  The sunflower came to an early demise a few weeks ago, but it had seeds in the head so we're drying it to see if we can plant the seeds next year.  The romaine is from a growing experiment of rooting the end of a grocery store head and planting.  

The microclimate in our greenhouse is such that we have a fungus population growing in and around our raised bed.  I discovered this crazy ruffled one growing at the base of the garden box on Sunday while watering.  

Down a little further, we also have these vivid purple ones growing.  I've never seen purple mushrooms before.  They're quite interesting with a smooth almost gummy looking top and ruffled gills that peek out from the curled edges.  

Last week's basil harvest was turned into the Besto Pesto recipe from Homestead & Chill.  This was the first time I've ever added lemon juice to a pesto recipe and I'm gonna have to say that Deanna is right this is the Besto Pesto.  We used it on pasta the first night, but have been using the leftovers as a sandwich spread.  

Our garden is growing and I am pondering food stability more and more.  I learned a while back that Alaska only supplies 5% of its own food, the remaining food that we consume in this start is shipped in by truck or barge.  Yes, I realize a big part of this can be attributed to the short growing season and the long cold, sometimes harsh, winters.  It has also become cheaper and easier to ship food in, but what happens if food shipping and transport become less stable?  

We saw what happened with flour and yeast at the start of the pandemic.  Then the purchasing limits put on meat as packing plants were closed because of outbreaks.  What if that would have happened to a lot more things?  How stable is your food culture where you live?  Do you buy locally grown?  Do you grow your own?  

We saw restaurants close and an uptick in people learning to cook, but many people were still dependent on prepared heat and eat options.  What happens if those options are no longer available?  I've thought about what could have happened to the food supply chain to Alaska had the rioters in Seattle elected to take over the shipping docks rather than a police station and six-block.  

This isn't a doomsday speech, just food for thought, to stimulate hard conversations.  I'm merely sharing the questions that are running wild in my head.  I think these are conversations that every household should be having.    

Monday, July 6, 2020

Shots from Our Alaskan Life

I think I'm one of the few women in my age bracket that hangs clothes on the line, not out of necessity, but because I like it.  I love fresh line-dried laundry, especially towels and sheets.

This is very much a morning ritual.  I drink coffee and read things on the internet, while Lemon sits on my desk for some loves and to get a better view of the birds out my window.  

The dragonflies in Alaska are big.  I'd never seen dragonflies this big until we moved here.  This one was easily three inches long.  

The strawberries in the fairy garden are finally ripe for the picking.  The berries are tiny but the flavor is big and sweet.  I enjoy snagging them and eating them right out of the patch.  What's better than berry picking and coffee.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Growing Sprouts

Growing sprouts is such an easy way to add fresh ingredients to your daily meals.   Sprouts also pack a great nutritional punch.  We started growing our sprouts a couple of years ago.  Recently they have made a strong come back to our regular meals, they seem to fit into summer meals so well.  In my cupboard, you'll find the Protein Powerhouse Mix (bean mix), 5 Part Salad Mix, Radish, and alfalfa. I use one to two tablespoons of sprouting seeds each time I start a new batch of sprouts.  

We use them on sandwiches, salads, add them to pitta pockets, and serve them with cheese and crackers.  Sprouts are really versatile, you could easily add them to every meal.  I've been really enjoying goat cheese on homemade bread, topped with radish sprouts and tomatoes.

I use a sprouting lid and mason jar to grow my sprouts.  There are other options on the market, but we love our sprouting lid.  In fact, I just ordered a second one so we can do two jars at a time.  I like the bean and radish sprouts, Hubby is more of an alfalfa sprout lover.  I placed an order with True Leaf Market a few days ago, with my sprout lid I snagged some broccoli and clover sprouting seeds.  

Bean sprouts are great to add to salads and as a topping on flatbread with a little hummus and goat cheese.  I got hooked on the bean sprouts during our travels to Hawaii.  The grocery stores on the islands carry all kinds of sprouts that are produced locally.  Love me some good chickpea sprouts.

Most sprouts take about three days, the beans tend to take four or five.  When we first got our lid I followed the package instructions, keeping the jar out of direct light on the kitchen counter.  We got decent results, but never as good as the sprouts that we'd been buying at the store.  This year, I broke the rules and started putting them in the window.  Our results have been amazing.  Super green and tons of sprouts. 

I add one to two tablespoons to my sprout jar and soak them overnight.  The next morning I drain, rinse and drain again.  For the next three or four days, I rinse and drain the sprouts in the morning and set them in the window sill.  When we close the blinds in the evening, I rinse and drain them again.  I repeat this until the sprouts develop all their sprouty green goodness.  

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

My Questions & Conflicting Feelings on COVID

As COVID counts in our tiny town rise, my own anxieties and frustrations go up.  We're back posting infographics about wearing masks and for fun, scare tactics are also filling my Facebook feed.  Let me remind everyone that frequent handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing are guidelines.

I have questions and conflicting feelings about the following and the practices of said guidelines.  I don't think I'm the only one asking these questions.  Are we supposed to live the rest of our lives wearing a mask?  Do we spend forever sanitizing every surface?  Is there another lockdown in the future?  Today I wanted to talk about my own thoughts and issues with some of these things.  

The mask, oh the mask.  I wear it when it's required by an establishment I am frequenting, but I don't wear one if it's not required.  I hear the gasping and the lectures rolling in now.  It's a choice, my choice.  I suffer from claustrophobia and as I have gotten older it has gotten much worse.  I don't like crowds, small spaces, or things close to my face.  Wearing a mask is a huge trigger for me.  It's not about being uncomfortable, it's about feeling like I'm going to hyperventilate if I don't get it off my face.  I feel much the same in big cities surrounded by tall buildings where I can't see the horizon, or in crowded elevators, or even crowded street fairs.  

I'm wondering if the pro maskers are going out for dinner in areas that are now open.  Think about this, you wear a mask to get into a restaurant, everyone who is eating has removed their mask, what makes you think you won't be exposed?  No, seriously?  Social distance all you want, but most indoor restaurants have a ventilation system that is quite possibly recycling the same air over and over. 

Next on the mask question list, if you stopped wearing a mask because there were limited cases in your community and then there are new cases reported will you be going back to a mask?  I quite honestly wonder how effective this practice is.  Here's the thing, it takes roughly two weeks for symptoms to show up.  New cases are reported in your area, which is a direct result of someone getting tested and coming up positive.  In the meantime, when they were most likely at the highest point of contagious, for those two weeks before being tested as a result of symptoms; they exposed the people they came in contact with.  There's really no way to know if you were exposed.  So I go back to one of my first questions - Are we supposed to live the rest of our lives wearing masks?

Lockdown, while inconvenient for many and uncomfortable for some, I'm an introvert and actually don't mind a lockdown as long as I can still get outside and be in the yard.  I've done quite well being at home and not going out.  Only in the last month have I really been out a lot, partially because the opened up our state, but also because the weather is amazing!  There is a lot of talk about another lockdown being possible in the fall; which is when they expect a spike in cases to happen.  

I'm not and I won't sanitize the world I live in.  It's ridiculous.  Have you thought about the effect this is going to have on your health beyond COVID?  No,  I'm serious.  Think about this a minute.  Washing your hands is just good hygiene and you should have been doing that since you were old enough to know how, but disinfecting everything will have an adverse effect.  You're killing both the good and bad germs as well as your own immune system.  No germs.  No immunity.  I don't and won't sanitize the grocery boxes and packages as they come into the house.  I won't be wearing gloves to the store or anywhere else for that matter.  

Now for the part of the post that may make some of you very uncomfortable.   I don't fear death, I respect it.  I'm a firm believer in when your number is up then your number is up.  If God decides it's my time to go then I'm going.  This does not mean I am seeking it, but I'm also not fearing it.  I'll take my chance with a virus in order to live a life I won't regret looking back on.  I've seen a lot of death in my lifetime, that for many, was paired with a lot of regrets.  

All of that said, you do what you need to do to feel comfortable with all of this.  I won't be judging you if you're doing all or none of these things.  We all have to be comfortable with the level of risk we're taking.  I can hear my therapist friend telling me I feel a lot of these things because I'm a rebel and I don't like rules.  There could be more truth in that than I'd like to admit, but these are my choice.  You do you, and before you place judgement of those who aren't following the "guidelines" remind yourself we all cope with fear and risk in different ways.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Our June Day Trip

We've spent most of May and June focused on yard work and getting the garden going.  We hadn't taken any time for downtime until this past Saturday.  On Friday evening over dinner, I asked Hubby what he thought about taking a drive on Saturday and he agreed that was a great idea.  

Our original plan was to drive what we call the triangle (see map below), but we got a late start.  There was a little sleeping in and a loaf of no-knead bread that needed baking before we could start our day.  The weather also looked a bit iffy at 8 am, so we opted to stick closer to home.

Having never really spent any time at Quartz and Little Lost Lakes we opted to take the 20-minute drive and have a picnic lunch.  While the day-use area parking was a bit flooded we got one of two dry parking spaces, being the only ones there.  

There's a nice hiking trail in the area, we opted to walk part of the trail before having lunch.  The trail was a haven for dragonflies, there were literally everywhere!  

When I say tons of dragonflies, I mean there were tons of them and of all sizes.  This was the first time, since living up here, I saw the small blue dragonflies I remember from childhood. Most of the dragonflies I've seen in Alaska have been the huge ones like the one below.  

Our hike revealed other fun vegetation I'd never seen before.  Like this Broomrape or Ground Cone, which happens to be a parasite that grows on the roots of Mountain Alder.  

We also found a small patch of Puffball Mushrooms, which according to some of what I read, are edible.  I prefer to just photography mushrooms in the wild.  No harvesting for me.  The only things I forage are the berries, specifically strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, and cranberry.

We caught a glimpse of a squirrel trying very hard to pretend he was a tree branch, hoping we didn't see him.  

After the hike, there was a little picnic lunch of mostly snack and finger type foods.  No picnic is complete without chicken, we had wings and tenders from the local grocery store deli.

While we were eating lunch there was a dragonfly that was very attracted to Hubby's striped shirt.  The little fella was even color-coordinated with the shirt.  

Little Lost Lake, was a beautiful spot, with a well-used foot dock into the lake.  I found it to be a beautiful space for photography, but I think it'd be a great place for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.  No motorized boats in this little lake.

We ended our outing by grabbing an ice cream and wandering around Rika's Landing.  We try to make it out to this historic site a few times a year, while it's open for the summer season.  This year it seems a bit more important to frequent the cafe and gift shop with the tourism being in a slump for our state.  

I really love wandering around and capturing beautiful light, both inside the buildings and outside on the grounds.  They do a fabulous job with the historic displays in all of the buildings on the property.

I couldn't resist snagging a few shots of the Columbines in the late afternoon sunlight, backlit, and covered in cotton from the trees.  

I'm looking forward to more little trips around the state this year.  This is going to be the year for us to explore our own state and support local businesses this summer.