Archive for May, 2011

Chicken Coop Construction

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

This winter my husband I decided to start keeping a few laying hens again.  My parents had chickens when I was a kid, and I’ve kept them off and on over the years. I think it’s been about 8 years since I’ve kept chickens.  It was one of the many things I let go while I was establishing my business.  On the list of things I chose to give up for a while were: My dairy goats, chickens, beekeeping, my small greenhouse, the HUGE vegetable garden which easily rivaled my Amish neighbors’, and my papermaking hobby. Now that the business is 9 years old and well established, I have begun to reclaim some of my old interests. About 3 years ago I began gardening again, but on a much smaller (and smarter) scale than before. Now I’m ready for chickens!

When Bart and I moved into this old farmhouse 20 years ago, there were a few outbuildings on the property.  One of the buildings was a long, low barn which had been used for small-scale chicken farming.  It hadn’t been used in decades and was full of trash and varmints.  It took us several years to get it cleaned out, and eventually I converted it to keep my small dairy goat herd.This is a view from the side where there is going to be a large fenced area for the chickens to roam. In years past, I allowed the chickens to roam the property, but they could be a bit destructive in the herb and vegetable garden, so I’m confining them this time.

Around the corner to the right is this door going into the area of the goat barn where our chicken coop is under construction.  Because the building is so old, Bart is having to replace some boards and fix a leaky roof.  We also decided that, for less than a dozen chickens, we wanted to use a more confined space and make sure that it would be tight against predators.  As you can see, I will have a small utility area outside of the coop where I can keep a couple of metal cans for storing feed and a few bales of straw and grass.

Because the coop is exposed to the northeast prevailing winds and weather, we have chosen to add some insulation to the walls. We also decided to create a raised floor with some old pallets, as this end of the barn can become quite wet during the spring and fall rainy seasons.  We put down a remnant piece of linoleum to protect the wood floor from decomposition, and to make cleaning a little easier (I found this idea while looking at coop designs at  Bart had an old screen door lying around, which he cut down to fit the space.  For the sake of summer time ventilation we have decided to enclose the coop with 1/2″ mesh hardware cloth. A determined raccoon can make a mess of chicken wire, so it’s not an option.

I also have plans to hang a shop light fixture with UV bulbs.  During the winter months when daylight hours are fewer, the light will be on a timer to provide a few extra hours of light for more consistent egg production.  Bart built the nest boxes with a hinged lid for easy access.

He built the door to the pasture so that it can be closed at night against predators, and also during inclement weather. When this room was last used for chickens, the door to the outside was hinged in such a way that high winds would cause it to flap, and snow would drift into the coop.

I’ve chosen to keep Delaware chickens, a heritage breed on the critical endangered list. I found a local breeder who will have some young chickens ready for me within the next couple of weeks.  I’ve also located a local source for organic, non-GMO chicken feed, and will supplement the birds’ winter diet with vegetable scraps from my kitchen, whey from cheesemaking, and some sprouted grains.  Once the coop is finished and the birds are settled into their new home, I’ll be sure to post an update.

Violet Syrup

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Most of my herbie friends are about 2 weeks ahead of me on their foraging projects, and have already shared their violet projects. My friend, Maggie, was featured on the cover of  Radish Magazine with her violet jelly recipe.

After an unusually long, cool spring, and Indiana’s wettest spring on record in a 100 years, my violets finally hit full bloom in the past week.  Fearful of more crazy weather, I was out gathering violets at first opportunity.

In case you’re wondering what on earth you would do with violet syrup, here are a few suggestions:  Serve with crepes or pancakes, add it to champagne or a white wine spritzer, drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, pour over shaved ice for a cool summer treat, or use it as a cocktail mixer for a violet martini or violet gin fizz.

Making violet syrup is as simple as brewing a cup of tea, and making simple syrup.

Violet Syrup
Violet flowers
Lemon Juice

Fill a jar with violets flowers. Pour boiling water over violets and allow to cool. Strain liquid from flowers. Don’t be alarmed at the color of the water.  It will range anywhere from blue to green, but will be adjusted to purple later. Here is what mine looked like in the first 30 seconds of steeping. The picture doesn’t do the color justice. Even fiddling with my camera settings, I was not able to capture the deep rich quality of the color.  You’ll probably see what I mean if you try making your own syrup. Further steeping darkens the color.

At a 1:1 ratio, place violet liquid and sugar in a large pan.  I used a quart jar and ended up with 3 cups of violet water, so I used 3 cups of sugar.

Add lemon juice to the mixture until the desired color of violet is achieved.  It doesn’t take much, and too much will result in magenta or pink syrup.  It took a little over a teaspoon of lemon juice to bring my syrup to a deep jewel toned violet color.

Bring syrup mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes. If the color fades a little during cooking, you can add a few more drops of lemon juice to readjust the color before bottling. Cool and store in the refrigerator.  This syrup can become moldy if stored for long periods of time in the refrigerator.  I plan to try freezing some this year to see if I can extend violets into the winter months.

Ramp It Up!! Part 3 – Dirty Ramp Martini

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

I promise this will be my last entry for ramps, then I’ll move along to something else.  When ramps season rolls around again next year, I’ll only pester you with one mention of the subject.

Martinis can be a contentious subject. There are those who prefer vodka martinis, and purists who insist that real martinis are made with gin.  Vodka or gin? Shaken or stirred? Olive, onion, or lemon? Vermouth or no vermouth? Every dedicated martini drinker has their preference, and this recipe is based on how I like my martini.  Ramps provide a seasonal departure from my typical dirty martini with 3 or 4 olives. I like my ratio of gin to vermouth at 4:1.

Dirty Ramp Martini
2 ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin
1/2 ounce Noilly Prat Vermouth (I DO NOT like the Martini & Rossi… blech!)
Splash of ramp brine
Pickled Ramp for garnishing

Place gin, vermouth, and ramp brine in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a pickled ramp.

Cheers! And please remember to drink responsibly.

Ramp It Up!! Part 2 – Ramp Compound Butter

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Compound butters are a great way to sneak more flavor into your cooking and they also provide a way to preserve short-lived seasonal flavors.  Spring flavors are always favorites, but the window of opportunity is often as short as only one or two weeks.  If you don’t take advantage of that window, it will be a whole year before you get to taste those flavors again.

Ramp butter is extremely versatile.  Use it in any way you would use butter and onion or garlic.  Instead of garlic bread, you could try warm toasty ramp bread.  I love to use ramp butter to make my morning eggs…. even better if I had a fresh morel or two to throw in the pan (no such luck this year).

Ramp Compound Butter
1/2 pound butter, softened to room temperature
Baker’s dozen cleaned ramps, or approximately 6 ounces
Zest from 1/2 lemon or lime
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

Place butter in bowl, set aside. Blanch ramps in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then remove to an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Blanching the ramps will help them retain a bright green color when you freeze the finished butter.

Squeeze as much water out of the ramps as possible and then chop them up. I like to chop the bulb part finely, and the greens a little on the coarse side so I get a nice pattern in the butter when I slice it off the roll.

Add the chopped ramps, zest, and lemon or lime juice to the butter and blend thoroughly with a spoon or spatula.

On a piece of parchment paper, form the butter into a long log.  Roll the butter tightly in the parchment paper and twist both ends. Store your butter rolls in the freezer until ready for use.

Ramp It Up!! Part 1 – Pickled Ramps

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Not only was it Mother’s Day this past Sunday, but it was also my birthday.  On such occasions that my birthday lands on Mom’s Day, I commandeer the whole weekend and make lots of demands.  On Friday evening  I demanded Mexican food, margaritas, and a movie.  Nobody complained because it  meant they all got dinner and a movie too. On Saturday my husband brought me a load of dirt for my newest raised bed.  On Sunday I wanted yard work, gardening, and a walk in the woods to forage wild edibles. I spent some enjoyable time with my family, and came back from the woods with a big batch of one of my favorite spring delicacies, ramps.  Because the season for ramps is only a couple of weeks long, I prolong it by making some refrigerated pickled ramps and compound butter for the freezer. The pickled ramps make a tasty martini (Gibson) garnish. The ramp butter can be used melted over vegetables, on crusty warm bread, to make your morning scramble, or anything in which you’d like to ramp up the flavor (pun intended).

The amounts given below are for each pint of pickled ramps. I like my pickles vinegary, so I never add sweetener to my pickling brine.

Pickled Ramps
Ramps, cleaned and trimmed
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon peppercorn

Place cleaned and trimmed ramps in jars. Combine vinegar, water, salt and spices into a pan and bring to a boil. Pour hot liquid over ramps. Cool to room temperature, cover and store in refrigerator.

Now, it’s confession time. I just gave you the traditional method for pickled ramps. I only make a couple of jars and they don’t last long, so I skip a step. I don’t heat the brine. I just pour it cold over the ramps and stick the jars in the refrigerator.  I’ve also used other spices in the past. You can use mustard seed, celery seed, coriander, thyme, red pepper flakes….. get imaginative.

Not one to be wasteful, I even use the pickling brine. With it’s strong oniony-galicky-leeky flavor (just how do you describe the flavor or ramps?), the brine is wonderful mixed with a little olive oil for a vinaigrette.

Oh, and for the ramp butter, and ramp martini….. stay tuned!



Homemade Vinegar Part 2 – Wine and Raspberries

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

About 3 weeks ago I shared my first venture into making vinegar.  I had mentioned that I would be saving some of the vinegar mother to start a batch of white wine vinegar.  Even though the project isn’t done, I’d like to go ahead and show you what I’ve started.  We’re at the beginning of the growing season, and I want to get the information up for those who would like to take advantage of in season produce.   Rhubarb is already in season here in Indiana, and strawberries should be coming along shortly.

Above is a picture of a batch of raspberry vinegar that I just started.  The weird-looking stuff at the top is the mother from the apple vinegar that I made back in February. Here’s what it looks like on a plate before I added it to the raspberries.

I was scrounging through my freezer and found a gallon bag of raspberries from the summer of 2009. Some of them were starting to look a little freezer burned around the edges, so I wanted to get them used up.  I’m hoping for a nice rich raspberry vinegar to use on summer salads.  Once I thawed the berries, I placed them in a half gallon jar with a big dollop of raw local honey.  To top up the container I needed less than a cup of water, so the berry juice is thick and not watered down.  I have high hopes for this batch. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that I placed the mother in the top the jar, but you probably figured that out already.

I also started batches from some elderberry wine my parents made last summer, and some tomato wine that we’ve all decided wasn’t very nice to drink, but should make good vinegar. This reminds me that I had promised an update on the elderberry wine, so I will try not to forget to write about it soon.

And, here is the wine with a piece of the mother floating in it.  Later in the summer I’ll get everything bottled up, and let you know how the batches turned out.  If any of you decide to experiment with different vinegars, please do drop me a line.

10-14-11 Update:  Unfortunately, the vinegar did not turn out. Some searching led me to the Leeners site, a company specializing in cultures and yeasts for fermented foods. It appears my big mistake with the raspberries was using so little water. After the initial ferment the raspberry developed mold. The problem with the wine was two fold.  First, because my wine had an alcohol content in excess of 9%, I should have diluted it at the rate of one part water to two parts wine.  Secondly, I discovered that there’s a better chance of converting wine to vinegar if you use an actual wine vinegar mother.  I have plans to purchase mothers from Leeners, as well as the vinegar making book.

Struise Black Damnation IV Beer Review

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

I have a camera full of pictures, and quite a few things to blog, but motivation has been hard in coming this spring.  I don’t know if it has anything to do with the prolonged cool weather and never ending rain…. or just plain laziness. In the meantime, it’s been several months since my last beer review, so I thought a review might help get me jump started again.

I attended the Dark Lord Day beer festival in Munster, Indiana last weekend, and I’ve had beer on the brain ever since.  As a result, I’m back on the beer tasting bandwagon after a brief hiatus. A couple of days ago I tried a brew that combines two of my favorites, beer and coffee.

Struise Black Damnation IV – Coffee Club
The commercial description: The Black Damnation series is a dark twist of Urban’s mind. His idea is to realize a dozen beers with the use of Black Albert, and over a period of two years, that are as black as hell, filthy rich in the nose and with a massive taste.

Black Damnation IV was made with Black Albert that aged for 6 months on very old rum barrels.

My take: This beer is one of my favorite styles, an imperial stout.  As you can see, it’s a near black beer with a creamy tan head.  You can’t see it in the picture, but the head laced nicely on the glass. For those of you who aren’t familiar with beer tasting jargon, lacing refers to a lacy pattern of foam that remains on the sides of the glass after the head has dissipated.  At first sniff I was hit with coffee, coffee, coffee! I love coffee.  I love coffee so much that I own a coffee roaster, burr grinder, and more than one type of coffee making paraphernalia.  We’ll save my coffee addiction for another conversation. Going back to the beer, once my nose moved past the coffee aroma it was able pick out chocolate, sweet lactose (milk sugar), and an earth aroma.  Yes, that would be dirt, but believe me…. it’s not a bad thing in beer. Upon tasting, again there was that coffee – rich dark roasted coffee. Balancing out the coffee flavor was dark roasted malt flavor, charcoal (probably related to that earth I got in the aroma), dark fruits (prune/raisin), and a lingering creamy sweetness (back to that sweet lactose in the aroma). As for the palate of the beer, it was full bodied and had a nice creamy mouth feel.

The bottle was a gift from my brother in law.  I have no idea if I’ll ever run across this beer again or not, but if I do I will definitely drink it again.