July 23, 2014

spring rolls with carrot ginger dipping sauce

2014.07_spring rolls with carrot ginger dipping sauce
It's summer, it's hot outside, and we don't have air conditioning so, Self, please refrain from the stove at least a few nights a week!!  We've posted about spring rolls here before but here's a twist on our old standby that includes more colorful veggies like red peppers and beets!  The sauce is pretty great too!  Thanks again to a recipe from Martha Stewart's Meatless cookbook.  Have I ever mentioned that one of my favorite leisure activities is leafing through cookbooks from the library?  I wonder which cookbook I will borrow next...

rice paper wrappers
radish sprouts
3 carrots, julienned
3 candy cane beets, peeled, julienned
1 cucumber, julienned 
1 red pepper, julienned
1/2 lb. firm tofu, sliced into long strips

Sauce Ingredients:
3 carrots, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped
2 T. fresh ginger, peeled
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 T. tamari
1/4 t. toasted sesame oil
black pepper
1/4 c. sunflower oil
1/4 c. water

Soak rice paper wrappers in warm water until just pliable.  Put the rice paper wrapper on a plate, load it up with veggies, and roll.  Dry off the plate between spring rolls so you get a good sticky surface to pull the wrapper taught.

For the sauce, blend everything but the oil and water until smooth.  Then add the oil and water while the the blender or food processor is running.

July 20, 2014

garlic harvest

2014.07_garlic harvest
Garlic varieties: Silverwhite, Polish Hardneck, Mechti, Red Toch

I harvested most of our garlic crop today. Polish Hardneck is the definite winner in terms of size and quality. We were a little late in harvesting the Mechti...a lot of the encasing skin disintegrated, so those bulbs will not store well.

July 19, 2014

coconut curry red lentil soup with dried currants

2014.07_coconut curry red lentil soup with dried currants
Thanks to the little baby now at the center of my life, I have a new appreciation for single vessel meals that have the flexibility of being abandoned without overcooking.  Brace yourselves for more soups, stews, and casseroles on this blog!  I know... how stereotypical American...  well, so is my inspiration for this soup!  Good old Martha Stewart (or one of her ghost writers) inspired me to take a different spin on my usual red lentil soup by adding coconut milk and dried fruit.  Yum! 

olive oil
1 1/2 c. carrots, diced
1/2 c. onion, diced
4 T. fresh grated ginger
half a head of garlic, pealed and minced
1 1/2 T. curry powder
1 T. salt
8 c. water
2 c. red lentils
1 16 oz. can coconut milk
dried currents

Saute the carrots, onion, ginger, and garlic in olive oil until the onion is translucent.  Add the curry powder and cook for a minute.  Add the salt, water, red lentils, and coconut milk.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Use an immersion blender to partially blend the soup.  Serve with dried currents and cilantro.

July 8, 2014

veggie empanadas

2014.07_veggie empanadas

Man, let me tell you, our friends know how to cook!  We got through the early weeks of new parenting thanks to the delicious meals that they dropped off.  Now that we are further into the parenting thing and we don't have food arriving at our doorstep, I am looking for ways to enjoy quick homemade meals.  One way is to make a larger quantities of food when you do cook and freeze the surplus.  I bet you'd pay big money for one of these empanadas from the freezer section of a health food store!

Veggie Empanada Filling Ingredients:
black beans
summer squash
chili powder
lime juice
olive oil

Spinach Empanada Filling Ingredients:
steamed spinach
chili powder
queso quesadilla
lemon juice

Empanada Dough Ingredients (recipe from Veganomicon):
2 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. corn meal
2 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 c. non-hydrogenated vegan shortening
1/2-3/4 c. cold water
2 t. apple cider vinegar
Precook/premix the filling ingredient.  Since I was making a big batch of empanadas, I quadrupled the dough ingredients.  Mix together the dry ingredients for the dough.  Add the shortening in pea size chunks as though you were making biscuits.  Stir in the cold water and apple cider vinegar.  I needed a bit more than 3/4 c. cold water but maybe that's the desert climate of Colorado...  Lightly knead the dough into a ball.  Roll out the dough on our floured counter.  Refrigerate for an hour on parchment paper and wrapped in plastic.  Roll out the dough some more.  Use a bowl to stamp out circles.  Stuff em, fold em, and make the edges pretty.  Bake for 25 minutes at 400° F.

July 7, 2014

early july fruit harvest

2014.07_fruit harvest red currents

This past week, we've harvested some of the first fruits from the yard since we moved in January 2013. Unfortunately, there has been late frosts both this year so we haven't gotten any fruits from our 7 fruit trees. (Ok, there were three pears and I put plastic bags on them to try saving them from the birds and squirrels, but that just dried them out! Maybe I did it too early or the sun is just too intense here in Colorado).

Fortunately, we planted a redcurrant bush last fall, so we got a decent harvest from that (above). I made a redcurrant/rosemary freezer jelly.

2014.07_fruit harvest lime
Yes, this is a lime that we grew. Our lime tree has had a single lime on it for the past 6 months. I've had it outside in the shade and a squirrel finally decided that it was time to harvest. I found the lime in another planter with a tiny bite out of it. I saved it and ate it with chips and salsa, and with empanadas.
2014.07_fruit harvest gooseberries and volunteer nantucket cherries
I was excited to identify a patch of brambley bushes in a corner of our yard as red nanking cherry. And they happened to have a handful of ripe cherries on it, buried in the middle of the brambles–the birds must've gotten all the more exposed ones. Shown here with a few gooseberries mixed in. Both are pretty tasty!

July 6, 2014

how to adjust Hunter Pro-Spray sprinkler heads

2014.07_sprinkler system spray adjustments 01

2014.07_sprinkler system spray adjustments 02

With all of the changes we've made to our yard, we've needed to make adjustments the sprinkler system that came with the house when we bought it. Eventually we hope to convert a lot of the heads to drip but for now we have capped a few and adjusted to spray direction for many.  This post is really just a note to self for how to adjust the spray heads next time since we have to look it up every time and use trial and error.

Our sprinkler heads are Hunter Pro-Spray.  There are different colored heads which indicate reach, and how narrow or wide of an area the sprinkler can cover.
  1. To set the left edge of the coverage area, twist the silver ring counter-clockwise until you hit the spot.
  2. Twisting it at least 360º will reset the spread angle to the minimum, usually 90º.
  3. Then twist the silver ring clockwise to expand the spread to the desired angle.
From what we've read the screw on the top should adjust the distance the sprinkler spray but we did not see much of a difference when we tried it.

July 5, 2014

using a plastic planter as a bait hive for honeybee swarms

2014.05_bait hive

Eric made and hung a simple bait hive this spring.  The hope is to lure, catch, and transfer a swarm of bees that are looking to relocate anyway from the bait hive into your backyard hive.  Often a healthy hive of well established bees will make a second queen and half of the bees will leave with her to build a new hive.  Before they leave, the bees will scout out ideal locations (high above the ground, hollow, enclosed spaces) and then vote on where they'd like to resettle.  It's a democracy after all.

According to research by Thomas D. Seeley, documented in the excellent book Honeybee Democracy, honeybees most frequently choose cavities with volume around 40 liters (around 10 gallons). Eric thought about buying a 10-gallon plastic planter, but we had a 7-gallon planter laying around, so we used that. Eric covered the top with plywood and attached the bait hive with screws to the tree for smooth removal in case we do need to transfer a swarm some day.

We don't own a ladder taller than 6 ft., so we borrowed a neighbor's ladder to mount the hive. Eric uses a long stick (with a nail on the end) to periodically insert a cotton ball soaked with lemongrass oil into the hive.  The lemongrass oil is similar to queen pheromones which is supposed to entice the scouts.

  2014.05_bait hive cottonball stick

July 1, 2014

chicken coop

2013.12_chicken coop 01

Eric spent the warmer days this past winter building our chicken coop.  Isn't it beautiful?  It is based on one of the simpler designs from Building Chicken Coops for Dummies.  All of the lumber and sheathing is reclaimed wood from Craigslist free.  The siding is reclaimed fencing from our back porch.  The roof is corrugated metal.  The walls, floor, and roof are all insulated (R-19 roof, R-13 walls and floor).

2013.12_chicken coop 02
With insulated 2x4 walls, a 4' x 4' footprint only provided about 12 sf of chicken living area, but with the 48 sf run, this will be enough for 6 chickens. Construction was made easier because regular wall framing with 16" o.c. studs was not required.

2014.01_chicken coop 06
Interior structural sheathing with plywood and OSB. No exterior sheathing (to save weight), just asphalt paper (found in the garage when we moved in) for a water and air barrier, and the cedar cladding on top of that (spaced out with 0.25" furring strips for a rain gap, of course).

2014.01_chicken coop 07
R-19 cellulose insulation for the roof (2x6 rafters). This used a lot more insulation than I thought, since it didn't get passed through the cellulose blower machine to loosen it up. Next time I'd probably use fiberglass batts, but cellulose was convenient because the rafter spacing was not 14.5" so batts wouldn't fit without trimming.

2014.01_chicken coop 08
Fiberglass batt wall insulation, covered with asphalt paper.

 2014.01_chicken coop 03
Finished coop, still lacking a run.

The window is a reclaimed triple pane from our local Habitat for Humanity store.  Eric positioned it so that the roof overhang shades the window during the summer but allows plenty of sun during the winter.  There is a wireless temperature sensor inside the coop so we get alerts to close or open up the ventilation areas (removable 1" foil-faced polyisocyanurate rigid foam triangles). The sensor was also used to monitor the heat lamp/temperature during the first 10 weeks when chicks need supplemental heat.

2014.05_chicken coop 09
The 1/2" hardware cloth for the 4' x 12' run was the most expensive component! A nice side effect is that the mesh is closely spaced enough that snow piles on top so the chickens won't be snowed in. Half of the chicken run can be separated to be used as a chicken tractor.

2014.04_chicken coop 05
The whole back wall swings open for easy access for cleaning.

2014.03_chicken coop 04
As for the chicks, we got 2 Buff Orphingtons, 2 Ameraucanas, 1 Silver-Laced Wyandotte, and 1 Rhode Island Red.  These chicks are already teenagers now.  At four months old, they look pretty much look full grown.  We expect they will start laying eggs when they are six months old which will be in October!