Sunday, March 31, 2013

Busy Times

Busy times at this Nutbrown household. But fun, happy times as well. Our little boy turned 9 months old a few days ago!
 I have 5 Wyandotte eggs incubating. These ones I will keep for myself (not all of them, because there are bound to be more roosters than hens, but I'll sell the roosters). The eggs have started wiggling of their own accord, and there are only 2 days left until lockdown! It has flown by for me, because I have been so busy with visits that I've nearly forgotten all about them. But I am getting more excited as the time approaches. I'll be updating more regularly as they start to pip. After these guys hatch, I'll be hatching one more batch of eggs for myself, and then I think I'll be done for the year.
 Look at my tired baby! He fell asleep while his daddy was feeding him some kiwi. He had a busy day yesterday. We went into the big city of Prince George to do some shopping (first time since October. Yay us!). After we ran our errands, we went to the pool and Kesten went swimming for the first time ever. He loved it! He splashed around, played with pool toys, and loved it when we swished him through the water.
 It may not look like it to you, but we are getting some serious snow melting now. The days have been warm - in the low teens, and Kesten had his nap outside on the deck in his playpen on Friday while I puttered in the yard. The chicken coop is getting mucked out and cleaned and ready for the new inhabitants.
 The snow is melting off of the wheat field, so that I can soon start digging turf off of it again. We really have lost a lot of snow, it doesn't look like it, but we have!

My plants are growing well and I just bought some more grow bulbs in town so that my seedlings will have a lot of light. I will take a picture once I've got my system all set up. I am planting a few more seeds today. I really love this time of year, it is my absolute favourite! So much to do and plan and grow! New plants and baby chicks! And I don't think I would appreciate it nearly as much, if it weren't for those long Winters that we slog through.

What do you love about Spring? What's your favourite time of year?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Crafting!: Beeswax Food Savers

Lately I saw an ad for Bees Wrap, and thought, "Hey, I could make this stuff!" After doing some research online, I set out to make my own re-usable food wrap.

First, I cut out some different sized squares out of cotton and linen. I made some big enough to fit over bowls and some smaller that would make good snack-sized containers.

 Next, I placed some parchment paper on cookie sheets and grated beeswax on top.

 I sprinkled the beeswax around as evenly as I could. It was a bit of a guessing game to figure out how much was enough. The red gingham square on the left I found had the right amount. The two on the right ended up having to go back in the oven with more beeswax.
Put the squares in the oven at 350F for about 10 minutes, until all the wax has melted. Then take them out. I read that you should hang them up to dry right away, so I tried that with some and with others I left them to dry on the pan. I didn't notice too much of a difference.

The linen I found needed a lot more beeswax to saturate it. Can you see the spots in this picture that didn't get covered in wax? I added more wax shavings to it and popped it back in the oven until it was all melted.
The finished wax squares have such a great texture and are so malleable. You can scrunch them right up in a ball and then straighten them back out again. 

For finishing touches, I trimmed the edges with pinking shears and added some buttons and string to some of the smaller squares, so that they close up like pouches.

 To wash them, use cold water and then hang to dry.
They are really fun to use and I hope they will help us cut down out our saran wrap use (not that we use much anyway).

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Northern Spring Shawl/Cowl

Or as I like to call it, a "Showl".  This is my latest knitting pattern, inspired by a beautiful shawl/cowl/infinity scarf that a lady in town wove. This "showl" is a great in-between season accessory and looks great with a light coat or sweater to add a little extra warmth. 
 Ah, Northern Spring, or as others like to call it, "Winter."

 The texture of this "showl" is lovely, the linen stitch gives it the appearance of being woven and the reverse side feels so luxurious.

Northern Spring Shawl-Cowl (Showl)
Yarn: Bernat Softee Chunky in Grey Heather, 6 skeins

Needles: 8mm

Gauge: 3st and 4 rows = 1 inch in linen stitch (gauge is not too important in this project)

Measurements: 19 inches wide and 6 feet long

ybk-bring yarn to the back of work
yfwd-bring yarn to the front of work

Notes: This "showl" is cast on using an open/invisible cast-on and then joined to the end using kitchener stitch to make a continuos loop. The seam is still somewhat visible though, and if doing an open cast-on is intimidating for you, go ahead and use your regular cast-on method and sew up the two ends in whatever way works best for you.

Cast on 60 stitches using the invisible or open cast-on method.
Work in linen stitch until "showl" measures 6 feet long. Linen stitch pattern is as follows:
*k1, yfwd,  sl1, ybk* until 2 stitches remain. k2
*p1,ybk, sl1, yfwd* until 2 stitches remain. p2

When shawl/cowl measures 6 feet long, place the open cast-on stitches on a needle as well, twist the shawl/cowl in one full twist (like an infinity scarf) and join the two edges in kitchener stitch to make one continuos loop. Weave in ends. Wrap that "showl" around you and revel in its softness and warmth with a mind at ease, knowing that you didn't have to sacrifice comfort for style.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Family Visit

My sister, and her lovely family have been up here visiting us for the first time this week. We are having a blast seeing each other again, and the little cousins are having a hoot playing together. The last time they saw each other, Kesten was just 3 weeks old and Parker was 6 months! Here I am supervising their play.
A visit to Fort St. James isn't complete without a stop at the Historic Park. We booked a private tour and immensely enjoyed it! Here you can see graffiti from the late 1800's on the wall of the fur warehouse.

After the tour, we had free reign of the museum, along with all the dress-up clothes. What fun we had!
Sisters and cousins! We just need our older sister here to complete this photo! We missed her this week!
We are big goofballs!

"We're out of milk!"

The little guys had fun playing with the clothes in the trunk!

The next day, we took a trip to our friend's farm and got to visit with the first baby calf of the season, a strapping baby boy.
He's going to see his mommy.
Very sweet!
After that, we have been busy with our boys, making felted slippers, doing fun photo shoots, and hanging out by candlelight for Earth Hour. Dandelion wine was consumed, chocolate cake was gobbled up, and episodes of Seinfeld enjoyed. We crafted, knitted, walked, and played. Tonight is the last night of their visit and we will miss them so much!
What a great couple of weeks we have had, visiting with family back East and at home. And some things for you to look forward to in the future:
1. I have a new knitting pattern completed and ready to post in a couple of days
2. I have 5 eggs growing in the incubator and set to hatch in 13 days!!!!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Making Maple Syrup: Part 5-Bottling the Syrup

And now for the final stage of maple syrup making- bottling! Once the syrup has been strained through the felt, it needs to be boiled down a bit further. This requires a bit more precision, so doing it on the stove inside is best. The syrup is placed inside a large pot and the heat is turned on. A candy thermometer is placed inside to measure the temperature. The syrup needs to reach 218 degrees Fahrenheit. You need to watch carefully to make sure it doesn't boil over, because that can happen quickly and even with a just a bit of syrup in the bottom. Once the syrup reaches the right temperature, Grandpa takes it off the heat and uses a spoon to skim of any granules that may be there. He then pours it hot into bottles and jars and seals them up. If the syrup happens to get too thick, it will crystallize in the jars. To prevent this, add the thick syrup back to some thinner syrup and do it over again. Or you can store the thick syrup in the freezer and that will keep it from crystallizing.
And the syrup is now ready to eat and enjoy! And the end of our week, Grandpa made us his special potato pancakes which we enjoyed with the maple syrup we had made. He shared the recipe with me, which was written in 1918, and perfected by Grandpa.

Grandpa Nutbrown's Potato Pancakes
1 cup flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups mashed potatoes
4 tbsp melted butter

Boil about 3 peeled medium potatoes and then finely mash them (or use a handheld food processor). Mix in the rest of the ingredients and fry up like regular pancakes. Serve with your homemade maple syrup! Serves 4

Take a look at:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Making Maple Syrup: Part 4-Boiling the Sap

This is the stage that can best be enjoyed on a cold day. How nice it was to cozy up to the fire and breathe in the maple syrup steam while the cold wind blew outside or the rain came down! Grandpa has a chair and a splash guard that he sets up on those days, so he can get nice and close and stay warm.
To boil down the sap, Grandpa Nutbrown lights a fire in the stove under the 4 tubs and begins the flow of fresh sap into the first tub. Here it warms up and continues flowing from tub to tub until it is in the fourth tub where it becomes maple syrup (or pretty close to it). 
 Here you can see where the sap is heating up and moving through the the tubes that Grandpa soldered onto the bottom of the tub. It really gets the sap boiling so much faster and when it is in a full boil, the sap is nearly shooting out of those tubes like geysers! A little bit of cooking oil drizzled on top of the sap keeps down any foam and keeps it from boiling over (which can happen quickly!).
 Because Grandpa has made his system fairly automatic, he can stoke up the fire and fill up his sap barrel and let it all boil down as he leaves for the night. When we came back in the morning, it was amazing to see and taste how well his system works. The first tub was nearly clear and tasted like sap. The second tub the colour was darker and the taste a little stronger, the third was even darker and maple-ier, and the fourth was just about syrup.
Next we got the fire going again to get the last tub as close to syrup as possible. Grandpa shut off the pipes between the third and fourth tub and unscrewed them, so we could work on just the fourth tub getting pure. Grandpa watches the bubbles on top of the fourth tub. They start out looking like tiny bubbles, like foam, on top, but as it gets closer to syrup, the bubbles get bigger, like those in the picture below. At this point Grandpa gets out his dipper and scoops up some syrup and then lets it drop back into the tub. He is looking for a web coming off of the dipper, which tells him that the syrup is ready to take off the fire.
When the web is there, Grandpa places a sheet of metal over the fire under the fourth tub, to keep the heat down and then lifts that tub off. He then pours the syrup off into a milk pail, straining it through a thick felted cloth. This keeps out any bits of bark or debris that have made it through the process.
Before putting the tub back on the fire, Grandpa adds some fresh sap into the bottom of the tub, to keep things from burning. He then hooks the pipes back together, removes the metal sheet from the fire, and gets the sap flowing again. This process is repeated over and over again until you have no more sap to boil down. The syrup in the milk pail is then ready for a final boil on a stove inside and then bottling.

Also take a look at:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5

Friday, March 15, 2013

Making Maple Syrup: Part 3-Gathering Sap

Now comes perhaps my favourite part of making maple syrup, gathering the sap. This part usually happens daily, depending on how well the sap is running. We had three different locations with trees tapped. Grandpa Nutbrown has made a barrel trailer that can be towed by the truck, tractor, or Big Red his old trike. He towed the trailer to the location where the trees are tapped and then we set out with large buckets to the trees. We pull the pails off the tree and empty them into the large buckets. When the large buckets are full, we take them over to the trailer and empty them inside the barrel. As you can probably guess, this part requires a lot of walking and heavy lifting- good exercise! 

When we went to collect the sap the first time, Grandpa held the pail up for us to taste the sap. It tastes like watery tea with a hint of sweetness. It is really incredible that it will become such dark, sweet syrup. I wonder who first came up with this?

There is something very satisfying about filling up your bucket full of sap. And it is so nice to be outside in the sunshine with the birds chirping.  I'm hooked. It is just too bad that there are no maples out West!
When you are gathering the sap, it is a good time to check the spouts and make sure the sap is flowing properly into the bucket and not dripping somewhere it is not supposed to be. We fixed a couple of leaky sparrows by putting a twig in the spout, which redirected the flow of sap into the pail.
Grandpa Nutbrown likes it when he goes to collect sap after a very cold night and there is a layer of ice on the top of the pail. This ice is just water - none of the good sap is frozen in this ice so you can just chuck it away. It makes the boiling process go faster if you can get a bit more water out at this stage.
Once the sap is collected, it needs to be stored out of heat and sunlight if you are not boiling it right away. The sun will turn the sap yellow and sour and it will be no good to make syrup with.
Once you have some sap collected, the next step is boiling it down.

Also take a look at:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

Making Maple Syrup: Part 2-The Sugar Shack

After tapping the trees, it was time to set up the sugar shack. It is important to boil down your sap out of doors because the amount of steam that is produced would ruin your house if you tried to do it inside. To get the sugar shack ready, Grandpa Nutbrown got out the ladder and installed the chimney. Next, he got his tubs out of storage and set them up over the wood stove. Grandpa has built a special system to boil down his syrup that makes it very efficient. Growing up, he watched his Grandfather make syrup using a long 15 by 4 foot pan with a deep, 6 inch corrugated bottom. The corrugated bottom got the sap  right down into the flame, which helped it boil down faster, but you had to really keep an eye on it and make sure there was at least a couple inches of sap over the corrugated part to keep it from burning. Grandpa invented his own system using four tubs that sit into the wood stove. The first tub has small pipes underneath it that go down into the fire, warming up the sap that Grandpa has filtering slowly in from a barrel above. From there it moves into the second tub through pipes. The second tub gets the sap really boiling, as it has bigger tubes underneath it that Grandpa silver soldered on, heating the sap to boiling. It moves to the third tub built the same way, and then into a fourth tub with a flat bottom, where the sap can be boiled down until it is just about in its final stage of syrup. The pipes connecting the tubs can be shut off with valves, so that you can really work on getting the last tub close to syrup and pour it off. If you are using a large flat pan to boil down your sap, you would have to wait until all your sap is boiled down before pouring off the syrup. It sounds complicated, and maybe it is! But it makes sense when you see it. I'll explain more about the boiling process later.
Wood is stacked up high in the sugar shack, ready to feed the fire and keep it going. Once all the tubs and chimney were set up, it was time for us to gather sap.

Take a look at:
Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Making Maple Syrup: Part 1-Tapping Trees

For a long time, we've been meaning to go back East to see Kesten's great Grandpa and learn to make maple syrup from him. If you are going to learn how to make maple syrup, Grandpa Nutbrown is probably the best to teach you. In a few months he'll be 86, and being born during maple syrup time (the sap ran later in Quebec in those days), he has 86 years of maple syrup making experience. Being a maple syrup baby, I am pretty sure the sap runs through his veins and fuels his love for making this sweet delicacy. He learned to make syrup from his father who learned from his father, who probably learned from his father who was the first to come over to Canada as a boy.
Grandpa Nutbrown grew up on a farm where they raised chickens for eggs, had a few dairy cows and meat pigs, and of course made maple syrup. Farm work was done with a team of horses and Grandpa told us about how hard it was to make hay without a windrow rake. They didn't need a lot of money then, and almost anything they needed that they couldn't provide for themselves they could trade eggs and butter for.
Entertainment meant having friends over for a game of cards, or dancing the night away to the piano. His father's dandelion wine helped liven things up a bit as well. He remembers his parents' friends staying over until 3am.
Growing up on a farm probably encouraged Grandpa's innovativeness. He can rig up, fix, or invent just about anything from whatever is lying around.  He has invented a system for boiling down his sap to syrup that has come from years of experience and makes the process very efficient. He has an amazing knowledge of the woods and can identify the trees with just a glance. This is harder than it sounds when there are no leaves on the trees. Growing up in the West with our abundance of evergreens, I have a hard time telling a maple from a chestnut, let alone a soft maple (takes twice as much sap to make syrup) from a good sugar maple. Grandpa seems to know these things innately. The more time we spent with him this past week, the more we learned. The basics of maple syrup making may be learned in a week, but the subtleties and traditional knowledge that perfect the art really take a life time to learn. I wish we had started years ago.

Maple syrup making can only begin when the weather is just right. The days need to get above zero, while the nights need to be below freezing. This gets the sap running. Grandpa tapped the trees before we got there, but he demonstrated on a tree so we could see. Using a hand-held drill, Grandpa makes a hole on a slight angle, over an inch deep. You want to be through the bark and into the wood. The sap should start flowing pretty instantly. Grandpa likes to tap the trees low to the ground, so that the dark wood that comes when the holes heel over don't affect the lumber, if the tree should ever be cut down.
Next he takes a hammer and drives in the sparrow (spout) and hangs a bucket. A lid is placed over the bucket to keep out the rainwater which would only dilute the sap further. Keep the lid as close to the tree as possible to make sure it is effective.
Grandpa likes to tap trees over a root and on the side where there are more branches, as the sap will run heavier on this side. A tree needs to be about 8 inches wide to be tapped and to have more than one it needs to be about as big around as your arms could hug.
One of the things that surprised me most about tapping the trees, is that the sap is clear and looks like water. Having never seen the process, I think I expected the sap to be darker in colour like the finished syrup. The things you learn!

Here are:
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

We're Back!

Sorry for the long absence! We've been out East making maple syrup with Grandpa Nutbrown and having the time of our lives!

I have so many pictures to show you, stories to tell you, and notes to write. I want to do it all justice, so I will be writing it up in parts over the next couple of days. But for now, here are some pictures from our trip.
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