Monthly Archives: February 2017

February 17, 2017 -A Glimpse Into Our Day

It was our 10th wedding anniversary and we spent the day together at our favorite place doing something we both enjoyed. We spent about five hours at our farm boiling sap from the maple trees. img_2250 Keeping the fire fed was a constant job. We took turn adding wood to the fire.

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It took a lot of heat before the sap really started boiling and a lot of wood to maintain the boil. It was around 10:00 a.m. when my husband got the fire going and filled the sap pan with about 10 gallons of sap.

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It was around 3:30 when we brought this (almost syrup) home to finish cooking it on the stove.

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We ended up with four 1 cup jars or 1 quart of delicious maple syrup. I see pancake or French toast breakfasts in our near future. 🙂 It took 40 quarts of sap to make 1 quart of syrup.

We could have done more today but we had planned to make a special dinner together. In the morning while he was getting things started at the farm, I baked our dessert. My husband had suggested devils food cake. It had vanilla frosting because that’s one of my favorite combinations. All I had to decorate it with were a couple of store bought tubes of frosting with tips that screwed on the ends of the tube. I have never been able to make a pretty cake using these, and I don’t even know why I keep trying.

I told him, even though the cake looked corny, it was filled with love.

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After dinner we did something that we have never done before. We watched the DVD of our wedding. It took us back to that day. It was so much fun to be with family again, to see  everyone (10 years) younger, smiling, laughing, and hugging. My Mom (who passed away in 2011) wore a pink sweater the same color as my dress, I hugged her. Our eyes were teary as we spoke our vows; the promises we made, the promises we’ve kept. It was a simple day filled with so much love. We are so thankful that we have this treasure.

It was an incredibly blessed day and I can’t think of better way to have celebrated our marriage.

As we stepped into our second decade as husband and wife we have spent two more days making syrup on the farm. Even though the calendar says February, the temperatures in the, 50’s and 60’s, say “spring”. img_2285

The sun has been bright, the sky has had been a beautiful, deep blue, and we have been watching the pond level rise as the ice melts. The honey bees have been out.

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On Sunday our Grandson, Jackson had his first visit to the farm. This was a happy day.

At this point we have produced just under 1 gallon of maple syrup, and we plan to continue collecting sap and making syrup this week as long as the sap flows clear.

 

 

 

 

 

Rescuing the Brown Sugar

Last week I decided to make cookies, they were white chocolate chip, but that’s not really important for this post. When I took the bag of brown sugar out of the cupboard I remembered that the last time I made cookies (peanut butter 🙂 ), a few weeks ago, my bag of brown sugar was full of hard lumps. I did my best to break up the lumps, first with a spoon as I put it in the measuring cup, then with the mixer as I blended it with butter, sugar, egg and peanut butter. This was successful except for a few pebble-size lumps that remained after my cookie dough was completely mixed. I just picked those out and disposed of them before I baked the cookies.

I knew there was a way to make lumpy brown sugar soft again. I thought I remembered learning that if you put a slice of bread in the container with the brown sugar and seal the container the brown sugar would become soft again. What I couldn’t remember is when or where I learned this, but I decided to give it a try. I placed a soft slice of bread in the brown sugar bag. I then tied the bag and put it back in the cupboard, and I forgot about it until I decided to make cookies again.

To make a long story short, I’ll just say that when I opened the brown sugar bag the bread was very hard but the sugar was very soft. It had transformed from the hard clumps back to fine crystals. I was so glad that I remembered this simple tip, and I am happy to pass it on to you.

P.S. Watch for the long version of this story in a future post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sap Is Flowing and The Hens Are Laying

Over the weekend, as we looked ahead at the 10 day weather forecast and saw that 8 out of 10 days were predicted to have high temperatures above freezing, we decided it was time to tap maple trees. Here is the link to my past from last year about tapping maple trees. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/02/20/tapping-maple-trees/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

So yesterday, (Monday, February 13) we set a total of 18 taps (and buckets) in 8 maple trees at our farm. It seems early to be tapping the trees, but the sap began flowing as soon as the taps were in place. I guess, like many things farming related, weather conditions mean more than the date on the calendar. We also set up a fire pit where the sap will be boiled down.

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Today, after lunch, we went to the farm to collect the sap. When all 18 buckets were emptied we had collected 10 gallons of sap. Our plan is to collect the sap for the next couple of days before we begin boiling it down. Our intention is to leave the taps in place, and continue to collect sap and make syrup, as long as the sap runs clear. When the sap turns cloudy maple syrup season is finished.

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Throughout the month of December the chickens’ egg production gradually slowed, and through the month of January we only collected one or two eggs per day. Last week we began getting 5 or 6 eggs daily and now we are up to 8 or 9. As the days grow longer, and the chickens enjoy more sunny days, egg production will continue to increase. This makes feeding the hens all winter worth while.

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The bees were out today when the afternoon temperature climbed to around 50 degrees. I don’t think there was anything for them to forage, but at least they could take a cleansing flight. Later this week when temps get back into the 50’s we will check their food supplies and feed them if necessary. We do have honey and wax reserved for them so we do not have to feed them sugar water. We did lose one hive earlier this winter. We could not determine the reason for the loss, as the hive was not full of dead bees. At this point it seems as if the three remaining hives are okay, and we plan to start two new hives in May. We will also capture swarms to if the opportunity arises.

Regardless of the date on the calendar, or the groundhog’s prediction, all signs on the farm are pointing to an early spring.

The Week’s Soap- Hops

My original plan for this week was to make the soap I call “Hint of Mint” which is made with mint leaves infused into the water as the liquid, and mint leaves imbedded in the bars as well. This all changed when I announced to my husband “I’m going to make soap tomorrow”. As I mentioned this to him he was in the midst of moving a hops vine that had been hanging and drying in our backroom for several months. “You could make hops soap” he said.

I began pulling the dried flowers or seed cones off the vine, I crushed some up on a plate, I smelled them and I said “why not?”. I decided to infuse the hops into the liquid that I would use to make the soap, so I heated some water and put the crushed hops flowers in it. I let them infuse overnight.

I then went to the internet to do a little research. I really didn’t know anything about hops except that they are used to make beer.  I found many articles such as this one, http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/surprising-benefits-of-hops-for-skin-hair-and-health/#gref that tell of the potential health benefits of hops. I found that hops are being used therapeutically in the forms of tea, tinctures and essential oils. They are also added to skin and hair care products. I felt good about this experiment.

Before making the soap the next morning I strained the hops flowers from the liquid and set them aside in case I decided to put some in the soap. The hops infused water was bright yellow and smelled like hops. While I was pretty certain the scent would fade away, I thought this liquid would give the soap a yellowish color.

I occasionally have people tell me that they are allergic to specific ingredients in soap, and I like to be able to offer alternatives, so for this soap I decided to leave out the olive oil. I decided to use coconut oil, sunflower oil and tallow. With that in mind I went to this soap calculator, one of my favorite online tools http://soapcalc.net/calc/SoapCalcWP.asp  to formulate my recipe. To use the soap calculator I enter the amount of each oil or fat that I want to use and the calculator will tell me the correct amount of liquid and lye that I need to use. It will also give me an idea of how my soap will turn out, using a numeric scale to rate the degrees of hardness, cleansing, conditioning, bubbliness, and creaminess the soap will have. I adjust the amounts of each oil/fat until I am satisfied that the soap will have sufficient amounts of each of these properties. I really do love this soap calculator; it has allowed me to successfully formulate all of my own soap recipes. It is a free online tool and I would recommend it for anyone who wants to create their own soap recipes.

It was no surprise that when I added the lye to the liquid the smell of hops was no longer present. I was, however, surprised when I added the lye liquid to the oils that the yellow color also disappeared. The soap turned white. I decided to add some of the hops petals to one tray (half the batch). I didn’t want to over do it, a lesson I learned from making soap with clover blossoms in it (too many blossoms make a big mess in the shower). I thought maybe I could just have some on the top layer of each bar. Since the soap gets poured into the bottom of the mold I put a layer of petals down before putting in the soap. Even though I tried carefully spooning the soap onto the petals they still floated up into the soap. Oh well you can’t win ’em all.

After two days in the mold the soap came out easily.

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Hops Soap

These are a hard bars of soap evidenced by the way the edges cracked when I cut them into bars. In about six weeks we will test this soap and discover what else we like or don’t like about it. I keep you posted.