Monthly Archives: April 2013

Spring? Finally.

Last Friday we received about a foot of heavy wet snow.  It was depressing and everyone was complaining and crabby, including me.  It felt like spring would never arrive.  April has been a strange and very snowy month.spring1

One week later and it looks like this…

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Yes, I think spring has finally arrived.  The last two days we have enjoyed temperatures in the low 70’s.  It is not expected to last all week, but it sure has helped to melt the snow and get spring kicked into gear.

Last weekend, when it was still cold, we hosted a smoking party at our house.  Jesse was going to fire up the smokehouse while the temperatures were still cool with the snow on the ground, so he invited friends to bring over anything they wanted to smoke.  We had a real assortment of good stuff:  almonds, peanuts, cheese, cheese curds, leg of lamb, pork chops, pork roasts, ribs, and chickens.  Once the smokehouse was loaded up, we enjoyed chatting and having some beverages while we waited for the smokehouse to work its cold-smoking magic.

We also started cooking sap to make maple syrup the same day.  The sap ran very late this year due to the crazy spring.  We were not sure if it would run at all, but the trees finally started dripping and actually produced a lot of sap.

Jesse found this stainless steel pan at a restaurant equipment store and it works great on our outdoor stove to cook the sap.  It has a lot of surface area to help with evaporation and to cook the sap down faster.  The sap looks just like water when you first collect it from the tree to start cooking.

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As it cooks longer, it starts to brown up and begins to have a sweet caramel-like aroma.  We cooked down enough sap last weekend to make one gallon of syrup.

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This past Thursday evening Jesse fired up the stove once again and cooked down the rest of the sap overnight.  In total, we ended up with two gallons of syrup.  Yum!
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Yes, spring is here.  The birds have been singing, the geese are honking, and the frogs have awoken and are singing their lovely spring song.

All varieties of wildlife are on the move. During the day yesterday, I was working at home and as I glanced up from the file I was reading, I noticed these turkeys come walking past the back of the barn and headed towards the river. I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots.

We joke sometimes about living in a nature preserve.  I guess we have the river to thank for the wide array of wildlife we get to see and/or hear (the owls hooting at night are my favorite) on a daily basis.
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Along with the melting snow comes spring flooding.  The water has risen rapidly in the last two days and the river is overflowing.
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We spent yesterday evening and today outside enjoying the warm temperatures by starting our spring cleanup.  I cut down any perennials that stood through the winter and raked all the leaves out of the gardens.

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Tired of the chickens coming up by the house and digging in the dirt of my perennial garden, we decided to lock them in the vegetable garden fence today to enjoy the sunshine.  Ironically, we built this very fence in part, to keep the chickens out of the vegetable garden.  They loved kicking around the bit of straw, pecking at the grass, and digging in the dirt all day.
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Underneath the piles of leaves I discovered some flowers eager to get growing.  These tulips had obviously decided that spring was here, despite the foot of snow we received just a week ago.
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Likewise, the peonies are bursting out of the ground.  I love peonies so much.  They remind me of my grandma.

spring8Our old girl was out soaking up the sunshine today too. I love her an awful lot too.

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The beehives are sitting empty across the field awaiting their new residents.  We ordered two nucs of bees that should arrive in about 10 days.  The nucs contain some frames of brood and a queen, so they are already somewhat established.  Since we are starting over again after a year of bee-keeping drama (swarming, robbing, etc.), it will be nice to have the hives get up and running quickly.
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So, after a very long winter, it seems as though spring has arrived.  Finally.

There may likely be a few more bumps along the way, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.

Lynell

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Filed under Daily life, Food, Maple Syrup, Miscellaneous

April 18th and Still Waiting…

We are still waiting on spring.  The six plus inches of snow we are receiving today is certainly not a welcome sight. As you will notice from the picture below, we have not gotten around to taking down our Christmas lights yet.  This picture could so easily be from the Christmas season, but sadly, today is the 18th day of April!!
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These views from the farm might actually be considered pretty if taken during the Christmas season…or maybe even if it were February.

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But it is not Christmas and it is not February. Did I mention it is the middle of April?!

Snow is not necessarily uncommon at this time of year in Minnesota, but this winter has been very long and we have had very few spring-like days.
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The good news is that snow does not last long this time of year because the sun’s rays are much too powerful.  So, if the sun does ever come out, we know the snow will melt quickly.  I will cling to that thought..that’s all I can do at the moment to stay positive.

I hope the weather is better in your part of the country, wherever that might be!

From snowy central Minnesota,

Lynell

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Filed under Daily life, Miscellaneous, Outbuildings

Waiting on Spring

Spring is slow to arrive this year.  We finally got outside yesterday afternoon to work in the yard a bit and to roast some hot dogs in our fire pit.
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My mini-greenhouses are waiting patiently for some warmer temps to get the seeds going.  I peeked in them and saw that the kale seeds have already sprouted!

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The chickens enjoyed their first day outside free-ranging.

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Our vegetable garden is a sad sight.  Last year we were already in the garden tilling by mid-March.
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The frost has not gone out of the ground yet, so in addition to the remaining snow,  standing water is scattered all over the grounds.
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Everything is brown and drab.

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Wildlife is on the move though.  We noticed hundreds of robins out in our hayfield and in the trees over the weekend. Geese were honking down by the river and a few flew right through the yard headed in that direction.

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We also noticed some strange-looking birds down by the river.  I didn’t have my telephoto lens on the camera, so I snapped a few photos and zoomed in on the images once I uploaded them to the computer.  It took me some time searching through images to identify these crazy looking birds, but I finally did…Hooded Merganser. We have never seen them around here, or at least we have never noticed them before.

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The bird identification site had this to say about the Hooded Merganser:

“Hooded” is something of an understatement for this extravagantly crested little duck. Adult males are a sight to behold, with sharp black-and-white patterns set off by chestnut flanks. Females get their own distinctive elegance from their cinnamon crest. Hooded Mergansers are fairly common on small ponds and rivers, where they dive for fish, crayfish, and other food, seizing it in their thin, serrated bills. They nest in tree cavities; the ducklings depart with a bold leap to the forest floor when only one day old.

So, although we are impatiently waiting on spring around here, there are still some interesting things going on…if you take the time to notice them.
Lynell

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Filed under Daily life, Miscellaneous

Cold-Smoking: Pork Ribs

I finally found time a few weeks back to fire up the smoke-house for some cold-smoking as the weather warmed up above freezing during the day.  Unless you are buying hogs by the 1/2 or 1/4, you will typically buy pork ribs from your grocer or butcher that are frozen. Since we have plenty of freezer space and a vacuum sealer, I like to smoke several racks of ribs so that we can pull them out of the freezer for a rib dinner whenever we are in the mood.

I start thawing the ribs two days before I’m going to run the smoker. One day to thaw, and another day (or at least overnight) to let them dry. After the ribs are thawed, I dry them off with paper towels and then liberally coat them with a dry rub. There are several good rubs available on the market; I like Famous Dave’s or Rendezvous (from Memphis), or you can mix up your own concoction.

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Make sure to coat both sides and all the edges with the dry rub so that the seasoning can do its magic.ribs2

After the ribs are dry rubbed, separate them on cookie sheets so that they can dry in the refrigerator for 1 day or at least overnight. The reason to let them dry is that wet meats tend to allow the soot from the smoke adhere to the meat.

You can see that spring had not yet arrived (it still hasn’t), but with day time temps in the 20’s the heat from the smoker will keep the meat from freezing in the smokehouse. Frozen meat does not absorb smoke very well.

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After finally getting the firebox dug out from the snow, I was ready to start the fire. My favorite wood for smoking any kind of pork is white oak, although red oak is a close second. If I have some apple wood available, I will add a few sticks of apple to layer in some sweetness from the fruit wood.ribs4

I had enough space in the smokehouse to add in a chicken that I had brined in salt, sugar, and rosemary. If you haven’t yet tried brining your chickens and turkeys, I highly recommend it!

You can see the smoke starting to draft up through the floor of the smokehouse.

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Now that a good draft has started, I close the door and add a little more wood about once an hour. Depending on how smokey you like your ribs, you can smoke them from 2-6 hours. I like mine right at 4 hours.ribs6

This smokehouse is so easy and fun to use, but just to make sure everything goes right, I like to open a couple of beers and keep a close eye on it.ribs7

The last step of the process is to vacuum seal the ribs to ensure freshness for up to one year. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can also wrap the ribs in a good butcher paper, but you will probably want to cook them within a few months.

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A few tips on cooking ribs. The key is to cook them low and slow. Coat them with a little barbecue sauce and place them in a cake pan covered tightly with tin foil, or you can wrap them individually with tin foil to seal in the juices. I like to cook them at about 220 F for about 4 hours, or just until they are ready to fall of the bone. Then I like to finish them off for a few minutes under the broiler in the oven or on the grill to give them a nice caramelized flavor, but don’t overdo this last step because it is easy to dry them out too much.

And the most important tip?  Enjoy with a nice full-bodied beer or a hearty glass of red wine!

Jesse

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Filed under Food, Smokehouse, Smoking