Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Home Brewing Update

I have been doing some brewing this spring and summer as well. While it is rough to fit in a 3 1/2 hour extract brew session between all the yard projects, garden and new puppy, I have managed to brew four times so far this spring.

Most recently I brewed my "More Wit than Wisdom" which is a Witbier and The Wedding Ale (a.k.a. the Schmoopie IPA). Both will be on tap at a cookout we our having the Saturday before Mitsy and I get married.

The Witbier has  been pretty popular at outings over the past three years and is a great summer drink with hints of coriander and orange peel. Many people who drink beer may be familiar with Blue Moon, which is sort of an Americanized version of the Witbier. Victory Brewing Co. has one that I tried on tap last summer, but I thought the spice notes were too heavy and didn't really care for it. The best commercial Witbier that I have had recently is Namaste by DogFish Head. However, not to sound like a pompous ass, I think my Witbier is better than any of them.

Witbiers were pretty popular way back in the day, but then kind of disappeared (at least in the US) around the 1950's but had a resurgence back in the late 80's with the growth of home brewing and craft breweries. They only run about 5% alcohol (mine usually runs about 5.3%) and pair great with seafood dishes and other light summer fare.

I use bitter orange peel, coriander and honey as my additional ingredients. For the honey I use Orange Blossom honey to further increase that light orange flavor. The grain profile is easy with the extract version, since I simply use extracts of pilsner and wheat malts and then the only specialty grain I have to steep is the flaked oats. Hallertau and Styrian Goldings complete the hop profile.
Anyway, the brew session went well with everything going as expected. The same went for the IPA that I brewed on Sunday. With kegging the Witbier tonight and the IPA by mid next week, both beers should be good to go for the party. I still have to make another portable kegerator for the 2nd keg though. I will update later with the outdoor tap system I am putting together for the party. I hope it will be bitchin'.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Addition

So a little over a week ago, the Crosshatch got a new addition. Her name is Abigal Barley Patton (we just call her Abby), and she is an eight week old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  We had not planned on getting a dog as yet, as we wanted to wait until we had a few more house and yard projects done. We figured on getting a dog in a couple of years, however I do occassionally look at what available options are for puppies online.

I originally wanted a cocker spaniel, since my ex and I had a wonderful little Cocker named Neaky for six or seven years, and I wanted to get another dog like her. Mitsy had been looking at different breeds and read about the Cavaliers, who are a little smaller than a cocker and are supposed to be easier to train and have better dispositions.

So one Thursday afternoon, I am perusing some available puppy pictures and come across this insane amount of adorable packed into one photo:
I sent the link to Mitsy and instant messaged her "What do you think of this one?" The site had a couple more pictures as well as the video, which showed the puppy playing in the grass with a toddler. This really doesn't seem like a fair marketing tactic to me, as I mean really, how do you actually say no to that? So we decided to call the breeder and see if she was still available. We ended up being the first person to call, and she was available for adoption that coming Saturday.

Saturday morning we made the 2 hour 15 minute drive to Stevens, PA to be introduced. Of course after meeting Abby, it was decided that she would be coming home with us, and we would just be a little tight on money for the next month or so.

Its now been a week and a half and Abby has settled in famously. The first night we tried putting her in a box with a blanket next to our bed, but she woke up every couple of hours crying. So after I took her out at 2:30am for a potty break, I just brought her back in and put her in bed with us. She promptly went to sleep and slept until 8am the next morning and has slept in our bed every night since.

Having a puppy is almost like having a toddler, since we need to potty break her quite often, have to pull all things out of her mouth that she shouldn't be chewing on (she loves rocks, sticks and even pulling weeds in the garden) and of course regular training. So far she has learned to sit, and has started to learn a little bit of fetch, bring back her squishy (one of her chew toys) after it is thrown for her.

Waldo, our big cat is slowly getting used to her. During the first weekend she got to close and he swatted her on the nose quick. She has kept her distance since then, but really wants to play. She will run up behind Waldo when he is back is turned, but as soon as he turns around and gives her a look, she will immediately lay down, then they will both just lay on the floor and look at each other. But this past weekend, Waldo actually nuzzled Abby with his head twice when I was holding her, so there is hope that they will be getting along soon. Shebie, our little cat is a bit neurotic to begin with, and has stayed hidden in our bedroom closet the majority of the time since Abby arrived. But I think that will change too, since in the last day she has had a little bit more close contact in passing the puppy in the hall during meal times.

So while it is a lot of work, we are excited to have Abby be part of our family, gardens, etc. We plan on having many fun times for years to come. Especially once she is house trained.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Garden As It Grows

Well the last fence post is in and the final bit of mesh has been nailed. The garden is in full swing and growing like crazy for the most part. Our beans, probably doing the best of all.
When I first planted the beans, I planted two different kinds; one labeled pole beans and one garden beans. Now regular old garden green beans as I remember from gardening with my folks as a kid, just grew in a row, maybe about a foot high, and then you picked them. This would then start the next part of the process, which was sitting out in the back yard with a basket of green beans by your side and a tupperware bowl in your lap. Snapping green beans to prepare for freezing and drinking lemonade was a summer backyard past time at our house.

Anyway, so back to the plants themselves. My pole beans are doing fine, growing up the old monkey bars I have set up in the garden to use for a trellis with pole beans on one side and pickling cucumbers on the other. Then I also planted a row of garden in a seperate area.  They were growing great, except they are still growing, and have crazy tendrils coming off of them going all over the place like the pole beans. No, I didn't mix up the plantings, because I still have the package of the "garden beans" stuck at the end of the row, and the pole beans are in the garage since I still have most of the packet left.  Anyway, the garden beans, which don't have beans on them quite yet, look like this:
They are still fairly "bushy", but I'm not sure what the deal is with the tendrils, unless this is another type of green bean that I haven't planted before. Guess I will have to get some more mesh and give them something to climb on.
Last night I decided the kale I planted was large enough to cut and eat. I was pretty excited about eating fresh kale from the garden, plus my sister told me she has a great recipe for a kale and italian sausage soup! So I took a basket and went out and filled it with fresh cut kale. I brought it in and washed each leaf by hand, as I had noticed that something had been eating little holes in a lot of the leaves, and also when inspecting the leaves closely, I noticed some of them had little "eggs" from some type of bug stuck to the underside. However these were only on some of the larger leaves and were easily removed with a gentle rub under running water.
I filled a large pot with the kale, added some water and salt and set it on the stove. I am a big fan of just boiled kale with some vinegar or butter and salt added. Good summer eats! After letting it boil for just a few minutes, I proceeded to fill my plate with this first harvest from the garden. It was then that I noticed little white "thing" on one of the leaves. Upon further inspection it was some sort of little catepillar looking bug. I believe it is from some type of moth that had been laying those little eggs on the under side of the leaves. After going through the rest of the pot, I found enough of these to decide I didn't really want this kale, and ended up tossing the whole pot of it. I was disappointed to say the least. Not really sure where these things were hiding when I was washing each leaf by hand!
After doing some research I have decided to do a couple things differently when I harvest my next batch of kale. I am going to pick it when it is smaller, since it appears that most of these eggs and catepillars were on the largest of the leaves. Next I am going to soak all of the leaves in the sink in water with some salt for a bit before doing the individual cleaning and cooking. This should help get rid of any crawlers. I'll keep you updated on how the next batch goes.  Such are the struggles of organic gardening!
Our tomato plants have gotten quite large with plenty of blossoms, we have one tiny eggplant coming in so far, and we have a couple of jalenpeno's that are just about ready to be picked. I still love spending tme in the garden every day even if I am just sitting there watching the birds and looking at my budding crop. It is my place of zen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Beginnings of a Backyard Oasis

I realized this week that it had been quite some time since I had posted anything for this blog. My original intention was to use this to not only share recipes, but to also write about the beer brewing, the house and yard projects, the music writing and any other craft type things that happen at the Crosshatch. But alas I have not kept up with the writing. Mainly because for the past two and a half months I have been building a split rail fence around our yard and another around the garden. Digging each fence post hole by hand doesn't leave me much in the mood to then blog about it. By I will try to do better at updating going forward and give you a little bit of insight as to how it has gone thus far.......

On March 28th I brewed 10 gallons of an IPA with my friend Jason. You can view this brew session on my brewing video link over there on the right of your screen if you are so inclined to have an extract beer brewing lesson. The following afternoon a truck arrived at my house carrying a load of a little over 700 feet of split rail fence materials. When the driver first arrived in back down to the area next to the garage where I wanted the materials, but then asked me if I had anything to prop under his tires before he got out of the truck since the brakes weren't working so well...not very reassuring, but I went along with it, grabbing a couple of logs off the woodpile and shoving them under the front tires. Once this was completed, he jumped out of the truck and unhooked the straps on the back of the flatbed. At first I thought we were going to have unload the rails and posts one by one, but he said that wasn't necessary as the back of the flatbed lifted up. Cool. So he raised the flatbed up, however all the wood just sat there on a slant about 3 or 4 feet off the asphalt. Suddenly he gunned it, and the truck shot up my driveway while all the wood flew off the back into a pile! It was nuts! He then handed me the receipt out the window, waved goodbye and was off. Well my rails seemed none the worse for wear after their short flight, although now that I have worked my way through the majority of the pile, it does seem I ended up with about six broken rails that had the ends crushed when the stack of posts landed on them.

  Now that we are nearing the end of the first week of June, I have completed fencing the front yard, down one whole side of our property, and around the garden. I have about 8-10 posts left to put in along the back of the property that were left over and giving us more fence than what we originally planned on putting in this go around. I have also successfully meshed the whole side yard fence so far which is now effectively keeping the neighbor dog from charging us or leaving us his poop presents to clean up.

As you see in the picture below I have also put up the fence around the garden we planted. So far we have in tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, green beans, cucumbers, pole beans, kale, beets, sunflowers, corn, swiss chard (although it is barely making it) and last night we planted a blueberry bush in a big half whiskey wooden keg. This in addition to the three rows of strawberries that were already there. And we have plans on adding more soon.
Front Gate Area of the Garden Fence
We still have lots more weeding, mulching and tree trimming to do, but the beginnings of our backyard oasis is starting to emerge. There are still plans on building a deck, adding a fountain, plus another water feature (waterfall and pond) in the back corner of the yard below the garden as sort of a zen garden/mediation area. Although these are future projects that most likely will not be happening this year!

I enjoy the gardening part and it is actually a nice break after digging each fence post by hand. I tried renting a one-man post hole digger but took it back after two hours of frustration. I can actually dig much faster manually since after about six or eight inches down, the ground is hard pack clay. The power digger would just spin on top of this clay and not really make much headway. I have had two occassions where after getting down about 2 feet I hit a solid boulder and could go no further and had to cut off part of the bottom of the post. Most of my holes I run down about 28 to 30 inches. In other cases I hit rock and just went around it, so the fence isn't solid straight, but perhaps more of a slightly rambling style which I have decided is just rustic charm. :) More soon!

Front right corner looking out over the garden