Friday, September 23, 2011

Apple Cider Day

When a family has so many apples that every container is full, it is time for Apple Cider Day!

We spend the first half of the day picking apples.  My husband climbed the trees or used the tall ladder.  I used the smaller ladder and an antique extension pole apple-picker my father gave me. The boys ran apples from us to the containers inside the house, where we were keeping the picked apples away from the wasps.

We spent some time giving all of our equipment a good scrub with soapy water and then sanitized everything with a horrific sulfuric mixture my husband seems to love.  The scent grows on a person, I guess.
Below you'll see an antique press my father gave us.  Built to last!
You may be able to notice that only one of the sides is up.  The press is made of a center pole screw, wooden slatted sides that come off, and a metal base with a spout.  Once the apples are pressed, the sides are removed and the dried cake of pressed apples is removed.  Amazingly, the buckets and tubs full of apples all eventually fit into this press as the moisture is removed.  What remains gets thrown to the chickens.

Making apple cider is a great lesson in teamwork.  While my husband endured the tiring job of turning the crusher, the boys fed apples from a wheelbarrow into the top of the crusher. I refilled the wheelbarrow with apples from the tubs in the house. 

 Our garage was transformed into our workshop for the day and given a good hose-down afterwards. Things got very sticky!

Crushed apples --stems, seeds, and all-- drop into a clean bucket.

The crushed apples are then dumped into the press.  We put clean wooden boards on top of the apples and feed a metal turner onto the pole.  My older son (who we lovingly referred to as our 'work ox' all day) turned the press by hand until it was too difficult to move.  Then he put a long metal pole into the turner and pressed the apples even further.  (This was a great opportunity to discuss the concepts of 'simple machines' with the kids.)

As he pressed, juice poured from the bottom into bowls.  We then strained the liquid into larger containers.  I filled several freezer containers with cider that we'll drink throughout the fall and winter. My husband started about ten gallons of the cider fermenting for wine and another five gallons for hard cider. 

Delicious, right from the press, the cider needs no sugar added...and as you can see below, some people just couldn't wait to try it. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mini Gardens

Who doesn't need more thyme? More 'thyme' for gardening, that is.

This summer at Camp Gramp, the kids made mini container gardens.  First, they each picked a container from Grandmom's potting shed.  She has such a terrific assortment of yard sale finds in there.
Next, they scoured Grandmom's house for tiny treasures with which to make a garden scened. 
Finally, the kids filled the containers with gravel, potting soil, and their treasures.  We planted thyme in the containers because thyme has tiny leaves to fit perfectly 'to scale' with their scenes.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Doctor Who Party

My children (and their cousins, friends, grandparents and parents) have recently become obsessed with Doctor Who.  ( does make some of us a *little* ashamed about teasing my husband in the 1980s and 90s for being a fan.)  It was no surprise, then, that our latest birthday party had to have a Doctor Who theme.  What was a surprise was the short amount of time we had to plan the party.  My son originally wanted a zombie party, then changed it to a Lego party, and then about two weeks before the party, changed it to Doctor Who.

Big problem:
 In the U.S. it is just about impossible to get Doctor Who party supplies, toys, or anything related to the Doctor.  And with only two weeks, I didn't have time to order anything online.

Big solution: the Internet!
We found so much inspiration from other obsessed fans, that before long my boys were making sonic screwdrivers from Legos and more.  (The one below belongs to the Master.)

Here are some of our party supplies: 

I took an old metal cookie cutter of a duck and reshaped it to form a Dalek.  My youngest son decorated the cookies with M&Ms. 

We wrapped up the cooled cookies and put one in each goody bag.  I made the goody bags from plain blue bags on which I glued printed parts of the TARDIS.  I filled them with the cookies, some Nerds (how could I resist hinting that we're all a bunch of nerds?), and other candies.  My boys also made guests some fuse bead Daleks. (You must be aware of our fuse bead obsession by now.)

Our centerpiece was a cupcake and gingerbread scene of some Daleks surrounding the TARDIS.  Look out, Doctor!

The main activity of the party was the creation of a stop-motion Lego movie about the Doctor and Rose battling some Daleks. Here we see Rose falling as the Daleks attack the TARDIS.  Dramatic!

After the animation film session, the whole family gathered with some friends to light those Daleks afire and sing Happy Birthday to my newly-turned-eleven-years-old son, who was delighted with the party.

Daleks vs TARDIS

For our Doctor Who party, we made a cake display with a gingerbread TARDIS and some hostile Dalek cupcakes.  I was inspired by the breathtaking work online.  Ever try an online search for 'Dalek cakes'? Who knew so many people were making Dalek cakes?

To make the Dalek cupcakes, I modified Tofu Guru's decoration technique by making six extra-deep cupcakes (found an extra deep cupcake tin at Michael's Craft Store) with one shallow cupcake on top of each one.  I used two boxes of spice cake mix to make the six Daleks and an extra dozen cupcakes for the party.

To make the gingerbread TARDIS I fashioned four walls and a graduated series of squares for the roof.  I used a box mix for the gingerbread.  I really should have made my own gingerbread, but I was pressed for time.  The problem with using the box mix is that it often produces a softer gingerbread than does a recipe from scratch, I find.

Before baking the gingerbread, I pressed a clean Lego window to make the window shapes, and then used the opposite side of the Lego to press the square shapes on the TARDIS doors and walls.

I used a bottle of gin as a rough template and to help support the walls as the royal icing dried. The royal icing was made from meringue powder, which I always keep in the pantry.  (You never know when the urge will strike to make a gingerbread house.)

For the roof I stacked the squares and iced them, allowing the roof to dry completely before adding it to the TARDIS.

To give the TARDIS that lovely blue color I covered it liberally with blue sprinkles.  It wasn't easy sprinkling the walls, so I ended up using a spoon to blend those sprinkles into the wet icing.  I covered the top two smallest squares with yellow sprinkles before adding them.

Inside the TARDIS, I put a tall plastic cup to support the heavy roof.  No one will see the cup, and anyway, we all know that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Garden Mid-Season Update

We are right in the middle of our growing season, so this is a good time to look at how things are growing. Often, this time of year, we are so busy picking tomatoes and figuring out new ways to use zucchini that we don't get a chance to take any pictures of the garden.  I had to force myself to get the camera outside this morning.
Above, you see one sad rosemary plant (I don't hold much hope for the winter for this guy), some fantastic sage on the ground and a fragrant pineapple sage in the center.  I do love sage.

Below is another shot of the same herb garden, in which you can see some fennel, chocolate mint, and peeks of very crowded oregano.  I transplanted some oregano to another herb garden in the spring because the oregano is clearly losing this fight.(see their spring pics)

The cone flowers (echinacea) are at the end of their glory; the bees and butterflies have stopped visiting them and have moved on to the mint and Russian sage.  We will leave these as a winter treat for the birds.

Below is the Italian garden.  The tomatoes, basil, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, and flowers are all doing well. I've mulched over the new asparagus planted this spring just outside the fencing.

It is getting difficult to walk in the squash garden, below.  My new butterfly weed just outside the door has finally stopped being food for the wildlife, so I removed the cage my sons made for it.  The purple cabbage is grown mostly for the chickens, which means I don't need to worry about any bugs eating it (extra treats for the chickens).

I do love little pathways...
This one leads to the newly weeded and mulched strawberry patch.

The cucumber plants are doing really well.  I'm hoping to try making pickles this summer.

Searching for the cucumbers is fun.  Equally fun is the search for pumpkins in the mass of vines below.  If you look carefully, you'll see a large green one hiding in the leaves.  We've gotten zucchini, spaghetti squash, patty pans, and pumpkins so far this year.

Not everything is going as planned in our garden.  The blackberries are looking less-than-lovely this year.  I'm thinking that the chickens might be getting more berries than normal.

The struggle to grow pole beans AND limit the Mexican bean beetle population by planting in the chicken coop is a work-in-progress.  The first problem we found is that the chickens kept getting into the bean area of the coop, trapped in there with nothing to do except eat bean plants. I limited the area by just fencing two of the best plants.  The second problem is that the chickens don't seem interested in eating the bean beetles! Figures.

We never realized how the wind patterns around our property would affect what we grow, but now that we've got six fruit trees on the top of our hill, we realize that there is somewhat of a wind tunnel going through there.  We've staked one of the peach trees to help keep it upright during the gusts.

The blueberries in the above picture are finished for the season, so they've been weeded and mulched.  At this point in the year, we are turning our attention to harvesting vegetables, bracing ourselves for the big apple harvest in September.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heat and Humidity

It is so hot and humid here that my camera kept fogging up as soon as I'd open the lens cap!  This is the kind of day that is perfect for washing the car with water guns, making ice cream in a bag, and playing Drip-Drip-Drop, a fantastic game played with a cup of water much the same way that Duck-Duck-Goose is played.  A talented day care provider taught me this game and the kids enjoyed the chance to get wet (or get REALLY wet, depending on their luck in the game).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Harry Potter Party

 Had to celebrate the release of the final Harry Potter movie with a costume party before going to the midnight premier.  Dressed as Mrs. Weasley, I made Pumpkin Pasties (pie dough folded with pre-cooked pumpkin pie filling, then cooked enough to set the dough) and set out Licorice Wands.

We added some green cotton candy to both chocolate cupcakes (Tasty Cakes) and small store-made brownies. With a licorice cord for a handle on the larger cauldrons, we had some fantastic Cauldron Cakes.  Notice the golden snitch in the picture below? One of many decorations.  We also used Harry Potter Legos and some of our movie posters to make the house look festive.

These Treacle Tarts are pie dough filled with treacle (golden syrup) mixed with fresh, unseasoned breadcrumbs.  The kids didn't really like these too much, but they all wanted to try treacle, which we never really see much, here in the States.

Our magic wands are nothing but pretzel rods, but they were fun.  We collected sticks outside to use for real wands, which everyone needed for the Good Vs Evil pictures we took outside before leaving for the theater.

Our Every-Flavor-Beans were really just Jelly Bellies.  I know you can buy the real-deal, but I didn't want to risk having a bowl of leftover ear-wax flavored jelly beans.

Some of our clever guests brought food, too.  One girl made red Quaffle Waffles and another brought Golden Snitch cookies.  We ordered some very un-Potter pizza, and no one went to the premier hungry.

Before leaving for the movie, we played a Horcrux Hunt in which party guests needed to find all 7 Horcruxes.  We hid plenty of rubber snakes, some diaries (actually used all 6 books from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series!), and other symbols. The real fun was when players realized that the 7th Horcrux was really the guest dressed like Harry Potter.  They had to find and capture him to win!

The best site for inspiration if you want to throw a Harry Potter party is

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thumb Pots

To protect our plants in the squash family, this year we are planting radishes to attract the same bugs who bore into our squash vines.  We planted two packets of seeds in the spring, but now that the radishes are mature, it is time to plant some more.  Who knew radishes were so easy to grow?  They literally pop up out of the ground when they are ready to harvest.  I'm leaving the damaged ones where they are, so the bugs can keep munching.

In order to entice my boys to help plant the radishes, I offered them the chance to use our new Thumb Pot.  We bought it on our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. 

The pot has a large hole at the top (for one's thumb) and several small holes on the base.  By putting it into a bucket of water, the small holes allow water to fill the pot.  To pick up the pot, one covers the thumb hole, trapping the water inside.

Letting go of the thumb hole releases a nice shower of water onto the plants.  This was fun for the boys, and for the cat, too.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nature is Watching You

We went on a hike with some friends today.  It got a little muddy, but we still had fun.
Along the trail, we noticed this painted rock in a tree:

This was a nice reminder to stay on the trail and treat the park with respect. Nature has her eye on us!