Homemade Stock

Image

 

This is one of my favorite sights: Stock cooling on the counter. We make stock from our leftovers and from the packages of soup bones that come with the quarter-cow we buy most years.

The process is so simple. I keep a bag in the freezer to hold all of my vegetable scraps: carrot peels, onion and celery ends, even herb branches when I’ve cut more than I ended up using. I also save bones in other bags: chicken carcasses, Thanksgiving leftovers, soup bones. When I have enough of one kind of bone (usually about two chicken carcasses), I throw them in the slow cooker with the bag of frozen vegetables. And I add whatever I feel like adding: A bay leaf, some peppercorns, a couple of garlic cloves. I fill the slow cooker with water and then add about a teaspoon of vinegar and let the whole thing sit for an hour or so. I’ve read on Nourishing Days that this step leaches nutrients from the bones; I’m not sure whether that’s true, but it’s easy enough and doesn’t hurt, so why not?

After an hour, I turn the slow cooker on low and let it go for 24 to 36 hours. After this slow cooking, the house smells incredible, the dog is going crazy, and I am a straining away from some amazing — and free — stock. After the stock cools, I strain it through a mesh strainer lined with a paper towel or some cheesecloth. I then pour the strained stock into canning jars. Because I freeze rather than can my stock, I leave a little room in the jars for the stock to expand as it freezes; when I haven’t done this, I’ve ended up with cracked jars.

I usually get anywhere from three to four and half quarts out of this super-easy, made-from-scraps system. And every time we pull one from the freezer, Phil has to listen to my raving about the magic of slow cookers, leftover bones, and homemade soup. It’s one of many crosses he has to bear.

Happy soup-making.

A Kwik Lesson on Kontinuous-Brew Kombucha

101

You’ve probably heard of kombucha, which is essentially a fermented sweetened tea. Our farmer’s market sells small, locally made bottles, and natural foods stores like Whole Foods and Fresh Market generally have single-serving bottles, usually costing about $4 to $5. Kombucha is definitely an acquired taste, but Sylvia and I have acquired a taste for it, and I’m now making it at home for about $1 a gallon. It takes probably ten minutes of hands-on time to get that gallon. The live cultures in kombucha, like in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other living fermented foods carry beneficial bacteria that your body needs and that many of us don’t get in our ultra-pasturized, antibacterial world. Intrigued? Let’s brew some kombucha!

A few basics. Just like you can’t make soap without lye, you can’t make kombucha without a scoby, also referred to as a kombucha mushroom. Scoby is short for Symbiotic Culture of Bacterial and Yeast (I had to look that up), and it’s a little funky looking. Let’s get that out of the way: It’s funky looking. To start making kombucha, you need some kombucha and a scoby, which is where having a kombucha-brewing friend comes in, because every batch of kombucha produces a new scoby, so anyone who has been brewing this for a bit is likely drowning in scobys.

Truthfully, while I’m a kombucha-brewing fool now, it took me three tries to get this down. First, I started with a dehydrated scoby and followed the instructions for rehydrating and brewing a first batch. The first batch was fine, but the scoby never really took. Then a friend gave me a scoby and some starter tea, and this never took either; in fact, it grew mold, which is incredibly rare and necessitates throwing out the whole thing. The third time, I ordered a hydrated scoby, packed with starter tea, from here, and it worked like a charm.

I keep a big glass gallon container of brewing kombucha on my kitchen counter all the time. When a batch of kombucha is ready, I bottle most of the brewed kombucha, leaving some for the next batch, and add more sweetened tea to the container. That’s it. Here’s how.

First, I make the sweetened tea that will become kombucha. For my gallon container, I use two half-gallon jars. I add 1/2 cup sugar to each jar.

098

Then I add about six cups of boiling water to each jar and stir until the sugar dissolves. The sugar is necessary for the yeast to eat; you can’t make kombucha without a scoby and sugar.

099

After that, I add four tea bags to each jar. Sometimes I use green tea (jasmine green when I’m feeling extra fancy), sometimes just black. You can use pretty cheap tea here; no need to pull out the Yorkshire Gold. Lightly cover the containers — I use upside-down coffee filters — and let the tea steep in the boiling water until it comes to room temperature. I typically make this in the morning and let it cool all day, or make it in the evening and let it cool overnight. You never want to add hot tea to the scoby or it could lose its magical powers.

100

When the tea is cooled, remove (compost!) the tea bags. Now you’re going to bottle the last batch of kombucha; it’s ready for drinking.

Here’s something that’s pretty nifty about kombucha: Every time you make it, the batch makes another scoby. And the scoby grows to the circumference of the container. So here’s what the top of the container looked like when took off the cloth napkin that was covering it:

102

If I’d only started with one scoby, I’d have this new scoby and the original scoby. So I could compost or give a friend the extra. In this case, I offered some scobys to friends, so I have a ton of them in my kurrent kombucha, but they have friends’ names written on them. (Scoby shout-out to Lindsay, Stephanie, Johnna, and Tracy!)

104

So I remove this pile of scobys from the container and remove and bottle about 3/4 of the kombucha, leaving the remaining 1/4 to start the next batch. Because I’m holding these scobys for friends, I kept all of them for the kombucha. At other times, I’ve composted all but one or two.

107

I bottle my kombucha in screw-top wine bottles (Simple Life Pinot Noir is currently my favorite, in case you’re curious), refrigerate it, and Sylvia and I drink it until the next batch is ready.

105

To finish the new batch of kombucha, I pour the tea I’d brewed and cooled into the container, add back the scobys, put a covering back on, and forget about it for a week or two. Regarding the covering, you don’t want your kombucha airtight, but you do want it covered to keep out bugs and such. So I cover it with a cloth napkin held on with a rubber band.

109

A kouple of other kombucha tips to pass on:

  • The kombucha contains live bacteria and yeast cultures. In fact, if you left a bottle of brewed kombucha at room temperature, it would grow a scoby from these cultures. This means that there are little… I don’t know… threads in the brewed kombucha, and these get more pronounced the longer you keep the bottled kombucha. I let these settle as much as possible before I pour a glass of kombucha, but drinking them certainly won’t hurt you.
  • I know people who are very comfortable with fermented foods, but kombucha scares the bejeezus out of them. To each his own. Just know that if you have a good kombucha go bad, it isn’t going to be subtle about it. Here are some examples of moldy scobys. See? Not subtle.
  • I like my kombucha plain, but Sylvia prefers hers with some fruit juice. We usually go about three or four parts kombucha to one part juice.
  • I read about a neat way to make fizzy, fruity kombucha on this post at Nourishing Days. I haven’t tried it yet, but plan to.
  • During this gardening fruit-flypalooza season, I’ve been making eco-friendly fruit fly traps by filling a bowl half with water, half with kombucha, and adding a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid (to trap those buggers when they go for a drink of kombucha). I took a picture of a bowl with a zillion fruit flies drowned in it after a day or so, but thought better about posting. Just know it’s effective.
  • If you have any kombucha kuestions, KombuchaKamp.com is an amazing, enthusiastic resource for all things kombucha.

Bottoms up!

112

Eleanore Morrow

Eleanore Morrow

Many of my friends never met my mom. Many did. For those who did, you know how critical she was to me, to our family. Phil has often said that she really was at the epicenter of my family; she was the first one we talked with when something good or bad happened. She played intermediary when she needed to. She always listened no matter how boring the story.

She was born in 1934, the sixth of eight kids, in the middle of the Great Depression. Her maiden name was Wilson, and her mother and father had met in Canada but then moved to the United States. Her mother’s maiden name was Lansbury and had emigrated from England when she was two. My mom, like all of her siblings, was taught to play the piano, to sew, to do some basic farm work including picking off potato bugs and feeding chickens. She remembers her family always struggling financially, partially due to the time in which she was born, but as much the result of her father, an alcoholic, not valuing steady work. When she was five, her mom sent her to kindergarten with her siblings, and because it turned out the school didn’t have a kindergarten, she just went to first grade that day and from then on was a year younger than her school peers. Her father had a heart attack while fishing and drowned in 1951. Mom met my dad at church, and they were married in 1955. They lived for two years in Arkansas while dad served out his obligatory two years of drafted military service; Elvis Presley was serving at the same time and at the same base. Thinking they couldn’t have kids, they adopted my sister eight years into their marriage, and were surprised when my brother, and then I, came along two and four years later. They were married for 55 years.

All of these are facts. Here are some more facts:

  • Mom eventually learned what a wreck I was on the piano, but did teach me to sew in seventh grade. The first thing we made together was a dark brown elastic-waist calico peasant skirt that I wore to death. I wish I still had it.
  • She never went to college herself, but valued education. She and Dad never made much money, but my brother and I graduated from college with no debt because they found a way to pay for it outright. I hope I’m able to do the same for my kids.
  • My years as a college English major corresponded with Mom’s commuting to Detroit for her banking job. She took the bus and spent her commuting time reading the same novels I was reading, classics she hadn’t yet read: Thomas Hardy and John Steinbeck and D.H. Lawrence and so many others I can’t remember.
  • Every time my brother, sister, or I moved, she was right there to load boxes, clean bathrooms, bring in food, watch kids.
  • After she retired, she became a crack garage-saler. She and her best friend Gloria would hit the sales all day Thursday, stopping for lunch. The gorgeous white wood crib she bought while I was pregnant with Max went through three of our kids before I Freecycled it to another family.
  • She made the trip from Michigan to Indiana three times for the birth of my kids and stayed with us while our family adjusted to the changes that came with an infant. She cooked meals, took up-and-down-the-hallway trips with squawling babies, spent time with neglected older siblings, cleaned, and drove me around when I had surgical restrictions.
  • She and my dad took my brothers’ boys and my boys (a total of four boys!) for a whole week in the summer to go to the zoo, hang out with their cousins, go swimming at the neighborhood lake. Although they were young, my kids still talk about those trips.

Here’s what else I know:

  • Starting at the beginning of 2010, the stomach pain she’d dealt with on and off throughout her life began escalating. She didn’t share this with us for many months, but seemed distracted when we would talk. The last trip that she made to my house, to drop off her brother’s geriatric Dachshund who we were adopting, I began wondering if she was slipping; she seemed to have such trouble concentrating on conversations. I didn’t know until later that she was battling extreme stomach pain.
  • She talked off and on with several doctors about the pain in the first half of the year. One suggested Mylanta. Another that she may have IBS. In June when she was having a routine colonoscopy, she mentioned the pain to the technician, who suggested that because she’d had some stomach surgery, she might have adhesions in her intestines, something that couldn’t be determined without exploratory surgery. The colonoscopy came back clean and normal, but the pain continued.
  • By August, she could barely get out of bed, and had more aggressive tests. These showed several spots that looked suspicious. They were biopsied, and one was found to be malignant, but not the primary location, meaning it had traveled from somewhere else. At this point she was referred to an oncologist described as top-notch.
  • The oncologist gave a surprising diagnosis: Stage 4 colon cancer than had spread to her liver. He said the cancer was in an area of the colon, the cecum, that the colonoscopy had missed. He began her on a very aggressive chemotherapy routine. This was September 2010.
  • She never lost her hair, but from the time she began chemo, the quality of her life plummeted. She was too weak often to get out of bed. She lost weight. She lost her appetite. The inside of her mouth was desert-like and her tongue had deep cracks. She developed neuropathy that made her prone to drop items she picked up. In January 2011 she was hospitalized for several days and a blood clot was discovered in her leg — another side effect of the chemo. A good day was one in which she felt like eating dinner and had the energy to dust a room.
  • She got a good PET scan that spring: All tumors had shrunk; the cancer was out of her liver. She initially understood that she was going to get a two-month break from her chemo treatments. She began dreaming of the things she could do with a little energy back: Get together with her siblings, take some of the house maintenance off my dad, do a little sewing, maybe even come to Ohio or Indiana to visit my brother and me. In fact, her doctor never intended to give her a break; he started her on another aggressive round of chemo. She put a positive spin on it, but she was clearly crushed to get back on the treadmill.
  • The week of May 2, 2011, seven months after her diagnosis, I was in Florida for a sales conference and she and I played phone tag. Her message on my cell phone was not the woman she’d been; her voice was frail and tired. She was hesitant finding the right words. Still, with her positive PET results, we were feeling hopeful that she’d be with us for a while longer.
  • That Friday, Dad was helping Mom get ready for a doctor’s appointment. She’d been somewhat listless and unresponsive that day and the day before. She had a cough that was getting more violent. Dad was helping her out of the shower; she mentioned that the way he was helping was hurting her, so he changed position. She then became very heavy. Dad looked at one of her eyes and saw the life was gone. That she was gone. The way she died is consistent with a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot that moves into the lung.

All of these are also facts. Her funeral was well attended by friends and family members and former co-workers and church-goers. Most of us stood stunned that she could have died when it seemed things were going in the right direction.

Just a couple more facts:

This past Tuesday, Mom’s oncologist, Farid Fata, was arrested for what is believed to be a massive Medicare fraud scheme. He is charged with the unthinkable: Deliberately misdiagnosing patients as having cancer to treat them with chemotherapy, prolonging chemotherapy or prescribing unnecessary chemo, falsifying records, putting end-of-life patients with no chance of recovery through chemo. All of this so that he could bill Medicare for the treatment; the charge is that he and his business falsely charged $35 million to Medicare. According to the complaint papers, 78% of his business’s income is derived from Medicare billings, meaning if the allegations are correct, he preyed on senior citizens with cancer. And if the allegations are correct, there is not a circle of hell low enough for him.

This has brought up all kinds of questions regarding Mom’s diagnosis, treatment regimen, end-of-life. We don’t know whether she might have survived as long or longer with a less aggressive regimen. We don’t yet know whether Fata’s assessment that her cancer was inoperable is in fact accurate. We don’t know whether perhaps her life wouldn’t have been extended, but the end could have been so much more dignified and positive if her body weren’t sustaining the levels of poison that it did when she died. If she died of a blood clot brought on by the chemo, we don’t know what the outcome might have been had she not had chemo or as aggressive a program.

Here’s what we know: Eleanore Morrow was an extraordinary woman, wife, mother,  grandma, and friend. Regardless of what is revealed in the next months as we comb her records, follow Fata’s trial, continue to connect with other families, the end of her life and how it could have been more peaceful is going to take a backseat to who she was for the 76 years of her life.

The First of Many

435

I recently saw a really cool quilt pattern that featured some re-released fabric from Anne Maria Horner, and though, hmmm. I need to make that quilt. And then I got this weird feeling, like I had some unfinished business and shouldn’t be starting a new quilt.

So I counted up the number of quilts tucked in my house in varying degrees of completeness, and I got to ten. Ten unfinished quilts. And then I found some squares I’d cut out for a quilted throw, which I suppose technically makes the number eleven.

431

This really isn’t my fault. I used to be publisher of a craft line, and it was awfully tempting to see the new fabric releases. And at this stage in our life and in this house, it’s a pain to sew; I don’t have a dedicated space, so any time I sew I have to take everything out and put everything back, adding another 10 minutes to already limited sewing time. (All of those bloggers with their dedicated “studios,” which used to be called “craft rooms” — sometimes I think hateful thoughts about your lovely spaces.) And Phil’s no longer in a band so doesn’t go to practice two nights a week, which back in the day would leave me  some quiet time to sew and think.

The result is eleven quilts of varying degrees of completeness. I suppose the upside is that a lot of the fabrics are now out of print, so feel, as Tommy describes various Lego packs, “rare.” But it’s time to tackle them.

Here’s the first. This is a super-cool picnic blanket named Lunchtime Laminate Quilt that came from the book Sewing the Seasons. When I was publishing craft titles, this was one of the last to come from our group before pieces of the business were sold off last fall and I transferred to the sold cookbook division and now work for a different company. I had volunteered to test sew this pattern, noting any issues, but with all the tumult at work during its production, I got it to a point where I knew pattern edits were flushed out, and then I left it in a pile with some other unfinished projects. It seemed to kind of represent a tough time at my office. The book, which physically published months after I was into my new job, is really beautiful represents what my group did well. But that blanket had some baggage, so while it really only needed to be quilted and have the binding added, I let it sit for months.

The front is just a bunch of blocks of home dec fabric (yes, Max took these pictures before I’d totally finished sewing on the binding on the lower left corner, but trust me, this quilt is done):

433

 

The back is this cool laminated cotton that can be wiped clean, or thrown in the washer, after a picnic. I’d originally bought this cool laminate fabric to make Sylvia a stylish raincoat, but Sylvia’s sense of fashion doesn’t remotely touch big floral prints, so into the quilt it went:

434

So, now that we’re almost past picnic season and I’m drowning in a sea of unfinished quilts, I pulled the quilt  out and took a little time to finish it. I felt too lazy to actually make binding, and after much internal debate I used the only pre-made binding I had, which was a pretty loud, clashing pattern, knowing it would look horrible, but just wanting one of those projects finished. Turns out I love the combination of the main fabric and the binding; the front of the blanket is very muted, and the binding feels fun. Score one for laziness.

I’ve got the next several quilts lined up in my head, and will be sure to share them as I finish, to keep me on the straight and narrow. As for this weekend, Sylvia has gotten me to commit to a picnic, now that we have the tools.

By the way, you might have noticed that there’s a new photographer in town. Max is now this blog’s official photographer, having realized that he loves taking pictures and has a really nice eye. He was experimenting with his flash on these pictures — seeing whether flash or no flash looked better in the evening light. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite recent pictures of his:

272

Cue the Barry White…

Image

The ladies have a gentleman caller. Here’s how it went down.

Remember when I said that I had made a clandestine back-alley swap so that I could break Tractor Supply rules and not risk getting two male ducks? My friend Sharon also bought ducks that same day, but she wasn’t a scoff-law, so she bought two ducklings like she was supposed to. This is what happens when you take your granddaughter to Tractor Supply during chick days: Despite the 11 birds already in your urban yard, you come home with two more.

Image

So last spring as our respective Pekin ducklings were growing, Sharon and I began comparing notes about their development, and Sharon was noticing things I wasn’t. Like that her ducks had bumps forming on their heads. Was I just not observant, I wondered? Or that her ducks seemed to be growing gargantuan: Were hers actually Jumbo Pekins? Then she said her ducks seemed to be getting curls in their tails, a definitely male trait. I’m still relatively new to this duck business and wasn’t sure how she defined “curl.” So I did what anyone would: I asked her to email me a picture of her ducks’ butts. And sure enough, Lulu and Lala’s tails were curli-cued, not just a little swoopy like my Joe’s tail.

If it pleases the court, here is Joe’s tail:

Image

And here is Lulu’s tail (with Dixie’s butt in the background, as she wouldn’t leave Lulu’s side for me to take a picture):

Image

So after comparing duck butts, we determined that I had a female, and she’d brought home two boys. Which, as her fellas grew to adolescents, was going to be no good for her four girls. The two males were already starting to get a bit competitive with each other, and it wouldn’t be long before they got inappropriately arduous with the ladies, vying for their attention and affections.

Now when we’d lost three of our ducks last year, Sharon did me a solid by taking in Diamond. Diamond is now part of Sharon’s herd, living the high life. When Sharon said she’d have to find a home for one of her males, I felt like it was only right that one of them come here. As a result, a of couple of weeks ago, Lulu joined our gang.

Image

Sharon drove Lulu to our house, and she, Sylvia, her granddaughter, and I watched as we let Lulu out. Within no time, the group of six was a group of seven. The girls love Lulu, who we’re now calling Barry. Funny thing is, they seem a little less uppity and jumpy now. It’s like a winged version of The Bachelor — each lady keeping her  squawking a bit more in check, at least while the cameras are rolling. Each one is also trying to get some pool time with Barry.

The upside is that our eggs will be fertilized, which means they’ll conceivably last longer. And, if we’re feeling sciency, we can try to hatch some next spring, assuming we have a home at the ready for the ducklings, as we’re completely at duck capacity on the Kitchel homestead.

Image

But stay tuned. I’m sure next week we’ll soon be adding a couple of goats and a cow to our tiny suburban backyard.

What a Feeling!

Image

I was working today and looked down and realized how happy I am in these legwarmers. And how happy I am that I now work from home and no one sees my get-ups.

I made a bunch of legwarmers on a trip recently. They’re crazy-fast, and use reasonably priced worsted weight wool yarn; this was already only $10 a skein and then 40% off at my local yarn store, and one skein can make a pair of legwarmers. So you do the math. Cheap. Legwarmers in the summer might seem a wee bit silly, but its been nippy here, and these keep me just warm enough to be comfortable. I used the same kitchen scale I use for making soap to weigh out the skein and stop one legwarmer when I hit the halfway point. In the end, I had a tiny ball left that will go into one of my leftover throws.

Pattern: Leg Warmers by Jane Richmond (check out her Oatmeal pattern, too, which I’ve made twice and am going to make again; I love it so much)
Yarn: Cascade 220, 1 skein
Needles: U.S. size 7, set of 4 double points

Just take your passion, and make it happen.

Let Them Eat Mealworms

065

So this isn’t going to be the prettiest topic, but bear with me.

One of the biggest questions about whether or not we would try ducks again, after last fall’s tragedies, was how to keep them safe. In reading backyard poultry or even farming literature and blogs, it seems like keeping predators away is fairly similar to airport security: One guy tries to light his shoe bomb on a plane, and a new rule specifically aimed at stopping that threat is implemented, but another issue springs up. It’s like an almost literal game of whack-a-mole. Unless we keep our ducks in a hardware cloth enclosure night and day, there’s risk. That said, we tightened security this year to keep the new girls safer.

We’re debating not letting them forage in the yard, but stay in their fenced enclosure, after the trees shed coverage, which leaves the ducks vulnerable. But that’s a post for another day.

In reality, last year I found the biggest threat to their safety was simply not always being able to get them put away before dusk, when the threat is its biggest. Last year we herded the ducks into their enclosure; sometimes it was a piece of cake, and sometimes I was fairly sure I heard the Benny Hill theme strike up. The night a predator killed two of our ducks last year, I discovered them on my post-nightfall fifth attempt to get them in their enclosure. Prior to that, Max called me one night, while I was traveling, saying the ducks wouldn’t go in their enclosure, and I spent the entire flight home envisioning the carnage I’d find when I got home. (In fact, the ducks were fine that night, and Phil and I worked together to wrangle them into their enclosure and coop around 1 a.m. when I got home.)

Enter mealworms.

Now, I’d tried mealworms on last year’s gals, but they didn’t like them the first time and I didn’t try again, giving our package to a friend with chickens. But going to my friend Sharon’s house was an eye-opener. Her baker’s dozen of backyard ducks and chickens can be scattered around the yard, and she just shakes a mealworm bag and they all magically appear. Around 5:00, when she puts them in their fenced enclosure, she just walks out the door and they follow her in a line, Pied Piper-style. It’s something. Shortly after we got the new ducklings, we got a bag of mealworms. The girls loved them when they were only a few weeks old. When they moved to the yard, we started training them by shaking the bag and then feeding them. After a few tries, they learned that a shaken bag meant treats were coming.

These days, we often clean out our local pet shop when we’re running low; if you’ve, for any reason, been in the Broadripple Pets Supplies Plus and can’t find mealworms, my apologies. After the frustration and dread of trying to herd the girls last year, here’s how our easy-peasy evenings now go.

Mmmm. I like eating weeds.

What the hey? Did I hear… a mealworm bag shaking?

Must. Follow. Tommy.

059

Benevolent Tommy, bestower of duck deliciousness.

063

Safely inside their enclosure, before nighttime threats start prowling.

064

We love you, mealworms.