Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blueberry Banana Bread

It's 90 degrees outside. I am tired of watching director's reels while simultaneously trying to find an "A-list photographer" who will work for high school intern wages. I have laundry to fold, chores to do, and fruit literally rotting on my counter in the kitchen. What's a girl to do? Why, fix a cocktail, crank up the air, and bake of course!

Drink pairing: San Pellegrino Aranciata Rossa with vodka over ice.

Music pairing: Nathaniel Rateliff. (You can watch a stellar Sideshow Alley rooftop performance here.)

Thermostat: 72 degrees...just until I don't want to melt, then it's back up to an eco-friendly 78.

Blueberry Banana Bread


2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
5 mashed bananas
1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a loaf pan. I prefer Pyrex, as it never overcooks like the darker pans do.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt. Cream butter and brown sugar in a separate bowl. Stir in eggs and mashed banana until well blended. Fold in blueberries. Add to flour mixture until just mixed. Pour into loaf pan.

Bake 60-65 minutes. 
(For high altitude, I add 2 TB flax seed, turn the oven to 375, and bake for 60 minutes.)

Voila! A very banana-y banana bread with tart little blueberries to cut the sweetness. Okay, back to the grind...At least I'm buzzed and full!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Simple Strawberry Freezer Jam

I love jam. Real jam. Freezer jam like my Grandma used to make. So, I decided to ride out today's afternoon thunderstorm with some twangy tunes and canning.

If you'd like to join in, you'll need 4 pints of fresh strawberries (which are CHEAP right now - buy them up!), a lot o' sugar (come on folks, it's jam after all), and pectin. I need MCP brand pectin to make my Grandma's actual recipe and since I couldn't find that at the store, we'll be using two boxes of Sure-Jel pectin and following the recipe on the box. Beggars can't be choosers when ripe strawberries are on the line. They get moldy overnight.

I'll supply the tunes. Crank this up. I love me some Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Wash and cut up your strawberries, removing the stems and hull. This is a good time to run your canning jars through a quick cycle in the dishwasher to sterilize them if you haven't already. I bought these adorable half pint quilted glass freezer-safe jelly jars on sale at the grocery store. I always pick up a random box of canning jars whenever they go on sale...I have high hopes for putting them to good use!

(This music is fucking good, right?! The song at 4:40 is some booty-shaking, strawberry cutting, good time fun.)

Instead of hand mashing my berries in an old-timey fashion, I give them a few good pulses in the food processor. Old-timey people would approve. If I used a potato masher, I feel like they'd look at me, self-righteously working up a blog-worthy sweat, then glance at the shiny time-saving Cuisinart on the counter while clucking their tongues in disapproval and shaking their heads in a "people of the future are idiots!" kind of way.

Friendly advice:
Make sure that you don't accidentally puree the berries, as your jam will not set. And don't mess with the sugar ratio when we get there, as your jam will not set. And don't make more than a double batch or substitute one pectin for another. Why? Your jam won't set.

Q: What did my disposal have for dinner last night?
A: One huge batch of runny, pureed, low-sugar jam. Wa-wah.

Measure exactly 4 cups of pulpy strawberries. Pour into a large bowl and add 8 cups of sugar. Stir well and let sit for 30 minutes. Great time to go for a walk and get a leg up on these delicious calories!

Next bring 2 packets Sure-Jel and 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Boil for one minute stirring constantly. Add to your strawberries and stir continuously for 3 minutes or until all of the sugary grit is dissolved. Pour into your jam jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace to allow for expansion in the freezer.  Cover and let jam sit for 24 hours. Yield: roughly 10 cups of jam, and a few days of feeling pretty kick ass.

Tomorrow, put all but one jar in the freezer and they will keep for up to a year. Put the remaining jar in the fridge for immediate consumption. It will stay fresh for up to a month, but really, don't expect it to last that long. It's just that good.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

$6 Pallet Compost Bin

I write a guest blog, Hey Neighbor, for Dwell Denver Real Estate once a month. This was June's post.


Hey Neighbor,
What has two thumbs, 12 chickens, and more poop than she knows what to do with? This girl!

Urban farming has been an adenture so far. Harder than I anticipated when reading about it, but more gratifying than I could have imagined when I see our hand-raised chickens scratching for bugs, or the bees coming and going at the hives by the dozen. Lately we've turned our attention to waste, both the noun and the verb. 

The chickens are great garbage disposals and save a lot of food scraps from the trash. But once they process said scraps, there is a different kind of waste to deal with. Since I'd love to divorce myself from buying big box garden soil, a compost bin was the logical conclusion. And then I priced them. Yeah...After building a 200-square-foot chicken palace out of cedar, we were a little short on farm funds.

So, I hightailed it to my local feed store. I purchased used wooden pallets for $2 each. I saved myself $94 and saved the wood from the trash heap.

The fastest way to compost, besides having a huge pile of grossness rotting somewhere in the yard, is a three-sided bin with no top, no bottom, and plenty of air and moisture. Our perfect pallet composter was assempled and in use in under 10 minutes. 

Think you need 5 acres in the country to be able to compost? Think again. We are lucky and can hide the compost bin in the trees, but we've seen bins stashed at the side of the house, in a corner of the yard, hidden by bushes, painted to match the lawn furniture, and right smack next to the garden in all its rotten glory. 

Composting is easy, and virtually smell-free, if a few basic rules are followed:

1. Try to keep a 3:1 browns to greens ratio. 
  • Browns (carbon rich): dead leaves, small animal bedding, cardboard, newspaper, dead flowers and plants, sawdust, straw.
  • Greens (nitrogen rich): manure, grass clippings, fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds.
  • Do not compost meat, bones, cooked foods, cat litter - when in doubt use common sense. Or Google. 

2. Shred large materials for faster breakdown. For example, run the lawn mower over a pile of raked leaves before adding to the bin.

3. Add moisture. The best description I've heard is that the compost should be as saturated as a sponge that has been wrung out.

4. Turn compost weekly. 

5. When the compost is dark brown and smells like soil it's ready for the garden!

Good luck on this next project, neighbor! If I can do it, you can do it. Go forth and biodegrade! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grand Girls no more...

The Grand Girls are gone. No, my package colony did not up and die, but as Don the Bee Mentor has taught me, "A queen is a colony and a colony is a queen." Let me explain.

I picked up my package bees - the Grand Girls - from Apis Hive Co. at Denver Urban Homesteading at the beginning of May, and drove home with a buzzing backend and an anxious eye to potential car accidents. The bees of my imagination were suddenly oh so real.

Jude was fascinated and unafraid, which fueled my dreams of a future beekeeper in the making!

These original package bees had a marked queen who was easy to spot with her hot pink dot. When I installed the package I followed the instructions of Apis Hive Co. and removed the cork from the queen box and replaced it with a small marshmallow. The box was inserted into the hive, the bees were shaken over the top, and I utilized a baggie feeder of sugar syrup and an empty deep to ease their transition. Then I left the girls to their own devices for a week to allow the worker bees time to eat through the candy and free their newly accepted queen.

Upon first inspection a week later, there was comb being drawn and the queen was spotted, but the bees were too crowded to see what was happening within the comb itself.

And then came week 2, inspection #2...Bees, comb, queen. No eggs. No baby bees. Me, freaking out that I somehow sentenced this colony to an early death with my inept beekeeping skills.

Enter Don the Bee Mentor!

Sidetrack: I must reiterate how wonderful it is to have a flesh and blood human being to turn to in times of bee crisis. And for a new beekeeper, these times are plentiful. I've read a hundred books, blogs and forums but nothing tops a teacher. For novice beekeepers lucky enough to live in the Denver area, Don offers a yearlong mentoring program that will teach everything from routine inspection, to splitting your hives (I can personally attest to the magic and relevance of this particular skill set), to managing varroa mites without pesticides, to harvesting that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, HONEY. For beekeepers outside my area, I urge you to contact your local bee clubs and find a skilled mentor to apprentice yourself to. Bees may not require large amounts of your time, but they require finesse and a vast base knowledge that benefits from hands-on instruction. Back to the original story...

Don talked me off my crazy tangent and let me know that there were a few possible reasons for the loss of the queen and they weren't, as in the case of our poor chicks, a result of me. First, she may not have been mated properly. She may have been released too quickly and killed by the colony. She may have flown off. And finally, she's a bug - maybe she just died.

I had about a week, since the bees had been without a queen for at least 5 days, to get a new queen before a worker started laying drones (bad news) and/or the current colony started dying of old age. This is when Don sent me to Tim Brod of Highland Honey Bees.

Tim, of the "stung on the eyelid" posting of yore, happened to be boxing queens within the next two days. Lucky me! I drove to Boulder on a random afternoon, purchased a queen and received her majesty and a few attendants in a disposable coffee cup, and drove home. Fun drive.

Don and Tim both instructed me on a different, and (spoiler alert!) more successful, way to hive a queen. Keeping the cork intact, I sandwiched the queen box between 2 frames in the hive and left her for 3 days. I checked back in and noticed that the bees were not being particularly gentle with the queen box - attempting to sting it and buzzing at an uncomfortable level while I was inspecting the hive. Playing it safe, I left the queen in the box for another day and then revisited the hive on her 4th morning in residence. What a change! The bees were calm and though they were drawn to the box they were not trying to hurt her. I carefully shook the queen to the bottom of the box, pushed in the cork with a nail, and placed her on top of the frames. She exited immediately and disappeared into the hive.

And now? Well, the Carniolan Grand Girls will help attend to a new line of Carniolan/Italian hybrids that will replace them when they are gone. I inspected the hive yesterday (no pics - I was racing an afternoon thunderstorm) and while I did not see the queen...I did see bee larvae! For the first time, this colony of bees is on its way to being a successful superorganism. Though they are off to a late start, and I don't expect any surplus honey from the ladies this season, I have great expectations of being able to shepherd the bees into a successful survival of winter.

Now, all that is left is the naming of the new colony. Any suggestions?