Archive | October 2015

Thuya Garden on Mount Desert Island

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Thuya Garden in Northeast Harbor on Mt. Desert Island is one of the little hidden gems near Acadia National Park that I like to visit.  The land was once the summer retreat of a Boston architect named Joseph Henry Curtis. He built his vacation “camp,” Thuya Lodge, on the side of a small mountain overlooking the harbor.  Thuya is the Latin name of the cedar trees that abound on the property.

thu2thu5In 1912 work on the gardens began, mostly focused on the construction of a rocky trail called Asticou Terraces that leads up the hillside from the harbor to the lodge.  The pathway is beautiful and peaceful, passing through a spruce forest and over granite ledges, and has more than two hundred steps.  There are terraces, some with crude log shelters, where one may rest along the ascent.  The view is lovely.

thu1At the top of the trail, the walkway passes by the front door of the lodge, a large house, and continues into the semi-formal garden.  Much of the work on the garden was done after Mr. Curtis passed on in 1928.  thu7Graveled garden trails meander through a small wooded area, past a spring enclosed under a roof, and along a glade with several different gardens and plantings of various fruit trees.

A small reflecting pool, seen in the first photo, provides a spot for quiet contemplation.  There are several more benches set around the garden.  I like this spot on the right with fern and allium blooms.  Some of my photos were taken in June and some in September, hence the different seasonal flowers.thu3

thu4A large terrace is set aside for a memorial to Mr. Curtis, seen here being reviewed by my husband.  The stonework in the gardens is extensive, well executed, and I’m sure, took much effort to construct.  It has stood the test of time well, there is barely a rock out of place through all the years of frost and rain and erosion.

A stop at Thuya Garden will provide a calming interlude in a day filled with the hubbub of Acadia tourists and traffic.

Read more about Thuya Garden here:  https://tclf.org/landscapes/thuya-garden

Apple Kuchen

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Kuchen means cake in German, as I explained to my husband right before his first taste (he liked it.) This dessert made its way to America with the German immigrants.  It is a nostalgic food from my German Russian side of the family rooted in North Dakota.

Traditional kuchen consists of a sweet yeast bread dough topped with fruit and custard.  For the modern times, this recipe has been updated to use baking powder, making kuchen a quick and easy treat for dessert, snack or breakfast.  Kuchen freezes and microwaves well and is great warm or cold.  Top with sweet cream, sour cream, whipped cream or ice cream, especially when served warm.  Any fruit can be used as filling.  Some even add chocolate chips.

For this autumn kuchen I gathered some baking apples, Haralson and Rome, from the orchard.

Kuchen

Dough:

1/4 cup sugar                                                    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 egg                                                               1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup oil (I use light olive oil)                            1/4 cup white whole wheat flour

1/4 cup milk                                                      1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F.  Beat egg with a whisk in a medium mixing bowl, add sugar and oil, whisk till creamy.  Add other ingredients, whisk until smooth.  Pour into a 9″ greased pie pan.

Fruit Filling:

2 cups thinly sliced apples

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Spread apples evenly over dough, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.

Custard:

2 eggs

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Whisk eggs until light and foamy, whisk in other ingredients.  Carefully pour over fruit.  Bake for about 25 mins until crust is golden brown.  The custard will set as the kuchen cools.

This tastes vaguely like bread pudding to me, jazzed up with fruit and spices.  Not too sweet and perfect for breakfast with a cup of coffee.

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Making Extracts

ex1ex2My making extracts started when I decided not to buy any more non-dairy hazelnut creamer for my coffee. I’m a big fan of hazelnut and love the taste in coffee. Non-dairy creamer is made with various vegetable fats, sugar and chemicals. I wanted real milk, preferably half-and-half, flavored like hazelnut. Getting this without a lot of chemicals turns out to be difficult and expensive.

Coffeemate makes a product called Natural Bliss that is supposedly made with only real milk, cream and natural flavorings.  They even make hazelnut flavor.  It is not a product carried by my favorite grocery store.  I have to drive across town to purchase it.  The flavor is not all that I’d like in my creamer.  There must be a better way, I thought.

After researching hazelnut coffee flavorings, I discovered that adding the hazelnut flavor to coffee involves either syrups or extracts.  The syrups have a lot of sugar and the extracts have a chemical called propylene glycol that is way too close to anti-freeze for my liking.  Not surprisingly, there is considerable controversy around this food additive.  I wanted to steer clear.

So, I researched how to make extracts.  Surprisingly, it is quite simple and not very expensive.  I’m not sure why extracts cost so much to buy, the ingredients are not that dear and the process is not difficult.

I had some raw hazelnuts on hand since I love them and eat them all the time.  And, I just happened to have a nearly full bottle of 40 proof vodka, lucky me!

I found recipes online for making hazelnut extract and modified the best to suit my taste.

Hazelnut Extract

1 cup 30-40 proof vodka

1.5 cups hazelnuts

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one bean split and scraped)

For the best flavor the nuts must be roasted to release their tasty oils.  We run a large woodstove to heat the house, so toasting the nuts was not a problem.  I placed them in a small covered skillet on the top of the moderately warm woodstove (about 350F on the thermometer below the flue.)  Every few minutes I stirred the nuts so they wouldn’t burn and toasted them about one-half hour until the skins split and they turned golden brown.ex6

Place the vodka and vanilla in a clean pint canning jar. Rub the hazelnuts to loosen the skins and remove as much skin as possible.  Coarsely crush the warm nuts and place in the jar of vodka.  The alcohol should cover the nuts.  Put on the lid, give the jar a good shake and store in a cool, dark place for a month, shaking every few days.

After a month, strain the nuts, saving the alcohol.  Crush the nuts well, place in a sauce pan with 1/4 cup water, bring to a boil.  You may add 1/2 cup sugar, honey or agave nectar to the water to sweeten.  If so, boil long enough to make a thin syrup.  Strain the mix through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth.  Add the flavored alcohol, store, sealed, in the fridge.

I’ve finished the first step, and am now on the waiting four weeks part.  The alcohol mix is a nice golden brown and already smells great after only a few days.  I didn’t obsess over removing every bit of skin so some is still present in the mix.

After that bit of success, I got to thinking that real vanilla extract is fairly expensive and I could probably make my own.  The recipe for that is even more simple.  I found a great online site called Beanilla where quality vanilla beans from around the world can be purchased in bulk.ex3

ex4For the best extract, vanilla beans should be soft and moist, not dried out as so many are in local stores.  I discovered there are many varieties of bean, all produced by a lovely orchid.  For my first foray into making vanilla extract I opted to use what is called the most popular bean, Madagascar Bourbon and another bean that sounded delicious, Tahitian (Tahitensis) from Indonesia.  The Madagascar are described as having a buttery, sweet, rich, dark and creamy flavor.  The Tahitensis are depicted as flowery and fruity with tones of cherry and licorice and being rich in oils.  The difference in the beans can certainly be smelled and the descriptions seemed quite accurate.ex5

Honestly, I had no idea there was so much involved in purchasing vanilla beans!  They are not inexpensive, but the price at Beanilla is about 1/8 the cost of whole vanilla beans in my local super market.  And the quality is exponentially higher.  So I bought ten beans, five of each variety.  The website offers a recipe for making extract, which I adapted.

Vanilla Extract

10 vanilla beans

1.5 cups 30-40 proof vodka

Place the vodka in a clean pint canning jar.  Cut the beans length-wise to expose the soft interior.  Slice the beans to the right length so they will be covered by alcohol in the jar.  Scrape the insides of the beans, if desired, or not.  I did not, they are very gummy and I didn’t want to waste any of the material. Just opening the bean will allow the alcohol to work its magic.  Place the beans in the vodka, cover the jar, shake.  Store in a cool, dark place.  Shake once or twice a week for eight weeks.

The alcohol will turn dark brown as the essence of the beans is extracted.

I can hardly wait to taste my extracts!!

Here is a link to the Beanilla site:  https://www.beanilla.com/ 

Fresh Figs!

f1f2My first fresh figs!  I’m so proud.  Two have ripened and quickly been devoured.

The figs have seeds in them, quite a surprise since I assumed they would be asexual.

The flavor is perfect:  sweet, subtle, reminiscent of honey and vaguely white grape-like, a taste all its own.  Fresh figs right off the tree are the best!  I eat the whole fruit, including most of the stem.

f3f4The fig’s leaves are rapidly turning yellow and will soon fall.  I’m not sure how this will affect the four remaining fruit still to ripen.  Since this is my first experience with a fig tree, there is plenty to learn!

The nightly blanketing with a thick cotton bedsheet has protected the tree from light frost.  That won’t work much longer.  The temperatures will soon dip into the 20s F at night and the little tree will have to move inside.  Next spring it will get an earlier start than this year so the fruit will have more time to ripen.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s harvest!

New Kayak

1aFinally!  After more than ten years of wanting one and looking on and off, I found a kayak.  It’s an older model Old Town Loon, one person craft in excellent used condition.  The boat has barely seen the water. It has spent most of its life hanging in storage.  I got a real deal, one-third the price of a brand new one! And even a new paddle thrown in.DSC08882

Yesterday I took my new kayak out for the first time in the little river called Martin Stream that runs through out land.  It was a gorgeous autumn day, warm and sunny, the leaf color nearing peak.

I have kayaked before, using a friend’s Loon, and loved it.  Even did some fly fishing.  Kayaking is better than canoeing, I think.  The craft is much more stable and easier to control.  My favorite is slipping noiselessly into a small, deserted cove and dropping a dry fly among the lily pads.1b

Kayaking Martin Stream was pretty tame.  The water averages twenty feet wide and is very shallow in places.  The current is usually slow.  The Loon has a very slight draught, it slides right over the sand banks and submerged logs.  Unfortunately, the stream is choked with fallen trees.  I was only able to travel about a quarter-mile upstream before being stopped by a log jam.  And a quarter-mile downstream is blocked by a beaver dam.  Still, it was lovely to be back out on the water.

My new kayak and I will be traveling to some nice local lakes, rivers and ponds in the near future. 1c

Figs Ripening!

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It’s very exciting for me!  My first figs are ripening!  They are getting a pretty pink blush.  When the color is mahogany they will be ready to pick!!  The little tree is ripening six fruit.  Can hardly wait to eat them.  I bought some fresh figs are the grocery store last week.  They were sad, wrinkled and over-ripened things, but still better than dried figs.

The fig tree is in a race with the weather.  Temperatures have remained warmer than normal here. We’ve gotten several light frosts, mostly right around the full moons.  Covering the tree at night with an old bed sheet has spared it from being nipped by frost.  If the temperatures dip any lower than about 28F, I will have to move the tree inside.

The full sun it receives outside is spurring the fruit ripening, I sure.  Moving the tree inside will shock it some and cause it to drop the leaves quickly.  Not sure what that will do to my fruit.  I’m rooting for warm weather to continue for at least a couple more weeks.  If past weather patterns hold, it will stay warm right up to late October.  We have been getting warm, wet autumns and cool, dry springs for the past several years.  Keeping my fingers crossed for figs!

New Hen

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Meet Prudy, the newest addition to the farm animals.  She is the first hen I’ve ever named.  Not sure why I did, there’s just something special about this chicken.

I spotted her in the chicken pen my veterinarian keeps in his yard beside the clinic.  The vet has six Welsummer hens he bought as chicks last year.  Suddenly, last week I noticed this silver Ameraucana hen in with them.

I’ve been struggling for several years to breed silver Ameraucanas.  I can’t seem to get the numbers up enough to keep the color strong.  Last year I had a gorgeous silver rooster, three silver hens and two black hens.  Black can be mated with silver to help improve the color.  Unfortunately, black seems to sometimes completely over-ride the silver.  From those six birds, this spring I got a lovely silver cockerel for next year, several black hens and two nice black cockerels.  No silver hens.

The black roosters are unnecessary since there is a good silver, so they are being sold.  Breeding the black hens may produce only black chicks next year.  The end of the silver line.  I have one silver hen left from this year’s breeding stock.  Looks like when I sell the year-old stock this fall, the silver hen will be retained for next spring.  Having an older bird with younger ones doesn’t always work well. They tend to be bossy and aggressive with junior hens.  I try to avoid it.  But I have little choice if I want to try to get more silvers.

Then, I realized, aha!  What about the silver hen at the vet’s?  A lot of people sell their laying hens when they begin to molt in the fall.  I decided to ask the vet if he’d sell his hen to me.  The vet, Dr. Danner, is a great guy.  Very empathetic and easy to get along with.  He said the hen was given to him.  A client had two hens and one developed a sour crop.  Dr. Danner was unable to cure the swollen, infected crop and the hen died, leaving one lone hen.  He said he didn’t even know what breed she was.  The clients gave her to him to put in with his birds so she wouldn’t be lonely.

He quickly agreed that she should come to our farm and maybe have a chance at making some babies next spring.  He knows a free-range life is idyllic.  He said he thought the hen is two years old, but still lays–brownish eggs. Next year she will be quite an old bird, yet she may produce enough eggs to have offspring.  I hope so.

I plucked her from her warm roost at the vet’s after dark on Monday, popped her in a cat carrier and brought her to the farm.  The first day she was separated from the other chickens in a pen where they could see each other.  When the hens went out to free-range in the afternoon, I let her have the run of the hen house.  She was very curious and explored all over.  She is friendly and hung around me talking in soft little clucks. She can be scooped up and carried with no fuss.  An unusual chicken, indeed.

This morning Prudy was anxious to be released from her small enclosure.  I let her out with the other birds to eat scratch.  Perhaps because she is a year older than the other hens, Prudy is barely phased by the glares and disgruntled squawks of the younger birds.  She mostly ignores them.  If one gets close and wants to fight, she turns her back and moves away.  She likes the rooster and he took to her in no time.

This afternoon after I let the hens out to free-range, I kept her and the rooster together in the hen house for a couple hours.   They got along, no problem.  So I released them both to free-range.  Prudy spent the time exploring by herself.  I lost track of her after awhile and couldn’t spot her.  It made me worry I’d let her out too soon and she would forget how to find her way back to the roost.  No need to fret.  At dusk she ambled out from under the hedge, went straight to the barn and in with the rest of the flock.  I have never seen a new chicken assimilate as easily as Prudy.  Nothing seems to ruffle her feathers.

She is not a fine example of a silver Ameraucana.  Her feather color is a little off, her eyes are rather pale, her comb is too large, as are her wattles.  And she lays brown eggs.  Ameraucanas are supposed to have blue-tinted eggs.  Luckily, the young rooster was hatched from a very blue egg.  The blue gene is strongly dominant.  If Prudy manages to make any little girl chicks, they should have the blue gene from their father.  In her favor, she does have muffs and tufts of feathering on her head, as a good Ameraucana should.  Her skin is white, another required trait.  And best of all, she’s silver!

So, if I’m very lucky, there will be two silver hens for breeding next spring and they might even give me some silver pullets. Perhaps her calm demeanor will rub off on the other silver hen and she won’t pick on the younger hens. Hope does spring eternal in the chicken breeder’s heart.