Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Putting the puzzle together

For the last 5 years, I have been planning and saving for a large exterior remodel of my home and yard. New patios and walkways. A wood shop in the back. Green house over a garden bed. Irrigation system. Lots of work, lots of money.
Getting money, time, and workers all at the same time seems to be a real issue here. Just about the time I had all the money together, a parent got sick and took up all the time. Then I got sick. Then we took the money and invested it because we weren't going to do the work any time soon. Then we would save again and get ready to start. Parent gets sick.... etc. Three parents have done this and finally the last two are in assisted living or nursing care. We have money in the bank. We have started the work.
It is not the way I thought it would happen, though. I envisioned the work starting in the back yard at the new wood working shed. Then moving to the patio south and west. Next walkways and patio north with garden walls and gates. And lastly, the east side fence and walkways. OYE! I was wrong.
It started on the East Side with drainage lines, new fence and guttering/downspouts to control water issue, plus some repairs to the existing facia boards and new side door to garage.
While I am cleaning up the mess of old fence and seriously trimmed shrubbery, filling green waste trash cans and the firewood bin, the construction on the woodworking shed has started. I now have no path to the wood bin and have at least one more week of green waste collection before I can get to it. Stuff is piled everywhere in the back. Dirt piles, wood piles, waste piles, broken concrete piles, tool piles, parts piles.
But the side is looking pretty good. New fence. New drainage. Soon we will need to break out the rest of the concrete sidewalk and call the cement truck in. I can hardly wait, even though it means more piles and more stuff to haul around.
I am not sure where this is going from here. I want a new patio in the front and on the west and in the back/south. I am suspecting that this patio in the south area is going to be last. It will involve a roofing contractor and lots of windows/doors/electrical and plumbing. There will be a side patio part with a built in barbeque/deep sink and maybe an outdoor shower.
I have no idea how long all of this will take. So far, we have been working for one week. I expect about a month for the work shed/sidewalks.
As I try to envision this project and its next step I realize I have no idea how these pieces will go together. There are other people working on it and they have their ideas as well. In the end, I will float along and see what happens. But so far, it is going well and looking good.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cotton, again

For the last 8 years, I have been saving money and planning for a back yard-side yard-front yard-entry way makeover. I have been hard at work getting the inside of the house the way like it, while keeping the rest from falling down. And along the way I have been sidelined by my health, parents needing help, funerals and graduations. Lots of little issues pop up and reset the priority list.
While I wait for my time to rip apart the mess and get the landscape in order, I have had some garden experiments. Three years ago, I planted cotton. It wintered over and continued growing and producing the second year. During the third winter, instead of cleaning it out, I ignored it and planted some wheat in a different area. Soon the wheat was done, and the cotton was blooming again. That brings us to year three- cotton bolls like crazy- construction on the way.
I have started working with a contractor to get this place DONE, well, mostly done. Everyone knows that a house is a continuous project. But I intend to get a lot done.
To my surprise, the area that I thought would be last will be first. The East side will get trenched, concrete removed and fencing. When that part is done, the entry way will get its time. Then the West side, and lastly the back yard, where the cotton is.
I have had a long talk with this cotton. I told it to hurry up or its seeds won't have a chance. Last year, I was still harvesting in January, but this year I must be done before the plants get dug up. This might be as late as December. There is still time to finish up some of those lazy bolls.
As much as I have loved this patch, and it has been of such low maintenance, I would like to make this a better yard. I am going for easy care, with a few garden beds, a small corner patch of cotton. Even still, this is very productive cotton and makes more with each consecutive year. I have so much to spin, I can't even find all the bags.
So the experiment will come to a close at the end of 2014. It has been great fun.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lime Marmalade

Since we came back from Montana, I have had a bit of a lime obsession. There was a salad there with lime zest and juice that caught my fancy. Then I started putting a slice of lime in my water. Ymm. Better than lemon. And then, double whammy, the grocery store had limes 10/$1- or 10 cents each. That did it.
I stocked up on limes. Then I had to find something to do with them. One year, I had made salted limes, but didn't like the results. I don't use that much salt in my foods and didn't find the product useful. I have grated off much of the rind of 5 limes which I froze for future use and I made some lime juice frozen cubes for later as well. Still have about 15 limes to go.
I decided that I would try some lime marmalade. Last year, my daughter made some Meyer lemon marmalade that was delicious. And Orange Marmalade has always been a favorite of mine. So with my new found love of lime, I settled on Lime Marmalade. Now to find a good recipe.
In my online and book research, I found many different approaches to marmalade. Sometimes, the qualities of the fruit affect how you will proceed. If the skin is so tough that soaking and boiling cannot soften it to mush, you cannot use the skin in any thick preparation. Only fine grating of a little bit will work. Some recipes called for paring the colored skin part, chopping fine, scraping the pithy white parts, making little bags of stuff, straining. Really, I am much too lazy for this.
I found a recipe that got me excited. Cut off the tough ends of the fruit, cut it in half lengthwise, slice thinly, soak overnight in water to cover. I am on this one. Let's follow the lead.
I sliced 10 limes very thin, there were no seeds. I put them in my container and they measured about six cups. I added 4 cups of water which covered them. I put them in the fridge and went to bed. So far, so good.
The harder part is in the morning. Simmer the fruit/juice for about an hour until the skins are soft and can easily be broken with the press of a finger. Let it cool. Measure out the water/lime mix. In small batches- 2 or 3 cups at a time, cook the marmalade with the following ingredients.
Add 1 cup of sugar for each cup of juice/pith.
Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda in this pot- this will make it very foamy
Add 1/4 teaspoon salt in this pot.
1/2 teaspoon butter.
Over medium heat, stir the mix until the sugar has dissolved and the foam has subsided. Continue cooking with out stirring until the mix reaches 224 f degrees on a candy thermometer. Most recipes say to cook to 220 but I think it is a bit low and I have uncertainty with my equipment. Go higher if in doubt. IF there is scum or foam remaining, skim it off. For mine, it all stuck to the sides of the pot.
Ladle out the marmalade into sterile jars and water bath process.
Most of the actual canning process information can be found on line or in books. I don't want to repeat it here.
What I changed here, is that I added a little salt, butter and some baking soda. This was a synthesis of different recipes. I also increased the temperature because many people had mentioned difficulty getting the jam to set.
The first batch set up fast and very firm. So small batches seems to be the ticket. The second batch had 4 cups of juice/pulp and 4+ cups of sugar. It was a little softer, which is ok, too.
My 10 limes made about  8 cups of marmalade.
It is cooling now. I am thinking about English muffins and marmalade for lunch.