Scrappy Slatted Outdoor Bench

•March 31, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Scrap wood Bench seat

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I have piles of wood in my garage that I have been saving from former projects, picking out the neighbor’s dumpster during a garage cleanout and scoring at place like Habitat for Humanity and Reuse Centers.  Needless to say, MY garage became something shame-worthy and a challenging obstacle course to conquer for even the simplest of tasks, like grabbing a rake.  I need to get it cleaned up, like it was last spring, before tearing out the kitchen and putting all the old cabinets in there, and the wood, and used furniture, and the new doorwall waiting to be installed, and…well, you get the idea.

Here’s one of the few things I made with the scrap wood.  My scrap-wood bench.

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The weather broke, finally, here in Michigan.  Fifty-eight degrees!  Maybe Spring really will come.

Morel Mushroom Hunting: Lemony Garlic Pasta with Morels

•May 20, 2013 • 2 Comments
Hunting Morel

Hunting Morel

Here in Michigan, early May is Morel mushroom harvesting time. I was first introduced to the morel mushroom in the early 90′s. They are considered quite a treasure when you find them, since they have such a short window where they are available to harvest (similar to asparagus and at the same time) and have such a great flavor.

Foraging through the woods on a nice spring day to hunt for mushrooms sure adds to the enjoyment in searching, finding and eating these little gems; there is something so gratifying about finding your own personal patch of morels; this also makes people really secretive about where they go to find them :)

Knowing most people are so secretive about where they hunt them, I haven’t been able to eat any for some time. This year, though, I felt determined to at least make an effort. To find some for yourself, look in wooded areas with fallen trees of decaying wood. Morels tend to like the hardwoods: Pine; oak; ; elm (especially); poplar. You can also find them in areas that have the invasive garlic mustard, blooming dogwood and moss, since that indicates a moist area.

Blooming Dogwood near Wetlands

Blooming Dogwood near Wetlands

After a call to my sister and describing the kind of area morels like to grow, she brilliantly suggested I check out some property my father owns about an hour from here. He kept some acreage after selling an old farm-house we lived in for a short time, in the early eighties and I hadn’t been there since we moved. It is a nice piece of parcel, with wild turkeys, deer, hawks, berries as far as you can see and some wetland areas. It also is full of hardwood trees, blooming dogwood, fallen decaying trees, garlic mustard (boo) and moss. Perfect!

Once you know what you are looking for, morels are easy to identify.  Though I will give you a run down how to identify the mushroom, I always think it is best to find someone who can go over the identification markings in person.  And, you know, maybe watch them cook and eat them first haha.

In all seriousness, here is what they look like:

morel with cross section

morel with cross-section

As you can see here, morels have a brainy look to them with deep crevices.  There are greys, which have a gray color, and yellows, which range from whitish yellow to a tan color and everything in between.  The most telling mark is the cross-section.  The morel is completely hollow throughout the structure.  See above how you could almost use the mushroom as a mold?   The cap and stem are one piece.  To pick, pinch off the stem at the base, gently as morels are quite delicate and will break quite easily if you try to just yank them out of the ground.  Also, you have less chance finding them in the same area again, if you pull everything out completely.

Here is a picture of the few I found, cut in half:

Morels cut in half.

Morels cut in half.

I found about eight, both greys and yellows.  Now, there is another kind called half-free, but I have never found one, so I don’t feel comfortable giving advice on picking those.

There are two common mushrooms that could be mistaken for the morel.

False Morels.

False Morels.

The first is commonly called the ‘false morel’ or Verpa Bohemica.  It looks like the morel from the outside, but if you open it, you will notice some marked differences in structure:

False Morel

False Morel

Notice that the stem is not hollow, but filled with a cottony, fuzzy material.  Also, the stem attaches all the way at the top of the cap, so essentially, you could pop off the cap of this mushroom, leaving the stem in the ground.  You could not do this with the real morel.

Some people eat these, so they will not necessarily hurt you, but others have felt nauseous and a little dizzy after consuming some.  I am on the fence whether I will try them.  We will see.

The other is the Gyromitra Esculenta.  DO NOT EAT: POISONOUS

DO NOT EAT

DO NOT EAT

These mushrooms are larger, squatter, irregular shaped cap and purple, so I would not mistake these for the morel, but it is good to learn the false look-a-likes to help you feel confident about what you are harvesting, especially if you are new to mushroom hunting.

Now that you found some morels, what do you do with them?

Many people love to just dust the morel with flour and fry them.  They have a super flavor and a meaty texture.  You could use them in any dish that you use more common mushrooms, but just make sure THEY ARE COOKED.  Mostly, this is to kill of any bacteria and the like that they may have on them.  I tend to heed advice from more experienced hunters when it comes to wild mushrooms, so if they say cook them, I will cook them.

To clean, I quickly run the mushrooms under the tap, then wipe gently with a paper towel.  I will run the inside under the tap after slicing in half, as well, to get the dirt off.  Some don’t like to use very much water, worried it will dilute the flavor, and mostly just wipe them with a damp paper towel; but then others will soak them for a time. You will have to decide which method you are most comfortable practicing.

Since I didn’t have many morels to use, I decided on a simple pasta dish that I hoped would make the morel shine.  I used a flat rice noodle since I should stay away from wheat, but feel free to substitute a spaghetti or linguine.

I learned this garlic-oil pasta technique from Cucina Rustica by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman, but the recipe is mine.

Lemon garlic pasta with Morels

Lemon garlic pasta with Morels

Lemony Garlic Pasta Starring Morel Mushrooms

You will need:

long pasta

head of garlic

olive oil

one small to medium lemon

one or two green onions

8-10  Morel Mushrooms (just use what you find, unless you hit the mother load, then dry them and send me some :) )

 

-Cook half a box of flat rice noodles

-1/4 cup of Olive Oil and 8-12 garlic cloves sliced.  Place in pan to simmer until the garlic starts to turn brown on the edges and becomes opaque.

garlic oil

- cut the MORELS IN LARGE PIECES, with a GREEN ONION, SAUTE GENTLY in a separate pan. I used a little oil, but not too much is needed.

sauting morel

-When the garlic oil looks done, turn off heat and add the juice of a small lemon (less if you think you would prefer it so)  and a dash of pepper and 1/2 tsp salt (optional).

-Toss the garlic oil in the drained pasta, then when coated add the mushroom and green onion saute.

Rice noodles with morel mushrooms

Rice noodles with morel mushrooms

I enjoyed the flavors in this simple pasta dish; garlic,  fresh lemon, and  good meaty bites of mushroom. Wonderful flavors to eat this time of year.

I Hope you are enjoying spring and I would love to have you share any recipes you have for these lovely mushrooms.

 

New Wheels Update: OOPS!

•May 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I either have a crazy relationship with this old Universe of ours or a sub-conscious that likes to play with my waking self, but whichever is to blame, it seems that when I say some confidently, judgy or snarky, it comes around to bite me in the rear; in like, minutes to days afterward.  I call it my Instant Karma.  Who knows what I have done in the past, but the obvious lesson being handed down to me over and over, is one of  humbleness and deflating the ego :)

So, wouldn’t you know that after posting a project that I was so proud to proclaim as “my easiest DIY project ever”, that you can read about here, the Joksters That Be would use it as an opportunity to remind me of my lesson AND have a good laugh to boot.

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Bam! Split, right down the middle.  We tried to glue it, but it just wouldn’t hold.  The thinned walls (by drilling a larger hole into them) and soft wood of the turned legs just couldn’t withstand the angled pressure of the wheel post.

Well, if you remember in the original post, I mentioned a concern that the turned legs in the front were too skinny in diameter to handle the posts of the wheels, so I bought some 2×2 to make extenders for the legs to sit in if need be; but we really thought we were in the clear.

Ah, well.  I got to work MAKING new legs. Yep, making my easiest project ever, more difficult, more time-consuming and more tedious.  But I thought this would be the best thing to do, so they could be at the exact height of the back ones, and because I had some wood to make them already.

new leg vs. 2x2

I used my multi-tool to slope the bottom of the leg and to shape the corners, striving for a look similar to the back legs that came with the settee, which you can see below:

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(back leg with wheel)

Everything got a good sanding; then came the finishing.

I used India Ink to trace the natural grain on the poplar, which looked ridiculous before the stain.  But I knew that I wanted to use the dark Walnut stain left over from the Clocks I made at Christmastime, and that would tone down the stark black of the India Ink.

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I bought standard bolts that are used for furniture legs.  Home Depot had them for $1.82 for two, but we found that the bolts in the old legs were easy to unscrew and we could have used those without buying new ones.

To screw the bolt in, find your center and predrill a hole smaller than the bolt diameter.  Then use two nuts to lock together to have something to twist and screw into the hole.  (why don’t they put a slot at the end so you can use a screwdriver?)

twising in new screw (1)

new leg

Twist the new legs on the furniture; then follow the same steps I outlined in this post, here, to install the wheels on the new legs.

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installed2

Then sit back (pun intended, haha) and cross your fingers that the new legs can withstand the jokes of the universe, physics or the overflowing junk in your trunk, and stay in one piece so you can get on to more pressing projects :)

And speaking of more pressing projects, I installed a new window in the bathroom this weekend and it was so easy….uh, wait, wait, I still need to add trim and a window sill and I seriously don’t want to just GIVE the Big U more fodder for making me a crow eatin’ buffoon. :)

Frugally Friday: Wheat Free Dog Treats

•April 26, 2013 • 2 Comments
Will do anything for the treat.

Will do anything for the treat.

(doggies on the move make it hard to get clear pictures LOL)

My beautiful Borador (Labrador/Border Collie mix), Sydney,  is very sensitive to commercially made products.  Those of you who have been around for a while, might remember last summer when she was experiencing awful welts, ear infections and skin problems and when I had to whip up a DIY doggie no-bite collar to help things heal.  You can click here and here to see those posts.

I am happy to report that we have come a long way in Sydney’s health.  No more hot spots, skin rashes or welts, or itching.  I am convinced that changing her diet back to grain-free food, using natural soaps and detanglers and eliminating commercial treats and rawhides are the reason.

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There are many pet owners whose animals have suffered serious injuries and death from commercially made dog treats.  Unfortunately, many seem to come from China.  It is not always easy to know where exactly the treats are made.  Companies don’t always make it clear on the package- a U.S. company may distribute the treats, but upon further reasearch they you notice they are MADE elsewhere-let alone in what kind of condition the facility is in or the quality of ingredients they are using.

I think one of the ways to make a stand against the harm being done to our companions is to take matter into our own hands; even if that just means making our own treats- if enough of us did we could hit the companies where it hurts, their profits, of course.

And making treats is very easy, not to mention a stress-free way to give your pooch something they will love with no worries of harmful ramifications, since you control the quality and type of ingredients to make them.

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I created the following recipe on Sunday,  the same day I made some cheese (woot).  My sister uses a similar recipe we found on Facebook, but they call for wheat flour, something I want to limit in Sydney’s diet.   They couldn’t be easier to make and Sydney LOVES them.  Loves them so much, she acts a bit crazy around them.  I joked with Edmond that I swear I didn’t put anything addicting in them LOL.  When we have them in our hand, she stands sits at full attention.  It cracks us up.  I think we could teach her just about anything right now….maybe how to sort my laundry even :D  .

They are not grain free as I added oats to them, and if you want to do wheat flour, just substitute that in.  But bear in mind that many dogs have allergies to wheat and I suspect Sydney does better without it too.

If you would like to make these GRAIN FREE as well, just OMIT THE OATS and increase the amount of garbanzo/chickpea flour.  You can find garbanzo/chickpea flour at your local co-op, health food store, Indian or Mediterranean food stores, or the health food area of the grocery store.  If you are having trouble finding it, any bean flour would work.

Here’s what you will need:

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Wheat Free Dog Treats

2 cups of Garbanzo/Chickpea flour (a great source of protein)

1 cup of oats

1 can of pumpkin

1 egg

1-3 tbls. of chicken or beef broth (optional)

1 heaping tablespoon of Parsley

1-2 tbls. Peanut Butter (not shown)

Mix the pumpkin, egg, parsley and broth (if using).  Add the flour and oats.  You can adjust the amount of flour until you have a dough that can be handled to form or roll and shape.

Divide the dough in half.  In one half mix the peanut butter.  I swirled the peanut butter instead of mixing thoroughly.  This should give her a great big taste of peanut butter.

I made simple rounds but you could also roll and out and use a cookie cutter to shape. I baked the first batch at 250 F for a couple of hours.  I wanted to dehydrate rather than  bake.  They are not as crispy as I would like, so I will bake for longer next time.

The peanut butter batch I baked at 350 F  until they looked brown and crispy.  This worked fine, but I think dehydrating them keeps some of the nutrients intact that baking at a higher temperature doesn’t.

treats

Crispy or not, these treats sure make her happy, and I can feel good about giving them to her.

And believe me, she knows right where they are….

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Edmond and I tasted each flavor, and they are not bad at all.  Kinda Oatey, kinda bean-y.  Not something we would bake for ourselves, but hey, to each their own. :)

Do you have a recipe for dog or maybe cat treats?  Please share if you do.  Together we can keep our sweet pets happy and healthy.

Happy Frugday!

Say Cheese!

•April 24, 2013 • 7 Comments

I am super excited about some opportunities for farm shares and goat shares at local farms this summer.  I cannot not wait to get my hands on some fresh goat milk to make some goat cheese.  Sounds fun, right? Funny thing is, I have hated milk since childhood.  Couldn’t and can’t stand it to this day.  I used alternative milk or juice in my cereal instead.  I remember being absolutely disgusted at whole milk with the fat swimming at the top.  I called it “fat milk” LOL.  I think, actually, we all did.

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Anyway, with decades of milk hating (including butter or anything creamed (soup, pasta sauce etc) though I have since began to like them in  moderation),  it may come as a surprise that I actually love yogurt and cheese (the stinkier and more sour, the better).  AND I’ve realized that I love sheep and goat milk cheeses the best.

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I also love fermenting everything.  I haven’t done so much lately, but I have made wine, ginger beer, kombucha, sour dough starter, yogurt, lebneh (yogurt cheese).  I also have made some alternative “cheeses” from cashews and almonds.  Guests at my house never knew what weird thing I would have bubblin’ on the countertop, resting on a heating pad.

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Around this same time I saw a documentary on New Zealand Farmers and one in particular that had her own goats and a small business making goat cheese.  This appealed to me greatly, and I knew I also wanted to do the same some day.

Isn’t is funny how sometimes in life something resonates with you so deeply though you have no prior experience with it and viturally no knowledge of how to actually do it; all you know is, that it is exactly the direction you want it go in your life.

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Well, this weekend, years later,  I finally took the plunge to finally make some cheese.  I wanted to make a feta, and  chevre.  I had it set in my mind, after a couple days of research, that this was the time to actually do it.

The problem is I can’t find any commercial goat milk locally that isn’t ultra-pasteurized.  You cannot use ultra-pasteurized, really, they say you can add Calcium Chloride to make it work, but who wants to do that?   You need fresh or second best, pasteurized milk. Period.  I guess sheep’s milk is the tastiest, followed by the more traditional goat’s milk, then blandest, though doable, cow milk.

Being ever so impatient to ride this cheese train, with my ticket paid in full and leaving the station, I grabbed some Calder pasteurized cow milk from our local Co-op; along with Rennet tablets and 8oz of buttermilk (kismet, since when I bought it, I had no idea I would need it).

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I researched a number of websites for  basic recipes, techniques and trouble-shooting; then was ready to begin,  first by heating the milk to the required 86- 90 F degrees.

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When it reaches the desired temperature, take it off heat and add a  mixture of yogurt and reserved milk to act as a live culture (recipe at bottom of post). Set it aside to rest for an hour. You can also use buttermilk, which I will do from now on, for reasons I will explain further into the post.

When the hour is up it is time to add a 1/4 tablet of Rennet to 1/2 cup of water.  I crushed mine first then dissolved it in the water.  When dissolved add it to the milk.  Then wait.  And here I got different instructions.  Some said wait overnight, some said only until the curd sets for proper moisture retention;  each type of cheese has a certain amount of moisture that makes it unique.  For feta, that is usually an hour after adding the rennet.

But it wasn’t really setting, so I  waited overnight.  The next morning, I was sad to see the curd did not set.  Still as liquid as it was in the beginning with maybe a few teeny curds.  Trouble shooting the problem, I learned that maybe the yogurt was not full of live cultures or maybe I didn’t use enough Rennet. Shoot!

I was trying to figure out what happened when we saw a date on the rennet for April 13th; was it expired?  Maybe. We weren’t sure if it was an expiration or delivery date.  Rennet has a short shelf life and gets weaker and weaker as it ages. Edmond dashed over to the co-op,  and found out it was expired, got a store credit, more milk and then over to Whole Foods to get some liquid rennet.

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Meanwhile, I stayed at home determined to not waste the unset milk.  Everywhere I read on the internet said to throw it out.  If it doesn’t set then there is nothing you can do with it.

I didn’t believe it, and in true Nicki fashion, I said to heck with these people who have more cheese experience- I’m going rogue.

I decided that since my rennet was weak, I really was left with milk and a small bit of yogurt.  What would it hurt to heat the milk back up, this time to 145F  degrees add the juice of a lemon and make the much adored and lovely Paneer cheese of India?  The worse that could happen, is I would have to throw it out :)  But guess what?  IT WORKED!!

When the milk was at 145F  I took it off the heat, added the lemon juice, let it sit for a few minutes to curdle, drained it by hanging over the colander then molded it; which essentially is just weighting it down to form a solid mass.

Half gallon of milk 2 tablespoons or juice from a lemon is all you would need to make your own.

Homemade Palak Paneer

Homemade Palak Paneer

Below shows it under pressure to mold it into a firm round to cut into cubes before cooking. This was after hanging it to drain for and hour or so.  (sorry for the blurriness, ugh)

Molding under Weight

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Haha.  I used whatever I could find to weigh the curd down.  It is in my cous- couser from Morocco.  It is a colander on top and regular pot on the bottom.  Perfect for draining the whey from the curd.   I should probably find a better way to weigh it down, however. :)

With so much whey left from draining the curds (the yellow liquid in the picture above),  I decided to go one step further and make ricotta.  Now for the ricotta I would need to heat the whey up to 186 F degrees.  Well, to just boiling.  Since I only had a half-gallon of whey, I knew there wouldn’t be much ricotta made; Continuing on the rogue theme, I threw in my 8 oz. of real Cultured Buttermilk (very important! Calder makes one).   Eh, what could it hurt.  Take off heat when the temperature is reached and add the juice of a lemon (around 2 tablespoon or so).  Stir gently, but not too much. Drain, then hang, then eat :)

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OH MY GOODNESS……YUM!!  The buttermilk added so much flavor that I decided to only use it instead of yogurt for the live culture in my cheese making future.

Paneer and ricotta are pretty similar.  I guess the main difference, is in Italy they recook the whey left from making cheese, so it is a by-product and used mostly as crumbles, and in India, for paneer they make it straight from milk, in crumbles, spreads, and solid cubes.  Taste wise, they are not really very different.

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Ricotta with Basil and Oregano on Glutino Crackers

In total it made a scant 1/2 cup of ricotta.  It also looked a little dry for a spread, so I added some whey and threw in a pinch of oregano and basil; let it sit for an hour or so in the fridge before enjoying it on my gluten-free crackers.  It was probably drier than it could be ideally, from heating the buttermilk to boiling.  Next time I will try not heating it so high, maybe closer to paneer heat because seriously, that buttermilk added so much flavor to rather bland cow milk.

So what about making feta?  Yep, I did.  I used the vegetable liquid rennet on another half-gallon of milk.  Went through the same techniques as above and this time it worked!

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Feta curd cut to release whey

This time I only waited for an hour for ideal moisture retention.  Then cut the curd, very gently, into cubes.  Make slices across your curd then turn and slice again perpendicular to the first.  This releases the whey, as shown above.  Now you drain it all through cheesecloth or light weave towel or pillowcase over a colander to keep the whey to use for you brine later.  Bring all the sides up and tie together and hang it on your cupboard knob or faucet over the colander.  Give it a few hours.  Then once again weight it all down to form a solid mass.  Let this sit overnight.

Feta in Brine

Feta in Brine

The next morning,  cut your curd into the size of cube you want then prepare your brine.  To do this, measure your whey.  You need enough to cover the curd cubes completely.  Many people use large mouth jars which helps keep the curds properly covered in brine. I say just make it all into a brine to make sure you have enough. For every 2 1/2 cups (20 oz.) use 5 tablespoons of salt.  You need this much salt to make sure your curds develop a brine and firm up on the outside.  If you don’t use enough, your curds will simply melt into the whey and you are out of luck.  I used sea salt, but there is also a cheese salt.  Some use a coarse kosher salt.

Stir until the salt dissolves, pour over your curds and let it all sit in the fridge for 3-5 days before eating.  The longer it sits the crumblier it will be.  If it is too salty, simply rinse before eating.

Though it has only been two days, I tried a small piece without rinsing and it is yummy! I can’t wait to make more, very soon and preferably with fresh goat milk.

Here is a basic recipe to get you started.

FETA CHEESE

Half gallon of milk (not ultra-pasteurized)   (heat to 86 degrees)

1/4 cup of buttermilk or 1 tablespoon of yogurt mixed with 1/4 cup of milk (add with milk off heat and let sit an hour)

1/8 teaspoon of liquid rennet or 1/4 of a tablet (add after hour and let sit another hour, if curd is not set let sit a little longer, if it still isn’t after a few hours, make paneer/ricotta)

If curd is set and you get a clean break, meaning when you stick your finger in the curd and pull it out at a slight angle, your finger remains pretty clean and not covered in yogurt-like material (research Clean Break ), cut the curd, gently, into cubes.

Drain the whey and curd through a lightly woven cloth until it stops dripping (usually 2-4 hours)

Fold the cloth over the curd and weigh it down with something heavy overnight to form a solid mass.

Cut the curd into cubes the size of your choice

Make a brine 12.5% salt to whey.  That is about 5 tablespoons for every 20 oz. or 2 1/2 cups.

Let marinate for 3-5 days; the longer the better.

Here are some fellow bloggers that have detailed tutorials for you to polish your techniques.

Chef in Disguise

From the Bartolini Kitchens

I am not hating milk so much anymore.  Weeellll, not true.  Still, don’t make me drink the stuff, LOL.

Spring Cooking With Wild Garlic

•April 8, 2013 • 2 Comments

It’s that time of year again.

Crocus

The crocus and daffodils start making their appearance.

daffodils

And on my property, so does loads of wild garlic.  The Allium Vineal Variety:

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Throughout history, the onion family was the first fresh greens that the early American settlers could enjoy, after a long cold winter.  The first bit of fresh food popping up at the earliest of spring; Tantalizing the taste buds in preparation for all the lovely produce that will surely follow in the next few months.  I can fully appreciate the excited anticipation they must have felt at the first sight of the lovely pungent plants.

Last year was the first time I harvested wild garlic to eat.  Wanting to make sure it was definitely and edible plant.  I made some lovely scallion pancakes.  I shared the recipe and offered tips on how to identify wild garlic which you can read by clicking  HERE 

Though it is technically a wild garlic, and smells as such, the bulbs taste similar to a scallion or very mild onion and the leaves taste and look like chives.  So you can replace those with the wild garlic in any of your favorite recipes.

wild garlic

When I first moved here I used to mow them down often, easy to do since it grows all over the yard, and I didn’t realize what it was.  Since, I have dedicated a few areas for the garlic to grow undisturbed, in the hopes that it would produce larger bulbs in the years to come.  This seemed to work.   The bulbs this year are quite large compared to last year.

My resident rabbit likes it too, as I found many plants with the tops chewed off :).  I don’t mind, there is plenty for us all.  We will have problems later, as she likes to get in my garden every chance she can.

This year I have enjoyed it in chili:

chili2

Just replace the wild garlic in for the onion of your favorite recipe, and use the chivy green leaves for a topping.

chili

I also used some garlic with smaller bulbs to sprinkle on top of some orange chicken with  spinach and kale rice.  As I would a scallion.

orange chicken2The raw garlic  bulbs and tops gave a nice fresh bite in contrast to the cooked greens and sweet chicken.

orange chicken

Do you harvest wild garlic or onion to use early in the season?  Or are you lucky enough to have asparagus as your first taste of the summer to come?

I am loving that I can harvest fresh produce so early in the year; When I have just planted the earliest of crops and the air is still chilly.   I will be sure to share when the lettuce, peas, radishes and broccoli rabe start making their appearance in the next few weeks.

Shedding Some Light On The Stairway

•April 2, 2013 • 2 Comments

*You are at part 8 of the Dueling DIY.  Click on these to get caught up: 1/2/3/4/5/6/7

“Main Floor Flight 22:00, this is the control tower, you are ready for take off.  Enjoy your flight to the second floor, all looks clear”

stair lights6

I finally can reveal the Stairway Surprise!  Stairway illumination with LED Tape! Woot!

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Weeks ago we ordered LED Tape to illuminate the stairwell.  I sent teasers through my Facebook page, giving hints like this:led roll 1

I wanted to see how many could guess what this was and what the heck we planned on doing with it.  There were some funny guesses, some spot on.  I didn’t tell, though.  I thought it would be fun to keep it a surprise.

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Looks like an old movie roll, doesn’t it?

Well, Edmond and I are kinda geeky and love LED lights and all the new ways you can use them. We once, not to long ago, spent a few nights in bed designing a circuit for a homemade LED bulb. LOL. I also have been batting around the idea of lighting  up the stairwell.  Especially since the remodel.  The stairs are darker and our dog, Sydney, was having trouble navigating them without someone turning on the overhead ligh for her. She has since gotten used to them, but we were convinced we still wanted to do it-Hopefully cheaply. And easily. And with LED.

After months of tossing ideas around, I finally struck gold while reading a forum discussion on stair lights.  One contributting contractor explained how new build houses have LED pucks installed under handrails (?),  So he had recently installed LED tape for a client for her older home remodel, under her handrail (!).  Here is a similar, if not the same link  he gave.  I popped over to the site and knew right away that I had found my answer to lighting up the stairs.

It was amazing how inexpensive this 16′ (as in feet, not inches) roll of LED lights were – $13.88.  But you need to buy a wallwort to fully install the strip. You can also buy a dimmer, but don’t need to.  All in all around $30.00 for all three.

But luck was not on our side and this little surprise we were planning was testing our patience.

The first order we placed, for a kit that had all three components-LED strip, wallwort and dimmer for around $28.00, got misdirected due partly to an error of Edmond’s and partly Amazon’s.  Edmond had forgotten to update the address for shipping to my house,  so it was scheduled to arrive at his house.  Luckily, we know the renters fairly well and thought they might be able to intercept the package for us.  However, Amazon, had put the wrong zip code on the package (not from our order which had the right one listed).  Now, my town is small and we only have two zip codes and the second one happened in my lifetime.  So really, why was it so difficult for the post office to look at the Street address and realize it was for the other zip code?

Well, that shipment was sent back to the  shipper and we had to reorder.  This time the kit was not on sale, and it was cheaper to buy  the roll of LED tape ($13.88) and the wallwort (about $8.00) that connects to the strip and plugs into any old outlet, separately, forgoing the dimmer.

These arrived just fine, except Edmond accidentally ordered the cool, bluer lights and not the warm, golder lights, I wanted.  I didn’t really mind, the cooler ones are nice and clear and actually not very blue.  But he decided he really wanted the dimmer ($8.00) – So he ordered one, along with  another roll of LED tape in warm light.  So now we have TWO! And another week had passed.

By now, we were almost ready to install this project, but we realized we needed to extend the wallwort to go through the wall:

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(I taped the connection between the wallwort and dimmer to avoid them pulling apart and having to fish the wire through the wall again.)

down to the basement:

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Over the stone wall:

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To one of the outlets (using a short extension cord):

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But we couldn’t find an extension for the wallwort locally. We checked radio shack to see if we could get the proper plugs, jacks and wires to make our own, but no luck.  It looked like we would have to order one online.   That’s when I asked Edmond to call our friend, Bob.  Bob loves working with all things LED and Neon.  We had conversations in the past, about the different projects we wanted to do and some he had already done regarding LEDs.  I knew that if anyone locally sold the components we needed, Bob would know.  There isn’t, so Bob offered to extend our wallwort for us.  He did this by cutting off the end, soldered some coax cable my dad gave us and used some shrink tube to insulate it and make it pretty again.  We bought him an itunes card as a thank you, increasing our project cost to roughly $45.00 (minus the extra strip of lights).  Still so worth it.  Thanks Bob!

NOW we FINALLY had all the components to get this puppy done!

So, up went to handrail, back to were it was before:

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Anchoring in the holes that needed one:

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Then taping the lights on:  The tape on the strip is by 3M and holds really well.

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The width of the light tape is only 1/4 inch, and very thin as well, so we had no problem attaching it through the small gap between where the back of the bracket and the handrail intersect .

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Too cool!!

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That is the dimmer hanging on the bottom right of the picture.  We will attach it either to the wall or up under that handrail.  I like it either, way they both look neat and tidy.

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That is blue painter’s tape, not the light reflecting that color.  I am still slogging through caulking, woodfilling and painting. Blah.

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These last two pictures are truer to what it looks like in person. Here the strip is partly dimmed. These lights are really bright!  The dimmer also turns the strip off, if you like, but we connected a timer at the outlet to come on at night and shutoff sometime around 5am.

A project like this could be really simple-tape on the strip, cut where needed (be sure to cut at the proper marks), plug it in.  Our version was a little more complicated with respect to fishing wires through the wall with only a 3/8 inch hole on one side and an inch hole at the other, customizing the wallwort length, figuring out how best to hide/tidy up the dimmer. But still, not a hard project, just a more, thinky type of project.

We love how it looks and I am already thinking about returning my Ikea LED light bar for under the kitchen cabinets that was a whopping $50.00, and installing these strip lights instead.  You can buy connectors, so you can cut the strip in as many lengths you need, then attach them back to a single wallwort connector.  Maybe I could put the Cool, bluer roll under the toe kick of the kitchen cabinets.  Boy we would be high falutin then :)

Have you used LED strip lights before?  Where?

 
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