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Making a Birdseed Wreath

February 22nd, 2012

On Sunday I was mixing up a batch of suet for the woodpeckers and I posted it to my Facebook page. Krista asked if I had ever made a batch in a bundt pan. Since I hadn’t, I decided to give it a try. I mixed up a batch and make cakes as usual and mixed up another batch and put it in a bundt pan. Here’s my suet cake recipe.


My bundt pan isn’t a real one, it’s a springform pan with a bundt insert. I was worried about the removal of the wreath from the pan, but a few minutes over the warm oven vent and it popped right out. I think one of these silicone bundt pan would be perfect since you could peel it right off and these mini bundt pan would make the cutest gifts!

If you do make one, make sure you hang it with wide ribbon as a thinner string might cut right through the suet on a warm day. I hung mine from the maple tree by the bird feeder and within a few hours the woodpeckers had already found it.  This will be perfect because I won’t have to replace the suet cakes quite as often.

Any great crafting going on in your kitchen?  

The Cycle Begins Again

February 8th, 2012

The weather seemed perfect on Sunday afternoon, so we decided it was time to tap our maple trees. Out came all the supplies, the spiles and jars were scrubbed, the extension cords were brought out and the first tree was tapped.


As soon as the hole was drilled sap was running down the side of the tree before we could even get the spile in. Thirty taps later and we were done. That evening we collected five and a half gallons of sap and so the cycle of collecting and boiling has begun again.

Last year was a long sugaring season and we got 5 gallons of finished syrup. This year we tapped more trees because we think the season will be short, which is the usual here in our area of Ohio. In total we have 30 taps going and are hoping to get a few gallons of syrup once again.

The little black garage cat (aka “The Sweets”) loves it when sugaring season rolls around. Just like her mama used to do, she followed us around the woods as we tapped trees and she runs ahead of Mr Chiots on the paths when he collects the sap. No doubt she’s enjoying some human companionship after a long lonely winter in the garage.

Our maple syrup is precious and since we use it as almost our only form of sweetener, we use it sparingly throughout the year. We’re always happy to reach the next cycle with a few jars of syrup left in the pantry. When I checked last week we still had almost 2 gallons left.

What’s your favorite way to use maple syrup?

If you want to read up on maple sugaring I’d highly recommend these books:

I Spy With My Little Eye…

December 2nd, 2011

Yesterday afternoon was really beautiful; the sun was shining and it was in the high 30′s temperature wise. Perfect for digging up the back hillside and planting some of the tulips that have been waiting in the garage. About dusk, I wandered back into the maple grove to look around and much to my surprise I noticed some of the my mushrooms logs had started to produce mushrooms!



I guess all that warm rainy weather we’ve been having the last couple weeks made them decide it was time to start fruiting. One of the ‘Pearl Oyster’ logs was producing huge masses of beautiful blonde mushrooms. They were a bit frosty because the temps dipped down into the mid 20′s overnight, but I picked them anyways. The texture might not be quite right, but they’ll still be flavorful in a venison stew.

These logs were inoculated way back on April 21st of this year. I ordered these spawn plugs from Grow Organic this spring, they’re also available from Fungi Perfecti.

Inoculating logs with mushroom spawn couldn’t be easier. Basically you drill holes in the logs 3-4 inches apart in a diamond pattern, pound in the spawn plugs, cover with wax and let sit in a shaded area. After a few months you can start watering the logs to encourage fruiting, or you can let them fruit naturally during spring and fall rains. (since folks were asking in the comments I figured I’d add that the logs are supposed to continue to produce mushrooms for 3-5 years depending on the size of log used and the type of wood used).


I used three different kinds of spawn plugs to inoculate logs this spring, Pearl Oyster, Hen of the Woods (Maitake) and Shiitake. I also inoculated some wood chips in the garden area with Garden Giant and Elm Oyster mushrooms spawn.

After plugging your logs with spawn you’re supposed to put some wax over the holes to keep bad fungus and bacteria out. I will use beeswax next time, but I didn’t have any when I did these logs so I used some extra cheese wax I had in the pantry. I’m not keen on using a petroleum product but it was all I had. I have since purchased some organic beeswax to use this coming spring when I inoculate more logs.

I’ve declared my love of mushrooms before, so being able to grow my own makes me a very happy camper! If all continues to go well with this experiments I’ll be inoculating many more logs this coming spring to keep up enjoying mushrooms by the bushel! My harvest tally for this picking was 3 pounds – not bad indeed!

Have you ever grown mushrooms? Do you think you’d like to try? Yay or nay on mushrooms in your food?

A New Hobby: Roasting Coffee

November 1st, 2011

I’ve talked about our love of coffee several times before. Mr Chiots and I are coffee aficionados; we drink coffee like other people drink wine, talking about the depth of flavor, the crema on the espresso right after brewing, and on and on. We were super happy to find a local source for the most wonderful micro-roasted coffee, but sadly Al quit roasting to sell and we were left sans good fresh micro-roasted coffee beans. Rather than settle for mediocre, we decided to take our normal path and simply start doing it ourselves.

We spent some time researching beans sources and coffee roasters then we took the plunge. There are many people that roast their coffee in an air popcorn popper. Since we’re espresso drinkers and like a dark roast, that wasn’t an option for us. We needed a drum roaster.

After doing much research we found CafeCoffees which is a guy who builds them on a small scale. What we really like about this roaster is that he makes them repairable with parts from the local home improvement store. Whenever possible we like to buy appliances sans electronic controls and made to be repaired. They’re usually more expensive initially but end up being much cheaper over the long term. As small business owners, we also appreciate supporting a small business. The 3 pound roasting capacity of the roaster we purchased was an added benefit since it will save time and money over roasting in smaller batches.


We ordered a collection of espresso beans from Sweet Maria’s, some single origin and some blends. Then we waiting for our roaster to arrive, eagerly anticipating the wonders of home roasted coffee. Our beans arrived about a week before our roaster. To fill in the gap, we had to buy beans from another small local roaster to get us through. Needless to say, our decision to roast at home was backed up by the flat flavor to of that coffee.



Our roaster arrived last Saturday; we set it up and roasted two pounds of coffee on Sunday afternoon. We were happy with the roaster that we chose and were also pleasantly surprised by our roasting results (especially since it was our first batch). Technically you’re supposed wait 2-3 days after roasting for the espresso to “bloom” fully, but we couldn’t wait. We brewed some on Monday morning.


You may think roasting your own coffee at home is difficult and you need special equipment – but it’s not and you don’t. There are some people that simply use an air popcorn popper and some that even do it in a cast iron skillet (which I may try someday when we want some coffee to brew in our Chemex). Basically you put your green coffee beans in your roaster and roast until desired doneness, we like a darker roast so we wait until they start the second crack (sounds like popcorn popping). Then you cool as rapidly as possible and you’re done. We were actually amazed by how easy it was!

Roasting coffee at home also saves money! We purchase our green coffee beans for between $5-$6/lb and our roaster only uses about 5 cents of power for each batch (we can roast up to 3lbs of coffee). Of course it will take us a while to recoup the cost of the roaster, but since we invested in a roaster that will last for years to come so it will save a lot of money over it’s long lifetime.

Our initial efforts aren’t as good as the coffee we used to get from Al, but they’re better than any other coffee we’ve purchased. We’re also using single origin beans at the moment and we like a blend of beans for more depth of flavor. We have a few blends to try as well and we will most likely come up with our own blend with much experimentation. It looks to be a fun and delicious hobby! I’ll keep you posted on our adventures (Oh and I’m planning on making a how-to video someday for Ethel so I’ll let you know when that happens).

Have you ever roasted your own coffee or do you know someone that does? Have you ever considered roasting your own?

Making Your Own Whole Grain Mustard

June 7th, 2011

I posted my recipe for Whole Grain Stout Mustard on the Your Day blog at Ethel so head on over there. If you remember I talked about my love of condiments one Friday. Of all the condiments mustard is my favorite. I love a good hearty whole grain mustard, but they can be pricey in the store. Making your own is quick and easy.

I get my organic mustard seeds from Mountain Rose Herbs in case you’re wondering, they’re inexpensive and you can buy in bulk. People will certainly be impressed when you take homemade mustard to the next cookout you attend.

Head on over to the Ethel Blog and tell me what your favorite condiment is.

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but just recently moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine.

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