Come in, look around. Let me know what you think! Comments are always welcome and encouraged.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

53 bottles of beer on the wall...

We bottled the ocktoberfest today. Got some really cool vintage bottles from my dad a few weeks ago and had been saving our empy beer bottles (non-screw top) for a while. We have all different sizes but it totals to an average of 53 12oz bottles. We have to wait another two weeks for the beer to carbonate in the bottles but a tasting party is in the works.

cleaning and sanitizing bottles

see the excitement on my face?

Greg fills the bottles- sideways because blogger won't cooperate with me

the capping doo-dad
Greg dreaming about how good it will taste

Thursday, January 27, 2011

its this kind of evening

 you can't really see it in the photo but its snowing like crazy outside. They are calling for 2-3 inches.

one of those evenings that require lots
of tea sipping.

and kitty snuggling.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

homemade vanilla extract


1 cup (8 oz) vodka, bourbon or Everclear
3-4 vanilla beans
clear glass* jar

Slice Vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Place them in an empty 8 oz or larger glass jar.*You have to use glass with this. The liquor will corrode plastic or metal.  Pour alcohol over the beans. Close jar tightly and give a good shake. You should be able to see the bean pods begin to dispurse throughout the liquid. Continue to shake jar daily (or as often as you can remember) for 4-6 weeks. After that time you may use the extract for cooking/baking purposes just as you would a store-bought extract. All you have to do is run it through a coffee filter to remove the beans and pods. You can then transfer your extract into smaller containers if you want to share, which is what I plan to do. Of course, you can let your extract sit indefinitely; the longer it sits the stronger/better it gets. Due to the alcohol content, it shouldn't ever go bad.
all you need

I used a homemade everclear (moonshine) that was given to me (original source unknown) for my recipe but any of the above alcohols will make a wonderful extract-so I'm told. I made mine with 5 vanilla beans and 12 oz of alcohol which is exactly the amount of moonshine I had. The vanilla beans I used were from Mountain Rose Herbs. They cost $9.00 for 9 beans or 1 oz.  They are organic, sustainably raised and harvested and are about twice the size as the ones you buy in the grocery store. I absolutely love them.

5 bucks for 2 oz of commercially bottled vanilla extract that may or may not be made from real vanilla beans or 5 bucks for 12 oz of homemade and organic vanilla extract? I will take number two please.

Monday, January 24, 2011

whats in my shampoo?

Wanted to share a thought provoking video I found.

In the past few years I've switched to almost all natural or home made personal care products. I make my own personalized body wash with Dr. Bronner's castile soap and essential oils. I can change the fragrance when my mood changes. Peppermint or sweet orange for when I need a lift and lavender and ylang-ylang when I want to relax. When my skin gets dry I can add jojoba oil (the earth's best moisturizer). I am currently looking for a good aluminum free deodorant.....that works. I've tried quite a few and I don't think I need to explain why I'm still looking. Have any of you decided to switch to" eco" brands? If so, which ones are your favorite?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

in the dead of winter

This is the worst time of year. Its way too cold outside and it keeps me from doing all the things I love to do.  I love hiking, beekeeping, birdwatching and wandering around in gardens. All of things things are really unpleasant in the winter. Its two o'clock in the afternoon on a Saturday, 9 degrees outside and I'm bored out of my mind. This is the time of year I feel like I am going a little crazy. I am either depressed or angry and always for stupid reasons. I am not like this any other time of the year and I am one hundred percent certain its because of the lack of warm sun. I cannot watch my favorite channels on tv  (discovery, animal planet, food network, travel channel) this time of year because I am so emotionally sensitive that every every time one of those "feed the children" or "save the puppies" ads come on I am rendered to tears and I seriously consider emptying my entire bank account. I often catch myself picking fights just to have something to do. Last night I actually was offended by Greg when he said he would cook his own bison burger. I thought he was insinuating that he didn't like my cooking. When in reality he was just trying to make less work for me. All I want to do this time of year besides complain about the weather is sleep and eat. Its ridiculous. Perhaps I have this seasonal affective disorder (SAD) everyone talks about.

In order to help me combat this disease, I bought an elliptical machine. I've been working out about 4 days a week and it does temporarily make me feel better. Its also making my jeans fit a little better. One problem I do have is that I can only be on the elliptical machine for a half hour or so. What do I do with the other 23.5 hrs of the day?  How many of you out there get the winter blues too? What do you do to stay sane when you can't get outdoors?

mushroom patch status

Still no shiitakes. I hope we get some soon. The guide that came with the kit says it is normal to have darkening. This is what should happen before mushrooms form. It looks like a moldy cake sitting on the coffee table. I hope something happens soon. I'm not sure how much longer I can look at it.

bruielly brew status report

We've racked off the brew into a clean carboy now that it is done fermenting in order to separate it from the sediment (hops and yeast). The whole fermenting process was quite hairy. It was weird to see how much swirling and stirring going on in there due to the yeast. I wish I had a video camera to post a video of it. It was like watching a bunch of tiny sea monkeys swimming around in the bottle. Yeast is some crazy stuff. There was actually so much foam that we had to drain out some liquid three different times in order to prevent overflowing. The foam was getting so high that it actually filled the airlock twice and popped the lid right off, splashing foam and chunks of beer goo on the wall. In the past two weeks the color has changed from a dark mahogany to a golden color also. Despite the goo splashing episode and the blow out everything is going according to plan. We will wait another 9 days and then its bottling time.
Day 1

about a week and a half in. a few days before beer volcano.

What's left after racking

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Got back from the yurt excursion safe and sound. It was a fun experience. Due to large quantities of snow, we had to hike into the site about a 1/4 mile. Because I have OCD when it comes to traveling and packing, I originally packed way more than we needed. Having to walk so far in the snow forced us to choose what was important and what was not. A six pack of sierra nevada was more important to Greg than multiple changes of clothing. A bottle of Prosecco was more important to me than multiple changes of clothing also. Warm clothes are way better than clean clothes.  The site was very nice, the yurt had a propane wall heater but no plumbing or electricity. There was a solar panel attached to the yurt but winter=no sun=no electricity. We had a great view of a lake with a little creek running into it.  During the two days we stayed there we saw a beaver a few times swimming around right outside the yurt. There were lots of ducks and geese too. Unfortunately, the camera that was on loan to me took a crap on me so I do not have many pictures. Technology has been failing me a lot lately in fact. In the past month I've lost my computer due to a virus, my cell phone's battery won't make it past a 15 minute conversation, it takes the microwave 7 minutes or more to heat a bowl of stew, and now the camera. One great thing about roughing it is that it makes you realize how much you can do without when you have to.

There was lots of snow on the ground and my 11 year old winter boots don't have great traction or waterproofing ability anymore. On one short hike alone, I managed to bite it on three separate occasions. It also didn't help that the temps were in the high teens, low twenties.  We did have time for the monopoly game however. Greg beat me twice but only because he is a dirty rotten cheater. I don't know how he managed to do it but he did. Whatever, I don't want to talk about it. Overall, it was a great trip. I got to bond with my honey and get away from the distractions of every day life. The trip has me wondering abut the possibility of one living in a yurt on a permanent basis. I am looking into it.
the view from the patio of the yurt

Greg melting freshly fallen snow for our morning coffee
camping essentials

my attempt at an artistic shot

glad the snowflake blotted out my face. no makeup.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"to men, time is money; to bees, it is honey" 

-ll langstroth (beekeeping expert and author)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

winter getaway

We are packing up and headed north for the next few days. I will hopefully be holed up in a cozy yurt in an undisclosed Michigan location until Saturday evening. We won't have electricity or hot running water. Without all the distractions of computers, t.v,s traffic, etc, there will be plenty of time for brisk walks in the snowy forest, heavy reading, herbal tea sipping, and maybe, just epic game of monopoly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

living with a monster

This is Kitty. She becomes more spoiled every day. I don't think she is aware she is a cat and not a human.  Greg adopted her about two years ago from the Humane Society. I don't know why she thinks she is so special. She looks just like about a million other gray tiger cats. And I don't know why Greg picked her over 79 other vagrant cats at the shelter that day but he did. He didn't even give her a proper name. Her name is just Kitty. Not Fluffyikins, not Muffin or even Grizabella (which was my suggestion and I still secretly call her because its awesome) Just Kitty the Cat. She is not special but she somehow has this crazy superiority complex and believes she is the queen of the household.  She demands that we give her a spoonful of tuna every day. It can't be in too large of chunks either. No. That means she has to chew it and she simply can't be bothered with that kind of work. She refuses to eat it unless she watches us smash it up a little bit in her bowl. She has to know it has been specially prepared for her.  If we make her wait for her food longer than is convenient she gets loud and bitey. You reach down to pet her and she tries to tear your thumb off. And its come to the point that every time we set foot in the kitchen she is there meowing, pacing and waiting for us to give her food. She now gets her tuna three or four times a day because we get tired of her begging and just give in.  She also has this odd impulse that requires her to try to knock over every half full glass of liquid she comes across. If you sit your glass of water down on the table you have to watch it or she will take a drink and then stick her whole front leg in it and push it around until she is successful in tipping it over. Oh and the toilet? She drinks out of that too, even though her water bowl is replaced daily with fresh ice-cold tap water. When either of us eat cereal she just expects that we are going to save some of the milk for her. She gets as close to you and your bowl as she possibly can. The second you set your bowl down she practically dives into it head first. When she vomits (which she does on a fairly regular basis and probably because we give her too much tuna and cereal milk) she makes sure that it is in a spot where you are most likely to step in it barefooted. I am positive it is premeditated. Sometimes she even lurks in dark corners waiting to ambush you when you walk by.  This cat walks all over me. Literally. At five a.m. when i am trying to sleep. If that doesn't work to wake me up, she sticks her wet, cold nose in my face and attempts to pry my eyelids open with her tongue. Funny thing is, I don't think she does this to Greg. I think she likes him more than me. Even though I'm the one who cleans her litter box. And you know what? I sometimes actually feel a surge of jealousy towards her. I catch myself wondering if she gets more affection than I do.  Me? Jealous of a cat!? No. not just a cat.  A nameless house cat with a sketchy background and bad manners.


One week in and the beer is looking um, well, beerier .

Monday, January 10, 2011

the cutest little things


Baby carrots, puppies and bread. Three things I think are much more fun in miniature versions. I got a set of four mini bread pans for Christmas from Greg. They are the gift that keeps on giving. I've made little loaves of bread, cornbread and tonight, cinnamon crumb cake. Mini bread and cakes are not only dainty and cute, they serve practical purposes as well. For one, when you live in a household of just one or two people, one little loaf of bread or cake is all you really need.  If you have a lot of batter or dough, you can bake several loaves and freeze the extra or give them away as gifts. You are less likely to have your bread/cake go stale or moldy before you get around to eating it all and you have a few extras to pop out of the freezer on lazy or busy days.  I don't know about you but I really appreciate homemade gifts and would be happy to be offered a little loaf of rustic bread or delicious pound cake as a gift. Wink, wink.

One of my goals for this year is to eat less processed food, including bread. Did you know that most store bought breads contain more ingredients than actual items we have in our fridge?  There are all sorts of flavor enhancers, dyes and preservatives in supermarket bread. All kinds of stuff you don't need or want and I am all about simplicity. Most of the bread we eat is now homemade. It just tastes better. Its easy to do once you get the hang of it and really doesn't take much time. I'd offer a bread recipe here in this post but there are so many easy, simple bread recipes out there so why reinvent the wheel?

I do have a confession though. I never claim to be perfect and just like everyone else, I sometimes feel lazy, tired or just don't have the time to make everything from scratch. Tonight I used a boxed cinnamon crumb cake batter. I've forgiven myself. In my defense, Greg did make us homemade pasta tonight to go with our leftover roast (free-range, ethically raised) chicken.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

the mushroom patch

oh no, it's not cake

I think this is the start of a mushroom
I never met a (edible) mushroom I didn't like. They are delicious, nutritious and can be a great substitute for meat, which I am trying to eat less of. Greg got a little "grow your own" mushroom patch for Christmas last year. They were button mushrooms and it was easy and he got a lot of mushrooms. This year he got a shiitake patch and its growing on our kitchen table. When it comes in the mail you take it out of the box and put it in the fridge for 4 days. Then you soak it in water for 24 hrs. After that you put it in this little tent to keep the humidity high.

You are supposed to get 3 or 4 "flushes"  or rounds of mushrooms which will be a couple pounds total. Its been out of the cold and soaking process for a few days now and it looks like something is happening. You can get all sorts of mushroom growing kits at Hopefully, in the near future there will be posts with delicious recipes for home-grown mushrooms.

my little window garden

lettuce,bamboo,mint,rosemary,marjoram,parsley,prickly pear cactus,and catalpa tree

Friday, January 7, 2011

january bee update

Greg and I had one beehive survive going into winter. We lost the other hive (the nice hive) in August. Some kind of mass pandemonium occurred that we cannot put our finger on. The queen died or there was a swarm (where the queen takes off with most of the bees looking for a new home) and the bees that remained very suddenly became infested with wax moth larvae.  It was horrible. I can only describe it as a scene similar to opening your fridge and finding hundreds of maggots crawling all over the prime rib you had planned on eating that night. Shocking, revolting, disturbing and most of all, disappointing.  I was inconsolable for about two hours, despite my dad's best efforts to make it better.(He even went as far as promising to build beehives from scratch the next go round.) Bless him for trying. Anyway, by the time we discovered the problem it was too late to do anything but cut our losses and pack the hive up for the season. On the upside, we were able to salvage about 20 jars of honey before the disgusting moth larva got to it.  We will try again with that hive in the spring.

The mean hive managed to move into fall with a good strong population and lots of honey stores. In November we winterized the hive by placing straw bales around the north and west sides of it to protect it from the wind and placed insulation around the sides as an extra measure. 

It was 54 degrees on December 30th so i got the chance to peek in the hive. The bees were still in there. They formed a tight little cluster where they ideally will stay until it warms up in the spring. From what I can see, they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and they look okay. Because the weather was so freakishly warm that day there were even bees flying around the hive. Problem: It appears that there is honey leaking down onto the bottom board of the hive and pooling up around the entrance. I tasted it. I am pretty sure its honey. Unless bee poop looks different in the winter than it does int the summer...and tastes like honey. We have been scratching our heads over what is causing it. We are pretty sure that is not supposed to happen. We aren't sure what could cause honey to leak out of the hive in the winter time but we hope to figure it out soon. If there are any random seasoned beekeepers reading this post, and you know what is going on, these greenhorn beekeepers would really appreciate your advice.

On a lighter note, it looks like the beer is working. We have not seen bubbles in the airlock in the fermentor which tells you that the beer is fermenting but there is some foam forming at the top. A good sign.  Yeast+sugar=Fermentation=alcohol.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bruielly Brew

Bruielly is pronounced "brew-ly". Haha. For the past few months I've been ranting to just about anyone who would listen to me that I wanted to try homemade beer. Lately I've become more and more interested in making stuff from scratch. I've found that the more work I put into making something from scratch rather than picking it up pre-packaged and processed, makes me enjoy it and appreciate it that much more. I think most people agree that homemade bread is much tastier than store bought bread. So now I am going to see if the same goes for beer. My awesome parents got me a couple kits for Christmas this year. The one we are trying out first is Oktoberfest. When its finished it should make about 50 bottles.

For a novice beer brewer like me, a kit is the way to go. You get all the ingredients you need to make the beer pre-measured so that there is less room for error. You also get a nice set of instructions that for the most part are easy to read and understand...from what I hear. I have to be honest. Greg (a person that I am so unbelievably lucky to have found and who loves to do all the same crazy experiments that I do but that is a whole other blog post) did all of the reading. In fact, I think he probably read the instructions at least a dozen times. But basically you get the kit and round up all the other tools and supplies needed for brewing beer. I was lucky enough to borrow everything I needed from my parents. My mom is an expert wine maker. After you've sanitized everything that will come into contact with the wort (fancy name for beer before it ferments) you basically do the following.

1.)heat 2.5 gal water to 160 degrees in large ass pot
2.)put giant tea bag full of barley mash and steep for a while
3.) remove baggie of soggy, smelly malted barley. Place on counter and forget about until you finally manage to get it to the compost bin (maybe next week)
4.) bring pot to boil for a while
5.)add malt extract (thick smelly syrup)
6.)boil for a really long time
7.) get bored, go play farmville or read some blogs
8.) add bittering hops
9.) boil for a long time
10.) fit in a work out on the elliptical and complain loudly while doing so if you are lucky enough to have someone watch the pot for you
11.) add aromatic hops
12.) boil for 20 more minutes
13.) drink a beer you already have in the fridge because beer sounds really good right about now
14.) worry what the neighbors will think about the strong smell that is wafting from your apartment which is reminiscent of moldy alfalfa pellets and a frat house
15.) cool pot to 60 degrees in a sink full of cold water and ice cubes. It is at this time that your thermometer will stop working right and you will get super-irritated because the beer making process is already taking much longer than expected. You might think its cool enough at 61.9 degrees.
16.) siphon or pour the cooled wort into a 5 gal carboy.
17.) add 2.5 (or in our case maybe two because the rest didn't fit into the container) of cold water
18.) sprinkle and mix in 1 pre-measured package of  brewers yeast.
20.) place fermenting cork thingy on the carboy, stare at it for a few minutes and then shrug and question whether or not you did it right and whether it will turn out okay. 20.) go directly to bed. do not pass go. do not collect 200 dollars.

Greg about to drop the barley mash in the pot. Isn't he handsome?

Soaking the mash, looks like tea

adding the dry malt


siphoning the beer into a carboy to be fermented. tired.

5 gal of home brew. Waiting for the magic to happen.

I make it sound hard but it wasn't too bad. It just took a long long long long time. We started the process around 6 pm. and we finished at 11 pm. It really helped that Greg had read the directions completely and was prepared to move on to the next step when the previous one was done. I am a "read the directions as you go" kind of girl which I don't recommend being when you are doing a project like this.  I am really excited about trying it. Might have to throw a little beer tasting party after its bottled and ready to drink.

The next step is waiting a few days and check to see if air is bubbling in the fermenting cap thingy. Then we know its working. After that we siphon it off into another carboy and do some other stuff to it in two weeks (can't remember what at this point) and then transfer it to another carboy and do some other stuff to it for another two weeks. And then something else two weeks later. It will be ready to bottle in 6 weeks. And ready to drink a few weeks after that. I will try to keep the process updated on the blog so we can see the progress.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


This will be my last post in my beekeeping blog.  Beekeeping is a fascinating hobby. One that I will most likely have for the rest of my life. However, there are so many other things I want to learn and do. So I've decided that I am going to create a new blog for 2011. One that will act as an electronic diary of sorts. Of all the lessons I learned throughout my first year as a beekeeper, the most important (and one that I'm learning to let carry me throughout my  life this year) was one I learned on one of my first days inspecting my hive. One that I would have blogged about right away if I had let it sink in the way it was supposed to.

I was standing behind the wide-open hive. The bees were calm that day, staying inside because the weather was still cool but sunny.  Greg was watching me as I was struggling to pry out one of the frames to inspect the comb without crushing dozens of delicate little worker bees. He could see that I was anxious and frazzled and even thought he was a beginner just like me he gave me the best advice I've ever gotten. I've read a handful of beekeeping books cover to cover. I've done hours of research online.  I've spent hours listening to seasoned beekeepers lecture on countless beekeeping topics. Despite all that information I've absorbed. The thing that sunk in the most is what Greg said as he was watching me do my first inspection. He said, "Slow down. Be deliberate." What Greg was trying to sat was that I needed to calculate my movements in order to avoid fumbling and making mistakes. To move with patience and purpose. Cool like a cucumber. Those words calmed me down, allowed me to relax, and kept me from pulverizing dozens of my amazing little honeybees as I slid the frame back into place. Best beekeeping advice ever. Even though it came from my partner who was a novice just like me. 

 Remembering that phrase has helped me become a better beekeeper than I ever expected to be in my first year and now going into 2011, I think it will be my new way of life. I want to encourage people to live their lives in a more conscious and purposeful way-environmentally, emotionally and dare I say, spiritually (but spiritually in the "live a meaningful life" way rather than the "preachy bible-thumping" way that I absolutely despise). All doing so with calm, poise and deliberation and less hurry, worry and stress. There will be posts about beer making, edible mushroom growing (of the legal variety), bread making, traveling, crocheting, knitting, and my early attempts at sewing, beekeeping, gardening, farmers marketing and canning and preserving. There will be posts about  imaginative ways to save money, good music, delicious recipes, good advice from good people, raising chickens (as soon as I figure out how to do it while living in a 2 bedroom apartment) and whatever else piques my fancy this year. This is my new year's resolution. Creating a genuine and handmade life, slowly and deliberately.

What do you think?
One of my worker bees on a sunflower, September 2010