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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

birds of a feather

Today I visited Dixon, an old and dear friend of mine. I was lucky enough to meet him my first year of college when I signed up to go on a volunteer trip to Yellowstone. My first impression of him was "who is that hippie bearded guy with the long hair?" I discovered soon after that he grew up only a few miles from me and even though he was a few years younger (okay like 4) that we had a lot in common. He likes to do things from scratch too.

He makes wine, he bakes his own bread and he loves to cook. I enjoy the stories he tells, I admire his intolerance for drama and I love that despite having a handful of traumatic things happen to him over the years, he retains a positive outlook on life and a very strong faith in God. I forgot his birthday and he didn't get angry, I often go far, far too long without calling him and he never judges me. He is truly a good person in every sense and being around him is like breathing fresh air. It just feels good.

Today's visit in particular was to meet his new ladies. 5 of them. He recently acquired new egg laying chickens-something I've wanted to do for years and years. I insisted that as soon as he got them, that he needed to let me come see them. I decided to name them for him as well. The problem is that they are really hard to tell apart so unfortunately for them, 4 are named Princess Erica and the other one is Hennifer.
He built this coop himself.  Twice. While in its early stages, it blew over in a wind storm. This was one of the several stories he told me today that cracked me up. Not the best picture of the chickens but I spent the rest of the time trying to catch one.

Not only did he let me chase his chickens around, he made some venison stew and the best homemade granola I've ever had. A recipe I insisted I steal from him and share on my blog. So it goes like this.

1 cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup dried fruit of choice. He used cranberry and raisins
1 cup peanuts (or whatever nut you'd like)
2 1/2 cups oatmeal (quick cook is fine)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tbs of cinnamon. (he put in, like 4, I'm sure of it)

Mix all the ingredients thoroughly, spread on a parchment covered bar pan and then put in a pre-heated 350 ish degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until slightly browned and crispy on top. The middle and bottom should be chewy. When its cooled, you can break it up in chunks or cut into uniform pieces. It should be good in a covered container for a week or two, but it won't last that long. It was delicious. Crispy, chewy, sweet and slightly salty.

Dixon showing me how he makes his granola.

 Not only did he give me a fantastic granola recipe, a delicious, healthy and free meal, complete with homemade bread, but he also gave me these. Yep, those are enormous eggs and two bottles of homemade wine. Peach and Blueberry.

Sorry ladies, he is taken by a nice girl I haven't gotten the privilege to meet yet but I will let you know as soon as anything changes.

Friday, April 27, 2012

bee update

I checked on the split today. The tiny little starter colony did what I wanted them to do. They took several of the eggs from the borrowed frames and are in the process of raising new queens. Yes, I said queen(s).

The bee logic is that it is always good to not put all your eggs in one basket. Several queens may emerge (in this case I counted 7 capped queen cells) but they have to meet the worker bees quality control standards. If a queen is weak or deformed she is kicked out. The queens that make the cut have to take a mating flight, survive the predators and then find their way back to the hive. Often times, if multiple queens return to the hive, the best one will fight the weaker ones and they will also be kicked out or killed. It sounds brutal but its all for the health of the whole colony. It is rare, but sometimes colonies (I'm assuming confused, disorganized  ones) will allow multiple queens. But usually only the best queen will be able to reproduce and ensure that the whole colony is healthy and productive.  I am hopeful that one out of seven of these babies will rise to the prestigious title of her royal highness.

That is basically the reason why splitting hives is risky business. Even after everything I've done so far, finding the queen cells and 7 chances of having a successful queen rearing, things could go wrong. I don't want to get too cocky but I am happy with the progress so far.

check out the upper right hand corner. That pale faced, zombie-esque looking bee head is a baby bee emerging from a cell. Its a drone. Queen cells look like peanuts or chubby stubby thumbs, worker cells are flat and plain, and the drone cells look like bubble wrap.
Here you can see what a queen cell looks like. Kind of like a yellow peanut. They are usually found at the bottom of a frame. However, I found some smack dab in the middle of the same frame. I couldn't get the bees to cooperate and move enough to take a picture. I was not wearing gloves. You can only do so much coaxing ungloved and expect not to get stung. One of the cells is uncapped. Its so interesting to see worker bees cluster around queen cells much more so than other cells. I have no idea if that means there is one already hatched or if it just never got used. I did not find any queens in the hive today.

Bees doing their bee thing. There is an capped queen cell right in the middle of the frame. Could hatch in anywhere from one to two weeks if I did my math right. Can you believe I took these with my iphone?

Okay, so the monster hive still looks crowded but good. The queen has been laying in the honey super because they are running out of room. They have tons of pollen stored in the brood boxes. Also there is quite a bit of nectar being stored in the super already. I am trying to decide if I want to let them do their own thing, swarm when they want to, or keep trying to discourage them. In a way I like the idea of letting them do what comes naturally for them. Less swarming usually means more honey but it also means a bigger and more difficult to manage hive. Those boxes are HEAVY and the more that get stacked on the more lifting and straining I will have to be doing this summer. Last summer I had a major scare. Hot weather, fully suited, heavy boxes, and passing out within inches of going face first into a hive full of thousands of honeybees.  Not good.

I did not find a single varroa mite today. Not one. Also haven't seen those pesky hive beetles since I did my first hive inspection in early March. Things are looking good. Now if only I can them to be a little calmer and less aggressive. These bees are ornery. They love to dive bomb my face. I don't know why, but even on a sunny warm day when they should be ignoring me, they chase me around the lawn. These hives are on my grandparents property. One theory I have is that my grandpa, who has difficulty walking, takes an almost daily drive by on his lawnmower to see what the bees are doing. Loud noise supposedly really bothers them. I could never ask my grandpa to stop. He is 92 and the fact that he even gets outside every day is extremely admirable. I love that he has taken such a keen interest in them. My grandma told me today that she gets a kick out of watching me do inspections from the window. "Especially when you are dancing around". I am assuming she means my reactions to realizing that there is a bee crawling up my pant leg...

This afternoon I did an inventory of my current honey stores. A lot-44 lbs. I've decided to sell some on etsy to make way for my 2012 harvest, which could start as early as June. Its fall honey; Darker but still very mellow and lacking the sharper edge that the spring honey has. Its full of pollen, enzymes and other goodies. I have been drinking tea like crazy, always with honey. Have had very few allergy symptoms this spring. Usually get a really itchy throat and lots of sneezing. I really do think its the honey.

Oh, and the 11ish lbs of old brood comb that I took out of the empty hives (because mice, ants and various other yuckies were getting into t it and I have nowhere to store them) yielded me 16 oz of clean wax. Yep, one pound. There was a ton of old pollen stores, and bee sized dust bunnies that accumulated a lot of the weight.
bright orange wax at top from brood frames, light yellow wax from honey stores. I got a cute mold that makes these perfect little one ounce bars. Pretty amazing how so much pollen can stain the wax. No amount of filtering can get it out but I think it is pretty. Smells divine too.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Gritty Girl got a new look. Blogger changed it's layout so I thought it was high time I changed mine. Not much to post, just wanted to show off the edgy new look. I have a batch of wild violets brewing in the fridge for some wild violet jelly-its that time of year again. My asparagus collection is almost to the amount I need to make some more asparagus pickles. I could have made some last week but I'm giving a generous portion to a very sweet gentleman friend who happens to have my same affinity for the stuff. I want do do a post about infused honeys but that will have to come later when I am less busy also. My social life is in the upswing and I am taking advantage while I can.

All I have for you today is a collection of things I really like. Products, recipes, music, gadgets, etc. You may find them useful or you may not but I can look back on this blog and remember all of the things I was digging back in the day.

1. I wish I knew how to make my own shampoo but I don't.  I wish I could use Dr. Bronner's on my hair but I can't. Its much too thick, curly and needs major moisture. So I recently discovered a nice smelling, natural and animal friendly shampoo that smells fantastic. Here it is. The conditioner is dreamy also. The only natural brand that doesn't make my hair look and feel like straw.

2. I am saving up for a pair of these. I may have to sell my soul.

3. Next time I go camping I am going to sleep in this. I think I can sew one myself...

4. I would like to add this to my leather-bound book collection.

5. I had a lot of fun growing my own mushroom a few years ago. Now I want this one.

6. I need this for my honey jar. It would make it much more easy to pour from a mason jar and the sides wouldn't get so sticky from the drips.

7. I ADORE this song from Jason Mraz. I was totally feeling every word a few months ago. Isn't it amazing to hear a song that really speaks to you? Not so much now but I still love the lyrics. If you don't want to listen to it because it is too poppy or whatever, fine. Me and 16 million other people love it so maybe you are the weird one?

8. Another book on my etsy wish list. This one looks like the perfect read for cold rainy spring days.

9. A mouthwatering recipe for homemade honey lavender caramels.

10. I've always wanted to skip the huge fancy wedding, elope and spend my money on a honeymoon like this. I don't know why people put so much emphasis on a ceremony that lasts 20 minutes and a receptions that most people forget when they could spend it on a week in paradise instead. I get regular newsletters from this place and they make me drool.

That's all for now. If anyone knows a rich, single guy ( well, he doesn't necessarily have to be single..)that would like to buy me some of the things listed above, send him my way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

an easier way to start a fire and my box of soap

The pine cone, waste candle wax and egg carton fire starter!
First I thought I would share a stupendous idea I came across while surfing around on my favorite website, etsy.
One of my favorite summer activities is sitting around a bonfire with my friends and family. Bonfires cannot be successful without good fire starting tools. Have you seen this before?

yes i have dirt under my nails. sue me.
It is a recycled/repurposed fire starter. All you need to make them are cardboard egg cartons (no Styrofoam!), small pine cones and leftover candle wax-the stuff that remains after your wick burns out. You cut out the cups of the egg carton, melt the wax (I used  glass container candle that had burned out and melted it in a double boiler method in a sauce pan. Don't microwave unless you want candle wax all over it.) and pour a little into the bottom of the cup and quickly stick in your pin cone so it is embedded in the wax. Drizzle a little more hot wax over the pine cone and when its cool you have a ready to light fire starter. The wax helps the paper and pine cone catch fire and burn slowly. You know what else makes these things great? They smell wonderful. Like pine and whatever candle wax you used for your fire starters. Mine was an old cinnamon Christmas candle. Its aromatherapy for your campsite! I have lots of beeswax but its satisfying being able to use something that would otherwise go to waste. If you dont have access to cute little baby pine cones you can use little sticks and twigs or wood chips and they burn well too. If you want to be extra fancy you can stick cinnamon sticks or nut shells in them.

Other things I've learned:

Infused honey is awesome. I made a  jar of garlic infused honey by simply tearing off the cloves, smashing them and placing them in a jar and covering them with honey. Didn't even take the peels off. Lid on, shake, shake, shake for three weeks and done. Now I have a fantastic grilling glaze for pork or chicken or veggies. It seems like it would be weird but it tastes amazing!  I was so happy with the results that I had to try it with my dried chiles. In a few weeks I'll  have hot chile honey for stir-fry, meats, and as a base for a spicy salad dressing maybe?

Today I think I burned a thousand calories. I planted almost an acre of native wildflowers and the reason why I had dirt under my nails. My bees will thank me. I am happy to announce this because it is the most exercise I've gotten in a month.  I also got a mild sunburn which I hate because I can already see the freckles popping out. Tomorrow morning I have a 60 minute date with my elliptical. Speaking of health related things, in my last post I mentioned that I was going to jump start my metabolism. I have been eating pretty much vegan (besides my honey) for the last two days and it is going well so far. I miss cheese but I found out that Almond milk is far superior to regular milk. In addition to this, a nicely ripened avocado makes a delicious alternative to butter for toast, baked potatoes and crackers. It would be hard to make a white sauce or butter cream frosting with an avocado I am thinking.

Now for my soapbox rant!
I only have 15 pounds to go before I hit my goal weight by my 30th birthday! I haven't weighed myself for a few days but I am looking forward to seeing the scale for once in my life. While ideally I would like to lose more than 15 pounds total, I have to keep reminding myself that some people are unlucky in that they will constantly struggle and have ups and downs. They will become very frustrated with themselves and often feel either deprived for not being able to enjoy what everyone else is having or guilty for giving in and having what everyone else is having. It is a lifetime struggle. It will be for me. I would like to say that this is the first time I've had to lose weight but it isn't. A lot of people don't know this about me but on my 20th birthday I weighed 221 pounds and wore a size 16/18. Today I am a size 10/12 and weigh 168 pounds (maybe a lb or two less?). At my skinniest (my broke ass days in college and living on no money at all in North Carolina) I weighed 148 and was a 6/8. While I would love to be back at that size, I probably never will be. I was hungry all the time and probably missing all sorts of necessary vitamins and minerals. I am 5'8" and according to webmd I only technically need to lose 9 pounds to be considered normal but I think I can do a little better.

Why am I sharing all of this? Because I want to not only take ownership in the goal I've set but I also want to remind myself that I am not perfect and will never be. I am happy to say that I am not anywhere near what I was when I was 20. I'm still better. I don't ever want to be where I was but ups and downs are just part of my life. My body is genetically wired to gain weight easily. I can't be too hard on myself about it and other people shouldn't either. When something bad happens to me I always defult to feeling like it happened because I am not good enough, smart enough or skinny enough. It has to stop. I have to like myself and I have to be confident. I deserve good things and my happiness depends on it. I need to stop worry about why people don't like me or decide not to give me the time of day. If people want to be crappy to me it isn't because I am not smart or pretty or skinny. It's because they are crappy, shallow people and hopefully just might regret it later.

The Nettle soup I was talking about making last week? Smelled like scummy water and tasted like total ass.

This is my new(er) nephew. He was born before I jumped back into this blog. He is being baptized this sunday and I am so lucky to be allowed to babysit next week when his mamma goes back to work. I don't think she can do anything but be awesome and make awesome children.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

this and that

The last two weeks have been about trying new things. Lat week I went to my uncle's woods and dug up a handful of ramps which I have never tried before but heard lots about. I stumbled upon them while searching for morel mushrooms (of which I found none) and came back later to harvest a few. It was a small patch and I felt guilty taking more than a few. This is what they look like.
And this is what I did with them

I put 2 of them them in a bowl of chicken stock. After you clean them up you eat the leaves and bulb. Just ramps and chicken stock. It made a really delicious and simple soup. It tasted like the perfect cross between garlic and onions. I had a few left over that I chopped up and froze for a future special occasion. Hopefully I will come across more next year.  Then there are the fiddleheads. I heard those are edible too. While not as good as the ramps, I steamed some and put them over a bowl of rice and had myself a nice little stir fryish type lunch.

There were a few extra so I decided to pickle some. They taste better pickled in my spicy pickle brine than they did steamed. They taste a lot like, well ferns. They are very grassy. I tried to feed them to my family at the annual Easter dinner.  think I got two people to try them. Everyone else gave me the "Erica is acting crazy again" eye roll.
I added a few new fun items to my etsy shop including coffee flavored lip balm and some gift baskets.

Today I did a sugar shake to my beehive. Its where you take a bunch of powdered sugar and sift it onto the bees in the hive. The sugar coats many of the bees and encourages them to groom each other, knocking off varroa mites. While my hive is very strong, I still see varroa mites and bees with deformed wings (caused by varroa). When I opened my hive I noticed that the honey super was full of brood or bee larva. I've never had a hive so big that the queen climbed all the way into the honey super looking for room to lay her eggs. I thought it was a good time to try a split as there wasn't much room left for growth in the hive anyway.  I carefully inspected a few frames to make sure the queen wasn't on them and placed them into another small hive I had set up several weeks ago.

The hope is that all the bees on the frames I moved will accept the new hive as their home and raise a new queen. I made sure that the frames I pulled out had uncapped larva so that the bees had time to feed them royal jelly which produces a queen. I blocked the entrance of the hive so that no bees could get in or out for a day or two. This will hopefully give them time to situate themselves to their new surroundings. Over the next few weeks I may pull a frame of brood out to donate to the new hive to help boost their numbers. I don't expect much. It is a long shot doing it this way. It is traditionally done by introducing a new queen to the new colony rather than making them try to raise their own. Unfortunately I don't have the cash for a new queen but I do have a lot of faith in them. They are special bees. If it looks like the new hive is failing, I will put them back into the larger hive. This is what they looked like today before I messed with them.

look at the bees in flight. Aren't they cool. And if you look really close you can see the different colors of pollen they are bringing in. Light yellow, orange, red...

See how many bees are in the honey super? Tons. Hopefully I eased some of the congestion by taking out a few frames...

In other news, I also made 5 jars of raspberry syrup from last year's frozen berries in the freezer. I find that I more often use syrups than jams and jellies so I am going to focus more on making more of that this year. Its great mixed with club soda and a lemon wedge.

So what's next? There is a nice sized patch of stinging nettles nearby that is calling my name. I hear you can cook them and use them just like spinach. I have a nice collection of asparagus in the fridge so I am thinking cream of asparagus and nettles soup would be a fun experiment. This weekend I have a job lead to follow, I plan to remove some clutter from my life, both physical and mental. I have a lot of clothes to go through and donate, a lot of stress to relieve myself of and a few more pounds to lose. I have about 15 more lbs to go to hit my goal weight by my birthday. Tomorrow starts (well why not right now?) a major health overhaul. There will be no meat for a few days, then no dairy, then no super cooked foods then I plan on doing a whole week of just raw food. I hit a plateau and have read that this can rev up one's metabolism.

oh yeah and I cant even begin to describe how much I love this song.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

homemade beeswax candles!

I did it! I finally got around to melting down, cleaning and filtering some of my beeswax for candles and they turned out great! It was a long, sticky and hot process but after two previous failed attempts. My wax is clean enough to burn.  First I took 6 quart sized ziplock bags of crushed comb (left over from the honey extracting process) and put them directly in a giant pot of water on the stove. As the water warmed, I stirred the wax and the excess honey dissolved out.  When the wax melted completely, I took it off the heat and waited for the wax to cool and harden. The hardened wax floats on top and when it cooled , I took out the honey flavored water (and saved it) and filled the pot with fresh water and repeated the process in order to get all the honey out. The wax will not burn efficiently if there is still honey in it. The first two times I tried it I only washed/melted the wax in water once and filtered it through cheesecloth (holes are too big) and my candles smoked, sputtered, sparked and went out in less than a minute. Pathetic.

melting the wax in water to dissolve the honey

here you can see the brownish globs of propolis

putting the clean but not yet filtered wax into a jar and remelting it for filtering

once the wax was melted I took it out and poured it through the sweatshirt material to take out the remaining clumps of propolis and pollen.

finished candles and block of clean beeswax. so pretty.
After the wax cooled and hardened the second time, I remelted it with a double boiler process and filtered it through an old sweatshirt to get out the debris. The clumpy dark stuff, which is mostly propolis (plant resin) is the debris. Then my wax was ready to used for candles. I used a few of these cute old school weck jars because they are sturdy, can withstand high heat and are simple yet sophisticated. One of these tiny candles burned for almost 20 hours for me! Some of the many great things about beeswax- It burns cleanly and for a long time, does not release toxins into the air AND smells like honey! Those 6 bags of crushed comb made about three lbs of filtered wax which is not very much considering the time it took me to process so next time I think I am going to go ahead and process all of my wax at once.

So what did I do with all that honey flavored water? Well I thought about tossing it. But when I tasted it, i found it was pretty darn sweet. There was quite a bit of honey trapped inside that crushed comb and knowing it takes a worker bee its entire lifetime to make just one teaspoon of honey, there was no way I could let it go to waste. So being the huge tea drinker I am (4-5 cups a day) I decided to save it to sweeten my tea. Now this was wax that came from my honey supers so it didn't have bugs, dead bees or any gross things in it. Just propolis and some pollen so why not keep it. It was also heated to boiling for several minutes so I don't want any comments about the likelihood of me poisoning myself, okay? I put it in several extra jars and will keep it in the fridge for a few weeks to use for my tea.

yeah, yeah it looks like pee. but its honey flavored water.

I have quite a few frames of older wax that I need to do something with before they succumb to mice or bugs. It takes just as much time to do a little as it does a lot so might as well go balls to the wall! So when you are considering your zombie apocalypse team, please add "candle maker" to my list of qualifications. 

This week I plan to go to an undisclosed forest location to dig up a few wild ramps (native garlicky, oniony things that are fast becoming delicacies at famous restaurants) and do something fun with them.