Monthly Archives: June 2012

Sunday Slam: Bunnies and Berries

So far, the move to make Sundays the best day in the week has taken off swell.

By cramming everything awesome into one day, I not only always have something to look forward to but I also feel fine with spending the rest of my time working on arguably more necessary projects. You know, the one’s that pay the bills.

So what happened this Sunday? Oh man.

Well, first there was the brunch at our local cafe, which was a combination celebration of a day off and a birthday to come. On the way out, there was on 89 year old grandpa on the front steps that was bleeding really heavily from his head. While everyone else was frantically stumbling and mumbling about (“What happened? Is he alright? Oh my word!”) Allison got some napkins to apply pressure to the cut while I got one of the bus boys to call 911 and get some water. He had fallen and opened up an old scar on his forehead and was bleeding pretty quickly, but he was in good spirits about it. It was pretty remarkable for two reasons. One, it’s crazy to see how people lock up in emergency situations. Even the most basic first aid of applying pressure to a wound seems to escape people when their caught off guard. I don’t think it’s that people don’t care or are cruel, but that it’s just easier to freeze. Out of the three basic instincts, that’s the one that’s easiest to lock into when witnessing an injury. There’s not usually anything to fight, and there’s almost never a reason to “fly,” so one ends up just standing about giving off empathy.

Second, this guy was really cool. Out of everyone there, he was probably the most calm. The whole time, he was cracking jokes and making light of the situation. More than anything, he didn’t want anyone worried. As he wife came to see what happened, he told her “Oh, I missed a step and hit my head. Do you think we can get our breakfast to go?” It was pretty awesome to see someone able to put everyone at ease like that. As Allison wipe off the blood that had run down his face, she joked along. “Let me just get these bits off so you can look presentable when your daughter gets here.” Lesson, I guess, is that staying cool under pressure is awesome and it’s too bad that so many people don’t.

And that was just the start!

Next, there were the strawberries. Allison had just picked eight pounds of them at Lull Farm in Milford and we needed to make some jam. Needed to.

We decided to jam half of them, freeze one quarter, and eat another quarter over the next week. Here’s the most basic strawberry jam recipe we could find.

  • Four Pounds of Strawberries, hulled
  • Eight Cups of Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup of Lemon Juice

Wait, what?

I mean, I knew that preserves took a lot of sugar, especially low-pectin fruits like strawberries, but Eight Cups?

Just for perspective, here’s what that looks like.

That was a little shocking. At the time, we thought we’d just go along with it so that we learn the traditional way to make it before we try some other form later. In retrospect, the stuff is a little sweet for my liking. Next time, I think we’ll try using some pectin to get it to thicken up and set without giving it so much sweetness.

Here’s what we did.

First, we mashed them.

Some recipes called for them to be blended, but we both prefer some big fruit chunks in the preserves, so we went with the dance-party masher. Um, ask me about it later.

After dissolving the sugar in at a low boil (which actually didn’t take very long at all,) we cranked up the heat and let it boil on high for about thirty minutes or so. The color significantly darkened and the bubbles were more sluggish, which were signs that we were getting closer. The best signal, though, was the temperature. When it got to 220, that meant it was supposed to be done. Since water boils at 212, the higher temperature shows that the consistency is getting thicker. I guess the old-timers figures that 220 was pretty universal.

Even more old-timey, though, was the final test of spooning some out onto a cold plate and seeing how is acted. We felt like a couple of five year olds, poking these jellied strawberries with wooden spoons to see if they’d move. In hindsight, it probably should have boiled longer as the preserves ended up a bit saucy. But, hey, live and learn.

Next, they needed to be canned.

Now, I’m way into canning.

Maybe I’m just stubborn, but I can’t stand relying on a freezer to keep my food unspoiled. That said, I have also been drilled with fear speeches about botulism, so I’ve been testing the waters slowly. So far, my Dad ate some dilly beans that didn’t kill him and we’ve made jam. So far, so good.

The basic process, for those interested, involves three steps:

  1. Prepping the Jars
  2. Filling them with Good Stuff
  3. The “Water Bath”

Mason jars are actually three pieces, the jar, the lid, and the ring, and the first two need to be sterilized as they’ll actually form the sterile environment for the goods to go into. The nifty rack above helps with the water bath a bunch, but not at all for this size of jar. They all fell through to the bottom and I had to fish them out with giant, insulated chemist gloves. I’m so glad I have those things and you should get a pair.

After filling the sterilized jars (it’s handy to have a large-mouth funnel for that) you cap them. The lids get boiled for two reasons, first is for the whole “sterile environment=longer life” thing, the second is actually to soften the little rubber ring, which helps to make a tighter seal with the jar. The locking ring helps to establish this seal, but is actually not needed to keep the seal in place after the canning is complete.

Finally, there’s the bath.

This is where the magic happens. During this hot water bath, the contents of the jars, as well as the jars themselves, get heated up enough to kill off any remaining bacteria. Also, the heat forces all the air out of the jars as it’s replaced with steam. When the jars cool down, this makes for a vacuum inside the jar that makes for a strong seal as well as an almost oxygen-free environment. Good things for keeping out unwanted organisms.

This particular preserve with this particular size jar had to be boiled for ten minutes. Heavier things in larger jars take way longer, which is why people who can a lot tend to use pressure cookers. The higher temperature helps to cut the time in half.

An hour later, they were cool and so were we.

Like I said, we’re going to aim for a less-sweet version later on, but I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.

Oh, and there’s more.

Yea, we got some rabbits. Actually, though we’d been talking about it for a while, Allison went ahead and bought a trio of New Zealand Whites to celebrate my birthday. I’ll have to talk more about these later, so for now just look at how perfect they are.

So. There’s that.

Then we saw a cool frog.

And we topped it off with a fire side dinner of quiche and home fries with some home brewed maple porter.

Life, eh?

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Sunday Slam

Hey Everybody!

How’ve You Been?

Um… I couldn’t quite hear that, but I hope that things are good.

I’ve been super bust so far this summer. It turns out that all the cool things happen in the summer, which means way less time to talk about cool things.

QUICK SYNOPSIS!

We’re living in an awesome house and gardening and I’m still learning new skills that make me feel like a grandpa.

The most recent life change, though, has been about how I spend my Sundays. I never seem to get any work done, even if I try. Sundays, no matter what I have planned, always involve a big breakfast and what seems like a lot of time on my hands. Unintentionally honoring the Sabbath, I guess.

Anyway, I figured that I’ll dedicate this time to things that I really like doing but always wish I had more time for. Baking, playing music, sharpening my kitchen knives, gardening, woodcarving, sewing, and (just recently) shining my shoes.

This is one I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Not only is it meditative and crafty, It’ll help my shoes last for years. On top of all that, I’ve lately been trying to present myself in a manner that’s a little more, well, presentable. Keeping casual shoes shiny is a good step, especially since the trend for mid-twenty year old guys is to where sneakers with everything. I can’t help but smile when I’m in Boston making cotton candy in my nice boots and a young MIT guy walks by wearing a suit and a pair of Asics. That said, that MIT guy has a couple of zeros on me in the savings department, so I really need to make sure that my boots last. I only have two pairs of leather shoes, one pair of Clarks that have been beaten up pretty bad and a pair of Johnston and Murphys that are pretty new. I think they’ll both look real nice.

I spent about two years getting the bits and pieces of my kit together, which meant that the Clarks got some weird maintenance as I was pretty much experimenting with them every time I learned a new step.  Here’s what I’ve got:

  • A couple of rags (torn up shirts)
  • Some Glycerine (or saddle) soap
  • Leather Conditioner
  • Two horse hair brushes, one small and one large
  • Brown Shoe Polish (I only have brown leather shoes)
  • Spongy shoe polish applicator thingy.

I have to tell you, though, that the way with old timey crafts is that there is never just one way to do it. I tend to research as many different sources as I can find, then synthesize what I’ve heard. This is how I did things this time.

First, I had to clean everything. I used the little brush to get off any dirt or dust that was sitting on the surface, taking extra care to get everything out the the small crevices (Next to the tongue and right above the sole especially).

Next was the saddle soap. This is sold by leather workers, whether boots or saddles are their specialty, because it’s essential in caring for leather. Other soaps, such as dish, laundry, and bath soaps, would be too harsh and remove almost all of the oil in the leather, which is exactly the opposite of the goal of leather maintenance.  The oils are responsible for keeping the leather supple, which not only keeps it comfortable but also prevents huge cracks from forming (RIP work boots). This fellow, A saddle doctor in Australia, makes the point that we’ve taken the leather off the cow but left the oiling system behind with the carcass.

So, that leaves it up to me to keep every drop of oil in there. It’s going to come out over time by getting rained on or scuffed, but maintaining things is just another way of being awesome.

That’s not to say that the saddle soap is the only step, though. Sure, it keeps all the oil from coming out, but the shoes still need some conditioning after getting scrubbed.

There’s a bunch of different types of conditioners, from old fashioned mink oil to new synthetic solutions to home remedies like coconut oil. I don’t have enough experience to have an opinion, so I just used some “Lexol” conditioner that I got for a bike seat a while back. It seems to work fine. I just used my hands to slap on thick coats of the stuff so that it would really soak the leather. By the time I finished with the fourth shoe, the first seemed about ready, so I wiped off the excess and got ready to polish.

Everything I’ve done up to this point was pretty familiar, as I’d been cleaning and conditioning my shoes for awhile without really knowing about the shining process. This meant that I got really excited to use the polish and probably didn’t wait as long as I should have to let the conditioner soak in, but it looks like it didn’t do any harm. In the future, though, If a pair looks like those clarks did after cleaning, I’m probably going to let them condition overnight just for good measure.

Using the sponge applicator thing, I took up a little bit of polish at a time and worked it in to the shoe with quick, circular motions. I actually ended up having to put two coats on after it became obvious that the first coat was too thin (the sponge soaked almost all of it up).  On the Johnston and Murphy boots, I decided I’d try the “spit shine” method to get a really fine shine. this involved buffing the first coat with the big brush, then applying another coat of polish with tiny additions of water (like, one little drip on the toe, one little drip on the heal). It… seems to have worked? I don’t know.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. One thing that all the sources agreed on was that the polish needed to sit for a good half an hour before getting buffed, so I made myself obey this step.

Hey, you wanna see the garden while they sit?

Peas!

Beans!

Cabbage!

Peppers!

Tomatoes!

Kale!

Oh, hey! They’re ready.

Since I’d never used a horse hair brush before, I was still unclear on how to best use it. It seemed like people used it for everything from dusting to applying polish to buffing. I decided I didn’t want to gum mine up, so I reserved it for dusting and buffing and it seems to do a good job of both. I whistled a little bit and brushed over the entire boot to give it a good shine. The real magic, though, came from the rag. Using a dry rag, I buffed the toe and heal as much as I could while still wearing the shoes.

End Result? Swag.

Seriously, I’ll never say that again.

Now the Clarks turned out a little different and here’s why I think so.

First, they were probably still soaking up the conditioner when I applied polish. Second, I tried the spit shine right away and ended up with some clumping of the polish. Third, the leather was much rougher to begin with, which made it harder to apply an even coat of polish.

From far away, they look alright.

But up close, there’s a lot of streaking going on.

My plan is to let them sit for a bit and continue to hit them with the brush and shine cloth to get them down to a uniform level.

Overall, I’m really happy with how they turned out. Looks like I’ve got another thing to do on Sundays.

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