House Photo Update: The Home Stretch

Once again, I’m devoting a blog post to photos of our house progress instead of a story of delicious cooking, home gardening, or great projects to do with kids.  Soon though, we’ll move into our new home.  It will serve as the new site for my gardening, cooking, and crafting adventures!

Regarding house construction, we’re heading down the “home” stretch!  Tile and wood flooring is in, work is finishing up on trim inside and out, cabinets are being hung, countertops are in the making, and appliances are being delivered.  Efficiency Vermont will be doing their blower door test this week to determine how tight our home actually is.  Based on the quality of the workmanship of Fiddlehead Construction, we think it will prove to be very tight indeed.  During the last sunny but cold week, heat was turned off in the house because it was getting too hot!

As each room develops its own identity, it is easy to start visualizing the house filled with furniture, plants, dishes, friends…   soon!

Views of the finished exterior.  Clockwise from the west, north, southeast and southwest.

Views of the finished exterior. Clockwise from top left: view from the west, north, southeast and southwest.

Slate countertop special delivery.

Slate countertop special delivery.

Sunny basement with a functional washing machine and the soapstone sink from Debbie's Brookline basement.

Sunny basement with a functional washing machine and the soapstone sink from Debbie’s Brookline basement.

First floor bathroom.

First floor bathroom.

Kitchen cabinet progress!

Kitchen cabinet progress!

Finishing touches.

Finishing touches

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DIY Maple Sugaring

winter-maple-branch

sap-drip-sumac-spileUp here in Vermont, our temperatures have begun rising above freezing during the day and falling below 32 degrees at night.  That means it’s sugaring season!  Though specialized technology and expensive equipment have been developed to help large sugar-makers boost their production of luxurious maple syrup, it’s possible to make maple syrup in your back yard without spending much.  One thing is consistent for all scales of syrup production: it takes a lot of time!

hang-sap-bucket

It is early spring.  I’m itching to spend more time outside, am no longer excited by our local ingredients stored or preserved many months ago, and won’t start my garden for several months.  I find that tapping, collecting sap, and experimenting with this sweet ingredient in the kitchen is exactly how I’d like to spend my spare time.

sap-pour

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree

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More Winter Fun

lake-iceThis winter has been a blast.  Lake Champlain froze across for the second year in a row, we’ve gotten plenty of snow without any mid-winter thaws, and sometimes sunshine even boosts temperatures into the twenties!

It’s usually not too hard for me to think of the subject of my weekly blog post – I think about the past week’s highlights: yummy meals, fun outdoor adventures, or successful projects with kids after school.   Sometimes I scan through my most recent photos.  Even though I already wrote a post this year about winter play, outdoor recreation was the clear highlight of my past week!  We hiked Camel’s Hump again, this time equipped with sleds for the ride down.  SO FUN.  The lake froze across, providing us with miles of black ice to explore.  We even enjoyed temperatures in the thirties on Mt. Philo along with crowds of happy sledders, skiers, jack-jumpers, walkers, and their dogs.  I love living in Vermont, surrounded by people who love having fun in the snow!

Enjoying a sunny warm day on Mt. Philo... soon to be our back yard!

Enjoying a sunny warm day on Mt. Philo… soon to be our back yard!

A ski up the river to the upper covered bridge.

A ski up the river to the upper covered bridge.

Enjoying the wintery river highway.

Enjoying the beautiful wintery river highway.

Hiking up and sledding down Camel's Hump and a winter bonfire.

Hiking up and sledding down Camel’s Hump and a winter bonfire.

Exploring miles of black ice off the shores of Shelburne Farms.  Western winds literally blew us home!

Exploring miles of black ice off the shores of Shelburne Farms. Western winds literally blew us home!

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House Photo Update

As new layers are added and next steps are taken on our house construction, spaces seem to grow and shrink in unpredictable ways.  Of course, they’ve been the same dimensions since the beginning.  The footprint of our poured foundation seemed teeny – would it be comfortable to live in a house that small?  When framing went up, everything seemed huge.  And then internal walls made the space shrink.  With insulation they seemed to shrink even more.

Now that painting is almost complete, we’re seeing the spaces as they will actually be!  It feels as though we are very close to the end of a long and exciting journey.  Soon flooring, cabinets, and lighting will be installed, turning our construction project into a home.  Check out some of our most recent photos below:

Baby it's cold outside!  Check out our new siding.

Baby it’s cold outside! Check out our new siding.

An ant's eye view of our kitchen-dining-living room.  New and improved with light fixtures, outlets, switches, sheetrock, and a first coat of paint!

An ant’s eye view of our kitchen-dining-living room. New and improved with light fixtures, outlets, switches, sheetrock, and a first coat of paint!

Bits and pieces...

Bits and pieces…

Sheetrock and a layer of prime really made us love the look of our upstairs spaces.  We won't be doing any more work on the second floor - it will be left unfinished until we need more living space.

Sheetrock and a layer of prime really made us love the look of our upstairs spaces. We won’t be doing any more work on the second floor – it will be left unfinished until we need more living space.

Meet our CERV.  It will be working hard to keep our air fresh and clean.

Meet our CERV. It will be working hard to keep our air fresh and clean.

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2015 Summer Camps!

As snow accumulates and chilly temperatures brighten our cheeks, I’m dreaming of summer in Vermont.  This year I’ll be running two camps: Green Thumbs Summer Camp and Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp.  Check out the camp posters, visit our websites, save the dates, and help spread the word to families who live in the Charlotte/Shelburne area!

TLCamp_PosterCheck out the camp website and the camp brochure for more information.

CCS-Garden-Camp-Poster-long-2015

Register through Charlotte Recreation.

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A Lardy Afternoon

Most people have pretty negative associations with the word “lard.”  According to a recent story by NPR, we have Procter & Gamble’s marketing team to thank.  “…Unlike lard, Crisco was made in a lab by scientists, not necessarily an appetizing idea back then.  Procter & Gamble turned all that to its advantage. It launched an ad campaign that made people think about horrible stories of … lard. The ads touted how pure and wholesome Crisco was.”

It seems, however, as though tides are turning.  Mainstream media are publishing articles “Singing the Praises of Fat,” “Ending the War on Fat” and “A Call for a Low-Carb Diet That Embraces Fat.”  Furthermore, nutritionists agree that Trans Fat (like Crisco and Vegetable Shortening) should be avoided entirely.  A final key piece of information: animals raised outdoors on pasture consume more vitamins through consumption of fresh green grass, other foraged food, and from the sun.  They store important fat soluble vitamins (A, E, D, and K) in their body fat.  Lard from pastured pigs is especially high in vitamin D and in the same monounsaturated fat (oleic acid) that gives olive oil and avocados their heart-healthy characteristics.

Perhaps it’s worth revisiting the original shortening: Lard.  On a frigid afternoon I decided to finally “deal with” the grass-fed lard leaf I’d purchased from a small farm in our neighborhood.  If you know any local farms with pastured pigs, call them up!  Leaf lard will likely be the cheapest item they sell.  With a crock pot, my leaf lard turned out to be very simple to render.

warm-lard

crock-pot-lardHow To Render Your Own Lard
-Ground leaf lard
-1/4 cup water
-Crock pot

1) Grinding the leaf lard makes everything very easy!  If you don’t have a meat grinder, try asking a local butcher to help or pulse it in a food processor.  You can also cut it into small cubes if you don’t have access to any processing equipment.

2) Put your ground leaf lard, along with 1/4 cup water, into your crock pot.  The water will keep things from burning and will evaporate by the end of the cooking process.  Set crock pot to low, and cook (covered) for an entire afternoon.  You’ll notice the fat cooking out of the solids.  I gave mine a stir every once in a while.

warm-lard3) When the cracklings (the little pieces of solids) sink to the bottom, it’s time to strain.  Pour the contents of your crock pot through a strainer, sieve, or cheesecloth into a bowl.  Then pour the strained lard from the bowl into jars.  It will look yellow, but will turn pure white when it cools to room temperature

4) Finish off your cracklings!  Toss your cracklings in a frying pan with some salt, and cook as you would bacon.  Like bacon, my cracklings browned better when I poured off the excess fat (I poured it into my half-full jar of lard) mid-way through.

cracklings

lard5) Store lard in the refrigerator or freezer so that it keeps its fresh mild flavor and doesn’t go rancid.  Cracklings can be used like bacon bits.  I like to heat them back up again in a frying pan to get them extra crispy.  I then sprinkle them over foods like guacamole, nachos, salad, or black beans as a special garnish.  Lard is a great fat to use for frying, pie crusts, and baked goods.  It is quite mild, so unlike bacon grease, it won’t add its own flavor to the foods you are cooking.

Want to add another traditional grass-fed animal fat back into your diet?  Check out my post on making your own butter.

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House Photos: Sheetrock edition

Once again I’m hijacking my blog to share photos of our house progress.  We braved single digit temperatures and sub-zero winds to walk over to the site yesterday.  Roof shingling is almost complete, and workers have begun siding the house.  Inside the sun pushed temperatures into the seventies!  Sheetrocked walls are giving us a sense of how each room will feel finished.  Meanwhile, down the road, our dining room table is almost finished!  According to current estimates, we’ll be able to move into our new house in March.  Exciting stuff!

A snow covered view from the west - check out the start to our siding and window framing!

A snow covered view from the west – check out the start to our siding and window framing!

Looking to the north east - our future kitchen.  See the inset area where our fridge will be?

Looking to the north east – our future kitchen. See the inset area where our fridge will be?

Looking south - check out those views and that sun!  Our dining room table will sit near the double windows.

Looking south – check out those views and that sun! Our dining room table will sit near the double windows.

Looking to the west, our living room area, with our front door and bathroom down the hall.

Looking to the west, our living room area, with our front door and bathroom down the hall.

We couldn't be more excited about our dining room table, made by Michael Haulenbeek with beautiful boards from John Monks .

We are so excited about our dining table, made by Michael Haulenbeek with beautiful boards from John Monks .

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