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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Winter Play: Recommended for all ages

Wonderful winter hiking: the trail up Camel's Hump

Wonderful winter hiking: the trail up Camel’s Hump

Happy Snow!  Finally, we got something to cover up our icy playground.  Yes, the ice was fun to slide around on, but we were all craving the multitude of opportunities snow offers:  forts, snow people, snow angels (or butterflies), sledding, and yes, probably some refreshing snow eating.   It’s a joy to see what a group of children come up with when presented with a yard full of fresh snow!  For more snowy play inspiration and instructions to cut a six-sided snowflake, check out this past blog post.

Adults should remember to take time to play outside in the winter too!  We went on a wonderful winter hike up Camel’s Hump last weekend – just don’t forget your microspikes.  I still remember the feeling of skating across Lake Champlain last winter.  It was very magical to glide for miles over one of my favorite lakes – one that is over 400 feet deep in the middle!  Though the lake isn’t frozen (yet!) this winter, there are always rivers, ponds, and ditches to provide skating opportunities.  We loved visiting the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area last weekend.

Skating on Dead Creek

Skating on Dead Creek

Snow also offers the opportunity to investigate the creatures that live near our schools and homes.  Tracking is a great winter activity for children and adults.  Check out some of the animal signs we found on this walk up the Lewis Creek and through the woods.  The thrill of this outdoor detective work is infectious – who doesn’t love finding clues along a trail and solving mysteries?  To read more, check out my post about Encouraging Curiosity and Problem Solving with Animal Tracking.

And if the cold temperatures and dry winter air chap or crack your skin, try making your own salve.  It’s quite simple, is a good indoor project for sub-zero days, is a great thing to have around the house, and makes the perfect homemade winter present!

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Drink for Good Health

elderberry-kombucha-1When it comes to drinks, I think I’ve found a match made in heaven: I call it Elderberry Kombucha Tonic.

elderberry-syrupI’ve been enjoying sips of Elderberry Syrup all winter long, especially when I feel a twinge in my throat or a tickle in my nose.  The recipe I follow, however, doesn’t have any sour flavors.  With the raw honey, it’s actually quite sweet.  Learn how to make your own by reading this past Growing Stories post.

KombuchaI’ve been brewing kombucha for a few years now and always have a jug of it in the fridge.  I think it’s a healthy, delicious, and refreshing alternative to soda or juice.  All the information you’d ever want to know about kombucha (and maybe more) is available at www.kombuchakamp.com, so I won’t go into too many details.

With elderberry syrup and kombucha sharing shelf space on the door of our refrigerator, I was bound to discover how well they mix sooner or later.  Mmmmm.  The flavors in both drinks are quite concentrated, so I like to add a few ice cubes or some club soda.  If you’re looking for a great alcoholic drink, dry mixing kombucha, elderberry syrup, and club soda with gin.

elderberry-kombucha-2

Cheers to your health in the new year!

Elderberry-Tonic

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