Archive for Made from Scratch

A Makeover for Our Pond

The pond is the crowning jewel of the Queendom. Our front room looks out over it and, from the comfort of our couches, we can watch the birds, ducks and other beasts who frequent its tranquil waters. It is approximately 1 acre in size and is home to salamanders, water scorpions, at least three species of frogs, thousands of aquatic bugs and, most recently, a red-eared slider turtle. FM and I have spent many a summer evening floating around it in our inflatable dingy, enjoying lemony G&Ts.

When we arrived, there was a pathetic-looking sunken dock that the previous owners built to encourage swimming and launch kayaks. The dock was fixed to the shore and could only be accessed by negotiating a steep, slippery bank. As the water level changed throughout the year, the dock varied in its level of submersion.

Barely Afloat

Barely Afloat (no surprise, considering the downpour!)

Sometimes it appeared to float, tempting you to venture out onto it, only to have your weight cause the entire far-end to sink and cast you off balance. From quite early on, FM and I decided that the dock was a hazard and we chose not to use it.

Neither useful or beautiful, this dock had to go.

Neither useful nor beautiful, this dock had to go.

But the dock had one redeeming feature – ducks and birds love it. A mama Mallard taught her brood of 13 to clamber up onto it and preen in the sun.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A perfect place to preen and snooze.

A kingfisher used it to spot salamanders.

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A female Kingfisher rests between feedings.

A Lesser Yellowlegs rested there during a migration.

A sandpiper stopped by on his migration in 2012 and 2013

A Lesser Yellowlegs stopped by on his migration in both 2012 and 2013

An enormous American Bullfrog sunned himself there (until he was humanely evicted).

This is an invasive species of frog that is descimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

This is an invasive species of frog that is decimating a wide variety of pond life in BC and is killing off native frog species. It can eat ducklings! If you see one, eliminate it!

The fact that the dock was water-logged, sat barely at the water level and a bit of an eye-sore made it useless to us but enticing to many others.

On a sunny day in the fall, when the pond level was low, FM somehow managed to pull the dock out of the pond. We let it sit on the bank and dry out for sometime. Next, the decking boards were removed from the frame in the beginnings of a complete demolition. But, as it sat there on the shore and we kept looking at it through the winter rains, we realized that the dock frame was the right length to make a perfect bridge over to our inaccessible island.

By using a number of round pencil posts, I was able to roll the whole dock frame over to the narrowest crossing and, together, we were able to muscle it into place without falling in. The decking boards were reattached and *alakazam* we finally had access to the island.

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

With the dock frame rolled into place, we were able to replace the decking boards and finally access the island!

In no time at all, we were digging up that colony of alders, tending a bonfire and making plans for an island sitting area.

But what about the ducks and birds that used the dock? FM had the ingenious idea of building a waterfowl viewing platform that we could see from inside the house. Initially he attempted to pull out the one post that had secured the dock but he was not able to extricate it from the muddy clay bottom of the pond. He decided to build a simple cedar plank platform with a hole in the center which fit over that post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

This simple structure floats freely around the post.

Et voila – the waterfowl viewing platform came to be. Already we have had a family of wood ducklings and another family of Merganser ducklings snuggle and sleep there under their doting mothers.

A female Wood Duck with 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

This female Wood Duck with her 8 ducklings loves to spend her nights on the platform

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

A female Merganser has recently shown up with her brood of 7 ducklings.

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The Brewery Is Officially Open

On Friday night, we tapped the keg for the first time and enjoyed a dark, lightly-carbonated Bock.

All systems go!

All systems go!

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The brewmaster sampling the first taste of the first keg

For many years now, FM has produced fabulous home-brew which he willingly shares with anyone who shows a remote interest in craft beer. For any social event at our home, home-brewed beer is on the menu. Our typical hostess gift is bottles of his beer, in hopes of introducing someone to a new style or converting a macro-brewery drinker to the joys of flavour.

I believe that FM’s interest in home-brewing began, as it does for millions of others, in university. He took his keen interest in cheap beer, paired it with course work in micro-biology and found his place among beer kits and carboys. I dare say that brewing beer has been a continual hobby of his for about 30 years!

In the cramped apartments of our younger days, brewing would take up parts of each weekend. The primary fermenter would be tucked away in a hallway closet with its yeasty scent permeating every corner. The secondary carboy would bubble away in a dark corner for a number of weeks. Then the bathtub would become the washing and sanitizing station just before the task of bottling and capping. In those first years, he would use small 341 ml bottles and it would take about 66 of them for each batch of beer, making it a daunting task to properly clean all of these recycled bottles. Eventually, he collected enough 650 ml bottles for a few batches of beer, reducing the task of sanitizing by half.

Although beer kits are still the backbone of his brewing, he personalizes each batch with something unique. He has made single hop varieties with our home-grown hops. He has experimented with dry-hopping right in the bottles. He has added his own home-roasted coffee into batches of Porter. He has cultured sediment from classic Belgian beers to use as the yeast for his own Belgian-style brew.

When we moved to the Queendom last year, we both knew that the workshop would become the brewery and his home-brewing hobby would flourish. With such a big space, the possibilities for expanding his brewing repertoire are endless.

Bruce's Brews Taproom

Bruce’s Brews Taproom (with 5 hop varieties growing in the foreground)

The brewing corner - where the magic happens!

The brewing corner – where the magic happens!

The first order of business was to construct a counter-flow wort-chiller.

The carefully curved copper pipe will carry cold water which will quickly chill the boiled wort, which will be passing through the red hose.

The carefully curved copper pipe will carry the hot wort which will quickly chill as it passes through cold water pumped through the red hose.

The second project was to acquire all the required parts for a keg fridge and make his first batch of keg beer.

In this mini bar fridge, there is room for two kegs and the CO2 tank.  this whole contraption will be housed in our crawl space with tap lines running up through the kitchen wall.

In this mini bar fridge, there is room for two kegs and the CO2 tank. This whole contraption will be housed in our crawl space with tap lines running up through the kitchen wall.

The next task will be to move the keg fridge into the crawl space and then run the keg lines up into the kitchen. (The thought of having taps of our own beer right at the kitchen counter gives me a thrill!) There are many more projects brewing in FM’s mind. Whole grain brewing and more creative styles will be coming our way in no time.

Isn’t it about time that you stopped by for a beer??

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We Got The Results (but not as anticipated)

If you have been following, you know that FM and I decided to kick off the new year with a 3 Day Cleanse and yesterday was Day 1. Here are a few pictures of the Lunch Drink being created:

Lime juice, celery, cucumber, green apple and pineapple ... soundsokay so far...

Lime juice, celery, cucumber, green apple and pineapple … sounds okay so far…

and then add kale, almond milk and coconut oil

and then add kale, almond milk and coconut oil

Not as offensive in colour as the breakfast drink but far too chunky for my taste.

Not as offensive in colour as the Breakfast Drink but far too chunky for my taste.

Again I was surprised, in a good way, by the taste. I didn’t have to choke it down but I would never serve it to guests (you’ll be happy to know). As I carried on my merry way that afternoon, I kept thinking about my stomach and food – which is really unusual for me.

To my surprise when I arrived home, FM’s car was already parked but the house was dark. I eventually found him curled up in bed in the fetal position. He had been terribly sick all afternoon and was now sporting a temperature a few degrees above normal.  Stomach cramps were the main complaint and he was having waves of nausea. As if in sympathy, I also suddenly felt ill. I started to realise that my obsession with my stomach all afternoon was because I too was having cramps. Within the hour, I was also sick and in bed with a fever.

After a long and uncomfortable afternoon, evening and night, we both overcame our fevers and managed to face the new day, but neither of us felt up to eating. 24 hours have gone by and each of has lost about 3 pounds so far – all dehydration, I’m sure.

Was this simply a 24 hour stomach flu or was it the 3 Day cleanse diet? I guess we’ll never know because neither of us will ever be able to stomach a Dr. Oz blender drink ever again!

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Middle Aged Peer Pressure

Being new to a place has all sorts of unexpected obstacles, but I never expected peer pressure to be one of them. Just before the new year came around, FM came home from work and told me that co-workers from his department were discussing taking a cleanse diet at the beginning of 2013. Many of them were planning on following the Dr. Oz Three Day Detox Cleanse and “wouldn’t it be fun and supportive if we all did it together?” Initially I thought he was just recounting a funny incident that came up at work, but then I realized that he was actually considering joining in the fun. And since we are a pair who tend to share everything, I slowly understood that I was being included in the fun.

Now let me just expand on a few things:

1) FM’s workplace is filled with awesome people who are funny, outdoorsy, active, inclusive and caring. He seeks them out for weekend adventures and they include us both in any social events that come up. If this is their next team-building quest, he will be part of it.

2) I have NEVER been on a diet. I find the whole idea of denying yourself food preposterous. But, I am also the kind of person who usually forgets to eat lunch on weekends and I have been favoured with a small frame that sheds weight easily with a little focussed exercise.

3) The move to the Queendom has been a wonderful experience in many ways but our former life as ultrarunners has absolutely taken a back step to things like digging up alders and designing gardens. We tend to spend a lot more time sipping fine craft beers in the evenings rather than donning our headlamps and going for a stealth run on the forest trails.  As a result, we are both fat, out of shape and unmotivated to do much about it.

And so, back to the cleanse.

As we studied the page of rules and measurements, I searched for something that I would be able to look forward to but alas, there is nothing. And, for a non-food mixer like myself, the idea of three meals a day coming out of a blender is pretty repulsive. But, I do like a challenge, especially a challenge that will test my mental fortitude.  If ever there was one, this is it.

It looks simple enough, eh?

I did the shopping and found that most things were regular components of our kitchen anyway, except for Stevia. (I also picked up two dozen Fanny bay oysters and a crab so that our New year’s Eve would truly be an indulgence before the famine)

3 days of cleansing food

With determination this morning, FM got up and made both his breakfast and lunch drinks, the latter which he took to work. Still being on school break, I eventually entered the kitchen, with the devil already on my shoulders, and thought about sneaking in a coffee. But I didn’t. I did discover that the bathroom scale had been moved to the kitchen and, while stifling a scream, I weighed myself for the first time in about two years. I made myself a pot of green tea and lemon to get my mind off coffee (it didn’t work, btw). After 2 or 3 hours of procrastination, I finally put together my breakfast blender drink.

These things do not belong together!  We all know that green and red make brown.  (blech)

 And I had to pour it into a opaque container because my brain would definitely force my stomach to protest if I had to study it before each mouthful. In all honesty, it was a pretty tasty concoction, with all that yummy fruit. I worry a bit about lunch, with its mixture of lime juice, pineapple and almond milk.  I’ll bet you a nickel that it will curdle before I can get it into my trusty opaque receptacle.

Mixed Food Cloaking Device

And so ends my lament of the first 5 hours of my 3 Day Cleanse.  I wonder how long I’ll last.

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