Monthly Archives: July 2014

Turning Logs into Lumber – Part I

In past posts I have alluded to a sawmill that my husband and I bought last spring; one which took over our summer last year and resulted in us building a barn in the fall. With the exception of a few small sessions using it to trim up some boards, the sawmill hasn’t really been fired up since this winter when we cut wood for our chicken coop (remember when I wrote a post about how cold days and sawmills don’t work? Funny enough, a week after that post we cut most of the wood for our chicken coop….in the snow). The newest task which my husband and I have taken on is committing to cut all of the window and door trim as well as the baseboard for our house that we should be breaking ground on at the end of this month. Unfortunately, the sawmilling isn’t really the ambitious part of the project. All in all it took us 2 days to cut the 1,500+ linear feet of wood we need. What worries us is that in a few months, once this wood is dry, we need to send it through a planer, joiner and router to make them house-worthy trim. And to make matters even worse, we just realized yesterday that while we are plaining, joining and routering all of this wood, we will most likely be doing it in our barn….and if all goes well, by then we will have sold the house we currently live in and we will be living in the barn. See where I am going with this? Look for future posts discussing the trials and tribulations of that!

Wood, wood and some more wood.

Wood, wood and some more wood.

But really, how does one take a big ol’ log and turn it into usable lumber? The process is not really that difficult. It took us a little bit of time to figure it all out, become efficient and waste the least amount of wood as scraps, but after cutting enough wood for a barn we have gotten pretty good at it. It also took a few attempts to figure out the best method for stacking all the cut lumber; trial and error and re-stacking lots and lots of wood. And while we may not have been rock climbing as much all summer while we were stuck working, we still managed to stay in shape and “farm strong” from lifting so many boards.

Stacking Lumber

We had read many places the proper way to stack lumber: Make a level surface above the ground, place 1 layer of pieces of lumber on the surface with approximately 1” spaces in between the boards, place 1”x1” pieces of wood (AKA Sticker) on top of that layer perpendicular to the lumber to keep airflow, add another layer of lumber, repeat.  We created the stacks by using 6 cinder blocks (1 at each corner, and 2 at the center edges) and laying 2”x6” boards on their side (they are stronger that way) width wise on top of them. Make sure that the 2”x6”s are level, and that they are all the same elevation – these are what the lumber will lay on for the remainder of the time drying. See the illustration below.

Stacking Wood Diagram

What wasn’t specified strongly enough in everything that we read, some of which caused us great difficulties later, were a few things:

1)      Make sure your initial level surface above the ground is a few feet above ground to increase the amount of airflow moving through the pile of lumber from the bottom.

2)      Keep all lengths of lumber on the same stack. Since you will only have 3-4 bottom supports (i.e. the 2”X6” on the cinder blocks), it makes it difficult to put lumber that is shorter or longer than the stack on the pile. If you do, the end(s) of the lumber won’t be supported and will end up drying crooked.

 

Stacked maple. Note the stickers between each layer and evenly spaced.

Stacked maple. Note the stickers between each layer and evenly spaced.


3)      Keep all the same width boards on one stack, or if you really need to mix and match on a single stack of wood (e.g. having both 2”x4” and 2”x6” pieces), stack the same size wood vertically on top of each other. This will keep airflow moving vertically through your pile of wood. Ideally, you want to be able to see down to the ground between each piece of wood you stack. This is major thing that we did not do right and ended up forcing us to re-stack almost all of our wood after we noticed some had some black staining on it because it was not drying quickly enough.

4)      On the same note, keep boards of all the same thickness within the same stack row. The 1”x1” stickers used in between each row of stacked lumber not only help keep horizontal airflow, but they also keep weight from the rows above them on the stacked lumber to help them dry straight.  For example, you don’t want to have 1” thick boards stacked in the same row as 2” thick boards. The stickers will not be able to put any weight on the 1” thick boards and they will most likely warp when they are drying.

Photo Jul 13, 12 28 39 PM

Vertical and horizontal air movement is necessary for quick drying.

Vertical and horizontal air movement is necessary for quick drying.

5)      Have a heavy duty tarp, or better yet, sheet metal on hand to cover the wood. Rain on drying wood will not do it any good! Make sure that you have sufficient overhang on all 4 sides of your lumber stack and keep weight on top of it all to 1) keep the metal on the stack, and 2) to keep the boards from warping while they dry.

6)      Also, having your stacks of wood in a sunny, well ventilated place is good. Our stacks were under trees, but at the edge of the tree line so we still had a lot of good air flow to help dry them out quickly.

Always make sure to keep you wood covered too!

Always make sure to keep you wood covered too!

Once you have all of your drying areas set up it is time to start milling!! Stay tuned for the next post about the art of milling up your lumber.

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Strawberry Jam

July 4th has come and gone in a whirlwind of playing, working, cooking out and blowing things up. Along with it has long ago pasted strawberry season in southern West Virginia. Fortunately for my cupboard void of strawberry jam, my husband and I had a trip to New York planned in late June where their season was coming to a close. Quickly I was reminded of one of the things I miss most about growing up in New York state – plentiful small scale produce stands and You-Pick farms lining the straight, flat rural roads. Before hopping back in the car for the 6+ hour drive home we stopped at one such place and picked until our fingers bled…or at least that’s what they looked like after the 12 pints of red, fresh, juicy, amazing smelling fruit we picked under the blazing sun. And while I may have been complaining that day about the sun beating down on my already partially burnt and freckled shoulders, I didn’t really care that much because the hot sun cooked the berries ever so slightly adding to the intoxicating smell of the fresh air surrounding us.

The farm we picked strawberries at goes on forever with lots of different fruits and vegetables.

The farm we picked strawberries at goes on forever with lots of different fruits and vegetables.

Alright, I need to stop. I really want some more of those strawberries, and alas, they are all gone; eaten or turned into jam. In the end we only turned about 6 pints into jam. On our way out of NY we stopped at my husband’s parents’ house where my parents also came to join for lunch and we gave them each 2 pints. We also gave another to our friends who watched our dog over the weekend; and before we could get enough time to make the jam a few days later, we devoured almost 2 other pints. It was so worth it.

Photo Jul 02, 8 04 05 PM

A few days after we got back from our trip I went out to buy more jelly jars since we used most of our other ones when making maple syrup and a whole lotta sugar. Why does jelly taste so good? Partly because of the awesome fruit that’s in it, but let’s be real folks, we all know it’s because of the loads and loads of sugar in it 😉 I also picked up a package of Sure-Jell Certo liquid fruit pectin to help jell up my jelly. You can also buy low or no-sugar pectin, but I just grabbed the first thing I saw this time.

So much sugary goodness.

So much sugary goodness.

Jam is super easy to make so long as you follow the recipe and don’t try to skimp on the sugar. My husband and I spent 15 minutes taking all the tops off the strawberries (putting the tops in another container to feed our plump little chickens later on) and placed them in a large pot to mash them up. This was always my most favorite part of making strawberry jam when I was a kid; taking the trusty old-fashioned potato masher and squishing the holy heck out of those juicy berries. After doing that and breaking them up a bit we measured out 8 cups of strawberries and placed them in a large stainless steel pot, turning the heat on medium and stirring occasionally. While getting the berries up to temperature, 14 cups of sugar (yep, you read that correct) were measured out and added to the fruit mixture. At this point it is helpful to add a little dollop of butter on top of your fruit. As the mixture starts to boil away it will create a foam on top of the pot; the butter helps keep this down. The foam is fine and still tastes good but it does make for a less-pretty jar of jam in the long run. We skimmed our off the top as it cooked and ended up saving it, using it for sandwiches and ice cream later on.  

After we brought the strawberry mixture to a strong, rolling boil (stirring constantly to make sure nothing burnt) the Certo pectin was added and the mixture cooked 1 minute longer. While all of this was going on, our canning pot full of water was coming to a boil and all of the mason jars we planned to use were in there getting sanitized. There was also a small pot of boiling water on the stove where our new canning jar lids were placed and warming up in. Then the fun began! While my husband ladled hot strawberry mixture into the clean jars, I took a wet towel and wiped the rim of to make sure nothing was there and getting in the way of the seal. On went a warmed up lid then a screw top over that to keep it tight. When all 18 of our jars were full, we placed ½ in the canner and boiled them (with 1” of water over the tops of the jars) for 10 minutes.

Ladling the fresh jam into jelly jars.

Ladling the fresh jam into jelly jars.

After they were all done boiling, we took them out and placed them on a towel to cool until the morning when we could check if they had sealed or not (100% success!!), although it did not take long until we started to hear the popping sound of the jar lids sucking down and sealing (what a great sound!). Now we sit and eat and wait until next spring when the strawberries come out….although blackberry season is picking up right now…..  😉

 

Finished product!

Finished product!

Photo Jul 04, 9 37 18 AM (1)

Here are more concise directions taken from the Certo box (What we made above was a double recipe):

  • Prepare and sanitize at least 8 jelly jars
  • Use 4 pints of whole strawberries
  • Discard the stems and crush the berries
  • Measure out 4 cups of crushed strawberries and place in a large pot
  • Add 7 cups of sugar and stir – add ½ tsp of butter on top to reduce foam
  • Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly
  • Stir in pectin and return to a full rolling boil – boil for 1 minute longer stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off any excess foam
  • Ladle jam into prepared (sanitized) jelly jars, leaving 1/8” of head space and making sure to wipe rim of jar with damp cloth to remove any jam residue that may have spilled
  • Take a new lid from a pot of hot water and place on top of the jar and screw on metal rim lid
  • Place the jars on an elevated rack in a canner and submerse them under boiling water (at least 1-2” of water above lid). Boil jars for 10 minutes (you may need to adjust depending on elevation)
  • Carefully take the jars out of the canner and place on a towel top-up to cool for 24 hours. Once cool, check to make sure the lids sealed by pressing on the middle of the lid – if it pushes down and springs up it has not sealed  – either process it again or put in refrigerator and eat right away.
  • Store on the shelf up to a year or opened and in the fridge for 3 weeks.

Check out the Sure-Jell website for more recipes and inspiration. Strawberries may not be in season anymore but plenty of other delicious fruit is!!

 

Gnocchi Goodness

I had never heard of gnocchi before a cousins girl weekend in Crested Butte, CO a few years back. We had gone out to dinner at an Italian restaurant and everyone but me was so excited to see gnocchi on the menu. Gnocchi, whatever they were, made my cousins excited. So why not join in the excitement and order some as well. I soon found that these little doughy, potatoey bites were pretty delicious.

In typical fashion, I decided that if it is possible to make something from scratch, I was going to do it. My first attempt was with my mom a year after my first gnocchi encounter. We cut up and boiled some potatoes, mashed them up, added some flour, egg, salt and pepper and made a splendid little dinner. We found that we had to add a lot more flour than the recipe called for, but chocked it up to the fact that using “3 large potatoes” could vary things depending on your definition of a large potato. For years I continued this process of making gnocchi but always feeling like something just wasn’t right. The only time I had ever had someone else’s gnocchi creation was at that restaurant years before and I couldn’t quite remember what “right” was when it came to the texture and consistency. Lately, however, I have change things up a bit. For starters, I have started to use a food mill (like you use to make apple sauce) to mash my potatoes with to get a super smooth, consistent texture out of the potatoes. I have also started to bake my potatoes instead of boiling them to cut down on the extra moisture within them and reduce the amount of flour needed in the dough mixture. Consequently, I have noticed that my batches have resulted in less but more tender product. Note to self, use more potatoes. The whole process isn’t very labor intensive, but some might argue it is tedious. I find that as long as you make a large batch and freeze some for later, it makes it totally worth it.

Gnocchi ready to get put in the freezer.

Gnocchi ready to get put in the freezer.

After the dough is all mixed up, rolled out and cut into bite sized pieces, the gnocchi simply have to be boiled for a few minutes and dressed however you would like to serve them. I personally like to make some browned butter with fresh sage from the garden and then toss the gnocchi in there to brown up a little. After a bunch of failed, messy attempts at this, I found that I need to learn to be patient (something I am still working on) and let the pan heat up a great deal before adding the cooked gnocchi, otherwise they will stick all to holy heck and, while still delicious, they will not look so pretty. To prove how much I still need to work on my patience in the kitchen (and probably in other aspects of life, but that’s a different story 😉 ), the last time I pan fried some gnocchi up, I had one of the terrible messes I described above. Someday I will learn.

Here is how I go about making gnocchi:

-Use 3 large potatoes (or however many you want to make, just adjust accordingly). I usually end up making gnocchi when I have a handful of potatoes that are starting to turn green and sprout; waste not, want not, right?

-Make baked potatoes however you normally do (microwave, oven, grill) and let them cool slightly. Once you can handle the potatoes without burning yourself, peel your potatoes. If you prefer, and if you have a food mill, you can leave the skins on since they will end up getting ground up small enough that they won’t affect the dough later.

-Mash them taters! You are trying to get a nice, smooth consistency so that when you make the dough you won’t have chunks of potato. Do not add any cream or anything you might normally add to make mashed potatoes. This is where I use my food mill; you could also use a potato ricer, blender or good-ol’-fashioned hand masher.

Food mill processing the cooked potatoes. Notice the fine texture that results.

Food mill processing the cooked potatoes. Notice the fine texture that results.

-Once you are satisfied with the consistency of your potatoes, add 1 egg, salt and pepper and ½ cup of flour, and mix well. Keep adding flour as needed (probably 1 cup total, depending on the size of your potatoes), until the dough forms together and stops being sticky. Be careful not to mix too much or you will get tough gnocchi.

-Flour a clean surface, dump your dough out onto it and kneed it gently until combined.

Add 1 egg, salt and pepper to taste and mix up into a dough. Roll out into logs the width of your thumb.

Add 1 egg, salt and pepper to taste and mix up into a dough. Roll out into logs the width of your thumb.

-Divide the dough into quarters and start rolling out 1 piece like a snake until it is the thickness of your thumb. Repeat with the other pieces. Add flour to any surface as needed to keep everything from sticking.

-Once you have all of your “snakes” made, cut them into 1” long pieces and then roll each piece with the back tines of a fork to make them all even more uniform and give them a slight texture.

Roll the gnocchi with the back of a fork to get texture and a uniform shape.

Roll the gnocchi with the back of a fork to get texture and a uniform shape.

Before and after being rolled with the fork.

Before and after being rolled with the fork.

-Once done, cook them in a pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes; they will float to the top when they are done, but I usually let them cook another minute just to be sure. Drain when done cooking.

Boil until they float to the top.

Boil until they float to the top.

-Lastly, heat up a fry pan until it is good and hot. Add some oil or butter and fresh sage leaves, chopped. Put cooked gnocchi in the pan and let brown on the bottom. Do not attempt to flip them too soon or you will end up with a big mess (like I usually do, remember, I am still working on my patience). Once they slide around a little when you shake the pan you can flip them to make the other side golden and a bit crispy.

-Add salt and pepper to taste, serve warm and enjoy!