Making Maple Syrup At Home Part 2: Storing and Condensing Sap

Making Maple Syrup

Making Maple Syrup

Like I mentioned in Part 1, for the sap to flow you want freezing nights followed by warm days (to around 40°F).  So, after some good days for sap and bad days for sap we collected about 15 gallons total.

We collected from February 9 to March 16.  We feel we should have gotten more sap, but with the cold weather and Polar Vortex the conditions were not right.

So as we collected the sap we had to decided what to do with it.  Some days we were only getting a cup or two and other days we had a gallon or more.  With this fluctuation in production and not enough time to cook down what we were collecting, we had to decide what to do with the sap.

Larger operations are able to store their sap in tanks.  I read that smaller collectors can store it in containers outside as long as it is out of the sun and kept cool.  I was not comfortable keeping the sap outside and I did not have enough room in my refrigerator to keep several gallons of sap. This led us to try freezing the sap.

While trying to decide how to store the sap, we were also looking for ways to condense the sap so we would have less to boil down.  Since maple sap is only roughly 2% sugar, that is a lot of water to boil off.  Many people cautioned against boiling it inside because the amount of water peeled their wall paper and left everything sticky.

We were lucky to come across an article in Mother Earth News that talked about how one man concentrated his sap by freezing it.  He basically froze his sap and then set it out to thaw.  When it was about half way thawed, he poured off that liquid (since it was more sap that water) and threw the rest of the ice out (since it was more water than sap).  He figured he lost a little sap this way, but the time and energy saved from cooking it down was worth it (at least for a small production of maple syrup).

So that is what we did.  We froze our sap and when we were ready to cook some down, we would let it thaw until it was about 1/2 of the way thawed, keep the liquid and throw the rest away.

After seeing how long it takes to thaw the frozen gallons of sap, we started doing the process a bit different.  We would put the gallons in the freezer for about 8 hours so the water would start to freeze but the sap had not.  It was much easier to condense this way since we could just filter the ice out because it was not yet a solid lump.

By condensing the maple tree sap, we were able to reduce 15 gallons to about 7 gallons.  This saved us a lot of time (and steam) when we cooked it down into syrup, but I’ll cover that next week.

Buffalo Chicken Bites

 

Buffalo Chicken Bites

Buffalo Chicken Bites

The first few years my husband and I were together, every Tuesday night was Wing Night.  We would get together with some friends and pick up wings from Buffalo Wild Wings (whose wings were cheaper on Tuesdays) and hang out.

Now a days we don’t get together for Wing Night anymore, but we still have wings ourselves every once in a while (either buying or making at home).  Which is why when I saw this recipe for Buffalo Chicken Bites, I knew I had to try it.

This recipe is from Once A Month Mom.  I just doubled the recipe.

Buffalo Chicken Bites

Rating: 41

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 42

Ingredients

  • 16 oz shredded, cooked chicken
  • 1 cup hot sauce
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2/3 cup diced green onion (I got mine from some we had growing that really needed to be used.)
  • 4 cups cornflakes cereal, crushed (I used my food processor.)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Combine chicken, cream cheese, hot sauce and green onions (I used my food processor).
  3. Shape mixture into balls and place on a plate.
  4. Place flour, eggs and crushed corn flakes in separate bowls.
  5. Dip each chicken ball in flour, egg and then the corn flakes.
  6. Place each ball on baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  7. All done!

Notes

Making this recipe, there are a few things I will change the next time I do it. For one, I had just enough egg and corn flakes to finish so I will use a little more next time. For another, I had a lot of leftover flour. The recipe called for 1/2 cup, which I double to 1 cup. I will try 1/2 cup next time.

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No egg or corn flakes left over, but look at all that flour!

No egg or corn flakes left over, but look at all that flour!

I served this with some celery and ranch dressing for dipping and it was yummy.  I will be sure to make this again for Wing Night.  (I read that these freeze well, but I have not tried it  If I do, I will update how they did.)

 

Regrow Green Onions

Regrow green onions

Regrow green onions

You know the green onions you buy from the store?  And you know how after you cut the onion part off, you just throw the roots away?

Well, don’t throw the roots away!  You can plant them and regrow the green onions.

All you need to do is plant the onions in some soil or a glass of water.  If using soil, be sure to water them.  We have ours in a planter in our kitchen.

That’s it.  These regrow very quickly.  So quickly, I have a hard time remembering to use them.

If fact I just made some Buffalo Chicken Bites the other day, partially just to use these up.

This is what I cut off yesterday (I forgot the take a picture before I cut).

Green Onion cuttings

Green Onion cuttings

This is the plants after the cutting.  They look so much better.

Trimmed Green Onions

Trimmed Green Onions

While I was searching for how other people regrow green onions, I came across this interesting post about how to grow basil.  Apparently, you can put basil you buy from the store in a jar of water in a sunny window and the cuttings will grow roots.  I did not know basil could do this!  I grow a lot of basil in the summer outside, but may have to try this.

What other herbs have you tried regrowing that you bought at the store?

Making Maple Syrup at Home Part 1: Collecting Sap

Making Maple Syrup

Of the many things my husband and I have tried over the years, I never thought we would be making maple syrup.

It started way back in the beginning of February when we attended a Maple Tree Tapping program at a local state park.  We originally attended just to see how Maple trees are tapped.  It turns out it is very simple and we ended up helping the naturalist tap all the trees he wanted that morning.

Attending this program got us thinking about the Maple tree in our backyard.  Well, the half that is in our yard anyway.

Maple Tree in Fence

Maple Tree in Fence

What if we were able to tap our Maple tree and collect sap?  And what if we could turn that sap into syrup!?  We would then be able to have our very own supply of homemade maple syrup.

So, we decided to give it a try.  We would tap our tree and try to make maple syrup.

We think our tree is a Silver Maple.  The sugar content is not as high in a Silver Maple (1%) as it is in a Sugar Maple (2%), but you can still make maple syrup from the sap.

The first step was to get some spiles.  A spile is the component that you tap into the tree that the sap flows out of.

While we used the older style spile (the one you hang the bucket from) at the park, we wanted to try the newer ones.  With these, you can connect your taps together with tubing and have it drain into one bucket.

We were able to get a few just like this:

Ours didn’t come with the tubing, but we already had some lying around the house from another project.  We bought some connectors for the tubing and a 5 gal food grad plastic bucket from Lowe’s. ( I’ve also read about people using milk jugs.)

Tubing in bucket

Tubing in bucket

The next step was to drill some holes in tree for the spiles.  The spiles seem to come in two sizes, 7/16″ or 5/16″.  You want to drill into the tree 1.5-3″ with a drill bit the same size as your spile.  Try to drill the hole slightly up to the sap will run down and not pool in the hole.  Then you gently tap the spile in with a rubber mallet, connect your tubing and hope the sap flows.

Below are some pictures of our setup.

Spiles in Maple tree

Spiles in Maple tree

Spile in tree

Spile in tree

Tubing connected

Tubing connected

Close up of tubing connected

Close up of tubing connected

Maple sap in bucket

Maple sap in bucket

We learned from naturalist that once a tree is 10-12″ in diameter, it can support 1 tap.  Every 8″ inches after that, the tree can have another tap. I’m not sure of the diameter of our tree, but we put 3 taps in it.  (This is only what I remember and my memory may not be that great.  For more in depth information, go here.)

I’ve had several people ask me if it matters where you tap the tree.  The answer I received from the naturalist it that it does not matter, but most people locate the tap at a height that is comfortable for them.  Typically around 3-4 foot up the trunk.

For the sap to flow, you want freezing nights followed by rapidly warming days (to around 40°F).  This kind of weather is ideal for the tree to bring up sap.  As we experienced, if it is too warm (no freezing nights) or too cold (no warm days), the sap does not flow.  One a good day, we were able to get about 2 gallons of sap a day.  (And on a bad day, we got nothing at all.)

Next week, I will be covering how we stored the sap we collected and how we concentrated it so we had less water to boil off.

 

Easy Cold Frame For the Garden

Easy Cold Frame For the Garden

Although the warm weather is now behind us, we were not ready to have the growing season end.  We decided to extend it by building an easy cold frame for the garden.  I’ve seen some neat plans for cold frames that involve old windows but have not tried them.  Instead I wanted to try using plastic.

We build one cold frame for one of our raised beds using PVC pipe, some pipe clamps, screws and plastic sheeting.  We built a much more elaborate one last year that worked okay (which I will post about later), but I wanted to try a simple (and cheap) one this year.

Raised Bed for Fall

Raised Bed for Fall

Here is the raised bed we used.  You can see the broccoli, spinach, lettuce and kale in there.

 

Pipe in clamp

Pipe in clamp

Raised bed with pvc pipe

Raised bed with PVC pipe

My husband attached some 3/4″ pipe clamps in strategic places and bent 3 10 foot 1/2″ PVC pipes over the bed and into the clamps.

 

Cold Frame over raised bed

Cold Frame over raised bed

We then covered with some “clear” plastic I got at Lowe’s and weighted the ends down with rocks.

Finished Cold Frame

Finished Cold Frame

That’s it!  I think it took about 30 mins and only cost us the plastic since we had everything else (and we’ll use the leftover plastic somewhere next year).

Once the days get shorter, the plants will stop growing until the days lengthen again.  Come spring, we will have a head start on our greens:)

Have you tried your hand at extending the growing season in your garden?

Welcome To My Garden!

I’ve been meaning to show pictures of my garden for months but am just now getting around to it.  Well, better late than never!

Old Garden

Old Garden

Our first two years gardening, we used the established plot in the far corner of the backyard.  It did okay, but it was shaded by trees much of the day and we felt our plants would do better elsewhere. Around this time I stumbled upon a book by Mel Brooks called Square Foot Gardening.  This is a way to produce more produce in less space.  Basically you filled a raised bed with “Mel’s Mix” and plant in a grid. We use both raised beds and his “Mel’s Mix” but do not strictly follow his guidelines for how many plants to plant per square foot.  This method has helped increase our production and cut down on weeding around plants.

Before Garden

Before Garden

We transformed an awkward area around our pool into many raised beds. We laid patio stones between them so we wouldn’t have to mow.  (I do however a weed problem.  They love growing between the stones.)

Water Barrels

Water Barrels

My husband has also set up an irrigation system using rain barrels that allows us to water each bed individually.  We are working on expanding this system to water our berries in the back (with a separate set of rain barrels). So, that was a little bit of history on our garden.  On to the tour….

Strawberries

Strawberries

Here we have strawberries growing around our porch.  We have both June Bearing and Ever bearing.  We also have more strawberries in the backyard where the old garden plot is.  We are currently in the process of reorganizing these so they are easier to pick.  We didn’t do too bad this year though.  We picked 60 lbs of strawberries!

Basil, Cilantro & Celery

Basil, Cilantro & Celery

Onion & Thyme

Onion & Thyme

And in this corner, we have cilantro, basil, celery, thyme and onions.

Corn and Cucumbers

Corn and Cucumbers

Corn

Corn

This is our corn and cucumbers. The cucumbers are climbing the trellis.  The corn likes our soil so much that we had 2-3 stalks per plant!

Green Peppers and Mustard up close

Green Peppers and Mustard up close

Green Peppers

Green Peppers

In this bed we have green peppers and mustard.  The mustard had pretty much taken over.  We grew it for the seeds so we could use them in our Freezer Pickles (recipe coming soon) and try making mustard.  I didn’t know it got so big!

Rhubarb and compost barrel

Rhubarb and compost barrel

This is one of two rhubarb plants and our barrel composter.  The rhubarb was only transplanted this spring, so I have not harvested any yet.  I can’t wait until next year.

Fall Raised Bed

Fall Raised Bed

This empty looking bed is actually filled with seeds for our fall crops.  Before, it was the broccoli bed.  Now it has kale, spinach, lettuce, and broccoli.

Tomato Raised Beds

Tomato Raised Beds

Pumpkins and Beans

Pumpkins and Beans

Out behind the pool, we have 3 more raised beds.  Two are devoted to tomatoes and the third has pinto beans and pie pumpkins.  It also had peas, but they are done for the year. Next to these beds are more squash.  My butternut and spaghetti squash did well and I got several.  My eggplant produced 4 eggplants.  I started it late and it took a while to grow.  I hope to get more next year.

Squash

Squash

And in this corner is the remainder of my squash (do you think I like squash?).  The zucchini, summer squash and acorn squash did not do well this year.  We need to add compost and have some sort of irrigation for them next year.

Not pictured is our raspberry and blueberry patch (along with the aforementioned strawberries).  Both of these areas need some work and I will post pictures of them in the future. We hope to add some apple trees soon and experiment with espalier.

I took these pictures in August and had planned to post them then.  It is now late November and I am finally getting around to it.  How did your garden do this year?

Cook Ground Beef in the Oven

Something else that we buy in bulk, other than cheese, is beef.  We buy 1/4 to 1/2 cow from my brother-in-law every 6 months to a year.  We are lucky to be able to get it at a good price, and it is so much better than the stuff I can get in the store.

Since we do this, I tend to have a lot of bulk hamburger laying around.

Bulk Hamburger

Bulk Hamburger

Recently, I have found a quicker way to cook it than browning in a pan on the stove top; I bake it in the oven.  I love doing this because it saves me time by not have to stand around and watch the meat and I can cook more at once.

How to Cook Ground Beef in the Oven

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Put 2 lbs of ground beef into an 8 x 8 casserole dish.  Since mine was packed together, I spread it out a bit.

Ground beef

Ground Beef

Ground beef ready for oven

Ground beef ready for oven

3. Cook for 30-45 min.  Check the meat at 30 min to see how it is doing.  You don’t want to cook it for too long or it will get dried out and look funny.

4. Drain fat off.

5. Done!  Enjoy your cooked ground beef.

Ground Beef Cooked in Oven

Ground Beef Cooked in Oven

 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

What to do with my open can of pumpkin?  I had opened it a few days ago to try a pumpkin pie variation of my steel cut oats and it needed to be used.  (In case you were wondering, the pumpkin pie variation didn’t work out very well.)  I usually make these pumpkin oats chocolate chip muffins, but I didn’t have any milk.

As I searched my bookmarks for a recipe, I came across this one from MoneySavingMom and I must say that I really like these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.  I modified the original recipe to include some whole wheat flour and replaced the oil with applesauce and butter.  ( I don’t like using vegetable oil or shortening in my baking unless necessary.)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 (16 oz.) can pureed pumpkin
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3 cups flour (1.5 cups white, 1.5 cups wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin, apple sauce and butter and mix until smooth. Add in dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill muffin cups 3/4 full, making sure to grease or line with paper.
  2. Bake 16-20 minutes at 400 degrees.
  3. Makes 24-30 muffins.
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After filling my 24 muffin cups I had enough batter to maybe make 2-3 more muffins but no more cups, so I topped off the other muffins.  I used both silicone muffin cups and a metal one with paper liners.  I prefer the silicone cups, but I only have enough of those to make 12 muffins and I didn’t want to put two rounds of muffins in the oven.

These also freeze well.  I just threw mine in a Ziploc bag.  I like to dethaw mine in the microwave for few seconds because I like my chocolate chips a little melty.

How To Sew A Burp Cloth From A Cloth Diaper

Burp Clothes

Burp Clothes

Every since I came across this tutorial on how to sew a burp cloth from a cloth diaper, I have been making them for everyone I know who is expecting.

I like this burp cloth for two reasons.  One, the flannel keeps the cloth diaper from falling off the shoulder.  Two, the cloth diaper is much more absorbent that the thin things I see passed off as burp cloths in the store.

Burp Cloth Supplies

Supplies

Supplies Needed:

Sewing machine

Thread

Scissors or Rotary Cutter and Mat

Pins

1/2 yard of flannel (this makes two)

Cloth diapers (I got mine at Target, but you can also get them at Walmart or Amazon.  You want to make sure you get the prefold diapers and not the flat fold cloth diapers.  The prefolds are thicker in the middle.)

I like to start by laying out two diapers on the 1/2 yard of flannel, just to make sure I have enough material, and then cut the flannel in half.

Burp Cloth

Two burp clothes laid out on 1/2 yd of flannel.

Iron the diaper and flannel out to get rid of any wrinkles.  I have not washed anything at this point.  I like to wash everything at the end.

Pin the diaper to the right side of the flannel.

Burp Cloth

Diaper pinned to right side of flannel

Be sure to leave a space of about 4″ unpinned.  After sewing, we will be turning the cloth right side out.

Sew along the edge of the diaper, making sure to leave that 4″ space open. I like to sew with the edge of the diaper on the outside of my presser foot, which is about 1/4″.

Burp Cloth

Sewing along edge of diaper

Then trim off the excess flannel from around the diaper.  Trim close to the diaper, but be careful not to cut your stitches or the diaper.

Leave the excess flannel intact at your 4″ opening.  It makes it easier to sew closed later.

Tab Out

Tab Out

Now, turn the cloth right side out.  Be careful when pushing your corners out.  I use my finger but some people like to use chock sticks or similar instruments.

Turning the diaper so the right side is out.

Turning the diaper so the right side is out.

Diaper turned

Diaper turned

Flannel turned right side out.

Flannel turned right side out.

We will now sew that opening closed.  Fold the flannel flap into the opening.   You will find the diaper will fold in a little as well.  Line this fold up as best you can with your seam, iron and pin.  Sew closed.

Tab to be turned in.

Tab to be turned in.

Tab turned in

Tab turned in

Tab Pinned.

Tab Pinned.

Opening sewed closed.

Opening sewed closed.

For the final touches, we just need to sew down the cloth in two places to help the cloth keep its shape and not shift.  I find it easiest to sew along the existing vertical seams in the diaper.  With the diaper facing up, sew along the seams.

Sewing down the seams in the middle of the diaper.

Sewing down the seams in the middle of the diaper.

You’re done!  Now you can wash and dry your creations and give them to all your expectant friends (or save some for yourself).

Burp Cloth

Burp Cloth

Egg and Spinach Frittata

Frittata.  What is that, you may wonder.  Wikipedia says a frittata “is an egg-based dish similar to an omelette or quiche, enriched with additional ingredients such as meats, cheeses, vegetables or pasta” that may be flavored with herbs.

I came across a recipe for an egg and spinach frittata recently and it was delicious.  It is now one of my favorite breakfast foods and an easy way for me to get some vegetables.

Egg and Spinach Frittata

Egg and Spinach Frittata

Ingredients

  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 1/4 cup Milk
  • 1/4 cup Feta Cheese
  • 1/4 cup Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 cup chopped Spinach
  • 1 Tbsp Basil

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Spray an 8 x 8 casserole dish with nonstick spray.
  3. Combine eggs, milk, herbs and cheese in dish and whisk.
  4. Add chopped spinach and mix to combine with egg mixture.
  5. Bake 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes.
  7. Enjoy!
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Feel free to change the ingredients to fit your taste.  I just made this tonight with almond milk and it turned out fine.  Next, I want to try a combination of spinach and kale.