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Monday, October 24, 2022

Kefir, second ferment

Well, I have exceeded my expectations with my kefir! I am so glad I purchased fresh kefir instead of dry, I'm sure I could have succeeded with the dry, but it would have taken me longer to get to the finished drink.

I think it took me an extra day at both ends, the first and second ferment, the reason being because the SkyCastle is on the cooler side, and cold temps slow down the activity of the kefir. I let the first ferment go for 4 days, I tasted it on days 2, 3 and 4. The point here is to get to a slight sour, yeasty, yet slightly sweet, it is complex. I watched so many YouTube videos, so many were tasting the first ferment, they described it so exquisitely, I wondered if I would be able to recognize when the first ferment was complete...
I had nothing to worry about, I was able to detect the flavor of a completed first ferment with no problems. I pulled out 3 bottles for the second ferment. 2 large Topo Chico bottles and one smaller bottle that originally contained a commercially available kefir water, the first one of its kind I tried.

I filled each bottle, leaving enough space to add juice, fruit and still enough head space for the carbonation to happen. I also started a second batch of kefir water, the kefir grains were apparently very happy, they had doubled in size and quantity. I was able to split off 2 batches to give away. 

I took the remaining kefir grains and started another batch. The first batch of water kefir that I drained went into the next bottles, I added grape juice to one, a mix of juice in another, and in the smaller bottle, I put in a couple of lemon slices. I capped them tightly and set aside for the second ferment.

It took about 3 days for the first bubbles to appear in the second ferment, by the 4th day, they were fizzy! I had been tasting them a little bit on each day, I placed the 2 larger bottles in the fridge, the smaller lemon flavored bottle didn't last long enough to be refrigerated.

I did notice the way the fermentation slowed in the cold and increased in the warmth, I had placed my second fermentation bottles near the wood stove, they really began to bubble vigorously. I didn't allow them to get too warm, I didn't want any accidents, explosions, or dead ferments. 

It turned out to be just enough, the end product was tasty, fizzy and all around fun to drink. I can't wait to have enough going to be able to drink as much as I wish. For now, I'll just keep working both ferments.

My second batch I added grape juice to one bottle, and apple cider to the second bottle, on the smaller bottle I stayed with the lemon slices. I expect to be able to start drinking those in a few days. 

If you live close by to me, ask me about getting a batch of kefir grains from me, otherwise, if you want to get the same ones I have, go here KEFIR LINK and order from Amazon, thanks!

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Monday, October 17, 2022

It's Alive!

I am a strange combination of healthy eating and eating absolute garbage, well not actual garbage, but snack foods and less than healthy foods. I like to feel that I'm making up for the less than foods by consuming much more healthy fare.

My healthy food of the week (hopefully it will last more than a week though), I'm doing water kefir now. I am somewhat familiar with commercially available milk kafir from the health food store and the healthier sections of the grocery store. It's much harder to find a commercial water kafir drink, I finally found one and wanted to try it before going to all the trouble of making my own water kefir drinks.

Turns out I did like it and began to learn everything I could on the subject, fortunately it is so so SO simple! No special equipment, no expensive tools, no complicated or long methods are involved. I went ahead and purchased a batch of fresh (not dried) kefir grains to start with, that bypasses the first steps involved in STARTING or activating the growth, I would be essentially starting in the middle of step 2, and since there are only 3-4 steps in total, and I tend to want (almost) instant gratification, I couldn't argue with that route.

So, just what the heck ARE kefir grains? Well, first off they aren't actually "grain", what people are calling a grain is a tender but rubbery, bouncy, almost like a soft gummy bear like texture nodule that this bacteria and yeast grow in, these living organisms grow their own structure to live in, and much like a happy sourdough starter, once you start your own colony of kefir, it will multiply, it will grow larger and you will most likely end up giving it away to your friends and family.

The kefir grains live and grow in a sugar water solution that you supply, that's all, you should also give it minerals, so brown sugar, molasses, anything like this that contains minerals will make your kefir happy. As they consume the sugar in the water, they ferment and create probiotics which happen to be super healthy for us!

So I ordered from a person on Amazon (Kefir Link), I wasn't exactly sure how much I would receive, there seemed to be lots of measurements and numbers being thrown around, it said 1/4 pound, then 7 ounces, I just don't know what 1/4 pound or 7 ounces of kefir looks like. The reviews sounded pretty good, it was going to be fresh (not dried) grains, the price was reasonable, so I pushed the button.

After I did that, I began to look around the SkyCastle for large enough glass jars and containers. I am a bit of a hoarder, I blame that on my dad who grow up in the depression, you don't throw away ANYTHING that might come in handy, no matter how far into the future that might be... much to the annoyment (is that even a word???) of PB... we have had this long term battle over how many glass jars and bottles I NEED to save, he is constantly asking me if I'm done with a jar or bottle, translate that to: can I throw it away now? Wellll, if it is of a good size and has a decent lid, then the answer is almost always NO, you can't toss this, yet. Eventually he does wrestle away many of my jars and bottles, but I manage to save back just enough.

I looked through my bottle/jar stash and found just the perfect couple of containers for my new pets. Hmmm, pets, well they are a living entity, they grow and multiply, I am feeding and caring for them, I'm not exactly eating THEM though you can, just their by-products. OK, enough of that visual.

I had a large 2 quart Mason jar that I saved from a cold coffee making setup, I just don't make that much coffee, hot or cold to use that size of jar, the other jar was from a cold coffee concentrate that I had bought from the grocery store, it's 32 ounces or 1 quart. The second jar has a small mouth, but it's the perfect size, honestly when I bought these originally, I knew I would be saving those jars for something I would do in the future.

My kefir showed up a bit earlier than I expected them to, and they stayed in my mailbox for a few days, in my defense, my mailbox is some 6 miles away and I don't tend to make a special trip just to check my mail, I knew I was planning on going to town in a few days, and the temperature was going to be mild,  so I figured it would be OK, I had read a couple of reviews from people in hot places who said they had left theirs in their mailbox for a few days in the heat of summer and it turned out just fine.

Once I got my kefir babies home, I still wasn't ready to start so I popped them in the fridge for a couple of days. I had read mixed thoughts on that, most said it was OK, a few said that wasn't ideal, the directions on the package even said not to do that, I'm such a rebel, I did it anyhow.

Fast forward to last Thursday, that was the day, the day I would get everything ready and start my kefir farm. I found 2 suitable jars, I had coffee filters and rubber bands, I didn't have the exact sugar I really wanted to start with (a less processed, more natural sugar), I did have some regular brown sugar, that would work for now.

My water is about the most perfect part of this, it's well water so no chemicals, no fluoride, we do put bleach in the tank, but just enough to make the water safe to STORE, it's actually pretty good water otherwise. It is also high in minerals, which is something the kefir likes, so it's not a worry.

I had 2 containers of kefir grains, tightly packed in these things that you would see in a food take out for your condiments. I added about a quarter cup of brown sugar to the water and added the kefir grains. A few hours later, I realized I wanted to mark the level of the kefir grains at the bottom of the jars so I would know how much they grew, I could tell that they had already puffed up a bit. 

I placed the covered jars in a darkish cabinet and covered them with a towel, apparently kefir are shy and prefer to work in the dark. The following day, I marked a second line to show their growth, one jar seemed to be doing better than the other, it could have been the fact that my jars were 2 different sizes and the smaller jar just made it look like those kefir were doing better. 

So today (Saturday), it had been 2 full days, the kefir grains had puffed up, gotten larger and definitely multiplied, some of the grains were floating, a really good sign, and there were bubbles, at the top of the jar and buried within the kefir grains themselves.

I considered going another day, but thought I should taste my experiment first. I didn't know exactly what to expect, except for the descriptions of those who described what theirs smelled and tasted like. The descriptions were yeasty, fermented, sour smell. Mine definitely had all three of those things going for it. It is said that a properly developed liquid would no longer taste sweet but rather yeasty, fermented and slightly sour, well it also had all of those things going for it as well. I could barely taste a hint of the former sweetness it had started out with. 

I wanted to do a second fermentation, which is where you drain off the liquid, saving back the kefir grains and a little bit of the fermented water, then you place that liquid in another glass container with a good lid, at this point you can add fruit, fruit juice or a myriad of other things to add a flavor and wait for the juicy bubbles to form.

Yes, it does get fizzy, at least what I've seen on other YouTube videos on the subject. It's not supposed to take very long either, just add whatever fruit or juice you wish, bottle and wait. That's where I am now. I managed to hide back a hand full of large glass bottles with good lids, I filled 2 of the larger ones and a smaller one. I added grape juice to one, a mix of fruit juices for another, and for the smaller one, I cut up a lemon and put that inside of the bottle.

I closed up the lids tightly, something that may or may not be risky, if you want lots of fizz (and I do!) you have to tightly cap your bottles, but you have to either burp them, or don't let them go for very long. I've seen on YouTube from 6-12 hours, or 24 hours, I suspect it depends on the fruit or juice you add and the temperature where you are storing your capped bottles. The warmer it is, the more it ferments and the bubblier it can get. Right now we are at the cooler end, not cold enough for a fire in the wood stove, but definitely cooler, generally in the 50s F inside of the SkyCastle.

I keep looking at my bottles sitting on the shelf, I know they won't explode, at least not yet... it's been around 6ish hours, I did open one of the bottles just a little to see (or hear) if it was building up any pressure, and I'm happy to announce, it did release a tiny bit pressure! So, success so far. 

I'll probably pop them in the fridge tomorrow and later in the day, give them a taste test, I'm hoping it turns out and that I like the flavor. I just remembered that I have some cucumbers in the fridge, I wonder how that would taste??? 

I also started my second batch of kefir water, this time I had the sugar I wanted to use, a turbinado style sugar I order from Sam's Club, I also added just a little regular brown sugar, I thought I had some molasses, and I might, I just can't find it. Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses added so it should be just fine. 

My kefir critters have easily doubled in size and volume. I'll have plenty to share around in a very short time. I know of 2 friends who are very interested, and I'm sure once word gets out, I'll have quite a few people wanting to start their own kefir farm.

How about you? Are you familiar with water kefir? Have you hade it? Do you grow your own? What are your favorite flavors to add?

If you wish to order some fresh kefir grains, you can order from the same place I got mine, they are alive and thriving, click here Kefir Link

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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

It's October!!!! Dogs and wok..

Can you believe it's October already????? I just don't know where the summer went, but in all honesty, fall or autumn is my favorite time of the year, our rainy season has pretty much ended, there is still some greenery around, but grasses and other plants are starting to get that golden tinge around the edges. Our trees don't really change color, we have mostly pines and oaks, the pines pretty much look the same year round, the oaks keep their green leaves all winter, waiting until spring to turn color, fall off and grow nice green leaves in just a few short weeks.

The nights and mornings are getting cooler now, I have had to start breaking out my cold weather sleeping gear, it's not quite time for the down blanket, that will be next month.

The dogs have fallen into a regular routine, up at daybreak, eat around 8ish, I take them for a walk most days, I try for 2 walks a day, but I don't always get it in. They do very well on their leashes, I finally got a second retractable leash so they both have one now. They sleep most of the rest of the day, then it's dinner tine around 6ish, another walk if I'm going to walk them a second time, then they go to bed whenever we do. The little one sleeps next to me, Mr Pups is too big for getting in our bed, he has a nice soft bed at the head of my bed, all I have to tell his is to get into his bed and he does. They have their own dog door so they can come and go as they wish. At night I close them in so they can only go out if I let them out, that's mainly because of the critters that may be out and about, skunks are the biggest worry, it's no fun to wash a stinky dog in the middle of the night, ask me how I know...

Here's something I'm excited about, I finally got the wok I wanted! Last year (I can't remember exactly when) I bought an el cheapo wok from WalMart, it was $5. I just needed to know if I really wanted to cook on a wok often enough to justify buying one. 

Turns out I do like cooking in a wok, that began my journey hunting down a good one. It had to be small enough for me to use, that meant a 13-14 inch wok. The next thing was deciding between a carbon steel (traditional) or a stainless steel. I'm very familiar with cooking and frying in stainless, it doesn't stick if you do it right, which means heating up the pan first, pouring in some oil, wait to see the oil shimmer-almost smoking, then add the food, it generally cooks/fries without sticking. You can also get woks in non-stick and in cast iron, neither appeal to me, I don't like non-stick coatings that flakes off and smokes at high temps. The cast iron would just be too heavy to be practical.

I really couldn't decide between carbon steel and stainless steel. The carbon steel has to be treated much like cast iron, it needs to be properly seasoned and washed & dried properly. I really love my stainless steel cookware too. I had several of each kind in my Amazon cart, it turned out to be price that was the determining factor.

One of the stainless steel woks dropped in price, very significantly, it had been around $80 and dropped to $24.99, that's all I needed to see! I hit the buy it button and waited for it to arrive. It's still that price as of now.

I got it a few days ago, even though we had already eaten dinner, I really wanted to try it, so I made popcorn in it. The following day I got out my stir fry goodies and made a proper dinner. I quickly realized that my little RV stove just doesn't have enough horsepower to really get the wok up to stir fry temps. So a couple of days later, PB put together a separate high horsepower burner just for the wok. I can also use it for boiling large pots of water and other things.

That is what has been going on this week, hope your week is going fantastically!  Let me know what you are doing to get ready for winter.

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Saturday, September 10, 2022

I've got a running buddy!

Well, it's more like I ride my ebike and my 4 legged buddy runs along side of me. The new additions to our family, Sweet Pea and Mr Pups have merged with us in such a perfect way, it's incredible, almost unbelievable, it's almost like they have been with us for their whole life. A few weeks ago I needed to take a run to the church, it's a couple of miles up the road from me, it was a semi-sunny day, between the rain storms we have in our monsoons, I decided to take my bike, I noticed as I got my bike out and took it down the hill to the road, Mr Pups followed beside me in such a way that I thought he just might make a good running buddy. I couldn't take him that day because I needed to get to the church to check on the water up there, it was far too far to expect him to run beside me and I didn't have time to do anything with him right then.

Fast forward to yesterday, we finally had a break in the rain that had been falling for days, the roads had dried up between the two low water crossings that frame my property and a few properties down the road. I got out my bike and asked Mr Pups if he wanted to go. He was all excited, following me down to the bridge, when I told him he could come with me and opened the gate, he hopped around like a kid!

As I began to ride, he fell in right beside me, not too close, not too far, he didn't run ahead of me, he seemed to know exactly what to do. Once we got down to the low water crossing that had water in it, I stopped and turned around, I wasn't sure if he would stay with me or continue across the water, to my delight, he turned with me and fell in right beside me again. I let him set the pace, he ran full out for the first little bit, then slowed to a nice loping pace. We proceeded down about 4 properties away, I'd say around a 10th of a mile. I didn't want to go any further because my neighbors/friends down that way have a couple of large dogs that are of unknown behavior, they are normally inside of a fence but they did get out last week, I also didn't have Mr Pups on a leash, and I also didn't want to run him too hard or far the first time we did this.

We did this circuit about 3 times, stopping on the second round to visit my next door neighbor LL for a while. On the third round, he was visibly going much slower, he is an old man of 8 or 9 years old according to what I've been told about him.

Today he seems to be in pretty good spirits, he doesn't seem stiff or sore, though I can't imagine how he isn't at least a little sore, that's the most activity he's had since moving in with us last month.

Here is my plan, the big guy runs great beside the bike, I want to get a harness for the little dog, one that I can use to strap her on me like a backpack but in front. I can get a tiny helmet for her and she can ride the bike with me as he runs alongside of us. My neighbor LL also wants to get a bike like mine, she has a little dog, she can strap her dog on too and we can ride all over, I'm thinking this will be great fun!


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Sunday, September 4, 2022

What a wet couple of weeks!

The seasonal creek in front of the property
and the bridge that PB built.
It's been an eventful couple of weeks, first of all, rainy season, our monsoons have hit full blast, it seems to have come a bit late, but in fact, as it has been pointed out by a good friend just up the road (thanks Robert!), it's normal for the wettest part of rainy season to hit in August. It's just that the last few years have been not so spectacular in the rain department, it's easy to get lulled into a sense of security, forgetting just how much rain changes things. 

There are a few things the rain affects out here, first and (perhaps most important) is the internet. Our internet is, well it's just bad. That has a lot to do with the fact that we are so far from town and in a hard to get to place, line of site doesn't exist because of the mountains. We don't have that many options for internet, I chose to go with the local route, it's slow, expensive and getting someone out to do any kind of repairs when lightening strikes one of the transmission points or anything else happens is near impossible, and our internet has a habit of going down over the weekend, meaning no one in the office at the internet place 2 town over. I also don't have much of a cell connection, I do have a cell booster which helps, but since I'm working from home now, I've burned through the majority of my data allowance for the month and I have over 2 weeks left in the billing cycle, so I'm trying to go easy on that as much as I can.

We do have super high speed internet at our local community center, and it's free, the problem is our second problem that happens during rainy season, the roads. Living in a rural, mountain community with unpaved roads that stay dry most of the year, when we do get major rains, either hard rain or unrelenting rain (sometimes both at the same time), our roads really suffer. They either become very muddy or completely washed out, complete with boulders that get pushed into the roads at the low water crossings, rocks that you can't see under the rushing muddy water, the kind that will tear up your vehicle... it's best to stay home if you can. Our little community FaceBook page is full of people asking if their road is passable, or posting pictures and videos of their roads being washed out. So getting up to the community center where I could use the free highspeed internet is a challenge to impossible.

We do have our own private community road crew that maintains our roads, the county/city does not maintain our roads in any way, they do the best they can to repair the bad spots as they happen, but there is only so much they can do, they are wonderful to have around, I'm very grateful for them.

The other thing that happens during the rainy season, cloud cover, which is not so good for solar power. The photons are not getting through as much and the ones that are getting through are mighty thin... We have 3 separate solar systems, I really like redundancy, we have 2 separate sets of lithium iron batteries with their associated solar panels and all the goodies that go with them, and a third set of old deep cycle FLA golf cart batteries on their own solar system with all the associated goodies, that one is typically used only for the refrigerator (chest freezer to fridge conversion).

Normally if one system gets used more and ends up running out of power, we have the other two to rely on to get us through until the sun shines again. And generally, even with the cloud cover, our solar systems are robust enough to charge fully, usually... but with the excess cloud cover, especially those days with an extra thick layer of clouds, the kind the roll through the valley between the mountain tops, it just isn't bright enough to really tickle the solar panels. So we don't get a really good solid charge. Combine that with the fact that we are having to run a sump pump 24 hours a day for days in a row, the "basement" to the SkyCastle is dug into the mountain side so during the heavy rains, we get water seeping up through the ground, we have to run a sump pump to keep it from becoming flooded under the house and potentially undermining the structure of the SkyCastle itself.

That sump pump has priority over all other things right now, we cannot allow the basement to flood, that means even the fridge and freezer, internet, lights, water pump, any and all other things take a back seat to keeping that pump running. There have been a few nights that we had no power to spare for anything else, PB got up a couple of times during each night to check the pump and plug it to another power system as each one was drained of power.

We've managed to get through this, as we do each year, the sun does come up, the solar systems do charge back up, the clouds and rain eventually do go away, the roads dry up and are repaired, it's all part of the price we pay to get to live where we do. It's not for everyone, but we love it. It's an adventure everyday.

During the worst of our power woes, I had to, HAD TO get online to setup some meetings between my employer and a potential client, the internet had been working (barely) well enough, but the power fully went out on 2 of our systems, the third was dedicated fully to keeping the sump pump going. It was one of the super thick cloud cover days, it was soaking wet, the ground saturated, the road was a mucky slimy mess, 2 of the low water crossings I would have had to drive through were near impassable, I decided to walk. I grabbed my laptop, phone and an umbrella and took off on foot to get to my friend/neighbor/employer's house, essentially a block away, you can see it in this photo that I snapped from my property, the light colored roof is on their property. Fortunately another friend was driving past in a high clearance, 4 wheel drive truck, going the right direction for me, she picked me up and dropped me off where I needed to be, that meant I showed up with less mud on my shoes LOL. I was able to make the necessary connections online to get the meetings setup, it was a very productive day.

That has been what I have been dealing with the last few weeks. I hope your life has been good, in spite of what I just wrote above, I love this and wouldn't change it for anything. Autumn is here, winter is just around the corner, I am loving the direction my life has taken with my new job. I'm still not used to staying home as much as I have been, I do miss the people I used to interact with, but not bad enough to go back to that chapter of my life, it's time to move on and embrace this new chapter.

I have some fun and exciting things to talk about in future posts, looking forward to writing more!

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Cha, cha, change...

Change,  I know it's necessary, but I've never been one to really like it, I tend to like things to stay the same, somewhat predictable, I have a bit of a loyalty streak that runs pretty deep inside of me, so that when I get a job and I like, I tend to stick with it for a long time. I know that is not the way of things today, but it's who I am and what I do. With that being said, I just made a major change in my life, I changed for the better, nothing bad, but still a major change...

Those of you who have followed me for any length of time know I was in merchandising, I did it for 10 years for Best Buy before moving to my off grid life. After moving to west Texas, I worked at a couple of jobs, one was a job at our (very) local country store, it wasn't a regular paying job, I worked for barter, how ever many hours I worked, I could trade that in for food, fuel and the such. I did that for a few years, then I became a paid home healthcare caretaker for a good friend, I did that for about 5 years. Then a friend, the then current pastor's wife asked me to work with her as a merchandiser, I jumped at that chance, I knew that job well, eventually she moved away and I took the job fully, even going to work for multiple merchandising companies.

That had me travelling a lot, I was putting on 300-500 miles a week on my truck, I didn't mind except for the fuel costs, which fortunately for the most part were reasonable, until this year. When gas hit $4 a gallon, I quit going to my farthest store (Van Horn) every week, actually I quit it altogether but since it is near impossible to find someone to cover my store there, I agreed to go monthly, and that turned out to be every other week instead.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, a good friend, who happens to be the COO of one company, and CEO of another, both green technology companies, asked me to take over the duties of personal assistant and admin for him, the lady who had been doing that job was about to have a baby and go on maternity leave, my friend has a very busy schedule and really needs someone to help manage that for him. I heartly agreed, it was becoming well past time to move on from merchandising. I enjoyed the job, but the traveling was becoming tiresome, risky and expensive. I had hoped to give 2 weeks notice, but ended up only being able to give 1 week, that gave me a chance to tie up some loose ends and let my stores know that I wouldn't be servicing them anymore.  I'll miss the actual job and the people.

I have been doing this new job for a week now, the first few days were a bit nerve wracking, I have so much to learn, fortunately my "boss" is understanding, I was given some homework to get to know the job and the people involved in the various associated companies. Unfortunately about that same time, my internet started having troubles, it's our rainy season and we have been having lots of storms with the accompanying heavy rains, wind and lightening. It has been really messing with our local internet, I just spent the weekend without internet, I've been using my cell phone with a cell phone booster, it makes it possible for me to do limited internet things, checking email, setting up online meetings and the such. But since I only have a 15 GB data plan service, I need to be careful not to burn through all of my data.

The internet went out late in the evening Friday, and just got turned back on late in the day Monday. I'm thankful it's back on, but honestly I'm seriously considering jumping over to StarLink (anyone using that? Leave me a comment and tell me what you think about it so far), as soon as I have the funds, I'm going to sign up for them. I really hate leaving our local provider, I have been a very vocal advocate for them since day one. With the prices they charge, and the slow internet they provide (I'm on the 6 MB - yes that's megabyte!) tier, for just a little more each month, I can get much MUCH faster speeds and no worries about interruptions if the local power goes out for whatever reason.

Back to my job situation, the last week I worked for the merchandising companies, I thought I'd be much more sad about leaving, but as each day passed, I felt freer and freer, it felt like weights were dropping off of me. The last store I worked in with my work partner, it was a major mess, it was a very difficult medicine reset, about an hour into the job, the lights went out in the store, they stayed out for a couple of hours, we ended up working by flashlights, we couldn't leave the job partially done because I wasn't going to be coming back, we had to get the job completed before we left. The lights finally came back on, and we finished the job, I was happy to be done with that and out of the store. 

It's been really nice to be able to stay home and work, I miss the people I used to see every week, the store employees and the regular customers, I'll also miss the deals I would get from time to time, being in the right place at the right time...

This is also good timing, with our heavy rains, there would have been days where I couldn't get out of my neighborhood, and worse than that, there would have been days I could get out, but wouldn't have been able to get back in due to flooding and muddy road conditions. This has just been a blessing all the way around. Oh and I can't believe how much money I'm saving on fuel, it was costing me $50-$100 a week and it wasn't getting any cheaper no matter where I bought gas, and that wasn't even filling up my truck completely! How are fuel prices where you live? 

All written text from this blog are copyrighted and owned by Wretha unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved, You may download or copy for your own personal enjoyment, but please do not distribute without written permission. You may post a portion of this (or any) message from this blog on another site as long as you include a link back to this site and the original message.


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Sunday, July 24, 2022

The SkyCastle has dogs again

It's been a year and a few weeks since my baby girl Zoe had passed, she was my dog, and so much more than that. She was a rescue, and absolutely everything I didn't want in a dog, I wanted a long hair female chihuahua like I had when I came out to far west Texas. That little chihuahua Pekoe is buried next to the garden in what has become our pet cemetary. 

I knew after Zoe had passed that I would want to get another dog, but I've learned not to actively look for one, I knew the right one would drop into my lap. I wanted a chihuahua and was determined to get one this time. If you have followed my story for any time at all, you will know that I loved my Zoe, even though she wasn't a chihuahua, I also loved Casper, the other dog who decided that he wanted to move in with us about a year after we rescued Zoe, he was already an old man and lived out the rest of his life with us in comfort and love, he is buried next to Zoe and Pekoe.

I have now begun to actively look for the chihuahua I was wanting, and even had a couple of opportunities to get a couple, but each time it would get close to happening, something would happen and the deal would fall through. I am a person of faith and knew that the right one would come along, my "job" was to wait and be ready when the time came.

I wanted a chihuahua AND I have fallen in love with pit bulls, I know they have a bad reputation, but I know them as loving cuddle bugs, I figured I'd get a chihuahua first, then after a year I'd start looking for a pitty.

Last week, I found out a local resident had passed away, I knew him but was not close, he had been in bad health for some time.  He had a (wait for it!) chihuahua and pit bull/boxer mix. His family gave permission for the people who had rescued and were fostering the dogs in to find them a good home, preferably together. When I saw the photos of these 2 sweet dogs, my heart jumped, I knew these were for me.

I posted a reply stating my interest, but I would need to speak to PB about it first, if it had just been one dog, especially a chihuahua, I would have just brought it home, but since this was 2 dogs, and from "circumstances", I decided I needed to discuss it first.

PB was cautiously agreeable, his main concern was how these dogs would behave, especially in the situation they had just come from, I'll explain more in a later post, but let's just say these dogs were stuck inside their house with their deceased owner for at least a week, possibly 2 weeks, they had the potential for physical and/or behavioral issues.

I went to visit with these dogs two weeks ago Sunday after church, I spoke at length with the people who were fostering these dogs. It really only took me a few minutes to decide that they were coming home with me. The people watching them had dogs and couldn't take on any more dogs. 

The chihuahua is named Sweet Pea, she is around 5 years old, she is such wonderful dog, the bigger dog is named Mr Pups, he is an older dog, around 8 or 9 years old. They both have settled in quite nicely, they are already potty trained, they are well past the puppy stage, no chewing, in fact they have not displayed any negative behavior. 

Their first 4'ish days they ate and drank ravenously, they couldn't get enough food or water, that's understandable because of their situation. Now they are slowing down, eating and drinking normally.

We've had them for going on 3 weeks now, I want to write so much more about these two wonderful God sent dogs, but I'll cut it off here and write more about them later. 

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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Saying goodbye to an old friend...

I am saying goodbye to an old friend, we brought this with us from Irving (near Dallas for those who don't know where that is)... It's our original water tank, it is a 300 gallon white/translucent cube with a metal cage around it (if you know what these are called, leave a comment and let me know, thanks!).  We started out our life out here very much on the cheap, and this was about as inexpensive a way to store water as we could find. 

These containers are used for lots of different liquids in their first life, some are nasty chemicals that you don't want any part of, others are used for things meant for human consumption. Ours had been filled with Hawaiian punch concentrate, I honestly can't imagine 300 gallons of Hawaiian punch concentrate, but that's what the label said. Do you remember the commercials? How'd you like a nice Hawaiian punch? POW!

I remember when we first set it up and began using it, it gave our water a slightly fruity scent, not much of a flavor, but the scent of the punch flavor could be detected. That eventually went away, it wasn't a bad thing though...

Over the years we did upgrade and add to our water system, it's still very simple, but just much bigger storage capacity. We now have 2 large water tanks to carry us through, one is a black poly plastic tank, 1250 gallons, and the newest one is a tan colored poly tank that holds 1550 gallons of water, that one has a funny story.

One of my neighbor's had purchased it from a local hardware store, it had been damaged and had a hole in it, my neighbor got it for a really good price, he had the intentions of fixing the hole and using it. We all happened to be down by the road as my neighbor was driving by with that tank on a trailer, he stopped and talked to us about his great deal. We ended up buying it from him right there, it was a good deal for all of us.

PB fixed the hole and we are using it with no problems. It's located under one end of the SkyCastle, we had been pumping water from it to the small 300 gallon tank that was located under the porch. We had the smaller tank already plumbed and it was just easier to keep using it as it was, just transferring water from the bigger tank as we needed it.

Recently we decided it was time to (more) properly plumb the big tank and get the water we needed directly from the big tank. The smaller 300 gallon tank is going to a good home, it's going to PB's son who just purchased a property on the other side of the neighborhood. His property, much like ours when we first started out is raw land, no infrastructure at all. I'm sure he will probably invest in a larger water tank much sooner than we did, but until he does, he will use the one we relied on.

More about our evolving water system later, stay tuned! 

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Thursday, June 16, 2022

What is BBQ sauce made of?

Another food post? You betcha! I have been craving some BBQ sauce, normally I'd just grab a bottle from the condiments section at the store, I don't eat it enough to warrant keeping a supply at the SkyCastle, it just goes bad before I can finish it... So as I was saying, I normally just grab a bottle from the store and run with it. And by running, I mean I soup it up. I add my own touches to it, adding extra honey is my go-to touch up. 

Since I'm striving to eat healthier, one of the things I'm working to cut out of my "diet" is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I just watched a mini-documentary on YouTube about what a minefield that substance is for your body. Wellllll, no matter what bottle of BBQ sauce I pick up in the store, everyone of them have HFCS as one of the top ingredients, if not the number one ingredient.  Why oh why do the food companies do that to us??? 

I could have gone over to the healthfood store, I'm sure I would have found a healthier bottle of BBQ sauce, I'm also sure it would have been a pricy little bottle, and no guarantees I would have liked it, or worse, if I did really like it, I would have been stuck liking something harder to find and expensive. 
So my next thought, I wonder what BBQ sauce is made from, I'm a pretty good cook, I even make my own mayonnaise (commercial mayo smells like rancid oil to me now), surely I could make BBQ sauce, how hard could it be? 

Sidestory, I didn't tell you before, but I grew up in a family BBQ joint. My uncle Marvin and my dad had the business, I did my tour of duty working there, got pretty good at trimming brisket, I still have the scar on my thumb to prove it. 

I learned a lot about making great smoked meats, but the BBQ sauce, well that was my uncle's secret, I don't know if he ever shared the recipe, he always made it himself. That combined with the fact that we were BBQ snobs, we always said properly cooked meat doesn't need a sauce, you only needed sauce to cover up medeocre BBQ... But if you felt that you wanted a sauce, my uncles BBQ sauce was top notch. 

Back to yesterday, I'm standing in the condiments section of the store, picking up, reading the label, and putting back bottle after bottle of BBQ sauce, I'm sure I picked each bottle twice, hoping the HFCS would vanish from the ingredient list... No such luck. 

I decided to consult chef Google, doing a quick search for homemade BBQ sauce. I didn't need a full recipe, I just needed a guideline, the basics of what goes into BBQ sauce. I read a couple of recipes and had all the information I needed. Turns out BBQ sauce is pretty simple, it's basically a sweetened smoky flavored ketchup, the main ingredient is a can of plain tomato sauce (not spaghetti sauce), the plainer, the better, then tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, a few spices, a quick simmer on the stove and voila, almost instant BBQ sauce. 

I was missing liquid smoke, paprika, and a couple of other spices,  but for me, that's part of the fun, the challenge is to make something from what I have on hand or can get now where I am... and one of my challenges is the fact that I'm shopping in a dollar store (the company I work for services dollar stores) and I just don't want to go over to the grocery store. I did find a spice blend that had most of the flavors I needed so I grabbed that too. McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple seasoning

Once I got home, I told PB about my idea to make my own BBQ sauce and he couldn't wait to try it. I don't have a recipe for this that I can exactly write down for you, I tend to cook by the seat of my pants, adjusting as I go. I'll do my best to explain my process. 

It started out with a 15oz can of tomato sauce, half a can of tomato paste, I poured in some apple cider vinegar, it was probably around 3/4 of a cup, I think next time I'll add less, it was a tad too vinegery for my tastes, if you like the Kansas City style, you'd love it! I dumped in around a half cup of brown sugar, I wish I had some honey to add, I really love that flavor in BBQ sauce. Next came a generous few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, 3-4 tablespoons at least, next a few tablespoons of the powdered spice mix. I mixed this with a whisk in a heavy sauce pan, I brought it to a boil, then let it slow simmer, stirring often for about 20-30 minutes. 

Like a lot of things, the longer you simmer it, especially low and slow, the better it tastes, the raw vinegar taste mellowed out, and everything else had a chance to get friendly with each other. 

By then the breaded chicken strips in the oven were done, I know I mentioned eating healthier, no judging 😀😉😂...  The BBQ sauce turned out very tasty. We have eaten it on several occasions now (several days later), on both chicken strips and smoked sausage. It made enough to mostly fill 2 one quart canning jars, one of which has already been fully consumed. I purchased another can of tomato sauce with the intention of making another batch. 

What will I do differently next time? I'll go easier on the vinegar, perhaps a half cup, I might even measure it LOL, I'll look around to see if I have any honey, I might need to buy another jar, that's something that I don't mind cheaping out on since it's not medicinal or anything like that, it's just for flavor in a sauce that will be consumed in short order. 

Everything else about the BBQ sauce came out great, I'm very happy with my first attempt, and I know it will just get better and better each time I make it, and the best part, no HFCS! 

Have you ever tried making your own BBQ sauce? If so, what is your recipe? Let me know if you try this or already do it, bon Appétit! 

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Salad in a jar

Salad in a jar, have you heard about this? The deal is it's supposed to make the salad last longer, and it's prepped ahead of time, making life so much easier. I'm going to be honest, I'm not a big salad eater, it's not that I don't like salad, I in fact love salad, especially if someone else made it, LOL! While I love to cook and bake, I've just never been a big salad maker, it's always been easier and quicker to make a sandwich or make almost anything else, I suspect that is because I didn't grow up eating salad. That was something that was served at a restaurant before the meal, typically at a buffet or some such place. I do remember as an adult there was this restaurant called Souper Salad, it was just that, it had soups and salads, it was buffet style, you paid first, then you went through the line and added whatever salad fixings and soups you wanted, in the amounts you wanted... It felt like eating healthier, but a little green lettuce with tons of really rich salad dressing, creamy soups with lots of crackers, and don't forget the dessert bar, I enjoyed the sweet breads, pumpkin, blueberry, chocolate... I think what I liked best was the fact that someone else did all the prep work, I didn't mind eating the salads I just wasn't into cleaning, cutting, mincing, storing all that hard work afterward.

So today, I tend to just not think about salad, and honestly it's not something I can buy from the dollar stores that I service, the grocery stores where I could get the fixings for salad are closed by the time I get done with my jobs. Another issue I have with salad, I buy it then I don't eat it quick enough, I do like the pre-made salads in the stores, but those are starting to get more and more expensive. When I look at the ingredients and realize I can buy everything I need for just a few dollars, it's hard to justify spending the money on a mere convenience.

Earlier today, I needed to go to town, my truck was just about running on fumes, I knew I wouldn't have enough fuel to go to church on Sunday AND make it back out to town on Monday to go work. Sure enough, my truck complained about half way to town (about a 22 miles one way trip), I was expecting it, I knew I'd make it, just...

Before I left to go to town, I made a shopping list, I needed to keep things on the frugal side, I had things like plain pasta noodles, rice, and salad. I did a quick search on Instagram for summer salads, I needed inspiration, and I found it, lots of it, then I remembered salad in a jar, I searched for that and found a few good ideas. I don't need a "recipe", just some ideas.

I knew I had several cases of Mason jars in the non-functioning storage fridge outside, at least I thought I did, I hadn't looked in there in a long time, but I was fairly confident that the jars were still in there.

I made short work of fresh veggies there, buying what looked best and was a good deal, romaine lettuce, a head of green cabbage, a red onion, I found 2 packages of fresh pico de gallo, no need to buy and chop tomatoes, white onions and peppers, and they were marked down to 99 cents, I bought the 2 they had marked down. I already had 2 cucumbers at home, and everything I needed to make my own salad dressing. 

Once I got home, I found those canning jars, fortunately my memory hadn't failed me... I cleaned the jars and lids, then began to prepare the veg. I chopped the lettuce into one bowl, the cabbage into another bowl, I thinly sliced the red onion, I did a quick blanch with boiling water poured over the onions, it helps take the peppery bite out of the raw onion. I opened one container of the fresh pico de gallo and got that ready, I diced the cucumber... Next I began to pack everything into my jars, pushing everything down firmly as I went. Starting with the cabbage, layering everything else as I went and ended with the lettuce. I decided not to put any meat or salad dressing in the jars, I'll add those when I'm ready to eat the salad. I screwed the lids and rings on the jars.

Right now, my fridge is full of very pretty jars of salad. I'm very interested to see how long these stay fresh, it's supposed to last much longer than just having it in a bowl. I really hate throwing away fresh foods that have gone south. That's one of the reasons why I so rarely buy stuff like this, I'm hoping this will be the start of a beautiful (and healthier) relationship.

This was my final salad that I ate last night. I wanted to make my own salad dressing, I also wanted to make hummus, so hummus won out, it's so easy to make, let me know if you want my recipe. 

Let me know what you think, have you tried this? If so, do you like it? 

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Waste not, want not...

Everything is costing more and more, fuel where I live is currently close to $5 a gallon, and since everything where I live is far a part in distance, averaging around 20 miles between our towns, it is really making me think a lot about not wasting anything. 

I also am a child of a parent who was born and raised during the Great Depression of the late '20s and early '30s, you'd better believe I was taught all of my life not to waste anything. That goes double for food.

I will admit to occasionally tossing foods that I could have used, but for the most part, I'm pretty frugal when it comes to food. I like cooking and baking from scratch, give me a well stocked old school kitchen and I can put together a pretty good meal.

Today I was going through my fridge and discovered I had some bell peppers and green onions that were going south, they were still good but weren't going to last much longer. The onions were in worst shape, I had put them in a hidden place in my fridge and forgot about them, but it was easy enough to remove the bad layers, I had plenty left to work with.

I diced up the red, yellow, orange and green peppers and chopped the green onions, I sautéed them in a little butter and pink Himalayan sea salt, low and slow, I didn't want to brown them or cook them to a mush, but just until they were getting tender.

I placed them into 2 quart sized zip baggies that I labeled, I flattened them and popped them into the freezer. They will make a nice addition to whatever I choose to add them too in the future, and bonus, I will not have to sautée them again, just put them directly into the dish. I ended up with approximately 2 cups of sautéed veg in total.


Now, the green onion roots, most folk just toss those in the trash, not in this house, I have been taking the root ends and planting them in a built in planter on the east side of the SkyCastle in what we like to refer to as the "smoking lounge", a small semi-enclosed room just outside of the living room. I have been doing this for a couple of years now and each summer I have a perpetual source of fresh green onion tops to cook with. All from something that is normally tossed into the trash.





I don't generally have any issues with critters messing with the onions, it's too high off the ground for the ground dwelling critters to get to, rodents don't seem to be attracted to them, the only critter that messes with them, typically when I first plant them, are the Towhee birds (Link  Link Link) they seem to be curious about what is in the dirt and will pull them up, they don't eat or damage the onion roots, they just pull them out of the dirt, so when I first plant some I have to cover them for a while, once they start sprouting green shoots, the birds leave them alone after that.




It doesn't take long for the onions to sprout some green tops, they seem to be very happy in their location, anytime I need or want some fresh onion, I cut off some of the green tops from one or more onions, they quickly grow back in just a few days, and I have more than enough in my little onion patch to keep us in fresh onion tops. 

How are you being more frugal now that everything is more expensive? Tell me how you are saving money, reusing things or anything else that is a good tip!

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