Two wonderful ladies threw a big birthday for me (Graham) this past weekend. It was great to finally put the house through its paces and break the kitchen in a bit. A huge thanks to my wonderful wife Ermela and my talented mom Carol for putting this event together! And now, the pictures can do the talking:
It's mid august and it's so hot the hens are laying hard boiled eggs....or at least we wish they were, so far it's more like a farmyard version of Jurassic Park with "nature always finds a way" since every time we turn around one of our "hens" has started crowing. Well now that that rant is out of the way... It's really hot here in upstate NY so we have been trying to do our outside work in the morning and the evening and do interior work during the heat of the day. A great plan unless that interior work happens to be tearing plaster walls out, in which case it's a crummy crummy plan. Fortunately we had help this weekend in the form of the always reliable Oren and Julie and a first visit north by our good buddy Jesse. We feasted on food catered by Babettes Kitchen courtesy of our top West Coast supporters Toni, Frank and Zak (a very talented designer).
After lunch it was back to destruction in all it's various forms. Check out @brokenchimneyfarm to see a video of Oren AKA The Hulk attacking a plaster wall in slow mo. Before too many of you lament the loss of old plaster walls please keep in mind that we are saving all the plaster we can, but some areas are too damaged to save and or will be put to purposes not compatible with plaster.
The guys spent the whole day in demo mode - locked inside rooms with no AC and sweat obscured vision, but they got a lot done. The Girl crew spent a good chunk doing more methodical demolition and then put the kitchen together now that the floors are finished. Getting the fridge in and plugged in was a big moment! Eventually the heat got the better of everyone and one by one we hit the floor, wrestled with Cercei and cooled off with drinks and played Cards Against Humanity. All in all it was a very productive and fun day. Let us not forget the high point of the day (in Oren's opinion) Mama Carol threw together some blueberry tarts and home made whipped cream; they were the perfect antidote to summer heat and grime.
Last November, prior to snowmageddon, snowpacalypse, snow in general, we planted our raised beds. Now, we are happy to share the first update on how they faired. It's still early in the season yet, but we are seeing distinct signs of life from the majority of the species planted.
Tulips are up and looking very healthy. Ermerus (foxtail lilly), one has sprouted, it looks like a plant version of a squid mouth...that analogy may be lost on those of you who have not made calamari. Lilies are sprouting in quantity, as are the aliums, fritillaries, and narcissus. Of the Iris so far only two are showing, in truth we left them in their shipping containers too long last year so we suspected losses would be a sure thing from that bed. We will continue to keep you posted and of course, here are some pictures:
That's the name for our tub removal crew, a big thanks to Dustin Barzell, and Oren Petranker for helping to haul the old castiron beast out of the upstairs hallway. It actually was in the pink bathroom, but the spot it graced for near on 100 years will become a hallway and thus improve the flow immeasurably. Now, we don't know the exact weight on the tub, but Oren and Graham have hauled ovens, coal stoves, butcher blocks etc.. with nary a grunt, but this thing damn near killed the team. Not only was it heavy, it also had to come down a curved staircase without damaging the plaster or railing, not an easy task.
It got much easier to move once we realized that the slip nuts on the plumbing had not released, so out came the sawzall and it cut just like buttah'. A special thanks to Julie for documenting the process and doing some solid pre tub removal demolition. Go to our instagram page for a fun video of the final push @brokenchimneyfarm
Each weekend we try to coax people into coming up and hanging out and doing some manual labor. We use arguments like, "hard work is good for your soul", "it's an excellent workout", "we will feed you". It's the last one that snares the most people so we have Carol to thank for that. It is sort of understood that it's rustic at best right now, after all, the one functioning bathroom in the main house doesn't have walls (people still close the door out of habit though). Over time things will improve as each project comes closer to completion and coming up for the weekend will feel more like an escape and less like a work commune. Fortunately we do have several friends who enjoy the work now and have vision for the future.
His passing resemblance to a Serengeti warrior withstanding, he is actually a very nice guy. He is also probably the most enthusiastic manual labor participant we have. Here he is moving a +/- 500lb double wall oven:
And here he is unpacking the maple sap cooking pan on a cold snowy March day:
Strength and muscles aside, it's his enthusiasm that we value most, getting text messages on a Saturday saying "what did you guys get done today??" is a true pleasure because, you know, we like to share the experience. So, for the record, Oren, we appreciate your contribution, enthusiasm and friendship and there is always an open door at the farm to you.
In our slow march towards TV room completion we tackled drywall most recently. Fortunately we had three things going for us. #1, Ermela is a very quick study and after a day she had the measuring and cutting down. Not an easy task in this room since we kept as much trim in place as possible; including the wonderful arch right in the middle of the room. #2, Graham got a new toy (shocking) in the form of a drywall hoist, truly a gift from the heavens. #3, our friend Oren was up and threw himself enthusiastically into the project with Ermela as his sheetrock instructor. By the end of the weekend they were a team to be reckoned with; working in tandem to put some very intricate pieces up.
Overall drywall is really about learning rules and being able to keep a flexible mind. Most mistakes seem to be in reversing measurements from the floor to the wall, and in not planning ahead. With this house one of our biggest hurdles is that the blocking in the walls was set up for plaster, which is very different in application to drywall so we occasionally ad to add extra blocking in the walls to have something to attach the sheets to. The other headache is that the drywall is thinner than the plaster that used to be there so we will have to go around all the trim in the room and add a layer of wood to blend it all in.
With the drywall in and the walls sealed up and insulated this is now the warmest room in the house, it's really amazing considering it is the north side of the house and only has one heat register. Proof that some demolition headaches are worth it, at least that is what we will tell ourselves while watching movies curled on the couch this coming winter.
Well, it as been a busy month, lots of seed planting, drywalling, planning and tiling.. but we did manage to get away for almost an entire week to get a little pre-summer color. That did not slow down progress though, if anything, it made us work extra hard out of some misguided vacation guilt syndrome.
At first the weather looked like it would be perfect for the maples to run sap, but then each day saw drops in temperature and wind chills and overcast days. Such as it was we managed to get a couple days of decent sap runs to use for our inaugural sap cooking attempt. For those of you new to making maple syrup (can't imagine that is many of you) the goal is to have freezing nights and above freezing days. The warm days pull the sap from the roots up into the branches to nourish the future leaves and growth, while the cold nights cause the sap to rush back down to the roots, the tree taps catch the sap on the way up and down. We had imagined the sap would be dark like the syrup, but in reality it is clear like water and has very little taste. We have to collect 40 gallons of sap for every gallon of syrup, for this first attempt we only had a few gallons.
It was pretty cool to see the sap dripping in a constant drip, drip, drip on the warmest day. With the sap collected it was time to setup the cooking apparatus. Apparatus might be too fancy a term for a open flame turkey fryer burner and an oversized stainless pan, but that's what it was! (Graham's emphasis) Fortunately our friend Oren was up from the city so he helped all weekend, his enthusiasm kept us going when all we wanted to do was curl up and drink the syrup in front of a House of Cards episode. Anyways, with the pan on the burner and the tank hooked up we poured the sap in and lit the flame. The sap cooked for hours, the reason you use a big flat pan is because the amount of surface area directly relates to the evaporation rate I.E. a round deep pot takes a lot longer than a shallow pan. We kept an eye on it, Oren did so with such enthusiasm that he would run out after each sheet of drywall was put up. Once the sap cooked down a bit it started to turn a light tan color with hints of sugar, then a darker slower moving light brown, at this point it was hard not to put your finger in to taste it. It was amazing to see how little was left at this point, sad too. We opened the valve on the end of the pan and poured the brown syrup into a pot to take inside for the final cooking and fine tuning. The goal is to get a Brix level of 66, Brix is a measure of sugar content, it comes up in winemaking too (a future project). With a level of 66 there is enough sugar to prevent spoiling. It is worth pointing out that the syrup is much lighter and has a wonderful flavor at a lower sugar level, but it would not last as long and would need to be refrigerated from the get-go. Once the proper sugar level has been hit you have to filter the syrup, carefully reheat it to 180 degrees and then bottle it. Something we learned in this process is that every time real maple syrup is brought to a boil it will precipitate small granules called maple sand... something to keep in mind when cooking if you want to keep that nice smooth texture while cooking.
We ended up with a half pint, and oh how good it is, can't wait for the next batch, our goal is to have a few pints stored away for the coming year and so that we have enough to give away to friends.