Thursday, March 24, 2016

My New Coffee Station!

I haven't had a whole lot of time to write anything here of late... because I've been a busybusy bee, starting  up a new business and taking an online class, along with my regular Homeschoolin' Mom Duties. I'll have more to share about the new business venture soon, along with links to my shiny new website, once it's finished! I'm trying to get back into the groove of balancing work and family again, after taking some time off, so I've been feeling more than a little scatter-brained these last few weeks. 

Which brings me to the subject of this post: Coffee! Yes, coffee. Because I've had a lot on my plate, I've been needing a bit more coffee to keep myself going these days. But here's a funny story... it's been years since I've had a coffee maker. I've been making do with a french press (that I've really never gotten the hang of... ) or with Trader Joe's Cold Brew  or with a stop to Dunkin's or Starbucks (which is a little rough on the wallet) So earlier this week I broke down and just got myself a cheap coffee maker. And then, because this is how I roll, I ended up totally reorganizing my counters to make room for the coffee maker, which then led me to just make a little Pinterest-inspired "Coffee Station". I'd be lying if I didn't say that this was also inspired by my wishing to avoid dealing with the paper piles on my desk and backlog of emails in my inbox. But, whatever the inspiration, I have to say, I LOVE my new little coffee station! 

Here's a look... 

My "coffee station" is pretty small and bare-bones
compared to some, but it suits my needs perfectly. 

On a thrift-shop tray, I have canisters for tea, coffee and coffee
filters, a coffee scoop, spoons in a vintage pitcher, and a wee
cream and sugar set that belonged to my grandmother. 

Mmm... coffee!

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Sugaring Season Wrap Up (and... "How to Preserve Your Syrup")

This weekend we wrapped up a busy season of Maple Sugaring! Although our season was only about 4 weeks long, the weather conditions during those four weeks were absolutely perfect for maple sap flow... cold nights, warmer days. From our nine taps, we were gathering anywhere from 4 to 12 gallons per day! We had so much sap coming in, we actually ran out of places to store it. Sap must be kept cold, or it will spoil, so we had our spare fridge and freezer filled, as well as our chest freezer, and still couldn't find space for all that was coming in. We did a couple of mid-week boils, but still had to dump a few buckets that we had no room to store. We did five boils total, turning about 112 gallons of sap into over two gallons of syrup.

Last year, we only produced about 2 quarts of syrup, so there really wasn't a need to preserve it. A few pancake breakfasts with our big family, and it was all gone. But this year, we have enough that we'll be able use it through out the year! In order to keep it fresh, we canned our syrup in mason jars. I read a few different things about this... some say you can just pour the hot syrup into the sterile jars, and call it a day. But, I tend to be a bit paranoid about food poisoning (reasonable, yes?) so I chose to process my jars in a hot water bath, the same as one would with jam, pickles or apple butter.

Now that the last of our syrup is all canned up, it's time for my least favorite part of maple sugaring... the clean up. I'm currently working on cleaning all our equipment... the buckets, taps, tubing, etc... so we can store them away for next year. It's not really fun. But... the end of maple season means we're onward to our next adventures here on the Homestead. SPRING is about to begin, so we'll be starting our garden, tending our beehive and enjoying more time outdoors. So much to look forward to!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

DIY Maple Syrup Evaporator

We're currently fully immersed in Maple Sugaring Season here at the Homestead. We tapped our trees about two and a half weeks ago, and the sap has been flowing like crazy! We've done three boils so far, and will be doing another this weekend. With more the twice the number of taps we had last year, we've ended up with more sap than we can keep up with!

Last year was our first year sugaring, and we definitely made a few mistakes along the way. But we've learned quite a bit from those mistakes, and came away with several ideas for improvements. The biggest change from last year is that we redesigned our homemade evaporator. Our set up last year was VERY primitive, as you can see in the photo below...
2015 evaporator
While this basically got the job done, it had several downsides. For one, it was open at both ends, so it didn't hold the heat well... it was really hard to keep the sap at a good rolling boil. Also, it was very smoky, and in the end the syrup definitely had a vaguely smoky taste. Not quite what we had in mind.

For this year's boil, we did a lot of research, and looked at a lot of different evaporator set ups. We ended up with this: 

2016 evaporator

This set up worked SO much better! The back is closed up with cinder blocks, and we added a chimney. We also set the pans directly on the cinder blocks, closer to the fire. This evaporator was so much more efficient than last year's that our sap boiled down in much less time. It was really easy to build... It only took us about 10 minutes to put together, using about $40 worth of materials from Home Depot (12 cinder blocks, vent pipe, and a few bricks that we already had) We were so happy with this, that we plan to use this same set up next year, as well.

Next post, I'll be sharing how I've preserved all the syrup we've made. Until then... stay warm, friends... Spring is just 16 days away!