Breaking Brick


Breaking Bad - Br eaking Brick
Tearing down a chimney is a messy job, and the only way to do it is with a sledgehammer – one brick at a time.

When we moved into our house, we had a single chimney that ran directly through the center of our living room and our bedroom. Originally, it was the venting chimney for our oil furnace, but the owners of the house had hooked a woodstove up to it. That little connection, as small as it was, broke about a million fire codes (ok, probably not a million, but you get the idea). In order to sell the house, they detached the woodstove and capped the chimney. We decided not to hook the woodstove back up after buying the house for fear of harming our new investment. Instead, we had a double flue chimney built on the outside wall of the house that would eventually serve as our main venting chimney. One flue for oil, one flue for wood. You can read about the torture surrounding that chimney Here. And for those of you who are following that story, no, we have not made it to court yet.

Last year we had a problem with leaking carbon monoxide from the center chimney. Sarah had to call the local fire department to come and do an assessment, that story can be read here. After the center chimney nearly killed us, we decided it was time to hook up our furnace to the outside chimney, rendering our center chimney useless. This month, we finally had the chance to attack it. We were able to remove one third of the chimney in 2 days. I wish I could give you a great plan on how to remove an old chimney…but unfortunately, all I can tell you is get yourself a sledgehammer and remove the chimney one brick at a time. Bring a spray bottle of water with you to keep the brick dust and creosote from flying all over.

photo 1Here we go!

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photo 5Gone!

After fixing the hole in the ceiling and the one in the bedroom floor using tongue and groove boards, we covered the blemish with a piece of cheap carpet for padding. We then took a really nice area rug and placed it over the carpet “hole” to bring some cheeriness to the room and to create a bit more continuity (at least until we can re-carpet the bedroom).

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Our October project is to finish the second third of the chimney into the living room. Until then, I’ll be enjoying my new reading nook!

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Categories: Masonry, Remodeling | 1 Comment

The Real Life Game of Thrones

Toilets – the only throne you’d rather not sit on for an extended period of time.

This past weekend, we installed a brand new toilet into our newly renovated downstairs guest bath. It took four hours to shop, buy, organize, and install – our fastest project yet!

Over the last few years of owning my own house, I have said some things that I would have never thought I’d say. For instance, while shopping for toilets, we decided to look into buying a dual flush water saving toilet. Sarah asked me why, and I responded with an embarrassing “because it will extend the life of our septic system”. This phrase, along with “it will improve our curb appeal”, would have had me rolling in a fit of laughter 10 years ago. Growing up never seemed so obvious before…

When our toilet upstairs needed a new flushing system, we replaced it with a dual flush. It (unfortunately) has been the bane of our existence since it was installed. The “liquid” flush handle flushed with roughly 2/3 the amount of water in the tank. The tank upstairs is a 1.6 gallon flush, so 2/3 is approximately 1 gallon. For most water saving toilets, one gallon is enough to flush the bowl completely, but then again, they were made to flush with one gallon. Our toilet, apparently needs all 1.6 gallons of water to flush the toilet – just adding a gallon to the bowl dilutes the “liquid” without actually flushing it (or the paper) down. To get a good flush, we’ve been using the “solid” flush handle, which drains our tank, saving no water.

Initially, we thought that buying a toilet that was made a dual flush would perform better. After about an hour of reading consumer reviews on the best of the dual flush toilets, we realized that none of them really do the job well. The biggest complaints made among the consumers were “get your toilet brush ready, the water isn’t enough to clean the bowl” and “you have to flush twice just to get it all down”. After reading those, we decided to go with a regular flush toilet. We read through the tags at Home Depot, favoring the smaller tank options before we settled on a Delta that only used 1.2 gallons per flush – but had superior bowl cleaning power. Here in ten easy steps, we show you how to install the beast.

First: If you are installing a new toilet (from scratch), you will need to buy a flange. The flange is the piece of the plumbing that bolts the plumbing to your floor, and connects to the rest of the drain line. If you are just replacing the toilet, check the old flange to make sure it is not damaged in any way. If it is, you can buy a piece called a “super” flange (I’m not making this up). The super flange attaches to your old flange so that you can have a new set bolt system without having to remove and redo your current plumbing. We started from scratch and needed to make a brand new hole in our new wood floor. We went into the basement and looked to see where the plumbing was located and drew an outline of the flange  on the underside of the floor, directly above the current plumbing. Using a drill, we drilled 4 to 5 holes on the flange trace. We retreated back to the bathroom and had a few holes in the floor to start with. Using a jig saw, we connected the holes like a connect the dots puzzle. Then, using PVC primer and cement, connected the new flange to our septic system.


Second: Slide in your set bolts and set your toilet on top. Look at the bowl. Is it square to the wall? Is it where you wanted it? Shift your toilet to where you need it to be, and gently lift the bowl upwards, being careful not to disturb the placement of the set bolts.

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Third: Now that you know where your set bolts need to be, rotate the flange (or super flange) until the flange lines up with your set bolts. Screw it down and make sure it’s tight.

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Fourth: If you are installing a whole new system, you will have to drill a hole for the water supply line. If you already have one, just check to make sure it is not damaged in any way. We had to drill a 1/2 inch hole into our wood floor for our new supply line. In order to keep the drill from chewing up the wood floor, we laid some tape over it – drilling above the tape. Turn off the water and attach your new supply line to the water line.

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Fifth: Attach the wax ring to the base of the toilet and lower the bowl onto the flange. This part, although kind of gross, was pretty easy. Unwrap the wax ring, hold the black rubber piece and push the sticky wax part onto the base of the toilet bowl where the water exits.

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Sixth: Carefully lower the toilet onto the flange, aligning the set bolts with the holes in the base of the toilet. Push down gently, but not all of the way to the floor.

Seventh: Attach the washers and nuts to the set bolts and hand tighten. Then, before you begin to tighten with a wrench, make sure the toilet it even. When it’s straight, tighten one set bolt – one turn only. Then, go to the other set bolt and tighten one turn only. Alternate between bolts until your toilet is sitting on the floor, evenly, without a wiggle. This method assures an even decent of the toilet and wax ring onto the flange. Be careful not to tighten the bolts too much, as they might cause the toilet to crack.

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Eighth: Now it’s time to attach the tank. If your toilet did not come with a gasket (the pliable rubber ring) already attached to the tank, attach it now per it’s instructions. Carefully lower the tank onto the bowl. Just as you did with the set bolts, alternate between each bolt tightening the nuts evenly until the tank is firmly attached without a wiggle.

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Ninth: Attach your water supply line to the tank. We bought a supply line where the attachment “clicks” when it’s tight enough. This was helpful, because if you tighten this line too much or too little, you will have a leak. I definitely recommend this type of fitting.

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Tenth: Turn on the water and let your tank fill up. Check extensively for any leaks (even a small one can turn into a big problem). Look beneath the toilet bowl, where the water supply line joins the shut off valve and where it enters the tank, look underneath the tank where the black gasket enters the bowl, and be sure to also look beneath the floor where the wax ring and flange enter the drain. If you see no leaks, give it a flush. I hope you are cheering and giving out high fives at this point, because you just successfully installed a toilet!


Now the question is…who gets to be the one to christen your new throne?


Categories: Plumbing | 1 Comment

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a bathroom.

You may remember a post I wrote that was published, oh, I don’t know, ONE YEAR AGO, called “To Gut, or Not to Gut”. In the post, I wrote about how a couple of cracked tiles turned into a massive remodel of our downstairs bathroom on account of some severe carpenter ant damage. I ended the post with a statement: “Hopefully in the next post, you’ll see us put it back together”. Well, for those of you following our blog, that obviously never happened. In a slow and easy fashion, we had been working on the bathroom remodel, and we are finally ready to post our results. Enjoy.

First, I would like to remind you of what we’d be working with. We had two tiles in the downstairs bathroom that had begun to crack. We pulled them up only to find a very unstable floor underneath. This is the floor that our toilet was sitting on, and beside it, a picture of what our washing machine was being held up with (I always wondered why the whole house shook when the washing machine was spinning).

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Believe it or not, this what was it looked like before we started demolition on the subfloor!

We pulled up the damaged subfloor that was original to the house (circa 1930) with the hopes of just having to replace the damaged boards. Unfortunately, in a plan to save money by the timber industry, the new floorboards would not match the old floorboards. Our old floorboards were exactly an inch in thickness – the “inch” floorboards you would buy at Home Depot are less than that by a fraction of an inch (in some cases, only 3/4 of an inch thick). We wanted the floor to lay flat, so we had to tear up the entire subfloor.

It was only after we had stripped the floor down to the joists, did we realize the carpenter ant damage went all of the way through – our supports needed to be resupported. We are the last people to “call a man” in to help us, but here, we really needed one. The boards that are used as floor joists are two inches thick, by eight inches wide, and several feet long. Each board could weigh hundreds of pounds, and we just didn’t have the strength (or insurance) to hold it over our head and bolt it up. Sometimes, you just need to call a professional. Because our entire joist wasn’t damaged, it was more cost effective to repair only the part of the joist that had issues. To do this, you “sister” the joist. Sistering means to join two new joists, only a bit longer than the damaged portion, to the original joist in a type of sandwich. The two new sister joists are then attached to each other, through the original joist, using a bolt. As seen below…

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After our joists were resupported, we prepared to lay our subfloor. We chose to use a sealed, moisture resistant plywood from Platinum DryPly. We made sure to add some wood glue to the joists before laying the subfloor to reinforce it’s stability and to keep the floor from squeaking. To save us some time and aggravation, we bought two inch “no predrill” screws.

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Although heavy, it was pretty easy to get the first piece into the back of the room. The second piece was a bit tricky, as it had to be tight to the wall AND have it’s groove put into the tongue of the first board (yes, even carpentry can sound dirty). In an attempt to push & slide the second board into the first without destroying our drywall, Sarah used this nifty technique using a board and a crowbar.

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Now, this is very important…before you completely cover up your floor joists, mark where they are on your subfloor. That was you know exactly where to put your screws!

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Ta da!

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After laying the subfloor, we patched/replaced the drywall (sorry, no pictures for this). Hanging drywall isn’t too difficult, but patching it requires some skill and patience. You first lay a netting tape that is sticky on one side in order to seal any cracks. You then spread a drywall plaster on top of the netting, getting it as smooth as possible. Once it’s cured for ~24 hours, grab a fine grain sanding block and sand until it’s smoother than a baby’s bottom and even with the drywall surface (any variation here will most definitely show up in the paint). In order to keep our brand new floor blemish free, we decided to prime and paint before adding the new floor. White paint for the ceiling, and green for the walls.

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Now that our new subfloor was in, level, and stable (yes, we could jump and it wouldn’t fling us up like a trampoline anymore), we made a space for our new standing shower. Because it was the “guest” shower, and we wanted to open up space in our new bathroom, we chose a corner shower design (modeling the pre-fab measurements from the upstairs shower in the master bathroom). First thing’s first, create the “shape” using three two by fours stacked upon one another (make sure it’s level).

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Buy a drain, find a good spot for it, and drill a hole. Lay down some type of waterproof material (we used roofing tar paper). Before laying the concrete mixture for the base, make sure you include a wire mesh found in plumbing departments. This will help your concrete stick to something. Mix your concrete well, one bag at a time, and add it to your base. (It would be wise to place something over your drain, for fear you might concrete up the hole. We just used duct tape.) The tricky part is flattening the concrete to make it as even as possible, but also angling the concrete base towards the drain (1/2 inch of fall for every foot travelled).

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Next step is putting in your liner. A clear plastic sheeting is all that is needed to protect your insulation from water, but your shower base needs to be a specific type of liner found in the plumbing department. Hang your wall liner last, you don’t want any seams opening “up”. Imagine if water were to travel down your plastic sheeting…does it have a way of getting out? Also, be very careful not to puncture the base liner – walk on it only when needed, and only with socks.

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Now you add some walls! Do not put drywall behind a shower (even if you plan to tile). Use a material that is very moisture resistant to prevent leaks and mold growth. We used a product called Hardiebacker board. It’s a brand of cement board that is very water resistant (in fact, they have a picture of a piece of this board that has been sitting in water, unharmed, for decades). When you add the board, make sure it falls over the base liner, but leaves about 4 or 5 inches of space from the floor. We then added another layer of fine sand cement. This, like your first layer of cement, should slope toward your drain, but note the height of your drain and make sure you leave enough room to lay the tile. (this picture can be seen later, as I didn’t take it until after the new floor had been put in.

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To keep the moisture down in the bathroom, we installed a new ceiling fan/light that vented to the outside.

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Ok, so…the walls are done, the shower base is finished (except for the tile, which we will conquer later), it’s finally time to lay the new floor. We decided to try our hand at laying a hardwood floor. A moisture barrier is needed beneath a hardwood floor, and luckily, we still had a huge roll of roofing tar paper from when we did the shower. A sound barrier is also recommended, but because the bathroom is on the first level of the house, we decided it wasn’t that important (the upstairs bathroom, however, will definitely get one). We laid out the paper and stapled it to the subfloor.

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We bought the tongue and groove floorboards from Lumber Liquidators. We bought the “outlet” boards (cinnamon maple) thinking we were getting a great deal. What we didn’t understand was that the outlet boards were not the few boxes they had left…instead, they were boxes of the defect boards. I spent several hours on a Saturday separating the boards into three piles…perfection, ok to use if we put them under the washer & dryer, and garbage. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough boards in the first two piles to finish the bathroom, so we had to buy a “perfect” box at market value, to mix in with the crap boards. (Sarah took the crap boards and garbage boards to her shed to use for future projects…nothing goes to waste in our house.)

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We began to install the floor. Leave 1/8 of an inch between the floor and any wall. Wood expands and contracts with temperature, you’ll want to give it room to do that – otherwise you’ll have a buckling problem. You’ll also want to make sure you bring your floorboards into your house for a few days prior to installation to “bring it up to temperature”, especially if you live in Maine and the boards have been sitting in a -9 degree shed for weeks.

It’s very important to make sure the first line of boards are square. Any variation here will travel down the rest of your floor making it very uneven. Use a hammer to get the board’s groove into the first one’s tongue. To keep from deforming the tongue, try hitting a crap board with the hammer instead.

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Each floorboard should have at least two nails, the longer boards having a nail every 6 to 8 inches. The boards that are directly beneath a wall will have nails placed in the top of them with moulding to cover them up. We bought an air compressor and a brad nailer for the task. A floorboard nailer is essentially the same thing, except it automatically shoots the brad at a 45 degree angle into the floorboard. We didn’t want to spend the money to rent or buy one, so we just angled our brad nailer at a 45 degree angle and it worked just fine. Check a board after you’ve nailed it to make sure you have enough nail coming out of the bottom of the board to ensure it’s attachment to the subfloor. Our first trial, we had 1.5 inch 18 gauge brad nails that were barely making it out of the floorboard. We instead switched to a box of 2 inch nails.

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Then comes the puzzle…each box of boards comes with many boards of different sizes. My challenge was to find the perfect row of boards that fit into the space without having to cut anything (this saves you in having to buy extra wood in the long run). Three days of puzzle later, and we had ourselves a lovely hardwood floor that looked great with our newly painted green walls. (View of the laundry room, then the bathroom.)

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I’m going to end this post here. The next time I post about our bathroom, we’ll be adding the details back into the bathroom (moulding, a toilet & sink, shower walls, shelves, etc.). Until then…happy building!

Categories: Construction, Remodeling | 4 Comments

A Crown for the Common Man

When we first decided to enact “Sunday Dinners” we constructed a list of everything we’ve wanted to try but were too intimidated to prepare. My list contained a whole host of international dinners with exotic spices and techniques that I’ve never had experience with. Sarah’s list held restaurant quality dishes that you would find at a 5 star New York City eatery. So far, she’s perfected a restaurant quality Fillet sautéed in a Thyme infused lemon butter. It was delicious…best steak we’ve ever eaten at home. Since then, she’s been cooking up a mean steak on a regular basis. I wish I could share her secret, but I was not allowed in the kitchen when she was completing her Sunday dinner (a treat I rarely get to experience), so documenting her work with pictures and funny antidotes was out of the question. After all…who would rather witness a perfect steak being cooked when you’re handed an espresso, sat down on the couch, and told to “watch all of the cartoons you’d like and then I’ll feed you”?

Sarah’s next dish on her list was difficult to discern. It took a few minutes of trying to translate “Sarah-speech” to figure out exactly what she was attempting to describe to me. She just kept repeating “you know, the little pieces of meat that stand straight up on a plate and the bones are wearing little white chef’s hats”. I didn’t figure it out until she said “it kind of looks like a crown.” – and there it was, a crown roast for the rest of us.

Now as I said above, I’m not typically allowed to document Sarah’s Sunday dinners. But as you may recall, I’ve also mentioned that not being in the kitchen is a treat I rarely get to experience. Sarah has a mind that wanders far and wanders often.  Sarah was trying to clean the kitchen to get ready for her cooking challenge, so to help I washed the dishes. Sarah cleared all of the papers and unopened mail from the counters and table and brought them upstairs to file. I opened the lamb back and placed it on a cutting board and allowed to “rest” at room temperature for 30 minutes.

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Sarah’s sister called, and Sarah chatted with her while she organized the spare room. I helped by putting together 1/2 a cup of fresh mint leaves, stems removed, one garlic clove peeled and smashed, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a pinch of salt into the blender to make the mint pesto sauce.

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She was still cleaning, so I blended it together until it was smooth and set it aside.

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It was almost 7pm at this point and I was starving, so I read the directions for a crown roast. They told me I needed to “French” the back. As dirty as it sounded, and as terrified as I was to type “French a Lamb Back” into the search bar of youtube, I finally came across a quick how-to video from a well known chef. With a sharp knife, you want to slice off the extra fat and meat from only the upper part of the bone.

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Trim the very thick excess fat from the bone along the fattest cut of meat.

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Now that you are able to see the individual bones more clearly, remove the meat and fat from between the bones and use the knife to scrape the remainder of material on the bones to leave a relatively clean surface.

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I hate to waste perfectly good meat, so I separated the meat from the fat that I’ve trimmed, and  put it into the fridge to fry up with my eggs in the morning.

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Sarah’s finally done with the spare room, now she’s cleaning up our bedroom while talking with her mom. To keep dinner on schedule, I started a pot of black and mahogany rice in a skillet with a little bit of veggie broth, parsley, and balsamic vinegar. Once it began to boil, I brought the temperature down to low, covered the pot and let it simmer.

The crown roast was now ready to be cooked. To keep in the wonderful juices, I was supposed to sear all sides of the roast prior to putting it in the oven. To reduce the amount of dishes used, I grabbed my cast iron pan from the cupboard because it could be used both stove top and in the oven. I poured two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan, added a few sprigs of some fresh rosemary, and waited for the oil to heat up.

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Now Sarah is organizing her closet. When the oil is hot enough that you hear a pretty aggressive “sizzle” when the meat touches it, add the lamb.

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I leave it in there for about two minutes a side, rotating the back to get every side good and seared. Leave one side unseared and you risk loosing all of your good juices from it.

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Sarah’s back! At this point I’m just finishing up the sear, the rice is cooked, and the lamb is about to go in the oven for 15 minutes at 350, or until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees.

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Sarah asks how she can help, and I give her the job of making the salad. After the lamb has come to temperature, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes to allow the juices to soak back into it. This is very important…without this step you’ll loose your juices all over the cutting board. Bummer.

Cutting the lamb back was another job I left for Sarah. Everyone can recognize the perfect crown roast, perfectly circled against the vertebrae of the back…this is impossible. That spine wasn’t bending in the smallest of ways. Instead, we decided to just cut each medallion and have three pieces each. Sure, it wouldn’t be set up like a crown, but we made the dish regardless. Nope. Cutting the pieces were a nightmare too. Have you ever tried to separate vertebrae with a steak knife?? Not happening. Sarah eventually ripped these suckers apart so we could eat them, but it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty. If anyone has a trick shy of a bone saw, please let me know.

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Until then, the plating was nice, and the meal was delicious. It’s a good thing I had the chance to document it…

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Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Turkey in the Straw

In the summer of 2008, I took a temporary research position at NASA Goddard. I learned a lot about myself that summer. I fell in love with Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, and decided that one day, I will move back there. I also learned that my lifetime goal of becoming a NASA researcher needed to die. My passion was in teaching, not researching, and I’m glad I was a temporary employee rather than a permanent one…because I needed to get the hell out of there. While working at Goddard, I lived with another graduate student who happened to be a vegetarian. I had just finished reading the book “Skinny Bitch” by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, and was totally grossed out by our food system. I agreed with everything I read in that book, and didn’t want to be a hypocrite anymore, so I made a decision to go vegan. It was really easy to be vegan that summer. Baltimore had a ton of fresh produce readily available in grocery stores and farmers markets. It also had a vegan café and a Whole Foods that was a short bus ride away from my apartment, and D.C. even had a vegan bakery that enveloped my sweet tooth. I even took advantage of the cooking and eating styles of my apartment mate as she prepared her vegetarian dishes. I’m thankful that I attempted this experiment because that’s when I found out how allergic to dairy I was. I always knew I had a lactose intolerance (every female on my mother’s side has a bit of intolerance, if not a severe one), but I never knew how badly it effected my whole body until I completely gave it up. After about two weeks of my new diet, I lost my constant nausea, bloating, heartburn, and yep, you guessed it, finish that Pepto-Bismol commercial. Up until that point in my life, I assumed everyone felt the way I did. I assumed it was “normal”. Not that I ever was a huge proponent of dairy…as I kid I hated mac and cheese, and I never drank my milk. Cheeseburger? Um…no. Ice cream? No thanks, I’d rather have that sorbet covered in sprinkles or a popsicle.

I attempted to remain vegan when I returned home from my Baltimore trip, but being a vegan in Wyoming is pretty difficult. Where as Baltimore was all fruits, veggies, and joy, Wyoming was beef, potatoes, and depression. I remained vegan for two years after the fact, but eventually moved back to an ocean state and started adding seafood into my diet. After about a year of living in Maine, I came across a pamphlet that listed all of the local farms and what they sold. One of the farms had a butcher market attached to it, and they sold cuts of their grass-fed, organic, happy cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens, and turkeys. I thought about adding meat back into my diet, but I wanted to do it the right way. Supporting factory farms was completely out of the question, but supporting a local farm who loves their animals and treats them with well? Yeah, that I would support. So Sarah and I made the half an hour trek upstate to this new butcher. We met Leon, who assured us that we were not the first vegetarians to come and check out his shop. In fact, they had a t-shirt with a slogan that read, “meat so good, even a vegetarian will love it!” It was true…we loved it, and we’ve been going there ever since.

The first few years afterward we ordered our Thanksgiving turkey from Leon and the crew. The turkeys were allowed to roam and scratch, they were fed organic grains instead of corn, and were antibiotic and chemical free. In order to keep the farmer in business, he also needed to make a living wage. This, as you may have guessed, caused the turkey to be more expensive than the $10 Butterball. Each year, we spent between $70-$90 on a turkey for Thanksgiving. This past year, I thought I could do it better and cheaper. Read on to see if I could…

As you may have read in my past post “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner“, I also raised 15 meat chickens this last summer. Chickens and turkeys are raised in different time frames, and eat different food, so it’s best that you don’t keep them together. I picked up the chickens in May, and kept them in the woodshed under a heat lamp for 4 weeks. After they all had their full feathers, they were allowed to go outside in their pen (see “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner for pen plan” designs). After the chickens moved outside, the woodshed chick-area would be clear for the turkeys. I picked up two turkey chicks in June.

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I read that the survival rate for turkey chicks (also called poults), is pretty low. I decided on two thinking that if our odds were 50% or less, I would only loose one. If I was lucky, I would have two turkeys at the end of the season, one for Thanksgiving, and one to split up and cook throughout the year.

Turkey poults are very different from chicken chicks. Turkeys are a very social creature, and often bonds to a creature very quickly. Fortunately (and unfortunately), the poults bonded to me. They were little feather-fuzz balls that would call to me, wait for my reply and call back. When they were spooked, they would run to me, jump in my lap, and cuddle into my shirt. Like a puppy would, these poults would fall asleep in my arms. This, of course, was freakin’ adorable when I went down to the woodshed to play with them…but was terribly annoying when it was time for me to go back into the house. These small poults were so loud, that I could hear them calling for me – through the night – from inside my house. And the windows were closed!! As a new poult mother, this of course broke my heart so I filled one of my dirty socks with some stuffing and placed it in their area. Whether it worked, or whether they just grew up and got used to it, the calling reduced until they would only call when I was near.

After a few days, Sarah and I realized that one of the turkey poults wasn’t standing. Everytime it would try to walk, it would trip itself and fall. We tried giving him extra traction by laying down some paper towels on top of the pine shavings, but it only helped minimally. We discovered that it wasn’t his clumsiness, it was his left leg. For some reason, he could not move it as well as the right leg. After much internet research, we determined that he had a slipped tendon. That is, when the tendon has slipped out of the knee notch, leaving the turkey to not be able to bend its leg. The remedy for this, is to pull the leg straight, and use your thumb to push and slide the tendon back into place (similar to trying to push a knot out of someone’s back muscle). Sometimes, this is just a one time issue, but if the poult’s knee wasn’t formed correctly, you would have to continue doing this until the knee grows to keep the tendon. We couldn’t keep the tendon in place. We’d slip it into the knee notch, but as soon as the leg bent, it would pop right back out.

Sarah, a wiz at physical therapies (and a budding Kineiso tape practitioner), taped the tendon into place, and made a splint for the leg so it wouldn’t bend and pull the tendon out again. I made a chick chair, (similar to this one) to keep the poult from putting weight on his leg. We tried this for three days, but the poult wanted out and beat his wings bloody to do so. After removing the splint and tape, we realized it had done nothing to help the tendon and they poult wasn’t doing so well. The poult was a week old now, and wouldn’t stand. He would crawl to eat and drink, but couldn’t move away from his excrement. Sadly, I decided to cull him before he got much older.

*Skip this next paragraph if you get queasy*

Sarah and I are complete opposites, which make situations like this easier. Sarah works quickly and efficiently if a human has been injured while I fall to pieces. When an animal is hurt, Sarah is a mess and I have the calm, collected head.  It is the responsibility of a farmer, to not be afraid to put a suffering animal down. Also, know that the easiest way for the animal, is never the easiest way for you. I read a lot of message boards about people who have to cull a chick, but are afraid to do it themselves, so they let a bucket of water or a freezer do the job for them. This is NOT okay, and the animal suffers more prior to death than it probably did in life. It may be difficult to do, but the best way is to slice the throat with a sharp knife or cut off the head completely and quickly. The first time I had to cull a bird, I used an axe which was not sharp enough, so I had to make two passes. It was devastating. This time, I got the sharpest knife I had. Unfortunately for Sarah, I needed her help holding the poult, as we do not have a killing cone. We apologized to the poult, and as Sarah was distracted while reassuring him that he’d be better off this way, I did one quick slice and it was over. While I thought that would be easier for Sarah, I was quickly mistaken. She has taken her eyes away for a split second, and then realized she was talking to a headless turkey. She screamed, and started balling hysterically. Strangely enough, she didn’t drop the bird. She just kept holding it like her hands were locked in place. I tried taking it from her, but she just flailed, squeezing harder. Finally, I grabbed her and screamed “drop the bird!” She did, and then ran away screaming and sobbing. I caught up to her and gave her a hug, apologizing for not warning her. “::Sniffle:: That’s okay, I’m glad it was quick. It needed to happen.” …If this needs to be done again, I think I may need to find someone else to help me.

*Okay, the weak stomached folk can drop back into the conversation now*

So, now we were down to one turkey. After having a week to bond with his brother, the poult was now lonely – constantly calling for the other poult. He would eventually settle down, but it was very hard to listen too.

Although I promised myself that I would never name my poultry, this poult, very puppy-like in nature received a human name: Gus. Gus was super loving and happy. I would often spend an hour or more a day playing with him in the yard. He would follow me around like a duckling would follow it’s mother. He would always keep me in sight, and would race after me if he realized he had traveled too far. His favorite thing to do was to find an ants nest in the grass, pull it apart, and eat all of the ants that rush out of it – one by one. After devastating the colony, he’d do what any other poult would do…sit on it. Without minding the expression, Gus was a real ham.

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After about a month, he had finally grown a set of feathers and it was time to move him outside. At this point, it was July and the meat chickens had already been butchered and were in my chest freezer. I cleaned up the chicken pen, and moved Gus in. I wanted to give Gus a bit of company, so I put his pen next to the laying hen’s coop. He was happy to have friends.

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But he was always happy to see me when I came by to give him treats.

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For the next few months, Gus continued to grow. Unfortunately for me, as he grew in weight, he also grew in aggression. By September, Gus was a real jerk. His new hobby was chasing me out of his cage with his claws, beak, and huge flapping wings. It made feeding him very difficult. After a while, I stopped referring to him as Gus, and started just calling him “that ****-ing bird”.

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The butcher that we usually take our poultry to was closing their poultry house down by October. Because I got Gus one month late, I wanted him to continue growing through November. I was given a recommendation of a second butcher, and quickly made an appointment for 8am, the Monday before Thanksgiving.

The butcher we took him to was a turkey farm that was near the Canadian Border. I kept joking that we were taking Gus to “a farm upstate”, which wasn’t untruthful. Unlike the chickens who traveled to the butcher in cardboard boxes, Gus needed something more resilient. We borrowed a plastic dog crate from a friend that would hold a dog the size of a beagle – Gus barely fit.

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I drove up to the farm by myself because Sarah couldn’t get off of work. Upstate Maine reminded me of Wyoming (except with trees). The further I drove, the longer I went without seeing houses. I thought it was suspect when I looked at the address for the turkey farm and butcher shop. It was located on the main drag of the town – on Main street. It wasn’t until I got there did it all make sense. My GPS told me to take a left onto Main street. I almost missed the turn, it looked like someone’s driveway. Here, let me show you… This is a picture of Main Street:

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Driving 20 miles an hour down Main street, I passed a small building that served as the town’s fire/police/town office/community center, a few houses that looked forgotten, and two farms. I had to slowly lead my car around two large fallen trees that looked like they had fallen months ago…there was just no need to move them. I arrived at the farm, only to be greeted by the rising sun and the dead fox hanging from their mailbox – an obvious deterrent to beast who dares to steal a chicken or turkey. I leave Gus in the car, and enter the butcher shop. There are two signs up on the wall, one has a picture of a donkey humping the USA, the other said in a longer, more eloquent way, “if you even mention Obama, I will drop you right here and now”. I just stood there, quietly waiting my turn while the owner kept talking about how hard it is to sell turkeys in Obama’s economy. I didn’t realize Obama had it out for poultry growers…

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After checking in with the highly politcal owner, I went out to go get Gus from the car. I had a couple of comments yelled my way about bringing a turkey all the way up here in “that Prius”. These farmers just could not believe the amount of stuff our Prius could haul (Thanks Toyota, I’ll take my endorsement deal now). I dragged Gus and the dog crate over to the butcher line and set him down on the ground. I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the orientation of the dog crate until Gus started getting restless. Poor guy…his only window was facing inside the door to the start of the butcher line. I listened to one more Obama rant while the worker’s attempted to yank Gus out of the cage, they pulled him up by the legs, and my time with him was over.

It wasn’t all uncomfortable though. While waiting my turn, I met a man who brought in seven turkeys that his son had raised as a learning experience. He homeschooled his boy because “you learn responsibility by being responsible, and they don’t teach that in school anymore”. He said the first batch of poults he bought for his son all died because his son accidently fed them chicken food. It taught his son to focus and be observant, because in real life there are consequences for not paying attention. I asked what he was going to do with their seven turkeys, and he said that he runs an adventure lodge that brings veterans out to hunt, fish, camp, and hike for free. He was donating all of their turkey’s to veterans who needed the help, because his son also needed to learn about charity. The woman behind me in line was an organic inspector. She travelled the state going to all of the farms, processing hubs, and coffee roasters (woo!) giving them organic certification. In her spare time, she raises heirloom seed and seedlings to sell to people.

It was finally time to pick up my turkey. Just for fun, I weighed him on their scale before leaving to find out how big he was. The finished weight was 26.53 pounds! Turkey’s loose about 30% of their weight after butchering, so Gus was about 35 pounds when I brought him in.

Sarah was the Turkey chef this Thanksgiving, and cooked Gus for 8 hours – just to bring him up to temperature. He was delicious. This was the first turkey I had that wasn’t frozen before cooking, and it made a huge difference. We also believe that he was tasty because he grew with love (and a little bit of Nikki flesh).

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After all was said and done, we spent $5.99 on each turkey poult, we bought three 50 pound bags of organic food at $27 each, and it cost $18 dollars for the butchering. Gus cost us $105 to raise. That sized bird bought at our local butcher shop would have come out to the same thing. Next year, we may forgo the turkey raising and just buy from our butcher again. But this makes me think… If you raised your own chicks from eggs, you would not have the cost of the chick. If you bought feed in bulk, you will probably get a reduced price per bag, and if you didn’t go organic, you could potentially get feed for $10 for 50 pounds. You could also butcher the bird yourself and save some money there…  But, even so, it would still cost the farmer about $30 per bird – just to raise. Then how would a farmer make a profit? Or let alone, a living wage? Why then, can you sell a turkey for $10-$20 at the grocery store? You have to wonder what else is going into their process…

Categories: Farming | Leave a comment

Nikki Had a Little Lamb

Shepherd’s Pie. Do I really need to say more? This loving, and homey casserole features meat, veggies, and gravy topped with a delectable crispy topped mashed potato. It looked wonderful, and it scared the crap out of me.

I have always been the type to come home from a long day of work and start making dinner. It wasn’t because I was neurotic (well, maybe a little), or starving (although sometimes I was), mostly it was because cooking relaxed me. It brought me back to my center. Cooking is my Zen. Well, that is for most dishes. As you may have read in my last post, Italian food comes naturally to me. There is a reason why I eat so much Italian around the holiday season. The only thing that removes my holiday stress and brings me back to reality is focusing on the flavors in a giant pot of Italian wedding soup, taking out my frustrations while kneading pasta for ravioli, and meticulously (and maybe even a bit neurotically) breaking apart each spider-web-like piece in a home made pizzelle. Cooking what I know, and what I love, pushes me to focus my negative tendencies into something positive (and really tasty).

Although, all dishes are not created equal in the eyes of my Zen. There are many dishes that create more stress for me while I cook them. Many of these dishes I have done once, never looking back. Others I can foresee the stress they could create and have avoided them all together. My Sunday challenge (a full day dedicated to foods I am afraid of) forces me to face these fears. Last week, I made enchiladas. You can catch up on my experience HERE. This week, I decided to try working with lamb, a meat I have never cooked before. When I think lamb, I think Shepherd’s Pie – hands down. Sunday Challenge #2, Here we go:

You will need: 2-3 lbs of ground lamb (I used lamb sausage because it was all that our butcher had), 2 Tablespoons butter, 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, 1/3 cup flour, salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of ground sage,  1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 teaspoons rosemary, 3 cloves of garlic (minced), 1 plum tomato, 1 cup of broth, a handful of peas and carrots, Yukon gold potatoes (2-3 lbs), a pinch of cayenne, 1/4 cup of milk.

To start, peel, wash, and dice the potatoes. Place them in a pot with water and allow them to boil until soft enough to mash.

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Chop the carrots, if you’re peas are from the pod, peel them and place in a bowl. De-seed the plum tomato, and dice.

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Place the lamb in a sauce pan with 1 Tablespoon of butter, and the olive oil. Turn the heat onto medium and brown. Add in the paprika, cinnamon, garlic, rosemary, and sage, salt and pepper to taste.

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Add in the tomatoes, peas, and carrots, mix.

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Remove from heat, stir in the flour until everything is evenly coated. Slowly add  in the broth until a gravy forms. Let simmer on low.

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Drain the potatoes, add 1 Tablespoon of butter, salt and pepper, a dash of cayenne (don’t leave this out, it may seem strange, but it really made the dish), and 1/4 a cup of milk. I heated my milk, if you have the option, you should heat yours too. Mash it all together until you have a smooth potato mash.

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Pour your meat/veggie mix into an 8×8 pan. If you have a frosting bag, use it to pipe your mashed potatoes onto the top of the gravy. Be sure to leave no holes that the gravy can bubble up through, or you’ll have a bit of a mess in your oven.

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Because we want our mashed potato tops to get crispy, I piped a second layer over the top of the first to make little crispy peaks.

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I topped it with paprika and fresh rosemary. Bake it at 350 degrees for 20 minute to a half an hour, or until your top becomes golden and crispy. If you don’t want to clean your oven afterward, place a cookie tray beneath it to catch anything that may bubble up over the top.

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Serve with your favorite Barley Wine!

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I know this dish was scary, but it was REALLY delicious. It certainly wasn’t difficult to do either. I will be adding this to my daily rotation of meals. It might not quite be a Zen meal yet, but, I’m excited to try it again. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Looking for a dessert to go with your shepherds pie? I made an apple bread pudding to go with ours. It wasn’t great, but it was good. Let me know if you have any suggestions on how to make it better.

Apple bread pudding: 1 apple (peeled and diced), 1 Tablespoon of butter, 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar, 6 cups of cubed bread (I used a walnut sourdough), 3 large eggs, 1/2 cup of cider, 1 1/2 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

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Melt butter, apples, and brown sugar in a sauce pan, heat until thick. Take off of the heat and cool.

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In a small bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. In a large bowl, combine the bread, milk mixture, cider, and apple mixture. Coat evenly, and scoop into a greased 8×8 pan. Let it sit for 20 minutes to let the bread soak up the good stuff.

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Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy (if you like soggy bread).

Categories: Food! | Leave a comment

Filomena: “I no make Enchiladas.”

There are a lot of things that intimidate me, but mostly, it’s a list of food items. With the rise of the internet and sites like Pintrest and Tastespotting, I see more appetizers, entree’s, and desserts that scare the hell out of me. I’m not talking about the really gross things like boiled cow tongue, I’m talking about things like rack of lamb or Pad Thai. Things that I would readily order in a restaurant, but would never in my wildest dreams try to recreate at home.

Growing up in an Italian family, I watched my mother make pasta, marinara sauce, meatballs or Italian sausage, breaded chicken, and roasted rosemary potatoes. My taste buds have naturally aligned with flavors of tomato, sea salt, basil, oregano, and lemon. This is no call for alarm – Italian food is friggen’ awesome and everyone knows it.

When we moved to Wyoming, I was given the chance to make dinner for us every night rather than relying on my parents to do it for us. I’m not going to lie, I was a terrible cook. The first few months were met with rice, hot dogs, and boxed spaghetti. My chicken was over cooked and dry, and my mashed potatoes were inedible (seriously, how can you mess up mashed potatoes). Then, something happened that literally changed the course of my life. I had a dream. Don’t laugh, it’s true! Sarah can confirm. My great grandmother, Filomena Masciarelli (lovingly called cookie grandma on account of her “big as your head” pizzelles), came to me and said: “Nikki, you no cook good. That’s okay, I show you.” She then preceded to teach me how to make a simple pasta dish – Farfalle, tossed in olive oil, prosciutto, spinach, and sweet peppers. The next day, I bought the ingredients, and followed her instructions exactly. It was the best dinner we’ve ever had. Ever since then, my chicken has been moist and flavorful, my potatoes were firm and sweet, and my marinara was better than the jar, no joke.

It is almost like I took on a piece of her. I never knew her well (I was pretty young when she passed), but I feel like I become her when I cook. Making dinner helps me relax from the work day, and it has become the way I show my love to my friends and family. Don’t expect a hug from me, here is a meatball instead.

All was well and good for the simple Italian dishes, but when it came down to changing the weekly menu (Sarah started to complain about eating pasta 3-4 times a week), I ran into a road block. After all, I was living in Wyoming. Trying to find veal and fresh basil was almost as difficult as finding fresh, sushi grade tuna in the landlocked state. Every time I went to look for a sweet pepper, I would be greeted with a wall of poblano and habenaro. I would look for Italian sausage but only find Chorizo. The nearest Italian restaurant was a 45 minute drive away, and it was The Olive Garden.

We began frequenting some of the local restaurants, trying things like burritos and tostadas. I learned to not just like these new dishes, but to LOVE them. After three short years, Mexican had become one of my favorite food genres. Unfortunately for the Italian in me, I could not figure out how to make these dishes at home. My flavors were off, I couldn’t fry the tortillas right, and my fajita mix was subpar. I had hoped that my great grandma would come to me again, but “she no make enchiladas”.

After moving to Maine, I really began to miss good Mexican. Sure, we have lobster here, but you can’t find a good burrito to save your life. I was avoiding the attempt to try to make Mexican again for fear it wouldn’t be as good as the restaurants in Wyoming. That means (of course), that every time I travel west of the Mississippi, I load up on Mexican. It was an unsustainable process, but for the time being, it worked. Up until two weeks ago…

Sarah and I had a discussion about how we could change our lives for the better. My “change for the better” was to enact Sunday Dinners. That is, every Sunday I make a huge dinner from scratch. To tack on a second challenge for myself, I also enacted the rule that my Sunday dinners would have to be something I’ve never made before – something that intimidated me. It seemed fitting that my first attempt would be a Mexican dish. I wanted it to be a bit more involved than Tacos – so I decided on shredded pork enchiladas. To make this challenge legit, I needed  to slow cook the pork, and make both the enchilada sauce and tortillas by hand. Here is my journey:

For the Pork: buy a Small pork shoulder and put it in a crock pot with: 1 garlic clove (minced), 1 jalapeno (minced), 1/2 of a small yellow onion (chopped), 1 tsp of ground cumin, 1 tsp oregano, salt, and 1/4 cup of water.


Turn it on and let the crock pot slowly cook the roast until it’s “fork tender” (i.e. easily comes apart with a fork), about 6 to 8 hours.

About an hour before the pork is done, start your tortillas. You will need, 3 cups of flour, 1/3 cup of butter or Crisco, 1tsp of salt, 3/4-1cup of warm water. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter, cut in and mix lightly. You should be able to clump it together and have it hold a shape. If not, add a bit more butter.

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Add the warm water gradually, kneading until you have a soft dough.

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Divide the dough into 10 equal balls, cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes. Preheat an ungreased pan (I used a cast iron skillet).

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Roll out onto a floured surface. Stack out of the way, separating them with wax paper or plastic wrap.

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Drop one in the pan and let cook until the underside begins to get specks of brown on it.

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Flip the tortilla and push the air out with a spatula. Then set aside in a warm, moist towel to keep warm.

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Now it’s time to start the enchilada sauce. Here is what you’ll need:

1/2 cup tomato paste, 2 tsp cumin, 3 tsp oregano, 6 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/4 tsp salt and pepper, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 a small yellow onion, chopped, 1/4 cup of oil, 1/2 cup of flour, 3 tsp chili powder, and 3 1/2 cups of broth (I used a cup of my pork broth from the crock pot, the rest as a home made veggie broth).

In a sauce pan, add the oil, onion, salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is tender.

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In a small bowl, mix the tomato paste, cumin, oregano, garlic, and bay leaf.

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When the onion is tender, add the flour and chili powder, creating a rue. Then add the tomato mixture.

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Slowly add the broth, 1/3 at time, stirring constantly to keep the rue from becoming chunky. Reduce the heat and simmer.

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Now it’s time to assemble the enchiladas! Ladle some enchilada sauce into the bottom of the pan you plan to bake them in. Shred the pork, add it to a tortilla with a little bit of sauce. You can “glue” the tortilla closed using the sauce too.

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Set them into the pan, in close quarters. Ladle more sauce over the top and sprinkle with oregano, cilantro, or lime if you like.

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Bake ’em until they’re bubbly. Enjoy!

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Thoughts on this dish:

The enchilada sauce was excellent. My only complaint was that it wasn’t spicy enough. If you like your spice, consider adding some chopped green chilies.

The tortillas rolled out perfectly, but they were a bit chewy. I don’t know how to remedy this yet, if you have any ideas, please let me know.

The pork was great, but next time I’m going to make home made refried beans to add to it. Yum!

Categories: Food! | 2 Comments

Skunk in the Barnyard…

Pee-you. Somebody ate it, that’s…Chloe.

Skunks are completely useless. Sure, they may rid your yard of small rodents and gross bugs, but their reputation as a backyard pest is far worse than their backyard benefit. Our Dog, Chloe, may have sniffed her final butt last night. At first, when Chloe came running toward the house, eyes swollen shut, hacking violently, we were worried. Had a porcupine gotten her? (By the way, porcupines are also completely useless.) We were scared and immediately pulled her into the house. A mere second later, it hit us full force. Fresh skunk spray is like pepper spray; it burns your eyes and sinuses, while also inducing vomiting if it comes in contact with your mouth. And we just let it into our kitchen…


Skunk spray is meant as a predator deterrent. It is an oily substance that can be sprayed 10-15 feet from the skunk that is composed of thiols and  thioacetates. Thiols are the really stinky compounds. Thiols have an S-H bond (sulfur – hydrogen). This bond is weaker and not as polarized as the O-H bond (oxygen-hydrogen), which means it is more likely to evaporate and turn gaseous (hence, the sulfur-like skunk smell). They bind rapidly to hair and skin proteins, making the smell nearly impossible to remove. Thioacetates are not nearly as smelly, but will convert to thiols when they come in contact with water. So, let me put these facts together…skunk spray is an oil. Oil does not mix with water and is just spread around. When thioacetates come in contact with water, they become thoils which stink terrible and bind to the skin. If you or your dog is sprayed, DO NOT BATHE!

The only thing that breaks down skunk smell is oxidation (to add oxygen). The air has oxygen in it, so over time the skunk smell will begin to break down, but this never seems to happen fast enough. You can artificially oxidize it by using any one of the de-skunking solutions found at stores. Unfortunately, most of the skunk encounters happen at night after all of the stores have closed. Good news is, you probably have some household ingredients that can help to neutralize the odor.

Tomato juice is great after a skunk attack.  Just add two shots of Vodka, a stick of celery, and drink.

Tomato juice is an old wives tale – it will not remove the skunk odor from your dog. It will however, dye your dog’s fur orange and make them smell like skunky tomatoes. Instead, get some  rubber gloves and some paper towels. Wipe as much of the oil off as you can, being careful not to spread the oil to other areas of the dog.  When you’re finished, grab some liquid soap (grease fighting dish soap works great), some baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide. Mix this together:

1 cup Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2)

1/4 cup Baking Soda (NaHCO3)

1 Tablespoon of Liquid Soap

When this is mixed together you should notice a “fizzing”. That means that it is working. Use this on the dog asap (DO NOT GET IN EYES OR MOUTH!) Let the mixture sit on the dog for about 5 minutes. Rinse, and repeat until the smell is tolerable.

The liquid soap helps to break down the oils left on the fur and skin. The hydrogen peroxide and baking soda work to oxidize the compounds. The hydrogen peroxide and sodium bicarbonate combine to make water (H2O), carbon Dioxide (CO2), Oxygen (O2), and Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH), also known as caustic soda or lye. (They make soap with lye!) The chemical formula is as follows:

H2O2 + NaHCO3 = NaOH + H2O + CO2 + 1/2O2

The spare oxygen begins to work on the thiols (C4H8SH); oxygen joins to the sulfur creating  sulfonic acid (C4H8SO3H), which is essentially odorless. Skunk smell gone!

Well, not really. We forgot about the thioacetates. Thioacetates will hydrolyze into thiols during this process, but will not oxidize. These thioacetates will remain on the dogs skin and fur, slowly breaking down into thiols over time. This is why a dog who was sprayed may initially be de-skunked, but will smell like skunk on damp/wet days for the next year or so. Bummer.

If you were unfortunate enough, like us, to let your recently sprayed dog into your home, be prepared for a cold night. Try desperately to keep your dog off of carpets, furniture, bedding, or wood floors. These highly porous surfaces will soak up the recently sprayed skunk oils. If possible, keep your dog on tile, or plastic (like the bottom of a cage). Clean the area with a bleach/water mixture to help wipe the oils up. The best way to get the skunk smell from your house is to open all of the windows and turn on all of your fans. If it happens to be October 21st, plug-in an electric blanket and don a ski cap to bed. It’s going to be a cold night.

Categories: Life | Leave a comment

Stacked: A Woodshed

When you live in Maine, wood is a part of your life. Mainers use it to replace the 150 year old siding on their original colonials and cape cods. We use it to heat our homes and to cook our food. Every craft fair you go to (and there sure is a lot) there are copious amounts of turned wooden bowls, pens, wine bottle caps (as if you don’t finish the bottle once it’s opened). It’s easy to find hand carved spoons, salad servers, and dolls. Every new Mainer you meet has a hobby of (or knows someone who has a hobby of) making beautiful chairs, cabinets, or tables from wood. Wood is everywhere. Next time you’re here, take a visit to one of the many specialty lumber stores and drool over the grain in a 16 or 20 inch wide board of Hickory, relish in the perfectly pink tones of the high end Cherry, and bask in the beauty and resiliency of a White Oak. And if you’re lucky enough to come upon a piece of antique wood, especially one with a history, love it, cherish it, and respect it, because it’s the most beautiful of all.  

It is no secret, Sarah and I have a love affair with wood. We can spend hours in a lumber store looking for just the right piece. Even when splitting our heating wood for the winter, we find that we stop each other to show off another log, one that is even prettier than the last. …It’s really the only reason it takes us four weeks to stack the wood compared to the one week that it should…

You may remember a post from last year when I showed you how to build a cheap and easy way to stack wood. (Here is the link to the past post.) We built this knowing that it would be a temporary solution to our wood stacking problem. After all, we had gotten our wood delivered late in the fall, and the ground was beginning to freeze. We needed to stack our wood – fast.

This year, we could prepare better. We ordered our wood in June and had plenty of time to build a permanent wood shed. We wanted it to be large enough to hold two cords of wood (that is how much we burnt last year). A 4ft x 8ft shelter would hold about one cord of wood, so we doubled that and made a 6ft x 12ft shelter. Here is a list of what we needed (all of the wood is pressure treated):

(4) 4″x4″x6′ posts: two left at 6′ lengths, two cut to 5′ lengths

(5)  6″x2″x12′ boards:  four whole, one cut in half to make (2) 6″x2″x6′ boards

(16) 2″x4″x12′ boards: (10) left whole, (6) cut in half to make (12) 2″x4″x6′ boards

(4) 2″x4″x8′ boards: cut in half to make (8) 2″x4″x4′ boards

(6) cinderblocks

6’x12′ area of metal roofing

3″ wood screws

Time to go shopping…


When we got home, we marked out a space for our woodshed to go. We decided the best place would be along the far side of the driveway by the woods. We often keep this area clear of snow in the winter, so it would be very accessible. It was also far enough (about 200ft) from the house so that any bugs the wood might attract would be no where near the wood in our home. While Sarah cut the wood, I took the time to weedwhack the heck out of the area, clip the pricker bushes back, and flatten the ground. We placed the 6ft by 12ft boards to make sure we had plenty of space. space

The first thing to do was to build the base. We set the base on the concrete blocks rather than dig the posts into the ground. That way, if the ground moved beneath it (which it inevitably would), the structure would move as one. It also increases the airflow underneath the wood to prevent rot. We used the four 4″x4″ posts (the 6′ posts in the front, the 5′ posts in the back), the two 2″x6″x12′, and two 2″x6″x6′ boards for the base. Make sure it’s level at this point.


Next, we needed to add some floor joists. Using the 2″x4″x6′ boards, placed 2 feet apart, we screwed in the floor supports.


Add the floor. The floor beams are the 2″x4″x12′ boards. You should leave about two inches between the boards. In order to season the split wood, there should be plenty of airflow.


Add some walls to keep the wood stable. The two horizontal rails are the 2″x4″x6′ boards. The eight vertical beams are the 2″x4″x4′ boards.


Now for the roof supports. Take the last two 2″x6″x12′ boards and screw one to the front and one to the back (as shown). Then, using two 2″x4″x6′ boards, create a “box” by screwing them to the sides. Add three more 2″x4″x6′ boards, wide side up, 2.5 feet apart (or as wide as your metal roofing panels are). Attach your roofing panels.


Now stand back and pat yourself on the back. You just made a sturdy woodshed.


Stack your wood. Relax.


Issues to consider:

1) When using pressure treated wood, ALWAYS pre-drill. Skipping this step will ensure your wood to split.

2) Our first attempt for the floor was using 1″x4″ boards. These were no where near hefty enough to take the weight of the wood. In only one week, our floor snapped beneath our wood. Everything had to be removed and the floor had to be re-done. Yes, we stacked our wood twice this year. Don’t go cheap!

3) Make sure your woodshed gets plenty of sunlight and airflow. These will help to season your wood, making a much better burning year for you.

Good luck!

Categories: Construction | Leave a comment

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

Zombie Apocalypse. It can happen at any day now. There are people all around the world who are preparing for it. Stocking guns, ammo, canned and dehydrated food. I’m one of the doomsday folk, and I’m prepared to survive the zombie attacks.


Ok, no. Not really. But I have been trying to become more self sufficient over these past few years. Having a dairy allergy has forced me to learn how to make everything from scratch from mayonnaise to marshmallows (and everything in between). It’s really amazing what you can make from the typical “house staples”. I remember a time when we would sit around the table, wishing for a chocolate cake, but never making one because we didn’t have a box of cake mix and we didn’t want to leave the house to go to the store. Flour, Sugar, Cocoa, and eggs all in the house. We were niave then, but isn’t that what corporate America wants you to do? “Do you want homemade* chocolate chip cookies? Here, buy our pre-made cookie dough packages and bake it at home. No one will know it wasn’t made by you, and the price was only marked up 300%. We have to make a profit you know.”

                 *Homemade gets thrown around too often anymore. Remember this,

                   it’s not homemade if it was put together in a factory.

First, we began cutting down on the “pre-made” food (you would be amazed to find out how much dairy is in pre-made food). Then we started making our individual ingredients (sauces, spice mixes, and things) from scratch. Now we even have a small flock of chickens who supply our eggs. Five years ago, dinner took us 30 minutes to prepare (tops). Now it takes us nearly two hours. That is a lot of time to spend on preparing food, but look at what we gain from it: Time spent together do something other than watching TV, the adventures of trying out a new dish, BETTER TASTING FOOD, the removal of immense amounts of salt, sugar, and preserving chemicals. We don’t just eat our food anymore, we respect where it comes from. We may have taken out the ease of dinner preparation, but we replaced it with soul.

If you ever come to visit me in August, you might find it hard to decipher me from a Squirrel. I spend my mornings cutting Basil, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (Thanks Simon and Garfunkle) from the garden and lay it out on netted beds to dry for the winter. In the afternoons I go to local farms to pick berries and apples for sauces and jellies. I go to produce stands and stock up on fresh corn, green beans, and squash which I blanche and freeze to use over the course of the year. I take pride in making dinner from scratch every night, and I take even more pride knowing where my scratch ingredients come from. It’s not only respecting the food, or me, but it also shows respect to those who take the time to produce what we eat.

One of the biggest missing links in my sustainable effort was meat. We don’t tend to eat a lot of meat throughout the week, but when we do eat it, we like to know it comes from a good place. I want to know that the cow or pig I consume had plenty of space to live and was fed what it would naturally eat. (Cows were never meant to eat corn, it’s no wonder they are getting sick in factory farms). We have a local butcher that we go to who raises a lot of his meat on his family’s farm. What he can’t supply, he buys from other small, local farms. Small farms are great, but their yield isn’t high. Thus, their product is more expensive. I wish it would catch on but unless you make a ton of money, its hard to follow through on this route.  In order to continue eating like we do AND save money, we decided to take on a new venture – Meat Chickens.

We put in an order for 15 chickens to come in the first week of May. I figured that we eat a little less than one whole chicken a month (broken into two legs, two breasts, tenders, and broth/chicken pieces). We ordered 10 for ourselves, and 4 for my parents. There is always a chance that a chick might die, so I always order one or two extra, just in case. Luckily, all 15 survived, so we kept 10 and gave my parents 5.

Meat birds are a specific breed mix that allows the bird to grow to “market weight” in a relatively short amount of time. They also tend to have larger breasts and legs to increase the amount of meat you can get from a bird. My laying hens grow to full size in about 9-10 months. Our meat chickens grow to full size in 8-10 weeks. Because they grow so fast, they tend to do 3 things in their life – eat, poop, and sleep. They don’t need much room to move around, because they really don’t move much. I was worried my birds might be sick (a lethargic bird usually means their ill), so I asked the chicken guy at our farmer’s union. He explained meat birds in a really interesting way: “Imagine these chickens are always celebrating Thanksgiving. They see food, get excited, stuff themselves, go back for more, and when they can’t fit anymore into their stomachs, they waddle into a corner and try to sleep it off. Then they do it again.”

Alright, so we had to build an enclosure for these birds. They didn’t need a permanent coop because they were only around in the summer (no need for insulation here). They didn’t need much space because they gorge themselves. The enclosure could be semi-permanent, they were only around for a few weeks. We had a brilliant plan: Fencing panels. Cheap, portable, and removable.

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We started with some 2×4’s, cut to 4 ft lengths. Four 2×4’s to a panel. We picked up a roll of 4 ft high hardware fencing and some fencing staples.

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Nail the fence to the top of two 2×4’s and cut the fencing to size.

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Drill some pilot holes into the wood. We only had short screws, so we placed a piece of masking tape on the drill bit as a “depth marker” and drilled a hole big enough to hide the screws in the board. This way, we didn’t have to buy 3 inch screws.


Attach the other two 2×4’s onto the top of the fencing wire. Now you have a 4×4 foot panel with fencing in between the 2×4 frame.

At this point, we made 7 more panels for a total of 8. We attached the panels together using hinges with removable pivot nails. When the chickens are small, we can use 3-4 panels. As the chickens grow, we can add more panels and make the enclosure larger. When we’re done using the enclosure, we simply remove the hinge nails, separate the panels, and stack them in the shed until next season.


The chicks arrive. CUTE!


One week later.


Three weeks later. They are so big!!


After 10 weeks, they are big enough to butcher.


We used cardboard boxes to transport the chickens to the butcher. After the chickens were taken, we broke the boxes down and recycled them. My parents gave me a vacuum sealer for my birthday, so I was able to bring the chickens home, break them up, vacuum seal, and freeze them. I boiled down the carcass to make a broth, and froze tubs of broth for later too. Now we have enough chicken for the year, and we got 10 organic (very locally raised) chicken for $16 a bird (4-5 pounds each).



One note: If you do your own chickens, make sure you “cool” the meat down before you freeze it. Remember, this isn’t meat that you bought from a store. That bird was alive an hour ago. It still has a lot of body heat radiating from it’s muscles. It also releases a gas that helps to decompose the body. This gas can spoil your meat. Put your birds on ice for several hours to cool down and gas before you seal and freeze it – this will help keep your meat fresh.

Categories: Farming | 1 Comment

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