Friday, March 20, 2015

First Day of Spring 2015

Today is the first day of Spring 2015.  The exact arrival time is 5:45 pm Central Daylight time.  Every year I like to compare what is happening outside to previous years.  This year there is one big difference.  We usually have a lot of flooding in our marsh.  This year is very very dry.  The landscape actually looks like what we see in late summer.

This is 2013.  A lot more water that year.

If we don't get some rain, we will have very little water in a few weeks.  That drastically effects the wildlife and birds that appear every Spring.  Hopefully we will have enough left to attract our usual visitors.  Nothing out of the ordinary has shown up yet, but maybe I will get some good photos in the next couple months.

The usual muskrat.

An eagle.

Common Merganser.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Slow Cooker Corned Beef

Happy St. Patrick's Day.  Two days ago we celebrated with a family dinner.  I blogged about it and promised to share the corned beef recipe I used.

I imagine some of you Wisconsin residents have seen this recipe on some TV spots.  It is delicious and is so easy to make in a slow cooker.  Just put it in the cooker and forget it for 8 hours.  I usually use water but the beer adds to the flavor.  Be sure to buy the Flat Cut Corned Beef, it is slightly more expensive but worth it.  When you slice it, be sure to cut across the grain.  It will be very tender if sliced correctly.

This recipe actually came from the Wisconsin Beef Council-

Guinness Glazed Slow Cooker Corned Beef


1 Corned Beef Brisket with seasoning packet (around 4 pounds)
1 bottle/can (12 ounces) Guinness or other Irish stout beer
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste


1. Place the Corned Beef along with the pickling spices, onion and garlic in a slow cooker/crock-pot with the fat side up. Pour in the Guinness and cook on low until fork tender, about 8-10 hours.

2. Set the Corned Beef aside.  Strain the solids from the Guinness and juices. Place the liquid into a large sauce pan; add the brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by half; about 10 minutes.

3. Cut the fat layer off the Corned Beef; glaze with the Guinness glaze and bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven until the glaze starts to bubble; about 10-15 minutes.

Nutrition facts: 360 calories; 25 g fat (8 g saturated, 0 grams trans-saturated), 130 mg cholesterol, 1526 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrates, 24 grams protein. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Making Maple Syrup The Old Fashioned Way

One of my favorite memories from my childhood revolves around making maple syrup.  My aunt and uncle in central Wisconsin made this sweet syrup.  I never quite understood how it happened, but I remember going out to their farm.  Across the road in a little shed was something they called an evaporator.  I wasn't sure what that meant.  All I knew was about this time every Spring, they would tap the maple trees, collect the sap, pour it in the evaporator and many hours later as the water evaporated, a sweet amber colored liquid would form.  We would use it on pancakes, but my grandma loved it on ice cream.

Although the big maple syrup producers have a ton of automated equipment such as a pipeline, vacuum pumps, smaller taps, modern evaporators and reverse osmosis machines, there are still small family operations.  They still make maple syrup the old fashioned way.  My cousin is one of them.  My aunt and uncle gave up making maple syrup years ago, but their daughter continues making it to this day.  She brought a quart of her own syrup when she came for my dad's birthday party in November.  I emailed her to see if she was tapping trees again this year, and she said they had tapped the trees a few days ago on March 9.  The weather determines how fast the sap runs.  It is best when it freezes at night and gets between 32 and 50 degrees during the day.  She said that to tap the trees they need to drill a hole with a 7/16" drill bit.  Next they tap a spout into the hole and hang a pail on the spout to catch the sap as it drips off the spout.

My cousin's husband, son and grandson with the tapped trees.

To make syrup, you need 30-40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.  The sap looks like water as it comes out of the trees, however it tastes lightly sweet.  After they gather the sap, they strain it and place it into pans.  The pans sit on top of a heat source.  In this case, it is a wood fire.  It isn't a stove, it is called an arch.  The pan is supported around the edges of the pan, and the fire is directly under the pan.  Then the sap is cooked, no stirring required, until most of the water has evaporated away.  When the syrup is finished it is filtered through flannel material to get most of the settlings out of it.  There are fine particles called niter that need to be filtered out.  They usually like to start out with about 200 gallons of sap.  According to my calculation, that amount of sap would only yield five gallons of maple syrup.  I didn't ask but I believe at this point the finished syrup is canned in jars for future use.  

This photo shows the operation including the wood fire with the pans of sap cooking on top.

We don't have maple trees on our property which is probably fortunate.  I would probably want to try this lost art.  I didn't think anyone around this area had a sugar bush, but I guess I was wrong.  As I was going to town the other day, I noticed this small area with milk jugs hanging from the trees.  I hope they are maple trees or these people may end up with something very different from maple syrup.

I want to thank my cousin for filling me in on this process of making maple syrup.  Most people have no idea how much work is involved in doing this.  It is indeed liquid gold.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

St. Patty's (or Paddy's) Day Celebration - Catching A Leprechaun

One day last week, our daughter told our youngest grandson that Nana thought she saw a Leprechaun while out feeding the birds.  Ewan is almost five years old and this made him very excited.  He asked a lot of questions.  Heather told him he would have to wait until he came to our house and maybe he could see for himself.  Since St. Patrick's Day is in the middle of the week this year, we decided to have our annual dinner today.

In preparation for the day, my husband decided to make an adventure out of it.  He found a brush pile in the woods.  I knew he was spending some time in the garage and woods, but when I saw him cutting the fingers off of an old leather glove, I had to ask questions.

 He was making hinges for the entry door to the Leprechaun's house.

The Leprechaun is a naughty little guy.  He stole a few pieces of twig furniture right off the porch.

After getting the Leprechaun house set up, he planned a trail to follow to find it in the woods.  When everyone arrived my husband Mike explained to the kids that the day we went for groceries to get supplies for our St. Patrick's Day dinner, we left a package on the porch.  In the bag was some silly string and plastic Irish eyeglasses.  They were for the kids to play with.  When all the groceries were put away, we realized that the package was missing.  We were pretty sure the Leprechaun took it.  They needed to look for clues to see if we could find the items and probably the Leprechaun.  The first thing Ewan spotted was a yellow bag.

He called to the rest of us, and we began looking for clues.  The naughty little Leprechaun worked his way through the woods leaving a trail of silly string and the packaging of the glasses.

Here we go, Ewan telling the big boys the plan.

Oh my gosh, there it is.  Who is going to brave enough to look inside.  What if the Leprechaun jumps out and bites.  We said all you do is grab his beard and he won't bite.  Of course, Jack, one of the youngest was the bravest.  He opened the door and all that was inside was the POT OF GOLD with the missing glasses and other golden treasures.

Oh look, a Pot of Gold and other stolen items.

The boys had fun.  Melissa opted out.  I guess this wasn't too exciting for a 14 year old girl.

When the adventure was over we ate our dinner.   There were fourteen of us.  Our family plus my son in law's parents.  It was a beautiful March day and everyone was happy.  It was a perfect day.  For my Tuesday recipe this week, I will post how I made the corned beef this year.  It was similar to how I have made it previously with a few important variations.