Sunday, December 30, 2007

Adventures in home brewing

The Wife got me a Mr Beer home brewing kit for Christmas. Her uncle got me a refill kit with West Coast Pale Ale (which also comes with the kit), Witty Monk Witbier, and Whispering Wheat Weizenbier. I'm going to get a hard cider refill (and some additional bottles) so I can try hard cider too. Today I did the first step in the brewing process and now we wait for a week so fermentation can take place. Next Sunday we bottle. I'll let you know how it is once it is ready (minimum 2 weeks post-brewing but they recommend "conditioning" it for some additional time once it is carbonated in the bottle.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our landscaper rocks!

Today our very awesome landscaper came and cut up the tree that had split, cleaned up branches from the curly leaf willow that were hanging in the pond, and took down a cypress that had been broken in half. Mind you, this happened on Sunday and we called yesterday. She just rocks.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Yummy (and easy) beef stew

If you have a slow cooker, this is a great beef stew recipe.

1 lb stew beef, cubed
2 TBSP olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 potatoes, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
healthy pinch of ground cloves
1 c. beef broth
1 1/2 c. water

To thicken (at end of cooking time)
2 TBSP corn starch dissolved in 1/3 c. cold water

Brown beef cubes in olive oil. Transfer to slow cooker and add remaining ingredients (except corn starch mixture) and stir to mix well. Cook for approximately 5 hours on high (add extra water if necessary - sauce should just cover meat and veggies) and then test carrots and potatoes for doneness. When carrots and potatoes are done, mix the corn starch and cold water until smooth. Add slowly to hot stew and stir well. Let the stew cook on high until it thickens -approx. 5 minutes.


My sister was diagnosed with a pheochromocytoma, an epinephrine/norepinephrine-producing tumor of the adrenal gland. She had a number of symptoms over the past several years but they could all be attributed to other things. She was diagnosed when she had a CT scan for a kidney stone. The pheo was removed on Monday - it was 8x5 cm (HUGE in terms of a pheo). Because she is the second family member to have a pheo, another family member's doctor recommended that we all be tested. So last week I had a CT scan complete with consumption of two bottles of barium. Today I am doing the nasty test - a 24-hour urine collection. I have to pee in a "hat" and then transfer that to a jug, which has to be refrigerated. Of course, I'm doing it on a weekend so I don't have to deal with this process during the day at the office. I'm dropping off the jug-o-pee tomorrow before work.

Ice storms suck

We were in the path of the "massive Northeastern storm" that roared through the Midwest, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and New England. No snow, which is always a bummer to me, I'd rather have lots of snow than rain/sleet in the winter but we did get ice. I woke up this morning and looked out into the backyard to discover that our Bradford pear tree had split right down the middle and we'd lost several branches from the curly leaf willow and one of them was in the pond. The cypress trees don't look very good but we aren't sure if they are broken or are just bent from the ice and wind. While I'm greatful that the trees/branches didn't do any damage to the house or anyone who lives in it, I am bummed about the loss of the pear tree. It was our only decent shade tree (we live on what used to be a sheep farm so there are almost no large, mature trees in the entire neighborhood). We had been warned that Bradford pears had a tendency to split so we should keep it trimmed, which we did last year. It also completely changes the look of the backyard. Fortunately we have a great landscaper and we'll call her tomorrow to come and cut up the pear tree and willow branches and have a look at the cypresses.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Dolly Rules!

This is my new anthem. Must download to the iPod!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Fig Trees in Southeastern PA

Today I gave the fig tree its Winter coat. I have been trying to grow figs in Southeastern PA for several years. We planted the first tree in a bad location and it never took off. I planted another tree last year and it grew some the first year but then it broke at the base during a hurricane last September. I wrapped it last year but when I unwrapped it it was clear it hadn't survived. It regrew from the roots and set a crop of figs late in the summer. I pruned it last weekend and today it got its winter coat. My FIL gave me a burlap and stake wind break so I used it to wrap the fig, then stuffed the whole thing with straw. I had an epiphany while I was wrapping the tree - pipe insulation. I just have to get some longer zip ties and the fig will be warm all winter. This fig tree is supposed to be cold hardy down to 5 degrees fahrenheit but it got that cold at least once last winter so I don't want to take the rist