Monday, January 13, 2014

Household Experiment: Making Beans in a Crockpot

Not too long ago, someone suggested doing beans in a crockpot.  Now dried beans and I have been having a battle for years; I can soak them and soak them and a lot of times they stay hard. Even after I start cooking them.  I even have a special Victorian era bean pot especially for soaking beans!  So I have used canned beans more often than not, because I don't want to keep on messing with the stupid beans that never cook.

So in my cupboard, for several years now, have sat two bags of mixed beans, called 16 bean soup mix. The bag says there are at least 16 of these varieties listed on the back of the bag:

Pinto beans
Black eyed peas
Navy beans
Large Lima bean
Small White bean
Red Kidney beans
Baby Lima beans
Great Northern beans
Speckled Lima beans
Green Baby Lima Beans (the others are white, green is what we commonly see and eat)
Black Turtle bean
Whole Green Pea
Yellow Split Pea
Pink bean
Cranberry bean
Small Red beans
Green Split Pea

What I could tell, with my not full knowledge of beans, was that this bag has lentils, green and yellow split peas, all the Lima beans, the small Red beans, Navy beans, Pinto beans, Black Eyed Peas, Kidney beans, whole peas and some others I couldn't identify.

To start, I rinsed the beans in a colander, then tossed them into the crock pot with eight cups of water.  One pound of beans, eight cups of water.  I then set the crockpot to a 10 hour cook, and walked away.

About hours 5, I went to look. This is what it looked like - hey, things are starting to cook! The lentils and peas have all disintegrated into soup. The package came with a ham flavor packet, so I tossed it in, as well as some chopped onions. An hour later, it tasted blah, so I tossed in some cubed cooked roast beef.
I let it cook the 10 hours, then let it cool and stuck the crock in the fridge. Next morning, I put it back on, but this time set it for the 4 hour fast cook, and added some beef soup base. At hour three, it was good soup!

I took about 2/3rd of it, along with some fresh baked bread to the neighbors as thanks for plowing out our driveway last storm.

Daughter says it tastes like veggie beef soup, but with beans.
Hey, nice lens fog!

So, this experiment? A success.  Next try? Red kidney beans - see if they cook up to chili quality or if the chickens get a treat again.

16 bean beef soup, white chicken chili made on the stove, and a loaf of garlic bread fresh from the breadmaker - those lumps are chunks of garlic!

Life Over the Past Year - a Review of 2013 and a Start to 2014

Here we are, two weeks into the new year, and I never wrapped up last year.  I had planned to do this on New Year's Eve, but sleep took over. And then other things happened, so I'm finally getting around to this.
It was a busy year; sometimes a hard year. A lot of stuff made it onto the Facebook page instead of here; I'll be trying to do better about that this year.

It snowed. and snowed, and got warm, and snowed. Pretty typical for the mountains. Pretty typical for the state!

I took several pictures of ghost towns and ruins on my trips.  Karl's Dairy, local finds, random buildings from driving about for work, Husband and I took a road trip one day after an appointment, going the back way into Central City, and then finding a town I still can't identify from the maps. A couple more work trips brought these - near Greeley,  a ghost town near Jefferson, a number of places going through South Park, including Kline Ranch.  I also covered the opening of a new local state park, Staunton State Park for my Examiner column.
Hawk on a pole near home

Eagles on a nest near Kremmling

The giant adirondack chair a local church built- you can see a regular sized one at the base.

My car got fixed, thanks to help from my dad, and when we went to take it to the shop, we found out that our local squirrel had used it as a storage device.  Amazing how much easier it is to carry my work equipment in the van, rather than trying to stuff it all into a Mustang.  It also made it so that my husband had access to a car during the day, just in case he needed it.  Also made it so that he could make his weekly doctor appointments.

This was the year for cooking and canning.  I shared a few recipes, and processed a TON of tomatoes!  I thought I was ordering 30 pounds of tomatoes, and I ended up with 75 pounds!  This was in addition to the tomatoes I had already gotten and frozen, about another 50 pounds all told.  I made pickled sweet pepper jelly, watermelon and dandelion jelly , pizza sauce, apple butter and apple pie filling, tomato sauce and spaghetti sauce, pumpkin and pumpkin butter.  These were great come gift giving season; that, eggs and baked goods were gifts to several people this year.
tomato sauce - round one

spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, dried tomatoes -round two

Dandelion jelly, watermelon jelly, pizza sauce

apple butter

apple pie filling - some n small jars for lunches!

Tomato sauce and pizza sauce - round three

75 pounds of Roma tomatoes

Here's the recipes I shared here and elsewhere.
 Mini Egg Roll Bake
Cabbage Rolls
Making Butter
Chicken Soup
Lemon Cookies
Easy Bread
How to roast a Turkey

Even though my income was lower in 2013 than it was in 2012, we did better with it.  I tried to stock up on a lot of foods and necessities  - dog food, toilet paper, dish soap, etc. A half price sale on chicken feed really helped for a while there.  All in all, we've done fairly well, but there are still improvements to be made to my system.

One of the biggest helps was our daughter, who lives with us, got a promotion to assistant manager of the bakery at the grocery where she works.  Her increased salary has been a big help, as she was able to help cover bills for December than I was not able to do.

Other big family news, our son, a Lance Corporal in the Marines, got married mid summer.  They live far away in North Carolina, but came to visit in August.  They are settling well into married life.  My father took a trip back east to visit family, and ended up traveling quite a bit this summer, just because he could.


And of course, we got  baby chickens. More than I had originally planned on.  Oh well. I wrote lots of stories about Chickens. And the biggest deal - the finished chicken coop.  We did lose another couple of chickens this year; White Myrtle, our mighty mouse hunter, decided to stray from the flock and got taken my a coyote.  That coyote was rather brave; he came back the next day and attempted to get one of my other hens.  Most of them fled on his approach, but one . Bad luck for him - I happened to be standing by the garage when he ran up on them, and I chased after him, screaming, with a broom in hand. That made him stop for a few seconds, long enough for our Magellan to get the idea and run for the garage.  I kept chasing him as well, and have not seen him back in the yard.  We did, however, hear then howl for the first time in months last week - the pack is back in town.  But now, the hens are safe within their sturdy fortress!
White Myrtle and her catch, with assistance after she dropped it

The other chicken we lost - Nip - was to a sour crop.  My daughter ended up giving her the most care, researching what to do and everything, but on the fourth day of care, just when we thought she was rallying, she passed away in the night.  Nip was buried out back - never eat a chicken that dies of illness, just a note to you.

But in other chicken news - that skylight on the roof of their coop has proven a boon!  When most chickens slow down their laying for the year during the winter months because of a lack of light, they did not. We average about 7-8 eggs a day out of 15 hens.  That's pretty good!

After a very windy spell in early October, husband got out the sawsall and topped all the dead trees in the dog run.  They were all topped at about 10 feet tall, just because.  And around Thanksgiving, we went out and cut all that wood up as well as a few downed Aspen we dragged over - it gave us about 3/4 of a cord of firewood.

They have gotten a vacation from it, however - we had a very bad cold snap in the beginning of December; single digits during the day, minus  temps at night.  The girls moved back into the garage coop for about a week. taking very short jaunts out into the dog run, just like last winter. Of course, to go with this was a power outage.  I stayed up all night, stoking the wood stove in the main part of the house, keeping all cupboards with pipes in them open, and running a propane heater in the basement and garage in order to keep the chickens warm enough.  Luckily, it was an easy fix for the electric company and power was back on by 5:30 am.

Some of the hardships of the year were covered well; I had a bout of illness, rendering me unable to talk for about four days. I could still do everything else just fine. Luckily, my work has a lot of people with illnesses and disabilities, and they were able to accommodate me by switching my schedule a little bit so that I could still work without talking.  I also managed to injure my elbow; it was a progressive thing, and the healing has also been progressive. Sometimes, I still overdo it and it aches for the day. But I should be able to go back to work just fine once the season starts here again in a week or so.

However, the cold snap in December brought on another hardship. Our oldest dog, Pip, after being treated for another bladder infection due to her diabetes two weeks earlier, pretty well stopped eating.  At first, she would only eat things that we considered serious treats - cheese, steak, chicken - and she was drinking well. The vet said let her eat what she would in hopes it was just a reaction to the antibiotics she'd been on. But by the end of the second day, she could not walk herself up and down the stairs to go to the bathroom anymore, she was barely moving herself around the kitchen and livingroom.  On the third day, she even started refusing steak and cheese.  So a hard choice was made, and the vet helped to to sleep for the last time.  Pip was 14 years old,  a rescue dog that had been abused before she came to us in 2002. She learned what it was like to be loved and well cared for, and eventually became the boss of the house.  In 2010, she was diagnosed with diabetes and started treatment for it; the diabetes made cataracts grow over her eyes, but that did not stop her from being the boss of everyone and everything, including and especially the chickens and the other dogs in the house.  She is very missed by all of us.

Pip on duty, enjoying the October sun

Pip, ignoring the chickens who are ignoring her.

So what will 2014 bring?  It's already brought more snow, and another short lived cold snap - ever run with chickens through -10 degree weather, in the dark? We have!  They spend another 36 hours in the garage coop.

We plan to rent a chainsaw and go around the property and take down a lot more of the dead trees. It's good fire mitigation and will give us another round of firewood for the next winter.

Of course, upgrades to the coop - it needs a few things, and the heavy winds this month have showed us that we need to do something to shore up the fences and gates. We did not get to it last year, but we plan to use some more of that salvaged wood to create a floor under the gate area on both sides of the fence, to help with snow removal and to be able to put some movable stops in for the gates.

We need to replace the deck flooring, and do some general property clean up.  I'm going to continue on my mission of getting rid of the extraneous stuff we never use, including a lot of the crafting supplies in the basement. Live simpler.

I do have a new writing position as Sustainable Living writer  for Examiner; I plan to write more on both my titles this year.

Otherwise? Make this year an even better one than the last.