brew masters?

June 26, 2011

because 15 turkeys, 10 chickens, 3 pigs, a large garden, 1 coonhound AND a 3 month old are not enough to keep us busy, the Schmidt’s decided to take on beer brewing.  Yes, we did.  And our goal is to produce  a beer that is actually worthy of the Schmidt name (sorry, current Schmidt beer but you just don’t taste good).  Because we know very little of the art, we decided to order a kit for our first batch.  The lovely thing about a kit is that it contains all the equipment a person would need for future beer-brewing–so while it is an up-front cost (each beer cost a whopping $4…), the next batch we make, having to only purchase the ingredients, will supply us with tasty beer at only $.60 a bottle.  AND, (hope springs eternal) since Andy is currently growing his own hops, our cost will continue to decline until, eventually, our beer will be nearly free.  Bliss! Joy! Penny pinching brilliance! 

removing the grains.

So, as I was saying before, we purchased a kit for an Amber Ale  from Midwest Brewing Co..  It arrived on a very rainy day-the FedEx man hauled the boxes all the way up to our front door, knocked and walked away.  Leaving me, baby in tow, to  pull the boxes in out of the rain.  These were BIG boxes–5 feet long.  And they weren’t light either.  But, I managed and soon, after Andy arrived home, our brewing operation began!  We learned all sorts of new words–carboy, primary fermenter, wort, Hallertau and Fuggle Pellet.  What fun!     A quick run-down of what we did–first, we steeped the grains.  Then we added the malt extract.  Then we cooled the liquid (talk about patience!…this took approximately 6 hours) and added the hops.  This fine concoction then sat in the primary fermenter or Ale Pail for one week at which time my fearless husband siphoned the ale into the glass Carboy or secondary fermenter.  There it sat, getting all yeasty and, as the name implies, fermented.  After another (long) week (his wife was away in Iowa with the baby, leaving him alone to fend for himself, aka lonely nights filled only with macaroni & cheese and the steady snore of  hound dog) Andy bottled the fine brew and capped each bottle with a “snap” and a flourish.  And there it sits, in the spare room which once, before we had the brilliant idea to brew, belonged to baby Sparrow.  (sorry, kiddo–looks like you are hanging out in mom & dad’s room for just a little longer.) In approximately 2 weeks it will be ready to drink.  And hopefully it will be delicious.  If not, well, I hope the pigs like bad beer. 

das bier.

In other news, we are still starting fires in the wood stove.  But its June 23rd, you say!  But, it is officially summer, you say!  But, it was 98 degrees in Minneapolis, you say!  And I say–yes, this is all very true.  But we live in Hovland, MN and, somewhere along the line, our forefathers must have done something to really piss Old Man Winter off because he is determined to over-stay his welcome every year.  Really, he is the guy at the party who keeps the lamp-shade on his head long after it has ceased to be humorous.  He is clueless AND stubborn.  And we don’t like him.

Nevertheless, we still FEEL like its summer in our hearts and are enjoying all the loveliness therein.  We recently let the turkeys out of their coop making them officially, “free range”.  Good for them, not so good for the chickens and hank.  Upon initial release, the chickens all huddled on the front porch, clucking with disapproval at their new yard mates.  Now they just steer clear, hiding in tall patches of grass, ducking under various bits of machinery.   And Hank, poor idiot, just chases the turkeys around the yard.  I’m not sure if he is trying to channel  herding-dog tendencies buried deep in his little dog soul or if he has just lost his mind but, at any rate, the turkeys make him frantic.  Hopefully he will calm to the idea soon, lest we ALL lose our minds. 

“they drive me to fits of insanity!”

Sparrow is exceedingly well.  She turns 3 months tomorrow which I simply cannot believe.  How is this possible?  She and I spent a lovely 2 weeks in Iowa with family.  It was delightful.  Sparrow swam in friend-Dianne’s pool, took many a walk with dog-Molly, had her first camping trip, spent lots of timing wowing grandmas & grandpas with her babbling and, spent the rest of the time sweating.  It was entirely hot & humid, just as Iowa should be.  We had a marvelous time.  Thank you family, for being so wonderful and such a joy to be with. 

bird as duck.



June 8, 2011

remember those homeless turkeys from last week’s post?  i suppose i didn’t fully explain their situation–they weren’t exactly homeless, they were just living in squalor.  What is a turkey’s version of squalor, you might ask?  it is 14 birds, growing faster than the lone whisker on my chin (if any other women have these, you know how fast that is!), crammed into a black plastic container the size of a bathtub.  Over the top of this were window screens–so it looks like they can escape into the wide, wonderful world, only they can’t.  But believe me, they tried.  Over and over and over again.  Walking by the garage (where the den of doom was) you could here these pathetic attempts at gobbling followed by a ‘thwak’–which was, of course, a turkey headbutting the screen for, perhaps, the 200th time that day.  I’ve been told turkeys are quite brilliant so I am forced to believe that this repetitive practice was born, not out of stupidity, but desperation.  They really really needed more space.


SO.  Andy, fearless keeper of the turkeys, answered their plea and spent countless hours building a poultry mansion.  Now, this would be amazing in and of itself, but what is truly amazing is that he did not buy a single piece of lumber for this coop!  Not a one!  As you can see from the pictures, the back wall of the turkey coop is an old highway sign for the Grand Portage Store (gotten perfectly legally, thank you very much).  The roof is tin from an old sawmill down the road from us that was being demolished.  The door is our old picnic table.  The run door is a Gunflint Trail Sign.  And all the other boards he milled HIMSELF from a large spruce tree on our property with the use of his trusty Stihl chainsaw.   And, as if that were not astounding enough, he did all of this during the absolute height of black fly & mosquito season.  He said he practically went stark, raving mad from all the bugs.  And he couldn’t even swat at them, as his hands were constantly busy either manning a chainsaw or a hammer.  That is dedication. 

the sign.

Sparrow & I didn’t help much.  But we did walk down the hill to visit once or twice, always wearing our bug nets (which didn’t help) and always with the intention of quickly leaving.  I have always hated bugs but I have become manic now, convinced that even one mosquito bite might ruin Sparrow’s life forever.  Or at least, might keep me up all at night with her tears.  Which is almost as bad as a ruined life.  So, I spend most of my time swatting bugs & she spends most of her time being oblivious to bugs.  Ignorance is such bliss. 

mother & daughter morons.

holding her first toy.

Even without our help, Andy finished the coop in record time.  He said “i could have finished it in a day instead of a week if i had just bought the stupid lumber…but what fun would that have been?”  Man, he’s a good sport! 

poultry mansion.

And so, the turkeys have arrived.  We carried them upside down by their legs…not exactly the most luxurious means of travel to their new home, and tossed them in on a bed of fresh hay.  They stood right up and looked around and I really do think they were impressed.   Now all they have to do is learn to gobble.


the happy tennants


Well, I am pleased to announce that we just celebrated the two month birthday of our most favorite bird.  Now, I must say that acknowledging Sparrow’s two month “birthday” and walking around all day saying “today is Sparrow’s 2-month birthday” is not unlike those (annoying) couples who know EXACTLY how long they have been dating and are determined to celebrate their 3-month anniversary, their 4-month, 15th-month and the “day we first knew” anniversary…a trait which, to be honest, strikes me as not only strange but marginally pathetic. (no offense) So, the fact that I am doing the same thing with my daughter drives me crazy.  BUT.  I can’t help it!  Because, unlike those lovey-dovey couples who are celebrating the passing of days which are really mostly identical and unchanging—I am celebrating the passing of days that bring about HUGE change.  Like her smiles (which melt andy’s heart) and her new noises and her little periscope head so much more supported on her string bean neck and (most important!) the increasing number of hours she goes between eating at night (bless her).   Our little bird is morphing right before our eyes–becoming more human and less amoeba, more Sparrow and less generic baby.  So, happy 2-month birthday, Sparrow bird.  We love you.


Other than celebrating birthdays, the Schmidts have been busy, busy, busy with spring-time things.  We enjoyed our first home-grown salad at dinner–a glorious, green mess of spinach, lettuce and arugula.  Until we had this first salad, Andy was resisting the urge to get down on hands and knees to graze in our greenhouse.  I am pleased to announce he did resist and sat, very civilized, at the table to enjoy his greens.  Though we both tossed our forks aside and ate our salad with grubby fingers as recommended by the brilliant Alice Waters.  And since our forks had gone the way of Hammer pants our salad had to be accompanied by other finger foods.  We chose buffalo burgers.  Now if you have never had a buffalo burger on the grill, you have not lived.  Or at least you have not had the pleasure of a buffalo burger, a meat unsurpassed by any other I have tasted.  We always make four quarter-pound patties and we always eat them all.  Which means, I eat two burgers for dinner.  Does that make me a pig??  Probably–but I’m one happy pig.  Add the intoxicating smell of charcoal wafting from the back deck and a Fat Tire beer and well, life is practically perfect.  One is so delirious with bliss, one completely forgets that, despite it being May 27th, it never got above 40 degrees all day. 

mind-melding meal.

And since we are on the subject of food, I should probably share one of my favorite cookie recipes.  In this house, cookies get eaten by the bucket full.  Its terrible and wonderful all at the same time.  I make cookies at least once a week, alternating almost exclusively between chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.  We can’t go wrong either way–sometimes you crave the crunchy, sweet of a the triple-c and sometimes the chewy, “its healthy because it has oatmeal AND raisins in it” of the oatmeal raisin.  This week, we craved the latter.  We never stray from our stand-by recipe from the delightful Smitten Kitchen website (this women is BRILLIANT).  So if you are in the mood for the cookie that lies to you, “i’m healthy, really” and goes exceptionally well with a fresh brewed cup of coffee at breakfast (is it really THAT different from a bowl of oatmeal??) you should try this recipe. 



In other Schmidt family news, Whitey, our Leghorn hen, took an unfortunate fall into an oil bucket and came out looking like, well, like a chicken dipped in motor oil.   Our neighbor suggested we sprinkle soap powder on her and leave her out in the rain.  We opted for simply leaving her in the rain and since the unfortunate episode, her coloring has faded and she simply looks like an official member of the Schmidt family–covered in dirt. 


Andy is busy building a coop for our turkeys.  I will keep you up-dated on this as it progresses.  And our garden continues to get planted.  This week we introduced the beet to our soil.  We love beets, especially the pickled variety.  I wish they would make an actual pickled beet seed variety, one that grew cute little ball jars of ruby red jewels.  It would save me a step, anyway.  But really, I would truly miss this thrilling “plink!” sound that the jars make when sealing.  The reassuring sound that the next 6 months will be filled with the mouth-staining joy of pickled beets.



beet seeds.

 This weekend we had our share of seed-ish things.  We started with a full day of seed planting at the Schmidt family garden.  First up were the peas and beans.  And with those came the need for some sort of climbing apparatis so Andy & I built a pea trellis from spruce branches (we have spruce trees ad nauseam here).  Last year our trellis succumbed to the weight and height of our ambitious peas and toppled over half way through the summer season.  We attempted to secure it with yarn (note, yarn does not retain any sturdiness it may have had [which isn’t much] upon getting wet), a random length of blue pex pipe left over from the previous winter’s frozen water pipe adventure, and a number of clamps from Andy’s wood shop.  This brilliant cluster of items looked like a 4-H project gone horribly wrong.  And, needless to say, our most creative effort failed and we ended up picking many a pea from a sprawling mess of green vines on the ground.  (I assure you, they still tasted FABULOUS).  So this year we set out with both guns blazing.  No tower of babble for this year’s peas, no sir.  Andy made stakes and we pounded those into the ground alongside the spruce poles and screwed them together.  We used an entire package of twine to tie it altogether…overkill perhaps but all  said and done, we now have a fine trellis that boasts mightiness. Bring it on sugar snap pea! Your gumption is no match for the brute strength of our trellis. 

the mighty pea trellis.

the mighty andy securing the mighty trellis.

We also managed to plant beans, arugula, spinach and lettuce in the garden.  All root vegetables to follow this week.  Our green house is already full of lovely green things and we anticipate a fine salad on our dinner plate within the week.  I can hardly wait!  We are planning to sell at the farmer’s market this summer along with our friends Corrie & Ben.  The things planted in the green house over a month ago are in full swing and will hopefully afford us some early produce to sell.  We are depending on Sparrow to be extremely cute to peak customer interest, luring them over to our booth from across the parking lot like a siren where we will then capitalize on their delirium and take their money.  They will walk away feeling immensely satisfied having given money to the parents of such an adorable creature and then they will realize they also have an armful of delightful veggies.  Everybody wins!

arugula basking in sunlight.

Our next seedling adventure was at Grand Portage Indian Reservation just up the shore.  The elementary students at Oshkiogimaag  had their annual Seedling Sale to raise money for their school.  Andy has been teaching environmental education in the classroom and as a part of this, spearheads the seedling sale.  Starting with plastic trays of dirt and packets of seeds donated from fabulous places like Seed Savers, he walks the kids through the entire process of seed to plant.  It has been a great success and the kids really get into it.   The lesson culminates with the sale, a Saturday morning fiasco complete with blueberry pancakes and bacon from the lodge, rambunctious kids anxious for customers (while simultaneously being very anxious for the sale be over…patience is not a virtue of any 12-year-old I know) and an obnoxious number of those terrible biting black flies northern Minnesota is so well-loved for.    The sale went well and everything left over will be planted for use by the Elderly Nutrition Program.  *I should note that the seedling sale is so well received in part because of the Community Garden Andy started 3 years ago.  We are pleased that the garden has expanded yet again and at the most recent meeting there were 12 new interested gardeners.  I plan to take a trip up there one of these (nice) days to get some pictures.*

doing the math.

 Andy is also very happy to announce that we have approximately 20 asparagus sprouts down the hill by the creek. He counts them everyday (do you think we are excited to eat fresh asparagus??). Asparagus is one of those plants which requires great amounts of patience and, when it comes to asparagus, Andy & I are much like the 12 year olds we worked with this weekend. Asparagus takes approximately 2 years to fully mature and sprout enough roots to offer a substantial crop. In other words it’s not ready to harvest until the second summer after a fall planting. This is our first summer and it is mighty hard to wait. I never thought that a vegetable could cause me to want time to pass more quickly, to be unsatisfied with the now and wish, desperately, for the future. Oh, spindly green shoot with crown so daintily waving, please hurry up.


 And, last but NOT least.  Our little seedling.  She was 8 weeks on Sunday and, I’m pleased to announce, celebrated by giving her mama and papa  a gift–a 6 hour stretch between feedings last night.  Nevermind that mama lay awake in bed for an hour before hand waiting for her to wake up.  Seriously annoying.  But thank you, little Sparrow–let’s have a repeat tonight.  Or maybe I should stretch my luck and ask for 6 1/2 hours this time.  or 7.  or 8. or 9–now I’m just being ridiculous.

Happy seedling.