Monday, November 9, 2015

What we do with venison

The girls here at Dirt Road Renaissance are ranch raised.  We grew up eating beef, pork and lamb that we raised on the ranch.  With a plentiful supply of those meats, I didn't see the need for supplementing our freezer supplies with venison, but my husband has developed the desire to hunt, which leaves me to find ways to put that meat to use.

 The biggest challenge with harvesting wild game is keeping the meat clean.   I spend a lot of time washing and picking hair off of our meat before I ever get started on processing.
Our first year, we made jerky and pepperoni sticks out of our deer.  The next year, we saved a few steaks, made jerky and pepperoni sticks, tried to make summer sausage and put a lot of meat in bags in the freezer to deal with later.  Later didn't come until almost a year later when I finally pulled it out and made bratwurst.  This year my husband added an elk to our harvest and we are turning it into steaks, roasts, burger and jerky.

We have had a mix of successes and failures:

Jerky- We have tried many different flavors that we bought and attempted a few of our own recipes.  My husband likes to add brown sugar to any mix, but I prefer the original and mesquite jerky flavoring that we buy. You don't need any special equipment to make jerky,  but a slicer makes it much easier to cut to the proper width.  We use our oven to cook the jerky, but a smoker works great too.

Pepperoni/snack sticks- The kids love these.  Also made from a store bought mix.  You need a grinder and sausage stuffer to make them, but they can be cooked in the oven or smoker like the jerky.

Summer sausage- We tried a recipe found on the internet, but it didn't turn out well.  It has the consistency of hamburger with summer sausage flavor.  I hate to waste food, so I mix it in sloppy joes and nobody can tell. (Shhhh) This also requires a grinder and sausage stuffer.

Bratwurst and pepperoni sticks
Bratwurst- I was very excited to buy a brat mix for wild game and froze some venison specifically for making some.  I was disappointed to realize that the recipe called for mostly pork meat with just a little venison thrown in. I learned that it is important to keep the ingredients very cold to keep it from becoming an unappetizing mush when stuffing the casings.  The result is still quite good, although I recommend cooking with a meat thermometer to make sure it reaches 165 degrees and then immediately remove from the heat.  Otherwise, they dry out.  Since I still have some seasonings and casings, I hope to play with that pork/venison ratio to see if I can make them more on the venison side.  These also require a grinder and sausage stuffer, but you can cook them however you would usually cook fresh brats.

Steaks/ Roasts/Burger- We processed our deer and most of our elk from this year into steaks, roasts and burger.  The backstrap and tenderloin are the most tender muscles in an animal, so we cut this into our steaks.  We saved some meat from the rear legs for roasts and froze some to make into jerky later.  Everything else we cut into small chunks and ran through a grinder with some pork fat that I had in the freezer for burger. The pork fat is not necessary, but I am of the opinion that pork makes everything better.

We have tried quite a few things with our wild game and we will continue to try new things for as long as my husband wants to hunt. (Soon my son will be joining in as well)  However, we did something new this year that I think is my favorite way to deal with the venison that they bring home.  We heard about a few families in our area that are going through difficult times.  We offered our deer to anyone that wanted it and then cut and packaged it into steaks and roasts and burger to be delivered to those families.  I found this link for those wanting to donate their game meat to others in need.  Hunters Feed  Knowing that the meat was going to people who could truly use it made the time spent cleaning, cutting and packaging feel much less of a chore.  We will probably continue to donate all or part of our hunting results in the future.

Hopefully I have given you some ideas for how to deal with the wild game that may come to your kitchen.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

DIY Make your own homemade fishing lure for trout out of a penny

When I was a kid I loved to fish but hated using worms or grasshoppers... or any kind of bait really.  The first time i saw someone fishing the river by my home with a lure was an eye-opening experience.  I was impressed by the fact that only the trout in the river were attracted by the lures.  With my live bait it was always a gamble to see what would bite, a trout, a bony white fish or the more likely "sucker fish" that all called the river home.  I had no idea how to fish with a lure, but I was sure I wanted to fish with them from that day forward.
The problem for me was the price.  I was just a kid and couldn't afford the nice lures that I'd seen work so well to pull trout out of the river.  After examining some in the store, I decided it wouldn't be hard to make my own.  I "borrowed" some of my little sister's awful, plastic beads, dug out a penny and with the help of a nail, a paperclip and an old rusty treble hook that I found inside my older brother's abandoned tackle box, I had my lure!
Shockingly, it worked on its maiden voyage and I caught 2 fish before hopelessly snagging my penny lure, loosing it and coming home.  Even though I'd lost my lure, I came home triumphant.  I'd only lost a penny really, and I'd gained 2 fish.  The biggest problem was explaining to my little sister what happened to her jewelry. (I think she has finally forgiven me.)
So to make a short story long, this blog is here to show you how to make a simple, but effective, homemade, trout lure or if you'd prefer, provide you a link to buy your own penny lure and instruction sheet.  (a great novelty gift idea for kids to keep them busy in the summer)

First, dig a penny out of your couch cushions, find a medium-sized paperclip, some beads and a treble hook (I've used regular hooks before and they will work, but not as well as a treble hook I think).

Second, take a small hammer, rounded if you have one, and pound your penny on a piece of scrap wood or a wood block until in has a concave/convex (spoon-like) shape.

Third, as close to the edge as you can, drill through the penny with a small diameter drill bit. If you don't have a power drill at your disposal, you can do as I did as a kid and use a hammer and small nail to make your hole through the penny.  Do your best to smooth out any rough edges on the hole so that the penny can move uninhibited as it spins through the water later.

Fourth, straighten out your paperclip and using needle-nose pliers, make a hook at the end.  Place the treble hook on the hook and using the pliers again, bend the end of the paperclip around to close the hook, making a tight loop.

Fifth, string the bead or beads on the paperclip as desired and thread the penny on, concave side down so that it spoons around the beads.

Sixth, clip off any extra paperclip, leaving about 3/4 of an inch above the penny and beads.  Make a tight loop with the top end of the paper clip for your fishing line or swivel clip to attach securely onto.

Seventh, go try it out!  Make sure the penny can spin freely on the paperclip to attract your trout.  You may also need to add some weights/sinkers to the line to help things along.
Have fun designing your custom homemade lures and good luck!  I hope you have as much fun as my kids and I have making your own lures.  I will include some of my favorite lure designs for catching the rainbows, cutthroats and brown trout varieties that are native in our rocky mountain rivers here.
If you'd like to make them, but maybe another day, click this link to buy your own penny lure accompanied with an instruction sheet on how to make your own.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Make your own homemade Hummingbird Feeders-building with recyled and re-purposed bottles, jars and homemade feeding tubes

My grandparents all loved native birds, consequently, their homes, gardens and yards were constantly surrounded by beautiful birds who frequented the many feeders that were strewn about.  It amazed me that they knew all the names of the colorful and distinctly different little feathered visitors who came to dine outside their windows.  My only surviving grandmother still hangs out her feeders and can tell her great grandchildren all about the birds that they see all around her home.  Hummingbirds were a favorite of mine with their wings going a mile a minute as they hovered with their delicate beaks deftly extracting nectar from the feeders.

Now that I am grown I hang out my own feeders and I enjoy building my own.  If you enjoy hummingbirds and enjoy making your own feeders, I hope you will enjoy this and find it helpful. I have a couple different designs that I have built but I will start with a popular design right now that uses bottles from wine, sparkling juice, soda and even mason canning jars with a feeder tube (or two, or three or four) attached.  There are many places that sell pre-made feeder tubes but I made my own using things I had on hand and it was simple and of course much cheaper.  I am going to try and link this blog to a site online where you can also purchase these great recycled feeders if you choose.

1st I drank a bottle of sparkling juice with my kids and husband over a pot roast dinner and saved the bottle.  This particular variety of sparkling juice had a twist on and off cap so I decided to use that to my advantage (but I will also show ways to make feeder tubes that will work with bottles that do not have resealable caps). 2nd I looked around the house and found some extra, flexible,  plastic tubing lying around.  (Truth be told it was some old oxygen tubing that my son required when he was born.  Thank heaven he no longer needs it for its original purpose, but he does love watching birds outside so I thought re-purposing the tubing for a bird feeder was perfect!)   If you have some flexible copper tubing or anything similar it will work fine too.  I cut the tubing into about 6" sections and then dug through my drill bits looking for a bit that was the same diameter as my tubing-or at least fairly close.

3rd Once I found the drill bit I attached it to my power drill and bored a hole through the center of the screw-on cap and inserted the tubing through it.  I've heard some people say the tube should be about 2" inside the bottle and 4" out, but I only put the tube in about an 1" or so inside the bottle.

4th Even though the tube fit snugly into the drilled hole of the cap, I fired up the hot glue gun and put a bead around the tube both on the inside and outside of the cap to seal it up. (For non-resealable caps, I simply used a cheap cork, drilled through it, just as I did the twist-off cap, inserted the tube inside with about an 1" inside the bottle and about 4" outside, then sealed it up with hot glue exactly as i did with the cap.  Keep a steady hand when drilling the cork as it is soft! )

5th I didn't want bees or other insects crawling up into the tube and I wanted the opening of the tube to be small enough to prevent excess leaking.  After some thought, I used some colored electrical tape (hummingbirds are supposed to be drawn to the colors red and yellow) and covered the end of the tube with a small piece,

then secured that piece by wrapping a little electrical tape around the outside of the end of the tube.  With the end of the feeder tube successfully sealed off, I poked a small hole through the tape on the end of the tube with a paperclip and wiggled it around so that it was about the right size for a little hummingbird beak to fit.

6th I needed a hanger!  I had some twine around which would work fine, but i decided to use some stiff wire we had out back that is so miserable to bend that no one ever uses it to fix fences or wire up anything.  I like being able to put things to good use and it seemed stiff enough to do the job well.  It took a while, using pliers, the bottle and my tabletop to start a nice, curving, spiraling wrap that was small enough on one end to carefully cradle the bottleneck and gradually large enough on the other end to hold the rest of the bottle securely and still have enough left over for a nice hanger.  (I used about 30" or so for my large sparkling juice bottle.)

7th I decided to spray paint the old gray wire that i fashioned into a hanger to dress it up a bit.  I had a copper color that would match the cap so i used it and loved it-but this is obviously not a necessary step.  Lastly I wiggled the bottle into its new hanger and project done!   All ready to be filled with nectar, hung up in a nice spot and enjoyed!  (One tip about filling the bottle, try to fill it as full as possible and let all the air bubbles rise to the top before securing a cap or slowly twisting a cork with feeder tubes attached.  This prevents any excess leaking although with the tiny holes on the ends of these tubes, I haven't had many problems with that!  Please do remember though that in high wind areas, all feeders will leak.)
Any bottle with a tight sealing, screw on cap (or cork) can be converted easily, like this mason jar.  The same process is used: drill through, insert tubes, add a hot glue seal, tape the ends, poke tiny holes in the tape on the ends and make your hanger.
I found that in areas where the hummingbirds are not familiar with the single-tube feeders, I had more success adding a colorful plastic flower made of colored electrical tape to the end.   To reduce any excess leaking, I found it was also helpful  to wrap small lengths of pliable, left over copper electrical wires around the tubing to point the ends up.
(NOTE: To avoid any leaking or excess dripping with your feeders, fill them up absolutely as full as you can and let all air bubbles rise to the top.  Slowly screw on the tops or twist in the cork.  Improper filling can make your feeder drain out in a day or less.)
If you would rather purchase these great recycled creations today and make them another day, I am attempting to create a link here.

It can also be fun to give your old feeder some new features.  I accidentally broke the old plastic bottle on this one and simply re-fitted it with this perrier bottle and made a new hanger for it.  The "re-fitting" process required boring a larger hole just the size of the perrier bottle cap, drilling a hole through the bottle cap to allow the the nectar to run into the feeder and hot glueing the outside of the cap into the newly bored hole.  Now the bottle simply screws in or out of its cap in the feeder base and is easy to refill.
I have a few other designs for feeders that I will try to post pictures of below and If enough folks want to see how to make them, I may post the directions in a later blog or simply make an addition to this. one

The Repurposed Home: DIY converting an antique clothes washer into a mudroom sink

If you are like me, you can't help yourself when it comes to antiques.  I love them!  But what happens when they are a bit bigger than your average sit-on-the-shelf-display antique? Such was my dilemma with an antique washing machine. We had said washing machine around and I really wanted to display it in my home somehow. Because it was a complete Maytag clothes washer, the problem was that it would take up a lot of space.  I thought it would make a nice addition to my laundry room/mudroom but I didn't want to waste any space there (my mudroom is one of the most utilized, necessary and appreciated spaces in my home!)  Hmmmm.  I decided that if I was going to make it fit into my home decor then it should be functional as well.  I knew that returning it to its previous function as a clothes washing machine was beyond my expertise and i didn't have the budget to pay for a repairman with that particular skill set so I thought up another use for it.  Since it already had a basin and a drain i decided to convert it into a laundry room/mud room sink-something I have wanted for years and haven't got around to installing.  If you'd like some ideas on how to do the same, here's what I did.

1st I pulled out the central agitator, which in most models pulls right up and out nicely.  Removing this piece makes the sink basin bigger, more accessable, usable and much more convenient fro when my husband or kids plop freshly caught trout in it or wash out their muddy shoes or clothes.

2nd After strategically setting a large bowl under the washer, I poured a pitcher full of water down into the basin to make sure it still drained correctly and didn't have any cracks or leaks. The old thing drained like a champ.

3rd I bought a cheap white faucet with a pullout nozzle that closely matched the enamel on my antique washer.  My original plan was to cut or drill away some metal and mount the faucet right on the antique washer but I decided to preserve the washer in its entirety, without drilling or cutting, and go a different route. 

4th I had some left over 3" plastic conduit pipe and so I bought a .75 cent cap for it and decided to mount my new faucet on the pipe and cap (which I would in turn attach to the antique washer).  I measured the height of the washer and cut the pipe to match.  I measured the size of hole that the faucet would need and dug out an old drill bit with the same diameter.  I drilled through the cap carefully and filed down the rough edges.

5th I knew all my faucet hoses (including one long, weighted one) would not fit, slide and function very well in the tight space of the 3" pipe so I cut out about a third of the pipe, on the back side where it wouldn't show, with my saws all.

6th Because my pipe was gray, i decided to spray paint it and the cheap cap with white appliance paint to match the color of my antique.)

7th After the paint was dry I mounted the faucet onto the cap (following the instructions that came with the faucet).  I then threaded the hoses on the faucet carefully down into the pipe and out the open slot on the back of the pipe.

8th I secured the pipe to the antique washer using 2 very large and very cheap plumbing pipe clamps.

9th Time to do some plumbing!  Attaching the faucet hoses to the sink hook ups was easy-they just screwed right on, hot to hot and cold to cold.  The underside of the old washer was a slightly different story but with the help of my favorite local hardware store lady, it wasn't too tough either (Thanks Karen!).  The drain pipe under the washer was a tiny, short metal pipe that protruded at a funny angle and was 3/4" in diameter.  My p-trap and drain pipe in the wall that I needed to connect the washer to was 1 1/2" black plastic plumbing pipe. Hmmmm.  First, I bought a rubber hose and clamp connector set for a one-size-fits-all dishwasher/garbage disposal unit and connected it to the metal drain pipe.  These wonderful little connectors start at 1/2 " on one side and end at 1" on the other.  I cut sections off the small end of the rubber fitting with a pocket knife until i had a piece that fit nicely over the washer's drain pipe. One side attached!!
10th From there I had to grab an adapter or three to stick into the 1" rubber hose, then connect into a 1 1/2" black pipe. With the funny angle of the drain pipe under the washer, this took a few 90, 45 and 22 1/2 degree elbows of black plumbing pipe, but it did come together!  After glueing and clamping the pieces in place it was time to try it out!
Sink, faucet and drain all work great and we love it in our mudroom!  If you give this a try, I hope you have as much fun with it as I did!  (If my leftover parts and plastic pipe is a bit too "rustic" for you, there are many other options available and if you'd like to discuss them with me, let me know and we'll chat about them.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

the Re-Purposed Home: DIY Converting Lanterns into Electrical Light Fixtures and Lamps

A few years back I started collecting some old rusty lanterns, a few that had probably been my grandpa's.  I loved the look of them and I confess I felt a little nostalgia for my childhood days when we had our cattle drives or camp outs.  On the cattle drives we used an old wood cookstove to cook meals in an antiquated sheep camp and used a couple of old coal oil lanterns for lighting.  The warmth and illumination of the firelight always felt comforting if not magical to me.  I was determined to use the old lanterns I had collected in my home somehow, if nothing else, for decor, but, after a few trips to the hardware store, a few new ideas took shape.  I was sure I could preserve the lanterns, and their antique value, in their entirety while using the lanterns as light fixtures in my home.  Without any cutting, drilling or damage to the lanterns, I found a way to convert them to electric light fixtures and electric lamps.

     On this post I will focus on just lamp making because it has virtually the same steps as the fixtures (and I'm needing to build another lamp right now for my mantle as I robbed the old one to go beside my bed; Darn those mystery novels).  So if you have some old lanterns and you'd like to make light fixtures or lamps out of them, here's how I did it.

1st I wanted my lanterns in as good a condition as possible and most of them were in pretty bad shape.  If you want them rusty and antiqued without their glass globes, handles, etc., then skip this step.  If not, this is what I did.  Most of my lanterns were rusted solid.  To get the rust off and down to whats left of the original paint/patina, pour a regular size bottle of molasses from the grocery store in a 5 gallon bucket of water and place the lantern in the mixture for a day or two, then scrub gently with a pink Brillo pad and rinse.  Yes, it has to be a Brillo pad, not steel wool or anything abrasive.  It was freezing outside when I was soaking my lanterns so I put the bucket of brown goo in the shower and shut the door where it would be out of the way of my kids' little curious fingers and if any dribbled out on accident while I was checking a lantern it would be easy to clean up.  I forgot to tell my husband about my project and he got quite a start when he stepped into the shower with the brown sludge bucket.  (Not to worry, he healed up nicely.)  Most experts will tell you to soak them for only a few days but I actually forgot two of my really rusted lanterns that were soaking in the molasses mixture for a week (this was after I moved the bucket out of the shower to a new, kid-secluded location-so secluded even I didn't notice them apparently).  I don't know if it damaged them, but I know it sure cleaned them up nicely!  I didn't need the Brillo pad at all and I could see a few traces of the original paint colors as well.  After they had been rinsed and dried off I wanted to prevent any further rusting and I like my metal to shine so I sprayed a few coats of clear spray lacquer on my lanterns.  (If you are worried about devaluing your lanterns through the cleaning or restoring phase or are worried about using clear lacquer, hit the internet sites, like about preserving and cleaning old lanterns.  That's where I learned about the
molasses bath and Brillo pads.)

     After cleaning them up, I wanted to learn enough about my lanterns to order replacement parts like the glass globes that most of them were missing.  There are some great websites out there to help identify your lantern.  Make sure you look all over your lantern for any lettering or numbers as that can make the job much easier.  I found a helpful site, once again it was, that helped me identify my lanterns and find everything I needed to fix them.  Even if the company that made your lantern no longer exists (as was the case with one or two of mine) there is usually a way to find a part that will work.  I would also like to mention here that if you want to fix the lanterns so that they can be used for their original purpose as coal oil, kerosene or whatever kind of fuel-burning lantern, these websites can help
you there too.

2nd After I replaced the parts I needed, it was time to get my electrical supplies.  I needed a socket, some lamp cord, a switch, a couple of small wire nuts to secure the wire connections from the lamp cord to my socket and for this type of lantern, a can of green chiles (just because that size of can fit the dimensions I needed...and I knew how to cook a favorite family dish with the chiles).

3rd I removed the part of the lantern that holds and adjusts the wick and flame size. (I can't remember its technical name and I'm willing to bet most of you don't know or care either.)  Because I didn't want to cut or damage the lantern, I needed to remove this piece.  I have kept all of these pieces and put them in a safe place so that if I want to restore the lamp to its oil-burning glory, I can.  In the meantime I needed a piece that I could manipulate and cut to fit an electrical lightbulb socket.  (If you cannot bear to use a common tin can, hit a big box store and buy a cheap lantern similar to your antique, if you can find one, then strip the part and cut it up.  I used a can.  It worked great, was cheap and the chicken tortilla soup I made with the  green chiles was delicious.)   Next, If you are gifted with tin snips, you can poke a hole in the center of the empty chile can and cut a nice circle just large enough to fit the socket.  I am not gifted with tin snips so I measured my socket and used a drill that diameter.  It can get tricky with a drill so go slowly and I'd recommend wearing protective eye wear and gloves.  After I had the hole drilled and made sure my socket piece would fit, it was time to cut the sides of my can so that it fit the lantern correctly.  (Not all lanterns are the same so make sure you have your can measured and cut correctly to fit.  If you have the glass globe installed in your lantern or the original glass is still there, remove it carefully until you get the can fitted properly and everything wired.) Once I made sure that my can fit into place correctly, I removed it.  This is the time to paint, antique or lacquer this piece, if you like, so that it looks as natural and camoflauged there as possible.

4th I secured the socket to the can and mapped a way to hook up my lamp cord.  For all of the lanterns I encountered, there was a pretty easy way to run the cord so that I never had to drill or cut anything.  For my lamps I usually open the fuel cap and run the cord into the empty fuel area and up through the lantern where the wick would go.  For other fixtures I've run cord up the tubing on the sides and out the venting areas in the top.  For this particular lamp, the cord went in the
fuel cap opening and up through the center where I split the cord (about 3 inches back from the end of the lamp cord) and stripped off the plastic coating on the lamp cord about 1/2" on each side.  For my first projects i used a pocket knife.  Electrical wiring pliers are so much handier but not necessary if you don't have 'em)  I then connected the cord to my handy socket by holding both wire ends together, ends pointing to the ceiling, and twisting the wires together in a clockwise direction and securing and covering them with the two small wire nuts.  If you twist the wires in a clockwise direction then the wire nuts will actually tighten and improve the wire connection as you twist them on, if not the wire nuts may weaken the connection and "un-twist" your wires.  (On lamp cord if you look closely you will see that one of the sides of the cord is smooth while one is ribbed.  The smooth side is usually the hot or black wire and connects with the black, while the ribbed connects with the white or neutral wire.)  This done, I pushed the wire nuts and extra lamp cord into the base of the lantern and fastened the can holding the socket into place.

5th put a bulb in the socket, replace the glass globe on your lantern and plug it in.  You've got yourself an antique lantern lamp!
(I will try to include pics of some of my other lantern light fixtures and if there is any interest I may do another post.)