‘Tutorials’ Category

Grilling with Wood

Posted on July 1st, 2011 by Tonia 6 Comments

Can you believe it’s already the 4th of July weekend? Where did June go? Time is moving much too quickly for my liking. But I can’t really complain, after all, this is my favorite weekend of the summer!

The tiny little town I grew up in puts on a spectacular fireworks show on the 3rd. It has been rated the second-best show in the whole state {Madison was #1}. Thousands of people flood in to see it, so we always get there hours before it starts to stake out a good spot. We play frisbee and boccé, eat and drink, and catch up with old friends who are in town for the show.

And then at about 10:30 PM, for fifteen minutes, the sky lights up. Our hearts race, we snuggle closer to our loved ones, and we’re overcome by a childlike appreciation for explosives. And we feel super patriotic, too. It’s awesome.

Fireworks are far from environmentally friendly, unfortunately. But there are a couple things we can all do to keep our celebrations a little greener: Bring real plates and cutlery to your picnic instead of paper or plastic, and grill with your own homemade charcoal instead of the store-bought kind that is loaded with chemicals.

The upside is that your food will taste better and be healthier for you. The downside is that it takes a while to get the wood cooked down enough so it won’t scorch your meat. You have to plan a ahead and get it burning about an hour and a half before you want to put the meat on {longer if you’re cooking fish or pork that requires low heat.}

Start the wood in the belly of the grill and leave the top off and allow it to burn freely. Once the smoke turns from opaque-white to clear-gray, it means that the moisture in the wood has been burned away and you can begin grilling.

Coals will be forming at this point {if your grill has a valve for cutting off/allowing air flow through the underside of the grill, closing it will aid in the coals forming more quickly}, and you can push them over to one side of the grill to create a “hot side” and a “cool side”. Put the meat on the hot side for a moment to get a bit of char going, and then cook it the rest of the way on the cool side so that it cooks slowly and doesn’t burn or dry out.

We usually use maple wood, but you can use other types as well. If you’re lucky enough to live in Texas where there is Mesquite, it is a delicious wood for grilling {many charcoal brands try to copy the taste with chemicals…but it just ends up tasting like chemicals.}

However, there are a few types of wood you do not want to use, because they contain toxins that can survive the burning process and are harmful: PINE, FIR, SPRUCE, REDWOOD, EASTERN RED CEDAR, CYPRESS, and OLEANDER.

I found a pretty extensive list of good woods for grilling, put out by the Northwoods Smoke Club of Minnesota:

ACACIA – Same family as mesquite. When burned in a grill, acacia has a flavor similar to mesquite but not quite as heavy. A very hot burning wood.

ALDER – Delicate with a hint of sweetness. Good with fish, pork, and poultry.

ALMOND – Sweet smokey flavor that compliments all meats.

APPLE – Mild with a subtle fruity flavor. Good with poultry {turns skin dark brown} and pork.

ASH – Fast burner, light but distinctive flavor. Good with fish and red meats.

BIRCH – Medium-hard wood with a flavor similar to maple. Good with pork and poultry.

CHERRY – Mild and fruity. Good with poultry, pork and beef. Wood from chokecherry trees may produce a bitter flavor.

COTTONWOOD – A softer wood than alder and very subtle in flavor. Use it for fuel but use some chunks of other woods {hickory, oak, pecan} for more flavor. Don’t use green cottonwood for smoking.

CRAB APPLE – Similar to apple wood.

GRAPEVINES – Tart. Provides a lot of smoke. Rich and fruity. Good with poultry, red meats, game and lamb.

HICKORY – Most commonly used wood for smoking. Sweet and strong, heavy bacon flavor. Good with pork, ham and beef.

LILAC – Very light, subtle with a hint of floral. Good with seafood and lamb.

MAPLE – Smoky, mellow and slightly sweet. Good with pork and poultry.

MESQUITE – Strong earthy flavor. Good with beef, fish, chicken, and game. One of the hottest burning.

MULBERRY – The smell is sweet and reminds one of apple.

OAK – Heavy smoke flavor. RED OAK is good on ribs, WHITE OAK makes the best coals for longer burning. All oak varieties reported as suitable for smoking. Good with red meat, pork, fish and heavy game.

ORANGE, LEMON and GRAPEFRUIT – Nice mild smoky flavor. Excellent with beef, pork, fish and poultry.

PEAR – Nice subtle smoke flavor. Much like apple. Excellent with chicken and pork.

PECAN – Sweet and mild with a flavor similar to hickory. Tasty with a subtle character. Good with poultry, beef, pork and cheese.

SWEET FRUIT WOODS – APRICOT, PLUM, PEACH, NECTARINE – Great on most white or pink meats, including chicken, turkey, pork and fish. The flavor is milder and sweeter than hickory.

WALNUT – ENGLISH and BLACK – Very heavy smoke flavor, usually mixed with lighter woods like almond, pear or apple. Can be bitter if used alone. Good with red meats and game.

If none of these trees grow where you live, check out the Northwoods Smoke Club website for more info on good and bad woods for grilling.

Happy 4th of July! Have a great weekend.

{Posts might be a little light next week as we dash around to visit our families for the holiday, but we’ll be back in the saddle and blogging as normal by the following weekend!}

How to Make Homemade Natural Air Freshener

Posted on June 30th, 2011 by Tonia 27 Comments

Can we talk straight for a second? Sometimes the house can use a little freshening up. Knowimsayin’?

This week, for example, we had a couple sunny days {finally!} after a long stretch {weeks!} of rain and thunderstorms. When it gets sunny around here, it means we’re outside all day long busting our butts to get the gardens weeded and to catch up on the chores and projects that were on hold while it was raining.

We’re in and out with dirty boots to grab water or tools, we scarf down a quick lunch and head right back out without cleaning up, etc. The house gets messy, fast. After a few days like that, it’s time to give it some TLC.

So this afternoon, after sweeping the floors and doing the dishes, I went around the yard and cut some flowers for the table.

And I made some air fresheners as well. This is the simplest little project, and exactly what our house needed to perk it back up. All it takes is a vessel of some sort {I used old Ball jars}, baking soda {the list of uses this substance has is seemingly unending}, and your favorite essential oil.

Fill the vessel {Ball jar} about 1/4 full of baking soda, and add 6-8 drops of the essential oil into it. You can leave the jar open for maximum scent dispersal {but keep out of reach of pets}, or do what I did and punch some holes in the lid with a hammer and nail.

The baking soda absorbs odors, and the essential oil smells delicious and natural. This is much more economical and environmentally friendly than those chemical air fresheners you can buy and plug into an outlet.

Shake the jar gently every few days to revive the scent, and add more oil as needed.

I did a few different scents and placed the jars all around the house. Orange in the kitchen, to energize us. Rose in the bathroom, because it’s calming and feminine and dainty. Rosewood in the living room because it’s the smell of the first home I ever had, when I was a baby in Peru.

Smells can invoke all kinds of emotions and memories. Have you ever had that experience where a certain smell suddenly brings back a forgotten moment to you?

The smell of chainsaw fuel, snow and wood reminds me of my dad. Leather and hay bring back so many special moments spent with my horses growing up.

Apple pie reminds me of a moment when I was little, playing outside in the yard in the autumn, the smell of my mom baking inside wafting through the window, and a feeling of total safety and contentment.

And the smell of dog fur brings back the feeling of freedom and wildness I had on a sparkling winter night under a full moon when I took my Husky and my Springer Spaniel {who thought he was a Husky} out for a nighttime dog-sled run in the woods.

Natural Household Insect Repellent

Posted on June 27th, 2011 by Tonia 13 Comments

It’s that time of year when a seemingly innocent piece of fruit left uncovered on the kitchen counter can create a massive bug frenzy in the house. Fruit flies and ants galore. We’re fighting back in several ways:

1. The fruit bowl on the counter has been temporarily laid-off. All fruit is safely in the refrigerator, until colder weather permits their freedom again.

2. Spraying kitchen surfaces with white vinegar. Scout ants lead their colony to a food source through scented trails. Vinegar destroys that trail. This does not kill the ants, but diminishes their efforts. And it leaves the counters clean and disinfected.

3. Sprinkling cinnamon at bug-entry-points. The french doors that go from our living room out to the back yard let a lot of beautiful sunlight into the house. And ants. But ants can’t stand cinnamon- they do anything to avoid it. Ever since I put a dish of it by the doors, I haven’t seen any ants!

Left to right: borax and sugar, ground cinnamon


4. Baiting them with borax and sugar. The sugar will attract the bugs, and the borax will kill them via dehydration. Mix 1 cup of powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons of borax; place in shallow dishes, and put them where the bugs are {but keep them out of reach of pets and children!}

There’s no need for pesticides and poisons- these methods are doing the trick for us. Although, I do miss my cheerful fruit bowl. Here’s another great household use for borax.

Completely unrelated to bugs: there has been a recent influx of new readers {some of you came over from Becoming Minimalist} and I want to say welcome! Thank you for leaving comments- it has been a lot of fun to click through and visit all of your blogs as well. My morning blog-reading routine is taking a little longer these days, but you all have such interesting things to say! Thank you and welcome.

Line Drying

Posted on June 15th, 2011 by Tonia 5 Comments

I may have mentioned before that laundry is my most despised house chore.

But that was before I had a clothesline outside. Mike set this baby up yesterday, and now I can stand out in the sunshine and watch the hummingbirds fight over the feeder while I hang clothes up to dry.

Ok, this ain’t so bad.

Are you line-drying your clothes this summer? It’s such an easy and wonderful way to reduce your energy use, by not running the dryer. And it’s downright pleasant.

If you don’t already have a clothes-line, you can head to your hardware store and pick up two pulleys and a length of good nylon rope {make sure to get double the length you need for it to reach from one end to the other of wherever you’re hanging it}. The total cost will probably be around $40, but it depends on how much rope you get {I got 50′ for a 25′ line}.

Fasten the pulleys to a tree, the side of the house, or any other sturdy object at either end of the line. Loop the rope through the pulleys and tie the ends together with a knot that allows you to release it and tighten it later on, because over time the rope will stretch from the weight of the clothes. We used a figure-eight-knot, but there might be better ones {I had to rack the old rock-climber brain, but didn’t really come up with anything.} You want the rope-loop to be taught, not hanging loose, but not so tight that it won’t give when you hang clothes on it {or you’ll risk busting the pulleys!}

Start hanging your clothes on the line with the knot right next to the pulley closest to you, and push the line away from you as you go. When the knot reaches the other pulley, you’re done. I got a whole load on my 25′ line. It was sunny out, so they dried in just a couple hours!

Extra awesome bonus of line-drying clothes: they smell great after they’re dry, like fresh air and sunshine.