Category Archives: On The Mountain

Where’s Waldo?

Both of the images below were taken late in the day about ten minutes apart. Other than slightly different framing and the sun a little lower in the horizon, can you tell the difference between the two photos?

Look closely because the change was minor.

Where is Waldo 1 - Clean

 

Where is Waldo 2 - Clean

Did you find it? It was a small change really. Where did 'Waldo' go?

 

Cognitive Dissonance

07-04-2014

Wild Strawberries

by Mrs. Cog

The wonderful surprises that nature continues to bestow upon us at the new homestead never cease to amaze and delight us. While collecting some late Spring daisies for the kitchen counter vase, we discovered what appeared to be miniature strawberries growing around them.

Now the last time I picked an unknown plant to bring home and identify via my amazing googling abilities, I was stunned to find it was extremely poisonous and was called the flower of death. Cog and the teen still tease me about the episode. So proceeding with caution I began my investigation prior to collecting the specimens.

I turns out that many consider edible wild strawberries, which these indeed turned out to be, a delicacy. They are sweeter than the store bought or fresh picked larger strawberries that you are probably familiar with.

These self perpetuating treats reproduce via runners rather than seeds. They can be found growing in sunny meadows, near the edges of forests where the sun shines a good part of the day and even in your unmowed lawn if it has not been treated for weeds. These plants are now located all over the Northern hemisphere. People have even cultivated the wild strawberries as ground cover around their homes.

Some of the information about wild strawberries is misleading or just wrong as there are several different types. Edible wild strawberries have white blooms, as in the picture above. Mock strawberries, which are tasteless and some say toxic, have yellow flowers. Edible ones dangle from the vine, while the mock variety point up.

dangly wild strawberriesIt turns out, there are health benefits and medicinal properties in these small gifts. Packed with Vitamin C and antioxidants, these small treasures also have been used over the ages as treatments for various ailments. The berries will curb fever and have been proven to cure rheumatism, arthritis and gout.

Infusions and teas made with the leaves can cure diarrhea and gastric inflammations. Classified as an astringent, the leaves are also used to treat wounds, bruises and even sore throats.

Much smaller than greenhouse bred commercial strawberries, I can confirm that the wild version we discovered are sweeter and just delicious to wash and eat without even sprinkling sugar on top. They are perfect size to add to cereal, oatmeal or porridge. Try them on salads (mmm... maybe with walnuts, too), or add to your favorite juicing recipe to sweeten it up. They can be made into jam, baked in pies or tarts or used in a fresh fruit salad. This morning I am making gluten free strawberry and ground vanilla bean muffins. More recipe ideas are linked below.

So get out there and rummage around those daisies that may have popped up in your yard or a nearby patch of uncut growth. The season for these treats to bloom and produce berries runs April to June and you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Daisies over Strawberries

More Information:

Nutritionists have labeled strawberries a nutritional “superfood,” a result of it being an excellent source of antioxidants, Vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber (World’s Healthiest Foods).  http://www.goodfoodworld.com/2012/11/the-wild-strawberry-a-sacred-purifier/

The fruit ripens in late spring or early summer. Much smaller than commercial strawberries, it takes long to collect, but tastes much better. Stuff yourself with wild strawberries, collect them to use on cereal, in pancakes, oatmeal, fruit salad, sauces, or other desserts. They're so good, they're the symbol of perfect excellence. http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Strawberry.html

The name “strawberry” comes from “strewn berry” meaning the berries were strewn on the plants. That in time was shortened to strawberry. In the rose family strawberries aren’t really berries or fruit. They are enlarged ends of the plants’ stamen, the male part of the flower. http://www.eattheweeds.com/fragaria-virginiana-be-a-strawberry-sleuth-2/

These are typical phytochemicals found in wild strawberry: strawberry leaves are rich in tannins and ellagitannins, such as agrimoniin, pedunculagin, proanthocyanins, flavonoids, salicylic acid, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid. wild strawberries (fruits) are rich in ellagitannins, pelargonidin, cyanidin, ellagic acidhttp://www.phytochemicals.info/plants/wild-strawberry.php

I try to restrain myself, but inevitably I end up picking some prematurely, not half the delight as the fully ripened berries - so I leave them be and just keep coming back to see how they are progressing. Happily, wild strawberry is one of those plants whose season is quite prolonged. Depending on factors such as exposure to sunlight and altitude it is possible to harvest them over a period of a couple of months. Of course, competition from birds and other critters can be tough. http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/foraging/wildstrawberries.php

Wild Strawberry Recipes: http://www.yummly.com/recipes/wild-strawberry

A wonderful .pdf file to download or print from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (yes, these grow there as well) that includes recipes for jams, fruit leathers, strawberry syrup and more. http://www.uaf.edu/files/ces/publications-db/catalog/hec/FNH-00105.pdf

The awesomely (is that a word) sweet wild strawberries are the perfect ingredient to make Wild Strawberry Vinegar. Far superior to cultivated varieties, these ‘little balls of nectar’ are quite simply, heavenly, and the end product is a deep rich red strawberry vinegar that turns ordinary salad dressings into something sensationalhttp://www.eatweeds.co.uk/wild-strawberry-vinegar

 We never met a strawberry we didn’t like. Especially at this time of year, when the beautiful summer berries are either in season or on their way, nothing seems to make as much sense for dessert as strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie (go on, make a pie with strawberry and  rhubarb, too, for a classic June dessert), or just-plain strawberry with cream. Maybe with a little sugar. Hmm, perhaps not. Strawberries worth their weight at the farmstand should be as sweet as honey right now. (Oh, we’ve got a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler, too.) http://www.recipe.com/recipes/desserts/pie/strawberry/

Homemade wild strawberry ice cream recipe: http://honestcooking.com/wild-strawberry-ice-cream-recipe/

Stump Bowling

Last Saturday the local heavy equipment contractor was working at our home tackling many different projects around the place, all of which I will post about over the next few days. But this one brought a smile to my face.

Since the contractor was already on site with his excavator dry hire to work the main project, when that was completed we hired him by the hour to deal with several smaller issues on the property. It made sense to do it this way since the equipment was already here and we didn't wish to pay transportation charges twice to get the equipment here a second time.

There were half a dozen large and medium stumps on the property left over from clearing operations conducted by the prior owner, all of them located on the East facing slope of our property. The image above shows the degree of slope we're talking about, though the slope was greatest in this image and is a bit less by maybe a few degrees below where he was working. If you look under the excavator arm you can see the general slope of this area.

This one was the biggest of all the stumps he dug out that afternoon and tested his little machine to the max. But after 15 minutes of determined work digging out the roots he finally broke the beast loose.

The plan had been to use the excavator to carry the stumps down the slope and dump them into the woods. But boys being boys I hollered to the operator to see if he could bowl a strike with the stump. Damn if he didn't grab the stump with the excavator, then swing it around and chuck the stump a few feet down slope to give it some momentum. Clearly my idea was not new to him and he had some experience with old school stump bowling.

Alas, it did not make it all the way down the slope and he had to chase after it and push it the final 15 feet. Several other stumps did make it all the way down and one stump I wound up rolling the last few feet. Considering the stumps were not even close to being round he still bowled a respectable 196. :)

Stump Bowling Two - CleanThe always difficult 7 - 10 split. Headed down the slope to clean up the mess.

Stump Bowling Three - CleanThe first 7 - 10 clean up push wasn't quite enough to pick up the spare.

Stump Bowling Four - CleanA second love tap with the bucket cleaned up the lane, but he still only got a score of nine on that frame.

Stump Bowling Five - CleanHere is the contractor pulling out the stump in frame three. He got a strike, and in fact got three strikes in a row. The man had a soft touch when it came to operating heavy equipment and well worth the money we paid him.

Deck Benches

(Click on any image below to enlarge.)

One of the little charms that came with the homestead we purchase was a set of three cast iron and wood benches that were placed on the back deck outside the master bedroom sliding glass door. Arranged in a crescent with the larger bench in the middle and flanked on either side by two smaller 'love seat' benches, we could imagine them beckoning us to take a seat and relax while enjoying the cool breezes of the summer evening.

It was obvious to us during the two times we were shown the place before purchasing, that the owner took great pride in the benches, patting them affectionately or lightly caressing them as we passed by them while touring the place. If memory serves me right, at one point during the second showing he paused with his hands draped over the back of the middle bench and asked if he had mentioned how he and his (deceased) wife whiled away many hours on these benches while enjoying the cool evening air.

A cursory examination at that time indicated to me that they needed major restoration, with most of the wood slats missing nearly all of their paint and primer and beginning to deteriorate rapidly. In fact a few pieces were getting a bit punky in places. The cast iron end pieces and back inserts were terribly rusted and would need lots of tender loving care to bring them back to life.

I made a mental note to revisit the issue in the spring, after we had closed and before we moved in. Unfortunately while we did visit the place in late April for a week to get it ready for our mid June move in we were so over whelmed with projects that the deck benches once again we pushed down the priority list. The result was that they were rained on all spring and didn't receive my full attention until mid August. That was a mistake. I should have at least removed then from the deck and placed them under cover.

Below is a picture of the benches taken mid June 2013.

Benches BeforeWhat finally prompted me to tackle this project was another project that I had already started. I was power washing the deck and in order to do so I had to remove the benches, which were securely screwed to the surface to prevent being blown over and possibly into the sliding glass doors behind them by the always strong winter winds up here on the mountain.

I was very surprised how heavy the benches were when I tried to get them off the deck and down into the walk out basement. The largest bench was too much for me to safely handle, so I enlisted the help of the always lovely Mrs. Cog to maneuver the mass down the stairs and into the basement where they were unceremoniously deposited out of the way to be examined at a later time.

A few days after when I found a few minutes to explore I grabbed a strong flashlight and took a closer look at the condition of the benches. I was a bit shocked by how much the wood had deteriorated since I last looked closely in February of 2013. Or maybe I was just really looking closely for the first time rather than seeing them as part of a bigger picture.

It was clear that these were once quality benches. The cast iron was well formed and very heavy with intricate detail. All the wood slats were bolted to the cast iron frames with brass bolts, screws and nuts and lock washers. Some were heavily corroded and had to be discarded while the vast majority of them I was able to remove without breaking or stripping them. The wood showed the worst weathering damage and would take the vast majority of my time to restore.

I was careful while dissembling the benches to mark and number each wood slat in a manner that was the same for all three benches. Only the letter code next to the number distinguished which bench the wood belonged to. Originally I was going to replace all the brass bolts, but a trip to the hardware store disabused me of that notion. Brass is not cheap. I did replace three bolts and nuts that were broken, but decided to soak all the hardware in a solvent for several days to see if I could salvage it. As it turned out the solvent worked out well and I reused every last bit of hardware.

The cast iron sides and backs were in serious need of priming and painting, but otherwise were in great shape. Quality cast iron will last a real long time with just a little bit of TLC. I used the power washer to blast off the heavy rust and paint, then after drying a day I finished up the prep with a couple of heavy duty wire brushings. Two light costs of grey primer were applied per instructions, then they were left to dry for 48 hours before two finish coats of semi-gloss black were applied.

Overall I was quite pleased with how the cast iron came out. While I was initially concerned that maybe the black semi-gloss was too glossy, after assembly I decided my concerns were unfounded.

Below is an image of one of the cast iron sides before priming. Click on the image to enlarge.

Sanding and painting

The wood slats were where the real challenge lay and where more two thirds of my labor was invested. While it was obvious that the curved wood pieces that frame the cast iron back insert along the top were specially milled and not easily replaced, a closer look while disassembling revealed that many of the seemingly ordinary slats were also milled to fit in specific places.

Since I do not own a table saw or planer (remember that I had moved from a suburban townhouse without a garage, a situation not exactly accommodating to workshops) I needed to restore rather than replace the wood slats, particularly because I was trying to keep expenses down to a minimum. My equity in these benches would come in the form of sweat.

While the slats were in poor condition and there was some checking and splitting, especially at the ends, the only wood pieces that were in need of replacement were three or four small pieces that fit in on the sides of the cast iron back-plate.  Since they were not curved, bowed or milled I was able to easily cut new ones from basic 1x3 stock and trim them to fit.

Everything needed to be sanded because the top sixteenth inch of wood was porous and almost powdery, a sure sign that the wood was just about to pass over into rot. I had caught it in time to save them, though there would be scars and marks visible even after finishing. I used a small palm sander with several grades of sandpaper and slowly got the slats down to bare wood. I gave extra attention to all ends and edges where the wood was showing the greatest signs of stress.

We had purchased a high quality exterior grey primer and  also some brown semi-gloss exterior paint earlier when Mrs. Cog had refinished the rocking chairs on the front porch. After letting the bare wood hang from modified coat hangers for a few days in the basement to thoroughly dry out I set to work priming the slats.

This was slow tedious work because I was trying to make sure I filled all the cracks and crevasses with the primer while wiping away drips that formed as primer seeped back out of said cracks and crevasses. I quickly decided that two light coats would be better than one heavy application and since the drying time between coats was only one hour I spent the better part of the entire day priming the wood slats.

I wish I had taken pictures of all those slats hanging from wire coat hangers from the basement ceiling. I am tall and I can't tell you how many times I brushed against one of them and got paint in my hair, on my face and all over the set of work clothes I was wearing. I am not normally messy when I paint, but you would not have known this if you had seen me. Mrs. Cog stifled a giggle when she saw me after I was done.

I let the two coats of primer dry for three days, then put two light coats of the exterior brown paint on the slats, once again paying close attention to filling cracks, holes and what not. The wood was so dry and porous that it just soaked up the primer and even the first coat of paint. It was only after I had put the second coat of paint on, after waiting more than a day for the first coat to dry, that I felt I had created a true water proof barrier. I was hoping to get at least five years from my restoration and maybe even ten if I stayed on top of the painting as it weathered.

The assembly was a challenge and I was grateful for my years of experience as a contractor and my all around handy man skills. The key to putting something like this together without a jig is not to securely tighten any of the hardware until all the pieces are in place. As more and more pieces are fitted one can slowly tighten up the bolts but nothing should be torqued until everything is where it should be and the bench is square and level.

The cast iron back-plate insets are actually screwed into place with wood screws so before I primed those pieces I had cleaned out and filled the old holes with wood filler. I wanted the screws to find good purchase when I reused them. Nothing is more frustrating than to reuse an old hole and find that it is essentially stripped and won't provide firm purchase for the wood screws. If you're in need of some, you can buy woodscrews online or in any reputable shop. I was pleased to find that in all but two cases my idea worked as planned. I refilled the two that failed and secured them the next day.

Below is the finished product arranged on the walk out basement floor.

Finished in BasementI let the benches set for a week to finish drying/curing while I completed power washing and sealing the back deck. Once completed Mrs. Cog and I moved the benches topside and proceeded to play "move the furniture several times to see what works best" before realizing that where they were previously was exactly where they should be now.

I securely screwed them to the deck using some brass screws I found in the garage and then applied the ultimate test. I sat my considerable bulk on them individually and was surprised to discover how much sturdier they felt than from before I started the restoration. The years of weathering and exposure had loosened the bolts, allowing them to wobble a bit. With everything now tightened down and secured with lock washers they felt quite sturdy.

Good as new.

Below is an image I snapped in December of 2013 when a heavy fog had frozen over and the benches were completely cover with a veneer of ice. Very pretty.

Overall I am extremely pleased with the results of the project, though once again my personal estimate of the time it would take to complete was low by a factor of two. Then again, once I got into it and realized how involved it was going to be, if I wanted it done right, the amount of time doing so would entail was just the cost of quality and craftsmanship. Ultimately one never regrets quality work, both immediately after the fact as well as years later when the quality still shines through.

Cognitive Dissonance

If you're looking for ideas for a new bench or how to revamp your own and you've found this useful, I'd recommend you to have a look at The Charming Bench Company. They have plenty of ideas of ways to improve or change your benches, or even buying a new one.
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