Monday, March 15, 2010

Homemade Maple Syrup, and America...F@&k yeah!

So, we were inspired by a trip last week to the Hartman Reserve for their annual Maple Syrup Festival and pancake feed to try our hand at the homemade maple syrup craft. So, John went off to the hardware store, spent about $5 for some "spouts" and some plastic tubing, and got down to business. This whole process has turned out to be so incredibly easy, and the rewards have been sweet! Homemade maple syrup with banana pancakes! We looked up "homemade maple syrup" on google and found a really informative web site:

There were some pretty good tips on there. Using that, and our brief experience out at the reserve last weekend, we set up our own rig. Here's how we did it:

You're going to need:
- A bucket for collecting sap. We used a 5 gallon bucket with a lid to keep rain/dust/bugs out.
- 1/2" spigot. We used a PVC insert coupling that fit tight into a 1/2" hole and connected with our tubing.
- Tube to connect your spout to your bucket.
- Hook to hang your bucket from the tree (if desired).
- large stock pot and large sauce pan for boiling down your sap into syrup.
- Candy thermometer.
- Canning jars.

As it says on the website, drill a hole about 4' up the tree with a 1/2" bit about 2 - 3" into the tree. Put your tap into the hole, connect your tubing to the tap, run it into your bucket and get ready, because soon you're going to have sap. We tapped our tree twice, and have been getting about 4 gallons of sap a day (fortunately we've got a refrigerator in the garage and a bunch of 1 gallon jugs to store our extra sap until we have a chance to cook it).

When you've got enough sap for a batch, I'd say about 3 to four gallons, pour it into your pot and turn up the heat. This process will take some time, so be patient. We fill our pot, let it boil down until there's room for more sap, and then add some more. Do this until all your sap has been added, or until your windows are too steamed over to see out of! Then you just let the moisture boil off. We stir occasionally, but since our sap has been protected by the tight fitting lid on our bucket, it's pretty clean, so there aren't a lot of floaties to skim off. When it boils down we transfer it over to a smaller pot so we can monitor the temperature more accurately with our candy thermometer. The site says to continue to heat the mixture until it is about 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, or about 220 degrees. We didn't filter our first batch out, but it didn't affect the taste, and whatever was suspended settled to the bottom of our jar.

From our tree, we get 2 cups of syrup from about 4 gallons of sap, or just enough to fill a standard size Ball jar.

So, there you go. Easy. Takes some time, yes, but it isn't really active time. You kinda get to put things on and do your own thing for a while. A labor of love, and you'll never have a fresher batch of syrup to serve with your breakfast pancakes!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Announcing ICAN of Northeast Iowa

Most of you are aware of my journey from C-section, to VBAC. As a result of this amazing experience, which was both incredibly challenging and rewarding, I decided to start a local chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network. This is a non profit organization who's mission is to improve maternal-child health by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting Vaginal Birth after Cesarean (VBAC). Essentially, I wanted to start a local chapter to help other families who have gone through some of the same experiences I've had- so we can share our experiences, pool our knowledge and learn from each other.

My local chapter is called ICAN of Northeast Iowa, and though we are based out of Cedar Falls, we also service Waterloo, Black Hawk County, and surrounding areas. I've been working for the past couple of weeks on setting up a website, and am also excited that we will be having our very first meeting in a couple of weeks!

This is an all volunteer organization, and something I am deeply passionate about! I'm looking forward to this new stage of my life!