honeybee brood comb // Wayward Spark

American foulbrood is a bacterial disease that has plagued domestic and feral honeybees around the world for centuries. Infected larvae die off and then begin to rot in the capped cells, and the disease spreads quickly within the hive and then to surrounding hives. Many beekeepers preemptively treat their bees with antibiotics and other chemicals to suppress American foulbrood, but those treatments can also have negative health effects on bees by messing with their digestive systems and making them more susceptible to other diseases. Treatments never completely cure American foulbrood, and bacteria can persist in the hives for a very long time. If beekeepers ever stop treating infected hives, the disease will roar back with devastating consequences for the whole apiary.

Some honeybee colonies can fight off American foulbrood infections on their own. In such cases, the disease will kill off some larvae, but workers will move in quickly to clean out the cells and cannibalize the dead larvae, reducing or eliminating the hive’s exposure to the disease. In that manner, the super organism can survive. This is called “hygienic” behavior and is a desirable trait for domestic honeybees.

Henry’s bees have been exposed to American foulbrood (as are any honeybees that join the massive effort to pollinate California’s almond crop), but he has never observed an outbreak in his hives. He is not currently treating his bees with any American foulbrood-fighting pharmaceuticals (or any other chemicals). It is pretty much inevitable, however, that one day sooner or later some of his hives will be infected. To prepare for that day, he has been selecting for hygienic traits so that his bees will hopefully be able to beat the disease before it takes hold.

To aide in his genetic selection process, Henry uses freeze-brood hygienic testing to evaluate his breeder hives’ hygienic traits. The test mimics American foulbrood by killing a concentrated area of brood, and then a beekeeper can observe how quickly and efficiently the bees clean up the mess. This year, he tested his 20 queen-mother hives, the results of two years of selection and the source of his future apiary’s genetics.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

To do the test, he first pulls a frame of solid, capped brood from the hive.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

He shakes the bees off the frame and sets it aside.

liquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing // Wayward Sparkliquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing // Wayward Spark

He pours 10 mL of liquid nitrogen into a styrofoam cup.

using liquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing // Wayward Spark

He presses a piece of PVC pipe into the comb…

using liquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing // Wayward Spark

…and pours in a little liquid nitrogen. He waits until it freezes a seal around the base of the pipe to prevent leakage.

using liquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Then he pours the rest of the liquid nitrogen into the pipe.

using liquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkusing liquid nitrogen for honeybee hygienic testing with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

He waits until all the liquid nitrogen sublimates and then waits some more until the comb thaws. He pulls out the PVC pipe, marks the tested frame, and adds it back to the hive.

hygienic testing of honeybees with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Twenty-four hours later, he pull the tested frame back out.

hygienic testing of honeybees with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

The photo above is exactly what he wants to see. The bees have removed 100% of the frozen larvae, cleaned out the cells, and started storing nectar and pollen in the empty cells. Three out of 20 of Henry’s breeder hives performed the task perfectly. Others ranged from 10-80% removal.

Hygienic behavior is only one out of 20 or so traits that he selects for. With beekeeping and queen selection, the vast number of known and unknown variables makes it impossible to successfully abide by hard and fast rules. These test results are just an indicator of hygienic behavior, and under different circumstances, the worst performing hives could do better and the best performing hives could do worse. It’s standard to do this test at least twice for each hive to get a slightly wider sample size. Henry may or may not do another round of testing, but he feels like his observations of other colony traits are more valuable information than this specific test.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

In other news…

The hive as a super organism wants nothing more than to reproduce and pass along its genetics, so as soon as workers begin bringing in natural pollen and nectar in the spring, hives start setting up to reproduce by raising many drones and preparing to swarm.  Most beekeepers consider inevitable drone production to be a waste of energy for the colony because male drones don’t forage, guard the hive, or take care of baby bees like female workers, but Henry manipulates and replicates the honeybees’ natural cycles and allows room for his hives to raise drones. Drones won’t mate with queens from their hive of origin, but each virgin queen will copulate with up to 20 drones on her mating flight (likely the only flight of her life). Encouraging a robust drone population in breeder hives increases the chances that Henry’s drones with selected genetics will mate with Henry’s virgin queens (also with selected genetics) in his isolated mating yards, especially early in the mating season when feral drones aren’t flying yet.

Henry added the frame in the photo above to the hive about four days before this photo was taken except that it was only just a rectangular wood frame with the 1/4″ “starter strip” of wood at the very top. In four days, the bees drew out and started filling the whole sheet of drone comb.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

The black plastic frame above was added to a hive about a week before this photo was taken. The white is freshly drawn comb on small-cell foundation. The bees’ ability to draw comb quickly and evenly is generally a desirable trait in honeybees.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Unseasonably good spring foraging weather and nectar curing conditions have allowed the bees to produce a significant amount of early bigleaf maple honey.

honeybee on comb // Wayward Spark

Here’s a bee hanging out on some brood comb.

DIY honeybee queen transport container // Wayward Spark

This is one of Henry’s really classy queen transport containers. If you’re interested in buying Henry’s Oregon-adapted queens for your own hive(s), email oldbluedeedco@gmail.com. He’ll have them available in limited quantities starting in mid-May. Local pick-up only.

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rhubarb chutney from Marisa McClellan's Preserving by the Pint // Wayward Spark

So many good things are coming to life this spring. For starters, RHUBARB (!) and the new cookbook, Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan!! The stars must have aligned just right so that I could dive into this recipe collection by starting off with our newly grown stalks of spring rhubarb in Marisa’s mustardy rhubarb chutney.

You’ve heard me refer Wayward Spark readers over to Marisa’s indispensable blog, Food in Jars, about a million times. It’s one of those spaces that has great recipes as well as in-depth discussions of canning techniques, safety concerns, and beginner tips. Marisa is a great teacher as well as a great recipe developer, and she’s been sharing everything she knows for five years on her (critically acclaimed!) blog.

I  own and love Marisa’s first book, Food in Jars, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of her second book, Preserving by the Pint, to see what else she had up her sleeve. Now that I have it in my hands, I will tell you why you should buy this book:

  • It’s super pretty–nice design, nice photos, easy-to-use layout.
  • The seasonally-organized recipes show amazing creativity, but they’re not fussy or complicated or full of expensive/hard-to-find ingredients. 
  • There are tons of resources for folks who have never done any canning before, but there’s also plenty to learn for folks who have done a lot of canning in the past. 
  • Marisa is a self-employed writer and preservation educator who has been offering up hundreds of recipes and tons of general information FOR FREE on her blog. The only way this model is sustainable in the long run is for us, the content consumers, to occasionally buck up and support content producers with actual dollars. Buying Marisa’s book is one way you can show your appreciation for all she does and to plant the seed for her future endeavors. I know people don’t talk about this a lot, but I think it’s pretty darn important in today’s media landscape.

Marisa is also touring all over the country with book-signing events as well as cooking classes. You can see her full schedule here. She’ll be in Oregon, her old stompin’ grounds, in June, and I am definitely planning on attending one of her events. I gotta say that I am stoked to finally be able to meet her face to face!

rhubarb // Wayward Spark

There are four rhubarb-centric recipes in the cookbook: Rosemary-Rhubarb Jelly, Rhubarb and Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Oven-Roasted Rhubarb Compote, and Mustardy Rhubarb Chutney. It was not easy to decide which one to try out first, but the chutney sounded unusual but approachable, so I went for it.

If you gave me a spoonful of this stuff with no backstory or other information, I don’t think I’d guess the main ingredient was rhubarb (so if you’re looking for something quintessentially rhubarb-y, I would try one of Marisa’s other recipes first). It is, however, delicious. Sweet, dark, tangy, and spicy with plenty of plumped up mustard seeds for some pleasant crunching. I’d put it in a loose category alongside barbecue sauce. Actually it’s a bit reminiscent of Marisa’s tomato jam. Marisa recommends pairing it with goat cheese and crackers, but I’m dying to try it out on a burger (meat or veggie). We also had dollops of it with rice, dal, cilantro, and corn relish the other night, a combo I really enjoyed.

Mustardy Rhubarb Chutney

from Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan

yeild: 4-5 half pints

1 pound rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1 small onion, minced
3/4 cup dried currants
1 1/2 cup packed, dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (I had a hard time finding the Aleppo pepper in the original recipe, so I subbed in hot red pepper flakes with great results)

 

Combine all the ingredients in a wide, nonreactive pot, place it over high heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it bubbles, lower the heat to medium, and simmer gently, stirring regularly until slightly thickened.

As the chutney gets closer to done, make sure to stir it every minute or so to prevent scorching. You’ll know the chutney is finished cooking when you can pull your spoon through the liquid, and the space you’ve created doesn’t fill in immediately.

At this point, you can store the chutney in the refrigerator or can it to make it shelf stable for future use.

To can the chutney, funnel it into prepared, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

fresh rhubarb // Wayward Spark

The Giveaway!

The good folks at Running Press have offered up a copy of Preserving by the Pint for one of you lovely readers. To enter, leave a comment with one of your favorite things to preserve or something new that you’d like to try preserving with a link to the recipe if you have one. You are welcome (encouraged!) to spread the word about this giveaway, but only one entry per person, please. US residents only. Entries are open until Friday, May 2 at 11:59 pm. A winner will be picked at random and announced next Saturday.

The giveaway is now closed. The randomly chosen winner is Brittany, a plum chutney fan.

My personal copy and the giveaway copy of Preserving by the Pint were provided by Running Press, but as always, the opinions and endorsements stated here are my own. 

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{this moment}

April 25, 2014 · 2 comments

beekeeping // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

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Red Onion Woodworks

 Well, I FINALLY finished a pile of new cutting and serving boards for my shop. It’s been way too long since I added anything new, but apparently the winter/early spring just passed by in a haze of barbecue baking, kindergartener schlepping, half-marathon training, and Friday Night Lights binge watching. Or something like that.

But here they are, and let me tell you, they are pretty! I unearthed a secret stash of extra thick, super burly boards, the kind that everyone is always asking me about. I still have a few more burly ones to finish up, but this stock is extremely limited. Otherwise it’s kind of a random assortment as usual. There are more in the pipeline, so stay tuned if you don’t see what you want just yet.

Click the photos to see the boards for sale, and use the coupon code “SPRING10″ for 10% off your order through April 27. Happy spring!

Red Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion WoodworksRed Onion Woodworks

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{this moment}

April 18, 2014 · 0 comments

Oregon country road in spring // Wayward Spark

{this moment} A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, moment. ~ Amanda Soule

**inspired by Soule Mama’s (and Erin of Floret‘s) Friday reflections

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794th Place

April 14, 2014 · 10 comments

Camille Storch // Wayward Spark

I did it! 13.1 miles in 2 hours 18 minutes 39 seconds. (I don’t really want you to do the math, but I know you will, so I’ll just tell you that’s 10:35/mile.) In the last couple weeks, I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of good advice about running in general and running long races specifically in blog comments, on Instagram, and in person, so thank you to everyone who contributed. In addition to tips and stories, many folks told me to “Have fun!” Every time I read or heard that before the race, I silently responded, “Yeah right!” I did not sign up for this race to have fun, and I was prepared to not have any fun at all. I’m going to have to apologize to everyone I scoffed at because the actual event turned out to be, for the most part, a genuinely good time. Here are a random assortment of thoughts on the race:

I got really nervous for no good reason at home on the morning of the race. By the time I parked at the race location, however, I wasn’t nervous anymore. I got there pretty early and didn’t have much to do besides use the bathroom. The OSU marching band played at the starting line for about 20 minutes before the race, which was nice because it gave me something to focus on. It would have been nicer to use that time to chat with a friend, but I was on my own and didn’t run into anyone I knew.

I got a lot of advice ahead of time telling me to start out really slowly because I would feel an impulse to get going too fast with all the adrenaline and energy of other runners. Well, I listened to the advice and went REALLY slowly for the first three miles. The organizers had participants congregate behind the start line by estimated minutes/mile pace, and I found a spot near the 11 sign, but after the race started, hundreds of people seemed to pass me in the first couple miles. Thankfully, I didn’t have much of an ego about getting passed early on, and it was actually comforting to know that there were still hundreds of people behind me. After I was good and warmed up around mile 3, I passed quite a few more people than passed me for the rest of the race. (In the comments of my last post about running, Melissa shared a pretty inspiring story about almost coming in last in a half marathon.)

I was surprised by how many people were walking, especially in the first few miles. I would imagine that some intended to walk/run the race, but many didn’t look like their walking was planned. I was also surprised by how many people walked for a while but still finished ahead of me. Except for a few steps through each water station, I didn’t walk at all.

Sunday’s weather forecast called for temperatures in the 70s, and the race didn’t start until 9:30 am. Because all of my longer training runs were in cool/cold rainy/cloudy/frosty weather, I was more than a little concerned about dealing with heat. Thankfully, there was a nice breeze through most of the race, so I really didn’t start to feel overly warm or thirsty until about mile 10, and even then, it wasn’t too bad. Overall, the day was truly beautiful, and the course was super scenic.

I wore loose shorts and a basic cotton T-shirt for the race. I don’t have anything against sport/performance clothing, but I just don’t own any specially designed shirts, and I didn’t want to go out and buy one right before the race and run without testing it out. I heard a lot of horror stories from runners ahead of time about various kinds of chaffing and was recommended to lube up various body parts pre-race to prevent such chaffing. I also was concerned that I was going to be a sweaty monster after a couple of miles in warm weather. Fortunately, the breeze seemed to evaporate a lot of sweat, and my shirt worked out fine. I had a very minor amount of inner thigh/undie chaffing (TMI?), but it didn’t turn into anything serious.

In my training runs, I never ate anything or even drank any water, but in the comments of my last post about running, several people I trust mentioned this food stuff called Gu. I ended up buying some (at the local running store where the sales guy was super nice and spent a whole lot of time explaining all the different brands, flavors, and types of “performance nutrition” foods), but before the race, I decided that I probably wouldn’t be able to choke it down, and I didn’t want to try anything too new and crazy for the first time during the race. Then my friend Erin recommended Sharkies ”Organic Energy Sports Chews”. They’re basically glorified gummy bears. I ate a couple the night before the race and decided they might be bearable to eat while running, so I pinned a little baggie of them into my shorts kinda like this. (Thanks for the link, Rachel!) Around mile 8, I ate one not because I was hungry or particularly tired, but I thought it was about the right time to do such a thing. It was not unpleasant to eat (though it did gum up in my teeth a whole lot), but after the first one, I decided that I didn’t really want to eat any more. I also skipped out on the Gatorade and just drank the water offered along the way.

My nose ran like a faucet through the whole race. This happened in training runs, but I always blamed it on cold weather. Though it wasn’t a major issue, I did wipe about a quart of snot on the neck of my T-shirt, but it dried nicely in the breeze. Gross, I know. I’m not sure what the runny nose was all about because I don’t have allergies, and I don’t often have nasal issues as I go about my life in general.

The hardest mile was 7-8 because it was all up a slight incline. The longest, warmest, least motivated, least pleasant miles were definitely 11-13. I was kinda hoping that my slow start would allow me to have an extra energetic last few miles, but by that time, I was just working on getting to the end. Could I have run faster? Yes, but there wasn’t really any reason for me to “leave it all on the course.” I crossed the finish line, met up with my mom and kids who were watching, and didn’t feel like barfing or collapsing. I was tired, for sure, but I managed to stay upright for the rest of the day, walking, stretching, and even doing a little light housework.

The not-very-surprising miracle was that my training totally worked. Once I started running, I felt totally prepared. The thought of quitting or walking never even crossed my mind. Today, the day after, I’m a little sore but still wholly functional. It’s kinda crazy to think that just six months ago, I was gasping and wheezing during a two-mile jog.

One of the most interesting parts of participating in a run with over 1,600 other people is that I got to see a lot of different types of people running. I passed folks that looked way sportier than me, and I was passed by folks that looked less sporty than me. I used to get embarrassed when I thought about how slowly I ran, but there were lots of people in this race that ran even slower than me. The simple fact that I did this thing somehow makes me feel more entitled to be out there running on a regular basis, occasionally being seen by people when I can’t easily hide from them. Does that make sense?

So what’s next? I’m not sure. Levi’s teacher was trying to talk me into signing up for the Portland Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in May (probably not), and my friend Kara recommended the Runaway Pumpkin Half Marathon in October. (I’ll consider it.) My friend Erin told me that running the Hood to Coast relay was one of the most fun experiences of her life, so if anyone needs an extra (slow) runner on their team for this year, let me know. The one thing that sort of solidified for me during the race is that I don’t think I’d like to run a whole marathon anytime soon. I think with proper training I COULD run a whole marathon, but I don’t think it would be very pleasant, and I definitely don’t want to devote such an enormous chunk of my life to the training. This race made me feel pretty successful in my running, and I would like to keep it up. That said, I’m also seriously considering buying a bike after not owning one for many years. It’s a good thing to change it up a little every once in a while, right?

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beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Henry’s bees are finally home again after more than two months in California. (More about preparing them for almond pollination here and here.) Henry’s beekeeper/truck driver friend hauled them back north on Sunday, and Henry unloaded them in a local holding yard. Overall, they look really really good. Henry spent most of the day on Monday and Tuesday working his bees, taking necessary steps to prevent the robust colonies from swarming by pulling frames of brood and shaking out bees into nuc (pronounced “nuke”) boxes to form new colonies.

In the last few years or even the last few months, you’ve probably heard about the troubles plaguing the both commercial beekeeping and hobby beekeeping alike. Many of the dire statistics and stories behind them are true, but some of the explanations are grossly oversimplified. We’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about the health of Henry’s bees. While he has had some managed losses, most of his hives are not only surviving but thriving without using any chemical treatments or miticides for three years. Regular miticide applications are a practice that is standard for the vast majority of commercial beekeepers.

The holding yard on private property where the bees were dropped off is ideal because it’s easily accessible with a large truck, and it’s right off the highway. The problem is that, for a brief time at least, there are more bees in one area than the surrounding environment and resources can support, so the bees are having to compete for food and are under extra stress. Except for short transition periods, Henry never keeps more than 24 hives in one yard.

As he finishes working the bees, he’s been dispersing the pallets of hives to nine different smaller yards and pollination areas (1-40 hives each) in Benton and Lincoln Counties. By the end of the weekend, they’ll all be in place to take advantage of spring nectar and pollen flows including maple, madrone, trailing blackberry, poison-oak, etc.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

Above you can see queen cups being drawn to rear extra queens for swarming. Observing queen cups in a hive doesn’t necessarily mean the bees are swarm prepping, but stronger colonies with lots of queen cups and many frames of brood (8+) will likely swarm after a period of rainy Oregon spring weather. Because Henry is only one guy managing over 200 hives, he needs to be able to anticipate what will happen in each colony over the next two weeks and take necessary action to encourage healthy growth without swarming. If hives do swarm, it means the beekeeper has missed an opportunity to replicate the bees’ reproduction cycle by pulling brood and making splits.

Starting this spring, Henry will intermittently have a limited number of survivor queens from his own stock available for sale. Email him at oldblueseedco@gmail.com for details and availability.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

I was stung four times while taking these photos (and this Instagram video): first on the tip of my nose, then about 10 minutes later on my upper lip, and then about 20 minutes later, on my left wrist and the back of my right arm simultaneously through my shirt. I’ve been psyching myself up for this. I’ve signed on to be chief marketing, sales, customer service, and shipping officer for Old Blue Raw Honey this year, and if I’m going to act in that capacity, I had better know something about beekeeping. And if I’m going to learn anything about beekeeping, I will inevitably get stung. I’ve come to terms with this, but when faced with the reality of it, I’ve found I’m a little less stoic than I would like to be.

Holding yards are particularly bad places for working around bees (whether performing actual beekeeping duties or shooting photos) because the concentration of hives aggravates the workers. I am more or less used to being among a few colonies with workers flying by doing their thing or even occasionally landing on me to check things out because honeybees don’t generally have a lot of reason to be aggressive unless they’re being messed with. What I’m not use to is bees pursuing me, attempting to get at my skin just to hurt me, and that was what I experienced the other day.

I watched Henry get stung in the hands and arms at least 10 times while I was with him, and maybe he gave a little grunt or fished around in his sleeve to extract the offender, but that was the extent of his acknowledgement of any discomfort. I, on the other hand, totally froke out each time it happened, cussing, flailing, and clawing at myself trying to get the little bugger off me. (Side note: I’m going to credit Steve Burns in his story for The Moth for coining the term “froke out”, which from now on, I will use quite liberally.) After each attack, I had to take a little time out to regain my composure and my nerve to stick my head back in a place where I wasn’t very welcome.

Something I learned from the unpleasantness: honeybee alarm pheromone smells strongly of artificial banana. Henry and I had to spend about fifteen minutes remembering the name of that candy that used to come out of vending machines with the apples, limes, oranges, and bananas. (Runts!) Alarm pheromone smells exactly like those candy bananas, and I probably would have never know that unless I’d gotten stung in the nose. Once you’re marked by that smell, you can’t get rid of it, and you’re going to be the target of a lot more aggression.

After getting stung, my lip blew up like a cartoon character, and then slowly the rest of one side of my face inflated, too (kinda like this). When I woke up the next morning, my left eye had that fat-face piggy quality to it. Luckily I didn’t have to see too many people that day, and 24 hours in, I just looked a little chubby on one side instead of “OMG what happened to your face?!” The two stings on my arms were a little red and a little itchy, but I survived.

beekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Sparkbeekeeping with Henry Storch of Old Blue Raw Honey // Wayward Spark

honeybee drones can't sting // Wayward Spark

Levi and Charlotte were super excited that the bees were back because then Pa could catch drones for them to play with. Drones can’t sting, so they just crawl around dopily. They make great, temporary pets.

I bet at least a few of you are getting ready to be first-year beekeepers and a few more are gearing up for another season of tending your hives. Henry and I are hoping to offer some insight into commercial beekeeping as well as some tips for hobbyists in the coming months, so stay tuned for future posts and photos. And good luck with your bees!

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Plodding Along

April 6, 2014 · 37 comments

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

This is a rough skinned newt. They’re super common, and this time of year especially, they can be seen all over the Northwest. They’re cute and harmless, but be sure to wash your hands after touching them because they’re also super toxic if ingested. I took these photos while out running on the rad trail system just down the hill from my house.

I don’t really want to talk about newts, though. I want to talk about running. About a year ago, I publicly declared my dislike of running as a form of exercise, and while everything I said was true then and still sort of true now, I guess I’ve changed my tune a little.

Back in October, I went into the local sporting goods store to buy a bathing suit, so I could lap swim in town while Charlotte was at preschool. While I was in the store, I decided to buy a pair of running shoes just in case I could work up the motivation to use them. The first run a few weeks later was can’t-breathe, gonna-die awful. The second run was awful. By the third or fourth run, I could at least go a couple miles without stopping, but I was miserable the whole time. At some point, things evolved from miserable to just unpleasant, and then I kept on trucking.

Next Sunday (300+ miles into my training), I’m signed up to run the Corvallis Half Marathon. This will be my very first race ever. I’m fairly certain that I can make it through. I’ve run 13+ miles two times before, but everything else about this race is freaking me out. The day after I registered, there was a huge article in the local newspaper with photos of the throng of people running last year’s race, looking all sporty and in the zone. I don’t look like a runner. I don’t feel like a runner. I don’t know anything about exercise science. I don’t know what to wear or eat on race day. In general, I’m feeling really incompetent, BUT I’m going to go out there and (try to) do it. For someone who often goes to great lengths to avoid being seen while running, this will be a big step out of my comfort zone, but you gotta do that sometimes, right?

There are a few things that have helped me along in my training. I’ve had some good conversations with friends of mine who run but don’t consider themselves “runners”. Their talk about dreading every single run but going out to do it anyway has been super inspiring for me. It would be disingenuous to claim that running is now simply a joy. In fact, it feels really sucky a lot of the time, but the fresh air and good views often make the burden more bearable.

Podcasts help. A lot. At first, I was a little hesitant to use headphones while trail running or running on remote country roads, but I’ve never felt so disconnected to goings on that I was unsafe even with log trucks passing by. There was this one time that the logical part of me wanted to go for a long run, but the physical part of me was barely dragging along. Just before the three mile mark when I was seriously considering turning around, the This American Life podcast offered up Tig Notaro’s story centered around the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. I was all by myself on a deserted forest road, half laughing and half singing (terribly), briefly happy, and newly energized. I ran 11 miles that day. I often listen to the usual list of NPR-affiliated podcasts such as: This American Life, Radiolab, Snap Judgement, TED Radio Hour, Wiretap (Beware, that one is super weird.), The Moth, Planet Money (This one makes me feel smart.), and Selected Shorts. I also mix in a little Adam and Dr. Drew Show and Savage Love (Lots of explicit stuff on these two and many opinions that are pretty controversial). If I were more committed, I might subscribe to the audio version of The New Yorker.

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

Another tool I really like is RunKeeper, an app for my iPhone. I know there are probably a million exercise apps out there, and I can’t speak about any of the rest of the, but RunKeeper is a good one. The basic version is free, and it notes standard stuff like how far/ how long/ how fast, it uses your phone’s GPS to track elevations and routes, and it keeps a cumulative total of running stats for every week, month, year, etc. I’m not in a position to be competitive with other actual people, but RunKeeper allows me to be a little competitive with just myself. ‘I can break that pace record.’ ‘I can run a few more miles this week.’

If you’re wondering if all this running is making me skinny, the answer is no. One might think that adding three to five activities a week of aerobic exercise to one’s life might burn enough calories to drop a few pounds, but that is just not what’s happening in my case. Don’t get me wrong. I’m at a healthy weight right now, and my primary reasons for adding running to my routine are more overall-health focused than weigh-loss focused, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if things tightened up a bit.

At 31, I’m realizing more every day that if I want to start good habits, it’s never going to get any easier than it is now even if it’s going to be quite a challenge to start today. For me, running is simply the activity that requires the least investment of time and money for maximum aerobic benefits. It costs nothing more than a pair of shoes, and it can be done almost anywhere.

My friend Rebecka asked me if I have any goals for this weekend’s race. I hadn’t really thought about it, but the best I could come up with is this: 1) Finish. 2) Don’t hurt myself. 3) Don’t look like a total idiot. 4) Don’t come in last. I think that might be as much as I can manage.

rough skinned newt // Wayward Spark

Okay, all you runner types, I’d love to get your advice on this race. I’m feeling pretty confident about my training, and I’m planning on eating right, drinking lots of water, getting lots of sleep, etc. this week, but do you have any insider tips for me? I’m hoping that if I can survive running 13.5 miles up and down a big-ass hill with no special breakfast/hydration/outfit, I’ll do okay out on the flattish course wearing my lucky T-shirt and having nice folks hand me cups of water every couple miles. We’ll see…

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carrot cake with cream cheese-honey-blood orange frosting // Wayward Spark

Spring break went out with a bang. I made a big ol’ pan of lasagna (with fresh pasta, homemade tomato-pesto sauce, homegrown chard, ricotta, and mozzarella) on Saturday night, and Henry’s brother, Trevor, came over to eat with us. On Sunday morning, Trevor as well as my friend Lisa showed up for a bagel party. I made nine raisin bagels and nine more garlic-porcini ones. Also I baked three loaves of Tartine sourdough and put out a ton of condiments. We ate well.

Some of the topics of conversation covered between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon: bombardier beetles (They have “turrets” that spray acid at predators out of their butts!), the slave history of Suriname, cargo cults (Whoa!), Nicki Minaj song lyrics (Ack!), the definition of the word “gank” (I’d never heard it before, which shows I’m really behind the times.), Ras Tafari and Snoop Lion, the ethnic and cultural differences between Ethopians and Eritreans, the fact that Guy Raz is neither old nor bad looking, Trevor’s fancy UV finish-curing equipment that leaves your hardwood floor usable immediately instead of being stinky vulnerable to scratches for a week or more after finishing (Contact info here. He does outstanding work!), Radiolab (I mentioned this podcast short at least five times.), how Masha Gessen is a badass and how Trevor and I really want to read her book about Vladamir Putin, Crimean Rastafarians (apparently they exist), seals in Lake Baikal, anadromous sharks in Lake Nicaragua, sake that comes in a carton, dairy sheep, creepy Greyhound bus stories, and on and on.

I really love my people.

Sunday afternoon in a fit of insanity, I decided that I should bake one more delicious carbohydrate bomb, a carrot cake. It was over the top, but definitely worth it. Here’s the recipe…

carrot cake with cream cheese-honey-blood orange frosting // Wayward Spark

Carrot Cake

adapted slightly from Barbra Austin’s recipe on David Lebovitz‘s blog

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch of ground cloves
a few grates of fresh nutmeg
4 good eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup melted brown butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups loosely packed grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts (or other nuts or golden raisins)
 

Preheat a gas barbecue on medium-high with three or four fire bricks on the grill topped with a Lodge cast iron pizza pan or similar insulating apparatus. Make sure the lid can still close tightly. (There’s a photo of my set up in this post.)

Butter and flour a bundt pan, making sure to grease all surfaces thoroughly to ensure an easy release of the baked cake.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with an electric mixer or egg beater until light and frothy. Gradually whisk in the oil, butter, and then vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture until just mixed. Gently fold in the carrot and nuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. *Place the bundt pan in the center of the cast iron pizza pan in the barbecue. Close the lid tightly. Check for doneness after 45 minutes. Continue baking for another 5-10 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

*Alternately you could bake the cake in a 350° oven for 50-55 minutes.

Cool the cake for about 30 minutes and then invert it onto a plate or cake stand. Cool it completely before frosting.

 

Cream Cheese-Honey-Orange Frosting

inspired by Hannah Queen‘s recipe

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
2 ounces butter, softened
1/3-1/2 cup good, raw honey
zest and juice of 1 orange or blood orange

Cream together the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer or just a wooden spoon. Add honey to taste, and mix well. Stir in the orange zest and juice. Add extra orange juice if you desire a runnier frosting.

Smear the frosting over the cooled bundt cake.

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Bagels Revisited

March 27, 2014 · 1 comment

garlic-porcini bagels // Wayward Spark

I bought cream cheese at the store the other day because I had vague ambitions of baking a carrot cake. I never quite got around to the cake making, so the next logical place for cream cheese was bagels. I posted my friend Ana’s bagel recipe here about a year ago, but somehow, I’d forgotten about it ever since. Two days ago, I pulled out again, and now I might be at risk of becoming “The Crazy Bagel Lady”. The recipe is SO easy, SO good, and highly adaptable. Yesterday’s bagels had an added cupful of cacao nib granola, and today’s flavor was chunky garlic-porcini. Tomorrow: Cranberry-walnut? Dried tomato-rosemary? Parmesan-sweet pepper? A few of each? The sky really is the limit.

Other than obsessive bagel baking, we’ve been lazing around on spring break. It’s really nice to have some unscheduled time even if I’m not using that time all that productively. Happy spring, friends!

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