Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Routine ... not Rut

Things here on our suburban nanofarm have gotten pretty routine. There's growing season in which we prepare our garden beds and plant the seeds - starting with peas, as soon as the soil can be worked. There's gathering wood for winter season, in which we begin the process of hauling, splitting and stacking firewood. There's pre-winter, when we start clearing out the gardens and putting away tools and repairing and moving animal enclosures. There's winter.

And, then, there's SPRING. Sometimes winter feels like we're holding our breath for spring, and when it gets here we start the process of finding the tools we'd left in the yard before the first snow. We rake leaves that were left on the lawn. We turn the garden beds and the compost pile and repair the raised-bed surrounds. We order chicks and seeds and start getting ready for both to be raised through the warmer months. We hang out our first load of laundry in the bright, warm sunshine, and we stand bare-armed in the warming breeze, eyes-closed, face-raised to the clear blue sky and the earth-warming sun.

And we tap the trees.

This past weekend, we boiled our first quart of maple syrup.



While Deus Ex Machina was in the yard boiling the sap, our new neighbor stopped to chat. When he saw us tapping the trees a few weeks ago, he was inspired to try it on his own, and he purchased some spiles and buckets. He also purchased a bundle of wood and used it as a (completely unnecessary and unexpected, but incredibly appreciated) barter. A bundle of wood in exchange for Deus Ex Machina helping him to find maple trees that he could tap.

The neighbors have several young children. We hear them outside playing all of the time. I'm very excited for the life they are going to have living on a three-acre wooded lot with parents who are interested in being outside and learning skills, like maple sugaring.

Sometimes the bounty of my life overwhelms me, and I am so thankful, every day, for how blessed we are.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Peter Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

My family and I have been volunteering at our local food pantry for almost a year and a half now.

Our pantry operates differently than some pantries. First, we're not *just* about food. We also have a recycle boutique where we have clothes, shoes, books, and household goods - basically, whatever people donate.

Second, when it comes to the food, we allow our clients to pick what they will eat. We have two floor to ceiling shelves stocked with non-perishable foods. Clients are allotted a certain number of items off those shelves based on the number of people in their families.

We also have, what we call, "free items." Clients can take as much of these things as they need, and I usually stress need versus want, because they are very different things. No one needs three dozen frosted cookies. They probably don't even need a dozen cookies, but one package is adequate, unless it's a big family, and then ... well, we leave it up to the client, within reason, of course. Very few people are food hoarders. Most people take just what they need.

Sometimes, that's an issue for the pantry, because we have very limited space, and some things just don't keep well - like bread and produce, which we get a day or two past perfection, anyway. Most of our produce is just on that edge when it comes to us. It's the stuff the stores could no longer sell, for whatever reason, and while most of it's perfectly edible, it doesn't last more than a couple of days. When we have a surplus of fruits and vegetables, we strongly encourage everyone who comes through our doors to take as much as they want.

Unfortunately, some people won't take advantage of this offering, because they either don't know what to do with the produce, or they're afraid that they won't use it before it goes bad.

What's terribly unfortunate is that most people see an apple as an apple that needs to be eaten raw or discarded. Apples are apples that can be eaten raw, and they're delicious, but there are also a half dozen other ways that apples can be easily used (apple pie, baked apples, apple turnovers, apple fritters, apple cobbler, apple crisp), but apples are also easily preserved for future use as applesauce (which can be made in a crockpot), dried apple rings, or even juiced to make sweet cider (for kids) or hard cider (for me ... I mean adults).

Preserving food is not difficult, although it can be time consuming. Or it can take only as long as preparing a TV dinner. Sauerkraut takes about twenty minutes to prep. What takes the longest is the slicing. Salting and mixing is quick, and then, it's just a matter of packing it into a container (I use a gallon-sized pickle jar that I bought, filled with pickles, for $4.99). Then, a week of waiting while it ferments, and then, it goes into the refrigerator, where it will continue to ferment (slowly) and improve on flavor and can be stored in the refrigerator or other cool place for up to a year.

Imagine. Storing cabbage in the refrigerator for a whole year.

That's the beauty of preserving, though. We can take these wonderful, fresh foods and turn them into something that we can keep for a long time and eat slowly. So, there's no waste.

One of the things that we occasionally have a surplus of, and which just don't last very long is hot peppers. Personally, I love hot peppers. We add them to soups, my daughter uses them on pizza, I slice them up for stir-fry, and we make a to-die-for homemade salsa. During the summer, it's great, because Deus Ex Machina's uncle has a friend who is, like, the Pepper-Whisperer. He grows dozens of varieties of peppers, and we are, often, the recipient of bagsful of the little gems.

It's a lot to use at one time, and so we've looked for some ways to preserve them for future use - the easier, the better.

I recently found this recipe for Pepper Vinegar, and it looks just exactly like what I need - for my own use, and to share with our pantry patrons when we have too many peppers and no one is wanting them.


It's easy, uses only peppers, salt and vinegar, takes just a couple of weeks to set, lasts up to six months without refrigeration, AND adds a delightful kick to what might otherwise be a dull dish.

So, next time you pick a peck of peppers, pickle them :).

For those who enjoy making Homemade For the Holidays, this little recipe would be great for gift giving.



Thursday, February 18, 2016

Soap

I've made regular bar soap before. In fact, I found (and use) a very simple recipe that I included in my book (p. 121 - for those with a copy of the book). It has three ingredients (four if you add an essential oil) - lye, lard, and distilled water - and makes a couple of small bars. I like to add lavender essential oil, and since I have a bunch of dried lavender, I'll also had a tablespoon of that for texture, color and scent.

While I love the bar soap, there's something to be said for liquid soap. It works better as a laundry soap, as a dish soap, and in general in most cleaning applications. While weirdos, like me, use bar soap all over in the shower, there's a reason (some) people prefer the shampoo in the plastic bottles.

Northwest Edible Life published a great article recently on making liquid Castille soap. What's great about this is that I lurve Dr. Bonner's liquid soap, and I use it for everything from washing to cleaning my toilets ... but it's pretty pricey for scrubbing the john. I haven't priced out the cost of this DIY Castille soap, but from a cursory glance at the ingredients, it looks like I probably have everything I need.

Guess I'm going to be a busy girl over the next few weeks :).

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

And the Next Day - Maine Weather

In the wee hours of the morning Tuesday, it was snowing. We woke up to three inches of snow covered with a quarter inch of ice.

During the day, the temperature creeped up, and by the evening, it was raining, heavily at times.

Today, we went to the beach, again.

This is our beach twenty-four hours later.



It is definitely spring up here, and we'll be ramping up our Maple syrup production, probably this week. We've already tapped the trees, and they should be running like a faucet on a day, like today.

Getting Creative

I was given a bunch of shredded cabbage today. I was thinking about cole slaw, but then, as I was beginning to research recipes for a great cole slaw dressing, I had an epiphany.

What's the best thing to do with cabbage, if one has a lot that needs to be used quickly?

Sauerkraut.

Duh!

Guess what we'll be eating next week? :)

I've made sauerkraut on several occasions, and my favorite recipe is from the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Making sauerkraut is actually pretty simple and fool-proof. It's basically cabbage and salt and waiting. This recipe instructable breaks down the process pretty nicely.

And the next time you end up with 5 lbs of finely shredded cabbage, you'll know what to do ;).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Winter Beach

This time of year the beach is deserted. We were there for only a little while - maybe fifteen minutes - and we only saw two other people ... and one dog.


It was low tide, and the seagulls were huddled on the solid sand below the tide line. Ordinarily, the presence of humans sends them into a frenzy of hoping for some fried handout ... or waiting to see if we're stupid enough to leave our pizza unguarded (the answer is, yes, we have been).

This day, after an overnight winter storm dumped three more inches of snow, followed by a half inch of ice with a promised rain event later in the day, they had no interest in us.

Or, probably, this time of year, they know they aren't as likely to get human food. The locals aren't as generous as the tourists.

The Boardwalk was deserted and what is a carnival atmosphere of lights and noise from April to October was quiet ... almost eerie.

I almost commented to Little Fire Faery, as we walked back to our car, this is what it will be like if the world ever does implode as is being predicted.

Here, it will be deserted and silent - the remains of a different time rusting in the salty air.