Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hoop Garden Bed aka Rabbit Hutch

After Thanksgiving when I went to check my small, experimental winter hoop house, I found a rabbit in it (it got in via a clothes-pinned seam the wind had blown apart). Darned cat and dog were just observing the rabbit munching away on the beet greens. My snap-clamps had finally arrived so I fixed the hoop house fabric securely, and fastened the edges against tunneling.

Unfortunately the battery in my camera was dead so I have no photos.

BUT, I am happy to report I spotted some small budding Brussels sprouts on a few stems, and I saw a few carrot shoulders protruding. Plus, there are a few baby spinach leaves the rabbit didn't munch down like the beet greens. Considering that we've had more than 2 dozen nights below 25ºF (and who knows how long that seam had been open), I'm pleased to see some growth, and no apparent frost damage.

So far, I am encouraged to do it again, but with better planning next year. One thing is the need to get seeds started sooner and planted earlier, so the plants have more root growth before covering when cool weather sets in.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Admiring a Man for Standing Up

Photos from The Bovine

Y'know, regardless of where you stand, or even if you have no opinion on the matter, there's something admiral to be said for a man who stands firmly on his beliefs, and in the case of Ontario dairy farmer Michael Schmidt, his belief in food rights. 

Although found guilty on appeal, fined over $9,000 and placed on a year's probation, he argues raw milk has greater health benefits than pasteurized milk, and that consumers should have a right to decide what to put in their bodies. The judge at his hearing told the court, “(Mr. Schmidt) is a man of principle. He’s willing to fight for his principles. There’s a lot to admire about Mr. Schmidt.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday Blues: Electronics Purchases

Lose your sleep before your decision, not after it
By Scott McLeod

This year's Black Friday was violent in many places, and some Buyers didn't get as good a deal as they might have at another time.

I came across this great website to help anyone decide on the purchase of electronic items. A professor who is an expert on data mining (he sold an airline fare program to Microsoft for $115 million) has a start-up website that studies all the pricing data on electronic products like TV's, computers, cameras, Home Theater Systems, and more... it also looks at new models coming soon, and then it figures out the best time to buy.

You just plug in the name of a product and it will search prices and tell you if you should buy now, or wait. I looked at one camera just to see how it works; it told me to wait, as there is an 83% probability prices will drop in 2 weeks.

Decision Making Landscape
By toprankonlinemarketing

If you are planning to buy a big ticket item, could be quite handy to both save you some money, and any regrets you didn't get the best deal!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bartering and Crop Swaps

Kate, over on Living the Frugal Life, recently wrote a nice piece on bartering, which prompted me to review some "crop swap" information I had downloaded earlier.

Barter Theater, photo courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance

Bartering achieved some notoriety around here locally (in the next county south of me) in 1933 when the price of admission to the  Barter Theater  was 40 cents OR an equivalent amount of produce. Four out of five Depression-era theater-goers there paid their way with vegetables, dairy products and livestock. (It's still an active live theater today, but I don't think they barter for admission anymore.)

So Bartering and/or Crop Swapping is nothing new, but perhaps our ideas about it deserve another look in the light of the current economy. The USDA now reports that storable foods costs have risen by 60% in the last year. Many vegetable crops are easily stored: cabbages, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, parsnips, beets, rutabagas, turnips, and more. Those should all be pretty easy to grow, store and/or barter. 

It might be harder to barter for sugar, salt, flour, or toilet paper unless you live near a processing facility and know one of the workers who may be able to get "seconds" which are generally packaging defects, not product defects. On the other hand, a surplus of those staples might be quite valuable as trade items if those things really get scarce.

I'd be interested in starting a trial crop swap group on a small scale here where I live... but I don't know enough people who might participate for it to be worthwhile. That's sad, actually. I threw away about 400 pounds of winter squash the first year I had a garden here; the food banks couldn't take them, and I didn't know any of my neighbors or any other place to put them to good use.
Sarah Henry, over on the shareable network blog, has written a few posts on how to set up crop swapping, including one directed at some of the legal aspects. I also know there is a barter section on Craigslist; unfortunately none of them are near enough to me to be to be economically viable. I did trade some cheese I made from goat milk to the farmer who supplied the milk, but it cost me $10-$12 in gas every time I went to pick up just 2 gallons of milk. So it wasn't the best good win-win situation; had he been closer it would have been wonderful.

I'd barter cheese or something else in a heartbeat for frozen free-range duck, even it it meant postage (which is still cheaper than gas). Actually I'd consider bartering lots of things, duck just came to mind because no one local has free-range duck to sell.

Anyone have suggestions or experience with bartering?

Edited the day after Thanksgiving to post a link from a friend on Barter Sites.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wine and Cheese Tasting

Thanks to a friend, a very small group gathered at a mountain rental cabin near the Blue Ridge Parkway for the weekend before Thanksgiving and an early Thanksgiving Dinner. Almost everyone there (except me and maybe one other person) will get to have another Thanksgiving Dinner on the "proper" day with Family, but since I basically live alone, I appreciated being able to share in the traditional "turkey day meal" with friends, and Giving Thanks for all we have.

It was a great time away from home and everyone brought great food... in fact, an abundance of foods! I may post about all the foods if others send me photos they took, but for now, here's our Saturday adventure...

We loaded ourselves into a couple of cars and went over to the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday to both a winery and a cidery I've wanted to visit for 2-3 years. The Château Morrisette wine tasting was really quite lovely, and very entertaining thanks to our bartender. Other than the omission of any palate cleansers for 12 different wines (including 2 ice wines), it was both professional and great fun.

One wine I would normally have never tried actually surprised me by being quite tasty; it was made from Scuppernongs, aka Fox Grapes. I generally shun sweetish wines but this was nicely complex rather than sickeningly sweet. (The winery gave us the glasses with their name etched on them that we used for tasting and several of our group bought multiple bottles of wines to take home, so their excellent presentation and marketing paid off!)

The Foggy Ridge Cidery (hard ciders) tasting was disappointing. Being just 3 miles down the Parkway from Château Morrisette, they probably need to do a better job of marketing at the cidery site itself if they continue to be on the "tour". You never know just who may drop in for a taste!

It was the same cost to taste 5 hard ciders as 12 wines from Château Morrisette, but the cider samples were barely a teaspoonful and the bartender was not fully educated on the products (at least not on the fortified ciders, nor did she present how any of the ciders could be served or used in recipes)... also she was not very personable. I will excuse her as she may have been having a bad day from many tastings earlier, but if that's the case they should have a back-up plan.

I did like the Pippin Black, a brandy-fortified cider made with Arkansas Black apples and Newtown Pippins.
The Thos. Jefferson / American style cider was tart but not dry, but I liked the English-style cider better as it was dry and not too tart. I wouldn't even taste the sweet cider one. The fresh raw cider I bought and fermented last fall was too sweet for my taste after it fermented, even with no sugar added. To be fair, that fresh cider I bought was made from eating apples whereas good hard cider is a mix, but other than sweet, it was good. I just don't like sweet drinks as a rule. (We didn't get a cidery glass etched with their name to keep, either.)
Once back at the cabin, we had our own private cheese tasting with wines everyone had brought along for the weekend. All three of my homemade cheeses (gorgonzola, farmhouse cheddar and a young Caerphilly) were well-received, plus we had about 8-10 imported cheeses our friends had ordered online.

I have to brag a tiny bit and say I finally made an edible blue cheese... the gorgonzola dolce shown above, which the blue cheese lovers deemed a success. (Remember I had to toss out my first 3 attempts at making a blue cheese?)

The imported cheese varieties (which I had helped choose from a short list of cheese specials) were tasty and interesting but not great, excepting the very stinky and well past it's prime Tomme Crayeuse we had to re-wrap quickly... but the selections didn't contain any cheese that I think any of us would particularly order again except possibly the 2 year old Avonlea Extra Sharp raw milk Cheddar from Canada (very dry/crumbly almost like Parmesan because of the age, but would be lovely grated on certain dishes). 

I guess it's my fault for not knowing the vendor who is not a cheesemonger... nor did I know anything of the creameries/artisans for each cheese. I take full responsibility since several were cheese types I wanted to try in case I wanted to try to make one.

One of the imported cheeses was a Welsh Caerphilly [cheddar], and VERY different from the ones I've made so far. It was a lot softer, creamier and not as traditionally salty; it was rather more like an American mild cheddar. But at leasdt now I know I need to work on "creamier" in general when I make more cheese.
As a surprise gift for me personally, our organizer had ordered a wedge of Rogue River Blue straight from the Creamery because I had said rather emphatically I wanted to try it sometime. (Is that a great friend or what??) I put it out to share along with the other cheese, and everyone who liked blues raved over it. If you like blues at all, you really need to try this cheese sometime when you have a special occasion; IT IS OUTSTANDING!!! No wonder it won Best in Show in combined American, Canadian and Mexican competitions for 2 of the last 3 years.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mmmmm, good! Bacon Jam!

For several years I've been reading about Bacon Jam all over a slew of blogs, and I finally decided to make some to see what all the fuss was about. Well, let me tell you it's one of the tastiest things I've had in years!!!

My kitchen had the most enticing smells coming from it for several hours as I was making this recipe, and it will surpass anything you can buy in a jar. YUM!

I tripled the recipe, using 3 pounds of thick-sliced applewood smoked but uncured bacon, cut into 1" pieces and fried until just curling at the edges. You want them still soft in the middle. Remove the bacon and drain.

Then leave just a tablespoon (or 3 tablespoons since I tripled the recipe) of bacon fat in the pan, add the brown sugar and sliced onions. Cook over low heat until the onions are slightly caramelized.

Add the spices, cook for about 5 minutes, then add the liquid ingredients and the bacon. Cook at a low simmer for a couple of hours, until somewhat thickened. Cool it enough to handle and then run the cooked "stew" through a food processor until it is the consistency you like. After 2.5 hours, mine was still on the thinish side, so after I processed it to a jam consistency, I added a half a tablespoon of Knox gelatin dissolved in a bit of water... then heated it up for the gelatin to "set" before putting it in jars to refrigerate.

I suppose you could can it in a pressure canner, but frankly I think it will be eaten in short order so I just refrigerated it.

Here is the basic recipe I used; the only changes were to add some finely chopped crystalized ginger, and to reduce the hot sauce and chile powders a bit. It still has a 'bite' but not an eye-burning bite. Oh, since I was tripling the recipe, I cut down on the apple cider vinegar, starting with ¼ cup and then adding more to taste as it cooked down. (You can always add more but you cannot take it out once it's added.) I ended up with a nice sweet/sour balance.

1 pound thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch fresh grated nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
½ teaspoon dry chipotle powder [I used ancho which isn't as hot but it's what I had]
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ cup strong brewed coffee
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup good quality bourbon
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon hot sauce

Recipe Steps
In a Dutch oven or large skillet cook the bacon over medium high heat until it begins to crisp up at the edges - the pieces should still be soft in the center. Drain on paper towels and retain one tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan.

Lower the heat to medium low and cook the onion and brown sugar until soft and caramelized (20 minutes or more).

Add the garlic and spices and cook for 5 more minutes.

Add the liquid ingredients and the bacon to the pan. At medium heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and barely simmer for about 2 hours. Check every 30 minutes to make sure that the mixture does not dry out. If it does, just add a few tablespoons water. The final mixture should be moist and sticky.

Let cool slightly and add to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it reaches the consistency you like - slightly chunky to showcase the bacon or smoother.

Make 1½ cups.
Recipe source: kayb @ eGullet

ps, this is my second attempt. The first time I used a Smithfield hickory smoked, thick-cut bacon without cooking a piece of the bacon first to check the taste. It was terrible tasting, and I should have known better. What a waste of money and ingredients! Usually I make my own bacon, but sometimes I'll buy bacon at a natural foods store if I don't have access to fresh pork belly to make my own bacon.

pps... I'll be out of pocket and able to approve comments until the morning of Nov. 21

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yes, Troubles do come in 3's

I recently posted that we had 2 "troubles" days apart... First was the septic system, and the 2nd was the water heater quitting.

Yesterday was the 3rd. I found my beloved cat Alice dead in the bushes just across the bridge. She loved to hunt at night and the last several nights have been warm for this time of the year, so I wasn't worried when she didn't come in for the night 2 nights ago. When she didn't come for breakfast nor supper yesterday, and didn't answer when I called, I started to really worry.

Yesterday morning I hunted all the cubbyholes around the property... all the sheds, under the house and in the barn. I even drove down to the Animal Control compound which is just 3-4 miles down the road. Nada.

My sister's dog sniffed Alice's body out early in the afternoon. It appears she may have been hit by a car in the night (they drive like fools on this country road) and was trying to get home when she gave out. I buried her out behind the barn in what has become the Pet Cemetery. My old fat cat Baz would have been buried there, except the creek waters rose and carried her away before I could retrieve her. (She was pretty decomposed and I had gone for gloves, a sack and a BIG shovel.) Four weeks ago we buried my sister's housecat in the new Pet Cemetery. He died of kidney failure, and now Alice will keep him company.

I had Alice exactly 1 year and 13 days; she was my birthday present last November. She spooked easily when she was a young kitten, and was growing out of it. Alice had become very affectionate, and talked to me all the time. 

My older cat Shug chose to stay inside the last 2 days, and hasn't eaten much, so I think she knows something has happened to Alice. Shug and Alice tolerated each other, but I wouldn't say they were friends. I love Shug, but nothing like I loved my Alice.

ps... I'll be out of pocket and able to approve comments until the morning of Nov. 21

Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Septic Worries Are Over, Kinda

After weeks of agonizing on my part about my work I've been doing towards a new garden spot and the unknown septic system location, a "Committee" from the County Health Department and the Environmental Services Department converged on my house last week with copies of the 26 year old septic permit, old satellite photos of our place, plus a couple of resident neighbors with long memories showed up, and the lone septic tank pumper I called, we finally located the septic tank. It's 90 feet from the area we thought... it's under an addition to the front of the house and the front porch! (Actually it's mostly under my living room.)

However (and fortuitously) the very corner of the tank that has the lid is just barely outside the footers / concrete block foundation for the addition, so all I had to do for pumping access was tear off the front steps. Plus, the tank and leach field were found to be in good working order! 

The Distribution box is 2' under a nearby Hosta bed, and most of the leach field is in the front yard and partially under one raised flower bed I built 5 years ago. However, the far end of the leach field trenches run about 15 feet into the huge area I just sheet-mulched for a new garden bed... The good news is the whole flatish area above the new bed (and where I thought the leach field was) is now available for more garden extension and even a couple of shade trees next year.

About half of the 9 truckloads of mulch and woodchips I put over what is now known to be the far end of the leach field will need to be moved, and one huge overgrown shrub in the front yard will have to go. But all in all, it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. 

What might have been $6,000-$9,000 for a whole new system will end up costing around $1500 to fix (including material for new front steps which I will build in a few days) and that includes my guess of $1,000 for some heavy equipment to dig out a series of shallow bog ponds for future greywater filtering, along with some terracing on the hillside behind the house for surface water management.

They say things come in threes. So if septic was the first, the next day brought the second one: the water heater died. It has been anticipated as it was old, undersized, and only had 1 heating element (which I replaced by myself 4 years ago). I just didn't expect it to happen the day after the septic costs! I'm not looking forward to the third disaster!

I'll be eating from my survival pantry for a while, between money paid out yesterday for the septic work, and then more money for the new water heater to be installed in the morning, plus a few more dollars to fix yet another new water leak we found under the house today. (That makes 6 leaks in 5.5 years; all the hot-cold water supply lines need replacing.)  I'm really glad I have my pantry!

(We haven't even addressed the septic line connecting the 2 bathrooms [under the old trailer portion of the house] which we just found was NEVER properly installed on a slope so it drains correctly. There IS a slope but it actually runs the wrong way. No wonder the bathroom at the other end of the house doesn't drain easily.)

The good news is that I have all winter to re-design a new garden area, and actually a lot more space to play with... so it has all worked out pretty much okay. (And obviously I must have needed the exercise of adding a foot of mulch to a thousand square feet of lawn only to have to move it again.)

ps... I'll be out of pocket and able to approve comments until the morning of Nov. 21

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cushaw for the Best Pumpkin Pies!

Cushaw is a variety of winter squash that makes the very best pumpkin pies! (In fact the canned pumpkin in the grocery stores is either just cushaw, or a mix of various winter squash including cushaw.) Note: I wrote about cushaw last year here, too.

I don't grow my own cushaw anymore, even though they keep very well over the winter in a cool, dry space like a root cellar. Mainly I don't grow them because they are too big for one person to eat, unless I am processing pumpkin for holiday recipes. However, I just picked up a couple of 10-12 pound cushaws at the farmer's market last Saturday for only $3 each. I got over 10+ cups of purée out of just one cushaw, the equivalent of 5 or more jumbo cans of pumpkin ($2.99 here) from the supermarket.

I cut them in half, removed the strings and seeds from the cavity, and roasted them cut-side down in a 350ºF oven for about an hour and a half, until the thick neck pierced easily with a fork. (I lightly oiled the baking pan, and added enough water to a depth of almost half an inch... once the pan was in the oven.)

After the baked squash was cool enough to peel, I cubed it and ran it through a food mill. In retrospect, I could have skipped this step as these squash were not stringy at all.

Once puréed, I set some aside (in 2 cup amounts) to freeze for pies, or maybe some Pumpkin Pull-Apart Bread.

The rest of the first cushaw I roasted went into the crockpot to spice up and cook down for some Cushaw Butter. Even though I put it in canning jars, I did NOT can it. The USDA now strongly recommends against even pressure canning something extra-thick like pear or pumpkin butter because the heat may not penetrate to the center to guarantee safety.

I used local raw honey as the sweetener, and since honey is antimicrobial, it should keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. (Most of mine will be given away over the next few days.)

While I was roasting the squash, I removed all the good seeds from the stringy innards, discarded the flat immature seeds, and rinsed them well to remove any remaining flesh. Then I soaked the seeds several hours in salted water, getting them ready to roast as snack foods. (Soaking the seeds helps assure the nutmeat inside the shell gets a little salt.)

I dry the seeds after soaking... so the surface is dry enough to coat with olive oil. Lightly oil a cookie sheet, toss the seeds to coat evenly, add some sea salt, and roast in a 325ºF oven until toasted (about 25 minutes, depends on the oven) checking and stirring often after 10 minutes. 

You can add a variety of herbs or spices to the seeds before roasting. Try some ground chili pepper or ground smoked pepper if you like them spicy, or some garden herbs like sage and thyme... or some cinnamon and brown sugar for someone with a sweet tooth. Experiment and be creative!

Roasted pumpkin seeds will keep a couple of weeks stored in an airtight container. Be sure to smell any seeds or nuts before eating those you store, as the oils can go rancid quickly.

All together, my $6 spent on cushaws gave me 12 cups of purée to freeze (will make 6 generous pies or other desserts like pumpkin custard or pumpkin bread), 10 pints of pumpkin butter, and a bowl full of toasted pumpkin seeds. How's that for stretching food dollars? Plus, I know exactly what is in my pumpkin products... no chemical additives, just real food made with love.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sure Wish I'd Had a Camera

No, not for a funny shot... just a Stupid (on my part) Shot of my truck in the ditch.

I'm back home safely, but only after an eventful Sunday afternoon that included my truck having to be towed out of a deep ditch adjacent to a ravine along a narrow gravel private drive through the woods... where I was going to see an old friend who lives just over the line into the NC mountains. 

Surprised by the first time I've ever seen their gate closed, I tried to back down the slope on a curve. (Yeah, calling ahead would have been smart but I wanted to surprise them.) My back tires are bald, and I have rear wheel drive so I couldn't get a lick of traction, and I just slid farther and farther until I was totally in the ditch sideways and on a tilt... and looking down a loooong deep slope. Scary!

I finally calmed enough to crawl over the groceries and junk now strewn all about in the front seat, and out the upside door (passenger door) to go for help. No cell service that deep in the woods. My friend's grandson came down and tried to pull me out with a chain and his 4WD, and that was scary because I was sure my truck was going to turn over and roll down the mountain with me in it! 

I did finally get towed out... and my truck didn't roll down the mountain either. Shoulda had my camera!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Posts to come...

I haven't written many good (in my opinion) posts lately. I think all the work I did preparing a new planting spot for next year... which turns out to be over the leach field... really has me in a funk. What the County inspector signed off on isn't what's actually there.

In order not to have to think about starting yet another new garden area in some completely different spot (which now I couldn't even start until spring, thus losing a whole year of planting)... I have been doing more soil nutrition research. Surprisingly, the same nutrients that affect soil also affect out human bodies, and in much the same way.

Several years ago I wrote a series of articles for on the various soil nutrients, from the over-used or inappropriately-used NPK, to the common minerals, and then the minor but essential trace minerals. I've learned a lot since then, and when I can sift through all of my notes enough to get a clear picture in my head, I will post it here.

Some good news... there are still folks out there with manners! For several years now, I have lamented that folks driving in the oncoming traffic lane will not dim their bright lights, come Hell or high water. Last night I had to drive home from NC after dark (late because I got my truck in a ditch and had to be towed), and almost every oncoming car dimmed their lights! Often they even dimmed their lights as soon as they saw mine, not waiting until I blinked mine as a signal. There may be Hope for Mankind yet. :)

Meanwhile I am preparing for a weekend cabin stay with friends in less than 2 weeks, and food is on my mind. I'll only be making a few goodies to share (including a couple of easy snacks) which I will post in the next few days as I make them. 

The holidays during November and December will be my Last Hurrah of foods I should not eat, and January will see me back on a more Paleo-type diet (although it wasn't designed as such by my Endocrinologist). I lost a pound a week over 6 months of 2010 eating right for my low thyroid, and had more energy than in the previous 10 years. Since going off that food protocol, I have gained it all back and feel sluggish most of the time. So, it's time for me to get back on track.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Boone: The Mind Wanders...

Last Sunday I drove over to Boone, NC to go to a Natural Foods store, the closest one to me. It was a gorgeous sunny day, 2 lane highway traffic was sparse, and I was merely enjoying the day and the drive.  I used to live in Boone so I know it fairly well. Importantly, my mother and step-father had a home there, as did my Aunt Marion and Uncle Mutt, and Aunt Virginia and Uncle Russ.

My family there have all been dead several years or more, yet as I was approaching Boone along the highway coming from Mountain City, TN yesterday, my mind said, "Why not take the shortcut across Beaver Dam and up Hattie Hill to surprise Aunt Marion?"

It actually felt so real that it was a very strange moment...  things have changed, and people are gone, but the mind sometimes strays into the more pleasant past as though it really was real now.

I would have given a lot for another short visit with Aunt Marion. She was the only college-educated one of my mother's siblings, and although dedicated to her religious beliefs, she was a free spirit in many ways. In the years I lived nearby, I'd call her and ask, "Do you want to go to..." and I'd never even get the designation said before she'd say, "Yes!" It didn't matter if it was a horse show off the mountain where I had a horse entered, or to a fabric store 50 miles away. She just liked to go, and experience whatever was out there in the world beyond Boone.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Save the Leeks

Leeks ready to Blanch
I found myself with some store-bought leeks and then no time to make something tasty with them before they spoil. (They are too expensive to allow to spoil!) My freezer is full, as are the canning shelves... so I decided to dehydrate them. Invariably I will want to use leeks in a dish and not find any available in our local grocery stores. Dehydrating solves the problem of limited storage space, and lets me Save the Leeks.

Eazy-Peazy. Many who dehydrate leeks prefer to slice the leeks in half lengthwise, but I prefer whole rings. Cut off the root end, peel off the outer layer, and slice into 1/4 inch slices. When you get to green, tough outer leaves, remove another layer, and slice up to the next tough leaves.  When you have salvaged all you can, put the slices in cold running water and clean thoroughly.

Leeks are grown planted in a trench and "hilled" as they grow, blanching the stems white. In the growing process, lots of sand/dirt gets trapped in the leeks so they must be rinsed thoroughly (unless you like to eat grit).

First batch chilling

After they are well-rinsed, drop them into a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes to blanch. You may need to do them in several batches to keep the water temp from dropping with the addition of the leeks, depending on quantity of leeks you have. Remove them from boiling water with a slotted spoon and drop immediately in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.

First batch draining

After chilling for 3-4 minutes, I drained mine briefly on paper toweling before distributing on the dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at about 100ºF. How long depends on how thick you sliced them, but easily done in an afternoon.

After Dehydrating

You can rehydrate them for use later in hot water for 15 minutes; mine usually go into a dish with lots of liquid so I add them dry.

I dry mine to the crispy stage, and just store them in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. I check them after 24 hours... if they aren't fully dry, some moisture will appear inside the jar. If so, they go back in the dehydrator for 2 or so more hours.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Hmmmmm... Daylight Saving Time

(This was supposed to post at 2 AM when the law required changing the clocks... but Blogger wouldn't let me. Sorry...)

I wonder if my cats will start nudging me to awaken an hour earlier tomorrow morning? Or, will my garden plants perk up an hour earlier?

Somehow I doubt it. 

I doubt the sun will change its schedule because some bureaucrats made a Law that changed the hour hand on all of the clock faces in the US twice a year, excepting Arizona. There must have been a monetary incentive for them to do so (isn't there always one?), but the logic of it escapes me. Yeah, I do read that it supposedly cuts energy consumption in our homes during summer by something like 1%. Yeah, Right. (But it's been proven wrong even by our own government.)

"In the winter, the afternoon Daylight Saving Time advantage is offset for many people and businesses by the morning's need for more lighting. In spring and fall, the advantage is generally less than one hour. So, the rationale was that Daylight Saving Time saves energy for lighting in all seasons of the year, but it saves least during the four darkest months of winter (November, December, January, and February), when the afternoon advantage is offset by the need for lighting because of late sunrise.

In addition, less electricity was thought to be used because people are home fewer hours during the "longer" days of spring and summer. Most people plan outdoor activities in the extra daylight hours. When people are not at home, they don't turn on the appliances and lights.

Although a 1976 report by the National Bureau of Standards disputed the 1975 U.S. Department of Transportation study, and found that DST-related energy savings were insignificant, the DOT study continued to influence decisions about Daylight Saving Time." (Source)

In the continental US, only Arizona remains on "standard time" all year long. And, IF you have a sundial, how much of the year is it actually accurate???

"The practice has been both praised and criticized. Adding daylight to afternoons benefits retailing, sports, and other activities that exploit sunlight after working hours, but causes problems for farming, evening entertainment and other occupations tied to the sun. Its effect on health and crime is less clear. Although an early goal of DST was to reduce evening usage of incandescent lighting, formerly a primary use of electricity, modern heating and cooling usage patterns differ greatly, and research about how DST currently affects energy use is limited or contradictory.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) concluded in 1975 that DST might reduce the country's electricity usage by 1% during March and April, but the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) reviewed the DOT study in 1976 and found no significant savings."

Clock shifts disrupt sleep and reduce its efficiency. Effects on seasonal adaptation of the circadian rhythm can be severe and last for weeks. A 2008 study found that although male suicide rates rise in the weeks after the spring transition, the relationship weakened greatly after adjusting for season. A 2008 Swedish study found that heart attacks were significantly more common the first three weekdays after the spring transition, and significantly less common the first weekday after the autumn transition. The government of Kazakhstan  cited health complications due to clock shifts as a reason for abolishing DST in 2005. In March 2011, Dmitri Medvedev, president of Russia, claimed that "stress of changing clocks" were the motivation for Russia to stay in DST all year long. Officials at the time talked about an annual increase in suicides.

So, if it's not really valid energy conservation, what are the reasons we are still subject to "springing forward and falling back"?? Just so some few businesses may possibly make more money in this economic wasteland we find ourselves now living in?

Just my 2¢ worth... my opinion of so many Laws that simply do not make sense.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Row covers as season extenders

Start of the hoops, at the end of the sweet potato bed, and beside some tall asparagus ferns

Every year I think I will put some hoops in the garden and cover them with row covers for season extenders... aka frost protection, but I usually run out of steam first. This year I decided to MAKE it happen, even if it is just one very small bed with a handful of fall plants. I'm mainly doing this as a trial to see what will survive if left in the ground (and for how long), and how much it generally extends my Fall season.

I am moving towards something akin to what Eliot Coleman puts forth in his book, Winter Harvest but not as quickly as I'd like.

What you see above is only the first few hoops in place. They are just some old PVC tubing that I used once on a temporary structure 2 or 3 houses ago. (I'm a packrat and keep everything that might be useful at another time for another project!) The ends are slipped over 18" pieces of rebar driven into the ground. I did have to buy the rebar, and 50 lineal feet of the strongest frost protection fabric, good to down to around 25ºF if I remember correctly. I won't need anywhere near 50 feet this year, though.

I laid out the bed and cut the plastic pipe for the hoops based on the width the supplier said the row cover fabric was, without double-checking the actual width. Turns out he was short (wrong) by 18" but by then the bed was already planted. Re-cutting the pipe to accommodate the fabric width would have left me with pipe that wouldn't bend enough for a hoop shape, so unfortunately I am having to run 2-3 sections of the fabric from side to side rather than one piece end to end.

I haven't figured out the best way to fasten the pieces together without ruining the fabric, so for now I'm using clothespins. I'll have to remedy that before any snowfall!

Hoops tied together at the top; rope is anchored on each end, pulling against the other end

The bed is 6 feet wide, and is planted with Brussels sprouts, purple cauliflower, beets, carrots, kale and spinach. I lost the majority of my seedlings with all the rain from TS Lee in early September, and by then it was too cool to start more. Also, something has eaten the beet stalks and carrot tops down to the ground, so there won't be any beets nor carrots.

I plan to keep the cover on all winter and leave a few things in the ground, just to see how they fare. I'll leave a few carrots (there aren't many to start with), one or two stalks of Brussels sprouts with a few sprouts left on them, and then I will wait until we start getting deep freezing to see what else I want to leave. Since I am not counting on much food production from this quite-late impetus, I'll be okay with what doesn't do well.  

The main thing is that I'm learning.

Update: The best thing to use for attaching overlapping fabric sections are known as garden clips, spring clips, or sometimes called snap clamps. They are cheap (around 50¢ each but shop for the best price) and I have some on order. I could make my own using black poly water pipe, but the big box stores here only carry that pipe in 100 foot rolls. I did buy 10 feet of rigid PVC in a slightly larger size but it's difficult to cut a lengthwise slot without someone holding it down. IfI cut it in 4" sections first, I wouldn't want to get my hands near a whirling blade to cut them!

Update 2: I've already learned there are some shortcomings (for me, anyway) in this system. For example: it would be lovely if there were plastic zippers from one side to the other (or maybe just from the ground to the center top along one side) every few feet to make the plants inside more accessible for harvesting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What to do with Insipid Tomatoes

I read somewhere that the taste of bland or insipid-tasting tomatoes may be improved by dehydrating them. I'm thinking that the quick forced-heated air dehydration probably concentrates the sugars, making them taste sweeter. Since I had already made and canned all the tomato variations I wanted for winter...AND I still had a few non-prime, late tomatoes that generally tend to be less flavorful, I decided to give the suggestion a whirl.

First I dehydrated several trays of just thick-sliced tomatoes with no preparation other than washing and inspecting for bad/soft spots. They were cut about 3/8 of an inch thick, and dried into thin, almost membrane thickness.

Next I took several pounds of tomatoes that I dipped in boiling water to skin, then cut into wedges before dehydrating. Those also dried into thin but crumpled wedges.

The final batch was dipped, skinned, cored and rinsed of all seeds. They dried to thin membranes too.

I didn't take any photos because I was busy with some home renovation projects, but the several pounds of tomatoes processed by each treatment all dried to an almost equal amount, filling a quart jar. The REAL test will be in cooking with them this winter!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Snowstorms and Medical Emergencies

Photo by Marcin Wichary

I have posted often about preparedness, and the current early Fall snowstorm that brought problems and power outages in the N.E. bring it to the forefront once again. (The heavy snow storms of last winter also brought the necessity home. Fortunately my area fared better than many last winter, but it could have just as easily been my town that had deaths because emergency vehicles couldn't navigate the roads.) Those news reports just bring home the importance of preparedness again and again.

Having some emergency food, water, batteries and such should be a given for every household, so I just want to address medical supplies here.

Last night in the kitchen I accidentally dropped a heavy chef's knife, cutting deeply into a toe. I bled like a stuck pig until I could bend my leg into enough of an awkward position to actually see the cut on the very lower outside of my smallest toe, and get it cleaned and bandaged. It didn't really need stitches, and our roads were clear if I had needed to drive to the ER. 

Afyer I stopped the bleeding and was rooting in the medicine cabinet, my thoughts went to my "emergency medical gym-type bag". It has lots more stuff in it than the bathroom medicine cabinet, but I couldn't put my hands on it readily... which makes it totally useless in an emergency.

So my job for tomorrow is to ➀ locate it, ➁ check for what needs replacing and do it, and ➂ put it where it's easy to find.

Tip: When I first assembled that bag, I packed all dry things in plastic baggies taped shut. I figured that if we had some persistent heavy rains, roof damage or flooding, wet bandages and a wet first aid book wouldn't do much good. Now that I have a food vacuum sealer, I plan to re-pack things that need to stay dry in ziplock bags and seal the ziplock bags inside vacuum bags. That way if I have to open a bag, and it's wet all around me, I still have a back-up sealed bag to use when I put things away.

Where are YOUR emergency medical supplies, and are they up to date?