Tag Archives: urban homesteading

Homemade Ginger Beer

beautiful gingerale

The first recipe I tried from my friend Emma’s book True Brews was her ginger ale.

You don’t have to buy her book to try this recipe because she’s posted it on The Kitchn for you: Soda Recipe: Homemade Ginger Ale

But I totally recommend you buy her book because it’s worth the shelf space it takes.  I promise!

ginger beerI followed her recipe roughly but was really lazy and sort of ad-libbed a number of things.  It still turned out fantastic!  First of all, I doubled (maybe even tripled) the amount of ginger.  I used less sugar and a lot less lemon.  Normally I take notes when I’m making things like this and I wish I had since the result was so amazing.  However, my friend Sharon made ginger ale using Emma’s recipe too and hers, though different, was also really good.  I love a recipe that works well with all kinds of variations.

I used a dry champagne yeast for my batch.  A number of things almost went wrong.  I peeled my ginger and then let it sit in the fridge for a week.  I didn’t do on purpose.  I just kept not making the soda.  Just before I lost my window of opportunity I pulverized it in my food processor and cooked it.  You know, to kill any mold that might be setting up secret house in my ginger.  But then I left it on the stove for two days.

yeast in actionSo I had to boil it again.  It hadn’t gone bad and had the sugar already added to it which is a preservative, but I’m sure some of my friends would be scared of it at this point.  Not me.  Ultimately, if I’d left it out long enough it would have started fermenting rather than molding.  I mean, fermenting IS a form of controlled rot.  I finally realized that I was being a very bad urban homesteader and finally filled my bottles with my ginger/sugar/lemon/water mix.  And added the yeast.  Fermentation should be complete between 24 and 48 hours depending on amount of sugar and warmth of the space it’s fermenting in.  Guess how long I left it out to do it’s thing?

gingerale frothingYeah, at least 3 days.  Maybe 4.  I opened the bottles and heard a satisfying HISS of pressure being released and smelled the slightest bit of alcoholic fermentation going on.  For soda the ideal is ferment only just until the carbonation is complete, not so that the soda starts turning into alcohol.  Which it will do.  I figured I’d failed.  I put it in the fridge anyway.  I didn’t have the guts to try it for several days because I didn’t want to confirm that I’d messed it up.  So what a lovely surprise when I finally poured myself a taste.  Damn!  So refreshing!  It was super spicy, as I’d intended, and not too sweet, with just the smallest hint of lemon.  Everyone who’s had a taste of my first batch absolutely loved it.  LOVED IT.  It’s total magic.  So easy.  Accommodating to lazy-asses like myself.  If you really do it right you can have tons of ginger ale in two days.  I call mine ginger beer because of the big spicy bite in every sip and the lower sugar amount.  I want to try this with lime next.

Oh yeah, and please buy my book if you haven’t already!

Farm to Fermentation Festival

Emma demo

Emma Christensen giving a soda making demonstration.

I am so behind on posting what I’ve been up to I hope you will forgive me for backtracking.  In August Philip and I went to the Farm to Fermentation Festival here in Santa Rosa where my good friend Emma was giving a talk on how to brew your own soda.

Emma and friendEmma with a friend.

Emma serving samplesEmma giving samples of her ginger ale, watermelon mint and strawberry soda.

Emma soda samplesYou should have been there to taste them!

serving samplesEmma’s book is a great resource for people like me who are new to brewing.  Her recipes are solid and her directions are clear.  If you want to buy her book you can click on this button:

Emma and Kefir guyEmma with the kefir dude.  There were samples of non-dairy kefir drinks and I really liked one of them but the beet one was a little weird and the chocolate-ish one was awful.  The ginger and honey one was really delicious.

philip tasting kefirPhilip tasting kefir drinks.

fermented goods

Naturally fermented pickles.  The pickled green tomatoes weren’t very good but the cucumber pickle was good.

pickling displayI can never resist taking pictures of produce.

colorful potteryI covet the pickling crocks in all the pretty colors.  They’re out of my price range (most pickle crocks are) but when I have some money this is what I will probably splurge on.

cider applesCider apples.

great ciderThe cider guy.  We lurked in this booth a long time.  The cider is really good and Philip has always been interested in making some cider.

tilted shed ciderThis is the one I really liked.

sour beerSour beer.  I don’t really like sour beer.  I think it’s the kind of thing that could grow on me if I let it.  Not literally grow on me, because that would be really gross, but if I drank it enough I might develop a taste for it.  But as with eating cheese rinds, I don’t see any reason to suffer through unpleasantness in the hopes that eventually I will like it.

Philip and the meaderyI hate mead.  HATE IT.  Philip, however, likes it and enjoys brewing it.  So it was cool that there was mead being represented at the festival.  I’m attracted to mead from a historical standpoint.  It would be  cool to stand around drinking mead from goblets while chewing on the leg of a pig or something.

The fermentation festival definitely got me excited to try some new fermentation projects.  Spending the geeking out over crocks and pickles and beer with friends was so much fun.

How (not) to Cure Olives with Lye

I have wanted to try curing olives for a long time.  Moving back to California where olives are planted all over the place as landscape trees and finding actual clear instructions for curing them (not a lot of information could be found 12 years ago) meant it was time to forage for olives and play with lye.  If you want to play with olives too – always use a source who has lots of personal experience SUCCESSFULLY curing olives.  I recommend Hank Shaw’s instructions for Curing Olives with Lye.  I am writing this post merely to illustrate what NOT to do.

  • The first thing you need to do is pick through your olives and remove any bruised or bitten ones.  What likes to bite into a tongue-numbingly bitter fruit?  Olive fly.  Also remove any blushed olives.  You only want really hard green ones.

I removed all olives with olive fly holes in them and all the bruised ones but I couldn’t bear to remove all the blushed ones.  Which are now an unbecoming shade of grey.

  • Put very cold water in a non-aluminum container.  Put on gloves and safety glasses.  Measure your lye with a non-aluminum measuring device and add it to the cold water.  Stir it up with a non-aluminum spoon.  Now weight the olives down because if the olives are exposed to air while curing they will darken.

This, my friends, is the trickiest part of the whole process: keeping those suckers submerged.  I suggest figuring out what works BEFORE you mix up your lye and mess up your olives.  Even if you think you have a system that works – it might not.  Do not weigh your olives down with anything aluminum.  By now you may have noticed that aluminum should have nothing to do with your lye curing project.  Lye + contact with aluminum = poison.

I had two batches of olives to cure.  So I had two stainless steel pots.  Pickling crocks would work way better.  I haven’t got any pickling crocks because they are so flippin’ expensive.  What’s up with that?!  One of my pots worked pretty well because a smaller lid fit perfectly inside it without letting any of the loose olives float to the top.  But the other pot?  Nothing fit well in it.  I finally found a ceramic pie weight that almost fit.  I got it so the olives weren’t quite able to float up around it to the top.  I walked away for one hour.  ONE hour.

And all of the olives had managed to get around the small space at the sides of the weight like crafty little bastards and were floating at the top.  I think “dicolored” is so gentle sounding.  They were RUDELY discolored.  Check it out:

Angry orange-ish red.

And blackened.  Needless to say I had to throw half of this batch out.  Even if the discoloration wouldn’t have rendered them technically inedible – would you eat that?

Hank has a solution mentioned in his instructions and if I had been smart I would have tried this to begin with.  Tie the olives up in cheese cloth (but make sure the olives are pretty loose inside so liquid can flow freely between them).  Then your weight doesn’t have to match the circumference of your container precisely.  Worked like a charm.  So if you don’t have the perfect container and plate or lid situation: listen to Hank.

USE CHEESE CLOTH.

  • Let the olives soak in the lye for 12 hours.  No need for more.  This is the perfect amount of time to leach out the bitterness and preserve flavor.

I left mine in for 21 hours.  Because to take them out at 12 hours would have required me to be showered and dressed by 8am with a clean enough kitchen to be dealing with lye and olives.  I think I might have gotten dressed around 11am but then I had to clean the kitchen and then some other random bullshit came up and I didn’t get the olives out of the lye until 1pm.

This is what you’ll see at 21 hours.  The water/lye solution will be a reddish color.  Kind of like deadly punch.

  • Drain the lye solution out and then rinse the olives.  Next you fill your container with water, covering them, and weigh them down again, they can still discolor. You want to rinse the olives and replace the water 3-4 times a day for 2 to 4 days (until the lye is completely rinsed out).

Or if you’re me: 2 times a day for the first 2 days and then once a day for the next 9 days.  Because I am lazy.  And I forget about them.  If you did it like you were supposed to then in 2-4 days your olives will be ready for the next step.  How do you know they’re ready?  The water will look clean when the lye is completely rinsed out of the olives.  How do you make sure the lye is all out?  You  bite into an olive, if it’s soapy tasting then they need more soaking and rinsing.  And no, you won’t get sickened or die if there’s a little lye in your olive at this point.  There’s very little and it’s no longer caustic.  Trust me, I did it.

Lye is in traditional soap.  So the olives will be foamy and slippery like you’ve just slathered them up with some soap.  Because that’s essentially what you’ve done.  See the discoloration of the water in that picture above?

Now there is no discoloration.

The next step after all the soaking and rinsing in plain water is brining the olives.  I just did that last night with my first two batches while putting a whole new crop of olives in lye with a much better container this time.  But as per my usual way of doing things – I picked some olives 9 days ago that only got into the lye last night along with some olives I picked fresh yesterday*.  So I’ll be able to report to you if curing olives that have been off the tree languishing on a warm sunny project table are worth bothering with.

Next up: brining and flavoring the olives Angelina-style.

*I tied up the old ones and new ones separately in cheese cloth so they don’t mix together.  I am very scientific.

Chipmunk Disorder Flareup (collecting food for the winter in full swing)

These are olives my friend Sharon and I foraged from someone’s yard.  Don’t worry – we asked permission and were granted it by the really nice ladies who lived there.  They even supplied us with a step ladder to get at some of the higher branches.  When we walked up their steps and rang their bell I thought they’d probably think we were trying to bring them some religion and worried they might be hostile.  Or maybe they’d think we were on to some make-up scam and be hostile.  I’m glad we took the chance and I’m equally glad that they were so agreeable.

There are more olive pictures at the bottom of this post.  I’ve been meaning to share this disturbing picture with you: this is what happens when you think you’re being all thrifty and freeze “tomato water” for use in soups.  What I don’t want to know is why is the water part all yellowy?  Such a nasty surprise to find in my freezer.

I also wanted to chronicle how much you have to cook tomato sauce down to get a nice thick sauce.  This is the pre-cooked picture.  See how full that big pot is?  Do you know how much work it took to clean, score, core and blanch then peel, squeeze, and dice that big pot of tomatoes?  If you’ve done this before then you DO know.

The steam didn’t cooperate with my camera but you can see through it that the tomato level has dropped dramatically.

This is my 22 pound French heirloom squash that the produce stand people called “Peanut Squash” – it was difficult to find anything definitive on the subject but I’m completely sure that this squash is actually called Galeux d’Eysines.  It’s fairly pumpkin-like in flavor but is less watery than pumpkin.  This mean-ass squash caused me to cut myself.  When wrestling such enormous cucurbitas – I recommend being particularly aware of the location of all your fingers in relation to your knife.

Olives are one of my favorite foods.  The only kind of olive I’m not fond of are the black canned Mission olives ubiquitous on pizzas from chain restaurants.  I don’t hate them but I would never voluntarily add them to food.  But give me any kind of green olive or black olive that is salty, or salty and vinegary, or salty and herby – yeah, big fan here.  Years ago I read a whole book about olives because my Grandfather was interested in them.  He told me stories about the olive orchard he bought in Italy when he was still a young-ish man.  It was supposedly one of the locations written about in Homer’s Odyssey.  My grandmother eventually forced him to sell the orchard and I got the feeling he still wasn’t over it in his 80′s.  Big clue as to how come they got divorced eventually.

The book I read was “Olives” by Mort Rosenblum.  It was informative and whet my appetite for curing olives on my own.  It also irritated me – Mort is something of a pompous windbag – though he may not be like that in real life at all.  It’s just the tone of the book and honestly, I read it so long ago now I’m not sure I’d have the same opinion the second time around.  The point is that for over 12 years I’ve had the ambition to cure my own olives but back then it didn’t occur to me that I might be able to forage some and I certainly didn’t have any access to fresh olives for sale.

Since that time I have become a pretty good forager of walnuts, nettles, elderberries, blackberries, rose hips, and plantain – but until moving back to California there were no olives to forage for.  But now I am seeing them everywhere.  The biggest problem is that a lot of the ones I’m seeing are too small to bother with curing them.  Sharon and I definitely got enough to play with and in just a few minutes I’m going to introduce my haul to a lye bath*.

What I really want to do today is drive all over town looking for more olives to forage.

I am in full chipmunk mode now.  I’m taking the dog for a walk to see if the walnuts have started falling in the neighborhood.  Sometimes I wish I could forage and preserve food all the time – without other obligations like working or writing books (not really an obligation since I am unpublished and completely unknown – let’s just call it an obligation to myself) or running errands.  I want to spend all my time cooking and experimenting with food preserving.  And foraging.

I must go get dressed and made up – the olives are waiting for me and I need lipstick today.  I should also probably check on my fermenting pickles, shouldn’t I?  You might be curious how they’re doing about now.  I’m a little scared to look.  Drat – I also need to clean my work table.

And all I want to do is go collect nuts and fruits in my cheeks to store in my tree trunk.

*In case you’re curious – I’m using this recipe for curing olives with lye from Hank Shaw’s blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

Where Wild Food Grows

This is a fine old Gravenstein apple tree on my father-in-law’s property which includes a falling down old apple orchard.  One year we pressed the Gravensteins and made fresh apple cider which I then canned (there was a lot!) and I entered our apple juice in the Harvest Fair of Sonoma County and it won first place.  I still have my ribbon because I haven’t often won first place in any kind of contest.  The juice was fantastic and I wouldn’t mind having a glass of it right now.

This old apple orchard is a place where nature show-cases the beautiful side of decay.  It’s quiet and peaceful with haunted whispering leaves.

There is nothing in this world like a broken old apple tree that is still blossoming in the spring and producing fruit in the fall.  How its branches must ache under the weight!  This particular tree here (which you can’t see in full) was grafted with more than one variety of apple and is nearly prostrate – to the point where I’m not sure there would even be a way for it to be reclaimed and healed – yet a few years ago it made one of the best fresh eating apples I’ve ever tasted.  I am sure it was a Golden Delicious – the way they’re SUPPOSED to be: crisp with a fine textured flesh and sweet without being insipid, full of the most wonderful classic apple taste.  I’m not sure what variety this is in the picture – it’s growing on half the tree.

An old trellis which used to have grapes growing over it.  I couldn’t find many of the grapes left but we’ve tasted them and they are wonderful – like tiny Red Flame grapes (which is what I suspect they are).  Now there’s some poison oak around it and blackberries too.  I don’t understand what those pipes attached to the structure are.  Maybe my father-in-law knows.  I’ll ask him.

You couldn’t pay me to go into this cellar unless someone goes in first and ushers the spiders to new locations.  It is covered in a thick blanket of dirt and dust and webs.  But it’s so cool!  The old man from whom my fil bought this property kept barrels of either cider or vinegar or wine in there.  It digs into the hillside.  It would be a great fruit and vegetable and canned goods cellar if it was cleaned out.

My camera wasn’t cooperating with me much here – this is a small Kalamata olive tree my fil planted for me.  It’s one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done.  Kalamatas are my very favorite olive of all time and olives grow well in Sonoma so I really wanted to have some of my own.  He planted two but the other one died – unless I just couldn’t find it.  This one is still quite small – I don’t think it’s getting enough water.  Olive trees are not necessarily big trees in the first place and they do thrive without much water once they mature.  This little one is proof of it – he may be diminutive but he’s completely healthy!  I mean – every leaf is disease free and lush.  Now all he needs is a pollinator.

Yes, I’m aware of the kind of work it takes to cure olives.  I’ve done some research on it and it’s exactly the kind of food making challenge I love with the possibility of great rewards.  My dad has a property in Sonoma County too and has a stand of olive trees that he presses olives from – they make a wonderful olive oil – I’m not sure exactly what kinds he has but some of them are eating olives too and he says I can pick and cure some this winter because it’s a good harvest year.

This is a mostly wild partially terraced garden area.  Before we moved to Oregon my fil let me run wild on his property, just like the apples, and gave me permission to build a garden here.  The big problem was irrigation (there’s well water and even a pump house but the property is mostly up-hill and planning irrigation systems isn’t my strong suit.  Planning garden spaces IS.  This whole sunny hillside directly behind his house would be perfect as a terraced garden in the Italian style.  I’m hoping he’ll let me run wild again and get back to work on taming parts of the property to grow food on for all of us.   There are lots of challenges to such a project: irrigation, root protection from moles and other underground beasts, deer, and soil.  Still – every time I’ve been on his property I see what it can be and a little of what it was.

But even if he prefers I don’t do any garden planning – he’s still generous with the fruits that grow wild there.  Right now I’m processing his Santa Rosa plums which he let me pick.  I got about 15 pounds of them and by the morning after I picked them I had to toss a couple of pounds for having gone bad – it happens fast with these plums!  I got two batches of plum liqueur going and one small batch of sweet and sour plum sauce for dipping egg rolls and pot stickers in and I am going to make either jam or jelly with the rest.  Santa Rosa plums are really juicy so it will probably be more challenging to make a jam from them but that’s what I really want to do.

It feels good to be digging my hands into my first food preserving project in the new house.  The preserving season is officially OPEN.

The Days of Yore When Life Was Simple and Gran-paw Wasn’t a Bigot

Remember the days of Yore when life was simple and people were just good and wholesome and no one ever got murdered and food came fresh from the farm every single day and Grandma baked pies 365 days a year and no one had cancer or polio – SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! – you mean all that talk about polio crippling thousands of people and two world wars and a devastating economical depression and segregation were all LIES fabricated to sully the memory of the true glory of Yore?

I really want to love Mary Jane’s Farm magazine.  I love that Mary Jane Butters is a champion of organic farming and growing food and enjoying antiques and doing some stitchery while sipping juleps on the porch swing at the end of another idyllic day on the farm where all the pigs are clean and your back never goes out and every minute of the day is a wonderful new memory being made that you will stitch onto your memory quilt for your family to snuggle und – dammit.  Every time I read her magazine I feel the magnetic pull of the nostalgia it’s drenched with like heavy perfume that stays in your nostrils long after its trails have been cleared away by fresh air.  I get annoyed.  That magazine is painting a rarefied world where everything is in romantic soft focus and wisdom is everywhere to be snatched up and adored and nurtured and I’ll tell you something, if that’s what you’re looking for in life you better brace yourself for disappointment because it doesn’t exist.

I try to remind myself that this is how lots of people feel reading fashion magazines.  I love fashion magazines because I know it’s all about inspiration and design rather than the reality of what most people need from their clothing and what most real bodies look like.  I am unbothered most of the time by the unattractively skinny models because I am not fatter or uglier just because they are showing me their bones, I know this.  I don’t feel pressure to be skinnier because that’s what the fashion designers are showing me – I feel pressure to get skinnier because I’m obese.  True fact.

Mary Jane’s Farm is exactly like a fashion magazine for the homesteading crowd – it’s presenting a fantasy of cozy farm life and romanticizing the “Days of Yore” meant to inspire everyone to slow down and enjoy life more and reconnect with our pasts and get old fashioned.  Get in your pretty lil apron like Gran-maw and make your luv a cup of roasted chicory just like Gran-paw used to enjoy on the back stoop after the early morning tilling was done even though you know your grandma was a shrew and your grandpa still regrets the civil war and the end of slavery and uncle Mike was inappropriate with his daughter but whatevs, that was so much better than the complication of cell phones and fast cars and city life where everyone has lost their wisdom and the good life.

I stopped buying her magazines after the first few because every time I read them I found myself wanting to swear just because the writing was so gentle and cozy and clean.  No hard edges.  All hard knock stories are told in a dear and sweet way with such wholesome nuggets – dammit.  I can’t talk about this publication without slipping into that kind of grating fake nostalgia.  The only reason I’m bringing it up today is because my back is in pain and I was in bed doing nothing this morning so I pulled a stack of magazines from my bookshelf to weed through.  And I found the last copy of Mary Jane’s Farm that I bought a few years ago and I got sucked in by that mesmeric soft focus and then it just made me want to say mother-fucker in rebellion.  I don’t ever use that expression even when I’m swearing in earnest.  So I found myself thinking about why I’m so irritated by that kind of vision of homesteading and it’s because it’s much too idealized and I’m an urban girl with some sophisticated thoughts and tastes and I like the modern world and I like that I have plumbing and running water.

I’m interested in urban homesteading not being a farm girl.  I’m interested in keeping old skills alive that are still useful in a modern setting.  I want to dispense with all nostalgia for life that wasn’t romantic or mellow or remotely “simple”.  I don’t value all that gentleness, it just grates on my nerves.  I like people who live loudly and honestly and brazenly and swear when they crush their thumb with a hammer and laugh at themselves when they get out of hand.  It’s what I want to bring to my own site.  It’s what I want from others.

Yet I don’t want to destroy the enjoyment others have of Mary Jane’s vision, her cozy interpretation of life as it could be, or her gentle stories, because it’s just another way to find the same value in life that I am looking for (self sufficiency, organic living, and growing things).  I want it edgy and raw while others really need the quiet and sweet.  Let’s say it’s a case of respecting her gifts and what she’s bringing to a lot of people while knowing that to keep that respect healthy I just need to go my own way and tip my hat to her at the fork in the road.

So what tone am I looking for?  What inspires me and excites me?  Check them out:

Bad Mama Genny – She’s outrageous, funny, takes care of a bunch of cats even though she’s horribly allergic to them, and she makes cheese and booze.  What the hell else do you need to know about her?  I really want to live next door to her.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook – His writing is rich and poignant and has made me cry.  His posts on foraging are useful and thorough and he is solely responsible for making this vegetarian respect hunting.

The Midcentury Menu – Here’s nostalgia with the proper humor and edge to carry it off.  There is no vintage recipe too disturbing for her to tackle and force her husband to taste.

Hunger and Thirst – I became a fan when I read this blogger’s funny post about the greed of mushroom hunters.  Lots of foraging and written in a very personable way.

Aunt Peaches – Craft and DIY publications can get precious pretty quick.  I love any person who can make anything from anything and not be too cute or too cozy about it.  Aunt Peaches is funny, clever, down to earth, and not afraid of offending.

Thank You for not Being Perky – It’s all right there in the title.  Curmudgeons unite against the eternally happy curs we have to yell at every day!  Minnie swears, she’s honest, she grows vegetables, sews swimsuits, crafts, and is never smug and never precious.  Her stories about parenting are similar to mine and that is a rare thing.  She’s super cool and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her in person and spazzing out at her.

Now I have to go ice my back and watch episodes of Futurama with Max.  Philip is moving down to California ahead of us on Sunday and has a job interview on Monday.  Instead of freaking out I am thinking about how I can make good use of my time left in Oregon and the first thing on that list is to go morel hunting this weekend so I can take part in an urban homesteading challenge that Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is doing with his friends of Sustainable Eats are putting on this month – check it out: Take The 2012 Urban Farm Handbook Challenge*

*Sustainable Eats authors wrote the Urban Farm Handbook and are doing a challenge this whole year, a different challenge every month with prizes for entering contests.  I haven’t been following it because I didn’t know about it until now.

An Apartment Garden in Portland

I love how more and more people are turning their yards into edible landscapes.  I especially love to see this happening on the grounds of apartment buildings.  When I lived in the JC neighborhood in Santa Rosa I had a neighbor who was a great inspiration to me – he rented a small apartment just down the street and had almost no yard space but not to be discouraged he turned the sidewalk curb strip into a miniature garden in which he grew garlic and greens and tomatoes.  In his small place he was busying brewing wine and making cheese.

It’s so easy to be defeatist and assume that if you can’t grow lots of food or make lots of your own preserves that you shouldn’t bother growing or preserving anything.  My neighbor taught me that the important thing is to be doing whatever you can for yourself, that growing your own food, even if it’s a few heads of garlic and some salad greens, is an act of freedom and of self sufficiency.  It’s about keeping your connection strong between yourself and the soil that nourishes you.  It’s a little bit like a prayer or a meditation and it’s a lot like feeding yourself the highest quality nourishment you can even on a micro-scale.  Learning how to grow things and preserve food is tapping into knowledge that is at the core of the success of human beings as a species.

In a more pessimistic view it’s also what’s allowed us to overpopulate the earth and conquer nations and fight wars.  Growing things allowed humans to settle down and stay put through the seasons.  Agriculture allowed us to stop roaming.  The evolution of food preservation is what allowed humans to cross oceans and to cross masses of land to attack other people.  Without drying and salting foods armies couldn’t go far.  So in a weird way, while I’m eulogizing the wonderfulness of growing and preserving foods I’m also celebrating what has made humans the most terrible virus on earth.

Still, those humans who know how to grow their own food and how to preserve it for later use have truly valuable knowledge and in times of war or natural disasters this kind of knowledge gives you better chances of survival.  Plus, everyone will want to be friends with the person who knows how to make alcohol from apples and who can make sources of protein rise from the ground in plant form when there’s no meat to be had.  The person who knows how to pull wild yeast from the air and mix it with flour to make bread is like a magician when there is no bread and no packaged yeast in the stores.

I am happy every time I see evidence of humans getting into the soil to grow their own food.  City gardens are hopeful and resourceful.  I always stop to enjoy them whenever I see them.  This garden has some really big beets that are ready to pick.

It’s time for some lemony beet salad!

The Benefits of Going Broke

(When you’re broke and you’re trying to make your own lotions and salves a little mold in your home grown stash of calendula is a depressing discovery)

I don’t like being broke.  If I had a million dollars I wouldn’t feel bad about it.  I don’t hate money.  I don’t think being poor is necessarily more virtuous than being rich.  Bad ethics abound in both economic groups.  On the other hand, it is not my life’s ambition to be rich.  While I certainly wouldn’t mind having such security I don’t need to be rich to have a good life.

But being broke sucks.  This past month we have had to catch up on bills and it has been staggeringly difficult.  We almost had our power turned off, we almost had our internet turned off, we almost had our trash cans toted away, we couldn’t afford to buy half the groceries we’re used to buying.  And we weren’t living extravagantly before this either, so don’t be thinking “Boo hoo, so you can’t buy any brie cheese and caviar, so sad for you and your richie-pants life.”  Naw, we were already living modestly.  We have simply reached a new level of broke.

So you’d think this was a super depressing month.  Oddly enough, it wasn’t.  It was humiliating standing outside in my pyjamas begging the power guy not to cut off our power for five days, but the humiliating bits aside, I have felt oddly refreshed.  I have had to become more resourceful and creative.  I am having to become better at household management.

The Benefits of Going Broke:

  • Better Pantry Management.  I have had to pay much closer attention to what I already have in my pantry and to rely on its contents a lot more.  This is great because in years past I’ve had too much left over in my freezer.  We should be eating everything I freeze within a year.  This summer we packed it full of good stuff but still had lots from the previous year.  I am now using up older stock and am checking the canned goods and the freezer before going to the grocery store.
  • Learning new skills.  I couldn’t afford to buy the expensive Eco laundry detergent we usually use.  I mean, I could afford to buy the really cheap heavily perfumed crap but I refuse to go toxic just because I’m broke.  So I made my own detergent.  It’s easy, it’s super cheap, and it’s natural if the bar soap you use is natural.  I’ve thought about trying this for a long time but as long as I could afford to buy good stuff I lacked the motivation.  So far the home made stuff is working really well.  I did accidentally use a perfumed soap (I was tricked by packaging that hid the heavy synthetic perfume – the ingredients were otherwise completely natural) so next time I’ll be looking for a different soap for it, but the point is that it costs so little to make your own detergent and it takes practically no time at all.
  • Getting more creative in the kitchen.  When you can’t just run out and buy whatever you might want from the store to make dinner with you become more creative.  Especially if, like me, you’re used to having constant access to cheese to cook with.  I’ve been wanting to experiment with making more vegan meals or at least meals that don’t revolve around cheese.  I’m not planning on becoming vegan but I am interested in reducing the amount of dairy we consume by a lot because I don’t want to support the dairy/meat industry which is contaminating our waterways and using up land to feed the cattle instead of being used to feed people directly.  Not being able to afford much cheese has forced our hand in this direction and I’m not sorry.  Yes, some days I really crave cheese but it’s good for me to eat a lot less of it.
  • The combination of going super broke but also being able to keep our house has turned my attention back to the garden.  I have a large city lot and it isn’t being used nearly to capacity for growing edibles and herbs.  I’m pretty good at growing food and plan to get better at it.  If you have beds going all year with at least greens then you can rely a lot less on buying produce.  Prices on all foods are rising and I don’t know that it will ever go down again.  To offset it I will grow more of my own.  It does make a difference.  Even though growing your own isn’t free (water, seeds, starts, tools) it is exponentially cheaper to grow your own once you have beds in place and tools on hand.*  This year my focus will be on having at least a few beds well planned to supply us with dark leafy greens throughout winter and growing more of my own produce for canning and freezing.
  • It has made me more appreciative of the generosity of others.  When you don’t need someone’s help or largesse it’s so much easier to take it with grace and pride still in tact.  When someone is generous with you when you’re in a precarious situation it can either ding your pride and make you want to refuse such generosity (which is stupid) or you can take it, be thankful for it, and find ways to reciprocate that will keep your pride in tact.  A friend bought Max a pair of his favorite kind of shoes on E-bay (we couldn’t find any in his size here in town or anywhere near by) and I almost cried it was so sweet.  They ended up not fitting, which sucks, but that friend’s generosity was really felt by me.  I’m making her some cloth dinner napkins in return.  I may have almost no money but I have things I can make and share with others as a way to thank them for the things they help me out with.  My pride is not bothered by an exchange of things between people.  My pride isn’t wrapped up in money and I don’t have a hard time accepting gifts of money from friends and family who are inspired to do so, provided that I think how I can give back to them either now or later.  So I think being broke is making me feel more generous with what I do have and this is allowing me to not concentrate as much on what I don’t have.
  • Simplifies life.  The best thing about going bankrupt was not having any debt and not having any credit cards anymore.  We’ve been debt and credit card free for two years now.  The hard part is that when we don’t have cash to pay our bills, we’re on the line, we have zero safety net.  I worry a lot about medical issues because Philip and I both have no health insurance.  In the past I would know that in an emergency I could use my credit card for things.  We have zero safety net now.  That’s scary.  The flip side of this is that without credit cards we can only spend what we’ve got.  So there are a lot of things we simply can’t afford to do.  When you have extra resources it seems there are so many situations where there’s pressure to do things (vacation to see family, joining friends out to dinner, etc) and you find yourself squeezing things into your budget you can’t truly afford because you know you can put it on your card and pay for it later.  When you have no cards you just have to say no.  It’s that simple.  Maybe it sounds terrible to some but to me it’s freeing.

Hopefully this month will not be quite as brutal as last month but there’s always something.  All our pets are due for vaccinations and I’m really working hard not to think about the leaks in the house and all the things that could go wrong that I can’t afford to have going wrong.  I’m choosing to focus on the fun of being literally forced to do what I love best in the world: getting back to urban homesteading.

And writing.  Writing is always free.

*In arid desert cities where water is much more scarce and droughts are common water tends to be way more expensive and sometimes rationed so this may not actually be true in those places.  I live in the Pacific Northwest and one of the blessings of living in the land of rain is that water is rarely scarce.)

Pickled Jalapeno Recipe

This recipe is based on the one in Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich but I’ve changed the spices to match my own tastes.  I wanted pickled peppers like the ones I buy in jars in the Mexican section of the grocery store and these absolutely hit the spot. The main difference is that canning them at home gives you a softer finished pickle which some people might not like as much.  The ones in the store can be almost crunchy at times.  I don’t personally like them crunchy so these are perfect for me.  If you want a crunchier pickle you can add pickling lime but I’m not going to advise on how to do that since my one experience using pickling lime disgusted me beyond belief.  The taste of these peppers is tangy, hot, with just a little garlic flavor.  I suggest eating large quantities of them with huge blocks of cheese.

Pickled Jalapeno Recipe

Serving Size: yields about 4 pint jars

Pickled Jalapeno Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs jalapenos (whole or sliced in rounds)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 4 cups distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 4 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp canning salt (or pure sea salt with zero additives)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a nonreactive sauce pan mix the vinegar, water, and salt and bring to a boil. At the same time put your jars in the water canner to boil until you need them.
  2. Wash the peppers and trim the stems to about 1/4" or cut all the peppers into rounds discarding the stem ends. If using whole peppers slit them twice lengthwise.
  3. Divide the spices between the jars evenly and fill each jar with as many peppers as you can fit without cramming them.
  4. Fill each jar with brine. Shake the jars a little and tap (gently) on counter top to bring air bubbles to the surface. Top up with more brine if needed leaving 1/2" headspace.
  5. Pour 1 Tbsp olive oil into each jar. Wipe the rims carefully with a clean damp cloth. Fit the jars with two piece lids.
  6. Process in the boiling water bath for 10 minutes.*
  7. Let the peppers cure for 3 weeks in a cool, dry, dark place before opening.

Notes

*I have not included the basic steps for boiling water bath canning here. I assume you already know them. If you are new to canning then please check out this link for how to can foods using the boiling water bath method here: Intro To Canning

How much brine you need is going to depend on the size of your peppers and whether you leave them whole or slice them. You may have some left over and that's fine.

If you are working with a large amount of peppers it may be more useful to follow this guideline: add to each jar 1 garlic clove, 1/2 tsp mustard seeds, 1/8 tsp peppercorns, and 1 Tbsp olive oil.

At the time of this writing I canned 12 lbs of jalapenos and ended up with 28 pints of pickles. I did a mix of whole and sliced peppers. I mention this to illustrate that yields can only be given in approximations here.

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A Garden Surprise and a New Garden Hero

I was waiting for these currants to turn red, the way you do when you’re growing red currants.  They have stayed this pretty blush color for a long time.  Now some of the berries are shriveling up like raisins.  This was a clue to me that these fruits were not going to turn red.  I had this flash of memory back to the time I was agonizing (in the most enjoyable way) over which currant varieties to buy.  I couldn’t help but be attracted to the champagne currants for their ethereal paleness.  I was completely blinded by the romance of them.  In the end I decided that they probably wouldn’t taste as good as the red ones.  I tend not to like pale versions of food.  Except for cauliflower.  I don’t like white eggplants, white asparagus, or wax beans (pale yellow).  So I ordered the red ones.  I ordered three plants.  One died.  I finally planted the two surviving ones and this year (the first time in three years) it produced a few clusters.

So here we are today with two champagne currants.  Isn’t it strange how sometimes what we want comes to us even when we decide we really don’t want it?  I’m going to cut these today and see if they taste good.  They may not because they’re quite old at this point.  Still, I’m not sorry that the universe handed me my fanciful plant wishes – just look how the blushed berries are illuminated by the sun?

If we get to keep the house then I’ll plant a couple of red currants as well.

I have a link to share that I saw on my friend Ann’s blog Thoughtherder which you should check out just to read about her adventures in not using shampoo.  She posted this video of Ruth Stout and I am so charmed by this lady!  You really must watch this film of a wonderful gardener named Ruth Stout.

Thank you for sharing that, Ann!

I have another link to share with you.  If you do any foraging for wild food you will be amused and you will feel yourself in excellent company: Stalking Boletus Edulis – Or How Mushrooms Caused Me to Engage in All Seven Deadly Sins

I still haven’t foraged for any mushrooms but this only serves to wet my appetite for hunting mushrooms.

We got our first real harvest of tomatoes yesterday and they are so good!  Especially the Black Krim which is one of my very favorite tomatoes of all time.  This weekend I canned dilled beans/carrots/zucchini.  7 quarts.  Yesterday I canned 11 jars of blackberry jam and have a discussion I want to start about reaching gelling points with other canners.  Next up, hopefully this weekend, my mom and I will try to get a box or two of pickling cucumbers from Sauvie Island to make my garlic dill pickles.  We’re out and it’s devastating!

What’s going on in your kitchens and gardens this week?