Monday, August 4, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 14

This is an extra-long update, covering 10 days. I was too busy to post on Thursday. My daughter went to a youth conference 50 miles away, and I drove 200 miles this week. Expensive ($50 in gasoline), but worth it just for the leadership experience she is getting. We also made some valuable connections during our trips - more below.

Planted: Fine-leaf basil from a cutting I rooted out of a market bunch. Also took rooted slips of a new yarrow from Mom's yard and potted them to establish for planning next year.

Harvested: 17 Taylor Dwarf Horticultural Beans - not 17 pods, just 17 beans, from 5 pods off one plant. I let them dry on the plant. Only one seed germinated from some I swapped last year, and I plan to use all 17 to grow a bigger crop next year. The beans are cute, cream with dark pink speckles. The plants are only 6" high. Also picked basil, and spearmint growing back from the drive-by weed-whacking a few weeks ago.

Cherry tomatoes, and the first three from the heirloom Brandywine - ugliest tomatoes ever! There was a big windy storm with hail last Sunday, and they started to split badly, so we picked them. The unripe ones are less cat-faced and split - so I probably became more regular with water and feeding as the season wore on. I should not wait until they are all red; I think the shoulders stay a little green.

Harvested potatoes and learned valuable lessons. I had planted a muck bucket with both Yukon Gold and Pontiac Red seed potatoes, starting shallow and adding dirt as the plants got taller. I will never mix varieties again. The YG grew, bloomed, died back, and started to rot before the Reds even bloomed. I finally dumped out the bucket this week, and got a short yield of both - most of the reds were very tiny and obviously needed more time. I had been concerned this whole time that the soil was too muddy and compacted, or that pill bugs were eating the taters underground. Neither of those things happened - the compost I mixed in did great, and the bugs only seemed to eat the tender shoots early on. But - that's what this little yard is for, experimenting for future larger planting. Maybe I should try buying storage potatoes from local growers, and just grow sweet potatoes, which went very well last year, with almost no care.

Preserved: A pint of pickled carrots and 4 pints of bread-n-butter pickles. Wow, pickling is a sweaty 3-day process: liming, brining, and canning. The boiling brine was enough to drive me out the back door for air at one point. I want to try Chow-Chow for my mom, but I'm using a refrigerator recipe for that one! Froze some split chicken breasts that DD11 spotted being marked to half-price at the store.

Cooked: Tried new banana bread and zucchini bread recipes, neither of them very exciting. This week's zuke bread is pleasant but crumbly, and the banana tastes like baking soda. I'm looking for never-fail recipes I can make without thinking twice. I do have some quick breads like that, but they often include lots of nuts and fruits for the holidays, like my Loaded Pumpkin Banana Bread. I even sold 6 loaves to a caterer last year. I love my parsnip coffee cake and Oatmeal Breakfast Loaf. But what if all the extra stuff were not available, and I just had thawed banana mash or grated zuke and local spelt flour? I want tasty, sturdy loaves for breakfast and lunch boxes. Not oily and heavy, but also not crumbly, without relying on cream cheese to give them life and structural integrity. Am I asking too much?

The spearmint tea I made was much less minty than the tea from chocolate mint, using a fresh handful of similar size in the same pot, with one white tea bag in a gallon pitcher for color and depth. As I experiment more with my own tea blends, I think the spearmint will be good as a secondary note in a blend with other flavors, where it will not overwhelm. The chocolate mint is good alone, and will probably make good mint jelly or syrup.

I have a food weakness from childhood: Kraft boxed macaroni-n-cheese. But this week, I think I developed a replacement that is just as easy to make. Boiled 1/2 lb of elbows (too much - have to work on portion size), buttered them a bit, added some grated Pecorino Romano, a splash of dairy, and a spoonful of pesto. The pesto made a big difference - instead of a taste that my "mouth memory" would want to compare with the packaged stuff, it made a new mouth memory. I think that a key to slowly eliminating packaged food favorites is finding new favorites, not trying to duplicate the old ones. DD15 has been making curry right and left lately, and wants to learn to cook more Indian food.

Experimented with making peach BBQ sauce from the disappointing peach preserves. Will also try the jam as a yogurt sweetener with additional fruit. I have 6 more half-pints of jam that is a medium peach color, way too sweet, and not very peachy tasting. It was the Blue Book recipe, so I expected better. Peach season is just cranking up, so I have time to try more.

Managed: Stored a lot of Indian spices (a blog post about that coming up next), 10 lbs of basmati rice. I notice the jam-making is really making us run through the stored sugar. I need to buy it in larger bags and arrange barrel storage sooner, rather than later. Bought more spelt flour.

At yard sales, we found four nice casserole/soup crocks, and two flat baskets for drying herbs or onions. Fixed, cleaned, and sorted things. Fixed the weed whacker.

Got wonderful bench for the porch on Freecycle (photo at the top). The woman that gave it to me told me that her grandfather made the bench for her mother and aunts to sit and eat breakfast as children in the 1930's. I don't think I would have given it away, but she was downsizing and moving closer to her job to save gas as three of four teen daughters headed to college. It looks great on the porch.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: Gave away an over-sized upholstered chair to make DD15's room roomier. Our house always looks messy, partly because we read and haven't enough shelf space. We have lots of books, magazines and papers in various piles. But we also have "stuff" like my large collection of egg beaters and potato mashers. And now the kitchen is crammed with new supplies and equipment. Gotta keep the house from 'sploding, somehow.

DD15 starts a new job as a barista next week, and we did the cost calculations of driving. We asked for her to work several longer shifts, instead of a lot of short ones, to make the 3 mile commute worth the time and energy. I would suggest biking, but the highway she would have to travel is dangerous. The job has the advantage that she is allowed to read and do school work during the slow times.

Think I got DH to order a Kill-A-Watt. Planning to have DD11 work on tracking our electric usage this fall. She will like that.

Local: Took a lot of photos at our little producer market, to make a blog post I can use to promote the market to local friends. The more business it gets, the more vendors will be attracted.

Visited two sets of friends that go on "the list" of people to stay in touch with in a crisis. One is a our former landlord and his wife, who has assembled a set of five city rowhouses on the edge of Philadelphia. They are surrounding themselves with their "family of choice" by selectively renting the houses. They have planted fruit trees, collected tools. The wife is a chef, who told me about the Indian grocery store we visited. The husband is very good at renovating, salvaging, building. Their houses are right on the train line that would connect to Reading. They are going to Burning Man, in the Nevada desert, in August, which is nothing if not an exercise in planning and eating out of stored food and water, while building a survival community with strangers.

The other set of friends are from the martial arts community. Very fun - she does roller derby. martial arts, and is taking med-tech classes. He is an artist, art installer, origami folder, black belt everything, skate boarder, and a good shot. They have their own connections to other multi-skilled people, and get along well with our kids. They have already moved from car to motorcycle. They might be interested in our local food explorations.

Learned: Suggested a skill to DH: locksmithing. Caught his fancy. Fits his previous experience as a Private Investigator. He got right to work looking for courses and checking our state's certification process. I think that could be a great sideline for him. He is also looking into becoming a notary public.

My "Adapting in Place" class starts online this week. Classmate introductions and preliminary discussions have begun. It promises to be fascinating to hear more about the challenges each different household faces.

Library: Found a 1972 recipe booklet Quick Pickling from the Heinz corporation. It describes the open kettle method for canning, so I will not be using the instructions, but the recipes themselves might be good. Have been working on printing out more of my recipe collection, as well as some related articles about preserving and storage.


LisaZ said...

That bench is gorgeous. Lucky!

Also lucky you get to take the Adapting in Place class. I hope you will share more of what you learn on your blog. I'm very interested, because we are definitely adapting in place.

Hey, I gave you a blog award so go to my blog to find it!


mandi said...

i am new to your blog- wow! looks like we hold similar ideas. i have really enjoyed perusing. i am interested in seeing a post on your nesting boxes to attract bees. we have a major bee shortage. i'd also like to see your home made rain barrels. i'm adding you to my blog roll so i can check back often!

Gina said...

I love your IDC updates-so detailed and I love that (easier to learn something;) The tomatoes are beautiful.

The bench is gorgeous! What a great find!

Also, you know some really interesting people. The former landlord and wife sound like such colorful people!