Friday, October 13, 2017

Eating Seasonally

Part of my blog and world is my garden. I have experiments, collect seeds, plant strange things out of season. But mostly, I have regular stuff for us to eat.
Here in So.Cal. we don't have normal seasons. We don't really have any appreciable rain, either. When you need heat, it is cold. When you need cold, it is warm. It is a confusing place to have a garden.
I have low chill hour fruit trees, but some of them don't get enough chill. The temperature has to drop below 45f to create chill. When a tree needs 400 chill hours, it needs to be below 45f for 400 hours. Sometimes, the nights get down that low for a few hours, but it would need a real winter child for several days to get close to chill hours. Many low chill trees need 200 hours or less.
Our apricot tree is supposed to be low chill. It has not made any fruit for the last 3 years and before that it had one good year. We think there may be some other reason why it fails to produce fruit, but weather is an important contributor.
On the other hand, the peach tree is a constant producer of large fruit in great quantity. It is about 20 years old now and still going strong.
So, this blog is about growing things in season and eating things grown in their season. Where I live, there is an abundance of seasonal produce and quite a lot of imported out of season produce. I also have the mystery seasons that make growing things possible at times when other areas cannot produce them. I am going to limit my blog to growing things in my own weird seasonal area and not talk about those short seasons to the north or the desert areas to the east.
What grows here and when?  This has taken me years to figure out and every year it is a little different. The summers have been scorching hot. Corn, peppers and tomatoes are just about the only reliable plants lately. And you have to water them with a precious resource. Corn takes a lot of water so I try to water at night when there is less evaporation. This time of the year means no root crops, no lettuce, no strawberries, no tender greens or peas, very limited selection. Most of the spring stuff is long over. This summer we had lots of overcast days that were still warm. We could grow squash, peas, beans, potatoes, kale and chard into July. Good variety.
I had snow peas and kale in abundance, but the overcast thing killed all the garlic and after a short time the squash started getting mildew. The ground was not warm enough. The tomatoes and peppers didn't do well.
In my grandmother's time, gardeners would grow a couple of acres of different things. I am limited to 4 8ftx4ft boxes. I have to select my plants and seeds carefully to maximize my planting area and I often will grow intensively. Every couple of years I empty the large compost boxes and chop up the compost, then space it into the garden beds. I try to do this between seasons. My grandmother grew lots of greens under a tree and potatoes, corn and other heat loving things in the sunny area. When she had too much of one item she would swap with another neighbor for other stuff. I don't have any neighbors who produce anything, so swapping is out.
This now brings us to the real issue of eating within a season- boredom. When you get snow peas for days on end, it becomes difficult to find new recipes. I have about 5 good recipes for snow peas. At the peak of the productions, we would have to rotate these recipes every 5 days for about 3 weeks. My husband just won't eat like that. Snow peas are not his favorite, but he will eat a few at a time- like in a salad or soup. Eating a whole dinner loaded with snow peas is not a happy thing for him. And tomatoes are O.U.T. out unless it is tomato sauce.
I did a lot of preserving and pickling. If you eat preserved fruit and vegetables are you cheating the eating in the season thing?
Back to the garden. I decided to skip planting a hot weather garden this year- no corn or tomatoes. I went on a vacation and came back to some scorching heat. When September started, I planted some half summer half spring items- radish, lettuce, spinach, pumpkin, kale, onions, green beans. All of them are doing just fine right now. Nights have been around 60f or warmer. Fog, yes, no rain, yes, but not destructively hot during the day. Things are looking good.
If you grow things out of the normal season, does it cancel your eat within the seasons efforts?
I have all these questions and no real answers- but if it grows where you are, when you are growing it, then it is in its season. So if I get strawberries this month, they are in season. And the items I pickled are in season as well. And the fruit I froze is in season as well. As the lines blur from season to season, it is not difficult to see that something from south America is very close to being in season in south United States. It doesn't seem to make any difference if you eat items from other countries.
I eat fresh when ever possible. I pickle, freeze and preserve excess since I can't trade with anyone.
To me the idea of Eating Seasonally is not well thought out. And probably not practical.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Year of Spinning Cotton

I started this a year ago. I typed nothing. It is harvest time again.
In November 2016, I had managed to finish spinning the 2015 cotton while collecting the 2016 cotton. Whew! it was a lot of work.
Guess what? It is October 2017 and I have 8 more bags of 2016 cotton to spin and I have lots of 2017 cotton happening.
If I were a slave or peasant from Turkey, this would be my life- spin, pick, water, spin, spin, weave. A never ending stream of cotton, cotton seeds, and cotton spinning.  We are talking about the 1800s maybe in some parts of the world.
So why do I grow cotton. I often ask myself. I even took out some plants this last winter so there would be less. I think the answer is that I can't have sheep, it is too warm to wear wool here, it is too warm and dry to grow flax and process linen, and I like the idea of having something homegrown to spin.
But I have to say that I have not had as much time for spinning, weaving or knitting as I once had. And this is causing a yarn pile up.
I have decided that 2017/2018 is the year to weave out. I may not get the 2016 cotton spun before the 2018 harvest, but that is what happens. I only have so much time and so many hands.
But just so you know, I still love cotton.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Which came first? Beer or Bread

We have gone down this road before. I grew wheat and realized that wheat was not the staff of life. So I decided to try  hull less oats. The package came with about 30 seeds. I prepared the bed and planted in the fall- like for winter wheat. WRONG.
Oats are a spring crop. Warm and wet is what they want. So eventually they did grow because it is not so cold here, and the did go to seed. And I did harvest several bowls full from my 20 or so plants.
As plants, each seed makes a large clump of grass about the size of a small dessert plate. It grows at different speeds so some parts are going to seed while others are still growing and go to seed later. This will mean your harvest is several stages if you are harvesting by hand, which I did.
As the plant starts to go to seed, the first few stalks of flowers (I am not sure what these parts are called on oats) are mostly for making pollen. The plants seems to need gravity to pollinate although I did see some bee activity and some other bugs. This might also be a wind type of pollination. Which ever it is, the lower parts get pollinated better than the first top ones.
Now for the tricky part- competition and harvesting.
The literature I read said to harvest in the Dough stage, when the seed is still soft. If you wait until it is hard, it will fall out while harvesting. There was no discussion about insects or birds. Birds love this stuff. They attack the seeds even in the milk stage. The insects love this stuff also. They attack the whole plant. Big and small, insects were causing lots of seed damage at all stages.
When the harvest was in, I let the seed pods dry in bowls and watched little bugs run all over. Then it was time for the fun part- getting the good seed out of the pod or husk.
About 1/3 of the seed was not Hull Less. what a surprise! I got to see how both types work. Here again, with rustic tools, probably what pre-civilized man could make, I attempted to extract the seeds from the hulls. Extremely time consuming. Yet, the process, like with wheat, is perfectly suited to a birds beak.
Now a cow can eat the whole plant down to the ground. The cow can digest the grass, hull and seed. The birds are there for the seeds and maybe will use some of the grass to build a nest. They might also enjoy a few of the bugs.
So this brings me to the original question- what came first? Beer or bread? And I say it was beer. This is because you can sprout the grain for the enzymes needed to convert the starch to sugar, then ferment the sugar, without having to remove the seed from the hull. Just ferment the whole thing. There is a pounding that happens after the seed is sprouted, but this can be done in a rock bowl with a heavy stick. After fermenting, the liquid is strained through a woven basket and the residue is fed to the cows, chickens and other grazing animals.
It is possible to pound some grain out of this for human consumption, but to get enough to make bread would take a week of hard labor. I would rather have beer and steak and skip the bread altogether.
If I were to try this on a large scale, I would grow the grain and feed it to chickens, then eat eggs and chickens. If I have large fields, I would have cows for milk, cheese and meat. There are much better things to eat than grains. Maize is pretty easy to grow and eat. Potatoes are lovely. And all fruits and vegetables seem to be great for  growing and easy harvest. So I am content to let the grains feed the animals. I have collected a bowl full of oats. I might make some oat meal later on, but for  the most part, grains are a  modern food.
Final numbers- The oats produced 4 ounces of grain. The wheat produced about 1 pound and the corn (maize) was the real winner. If I have to grow grain, it will be maize/corn. Easy to harvest, easy to extract seed, easy to prepare (polenta). Next year, a bigger corn crop. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Garden to Kitchen Experiments

Last spring (2016), I planted some lovely corn. Some of it was a purplish large corn like and Inca corn. Some was very tiny little red Strawberry Corn. And some was a kind of multi-color small corn. It was supposed to be some kind of popping corn, but none of it was suitable for eating fresh. After harvesting, drying and popping, I found that the corn was not consistent enough to get a good popping going. This left me with about a quart of kernels and no real idea of what to do with them.
Today I decided to grind them with my grain grinder to make polenta. This turned out to be a pretty good plan. The corn ground up nicely. I mixed it all together so that the big fat corn was in with the tiny red corn. All seemed fine and happy.
I started using some of this ground corn to make a polenta to see how it did. What I found was the home grown corn did not have as much starch as commercial ground corn. And the skin, which had all the color, was pretty tough. It took about 1/2 cup of my corn, 2 cups of water, some salt and about a tablespoon of regular ground corn to make a decent polenta texture.
After cooking and letting it set, the mass was kind of soft but you could cut it with a knife into portions. I was mostly disappointed in the flavor. No corn taste. Very bland. Lots of fiber from the skin, though. This made it kind of chewy.
I boosted the flavor with a little bit of duck fat from our Thanksgiving dinner and a bit more salt. Not as healthy, but made it worthy of eating it.
So in the final analysis, I have to say that growing the little Strawberry corn was fun and pretty but kind of useless. We are back to the MaryAnn and Ginger comparisons. The really pretty stuff is not very useful. There are breeds of corn that are specific for popping, there are hulless varieties and corn that is good for eating right off the plant. There are some that are best for grinding into flour or meal. I definitely had fun, but will not plant these again.
Now I have to figure out what to do with a quart of ground corn. Birdseed? I don't have chickens right now, but I think they would have loved it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Post Election Math

As the Voters of our country once again rediscover the Electoral College system in our Presidential election process, we find there is a great disparity between how much Your vote counts toward getting your candidate into office.
Let us look at some historical information. The Electoral College system came to be because the STATES didn't want one state where there were lots of people to dominate over the smaller states. As STATES they wanted to also have some input into the end of the election process. This means that every state gets a certain number of Electoral College votes regardless of the number of people in the state or the number of people who voted in that State. There are only so many Electoral College Votes and some states get many more than other states based on population. This does not mean that each vote is counted equally toward an Electoral College vote.
States Rights. There are 50 states as of this writing.
The largest state in the Union- people wise- is California with 55 electoral college votes. But the number of people voting way exceeds that of any other state. California had about 9 million voters. The next largest state- electoral college wise is Texas (38). Texas had about 8.5 million voters, but many fewer electoral college votes. New York and Florida are tied for third (29 ea). Florida had about 8.5million voters and even fewer electoral votes than Texas, and New York had only about 7 million voters with the same electoral votes as Florida. This, on its face, seems really unfair. Yet, historically, when one giant population center dominates over the lesser populated areas, there is great social disparity and civil unrest. Refer to your history of China and the Soviet Union, and you will see that the large industrial areas can inflict great damage on the people of the farm lands when they control all of the political structure.
The Electoral College system requires that the winner have 270 Electoral College votes. Currently  Trump has 290 and Clinton 232 . But in popular votes, the individual voter's actual votes, Trump has 60,367,273 and Clinton has 61, 035, 189. (These numbers are changing as mailed votes, provisional votes, and possibly damaged votes are counted). Clinton is leading by about 700,000 votes.
Why don't those votes matter? The extra 2 million California votes for Clinton  don't increase the number of electoral college votes. They are essentially wasted votes. Without any California votes, Trump would have 57,161,600 votes and Clinton would have 55,045,348. In 49 states total, Trump won by more than 2 million votes.
How to get more bang for your vote. You need to leave California and head for a state that needs Democrat shoring up. There were several states that could have turned BLUE if there had been more Democrat votes. The high concentration of Democrats in one state actually dilutes the voting power. California had about 2 million too many Democrat votes in this election.
There is time to figure out what state you want to live in before the next election. Make your vote count more. Make the move.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Coffee Liquor

For a person who doesn't drink much, I have been spending a lot of time recently downing many bottles of rum. I am downing them into a coffee concoction for my sweetie. You may ask, "Why do you do this?" and I can say, "Because he wanted it."

So this is the history. My dear Sweet Eduard started roasting his own coffee several years ago. It is really delicious and I am totally addicted. We were sitting one night talking and he was sipping his favorite drink- Kahlua. I asked him if he had thought about maybe making his own coffee liquor with his home roasted coffee, just to get a product with more coffee flavor. I have never been fond of Kahlua and never thought it tasted at all like coffee. So the idea was introduced and it percolated for awhile.

Then after a bit of research, I bought a bottle of rum and started experimenting on coffee, vanilla, sugar, etc, trying to get a workable system to produce a tasty product. Right from the start, the product tasted better than Kahlua- more coffee, less sugary syrup. We started refining the method and writing notes on the recipe attempts.

Finally, we settled on a practical use of materials, tools and time. My kitchen is a gadget wonderland because I make so much stuff. I didn't really want to buy anything new for this project, so I searched high and low until I found enough stuff to do what I wanted to do. I amazed even myself. There are things in my upper cabinets that I haven't seen for years. Some I had forgotten I even owned. That just means that downsizing will be easiest if I start from the top and work down. I will remember that for the future.

After I had made several quarts of really tasty coffee liquor, Eduard took some to work to share with his friends. This turned into a list of 36 people who wanted a little bottle for the holidays. I also had a list of about 6 people who are friends who might be interested. All of a sudden, I am now making 4 gallons of coffee liquor before Thanksgiving. You may ask, "Why do you do this?" and I would say, "because he wanted it?"

Eduard went on-line and found a place that sells 8 oz bottles. He bought 48. There are 4 cups in a quart. 4 quarts in a gallon. That means 16 bottles per gallon. 48 cups= 3 gallons so I will have 1 gallon left for my sweetie for the whole year. Or for some extra in case we need a bit more.

Today, I brewed the last 3 jars of rum/coffee extract. I had strained the previous 3 and made the sugar syrup. Now I have to wait and stir for 5 days until the rum has sucked all the coffee flavor out of the grounds. I will finally get to put my equipment away around the middle of the month. Whew! just in time to clean house for Thanksgiving.

Since I am not really a drinker, I have been thinking that maybe some other type of extraction might be nice for me- strawberries, peaches, blackberries. But then, what would I do with the alcohol part.  I will probably stick to fruit smoothies, with no kick.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Count Down to China

It is August 1, and our trip is for August 25 - 30. I am slowly finishing the items on my to do list. Tomorrow I will go to Los Angeles, again, for the visas. Then finish the quilt. Then shop for gifts. This is becoming a very tiring trip and I haven't even left yet.
There are other things on my agenda as well. Like the plan to work through some cook books and get rid of the useless ones. I have had no time to experiment. No time to read and sort.
And what about that plan to downsize the fiber stash by making stuff? Well, I bought 3 fleeces and sent them to the processor. I have washed some, spun it and knitted up about 4 ounces of the yarn. And though I did knit 4 items earlier this year, I have only managed to move about 1/2 pound of yarn out of the stash. I would say that my stash increased by about 7 pounds of fiber and about 5 pounds of yarn. I am moving in the wrong direction.
And what about that quilting thing? Jeri, did you just by about $50 of thread? really! What were you thinking? Now I have a color for every opportunity. It was on sale. And already, the selection came in handy for my daughter's quilt.
It seems that when I try to let something go, more stuff fills the space. So I have decided that when I get back from China, I am not going shopping, or even looking, for about 6 months. It is groceries and nothing else.
This brings us to the prompt for this blog- time - space and the relationship to getting things done. When there is too much stuff, there are too many choices and I spend too much time thinking and planning. This stuff also takes up space which causes clutter and inefficient use of time trying to maneuver around all the stuff or find things. It has taken me an entire week to get the courage to take the folding chairs to the garage and put them away. I was afraid that stuff will come into the house (which it did) and caused me more confusion about what to do first.
It is wonderful to live in a world with so much choice, yet it is also a burden. I look at the fleeces I have washed but not processed, fleeces processed and not spun, yarn spun and not woven, project on the loom not finished. Knitting projects lined up for years. Quilting projects to last a lifetime. or Two.
And I am not the only one with this problem. E and I are still trying to move parts of his parents stuff out of the garage after 4 years.  My mom's stuff is still in the trunk of the car.
I am grateful to live in a place that has so much, so many opportunities, such variety and the time to explore it. But I also want to go to the beach and just relax sometimes.
I have promised myself that I will not shop in China. No tea. No silk. No Jade. No trinkets. No, no and just NO!
Now to get myself organized for the next project- finishing the quilt, washing more fleece, and cleaning a bathroom.