Tag Archives: sustainable living

Plum boozy

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Well, on Monday the north half of the planet tipped over to the Dark Side – and no, I’m not referring to the day’s usual bucket load of news crud. I’m thinking about the arrival of autumn, and with it the frantic last weeks of harvest time for lazy gardeners who have been neglecting their veggie patch. The Hubbit trundled next door with a large bucket swinging from a sticky-out thing on his tractor, and brought it back full of plums.

Okay, full disclosure: He did that a couple weeks ago, when I was inundated with dogs, and the plums in the bottom half of the bucket (we’re talking a 20 gallon bucket here, okay? Nothing small about the Hubbit!) went squishy and oozy and … Well, I sweetly requested more plums, and while he was off getting them I tipped the first lot into the sink.

They had started to ferment. But dang … that many plums was way too many for my few remaining hens. My flock has declined inexorably over the summer; two more fell to a visiting husky last week, and I’m now down to seven. Twenty gallons of fermenting plums is way too much for seven hens, even aided by a large roo.

Plus, I’d been googling plum preserving recipes on various websites, and some people intentionally ferment their plums. Meanwhile, regular fruit canning recipes demand juice. Long story short, it went against nature to waste these organically fermented remnants of juiciness, so I didn’t. I washed them off, picked out the pits, squeezed and massaged, and after adding water and straining off the chewy bits (for chickenly delectation), the resulting juice was quite pleasantly plummy. I put it in a large pot, added a couple cups of sugar and a generous slosh of lemon juice, and let it boil while I got busy halving and depitting the nice firm plums the Hubbit had brought me following his second trip to the neighbor’s tree. (Only half a bucket this time, thankfully!)

I filled seven quart jars and topped them off with the juice. Oh – I should mention, before adding the juice, I made it even more delicious by sloshing in about half a bottle of witblitz, aka mampoer, which the Hubbit insisted on buying on a visit to South Africa about 10 or 15 years ago, even though neither of us is an especially enthusiastic drinker. Witblitz (pronounced vitblits – it means “white lightning”) is the Boer answer to moonshine. It claims to be 50 proof peach brandy but it also works quite well as rocket fuel. Also, turns out it tastes not too bad when it’s been sitting in the back of a kitchen cupboard for 15 years.

In any case, the plum juice is bitchin’, and I know this because one of the quart jars didn’t seal properly during the canning process, so of course ice cream was acquired and … yum-meee!

Juicy plums and ice cream, with a hint of witblitz. Can life get any better? I think not.

Anyway, that took care of most of the plums. This morning, I processed the last of them while chatting with my bestie, Twiglet, via WhatsApp. Dang, I love technology – don’t you? Forget all the nastiness and spying and manipulation … I just love being able to sit at my dining table, sorting and slicing plums, while chatting to someone I love even though she’s clear around the other side of the planet. I ended up with a little over five pounds of sliced, still firm plums, which I dumped into a large bowl along with some cinnamon sticks, a slosh of vanilla, a sprinkle of cloves, a couple cups of sugar, and about five cups of non-witblitz brandy. (You’ll find the actual recipe here.) That’s now in a couple of jars, hiding in the back of a cupboard and waiting for the holiday season.

So much for plums. Tomorrow I tackle the tomatoes. And oh, holy cow, do I have a LOT of tomatoes! Well, one tomato at a time they will be peeled and cooked, and then canned or frozen.

I’m really not good at the domestic goddess thing, generally. Or the farm wife thing. But for all that, I find this work immensely satisfying. It will be so good, in the chill dark of January, to eat food that I raised myself in our good earth under a summer sun.

Do you find yourself feeling sad as the days start to get shorter? Or do you welcome the change in seasons? Would a dop of African moonshine make you feel better about it?

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How I found out that my bell peppers weren’t stunted after all

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I’m into my third day of a total fast – water only, except morning and evening when I add a splash of raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. I’ve taken it on and off for years for general gut health; there’s no better cure for indigestion or heartburn. (Yes, I know it’s counter-intuitive to drink vinegar for heartburn. Try it. It works.)

That said, even with gut health one can have too much of a good thing. It turns out that the efficacy of apple cider vinegar as a Gut Repair & Activation Force is enhanced by an absence of food in said gut. What this means is, if you’re taking ACV twice daily while fasting and you find yourself wanting to sneak a tiny booty-toot … don’t. Chances are it’ll be more than hot air. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Moving on to other bodily functions: I’m hungry, of course, but it’s bearable, and I’m doing just fine without any mind-altering drugs. I get tired, both physically and mentally, but I’ve given myself permission to take life easy while I wait for the energy surge ketosis will bring. Even food cravings aren’t a real problem.

Last night I dreamed that something happened – I forget what it was, but I remember it upset me – and I declared, “Screw fasting – I’m going to eat chocolate!” and then in my dream my mouth went, “Meh. Nah, I don’t think so.” (Apparently fasting causes vivid dreams, but nobody said they had to be interesting.)

The toughest challenge I’ve faced so far has been while walking through my veggie garden. Apricots arrayed like my own private sunset, clusters of small sweet grapes peeping between the leaves, tomatoes detonating wherever I look, and I imagine the sensation of biting down, the pop as their skin yields to my teeth, the explosion of flavor. Even the sweet bell peppers, disappointingly small and stunted this year, tempt me to crunch.

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Somewhat relevant picture … The view from my veggie garden this evening. There was a fire some miles from our home – houses burned and humans were evicted, and caring friends called because it was heading our way. I’ve been brooding over the annual conflagrations in California and found it hard to take seriously. This may make me a bad neighbor.

I’m finding hunger is easier to ignore than boredom. My gut, so far, is content to grumble to itself, but my mouth wants to be entertained!

Before I started this fast I had a long list of things I told myself I had to do before I could step outside of “normal life”. Clean the house, catch up on laundry, cook a whole lot of food to keep the Hubbit going while I’m not eating, make up a batch of bone broth for when I start eating again. Every time I looked at the list it got longer – tidy my desk, catch up on filing, weed the veggie garden and start the winter crop, treat the chickens for mites, get all my rescue work up to date, gradually phase out the drugs. I’d planned to start last Thursday, but that ever-growing list pushed the start date back and back as I continued to avoid the to-dos while playing sudoku… because that’s what I do. That’s why this fast is necessary. I need it to clear my head, revitalize my body, awaken my will, and power me up to take control of what’s left of my life.

So on Thursday night on my way home from a dog training class, I swung by Carl’s Jr. and bought a chocolate shake and a teriyaki burger, which I ate in the parking lot while ignoring the German Shepherd drooling down the back of my neck. Sitting there, feeling my gut start to twist the way it always does when I fill it up with garbage, I gloomily pondered all that I still had to do before I could start.

And then it dawned on me: the dirty house, the unfed husband, the tottering piles of paperwork, the erupting weeds – those are all symptoms, and you don’t postpone surgery to focus on the symptoms. So I deleted the list. It was that easy.

I gave the last of the burger and the dregs of the shake to the German Shepherd and came home, where the Hubbit offered me ice cream (Ben & Jerry cherry garcia, yet!) and I astonished both of us by saying, “No thanks!” and meaning it. (Yes, dear reader, I am entirely capable of consuming a tub of B&J cherry garcia on top of a burger and a chocolate shake, never mind the squirmy gut.)

Well, moving on. My evening dose of apple cider vinegar settled the gut, and the burger and shake kept me going most of Friday. Saturday morning I woke feeling … well, awake! So I started the bone broth, and its rich fragrance will fill the house for the next several days. It makes my mouth water, but I can wait.

I found the recipe online, here – and pretty much everything that went into my broth was raised right here on our farmlet. When I defrosted the soup bones they turned out to be more meat than bone, so I cut away most of the meat (I’ll make it into casserole; that will keep the Hubbit going) and weighed out 4 lb of meaty beef bones. I browned them in some olive oil that I poured over fresh rosemary a few days ago and left to steep. I tipped the bones and meat into the slow cooker, covered with water and a generous dollop of apple cider vinegar, and ambled out to the veggie garden to get the celery, onions and leeks.

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Habanero peppers … just like stunted bell peppers, right up until you touch them.

My veggie garden is full of interesting things this year. The leeks are next to a mass of tomatoes, and tucked between the tomatoes are a few bell pepper bushes. They’ve been a disappointment this year; I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to grow, but although there are lots of peppers there is no size to them. I grabbed a handful anyway – I figured they’d add a zing to the broth. Brought it all into the kitchen and happily got busy chopping and frying – oh so fragralicious!

Then it happened. A hank of hair fell into my face, so I pushed it back, and my finger brushed against my eye, and ohhhh shitte! The burn! The running of water over eyes! The frantic removal of contact lenses, and the ow! Ow! Owweee! as eye came in contact with finger – because washing doesn’t help, because capsaicin is oily, people! It doesn’t wash off in water! I put my lenses onto the end of my tongue for safe-keeping, and my mouth burst into flame!

I just barely remembered to switch off the stove before I scurried to the bedroom, where the Hubbit was sprawled behind a book, taking a lazy afternoon. He glanced with mild interest at my red and streaming eyes, and chuckled indulgently when I sputtered about deceitful, nasty, imitation stunted bell peppers.

I demanded that he ask Google what I should do to stop the burning, since the best suggestion he could come up with was water, which didn’t work. “Okay, Google,” he said – that man has no idea how close to death he came – he has to know by now that the “Okay Google” route is way slower than just tapping out your question on the keyboard! Google eventually recommended whole milk. Fortunately the low fat milk the Hubbit insists on buying worked too, possibly with less clouding of the vision .

Once I could see again I carefully fished the pepper pieces out of the pot, and dumped the rest of the veggies into the slow cooker with the meat and bones. I have set the peppers aside. I’m sure they’ll make a tasty surprise for Somebody, next time I have an attack of wifely dutifulness and fix him an omelet or a sandwich.

 

Springing into action … again

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It’s a little over a year since I published my first post … wasn’t WordPress supposed to send me some sort of YeeHaw about that? Whatever – the point is, I’m kinda back where I started: in the veggie garden. I gave up on it in July when the weeds swallowed my wheelbarrow, but that was a tactical retreat, not an admission of defeat.

His complaints are clearly nonsensical, since it's quite obvious that he's having a blast.

His complaints are clearly nonsensical, since it’s obvious that he’s having a blast. Here, he’s making a big spread-out pile of horse manure, dirt and stable waste into a compact, tall pile, while seated on two very big round things. Every man’s dream, right?

This spring Himself and I have gone in with a unified front and guns blazing. We have experienced some friendly fire (mainly when Himself accuses me of constantly dreaming up projects that are, and I quote, “too damn big”, and then, and I quote further, of “expecting him to do all the damn work”), but no one is actually dead. Yet.

I had to concede some key arguments in order to get him on board … but to be honest, while my ideals are good, they were more than I could accomplish given how unfit I am. I really wanted this garden to be established using a permaculture and no-till approach from the outset, but it simply wasn’t practical. The area we’ve set aside for fruit and veggies (with a corner lopped out of it for the chickens) is pretty big – around 100×80 ft – and it was hillocky and rutted and impossible, especially since I’m hobbling about on a fractured ankle. So I lifted the tractor ban, and the ground is now depressingly compacted, but flat and smooth. As we fill it up with raised beds and plants it will become inaccessible to the tractor, and I’m hopeful that, given time and plenty of tasty composted goodies, the earthworms and other tiny critters will heal the soil.

Himself has had a few concessions to make as well. Being an engineer with (gawd help us) a military school background, he likes things neat, matching, with square corners. Do you have any idea what it would cost to fill 8,000 sq,ft with beautifully crafted raised beds like these? Nor do I, and although he could probably calculate it with ease, it makes no difference: however you add it up, the answer amounts to “a shitload”.

In any case, I find repurposing more satisfying, which is why I was very happy to learn that a local farmer was ripping out hundreds of acres of wine grapes … and replacing them with carrots – can you believe such a thing??? But his bizarre choice was my good fortune, because he advertised 8-ft long, 5-in diameter wood poles, formerly used to hold up the vines, on Craigslist for a little bit of nothing. With only minimal eye-rolling by Himself, we purchased three truckloads. (Reverting to the subject of friendly fire: I helped with the first load and was thereby incapacitated and unable to walk for nearly a week, so Himself and some other sturdy fellow fetched the other two loads. I should get points for wanting to help, right?)

What's left of the pole pile after yesterday's work party.

What’s left of the pole pile after yesterday’s work party, with Argos doing a “stay” to help make the picture pretty.

Then on Saturday we had a work party, involving a couple of young, energetic friends with whom I occasionally trade babysitting for farm labor, and a gang of teenagers in need of pocket money. As it turned out, “8 feet long and 5 inches diameter” was merely an approximate description of the poles … but that just made the design and construction process more interesting. (Or so it seemed to me, after Himself asked me please to be quiet and let him get the job done. One of my Life Rules is, Never argue with an engineer, especially if he’s carrying a hammer, so I sat down on the side of the asparagus bed and let him get on with it. He adapted my original concept design, which necessitated some fixing by me – ha ha! – but I’m happy with the end result.)

The start of my raised bed garden

The start of our raised bed garden. To the left, bordering the Nasty Neighbor, is a bed I built a few weeks ago, using old power poles. It contains an 80-ft row of asparagus. The three raised beds are what we built on Saturday. The Engineer says this looks, and I quote, “scruffy”. I think it looks rustic, and will be charming when full of greenly growing goodness.

If you’re wondering how to build raised beds using somewhat uneven old poles, the way we did it was to lay the bottom ones out. (The poles are used only for the long sides of the bed.) We then hammered sections of rebar into the ground to hold them in place. (In the final step, the rebar needs to be hammered right down such that it doesn’t stick up above the level of the top pole and stab unwary gardeners.) The end pieces, 5-ft sections of 2×6 lumber that Himself had lying around, were nailed to the poles. Then we laid the next layer, nailing it to 2×6 in its turn. My design called for three sections of rebar – two at each end on the outside and one in the middle inside – that essentially brace the poles into place, which minimizes the load on the end pieces. I think this would make them more stable and better suited to being sat on while one is weeding, so will build the remaining beds that way. Some of the poles are bent, creating gaps when they were laid on top of each other, so in a few places we’ve had to block the gaps inside with some old chipboard from one of Himself’s piles of Random Stuff That I May Need One Day. This will probably rot within a year or two, but by then the soil will have stabilized such that it’ll remain in place.

So far this year, I have planted a second plum tree, a peach tree, about 80 asparagus, a rhubarb plant, about 15 strawberries, a gooseberry bush, a horseradish, and about 10 walking onions. I have more berry bushes, another rhubarb plant and some fingerling potatoes waiting to go into the ground. I should have started seedlings in pots weeks ago, but am behind the curve … After last year’s weedy debacle, part of me couldn’t quite believe we’d be able to get our act together this year. But Himself has quit pouring contumely upon my commitment to organic gardening, and I’ve quit being rigid and perfectionist about it, and we’re managing to cooperate … so I guess this week will see me hard at work with seed packets and potting soil. In the fullness of time, maybe there will be crops!

He also sent me this link in case I should feel the need to

He also sent me this link in case I should feel the need to “perform my own calculations”. You’ve just got to love such optimism!

And … I’ve just received an email that reminds me of the many benefits of sharing life’s challenges with an engineer. While I have been writing this, he has been very busy Calculating, and has sent me the following:

I have calculated how much dirt/manure mix we have available in the pile in the front yard.
The pile is between 5-1/2 to 6 ft tall and the radius of the pile at the base is a bit more than 6-1/2 ft.
This calculates out to a pile volume of something between 270-to-295 cubic feet of soil/manure mix.
The volume of a 14 ft long raised bed is 14x4x1.25 = 70 cubic feet
Therefore, there is ample soil/manure in the pile to support filling at least FOUR MORE 14 ft beds.

I am now doubly motivated to build and fill the remaining beds, just to see if he’s right!

Your turn! How does spring affect your behavior? If you’re a gardener, do you try to befriend Mother Nature, or do you believe in better living through chemicals? Have you ever felt the urge to hit someone with a set square if something you build doesn’t line up perfectly?