Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Listeria Recall

Just heard a warning issued that the California-based Wawona Packing Company has discovered Listeria bacteria in some of its peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots. The fruit was distributed across the gamut of supermarkets, including Sam's Club, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods.

One more reason to appreciate having a food life that's significantly off-the-grid, so to speak. We have no Listeria here. It gives me a very real sense of personal empowerment, well-being, and independence to see stuff like this on the news and know it doesn't effect us in any way. Of course my heart goes out to all those injured or otherwise affected by something like this, but one of the reasons I keep this blog is in case anyone ever reads these words and thinks, "well I could plant a fruit tree or two." (or grow a lettuce, cauliflower, or tomato plant or two, etc.)

It's not just the well-being that comes from a diet grown within feet of where it's going to be consumed; it's the freedom from worry that comes from never having to take a bite of fruit, or a vegetable, and worry that it might make you sick, something which is becoming more and more commonplace in the commercial world as larger and larger shipments of food are crammed together, or processed together, and shipped thousands of miles away from where they were grown.

Sure, plenty of blog posts here are about the work it takes to make food, but it's also about the freedom that comes from doing the work. Which is worth it in every way.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lotion experiments

I'm a regular soap-maker, and have really enjoyed learning the whole process that's involved with making a great bar of soap, but my next challenge is to teach myself how to make a nice hand lotion.  And by lotion, I don't mean body butter or salve, both of which are fairly easy to make with the right oils, some water, and an immersion blender on a double boiler.  But I want lotion that can be used in a lotion dispenser -- so convenient, and more hygienic since you're not dipping your fingers into the mix every time you want to use some.

Step 1: When using cocoa butter, be sure and eat some chocolate to stop yourself from biting into the delicious-smelling (but NOT delicious-tasting) cocoa butter wafers.

So yesterday I made a salve with cocoa butter and shea butter, plus lavender and tea tree essential oils, which ended up completely solid once cooler.  To get it into a more liquid state, I then took a couple of tablespoons of it and put it into a cup or so of olive oil and some additional water and blended.  Once cooled, it was still completely liquid and fairly thin, so I added some more of the salve and repeated the same process. I'll continue doing this until I get a texture similar to most hand lotions, and then I will put it into my lotion dispenser and enjoy.

Step Two: A Melting Pot -- like America, only better-smelling.

This is the kind of thing I love doing in summer, when the day is slow and there is time to experiment.  If my lotion comes out decently, I will put the recipe on here, but this is still a project in development, as far as I'm concerned. 

Step Three: Finished salve. Time for some wine, this was hard work.

 That's the beauty of homesteading; you are free to play and experiment to see what works and what doesn't.  It's possible your experiment won't work and you'll continue buying what you were trying to make, but it's also possible you might just invent the best soap, lotion, or whatever in your history, and will be the happy benefactor of some homemade luxury.

Step Four:  Do this the next day if ended up having too much wine after making the salve. Salve is now mixed with olive oil and water. Will it turn out?  Who the hell knows! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Hmm.  Made a peach cobbler in the solar oven.  Sampled it. Quite a bit of it, actually.

Once the cobbler was out and cooling, I popped a melange of leftovers into a granite wear pot -- cooked salmon and chicken from a few days ago, and added some fresh sliced zucchini, mushrooms, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, chili oil, olive oil and salt and pepper.  Put it in the solar oven for an hour. 

It came out so good -- and right at noon -- so I ended up eating my portion for lunch instead of waiting to eat it when the family has dinner later on today.

I have no willpower where good food is concerned.  And I'm not a bit sorry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

High Summer

"High Summer" by Bruce Morrison

We are heading towards high summer here on the Central Coast.  The fruit trees offer ripe fruit, with nearly as much fermenting beneath the branches as are still on the tree.  Vegetables are abounding, and we're enjoying everything from grilled eggplant to fried squash blossoms.

Fried squash blossoms are a particular favorite of mine, but as they are extremely calorie-laden, I eat them sparingly.  In fact, I'll usually only make them once or twice in a season.  Fried squash blossoms are to summer what latkes are to winter -- a ceremonial food that honors the season the way nothing else can.  

I am also having a go at growing some lettuce in high summer -- no easy task.  I pick the baby leaves early, before they get big enough to get bitter, and so far it seems to be working.  For the first time in..well, ever....we have summer salads, albeit small ones.  But with newly pulled onions, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, you can make a pretty large salad without using a lot of lettuce.

Summer lettuce

Perennial cabbage

The cabbage I harvested from my perennial cabbage plant was absolutely delicious, and made several servings of slaw, always nice on a hot day.  And already more leaves are sprouting, which gives me hope of yet another harvest in a few months!  Who knew?

The tasks of high summer are harvesting daily, watering, hanging wash out to dry in the sun and reading novels in the afternoons when its too warm to spend a lot of time outside.  We close up the house at 9 a.m., before the heat sets in, and open the windows back up around 7 p.m., when it starts to cool off.  If we make a dedicated effort to do this, as can eschew using the air conditioning entirely and just capture the cool of each day and lock it in for later. 

Eggplant, cukes, nasturtiums, squash, tomatoes

The other big job for high summer is canning, and I currently have 20 pounds of ripe peaches sitting on the counter, waiting for tomorrow when it's predicted to be the coolest day of the week.  That will be the best time to fire up the canner and put up some sweet goodness.  Last summer I did not get around to canning any peaches and, come springtime, I missed making a nice peach cobbler or two.  

(I did can some nectarines from our trees last season, but discovered they do not hold together well while getting water-bath canned.  This spring I opened them up to find them watery and too mushy to use in anything. Lesson learned.  Blech.)

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, I hope you are staying cool and enjoying the tasks and rewards of high summer.  After July, we're officially on the downslope to fall, which is bad or good, depending on how you feel about summer heat, and how bad your particular summer as been, weather-wise.  This has been a cool summer for us, so far, so there's definitely a lot to enjoy.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I love this article


Great article about farming in "Modern Farmer" today.  Specifically, the article addresses the fact that in order to be called a farm, something tangible (i.e., a real crop) must be produced.  There's been an explosion of pseudo-farms, where one can pet farm animals, spend the day learning rural/homestead-type crafting, or where you can simply stay for a weekend and walk the bucolic fields, imagining you are, indeed, on a real farm.

Places that rely on writing, weddings, workshops or weekend overnight stays for the main source of their income are not farms; they are farm fantasy venues. It's an important distinction, especially for anyone interested in actual farming.  

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Low-hanging fruit

When we moved here, we inherited a white nectarine and regular nectarine which were planted by the previous owners.  Both are commercially produced hybrids, meaning they've been selectively bred to produce an abundance of fruit.  I've never had much of a taste for nectarines, yet I have to admit these are pretty good, especially when eaten just this side of being ripe.  Turns out I love nectarines, as long as they are crisp, not mushy.

So the problem is not us eating the fruit.  The problem with commercial hybrids like these is that it's rare one family can put all the fruit they produce to use...plus producing that much is very hard on the tree, year to year.  Despite several rounds of thinning fruit, we have once again ended up with waaay too many nectarines.

I gave big baskets to the neighbors.  I gave bigger baskets to the kids at the winery.  And probably bushels to the birds.  And there's still more.

In another month or so it will smell like a country winery under those trees, as all the ripe, picked over fruit finally drops to the ground and begins to ferment and eventually, rot.  I will leave it there until cooler weather, when I will harvest the dried out fruit mummies and start all over again as the cycle goes around with the calendar year.  But I really do wish the previous owners had planted heirlooms, which in general have lower fruit yields than hybrids do.

Because one can only eat so many nectarines.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spirit in the sky

Everyone sees different things when they look at clouds or contrails. Today I saw a benevolent being with its arms outstretched, as if to give a hug.

That's how I see the world, even though my sunny outlook is occasionally clouded over with disappointment or hurt, which is of course a universal experience.

Most of my universe is still good, and I'll take that hug to heart.