Monday, February 21, 2011

Dried Fruit Thoughts

I dried a lot of new fruits this past summer. New to me anyway. I figured maybe some readers would be interested in how they turned out, and what we'll be doing different next year.

Apples - This one wasn't new. We dried a bag or two of crisp tasty apples. The only thing we'll do different next time is to dip them in some citrus juice to avoid the browning that occurs naturally. (Although, I think I say this every year, and every year I'm always just too stinking busy to mess with the extra step.)

Pineapples - I forget how we ended up with excess pineapple. There's a price point above which I won't buy them, and that means we usually only have a couple of pineapples a year. Must have been a fire sale or something. Because one got dried last year. It turned out really good. I'd never had any before, and they looked odd, so hubby had to push me a little to try it. I'm glad he did. I was pleasantly surprised. We dried them as chunks.

Plums - one of the new ones. I really like dried plums. Yes, they are also called prunes. Prunes just had terrible PR, and dried plums sounds much nicer. These were a wild plum. So they dried smaller and tarter than any prunes you'll ever buy. I really like them like that. Hubby has a bit more trouble with them and has demanded that we marinate them in sugar before we dry another batch. :-D

Raspberries - A neighbor has a long row of raspberries. She was nice enough to gift us several pickings from them. We ate plenty of them fresh and made a bit of jelly. There were still enough to dry a batch, so I did. They dried all crunchy and tart. I love putting them in oatmeal. I had to use the herb screens I made for the dehydrator, as once they are dry, most are small enough to fall through the wide grid of the trays. Those screens are nothing but window screen material, cut in a circle a little smaller than the trays.

Blue Berries - These are like the pineapples in that we usually only get them 1 week a year when the price drops below my limit. We eat plenty fresh for that week, but I always buy enough to dry some. Again, oatmeal and pancakes are livened up by these little gems.

To round out our supply of dried fruit, I buy large quantities of raisins and in smaller quantities I buy dried apricots and cranberries.

Besides my favorite applications in oatmeal and pancakes, there are a couple other things we do with our dried fruit.

Yummy 7 layer bars. Choc, coconut, dried fruit (chopped small), evaporated milk, all layered on a graham cracker crust. Mmmm

Stewed fruit. Or fruit compotes. This has the benefit of being a good use for both the dried fruits and the storage apples that are past their prime.

Dried fruit sampler snacks. :-) Instead of a piece of fruit for snack, we occasionally mix things up and have a cup of various dried fruits. Rowen eats raisins like there's no tomorrow, and little else. Hubby and I like the variety though. Add in some cheese chunks, and a bit of hummus with bread and you end up with a reasonably well rounded quick meal.

Hubby made some "garbage" cookies that had bits of several dried fruits in the dough.

There's a pork chop dish I occasionally cook that calls for dried apples and raisins.

Anybody have something new for me to try? :-) Chime in with a comment!

The Cause behind the Symptoms

Grow and Resist had a post about the Urban Homestead blow up, that I really liked.

She points out that until we fight and change the patent laws, this problem will come back again and again. Whether it's Monsanto grabbing corn genes from remote plateau villi ages in Peru, who never see any profits from that theft. Or multi-national companies stealing local herbal remedies to patent and profit from. Or companies patenting human genes. Or random bloggers trying to trademark common language. The symptoms all point to a patent system that is broken.

Yes, people need a way to protect their property, protect their designs and protect their investments in research. But does throwing two words together really make them "your property?" Do we really want living things protected as "property?" Do we really want to condone theft of ideas from those less powerful than us?

My answer is no. I'm not sure how to go about this fight. Except to encourage civil disobedience and pirate/steal that which is improperly defined as "property." I'm open to suggestions though!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Should Girls Wrestle

This has been an odd week. Multiple social circles have been embroiled in debate over matters of gender and the relations between the two.

The atheist community is dealing with low participation rates of women. My state is questioning the appropriateness of girl wrestlers.

I want to focus on the girl wrestlers right now, as I have something clear I want to say on that one. Something I want to say, as an Iowan, as a fighter and as a woman.

Girls absolutely should be allowed to wrestle in school, against boys. If a girl is interested enough, talented enough, tough enough to train and practice, then absolutely let her compete in tournaments and absolutely encourage the boys to wrestle her.

Women need to know how to fight. Think how many hurts and abuses could be avoided if more women had adequate knowledge of defensive fighting. How dare you tell girls they shouldn't wrestle, that they shouldn't fight boys. Nearly 1 in 3 American women will be physically abused in their lifetimes. Do you have a wife, a mother and a daughter? Chances are one of them will face it. I'd argue we should be teaching wrestling in every high school to every girl that will learn. AND teaching them to use it against both genders.

Women can be good at fighting. I've had a Judo instructor teach me how to use my naturally lower weight distribution to good advantage in a hand to hand fight. There were sparring moves in Tae Kwon Do that I always did better with than the guys I regularly fought against, including my brother. So don't try to tell me that girls can't handle fights, that they aren't as good, I'm quite ready to prove you wrong on that one.

High school boys can handle it. Yes. They Can. I sparred against boys all the way through high school. I danced with boys in show choir, often changing clothes in the same room, and doing close dance moves wearing skirts and low cut sequined outfits. No one ever lost control in a fit of lust. And I think the few times I ever even heard about a whiff of trouble IT WAS HANDLED. That's why there's adult supervision. That's why there is parental involvement in the activity. Fighting, wrestling, dancing, building theatre stages into the late hours of the night, there are ways to do them with dignity, with behavior towards one another as human beings, as equals, that even in high school we understood. These behaviors should be encouraged and taught, not avoided. The real world isn't gender segregated. Learning to deal with the opposite sex in a profession, equal, respectful manner is a life skill that will get high schoolers much further than complete protection from temptation or learning.

Should there be separate competitions for girls, sure why not, it can be fun to fight other women, it gets boring just fighting men all the time, in my opinion. But I see no reason at all why girls and boys can't fight together in co-ed competitions either. Because right now, that's all we have. There doesn't exist a girl's wrestling, so if you say she can't wrestle the boys, then you're in effect saying she can't wrestle. That argument has gone on long enough and the only way to get to the point where we can create a girls wrestling community is if we encourage, teach and wrestle with the girls who try to take the first steps.

Keep fighting girls!

Edited to add link:
I liked their take on it too.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Urban Homestead

For those unaware of the hub-bub in the urban-food-growing-blogosphere this week, check out this post from Madame Crunchy. (I won't bless the DerV's with web traffic.)

I'm a non-rural food grower. I grow and save seed and store food, all on my urban plot of land, just like those Pasadena folks. Doesn't that make me an urban homestead? Apparently the DerV's think not. They've decided they have rights to multiple phrases and in the interest of "the protection of the term and concept" they have triggered a tsunami of ill will by trying to enforce their ownership. Protection from what? I'm sure they think they are protecting it from green-washing large corps. Somehow they think sending cease and desist letters to other small urban homesteaders who use the term, is serving that purpose.

There's a facebook page that's sprung up in response.

One of the phrases they own now is "Path to Freedom," which is kinda close to my own blog title of "My Path to Freedom." Hopefully they don't send me one of those C&D letters, as I'm pretty sure I'd not go willingly.

Naturally, when I started this blog, with the title I chose, I was aware of the DerV's site. I did some searches with my short list of site names, and did stumble across their site. I also found many others with similar names and themes and decided that the phrases I had settled on were not owned and I wouldn't be stepping on toes.

I didn't follow the DerV's site very closely, as they seemed a little weird, plus they're growing season is radically different from mine, and they have systems that I couldn't dream of doing with just myself and hubby and baby. (They have 4 adults and no kids, that's a lot more man power.) So, I've not really been back to their site since I started this blog.

Since the eruption of this drama I have found more of the DerV's writings, and it only confirms my suspicions. Weird cultist stuff. I don't want to throw stones, I'm not exactly normal or vanilla. But, some of it is just weird. They've been deleting massive amounts of data over the past couple of days, shutting down sites, pages and contact means. Circling the wagons if you will. Not a very neighborly way to handle the outcry. Sad to see the community in these straits. I'm hopeful that we can pull through this stronger.

Not sure if this will change my blog here. I'm not certain I want to relinquish my title, I'm fond of it. I'm also not sure if I want to be associated, however loosely with the DerV's.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Melting Away

Spring is humming it's warm up tune here in NW Iowa. We had temps in the 40's this past weekend and there was a lot of melting. Much to Rowen's delight, as that meant wonderful puddles and mud holes. :-D We lots about half of the snow cover, and almost all of the ice. Yay!

The warm temps, combined with the seed organizing for the seed swap, combined to create the perfect excuse to get my trusty cold frame into the spring action. I repaired a bit of the winter damage, chucked out the failed experiments of cabbage heads, (they were from the same batch of cabbage heads that did so little in the rest of the garden, after I pulled them I did a little dissection and the root systems never managed to get past their root bound start. ) and got arugula and swiss chard seeds sown, with melting snow to moisten things.

A first for me this year, I think I'm going to get my garden planted, and have no need for a seed order. :-D This is exciting, because seed prices are nothing to sneeze at, and some of my favorite companies are running low due to increased demand. I have excess seeds from past years, plus seeds I've saved myself, plus seeds from trades and swaps; all that seed is exceeding my storage capacity, so the goal of planting the garden entirely from what I have on hand will serve multiple purposes. One, to get my seed levels to something manageable in size, and two, a chance to prove to myself and hubby that the time and space and mess involved in seed saving is worth it. Three, it's always good to grow out and get fresh seed, and some of mine are 3 years old and in need of that.

Speaking of the seed swap, I think it went well. I had 5 people show up, plus myself and Laura the extension gal. I got some good tips on ways to advertise next year, (local radio station) good tips on local food producers, and some interesting new seeds. I also got some advice on people and places to contact about my interest in starting a community garden. I was sad we didn't get any new gardeners, but I can try again next year.

Also melting away is the last bit of my baby weight. :-) I've started a Zumba class at a local gym, and the 2-3 hours/week of fast tempo aerobics has boosted my energy and weight loss. I'm to the point where I need to work on my muscle tone. :-D I'm not interested in paying money to go push heavy things around in a gym, so I'm thinking I'll rely on my yoga DVD, and maybe a bit of boot-camp style workouts just to get me through till spring chores. Come on spring! Mama needs to hoe!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Winter Storage, let's do the numbers

Initial rate predictions:
Apples --5/week x 20 weeks = 100
Onions -- 4/week x 20 weeks = 80
Garlic -- 1 head/week x 20 weeks = 20 heads
Potatoes -- 4/week x 20 weeks = 80
Sweet Potatoes -- 2/week x 20 weeks = 40

I started the experiment on the first of November, with the goal of tracking through the end of March, so I'm 14 weeks in on the roughly 20 week challenge.

Apples, I wanted 100 to see us through, I only had 60. Of those, only 24 are left. So, we've used 40 apples in 14 weeks. Which puts our useage closer to 3 apples per week. This makes sense, I had jars of applesauce and plums and dried fruit that we've been eating on. Plus, we have been buying citrus fruits as some of our favorites come into season from FL and TX. If we keep this pace, we could last the last 6 weeks of the experiment. Usage rates aside, the apples that remain are starting to get soft and wrinkly. Dave has trouble overcoming an aversion to apples that look wrinkly. (Whether this aversion is from a lifetime of store bought apples or some wrinkly-apple-trauma in his past I don't know.) So, I might make a few apple crisps this month and use the last of the stored apples.
In lower energy times, supplementing with citrus fruits from FL and TX is not as cheap and convenient as it is today. So if I'm planning for times like that, I'll probably stick to the 5 a week rate.

Onions, this one got a little tricky to track. I buy onions by weight, but I was tracking them by numbers here. So, counting got a little tricky after the first 20 pounds of onions and there is some wiggle in these numbers because of that. I have 27 left of the original 80, so we've used 53 onions in 14 weeks. That's really close (3.8) to the 4 per week usage rates I guessed at for the beginning of this experiment. We should have enough to see us through Mid-March, which will be nice, but in reality I can't get more local onions until June or July, so I'll have to figure out what to do for the gap.

Garlic, I thought 1 head a week, which has turned out to be spot on, we've used 14 heads in the first 14 weeks of the experiment. We're eating a little more than that because of the garlic that went into jars of salsa and roasted tomato sauce. This part of the experiment is the only one that came completely out of my own garden. So, it's awesome to see it go well. I replanted the biggest and best of the bulbs this past fall. I have 10 more heads, and that should last us through the end of March. I have some garlic powder and dried garlic pieces from my favorite spice store, and I will revert to those for the 3 months between when we run out and when I can harvest the first scapes from the garden.

Sweet Potatoes, 10 of the original 25 are left, plus there's 12 left of the 20 from my southern relatives. We've used 23 in the first 14 weeks, which is about 1.5 per week. So, I was close with my usage rate guesstimate of 2 per week. We have 22 left I think, so we should last through the end of the experiment, and maybe into April if they don't rot.

Potatoes, 20 pounds left of the original 56. This part suffered the same problem as the onions. Potatoes are bought by pounds, and I'm trying to track them individually. It's not working out so well, and I quit trying with the potatoes. So, I'm going to say that my original usage rate of 4 per week is roughly equal to 2 pounds per week. (I know I know, bad engineer, let's move on.) We've used 36 pounds in 14 weeks, which is about 2.5 pounds per week. So, at that rate, our last 20 pounds should last us 8 weeks, which puts us at the end of March. This is assuming that they don't all sprout and rot, which is a very real concern, especially as we're past Imbolc now and rapidly gaining more light every day.

Losses to rot have been minimal so far, (not counting those darned carrots) with a half a dozen onions, and apples getting tossed into the worm bin. Potatoes have probably lost closer to a dozen since Nov, and will probably lose a lot more before this month is out. There are small windows in my food storage room. I thought they were small enough to not cause any problems, but it's turned out that even that small amount of light is enough to cause my potatoes to sprout. I have some heavy duty black material, I'll be making some black out curtains for those windows to avoid this problem for next year.

Squashes, this category got added a little late in the experiment, so I didn't have initial guesses at our usage rates. It turns out we are using about one a week on average. The reality of that figure is that every other week I make us a dinner with squash, and I'll use 2 squashes so that there's enough for all 3 of us to eat. The other reality to that number is we're still experimenting with squash. For one thing, I only remember eating zucchinis as a child, if Mom ever cooked winter squash, I don't remember it. So, I don't have a repertoire of recipes in my family's cooking tradition that deal with these wonderful veggies. Winter squash is cheap and good and stores well and grows really well in our area; I knew I wanted to expand our usage of it. My little family has tried a number of recipes this winter; soups, baked, roasted, sauteed. We're still not where I'd like to be, I think once a week for squash meals would be a better rate. But, until we find a recipe that we all really like, I'm still searching, and I'll be patient. Stay tuned for the Hubbard squash battle that's coming soon. :-) This thing is huge and I've been saving it for last.

Interesting information has come out of the first half of this experiment. I'm excited about what I'll learn as it winds down.

----------------------------------------Edited ----------------------------------
Hornblower brings up a good point. I should clarify the number of people this is for. 1 adult male, 1 adult female and one <2.

Seed Swap, thoughts on leadership

Well, the seed swap is gaining momentum!
A local ISU Extension gal, Laura, is on board and helping a lot with getting the word out.
I've got fliers up around town, some hand delivered invites out to gardeners I know in my neighborhood, and emails out to all the local gardening groups I'm aware of. I went to the Garden Club meeting last night to extend an invitation to their members personally. Whew! Now all I can do is get my seeds in order and see who shows up.

As I was talking with Laura this past weekend, I realized that even though I don't consider myself an expert or a leader for seed saving and gardening, I keep putting myself in positions so that others see me in that light. As I realized this, my mind drifted back to my first forays into leadership positions. I was in Jr. High, myself and a dozen others had been chosen for a leadership group, the main purpose it seemed was to plan the Red Ribbon Week dance. I remember thinking at the time, what does this have to do with leadership? Why don't they just call us the dance planning committee? This repeated many time through High School, and into college, where again it seemed like for all the meetings and bills written, the main things I did revolved around planning events and organizing meetings.

Is that all leadership is? Knowing how to coordinate a group of people with a desired event? Setting up tables and chairs? Getting the word out so people attend? Sure, part of it is picking the battles to fight. I know I have no chance of convincing local farmers to stop feed lots or monocropping. I know I have little chance of convincing everybody in my town to grow and store food. But, the other side of that coin is that I know there are battles that can be fought and perhaps I can help with those. The arena of seed saving and local gardening is one that I'm familiar with, even if I don't consider myself an expert. So, I organize these events, all the while thinking it's no big deal, I'm not one of those leaders. Little by little though, I'm starting to realize I am one of those leaders.

Maybe just by default. :-) Certainly not by myself. But, a leader none the less. I think I'm ok with that.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Wild Women Weekend 2

Saturday was the second in the outdoor series at the local state park. The weather was a little cloudy, but it was not too windy and a nice 25 degrees.
We met at 10 at the park office. (Well ladies who were on time were there at 10, I was fashionably tardy...) There were a lot more women this time. Instead of 8 there were more than two dozen of us. This necessitated splitting the group into two. My group went cross country skiing first. The other half was snowshoeing first.
We got all the skis and boots and poles organized and into the van, then we walked to the start of the trail, where the van met us. Amid much laughter, we all managed to get clicked into the skis and down the first couple of hills. In spite of a couple of falls, I ended up close to the front, with some of the ladies who had cross country skied before. The 5 of us soon pulled away from the others, and we went quite a long ways before turning back to head back to the van and lunch.
I have to say, I really liked the skiing. The skis attach to the boots under the ball of the foot. This meant that a lot of the muscles in use are the ones that I exercise when I salsa dance. It was also the beginning of the day, and I was fresh and excited to be out. So, I caught on to the motion pretty quickly and was able to keep a good pace for most of the hour. Tricky parts included learning how to get back up after falling, learning how to get up hills and learning how to slow down. I'm still not really good at most of those, but by the end I was getting better. I think I fell down 6 times on the way out and only once on the way back in.

So, after an hour of skiing, we were all very ready for lunch, me included. Victoria, the conservationist, had once again made us a dutch oven feast. Last time was the dutch oven pizza, which was delicious, and she didn't disappoint with the Hungarian Goulash this time.

After lunch we spent some time learning about dog sledding, from a couple that do it for fun. They have a few Siberian Huskies and a little sled, which they brought to show us. After a discussion about safety and the realities of the sport and the dogs, they hooked the huskys to the sled and a few ladies got to try it out.

Fully rested, we split up again and I got my chance to try snowshoeing. Now, I don't know about you, but when I think snowshoeing, I think this:

But in reality, modern snowshoes have evolved a bit. They look a bit more like this:
I got really tired, really quick. :-) The snowshoes were great, don't get me wrong. I liked them. It was fun and pretty easy. I was at the end of my stamina though, having spent all week down with a cold, and all month hiding in the house to stay warm.
I pushed through for most of the hour, lagging a bit, huffing and puffing a bit, but still having too much fun to stop.

I called it a day after the snowshoeing. There was another hour scheduled of winter shelter building but I was done in. I didn't want to risk relapsing back into sick, so I bowed out of shelter making.

With both the skiing and the shoeing I couldn't help but think about how much harder it would be with 40 pounds of gear on my back. Or a gun on my shoulder or anything else really. Much more practice would be necessary to be able to do feats like that I think. Mad respect for those that can.

Gear Report: I invested in some long underwear for this event. Justin Charles merino wool pants to be specific. They come in men's sizes, but I found that a small fit me really well. (For the record ladies, I'm a curvy size 12.) If you're a smaller woman, and looking for wool base layer, this maker won't work for you, because Small is as small as they go. Which is too bad, because I really liked them. They fit well, they feel GREAT, and temperature regulation has been wonderful from the first day outside, through a week sitting at the office. (Yes, I've been wearing them every day since buying them. I have a 30 minute drive to and from work on a country highway, I prefer to wear clothing that will handle any kind of emergency, and with -30 windchills this week, I wasn't messing around.) I got them on sale for 40$, down from the original 120$ the big box store wanted. They are definitely worth the 40, I'm not sure I would say they are worth 120. The manufacturer sells them for 60 online, I would say yes to that too.

I realized I need some sunglasses. I like the sun, I've never felt the need to own sunglasses, but even with the cloudy day we had Saturday, I was still dealing with a bit of snow-glare and I would have really had trouble on a sunny day.

All in all, a great weekend. I'll be doing more of those sports I bet.