Saturday, April 17, 2010

Open Your Garage For Me, Baby!

I attended a free class this morning at Seward Co-op about shopping on a budget. I was finally moved to become a member, after contemplating it for almost two years. I guess it really doesn't make sense not to be, if you are going to shop there frequently or even just occasionally. I could spend the membership fee money on a lot of other things that wouldn't have near the value. Plus, I always feel strangely guilty when the check-out clerks ask me for my member number and I stare at my shoes and mumble, “I'm not a member.” I'm planning to try to shop there as much as possible in conjunction with the farmers' market for things I'm unable to get at the market, such as staple grains and beans, dairy (if I can't find what I need), as well as personal products, like deodorant and detergents. The woman leading the class this morning suggested using your quarterly 10% discount (which you receive if you are a member) to shop from the “Wellness” section, where all of the personal products are, since these tend to be more expensive. Definitely true, as I bought my deodorant there last time and it was more than $6 for the stick. No more aluminum seeping through my pores though, so I'd say the extra buck or two was worth it.

I'm getting pumped for garage sales this year! It's unbelievable what people are willing to give away for nearly nothing, and I intend to find some good deals.

Here's what I am seeking from sales this year:

Food Preservation Supplies
half-pint and pint mason jars
jar bands
jar rack for the stock pot
electric food dehydrator
food-safe 5-gallon buckets
freezer shelving
storage containers for root cellar

hand-powered pasta machine
butter dish
storage cabinet
display rack for my pretty new pots and pans

Around The House
table lamps for living room
filing cabinets for my magazines and other various papers
cheap shelves for organizing the basement

Always Looking For...
nice yarn
useful craft supplies
cute/vintage/unique decorations
clothes/shoes (not often found)
kitchen items I didn't know I needed...ain't that the truth

Friday, April 16, 2010

Full Spring Ahead

Two weekends ago, I visited Martin's grandmother with his family. She gave me dozens of canning jars that she no longer uses! I also met someone on Craigslist that was willing to sell me two dozen quart-sized jars for $5 and five tomato plants. I now have a collection of jars consisting of my own grandmother's jars and Martin's grandmother's jars, plus some secondhand. I think it's rather appropriate to have our grandmothers' jars as we attempt to harken back to simpler times.

I still need many more half-pint jars, though. I want to make lots of jams and sauces, and a pint of one of those would be too much to consume before it started to go bad! Here's to hoping I can find some at garage sales or thrift stores. I don't want to buy new ones if I can help it. I also need more bands and a bunch of new lids, which I have to buy new since they can only be used for canning purposes once (but they can still be used to store dry pantry items!).

I know I just talked about trying to avoid Amazon, but I still had a gift card to use that I got for Christmas, so I decided to take advantage of that to buy a few more things I had on my wish list. I bought Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning:Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation, The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue, Storey Country Wisdom Food Drying Techniques, and a 5-piece canning kit, which includes a funnel, a magnetic lid grabber, a jar lifter, kitchen tongs, and a jar wrench. So now that I've used the gift card, no more Amazon if I can help it!

Although I am planning to can and freeze (not much freezing though), I think Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning will be a good resource for learning the rest of the techniques for preserving food. Plus, the introduction is written by Deborah Madison, who is pretty much amazing.

We love to grill, but we pretty much have no idea what we are doing. We just throw some coals in the chimney, light it, and then put whatever we're cooking on until it looks done. I know there's much more to it than that with charcoal grills, and I want to learn! The Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen people know what they're talking about, so I went with their guide.

The Minneapolis Farmer's Market starts next weekend! I won't be able to go the first couple of days, but I'm excited that I'll be able to go soon. I've fallen in love with the idea of fresh, local food, and I've missed walking through the rows of fresh, beautiful vegetables, fruits and plants. So many interesting things to look at and to try.

My goal this spring/summer/fall is to commute by bicycle as often as possible. My bike is a Trek hybrid, and I have a basket on either side of the back tire. I also just purchased a Banjo Brothers messenger bag with some Easter/Christmas money (Thanks, family!), which is reportedly impressively waterproof, big enough to carry lots of stuff, and is made by a local company. I can even fit our awesome expandable cooler in the bag to keep the greens and such in good condition. The Lyndale location of the Farmer's Market is easily bikable from the office where I work, and I'll be able to transport my local loot home.

On the hyper-local food front, i.e. my backyard, I officially have a growing garden! Lettuce, spinach, and snap peas, oh my! Tomorrow, I will transplant the chard plants to their location in the square foot garden. There's also onions sets and radish seeds working their way up to the surface as I write!


Snap Peas



The other day, I pulled what I thought was a weed from the garden, and guess what I found? An onion! I'm not sure if it came from seed or from a set that never got dug up last year, but I was certainly surprised! It's our first harvest of the season...

Surprise Onion

My tomatoes are starting to definitely look like tomato plants, and the peppers are sprouting, albeit slowly. I'm thinking about getting one of those warming mats for the peppers and tomatoes, so they grow at the rate they would continue to grow once transplanted to warmer weather outdoors. That could have been a contributing factor to my lack of yield from my tomato and pepper plants last year. 


Tomatoes and Parsley

Thyme, marjoram, and oregano

The massive broccoli plant tries to eat the smaller ones

We also have beautiful tulips in our backyard, and our chive plant is absolutely huge and about to burst with flowers. I'll certainly be making one of Deborah's recipes that specifically includes chive flowers!

In the kitchen, Martin and I invested in an 8-piece set of tri-ply cookware that was ranked second on America's Test Kitchen. We love to cook, and having stainless steel cookware with an aluminum core—for $150—is awesome. Yes, I patronized Wal-Mart, and yes, it was made in China. You win some, you lose some. Given the amount of home cooking we do, it's totally worth it to have really good cookware. Although I'm beginning to realize that I sound like a major consumer in this post, these are actually some of the first major purchases I've made in quite a long time. I don't spend much money on things other than the basics too often, and I especially don't spend money I don't have. Plus, I think it's better to invest in things that will last, and this will last assuming we take good care of it. And, it just looks beautiful with food in it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

True Leaves

I received my two new food preservation books in the mail this morning, and I've been excitedly flipping through them to see what's in store for this summer. I'm realizing that I really need to start finding some jars! If anyone knows someone who has some canning jars they'd like to sell or give away, please, send them my way! I have some quart jars that were my grandmother's, but I need more pint and half-pint sizes, for sure.

I'm also going to look for a food dehydrator at garage sales, and I'm hoping I'm able to find one within the next two months or so. Again, if anyone knows of a food dehydrator seeking a new owner, let me know! I'm certain there are plenty out there that are taking up space in someone's cupboard...

Before I left for the weekend to visit my parents, I transplanted the lettuce, broccoli, and chard seedlings to larger containers. I also planted tomato and pepper seeds and several kinds of herb seeds—oregano, thyme, marjoram, and basil. I decided the best solution to my lack of a light timer would be to leave the lights on from Friday until we returned on Sunday. Not ideal, but much better than relying on the little natural sunlight available from that window. Unfortunately, the only south-facing window in our house doesn't work for a plant shelf set-up.

I came home to baby lettuces with their first true leaves, and one of the broccoli plants with a tiny true leaf starting. So cute! The chard's looking good, too. I also came home with a light timer from my parents, so now I don't have to worry about the light when we're not around to turn it off.

Baby Lettuce

Baby broccoli

Baby chard

This morning, I noticed one of the parsley seeds sprouting. It's been 11 days, which is definitely a shorter length of time than they took last year to sprout—soaking the seeds really made a difference.

Parsley sprout

Assuming the weather cooperates, we are going to work on the garden boxes tomorrow to get them ready for the first outdoor spring plantings, which happens this week! Spinach and peas, along with another indoor planting of lettuce.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Already Planning for Winter

Last night, I ordered two books I've had my eye on: The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. My goal for this year is to can, dry, ferment, and store as many locally grown vegetables and fruits as we're able to afford, so we can eat them in the winter. Some of that (I'm hoping!) will come from my own garden, and the rest I'll buy from either the Midtown Farmers' Market or the Minneapolis Farmers' Market.

You'd think it would be noticeably more expensive to buy vegetables and fruits at the farmers' market versus buying them from Rainbow, for instance. Actually, according to a comparison of costs done by Martha & Tom, the goodies purchased at the Midtown Farmers' Market are cheaper than the same at Rainbow and are nearly half the cost of those at The Wedge. Plus, there weren't any heirloom tomatoes at Rainbow, of course, and they also lacked parsnips and celeriac on the day he shopped. The market's only a few blocks away from Cub, Rainbow, and the new grocery section at Target, and likely a better deal on most days. Of course, the market only occurs twice a week for a few hours, which isn't convenient for everyone, I know. We do what we can.

Anyway, I'm planning to preserve lots of food this year. And I'd like to try to turn the storage room in our basement into a “root cellar.” It seems like it could be possible, considering there is a window and shelving in there. I will have to insulate it and use the window to control the temperature, but I think it can be done...we'll see! I'm interested to see what the book has to say.

On the subject of the books, I ordered them from Amazon without really thinking about it. Now I wonder, why is it that I've become more cognizant of where my food comes from, but I didn't think twice about ordering a book from a huge company before trying to find it locally? I've always enjoyed independent and used bookstores, much more so than the big box stores. Yet, it seems like I most often go to these stores without a particular item in mind; instead, sifting through to find a good used classic or an interesting-looking biography. I never once thought to myself that I might look for these books, too. It wasn't until the last three or four years that I started buying books from Amazon. Before that, I always bought books from actual physical stores. I will not limit myself from using Amazon entirely, but I will make a more concerted effort to support a local bookstore first if I can.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Second Garden Begins

Last week, I officially planted the first seeds of my 2010 garden. This is my second year as a gardener, and, I'm hoping, a better year than last. Last summer was much colder than normal, and I ended up with only a handful of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, and they weren't all that impressive in size or appearance. The weather in conjunction with my lack of experience led to a less than fruitful harvest. Besides the spinach and lettuce, these tomatoes and cucumbers are some of the only successful items.

This year, though, will be different. I can just feel it in my bones! I decided to focus more on cool-weather plants, in hopes that I will have more success. I'm following the Square Foot Gardening method. Here's my garden plan:

This is where the plants will actually grow (I can't wait for these empty boxes to be full of food!)

I'm also planning to grow these herbs: garlic chives, cilantro, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, thyme, dill, sorrel, and oregano.

I selected my varieties this year based on the University of Minnesota Extension website's recommendations on the best varieties to grow in Minnesota, so hopefully, this will also improve the yield of my garden this season.

Yesterday, I woke up to the first seedlings of the year. This is what they looked like today.

I start my seeds with fluorescent lights indoors, with a shelving unit set up in my dining room.

I've been growing some basil plants this winter for use in cooking and couple of lettuce plants for fresh salads, as you can see, so I suppose my new seedlings aren't technically my first this year, but you get the point.

I am planning to use this blog in part to keep a journal of my garden. I want to determine how much food I am getting from the garden, what works, what doesn't, successes, failures, etc. My goal is to produce data that will make my garden successes easier to track and compare in the future.

Here's to a big harvest!

A Chronicle of Living

Welcome to my journal of simplicity. Over the past year or two, I have become increasingly interested in pursuing a more natural approach to life, whether it be with the food I eat, the house I keep, or the many other aspects of life to which this philosophy can be applied. This “philosophy” I speak of is difficult to define; it derives partly from the slow, local food movement, partly from a concern to live a more sustainable and less disposable life, and partly from a soulful yearning to move toward a more meaningful existence.

I choose the word “simplicity” to describe the mean toward which I strive not because making these changes or performing the tasks are necessarily easy or convenient. As an example, cooking one's meals or preserving food for the winter are rarely easy or convenient tasks. They are “simple,” however, in the sense that my garden or local farmers' market simplifies the journey of my food from the ground to my mouth.

I have no illusions that my small actions will be anything but tiny ripples in the grand scheme of life on this planet. That understanding aside, I also believe that if each of us took our own paths of discovery toward the simple life, we could dramatically improve our co-existence with fellow humans and other creatures on Mother Earth.

I recently read the first few pages of a book called The Tao of Liberation by Mark Hathaway and Leonardo Buff. This is a book that only a few months ago, I would not have even bothered to pick up. I tend to shy away from anything related to religion or spirituality. However, after a recent visit with my great-uncle, who studies the Tao Te Ching daily, I decided to give it a try. I was shocked to discover that the philosophy in the book scratched an itch I didn't know I had, putting ideas into words that I had long struggled to articulate myself. In the first chapter of the book, the authors discuss the idea of a transformation in human consciousness called the “Great Turning,” the lens through which they examine the necessary “shift from an industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”

It is our belief, though, that the current cycle of despair and destruction can be broken, that we will still have the opportunity to act fruitfully and change course. There is still time for the Great Turning to catch hold and heal our planet....We seek a path toward such a transformation, a change calling us to a new way of being in the world—a way that embodies just and harmonious relationships both within human society and within the wider Earth community. We seek a wisdom—a Tao—leading us to integral liberation.

We believe that the power to make these changes is already present among us. It is present in seed-form in the human spirit. It is present in the evolutionary processes of Gaia, our living Earth. In fact, it is woven into the very fabric of the cosmos itself, in the Tao that flows through all and in all. If we can find a way to attune ourselves to the Tao and align ourselves with its energy, we will find the key to truly revolutionary transformations leading to authentic liberation.”
-pg. 3, The Tao of Liberation

The goal of this blog is not so lofty as seeking to lead a revolution in human consciousness. It is merely a space for me to ruminate critically on ways in which to slow life down, eat fewer processed and chemical-laden foods, and become more harmonious with my local community and nature itself. I am not looking for praise for my actions, nor am I condemning those who have not made these changes in their own lives. This is the chronicle of a personal journey. If, along the way, something I write inspires someone to think a new thought or try something new, then I've done more than I ever expected to with this tiny ripple.