Sunday, January 30, 2011


I don't often buy clothes, and so at the beginning of the year, it seemed logical for me to make a plan to not buy any new clothes or shoes for the entire year. I am allowing myself to buy used things (from consignment stores, for example), but only things that I would really need. And the funny thing is, I can't really think of an example--what is something that I'd have to have badly enough to buy? I have a small but versatile collection of teaching clothes. I have summer clothes, and winter clothes. I can work on mending my old coats to make them sturdier for next winter. So right now--a month in, this doesn't seem too difficult a resolution to keep. I know (already) that after this year, this will make me an even more conscious consumer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lemons Twice Over: Limoncello and Lemonade Mix

January is citrus season, and beyond my experiments with marmalade, I'm venturing to make a few other things with the great organic citrus that seems so abundant. I've wanted to make Limoncello for a while, but for some reason, kept thinking of it as a summer beverage, and only recently realized that it'd be best to make it NOW (when, as I said, citrus is abundant), so it can have a few months to age before we consume it.

I've made infused liquor exactly once--soaking blueberries in vodka for a few months, then mixing with a simple syrup and allowing the mixture to mellow. At the time that I made it, it was only half-intentional--we had too many blueberries for me to know what to do with (at the time), and a bottle of vodka sitting around; thus, the liquor was born. And because we only had a quart of it, it's been carefully

rationed--in fact, we still have some sitting around on the bottom of a jar in our liquor cabinet.

Most limoncello recipes are pretty basic: zest or peel (organic) lemons, put the zest into a glass container with (some kind of) grain alcohol, and wait. Then strain the mixture, mix with simple syrup, and allow to age/mellow for a few months before consuming. Usually, the ratio of simple syrup to alcohol is 1:1; usually, the zest is allowed to infuse for at least two weeks. Otherwise, the limoncello recipes vary little--some people swear by a fine zest, while others insist that peeling the lemons in wide strips produces a clearer limoncello. Most people will recommend a higher proof alcohol (the highest you can find, really), as it extracts more of the lemon essence. For our batch, I mostly peeled the lemons, after realizing that our old zester is getting dull, and put the peels into containers with 190 proof Everclear. I think that after thirty days, or so, it'll be ready for the next step of the process.

After peeling a dozen or so lemons, I was left with...well, the lemons. I looked at them for a minute or so, and decided that there was no better way to use them than to make a lemonade mix (or lemon syrup). I combined 2.5 cups of lemon juice with 4.5 cups of sugar, brought it just to boiling, ladled into jars, and now am a proud owner of two and a half pints of lemon syrup! The syrup will be good to have on hand for many things, especially when summer comes around; we usually end up buying a few bottles of good organic lemonade at the store because it looks so tempting, and the syrup will be a good substitute.

Taking Stock

This morning for breakfast, we had scones with strawberry preserves, which were my first canning attempt at jam last year. And it's not really a jam, but strawberries in a thick syrup--which is just fine for scones, but I'm already thinking of ways I can make it better this year. I know it's only January, but I'm already thinking of May. And because in my mind I'm already gearing up for the strawberry season of this year, I'm taking stock of what we have, in terms of canned items. Last year was the first year we were serious about putting up, and I know that I got pretty excited about certain things and made too many, while we're already almost out of others (canned tomatoes, apple sauce, etc.).

Keep track, keep track! If I keep better track of the things that we make and the kinds of things that we're more likely to use, I think I can extend the list of things that I will never have to buy again pre-made. And besides, I like this kind of know-how, this kind of independence from unknown entities of food production (which is also dependence on the seasons, the local farmers, and my own ability to make time for making these things).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marmalade Canning Class

I always get very anxious before teaching--whether it's the first day of a new semester at the college, or a new month and a new canning workshop. For some reason, I was more nervous about this marmalade class than any before--maybe it was because the first batch of marmalade I ever made was a failure; maybe it was because marmalade is finicky and sometimes, no matter what the measures, still doesn't set just right. I was so nervous, right up until the moment when I saw the group that had signed up for the workshop--they were excited to be there, excited to be doing this, and so I forgot about the nervousness, and told them everything I know about marmalade.
We had Cara Cara oranges, mango blood oranges, grapefruit, and minneolas at our disposal for the workshop. Because of this great variety of citrus, the marmalade had a good depth of flavor. I had also run into the co-op on my way to the Birdhouse, and got some vanilla beans, which added nice undertones to our marmalade.
By the end of the workshop, I had just about lost my voice (still getting over being sick), but was very happy with the enthusiasm of the canning group. Canning alone, as I often do, or even canning with one other person is one thing--canning in a kitchen with twelve other people is a different type of excitement yet: people who've come to a couple canning classes were filling in those who had never canned before; and canning veterans were still learning some new techniques. It just feels so good to share about canning--it's such a tangible way of teaching about food democracy, about eating in-season (and local, when possible), and about the flavors that surpass anything that is available in stores. I look forward to the next canning workshop already.

Half the class processes the citrus, half the class looks on--the Birdhouse kitchen has limited space, so people trade off working on the project.
You can see how careful everyone is with the peels;
in the pictures up top, you can also see the wonderful Heart of Fruit and the citrus bits in the preserving pan.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"If words matched their things we'd be imprisoned within walls of symmetry."

This is my niece, right before she received Christmas presents; in the midst of opening them, she remained interested almost exclusively in these stacking cups.
"The new cannot be melodic, for melody requires repetition."

Again, I return to the same poems, the same simple daily rituals.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter Shadows and Marmalade

On Sunday, I am teaching a canning workshop and teaching people how to make marmalade. The thing is, marmalade is still rather mysterious to me.
I made this apple-rosemary marmalade last month, and a few other kinds of marmalades since then, but I'm still now quite sure what happens to make a goo of rinds and pulp actually form into something so wonderful. I hope that by Sunday, I'll know a little more, or just be able to humbly admit my shortcomings to the class.

Food Security and Community

I've been reading Sharon Astyk's Depletion and Abundance. The book expresses several concerns about the possibilities of food and energy shortages, and presents possible solutions for when such disasters are closer at hand. And despite being open to many of Astyk's ideas, I read the book with some skepticism--some of her projections seem unrealistic (apocalyptic). Will people need to prepare for a life without any electricity? I don't know. Should everyone keep a 2-year supply of food stowed away in a basement? Although our present food situation isn't good, I think that the 2-year supply is a little extreme. (Of course, immediately after I say something like that, I see something like this, which makes me wonder--maybe Astyk is correct, to an extent, in her predictions.)

So I have been gleaning from the book that which I think will be most useful in my present situation.
The first of those things is her support of informal economies--economies made outside of the more visible structures of supermarkets and money. Astyk encourages people to make connections within their communities, to talk to neighbors, to look into the community farm; although this may be an obvious point to some people, she points out that those connections can help us meet our needs. I first started volunteering at Beardsley because I was between jobs and between paychecks, and wanted to feel productive and useful. I also needed a way to supplement our meals. And yes, I got to take home a few vegetables for my volunteer hours, but I gained much more than that--a sense of connection and purposefulness.
Something that is a little more difficult for me is connecting with neighbors. This is mostly a difficulty because it's easy to go to work, come home, and stay there; going out of the way to interact is something for which I've lost the knack (or perhaps it's my shyness, or conditioning). It is one of my goals to communicate with our neighbors more, to see what I can offer them in return for things I'd need. One neighbor has a stack of building materials that could be used for more vegetable beds; another neighbor has a large (unused) planter in the front yard; a third has fruit trees. And I'm sure that I could provide something to them in exchange for their offerings--it's only a matter of making the first move, asking, becoming involved. It would be an informal economy at work, practicing "rituals of non-consumption" through sharing what we already have.

Another thing that I like about Astyk's book is her passion for growing food, cooking, and putting up--all things that take time. She reminds that "some things you do because they are right, not because they are expedient." This will be the first year for us to try to really grow food; last year we had one tomato plant (that grew maybe 3 tomatoes) and some herbs. This year, my goal is to grow enough to be able to can some of our harvest. I don't know much about growing food yet, but I can't learn until I try. If it doesn't work out, there will always be next year. Now, I am collecting seeds, making a little plan for planting, and looking forward to warmer days ahead.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Eve Dinner

For the last few years, we have tried to have a special dinner planned for New Year's Eve. We like staying in and spending time with each other on food preparation; and we like to make something a little nicer than what we'd usually eat for the last night of the year. Last year, we rolled our own pasta for cannelloni; this year, M. offered his expertise and made nine different sushi rolls. That, folks, is a lot of sushi (also, as you can see from the picture, we had a mountain of tempura vegetables).

I hope that this year, whatever our New Year's Eve dinner is, we can make use of something we grow ourselves.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Worry is a Groove Worn Deep Quicker in Winter, It Seems

I received a small meyer lemon tree for my birthday this year.
We've had it indoors, and it doesn't like that--it's been dropping leaves and looking unhappy.

I've read up on this, and the word is: if the branches look healthy and green, don't worry about it.

But of course, I worry nevertheless.

A small note to myself--
Remember: making leaves is Spring work.
Winter is the time to withdraw resources
underground: grow roots, be dormant.
Good advice for all of us.