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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Battle of the Bugs

Welcome to monsoon season in Ohio!  Seriously, I've rarely seen as much rain in one season as we've had this year.  We've been walking a very narrow line between happy garden plants and a total washout.  So far, the garden is plenty happy with the wet, but we could certainly use a few sunny days to encourage those tomatoes along.

It's so wet that half of our obsessive-compulsive neighborhood has their yards half-mowed at all times:  you just go outside when you are able and mow until it starts raining, then come inside.  It kind of gives the neighborhood the overall look of lawn mange.

Along with the wet has come a bumper crop of bugs.  Now, I thought I had outsmarted the bugs this year.  I spent all of the past couple of years battling cucumber beetles, but this year I moved my cucumber crop and installed yellow color-bait traps early on.  So far (knock on muddy soil), I've only had a few cucumber beetles munch my plants.

What I "lack" in cucumber beetles I make up for in Japanese beetles, unfortunately.  Thee copper-colored menaces, also called "June bugs" in some areas, will eat the daylights out of your bean plants.  While I've always gotten a few destructive pests, this year has been nearly out of control.

So, last week, I took action.  I bought two scent-bait traps to hang in the garden, and I rapidly caught several hundred (several hundred!) bugs, but there were more to eradicate.  Since I don't want to use pesticide on my garden plants, I tried spraying with organic insecticidal soap and with garlic oil, but to no avail.  Mostly, it just rains too often for those solutions to be effective.

Therefore, I've been battling the bugs by hand.  I take a small container full of water and Dawn dish soap out to the garden, and I knock the bugs from the leaves into the soapy water.  This kills them pretty quickly.  I have found that it's better to do this in the evening, when the bugs are more sedentary and less likely to fly away.  Then, you can pretty much just shake the leave lightly and watch the bugs fall into the soapy water.

The soap helps kill the bugs, but it isn't meant for gardens, so I am not dumping it in compost.  Instead, I'm taking the opportunity to flush the bugs, with the knowledge that Dawn is also a good way to clean your pipes.  The grease-cutting action is very helpful in making your toilets run smoothly; I learned long ago that a couple of tablespoons of Dawn and some patience will unclog a toilet without a plunger or a plumber.

So, that's the romantic life of a micro-farmer these days, with me out on the hunt to rid the garden of the little copper menaces.  Who could have ever dreamed life would be this good?  (Snicker!)
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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Introducing Fast, Cheap, and Good, the Book!

Ever since I've started this blog, I've gotten the occasional request or suggestion to turn it into a book.  Well, today that book is a reality!

Introducing the book version of Fast, Cheap, and Good.  This 180 page book is filled with reprints of your favorite columns from the first three years of this blog, plus new introductory information in each section.

Chapters include:

  1. Introduction
  2. Philosophy
  3. Gardening
  4. Recipes
  5. Food Preservation
  6. Textiles
  7. Household Helps
  8. Preparing for the Worst
The book is available in soft cover for $14.99 and Kindle for $7.99.

You may purchase on Amazon here.

You may also purchase direct from me at my Hilltop Communications Etsy shop, here.  My other book is also available at this site, and you can request an autographed copy here.  (Note that I reserve the right to edit or omit parts/all of your requested inscription, just in case anyone wanted me to transcribe War and Peace in the front cover or something.)

Local customers can see me in person for purchase.

I am available to the media for interview, and review copies are available on request to confirmed members of the media/blogosphere.

Thank you for your support of Fast, Cheap, and Good!  Now, back to work on Fast, Cheap, and Good, the movie and the interactive theme park.  :-)
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Amaretto Cherries

One of the historic methods for preserving food is submerging the food in alcohol.  The alcohol controls the bacteria, allowing the food to remain shelf-stable.

Of course, we have many other methods today, but there's something quite special about using alcohol to preserve fruit.  I present to you: Amaretto Cherries.

Alcohol and fruit are a natural match, as anyone who's ever eaten the fruit from a Hairy Buffalo or slurped on a vodka watermelon can tell you.  But this is a much more sophisticated product.

Take about a quart of either sour pie cherries or sweet cherries, and place them in a sterilized mason jar.  Cover the fruit with alcohol.  Here, I used some of the finest sipping amaretto.  Let the flavors blend for about a month, checking regularly to be sure your fruit is fully submerged.  You can store the finished product in the fridge, or it does stay shelf-stable for quite some time.

The quality of the alcohol you choose is important.  I tried this trick last year with some fairly cheap rum, and my finished product tasted a great deal like cherry-flavored rubbing alcohol.  By switching to sipping amaretto (I used DiSaronno), the finished product tastes a lot like maraschino cherries but without the cloying sweetness or artificial colors.  For my project, I used sour pie cherries, but sweet cherries will work just fine.

You can eat the fruit and enjoy the flavored liquor from this little project.  I think it will be just the thing on a cold winter's evening - if it lasts that long!  If not, I anticipate some very sophisticated homemade ice cream topping in my near future!

The Analysis

Fast:  Alcohol submersion is one of the fastest preservation methods.

Cheap:  Not particularly.  The cherries cost a bit from the farmer's market, but it's the quality alcohol that really drives up the price.

Good:  But I think it's well worth the investment!
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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Benefits of Raw Foods

Every once in a while, you will hear someone discuss the benefits of a raw food diet.  Although there is a lot of theory and science behind the idea, the basics are that a raw food diet will allow your body to access the nutrients and other beneficial phytochemicals that are available in the foods as they are grown, without any damage inflicted by heat.

In the summertime, I love this idea.  I can't imagine anything healthier than going out to the garden and harvesting my lunch, eating cucumbers and blueberries that are so fresh off the vine that, for all intents and purposes, you could say they are still alive.  Surely, eating fresh food in as close to its natural form as possible is a healthy move.

However, before I advocate an entirely raw food diet, I have to acknowledge that human beings have evolved to cook.  There are some theories that suggest that our teeth are formed as they are because, early on, humans discovered fire and no longer needed to be able to rip apart and chew raw meets or woody plant fibers.  Cooking has been with us for millennia, so there's little reason to think that it is generally speaking harmful.

Additionally, we know that cooking frees up certain nutrients that otherwise remain locked away in the food.  Tomatoes are fantastic both raw and cooked, but, while your body will access more vitamin C from a raw tomato, it will more easily access the lycopene in the fruit from a cooked preparation. And, of course, cooking meat makes it easier to digest while killing off potentially harmful pathogens.  You just need to beware of overcooking it to the point that you create too many carcinogens from the burning.  (And I'm guilty of loving a nice darkly roasted hot dog, so I'm not innocent on that.)

So, do I advocate a raw food diet?  Occasionally.  This is certainly the time of year to enjoy foods in all their raw, freshly harvested glory.  I think its worth exploring how to eat many foods both raw and cooked to best access all the healthy nutrients, fiber, and other beneficial chemicals they contain.  Plus, nothing beats a variety of preparation styles to keep your taste buds happy!
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Friday, July 3, 2015

How Much Does a Garden Grow: June 2015


Nothing quite so pretty as a June garden, made even prettier by some harvests!

June brought over 3 pounds of garden harvest worth more than $14. With no expenditures, we are crawling our way out of the red and into the black, which we typically achieve some time in July.

Notable harvests in June included 4 ounces of garlic that grew over the winter and 3 ounces of cilantro, along with a few peas, leeks, and greens.

The big harvest, however, was from our two producing blueberry bushes.  By the end of June, they had given us 38 ounces of blueberries, for a comparative retail value of $9.50.  This is certainly a substantial harvest from just two bushes, and there will be more to harvest as the season finishes up in July.

As I write, I'm eagerly awaiting the first tomato and cucumber.  High gardening season will be here for sure!

Cumulative Totals

Harvest, Ounces: 55.0
Harvest, Pounds: 3.4375
Harvest Value: $17.50

Expenditures: $141.40

Total Saved: (123.90)
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blueberry Pie for Two

One of the nicest things about having a couple of productive blueberry bushes out back is the fact that we can bring in four to six ounces of blueberries by weight every other day during the season (late June/early July).  However, we're never going to really bring in the quart of berries needed to make a nice standard-sized pie, nor do we need that much pie all at once for a two-person family.

This weekend, we took about 8 ounces of blueberries and made a wonderful small blueberry pie that was just enough for two small pieces each. What a wonderful way this was to showcase our entirely-local and organic blueberries while getting some much-needed fruit into our diets!

Mr. FC&G's Flaky Pie Crust: We made a half-recipe, which was enough to fill and top a small glass pan that was five inches in diameter. The crust in the photo looks brown because we used unbleached organic flour and organic sugar.

8 oz. blueberries (by weight)
1/2 cup organic sugar

Preheat oven to 425.  Line small pan with crust, fill with blueberries mixed with sugar.  Apply top crust and crimp.  Make your holes for the steam to escape.

Bake 20 minutes or until crust is starting to brown.  Makes 4 small servings.

The Analysis

Fast:  The smaller pie is easier to make and quicker to bake than a larger pie.

Cheap:  We paid for flour, sugar, and lard, but the blueberries were free!

Good:  Blueberry pie is my favorite; it always tastes like confirmation that summer is here.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beef and Pork Meatloaf with Fresh Cilantro

It's always feast or famine for the self-employed. And, although I think I see feast on the horizon, both Mr. FC&G and I have been experiencing just a bit of famine. Time to employ those money-saving techniques I'm so fond of!

As I've written before, one of the classic ways of saving money is by stretching your expensive foodstuffs, and the classic in this regard is meatloaf. The addition of an egg and a bit of cracker crumbs will make your expensive meat last into several meals. Since we buy our meat through a meat CSA, we have a "meat budget" of sorts in the form of our monthly allotment from our subscription. In times of plenty, we'll supplement with additional purchases, but in lean times, we try to make do with just what we have available for the month.

This recipe is dead simple but has a unique flavor thanks to the addition of cilantro, an herb that lends a Latin flavor to the dish. Since cilantro grows so fast, and since you have to cut it regularly to keep it from prematurely flowering and forming coriander seeds, this is a great time to use it in cooking.

According to some sources, cilantro is said to help chelate or remove heavy metals from the body. Since it's difficult to control your exposure to heavy metals depending on your geographic location and lifestyle factors, any little bit of help is a good thing. If the chelation properties aren't your top concern, you can comfort yourself with the idea that fresh herbs, at minimum, make a dish yummy!

For your reference, I harvested about an ounce (by weight) of cilantro stems, then stripped the fronds off and mixed them into the meat.  You could use more or less depending on the state of your garden and how much you like cilantro.

1 lb ground beef  (pastured, organic)
1 lb ground pork or mild pork sausage (pastured, organic)
1 egg (from pastured and organically-raised hens)
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 oz fresh cilantro on the stem (from home garden)
1 cup ketchup, optional (organic)

Remove the cilantro "fronds" from the stem and roughly chop if needed.  Combine remaining ingredients (except for ketchup) with the herb and mix well. (Mixing with your hands is traditional and faster than using a utensil.)

Shape into a loaf in a cake plate or similar pan and top with ketchup.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Potatoes will bake alongside this very nicely, if you'd like to maximize your oven time.

The Analysis

Fast:  Prep is pretty easy, and it's even easier around here:  Mr. FC&G does all of the mixing with his hands, since he knows I don't like to touch meat.

Cheap:  All told, this is probably $12 or so worth of ingredients.  We buy fairly expensive meat and eggs, which is why stretching is a good idea.  Mr. FC&G will eat for several days on this one batch, however.  There are probably 6 to 8 servings here.

Good:  I like Latin flavors, so I will eat a small piece of this as part of my once-a-week meat consumption routine.  Mr. FC&G seems to like the addition of the cilantro "just fine," as he says.
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