Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seven Sustainable Things

Welcome to another edition of Seven Sustainable Things, seven things I've done to advance my sustainable living in the past seven days.

Fall is always sort of iffy in that regard here on the "microfarm."  Gardening is slowing to a trickle, but it isn't yet cold enough (thank heavens) for any of the real wintery tips.  But we've done quite a bit this week:
  1. Beans!  Thank heavens Mr. FC&G is so insistent about how much he likes beans, because we've had a truckload! I've been pretty insistent about him eating beans with every meal.
  2. But the beans are finally giving up, which means I can harvest the shellies that hold the seeds.  This year, our entire bean crop came from saved seed from last year, and I think next year will be the same.  This will make our bean crop self-sustaining.
  3. I've kept up with my pledge to make a batch of cookies each week. More baking means more savings and fewer additives.
  4. I've been making socks like crazy.  Most of these are going into the Carrot Creations Fleece Shop and into the Carrot Creations yoga sock stock so that you can have sustainable goods to purchase this winter, but some of the socks will go to replace worn out ones from last winter for Mr. FC&G and I.  The warmer our feet, the less likely we are to turn up the heat.
  5. I've been making homemade frappuccinos for Mr. FC&G from leftover cold coffee and some nice flavorings.  He says he likes these as well or better than pop, and they are much less expensive.
  6. We've had a nice bout of warm weather here, so Mr. FC&G and I are biking for our local errands.  Every mile and every calorie burned adds up!
  7. Finally, Mr. FC&G has been able to shift to working from home for a bit while he works on lining up his next major project, so we are happy to see some savings in gas expenditures.
What sustainable activities are you doing this week?
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Friday, September 25, 2015

Almond Snickerdoodles

My mother recently gave me her copy of Modern Approach to Everyday Cooking, a wonderful 1966 cookbook that has so many cookie recipes that I remember from my youth.

One of my favorite is "Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies," which we always made and rolled out to make iced Christmas cookies.  This is tremendously versatile recipe that can turn into basically any kind of cookies you like.  Recently, with the addition of some almond flavoring and a cinnamon/sugar dusting, I've been turning them into sugar cookies.

This is part of my continuing effort to get myself to bake a batch of cookies each week.  We eat far too many cookies around here, and not only is that expensive, but it also introduces GMO ingredients in some cases as well as HFCS.  At least, if I bake one batch a week, I have a bit of quality control. Every little bit helps!

Almond Snickerdoodles
3 cups organic unbleached flour
1/2 t. baking soda (get the kind without sodium aluminum sulfate)
1/2 t. baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter, melted
2 eggs (free range)
1 cup organic sugar
2 t. almond flavoring

cinnamon and sugar

Sift together the dry ingredients.  Cream the wet ingredients together and add the dry ingredients, mixing continuously. Refrigerate if you feel your dough is too soft to handle.

Form into balls a bit smaller than golf balls.  Roll in a cinnamon/sugar mixture (I like about 1 t. cinnamon for a half cup of sugar) and place on baking sheet.  Flatten with the back of a spoon.

Bake 11 minutes in a 375 oven.

The Analysis

Fast:  The reason I don't bake as much as I should is the time constraint, but, as cookies go, these are about moderate in time investment.

Cheap:  The organic ingredients drive up the price, but I believe these are still less expensive than an all-organic variety at the grocery store.

Good:  Everyone loves a good snickerdoodle, so these are a good bet to have in your repertoire.
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

How Much Does a Garden Grow: August 2015

August is always a great month for the garden, and this year was no exception.  We brought in just over $200 worth of produce, some of which got turned into canned chili sauce and green beans for some of Mr. FC&G's favorite meals.

Stand-out producers this month:
Cuor di Bue tomatoes stand at 20 pounds harvested.
Our "Yulia" volunteer variety stands at 6.3 pounds harvested.
The San Marzano has brought in 13.3 pounds.
My favorite, the Black Krim, is at 9.4 pounds.

Also, by the end of August, I had harvested 26 ounces of beans (for a value of $4.94) and 15 ounces of peppers (value of $2.85), with those two crops poised to take off in the month of September.

Finally, the cucumbers finished strong at 59 pounds harvested by the end of August for a total value of just over $151.

Cumulative Totals

Harvest, Ounces: 2,071.0
Harvest, Pounds: 129.4375
Harvest Value: $425.79

Expenditures: $141.40

Total Saved: $285.39
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Friday, September 18, 2015

In Praise of the Purple Potato

I've mentioned before how much I love purple potatoes, but, since it is officially time to plant your fall and winter crop, I wanted to encourage my readers to think about ordering some purple potatoes.  Several reasons you might enjoy this fun crop:

  1. Most, if not all, purple potatoes maintain their color even after they are cooked. What this means is that you have a chance to make lavender mashed potatoes if you have a picky eater who would enjoy something different.
  2. Every variety of purple potatoes I've tried is excellent for boiling. For some reason, I'm never satisfied with boiling the traditional russet potato you can get in the grocery store; that's a baking potato, to me. The purple potatoes boil up soft, but their flesh retains its integrity for a wonderful mouth feel. Again, this is ideal for those of us who are picky eaters and have trouble with some textures.
  3. Purple potatoes get their color from the phytochemicals that make foods blue. This is fairly rare in the plant kingdom; blueberries are one of the few other foods that have these chemicals. While I won't swear that you have to eat a certain number of blue foods, this is one way of getting those colorful plant chemicals into your diet. Can't hurt, might help.
  4. Potatoes will grow over the winter. They need a little TLC to get started, so be sure to green chit them before you plant them. (Put them under a strong light or in a window until they start to sprout, then bury them.) But you can definitely grow these over the winter in a large container, and they'll probably be your first crop to harvest next spring.
  5. Harvesting purple potatoes is like an Easter egg hunt for grown ups! (And for your little gardeners, too.) The purple flesh is easy to see when you dump the container and start pouring through the dirt, and there is something fun about having a basketful of these colorful potatoes ready for your evening dinner.
What unique veggies are going into your fall garden?
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Monday, September 14, 2015

Seven Sustainable Things

So I thought it would be fun to add a new periodic column to FC&G.  Welcome to "Seven Sustainable Things," which will chronicle seven things we've done over the previous seven days to live a more sustainable lifestyle.  Hopefully, you'll see that sustainable living doesn't need big projects all the time but can move forward with little actions.

  1. We put up the pop-up greenhouse, which you can see in the photo.  I'm hoping to really extend the season on some container tomatoes, peppers, and beans, and this will be a much lighter and sunnier place for the plants to live until it is way too cold and I have to move them into the sunroom.
  2. I had to make three trips to the grocery to pick things up we needed, but I biked all of those trips.  According to my fitness app, that was a total of 13.41 miles that burnt an extra 543 calories while saving a bit of gas and wear and tear on the car.
  3. I canned beans from our garden.  Not many, mind you, but I'm slowly amassing enough beans to make for some meals for Mr. FC&G.
  4. I worked a bit on the blanket I'm making from yarn ends from my projects for Carrot Creations. It takes a lot of time, but I'm slowly getting a cozy all-organic cotton blanket from the yarn ends that would otherwise go to compost or clutter up a shelf.
  5. We made a veggie pizza with onions, plus peppers and basil from the garden. This gave us a meat-free meal that even Mr. FC&G, the resident meat-eater, enjoyed, and it was healthy and cheap.
  6. With a cool spell over the weekend, I turned off the AC and let the cool air flood into the main level of the house.
  7. Similarly, we are now only using the window AC at night in the bedroom as needed and trying to leave the whole-house AC off to save money.
What was your best sustainable action this past week?
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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Canning Beans

With tomato season nearly done, I've moved on to canning beans for my little family. It really is a labor of love: I remember snapping beans with my great-aunt, and I love the job, but I absolutely hate green beans to eat. So, these are all for Mr. FC&G.

Growing up, we used to joke about pressure canners exploding and winding up with beans on the ceiling, but today's pressure cookers seem to be more reliable. At minimum, I can promise that I've never had to scrape beans off the ceiling, and the only jar failure I've had was indeed the result of a chip in the rim of the jar, not a problem with the canner.

If you want to can beans or any other "low-acid" vegetable, you must use a pressure canner in order to kill as many of the bacteria in the jar as possible. A pressure canner is, in fact, an autoclave, just like the machinery that sterilizes medical instruments. It does just as good a job on foodstuffs.

For green beans, just blanch the beans for three minutes and then fill the jars full.  Top off with water from the blanching so that all the spaces are full, then load the jars in your canner.

Since we are right at the 1,000 foot elevation line, I use 15 pounds of pressure with my canner; other guides will say 10 pounds at lower elevations. Follow your canners instructions for the amount of water and the amount of venting time, then process for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts.

Easy as that. And no need to clean the ceiling.
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Know Your Cukes

For many of us, cucumber season is nearly over, but there are several U.S. growing zones still harvesting, not to mention our southern hemisphere readers who are starting to plan their summer gardens.  So, it seems like a good time to discuss the difference between a slicing cucumber and a pickling cucumber.

Now, first and foremost, there is no cucumber police that will come banging down your door if you slice a pickler and pickle a slicer.  I do so myself every year, because I happen to like the flavor of my picklers raw, and I like the way my slicers hold up to my pickle brine.  But if you are selecting a variety to grow or buying a bunch at the farmer's market, you may want to know the difference.

In the photo, the slicing cucumber on the left is an heirloom "Straight Eight;" the pikcler on the right is a "Burpee Pickler" hybrid that I let get a little over-large.  For comparison purposes, the one on the right is about seven or eight inches long at this point.

The slicing cucumber, the "Straight Eight," has a darker, more even skin to it.  The skin is a bit thicker, which makes it easy to peel if you like your cucumbers peeled for either pickles or eating raw.  It also has a lighter, more consistently-colored interior flesh, and the seed cavity is a bit bigger.

The picker, the "Burpee Pickler," has a more variegated skin that is thinner than the slicer.  In the early season, it is quite easy to mar the skin with your finger nail when you pick the fruit.  The interior is a bit more colorful, a pale yellow as opposed to the white of the slicer.  The seed cavity is smaller than that of the slicer.

Overall, the pickler would be ideal for pickling whole as gherkins (if harvested small) or as whole kosher dills, because the thin skin and robust flesh would allow the brine to soak into the fruit and flavor it without it losing it's integrity.  The smaller seed cavity means you have less mess in your jar and less excess liquid to contend with if you slice them.

But, as I mentioned, I never obey this.  I find a slicing cucumber to be just right for my bread and butter pickles, while the more robust flavor of the pickler is better in a salad.  That may just be me.  But one thing's for sure: enjoy your cucumbers now, before you have to go back to those flavorless, store-bought things!
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