Tuesday, September 29, 2015

2015 Summer Harvest

All of the produce that we preserve comes from within ten miles of home; it is transported here by bicycle. The bold entries were grown on site. This, of course, does not account for all of the fresh produce we ate during the growing season.

Blueberries: 2 quarts dried
                   3 quarts frozen

Peaches: six quarts dried
15    pints canned

Apples: apple sauce 8 pints
              Apple butter 18 half pints (it turns quickly)
               Dried 4 quarts
               Juice 19 quarts

Figs: 7 quarts dried

Plums:  butter 6 half pints
              Pickled 6 quarts

Grape juice: 36 quarts

Beets: pickled, 7 pints

Tomatoes: roasted and canned 54 half pints
                        Dried 3 quarts
                        Salsa 10 pints
                        Longkeeper storage tomatoes 10 pounds

Cucumbers: It was a very good year…
                        Quick Dill 10 quarts
                        Senfgerkin 10 pints

Gooseberry jam 4 half pints

            Blue three pounds—a mystery
            Yukon Gold 13 pounds, plus some early harvest
            Desiree 21 pounds
            Kennebeck 25 pounds
            Russian fingerling 26 pounds

Pumpkins and squash; six pie pumpkins and one blue Hubbard squash

Monday, September 21, 2015

Planning for Solar Panels, part three

The planning and execution of our greenhouse/solar panel structure has been complex. We needed to shift installation companies, apply for retro-active permits, and build the structures during the hottest summers on record. It was a whole summer project, which has just wrapped up last week.

Because of rebates, a real concern about climate change, striving for the Georgetown Energy prize, and peer pressure, solar panel installation is way up in Corvallis this year. In March, solar companies were seeing a ten fold increase in the number of people interested in installation and that continued throughout the summer. All of the companies in town were booked out early. We worked with Benton Electric, who was able to reach further afield for teams, but the press of business made communication difficult, which had long term impacts on the permitting process.

In late June, we worked with Benton Electric to begin the process. They calculated that eight panels, creating a 2.2 kw system, should cover our use for the year, if we were conservative. Nine would be better, but they would block considerable light into the greenhouse, and we decided against the extra panel. Once we had the dimensions for the layout of the panels, our builder went to work constructing the greenhouse and panel rack. It is an uneven hexagon, a bay with windows of three different sizes projecting into the yard, with a long annex that reaches all along the neighbor’s garage. Because of the design, it does not dominate the view of the gardens, but blends in, even without mature plantings. For days, he dug deep post holes and planted the treated beams that would hold the structure upright. Once they were all planted, he needed to cut the roof angles, all different because of the shape. When the angles were cut, he had down the roof and framed in the windows, then hung them, and framed them in with cedar. Once the greenhouse was finished, we painted the clawfoot tub and moved it in, setting up the shower.

When the greenhouse was complete, Mark, our builder, moved onto the rack for the panels, which is also a funky structure of angles and braces, raising the panels thirteen feet above the ground for maximum light and minimal visual intrusion. He finished the evening before the panels were to be installed. The next day, in early August, the installers arrived. “That’s interesting,” the head installer commented, “but I can work with it.” In four hours, they had installed the panels, wired the system in, and added an outlet in the greenhouse.  We were on track for completion, just waiting on the electric installation….

And then things came to halt. The electrical inspector, seeing the structure and thinking “that’s weird” referred us for a building permit before the electric could be inspected.  “But we don’t need a permit,” I argued, “the structure is too small.” “Code says that you do,” the city returned. What code? We don’t know. What did we do wrong? We don’t know. One person talked about earthquakes, another about hurricane force winds. Maybe we should cement the posts in, even though that rots them faster….it was never really clear. Don’t ask, was the general message. Hire a structural engineer to write a letter saying that the whole plan is ok. It will be easier than bringing it up to building code. So we did. “Humrph,” he said. “That’s interesting.  Lets put a little brace in here and call it good.” “A trellis? I can live with a trellis.” Several weeks later, we received the retroactive permit and passed the electric inspection. But the panels were still not on.

Pacific Power needed to replace our meter—and Benton Electric needed to repair a fuse so that the system worked. That added another week to the whole process….finally, I came home to a new meter. Two days later, to a functional system. The meter was spinning backwards! For the first week, we produced four to five kwh  per day; when the clouds went away, production went up to six, then seven, and today, eight. We are at the equinox, with the sun sliding down in the sky further every day, so production will slowly drop off for winter.

So, what did we learn from the process? Perhaps to ask very specific questions before building—despite talking with three city departments, we did not know that we needed permits for the structure that attaches the panels to the greenhouse. Now that we are done, we are working to live within our means, to not use any more electricity that we will produce, even if we are not always using fresh electrons.

Fish Pie

This is a layered dish.

Layer one: finely diced carrots and celery to cover the bottom of the dish, followed by .25 pounds of various fish—shrimp or scallops, salmon, and white fish. Scraps are good.

Layer two: 1.5 cups of white sauce, with leeks, salt and pepper.

Layer three: mashed potatoes for a crust.

Bake until bubbly in a 350 degree oven.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Late Summer Evening


not much space here
      Silence drops slowly over the backyard in the evening. The flock is integrated now, so there is no chicken fuss over dominance after the first squawks of the morning and a bit of ritual labor coaching while the youngest lays an egg. In the late afternoon,  the ladies discuss tidbits quietly while the hive hums loudly as the drones come out for air, the of the cat calls for attention from the fenceline, cars cruise down King’s Blvd., cedar waxwings feast on the high figs, and people head home on foot, shouting into their cell phones. After dinner, the foot traffic is gone and all we hear are the voices of our neighbors over the fence speaking Spanish, or English, Chinese or Arabic—the apartments behind us hold a world of cultures in their old brick walls. An occasional car pulls into the alley, shifting gravel. Further away, a couple of small children play.  Mark and I eat dinner outside, chat softly, and listen to the world. A dove hoots from the telephone line.
            As the light fades, so does the volume. The chickens move into their new coop and begin protracted negotiations on roost rights.  Wings flap. Someone is shoved off the perch and launches upward. Bees move into the hive quickly when dusk comes. Cats wander by, looking for a warm lap. The crickets begin. Inside, Mark runs water for dishes, humming to himself. Water sloshes into the greywater bucket as he works. The crickets begin, softly at first, then growing louder. Mark turns on the lights in the kitchen and the house glows.
            When it grows dark, I move to tuck in the animals. First, the rabbit, who, like a toddler, does not want to go inside for the night. I chase her around the yard until she makes a false move and is caught by the garden fencing. In she goes with a thump, then bounces loudly over to check her crunchies and look for the treat we often use as bribery. Once she is in, I move to the back bed, where the coop is perched for September. All of the ladies are in and settled now, but they chirp softly when I jostle the coop to hang the full bucket of feed. Occasionally, one will jump down to see what she’s missing. The hive is still buzzing softly, especially when I slide between coop and hive to reach the chicken feed. Some nights, a few bees buzz a warning that I am too close and I slip behind instead. One of the cats investigates the motion in the backyard and rubs against my legs, purring.

            When everyone is settled for the night, quiet comes down. Mark empties the last bucket of greywater onto the kiwi vine. I take a shower. The crickets chirp. The possum drops out of her home in the laurel hedge and bumps into the garden fence right outside the bedroom window. The moon rises, tangled in the plum tree branches. A few cars pass in the distance, but, by ten, the world is still.

Swamp Maples
Whole wheat bread with rice

Use the "bread in five minutes a day" system. 

Cook 3/4 cup of arboriso rice and cool.

Mix three cups of water, 1.5 T of yeast and salt, three cups of wheat flour, three and a half cups of white flour, and the rice. Allow to rise and proceed as usual.

The dough is wet. You will need more flour than usual to toss it into a dough ball. It will also take longer to cook-- beware. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Fig Tree

            In 1941, George Schreiber planted a fig tree in his front yard, right on the property line. It was a protected spot for a tree that was borderline for it’s planting zone, between two houses and near the road. It throve. Eighteen years ago, we bought his old house and ate our first fresh figs, which were just coming ripe as we moved in. Our fig tree is the largest in Corvallis, even after Figpocolypis, the very cold winter when many trees suffered a great deal of damage. Ours lost some branch tips and took a while to push through last spring, but it is still going strong. There is a good crop of fruit this year.

            Our fig is well known in the neighborhood. We have a mosque down the street and many Middle Eastern students living near by. For them, the fig is a taste of home; for four years, the same family came by every fall to pick on the weekend they brought their son down to school. When he graduated, they gave us an art poster in thanks. Other people pick the low hanging fruit as they walk by and, occasionally, a car will drive by slowly, hoping to catch someone out with a ladder. We are always generous with the fruit. We cannot begin to eat it all, even after drying and fig jam, and it is good karma to give something away. Right now, the tree is divided into three zones: low hanging for people walking by, ladder range for human consumption, and high in the branches for the Cedar Waxwings, which are feasting on the over ripe fruits.  Figs will ripen slowly over several weeks, holding on until the fall rains come in. Then, it swells and drops to the ground as soggy fig bombs, nasty and squishy, and the harvesting season is done. 

Drying Figs

Pick figs before dinner, as it is an overnight process to dry them. Cut off the stem and quarter the fruit. Spread the fig open to expose more of the inner seedy sweetness to the dryer. Turn the dryer on high, place it somewhere you want the bit of warmth during the night, and begin. Check in the morning before heading off to work. Figs are done even the very ripe and sweet ones feel a little damp but the rest are chewy. Store in quart canning jars on the shelf.The over ripe ones never feel dry, but they will not mold in the basement. 

Dried figs are the best fruit for those awful moments when you are hungry but dinner is still a couple of hours away.They have staying power.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to School

            We go back to school tomorrow. It is always a hard transition, moving inside and sitting down for hours, not to mention the cacophony of 40 odd teachers all talking at once, after a long summer of walking, reading, digging in the earth, and being silent. This first week is especially hard because, although administration is thrilled to see us after rattling around in the building alone for a month, teachers are not happy until the students arrive, and so we are a hard to please bunch. And a bad audience for meetings. A seriously bad audience.  After all, we teach high school. We know all of the tricks.
            I love my work, however. I never know what is going to happen on any given day. Yeah, I have lesson plans, and I know who I will be working with each day, but there is an element of surprise in my room that I have never found in any other job. Will I be discussing my laundry patterns this morning? Will someone have a most excellent excuse for being late to class? Something like “I woke up late, the cereal box attacked me, and then, when I was in my car I realized that I was almost out of gas and thought about how late I would be to class and how mad you would be then if I ran out of gas and I had to stop. And then the train came.” Or “Jackson parked his truck too close to someone’s and we had to pick it up and move it over so that he wouldn’t scratch the car.”  Or maybe there will be that moment when the class comes together over a brilliant idea, or a unintentionally funny comment, or the deep silence of reading a story silently together…You never know. Even in the depths of February, ninth grade is pretty darn entertaining. We all live for the shining moments of grace that happen in classrooms.
            But, tomorrow, what I will be thinking about, really, is how lucky I am to work with my colleagues. We’re a pretty amazing and intelligent bunch at Corvallis High School. I realize this when I leave the building in the late afternoon and I see my colleagues prepping for the next day. One person is grading papers, another setting up a lab, and, out in the shop, they are repairing machines for the next day. Each person is teaching students, not only the contents of the class, but how to think. Thinking like a scientist, like a mathematician, like a writer, like a cook, or an artist—each discipline has it’s own patterns of the mind and we cover them all. High school is really about learning which patterns of mind fit your mind the best—as Salinger says in Catcher in the Rye, learning which ideas fit your size and type of brain—so that you can move out into the world with that knowledge. High schools are miniature worlds when it comes to knowledge. Whatever questions you might have, in a good high school, someone knows the answers. Add in the amazing mixture of students and their own specialized knowledge, and there is nothing you cannot learn in high school.

            And so, we are heading back into that world Tuesday morning. Kids won’t show up for another week. All over town, Honors English students are finally breaking out their summer reading books and taking notes. In the building, we will be wrestling with the Big Questions: Do we have a tardy policy? Do yoga pants violate dress code? Why is the copier down? And, how will we teach our kids well for one more year?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kitchen Ode

One of the things that I love about our house is, despite its age (built in 1931!) it has never been seriously remodeled. There are a few chunks out of the woodwork in mysterious places but it is remarkably  unchanged, probably based on its excellent design. There are some layers of paint on the backs of the cabinets revealing changing tastes, but the structure is the same. This means that my kitchen, along with being tiny, is also the same as it was 80 years ago. I love it.

The first distinctive feature of the space is its size. It is, at its widest point, 9.5 feet wide and 10.5 long, but there is a chunk taken out of the room for the living room fireplace, so the actual space is closer to 85 square feet. There is room for a small table, two chairs, and a stepstool. We can stash the yogurt cooler under the table in the winter.

 This is the counter space. To the left of the sink is the dishes to be washed space, as well as a pull out cutting board for bread and cheese. To the right is the prep space-- about four feet square. As you can see, we keep the electric kitchen gadgets to a minimum-- kitchen-aide mixer, toaster, and electric kettle. I tried to put the kettle on the stove, but the plugs did not speak to one another. I can overflow onto the kitchen windowsill, as well as the table for a resting space. However, I've worked in professional kitchens where the personal workspace was not any bigger.

 Because of the tiny space, we have to special order our refrigerator. It is difficult to find a five foot tall fridge!   When we first moved in, I was concerned about the size, but now I love it. I do not lose food to rot in the far back reaches of the space-- there are no dark corners. Because we eat so much fresh food directly from the garden in summer, I do not need a huge storage space. And, in winter, we can leave greens and a big pot of soup in the larder on the way into the cellar, where they will keep for over a week. A small refrigerator cuts down on waste, both in energy and in food.

 The pantry is the best aspect of the kitchen. I loved really pantries when I was little. My grandmother, who lived in double-deckers in Boston and Somerville for years, often had a real pantry off of her kitchen. I would poke around, wiping shelves, sniffing spices, and talking about making cakes for hours whenever I visited. Although I would still love to have such a room, I am resigned to my very tall storage closet right in the kitchen. All of our bulk goods are stored on these shelves. It is very handy!

I am also blessed with an old stove. It has a huge oven and space on the surface to rest posts and pans. I never have to juggle  hot equipment while cooking or canning. Over the years we have had to replace the burners and the oven heating coil, but the stove is solid and beautiful. The old timer and stove light still work. In winter, it is the heart of our home; baking bread, potatoes, cookies, and dinner all at the same time.

I have an old cherry maple table and chairs which fit neatly into the space when the drop leaf is down. I found them while I was still in college. There was a used furniture store on my way home from the bus, which I often checked out. One day, they table and four chairs were there. Seventy five dollars for the set. That was a lot. But they glowed in the spring sunshine. I came back a week later and they were still there. The owner of the shop confessed to a friend that she was tired of them and was going to drop the price to  sixty to clear them out, not knowing that I was considering a major purchase. Hush, her friend whispered, but it was too late. I heard and offered sixty, and carried them proudly away.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cucumber Madness

           Cucumbers are taking over the kitchen….we eat three for lunch and five more come in at dinner time. It has been a good year for cucumbers. The weather has been warm; the beehive is active so pollination is excellent. I planted a few extra plants because of slow germination. Finally, Lemon cucumbers are just prolific and the “double Yield” variety from Territorial is, literally, a double yielder. I have had a whole series of twinned fruits. For whatever reason, the vines are heading towards the fence at a rapid rate.

            Every evening, I wander out to the back garden to check for dinner. Beans? Tomatoes? Collards? Cucumbers? I harvest what is ready and plan supper around the basket. Despite the occasional run away zucchini,  the system has worked in the past. This year, however, I check the cucumber vines before dinner, moving the leaves around, picking the green fruits.  An hour later, when I run out for fresh basil, I spot yet another fruit, large and golden, lurking at the base of the trellis. How is this possible?

            My vegetable bin is full of cucumbers. I have made four varieties of pickles, all from The Joy of Pickling: bread and butter, senfgerkin, Dutch lunch spears, and quick dill. Each batch clears out the bin for a week, but then it backs up once again. Last week, I pulled all of the cookbooks off the shelf and hunted down every cucumber recipe possible. Every night, we try another, but we are not complaining. Cucumbers are summer and summer can stretch out for another month.

Cucumber Salads:

·        Cucumbers, yogurt, mint, salt and pepper.
·        Cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet onion, feta and olive oil and vinegar
·        Cucumbers, sweet onion, paprika, rice vinegar, and sugar, salt
·        Salted cucumbers with soy sauce
·        Cucumbers, dill, and vinegar
·        Chinese noodles, peanut sauce, and cucumbers