Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Veg Bags

            Twenty five years ago, I wanted a salad spinner, but did not have room—or the money—to buy one. So, I made one. I took one of the cloth storage bags I had made for backpacking (why buy fancy ones when you can sew them for free from scraps?), put the washed greens in it, took it outside, and swung it around my head by the drawstring. Voila— clean, dried  lettuce with a pre-soaked storage bag for the left-overs. And it was fun.I never looked back.

            Now, I have a whole series of bags. The old ones finally died, so I broke out the sewing machine last summer and made some new ones. I made several from old—or kind of tacky—dish towels that I was not using. The thicker terry cloth material works really well for salad greens. I have a large one from an old tablecloth with a hole in the middle that holds huge leaves of mustard and kale, as well as smaller cooking greens. And then there are some scraps of cotton cloth bags that corral carrots, beets, and mushrooms from market to table. I weave shoelaces through a tube in the top of the bag for drawstrings so that I can pull the bag closed.

            I have found that these cloth bags work much better than plastic. Greens rot and grow slimy in plastic bags because they cannot breathe. They dry out—or tumble out of the refrigerator at awkward times—when left unwrapped and held together by the wire wrappers, which bruise the stems. But in a dampened cloth bag, greens last for over a week—which is all I ask from a vegetable. Even root crops are happier.  If one does dry out, or grow nasty because it was pushed to the far back corner of the shelf, I toss the bag into the wash and use it again. And then, when we go hiking and I need one more bag to hold the last day’s food—there they are, ready and waiting to hit the trail.           

Shepard's Pie

Boil and mash four or five medium sized potatoes for the crust.

Saute two portbello mushrooms, a mediums onion, carrots, cauliflower, and peas or corn. Add salt, pepper,  and dried basil. Throw in a handful of grated cheddar cheese at the end, if you feel decadent.

Put cooked veggies in a casserole, top with the mashed potatoes, and bake until bubbly. Eat with salad.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Tu B'Shevat and Seed Catalogs

          The season is changing. Snowdrops are blooming, the solar panels are working more and seeds are ordered.

            Last weekend, we gathered to order seeds—four friends, some tea and lemon bars, and our seed catalogs. It was pouring out. People ran for the door hiding under plastic bags, tucking seed boxes under arms, and shook the water off when they came in. It was loud on the roof in the dining room. No one m indeed. We had seeds on our minds. Several had already made lists, other lists were made during discussion.  Seed packets flew around the table. I tracked orders on my big yellow pad. We talked varieties, past successes, and big plans for the coming season. When we broke up, we had a master order together—and I placed it the next night. They should be here soon.

            After the seed fest, I went to the TuB’Shevat with my friend Maureen. It is a lovely ritual celebrating “the sap rising in the trees” and the very beginnings of Spring. There are readings, chants, blessings, and ritual fruits as we move from the hard-shelled world of the body to the world of pure spirit. The table is covered with various fruits, fresh and dried, and it combines a little of the harvest with hopes for the coming year. This year, there was an underlying concern about the impact of climate change on the human and plant communities of the world.

            When I came home, Mark filled the greenhouse tub with hot water. After dinner, I soaked in the tub, and watched the full moon rise through the foggy windows. I dreamed of seeds started on the shelves inside and planted in the beds outside my windows, then came in for a long, still winter’s night sleep.

I made the Whole Lemon Bars from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which I am loving for gatherings. It's a little fussy for every day!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Breakfast for Dinner

 El Nino Years can be challenging.

I miss the sky.
The basement is flooded.
The house smells of wet basement and an old fire.
The backyard is flooded and muddy. So muddy. So very muddy. Even with new stepping stones, which are now under water.
The world is too wet to prune or build beds.
The cats are restless, sniping at each other, and pooping under The Ark.
The bunny is SAD. She wants out.
All of our coats and shoes are damp.
The chickens are not laying because there is not enough light.
I have not seen the bees since November. I think they died.
There is no solar gain or solar power.
The Ark’s rug is sodden.
My best seed catalog has gone AWOL.
Jeans are not drying, so we are wiggling around the drying rack for days.
My students are dim, staring out the window, and quiet.

We need Breakfast for Dinner. French Toast with the last two eggs.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Our Daily Bread

          There are two foods that we make at home every week that are essential to our health and well- being—yogurt and bread. Both are incredibly simple to make, much tastier than any store bought version, and reduce packaging waste in ways that I did not realize until I shifted to making my own.

            I have always baked bread at home. It was my second culinary experiment, following the birthday cake with pink paprika frosting. My mother told me, over and over, that the paprika she sprinkled on my potatoes was “just for color” and had no flavor. I believed her. She was wrong, as we discovered with her Mother’s Day cake. I used the recipe in the 1958 Betty Crocker Cookbook that I adored.  I mixed, kneaded, proofed, shaped, and baked two loaves of white bread on a Winter Saturday afternoon and I was hooked. For thirty years, I followed the basic recipe I learned then. Fresh bread was a staple of my college existence and I only stopped baking  my own when I worked at Ceres Bakery—I ate Shelly’s bread then.

            Five years ago, we shifted to a slow rise method of bread baking. It is much easier, tastier, and better for our digestive track. Because the dough rises overnight, it is not rushed. It does not need extra gluten to hold firm. It does not produce extra gas. It is easy to digest. We love it. It also lends itself to dozens of variations—combinations of flours, added sweeteners and dried fruits, nuts and seeds, eggs and honey….the options are endless.

  This is our daily bread:

  1. In the blue ceramic bowl, sprinkle a tablespoon and a half of yeast and cover with three cups of warm—never hot—water. Whisk. Add six and a half cups of flour—we use half hard red wheat white flour and half home ground whole wheat from Greenwillow Grains, our local wheat farmers—and a tablespoon and a half of salt. Mix with a long spoon. The dough will be wet.
  2.  Cover the bowl with a re-used plastic produce bag and leave on the counter. Two hours is the goal, but it’s flexible. If it sits out for three, it’s fine. It should be about doubled.
  3. Toss in the refrigerator overnight. It can sit there for up to a week without harm, although it will tasty a little more yeasty later in the week and the dough may be a little grey. No worries, however. Its still good.
  4. Take out half of the dough. It may need to be sprinkled with a bit of flour if it is sticky. Work fast! Shape into a ball. Toss some cormnmeal onto your sheet pan, which has no edges so the bread can slide off.
  5. Let the bread rise and relax for about half an hour. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  6. Slide your loaf onto a baking stone placed on the bottom rack—mine is always in place. Bake until it sounds hollow when thumped, which is about 40 minutes.
  7. Eat.

You can also use the dough for pizza, bread sticks rolled in cheese and chilies, sticky buns—anything that needs a slow raised dough.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Homemade Yogurt, simplified.

            I’ve been making yogurt for years. It is not a complicated process requiring specialized equipment! I use a large pot, large bowl, canning jars, a small beer cooler, and a cooking thermometer, all of which I already had.. My recipe came from Sunset magazine.  It is amazing. Homemade yogurt is significantly better than store bought  (and cheaper). It is light and delicate. No need for sugar; it has not had time to sour. Pair it with some homemade cinnamon walnut blueberry granola and you are styling.

So here’s the process, which takes about ten minutes:
            Start the kettle to boil two quarts of water, which will keep your yogurt warm while setting up.
            Heat 4 cups of milk to 180 degrees. I use homogenized whole milk from the grocery store. Some of the brands with cream on top do not work as well; I am not happy with skim milk, either.
            Cool the milk to around 120 degrees—I put it in a sink with some ice water and stir occasionally.
            Add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt from the last batch or from a single serving container of plain yogurt that you like.
            Pour into a quart canning jar.
          Put into small cooler with the two quart jars of hot water for 8-10 hours. In the winter, when the cooler is chilly, I pre-heat it beforehand with some of the boiling water.
            Put the jar in the fridge to stop the fermenting process. Leave it for twelve hours.

The trickiest part is not having the kettle boil right when the yogurt is ready to be poured into the jar.

Occasionally, something goes wrong with the process. When I first started making yogurt, I would throw it out. Now I have learned to let it sit a while longer. Ninety percent of the time, it sets up just fine.

Give it a try. It is worth the effort—and you do not need the   huge hairbun.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Living within Our Limits: Tracking solar Consumption and Production

            For the next year, we will be tracking our electric usage and consumption each week—production and consumption. I will take the data weekly, but calculate the chart for daily average. This will allow us to smooth out some of the challenges and spikes in usage and give a clearer picture of what is happening. I know that we would forget—or not be home—to take a daily reading. We have already missed days and the set-up is new. I know that we will also be gone for a couple of weeks during the summer. So, a weekly (or occasionally bi-weekly) reading allows us to adjust for these contingencies; we just change to formula from seven days to eight. It also smoothes out the spikes of an occasional snow day, when I am trapped in the house by sleet and ice on the sidewalks, and turn on the oven, radio, and internet, as well as several lights!

            We started on the longest night of the year—December 21st. The two weeks of Yule are our highest usage for the entire year. We are both home. There is holiday baking and lights and music. It is dim in the house by three-thirty and we turn on the lights and we stay up later (no school the next day). Production is also at its lowest. The sun barely reaches the panels until about one-thirty. Being Oregon, there is considerable cloud cover in December, although we do have a few glorious days of bright blue sky. We are located right near the 45th parallel, which is the equivalent of Calais, Maine, right where the state leaves the ocean and heads North. It can be dark. The opposite is also true—June will be a glorious month for solar production!

            The chart of production and consumption will ride as a banner for the year. I am hoping, by making the information public, to help us learn to live within our limits.

Beets and Greens over pasta
Sunbow  Farm has had lovely baby beets for the past month. We have been eating them every week.

Start pasta water.
Chop a small onion and begin cooking in olive oil. Trim the beets from the greens. Peal the beets and chop in a medium small dice. Add to onions. Chop the greens and add. Cover and cook until tender. Season with fresh ground pepper and some salt, if you are not using feta cheese.

Cook half a pound of whole wheat spaghetti. Drain, plate, crumble feta cheese over it, and cover with beets and greens.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

2016 Goals

Work for Change: Listen more than talk. Two ears, one mouth.

 Improve Recordkeeping: weekly notes on electric usage and production and garden notes.

Clear out the yarn stash: at least twelve small knitted projects to give away next December.

Garden Greens in the winter.

Spanakopita: Christmas Dinner

Thaw a package of filo dough and two bags of chopped spinach.

Sauté a large onion in olive oil. Add some salt, pepper, and oregano.  When almost soft, add the spinach.

Melt two tablespoons of butter and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Meanwhile, mix five eggs, a pound of cottage cheese, two cups of cottage cheese in a large bowl. Add the onions and spinach.

Working carefully, lay down two sheets of filo dough, brush with melted butter, and repeat several times. Spread the cheese and spinach mixture. Layer more filo dough on top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in a 350 oven until done. Eat. Freeze any leftovers for an emergency dinner in Febuary.