Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Technology Shabbat. round two

         
  A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about technology Shabbat—the idea that we would all be better off if we just turned off our electronic devises for a day every week. At the time, it was a theoretical posting. Our computer resided in the cold basement and took ten minutes to warm up and access the Internet. Turning on technology took a serious effort. It was not hard to avoid for several days, especially if the weather was warm and the book compelling.

            This changed last winter. Two things happened. One, we had two huge snowstorms. Unlike New England, all of the Pacific Northwest shuts down for days on end when there is snow and ice. It’s rare. We don’t have snowplows. It’s cheaper just to close up shop and stay home. Stuck in the house, I turned to technology for entertainment. The other thing that changed was our technology. We acquired a mobile electronic device that allowed us access to the internet in seconds while sitting on the couch and produced a cheerful little chirp when someone contacted you. I was hooked. I spent hours looking at people’s photos of snow—people who lived a mile away, so it was, really, the same snow. We compared depths. We considered whether or not there would be school the next day. We liked each other’s snow. After two days, the cheery little chirp created a pavlovian response. I HAD to check Facebook, or email, to see what was happening. And what was happening was more photos of snow.

            When the snow melted and school was open once again, I had a newfound appreciation for my students' obsession with their phones. I understood, for the first time, why they could not just ignore that vibration during class. Something had changed in their mental wiring; I swear the cheery chirp stimulated the pleasure center of our brains. I also realized that I used my work email as a Prime Stalling Technique, checking for something interesting rather than engaging in grading papers. Even the chirp at work perked me up, although I knew it was often just the daily announcements.  I had to turn off the computer at the end of the day in order to work my way through the stack of papers on my desk. Something was not right here.

            So, last spring, I began the Technology Shabbat in earnest. Every Friday afternoon, when I come home, I check email, Facebook, my blog, and NOAA weather. By sundown, I turn off the device and place it on my desk in the cozy room, out of sight, out of mind.  And it stays off, often until Sunday afternoon.  I quickly came to like the peace of mind turning it off brought to me. And then I realized that—no offence to anyone—was not missing anything huge. Photos of cute puppies and good dinners, organizing emails, library reminders could all wait until the next day for my attention.  A day off is a good thing.


            So, if you want to contact us on Saturday, you’ll need to use old fashioned technology to do so. We still have our landline. Give us a call. If no one answers, come on over. We’re probably reading in the back yard.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Experiments with Vines

 
Vines in pots
          The warm weather has brought out the lawn mowers, lilacs, and lounging in the sun. It has also been excellent planting weather. In the past week, we have transplanted all of the starts for the summer greens bed, set out new herb plants, direct sowed a few flowers, and begun an experiment with the vining crops, like cucumbers, zucchini, and pumpkins, which like warm soils for germination and good growth.

            For the last five years, I have started these crops in four inch pots, sometimes at school, sometimes in the back yard on the potting bench, and then transplanted them in the middle of May. It keeps the starts cozy. They also appreciated the protection from slugs and pill bugs. It is a functional system. Last year, I put them out a few weeks earlier and covered them with min-cloches made from gallon milk jugs. They really liked the extra warmth. This year, I have an experiment.

            One set of seeds--- three each of all of the vining crops—were sowed directly in the ground. I turned over just that spot in the bed, planted, and then covered the seeds with a gallon jug to keep the soil warm and a little dry.  Keeping off the rain cuts down on the slug activity. The cover also keeps the cats from digging up the seeds and the rabbit from eating the new leaves.  The other set of seeds is planted in four inch pots, sitting on the potting bench. I need both sets to germinate for full crop production, but, because I started a few weeks early, if the garden beds do not survive, I can plant in pots and recoup my losses. It may even benefit the zucchini to be staggered.

            I am curious to see if, in July, it really matters. If I can direct seed and cloche cover, it saves a step, especially during warm springs like this one. However, the potting system is more flexible, allowing me to start the seeds according to the moon, not the occasional dry spell. We shall see.

Sticky Buns
Vines in bed


I use about a third of the recipe for my bread. Whole dough works better, texturally.


Melt two tablespoons of butter. While waiting, roll out the chunk of dough into a rectangle. Spread butter over all, then sprinkle with brown sugar. The dough needs to be evenly covered, but not thickly. Cover the sugar with coarsely chopped hazelnuts and a handful of raisins. Roll into a log, cut into six pieces, and place, standing up so you can see the roll, in a pie pan. Allow to rise for half an hour, bake in a 350 degree oven until golden and meltly, and flip onto a plate. Do not eat too soon or you will burn your mouth!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Moments of Being Happy

Saturday afternoon, for a series of complex reasons, I was left at our local coop with the groceries, near the magazines, for about ten minutes. I picked up Mother  Earth Living, one of those healthy life-style magazines, and landed on the page “How to Be More Happy.” Get a good night’s sleep. Eat well. Focus on the positive.  These are the positive moments of the last week.

Thursday afternoon, Parent Teacher conferences.
Not my favorite activity. They are exhausting.

I look up to see a mother-son pair heading my way. The student was totally lost first semester, but has done a 180 and is shining this semester. His work is in on time. He comes early to ask me questions. He talks with everyone. He sits down with his mom. His shoulders are back, his head up. He makes eye contact. We all smile. I compliment him on his radical change of behavior. “What happened?” I ask. His mother nods. She is also wondering. “I didn’t like not doing well,” he said. “I always got As and bad grades weren’t me. I decided I needed to work harder.” I cannot stress how unusual this is—for a ninth grade boy, on his own, to decide to do better and follow through on it. It speaks well for his future. His mother and I listen. She nods proudly. He son will be ok.

Saturday morning.

On Saturday, despite a downpour, we head for the hills and a long loop walk on logging roads through the OSU forest. There are Bleeding Heart and Fawn Lilies along the roadside. The moss is fat on the Douglas fir trees and sparkles in the sun. Dogs run ahead of their owners. I can hear the voices of my companions solving the world’s problems behind me, but I am not interested. The steady pace of the walk, rising and falling along the ridgeline, is peaceful. I have never been good at sitting meditation, but the rhythm of  walking clears my mind.

Sunday.

After heavy showers and clouds all week, the day is clear. I mow and trim out the backyard and consider, once again, how much bigger it looks when mowed. After raking and replacing the chairs, I check on the beehive—comb, pollen, honey, and the queen is out of her box. The hive is buzzing, but not aggressive. I cut off one branch to increase the  amount of sun on their front stoop and settle in with a book and my notebooks, dreaming of plants. In the garden, the leeks, spring greens, and peas are growing. Tulips and alliums are blooming, and the bees have discovered the comfrey and wild hyacinth blooms.  One cat perches on the cinder block in the flower bed; the other curls up on a blanket draped over a chair. The bunny chows on the freshly mowed grass. The world is peaceful.

Whipping cream will not splatter!

Coconut Cream Pie: This makes many people happy

Three parts— prebaked crust, pastry cream, and whipped cream, made in that order.

Pastry Cream:

1.5 c milk
1T butter
Start to warm in the pan. When the butter melts, it is ready.

Meanwhile, whisk six egg yolks, from backyard eggs, into .5 c milk, .25 c cornstarch, and .5 c of sugar.

Pour this mixture into the warmed milk and stir. Slowly heat the whole mixture, stirring regularly, until it thickens. Pour off into a bowl, add a splash of vanilla and a large handful of dried coconut, cover with plastic to avoid the film, and cool overnight.  Assemble right before eating.

Lap the bowl when done.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

I decided, this year, to change up the way I made the Hot Cross Buns for our annual pagan/Easter celebration. For years, I have made a rich dough with sugar and butter, kneaded the mass twice, shaped the rolls and baked them the night before. The problem was, rolls sweetened with sugar tend to dry out a bit overnight. I wasn’t happy with the results, but I was not willing to wake up early enough to start them on Easter morning. I love my friends—but not that much. I just put a little more cream cheese on the tops.

This year, I decided to address the issue head on and made several changes.  First, I decided to use the wet dough into the fridge method, rather than the heavy kneading system. This cut down the preparation time from hours—knead, rest, knead, shape, rest, bake—to minutes. Measure ingredients, stir, rest overnight, and shape the buns in the morning. When you are looking at

 HCB for 18 people, this is a vast improvement.  Three loaves of bread dough in a lump is a challenge to knead well. It also allowed me to easily bake the buns in the morning, so that they were fresh and soft when people arrived.

Second, I added some whole wheat flour to the mix—2:1 white to fresh ground whole wheat. This improved the texture considerably. I changed out the butter for oil, which was a milder flavor, and did not add milk to the mix, but just water. The eggs came from the back yard. The most significant change in ingredients, however, was the shift from sugar to honey. Honey naturally retains moisture in baked goods, including bread. A Whole Wheat Honey loaf is golden and soft, slightly sweet, and very long lasting.

Finally, we had two spreads for the HCB. They are always crossed with a sweetened orange cream cheese, but I also put out the jar of lemon curd that was left over from Christmas. Nothing is bad with lemon curd on it.

NEW Hot Cross Bun recipe:

This should make about 24-28 buns, depending on how you divide the dough.

3 cups of water
1.5 T yeast
1.5 T salt
3 c ww flour
4.5 c white flour
1/3 c honey
¼ c canola oil
2 eggs
1 T cinnamon
1t cloves
2/3 cup of chopped apricots


Whisk yeast into water. Stir all other ingredients in until well combined.  Let set out while you decorate the hard boiled eggs, about two hours. Put in the fridge overnight, covered with a plastic bag. In the morning, cut into bun sized pieces, shape, allow to rise for half an hour, and bake until done. Remember that honey browns quickly and does not indicate doneness. When cool, frost.