Daily Archives: August 4, 2014

PRESERVES – Dried Fruits and Veggies Edition

Okay. So I did that thing where you take all of your heaps of loose change and roll them – except that I wasn’t rolling them, I was sorting them into $5 bags of quarters and $1 bags of nickels… you get the idea.
There were… There were a lot of quarters. O.O
So what did I do with them? Among other things, I have (a) bought groceries, (b) bought coffee, and (c) bought a food dehydrator. (The rest is going to off-set the cost of a pair of protective leather motorcycle pants which I’m expecting to run me between $200 and $250 unless we happen to find a pair that are on end-of-season markdown which, of course, I’m hoping for).
BUT! Food dehydrator! 😀

I know, I know. I only just go the chest freezer up and running. But here’s the thing: While dehydrating food means having half a dozen trays of full-sized tomato-halves or peach quarters or whatever humming away at 400 watts for hours on end – basically like leaving six or seven (extra) 60w lamps on for 5-10 hours at a time – it’s still going to use waaaaaaaaaaaaaay less electricity than that gorgeous chest freezer of mine goes though on any given day. And, what with having two MAJOR appliances dedicated to food-preservation 24/7 (that being the freezer and the fridge, with its freezer-compartment on top as well)… let’s just say that the thought of a black-out has suddenly become that much scarier.
Besides, I do something like 35-50 braises (minimum) per year, on top of various slow-cooker soups and stews, and stove-top curries. Plus I tend to add dried fruit to my ever-evolving Morning Muffins recipe, sometimes to breakfast yoghurt, and frequently to other baking (e.g.: coffee cakes). The possibility of drying out some fabulous heap of tomatoes, too, has a certain appeal from the perspective of “stuff to put on pizza” (or, y’know, see above re: braises).
So I figured, Look, the food-dehydrator that I’m looking at runs about $50 before taxes, and I won’t have to pay for shipping. And if it means I never pay $16/kg for dried cranberries again, then GREAT. I figured that, since the average price for “dried apple chips” is $12/lb, putting up 4-5 (dried) pounds of free apples from the orchards of various friends (and/or Hidden Harvest Ottawa picks) will mean this item pays for itself inside of a week, once the apples start rolling in[1], never mind things like dried tomatoes[3] or dried peaches[4] (it’s rather too late for dried cherries, but I’m sure you’re getting the picture) or kale chips.
It’s true, I don’t have a tonne of pantry space floating around BUT I’m sure if I re-arrange things a little, I can make more room.
So. As you may have guessed, dear reader, I ordered a dehydrator.
And – rather sooner than I expected (like, by about 18 days O.O) my Fabulous Acquisition arrived at my door.
Right now, it’s still in its box BUT I’ll be making a trip to the local place that sells local produce (The Glebe Metro, as it happens) to see if they’ve still got those Ontario Peaches in stock. Here’s hoping!
My plan is to get two baskets, turn some of them into peach butter – because Yum – and chop the rest into eighths and put them in the dehydrator for however-many-hours (I’ll have to figure that one out) so that I’ll have dried peach chunks for use in muffins, baked desserts like pies or cakes, braises, AND (when I eventually get my hands on some sauce tomatoes) this year’s batch of tomato-peach salsa as well.
Wish me luck! 😀
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] As-you-know-bob, I use fruit butters in place of straight-up sugar in a LOT of baking, but the potential to use dried apples in baking (as opposed to dried cranberries, unless I can sort out how to sweeten them a little bit beforehand[2]) and opting for peach, pear, or pumpkin butter for the sugar-substitute – thus blending more than one fruit into my mix, basically… well, let’s say it holds a certain amount of appeal. Likewise, opting for dried apples (as opposed to fresh ones that, super-affordable though they are, tend towards a little bit pricy after they’ve been in Optimal Temperature Storage for, well, almost a year) in my braises isn’t going to hurt anybody, and will cut down on how many fresh apples I go through in a given winter, as well.
[2] Possibly this would involve halving them and tossing them with cassonade? Suggestions?
[3] We spent the weekend visiting friends – the folks who let me “tidy” their garden last September, while they were out of town – who have offered to bring a basket of tomatoes my way next time their in my neck of the woods. Awesome! Now, granted, “basket” probably means “4-10 tomatoes” rather than “20-40 pounds of tomatoes”, but still. Free tomatoes! Those things raen’t cheap!
[4] Peaches, on the other hand, I will have to buy if I want to dry them. Unless I get remarkably lucky on a Hiden Harvest Ottawa pick (unlikely – stuff fills up fast) and score some plums or something, any stone-fruit I want to dehydrate is going to have to be purchased. I’m… okay with that, actually. 🙂 I’ll make it work. 🙂

P is for Practice – Pagan Blog Project 2014

Continuing with the themes I explored in my two “O” posts, I’m looking at “practice” in the sense of “getting better at, over time, with consistent effort”. Very much like what Calamity Jane talks about in The Incredible Power of Habit. Very much like singing or meditation, cooking or tango. You get better at it, the more you try.
Erica, over at NW Edible, has an old post in-which she defends the enthusiasm of people who are crowing to the blogosphere about how they’ve just made their first batch of lacto-fermented pickles, or yoghurt, or home-made bread, or what-have-you. You know, crowing just like I do all the time (thank you for your patience). But something she says in it resonates a fair bit: The beginner is pushing back against “Normal” (or at least normative) behaviours, and she’s doing at the beginning, when those push-backs are still hard and scary.
So it is with syncing up with your local year-wheel. So it is with getting to know The Neighbours.
You don’t practice cooking by setting out to make a nine-course meal. You practice cooking by making pancakes from actual-scratch, rather than from pancake mix, on the weekend. You practice cooking by making half a dozen hard-cooked eggs and packing them in to work with leftover spaghetti (made, quite possibly, from store-bought sauce that you bravely spiced up with a handful of dried herbs and a clove of pressed garlic). And then you practice cooking some more by skipping the store-bought sauce, and dicing up a couple of tomatoes to go with those herbs and garlic instead. You do it in steps, not leaps.
And that matters.
Connecting with The Land has to happen in stages, and I don’t mean the part where it can take a while (possibly a very looooooooooong while) for the neighbours to be inclined to get to know you back . (Well, okay, that too, but…) I mean that part that you actually have control over.
It happens by taking regular walks and noticing where the moon comes up on the horizon, how it shifts over the course of a year, where the edible wild plants are growing and whether or not you can safely take them home (to eat, to transplant). It happens through noticing where the quiet places are that the houseless folks sleep, and noticing the other quiet places where they don’t, and maybe – slowly, carefully, cautiously – opening up to asking why that is[1]. It happens by paying attention – both in the sense of noticing what’s happening (listening, watching, learning), and in the sense of giving people your attention – literally paying up front – by cleaning, feeding, offering, and walking lightly where you tread.
Step one, as the Permies say, is always Observation. Learn what the site – the yard, the neighbourhood, the house, the scrub-lot – has to tell you through your senses. What do you see, hear, smells, taste (careful now), and feel on your skin? All those Lunar Cycles posts I make? Those are my Observations; my years-long, on-going recording of my neighbourhood (and, to some extent, bioregional) Wheel.
What you do beyond that, how you go about interacting with the rest of the place of-which you are a part, can go in a lot of directions. But slow-and-steady is probably your best bet. Today might be kitchen composting. Tomorrow (or next month, after you’re in the habit of not throwing your biodegradable food waste in the trash) might be kitchen composting and Foodland Ontario produce; or kitchen composting and weekly water offerings made to the tree that grows on the same parcel of land as you do.
Go in steps, but keep on going.
Practice, practice, practice, and see how far you get.
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
[1] NOTE: This doesn’t necessarily mean Asking The Spirits – although it’s potentially an option to do so. It might just mean using your eyes and ears and other less Woo senses to determine that, actually, that low hollow spot is a total cold-sink and tends to be soggy on the bottom.

New Moon – Thunder Moon Begins

I know.
Thunder Moon actually began over a week ago (last Saturday – complete with New Moon Pizza featuring roast duck, rhubarbicue (in lieu of tomato) sauce, diced green onions, shredded kale, and dried cherries – it was a really sweet pizza) and, yes, it’s been raining – less thunder and more drizzle, most of the time, but raining – for much of the week.
It’s that time of year.
Atypically (I think… I’ll have to check my records) for this time of year, though, it’s been really, really cold (for a given value of “really, really” wherein “cold” means a high of 23C rather than 36C) – right up until about yesterday, anyway. Usually it’s a lot, well, hotter than it was last week – though the temperatures have climbed back up to waht I think of as “normal”, which is nice.
None the less, the tomatoes (in my neighbourhood’s many front-yard gardens) don’t appear to be suffering, and the squash and beans continue to do their Thing in spite of the chill. So there’s that.
I’ve been checking out the plants that grow along the weedy margins of my neighbourhood – the cliff-grown scrub along Bronson, for example, and the edges of people’s un/der-tended front yards, and I’ve found (a) Catnip, (b) Soapwort / Bouncing Bet and (c) Mugwort. I didn’t even know we had mugwort growing around here. 😀 As a side note, while I’m doing roast pork for Fabulous Friday Dinner this week, if I can swing a chicken thighs to braise in the near future, I might just do it like a tagine with fresh catnip (which tastes like lemon and mint combined) and red currants thrown in with the cinnamon, paprika, sweet potatoes, onion, and cilantro.
The apple tree up the street from me is starting to drop its green-and-red apples all over the street. I put a Hidden Harvest Ottawa flyer in their mail box, and we’ll see if they call – the house is for sale, so they might not. Who knows. Hard to believe that apple season is already upon us. It feels like the summer’s going by like it’s on wings. O.O
Lammas is this weekend – we’ll be spending it on the acreage of a couple of friends of ours (the folks who let me pillage “tidy-in-exchange-for-free-veggies” their garden last year) – and its influence hangs over Thunder Moon every year. Just like the rain, the harvest comes in torrents: Ontario’s Yummy Season, I’ve heard this time of year called. Case in point: I went to the “Marche Vieux Hull” today at noon, a fairly small farmer’s market just up the street from my contract-building where people had everything from kale, patty-pan squash, and snap-peas to eggplant, garlic, and even bell peppers available. I got half a dozen baby-beets with their tops still on, a little bouquet of garlic scapes, and a moderately sized eggplant for the bargain price of $7 (which is better than I’d get for Ontario produce at the Metro, so I’ll take it). Now is the time to be bringing in those annual veggies, enjoying them fresh-and-delicious, but also preserving them to eat through the cold months ahead.
In the same vein, Thunder Moon can be a tad bit overwhelming. Maybe you’re freaking out just a little at the thought of having to stock up on Back To School supplies (for yourself or your kids), or else are running yourself ragged trying to display (and sell) your wares at the last of the big summer festivals and fairs. Maybe you’re like my wife, and the time between June and September is when you’re work-load basically triples what with all the boots coming in for repairs.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, some gentle social time – think small groups of people you know and love – might be a good way to give yourself a break (and enjoy the season’s bounty). Backyard barbicues and pot-lucks focussed on “extravagant salads”[1] are one way to do this, so are days at the beach (if you’re good with crowds and it’s not too drizzly). If some Alone Time is what you really need, getting away for an overnight camping trip (midweek, if you can swing it, ‘cause there’ll be fewer people around) might be just the ticket.
Myself, I’m hoping to spend most of Thunder Moon (starting on Tuesday, if not slightly earlier) putting up peach butter, peach chutney, and tomato-peach salsa, along with freezing golden zucchini in various forms (grated-and-drained + diced-and-blanched) for later use this winter.
Cooking is my self-care. What can I say? 😉
Meliad, the Birch Maiden.
[1] Think “grilled eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, and patty-pan squash tossed with olive oil plus fresh rosemary and lemon-thyme” or “chilled steamed beets – roots AND tops – served with goat cheese and crumbled walnuts” or “diced cucumbers with fresh dill and cilantro dressed in yoghurt” or “a rainbow of halved cherry tomatoes tossed with tiny mozzarella balls and shredded fresh basil, drizzled with balsamic vinegar” or “quinoa tossed with quick-steamed golden zucchini rounds, fresh (shelled) snap peas, fresh red currants, and shredded catmint”… You get the idea.

O is for Out of Doors – Pagan Blog Project 2014

This post relates in part to my identification as a “city witch” and is also somewhat inspired by Miss Sugar’s recent post, “Semi Civilized”.
See, me? I love being outside. Getting a solid 30-60 minutes (if not more) of outdoors time – typically achieved by walking somewhere for errand-running purposes – on the regular[1] is pretty important to my mental health.

I love going up to Champlain Lookout, or visiting the Mer Bleu bog, or taking a trip out to The Countryside to visit some of our rural-dwelling friends. But the thing about these is that they’re not really wild… exactly. Champlain Lookout is a high point, laced with board walks and gentle walking trails. Mer Bleu has a boardwalk – by necessity (you would sink and drown, fodder for paleoanthropologists in 5000 years’ time, without them) – to stroll along as you admire the bog and its (totally forbidden, alas) prolific wild blueberry patches. The homesteads of my friends are just that: Homesteads. Tamed areas of gardens and orchards surrounded by woods and wild(er) meadows, but not actually wild.
…And I like it that way. I like the not-exactly-wild of forest gardens, of stewarded landscapes, of wild things encouraged to take up residence in a tame(r) environment – like the yellow evening primrose, wild grape, and wild rose that took root, unplanned but welcomed, in the suburban postage-stamp garden I once had. I like the not-exactly-wild of domestic plants – squash, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, chard – who grow and sprawl and climb, tightly packed as any wild meadow, cheek and jowl with dandelion, plantain, garlic mustard, and wood sorrel, and thriving because of (or in spite of) it. I like the not-exactly-wild of grape and dandelion, catnip and motherwort, mustard and sorrel and lamb’s quarters and burdock: the neighbours I know. The neighbours who thrive in marginal places, like so many of my neighbours do.
So here I am.
Maybe I’ll wind up being a country witch one of these days. I’m not ruling it out. Though I’d rather stay in the heart of things and just manage to eke out an arable yard in the process.
For now though, I’m like a significant chunk of the planet: living in an urban environment. I’m put in mind of the Locavore and City Farmer books I read a few weeks ago, the premise of each being that urban people have to stop thinking of “nature” as “out there” or “far away”. Whether we’re talking food production – and, yes, I am a local foodie; yes, this is one of the ways by-which I connect with the ground, and the people, who sustain me – or religion, or just plain respect. Nature is here, where hive-dwelling mammals have built their concrete towers. We have to stop pretend that it isn’t. We have to stop pretending that we aren’t it.
I think it’s possible to “re-wild” in a city, though those changes are certainly trickier than they would be in a rural or already-wild-itself environment. Retrofitting a pre-existing house with geothermal heat and solar electricity-generation is very expensive. Disconnecting the gas heat and putting in a wood stove with a high-mass-density surround (concrete, brick, stone, iron) is scary in a “will our pipes freeze this Winter” kind of way. Switching to LEDs and Bullfrog Electric is easy. A little more expensive, maybe, but easy. Non-paraffin-based miniature lights (lard/tallow or beeswax candles/lamps, or even miniature solar garden lights, either way) are easy, and not that expensive[2]. Mirrors to reflect and increase the natural light provided by your windows is easy. Water-bath canning is easy (once you know about the Acid Rule) and a way to preserve summer’s bounty without needing a fridge or a freezer (much – use single serving jars if that’s an issue for you). Food-dehydrating is easy, too, if you have a dehydrator[3], and results in the same thing: locally grown and foraged/harvested food that will last you through the winter. Passive solar is easy – even in an apartment that doesn’t get much solar at all.
Paying attention to your local year-wheel, eating what’s in season, eating from The Land (no air quotes for me 😉 ), being neighbourly to the human and non-human, corporeal and non-corporeal people in your neighbourhood is… easy. Once you get in the habit of it.
So get in the habit of it.
Meliad the Birch Maiden
[1] Not every day, I know, but I try to do at least a little bit (10-30 minutes) of Physical Activity – whether that’s yoga, a modeling gig, biceps/triceps exercises, swimming, or just doing a quick circuit of the couple of blocks closet to my apartment (see: January).
[2] Albeit because they – at least the garden lamps – are made in China, from plastic (which comes from the same source as paraffin, so… not the best option), and shipped a long-ass way overseas.
[3] Like these, or else you can build one, if you’ve got some fairly simple materials (works best, I suspect, if you live in an area with dry heat).