Thursday, June 30, 2011

cheesy pull apart herb bread

this was tonight's tasty creation, made from whatever i had on hand, to be breakfast tomorrow. i'm kind of amazed i had all of this since tomorrow's payday and i haven't grocery shopped in two weeks. this is put together much like a cinnamon pull-apart bread i made a while back that was AMAZING. you roll out the dough, spread on the filling of your choice (much like making sticky buns) and then cut it into squares, stack them up, place vertically in a loaf pan and when it's done you'll have pre-sliced bread already spread with tasty stuff! you do have to have some kind of fat in the filling to keep the pieces separated but that's pretty easy to do. you can see here i'm mostly relying on the whole-fat cheese. i added the mayo mainly to make it more spreadable. i possibly could have used milk to keep the fat content down but i didn't think of it. this is a treat snack, not a healthy one. you could use whatever cheeses and herbs you have on hand. would work nicely with some minced olives, roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes or spinach in the filling. you can also go the sweet direction and use fruit and brown sugar and butter (remove the garlic powder or i'll laugh at you a lot for not having enough sense to be allowed in a kitchen)

3/4 cup sourdough starter (or more warm water, i was just trying to use up the starter instead of throwing half out when i fed it)
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 Tbs instant yeast (could have upped to 3/4 Tbs)
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbs garlic powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs oil or butter
2 cups flour

1 cup shredded cheese (i used half low-fat cheddar, half coriander gouda but whatever)
3 Tbs half-fat mayo
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (i used rosemary, thyme, dill, sage, oregano, and basil since that's what's available in the garden right now)
1 Tbs dijon mustard
1/3 cup cream cheese (i used mostly light plain and a bit of tomato-basil that was left over)
1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes

mix the starter, water, yeast, and sugar. let sit for a few min to get all bubbly
add the salt, garlic, and oil, stir briefly, then mix in flour. i suggest starting with 1 1/2 cups and adding more as needed to make a soft dough that's not too sticky. warning: making it too dry when you used sourdough starter makes it take AGES to rise
while it's rising mix all ingredients for filling and adjust to taste, you may need to warm for 30 seconds in the microwave.
let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, then stretch/roll out on a floured counter to about 1/8-1/4" thick. mine ended up being about 18" square, give or take.
spread the filling evenly on the dough, then cut into little 2-3" squares. they don't have to be perfect.
grease your loaf pan, then create little stacks of squares. i usually do about 4. hold the pan at an angle so you can put in the stacks without them falling over too much
let rise in a warm place again until doubled in size, then bake at 350 for about 25-30 min or until golden brown.
mine actually took overnight to rise but i think that's because the yeast i added was fighting with the yeast in my sourdough starter and both were inhibited by the fat in the filling. next time i may skip the starter or skip the yeast and plan better but this was still herby cheesy flavorful goodness!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

the story of imaginary money

i'm practicing my storytelling skills. can i tell you a story?
once upon a time people bartered for everything. if you needed an object you couldn't produce yourself, or needed help doing something you couldn't do alone, you had to not only find someone who had the skills or good you needed, but also arrange to trade them for something that they needed. there wasn't any money. if you raised chickens but didn't have enough land to grow grain, then you might trade some chickens or eggs to your neighbor who had more grain then he needed but no eggs or meat. large portions of the world still operate this way and there is a revival happening in our own society of trading goods and skills instead of money.
at some point, someone decided that this was a bit cumbersome so why don't we use items that are worth more but are smaller and easier to carry, store, protect, etc and have a standard that says about how much each item is "worth" in terms of, say, gold or silver. gold and silver have value of their own, of course. you can make things out of them and they have useful scientific traits such as conductivity, etc. they're also shiny and pretty and rare, so people like them. they're easy to carry around and can be standardized fairly easily. so far so good. you cannot eat gold and you're adding another step in the transaction process but you also don't have to carry chickens around and if the person with the grain doesn't want any more chickens, you have something else they will value. you can just go trade your chickens to someone else for gold and take your gold to the guy with the grain.
somewhere along the line people decided that gold was too inconvenient as well, so maybe we should store all that gold somewhere safe, and instead of carting it around, we'll get a little note from the guy who's holding onto it, saying how much we have. then we can trade the notes and whoever has the note can go to the guy who holds the gold and get it back anytime he likes, right? well, so far ok as long as the guy holding the gold can be trusted by everyone (uh...huh). people also decided that maybe that guy can just hold onto our notes and keep track of how much everyone has so they can't be stolen or lost or anything, right? we'll pay him a little percentage to take care of them for us.
we were using the notes for so long that we kinda forgot the gold existed, since no one had taken any out in so long. eventually the guys holding the gold, and the guys in charge of them, decided that there wasn't enough notes for everything they needed and that the gold wasn't really important anymore. the gold that represented the chickens and the grains, remember? they started printing more notes then there was gold to back it up. or chickens. or grains. so now the notes are representing, what exactly? if you said stupidity, you're correct! and not just a few more notes. a LOT more notes. and they didn't tell anyone. no one knew for a long time. by the time anyone found out they figured it didn't matter anymore.
moving on we enter the computer age! the guy holding the (not enough) gold doesn't have to keep paper records anymore of who has how much, he can just write it down on a computer and then it takes up less space and can bring up the info more easily. computers never have errors or anything, right? no more wondering if that is a number 7 or a number 9! everyone has perfect typing skills too, right? and they couldn't be affected by power outages or hackers or...hmmm, is this really a good idea, guys? now instead of chickens and grain, or an hour of skilled labor, we have a bunch of 1's and 0's on a computer somewhere. as you can imagine, that made it really easy to also create bigger numbers that have no physical things to back them up. a LOT bigger numbers.
while the banks are busily creating money that has nothing at all to back it up, they can now lend you some! if you promise to pay it back in a certain amount of time and give them a percentage more then what you borrowed, and give them rights to take something physical of yours if you don't pay them back their 1's and 0's that have nothing physical to back them up. wait a second....
now not just the banks want in on this lending of 1's and 0's for the exchange of more of them and possibly your physical stuff too. other people want to get in on that. guys like visa and mastercard. they're buddies with the banks and they back each-other up to try to sound like this is all totally normal and legit. they'll lend you smaller amounts of this pretend money, and usually you don't have to agree that they can take your house or whatever, but you have to pay them back a pretty large percentage more then what you borrowed. you can also only borrow from them if they can check with their buddies and make sure you usually pay things back. they like it when you do so really slowly so they get a bigger cut.
people are impatient. they like being able to buy things now instead of waiting to save up. it's considered the norm that you'll borrow at least some money, especially for big things like a house. let this go long enough and it all seems so normal and ok that now you have to check with all these guys in order to do lots of things, like rent an apartment (which you don't own), or get some jobs (that you need to pay those guys). if you've never borrowed anything from any of these guys, that's almost as bad as borrowing and not paying them back. if you've never worked with their... interesting... businesses, then they don't want anything to do with you. they're kinda like cliquey 14 year old girls shunning the new kid.
since the banks are the ones who lend the money for buying big things like land (why can you "own" land but you can't "own" air?), and it takes ages to pay them back, the banks are the ones who currently "own" most of the land, since it's their imaginary money that paid for your right to live on it, not the blood and sweat you put into it or the fact that it is your primary source of survival resources. and all land is "owned" by someone, right?
anyone else confused? really makes me long for something clean and real and honest. until i can "buy" some land of my own to care for and have it care for me, want to trade my fresh baked bread for an hour of swing dance lessons?

I caved!

i couldn't do it anymore. after 3 months, i washed my hair. at the two month mark where i last posted about it, i was doing pretty well. since then it went steadily downhill until it was greasy and weighted down and felt rough and terrible. i haven't worn my hair down in at least two weeks. even if no one else could see the difference, it was driving me crazy! what is the point of having waist-length fiery red hair if you have it pulled up in a bun every day? i feel kinda bad that the experiment failed. part of this was testing what my body is capable of on it's own and it makes me a bit sad to know that i'm not at all happy with the results. i suppose that's a bit unreasonable since mammals never exist in a vacuum and we all need food and water and warmth to survive. in order to be happy and healthy we also need other things, like shampoo :P, or at least i do. lots of other people have done fine with this for years and years and i don't doubt that it works for them wonderfully. i'm glad that i tried this since i did learn some things and readjusted my attitudes and challenged myself. i'm also glad that i can go to lush tomorrow and buy minimally packaged, environmentally friendly, wonderful smelling shampoo. moving towards even more sustainablility, i'll be trying out making soap on friday and from there maybe solid hair care so look forward to a blog entry about that no matter how it turns out.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

slut shaming starts early

i was watching some dance clips on youtube the other day and came across 2 i found thought provoking. the first has 7 year olds dancing to "single ladies" in a very energetic and sexual manner:

the second group looks about 11-13 maybe and that had an even more visceral response for me since i found it both beautiful and attractive:

while they are undoubtedly talented, several people immediately found it disturbing to see anything sexual done by girls this young and objected to both their costumes and their movements. i admit that initially it threw me a bit as well, but why should it? their dance is empowering and life affirming. if an adult finds it arousing, the fault is not with the 7 year old! somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that we are sexual creatures FROM BIRTH. finding something attractive does not mean you would ever abuse that child. finding their aesthetic and movements beautiful is not inappropriate. there seems to be a lot of blaming the parents and coaches for allowing free-thinking young girls to dress and act in a way they find positive. have we really started slut shaming this early? if you found those videos disturbing, i suggest taking off your society-approved-judgment hat for a moment, put on your artist-seeing-talent-and-beauty hat, and try again. i know i couldn't do what these girls are doing and i have 4 years of formal dance training. their costumes are appropriate to the number they're performing and allow you to see their body movements. if it helps, think of the 7 year olds as playing dress-up and the 11 year olds testing the waters of womanhood. then try to remember how you felt at those ages. if you were mentally and physically healthy, you were not dead from the waist down until puberty. children deserve credit to not only make their own decisions and stand by them, but to own their bodies, their sexuality, and their emotions as full humans taking on responsibilities as they are capable. we do them a disservice by insisting they be cut off from all sexuality until we arbitrarily decide they're ready for it (or decide as adults they WE'RE ready for them to be sexual). sexuality does not just mean having sex. it has to do with how we see ourselves in our bodies, our genders, how we react to other people, our personal power, and many other factors. if you've ever assumed that a baby wearing pink is a girl and wearing blue must be a boy, you have participated in this. wouldn't it be a lot healthier to answer sexual questions as they're asked, allow kids to test the waters of their actions, and blame pedophiles for child abuse instead of kids who like to dance, or the parents and coaches who encourage them?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

start a mini farm in your windows

we harvested our first three snow peas last night! what a wonderful way to start the solstice! they were amazingly fast too, i planted those from seed on mother's day. i don't think there's anything more satisfying in life then enjoying the fruits of your own labors: the veggies you grew from seed, the sweater you knitted, the cider you brewed, the wonderful cat you raised from a baby, the relationship you nurtured and saw through hard times. anything you had a hand in creating from scratch fills you up in a way that nothing you buy or passively consume ever could. growing your own food is a revolutionary and primal act that sustains your basic needs without any outside interferance needed.
want to grow things but you live in an apartment with no balcony? i feel your pain. some cities have community gardens but mine doesn't. even if it does you would need to either visit every day to water in the warmer months or set up some kind of drip irrigation system on a timer. not all community gardens will allow that and it's a bit expensive and fiddly for a beginner. you could ask your landlord to use the roof but that's still a pain in the ass and lots of buildings wont allow it. you could pirate garden by adopting a piece of land close by that no one is loving and just plant there whether the owner likes it or not. i approve of this but haven't had the guts to try it yet and you need a water source close by. be sure to ask any friends who have yards if you can landscape it for them and share the harvest but in the absence of that we have windows. and boxes therefor.
our apartment is blessed with lots of south-west facing windows that get solid sun for a good 6 hours a day and then indirect sun for the later afternoon and evening. we also have two more west facing bedroom windows that get more like 4 hours a day and indirect for the rest of the time. it's important to take note of how much sun you get and at what times. this decides what you can grow. most veggies require at least 6 hours. if you get less then that you'll be better off with lettuce and other partial shade lovers.
assuming you get enough sun, you have to find plants that are compact unless you want your living room overrun with squash vines (which i also approve of, but it's not very practical) and if your windows don't open at the bottom your plants will have to put up with a fair amount more heat and dryness then they would on the outside sill (which you should do if possible, you can even skip watering when it rains).
i'm a believer that beginners should be set up to succeed. you can experiment more when you have a handle on the basics and won't assume you're just not a gardener if one of your plants doesn't do well. i suggest making the best use of your space that you can. all our windows have boxes and i also have a table acting as a plant stand at the same level as one box and i'll be transplanting into some hanging planters to go more virtical. don't overwhelm yourself, but don't only plant one thing either. three big boxes are a good start. make sure they are in places you see every day. our bedroom planters get neglected much more then the ones in the living room. get soil that retains a good amount of moisture since boxes dry out quickly, and if you can get or make compost, all the better. one of the most important things i've learned as a gardener is to stop fucking fiddling so much. these are living things. by definition, they will never be perfect. they don't have to be and they will still be wonderul. so your peas are curling around your zucchini plants a bit. is everyone still alive and happy and producing? then so what? so your thyme is overgrowing your mint more then you thought it would. eat more thyme and let it go. both these things are happening in my garden right now, btw, and it's still beautiful and healthy and productive.
here are a few easy plants that you shouldn't have much trouble with:

*lettuce! start from seed and get a loose leaf variety instead of a tight head type and you can extend the harvest all spring, summer, and early fall by eating the outside leaves only of big plants and the whole thing of little plants your thinning out. i planted quite densely (way closer together then the pkg says) and have been trying to thin out as they get too crowded. in this way you "eat your way to equalibrium" until you just have a few full sized plants. we didn't keep on top of it very well to be honest and fairly soon i think i'll just harvest the last scrappy ones and plant fresh. lots of these varieties go from seed to table in 45 days or less so it's no trouble to replant if it's not going so well, even if that's in mid july. they will also put up with partial shade as they get a bit wilty in tons of sun. make sure they don't get too dry. homegrown lettuce actually has a distinct flavor instead of the water-filled heads you find wrapped in plastic at safeway, and it doesn't just decompose in the fridge since you pick right before you eat.

*tomatoes! get little seedlings as soon as they appear in your stores. starting from seed is fiddly and you have to do it really early. this is the first year i'm trying it and it works, but it's not beginner material. make sure you get one that's labled "patio" or "bush" so it's a compact and well behaved little plant. i recommend cherry tomatoes since they produce an insane amount of fruit for the size of the plant and most will keep producing all summer as opposed to only having one harvest of big fruits. they like lots of sun and soil that will retain some moisture since they hate drying out completely. if you think you don't like tomatoes, try them anyways. the ones you grow yourself are a completely different creature from anything at the grocery store. they're sweet and rich and complex and juicy. they're my favorite vegetable to grow, hands down. don't get too fussed with the million tips and tricks and instructions online, none of that is really needed. only stake them up if they're falling over, give them plenty of sun and water and good soil, add a sprinkle of used coffee grounds if you like, and let them do their thing.

*herbs! these are SO expensive if bought fresh but so much tastier and healthier! again, start with little seedlings for most things, make sure they get plenty of sun and water but some like to dry out a bit between soakings. herbs are often a little masochistic. they really like being harvested too, the more you pick, the more they bush out. most do best if you pinch off right above a pair of leaves, which will then each become new branches. i highly recommend basil, rosemary, oregano, mint, and thyme for being super easy and abundant but grow what you'll actually eat since you'll have a ton of it. towards the end of the season you can do one last big harvest and dry it for winter really easily. you can fit at least 3 types of herb in one good sized window box.

*peas! i like snow peas but any type of bean or pea grows quickly and easily. start them from seed with good sun and soil that will hold moisture. they're very forgiving and can be trained to grow up the window if you get a vine type instead of a bush type. i strung fishing line back and forth across the window as a trellis and now we have a living curtain. if you pick the pods as soon as they're ready the plants will keep making more. stop harvesting and they'll assume they're done and stop producing. i'm going to let a few fully mature at the end of the season to save for next year's planting. they also have the advantage of putting nutrients back into the soil so the next thing you plant will do even better. you can plant a fair bit more densely then the package says, mine are only about 4 inches apart and doing fine. they'll grab anything close to them so if you want to be able to move around their neighbors then watch them closely.

there's a whole world of other easy plants out there. be sure to plant things you'll actually eat, don't just go crazy with everything that will grow in your conditions. don't buy the cheepest soil you can find, you get what you pay for. if your area doesn't have a proper plant nursery (mine doesn't) then check hardware stores, florists, farmers markets, etc. the best places around here are two dollar stores who also sell flowers and a little neighborhood market that has a greenhouse out back. the best sources i've found for planters and soil are those dollar stores as well but our local rona is fairly pathetic.
i never feel like i get to take credit for my garden, to be honest. i didn't do an awful lot of work. it was the plant that grew the peas, not me. it's an everyday miracle that i can put seeds in soil, add water, and have food in under two months. it amazes me every time. i feel the same about the transformation from apple juice to alcohol with just the addition of sugar and yeast, the creation of clothing from yarn and sticks, the birth of mammals from the start of two cells. this is why creativity is good for your spirit. it fills you will the awe of life and connects you to the world around you. grow some greens and you will also nurture your own heart and soul with gratitude and joy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

on feminisism and image

you'll have to forgive me for semi-incoherent ranting as i'm very tired and hungry at the moment. i'll be more cognitive once i've eaten.
i took a look at my wardrobe the other day and saw an interesting divide. i seem to have clothes that i wear to the office and clothes that i wear on my days off. fairly normal some would say but this isn't actually because of a dress code. i fairly flagrantly ignore my company's dress code a lot of the time and i think they haven't found the guts to say anything about it yet. if/when they do i'll have lots of pithy responses to the effect of finding their behavior unprofessional since they are valuing someone's aesthetic over their worth as a person and an employee. but i digress, the main reason for the divide is one of how i want people to see me while i'm at work. while there i tend to wear yoga pants and t-shirts, makeup, and very rarely any jewelry or anything colourful or interesting that is more in keeping with what i think looks good. it's not uncommon that i think i look frumpy and drab when i leave in the morning with my hair pulled out of the way and as plain a style as i can tolerate. i then try to counter this a bit by putting on makeup on the train into the office and this is partially a form of masking; i feel a little more confident and safe going into a hostile situation when i know that at least my face looks a little prettier then i do naturally even if the rest of me doesn't. like it or not, this world caters to those who are physically pretty. some days i really don't feel like doing this and might even think i look just fine that day without any paint but i still do it. partially out of habit and partially because if go without now i'll get a plethora of irritating comments.
on my days off i sometimes wear the same uniform, but really only if i'm cleaning or running errands and the like. if i'm just out enjoying myself (or home doing the same) i can often be found wearing a medieval style dress or a long flowing skirt, jewelry, sometimes flowers in my hair, and rarely any makeup. i don't feel the need to armor myself against the world when i'm choosing what i do and who i interact with. these clothes are comfortable and beautiful to me and it seems a shame to just keep them for special occasions that don't come until said clothes are moth-eaten and no longer fit (noticed moth holes in my clothes recently, we need cedar sachets!)
this has gotten me thinking about my definition of femininity and how it makes me feel in relation to other people. i feel uncomfortable wearing feminine clothes at the office because i work in a strongly male-dominated field and i fear i wont be taken seriously if i'm seen as an attractive woman instead of a talented tech. i often get the feeling that people think you can be one or the other but not both. it's strange that i do wear makeup to work then since that's such a girly piece of dress, but i see it as a mask of protection. a way to separate and camouflage while i have to hang out with these horrible shallow people. i don't bother and i like my naked face a lot more when i'm doing what i want.
this also makes me a bit uncomfortable with wearing dresses and skirts and the like on my days off. does my view of clothing make me less of a feminist? sometimes wearing the things i think are pretty makes me feel like i'll be seen as weak. am i claiming my femininity when i'm among my chosen people? i think part of feminism is wearing whatever you like and not being judged for it. does that mean living by my morals should have me looking more girly at work? do i want to deal with those judgmental people's comments and glares and whispering? when the hell did i start giving a shit what anyone thought anyway? maybe i just need to remember that it is beneath my dignity to care if anyone expresses approval of how i dress. maybe i just need a better job. no, i definitely do. i wonder how my views will change when i have one...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

spinach dip

difficulty rating: Rrrrgh . . . . Brains . . . .
now THIS is how spinach dip is supposed to look and taste! no mayo in sight and plenty of happy green spinach, not the tiny bit of sad brown stuff found behind the deli counter. besides, this is so easy it's embarrassing. dooo eeeet:
1 pkg frozen chopped spinach (about 1.5 cups, lightly drained)
1 cup sour cream (use low fat if you like)
1 pkg light cream cheese (8oz or 1 cup)
1 pkg dry vegetable soup mix (knoor or no-name work fine, don't get the tomato-vegetable type)
2 Tbs-1/3 cup minced onion
1 Tbs dill
1 tsp garlic 1/2 tsp black pepper
2-5 Tbs milk, to thin if needed

some of these measurements are approximate since i just throw this together, it's pretty forgiving. you can mix it in the blender if you like.
soften cream cheese, stir everything together, refrigerate for at least an hour
serve with bread, preferably sourdough

pride and prejudice of your own creations

do any of my fellow creative people ever find yourself in this duality of knowing how much skill and time and effort goes into a project, but also feeling that your own work isn't as good as something you bought from the store? even once you understand how something is made that doesn't seem to erase the ingrained belief that you can't or shouldn't do it yourself. our culture has done a good job of beating into our heads that ALL food, clothing, shelter, jewelry, booze, entertainment, and everything else MUST be manufactured entirely by experts who've spent decades perfecting the art or by machines in factories (or child labor). it never used to be this way. this is a phenomenon that the industrial revolution and mass media forced upon us. yes, it's convenient to be able to buy a pair of flip flops for 2.99 at any big box store in the summer, but at what cost does that come? who made them? what enviromental impact did that have? will they even last or will i have to replace them in a month? what if i did make them myself? i could use other materials; recycled or sustainable or at least more durable. i would know they were good quality and not made by a 7 year old making $0.20 a day. would they be as uniform as all the rows and rows on the shelves? of course not, i don't have nearly as much practice. what they would be is unique and probably better if not just as good. they might be entirely recycled stuff or they might cost 2-3 times as much in materials, does that make them worse or better? no. i'll also be able to fix them, should they break, and have the pride of saying "i made them myself". this is a concept that was far more common a few generations ago. our grandparents did not have this disposable attitude that you would just buy new anytime something was less then perfect. they fixed things that were broken, or made a replacement themselves, and you know what? there's a reason they say things like "they just don't make things like they used to", it's true! now everything is made by machine or by underpaid labor instead of by hand with pride, and it's designed to fall apart so you buy more things. the idea that you can't do stuff for yourself was specifically impressed upon us in order to make us buy more things. that doesn't make it true. what it does is create a society of stunted human animals who are incapable of providing even the basic necessities of life for themselves. we're relied on others to do things for us for so long that we're starting to lose these basic arts. from cooking to making clothes to animal husbandry and gardening to making a shelter to making music and storytelling. these used to be vital arts that everyone knew. some were better at one thing then another, which is how we ended up with cities where you have a butcher and a baker and seamstress, etc and we gathered to share our skills. now we gather just to make it easier to get to our jobs (many of which are NOT essential in the world, don't kid yourself, my own included) and to get to stores where we buy things that were made by nameless people in a land far far away. there is something seriously wrong with that. what happened to our pride in our work? what happened to self sufficiency and quality and community? how can we get them back? it starts with trying out doing something for yourself that you could just as easily pay someone else to do; something you're interested in and will enjoy the results of. then it becomes a matter of retraining yourself with the proof of your own experience that you CAN do most things yourself and it IS just as good, if not better then what you can buy in the stores, and is often cheeper and healthier. another thing i've found helps is to name your creations. don't call it "some fruit wine i brewed in a bucket", call it "black cherry shiraz" or something and serve it to your friends. their reviews will help you appreciate the end result. remember that your simplified system is usually only a smaller setup then what's found in factories but you're not adding scary chemicals and yours was made with a lot more care and attention. bear in mind that not all your experiments will work and that's ok. you learn from the mistakes and the next time is better. get it knocked right out of your head that you CAN'T do something. of course you can if you want to learn how, and who knows when these things will come in useful?

cider variations

after that first test batch that went so well we've never looked back. i adopted some big water cooler jugs from a neighbor who had them out for recycling (silly people, if you return them yourself you get $10 each and i'm going to sterilize them anyways) and now i try to always have at least 2 batches on the go at any given time. the jugs hold just over 4 gallons each which translates to filling 8 2-litre pop bottles per batch, for about $20. not too shabby at about 10% alcohol. the basic batch tastes a lot like big rock cider or strongbow, but less watered down (the commercial ones taste like mine if you mixed it 50/50 with soda water).
of course we get tired of the basic stuff after a while so i've been experimenting with flavors in a few ways: adding vanilla beans to the mix, which added little black flecks but otherwise had little effect. swapping 25% of the apple juice for a different fruit has had mixed results. the guava and cranberry turned out nice but a bit subtle. the raspberry turned out a touch bitter and very subtle. we also tried adding maple syrup instead of some of the sugar while bottling as well as a little almond extract at that time. the almond flavor came through a lot more then i was expecting but the maple barely at all. that batch also didn't really carbonate for some reason. wild sugars like maple syrup and honey are very unpredictable. it might have carbonated if i'd left it longer. most recent experiments have been with adding concentrated juices. so far the only one that we've tasted is one i emptied a full litre of blackcurrent concentrate into (was supposed to be mixed with water at 1:5 ratio) which was incredibly surprising as it started out smelling strongly like blackcurrent and being a deep purple colour, but by the time we bottled it was only slightly darker then our regular cider and had lost all of the flavor. it also didn't really carbonate for some reason. :( i do plan to try that one again but i think i'll add the blackcurrent juice at bottling time as that seemed to preserve flavors better. i've got one with concentrated peach juice and one with concentrated white grape still finishing up, we'll how those are in the next few weeks. i still haven't bottled the dry sage flavored experiment i started months ago, lol. next one i'm trying i'll be throwing in a handful or two of lavender in, just for shits and giggles.
little things i've learned along the way: you don't need fancy equipment. it's nice and makes your life easier but it's really not necessary. you can produce just as lovely results with recycled and repurposed items as you can with a $300 setup. you can always replace with nicer stuff as you get more into it. i am very happy that i bought a decent auto-syphon and bottling rig. i tried to do it with just a piece of aquarium tubing and a standard suck-on-the-end syphon at first and it can be done but it's not very sanitary and it makes an unholy mess. the whole rig cost me about $15 and it's totally worth it. it's also a pain in the ass to sterilize. the easiest way i've found is to do so as you're sterilizing another carboy as you've already got a big container full of sanitizer solution that you can just syphon out instead of dumping and then do the same with plain hot water to rinse.
you can use hot water with a touch of dishsoap and a bit of bleach to sanitize. just be sure to rinse really well. plastic holds the bleach smell a lot more then glass, which is why i want to get good glass carboys one of these days. the glass ones also last longer since they don't get all scratched and nasty. i'll be scouring craig's list for cheep ones instead of paying $40 each at bosa grape most likely. if you fear bleach you can also use vinegar followed by peroxide (don't mix them together first, that makes a scary chemical) but you really shouldn't water it down. a spray bottle might do the job. you can buy special "no rinse" sanitizer but i have no idea what chemical they use in that and i've seen it cause scary amounts of bubbling while bottling so i think i'd give it a rinse anyways, but one rinse would be much less annoying then 3 or 4 for bleach
baloons with a few pinholes poked in them work just as well as "proper" airlocks and will fit on the top of almost all containers. if you do get the proper ones, the type that comes apart into several pieces are easier to use and more effective then the S shaped ones with the two chambers
fancy expensive wine/beer yeast doesn't work any better then regular champagne yeast but you don't want to use baking yeast.
don't bottle in glass if you plan to carbonate. it will explode. technically that's possible with plastic too but at least pop bottles were designed to take the pressure. besides, exploded plastic bottle is a mess. exploded glass bottle is a dangerous mess. some people keep all their filled, carbonating bottles in large tupperware containers just in case. i'd like to look into getting swing-top bottles and seeing if that would work better. you can bottle in glass if you're sure it's done fermenting and wont carbonate. save yourself some hassle and use screw-top bottles instead of corks.
overall remember that this isn't rocket science. yeast plus sugar plus time equals alcohol and CO2. humans have been doing this for a long time and the worst that's likely to happen is something tastes bad. you're not going to kill yourself and it isn't that hard. have fun with it and tell me about your experiments!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

therapy *gulp*

so after months on the waiting list i have finally started therapy. i'm not sure how much i like my therapist. she's young and kinda alt-looking and she gardens. she's also really therapisty in that slow, soothing voice, "how does that make you feel? "well that's understandable" sort of way that kinda grates on my nerves. i'm now realizing that part of what took me so long was not just the annoyance of actually finding someone (although that isn't easy) but the terror that now i'm all out of excuses. no more bitching that i have no skilled support and can't do it by myself, etc. now i actually have to decide what i want to work on and then do the fucking work. even if i think it sounds stupid and don't think it will help. enough is enough. i'm going to dive into the center of my shit, rearrange my work schedule, do whatever i'm told and just go with it. yes i am trying to talk myself into this. i refuse to waste the rest of my youth being damaged and dysfunctional. here i go

Friday, June 3, 2011


difficulty rating: bottle short of a six pack
say it with me now, it's fun to roll the R's: RRRRRRAATATOEEEEE! this was originally for the crock pot but i found it didn't fit in mine so i just do it in a stock pot on med-low heat. if you're shopping at a green grocer this is dirt cheep and would be easily doubled for a crowd. it takes time but once you've got everything cut up you can just ignore it for the most part. would make impressive dinner party food for a harvest festival or something, especially when paired with home made bread, preferably of the garlic variety. i've developed a fondness for french peasant food. i've also learned that simple, good quality ingredients treated with respect will get you much better results then a ton of complicated add-ins and if something looks like it won't work, it probably won't (see tomato mustard pie) what does work is letting all the liquid in the veggies slowly become the base for a thick stew, mmmmm:
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
2 medium onions, or one large, chopped into 1/2" pieces
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (about 3 medium)
1 large green bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
1 large red bell peppers or 1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch squares
3 medium zucchini, cut in 1/2" slices, the cut slices into quarters so you have roughly 1/2" cubes
4-6 large mushrooms, any kind you like, chopped into 1/2"-3/4" cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil, aproximate, i just add a good splash
3 tablespoons dried basil (or more of fresh if you have it)
1 tablespoon dried dill (or more of fresh if you have it)
2-4 garlic cloves, crushed or minced, i love my garlic grinder
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, or more if you like
salt, to taste
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 jar pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped or buy the sliced kind
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled, i often use the low-fat kind

add oil to stock pot, cut up all the veggies and dump in along with the garlic and other spices. stir together more or less.
put a lid on the pot and turn the heat to med-low. wander away. go make bread.
stir every 30 min or so for 1 1/2-2 hours, until the veggies are starting to go a little mushy and there's plenty of liquid in the bottom. it starts cooking a lot faster at this stage, if your bread isn't done turn the heat to as low as it will go and it'll hold for another 30 min while you finish that. stir in your olives and tomato paste, taste and adjust seasonings. i usually let it simmer for 10 min or so at this stage to let the flavors blend
serve with a healthy sprinkling of feta and a couple pieces of bread per person. regardless of this being vegetarian, it is very filling so don't fill large bowls!
this also reheats well. i often take it to work for lunch for several days after i make it and fend off drooling coworkers
for the health conscious: this is extremely high in fiber and very low in calories. it doesn't have a ton of protein but you could add some meat or veggie substitute if you want to up that. it has a moderate amount of fat and sodium from the olives and olive oil. you can use less oil if you like and less or no olives. don't skip the feta. it really balances the whole thing out. you don't need a ton and you can use low fat if you like
for the lazy: enlist the other people eating this to chop veggies and make an evening of it. you can chat and linger over wine while it cooks. wouldn't hurt to add a splash to the pot too. you can make my garlic bread with store bought french bread if needed, it's still a lot better then the stuff pre-smeared with who knows what and wrapped in paper/foil bags. you can also buy pre-crumbled feta and pre-sliced olives if you want.
makes about 6 servings. i'm told it's good cold as well or used as a topping for baked potatoes or pasta. will have to try that.