Sunday, May 30, 2010

'Maters 'n Mowin'

Did you see what I did in the title with the apostrophes? (or as my stupid undergrad students would have written: apostrophe's')

Anywho, I HAVE TOMATOES...see photo

That's my finger for size. Remember, I have giant man hands so it's pretty big. There are actually three tiny tomatoes on this potted one and one more on another.

Well, after the previous update, I went and checked the garden and it seems I boiled the tomato and pepper starts I'd planted by forgetting to vent the plastic cover on a 70 degree day. The OTHER plants/seeds loved it but the tomatoes and peppers looked bedraggled. And then they looked dead. So, I got more because I'd already planted the other starts in pots.

After pulling out countless squash starts from the vermicompost (last year I was just putting in the squash guts, seeds and all, now I sort out the seeds and toast them for snacks and Hammy treats and salad toppings. very nice) I realized that since that is what WANTS to grow in the garden perhaps I should stop fighting it. I've let one go. I don't know what kind of squash. Could be butternut, kobocha, delicata, acorn, or any one of the inadvertent hybrids they were selling cheap at the co-op. We'll see if it works out. What the hell.

I replanted peas and they've come up. The starts croaked either from the heat or because they don't like to be transplanted.

Of course once I got all the tomatoes and peppers in pots and things, it got cold. There has been a caravan of plants coming in and out of my trailer for the past week. Last few nights I've left them out and they are doing fine. When Jeanne and Elizabeth visited (HI!) they got to help. And we planted some flower pots just for fun. Jeanne even picked up some raspberry starts at our local plant hut in Plummer.

I added 2 buckets of potatoes. I'd like to plant two or three more potatoes but I'm short on buckets. I may have to sacrifice a rubber tub but since I'm not going to buy any more rubber tubs I'm leery of cutting holes in the ones I own. I'm working on acquiring no new plastic. It's a slow process but a rubber tub is a pretty big obvious and easy thing not to get. Also in pots are onions. We'll see. I had extra sets so I'm giving it a shot. More will go into pots tomorrow. The strawberries and mint in pots looks pretty good. The mint is a "chocolate mint" plant and smells most excellent.

That's about it for the garden update.

As for the "mowin'" portion of the title. It's been RAINING and RAINING and DRIZZLING. Since I have a reel mower like your great great grand father had, I can't mow wet grass unless I want to have a solid block of rust rather than a mower. AND I don't want to hire the lawn done. It's spendy and there is a system to me letting some grass get tall. I'm leaving a ring of tall grass between me and the roadways on three sides (two streets and an alley) and on the fence row with the neighbors. I want the seeds to blow around the yard and cover up some bare spots AND I want a bit of a filter to any run off coming my way. It can't hurt. It's already catching quite a bit of blowing detritus from the street. Not as many plastic bags in the lawn as usual, though there was a Mike's Hard Lemonade bottle on the street side, I don't think that blew in. Probably a walker from Bobbie's bar chucked it. I threw it out in the street. Oh well.

AND each time I see the lawn I mowed myself I think "There's 50$ still in the bank" and you know how I like to save money.

Anyway, ALSO 2 sets of plum pits I buried last fall are coming up quite nicely. I should probably thin them as there appear to be about 12 stems in each bunch. Very cool though. I don't expect to get much crop this year, but someday someone will have a lovely plum patch in that yard.

Other than that...the hummingbird battles are going full force around the feeder AND I'm seeing actual bees flying around this year. Very happy to have the pollinators back.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quick Update

OK, Just a quick update on what's going on with the garden.

On Saturday I overdid the plan purchasing because they plants were CHEAP (and I ignored the sprouts that I meant to turn into starts so instead they turned into little moldy seeds in plastic bags...oops). ANYWAY, so I many peppers and tomatoes...a few more than planned but when you're getting a sturdy, already harden-off organic plant for a DOLLAR it's hard to stop.

I ended up spending about 6 hours Saturday afternoon planting and planting and planting. There were two empty squares left in the 4x9 square foot garden and then tons of pots with plants in them. So far only two plants have died. I sort of felt the roots give way when I was putting them in the ground and knew it wasn't going to be good. Still, it's just 2 tomatoes. I have time to replace those in the next few weeks. I may miss the farmer's market saturday...or I make make some effort and run up to it. I'll be dog sitting in Lewiston but must have priorities with the plants.

Each tomato plant also got a bit of crushed eggshell in the bottom of the hole. I'd heard this extra calcium will prevent blossom end rot. I'll let you know.

I am having to buy ever more dirt. There just is no dirt in my yard. I hate the pile of plastic bags this generates so some lucky soul may receive a lovely braided rug made of plastic garden dirt bags.

The potatoes in a bucket are looking great. All planted buckets (there are more potatoes...see above noted lack of dirt), have leaves and one is ready to have dirt piled up on the leaves. Woohoo! Hope they are making little tubers too. These are noted "heavy feeders" so have quite a bit of worm compost in them. The worm compost has quite a few squash and melon seeds in it. Many of these are sprouting! I thought they'd all sprouted and been re-killed while in the composter but I guess not. Fortunately they look nothing like potato leaves and are easy to sort out. There is quite a bit of worm compost in the garden as well so may have to sort them out of there too.

I put in 3 squares of onions and am again trying the chard which went to seed so fast last year I didn't get much out of it.

The pots so far have tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and chocolate mint. All seem to be doing well.

The pea plants I put in too early either dehydrated or over hydrated. At anyrate, they appear mostly dead so I planted new peas.

Also in the garden are:
Beans Parsley Calendula Radishes Kale
Spinach and much much more.

I keep meaning to get the carrots going in buckets but with the lack of dirt they aren't started yet. Must get on that.
That's all for now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Houston...We Have Potatoes

Well, not "potatoes" so much as evidence of potato plants being alive.
Maybe the title should be "IT'S ALIIIIIVE!"

I was checking out the garden after work today. Two of the potato buckets (one of which is a plant pot but that doesn't have the same ring as "bucket") have evidence of something growing in them. Leaves are coming up. Pretty exciting.

The peas I transplanted into the garden are not doing fabulous. One or two might live of the pack of 4 I got for $1.99. The parsley plant is doing OK and the parsley seed I planted with it seems to have taken. We'll see if it lives.

The two tomato plants and pepper plant I got a week or two ago are doing OK in the house. I'm planning on planting them outside tomorrow if it looks like the weather will hold. I don't want to over do the planting sine I need to be out of town next weekend, but still, I'm going to plant almost everything if I can get the plants to do it, and then work on a little greenhouse arrangement with the plastic and the wire fencing from last year. Here's hoping it will be OK.

If I can get a picture of the potato plants I'll post it. Today it would have just looked like areas of slightly different dark stuff in the dirt.

Now for a relaxing evening with Hedwig and the Angry Inch. A lovely film.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kitchenware follow-up

OK, Given the great response to my previous comment and one me that is pretty heavy traffic, I'm following up with my own analysis of what it takes to start a kitchen, assuming you have the appliances.

One of the biggest errors in the folks proposing the low low price of 220$ for kitchen essentials was not knowing the difference between a "need" and a "want" need some sort of "knife". You may "want" a good chef's knife but I've cooked the majority of my own meals for 25 years and only gotten a good chef's knife last christmas (which I promptly used to nearly remove the tip of one finger...but those potatoes and onions were well chopped).

You need a knife. I've gotten by at various times with a steak knife or serrated "ginsu" type knife. These are reasonably versatile. Small enough to peel a potato (though I no longer peel potatoes...too wasteful) and cut out the eyes (I still do that) and big enough to cut up a decent sized squash or onion. You can dice anything from a clove of garlic up to a jicama.
One knife at the goodwill in Moscow Idaho will set you back 50cents to one dollar.
If you're feeling rich, also get a paring knife. It's nice to have a little knife for small jobs and to take in the cooler (though again, the steak knife or "ginsu" will fit in there too).. That might be another 50cents.

You need silverware to eat off of. If you live alone, one set will do. One set per person is plenty. Just do the dishes. A set of silverware for 4 goes for $1.99 at the Value Village in Spokane Valley. At 10cents per item in Moscow Goodwill or the other Moscow thrift store, you could get a set for 4 people for $1.20.

Dishes. You'll need a plate and bowl for each person OR a sort of stew plate for each person. The Classy Rack in Spokane Valley sells dishware for 25cents each. The stew plates are hard to find so splurge and get a plate and bowl per person at 50cents per person. Don't bother with plastic dishware items, they get ruined and leave plastic bits in your food. Get corel (remember with the flowers around the edge?), some sort of china or pottery, pyrex type glass, or enameled metal. The plates can double as cutting boards in a pinch so try to get plates without a major lip or edge to them.

Cups are good. Currently cups and glasses are going for around 25cents each at most local thrift shops. I'd start with a coffee cup or mug for each person. It's easier to drink cold water out of a mug than hot coffee out of a glass.

You'll need pans and bowls to cook in.
The fancy "three in one" steamer pan recommended in the video with pasta insert is cute. I've had a few over the years. The pasta insert mostly made the pasta boil over and I never once steamed vegetables or anything over cooking broth or pasta. If you're making broth, you put the vegetables in it and call it soup. ALSO, neither the insert nor the steamer make a decent colander which you WILL want if you eat fruit or pasta or cook dry beans (all very frugal items). So skip that three-in-one item.

You need one big pan, 4 or 6 quarts, to boil pasta, make big batches of beans, chili, soup, stew, and so on. It's best if it has a lid, but a plate will usually fit on it (this is another good reason NOT got get plastic dishes). If not, use a bit of tinfoil doubled up and KEEP the tinfoil for reuse until you get something permanent. When the foil is too beat up to use as a pan lid, you can use it around the edges of your pies.
That big pan will set you back anywhere from $3-10 depending on quality. If possible, get stainless steel or enameled steel or enameled iron. I've used aluminum as well though this reacts with acidic foods and is probably not ideal. Still, better to get an aluminum pan for a couple of bucks and use it until you find something better, then sell it or re-donate it, than to buy something for full price. The THIN enamelware pans are workable for a while, but will tend to scorch things. If you get these, set them inside the skillet (see below) to help distribute heat when cooking fragile things.

A smaller sauce pan. As much as I've tried over the years, it is hard to cook 4 cups of something in a 6 quart pot. It gets too thin and overheats too quickly and doesn't fit on the small burner well so you end up wasting food (burnt) and energy (by using the big burner). A 1 to 2 quart sauce pan, same materials warnings as above, is good. These are currently running $3-5 at Moscow thrift stores. If you find a double boiler, get it because you get two sauce pans often for the price of one.

You'll need a skillet (fry pan) as well. Unless you never fry anything. Eggs, homemade pancakes, fried potatoes, and mixed leftover veggie hash are very frugal meals so get one anyway. I have a nice cast iron frying pan with a lid. This is ideal, but honestly, skip the new iron stuff. It is so hard to season. I have a griddle I got years ago that still rusts a couple of times a year. If you cook with a wood stove or have some other constant source of heat to really drive the moisture out of the pores in the metal every day, then you may be able to season a new one without monstrous effort. BUT, you don't "need" the cast iron version.
These are hard to find at thrift stores. Try yard sales. I just paid 25$ or so to replace the pan not including the lid with another antique after busting the original (still mad about that).
A decent stainless steel frying pan can be had at area thrift stores for about $8. A pan about 10" is best. A lid is nice, but again, you can use a plate or foil or pizza pan (25cents at the thrift store). DO NOT GET ANYTHING WITH A PLASTIC OR WOODEN HANDLE! You'll want to use this in the oven. Avoid the non-stick, especially low-cost nonstick, fry pans (for that matter, I don't like any non-stick pans) if you want to avoid toxic gases and having to throw the pans out when the non-stick portion comes off and starts leaving bits in your food...gross. More oil will do less harm to your body. Also, don't scrub your cast iron or steel frying pans out with harsh soaps (e.g. dish soap). Just hot water and a good scrubby will do the trick. Then dry thoroughly and heat a little on a low burner for a few minutes.

Aside: Sometimes you'll get lucky. While shopping for pots and pans to use for my summers in Idaho back when I was living in Iowa, I came across an old (1950s?) set of camping pans that all nested together: 6 quart pan, 2 quart pan and 1 quart pan all with lids, a 10 inch frying pan and a 6 inch frying pan with an interchangable (and removable for oven use) handle). The WHOLE SET was $2! I'm still using all of them and it's been 13 years or so. They are aluminum so shouldn't use them with reactive items but these and my iron frying pan and one baking sheet were all the pans I brought to Spokane and used for 2 years and they got me through all my summers here and are still my main camping pans. The smallest has a hole due to cooking too much tomato sauce in it (reactive) and the middle sized is currently used to collect coffee grounds at work since it has a tight lid and a bale handle for carrying. The grounds go into one of my composters. So those who know me and know I have 3 or 4 kitchens worth of stuff, I can and do often just use the basics as outlined here.

So far we've spent, assuming the high prices for everything and a stainless steel fry pan:
.50 (knife)
.50 (paring knife...we're living it up)
1.99 (set of silverware for 4 people)
2.00 (bowl and plate for each of 4 people)
2.00 (cup or glass for each of 4 people)
10.00 (big pan)
5.00 (small pan)
8.00 (fry pan)
SUBTOTAL: $29.99

Now for a few other things that are NICE but not entirely necessary:

A big bowl to mix things in. Like cakes ...
(here's the world's best chocolate cake and it's cheap too:
1.5 cups of flour
1 cup sugar
3 T cocoa powder (NOT chocolate milk mix people)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
Mix that together. A fork works as well as anything.
Make 3 pits in these try ingredients.
Into each pit put one of these:
1 tsp vanilla
5 T oil (corn, canola, whatever...olive oil isn't the best but a light olive can be used)
1 T vinegar (I've used white, rice, apple cider and all were good...probably avoid balsamic)

Over all put 1 cup cold water and pretty well.

Pour in greased and floured pan...your skillet will work just fine as long as you avoided the plastic handle)
Bake at 350 for about a half hour. When a toothpick or your knife comes out clean, it's ready.
Let cool and enjoy. I don't bother with frosting.)

OK, anyway, you CAN mix up cakes and fruit salads and regular salads and etc in your two sauce pans or even the skillet.

You can bake brownies and casseroles in the small sauce pan and the skillet.
You can use the pans to store stuff in the fridge.

But if you want to get fancy, you'll want, not really "need," bowls to mix, save, and serve things in.
A nice big bowl to mix up bread (sour dough is very thrifty, easier to digest, and may contain healthy enzymes...also, delicious) is good to have. Mine is a 10 or 12 quart enamelware bowl. Again, avoid aluminum or any unknown metal as it will react with too many fruits, vinegars, juices, and etc. You'll end up with a blackened mass rather than a nice dough or salad. Glass and stainless steel are also good. Pottery works well.
I haven't seen a big bowl at thrift store lately other than cheap plastic. That was going for $1.
This bowl will also work for salad, popcorn (which you will be making in your big pan), or anything in large quantities.

A smaller bowl or two for serving vegetables and sauces at meals and/or storing things in the fridge. You can use soup/cereal bowls at 25cents each, or find slightly larger bowls. I recently bought one at thrift store (because it was very nice pottery and was made with Mt St. Helen's ash!) for 5$. This was a splurge. I would expect a similar sized, about 1.5 quarts, bowl to be 2-3$ if it were not a specialty item.

A cutting board is nice as well. You can use the plates, but you'll have more space on a cutting board. There are TONS of perfectly good wooden cutting boards at all the area thrift stores. An older board without too many deep cuts is best. If the board is made from mature wood, there are generally some naturally antimicrobial features to the wood. Clean them with lemon juice and salt in a mix. This is a strong acid and will kill anything gross. Then put a tiny bit of cooking oil on them and wipe it around. I have plastic boards right now which I enjoy for the light weight and ease of rinsing, but after 3 years they are wearing out and one has some sort of mildew living in the little holes where holders go. Ick. Back to wood. There are some nice glass ones out there too. The wooden ones are very common at thrift stores so are very cheap. Last week I saw a "butcher block" style board for $3.

If you want to get fancy with the mixing, get a wooden spoon. I just got a bamboo one in the original packaging at a thrift store for $1. Regular wooden spoons are going for 50cents.

Another very nice item to have is a colander. Good for washing greens, fruits, veg; draining beans, pasta, boiled potatoes (drain into the big bowl and use the water for the garden or the soup you are making); and much much more. A colander that fits reasonably well into the big pan will double as a steamer. Colanders and similar items are going for about $2 at the St. Vincent de Paul store in Coeur d'Alene.

If you're going to make your own bread, you'll need something to bake it on. The fry pan will work just fine. It also works for corn bread, cakes, fruit breads (double the recipe), and some casseroles. The small pan will work for other casseroles. If you want to get fancy and do bars and cookies, you CAN use the fry pan, but will have better luck with baking pans. My most useful baking pans are 2 9X13s with slide on metal lids which double as cookie sheets and I cook round loaf breads on them. You can't get those anymore. I got mine from Gramma. So, my next most used pans are just a basic 9x13, a pizza pan (for baking round breaks, cookies, etc) and an 8x8 pan for smaller recipe brownies and cakes.
At St. Vinny's these are all going for $1 each. St. Vincent's is a good thrift store for pots pans and dishes. Most of their donors appear to be older and church going so they donate nice cooking items and often very nice dishes in mass quantities. It's not great for clothes unless you need industrial strength polyester.
Anyway, a good starter set of pans is a 9X13, a cookie sheet or pizza pan and an 8X8.

A pancake turner, big metal spoon for serving soup (you've been using one of your mugs up until now), a slotted spoon for stirring and skimming soups and stews and beans, a big fork for testing meat or dealing with things on the grill and some tongs are all nice to have along with a rubber scraper for getting the last dough out of the bowl or peanut butter out of the jar. These sorts of utensils go for 50cents at the Moscow Goodwill.

1.oo Big plastic bowl
3.00 small glass/steel/china bowl
.50 2 soup bowls for serving
3.00 cutting board
1.00 wooden spoon
2.00 colander
3.00 3 baking pans
2.50 (big spoon, slotted spoon, pancake turner, big fork, rubber scraper)
SUBTOTAL: $16.00
TOTAL TOTAL: 29.99 + 16 = 45.99
That's WAY less than the 220$ proposed on the interwebs and I think it's a more useful kitchen set.

You can do better, cheaper, than this if you know ahead of time that you will need kitchenwares. Many older relatives will have kitchen supply buildup and be willing to donate a few items. Even if they are donating some odd things, thank them and take it. You can use a fancy china bowl to mix cake as well as a cheap one, just be careful. And if you have time to shop yard sales you can get whole boxes of items for super cheap.

Beyond this, we're all probably accumulating stuff for fun. No crime in that.

One item I got that saved enough labor and energy to justify its cost is a rice cooker. It was $6 at the Spokane Value Village. It's a smaller one and makes white rice in 20 minutes. Brown rice in 45. BUT it uses way less energy than the stove to do this and comes out consistently good. I usually make a full measure of rice (6 cups cooked) and take out whatever I need to go with the main dish for that meal and the left overs. Then, put some nut milk (usually almond but hazel nuts are nice as a milk too) along with the nut-remains in with some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, anything good in a pie) and a bit of sweetner (agave syrup, honey or sugar depending on what I have) and some dried fruit (craisins, crystalized ginger, goji berries) and whatever else suits my fancy, and let it sit on the "warm" setting with the lid on until it becomes rice pudding-like. It's a good breakfast. The cooker has an insert with lid that come out so I only dirty the one pan for the two meals. You can also steam a few veggies on top of the rice during the last 15 minutes of cook time if you don't use the full measure of rice. This also avoids heating up the house by using the stove.

My george forman grill was a good deal because it was a gift. Also saves on energy and effort. I've taken it to hotels during extended stays to make delicious grilled veggies and burgers (buffalo or veggie) rather than spending my perdiem on overly fatty salted stuff. We get 45$ per diem per day for work travel and on one week long trip I spent maybe 5$ per day by bringing the g.f. grill to make suppers, and a hot pot to make thermos soup for lunch. A week's stay netted me a 200$ profit in per diem.

I have not become an avid toaster oven user like some, though I've tried. I don't usually cook in small enough quantities to fit in a toaster oven. If you can use one, it will save energy and avoid heating up the house.

I use many other items, some high-priced, but they really aren't necessities.