Monday, May 30, 2011

More potatoes!

More potatoes have come up. Very exciting.
Today I also planted most of the rest of the raised bed. Herbs mostly and a couple of squash and watermelon seeds. Those take up space but I was sick of planting little squares of this and that.
Most of the peas are peaking out of the ground as well. They don't seem to mind the drizzly rainy chilly weather as much as other things.
The strawberries seem to have given up the ghost. They looked so promising as first and now...nothing.

Thank god for the mint. It continues to thrive and I may have my first cup of homegrown mint tea this week.

My other "excitement" for the holiday weekend...sharpening the mower. Woohoo. Actually, I think it needs a professional sharpening and adjustment and greasing. It's hard to push mostly because it's just ripping the grass and weeds off more than cutting it off.

Still, Pam (Hi Pam) sent me the entire "Good Neighbors" collection so I spent the rest of the weekend watching that and thinking how awesome it would be to have pigs and a goat in the back yard. Partly for the meat and partly because they'd eat and/or trample the grass and I wouldn't have to mow. Maybe an angry sow would keep the riffraff out of the yard.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Peas Are Up!

Sorry it's been ages again.

BUT the peas are growing! Of course we had a bit of hail today so maybe the peas WERE growing.

We had a couple of warm days and I put in most of the garden a while back.
Also showing growth are the tater buckets planted on May 1. I find potatoes oddly fascinating. You keep burying the growth and making them do it over. You'd think they'd get sick of it.

They lime thyme from last year is looking great. The mint from Sally (Hi Sally) is doing AMAZING and smelling delicious. The strawberry pot came back and now looks dead. It is a tease.

Some parsely is coming back from last year. I think it's a bienniel so I should probably plant some seeds this year again.

Spinach is up. Some lettuce or chard is up.

And a pot I forgot to label is doing very well. It's radishes or carrots or a green of some sort.

The walking onions suffered a setback when rain crushed the plastic down onto them so now they are open to the air and have to fend for themselves.

On June 1 or so, I'll plant the rest of the garden. I'm cutting back on tomatoes and sticking with the small hot peppers just in pots so I can bring them in when it gets too cold.

That is all for now.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thrifty Flicks

I read some blogs and books about thriftiness, but there are some movies and shows that also make me think thrift and about voluntary simplicity. I'm not always sure why and some have been mentioned before.

Goode Neighbors / The Goode Life.
BBC series from the 1970s. We used to watch it on PBS growing up and I loved it even then. I think it was the independence. A couple at midlife/midcareer who live in a semi-detached house (like a duplex but you own your half and the half of the lawn on your side) decide to become self sufficient with their tiny yard and allotment (garden plot elsewhere in the town). It's cute and was inspirational to many who joined the "back to the land" movement at the time.

Squarefoot Gardening.
A PBS classic show. I've got a square foot garden that is 4feet by 9feet and did pretty well as far as growing stuff, though the final yields could have been better but I'm learning! Maybe I'll even do the fall garden stuff this year. The series, and book, does recommend buying various fertilizers and soil amendments that aren't organic while I went organic and am not great at co-planting so I think it went well considering.

Clatterford / Jam and Jerusalem.
It's not really about thrift but it's a BBC show, recent, about life in a small village. It does focus sometimes on the importance of community and having local shops and pubs and whatnot. One character lives without a job but she's a load on people so not a role model. Others are farmers who are fairly poor but still managing and providing food for the area. The point is really about the women's guild and just amusing. Maybe it just makes my life in a village seem slightly more charming rather than disturbingly surreal.

Northern Exposure.
Obviously. Many strange characters, quite a few living off grid. NO chain restaurants, stores, or anything else is portrayed. People shop at the local store, make due, eat at the tavern and even have a local radio station and no one really envies the one rich guy. I think this and Clatterford are both respectful of those who don't base their worth on their income and that might be the draw for me. Also both have a lovely dry humor about them.

The Vicar of Dibley.
More with the BBC! One rich guy and a village full of largely poor idiots. There is quite a bit of overt discussion of the importance of community and local folks as well as some overt opposition to development as ruining village life and exploiting the poor.

Movies are tougher...
The food documentaries make me want to garden and shop local and cook and not waste.
Classics are:
Food Inc. (shows the issues with industrial food)
Supersize Me (dangers of eating nothing but fastfood crap...and I remember it was playing in Saint Paul during the fateful college-friends-reunion when I had an EPIC gallbladder attack in poor Bree's bathroom while many friends sat on the other side of the wall listening to me wretch. For hours. Good times.)
Dirt. About soil and the importance of building soil.
The Real Dirt on Farmer John. A midwestern eccentric struggles to farm organically and get along with the locals. I like this both for the food/farming issues and the life of a real eccentric who decides to be who he is no matter what people think (including thinking he was having murderous orgies)
Fresh. Interesting characters talk passionately about growing healthy food and working with, rather than against, the land.

And some that romanticize food and celebrating abundance (promise to get off the food shortly)

Babette's Feast. Babette is poor and comes to cook for spinster Scandinavian sisters. Not knowing she's an amazing chef, they have her soak lutefisk and prepare other grim meals that are part of their community's devotion to food asceticism. Simple food doesn't have to be bad even if you're poor or cheap. Babette serves an amazing feast and all hell breaks loose in a good way.

Like Water for Chocolate. The intersections of food and emotion. I'm not that into emotion, but the food bits are good.

Eat Drink Man Woman. The food in this is extravagant and expensive. Many of the feasts are sort of culinary potlatches meant to demonstrate the wealth of the host, and yet the ingredients are actually not that spending and really enjoying food is part of a frugal mentality...fix what you love and you won't waste it. (Don't bother with Tortilla Soup which is a scene for scene remake that comes off like a 10th generation photocopy...a blurred and distorted version of the original)

Mostly Martha. The GERMAN original. Really, don't watch the American remake. Intolerable I'm sure (haven't seen it). Again, many of the meals are extravagant, but the cook is offended when people waste or send back the food. And it's more of the enjoying food thing. It makes me want to cook, which is thrifty.

Some that make me appreciate what I have:
Silence of the North. Tom Skerrit and the Mrs. move to the north and homestead. She gets to spend the winter alone, in silence, with a baby in a one room cabin with a canvas roof. She has almost nothing. And then loses the rest of it. And yet, things ultimately work out OK.

Trouble the Water (I think that's it) about how bad things got for so many people after hurricane Katrina. Renters got no relief! They didn't lose a house they owned or had a mortgage on thus no assistance! Many people rent because they can't afford to buy so the poorest got nothing. What they did have they lost and no one came to help. The importance of community.
(there are many good documentaries about Katrina and the aftermath that make one happy just to have a roof to sit on if it does flood. Which reminds me...I need to get that disaster kit with potable water put together).

The Lemon Tree. Life on the border of the Palestinian territories becomes even more complicated for a Palestinian, Muslim, widow who scrapes by on the income from her lemon grove. An Israeli official moves in next door and her grove is recast as a potential threat and must be destroyed. Compared to her, I'm a pig in shit.

My Name Is Joe. Don't try to get it. You can't. Scottish flick showing some serious urban poverty and the circular trap of getting involved in drugs because one has no hope, and how drug trade can be some people's only way out of poverty, and yet keeps them on the edge of disaster. It's a pretty amazing film. I have it on VHS but I don't think it's on DVD yet.
Precious. Hey! I haven't been raped by a relative today so life is good! Also haven't had to steal food for my psychotic mother. Even better.

My Life as a Dog. Fantastic Scandinavian classic by Lasse Halstrom. It's semi-autobiographical but they had to tart it up a bit as Lasse's actual childhood was even grimmer than being beaten by a dying mother, abandoned by his father, and left to share a bed with his gassy elderly aunt. In reality, he lived alone in an apartment starting when was in about 4th or 5th grade. His father paid the rent and just wasn't there. Then...he can't have his dog anymore and it gets sad.

These validate going one's own way:
Sordid Lives. It's just damn funny. It's more small town characters ultimately accepting one another while sharing food when gathering for Mama's funeral (she dies when she trips over her boyfriends fake legs at a cheap hotel and hits her head on the sink).

Spinal Tap. Not because it is representing anything thrifty...but because I finally got a DVD player when that came out on DVD. It reminds me of how I make choices to buy or not buy technology. And I've watched that movie many many times. Got my money's worth out of that one.

Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon lives with his grandmother, his uncle lives in a van.

The Straight Story. Not only the greatest film about Iowa ever made, it also shows the sort of odd practicality common among the economically challenged in the flatlands. No license or car? Drive the lawn mower across the state. If it breaks, fix it yourself. Camp in cemeteries and eat hot dogs.

I'm sure there are lots more. But this is enough for now. There are also TONS of excellent books beyond the few that I cite frequently. I'll do another post on some of my recent thrifty reads.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Plummer Gets on the Earth Day Band Wagon...41 Years and 1 Day Late

(apologies for the delay. I was busy and ran out of free-interwebs time)

Plummer celebrated Earth Day for the first time this year. It was done one day after the 41st Earth Day (it started in 1970).

Still, we're here now so...hopefully an even better celebration next year.
The food coalition I'm in organized the event...though "organized" is not in the sense one would have seen in Iowa. It was a looser event.

There were 3 presentations...I did two of them. Interesting.

The first was a demonstration of how to make a compost barrel from a rain barrel (the woman didn't understand why her husband was a tad peeved that she was using his rain was a 40 or so gallon food-grade plastic barrel. Those are going for 50 to75$ in Moscow right now and those are the used ones). Oh well, now they have a lovely compost barrel. Of course she also explained that one did not need a barrel, but watching her pour a bucket of food on the ground and cover it with a bucket of shredded paper would have been less impressive than watching her drill holes in a barrel and then pour the two buckets of stuff in it.

Next was my demonstration of vermicomposting. It was surprisingly well attended. I think about a dozen people came over to watch. The kids LOVED it and they all wanted to hold a worm. I donated the new worm bin (which WAS a hamster pen until Hammy croaked and was a rubber storage tub before that) to whomever wanted it. A young girl jumped up and grabbed it and said it would be the bin for the youth club. She was pretty interested and organized so I think the worms (I put a few in there to get it started) will be in good hands. A colleague from the food coalition brought her own bin to start so I gave her some worms as well. A few more people may be interested in worms but I only have so many at a time. If I give too many away, the food in the bin rots rather than becoming the world's best seed starter.

My other presentation was with the aforementioned colleague. She and I took a class on solar cooker construction a couple of months ago and agreed to do a SHORT demonstration at the event. As it turns out, it has been super rainy/cloudy since the class so neither of us had the chance to try cooking. Saturday April 23rd was a BEAUTIFUL day with lots of sun so the solar cooking went well. I did coffee in a quart jar in a panel cooker and sushi rice in a littl covered pot in another cooker. The jar and the pot were spray painted black on the outside with non-toxic spray paint. That is a tough item to find. I was afraid that things would not cook or clouds would come up so I started the cookers 3.5 hours before the presentation. Uh...there was plenty of sun. The jar of coffee actually pressure cooked for that long. It was quite delicious especially after the woman giving samples of raw milk came over and let people use the raw milk in the tiny cups of coffee (she provided the tiny cups too...she's nice). The rice was basically paste but it was very cool that it cooked. I totally admitted that I'd never actually done any solar cooking and opened the coffee up as people watched. It was impressive when it boiled over the top and I exclaimed "oh my god! It actually worked." A woman high-fived me and several people took pictures of the spewing coffee. The rice was less impressive since it had steamed until it was a solid block of starch, but was cool that I'd left rice unattended for 4 hours and it was not scorched.

Anyway, I had pre-cut a sample of the panel type cooker (a "panel" cooker is any solar cooker that uses flat panels to focus the light on the cooking vessel) with just a 1/2" bit left connection at each corner so I could quickly finish the cut out while they watched. It is a pretty interesting bit of engineering really. It was developed by a woman in Viola, Idaho. (for those in Iowa...that is about the same as gas station, no store, and I don't know if they even have a post office anymore. Not even a bar.) Anyway, take a cardboard box. Pick one bottom corner. Put the top flaps up and put on a little bit of tape so they stand up. From that corner you picked measure 12" along each side of the bottom and 16" up the corner. if the 16" goes up onto the flaps that is fine. Now draw 3 lines. On each side of the corner, connect the 12" marks to the 16" mark at the top. Across the bottom, connect the 2 12" marks. now cut along the lines (cut through both layers of flaps on the bottom of the box). When you get done, you will have detached that corner and it will be pointy at the top. Find the little flap-bit that will fill in a gap in the bottom. Keep that. Flatten the corner you've cut off and cover the entire inside with foil (glue it with any all natural glue...e.g. elmer's school glue (cut this with water to double the amount of glue), rice paste, flour paste, whatever) and rub it smooth with a clean and dry cloth. Clean off any glue schmears.

Let dry. If you covered the "crack" between the bottom flaps with foil, cut it open again. Now fold it back up into a box corner and put the whole thing in a turkey size oven bag. That's it. That's what boiled water and made the coffee. Actually, I had an oven thermometer in there and at one point the temperature got up to 250degrees. I was impressed. I made an extra reflector to set in front of the box-corner-cooker and propped it up to reflect more light into the cooker. I don't think I needed it.

The other cooker we demonstrated is made from a sheet of poster board (the flimsy stuff) and an aluminum foil turkey roaster. Cover one side of the poster board with foil. Let dry. Bend up the side rims of the turkey roaster and attach the bottom corners of the poster board to this with binder clips. Then use something to raise the cooking pot about 2inches off the bottom of the roaster. I already had my wire trivet in use keeping the coffee jar off the bottom of the panel cooker so I used a roll of tape. Put the cooking pan (already full of whatever you are going to cook) in an oven bag and twist the bag shut (I blew the bag up a little so there was a bit of airspace around the pan). Put on the trivet and fiddle with the poster board so light is mostly reflecting onto the pan. That's it. It's almost fool proof. Someone did let a pole fall on it at one point and that screwed up the cooking for a moment. I spent most of the day saying "could you step to the side so you're not putting a shadow on my cooker."
My landlord was at the next booth promoting a potential local credit union which was cool. He thought my antics were quite amusing.

We're thinking of having another festival/market later in the summer. I should find something to sell. ....Any ideas? Perhaps books from the "free books" bin at the recycling center?
Envelopes cut from those books? Notebooks make from recycled paper? Biscuits? Jam? (it probably won't be late enough in the summer for jam).

And now...I must go try to make my potatoes chit so I can get them in the ground...well, in the buckets.