Friday, 10 September 2010

Chile Roasting Time

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's the time of year when I try for a delicate balance of harvesting. I want to let everything get as ripe as possible, but also don't want to be out trying to harvest it all some blustery evening as the temperatures plummet (or snow is starting to fall). So I watch the forecasts, keeping in mind my own micro-climate's min/max thermometer readings. So far, the lowest we've had here has been 37 degrees, but the forecasts for the next few nights are back above 40. So, I'm still bringing things in at a pace that allows me to properly put up the harvest for later.

This evening, it was time for one of my favorite harvest rituals - roasting chiles. None of my big New Mexico chiles have ripened to the red stage where they can be strung into ristras to dry. But I did manage to get a basket full of nice thick green ones to roast, with some more immature ones left on the plants for maybe a bit longer.

Picking chiles at the proper stage for roasting is done mainly by feel. Immature chiles won't be "meaty" enough to have much left after roasting and peeling. Immature ones have a ridge-y thin feel to them, and are often a bit lighter green in color. The perfect chiles have a glossy smooth, heavy feel to them. They might have a bit of reddish-orange color starting to show, but once they're completely red they're better dried. The chiles will snap off the plants at the junction of plant and stem, but I then cut the curving stems close to the fruit so they won't later catch in the grill. I try to pick chiles late in the afternoon, on a beautiful still day. I roast them outside on the deck, so I want a nice evening to enjoy this fall task. Ideally, I have a bottle of white wine chilled in the refrigerator, too.

I fire up the barbecue grill, all three burners on high; get tongs and a paper sack; and pour myself a glass of wine. The idea is to roast the chiles on all sides enough to have the skins darken and start to split apart (wearing eye protection isn't a bad idea), but not so much as to char the insides. Using the tongs, turn the chiles to get all sides; leaning curved ones against the others to roast the outside curve, mashing and flattening them if necessary as they soften and split to allow the inside curves to roast too. I sip my wine, savor the wonderful smell wafting from the grill, look out over the valley as the setting sun lights up the hills beyond, and mentally voice a little toast/prayer of thanks for another year's bounty.

When the chiles are properly roasted on all sides, they're dropped into the waiting paper bag. When all are done, the bag is wrapped around and the chiles sweat and cool. The chiles emit an oily juice that will soak through the bag, so mind where you place the bag, and wash your hands if you get any on them. The bag and all can be put into the refrigerator for a day or so, if there isn't time to peel the chiles immediately. When ready to peel the chiles, WEAR GLOVES (I like latex surgical ones for working with both tomatoes and hot peppers). Rip open the bag, take a chile and peel away the tough skin, scraping gently with a paring knife if necessary. Cut off the cap at the top, and split the chile up one side if it hasn't split already. Slide the knife under the stringy ribs to slice them away, and scrape most of the seeds off the top of the chile. Use the knife to lift the chile, and dunk it in a bowl of water to rinse off remaining seeds and skin bits. I tuck and fold each chile into a flat little square "packet" and put them on a cookie sheet. Important: do NOT touch your eyes or nose - after removing your gloves, wash your hands, under fingernails too, with soap and water - BEFORE using the toilet too! After freezing the chiles on the sheet, I dump them into a freezer bag for later. Aries likes to take one out to make an ortega burger or chicken sandwich; I chop and add some to chili or other Mexican recipes throughout the year, or when I'm ready to can a batch of salsa.

When I really get a bumper crop, I also can some in half-pints. Pack roasted and peeled chiles, whole or chopped, into sterilized jars to ½" headspace, (optional - add ¼ teaspoon non-iodized salt and/or ¼ teaspoon lemon juice to each jar). Do not add any extra water (if canning with added boiling water, leave 1" headspace). Seal and process in a pressure cooker or canner with a couple inches of water; 10 minutes venting steam, then to 10 pounds pressure at sea level, 15 pounds above 1,000 ft (for higher altitudes pressure is increased, not processing time); for 35 minutes at pressure. Let canner cool to zero pressure on its own before opening. As with any canned vegetable, chiles should be boiled 10 minutes before eating, so canned chiles are best used in soups and chili. Be forewarned that canning chiles ups the heat factor too - use discretion when adding to recipes.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Skills to Survive

I had an interesting conversation with some friends the other day about the skill set many of us have in our modern world and the skill set people had 200 years ago. Many of us now have skills that aren't directly linked to our survival. My skills as an business manager earn me a salary of money which I then give to a grocery store to buy food which it purchased from someone else. If something drastic happened in our world and we could no longer earn money, or if we could no longer buy food at a grocery store many people would be in a huge pickle. This is because our skills are no longer directly linked to our survival.

There are many of us that are trying to learn these basic survival skills once again, things like growing food, raising poultry, hunting, eating seasonally, canning, baking, building, sewing, knitting, spinning, etc. Some of us were lucky and grew up with parents that grew food, mom's that cooked from scratch and dad's that built furniture in the garage. Others weren't so lucky. Even if we were lucky enough to have parents that were into that sort of thing, most likely we didn't pay attention or hated gardening, or perhaps they just didn't do some things you are now interested in. As a result many of us are now trying to learn these skills through the internet, books, videos and from others.

One of the things I've noticed as I strive to learn new skills is that there's a huge overload of information. It can be difficult to glean the good stuff from the bad. I find it amusing sometimes when I read a book about something like keeping chickens that was written by someone that didn't grow up with chickens and just learned about them a few years ago. They often say things in the book that seem completely ridiculous and go against the way nature intended things to be. Books can be a good source of info, but they can also be completely wrong or not as in depth as they should be. Sometimes they completely gloss over important information. When researching a new topic I usually read 5-10 books about it and then assimilate all the information from the various sources. Usually I end up with a pretty good idea of how it should be done.

I find a lot of wonderful information on blogs and through internet friends (like all of you). Blogs are a great way to connect with others that are like-minded not only for advice and information, but also to have a support network. The connections I've made through blogging are not only a great source of information, but also a wonderful network of support!

I have also been working on building a network of local people that have some of the skills I don't posses so I can purchase or barter for their goods or services and learn from them. I have yet to be able to raise chickens or keep dairy cows, but I have a small local farm where I get these items. I know that I can rely on them to provide me with quality milk, eggs and meat and I'm so much happier giving them my money. Bartering is also a great option when you have developed a small local network for the things you need. One spring I traded 50 tomato seedlings for a good amount of pastured meat from a local farmer. I have also traded elderberries and other items for items I can't produce myself.

I am now confident that I have many of the skills needed to survive should I ever need them. Lets hope we never need these skills for some major disaster, but it may well be that they'll come in handy during a localized natural disaster or even an extended season of unemployment. I'm more comfortable knowing that I have a safety net, beyond our monetary emergency fund, in the skills I've taken the time to cultivate over the last 5 years. I would hate to be scrambling to learn these things when I needed them most.

What kinds of survival skills have you been learning over the past couple years? Where do you find the best information?

I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Embracing your bioregion

by Throwback at Trapper Creek


There are so many buzz words out there today in the simple green movement, some are fitting, and some are well, just buzz words. Sustainable, local, locavore, green, and the list goes on. But many times the words are just words or marketing tools. In our all out quest to save the world from everything we are losing sight of what really matters. Do my neighbor's hot house tomatoes in May qualify for local? Well yes they are local, they don't travel great distances to get here, but the huge energy costs to get tomatoes ripe here in the cool, cloudy Pacific Northwest make them not such a good choice if the buyer wants to lessen their energy impact. Another neighbor keeps a heated greenhouse also, where she grows citrus fruits. She fusses, and worries and gets her fresh citrus a few here and few there, but mostly she complains about heating the greenhouse and the keeping the plants happy, then she sends her hubby to the store for lemons so she can make marmalade. Her citrus is local, and zero-mile but the energy expenditure is huge, and she is frustrated most of the time because of her personal energy is drained also. My personal path down this road was raising chickens for sale à la Polyface , every bit of grain we fed with the exception of oats was shipped in from long distances. Not exactly an environmentally sound enterprise for our farm. Not to say we couldn't have sold scads of poultry and eggs raised this way - just that we didn't really feel comfortable after awhile having our so many of our eggs in one basket, so to speak. It wouldn't have taken much of a hiccup in the transportation system to cause us a lot of problems and heartache.

We have been told for so long as consumers that the world is our oyster, and we can have anything we want food-wise any time of the year. We all want to be so distinctive but really we are all so alike. These days you could take any grocery store produce department and plunk it down anywhere and it would look the same as one in a totally different region. With a modern transportation system at our beck and call, we have out-of-season fruits and vegetables year round in every town. And I won't even touch the processed food debate in this post with a ten foot pole. It's no wonder people don't know where their food comes from. Because it comes from the store! And they're all the same for the most part in every part of the country.

There is no celebration of heritage foods, or bioregional foods. And now it trickles down to farming and gardening. I love sweet potatoes but growing them is a crap shoot at best in my location. They belong in the South, same with peanuts or a myriad of other local, regional food stuffs. Farmers and gardeners love a challenge, the self-reliant gene that makes us want to try to grow everything, and the confidence that we can, makes it a little hard to swallow when we fail. When everyone celebrates with someone else's heritage and local food, it is no longer local, and then becomes scarce. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its salmon runs, which are scant at best now. When you have doctors telling you to eat salmon for it's health benefits and everyone jumps on the fishing boat the salmon in is big trouble. Of course, we always think we can outsmart and do an end run around these types of problems. No salmon, well, we will farm them. No chicken feed grown locally, well, we'll plow up the back 40 and plant some. No limes for the margarita, we'll just get us a citrus tree and an atrium and sit back and sip away. I am not trying to point fingers really, since this type of thinking is hard to get away from. If I run into a road block on some type of idea or project, I always try to think of ways to duplicate at home what I have purchased somewhere else. It's a hard mindset to quell - I got a start the other day when I saw a recipe requests for homemade gummy worms, and chocolate syrup, and this was on a healthy food/farming forum that I read.

I have been trying to embrace our local foodshed more, but I have quite a ways to go on this one. First I have stopped trying to grow many vegetables that are really just marginal in my climate. Ok, sure I will grow peppers and tomatoes in a hoophouse, but I will not heat the hoophouse. And I am justifying that hoophouse in my mind by using it as a season extender... Baby steps. A biggie is maple syrup, I like just a dab on my breakfast sausage, you know, the salt/sweet thing, but really just a hint of homegrown, homemade applesauce has been just as enjoyable with my breakfast and satisfies my sweet tooth. Maple syrup will have to be a treat from now on. It doesn't seem like much, these changes I have made, but I hope they will add up over time.

Have you found yourself rediscovering your heritage foodshed as well?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walking...Going Car Free!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

















Just shy of a month ago, I moved abroad. I left my little eco friendly car behind (no room for it on the plane you see!) and arrived car-free, but not quite care-free. The decision to go car-less for as long as possible was both purposeful and intentional and while I had a small moan yesterday on my blog, the reality is, I have found it a very blessed experience. I suppose, for me, owning a car is like owning a TV, it provides opportunities, but it is very easy to over-use. If a car, or TV, charged $10 for a 30 minute use and you had to pay to drive/watch I would probably find it easier to choose to walk when the car is in the driveway or find something else to do rather than stare at a screen...but alas "free" at point of entry is too tempting at times. And while I didn't own a car from age 17-24 I have gotten a tad too comfortable with the convenience of it all!

The weather has been hot, well over 100 degrees each day, yet my commitment to walking everywhere has meant I've simply found a rhythm which works for me, a rhythm which makes me be more purposeful and sacrificial, which chooses priority over apathy. I walk to a pool and swim (to exercise and cool off), walk to shops, job interviews, visit friends, run errands, go to the bank, volunteer or pretty much do anything else. Most of where I need to go is no more than about a 75 minute walk each way and to be honest, walking has opened up a whole new world. While I'm in a smallish city on my walks I've seen deer, beavers, raccoons, groundhogs, robins, blue jays, cardinals and an adorable yellow bird I've not yet been able to name. Friends of mine who go the same route in their cars have never, in 10 years (compared to my month), seen any such beauties. Through walking I've met people, happened on community farmers markets, found new places to explore and felt an incredible connection not offered by the disconnect which is an easy consequence of using a car to get from point A to B, B to C, C to D. I've noticed that many people are happy to "go for a walk" but not to "have to walk" to a specific point. Many people have asked me how I've walked in this heat and the answer is, I try to accomplish tasks early in the morning (which has provided a natural rhythm to my days), I wear long sleeves and a hat, I drink water and when it gets too much I simply "pull over" and find a new place to explore for a bit of a breather! I've also found that walking everywhere has made me need to be organized, I can't simply "nip to the shops" when the shops are a 65 minute walk each way, so being purposeful about my time has become a necessity!

The reality is, at some point I may "need" to get a car, because in my line of work 90% of jobs advertised list one as essential for being hired. Many years ago, I remember seeing a neighbour who lived 40 feet (1 house away) from the postbox drive down her drive and stop at the postbox, collect her mail and drive back. I asked her if she forgot something and she said she simply couldn't be bothered to walk. I hope, my couple of months with no car makes me choose to connect when possible rather than disconnect, helps me keep with the simple, frugal and green commitment of walking whenever possible and makes me less like my old neighbour and more like the person I am today.

While I know for many a car is a need, if for some reason I find a job which doesn't require a car, I am seriously considering trying to go a year without. When you add up car insurance, tax, petrol, break-down cover and (for many) the car payments, compared to my two working feet it seems like a very expensive want...or I could find some sort of a pay as you go system, $10 for 30 minutes which I think would mean I choose my feet a whole lot more and sitting behind the wheel a whole lot less.

Have you ever gone without a car out of necessity or circumstance? What did it teach you? Did you find it a simple, green and frugal choice? Have you ever cut down on your use of your car and how did you keep yourself motivated when it was there to be used?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pass It On

I have been thinking a lot here lately about education and passing on knowledge. I submitted the forms necessary for our area to be "official" homeschoolers this year, as my daughter is of the mandatory reporting age. Our reasons for keeping our children home are numerous and varied. From personal experience, there is so much learning that should happen at home, anyway, that it made a lot of sense for us. Much of that knowledge is of the homemaking variety. My daughter and son can be whatever they choose when they are older, but I expect them to be able to make dinner for themselves, sew clothes if needed, plant a garden and various other homesteading tasks that get easily left behind in modern schooling.

Recently I was given the opportunity to teach some classes at a local farm/store, and I have loved it. I love that the classes exist, period, really, though, as the fact that people will pay to learn something like making jams, making soaps, sewing aprons and cooking from scratch, tells us that priorities are changing, and for the better. There are so many crafts and skills that are getting lost-lost in a fast paced society and also due to changes in priorities. There was a time when schools (and grandmothers) taught girls how to do simple homemaking tasks-basics at the very least-so they could maintain a home when they were older. It didn't matter what path they were going to take-working full-time, having children or not-they needed basic skills. Young men were required to learn how to change the oil in a car and simple woodworking. Currently many of these programs are being cut from schools due to lack of funding and families no longer pass that sort of knowledge on, if they even possess it. I think the priorities of our society have shifted. What is even more troubling is that the older generations have even been removed from these skills in many cases. I know many families where the matriarchs or patriarchs are just as clueless about how to perform tasks many of us in the simple/frugal/green movement do everyday as their younger counterparts are.

Luckily, those of us who have learned, either from the internet, friends, grandparents who have been there, books or other classes are seeing the need to pass on that knowledge. I love showing others how to do things-whether it is mending a garment, recycling a sheet into something new and fun, baking bread or canning the season's bounty. I love to do it whether I am getting paid (which is just a nice bonus for a one income household) or not. I think education is vital for the survival of communities. Many people hear me talk about something and their response is "I didn't know you could do that!". It is important to keep up with our public display of the things we do to open up opportunities to teach others. It isn't that there isn't something for us to learn from folks who live faster, more modern "normal" lives, but much of what we do is getting lost and the only way to preserve these skills, which may be necessary someday-we cannot know-is to teach them, both to the next generation and to current ones.

I end in saying how very tickled I was about the attendance of the sewing class I co-taught over the weekend. A very close friend and I taught an intro to sewing class, and helped the ladies there to sew simple aprons. They were giddy that there was an easily accessible outlet to learn something of the sort, and we were happy to pass the knowledge on. The thing that got me was the ages of the people there; from a teenager (who turned red every time we mentioned tagging her in a picture of her in her apron on facebook for all her friends to see-which we had no intention of doing, but she was so darn cute) to ladies in their thirties and forties. The bread baking class last month had ladies in their fifties. It is awesome to see people willing to learn, no matter their age, and being able to make that happen. If those who have the knowledge do not pass it on, whether to their children or others, it will be lost. Knowledge is one of our most valuable resources, and one that is both easily wasted and easily given. I hope more people take opportunities to give it. It is so terribly fulfilling to see someone use their new skills, and in knowing that they now have the chance to pass it along.