Thursday, 10 September 2009

L. L. L. Limoncello!!

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

Exerpted and edited from two previous blog entries. Autumn is around the corner here in the Northern hemisphere, but I thought a nod to Spring was in order for my friends in the South. Cheers!

I tried a new experiment yesterday. It's something that I've wanted to do for some time and yet, somehow, after I brought home the fresh Meyer lemons from my moms tree a couple of months ago, I didn't think of it.These, I'm telling you, are the best damn lemons I've ever had! Every time I've cut them, or used them for anything I am over whelmed with the sheer lemoneyness (is that a word? It is now!) of them.

So as I was saying, I brought home a big bag of these from my visit with the folks 2 months ago. I love them so much I wanted to make sure that I used them for something that would really capture the essence of them. The problem was, I mostly use lemons in the Summer with our fresh fruits and veggies and they just aren't there yet.

Then, last week, while A~ and I were at the liquor store we were talking and joking and then mentioned Limoncello and BANG! Brainstorm! I can't think of anything that would better capture the sweet lemoneyness (yeah, there's that new word again...feel free to use it anytime...) than some delicious homemade Limoncello. I found a pretty easy recipe online that even I could do on my own and that I needed nothing special to do.I used a regular potato peeler to peel the rind off the lemons into thin but wide strips of the zest from 10 lemons.

I later made sure that I juiced the lemons so as not to waste any of the lemons whatsoever. That will be getting concentrated with some sugar into a special summer treat to make some lemonade with.I added all the lemon zest peels into a large bowl and poured a full new 750 ml bottle into the bowl on top of them. Next I used a potato masher to give the peels a light pressing, not enough to crush them just enough to make me feel like I did a little work you know?

The recipe is as follows:
10 lemons
1 (750-ml) bottle vodka
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar

You can see that there's a good bit of water and sugar added after the lemons have had a chance to steep in the Vodka for 4 days. I'll need to make a simple syrup from the sugar and water in a couple of days and then cool it completely before adding it to the strained out Vodka. Then I can refrigerate it for easily a month.

I have to add to this that I did give it a little "one day" test tonight by adding a bit of it to a little sugar and water just to check if it's doing anything. Oh man I can't wait!! It was soooooo goood! Wish I could have you all up for a visit and a sample. Oh yeah, and by the way in case you were wondering how these lemons held up for two whole months in the fridge. They were literally no different than any fresh lemons that I may have picked up in the store the day before. It truly was a testament to how long fresh lemons can last. Hmm? makes me wonder how old those lemons in the store are?

By the power of the blogoshpere, let's jump forward to four days later....

Yes, that fast, it is completed. I steeped it for four days, then strained and added the cooled simple syrup mixture and voila. Limoncello. I decided to take the pictures outside to really give you an idea of the beautiful irridenscent glow of the finished product. It looks deeply golden indoors, but with some light turns the most pale, fragile yellow. It really is a liquor made just for spring.
Drink it chilled, whether just refrigerated or nearly frozen, and you have a treat for after dinner that you'll truly enjoy. Particularly if you're a lover of all things lemon like me.
Here's to life.
Here's to Spring.
Here's to you!!


Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Moving Forward When Times Are Tough

by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin.

Some days I have no inspiration or get up and go, but never from a lack of enthusiasm!  Today is one of those days.

When you embark on a lofty life goal such as mine, it is quite intense during the day. Juggling a full time job, coming home to a wonderful family, but then catching up on Sustainable Living group responsibilities and then spreading the green word via this blog and my personal blog, The Greening of Gavin, and then garden maintenance on weekends. It certainly makes for a very busy week, but I wouldn't miss all that action for the world.

However, when you come down with an illness or cronic injury that you just can't budge, it shakes your routine, beliefs/behaviours and sometimes your world. Deadlines get missed, promises get broken, and inevitablbly projects get delayed. I have one of those cronic injuries, that doesn't seem to want to go away, and I get very frustrated when I have a relapse, as I am now. One of my chief values is congruence, doing and delivering what I say I am going to do, but with this injury, I have had to learn to reassess timelines and promises.

With a 48% reduction in income, limited physical capability, and struggling to pay our mortgage, it really puts preasure, and self doubt within me when I don't or can't provide, or get all obligations, let alone my green projects started or even completed. Life just gets hectic and you have to slow right down and recover. Everyone has these days, and I certainly realise I am not Robinson Crusoe when it comes to ill health.

The only thing that keeps me strong is my family, my personal values and belief set, and the realisation that all the carbon reducing behaviours that we already have in place do not get thrown out the window just because I am in pain or imobile.  Back in the old days, it could become all too hard and pointless. I remember that this would be the first thing to go if I was sick before I had my green epiphany. Waste would accumulate, too lazy to recycle, too tired to turn off the lights when leaving the room, or too tired or complacent to actually do much at all except lay infront of the telly and veg out and put it all in the too hard basket!

Now, I have been living with this back injury for 2 and a bit years, and the circumstances of how it happened are quite ironic and somewhat humourus, but know that I am not alone in the world and there are people with greater and worse afflictions, so this post is not a call for sympanthy or sorrow on my behalf.

It is simply a message to remind me and all of us that when you feel low, or don't think that you can keep up with the change towards a simple life or whatever your life goal is, think again and think hard. The end game is worth all the effort if you really, really believe in that goal. Don't let anything get in your way, because if you let an established habit slip, then it is just as hard to get back to where you started again.  The old saying 'two steps forward, one step back' comes to mind. However, if the citizens of the world don't make the changes we are seeking, then nobody else will. Governments are already struggling to get concensus on climate change targets, and most Corporations will not give a hoot until Governments act.  It is truely up to the people of the world to change it for the better.

So, when feeling low or in pain, as I am now, I always try to remember of all the great things I have achieved so far on our journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle, and that things will always get better. All I have to do is take baby steps each, and every day, and put one foot in front of the other. That is all anyone could possibly ask of themselves or their fellow global citizens!

Lets all take those baby steps together in the right direction.  Big things will happen, I just know they will!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Reflecting on my "Buy-Nothing" Month

Last month I participated in Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge. The challenge was simple, to not buy anything other than groceries for a whole month. That meant no meals out, no new clothes, etc. but also no haircuts or other salon services, no makeup, and no entertainment expenses either.

There were a few exceptions: necessary things like school supplies or other purchases, and also "items used for canning and food storage". This was explicitely spelled out as jars and pectin for canning, which I did purchase during the month.

I did, however, extend this definition somewhat with my first and most major breach of the month, to buy a small chest freezer. Yikes! But let me explain: as many of my readers know, I'm expecting a baby very soon--2 weeks and 5 days to be exact (well, as exact as "due dates" are anyway!)--and I figure one of the most important things I can do right now is to stock up on prepared food that I can rely on for our dinners once the baby arrives and things are turned upside-down. I also bought some zip-lock baggies to store food in the freezer.

I remember two and a half years ago when our daughter was born, we were not prepared food-wise and we ended up getting a lot of convenience items. Take-out pizza, grocery store barbecued chickens, frozen lasagne, etc. Since I got my freezer in early August, I've been slowly filling it with yummy food like spaghetti sauce, chili, pesto made with local organic basil, and a variety of creamy soups. It's so great to know I won't have to spend the extra money for lower-quality additive-rich food later on.

I made other purchases as well during the month, such as my weekly cookie purchase at a cafe where I meet friends to knit. This is a sanity-saver, as it's just about the only time I get away from the house and my toddler. Don't get me wrong--I love spending time with her--but it's great to be able to escape once a week and not be a mom for about 90 minutes!

Some other things I bought were perhaps less excusable: one lunch out for myself, plus at least two lunches at the farmer's market when I was not organized enough to pack one up before leaving. Replacement batteries for my kitchen scale (an absolute necessity!!), a stupid $10 sippy cup (in a desperate, failed attempt to night wean my 2 1/2-year old off the boob and onto the bottle . . . didn't work!), a gift for some friends, and a bunch of second-hand baby stuff, which we got an AMAZING deal on. I'm probably forgetting something, but I do feel I did pretty good . . . until the last couple of days.

For some reason, buying nothing felt pretty easy for most of the month. I had lots of energy to prepare lunches and snacks, and I was okay delaying or redirecting my desires for new fun stuff. We went to the park, brought our lunches, met friends at the park, avoided the mall, ate well at home instead of going out to restaurants, made gifts by hand and gave away jam. For entertainment we went to the library and hung out in our building's back yard. We watched downloaded TV shows and used our membership to go to the museum. We had fun, and life really didn't change in any way!

But for some reason toward the end of the month I started to suffer from buy-nothing burn-out. I started to want. I started to NEED! So on August 31st when my mother-in-law came visiting in her Mazda Protegée, I took advantage and went . . . to Ikea.

Oh my, but it was satisfying. After a full month (almost!) of not indulging in "retail therapy" I broke down and bought: some new bibs, a "park" potty and a baking kit for my little girl, a children's rug with roads drawn on it to put in the living room for the coming baby, some light bulbs for our hall light that's been burnt out for over 2 months, and a tray to serve as the top of my "utility cart" so I can pretend to be a hotel chambermaid as I move through the apartment tidying up. Overall, $100 damage. Way to go out with a bang!

So, what did I learn from my "Buy-Nothing" Month? The first thing I noticed was that our bank account was much healthier than usual (before the Ikea trip in any case!) . The second thing I noticed was that I do have a bit of a retail addiction that works against my otherwise frugal lifestyle. In times of stress I react by buying things. Not for myself (as in makeup or clothes) but for my daughter, or more likely, for the house.

If I can keep a watch out for my triggers, and work through these desires in a less spendy way, that will help me to maintain my frugal lifestyle. For the moment, I'm thinking about doing a buy-nothing week once a month, just to keep myself trained and practice being better organized.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Cold Soup

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
This time of year, the garden produce is really rolling in. The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, but our days are still quite hot. Cold vegetable soups make a quick lunch - easy to put together, and really hit the spot.

Usually, by this time of year, I've canned a batch of tomato sauce and another of whole tomatoes. But this year, the first of the tomatoes are just now starting to turn red. No matter - if I have to, I'll pick the green ones when the first freeze threatens and ripen them inside. But right now, I can finally start lunching on fresh red gazpacho - a liquid salad-soup always served cold. I have a couple of half-gallon canning jars. They're too big to use for canning, but they're perfect for chilling a batch of cold soup - just shake, pour into a bowl, and serve.

Red Gazpacho (makes approx ½ gallon)

3 pounds ripe tomatoes - peeled and seeded
1 green bell pepper - seeded and ribs removed
1 red onion
1 large cucumber - peeled and seeded
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 large garlic cloves
1 cup tomato juice (fresh, or I use V8 juice)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 slice stale bread - crusts removed, soaked in water and squeezed dry
salt & pepper to taste

Working in batches, liquefy everything in a blender. Combine and refrigerate at least one hour. Stir or shake well before serving, in a soup bowl. Optional: garnish with croutons or your choice of diced pepper, cucumber, onion, or cherry tomato (or just add them all!).

I had a cabbage split a couple of weeks ago (I immediately root-pruned the rest). Split cabbages don't keep very well, and it's still too warm to be making sauerkraut, so I've made up a couple of batches of my adaptation of borscht. It involves cooking beforehand (usually the night before), and is then chilled before serving. You can used canned beets, or peel raw beets (if you don't mind red-stained hands), but I prefer using roasted fresh beets (scrub, wrap in foil packet or place in covered casserole dish, 400º, 1 hour or until beets can be easily pierced with a knife, cool and slip off the skins).

Chilled Beet Borscht (makes approx ½ gallon)
2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 quart water or stock (I like fat-free chicken stock for my chilled version, classic borscht recipes call for beef stock)
6 - 8 medium beets, skins removed, chopped (or 16 oz canned beets, do not drain)
½ head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk (or more, to taste)

Sauté onion in oil until soft. Add stock or water, beets, cabbage, and seasonings. Simmer, covered, until beets and cabbage are tender. Puree in a blender until smooth. Chill at least 4 hours. Add buttermilk - either as a decorative swirl to each bowl, or I just pour it into the jar and shake - and serve. Chopped hard-boiled eggs make a nice garnish; buttered rye or pumpernickel bread a nice accompaniment.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Electronic Sunsets

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Lately I've been realizing how much of my time and my husband's time is dominated by electronics. We don't even have a television in our home, and haven't for many years. But we have laptops, and he has a cell phone. Far too much of the time we should be spending together, doing either productive or non-productive things is being eaten up by these tools that supposedly make our lives better. In my husband's case this is partly down to the fact that he telecommutes, so having a phone meeting at 8 pm with a company in Japan is the price we pay for his ability to work from home. Still, I'm bothered more and more by the amount of time we squander on the computer, or through other electronic gadgets.

I don't know where I first came across the electronic sunset idea, but I loved it right away. The idea is that you pick a time each evening when all the electronic attention-stealers and time-sucks get turned off. This would include blackberries, televisions, gaming devices, computers, cell phones, etc. So from 7 pm, or whatever hour you decide, the rest of the evening is spent interacting in some way with your actual physical environment. For most of us, that could simply mean everything is turned off at dinner time, and not turned back on until the next morning.

So many of us complain that we have no time, that we're exhausted all the time, that we'd love to do X if only our lives permitted it. Yet we fritter away enormous quantities of time on electronic distractions. What could we do with several extra hours per week? Certainly some of that time would be spent "catching up" on tasks that we feel guilty about neglecting. We could use that time to do many of the frugal things that we say we have no time for, such as preparing extra meals for busy nights, or packing lunches to save eating out the next day.

But what's of more interest to me is the bonding that can occur when we make the choice to limit the electronic intrusions into our family lives, even for a brief period. I can speak from some little experience in this because we've had electronic hiatuses over holiday breaks. We've taken turns reading books out loud while the other one does some manual task, such as knitting in my case, or tool sharpening in my husband's. We've put jigsaw puzzles together. When we have company, playing cards is a great entertainment. More gets done around the house. We talk to each other more, and more substantively. The kitchen is neater. Most importantly, we feel calmer, less rushed, better rested, and more involved with one another. All because we cut a few distractions out of our lives for a brief time.

Here's a list of things I would love to do during an electronic sunset:

Read out loud to each other
Crack and shell the gleaned nuts we've collected
Clean out closets, junk room, and garage
Identify and set aside useful things to be donated/sold/recycled/repurposed
Discuss future plans
Maintain the garden and the garden tools better
Learn to operate the sewing machine and make a few gifts
Complete more knitting projects
Several small house projects
Get to bed at a decent hour

What do you think? Have you ever done something like this? Would your family benefit from a daily electronic sunset? Does the idea seem daunting to you? What would you most like to accomplish with a little "extra" time? Is the irony that you're reading about electronic sunsets online just a little too much for you?