Friday, November 14, 2014

Capsiacin made with vinegar

Capsiacin is a pure crystaline extract taken from plants in the capsicum family--otherwise known as peppers. Part of the nightshade family (Solanaceae) there are a number of different kinds of peppers but all have some level of capsiacin. It's this chemical that gives peppers their heat and unique flavor.

Capsiacin has been shown to be a potent painkiller, both taken internally and rubbed in topically. Recently it has also been used (on an experimental basis) for painkilling after surgery. The numbness continues for up to two weeks and the capsiacin also aids in healing.

This is definitely something I want in my emergency first aid kit.

I found a post on the forums at Gardenweb about creating pure capsiacin. To get the crystals would take more time and effort than I want to expend, so I'm working on extracting the capsiacin gel or oil.

The information I found all indicates to use 190 proof alcohol, which is dangerous, flammable, and expensive. Since many herbal mixtures will work with vinegar when alcohol is called for (and I have vinegar sitting around the house) I decided to use vinegar.

I didn't use the hottest peppers. I had the seeds, so I grew an heirloom habanero pepper this year. I pulled off the fruit, dried it thoroughly, crushed it small and poured vinegar over it.

I ran the mash through twice, and ended up with this. This is placed on top of a candle warmer so you can see the color.

Almost a full quart of liquid. This is after several filterings--one through paper napkins, one through fabric, then I let it settle and poured off the clear liquid from the top. I started with about a quart and a half. There was that much gunk mixed in with the liquid.


This next picture is after three or four days of evaporation. Since it's cold outside and I'm not working with toxic chemicals I have it in a crock pot with water up to the evaporation line.

There is some settling even now. As the liquid evaporates I am seeing granules separating out at the bottom of the bottle. I'm not sure what they are yet--they may be capsiacin granules, or they may be leftovers from the filtering process that are starting to coagulate.


When it started to get thick I poured it in a pint jar. This stuff has a life of its own. There's about a half inch of black goo at the bottom of the jar. No light gets through, it's like tar. It crawls up the glass and clings.

That edge you see isn't the level of the goo, it's the stains on the glass. I used a toothpick and touched it to my tongue, and my tongue is still burning.

I think this experiment has been a qualified success. I found a smaller jar to put the stuff in, a glass jar with a glass lid. It's going in my emergency kit with a bottle of olive oil and a handful of latex gloves. :)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Jerusalem Artichoke

Helianthus Tuberosus

I am cooking with Jerusalem artichoke for the first time. One of my family members has high cholesterol and was told he shouldn't eat potatoes. Jerusalem artichoke is a possible substitute, since potatoes form a major part of our diet.

The Jerusalem artichoke is not an artichoke, nor does it have any connection to Jerusalem. It's actually a variety of sunflower (which makes me wonder about the roots of the sunflowers growing in our yard). Since it has an invasive habit, I planted it in a container. That's probably why I didn't get as large a crop as I expected. The information I found indicated that the tubers could be harvested throughout the season, but each time I dug down around the plant I found (at best) a few rhizomes approximately the thickness of my smallest finger. When I dug it up this morning, all the tubers were directly under the main plant. We got a couple of pounds of small tubers, most of them between an inch and an inch and a half in diameter. Again, I think that was because it was in a small, isolated space and couldn't spread out.

In herbalism, Jerusalem artichokes are used as a supplementary pre-biotic, helping to balance the bacteria levels in the intestines. Instead of traditional starches, they have a starch called inulin (not to be confused with insulin) which doesn't break down readily and is not passed through into the bloodstream. They have very little effect on blood sugar, unlike traditional potatoes, and can be used to partially regulate blood sugar levels in diabetics.

According to hearsay, they can be used in anything that requires potatoes. I found that they slice easily, in perfect thin slices, where potatoes would tend to break or shear. One source said they can be used raw (rather like water chestnuts) in salads. Whether or not they should be peeled is a matter of choice, but their skins are thin and barely visible. The tubers are wrinkled and bubbled, making removal of the skins into more of a chore than I'm willing to take on.

I made hash-browns with them as a test. They have a nutty, sweet taste and a texture similar to potatoes but slightly more crunchy. They also stuck to my teeth like glue and I spent the next half hour prying them loose.

I got ambivalent reactions from family members. The taste would certainly take some getting used to. Not sure yet whether they would be worthwhile as a crop in the future. I'm guessing not, but I'll leave it open for discussion.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

GMO's (Part 3--Environment)

One of the larger documented problems with GMO's (Genetically Modified foods) is pollen drift. Time after time, conventional crops have been found to be contaminated with patented gene complexes. A number of times to my knowledge, the farmers in question have been slapped with lawsuits because they didn't "rent" the rights to grow the genetically modified versions, even though they had no idea that what they were growing was a patented version.

Time after time, it has been proven that the genetically modified plants happened because of pollen drift--the pollen from genetically modified fields drifting over to a traditional crop. If this happens in an area where seed crops are being planted, the seeds will include the patented gene modifications. If the farmer keeps part of his crop to replant (which was traditional in the early 20th century) then he's keeping genetically modified seeds.

A number of times, a gene modification has been traced back to a farmer who had no idea he was planting something he shouldn't--and the gene modifications in question were never cleared by the FDA. The seed stocks were supposed to be destroyed. And yet, somehow the genes ended up being in some farmer's crop in the middle of nowhere.

Coincidence? Genetic drift?

So let's take this a step further. Many common food crops have wild relatives. Like the beefalo (a buffalo/beef mix), even if the genetic material doesn't result in a true cross the genes are still there.

When you look at any wild environment, it's built on an extremely delicate balance. Let once piece of that environment disappear, the whole thing might collapse.

So let's set up a scenario. A wheat field planted with a genetically modified variety has a prevailing wind toward a wild area with various native grasses closely related to wheat. The wheat includes a terminator gene which doesn't allow for viable seeds. This is so that the seed provider doesn't need to worry about seed "piracy," or the farmer keeping seed without permission.

The wheat blooms and the pollen blows toward the grasslands. It pollinates several close relatives of the wheat. Because of the differences the genes are not fully integrated--the grass is visibly the same as before.

But now it carries the terminator gene. A few generations down the road (plant generations) the terminator gene activates and all the grass dies. The animals and birds that usually eat the seeds have nothing to eat and either leave or die. The animals that usually eat those animals also leave or die. The process of grass mutation continues until all the grass is dead. Meanwhile, the gene complexes have migrated even further and are now working on a wetland preserve about half a mile away.

The toxins built into the altered wheat have also migrated to the wild grass. The insects the toxins are designed to defend against have gained a level of immunity, increasing risk to the traditional crops in the area.

Five or ten or twenty years down the road, people are scratching their heads and demanding to know who should be held responsible. The FDA that approved the strains? The companies that made and marketed the gene complexes? The farmers? The EPA? Everyone who made the decision is now safely retired or dead.

A far-fetched scenario, perhaps, but definitely possible. So do we allow the risk for a possible immediate gain? Or do we remove the risk and never know if it would have happened?

Personally I'd prefer the latter.

Part 4

Thursday, September 25, 2014

GMO's (Part 2--health and safety)

The main argument against GMO's (genetically modified organisms) is that they haven't been proven safe. Those who sell them argue that they haven't been proven unsafe either. Which is true, in a sense. All of the studies done (as far as I know) have been done by the companies selling GMO products, with the express intent of proving that they're safe.

Just as the tobacco companies did a few generations ago. It's perfectly safe, look at all the data we have showing that it doesn't affect anyone's health...then a few generations down the road, here we are. Same with nuclear testing.

The arguments for or against safety and health effects must be addressed from a different perspective at this point, because GMO's haven't been around long enough to study any possible long term problems.

So let's take a common sense approach.

One of the main crops that has been heavily engineered is corn. It has been engineered to have a high concentration of a particular protein, one which is toxic to various insects. Thus, the insects leave it alone or die.

If it can kill an insect, doesn't logic say it is also dangerous to humans, or any other large animal? While the amounts required for immediate toxicity may be extremely high, the continued ingestion of such substances poses a significant risk.

Other plants have been genetically engineered with various other toxins. Theoretically they grow faster, are more resistant to blights and fungi of various kinds, which means more profit for the growers. In reality that may not be entirely true.

The FDA has stated that there is no significant health difference between GMO and non-GMO corn, or wheat, or sugar beets. And yet, the insects die...

The animals that eat the corn also have high concentrations of these toxins in their eggs, meat or milk. And yet, the FDA says there is no significant health difference between animals raised on GMO feed and non-GMO feed.

Most people don't care--as evidenced by the empty grocery store shelves and full cash registers, most people will continue to buy what they want to buy regardless of possible health risks. So why bother? Why do these companies pour millions of dollars into public information campaigns and squashing those who disagree?

And the answer is, as always, money. Money and control.

Part 3

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Hum

All over the world at the end of day...

Maybe we should write a book called "People Hear a Hum" as a companion book to "Horton Hears a Who" by Dr. Seuss.

In various areas of the world, a very small percentage of people hear a humming noise. It's not tintinitis, hearing is not affected, and although some instances have been linked to noise pollution most remain without an explanation. Some have connected it to HAARP
(High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program) or other experimental technologies. The connection to the aurora though...The sunspot activity has been exceptionally high this week, and the aurora borealis was visible in the northern US.

Something to think about, anyway.

Some have said they hear it mostly when meditating, or when extremely relaxed.

It's referred to, collectively, as "The Hum." Sounds like a horror movie. The Hum has been known and studied since the 1950's. People experience a continuous low drone, similar to a big truck idling nearby or a sub-woofer. The majority of people seem to hear it only in the right ear, and mainly at night. It is more likely to be found in rural or suburban areas, perhaps because big cities create enough noise to cover it. Based on the reports I found it's seldom heard in the tropics or sub-tropics, but only closer to the poles.

I haven't heard the hum (there are way too many "h's" in this post) until the last week. It's actually quite interesting. It's only in my right ear. I hear it more toward the east end of the house, but the difference is negligible. I hear it day or night, but it's not loud enough to be irritating. Turning off various appliances makes no difference. Plugging or covering my ear makes no difference, so obviously it's not a "sound" as such.

It seems to have a frequency of about 5 to 10 beats per second, fast enough that if I don't pay attention it's just a drone. Based on the way it behaves I'm guessing that it's direct stimulation of the auditory nerves, perhaps from the intense solar storms this week.

I've always been able to hear things I shouldn't, such as televisions or computers going on, radios in neighbors houses, and hints of phone conversations. It's nice (in a weird way) to know that there's an explanation for some of this.

The Hum

"The "hearing" of electromagnetic waves is an established fact. It appears that this takes place by direct stimulation of the nervous system, perhaps in the brain, thus bypassing the ear and much of the associated hearing system. It is a possible, perhaps the most probable, explanation of the reports of hearing meteors and auroras."

Monday, September 1, 2014

GMO (Part 1)

GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are a trigger topic for many people. Some feel strongly that GMO foods are the wave of the future. Others feel they're a health hazard. The companies that make them and own the gene complexes are naturally supporting their product with studies and legislation. The other side supports their own opinions with studies. Not legislation so much there because they don't have the money the corporations have.

It's a David and Goliath battle. The corporations say it hasn't been proven a hazard therefore they can do what they like. The other side says it hasn't been proven safe so take it off the market.

The corporations insist the government doesn't force them to label anything, so they don't have to. The other side says they have the right to know what's in their food.

Throughout most of the world, GMO's have been banned. That doesn't stop them from growing GMO crops for importation into the US. The argument is that the GMO foods are easier to grow, more disease and insect resistant, use less water and less fertilizer. These things haven't been satisfactorily proven (in fact, GMO crops seem to use more insecticide and more fertilizer) but the corporations responsible continue to make the claims in big loud voices that try to overwhelm any kind of dissent.

Or lawsuits if the voices don't work.

Currently there is a lawsuit against the state of Vermont. Vermont passed a law requiring labeling of GMO foods--those who would be required to comply are fighting back, declaring the law "unconstitutional." They're calling it restraint of trade.

There are hundreds of aspects to this problem, but it primarily comes down to rights--whose rights take precedence, the citizens, or the corporations?

Yes, technically the corporations have the "right" to do whatever they want within the framework built by government (which is another topic, but I'll leave it alone right now). But the rights of the people MUST take precedence. It is the people who the government is sworn to protect. NOT the businesses. And while business is necessary to the economy and the safety and health of the people, they do not have the right to over-ride the desires of the people for their profit.

If the people want GMO labeling, no business should be able to countermand that.

Part 2

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Isolation techniques

I walked into a nursery a few blocks from my home and talked to the lady who orders the seeds. She said that heirloom plants were a fad and would fade out in a few years.

I said "Not for me."

There are a number of reasons that people buy heirloom seeds and plants. They are generally a bit more expensive, but they are GMO free (so far), have more variety, and you can save seeds with the assurance that you'll get the same thing next year.

Or...not quite.

If you plant two heirloom varieties of squash close together you might get a hybrid the next year. A pumpsquash maybe, or a waterlope. :) Just kidding.

While tomatoes and peppers, peas and beans, are generally not pollinated by insects (they're self-fertile and most blossoms pollinate themselves) there is still a possibility of a mixture.

There are a number of ways to make sure you get the same variety, mostly determined by the way the particular plant is pollinated.

The simplest is distance. Do not plant wheat, for example, within half a mile of any other strain of wheat. They will mix. Corn is also wind pollinated but the pollen is heavier--plant different varieties of corn about fifty feet apart.

The second option, which relies on the experience of the gardener, is to plant different varieties at different times. This might be as simple as planting each variety in an alternate year, or it might mean planting them a month or two apart. It depends on how long the flowering season is for each variety and how long it takes the seeds to mature. This won't work for some types of plants.

The third, and the one I prefer for most things, is isolation. From a seed bag (scraps of gauze with yarn woven around the outside to make a drawstring bag) to a tent over an entire plant, isolation makes sure that only you can get to the blossoms to pollinate them. Done with a paintbrush, a q-tip, or some other similar item, isolation is the only way to completely verify that you're getting the pollination you want.

It's a learning curve. If you accidentally end up with something unintended, try again next year. That's part of why I always plant only a small portion of the seeds in any one year. I always have something left over from the last batch so I can start over if necessary.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The hazards of driplines

We finished converting our garden to driplines this year. This means no overhead sprinklers. We're using about 20 to 30% less water (an important thing, in a desert) and the plants are doing fabulous.

Except...some of them aren't.

A month or so ago my winter squash wilted. Just a little, and I wasn't concerned because it was really hot (into the hundreds) and they were getting plenty of water.

The next day the whole plant was dead. Of course it took a while before the green leached out of it (we currently have a winter squash skeleton sprawled over a quarter of the garden) but it was really that quick. No sign of wilt prior. We checked the leaves for insect damage and found nothing. No white scum or other signs of disease. Completely fine one day, and gone the next.

It wasn't gradual, as I would expect with most squash pests, and it was the whole plant at the same time. Most squash pests will kill one part of the plant, or the leaves will die and the fruit continue to grow, etc. This was sudden, and complete.

We did what we could to save it. Shaded the root ball during the day, extra water, special fertilizer, and we put soil over the root nodes in the hope that it would put down more roots.

Too late.

Since nothing else in the garden was affected, we let it go. A fluke, right?

Last week one of our zucchini showed a hint of wilt. The next morning...

This time we were proactive. We took all the fruit and blossoms off it first thing, shaded the whole plant and put soil over the nodes. It's currently struggling.

When that happened I went into detective mode. I dug up the root ball of the winter squash. Normally these things are two to three feet across, with a tap root that goes four feet into the ground. Getting them out in the fall is a major chore. The tap root was maybe six inches long, with a handful of spindly little roots sprawling limply about six inches from it.

No wonder the thing died! With 200 feet of runners, dozens of blossoms and a dozen developing fruit, it simply didn't have the root capacity necessary!

It's possible that something ate the root—we do have gophers—but as I said, we finished up the drip lines this year. I was careful to space the plants right under the driplines, we've been watering twice a day (10 minutes, morning and evening) and to add insult to injury I surrounded all the plants with 4 to 6 inches of mulch to keep weeds down. Evaporation is lower.

I took good care of my plants—too good. They didn't have to stretch to get what they needed, so they didn't have the root mass necessary when they started producing. When we pulled the fruit off the sick zucchini, it had five good sized zucchini and three starting. The winter squash had about the same. Too much for those tiny, shriveled roots to support.

Last week we dropped watering back to once a day. We'll drop back to once every other day if necessary. The zucchini plant is starting to come back—maybe. It's poking a few new leaves up. We'll see if it survives, but you can bet that next year I won't be so careful.

I'll plant between the drip rows so the plants have to strain for the water, and water less.

It makes an interesting parallel with taking good care of human beings, but that's a rant for another time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Polka-dotted lawn

The year is already hot. The first few months are usually testing, figuring out the same stuff we figured out last year (and didn't write down), fixing sprinklers, etc.

Anyway, the lawn is already turning brown. Part of that is the heat, and part the fact that our sprinkler system doesn't seem to be functioning correctly. Brown lawn in June = not good.

A few years ago I ran into an article that talked about drought tolerant lawn alternatives. Several were all about the specially bred and genetically altered lawn alternatives, but I try to stay away from GMO's as a matter of course.

That's a rant for another day.

Another alternative mentioned was yarrow.

Achillea Millefolium
Family: Compositae

I already did a blog post on yarrow as a medicine in 2012, but this one has a different focus.

The article suggested that yarrow could take the place of a traditional lawn. It's drought tolerant, and when water is available it grows faster than traditional grass. It uses less water for a better result. For the last few years I've been transplanting bits of yarrow into my lawn, which creates an interesting patch-work effect when the rest of the lawn dies back.

The yarrow stays green, so I have polka-dots. It grows slowly, crowding out the traditional grass. A piece planted about eight years ago is now about two feet across (or would be, except that it got dug up because we were building a wall there this spring). If given its own space it grows much faster. If it's kept mowed it's softer than traditional grass. If not kept mowed it will flower, but the flowers don't produce seeds. At least mine haven't. If not kept mowed, the remaining hard bits of the flower stalks will make your lawn hard to walk on.

One disadvantage is that you won't find many who sell yarrow carpet. It just won't happen. Yarrow doesn't seed and it grows too slowly to be commercially viable.

Try it, though. If you have a small area, dig out the weeds and get a handful of yarrow plants from your local nursery. Plant them about a foot apart, keep them watered until they're established (about two weeks) keep it mowed and by next spring you may have a great yarrow carpet.

Historical note, April 2015: I have since learned that yarrow does seed, profusely. I don't know why I don't get seedlings in my yard. I have about a dozen yarrow seedlings ready to go in the lawn. I want to get rid of the back lawn entirely this year.

Friday, April 18, 2014


I saw the first cantelope poke its head up today!

The last few weeks I've been having long, fun conversations with a friend across the street--about gardening, of course. She blogs at Me My Garden and I, and mostly she blogs guessed it. Gardening. It's her favorite toy.

A month or so ago I planted kamut (a variety of ancient wheat) and hull-less oats in a test patch. That was going to be the limit of my experimentation this year (or at least my garden experimentation) but I decided to do Jerusalem Artichokes as well. I'm also trying no-till in the main garden, just to see how it works.

Next year I'll try spelt, and then white wheat the year after unless I find something else to play with.

Right now I have nineteen tomato plants in the ground and four of my potatoes are up. The melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, winter squash, cucumbers) are in the main garden, and in the boxes the peas, beets, broccoli, onions and greens are up. Greens going wild, of course. We can't eat the stuff fast enough. The garlic is growing like a weed. The zucchini won't go in until we figure out the sprinkler issues, since the sprinkler problem is right where the zucchini was SUPPOSED to go.

I planted the carrots today. Once it warms up a bit more I have two more tomatoes (both mortgage lifter) to go in the ground, as well as five bell peppers, two jalapenos, and a handful of habaneros which will be used ONLY for my first aid kit.

And one solitary lavender plant. One finally came up, although I'm probably jinxing it by saying that. :)

Everything heirloom, of course. I'm trying hard to keep the new-fangled stuff out of my garden. Everything I keep for seed is pollinated by hand so I know precisely what I'm getting. I really don't want to be accidentally eating bug killer genetically engineered into my corn because someone else decided to plant GMO's.

A rant for another time.

I guess I'm just old fashioned.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Last year my lavender died. There's this one spot in my herb garden where nothing will grow, and I figured lavender is pretty hardy so I moved the lavender there. It promptly died.

Credit: Forest and Kim Starr - Plants of Hawaii

This winter I've been trying to start more lavender, but it never gets secondary leaves--it just dies.

So a few days ago I got four lavender plants from a neighbor who was going to throw them away. They are HUGE, and apparently haven't been thinned since they were planted. I gave them each a severe haircut and plunked them in the ground. :)

So this year I'll have lavender. Lots and lots of lavender.

Lavendula Officinalis or Lavendula augustifolia
Family: Lamiaceae (mint family)

Do not use lavender if you are allergic to anything else in the mint family. Hint: One way to tell if something is in the mint family is the square stems.

Do not use lavender (either internally or topically) if you are taking anti-depressant medications, narcotic pain relievers, or benzodiazipines (such as Atavan, Halcion, or Valium). Lavender can induce sleep, so resist using it with any medication that will cause drowsiness. Remember the usual warnings: herbs and drugs DO interact, so if you take two antidepressants together it doubles the effect and can have serious consequences. Don't do it. If you take a relaxant and a stimulant (such as coffee) together, they'll probably cancel each other out or may interact in other ways.

Lavender is generally used as an essential oil. If the plant is used the flowering tops are considered the most efficacious, but I have found that any part of the plant can be just as helpful. The flowering tops just smell prettier.

Lavender has a number of uses, from treating depression to treating burns. Used topically (meaning on the skin) it is used as a pain killer, anti-inflammatory, an anti-spasmodic and as a treatment for various skin diseases. Lavender essential oil has shown some efficacy in treating burns, much like aloe vera. Taken internally it can cause drowsiness so it is often used as a sleep aid. For some people just the smell is enough.

Taken in the other direction, lavender is used as an herbal antidepressant. It doesn't work in the same way as most pharmaceutical anti-depressants and might more accurately be termed a calmitive. It's good for nervous disorders, calming down before sleep, and so on. It goes along with the anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties--it helps muscles and mind relax.

On top of that it smells really good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Low-cost gardening

Plants need basically three things. Water, light, heat. Anything beyond that adds to how healthy the plant will remain as it grows. A seed is self-contained food storage for the baby plant. The seed is large enough to get that plant growing and keep it healthy until it can sink its roots into the soil it assumes will be there.

So the seed won't start until the circumstances are right. Some plants need no light, or low light, or bright light for germination. Some need well drained soil, some need sand, or compost, and so on. But at the beginning they're all the same--light, water, heat.

In order to start a seed, you need to provide those three things.

Call me crazy, but I collect toilet paper rolls. Cut in half or thirds, they make perfect "peat pots" without the chemicals or the need to buy expensive specialty items. Stuffed with sphegnum moss (apx $3 per bag on sale, and a bag will last me at least two years) they create a place for the seed to rest, out of the water. The moss soaks up the water and keeps the seed evenly moist, as long as there is water in the tray.

My main tray for starting seeds is a rectangular cake tray from a grocery store. The base is black, the top is clear and it snaps on tightly enough to keep the water in. There are also no holes so bugs can't get in. A little water in the tray keeps my seedlings happy but not waterlogged. At full capacity it can hold about forty planting tubes.

The secondary seed nursery is also a cake tray, but this time slightly deeper. I can put the top on, but usually I use this one (or one like it) when the seedlings have secondary leaves and are ready to leave the sealed environment.

There they can grow until they are between four and six inches tall, depending on what I'm planting.

At that point I transplant them, into pots (saved from previous years) or into the ground. If I have two plants in each tube the tube is composted and I carefully separate the plants, keeping half the moss for each. Otherwise I plant the seedlings right in the tube. I have yet to lose any transplants this way, as the moss retains water even in the ground.

Gardening doesn't have to be expensive. It doesn't have to be difficult. By starting your own plants you know precisely what seeds are being used, whether or not fertilizer is used and what kind, and whether or not the plants are safe for your family.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Something to work on

The crazy herb lady is at it again. I'm bouncy and excited that spring! spring! spring! is here, so yesterday I spent most of the day outside--and today I'm feeling it.

It shows me how important exercise is. Honestly, I hate the treadmill. Walking outside is fine during the summer, but during the winter it's both cold and dangerous. Walking on the treadmill is boring, but the way my legs were hurting last night (after just carting some leaves around and doing a bit of digging!) tells me that I need to make this a priority.

Eating healthy is just one piece of the puzzle. I also have to make sure that I keep in decent shape, keep my brain active and maintain some semblance of a social life. If I intend to be living on my own at 80 or 110, I need to take care of what I have. Which is a really weird thought, you know? I'm halfway there.

I don't feel like it. I don't notice that I feel that much different than I did at 20. Just happier. And I want to keep it that way, which is going to require some effort on my part.

OK. So treadmill walking or neighborhood walking (I won't run on a regular basis because I want to keep my knees and hips, thank you very much) every day. Targeted exercise...the problem is that I see these things as taking time away from my writing. I need to work on that.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I can do it myself

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh, probably.

I had a discussion with my sister a week or so ago about bread. She said she uses a commercial dough enhancer.

I'm just one of those "I can do it myself" people, and if you imagined a three year old saying that you hit the idea on the nose. I listen to people who claim to be amazing gardeners, but they use purchased seeds, chemical fertilizers, weed killer, bug killer, etc. I do NOT consider that "do it yourself" gardening.

Same thing with bread. Vital wheat gluten, dough enhancers, special flavors and odd strains of yeast...if I can't do it myself, I want to find a way. Of course I have to draw the line somewhere (I can't grow my own wheat--yet) but I try to do whatever I can. I do not want to be dependent on a commercial product that may not always be available.

So on the topic of dough enhancers. Commercial dough enhancers are made up of four elements: Gluten, acid, starch and sugar. Gluten makes the bread stand up and do tricks. Acid strengthens the gluten strands. Starch also strengthens the gluten, and the yeast eats the sugar.

Gluten is a commercial product, so I'm ignoring that. Basically if you use vinegar and a bit of potato flakes or rice flour, you have your dough enhancer. I'm baking tomorrow, so I'm going to try it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Itchy feet

I started my first seeds last week. Broccoli and Cabbage are cold weather plants so I'll set them out once they're ready. The other was the seeds from an heirloom bell pepper. I "harvested" the only fruit in November (I'd been covering it every night) and ripened it on the windowsill. I'm not sure if there are any viable seeds, so I planted some of those just to see if they germinate.

I pushed a shovel down in the dirt. The boxes are thawed inside the covers (lettuce is re-sprouting) but everything else is still frozen once you get about a foot away from the walls and fences.

You can see me pouting.

I want spring to come! Right now!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Whole wheat bread

We're trying to be healthy, so for the last few months I've been trying to make whole wheat bread.

Last year we harvested a test plot of hard red wheat (this year we're going to try kamut as well as oats) and got about a half gallon of wheat. When ground, two cups of wheat makes about 2 1/3 cups of flour.

Whole wheat bread is a little trickier than white bread, because white bread flour often has additives and extra gluten and such nonsense. So making a good loaf of bread from a white bread recipe is pretty much a no-brainer. Apparently I thought I wasn't being challenged enough.

My first attempt was a disaster, the loaf dry and small, with little visible rising. Adding additional yeast didn't make much difference.

The second attempt (after doing some research on the internet) was half whole wheat (half hard red, half kamut) rather than all whole wheat. I used it to make rolls for Thanksgiving, and while they weren't as puffy as I would have liked they were OK.

Then I tried half and half kamut and wheat, the other half white flour, and found an interesting trick on the internet.

The night before I bake, I mix all the liquid and half the flour (the wheat half) + half the sugar with a 1/2 t of yeast. I mix all that together and leave it in the refrigerator over night. If I'm making whole wheat bread I mix the rest of the flour with additional water and let that sit as well. If I'm just using white flour for the other half, the rest of the ingredients can be mixed in just before the first rise. Basically the wheat needs time to hydrate and the bran needs time to break down so it won't destroy what gluten there is. In the morning I add the recipe equivalent of 1/4 to 1/3 of the required water (so if the recipe calls for 2 cups of water I'll add 1/2 cup additional water, or a little more) and the remaining ingredients.

Everything else follows the recipe.

2 T yeast + 1/2 t yeast (yeast can be mixed in dry)
2 c water + 1/2 c water
1/2 c sugar (can replace with honey)
1/4 c shortening
1 egg
2 t salt
6 1/2 c flour

Mix 1/2 t yeast, 3 1/2 c flour, 2 c water, 1/4 c sugar, let sit overnight
Add remaining yeast, remaining water, remaining sugar, shortening, egg and salt. Mix in remaining flour as usual. Let rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours), then beat down, divide and let rise again. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

Made four loaves this morning, and the only difference between wheat and white is the flavor and the color. :)