Saturday, June 2, 2018

chickens, boxes, saying goodbye

I haven't posted in a while because goings on at mystic cedars have been a little fragmented.  Some things are consistent.... Chickens are roaming the grounds and kids are showing up to feed them.     Herbs are being cut and dried. I've been using the dehydrator for them but, I have to admit, I miss the sight and smell of herbs  hanging in the corner to dry.  Because I have such a quantity I will continue to use the machine but I am going to hang some for the  aesthetic of it. Its salmonberry season so  I have gathered  a few bags to put in the freezer until  baby sis wants to  do a jelly making marathon again.   While I remember my grandmothers making jams and jellies in hot kitchens on hot days , I have the luxury of being able to  store fruits  until a pleasant, cool day comes along.   Same with soap. Wait for a nice cool day but not so cold I cant leave the doors open. I'm  very fortunate to live in the PNW.  That was reaffirmed recently  when Jimmy's  sister got married.  The wedding was in Vegas.  It was a very nice wedding.  The bride was very thoughtful of her guests needs.  But as lovely as it was I found myself  seriously missing trees  and....water.   I have discovered  that living in western Washington with our perfect water has spoiled me.  No matter where I go ...everyone Else's water tastes, well, awful.   I know their water is fine to drink but it doesn't matter, It still makes my nose crinkle .  All the protections we have put in place are worth it to have  fresh, sweet tap water on demand.
Part of the fragmentation is that I have been  assisting  Feral Jane   with cleaning  out her parents home. This has been a tough one.  I  grew up and grew to  adulthood  and middle age with  that home always present and always  consistent.  I'm sure Jane got annoyed with me every time she tried to  box something up and I  screeched 'NOOOOO' .  It took me a while to recognize  that it wasn't the Christmas decorations I was trying to save but  the security  of what they represent. In the last 40 years, no matter where I have gone, what I have done, what kind of trouble I have gotten myself into  that little red house has always been there as a stabilizing influence. Its changed over the years but not too much.  The fence that I backed the car up on, when I was 17 (the grownups had to  call a tow truck to get it off the fence) is long gone.  But the mail box that I missed by inches is still there.  The color of the bathroom has changed many times  but the full length mirror  is still showing my  reflection.  When  I see  the silver hair  reflected back at me I also see  the  15 year old in the  blue eye shadow  carefully primping  in that mirror  before a trip  to  Seattle.  All the meals ever served in that kitchen are still lingering in my head.   As well as the conversations at that table. That was where I expressed my  woes, over coffee, while  going through a divorce in my 30's. The dining room was  where I got a take down lecture on   letting my  teen age son make own his choices about his future. The little red house is full of  my joy, silliness,  delusion, pain, grief,  righteousness  and embarrassment.  Its also  a place of  making many  decisions.  Some of those decisions were really big like 'which path do I take now?"   or 'how do I fix this monumental mess'   But most of them were small 'do I want  vinaigrette or thousand island dressing'  'Do I bring a jacket?'  'should I wear jeans or a dress?.  And now that is all passing away.  Over the last 8 months I  have been through all the emotional phases over the end of an era and now I am left with  simple gratitude.  Not everyone gets the comfort and stability of  the little red house.  But I did.  I had  that grounding  in  an otherwise wild and sometimes turbulent life.  It  always held me in place,  brought me back to center.   I am grateful.  And now I can help fill the boxes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

How to really use a dehydrator. Integrating a dehydrator as a small appliance

The humble dehydrator and things I learned  this year..  I started using a dehydrator  around the house  about 10 years ago.    For years  I only used it for specialty  preserving like  sun dried tomatoes  and the occasional  fruit.   I've always  hung my herbs on a rack,  in the kitchen, to dry. I  dried them slowly  partly because I think they are pretty hanging there and I LOVE  the smell.  But this last year or so I've had too many to dry slowly.  There wasn't  enough space in the kitchen to dry  them all so I pulled out the dehydrators and  took the drying process down to  12 hours instead of a few weeks.   Yes I  said dehydrators because DD  bought her mother a second one for a gift.   A trip to eastern WA with DD to pick cherries  spurred on more usage.  On the way home  with a  trunk full of cherries for  canning  and freezing we stopped at one of eastern Wa's  famous produce stands.    It was WallaWalla  sweet season and I couldn't stop  myself  from buying that 25 pound bag.  When I got home I   realized that I would never use them all before they went  bad. Even after  I shared some with the neighbors,  I still had too many so I  pulled out the food processor and sliced up  a good 15 pounds.    It  only took one day to get them all dehydrated  and into  a half gallon jar. One day of watery, tearful eyes and runny noses.  I learned : When dehydrating onions  do it  outside  or in the laundry room.....or anywhere that isn't a common space.  The whole  house  smelled like onions for a week.
Then came the two  15 pound bags of potatoes on sale. Couldn't resist the purchase of  one  red and one russet.  With only two people to eat them ,it didn't take long for those little eyes to show up.   The dehydrators were sitting idle  at the time so I spent a half  hour of my life peeling potatoes  and putting them in  food processor to slice.  I  naively put the first batch in and  then kept a watchful eye  as they slowly turned gray while they  dried.  Yuck.  Nothing  actually wrong  with them  but  definitely not visually appealing and as I learned later  they take a long time to rehydrate. So I ran to professor google and found out that potatoes need to be blanched  before drying.  I did the whole process again, this time with a big pot of boiling water to drop them in for 3 minutes.  The blanched potatoes  came out  a beautiful yellow  color.   15 pounds of potatoes  filled up a two gallon ziplock bag.  And they cook up really fast.  Mashed potatoes take 5 minutes of boiling instead of 15 or 20.  I learned : Always blanch potatoes  before cooking.
Leeks.    Jimmy requested potato leek soup  one rainy day.    Most of the time leeks are sold in bunches like green onions.  So, I  bought a bunch  and only used one.  The choice was obvious.    I was prepared for another eye watering round but leeks are  way less pungent and they only took about  7 hours to dry completely.   5 large leeks dry down to fit in a one pint jar.  I learned: Leeks dry fast and don't burn your eyes.
Celery:  I tried a little  experiment with celery.  I bought a bunch for  a recipe and only used two stalks.  It went into the vegetable crisper and  a few days later  started looking a little wilty.   It was in that state of 'use now' or it becomes  chicken food.  Into the dehydrator it went. The next day  it went into a pint jar and has since  all been used  for  soups and  flavoring. I learned: Dehydrators are  a great way to rescue  a vegetable  before it goes bad.
Over the year I have learned to leave the dehydrator  on the counter (or a little table in the corner) so it became  a common, usable,small  appliance  in the kitchen.   I  admit I was surprised at how much  the  dehydrator has  cut down on food waste.   I learned that  pretty much anything  (except leafy greens, but I suppose you could) can be  dehydrated and stored easily.   It took very little research  to  discover that root vegetables, apples  and pears should be blanched before dehydrating.   Its also a real space saver.    One of the most appealing  advantages to me  is that  the dried foods don't  need electricity to  to remain viable. Living in an area where the electricity  goes out every time someone sneezes it  is a real plus.   Don't get me wrong, I love my freezer.  But, some things just don't freeze well  and its nice  to know that not everything I have stored needs to be thrown  away  after  a storm..  
These underappreciated little machines are not just for making  healthy snacks. Fully integrated into your kitchen they can save money, cut down on waste and  cut down on meal prep time.   They also  cut down on chemicals in your food. When you buy commercially dried  foods  one of the most commonly used   preservatives is sodium bisulphite (soap) along with many others.  Seriously read the ingredients  next time  you buy  dry potatoes or craisens.  
It might take a bit to  fully integrate the  drying process into your kitchen routine.  Some of that is getting past the  marketing of the machine that  shows  cute little kiwis,  shiny red  strawberries and delicious  bananas  drying out for  'snacks'.    Unless you have a banana tree in your back yard  or grow a whole field full of  strawberries , the marketed use of the machine can be cumbersome and expensive.  I guess the marketers  that come up  with the  ideas don't think trays  full of potatoes  ,celery, onions  or parsley  would sell very well.  To use a dehydrator well, you have to think past the marketing. I'm all about making  my kitchen time as  fast and efficient  as possible.  With the appliance out on the counter   I can take the extra minute and chop up the whole   bunch of celery, put a handful into whatever I am  making and throw  the rest into  the dehydrator.   Its sad but, it took me ten years to  integrate  the dehydrator  as a small kitchen appliance  instead of a specialty gadget.  I  had to  rethink  my kitchen routine a little .   Now I'm a convert   ;)

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