Earth Day 2012 has been a big deal for me.
The whole rebirth thing is reverberating strongly for me this spring.
Friday, I staffed a booth at the University of Puget Sound for their Earth Day Event. Saturday, I was at work advocating for local, sustainable, healthy food.
Yesterday, I just had to plant a tree in honor of Earth Day (well, and because I like to dig in the dirt 😉
Considering that since I bought this place two years ago, I’ve planted nine fruit trees (cherry, apple, plum, peach, pear) two nut trees (hazelnut), five ornamentals (flowering cherry, dogwood, ash and one edible ornamental pollinator (crabapple) I’m kind of running out of space.
But there was one spot in front that would shade the front porch which has a Southwest exposure and gets hit hard by the summer sun and heat that just begged for a pretty tree.
I chose an Indian Summer crabapple (beautiful, just the right size, small edible fruit, provides food for wildlife, pollinates apples) which unlike the Sugar Tyme I have planted in the back yard which has pink buds opening to white flowers, has stunning red flowers.
Isn’t it pretty?
I also had clumps of day lilies given to me by my neighbor Steve when I first bought the place two years ago (he dropped off clumps before I even moved in) that were getting crowded.
So I thinned them down to two reasonable size clumps.
This left me with TEN good size clumps to relocate.
I decided to plant them in the parking strip out front in between the flowering cherry trees. I want to eventually reclaim that strip from lawn to garden and this is a good start.
You can see that the Kwanzan Flowering Cherry trees are just starting to bloom. Aren’t they lovely?
I couldn’t leave the fairy garden out of the fun, so I picked up some pretty and fragrant carnations to put out there.
I have more garden photos from this season on my Flickr’ page.
(if the slide show doesn’t embed or you prefer to click on individual pictures, you can view the photos by making with the clicky clicky here)
I also managed to sneak in some time at the dog park with Frodo the Wonder Corgi.
We had beautiful weather, and it was a great day to honor the earth.
Six months ago, I was faced with the possibility of cancer, and had surgeries scheduled.
It became apparent that I was not going to be able to heal while dealing with the corporate job I was working at the time.
So I did the insane (but only sane thing I could do) thing, paying for COBRA insurance and turning in my two weeks notice.
It was a very scary, stressful time even before adding in two surgeries and recoveries.
I often doubted the decision I had made, doubted myself, and wondered if I’d find work in this economy once I was ready to look again.
There was a time, late in the winter when many, if not most of us battle Seasonal Affective Disorder when I was in significant pain, during which I battled some mild depression. (this is when I started posting my “daily gratitude” each day, which helps a lot)
What it boiled down to is that I had to trust in the universe; I had to trust in myself. I had to take that risk, because nothing will show you what does and doesn’t matter in your life, like the possibility of losing it.
I also made other changes. Changes in my diet (getting off the holiday food and back to healthy real food) not going to alcohol centered events or hanging out with people who habitually drink to excess, avoiding people who added unreasonable stress to my life, getting back to my art, learning new arts, and of course (once healed) easing back into a regular workout schedule.
When I was finally healed enough to consider working again, I made my intentions known to friends (and the universe) as to what I was looking for.
I did not want to be back in the corporate world, nor to deal with unhappy/unpleasant people stuck in a cubicle all day. I did not want to commute, I wanted to work right here in Tacoma again so that I could spend those wasted commuting hours with my animals and in my garden/farm. I wanted to ride my bike to work.
Most important, I wanted to do something that I loved, not something that I put up with because I thought I needed a certain amount of money/benefits, and I wanted to work with nice, happy people working towards a common goal.
First, an environmental non-profit organization that I have volunteered for over the years contacted me about a part time job they had just gotten a grant for. It was a perfect fit. I am now working with students and interns at Puget Creek Restoration Society helping to conserve and protect one of three salmon bearing streams in the city of Tacoma, and preparing them (the students and interns) for jobs in the environmental science field.
Next, I was made aware of another opportunity to “manage” (I like to refer to it as coordinating) the Tacoma Proctor Farmers’ Market, another part time opportunity doing something that I feel strongly about; promoting sustainability and supporting local farmers, healthy eating and building community.
So here I am, with the best of all worlds. (and full time work to pay the bills)
Educating, protecting/restoring the environment, and promoting sustainability, fresh healthy food and local farms.
I am riding my bike to work (well, OK…. not on days that I have to schlep booth displays around). I’m working here in Tacoma-no nasty commute wasting time I could be spending playing with my dog, working in my garden or creating art.
I am working with great people who love what they do and are passionate about it; and I feel good about what both organizations stand for and what they do.
No, I’m not going to get rich doing this, but since I’m big on living sustainably, am willing to be a bit more frugal. (and if I want extra cash, I’ll just have to pitch more magazine articles and/or do more performances)
I did not reinvent myself.
I decided to be true to myself.
I came back full circle, and couldn’t be happier.
I want to thank those who kept their eyes and ears open for opportunities, those who provided references for me, and most of all, those who supported me and held me up when I doubted myself.
I’m so lucky that after surgery on my uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes that no cancer was found.
I don’t want any more surgery and I want to get off the blood pressure medication (my doc thinks that stress from the former job, medical scares, as well as chronic pain from the girly bit surgeries, wisdom tooth extractions, dental, perio and ortho work was the biggest issue)
In addition to getting back on a normal workout schedule (as soon a I’m done recovering from surgery; right now, the best I can do is walking 3-4 miles a day) I am making an effort to make as many healthy (non-fanatical) dietary changes as I can that will assist with discouraging the growth of fibroid tumors and endmetriosis and get me off of the blood pressure medication.
As soon as the blood pressure issue reared its ugly head (after having a perfect blood pressure up until very recently) I immediately went off my hormonal birth control and caffeine. (yeah, cold turkey, both at once) and stopped rinsing my mouth that was being torn up by the new braces with salt water.
I also got serious about getting back to my normally very healthy eating habits which went to heck over the holidays (I was a naughty monkey); rarely eating out, no processed foods (I even make my own chicken stock) whole grains (always brown rice, and more often than not, I make my own whole wheat pasta) eating organic eggs from my backyard hens, growing my own fruit and veggies in season, being very careful about sodium (I don’t generally salt my food or add much in cooking, but I’m being aware) and of course, I can always do better about eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve read a lot (from credible sources) about the health benefits of black strap molasses, so I’ve started using a tablespoon a day in my morning lattes (healthier than vanilla and caramel syrups right?)
I decided that I also wanted to switch to almond milk for my morning lattes
Oh, no… I am not going completely diary free. You can have my cheese when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers and I do try to eat organic yogurt with live cultures several times a week.
I scored some Almond Breeze the other day, and discovered that I really like almond milk. But it’s expensive and the commercial stuff contains additives that I don’t want.
So I decided to make my own (it’s stupid easy)
First, I soaked one cup of raw almonds in water. You can do it from 8 – 24 hours; since these were older almonds, I went for the full 24.
It’s important to rinse the almonds well and discard the soaking water, as it contains tannins from the skin that will make the end product unpleasant.
I added the now well swollen almonds and four cups of filtered water (4-1 ratio) to the food processor.
If you want unsweetened almond milk, that’s all you need to add.
I opted to add six dates. The only thing I’d do differently is to soak/soften them first so that they didn’t gum up the food processor blades and a splash of vanilla extract. You can also add cocoa powder or nibs for chocolate milk or any fruit that you like..
After blending in the food processor or blender if you don’t have one for two to five minutes, it’s ready to strain.
*as it turns out, the food processor wasn’t the correct tool to use for this-virtually none of them handle this much liquid without leaking from the top or bottom-I will be using a blender next time
You can use cheesecloth or specially sold nut milk bags, but I used my jelly strainer. I’m guessing that is what they are selling as nut milk bags.
You’ll need to let it hang for some time, and to give the bag a good squeeze every once in a while. Once it’s done, you’ll have finely ground nuts which you can process into nut butter, or dry and use in granola or desert toppings
What you are left with, is some super yummy, healthy, inexpensive almond milk.
I’m calling this first attempt a “win” and now, don’t need to buy almond milk.
I had very good luck with tomatoes this year, despite the cold, frozen spring and virtually non-existent summer the extra effort to raise them from seeds under growlights and on heat mats in the basement, then move them to the greenhouse, then transplant into large containers using wall-o-water insulators paid off.
I’m one of the few people up here than managed to get two good harvests. The woman who came to interview me and photograph my urban farm for a book she’s writing said she hadn’t seen any tomatoes like mine between BC and San Francisco.
The first thing I did was lightly score the skin off the bottom of each tomato; it only takes a few seconds.
Then I dipped the scored tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skin. I used a colander/basket here but you can use a slotted spoon or skimmer.
A quick dip into a bowl of ice water stops them from cooking and keeps you from burning your hands.
The skin slips right off and then you just cut out the stem. San Marzanos have virtually no core and very few seeds; so this is a super easy process.
You can squeeze the seeds and juice out of the tomatoes if you want it to take less time to cook down more quickly.
You can also skip the skinning step and run the sauce through a ricer after it’s cooked to get seeds and skins out.
Now it’s just a matter of cooking the tomatoes down into sauce (it thickens as the water cooks out)
You can see a few seeds in the sauce; when I make marinara, I run it through a ricer to remove them. (it’s not necessary; it’s an esthetic thing for me)
The next step for any sauce is the onions and garlic; even better if home grown. I had a good harvest of both this year. I chopped them up and sautéed them in olive oil until they caramelized. It’s not necessary to do so, but it sure makes for a richer more complex flavor if you do.
After they are caramelized, I deglaze the pan with some red wine and pour into the sauce (not necessary, but it sure does make it taste amazing)
One joy of home made sauce is adding whatever you may have around the house. In this case, I had some ground meat and sausage in the freezer which I browned with more onions, garlic and pepper.
I also had some pulled pork in the fridge which I added straight to the sauce.
The final step was fresh herbs from my garden; even the “bay leaf” came from the Bay Laurel tree in my back yard. Although not true culinary bay, it imparts the same flavor if used sparingly. I also add a few red pepper flakes to offset the sweetness of the tomatoes and give it a bit of spice.
I was out of cans, so I just poured sauce into freezer bags for later use.
A few days later, I harvested a second batch including my larger Juliets and some Brandywines and made a lovely marinara; no meat. Although I skinned the tomatoes and squeezed the seeds out, I ran it through a ricer before adding the onion, garlic and herbs, which created a lovely sauce with a beautiful texture.
Honestly, I don’t think this is any more work than opening up a bunch of cans of sauce/paste/tomatoes and it’s so much healthier, tastier and better for the environment.
It’s so nice to have tasty, home made sauce in the freezer to heat up on a cold winter night for a taste of summer harvest.
After three weeks of not being able to mow or garden (rain-STP-rain) I finally got out into the yard yesterday.
The grass in the back was a total jungle. It was finally dry enough to mow by about 7:00 PM. (note to self, replace more grass with something else; there is still too much of it out there)
One thing about our crappiest summer ever (seriously, only 78 HOURS of temps over 80 degrees so far the entire summer) is that the cherries like it. (along with our butt cold winter) My Lapin cherry tree is loaded. (I already ate all the Royal Anns)
My tomatoes, lovingly started in the basement under grow lights and on heat mats, then moved to the greenhouse; then moved outside in protective wall-o-water insulators are growing vigorously.
Now we just need some heat so that these lovely Juliets will turn red. These were my favorite tomoatoes last year, they are a parent to the popular grape tomato.
If we ever get any warm days, the blueberries will be ready…
The cold weather crops (broccoli and peas) are doing well.
It’s taking every bit of self control I have not to snap off these beautiful asparagus spears when they pop up; but I know if I leave the bed alone this year, I’ll be harvesting more than I can possibly eat on my own for years to come.
I’m glad I paid the money for two year old crowns so I only have to exercise this much self control for one season (best to hold off on harvesting until the 4th year)
My Liberty apples are the only ones (out of three varieties) that are fruiting well.
My Braeburn apple is badly infested with Apple Scab due to the cold, wet miserable excuse for a summer we’ve had (Liberty is resistant) I may end up pulling that tree out and planting a resistant variety. The Summerred apple never bloomed at all (we got a hard freeze at bloom time)
Yesterday, I had to spray some copper on the apple trees. You can’t really treat scab once it breaks out, but I want to keep it from spreading.
It’s just been a rough year all the way around for fruit trees; many of the trees that did bloom/pollinate dropped their fruit almost immediately.
My plum tree dropped it’s fruit and is now covered in aphids, I had to hit it with some organicide yesterday.
Oddly enough, I am getting some peaches which are considered a warm weather fruit.
I am very lucky that my roses aren’t succumbing to blackspot or powdery mildew. They are looking very good this year (they’ve certainly had plenty of water)
The lavender out front is doing well. I’m hoping that it will grow large and bushy and fill in the gaps this year, so folks won’t stomp through my flower beds to steal tulips next year. It stayed pretty small and spindly last year and a lot of it died over the brutally cold winter.
I have some more photos here (make with the clicky clicky on this link to see them)
I thought I’d post another video of the house (mostly garden) renovations that have occurred over the last two months on my little Hilltop Urban Farm.
For comparison, here’s what it looked like two months ago…
DANG! The difference, especially in the yard shocks even ME
That’s it for now, I’ll try to come up with some actual blog content later this evening.
In my quest for reclaiming my old school farm, cooking and crafting skills, I’ve decided to try something new, making pasta after being inspired by my friend and neighbor Francine who has been doing amazing things with an old electric pasta machine she found at a thrift store.
I didn’t get that lucky, but did manage to find a hand cranked extruder for a reasonable price on Amazon.
I used a simple recipe I found in the “Pasta Bible” for whole wheat pasta.
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour (semolina, the normally preferred flour for pasta is not good for extruded pasta)
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs (room temperature, not out of the fridge)
1 Tablespoon olive oil (Extra virgin of course)
7/8 cup water
First I sifted the flour (no chunky pasta for me)
The preferred “old school” method of mixing pasta is to do it directly on a wooden board, so after I mixed the salt in with the sifted flour, I dumped it in a neat little pile on my butcher block kitchen island.
The next step is to make a little crater in the flour and crack the egg in.
after cracking the egg in, add the olive oil an stir with a fork until the egg is beaten and mixed with the oil.
Slowly widen the crater and mix in the flour from the edge.
Add the water to form a dough (not too wet) and knead as in any pasta or bread recipe.
A good dough should not stick to your hands, if it does, add more flour.
Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for an hour.
after it has sat for an hour, the ball is rolled into a semi log shape and cut into small pieces to feed into the extruder (and then you crank it baby…)
I tried each and every one of the dies that came with my machine.
I think I like the rigatoni the best; I’ll have to find out how Francine gets here rotini so nice and cork-screwey.
It sure was tasty! WAY better than that nasty dried stuff you find in the store.
Next on my list is to get an old school roller/cutter for spaghetti, linguine and lasagna.
When my tomatoes ripen, I’ll be canning lots of spicy, garlicky marinara sauce to serve with the yummy pasta (I’ll be experimenting with sun dried tomato, spinach, etc…)
Of course my next project is to dust off my fermenters, hook up my basement sink and propane burner and start brewing beer again now that I have a great basement in which to do it.