Thursday, December 8, 2011

Apples to Apples!

We've made several batches of applesauce in the last month or so.  Southern California tends to lag behind the rest of the country as far as seasons go so we've just ended apple season.  There's nothing like the sweet smell of cooked apples to bring on the cold weather.  I made a batch of apple butter during this last applesaucing day and the spicy smell of apple butter is gracing the house with its fragrance.  It is definitely a sure-fire way to put me (Christy) in the holiday mood!

It really is a rewarding experience to put jars on the shelf to eat later.  Currently we have 17 quarts of cranberry applesauce and 11 quarts of plain apple sauce.  And from earlier in the fall, we have 12 quarts of apricot halves, 6 quarts of sliced pears, 8 quarts of nectarines (not sure how these will turn out.  We wanted to do peaches but it was not to be...), and 5 quarts of peach sauce.  Oh, and quite a bit of jam, some blackberry sauce, peach butter, and now apple butter.  :D

Apple Butter
My process for apple butter is quite simple.  I take about 6 quarts of applesauce and add it to our large slow cooker.  I add 2-3 cups of sugar and a lot of spices including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice.  I just dump and taste.  The flavors to concentrate as the butter cooks down so it's good to under-season just a tad at first.  You can always add more later.  

When cooking in the slow cooker, make sure to keep the lid off so the liquid will evaporate.  If I'm around the house, I put it on high and stir frequently.  If I will be gone or sleeping, I put it on low.  The whole cooking process took me about 8 hours but it may take more or less time depending on what heat you cook it at.  Alternately, you could cook it on the stove top on low for 4-6 hours, stirring frequently.  

It should cook down significantly and be spreadable by the time you're done.  My 6 quarts cooked down to about 6 pints.  I used half-pint jars for canning so I got about 12 small jars of butter, perfect for gifting!

Expect enticing aroma's to fill the house!  I try to bake fresh bread while the apple butter is cooking so that I can partake in one of the best treats:  fresh apple butter on warm homemade bread.

Apple butter is great for keeping in the fridge or for canning.  If you want to can the jars, visit one of these sources for more detailed canning instructions.

P.S.  The bread you see is a secret I've been keeping for far too long.  I'm way overdue for a post on my new experiments with sourdough bread ;)

Garden Tidings

We haven't posted much about our backyard garden lately and to be perfectly honest, that's because it didn't really go as planned.  We started all our plants from seed and had such an awesome time watering them and watching them grow.  The dreams of fine summer produce kept us tenderly loving and tending our little seedlings.  But our fine summer garden just didn't live up to our expectations!  We had every kind of ailment, from those pesky red spider mites to gopher city!  The heirloom seeds we ordered weren't quite designed for the hot California sun and we had lots of wilting, droopy plants.  Our tomato plants put out hundreds of flowers, but no tomato in sight!

So, imagine our excitement when the weather started to cool off and our lovely tomato flowers began to turn in to lovely little green tomatoes!  We have just been so excited to watch their shade turn from green to orange to red!  Even some of our striped german tomatoes have produced and they are beautiful!
We've learned a lot and plan to attack next year's garden with vigor.  First item on the list: put in new, gopher-proof chicken wire under the raised beds.  Second, research CA heat resistant plants.  Third, add more plain soil to our nitrogen rich beds.  Fourth, start earlier!

But for now, we sure are enjoying out little bit of summer (ahem... winter) produce!  Just in time too, because we got a tad bit of a frost last night!

Any tips for next year's garden?  We'd love to hear them!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Homes for Sale

Sometimes I need a few seconds to register. Christy may say something to me, for instance, but rather than replying right away, I'll stare blankly for a few seconds before saying anything. Just the other day, I was going through a complicated skills exercise in the physical diagnosis lab. The instructor told me to do something, and I just stood there, this time for at least seven seconds, before finally taking action. I'm not entirely sure what triggered such a lengthy lapse. I had been doing famously up to that point, and after my little break, continued on as before.

Upon sober reflection, I have ruled out Schizophrenia, Absence Seizures, or any other purely medical diagnosis from my differential. Such possible diagnoses must be taken very seriously, of course, especially if you are a second year medical student, daily discovering that even the most innocuous seeming symptom may actually be a subtle signal of impending pathology. But no, I am reasonably confident that my symptoms actually represent a common polymorphism of the human condition. At times, it is expressed in innocuous, even beneficial ways. At other times, it is becomes malignant and misdirected.

I experienced this diagnosis in a strangely revealing way one day while driving to church with Christy. She was driving and I was deep into a book on the New Testament, periodically surfacing from its pages to explain why I so vehemently disagreed with the author. As we drove into the mountains, however, I put my book down and began to enjoy the scenery. A small billboard flashed by. "Homes for Sale", it read, but I didn't register. At least not for several minutes.

You see, the sign did not read "Houses for Sale", but "Homes for Sale". There is a difference. To paraphrase Robert Frost, home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. A home is a locus of identity, storehouse of loyalty, and stronghold of love. In stark contrast stands the house: a roofed and walled-in frame, a bare lifeless structure, a thing with a price.

We all understand the difference between a house and a home, but one chilling fact remains: the sign still reads "Homes for Sale". At some point, an advertising consultant in a tall office building made a convincing case that an honest sign would sell fewer houses than a sign claiming to sell homes. He was right, and not the first to try the tactic. Almost all advertising proffers our deepest needs of fulfillment, peace, happiness, and meaning, for a limited offer, a special discounted price. The basic lie is so obvious, so childishly transparent, that nobody takes it seriously. Nobody, that is, but the advertising companies. They have hard data to prove something we are loath to admit: we actually do take those silly advertisement seriously, especially when we fail to register.

When I take a few seconds to register someone's question my problem is not very serious. But imagine taking days to register a question? Obviously, that would be a real problem. Now imagine taking days to recognize and register the massive lie of materialism. Sadly, most of us don't have to imagine. Most of the time we breath a stupefying materialistic mist. Under the influence of this mist, we sleepwalk through life, bumping past priceless moments and simple delights as we grope blindly after the receding mirage of acquisition. In rare moments of clarity, we may suddenly register the idiocy of our meaningless lives, but only to quickly slip back under the influence of the anesthetic mist.

May I register the priceless beauty in each little piece of my existence. May I live my life on purpose not autopilot, awake not asleep, alive not dead.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blackberry Experiments (Cheesecake, Hand Pies, and a Galette)

We sure have had a great time with the blackberries.  They are nearing the end of their season now but we still go back occasionally to enjoy the beautiful stream and eat handfuls of deliciousness.  Here are a few of our experiments.

Blackberry Vanilla Cheesecake (vegan, gluten-free, raw) - inspired from Roost and My New Roots.

Don't let the pictures fool you, there was actually just as much blackberry filling as there was vanilla.  But I forgot to let the vanilla layer firm up before pouring the blackberry layer.  So the middle was mostly blackberry and very little vanilla.

Mini Whole Wheat Hand Pies (Pop Tarts)

Blackberry and White Peach Gallette -

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Going for the goods: part 2

Since arriving back in Loma Linda, we have launched a busy period of our lives. For me, the busyness centers on 2nd year Medical school and the Step 1 board exam this spring. In addition I am taking classes for a Masters in Ethics. Christy has also embarked on a stage of increased busyness. She recently accepted a full-time cardiac ICU nursing job at the University hospital. In her "free time", she will continue to be an on-call nurse for Linda Valley Care Center.

An idle mind may be the devil's workshop, but so is a neglected life. When we get so busy that we stop paying attention to life, dysfunction creeps in unnoticed. And the more maniacally focused we are on the 101 things we have to accomplish each a day, the longer we remain oblivious.

For us, living a simple life in Loma Linda requires constant vigilance. We stand against a steady stream of consumeristic society. It gently, insidiously, almost inexorably pushes us downstream one unnoticed inch at a time. The busier we become, the harder it is to notice these small concessions.

I won't confess a detailed list of our recent acquisitions, but we have certainly acquired more "stuff" over the past few months. In every instance, the acquisition seemed fully justified, but I feel a vague uneasiness as I look back at the aggregate. Did we really need any of it? Was it all necessary, or just nice?

After a month of medical school, the confiscation of our cherries seems to have happened years ago, but the memory will continue to serve a purpose in our lives. Whether that official was really "going for the goods" or merely fulfilling his duty, we don't want to be focused on acquisition. The loss of a basket of cherries should not unduly bother us, (it didn't). What matters so much more is the people and relationships in our lives. Living a simple life would have no purpose otherwise. We don't seek simplicity out of some desire for ascetic purity. The point is to lighten our wagon so that we can journey faster and better towards towards God and the people He as placed in our lives.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Black Gold

God has more than made up for our cherry fiasco (see last post) by blessing us with an abundance of blackberries. We scouted out "the spot" last year and noted how incredibly many blackberry bushes there were. Unfortunately, they were past their season at the time. But this year we kept a close eye on them and as soon as we saw them getting ripe, we arrived with baskets and buckets and boxes in hand!

The bushes run up and down the banks of a rushing creek, with heavily laden branches hanging down to the water. The berries are absolutely luscious - big, juicy, and sweet from their constant water source.  We have spent several amazing hot afternoons wading in the creek picking handfuls of pure black gold, as Barry likes to call it :)

So far we have frozen 5 gallons, canned blackberry syrup, baked blackberry scones, and just today, I made a vegan, raw, gluten-free blackberry cheesecake. I can't wait to see how it turns out! (Recipe here.)

I thought I'd give you the recipe for the blackberry scones, which were inspired by my brother, Joel.  He suggested the idea and it sounded too good to pass up.  I based it off of this recipe but made mine vegan and with 100% whole wheat - they were really yummy!

Blackberry Orange Scones

3 cups White Wheat Flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
8 Tbsp oil or margarine (I used both)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup soy milk
1-2 cups fresh blackberries

  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Add in oil or margarine and mix well.
  • Add orange zest and juice, and soy milk.  Lightly mix to incorporate.  Add more milk as needed to create a dough that holds together.  
  • Roll out dough into a 12x8 rectangle (I rolled mine on a sheet of wax paper)
  • Place berries on the long side, leaving half of the area to fold over on top of the berries.
  • Seal the edges and then cut into 8 triangles.  
  • Place a few berries on top of the scones
  • Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Going for the goods

We returned to Loma Linda California from Kelowna British Columbia a few days ago, driving for over 25 hours in a attempt to make it back for one of my ethics classes. We took shifts through the night, and during the night shifts I wondered if my fatigue represented a risk to other drivers as well as ourselves. Was I employing consequentialist ethics to justify our drive?

By late morning, we had entered northern California. Then we saw the road block. This would not have meant much to us under normal circumstances, but we happened to be riding home with a large basket of fresh cherries. These cherries had passed inspection with hardly a glance when we crossed from Canada into the U.S. but we quickly discovered that they were contraband in California.

The officious little man who confiscated my cherries at the roadblock offered little convincing justification for his actions. He said something about keeping pests out of the Central Valley, but were these pests present where we came from? Probably not. And did he really think we were plotting to strew cherries through the Central Valley instead of continuing our logical route on 395, East of the Sierra mountains until we reached Southern (not Central) California? Probably not. In all likelihood, this man, this unfortunate and lonely official, was merely fulfilling his duty to enforce a stringent California law.

But I couldn't help imagine this guy digging his hands into our beautiful cherries and greedily congratulating himself on one of the premiere perks of his duty to enforce California Agricultural law upon hapless travelers. Yes, I decided, that guy was going for the goods. He was rather like all those TSA officials who confiscate homemade raspberry jam because it is technically a liquid, and as we all know so well, liquids like raspberry jam can be used to make dangerous explosives.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Ways to find Green in Southern California!

We've been eating a lot mexican food these days. It's cheap, it's quick, and it's tasty! There have been lots of new things to try but the basic building blocks are always the same: tortillas or chips topped with beans and whatever fresh items we have on hand. Usually, it's a lot of green!

After spending some vacation time at home this summer, we've been missing the lush woods of the East. SoCal is quite a few shades away from green. But we've been working on finding ways to put green back into our lives; we go hiking next to creeks and spend lots of time down in our little garden. But another way is through the food we place on our table!

Clockwise from top: Cilantro, green peppers, limes, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, tomatillos, and more green peppers.
I also tried my hand at some homemade salsa verde. It was delicious!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Backyard Marmalade (Take Two!)

This time our marmalade attempts were a success! Unlike
last time, this marmalade, made up of Meyer lemons and oranges, set up beautifully. It only had the tiniest hint of bitterness, which, I've learned, is appropriate for a good marmalade. Barry says that it is "the best marmalade I've ever had". It really is delicious. The vanilla bean adds some depth that I wasn't expecting. Since we made this batch, we've made several more batches - even one with strawberries! They've all been yummy. Here's the basic recipe and instructions.

Backyard Marmalade

This method is a two day process but don't let that scare you away. I found it much easier to divide the work over two days instead of trying to do everything in one day. You can enjoy it more, plus the flavors really develop when you let it sit overnight. I also used a different method for the oranges and the Meyer lemons. Because the Meyer lemons have such thin skin, you don't have to take off the white pith, which makes things much easier!

10 Meyer Lemons
10 sweet oranges (We're not sure what type our backyard oranges are.)
6 cups of sugar
1 vanilla bean

Special Equipment
Small Canning jars (I used 8 oz and 4 oz jars)
Canning equipment
Candy thermometer (optional)

Day One

1. Wash and dry all fruit. I used 10 Meyer lemons and 10 oranges. (We're not sure of the exact variety of our backyard oranges. They are sweet and very juicy!)

2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the oranges. Avoid as much of the white pith as possible. Cut the zest into thin ribbons using a large chef's knife and place in a nonreactive pot. (You want them thinner than what is pictured to the side. I hadn't finished cutting them.)

Take the pith-covered oranges and cut the ends off. Set the orange up on end and, working around the whole orange, cut off the bitter pith.

4. Using a paring knife and holding the orange over your pot with the zest, separate the orange segments from the membrane and drop into the bowl. Here's a great
how-to video that I found. Also remove any seeds you find and place in another clean bowl. Once you've finished with an orange, squeeze out all the juice from the membrane into your pot and place the remaining membrane with the discarded seeds to save for later.

Meyer Lemons
Cut each Meyer lemon in half and, working over your pot, use a paring knife to make a notch and cut around the membranous middle. Here is a great picture of the process. Squeeze juice from this middle section into the pot and then place the membrane aside in your membrane/seed bowl. Use your fingers to remove any seeds from the rest of the lemon, dropping them into your membrane/seed bowl.

6. Using a sharp knife, cut the lemons into thin slices.
You don't have to separate the peel from the flesh. Add slices to the pot.

7. Drain any extra juice from your membrane/seed bowl into the pot.

8. Cover the fruit with water and simmer for 5 minutes. Let mixture cool and then place in the fridge overnight.

9. Place your reserved membranes and seeds in the center of a large cheesecloth square. Tie corners tightly together and place on a plate in the refrigerator.

Day Two

1. Sterilize the jars you plan to use and simmer the lids in a small pot. My marmalade made enough to fill six 8 oz and three 4 oz jars.

2. Slice your vanilla bean lengthwise and use a small knife or your thumb to remove the seeds. Add seeds to the orange/lemon mixture. Also add empty vanilla bean pods to the pot.

3. Simmer mixture for 5 minutes and then add 6 cups of sugar.

4. Boil mixture until it reaches the jelling point (check the wrinkle test) and/or 220 F (Mine only got to 216 F). The wrinkle test is done by placing a spoonful of marmalade on a chilled surface. I used a clean jar lid that had been in the freezer for 30 minutes. It should still be thin at this point. Return after a few minutes to see if it passes the wrinkle test, which means it will have thickened up and will wrinkle with you push it with your finger. You may have to add some added pectin at this point. Mine worked out fine but on a later batche (probably when I used less sugar), I had to add some pectin. Note: It should not be the consistency of marmalade at this point. It will seem much too thin and runny. It will thicken to the final consistency when cooled. However, it
should pass the above tests. If it does not, it won't be thick enough later.

5. Remove the vanilla bean from the mixture and rinse. Cut into smaller lengths to add to your jars before processing.

6. Ladle mixture into jars and add your vanilla bean pieces. Clean jar rims before placing sterilized lids and screwing them down tight. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

7. Enjoy!

Three helpful sources that I referenced:

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    Loquats, Haiku, and the Good Life

    Until last week, we didn't even know that loquats existed, but one of our neighbors gave us some on Friday. They had a decadent, faintly tropical flavor. Sweet and juicy, they were more like an apricot than anything else, but also possessed undeniable notes of mangosteen, kumquat, and--with some imaginative insight--even apple. They were too good to squander on fresh eating alone, so we decided to preserve some of them as loquat jam.
    This morning, I looked up loquats on Wikipedia. They originated in Southeastern China, home to a famous poet, Li Bai, who mentioned them frequently in his poems. There's something sublime about oriental art. Take this painting of loquats.
    Or this beautiful haiku by the great Bashuo Matsuo himself:

    An old silent pond...
    A frog jumps into the pond
    splash! Silence again.

    What is the Good Life? It is living simply, joyfully, and without affectation, watching a frog jump into a pond, for instance, or making loquat jam.

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011

    God, Galileo, and Grumpy Teddy Bears: Part 3

    God, Galileo
    and the Grumpy Teddy Bears
    what was I thinking?

    Well, it all started over a breakfast conversation with Christy. She was having a hard time getting much from the gospels during morning devotions. I sympathized. Like Christy, I had grown up in a Christian home and heard the gospel stories so many times that my original fascination was long gone. Then it occurred to me that our struggle to appreciate the gospels exemplified one of the great vexations of life: familiarity breeds contempt.

    Yes, familiarity may also breed fondness, but not often, not without effort, pain, and frustration. And most of the time, we don't think it's worth it. We prefer something new, or if this is not available, then stronger doses of the old, anything but the same old same old.

    This insatiable thirst for novelty is not all bad. Exploring, learning, growing--these are good things and we are made to engage in them. But engage is the key word. Newness alone will not create the joy of a new experience. We must engage the new and often sacrifice our comfort in the doing.

    Engagement connotes action, attention, and commitment. If Navy SEALS attack the Taliban in Afghanistan, the ensuing engagement is forceful, focused, and totally committed. When gears engage, they move in sync, irrevocably linked until release. Getting engaged to Christy was a moment of supremely attentive action entailing a lifelong commitment.

    Engagement is a total, all encompassing experience, and we are afraid of it. When we fail to engage a new experience, however, the newness soon wears out. Hence our malaise with the old and desperate search for the new.

    Ironically, the harder we try to shun the old, the less successful we become. Perhaps this is because the greatest source of discovery lies in the ordinary old everyday things of life. Indeed, as Galileo and the Grumpy Teddy Bears demonstrate, engagement with the ordinary reveals a vast world of untapped newness. And it is this exhaustless world of beauty and variety which brings me God.

    There is a broad consensus among many thoughtful and spiritual people that Jesus transmitted Divinity to the world. Exactly how or why he did this is hotly debated with little resolution, principally because all groups with an interest have disparate--and unmovable--a priori commitments. Few, however, turn to the gospel accounts for a look at Jesus sans religious and intellectual baggage. Suppose we tried, what would we see?

    Well, what I see is a man who is above all supremely engaged in life. He is engaged with such fierce attention that his every act becomes a moment of creative commitment. For him, the ordinary is anything but mundane. Every leprous beggar, prostitute, and pharisee is precious, full of hidden newness waiting to be recognized. To me, this is the essence of Divinity. This is Love personified. This is God.

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    God, Galileo, and Grumpy Teddy Bears: Part 2

    Galileo was in church one day, gazing absently at the tall ceilings and ornate stain glass windows. He was twenty, failing medical school at the University of Pisa, and not sure what he wanted from life. At fifteen, he had decided to become a monk, but his father sent him to medical school at the tender age of seventeen instead. Now he was failing.

    A large lamp caught his eye as it swung a ponderous arc through the air, back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly, Galileo saw more than just a swinging lamp, and what he saw got him thinking. Within in a short time, he had developed a principle which revolutionized time-keeping and kick started the modern science of mechanics: the law of the pendulum.

    To be honest, that story is probably a myth. What it teaches about Galileo, however, is almost certainly true. Galileo had a curious, questioning mind. He found profound new insights in the most commonplace, ho-hum things of life--like swinging lamps. For him, the ordinary held potential for endless discovery.

    To be continued...

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Sustainable eating and Fresh Strawberry Tarts!

    Last week I bought a flat of fresh strawberries from the farmer's market, along with some beautiful rainbow chard, broccoli, and sugar snap peas! We enjoyed having such quality and delicious produce to experiment with, and it got me thinking about some ethical food issues that I've been mulling over lately: eating local and eating food that is in season.

    There are a host of benefits to eating locally and seasonally. It's fresh, healthy, and sustainable. But there are a few downfalls too, mainly having to do with cost. There is just no getting around the fact that it costs more to shop at a Farmer's Market and other local sources then to go to Superior's, Winco, or Food4Less (my main sources for cheap food). For Barry and I, operating on a very tight budget, it's hard to make the leap.

    We haven't decided to convert 100% to eating local and in season - we're just not to that point yet. But we are much more conscious about where our food comes from. It feels (and tastes!) so much better to pay extra in support of local farmers than to have our produce shipped all the way up from Mexico, where they sprayed it with who knows what. And when it does arrive, it is covered in wax and far from fresh.

    So for now, we've made a few changes to our food budget. We haven't increased it, but we have allocated more funds to a Farmer's Market trip once a month. We'll continue to reassess as time passes and make changes as needed. It's a step in the right direction, and I'm excited to see how it goes!

    Now, back to the point: Fresh Strawberry Tarts! There's nothing quite like the simple joy of biting into a freshly made strawberry tart! It's strawberry season right now, and I'm planning to make the most of it!

    Fresh Strawberry Tarts
    Makes 4-5 small tarts
    9 graham crackers, crushed
    4 Tbsp margarine, melted

    Hint: Usually I use a mixture of blended nuts for my crust. It's delicious and requires no added fat. If you run out of graham crackers or don't have any, blend 1-2 cups of nuts and skip the butter. You can also use a combination of nuts and graham crackers. That tastes splendid also!

    Creamy Filling
    2 blocks tofu
    4 oz Cream Cheese (that happened to be the amount I had left. Use whatever you've got or not at all. If you skip the cream cheese, add extra vanilla flavoring.)
    Scant 1/4 cup sugar
    Juice of 1/2 a meyer lemon
    1/2 tsp vanilla flavoring

    Strawberry Sauce
    1 cup strawberries, washed and hulled
    Sugar, to taste
    Juice from 1/2 a meyer lemon

    Sliced strawberries
    Mint leaves

    • Mix crushed graham crackers and butter in a bowl and press into small tart pans to create a firm crust.
    • Blend tofu, cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla in blender until smooth. Pour into prepared tart crusts. Smooth with spatula or spoon.
    • Blend strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a blender until smooth. Pour over top of the creamy filling in the tarts.
    • Garnish with sliced strawberries and mint leaves.
    • Chill & enjoy!

    Saturday, April 16, 2011

    God, Galileo, and Grumpy Teddy Bears: Part 1

    My brother John and I used to play with teddy bears. We called it "ams", short for stuffed animals. Usually during breakfast, while Mom or Dad were saying something about chores or homework, John and I would exchange meaningful glances. Then, like escaping prisoners, we would stealthily flee to John's room for a game of ams.

    We had about twenty teddy bears, each a distinct and truly fascinating personality. There was Beav the cunning commando and his inseparable comrade Sam. We had Fox the incomparable scientist, mystic, and military strategist, and Grey, the good hearted duffer with a talent for mistakenly starting every fight on the wrong side (he generally saw his error and changed sides just at the moment of dire necessity).

    Yes, those were the good old days. Without a TV, video games, or even much fiction, we invented our own imaginative stories and learned to see something extraordinary in a mundane collection of teddy bears.

    Our teddy bears live a placid life these days. Mom and Dad take them out when young children visit, but the dramatic vision of bygone days is not relived. A part of me still imagines those teddy bears are alive, and I wonder sometimes if they are getting grumpy with so little excitement.

    To be continued...

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Backyard Living: Marmalade

    We have several fruit trees (3 orange trees, 2 lemon trees, a persimmon tree, and 2 avocado trees) in our back yard that we have been enjoying since our move here last fall. One of the orange trees had a fall crop which we gobbled up fresh. But now all three orange trees are having their spring crop - and there are more oranges than we know what to do with!

    It would be a shame to get through citrus season without at least attempting some marmalade so I scoured the internet looking for techniques and recipes. I found one that seemed foolproof, quick, and easy. I used a combination of meyer lemons gathered from a nearby deserted tree, pink and yellow grapefruit donated to us from a church member, our backyard oranges, and a handful of frozen cranberries.

    Unfortunately, my first batch wasn't stellar. It didn't set up very well and had a bitter aftertaste that just wasn't very pleasant.  I have since decided that I need to go with a slower, more time intensive process but that should hopefully yield better results. More on that soon!  (As in, when I have a spare moment to actually make it!)  For now, you can enjoy the pictures from my first batch!  At least it looked pretty!

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    At the Heart of an Inferior Olive

    I recently bit down on a half-cured, unripe olive. It was a disappointing gastronomic experience, to say the least. Our personally picked olives had cured for two months in a concentrated brine, and most of them were pretty good. This particular olive, however, was decidedly inferior--so inferior, in fact, that it got me thinking.

    As a medical student my mind has sunk deep into medical tracts. So when I thought of that bitter olive, the inferior olivary nucleus came to mind. This nucleus relays information to the cerebellum, which basically means that it is involved in muscle coordination.

    Coordination is important not just as I walk to class or scribble notes about neuroscience but also as I seek a clutter-free life. Take those olives, for instance. Christy and I believe that picking our own olives is a good way to both practice and enjoy the ethic of simplicity. We simplify our budget by picking and curing our own olives, while at the same time we experience the simple joy of personally selected olives seasoned with garlic and rosemary. In this way, a small budget coordinates, rather than conflicts, with the joy of good food.

    Such coordination doesn't always happen, however. Sometimes, we soldier through a few days of beans and oatmeal in order to stay within our monthly food budget. And sometimes, a bitter olive greets my taste buds instead of a gourmet delight.

    So from the heart of an inferior olive(ary nucleus), we have learned two things about the ethic of simplicity. First, practicing idealism in the real world does not come without sacrifice. Like it or not, freedom from clutter inevitably means a few "bitter olives". The second point, however, is that living simply is not a zero sum game with all the good things of life. Coordination is possible. We have discovered, in fact, that coordination happens far more often than conflict. The tasty olives really do outweigh the bitter. In fact if you haven't already, we highly recommend that you taste for yourself one of these days.

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    Backyard Living: Curing Olives

    Living in Southern California has opened up a new world to us agriculturally.  Barry and I both grew up in families who gardened, but neither of us have ever lived in a place with such abundant food growing everywhere!  One crop that grows here and is ignored a lot of the time is the olive tree.  My friend Nellie and I went olive picking at a church member's home last fall and we are now reaping the results.

    The following method is one that I decided on after doing lots of internet research.  There are many other ways to do it, but we decided on the following because it was less complicated.

    After picking the olives, you wash and dry them.

    Then you make 1 or 2 cuts in the flesh of each olive so that the bitter acid will leech out.  This takes a bit of time but with more than one person helping, it can go pretty fast.

    Next you place them in a salt brine (about 1/4 cup salt per quart) and let them soak, and soak, and soak.  A large glass container or several quart jars works best for this.  (Note: do NOT soak them in stainless steel.  We tried this and discovered that, if pressed against the metal for an extended period of time, the acid in the olives would actually begin to eat away at the metal.)  The salt water should be changed every 4-7 days depending on the amount of salt you used.  

    After about 2 months of soaking (although it can be longer or shorter depending on the size), the olives should be quite edible!  Taste one and see what you think.  If they are still somewhat bitter, soak them for 1-2 more weeks. If they are too salty, place them in clean water (no salt) to draw out the sodium.  

    You can then season them with things such as garlic cloves, lemon slices, and bay leaves.  Place them in a quart jar with a lightly salted brine and the seasonings.  Pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to seal.  They can then be kept for up to a year (if they last that long!)

    To tell the truth, this post is not just about olives.  It's about being creative with what you have on hand, instead of spending money in order to satisfy every need or desire that crops up.  It doesn't have to be olives or persimmons.  For you, it may mean saving and reusing the fabric from old clothing, or making a commitment to avoid food waste.  Whatever it may be for you, be assured that it makes a difference!