Friday, March 15, 2013


This week I received an email from bzzAgent which is one of the websites that I mentioned in a previous post. The email is regarding a campaign to raise awareness about poverty called "Live Below the Line".

The challenge is to eat/drink with a budget of $1.50 per day for 5 days and takes place April 29-May 3. More details can be found on the website

Anyone up for the challenge?

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Sharon's story of hunting around car washes for lost change is the embodiment of depression-era thinking. When she initially posed the question, 'Can we use found change to buy our food,' I immediately thought of Granny.

Jessica's great-grandmother was a tiny woman.  I don't know what her name was, everyone just called her 'Granny.'  She was a tiny frail woman by appearance, though appearances are not to be trusted.  She was a survivor of the Great Depression, and lived independently in her home into her nineties.

My wife just told me her name was Julia, though she was also called Pooch or Poochie.

When she passed a few years ago, her children set about to sort through her belongings.  In and amongst them was a jar of corroded coins, labeled 'Change I Found.'  Why corroded?  Of course she washed them before she put them in the jar!  Jessica thinks her Aunt Bernie still has it, to be passed on from generation to generation.  Hopefully Granny's generation was the last to need it.

Back To The Sugar Bush

Here is a picture of a tree with a catheter.

Bob and Karen tapped their maple trees again, and invited us to share in the spoils.  The picture to the left is one of the tapped trees. In previous years we fiddled around with plastic bags to cover the openings on the jugss.  The opening needs to be minimal so that bugs don't get into it.  Don't ask me what bugs are doing awake in March, I don't know.  I provided some rubber stoppers this year to make operations a little easier.  They were #10 rubber stoppers with a tiny hole in the center. I drilled a larger hole for the tubing to fit through.  I offset the hole from the center so that the center hole would act as a vent.  They worked out awesome.

Todd and I went over to harvest some sap on Monday.  I took 10 gallons home, and he took 15.

Here is our sap reducing laboratory in action.  It looks much like a modern gas stove, but do not be fooled!  I've not quite finished the batch up yes, but the water boils off at a rate of about a gallon per hour.  We learned from previous experience that the more surface area you have the faster the evaporation.  I have 2 stainless flat pans but only found this one, thus the pot on the right.  I add about a pint of sap from the pot to the flat pan every 20 mins.

Here is the first 5 gallons, reduced down by about 90%. Once you get past this point the syrup starts to foam like crazy. Last time I finished it off in the oven. This time I put it in the oven and left it a little too long - it foamed over the edge and deposited a big glob on the bottom of the oven. The scent of burnt marshmallows is evoked every time I turn the oven on now. I then decided to finish drying it on the stove. This doesn't work so good, there are too many hot spots on the stove top and the sugar starts to caramelize. I will have to go back a little later and finish it off in the oven (this time paying more attention!)  I will post the yield weight once the sugar is dried (less what I burned, and also what I sampled.)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Starter Plants

We usually have pretty good results with our seed starting, so I thought I'd share our methods.  We have a tiny extra bedroom in our house that becomes our plant nursery in the spring.  We have a four foot long wire shelving unit that we clear off and set up with lights.  We put rope lights on the shelf itself (which generates just enough heat to keep the soil nice and toasty), and have three four-foot hanging fluorescent light fixtures,  which have simple grow bulbs that we picked up at Home Depot or Lowe's in them.  We use organic seed starting mix; I personally like the Burpee mix in the white bag because it holds water pretty well and is easy to work with. 

We bought a hundred or so starter trays from Greenhouse Megastore a couple years ago; we are using those for our starter plants.  Todd is very meticulous with his seed starting-- he likes to make sure that if the package says 1/4 inch depth, he's putting them in at around a 1/4 inch; I like to throw seeds on top and poke them into the dirt with a chopstick and cover them up very unscientifically.  Both methods seem to work fine, and no significant difference is sprouting has occurred.  Also, I water from the top and Todd waters from the bottom-- for this stage of plant life it doesn't seems to make one spit of difference.  Once the plants sprout, we move them to a sunny window and make room for more.  We can fit four trays per shelf, and I think the most we have ever used at once were three shelves (so twelve starter trays all together).  At 18-128 plants per tray, that's a hell of a lot of plants. :)

If you're not sure when to start seeds, there are of course tons of great books, charts and websites.  This year, we're using the Farmer's Almanac dates; you can find their website here.  We have already started onions, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, celery, and some herbs.  We'll be starting more seeds later today after we get back from our maple syrup adventure. :)

Friday, March 8, 2013


Yesterday we voted YES! for my lost & found idea. Mark has a related story and will blog about it later.
I was driving by Aldi's on the way home from work and thought that I spotted an abandoned shopping cart in the parking lot (which = $.25). But it was too late because I was already in the process of passing up the entrance and someone was following closely behind me. The next driveway is for a car wash with drive up vaccuum areas. I figured I would pull in there and get out and see if anyone had dropped any change (I have found money at this car wash in the past). So I pulled in and got out and there was a penny on the ground - YAY! Then I walked around to the other side, looking at the ground. When I was about to get back in my car,  I looked over to the left there was a pile of pennies sitting on the cement wall by the vaccuum.  $.22 pennies in that pile plus the one I found on the ground! I turned back around and went to Aldi's but there weren't any abandoned shopping carts. Feeling lucky when I got home, I went over to the next building to see if there was any lost $$ in the laundry room. As I opened the door to the building a shiny little dime was staring up at me in the doorway (no lost money in the laundry room though).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Window farm

See the window farm here!

I feel far behind in my updating-- if I've learned one thing about myself this year, it's that I am not great at blogging!  (Perhaps I am just far too busy getting things accomplished... yeah, let's go with that! :) )
Todd and I built a window farm-- you can watch a video of it in action by following the link above.  This was part one of probably 3; we will at least put one more in that window (possibly two).  We have two tomato plants, three different types of lettuces, and parsley planted in it.  I am actually really impressed with how well it's all doing; we have already harvested the lettuce (before this video was made) and need to espalier  the tomato plants before they get too tall and heavy.  For that job, we plan to use old curtain rods.

We built the whole thing with 4" pvc that we already had; we made cuts about 1/2 way through the pvc and then used a heat gun to make pockets for the plants.  We used hydroton (we already had some) but lava rocks or any other porous rocks would work as well.  There is an air pump that helps to aerate the water, and along with the fountain pump, brings the solution splashing over the whole contraption and feeds the plants.  We are using an organic hydroponics solution (that we already had-- we planned for this project and a couple more a couple years ago).  We change out the solution once per week, and the whole thing is working quite nicely. 

The idea is that we could have fresh lettuces, tomatoes, perhaps some peppers, and other veg available through the winter and certainly through the challenge; we are considering the possiblity of hanging a couple of grow lights inside the window frame through January and February to help with the low light-- the window it's in is a south facing window, so that helps too. :)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Mock Apple Pie

Its an actual recipe from the depression era made with Ritz crackers (and we thought that grandma was just making it up ;>). has a section dedicated to depression era recipes, including a mock apple pie recipe. I think we should make it part of the challenge to incorporate some recipes from that time period, even if it is just once or twice a month (also substituting some of the ingredients if we need to). I think it would make it more interesting. Any thoughts?


And by BIG I mean portion sizes today....

Yesterday I was at Whole Foods and over heard a lady choosing a beverage say "Everything is so big these days." (she was obviously referring to the jumbo bottled beverages)

After that I stopped at a Bistro/Juice Bar in the area and picked up a juice and hummus with veggies to go. The owner of this restaturant is very health conscsious and uses high quality organic ingredients. Looking at my to go order, I thought, this is a small portion; however, it was very delicious, healthy and satisfying.

Then again today, I went to a vegetarian cafe and ordered a large soup to go. Thinking they would bring out a quart (the size that is served in Chinese restaurants), I was mistaken. The cup held 12 ounces of soup.

That got me thinking - what was the average portion size in the 30's? If it was smaller - can I adjust my portions as a strategy in the challenge? What if a 14.5 ounce can of lentil soup is 3 servings instead of 2? Have we been programmed to eat much more than we really need to?

There are plenty of interesting articles on how portion sizes have increased. Without doing a ton of research, I came across this article:  Based on the research by Dr. Wansink, there has been a 45%  increase in the number of calories in the recipes in the Joy of Cooking cookbook since the 1930's. That's enough evidence for me! I may just have to get his book and see what he else he has to say!