Thursday, April 28, 2022

Rhubarb Morning

I have my longjohns on again under my pants because the windchill is 29F, but the rhubarb is basically a bush again so I cut it for the first time this spring!

Those branches in the foreground are from little white swamp oak growing slowly but surely next to the rhubarb. There are lilies of valley on the other side. Other years, I have been planting zinnias in that bare patch but they really grow too tall for that space. I want to figure out another bright happy flower to sow there that is shorter. 

I'm planning to make a rhubarb custard pie to share with friends this evening! And I still have some jars of chopped frozen rhubarb from last spring, oh dear. I got a tip from another friend to use rhubarb in winter soups and sauces where he would normally use lemon for tartness. It worked great for me. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Elbow Grease and the Cleaners I Use

I was inspired to write this post by Auntie Dorcas and now that I'm finishing it, it's Earth Day! (Let's keep Earth Day every day, ok? Like Mother's Day - honor the mothers and all the parents every day).

 I refill my dish soap bottles at a local store with Better Life unscented dish soap. I jazz up my life by adding some drops of essential oil. The current mix, "Happiness," has citrus and peppermint in it.

I also refill my laundry jugs at the same store with Ecos unscented laundry detergent. The clothes are scented by fresh air from the laundry line!

I refill these bottles because I have read that reuse is better than recycling. 

For our wood floors, we use Bona spray and a cloth as we see spots and over the whole floor rather, uh, infrequently.

To wash the tile floors and walls in the bathroom, I keep Dr. Bronner's castile soap on hand just because it smells so nice and I like the ethos of the company. I do have Murphy's Oil Soap for when we wash down the unpainted main wooden steps, but that is rare. 

I have some kind of wood polish or lotion or something for Grandma's rocking chair, the vintage buffet, and the vintage piano - a good job for a child who wants to earn some cash, so that task happens on whim.

I also have Windex glass cleaner around, but most of the time, a damp microfiber cloth is quickest and best on mirrors. I would dearly love to have sparkling clean windows all the time, but I have to really work up to the effort that takes with double-hung aluminum storm windows and cranky old wooden windows. 

For the rest of the surfaces, I mix up cleaners from vinegar and Sal Suds. For general cleaning, I put 2 Tbsp. white vinegar, 2 Tbsp. Sal Suds in a spray bottle and fill up with water. For toilet bowl cleaning, I use equal parts vinegar and Sal Suds and just squirt 1-2 Tbsp. in the toilet bowl before scrubbing and letting it stand. 

Before I detailed all of this, I thought I was just cleaning with Sal Suds and vinegar. Huh. I still am pleased with my current system and think it's reasonably earth-friendly. 

We use rags and elbow grease to clean (explaining elbow grease to kids is super-fun!). I have some paper towels way at the back of a closet, but in general, we avoid disposables and I have rags in almost every load of laundry which is just fine with me (also, am I the only one who will suddenly swipe off dust with an item of clothing headed for the dirty laundry hamper anyway?).

I'm interested in your cleaners and methods and thoughts.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Chickweed Pastries

Spring is springing lusciously everywhere and it's been a cold one in our area, so all the green and flowers (flowers!!) are so wonderful.

 A few years ago, I learned that chickweed is edible and available in my back yard. We never spray any pesticides or herbicides in our back yard because we have food growing there as well as children running amuck. I did plant some spinach seeds, but in the meantime, I made these spinach pastries by subbing in chickweed from the backyard. 

These pastries come from Extending the Table, which is a companion book to the cookbook I use the most, More with Less. Extending the Table has recipes from cuisines and people all over the world, many of them with stories and insights about food justice and simplicity. The spinach pastry recipe comes from the West Bank, from the Bishara and Selwa Awad family, and they are delicious. Simple ingredients and technique, yet the resulting pastries are definitely from another place and tradition. I love that.

This time, I had two balls of dough left and no filling, so I quickly grabbed some leftover curry from the fridge and made two half-moon pies with it to distinguish from the chickweed filling. Grated cheese would work well also, and I think I have done peanut butter and jelly under duress, too. I served them with home-canned tomato soup. The pastries make nice picnic food, and aren't we all eager to get out into the warm air?

Spinach (Chickweed) Pastries
Combine in bowl:
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
about 1 cup all-purpose flour
Knead a few minutes until nice and elastic. This is a lovely dough, not sticky, purely pleasurable to knead. Cover and allow to rise for 1 hour, give or take. Meanwhile, make the filling.
Mix together: 

4 cups packed, chopped spinach or chickweed, fine to include minced stems
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
The dough doesn't necessarily need to rise, so when an hour is up, divide it into 18-20 balls. Roll a ball very thin (I find that flour is not necessary here). Put a heaping 1/4 cup filling in middle. Bring 2 edges together to form a cone shape, then the third side to form a triangle. Pinch seams tightly. Place on greased on silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake 350 for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot or warm. The recipe says you can freeze some unbaked pastries to bake later, but I have never done that. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Rain Barrel Management

We've had a rain barrel under one of our downspouts for years. In our city, it's important to manage rainwater which routinely floods our ancient combined sewer system and pollutes the river which pollutes the bay downstream. I use the rainwater to water our outside plants. In hot weather, the water gets a little smelly - haven't tried very hard to solve this problem in an eco-friendly way, so I want to know if you have solutions (and any other rain barrel management tips - you can see we are a no-frills operation).

I think most people in our area disconnect their rain barrels from their downspouts in freezing temps, but we have not. I do actually use rainwater through the winter on houseplants and with compost activities. It is important to keep the rain barrel from freezing as the ice can damage the barrel itself as well as the spigots and overflow spouts through expansion and thawing. On warmish days, I would try to remember to drain water as needed to keep the rain barrel at half full or less. 

But I have hit on a more successful (for me) method: the stock tank heater. I don't love shopping as entertainment but it is true that sometimes shopping without a plan yields exciting problem solvers. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a heater for an animal's drinking water! 

"K&H De-Icer"

I just plug it in when the temperature is cold enough long enough to freeze the barrel. I do have to use an extension cord, which is not recommended, but our outlet is a new GFCI outlet so I am comfortable with the safety. The cord has a plastic sleeve to protect it from the top barrel edge as the heater floats along in the rain barrel. 

After I bought this heater and had it going, my dad told me it's possible to buy stock tank heaters that are "temperature limited," meaning they run on a thermostat and only heat the water to a pre-set temperature. That seems like a prudent energy saver that I would look for next time. 

I have now put away the stock tank heater three times this spring, mis-judging the depth of cold still in store for us. I am almost scared to put away the cold weather things again! Sadly, our neighbor's gorgeous magnolia buds were ruined in the last surprise cold spell, and I will miss the creamy pink blooms this spring.