Friday, October 21, 2011

A small biking victory

I've been trying to bike to work more frequently since I got my Giant Escape W 2010 in May. 
(Every time I type Giant Escape, I think of a giant escaping from something. It sounds rather silly, typed or out-loud..) My bike is pretty lightweight so I can push it up the stairs to our second floor office, even with panniers on!

I live very close to where I work- my commute is only about 1-2 miles, depending which route I take. Although it's not a far distance, it's also a silly distance to drive. I've been averaging a bike commute of 1-3 times per week in the last several months, and I'm trying to increase that even more. I like the exercise, even if it is only for a few minutes, I like the reduced fossil fuel expenditure, and I like not driving my car to places I could easily get to otherwise.


Today, I passed what I consider to be a (beginner's) cycling milestone: 
I learned to change my tube/tire!

Rode to work today. It was about 45-50 degrees out, and pretty windy. Rainy too! I keep telling myself,
"Part of developing into a true cycling badass is riding in weather of all types".
I got about 3/4's of the way to work today and suddenly noticed I had a lumpy back tire (or at least that was my professional cycling diagnosis of it). I had just filled up the tube with air this morning, so I knew it wasn't just running low. Luckily I was close to work, so I hopped off, and walked my bike to the local bike shop, ready to have my friendly neighborhood bikeguys fix it for me- so dependent and lazy! The bike store opened at 11 and there I was at 10am, so I hauled the bike up the stairs to my office and laid that baby out in the hallway! I was going to fix it myself with my mad skillz.

Back-story: I recently took a Bicycle Maintenance class at my local REI, and happened to be nervous that my first "practice" with changing my tire would be when I was alone, in the dark, on some creepy street!

So it ended up being fortuitous that my bike chose today to weird-out. Luckily I had my newly-assembled bike tool kit (Thanks, Dad!), and so I went to it. In the middle of my office building's hallway, I propped up the bike, removed the back bike rack, removed the wheel, removed the chain, removed the tire and tube. Yeah! I inspected the tire and tube for leaks, to no avail. I busted out my air capsule things and tried to inflate the tube, which I didn't do so well at. At this point, the bike shop had opened, so I grabbed the tire, tube, wheel, and headed over to see if they had any ideas about this mysterious flat.

Nice bikeguys inspected the tire and tube, inflated the tube, and couldn't find a leak anywhere! They did tell me that my emergency air tool thing was for a presta valve, not a schraeder: whoops. So although tube inflation didn't work for me, it's not because I sucked at it, it's because I bought the wrong thing- always a silver lining! They assembled the wheel for me and inflated it, and I took it back to the office. I re-installed it on my bike, and upon putting the air valve cap back on, notice a hissing, leak-type noise. I took off the cap and looked inside, and silly me: the aircap had a rock in it. Out went the rock, on went the air cap, away went the hissing, and off I went on my bike!

Now I can confidently say that I can change my tube or tire! I may have wasted some time with overzealous tire removal, but happily I don't have a leak, and now I've practice a new skill. I also got to reflect on the situation- if I had to actually rely on bike transportation, I would really need to know how to fix a bike so I could continue getting where I need to go, even in a pinch. Since I've been romanticizing (in a way only an environmentalist could do) life on a bike, without a car to call my own, this was a good first step in crisis management.

Did the resolving the problem take a long time?
Did I want to call all my bike friends for help instead of be inconvenienced for more than two minutes?
Kind of! 
Was it ultimately a good lesson and character builder?
Yes it sure was!

Good day!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Economical Local Eating

If you've read my blog for any length of time you know I like to buy local- surprise! I was recently surprised by my bank statement, which basically said that we like to go out to eat a lot more than I thought. If you haven't yet noticed, it's a lot most cost-effective to make meals at home than it is to go out to eat. Hence the doubling-back to the eternal question of a budget-conscious locavore: "How do I eat in a local-as-possible, healthful, sustainable way without going broke?" This is not only a help for you (hopefully) but a reminder for me as well :) We're all in tough economical situations right now- thinking more thoughtfully about what we eat and where we spend our money can only be helpful!

Luckily, there are a variety of local food resources very close to me, and most likely to you as well. I'd like to share some of my ideas and techniques, in hopes that others out there may be able to use them as well. And hey!- if you have ideas, please comment and share them with me!

This is part of a larger, three-day, three-part series on my blog, so check back in tomorrow & Friday!

Economical Local Eating- Part 1: Knowing Your Food Sources

If you've started to eat locally already, you've probably gotten to the point where you're starting to know where to spend the big bucks, where to scrimp and save, and what grocery locations you need to frequent to get the best deals. In a world where actual food production and nutrition information is practically hidden from the consumer, it takes some effort to seek out locally-grown foods that are healthy and don't cost you and arm and a leg!

Part of becoming an informed, aware consumer in this crazy land of ours is doing your homework. Since I've done a lot of proverbial homework in regards to shopping local, let me help you!

There are several larger points that help to make up my Shopping Manifesto-
Guiding Rules to Shopping Locally while on a Budget:
  • Shop often
  • Have Meals in Mind
  • Have Ingredients on-hand
"Shop Often" means-
When you begin purchasing fresh veggies, you'll notice that they don't always have a shelf-life of 14 days like those good old ones from your Big Box Store do. There's a reason for that- they're FRESH! If it's time visiting a Farmers' Market, it's easy get carried away by the bountiful, beautiful produce, and spend $40 on fruits and veggies, only to take them home where many of them will rot before you get to eat them (if you don't have a plan, that is)! If you're shopping for 3 people, don't buy enough for 3 people for the next 15 days! The nice thing about local shopping options is just that- they're local! Many times they are close, convenient, and fresh: you don't have to buy all the months' veggies in one trip and you probably shouldn't.

"Have Meals in Mind" means-
One of the best way I find to save money on a long-term basis when I shop is to know what I plan to cook! I don't, by any means, have each day planned out, but I do keep in mind some of the core dishes I'd like to make that week- maybe it's a soup or a veggie stir-fry. Maybe it's some kind of vegetable bake. Whatever it is, I aim to get ingredients for meals, not just random products that look good. This also prevents me from buying a lot of processed crap- if you have dinners in mind, you don't need to buy frozen food or pre-made meals. Then you can have more control of what goes into your food and therefore into your body!

"Have Ingredients on Hand" means-
This comes right from my mother, the main grocery-purchaser of our household growing up. Teenage me would always look into the pantry and then cry, "Mom, we don't have any food!"Usually her reply was, "Yes, but we have ingredients!" I always thought that was an annoying response, and didn't really understand what difference it made. Now that I'm older, and living with a teenager who has the potential to be crying the same thing, I know what my mom means: Always keep "staple items" in stock in your home. These could be different for each family: Beans and Rice, Soup Stock, Chicken, greens for salad.. depends on what your go-to meals are. But when you reach into that pantry to try to make your budget stretch, you want to have those key things on hand! My staples are probably soup stock, vegetables, bread, and lunch meat. I can always make some kind of weird concoction if I have soup stock and some veggies to throw in. Bread is important for quick breakfasts on the go, as well as a key ingredient in sandwiches, which are a frequently-consumed item by two of the three people in our home. Lunch meat is pretty self-explanatory, I hope?

Where to Shop:

Farmers' Markets- Shopping at one of the many local markets here is always my top choice- I get to speak with the farmers that grow my food, and I just don't think there's any substitute for that, except growing your own food! Most of the produce I don't grow myself is purchased from local farmers. You can find quite a variety of produce at your local Farmers' Market, from sweet potatoes to eggplant- one of our urban gardeners at the market even had paw-paw fruit for sale! Also a good way to get items for the home- I get my bar soap from the market, as well as homemade laundry detergent and cloth-made snack packs and sandwich wraps! Find your local Farmers' Market.

CSAs- CSA stands for "Community Support Agriculture", and is kind of akin to investing in a farmer. You pay for a share or a half share ahead of time (usually in the winter or early spring), which allows the farmers some capital to do the things they need to do on the farm. The share is a certain amount of weeks long (could be 16, could be 22), and you commit to pick up your share from your farm, or from a local pick-up point. Only downside to this in my opinion, which is also a positive, is that you don't pick what is in your "share" each week- you can get an idea of what might be there but you can't pick and choose. Gotta learn to love new veggies! There are vegetables CSAs, meat CSAs, and more, so find one for yourself today!

Food Co-ops- Great way to shop locally and still get the essentials you need. Our local Ypsilanti Food Co-op is my Go-To location for bulk goods like flour, sugar, beans, rice, oats. I am always thrilled to find that many of those bulk items are made in my state of Michigan, which is just awesome! Buying in bulk can save you money, and is a nice way to save the environment as well- by bringing the empty containers I plan to fill with flour, sugar, etc. I am not using up any extra paper, plastic, etc. I also get most of my "home goods" at our Co-op: eco-friendly dish detergent, soap, recycled paper towels & toilet paper, shampoo and body wash, and they have body/eco-friendly tampons too (although I am a moon cup user myself)! Some Co-ops require membership and some do not- our particular one does not require you be a member to shop there, although if you do join as a member ($25/year) you get 2% off your purchases and get to have a vote at a variety of meetings and decision-making sessions. Find a Co-op near you!

Farm Stands- Similar concept to Farmers' Market and CSAs- some farms operate their own Farm Stand as a way of selling the produce they grow. There are usually set hours these farms stands are open, and you drive on by and purchase what you need- like a CSA with the convenience of a Farmers' Market experience! Nice way to see the farm you're supporting, and to really connect with one family/farmer.

Action Step: 

Now that we've covered some basics, check out these great resources to do your own research:
Find a Co-op, Farm Stand, Farmers' Market or CSA near you and try it out! 

Tomorrow we'll be exploring Prioritizing your Purchases, and Friday will be focused on Recipes and Food Prep to Stretch your Budget

Monday, October 10, 2011

Edible fruit tree lust

As a resident in a urban suburb with a pretty small yard (about 1/6th of an acre including the space taken up by my house and garage) There's only so much space I can utilize for gardening. I've started to look at getting more dwarf edible trees, as ways to capitalize on landscape and edible space potential.

Some of the types of fruits I've been looking at lately are mulberry trees, grapes, nectarines, hardy kiwis, or paw-paws. Downsides of mulberries, paw-paws and grapes are that they need a lot of space. I've found some dwarf nectarines, and hardy kiwis can be relatively small. Paw-paws are shade lovers, which could be good for my front yard which doesn't get a lot of sun. Trying to consider what I would actually eat and use the most..

Paw-paws would be cool because they're native to North America, and they're unique as far as what's available in a conventional grocery store or even at the Farmers' Market. Hardy Kiwis would be pretty awesome for similar reasons- a way to grow kiwi fruit without having to buy it from across the globe would be great! On the site I was looking at, it said you could start the kiwi tree in a 5-gallon pot and then transfer it to its' permanent home the next year.

Mulberries can get to be really tall and I don't really need anymore tall trees in my yard. I still to want to do grapes, but I need to have the trellising structure before I invest in grape growing.

When you have a small yard and you want to grow your own food, you have to think creatively in order to make the best use of your space! In what ways do you creatively use your space to grow more food?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Homemade Root Cellaring 101

As I posted earlier in the year, one of the projects I really wanted to get to this year was making a homemade root cellar. I looked up ideas, advice, and plans, without a lot of success. It doesn't seem that there are too many people root-cellaring on a small scale- or maybe they're just not posting about it?  Since my basement is heated and I don't have a traditional "cellar", I decided to try out this root cellar idea and share it with you! Inspiration article from Mother Earth News can be found here.

Building Your Own Root Cellar 101

Home Depot buckets
 Supplies list:
 * Drill  *  Shovel  5-gallon bucket(s) & lid
Drill and a large bit
You can choose to use buckets you already have at home,  or of course get them from places like Home Depot, Lowes or your local hardware store. If the buckets have been used, rinse them out and dry them before you start your project.

Step 1) Flip the bucket(s) over to drill holes in the bottom. Some of the instructions I saw said to cut off the bottom of the bucket, but since I only have a drill, I just drilled many wholes in the bottom.This helps to veggies inside the bucket to maintain an even temperature, and also for moisture to have a place to leave the bucket.

Bucket with holes drilled in it
Step 2) Drill holes; start with one right in the middle, then work your way out and drill 4 or 5 holes evenly spaced out in the middle, and then 5-6 hole staggered towards the outside of the bucket. (<--- See picture)
Choose bucket location wisely!

Step 3) Choose your Root Cellar location. Choosing somewhere close to your house is a good idea, because the veggies won't be as affected by temperature changes. The space I chose was also under an bumped-out section of our house, so there's shelter from the elements and strong weather too!

Finished install!
Step 4) Dig a hole in your in the special spot you've chosen. Make sure there are no power lines running through the space you're digging! The whole needs to be about 2 feet deep, and a bit wider than your bucket. When you're done digging, you want the top 2-3 inches to but above ground still (see picture). Back-fill the hole so the bucket in snug in the ground- pat down the soil around the bucket.
Carrots are in :)

Step 5) Fill the bucket with root veggies of your choice-carrots, potatoes, or onions should all store well in this type of environment. In the case of carrots, you pull off the green tops, leaving only a little stub of green at the top. If you want, you can brush dirt off of your carrots/potatoes/onions, but do not wash!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

She Blinded Me With Science

This past Friday was my first foray into the world of PRESSURE CANNING canning canning canning (those are echos, by the way). Let's start off by saying that pressure canning is pretty epic. Luckily I had a brave lab partner, Ashley, who gracious lent her new ALL AMERICAN pressure cooker/canner to its first trial run.

For those of you have canned before and haven't yet ventured into the uncharted waters of pressure canning, I'm going to walk through some basics. When you do start pressure canning, maybe you will think about this post and not have as many panicked questions as we did- that's my hope for you, at least!

So here's what a standard pressure canner looks like:

Q) What is the difference between a pressure canner and a water bath/boiling water canner?

A) Several main differences:

Pressure canners reach a higher temperature, which low-acid foods (like meat and most veggies) need in order to be safely canned.

A boiling water canner only gets up to 212 degrees, which is the temperature at which water boils. This is only safe for canning most fruits, and some tomato products, which are higher in acid and have a lower risk of developing botulism if canned correctly.

Pressure canners are hella expensive compared to boiling water canners. Just sayin'

Things to know about pressure canning:
  • First of all, get the Ball Blue Book of Canning or some other reliable book that includes recipes for pressure canners. 
  • Choose the recipe you'd like to make, and make sure the recipe is suitable for a pressure canner (should say so at the bottom). For the purposes of explaining, we'll be talking about canning corn.
  • Prepare jars before filling- make sure they have been cleaned and sterilized
  • Prepare food for canning- make sure you follow directions as far as amount of headspace required; headspace is amount of space between top of jar and fruit/veggie contents
  • Once the jars are full, screw on the lids and rings- tight and secure but doesn't have to be a death grip!

Pressure/Temperature Gauge

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Applesauce recipe

This is practically Week of Applesauce! I'm teaching two preserving classes; one was on Thursday (at Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living), and then a class at our local grange with a group called Preserving Traditions on Sunday! I also canned applesauce for my personal stash today- whew! Here's easy instructions for making applesauce, which is one of the easiest things to can!

Homemade Applesauce
Supplies needed:
1 large pot
2 large bowls of apples (about 35-40 apples)
Sugar (optional)
Nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon (optional)
A peeler or combo peeler/corer


1) Peel the apples, if you choose too. I usually peel 3/4 of my apples and leave some peel on for color and texture.
2) Core the apples. either with a knife or a combo machine (very useful!)
3) Cut the apples into small pieces- the smaller they are the quicker they cook.
4) Take cut apples and put them in a large stock pot.
5) Turn pot onto 5-6 or medium
6) Add a half cup of water into the pot
7) Spice to taste, adding nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, etc.
8) Add sugar, if you desire. I usually find that 1/2 - 1 cup is enough for me
9) Occasionally stir the apples
10) Once apples reach a more mush-like consistency, mash them up with a potato masher or a spatula or some kind of kitchen tool

:) Easy, huh?