In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Knotty Food, Week Ending 4/21/2019

Last Japanese knotweed post, promise! At least for this year. The knotweed has mostly grown to the stage where it is too mature to eat. I may be able to get one more harvest; we’ll see.

We recently found another patch of knotweed, only a few miles from our house. We are  watching this one even more carefully to make sure it stays there and doesn’t creep any closer to here. We speculate that last year’s rain storms washed knotweed roots to this location from somewhere further upstream.

Foraging Japanese Knotweed

Foraging Japanese Knotweed

Apparently once the knotweed grows tall, as shown in this photo, you can still harvest the leafy tips. You look for where the stem snaps off (like removing the woody parts from a spear of asparagus), then discard the leaves. I haven’t tried this myself; I am content to wait until next year’s shoots.

(For my previous posts on Japanese knotweed this season, you can read here and here.)

I took SkyeEnt’s excellent suggestion to use knotweed for chutney.  I halved the recipe which I found in the comments here, and still ended up with almost four cups. Everyone enjoyed it at a birthday party we hosted, but there is enough leftover I may need to freeze it. Or can it, if I am feeling extra motivated … although probably not. (Knot?)

Japanese Knotweed Chutney

Japanese Knotweed Chutney

I also started a batch of knotweed liqueur, using this recipe. Several months must pass before I can tell you how it turned out. Someone remind me later this summer! I used the thicker stalks for the liqueur so I didn’t have to worry about whether they were tough, or needed to be peeled.

Japanese Knotweed Liqueur

Japanese Knotweed Liqueur

I love the faint pink tinge, already present after a few days of soaking in the vodka. (And if you must know, I used high proof vodka so this will be an especially boozy liqueur.)

I decided to skip the knotweed pickles, because it didn’t make sense to invest time and energy into them when  my family won’t even eat homemade cucumber pickles!

The other recipe in which I did knot use knotweed was strawberry rhubarb pie.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

While many authors suggest using knotweed anywhere a recipe calls for rhubarb, I wasn’t ready to make that swap in this classic dessert. Maybe next foraging season!

Plus I have a whole year to dream up other ways to eat this very invasive plant. Eat the invaders!


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101 Uses for Butternut Squash

With the official end of winter (at least according to the calendar), the time has arrived to clean out our cold cellars and other over-winter food storage solutions.

I don’t have a “real” cold cellar, myself. I have cardboard boxes scattered through the basement, where I tried keeping winter squash, garlic, and onions through the coldest and darkest months. I also co-opted an extra fridge (much to the dismay of my electric bill) to stash leeks, cabbages, parsnips and salsify when the ice and snow closed in, making it impossible for them to remain outdoors.

On this day, two days after the spring equinox, one sole item remains, having lasted for  almost, I KID YOU NOT, seven months since I harvested it. Beginning of September to almost the end of March. (Counts on fingers again.) Yep, almost seven.

The produce item in question is a mutant. I suspect it is a hybridization of a butternut squash and a trombetta, both of which are cultivars of Cucurbita moschata – which means they can cross-pollinate. And apparently did! If I am correct, the parent plants crossed in 2017; a fruit – which could have been from either parent, as far as I understand – ended up in our rubbish heap; and in 2018 this monstrosity, and several others like it, flourished.

monster_squash

See that guy on the lower right in the Instagram photo below? Same. Squash.

The squash weighs over 8.25 lbs.  I think its amazing survival rate in storage was thanks to its skin-to-flesh ratio, for lack of a better phrase. Most of the “real” baby butternut squash (as shown below) caved in quickly – literally – because they lost more moisture due to their small size compared to surface area.

Given how much winter squash we ended up with last fall, everyone. Is. Sick. of. Squash.

Well, except me, but I can’t eat this whole thing by myself! So here is a list of ideas for using excess butternut squash. And no, I don’t *really* have 101 uses to offer, but I must be VERY creative in feeding it (or its mutant offspring) to my family. Also most of these recipes would probably work with other winter squash as well, not just butternut.

By the way, I wanted to make this a “fancy” blog post – you know, where all the recipe links displayed a photo from the original websites? But good grief, all those photos made the post go on FOREVER. I had to keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling… and that annoys me on other websites. So I ditched all the photos. Trust me, if you visit the original pages, you will see gorgeous, mouth-watering photos of the recipes in question!

1. When in doubt, roast it

This Cinnamon Pecan Roasted Butternut Squash is to die for. (Well my kids want to die each time I serve it, anyway.) You could also add some butternut squash into a roasted root vegetables recipe.

2. Stuff It

Although for this approach, you need a “normal” sized butternut squash, not the baby sized squash we mostly grew, nor the monster squash I’m dealing with now!

3. Mash It

I would suggest leaving some chunky texture in the mashed butternut squash, by the way, rather than pureeing it completely smooth.

4. There’s Always Soup

Yes, I know the “lazy squash soup” recipe calls for acorn squash, but I always use butternut squash instead. This is a great use for red onion or an apple that might be past its prime – once it has been roasted then pureed, no one can tell the difference!

5. Or Slow Cooker Soup

Which is just as lazy, in my opinion, but takes longer to cook.

6. Or Exotically Flavored Soup

Assuming you like curry, of course. Not everybody does. Especially my kids. Who thought this was the most unholy soup, combining both squash AND curry.

7. Top a Pizza with It

I mean, unless you have the sort of family that will stage an open revolt if you put vegetables (or fruit) on pizza!

8. Like Lasagna Noodles

Monster squash is a perfect candidate for this approach, by the way, because of its large size.

9. Or Even Spaghetti Noodles

OK, personally I am not likely to try this one. While I do own a Spiralizer, cleaning it is more work than I care for.

10. As a Substitute for Pumpkin Puree

I actually find this trick works well with pumpkin bread as well!

11. As a Cheese Replacement

Butternut squash lends both color and texture in replacing some or all of the cheese in recipes. I have even started using squash to replace part of the cheese in my go-to broccoli cheddar soup recipe. (Three cups is a LOT of cheese!)

12. As a Partial Sweet Potato Replacement

Butternut squash has fewer calories and carbs per cup than sweet potato, so it’s a great way to lighten up a sweet potato side dish. I wouldn’t use it for all the sweet potato in a recipe though because the difference in taste and texture may be more noticeable. Best not to tell your family if you’re pulling this trick at Thanksgiving Dinner!

13. Remember to Save the Seeds to Roast

For the record, this works MUCH better with large winter squash than my little baby butternuts. The seeds were too thin to bother with.

There you have it! 101 uses (or thirteen, as the case may be) for butternut squash. Now I have too MANY options for how to enjoy this squash… especially since it will be just me eating it!

What garden successes do you find yourself struggling to use up?


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Salsify Bisque

One of the themes I am exploring this year is “localizable” recipes. Or maybe I mean “localable”. I’m not sure what the word is/should be yet because I am still inventing it.

Basically, the goal is to find, try and publish recipes that can be made with local, in-season ingredients for central Maryland. So even if they aren’t ACTUALLY local because I bought the ingredients at massive grocery store which is diversely stocked thanks to a global supply chain enabled by cheap oil, the  ingredients could be sourced locally if that same global supply chain came to an end. (Not speculating on the “why”… there are other blogs for that conversation.)

Since I recently brought my winter garden to a close, I thought I would take this opportunity to try a “localable” / “localizable” meal. Turns out I harvested just enough salsify to try this soup recipe.

Salsify Bisque - a local-able/in season winter soup

Salsify Bisque – a local-able/in season winter soup

You guys. It was SO good. I am very sorry I don’t have more salsify, because the soup was amazing. I substituted sliced shiitake mushrooms for the oysters, and added them after blending the soup so they would retain their shape and texture. (Local mushrooms could be used instead easily enough; dried if needed to be available in January.) I garnished the soup with cajun-spiced pumpkin seeds, cheddar cheese cubes, and minced carrot greens. (I didn’t have any parsley.)

One important note about the original recipe: it serves four if you are having an appetizer-sized bowl of soup! For the main (or only) course of dinner, it serves two. Two who were very sad that the pot was empty and there wasn’t more.

(And I know wild/feral salsify grows locally, but I have been unable to identify it except when it’s already too late to eat it!)


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Garden End, Winter 2018-2019

In the face of arctic cold, with snow blanketing the ground, I brought my 2018 – 2019 winter garden to a close.

This year, I coddled three different beds with a variety of cold-hardy crops, all the way into mid-January. We’ve never made it this long.

In exchange for my diligence in covering the beds when the cold- threatened, and peeling back the protective layers when the sun returned, yesterday I harvested:

  • Several small daikon radishes
  • Broccoli rabe
  • A singular carrot
  • Two parsnips
  • A variety of kale and chard leaves
  • Three small cabbages
  • More salsify than I know how to use
  • A few random hakurei turnips
  • A teensy little spinach

Winter gardening lessons I learned this year:

  • These crops all survived when temps unexpectedly dropped into the nid-20s one night. The straw tucked around them kept them alive even though the beds were exposed. (The forecast only called for lows around freezing… that’s what I get for believing the weathermen.)
  • Temps in the upper 20s / low 30s barely phased these plants.
  • Daikon radishes and hakurei turnips actually germinated and grew despite the cold.
  • I need to plant only in the centers of the boxes because the soil freezes at the sides.
  • I need to invest in better cold frames and low tunnels.
  • Winter gardening is tricky because most cold weather plants won’t germinate in the summer heat; but by the time it’s cold enough to germinate, it’s too late for them to reach a decent size to survive into the winter months.
  • I hope I like salsify! I planted it because I couldn’t find any grocery stores that carried it – now I have a ton of it! And by a ton, I mean around a pound. Which is a lot when you don’t know how a vegetable tastes!


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Tiny Steps

You might’ve noticed, I’m a bit of a self-help junkie.
While I haven’t read any self-help books recently – so I can use the time spent “fixing” myself through exercises to write instead – I’m still getting emails from a few self-help guru-types, and well, they’re just emails so they don’t take that long to read. And they usually don’t include exercises. (I might’ve snuck in an audiobook or two, but shhhhhhhh don’t tell.)
Recently there was an email from Courtney at Be More with Less about toasting “tiny steps”. She discussed her own life experiences, the tiny steps she’s taken, and how long it took to transition from where she started to where she is today. I found the article particularly inspiring because so often it feels like we’re not doing enough. Like we’ll never get to wherever it is we want to be. Like you feel as though you’re getting nowhere, so why even bother? Particularly if your tiny steps are focused on transitioning to a lower energy lifestyle, consuming less, and eating more naturally. The overwhelming majority of your friends and neighbors aren’t bothering, and you find yourself wondering what’s the point.
Well, here is a list of tiny steps I’ve taken over the last year(ish). As I was trying to recall exactly how long it has been, I remembered … I have written about tiny steps before! It’s fascinating to see what I meant to do, compared to what I have actually done. This list may have to become an annual tradition!
Consuming stuff:
  • Using fewer single-use disposable items. We rarely use paper plates anymore; I reach for a sponge or cloth towel before a paper towel. Not always successful, but again, this is about tiny steps.
  • Not using plastic produce bags at the grocery store for fruits or veggies that have their own wrapping (sweet potatoes, lemons, limes, etc … although the cashiers hate finding that one extra lime in my order because they weren’t all bagged together)
  • Reusing single-use disposable items wherever feasible. For instance, when I do end up with plastic produce bags, I save them to store veggies I harvest from my garden. The plastic containers that hold deli meat get reused to pack lunches.
  • Compost what paper napkins and paper towels we do use, so at least they aren’t cluttering up landfills.
  • Started a ‘deep pantry’ so I can buy food staples when they are on sale, rather than when we run out.
  • Figuring out ways to use possessions we already have in new ways to solve problems, rather than immediately purchasing a solution.
  • Reading books through the library and free ebook services rather than purchasing books. Not always 100% successful … trying to buy used books when I simply can no longer resist.
  • Mending clothing, which says a lot because I hate mending.
  • Simplifying my wardrobe… I even tried Project 333, but it really didn’t work for me. (Sorry, Courtney!)
Still working on…
  • Phasing out paper napkins… even though they are teens, my kids are still really messy
  • Shopping less. I’ve tried, but the results are inconsistent at best.
  • Watching less TV.
  • Spending less time on my cell phone.
Eating:
  • Reducing food waste through ninja meal planning skillz.
  • Eating out less often, particularly at fast food restaurants.
  • Eating more produce from my own garden. I had wanted to join a CSA, but I can’t even properly use everything from my own garden before it rots. It didn’t seem responsible to buy even more produce I would struggle to use.
  • Incorporating more wild foods into our diet.
  • Eating more food in season and local to the area. I mean, there is nothing sadder than a grocery store tomato in Maryland in February!
  • Using more permaculture techniques (like intercropping and polyculture) in my garden to improve overall health and reduce the need for energy-intensive human interventions.
Still working on…
  • Preparing at least one vegetarian meal per week
  • Preserving or sharing garden produce rather than letting it go to waste
  • Finding innovative ways to feed my family whatever I can harvest yes, really, one more time. Ask my kids how sick they are of green beans!
  • Actually listening to my body and putting the fork down when I’m full even if it’s wasteful to stop, or so delicious I don’t want to.
Energy Consumption:
  • Sewed light-blocking curtains for the full-length windows flanking our front door. The summer sun streaming into the foyer made the whole house an oven, and the AC worked overtime. In the winter, cold radiated from them. The curtains let us control the temperature better on the main level of our house.
  • Installed a new attic fan and skylight. OK these were big steps, but we needed to redo our roof anyway so both attic fan and skylight got upgraded as well. The skylight has a remote control which allows you to open and close the curtain to allow or block the sun as needed, or open the skylight to allow hot air to escape. The attic fan has also kept the temperature upstairs more comfortable.
  • Trying to combine errands to use less gas… or better yet, just not go out!
Still working on…
  • Finding and completing more projects to insulate and weatherproof our home. For example, I bought foam to insulate hot water pipes after reading Green Wizardry last year, and they are still just piled all over our basement floor.
  • Line drying more clothing.
Friends and Family:
  • Making time to actually listen to the kids.
  • Spending time with friends and family, sharing a home-cooked meal rather than going out to a restaurant.
  • Sharing experiences instead of exchanging store-bought gifts.
Still working on…
  • Working to connect with other people locally who share my interests and values.
  • Learning to enjoy what the local environment has to offer rather than going on fancy vacations; there’s lots of local opportunities for hiking and camping, for instance.
I am sure to many people these tiny steps seem like self-deprivation and misery. (Although people who feel that way probably aren’t reading my blog in the first place.)
But putting one more plate in the dishwasher is no more work than throwing out the paper plate.
Cooking at home from scratch is more work, but allows my husband and I time together while we prep the meal; we enjoy the meal together as a family, and we’re all healthier as well.
Instead of shopping as a past-time with the kids, we’re actually having conversations and trying to cook together, while the money saved has helped us better cope with a few financial crises.
Hanging laundry up to dry is actually better for the clothes as well as the environment.
And even though I still abhor mending, it brings with it the quiet satisfaction of fixing a problem myself, and returning a loved garment to my wardrobe rather than scouring the malls or internet hoping I can find *and* afford its replacement.
Last but not least, I find joy in knowing that in even small ways I am cutting back on waste and reducing the degree of variation between my values and the life I’m actually living. And that’s worth more to me than any minor inconvenience which may be caused by these tiny steps.


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My New Earthing Shoes

Yes, I meant earthing, Earthling.

Since first learning about earthing in the book Head Strong, I’ve become a fan of going barefoot outside. Earthing – also known as grounding – promotes the idea that being in direct contact with the earth’s surface allows the planet’s negative charge to impact the body. Restoring this connection, which is often interrupted by our modern nature-free lifestyles, can supposedly bring about a wide array of health benefits.

If you do an internet search on the term “earthing”, the first search results are all for fancy gadgets to simulate that electric charge: while sleeping, while working on your computing, even while relaxing on your couch in front of the TV.

What about just, you know, being in direct contact with the earth?

I’m not going to spend a ton of money on a fancy earthing mat or any of the other “trending” earthing products, because that is not aligned with my values. I go barefoot primarily in my own yard, where I know exactly what has been sprayed on the grass (nothing for at least a year) and it’s relatively easy to dodge any “presents” from the neighbor’s dogs. Gardening barefoot has been my major source of earthing time. I have no evidence either way if earthing has impacted my health or mental well-being, but there are a lot of things we do (like taking vitamins) without *really* knowing if they make a difference.

Until it nearly killed me.

Well, I am exaggerating. Slightly. But it could have. You see, I got stung when I stepped on a honey bee.

In previous years, we’ve had few, if any, honey bees in our yard. But since we stopped spraying the grass to kill the “weeds”, and persistent wet weather had prevented mowing, clover was EVERYWHERE. Plus, I suspect someone in our area got a hive, because it went from ZERO honey bees last year, to honey bees everywhere this year. (Thank you, neighbor, whoever you are.)

Honey bee with clover

Mmmm, Clover!

It was great, all those extra pollinators buzzing around my yard. Until it wasn’t. I hadn’t been stung in over 30 years, and I’d completely forgotten how much it hurt. Plus when the sting is on the bottom of your foot, how do you hobble the 100+ feet back to your house to get help? I finally reached the house; my husband removed the stinger and applied ice, no big deal.

Then two days later, my foot swelled to the point where I couldn’t wear any shoes but flip-flops. As a result, I learned that you can in fact be allergic to bee stings without experiencing anaphylaxis. I thought those were the only two options – just a sting, or slow suffocating death as your airways swell shut. Nope, somewhere in between those two ends of the spectrum is me. Although if it had been multiple stings, or it had been near my face or neck, the story might have had a different ending. And apparently allergic reactions can worsen over time with repeated exposures, eventually reaching the anaphylaxis level.

Can you tell which foot was stung?

Can you tell which foot was stung?

Needless to say, I don’t garden barefoot anymore. Flip-flops or sloggers – and their thick rubber soles – protect me from wanton insects. And the static charge of the earth.

Enter: my new gardening shoes.

My New Earthing Shoes

My New Earthing Shoes

I had scoured the internet for ‘earthing shoes’ previously, without much luck. I wanted a shoe that didn’t keep the earth’s charge from reaching the wearer. This could be accomplished with an entirely leather shoe, perhaps, or with capacitive materials running through the sole to allow the charge to pass from earth to shoe to person. With a few exceptions, every shoe out there anymore has rubber or plastic soles. (Some men’s dress shoes for example … not gonna wear those while gardening though. Same for the “Dash Runamoc” shoe from softstarshoes.com – I am NOT wearing anything that pricey to garden!)

So I did what I always do when the marketplace fails to provide the product I want to buy. I made it myself. And by “I”, I mean myself with a lot of support from my husband who is better at leatherworking than I am. And by “a lot of support”, I mean he basically made them according to my instructions!

Apparently “barefoot running” is a thing, and provided a good starting point to fashion my own sandal. I used this site and this site as my main sources of inspiration. I thought I would be clever and use my favorite sandal to cut the pattern. After a shoe isn’t “really” the shape of a foot, it’s the shape of an object encasing a foot. Not so much – look at that weird shape.

Sandal tracing - terrible idea!

Sandal tracing – terrible idea!

So I stood on the paper and my husband traced around my actual foot. You can see the difference in the sandal shape (right) and my actual foot shape (left).

Tracings Compared (Foot, left; Sandal, right)

Tracings Compared (Foot, left; Sandal, right)

We (he) free-handed the holes between the toes, and the tabs on the sides to lace through. The leather is 4/5 ounce vegetable tanned cow. Yes, we are the kind of family that has hides laying around the house waiting to be fashioned into crafts!

Completed Earthing Shoe Pattern

Completed Earthing Shoe Pattern

The first attempt worked ok, only needing minor adjustments to better follow the shape of my toes. The second attempt was a substantial improvement, but you can see from the photo they are stiff and flat. The side flaps jut out awkwardly to the sides.

Shoes 1.0 ... Still Pretty Stiff

Shoes 1.0 … Still Pretty Stiff

The next step is getting the leather wet so it can mold to your feet. The challenge is, since this is untreated leather, it will always get floppy any time it gets wet, like in the dewy early morning (the only reasonable time to garden in the summer months), or following rain. Any time the shoes get wet from gardening, I just wear them until completely dry so they can re-mold to my feet. Once they are dry, they fit perfectly again!

Mmmm, Sexy Shoes!

Mmmm, Sexy Shoes!

An extra tab of leather behind the heel allows for a nice, snug fit that stays tight throughout my various gardening activities.

My only complaint is that the front of the sandal tends to fold under while I’m walking, especially if they have gotten wet. I might try a thicker leather in the future, or moving the lacing holes forward for more support. But that is a very minor issue, compared to being almost barefoot in my garden again. These shoes are super lightweight and easy to replace as they go through wear and tear. They are biodegradable too – no landfills for them once they do reach the end of their useful life.