In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.

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Fantastic Foraging, Week Ending 10/07/2018

Well, I meant to post more about black walnuts this week. Truly I did.

But Friday I walked through the woods, and was astounded to find there are still pawpaws lurking in the trees and on the ground.

“Common knowledge says” – aka, “everybody knows” – that pawpaw fruit is only available for a few weeks in the fall. When I found my first ripe ones on September 3, I figured I should take advantage of the harvest while I could! The last thing in the world I expected was to find plenty of pawpaws still available in early October.

Pawpaw Lingering in the October Canopy

Pawpaw Lingering in the October Canopy

And I couldn’t just leave them there. That would be wasteful. Especially knowing how many other foragers can’t find Asimina triloba because it doesn’t grow locally.

Problem was … I didn’t know what to do with them. I don’t normally eat a lot of fruit, due to the havoc even healthy sugars wreck on my body.  Since it’s so labor intensive to process pawpaws, the ideal recipe(s) would be fairly quick; use a minimum of heating and exposure to air for the pulp (since according to Eating Appalachia both treatments could bring out underlying bitter flavors in the fruit).

A plethora of pawpaws

A plethora of pawpaws

When using pawpaw, remember two things: the skin and seeds are not only inedible but toxic; and some people are intolerant to pawpaws so always try a small amount first before consuming significant amounts. (For more on foraging safety, please see this page.)

After doing some research on “pawpaw intolerance”, I decided to use an abundance of caution while preparing this batch. The seeds are surrounded by a membrane sack which can be split and peeled off using a fingernail or a knife. I didn’t know whether these sacks in fact contained the same toxin as the seeds, so I took extra care to avoid getting them in the pulp.

I also made sure no skin clung to the pulp. For firmer pawpaws, a vegetable peeler works well to remove the skin, as long as you make sure to get off all the green. Once they get riper and softer, a paring knife is more useful.

(Fun fact: allegedly the original consumer of pawpaws was the same as that of avocados, the giant sloth. I can imagine the gastro-intestinal distress caused by the seeds and skins of the pawpaw helping to ensure the seeds passed quickly through the beast’s guts, ending with them being deposited in a new location in the process.)

I tried two different recipe approaches (not recipes, per se) – a  liqueur recipe and an improvised freezer jam recipe. The liqueur involved soaking pawpaw puree in vodka for several weeks, then straining and adding simple syrup to sweeten (if necessary … pawpaws are pretty sweet on their own). No, I don’t know yet how I will use pawpaw liqueur. I’ll figure it out sometime after the liqueur has matured.

Pawpaw Liqueur

Pawpaw Liqueur

Next, I invented a freezer jam recipe, riffing on this water canned jam recipe. I would post the actual ingredients / method I used, except I was unhappy with the results. I heated the pawpaw puree and other ingredients only slightly to help the sugar dissolve into the rest of the ingredients. Unfortunately, I had the “clever” idea of substituting spicebush in place of the ginger, clover, allspice, and cinnamon. Not everyone likes the flavor of spicebush. In fact, no one in my family except me. Oops? Apparently I have a few containers of freezer jam to enjoy all by my lonesome!

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Berry Grateful

Welcome to my new series: how to suck at gardening and still feed your family!

One of the greatest disappointments we face when producing our own food is a scrawny, mangled harvest.

Mangled berries are still edible!

Mangled berries are still edible!

It’s important to keep trying, and not let your spoils, well, spoil.

Those mangled berries are edible, so use them! They are great in shakes, fruit leather, jams and syrups.

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Green Tomato Salsa

A.k.a., what to do with all the unripe tomatoes when cold weather hits.

Chop green tomatoes. Add diced garlic, diced red onion, hot peppers (another “harvest before it freezes outside crop”), and cilantro (also salvaged pre-freezing weather). Let stand for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Add additional seasonings to taste – more of any of the ingredients, and / or salt, pepper, lime juice. Whatever you like, it’s your salsa after all!

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The Limits of Repurposing Stuff

This spring’s lesson: don’t repurpose excess Dixie cups for starting seeds.

The wrong container for starting seeds

Man that’s gross

Seriously. Ewww. The last thing we want around baby plants is this much mold.

Now, emptied K-cups make a great holder for the hydrated peat pellets – they even have a built in hole, whereas I had to (carefully) punch a hole in the bottom of the water cups. But they were very small and all my baby plants quickly out grew them, making them almost more hassle than it was worth.

Maybe some year I’ll break down and buy some “professional” seed starting equipment… Naaaah, probably not.

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A Dream of One

Funny how sometimes you don’t realize you have a dream until someone else is living it.

This week, I learned that person is Daniel Markovitz.

OK, not literally.  I don’t actually know Mr. Markovitz is, or what his life is like. But I learned of his book, Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance, and I wanted to cry. With joy at finding such an awesome book, and with despair at realizing I wanted to write that book.

And it’s a good book so far. I can’t even pursue the “well I’ll do the same thing only better” angle.  Sigh.

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Gratuitous Post about Lean

This blog is not “supposed” to be a garden blog, nor a recipe blog, even though that seems to be what I post the most!  So this morning: a gratuitous post about “Lean”, specifically the Lean in Lean Six Sigma which inspired the name of this blog.

Lean is a production / manufacturing approach which focuses on eliminating all waste, e.g., anything (in terms of time or material resources) which does not contribute to the creation of the final product.   This actually translates well into personal productivity, in terms of removing all the “stuff” from your life or work which does not deliver any value.  (The hard part is defining what value actually means to you…but that is a whole separate post!)

The classic seven “wastes” to be on the look out for (as identified in the original Lean process, the Toyota Production System) are as follow:

1) Overproduction

2) Inventory

3) Waiting (idle time)

4) Unnecessary movement of material

5) Overprocessing or incorrect processing

6) Motion

7) Defects

The one which seems to drive me most is #3 – Idle Time.  This goes beyond “idle hands make the Devil’s work” – I can’t stand to stand around, doing nothing. I’m always looking for some little task to do to fill up moments when I am waiting for something else to happen.  This actually has a negative affect, in that this often leads (for me personally) to multitasking, which is its own form of waste.  (The fine balance between “idle time” and “set up time” is another post brewing in the back of my mind.)   In addition, I often start new projects before the old ones are finished, which means I end up with multiple works-in-progress (WIPs) in the system (aka my value added activities) which often leads to 5) incorrect processing because I lose track of what I’m doing and therefor 7) defects.  I’m starting to research kanban systems as a way to preemptively limit  WIPs.  But that brings me back to my original problem – sometimes in a process (baking, gardening, etc) you just have to wait.

And I hate waiting.

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My Inner Hunter-Gatherer

Getting in touch with my inner hunter-gatherer this evening…


Wineberries and blackberries from wild patches in our yard. The blackberries have never been this good before – usually our area has serious rain shortages this time of year. But now we’re inspired to better mind the plants and run a soaker hose asking the plants next year. In a week or two, we will have more blackberries than we know what to do with!

…p.s., finding wineberries in the yard was much more charming before someone used the words “invasive species” to describe them to me.  Too bad all invasive species can’t be useful!