Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Blog Bug Strikes Again!

'Being Awake' is about the here and now, my observations on life in the desert southwest. For some time I've been feeling a need to write a really basic blog about family preparedness ( see my postings from August and September about National Preparedness Month). I am especially interested in passing tips along to young, growing families who may need the basics and some tips on how to start their preparedness on a shoestring.

Why this calling? In the last several years we have seen some serious disasters and semi-disasters in the US and some of our neighboring or allied countries. From major disasters like Katrina and the Haiti earthquake to the short-term-but-still-deadly blizzards this winter, it seems like the common refrain following these disaster is that aid in any form was slow to arrive. To that end, the self-help of family preparedness can be the difference between an inconvenience and a personel disaster. It may not maintain 'wholeness' but it can save your life or your health.

Soooo, my sister blog is called FrugalPrep. If you are interested in looking, you can find it by going to ABOUT ME, or through this link:


Feedback, either here or on the new blog, will be much appreciated!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

From Cabin Fever to Spring Fever

The weather in the high desert can be confusing. Ten days of nights below freezing and days below 50 degrees and we start staying indoors. Ten nights above freezing with days above 60 degrees and Spring Fever sets in. Most of us have the good sense not to act on the intermittent Spring Fever impulse, at least beyond going out with no jacket. Chances are we will see the cold cycle return repeatedly until April or May. On my last bout of Spring Fever, I did buy some wonderful seeds from a great website, the Pumpkin Nook. They were fast and about $1.50 less per seed packet than my local store, but with a better selection.

Spring Fever here must be tempered. When you watch the big weather map on TWC, they show weather patterns that reflect the edge of the jet stream, which is often the curved line where temps north are a bunch colder than temps to the south. Invariably that curved line is just a little north of us. Cool, always warm, right?!? NO. What it really means is a lot of wind, especially when we are on the LOW side of the atmospheric pressure.

Spring for us is a gardener's nightmare. The humidity drops, sometimes to single digits, then in mid-March, the winds start. Usually they stop by the beginning of May. Anything planted before the winds stop must be protected. May as well not bother even then, because three weeks later, the temps hit 100 degrees and stay there until July. There are some vegetables that love that -- cucumbers, summer squashes, string beans, maybe corn.

Those of us who have lived and gardened here for a while have learned to delay gratification and do most of our planting in July or August, after the summer rains begin (monsoon). Findings from some U of A studies on the health of perennials related to time of planting indicated that a plant dug-in in March never quite catches up to one planted in late January or late July of the same year. The stresses of the desiccating winds and excessive heat as they try to put in their first roots is just too much for many plants.

So I buy my seeds, prep my starter and know that I can put out about 6 plants until July, all of which must be babied. Then we wait and hope for the summer rain and our gardening fun can begin in earnest!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Works for Me! (part 2)

These are my bread-making tips. If you are not a baker, these will be very boring!

1. If you make at least a loaf of bread a week, buy the 1 pound yeast brick (Red Star or Fleischmann's) in the institutional food section of your grocery. Once opened, it turns into the same stuff as in the Fleischmann's jars at the grocery but will cost about 20% of the price, volume for volume. Pour the granulated yeast into one of the Classico Jars (see my last post) and store in the fridge.

2. Measure the oil first, then use the same spoon or cup to measure the honey. The honey will slide out, rather than stick to the utensil.

3. Your bread will stay fresher an extra day or two if you add an additional Tablespoon of olive oil or pure unfiltered coconut oil per loaf.

4. If you use a bread machine: Measure the water, oil and honey into the same Pyrex measuring cup. Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds per cup of volume. This will allow you to 'pre-warm' the ingredients so you can use the quick cycles.

5. If you use the quick cycle per #4 above, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of regular yeast if you are not a rapid-rise yeast user.

6. If you sit down for a cup of tea while your bread is baking, warm your spoon in the tea before measuring honey into the spoon. The honey will slide right off and mix into the tea more easily!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Works for Me!

Thought I'd share a few tips that work for me:

1. Water down shower gel by about a third. It will be just enough more liquid in consistency that it won't slide off your hands or washcloth. Can't tell how annoying it is to watch that little green blob of gel swirl down the drain!

2. If you have just a few pomegranates, you can juice them using an old-fashined citrus hand press or squeezer. Not the type with the little dome in the center or the tall ones with the slot-machine handle. You still need to do a moderately good job of separating the fruit from the bitter rind. Fill the hopper and squeeze, stir and squeeze again. The clean out the seeds and start again. It is much faster and less tedious than using a sieve or food mill.

3. When I have small amounts of fruit, whether leftovers from the store or late-comers to the garden, I make a version of freezer jam with it so they won't go to waste. It may only be enough for one or two small jars, but it takes little time and usually tastes great. I throw the clean fruit, chopped if larger fruit like peaches or pears, into a saucepan, add some sugar (usually about half of what you'd use in a true canning recipe) and let it simmer. Once things are soft and fragrant, if the fruit has not brokendown some, I'll hit it with the stick blender-- not enough to make a puree, just to make it more spreadable later. Then turn the heat up a little, add the liquid pectin (even if it is only a pint of fruit) and let it come to a boil and simmer for a few minutes more. The pectin is good for you anyway, so why not add it all? When the mixture looks and smells 'jammy,' pour into sterilized jam jars. I use sterilized white Ball lids, not standard canning lids for this, because they will be going into the freezer shortly, not sitting on a shelf. I put the lid on loosely and let them cool on the counter. Be sure to leave a little extra headspace as the jam will expand in the freezer. I let it cool to room temp, then put in the fridge for a few hours, then into the freezer. The gradual cooling helps keep the jar from splitting inthe freezer. After about a day in the freezer, I tighten the lids. Use within a few months and keep in the fridge when thawing and until used up. Use within 2 to 3 weeks of thawing, as it does not have enough sugar to completely retard mold growth over the long term. Because this has less sugar, you can also use as cake filling, on top of a cheesecake, or thin it down for pancake syrup. When blueberries are inexpensive at the grocery store, I put up a few pints this way and it makes great BB preserves.

4. The same Bell lids fit the Classico pasta sauce jars. I clean the Classico jars and use them, with the Bell lids, to store my daily-use amounts of sugar, flour, pasta (we use half a box of dried rotini for a meal) and other dry goods.

Next, bread baking tips!

Feeling Remiss

It's been a week since my last post (sounds like a classic Catholic confession...) and I am actually experiencing guilt for not posting. The week has been so unremarkable that I considered just writing about my jerkey recipe. As I sat writing, my mind went to last Saturday's bizarre events not far away.

I shy away from organized politics, though try to keep informed and vote at each opportunity, but I am horrified about the crazy guy who shot my district's Congresswoman, a child,and four other citizens exercising their first amendment rights. I am even more horrified by both sides of the national political debate using this as an occasion to push their agendas for censorship and causes du jour, some of them climbing their soapboxes less than 24 hours after the smoke cleared.

The evidence is increasing that the assailant was mentally ill, possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic. His actions seem to have little to do with the ongoing political debate. They possibly had more to do with his reading of some books now considered political classics in some circles. Let us not ban free-speech, change the Bill of Right, nor burn the books he read (or may have thought about reading) as a result of a tragedy caused by one mad man.

It seems we must tolerate the small fraction of foreign religious or other fanatics without concern or be branded with many broad unflattering adjectives, but not so with our home-grown crazies. I'm certainly not advocating any departure from allowing our justice system to handle the matter and determine the young man's fate. I do advocate that cooler heads should prevail when it comes to twisting the event to cast unwarranted blame on any political ideology (left or right) or justify unrelated infringements upon the Bill of Rights for the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Winter Wonderland

There was a storm brewing! It started with the wild clouds as the front moved toward us.

Wet, nearly horizontal pellets flew for a while before the big fluffy snow started to fall.

It fell long enough to stick on the dog!

and to make fairy landscapes before it melted away.