Friday, April 30, 2010

Dehydrated Canned Mandarin Orange Sections

I know it sounds strange.  Why would you dehydrate something like canned mandarin orange slices?  They're are already preserved.

There are a couple reasons. Dehydrating them concentrates their flavors, so when you chew one you get a blast of tangy sweetness.  But also, it makes them easier to take along as a snack.  And although I haven't tried this yet, I think they'd be good chopped up and added to all kinds of foods:  carrot muffins, orange and cranberry muffins, a bowl of oatmeal, or chicken salad.

Dehydrating canned orange sections is very easy.  The only thing easier is dehydrating frozen corn.  And that's only because you don't have to drain or rinse the corn.

I have four dehydrator trays, so I used six 15-oz cans of oranges (load up on them when they're on sale!).  Each tray took about 1 1/2 cans (with a couple left bites over for the cook!).  I used those flexible mesh tray liners you can get, which make it really easy to peel off the dried oranges.

Just open the cans, drain the orange sections, and rinse them lightly.  Then put them on the dehydrator trays.  It's best if you arrange the slices so they aren't touching, as they will stick together.

I turned my dehydrator on for 6 hours, and that wasn't quite enough.  I needed a couple more hours.  The time, of course, will vary depending on the humidity, and the drying power of the dehydrator.  They should be chewy, without any juicy spots

At the end of the 8 hours, you have a tasty snack.  They're still a little sticky, but not bad.  Just put them in a zip-loc-type bag or a plastic container. 

I can't advise you on long-term storage, because mine never last long enough to worry about.  But if you really want to store them long-term you should probably vacuum seal them (if you have a vacuum sealer) or at least put them in a bag and squeeze out the extra air.  And then freeze them.

I wouldn't really consider these part of my long-term, I'm-going-to-live-off-these-in-case-of-a-disaster kind of food.  But they'd be great for hiking or kayaking trips.  Or just nibbling on at work.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Protecting Fruit Trees From Deer

I've tried the garlic clips.  I've tried the rotten-egg/garlic spray.  I've tried hanging a bar of soap from the branches.  None of it has kept the deer off my fruit trees.  My poor little Honeycrisp apple tree is no bigger than it was when I planted it 4 (or was it 5?) years ago.  To be honest, I'm amazed it's still alive, what with the way the deer "prune" it every year.

So today I'm making deer cages to go around my trees.  The ones I'm doing today are kind of cheap and cheesy--not intended to be permanent.  I'm just driving in a t-bar (I have several old ones in the shop) and attaching a circle of old fencing (which I had in the shop) to it.  It ought to keep the deer out for now.

But I've been thinking about how I want to deal with this problem permanently, and I think I have a solution.  I don't want to just put a fence around my whole property.  The deer (and sometimes elk) come down the hillside, cross the road, and go through my property to the woods and creek on the other side.  I don't want to impede that.  I just want to keep their snacking down to a level that will let my trees grow.

So I was thinking I could build a fence around each tree.  Four fence posts to make a square eight feet on a side, opening to the south, with a gate on that side.  Then I could use the sides of the square as a trellis to grow raspberries and blackberries.  And I could grow grapes, or maybe kiwis, up the posts and onto a horizontal trellis attached to the outside of the square.

Eventually, I think the trees would get big enough that the deer could still get at some of the branches.  But I don't mind sharing some of the trees and fruit with the deer.  I just want to let the trees grow so there's something to share with the deer.

It sounds like I'll be growing fruit trees, cane fruits, and vine fruits awfully close together.  But by including plenty of mulching plants, nitrogen fixers, and other nutrient accumulators, it might work.  At least until the trees get big enough to shade out the canes and vines--but that will take years.

What do you think?  Does that sound feasible?

Well, I have four more deer cages to make, so...break's over!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Haven't Canned Anything in 30 Years

I've decided I'm going to can some produce from my garden this year.  It seems a great way to store food without spending a lot of money.  The only problems I can see are growing enough food to store, and storing it so the jars won't break if we have an earthquake.

I bought some cucumber seed so I can make pickles--something I haven't done since high school.  I'm looking forward to making both dill and sweet pickles.  And of course dilly beans.  Yum!

My younger brother (he doesn't like it when I call him my "little brother"--but I refuse to call myself his "older sister") sent me a link where they collect info on you-pick farms.  They have links for all kinds of fruit and vegetable farmers.  And they have lots of articles on canning and otherwise preserving foods.  Here's the link:  I think this is good for people who don't have a lot of space to grow food, or maybe just don't have the time or desire to garden, but want to preserve food.  I'll look for fruit produces because my fruit trees aren't bearing yet.  But maybe I'll get some good veggies, too, for freezing or dehydrating.  Oh, and they have some links for farmer's markets, too.

Since it's been so long since I've canned anything, I'm going to start with only water-bath canning this year.  I picked up a copy of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, and it has a ton of yummy recipes that I'm eager to try.  "Mom's Apple Pie in a Jar" is an apple jam that sounds wonderful.  And who can resist "Carrot Cake Jam"?  Not me.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Hamburger Jerky

I really liked the hamburger jerky I made a few weeks ago, and I wanted to make some more.  But I'm too cheap to want to keep buying the packaged spices for making jerky.  So I Googled "hamburger jerkey recipe" and found several recipes on the Internet.

One website I found had easy instructions.  Basically, they said to add 1 tsp. curing salt and 1/4 cup teriyaki or BBQ sauce to every pound of hamburger.  How can it get any easier?

So I ran to the store and picked up a package of Morton's Tender Quick Home Meat Cure and a bottle of Teriyaki sauce.  Then I grabbed a thawed-out pound of hamburger, mixed it with the Meat Cure and teriyake sauce, and pressed out strips of hamburger on my dehydrator trays.  I dehydrated it for several hours, then cooked in the oven at about 200° for an hour.

The jerky wasn't very flavorful.  I'm not entirely sure the Morton's was what they meant when they said "curing salt."  Maybe I shouldn't have gotten the cheap teriyaki sauce.  Next time, I'm going to try 2 tsp of the Morton's with 1/4 BBQ sauce and see how that goes.

Also, the hamburger I had in the freezer was 80% fat free--which means it was 20% fat.  That's fine for making spaghetti sauce, but was too much for jerky.  My hands were covered with grease by the time I finished mixing in the salt and sauce.  Next time I'll use the lowest percentage of fat I can find, like I did the first time.

Maybe I'll try 1 1/2 tsps Morton's before I go all the way to 2 tsp.

While poking around on the Internet I discovered that you don't need to get a jerky gun to make hamburger jerky.  After mixing in the curing salt and seasonings, you can put the hamburger between two layers of Seran Wrap (or equivalent) and roll it out with a rolling pin.  Then cut strips with a kitchen knife.  I'll bet that would get you more even strips that what I've been doing with the jerky gun.

How to Store Soaps and Lotions Economically

Along with food, water, and toilet paper (Dude!  Do you want to go 6 months without toilet paper?), you need to think about storing enough soap and lotion to last the length of time you're storing food for.  So...why not think about making your own soap and lotion? 

It's true that you can buy cheaper soap at the grocery store.  But if you want the good stuff, that doesn't dry your skin out, it costs more--so why not make your own?

When you think of making your own soaps and lotions, you have several options.  You can make your soap from scratch, using raw materials, and the cold process or hot process method.  You can make your own lotion from scratch, using raw materials.  You can purchase melt-and-pour soap bases and add colors, fragrances, and/or other additives.  And you can purchase lotion bases and add fragrances and/or colors.

Personally, I gave up making lotion from scratch a few years ago.  I just wasn't getting the results I wanted.  After experimenting with sample lotion bases from my suppliers (listed in the Soapmaking Resources at the right), I found a couple bases--one for lotion and one for cream--that I really like.  I usually purchase a gallon of each base at a time, then make up enough to fill 3-4 bottles or jars (also available from the resources at the right) each time.  Sometimes I leave them unfragranced, sometimes I add fragrance.

What do I, personally, use for lotion and cream bases?  For lotion, I like the "Lotion Base- Gallon" from Bramble Berry.  Its first ingredient is aloe vera, so I know it's good to use after I go out in the sun.  If you don't use too much, it soaks in quickly and doesn't feel greasy.  And it gets rid of the middle-age crinklies on the backs of my hands (something my from-scratch lotion never did).  For cream, I like "Body Cream Base" from MMS.  I don't use it on my hands during the day because it does leave a little bit of a greasy feeling.  But I put it on my feet before going to bed, and it is wonderful for keeping the skin on my feet moist and supple.  It's also great for rubbing into dry knees or elbows.  All the suppliers I've listed have a variety of bases.

Now, for soap.  I make my own soap from scratch.  Really, it isn't hard to do.  There are lots of resources available:  books, tutorials on the Internet, and mailing groups.  I'd suggest Googling "soap making" and reading the sites that come up.  If you're interested, I'd recommend getting a couple books (or more!).  The Soapmaker's Companion, by Susan Miller Cavitch, has been the the bible for soapmakers for a long time.  While I don't agree with everything she says, this is an excellent resource.  Smart Soapmaking, by Anne L. Watson, is a great resource, but it shouldn't be your only book on soapmaking.  She has a radical method for telling when the soap is ready to pour into the mold.  I haven't tested her theory myself, so I don't know how good it is.  I still rely on the method of pouring at "trace".  The Everything Soapmaking Book, by Alicia Grosso, is also a good resource for the beginning soapmaker.  With any soap recipe from a book or the Internet, it's a good idea to double-check the amount of lye to use (every author makes mistakes, and some books are known for printing lye-heavy recipes).  Bramble Berry and MMS both have good lye calculators, and is another good one.

If you make your own soap from scratch, you need to deal with lye.  You can't make soap without lye.  If you use melt-and-pour to craft soap bars, you don't have to deal with lye.  But the manufacturer used lye when they made the melt-and pour.  So don't believe soap crafters who tell you their soap is better than cold process because it doesn't contain lye.  Whether you make soap from scratch or use melt-and-pour soap base, there isn't any lye left in the soap.  It has all reacted with the oils and fats you added to make soap.

There are soap artists who make absolutely stunning soaps with melt-and-pour bases.  I rarely use melt-and-pour myself, though, because I prefer cold-process soap.  But you can make beautiful soaps that are better than what you buy in the store.

Back to the subject of lye.  You have to take precautions, which I'm not going into here.  But the books listed above do discuss how to safely handle lye, and most on-line tutorials also discuss it. 

Because dissolving NaOH in water to make your lye is an exothermic reaction (it generates heat--quite a lot of it), and you want your lye no warmer than 100° when you make the soap, many people mix their lye the night before and let it cool overnight.  If you do this, be sure no one can accidently spill it or drink it.  Years ago I was on a mailing list with an experienced soapmaker you did this.  Her husband got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water.  Because he was half asleep, he forgot that the pitcher on the counter was filled with lye.  And he poured himself a glass of lye instead of a glass of water.  He survived the experience, but his mouth, throat, and esophogus were horribly burned, and permanently damaged.  The moral of this story:  Be Very Careful with Lye!

Now that I've scared you about lye, let me say that it can be handled safely.  You just need to be careful.  You can't go on autopilot with lye.  You have to think about what you are doing.

So, why would you want to make cold process soap?  Because you can make a rich, creamy, soap that doesn't dry your skin out, and that smells better than anything you can buy in the store.  If you want to go the natural route, you can use essential oils to fragrance your soap.  Or you can use one of the many [non-natural] fragrance oils available for soapmaking.  Personally, I almost always use a fragrance oil. 

As a teaser, here are some pictures of soap I've made.

I just made this green soap today.  I wanted it green because I used Woodland Elves fragrance oil, which smells like Christmas trees with some Christmas spices.  For the color, I used Yellow #10 die in the entire batch of soap, plus Seafoam Green pigment in a couple cups of soap that I then swirled into the yellow soap.

I made this blue-swirled soap last year.  I used the Woodlands fragrance oil from Sweetcakes.  It's a knockoff of a Bath & Bodyworks mens' fragrance.  It doesn't smell like trees, as the Woodland Elves above.  But it's a wonderfully sexy men's fragrance.  I used blue ultramarine (cosmetic grade, of course) to color this.  You may notice the the blue swirls have little blue speckles.  That's because I made this soap before I discovered that you really need to blend the colors in with an immersion blender--stirring isn't good enough.  Also, I experimented with using the silicone baking molds you can get in the kitchen department of grocery stores.  The ones I got worked well, except that the sides of the loaf mold bowed out somewhat.  But the soap un-molded very easily.  I've heard reports of soap picking up some red dye from some of the red silicone molds, but that didn't happen to me.

This is a batch of soap that is still in the mold (or was when this pic was taken).  I used Vanilla Hazelnut fragrance oil from MMS.  This is one of my all-time favorite fragrance oils.  But like most vanilla fragrances, it turns soap brown (the vanilla part oxidizes).  In this batch, I left some of the soap un-fragranced so it would stay cream-colored.  And I swirled that into the fragranced part, and fluffed up the top. 

This soap is my most beautiful attempt to make a nice, scrubby gardener's soap.  I made the lye with chamomile tea instead of water, and put ground-up and whole calendula petals in it.  Chamomile and calendula are both supposed to be good for your skin, and I figured that gardener's hands need a little extra help after they've been out digging in the dirt.  I added a little bit of Yellow #10 for color, and cornmeal for scrubbiness.  But the cornmeal was too scrubby--it hurt my hands.  I'm still experimenting with gardener's soap.  I haven't gotten one I like that's as pretty as this soap.

This is a picture of a couple bars of soap I made some time ago.  I don't remember what they are, but I suspect they're my two favorite ones.  I believe the one on the bottom is a bar of Vanilla Hazelnut, and the one leaning against it is a bar of Honey Almond.  I usually put ground hazelnuts in the vanilla hazelnut soap, for extra cleansing.

So, what about storing your soap and lotion?  They should be stored in a cool, dry, location just like your stored food. 

I have soap that has still been good 5 years after I made it.  The fragrance was mostly gone, but the soap was still good.  So you can make several batches of soap and store them wherever it's convenient.  If you cycle through your stored soap as you do your stored food, you shouldn't have any problems.  You probably shouldn't store it too closely with your food.  Your food should be sealed so I shouldn't pick up any fragrance from the soap, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

You have to be more careful with stored lotion.  Most of the manufacturers say their lotion should be used within a year of the date purchased.  Kept cool and dry, lotion can probably last longer than that, but you never know.  Remember that lotion is a wonderful environment for growing bacteria, molds, and funguses--that's why they require a preservative.  I don't store as much lotion as I do soap.  I'd recommend keeping at least a few month's worth in storage, and cycling through it as you do your soap and food.  I keep mine in the gallon jugs, and only make up (add fragrance and put into bottles) a few bottles or jars at a time.