Monday, September 22, 2008

Unemployment Rate

As of August, the unemployment rate in Minnesota is 6.2%, the highest it's been in 22 years and higher than the national average. Meg upstairs said she's seen a correlation in our neighborhood between crime and the unemployment rate. She thinks it's about 4%: below 4% this is a perfectly safe neighborhood, above 4% we start seeing more crime. Minneapolis has spent all of 2008 over 4%.

The crooks must wait till these lovely warm days when everyone is leaving their windows open. Of course, we've been leaving our windows open for 3 or 4 months now. They chose yesterday morning, while we were at meeting, to slash our window screen, jump in the window, swipe up as much as they could, and run out the back door.

They got my laptop, camera, all my jewelry, both our watches, our new tote bag (to haul the loot), and they made off with our jar of loose change.

It's a little surreal writing this. Of course it feels very real as I mourn the loss of my things. Most people talk about the sense of feeling violated. "Someone was in here going through my stuff!" I don't really feel that way. I do feel a little more jumpy and suspicious of everyone around here. I keep joking, "Well, there's not much left to steal!" But there are things they didn't take (like the desktop). I can't help wondering if they made a mental list and might come back to finish the job. Yikes! I hope not.

I can't understand the mindset a person must have to feel it's okay to break into a house and steal possessions.
I can't understand feeling so desperate (for food, money, drugs, etc) that you have to steal.

I feel bad for whoever did this, that he or she is so desperate and had to resort to crime. I also feel bad because most of what he/she stole is pretty worthless and probably won't fetch much of a price. (For example, my scuffed up 10+ year old watch; or my computer that won't connect to the internet and shuts down if you don't keep ice packs on it; or my collection of silly animal pins I collected in grade school).

I'm sad we don't live in a world where we can trust neighbors and strangers. I'm sad that we're talking about locking down the computer and putting bars on the windows (we probably won't do that, but some people do). I'm sad that so many people don't have support networks and when things get bad they either go hungry and homeless or they take to crime.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Urban harvesting

Jeremy and I were walking in a neighborhood in St. Paul over the weekend and discovered a house with two apple trees in the front yard. There were apples all over the ground and smashed in the street, so obviously they weren't picking the apples. Jeremy bravely knocked on the front door and spoke to the owner of the house: she invited us to pick as many apples as we liked.

So early Sunday morning we stuck two ladders in our trunk (the extension ladder sticking out about 4 feet) and drove over to the house. We picked and picked and picked for almost two hours. There was a smaller tree with regular apples that Jeremy used the extension ladder to reach. I was of course terrified the ladder would fall or a branch would break so I held onto the ladder every time he climbed up, willing it to stay upright (since I’m certainly not strong enough to keep that from happening).

(sizing up the ladder position)

(Jeremy up in the trees)

When that tree was nearly picked clean, we moved onto the crab apple and I climbed up into this one. There were so many apples just out of reach!

Our haul was quite impressive.

I know we picked 50+ pounds of regular apples, but I’m not sure how many crab apples we picked (because we processed them before weighing them!) – but we’ve made 2 dozen jars of crab apple jelly. And we have enough to make another eight or so jars (to add to the other two dozen we made from Frank’s apples!).

(juicing the aples)

(putting the last jar of apple jelly out to cool)

Ah, the joys of urban harvesting.

Urban harvesting comes in some different forms, but it basically means harvesting fruits (mainly) from other people’s trees. Some people ask the owners, some don’t. Jeremy and I have been making our best attempt to ask owners of fruit trees before we pick.

That’s how we’ve been given permission to help ourselves to the entire crop of crab apples from our neighbor two doors down, the whole crop of apples from our neighbor across the street, and the whole crop of apples from the St. Paul house. We’ve also been able to harvest raspberries and currants from another neighbor across the street. We discovered a beautiful cherry tree just a couple blocks away but we could never reach the owners – even after leaving our names, numbers, and email on their front door. We should have just gone in the yard anyway, since those cherries all fell off the tree and rotted.

We also saw a cherry tree a few blocks down in the other direction and a number of peach trees. On Sunday a family at church brought some plums to share so we called them up and asked if they had more plums they might be willing to share. Of course they did! So we tied the extension ladder in the trunk (sticking out again, with a little scrap of red fabric fluttering at the end) and drove over to St. Paul to pick plums.

They had said there were just a few left, but we picked loads of them (about 22 pounds) and still left quite a few on the tree. And it turned out we didn’t need any ladders at all – though I did of course climb the tree. There were so many plums just out of reach!

If you're interested in learning more about urban harvesting, here are some places to start:

An NPR radio program: Private Trees, Public Property: Picking "Fallen Fruit"

Pick yer Own: building community through DIY urban harvesting

Finders Keepers: The Urban Found Food Movement

Urban Edibles: a community database of wild food sources in Portland OR

The Fruit Tree Project

Village Harvest

Urban Harvesting video (from the Bioneers community):

Thursday, September 11, 2008


We recently bought a ton of tomatoes from one of our favorite farms at the Mill City Market - Loon Organics. In addition to freezing, canning, making salsa and tomato paste, we also made ketchup (which I like to call catsup, just to be silly).

We started out with 12 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, skins removed:

About 15 minutes later it looked like this:

After cooking down a bit, I strained out the seeds and bits of other stuff. We had also sauteed a couple onions and we pushed that through the sieve as well.

We put the pot of tomato and onion pulp on to boil at 5:30:



8:30 and there is tomato splattered all over everything:

After about another hour we added some vinegar that had been steeping with spices, let it boil some more, and canned these four jars of catsup!

I don't really like ketchup and I'm not sure how much Jeremy likes it, but it was fun to make and I'm willing to try some someday - maybe on some fried potatoes. Unfortunately, this recipe left our whole house smelling like vinegar!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Peaches do not come from a can

I think I was in junior high on a road trip to Mexico the first time I heard Peaches by The Presidents of the United States of America. I never forgot the line "peaches come from a can, they were put there by a man..." and everyone in the van singing the song as loudly as we could get away with.

We ordered some peaches several months ago and they arrived in boxes: two 20-pound boxes.

The first thing we made was peach oat muffins for our friend Debra's birthday. After returning from her party on Saturday, we made two batches of peach jam. On Sunday we froze a bunch of peaches, canned a bunch of peaches, and Jeremy made some spicy peach chutney.

We canned 7 pint jars of peaches and threw in 2 quart jars (since we were out of pints). We removed the skins of the peaches, sliced them up, and stuffed them in the jars. Then we added hot water, sealed the jars, and started placing them in the hot water bath. As Jeremy was easing one of the quart jars in we heard an unmistakable cracking sound. Jeremy slowly lifted the jar out and put it on the stove top. It must have been a hairline fracture or something - I never actually saw a crack or break, but we tossed out that jar anyway.

The rest of the jars were fine, so we set a timer and went off to do other tasks. I ran to the bathroom and Jeremy went to the basement with a load of other things we'd canned. I came back into the kitchen and noticed the lid of the canner was askew. Jeremy had come back upstairs so I thought he'd moved the lid and was venting the canner for some reason. Then I looked more closely and realized there were peaches floating in the water!

The other quart jar had burst at the bottom. We lifted the canner lid and found it floating there with just a couple peaches caught inside. We removed the jar and those peaches. The rest of the jars are fine. We think we just didn't preheat these ones enough. But it was odd that the jar exploded (enough to push the canner lid off) while we were both out of the room!

We still have most of a box of peaches left. We're freezing a few more and I'll be making a peach kuchen soon. Mmmm, peaches...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

English Muffins

I love English muffins. Sometime a couple years ago it dawned on me that maybe I could make these myself - instead of buying bag after bag at the store. I found a recipe from Alton Brown of the Food Network, printed it off, and was immediately stuck. I needed rings to cook these in! Somewhere in the past few years I managed to track down a couple 3" rings in various cooking stores, but I never made the muffins.

Last week, after many more months of looking at that recipe and pining for English muffins, I finally pulled out the rings and the ingredients and made these. They were amazing and so much better than store-bought!

English Muffins

1/2 cup non-fat powdered milk
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon shortening
1 cut hot water
1 envelope dry yeast
1/8 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup warm water
2 cups flour, sifted (all-purpose is called for, but I used whole wheat pastry flour)
non-stick vegetable spray

In a bowl, combine the powdered milk, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, shortening, and hot water. Stir until the honey and salt are dissolved. Let cool. In a separate bowl combine the yeast and 1/8 teaspoon of honey in 1/3 cup of warm water and rest until yeast has dissolved. Add this to the dry milk mixture. Add the sifted flour and beat thoroughly with wooden spoon. Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

Preheat an electric griddle to 300 degrees F. (Note: I don't have an electric griddle so I used a frying pan on a very low temp. I kept an eye on things, adjusted the time and temp, and they turned out okay.)

Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt to mixture and beat thoroughly. Place 3-inch metal rings onto the griddle and coat lightly with vegetable spray. Using a normal size ice-cream scoop, place a scoop into each ring and cover with a pot lid or cookie sheet. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the lid and flip rings using tongs or spatula. Cover with the lid and cook for another 5 to 6 minutes or until golden brown. Place on a cooling rack, remove rings, and cool. Split with fork and serve.

(Note: if you have trouble finding a 3" ring in a cooking store, you can use a tuna can with the tops and bottoms removed.)

Monday, September 8, 2008


I just had to show everyone a picture of our glorious lunch today.

Jeremy made some green soup (there on the left) and he made up a big pile of corn fritters which we ate with these beautiful Korean Gold raspberries. The raspberries are from the farmer's market and the corn and greens are from the CSA.

The corn fritters were incredible!! So, here is the recipe from's section on southern food.

Corn Fritters
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen, thawed or fresh corn
Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine eggs, milk, honey and butter. Fold in dry ingredients [add more or less flour - enough to bind batter]; add corn last. Drop by tablespoons into hot vegetable oil and deep fry about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Serve corn fritters warm.

I ate mine completely plain (not even with butter!) because they were so good. Jeremy had butter and blueberries and raspberries with his, and a little peach jam we just made. That reminds me I'm quite behind on posting our recent activities! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Protest

I guess we all know violence sells (as well as sex). Media prefers to focus on the action shots of a few idiots bashing in windows, protesters and police clashing, protesters being arrested and pepper-sprayed and tear gassed. The news has to scream out 7 arrested! (or 180 or 200 or whatever). I guess “9,993 NOT arrested” wouldn’t sell. “This just in: nearly 10,000 people were capable of peacefully demonstrating, holding signs and flags, singing, chanting, laughing, talking, and not clashing with the police.” Yeah – I guess that isn’t very sexy.

So it’s more likely that you came across stories in the newspaper, videos on the news, and photo galleries that showed a majority of violence and civil disobedience in yesterdays march on the Republican National Convention - with a few feel-good images thrown in.

We don’t have a tv, so I don’t know if there was any mention of the Liberty Parade (which we missed – shoot!). According to this article, the anarchy and acts of violence were mostly by a smaller group of people and didn’t necessarily happen at the same time as the march. That violence apparently kept up throughout the day. Despite the photos and video, Jeremy and I walked in the march for several hours and never saw any violence at all. This is our experience of the march (in slideshow format!):