Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hazards of old age

I didn't realize until this morning how long it had been since I posted anything.

Happy to say that I have not expired either from dill pickles or hazardous air. Or anything else.

The awful air only lasted about 4 days, then gradually cleared up to the beautiful clear skies we usually have this time of year. Ma Nature even threw in a little rain to make us feel better. First rain all summer, which is not normal for Oregon. Now, everything is beautiful. Clear blue skies, cooler weather, cool nights once again, breezes. The smell of autumn is in the air and I think we are all ready for it.

So. Yesterday I opened the freezer for some reason and saw a container that I didn't remember putting there. It wasn't old -- right on top of other stuff. This is a hazard of old age -- forgetting the simplest of things. Since I'm in a using-up-leftovers mode, I took it out, thawed it. Looked to be something from chicken -- I could see little bits of it, plus there were a couple of bones. And lots of onions. Otherwise, just a thick concoction that I decided to eat for lunch today, along with some beans and rice from yesterday. So far, so good. But I was still wondering what it was and when I'd made it.

Sat down to eat, wasn't finding much chicken, mostly onions. It was tasty, but strong. I ate a few bites, with the beans/rice, still wondering. Then it hit me. I'd roasted a chicken last weekend, and this was the condensed remains of the onions/lemons underneath the chicken plus a lot of chicken fat! I'd saved it to use as a base for some chicken stock I want to make soon, with all the leftover bones I've been freezing for months now.

I like to think we've all done similar things, but perhaps not.

I didn't eat it. It was too concentrated even with the rice/beans. Would have been a wonderful addition to the stock but it ended up in the garbage. Alas. I really need to start labeling things, since I clearly can't rely on memory all the time. Now, some of the actual roasted chicken is in the oven, thawing and heating up for lunch.

Monday, September 4, 2017


The air in Eugene yesterday. Worst yet, with fires encroaching from the east and smoke from fires all over Oregon and Washington combined with a heat spell and little wind. I went outside briefly, and it was brutal, so I've stayed inside with the AC going, day and night. This morning I opened the blinds in my bedroom and could smell the smoke coming in around the closed window! I immediately engaged the lock, which closes out more air, and closed the little vents at the top of both windows.

Maybe this will illustrate it better. This was yesterday afternoon in the surrounding area. Of the three towns, you can see that Eugene was the worst, literally at the top of the scale.

Somehow that's surprising, since the fires are approaching Oakridge, to the east. I'd think they'd have more smoke, but not according to this.

Today should be the last day of the heat wave and hopefully, some winds will come along with the cooler air and blow some of this away.

I'm grateful that I have AC, and a place to live where I can escape the smoke. Not everyone is so fortunate -- people living in homes without AC, particularly those with already-existing breathing difficulties -- must find this very difficult.

I need to go out this morning long enough to be sure my plants are watered for another 100 degree day, but that doesn't take long.

Aside from the unhealthy and unpleasant air, I personally hate the idea of so much of the northwest's beautiful forests burning, perishing into blackened stumps.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Kat dancing

Around here, this is known as the 'vacuum cleaner side-step'. Hard to get a pic of the full experience, since I can't move the machine and hold the camera at the same time. Moving the machine towards her is what brings on the dance. But this is close enough. Always brings a chuckle to the chore.

And oh, by the way, I'm still alive and well!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dill pickle perfection amid smokey skies

Eight quarts from eight pounds of cukes. Just put into jars, cloudy sediment may or may not settle, but is harmless in any event. Mere byproducts of fermentation.

Despite a lot of doubt about the edibility of these over the last couple of weeks, I ate two small ones today and have to say they were the absolute best I've made yet. Now, if I'm still alive and healthy this time tomorrow, I can safely say all those doubts were for nought.

Doubts? Yes -- because this was by far the stinkiest batch I've made yet. First, there was only the smell of freshly-fermenting dills, which was expected. After a week or so, the smell got really strong and really funky, making me wonder what the hell was going on. Last week I dumped the crocks into bowls, strained off the oak leaves, dill, spices and such to throw away, then put the pickles and brine back into the crocks to continue fermenting. I like to let them ferment for 3 full weeks, as it supposedly takes that long for all the good strains of lactobacillus get a chance to develop and grow. And while they taste delicious, the main purpose for me is the probiotic benefit.

I'd reached out to the folks at the Wild Fermentation support forum, but not one person responded to my plea for help and answers. Maybe they were afraid they'd be held liable if they told me this was normal and then I died, or got really sick. Mind you, I'm not completely crazy. The smell was never rotten or repulsive, merely really, really strong with something I couldn't place. At any rate -- today was the 3 week mark so I opened up the crocks again, unloaded the garlic and pickles into jars, filled the jars about half-way with brine from the crocks then added fresh brine to the top.

I generally don't do that if I have enough brine for all the jars, but something in me wanted to thin out the smell, which was actually barely noticeable by then. My semi-educated guess is that because this batch started fermenting strong and fast and kept it up for a week, there was simply more yeast byproduct, and that was what I was smelling. Over the last week, I'd decided that the funky smell had a yeasty character to it.

In the meantime, air quality in Eugene has been horrid for the last few days, as shown in these photos by my ever-favorite local photog, Brian Davies. The sun has been blood red every morning when it rises, and the moon has been about the same. Someone told me much of the smoke is coming from a big fire in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness near Brookings, which I find heartbreaking. I won't guarantee the spelling on that -- but it's close and I'm too lazy to look it up.

So that's that. Don't worry about me if I don't check in tomorrow -- doesn't mean death by dill pickles, just that there'll be nothing to write about.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Moon over Oregon

So -- this is what it looked like 30 miles or so north of Eugene this morning. By my usual favorite photog, Brian Davies.

And, while it was cool to watch it through the little glasses, I have to say that the small orange sphere I watched wasn't nearly as interesting as what Brian watched through his telephoto lens. That's a pretty damned awesome shot.

Other than that, pretty dull day.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gorgeous Dahlia

This beauty has been slowly opening up out in the garden area for days now, and it is always intriguing. It's huge, which isn't really obvious in the photos. Maybe 8 or more inches across.

It's 'owner' says that this dahlia has won many prizes for lots of people. She has also won prizes with it. She has her 'show' dahlias somewhere else, but brought a few new ones into the garden this year, including this one.

It's not quite fully open yet, as you can see. It's tall, so to get this I had to hold the camera up as high as my arms would stretch. She said that on Monday, tomorrow, she is going to cut it and float it in a bowl in the building entryway for all to enjoy. Harder to get photos in there.

Other than that -- just another utterly beautiful day here in the Willamette Valley.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New toy in the kitchen

Latest addition to my kitchen -- been wanting this for a long time. Some of that stuff was in the hall closet, some on top of the fridge, and the rest in lower cabinets.

I like having the things I use often, as well as all the appliances (big KitchenAid mixer under the plastic) out where I don't have to dig to find them.

Went to Home Depot this morning checking on a little garden item, saw this on sale. Went back after lunch to get one. A little taller than I really wanted or needed, but in my research I really didn't find any the size I wanted, and this was a good price. I just had to move the artwork up a little higher on the wall.

Meanwhile, the world as I've known it for 75 years is falling down around all of us.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Late summer in the garden

Not much left in the garden this misty morning. The squash is clearly going gangbusters, there is one eggplant, a few leaves of chard, and all the herbs.

This one eggplant is apparently the only one I'm going to get from this plant. There have been plenty of other blossoms, but they all dropped, for some reason.

After all the hot, dry weather, it's lovely to see mist gathering on the squash leaves. Felt good on my face, too!

It's getting to be dahlia season, too, though barely. These have seen better days, but more plants are starting to bloom and one bud is so huge it looks like it'll be the size of a dinner plate!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

What a difference a couple of days make

Hasn't been 48 hours, but this is what the crocks look like this morning. Don't be alarmed -- it's normal!

All that yucky stuff is not mold, it's foam generated by the fermentation process, which creates lots of air bubbles. Sometimes large ones bubble up with a burp, just as often it's bunches of small ones, which make the foam.

Still, I can't stop thinking and wondering if in my fogginess I really added enough salt. Salt keeps the bad bugs, including mold, from growing, although the desirable lacto bacillus that do the fermenting also do a good job with this. They multiply so fast that they simply crowd the bad bugs out. Maybe they eat them, too. I don't remember that tidbit but that's what the salt is for, anyway.

As I understand it, more salt is needed in warmer temps, as all bugs will multiply faster. No need to speed up the fermentation, either, because these will sit a full 3 weeks to allow for best probiotic development. So I've read, anyway.

Thinking thus, I skimmed the scum off, removed about a cup of liquid from each, and added back a more concentrated salt brine, just to be sure and so I'll feel better. I also moved the weight from the left crock and added it to the other. I only have one saucer, and that will hold the pickles below the surface of the brine by itself. A few were trying to float to the top, and one small one had fully escaped. So -- both weights will keep them under control. And keep the mold away.

They're starting to smell good, like old-fashioned dill pickles, which is just what they are. Yum.

Second day of a cooling trend, which is wonderful. Didn't even have to use the AC yesterday, and certainly won't need to use it for the next few days. I love having the windows open, night and day, so I'm a happy camper.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dill pickle processing

I haven't made dill pickles since last summer, and 'tis the season.

Fresh cukes at the farmer's market yesterday. Fresh (new crop) garlic at a store today. Some big oak leaves from the tree in the front yard. And the usual suspects: fresh dill fronds, and dill seeds, along with pickling spices.

I decided to do it big while I am doing it, and am using both crocks, making double the amount of delicious dill pickles.

It wasn't the easiest of processes -- my brain is not at its most organized today -- but it all got done.

There were eight full heads of garlic that had to be peeled before I could do anything. In the bowl at the back.

At some point I realized I didn't have enough of one of the basics: unchlorinated water, was also short on pickling spices, which were from last year anyway, and probably didn't have enough sea salt to make the brine.

So, I put the stuff in both crocks, had enough water to mix a brine for one, put the brine in the crock, put it away. Then, I took a look at the pan the oak leaves had soaked in, and saw how much traffic soot had settled to the bottom of the pan. That kind of panicked me, because I don't want petroleum crap in my pickles. So -- I poured off the brine quickly, removed the oak leaves, put them in fresh water to soak and made sure I washed, rinsed and dried both sides of every leaf and no more black stuff came off on my white dishtowel. I didn't see any further soot, so it probably all came off in the initial washing, but I needed to be sure.

Then, off to the market for water and the other things. Whew!

Eight pounds of lovely, organic, freshly-picked pickling cukes, in their crocks.

When I redid the brine I made it a bit less salty. I was following Sandor Katz' recipe and instructions from Wild Fermentation, the bible of such things. For past batches I'd used a good bit more salt, but decided Sandor knows best.

Back to the uncooperative brain, which is tired and hasn't been fed a lot today. That's my only excuse.

So will the brine be salty enough for the warm weather, to keep the bad bugs at bay? I hope so. Keep wondering if I should make up a very dense batch of brine, mostly salt, and add to the crocks. We'll see.

Now, I think it's time to feed the brain and hope it decides to be a bit more responsive.

Getting old sucks!