Sunday, June 26, 2011

¡Jalapeño Mama!

About a week ago I made jalapeño jelly. Here I present the process with some photos (& tips)...

1. Turn to page 129 of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. "Easy Jalapeño Jelly"

2. Prepare jars and lids. (I didn't actually do this part in the right order, but that was my mistake. Right?)

3. De-seed, de-stem, de-vein and chop up jalapeños.
Wear gloves.
(The recipe calls for 12 oz. I think I had a little more than that.)

(I ended up with twice this much)

4. Put the jalapeños through a grinder. (Since I don't have the electricity to justify owning a food processor or blender.)
(photo by Terran:)

5. Mix jalapeño puree with 2 cups cider vinegar & 6 cups of sugar in a large stainless steel saucepan. Boil over high heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes.

If you weren't reacting to the jalapeños yet, you will now. Maybe a face mask too?

Stir in 6 oz pectin. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat. (The recipe suggests green food coloring now. I added what I had left of neon green but it wasn't much.)

It said to skim off foam. I saw no foam to skim. This may be a problem later.

6. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars and NOT all over your stove, your kitchen counter and yourself. Leave 1/4 inch headspace, wipe jar rim, put the lid on. Repeat until you run out of jars or jelly. I used 4 oz jars and ended up with 10 jars.

I did have to do two batches since I'm not sure I could double stack the jars and my canner only fits 7 at a time. The second batch jellied up a bit while it was waiting for jars, so I'm not sure how well those ones turned out.

7. Process for 10 minutes, or 15 if you live at the same elevation as me (roughly 2200-2400 ft?).

8. Once the cans have set for a day or so, add cute labels.

9. Give away to friends & family and/or enjoy with cream cheese and crackers.

I'll get back to you after we've taste-tested...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Name Change

I think this will work no matter where we land.

We're looking at more houses and I will update when we know for sure that we've gotten one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garden Stuck in Transition

My clever garden bed, only half full of soil, yet bursting with volunteer squash randomly, sits neglected in the yard. Nearby, two large bags of soil sit, intended to fill in the gaps. But then there was immobility, and all the seedlings cried out for my love. The weather was fierce and unforgiving as they waited for my return. Some did not make it through those dark times. I tried to give them attention when I could, hobbling around the yard with cane in one hand and hose in the other. Kneeling to replant them into the bed seemed such a daunting task. And now, now that I am feeling more up to the task, my attention is drawn to the task of moving to town. And so my bed calls out for me whenever I am nearby. I hear it's desperate pleading, a quiet voice saying "I'm still here." and "You know you need me as much as I need you." I think to myself "Or maybe I need you more..."

I can only hang my head in shame. I do not know what to say to them, my precious plants. We are moving and I don't know what sort of attention to give you. I want so much to kneel down, feel the earth between my fingers and transplant the choking seedlings where they can really stretch their roots and thrive. It pains me to see them twisted and suffocating in their plastic nurseries. This house hunting and moving must move quickly. So many little lives call out to me for love. My heart yearns to touch the earth and help things grow, harvest the food that will feed my family. If I can't feed hearts and tummies, why do I torture these little greens?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Listen When The Universe Talks

You could say it's God or the Gods or the Goddess or a gut feeling or merely coincidence. I do believe that one or all of the above was speaking when I was replying to an email of concern about our moving plans when the manager called to dispute our negotiations. She clearly had not heard me all 3 times I explained what I was offering & when she agreed to it. She wasn't there when I corrected the lease to reflect what I was willing to give. So I had to ask myself, is it worth it? Is this house worth putting up with a manager who only hears what they want to hear no matter what I say? Nope. No, you see, I am not desperate. I have the time and luxury to find the right home for my family. So we got the deposit back and I started looking again.

The right 3 bedroom house is out there in the East Bay somewhere. I already have a list of new leads. I am actually amazed at how much better these other places are. Where were they a month ago??

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

History Class/ Class History

I love houses with history. Even better, I love neighborhoods with history. My family is about to move into the Prescott subdivision of West Oakland into a house that was built in 1891. We will be the first family to live in this home since the current company took possession and refurbished it. Before that it seems to have sat empty for a few years after a foreclosure. If you look at Google maps, you see a much worse neighborhood than what currently stands. The city of Oakland has been putting more and more into the area since the Loma Prieta quake and the improvements are spreading outward in a somewhat staggered way.

I learned a bit about the neighborhood here: West Oakland on Wikipedia.

"In the 1880s and 1890s, a large number of shops and small and medium-sized houses were built to accommodate the large number of European Americans, African Americans, Portuguese, Irish, Mexicans, Japanese, and Chinese immigrants who settled in West Oakland. Many African Americans were employed as porters for the Pullman Palace Car Company, and the headquarters of their union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was at 5th and Wood Streets. The writer Jack London lived in West Oakland in the late 19th century, and his novel Valley of the Moon is set in West Oakland. Many of the houses built in that period are still standing today and make up the quaint character of the neighborhood."

The area has always been working class and easily fell into decline. In the 60s it was home to the Black Panther Movement and the neighborhood earned a bad reputation. Today there is a lot going on to improve the area, bring in artists & businesses, and improve the lives of the people already there. There is still work to do, which is readily apparent when you drive from one neighborhood to the next, but the wheels in motion are visible. I am looking forward to learning more about what's going on and writing about it, but so far I see a growing local foods co-operative, urban farming complete with an entire lot of chickens(!), and a group started by a couple single mothers trying to teach poor women to grow their own organic food and cook healthy foods for their kids. Across the street from our new place there is a lot that has 16 large raised beds in it that appear to need attention. My curiosity set in motion a lot of late night research into what is going on there. (When I have an answer, you'll hear about it here.)

Yesterday we took a walk through the neighborhood, first passing the office of the Service Worker's Union, offering help to the underpaid worker. As we passed various houses, I took inventory of the herbs growing in people's yards and couldn't help but run my hand along the rosemary sticking itself bravely through a fence over the sidewalk. It smelled delicious. There were also lavender and mints and various others (and later in the walk we found morning glories!). Jamie and I were really struck by how polite everyone was. Nearly every person we walked past greeted us, and there were a lot of people out walking, socializing or just sitting on the porch enjoying the warm weather. Most of the people in the neighborhood are African-American or Hispanic, so when we passed some shrubbery and came into view of a white man about our age with about as many tattoos as us as well, we saw him jump noticeably with surprise. He was on the phone, yet he still took a moment to say hello to us with a huge smile. We are certainly not in San Jose.

When you stand on the sidewalk and look at our new place, to the left is a brightly painted Victorian that shows the character of the family living there. They have two dogs, one a beagle with quite a voice. To the left of them is an 1890s multi-family building that is not neglected but could use a little attention. To the right is the house that intrigues me the most. Built in 1901, the place seems to be empty. The windows are mostly covered in paper from the inside and the paint and woodwork could use some love. It isn't trashed, just untended. The grass is cut and shows that someone cares at least a little bit. Ariel views on Google maps show this to be the largest lot in the area and I can see the backyard from ours, so I know this is likely true. I asked our property manager and found out that there is an old woman living there who refuses to leave. She raised her kids in that house and she won't give it up. It is her kids who come by to care for the yard and try to do what they can. Online research shows that she has had possession of that house since the year I was born and it hasn't been renovated at all since 1905 according to public records. The assessed property value is $12,000. (Can you imagine what will happen when she dies? Wow...) We were warned that we would eventually meet her and may never forget having done so. She's got some attitude.

I am, I admit, an eternal optimist and lover of adventure, but I think we will be ok here. I get a good feeling from this neighborhood and I'm ready to put my love into the mix. Around the corner lives a friend of Jamie's dad who I am sure we will connect with soon and I have plenty of family and friends nearby. Our property managers are great people who just feel at ease and happy. They've done great things with our new place and we're all looking forward to moving in and setting up our homestead there.

I will keep researching the history and when I get a chance to I am going to go by that lot of chickens on Mandela Parkway and get some pictures. I think it was at 10th street.

A few local links:
Mandela Foods Cooperative
GreenSoul Movement
The Crucible
Engineered Artworks
City Slicker Farms

Friday, June 10, 2011

Moving my Gypsy Homestead

Armed with a diagnosis and a plan, my lil' family is moving. We came to the conclusion that it isn't safe for me to live so far into the mountains right now. The children and I need to be closer to doctors, teachers, friends & public transportation. So, we begin our new adventure in urban homesteading!! We are moving to Oakland.

I searched and searched and made inquiries and phone calls. I interviewed locals about neighborhoods and carefully scrutinized online crime maps. I found a neighborhood with rich history that is fast being cleaned up by the city. Still on the fringe, having chickens is not much of an issue and the idea that I might beautify that sparse backyard is enthusiastically welcomed. Looking at Google map photos and comparing them to the block's current state, I see that several houses have since exchanged zombie-like front yards for sweet flower gardens. One formerly empty lot now sports a dozen raised beds. The spirit of the land is being called up to give back the soul light of this far too long downtrodden neighborhood. I am forever an optimist, the artist seeing potential, but I did my homework on this one. (I also have an amazing partner who scouted out areas daily and gave some flat out "no"s to a few places I dug up on Craigslist.)

So here we go, the great task of extracting ourselves from Stone City and molding our lifestyle to the city landscape. Once we've settled in Oakland, I will change the blog name... Lil' Gypsy Home in the City? Maybe something different, so I don't sound like I am copying the Dervaes family... (Gasp! Not that!) Time to make a smaller and easily transportable city chicken coop with dog proof enclosed yard. Should be easier to make a coop suited for the 3 remaining hens than it was to make housing for a proposed 6. I actually already have plans drawn up. Thankfully my clever garden bed is easily dismantled for transport and the soil we just bought never made it out of the bags. Hmmm... anyone want a funky little cabover camper with black interior walls and door signage that promises that trespassers will have their heads shaved and their name changed to "Chicken-Butt"? It's free for the taking if you come pick it up yourself. ;)