"Commentary from the Countryside"
Thoughts on current events,
history, homesteading, preparedness, real food, and anything else I find interesting, from a cranky, middle-aged woman's common-sense perspective.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


The trees are starting to show color, the air is crisp and clean, the sun is warm and gentle - it's really the best time of the year for some outdoor activities!
Here's one of my favorites - and before we go any further, I have to warn you, once you try it, you'll be addicted and your whole life will change.


Have you ever heard of it?  It's been mentioned occasionally in different television programs or newspaper write-ups, but depsite it's popularity, most folks don't know what it is.  Basically it's a high-tech form of a scavenger hunt.  All one needs to play is an internet connection, a GPS reciever, time to wander the countryside, and the gas money to do so.  Someone will hide a container, often food storage like tupperware, in a hollow tree or at the base of a fence post or in a bush or under the cowling of a light pole, places like that, and post the coordinates of the hide on the website.  Other folks will download those coordinates, go find the container, and then record their finds online.  I have around 500 finds; there are actually people out there with over 10,000 finds.  I can only suppose that they are  a) retired, and b) independently wealthy.
There's a cache hidden just off to the right of the path

This was the view waiting at the end of the path

A Catholic shrine visited for a virtual c
Sometimes there are little trinkets in the container; beads, happy meal toys, marbles, etc., called "swag".  Swag can be left, taken, and traded from geocache to geocache.  There's a real competition to be "First to Find" a new geocache.  Sometimes there's a special prize in the container for the first to find, sometimes not, but a FTF is always good for bragging rights.  Some of the containers are tiny, no bigger than a watch battery, and contain only the paper log to sign and claim the find, some can be as large as the giant jugs that pickled bologna comes in.

Finding the containers is fun, but some of the best geocaches are "virtual" caches.  These caches will take you to see something of historical interest, scenic views, building murals, or wild and wacky sorts of things.  Usually these finds are claimed by taking a picture or answering a question about the site.

Some caches are accessible only by kayak, some by 4x4.  Some are educational, where you have to measure the output of a flowing well, learn about cave formation, or study beach erosion; some you have to solve a puzzle to get the coordinates, and some are just magnetic key holders stuck to a guard rail by a bridge.  The variety is almost endless and there's something for everyone.

It may all sound a little odd, which is what I thought when my friend introduced me to the hobby, but once I tried it, I was hooked.
I'm almost standing on a cache at this point
 Within a few weeks, I had purchased my own GPS unit and was out looking for them on my own.  I've been to some great places - some that were close to home that I had never seen - and delved into some fascinating history.  Many geocaches are in cemeteries, and I've always enjoyed the history there so it's even more interesting.  Central Michigan has many caches seemingly in the middle of nowhere; yet they are placed where there are ruins from an old logging town, CCC camp, or even the remains of a millionaire's castle on the banks of the river.
A cemetery with wooden crosses in a national forest miles from any town
The game began in America's northwest, and has since spread worldwide.  There are caches everywhere from Mammoth Cave to the Space Station; from Alaska to the South Pole.  The website is www.geocaching.com.  Check it out sometime - but don't say I didn't warn you!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Apple Peeler Gadget Review

Haven't you always wanted to try one of these gadgets?  I looked at them for years, but never thought it would really work, so didn't buy one.  Then one day my Mom happened to find one at a discount store, and brought it home for me, so here goes.

First apple done!    

At first I couldn't figure out how to work it.  I stuck an apple on the forks, just like in the picture on the manual, turned the crank, and the apple promptly popped off and bounced across the table.  Hmmmm.  I had it exactly like the picture!  Coming to the conclusion that the instruction manual wasn't worth the paper it was printed on, I tossed it and started puzzling it out on my own.  Eureka!  The corkscrew looking part will actually retract all the way to the right if I push this little lever, then when I put the apple on, it fits right up against the blade and doesn't pop off.

It goes really quick - stick the top of the apple on the fork, spin the crank, and the little blade slices away the peel and the circle blade cuts the core right out.  The peel comes off in one long ribbon, and the circle blade actually does get all of the core. The inner blade slices the apple into a long spiral.  It took only a few minutes to finish the bag of apples, and this method was wonderful for prepping the apples for drying, as each apple was easily sliced top to bottom, resulting in a stack of neat, even slices perfect for the dehydrator.

Bowl full just that quick

Slices in water with lemon juice to prevent browning
So prepping my bag of boughten apples for drying was easy and painless with this little gadget, but I can't give it a full five stars. 
The suction cup on the bottom of the unit is useless, it wouldn't stick to any surface that I tried. I had to hold the unit down with one hand while I turned the crank.  I may remove the suction cup, drill some holes through the base, and bolt it to a board for stability.
The apples I purchased came from carefully tended and sprayed trees that were genetically chosen for big round apples.  In a normal year, I'd be using the gnarly, odd-sized apples from my antique Northern Spy tree in my yard.  I don't think this gadget would handle those quite as well. 
My take on it?  If you can find this apple gadget for ten dollars or less (or get it as a gift), and plan to do large, uniform apples, it is certainly worth it.

The strange weather we had this spring caused the loss of about 75% of our local apple crop, so apples are few and expensive.  My tree provided me with three bushels of apples last year; this year it bore not one single solitary apple.  My famous home-made applesauce is in short supply, as only three jars remain of the over seventy I canned up last year.  Hopefully I'll be able to find some more reasonably priced apples and build up a little stock of dried apples and then maybe make some applesauce for special occasions.


The breeze is brisk and happy today, laughing as it whirls around the house, stirring up some early fallen leaves.  Large gray clouds are playing tag with the sunshine, making my kitchen go from brightly lit to dim and gloomy at random times.  Good smells fill the air as I'm busy canning chicken, corn, and beans, and dehydrating the apples.  I love Fall!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kernels and Kablooey

Summer has flown by with swift, trembling wings and here we are on the cusp of Autumn.  Time to be harvesting, canning, drying, and putting food by for the winter.  My poor garden was a victim of drought, weeds, and lack of time, so my harvest has been meager.  Happily, there's a large Amish farm just down the road that does a good business in seasonal produce, and I've been able to supplement my harvest.  If I can't grow it myself, at least I know where it came from!

When traveling to the city I also pass a very large commercial potato farm, where thrifty folks can pull in and get fifty pounds of fresh potatoes for $7.00.  I sliced and dried half of that, and cubed and canned the rest.  I was feeling pretty smug when, after filling one pressure canner with quart jars full of potatoes and starting the timer, I still had another canner to fill.  I figured to be done in half the time!

Alas, it is true, "pride goeth before the fall"....when the timer went off for the second canner, the first was still on high, as the weight had not resumed jiggling (or like a friend says, giggling) after the initial venting and start up process.  Well, it appears that the weight wasn't happy because the pressure was too high and the burner was too high and the temperature was too high and everything built right up and up and up and KABLOOEY!  ...that endless yet instant moment of heart stoppage when my mind tried to rationalize the sudden presence of a jet engine in my kitchen as the safety plug burst open and released a tremendous, hissing, screaming plume of steam.  Tiny metal bits from the plug melded themselves into the bottom of my stove hood and the whole room filled with a steam that reeked of burnt potatoes.

Double Creature Feature (before the kablooey)
Sigh.  So now I'm back down to one canner until I replace the safety plug. I am grateful that the safety device worked as it should have; the alternative is terrible to contemplate!

I did get three dozen ears of corn out of my garden, and decided to can it all up.  The ears weren't very big so it didn't take long to get them shucked and clean.  I've tried a lot of ways to get the kernels off the cob, and through trial and error found that using an electric knife works the best.  I put an upside down jar in the middle of a bowl, balance the cob on it, and buzz away, letting the kernels fall into the bowl.  This keeps them from flying all over the room and sticking to my eyebrows.  I pack the kernels into hot, clean pint jars and process them in my single solitary pressure canner for the full 55 minutes.  I've finally gotten pretty good at timing the cool down period, so as not to lose liquid out of the jars, but also to get ready for processing the next batch as quickly as possible.

Goes quick with the electric knife

Most of the kernels stay in the bowl

So far I have just under 20 pints each of corn and beans, and about two dozen quarts of potatoes; along with several quart jars of dried peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Not much of a harvest, to be sure, but it's better than nothing, and I'm not done yet!  The adventure continues.....hopefully without anymore kablooey.

Until next time, God bless each of you.