Sunday, October 18, 2020

Making apples into apple-ade

 A couple of years ago, I bought one of these telescoping fruit pickers.

So much of the fruit in our prune tree was inaccessible and having one of these eliminated the need to climb up and down a ladder, and kept overripe fruit from being squished into the sidewalk and street. 


This September, we had a harvest of about 100 pounds of really nice Italian prunes. Dried some and ate a bunch right away. So good! There’s also five gallons of wine and another five gallons of plum/ginger/hopped melomel fermenting downstairs.
 

After walking past so many apple trees this year with fruit rotting underfoot, I resolved to contact neighbors to see if I could use my fruit picker to pick some of their apples before they too were wasted. If I remember correctly, my friend John had done a similar thing with abandoned apple trees he had found around town. 


A hallmark of apple trees in Spokane is that, if you don't spray them with chemicals, they are bound to be badly damaged from apple maggots. They can really look quite gnarly, However, they still have juice in them. And where there is juice, there is always the potential for fermentation. 



For most of my life, I have been a person who is a little shy (I know some of you will find that hard to believe), and have never been an overly sociable sort. And now being an out trans person, I know I can make some people feel uncomfortable. But, damn it, I wanted apples! 


I utilized my Nextdoor app on my phone. Hitherto, I had only used it to post things like “I found a can of beans in an intersection. Did anyone lose a can of beans?” or “I am thinking of thatching my roof with thatch brought up from my lawn. Does anyone have any suggestions?” You know, “conversation starters.” For the first time, I had an actual request: 


APPLES NEEDED


Hi, if you have an unsprayed apple tree (aka wormy) that you would like to have picked before the fruit hits the ground, please let me know. I bought a very small cider press and want to give it a whirl. Thanks!


The response was almost instantaneous. I received invite after invite. I settled on those neighbors closest to me. Many were within walking distance. One very kind neighbor said that she was at her daughter’s place in Idaho and would bring me back some apples. She did. About one-hundred pounds of some very beautiful apples and some gorgeous plums. So very kind! 


Sometimes the apples that I picked were plentiful and beautiful. Sometimes they were beautiful but not so plentiful. Other times there were just a few almost perfect apples on the tree. Sometimes, the apples were too far gone to use. But, no matter what the tree was like, I met so many wonderful neighbors! I had great conversations with them. I stepped out of my comfort zone and really enjoyed their company. Now that I am retired, like a lot of people these days, my social interactions are pretty limited and mostly over Zoom. While picking, I kept my distance as we chatted and, thanks to my awesome new hearing aids, I could hear our conversations! I also had my buff around my neck ready to pull up over my nose and mouth just in case. 



My son Aidan and I weighed the apples, and they came in at just over two-hundred pounds. According to what I have read, it takes 80 pounds of pressed apples to make five gallons of cider. 

 

Now on to the pressing matters!


Last month I bought a small cider press (1.6 gallons). I searched all over town to find one and there were none to be had. I spent $65 for one online. The plan was to use it to press the Italian prunes from our trees. I did and it was a mess! I finally just ran the plums through the blender and made fermentables out of that. 


So, along with my plum picker, this little press was crying out to be used. 


Sarah and I have made cider before at a friend’s home. One of the crucial pieces of equipment is an apple shredder or chunker. When you press apples, you don't usually press the whole apple. It's the chunks (pomace) that get pressed. Again, there were no chunkers to be had in town so I looked to buy one online. They were all over $100 and it was going to take a very long time to get one. So I had to improvise. 


On the morning of the cider making, Aidan and Natalie came over and we went through all the apples, got rid of some of the more rotten ones and the ones that had been chewed up by squirrels. We then washed all the apples with a very mild very watered-down solution of detergent. Then the apples were rinsed off and we moved them into the garage. 



It was raining so hard that day! My newly-placed rain barrels (another project) filled up fast. So, with the rain, we had to move the whole operation indoors. We moved the cars out of the garage. Gave the mess a good sweep and set up our operation. 


We put up a screen and had The Cult of Chucky playing in the background for a good Halloween vibe.




We couldn't really follow what was going on, but we enjoyed the voice work of Brad Dourif as Chucky (his daughter is in the movie too. Like Aidan says, she has her dad’s eyebrows).



We then decided to put Dune on instead. I haven't seen that movie in a couple of years. And then I remembered that Brad Dourif is in this movie, as well. He played Piter De Vries, the mentat for the Harkonnens. 


 


Ike and Aidan, when they were little, wanted to be Harkonnens for Halloween. We talked them out of it. 


Anyway, I digress….


Apples were quartered. Really bad pieces were thrown into the compostable bin.



Quartered apples were placed into a bucket until the bucket was about a third full. This was the improvised apple chunker. A sanitized sledge hammer was used to churn these apples in the bucket. The apples were further demolished by using a drill attachment used for mixing drywall mud. It had been sanitized as well. This made an OK slurry of apple juice, finely chunked apples and some remaining quartered apples.  


The slurry was dumped into the press. The press has a mesh bag in it. There is a hole in the bottom of the mesh bag to allow the jack bolt to protrude through it. I had made a frame that the press was screwed into. This frame was clamped to the work table.


The juice ran into the bucket until it was almost full. I am guessing that each 1.6 gallon basket of apples rendered 3 cups of juice. Maybe. 




The juiced chunks were saved to make compost. 

Out of the 200 pounds of apples pressed, we gathered about seven gallons of juice. This was a lot less than I expected. We should have pressed just under 15 gallons (if my math is correct). I believe the poor job of chunking contributed a lot to the shortage. 


Five gallons of the juice is now fermenting as a straight-up cider. No sugar added. Just some yeast. The cider took off - fermenting really quickly. 


The two gallons of juice that were left was mixed with some cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, sugar and dehydrated cranberries that have been in our cupboard for the last 10 years. 


This wacky mix, which I guess one would call a cyser (usually a mix of honey and apple cider) did not take off. The specific gravity of it was really very high. It should be bubbling away! I put a heating mat under it. I even stuck it in the sauna for a bit. I pitched more yeast into it. I was puzzled. Then, at 3 a.m. this morning, almost a week later, it dawned on me - THE CRANBERRIES! I bet those suckers were loaded with preservatives. Hence why the big bag of them looked the same last week as they did ten years ago. No wonder there was no fermentation. Dang…


This morning, with Sarah’s help, I strained out the cranberries (and also removed the nutmeg and cinnamon). I don't know if this will be enough to get the mix going again. We will see!


Next year, my plan is to start earlier. I will try to get more apples. I have had many people since tell me about their trees they would also like to have picked. I am going to get a larger press. At least five gallons. They are not much more expensive than the 1.6 gallon version. But, I will have to remember to order one before autumn, because there seems to be a rush on them in September. Also, I really do need to get an apple chunker. I don't like having one tool that can only be used for one purpose. Maybe there are more things to do with an apple chunker. But, the lack of one was really the shortcoming in the whole operation. It is an absolute necessity. 


The best part of this operation was getting to meet so many nice people and reconnect with so many neighbors. I kind of helped them by removing from their trees the wormy little suckers that they were going to have to pick up later. They really helped me by letting me have their apples. Over the last few months, between my recent retirement and the Covid restrictions, I have had really limited contact with others. It felt so good to talk (socially distant) with people who I had never met before. That was something I did all the time when I worked for the fire department. I miss that a lot.  


The time with my family was so good too. The four of us - Sarah, Natalie, Aidan and I worked together in a common project. This will be a great memory!



And hopefully, we can ring in a better year for everyone, with a glass of cider or two!



Brad Douriff also played Grima Wormtongue in the last two installments of The Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Two Towers and The Return of the King. 



 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Beware the goat...

 



After many years of backpacking, fishing and hunting, I recently had my first experience of meeting a creature with malice in its heart. 


Sarah and I had planned for two days at Heart Lake, up  in the mountains, on the Idaho-Montana border. Part of our itinerary was a side trip from Heart, past Pearl Lake and into the Trio Lakes. Sarah had been there earlier and had noted that the trout were good-sized. 


A couple of years ago, my brother had given me a Tenkara fishing rod and I had never had a chance to use it. I haven’t gone fishing for the last three years. I have to admit that the thought of harming a fish was becoming more distressing and the whole ritual of prepping for fishing was becoming too much of a hassle. I had spent years getting my kayak dialed into a delightful ramshackle fishing platform and had sold it last year. So, I really wasn’t thinking much about fishing lately.


And then there was the whole name change and gender marker change to look forward to in getting a new fishing license. No thanks.


But this Tenkara rod intrigued me. There is no reel. It telescopes out to 12 feet from a stowed position of about 16 inches. It weighs almost nothing with only about 20 feet of line on it. With just a few flies and some spare tippet, the hassle would be minimal and the weight in my backpack even less so. So, I purchased a nonresident Montana fishing license and Sarah and I started our hike up the mountains about 15 miles north of Superior.


The trailhead parking lot was pretty full. It turned out they were all day hikers. It’s a little over three miles from the trailhead to the edge of the lake. So, a nice day hike. At the trailhead was the obligatory “Know the Difference Between a Black Bear and a Grizzly” fact sheet. Why a hiker would need to know the difference is beyond me. I know they say that you can climb up a tree to escape a grizzly, but I think that would be hard to do whilst shitting one’s pants. 

A really nice hike up to the lake. 


Upon arrival, there are these signs:






Now these are all nice signs. Much nicer than the bear one. In my only encounter with mountain goats in the past, they seemed shy and cautious. Not really worth the sign. I wasn’t planning on feeding one anyway. And I didn't think one would get close enough to be thumb-sized.


We hiked to the end of the lake, investigating campsites. We boulder-hopped around the inlet to the lake and discovered that the trails in and around the campsite looked like an empty goat freeway. The paths were all coated in white fur. We looked high into the ridge line above and we could make out a mountain goat peacefully snoozing on a cliff. My thoughts turned to the evening and what it would be like having pitched our tent on this goat thoroughfare, so we went back up the lake and into a nicely forested area. 




It was a well-used campsite with nails in trees for us to hang our water filter bag. We found a good tree about 50 yards behind us to hang our food bag. 


I walked to go get some water at the creek right behind us. The little clearing there was a certifiable mess, with toilet paper and exposed turds rising out of the soil. Obviously this was the latrine. I couldn’t really bring myself to pull water out of a creek with all that shit around it. So, I hiked to another creek a little further away. 


I had prepared a zucchini coconut curry for dinner and we had a little wine. For dessert, we had some really good candy of an herbal nature. We were both feeling really good. For the first time in a long time, we brought our Crazy Creek chairs ( a wedding present from 29 years ago) backpacking with us. Sitting there looking out at the lake, I felt so peaceful. Then, I experienced a feeling like I was being watched. I slowly turned around and there was a big-ass, gnarly mountain goat, about 20 feet away walking toward us. Sarah and I both rose to our feet and started shouting at it. It stopped and then reluctantly walked away. 


We cleaned the dishes and then went to go put the food up in the tree. The goat had been making occasional appearances, but seemed to be enjoying munching the soiled toilet paper in the latrine area. Yuck. We were raising the bag up the tree when the goat started walking up to us. Again, we started yelling. The goat wasn’t having any of this. It kept on coming toward us. Big shiny pointy horns, mangy hair, muscly, skinny. Sort of like a starving pit bull only about four times bigger. And its eyes. To quote Robert Shaw as Quint in Jaws. 


“It’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes. When it comes at you it doesn't seem to be livin'... until he bites you, and those black eyes roll over white.”


We started yelling louder. It stopped. Lowering his dagger-horns atop his boulder-skull, he started pawing the ground. Shaking its head and ass, it was getting ready to send that fucking blockhead with its  pointy horns right into the soft parts of me, and, or Sarah. Worse than that, if I held my thumb out, it would have been much bigger. 


I slowly brought the bag of food down. It was now to be a weapon - a bludgeon of crackers, coffee, couscous and faux jerky. I didn’t feel that scared, just kind of befuddled that this was really happening. We stopped yelling. It stopped coming at us. It lifted its head and then walked away. We walked the short distance back to the tent, always keeping the goat in our sight.


I asked Sarah for a short tutorial on the bear spray. From then on out, one of us would always have it ready to go, as we protected the other when cleaning up or peeing far from our camp. 


As we  climbed into the tent, I paraphrased another line of Quint’s. 


“We go in the tent. Tent in is the forest. We are in the forest. Goat is in the forest. Our goat.”


I fell asleep almost immediately. About three in the morning. I started thinking about the prospect of cutting our trip short. Maybe Sarah would think this was an overreaction. Maybe it was. 


I have been dealing with anxiety and depression over the last 10 years. About a year ago, I started on some medication and it has really helped. Instead of reacting to things almost automatically, I have been able to hold things at arm’s length and look at them and think about the issue. Also, I retired from work almost two months ago. My job was one where some big decisions had to be made immediately. Whether on a fire or with a patient, the decision to act and the direction of that action was instantaneous. And as I laid in the tent - Sarah snoring peacefully beside me, I realized that I didn’t have to make decisions like that anymore. That felt really good. 



In the morning, I told Sarah of my concerns. And she was in agreement, so we started packing up our camp. And then a baby goat sauntered into camp. And it did look pretty harmless and cute. Just like a baby shark. 


I now understood the need for these signs. It was a quick hike down the hill. 


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Some Haiku Friday




You can check out more at HaikuFriday.com. Or you you can check out more overall Spokanarama shenanigans at Spokanarama.com

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Making a face mask comfortable and more usable...

Before I retired from the fire department, I came up with a hack which I think made wearing a face mask a little bit less of a hassle.

Most face masks have ear loops. I wearing hearing aids. Whenever I had to switch from a surgical mask to a respirator because of patient contact, the procedure would pop my hearing aids out. And these suckers had cost me some serious Costco cash. The N95 respirator had the more traditional elastic straps in the back. They never interfered with my hearing aids, so I transformed my surgical mask into the same setup. I used some office supplies at the station. Namely, a paperclip and two rubber bands. Now that I am retired, I don't have access to paperclips. Well, I do, but I didn't want to walk all the way downstairs to get one. So, here is my hack using a safety pin instead of a paperclip. 

The finished product:

 How you get there:

How it looks:


I don't believe there is much more explaining to do. But, here is the cool thing about having a mask transformed. When you go to the park, or are otherwise outside, you can quickly just pull the mask up from around your neck and up over your nose and mouth when you encounter others. It is also more comfortable and it won't pop out your hearing aids.


I have to admit that most of the time, instead of a mask, I use a buff, or a buff knockoff. You can wear it fashionably around your neck and when you need a mask, just pull it over your nose and mouth, like so:


You can find the knockoffs really cheap here. I really like the face masks that friends have made for me. They look very cool. But I do like the buffs better. I wonder how hard they would be to sew. They are basically a tube made from stretchy material. Hmmmmmmmmmm.......

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Hey, she was right. This idea is a bit of a letdown...


Some years ago, I had an idea, which had lied dormant until recently sparking another idea in my mouldering brain wires.

Those Little Free Libraries were popping up in the neighborhood back then. There was something so moving about them and novel.  I had never seen such a beautiful public invitation: “ Please open this door and enjoy something to hold in your hands, something which may change your perspective on life, or, at the very least, entertain you. FOR FREE!”

Whether anyone ever really took them up on the offer didn’t matter to me. What did matter was that someone had built this little library, stocked it with books and waited to see what would happen. That they looked like little shrines didn’t hurt either. 

Right after these Little Free Libraries popped up, I had an idea to do something similar. What I wanted to do was to build an information board, one with a little roof like you see at state parks. On it would be works of art or poetry or whatever that people wanted to create and share with others. I would take a picture of everything that went up, catalog it and put it on the blog. Not long after, I started my weekly broadcasts of Haiku Friday. So, this idea was mothballed. 

OK here is my mundane proposal…

What if I put together a zine that came out once a month? It would feature all that month’s poems that were submitted to me for Haiku Friday. Also people could send in their artwork, musings, whatever and I would print those in this zine. I would put copies by our block wall. Maybe I could have a dropbox for those who wanted to leave their creations right there too. I could share the zine in a digital form on the blog. The physical dispenser of the zine may be a Little Free Zine single-wide? 

I wouldn’t  want it to make any money. None of my ideas do. The zine would be free. Maybe if people wanted a hard copy mailed to them they could pay for postage. So many pedestrians pass by our house, I think they would get distributed quickly. 

When I started this blog so long ago, my main focus was on visiting people in Spokane who I liked, and have them tell their stories either via audio, video or written copy. I got lazy and dropped the ball. Shifting the focus to creative works and giving neighbors a way to have something tangible to show them the wonderful spirits who live around them would be a worthwhile thing to do. 

I will probably be retiring sometime this year, or early next year. I would have the time to do this right. 

This book is what made me think about doing this:




Would this be a worthwhile thing? Are zines dead? Should I censor language or anything else that may be too PG-13? Let me know what you think, please! 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A proposal postponed...





So, it’s been really long time. Is anyone still reading this? Is anyone still reading blogs?

Life has gotten kind of weird for me. I am home from work. I am not sure for how long.

What have I been up to? You might be (but probably aren’t) asking yourself this question. 

I’ve been whipping out about a painting a month. I have a shared photo album here if you are interested in seeing any of them. I still do Haiku Friday every Friday (well almost every Friday) live on Facebook. The videos wind up on my YouTube channel. 

I have such a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I really don’t feel like I have much to say that adds to the conversation, anymore. I alternate between being angry at what is going on in our country, proud of what is going on in our state and sad to see many of my old friends succumb to a worldview so different than the one we once shared. I would ditch Facebook in a minute if it wasn’t for my needing it to do Haiku Friday live. HF has been a discipline of sorts and an actual lifeline for me. Through hard times at work and at home, a transition which was scary, sad and happy, and through sickness, I have plugged away at Haiku Friday. At first, I did it on Twitter with a live video function. When I started broadcasting it on Facebook, I saved the videos to YouTube and then put them up on my HaikuFriday site.

Like a lot of you these days, my day subsists of doing some art, going on long walks to nowhere, working in the garden, reading, playing some games, Zoom visiting with family and friends, installing bidets, weighing in on social media (sigh), watching TV, listening to podcasts, eating and drinking. Lately, we’ve been playing the game Morels and actually growing shiitakes and blue oyster mushrooms.





We’ve been watching What we do in the Shadows and Killing Eve. We’ve eaten takeout pizza from Benniditos and burgers with a cocktail kit from Nyne. I have to say, if anyone was cut out for quarantine, it’s me. I might come off as an extrovert, but that was something I learned how to do as a bullied kid. My natural inclination is toward solitary pursuits. 

I made this shirt. I have only wore it once in public and the results were satisfactory, in that people avoided me:




OK.

I really think the only way left to save our world is through art. When I say “art,” I mean music, storytelling, painting, singing, poetry, dancing, theater, cooking, baking, photography, humor, etc. Art is anything that we do as a gift for others (and ourselves) to bolster our humanity and the overall cause of not-feeling-dead-inside. We have seen where, on social media, arguing, presenting facts, pointing out hypocrisy, sounding the alarm bell at  for our friends’ sinking ship of credibility has resulted in nothing but hurt feelings. Throwing fact-rocks at someone who pictures himself as “one man against a world of socialism,” and rallying against those who fantasize about being armed combatants at war with the conspiracy of The Invisible Illuminati does nothing to change the way they see the world.

Would art?

I know I have been transformed by beautiful words on paper, actors on the stage who risk all to give all and with paint smeared in the most correct way. The right song at the right time can pull my heart into my stomach. A warm piece of crusty sourdough might reverse the process. Pondering the stars, a sunset, my first cup of coffee in the morning, my grandkids, my kids can make me, well, swoon. 

I fully realize, that in order to fully experience life, love and the beauty of all these things, I need to be open too. I need to realize that maybe I am wrong in the way I see the world. However, I am pretty sure that experiencing the intentional gift of someone else’s creativity will probably not push me into violence, into fascism, into totalitarianism, into xenophobia, suspicion or hatred. In fact, I would think that  encounters with art will push me further into the opposite direction -  but I am open to being wrong on this. 



I  was writing all of this in order to propose something to you, something rather mundane. I wanted to hear your opinion on my proposal, but I think I will let it sit for a while longer. Because, well, I need to shut up  now. Thanks for reading this….