Tools for Conquering Internet Addiction

optical-illusion

I think there are two deadly sins for the DIYer: One is accumulating cast off items for theoretical future projects. The other is falling into the trap of either researching a subject so thoroughly that somehow you never get around to actually doing it, or avoiding doing that research in the first place by checking email, Facebook or any of the other anti-productive tools our Silicon Valley overlords subject us to.  It’s the distraction problem I’d like to look at today.

The state of restless research and “busyness” that leads to ultimate inaction is an aspect of what was known in the Middle Ages as acedia and what has misleadingly come to be known as “sloth”. For me it begins this way, “I’ll just check my email.” Then, two hours later, I’ve descended to the click bait circle of  hell where I’m viewing all the latest cat memes, 80s music videos and hitting the “like” button like a mouse in a Skinner box.

I’ve become very worried in the past few years about this interweb induced state of acedia. As Nicholas Carr observed in his prescient 2008 article in the Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” I’ve noticed that my attention span seems to be shrinking and that I’m less able to sit down and read books without the temptation to jump on the Internet and look stuff up. I’ve also noticed that I’m having a harder time initiating and completing the sort of gardening, cooking, food preservation and general DIY projects that provide fodder for this blog and for our books.

I think it’s time for some drastic action. It’s time to limit certain highly additive and often counter-productive Internet activities such as email, social media and general surfing not related to my core mission. Two tools I’m evaluating are LeechBlock, which works with the Firefox browser and allows you to block up to six sets of sites for certain periods of the day and two Chrome-based apps, Stay Focused and Strict Workflow (which uses a Pomodoro timer, an enforced 25 minute work period I’ve found helpful).

In the past I’ve found limiting email and social media to two brief periods a day, in the morning and late afternoon, really enhances my productivity. The problem is that I’ve fallen off this wagon. I’m hoping that these apps will get me back into this twice a day communications habit. I’m also thinking of taking the radical step of limiting emails to five sentences using the fivesentenc.es email signature.

While I find the internet to be a very useful research tool, not to mention a great way to publish my thoughts in both words and audio, I’ve become concerned of late with unintended consequences. At the risk of seeming alarmist, I think we may be in for some turbulent years as the full implications of a hyper-connected world work their way through our culture. Anyone watching Wolf Hall? The unmentioned offstage character in that drama is the printing press. Mobile computing, texting and the “Internet of things” could prove even more disruptive than Gutenberg’s invention.

Is Internet addiction a problem for you? What technique or tools have you found useful?

The Wonder of Worms

saint worm

[Another entry in the Back to the Garden series, which you can access by clicking the tag of the same name to the left.]

As I’ve been saying for the last couple of weeks, the key characteristic of the loving landscape is healthy, living soils which foster plant and animal health without artificial inputs. Compost, mulch and worms form the holy trinity of organic soil health.

Compost and mulch we’ve covered. Today I want to talk about worms, both worms in the wild and worms in your house.

Odd facts: Did you know there are about 4,300 species of earthworms world-wide? Did you know that the Australian Giant Gippsland earthworm can grow to be 3 meters (9.8 feet) in length? Shai-Hulud! I’ve also seen references to a 22 foot (6.7 meter) long worm discovered in South Africa, but can find nothing substantial to back it up, and have decided that it’s an Internet myth. What I do know, though, is that I’m glad I don’t live under water with the sea worms.

But I digress. The real wonders of this world are invisible, or so humble as not to be noticed. Like saints of the soil, garden variety worms pass through the world quietly, leaving miracles in their wake.

Continue reading…

047 Done is Better Than Perfect

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Our guest this week is my East Coast doppelganger, Eric Rochow of Gardenfork.tv (who also interviewed me on GardenFork Radio episode 377). Eric covers all kinds of DIY topics: everything from gardening, to beekeeping to slow cooking to, well, just about anything you can think of. He also produces an excellent podcast. During our interview we discuss:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Cottage Food Operations Workshop Offered by UC Cooperative Extension

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For folks in Southern California who are thinking of starting a home based food business, UC Extension has a class coming up that will help you get started. UCCE assures me that the information provided will be of interest to anyone thinking about starting a Cottage Food operation, not just farmers. For more information contact: Rachel Surls, Sustainable Food Systems Advisor UC Cooperative Extension Los Angeles County (626) 586-1982 [email protected] Here’s the info:

Who should attend?

This workshop is designed especially for farmers of fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, and honey interested in making value-added products in home kitchens as Cottage Food Operations (CFOs). Workshop is open to everyone.

What is a Cottage Food Operation?

The California Homemade Food Act (AB1616) allows individuals to prepare and package certain non-potentially hazardous foods in private-home kitchens referred to as “Cottage Food Operations” (CFOs). Processed meat, dairy, fermented foods, and juices are NOT legally acceptable cottage foods.

Learn about:

• Cottage Food Law

• Food science and sanitation

• Information about processing jams/jellies, honey, nuts, dried fruit, baked goods

• Packaging and storage

• Business operations for CFOs

Please come join us for this one day event: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Morning refreshments and lunch will be provided.

UC Cooperative Extension Los Angeles County
700 W. Main Street, Alhambra, CA 91801

Registration required: $25 with online payment by June 10 or Register online: http://ucanr.edu/cforegla

This project is funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

$40 at the door, space permitting

Saturday Tweets: Rat Paths, Compostable Cups and Phosphorus

DIY Portable Pizza Oven

I just spoke with Eric Rochow of GardenFork.TV .(He’ll be our guest on the next podcast.) If you don’t know Gardenfork, you should. Eric has put together a lot of cool videos and podcasts. One of my favorite is this portable pizza oven. I’m thinking of building one for local events. For more info on Eric’s pizza oven check out his pizza oven page.

Mulch, mulch, mulch!

avocadoleaves

I like the color contrast going on here between pinkish fallen avocado leaves and the grey-green foliage of this California Fuchsia

[This is one post in a series of posts on the loving landscape, collected under the tag “Back to the Garden”]

Last week we talked about compost. This week, we touch on a second key to soil health, mulch.  Both compost and mulch foster the life of the soil, and both are important components of the loving landscape. Sometimes they are confused for one another, but they are quite different animals.  Compost, which we talked about last week, is more nutrient rich than mulch. It’s full of life, and inoculates soil with that life.

Mulch, on the other hand, is a blanket for the soil. (A blankie, as I think of it in my more regressive moments.) It is not a living material, as good compost is. Rather, it is made up of dead, dry plant matter (dead leaves, shredded wood, straw, etc.) which is spread to form an insulating layer over the soil. Simple as it is, a mulch layer is vital to the life of the soil. In nature, no one comes around with a rake to tidy up. Plants drop dead matter all the time, and that stuff lays there until it breaks down. That is how it should be. In a loving landscape, we try to replicate the patterns or habits of nature, and one of the most important habits she has is letting stuff fall and lay there.

This, by the way, entirely contrary to common gardening practice, which seems to believe that if a surface isn’t covered in turf or cement, it must be swept as clean as a kitchen floor. I see a lot of dead soil in my neighborhood, dry and exposed and baking in the sun–but ever so tidy.

Insulating the soil provides the conditions necessary for life to bloom in the soil. Mulch helps retain soil moisture (which lessens the frequency of watering) and protects soil life and plant roots from the extremes of hot and cold, and builds new soil over time. It provides habitat for beneficial insects (And yes, some not-so-beneficial ones as well. We’ll talk about that more.) So while it is not as biologically active as compost, it creates the conditions which support life.

Finally, mulch becomes soil. Over time, it slowly breaks down and becomes new soil. If you dig a hole in a yard which has been mulched for a few years, you can see the rich dark soil which appears just beneath the mulch layer, very different from the older soil lower down.

KAZI’S GARDEN

Let me tell you a story. Our friend Kazi recently bought a new house and is in the process of planting gardens in the front and back yards, which had been sorely neglected. In the big back yard she discovered the previous owners had, for reasons known only to themselves, blanketed the soil with big pieces of polyester carpeting and sheets of black plastic. Beneath this stuff, the soil was dry, hard packed and lifeless.

She threw away the plastic and carpet and put down a thick layer of shredded wood mulch. In addition, she ran drip lines beneath the mulch to bring some water into the picture. (That is necessary here, as we get so little rain–it wouldn’t be necessary everywhere.) She let that stew for a couple of months, and then checked back in.

As if by magic, the soil beneath the mulch had come to life. The water and the insulation called to the worms. They came from…somewhere. (The ways of worms are mysterious!) And they went to work opening up the lifeless, compacted soil, changing its texture and color. On a microscopic level, a host of bacteria and fungi had also gone to work in Kazi’s soil, producing nutrients in the soil, readying it for planting.

And all Kazi did was lay down a truckload of mulch, and then retired to her porch for a well deserved cocktail. No tilling. No digging. Nature does the heavy lifting.  This is the wonder of mulch.

Sound too good to be true? The underground, invisible life of the soil, and its relationship to plants is amazing. To learn more, check out the classic text: Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis.

THE AESTHETICS OF MULCH

Mulch  looks nice–at least to my eyes it does. I admit that I may have eccentric vision. Life is beautiful, and I see in mulched spaces the promise and hope of life. When I walk in our mulched yard, I can imagine I’m in the forest, walking in quiet leaf litter. Meanwhile, when I see vast tracts of green lawn, I think, “What is it feeding?” And the answer is, nothing. Lawn asks for so much in terms of time, labor, water and chemicals, and gives so little back. Whereas mulch costs little, and gives much.

If you decide you won’t have a lawn (or much lawn), mulch is one of the best ways to unify the look of yard and garden, to make it look tended and tidy. Mulch also represses weeds. I think of it–again–as a blanket stretched across a neatly made bed. Mulch is homey and comforting. It also provides a soft, clean surface for walking, and of course, there’s no worry about too much foot traffic!

Dogs, by the way, seem to do just fine on mulch. They don’t, contrary to popular belief, need a lawn. In fact, we all know they are hard on lawns.

As far as kids go, a yard full of trees to climb, secret forts, chickens, flowers, vegetable patches and interesting critters and bugs might better lure them outside than a perfect lawn. I know many happy kids who live in such yards. And as a kid myself, I preferred such spaces. I have no fond memories of grass. I do have strong memories of playing in wilder spaces–under trees, among boulders, in a rainy gutter, in the snow, at the beach. Lawn, for me, was always a suspicious place full of dangerous sprinkler heads and hidden dog poop.

The one exception I will buy for lawn is as a good surface for babies and toddlers. It’s nice to have a clean, soft patch of grass for them to plunk down on when outside. But that doesn’t have to be a big patch to be very useful and fun–and if the rest of the yard is full of life, they’re more likely to be visited by ladybugs and butterflies!

WHERE DO YOU GET MULCH?

1) From the trees, from the ground:  Think of your yard as a closed system. Nothing leaves.  Leave the Leaves!  Nature doesn’t pack precious plant material up in plastic bags and send it to the dump, and neither should you.

  • Keep all of your fallen leaves. Get your neighbor’s leaves, if you can. Spread them in place, or store them in bags until you need them. Pine needles work, too.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed and leave them on the ground to dry up and vanish into the mulch layer. I swear, it might look strange to see them laying there at first, all green and bright, but they’ll be pretty much invisible in a few days.
  • Practice “chop n’ drop”. When you’re pruning bushes or trees, chop up softer trimmings to about 6″ (15 cm) and leave them at the base of the plant. The plant will appreciate it. You can leave woody branches here and there, too, to support beetles and other bugs. (I make little piles of fallen wood, hoping to host lizards, but resign myself to the fact I’m more likely hosting mice. Well, it gives the neighbor’s cat something to do!)
  • If you have a lawn, save all your clippings. They make great mulch (and compost). To mulch with them, it helps if you can spread them out somewhere and let them dry for a day or so, so they lose moisture and won’t mat together. (ETA: a commenter just reminded me to be careful if you are sourcing your grass clippings from outside your home. If the grass has been treated with pesticides or herbicides, you will bring those into your ecosystem.)

2) From your city. I can’t speak for all cities, but most have tree trimming crews, and they have to do something with all that stuff, so many cities have public piles of both compost and mulch for the taking. We often visit the free pile of mulch in Griffith Park, not far from the putting range. We only take their mulch, not their compost, which we’re a little suspicious of.

On that note, not all mulch is created equal. Check the pile before you start shoveling to make sure the wood is ground up enough–there shouldn’t be too many big chunks of wood. A few big chips are okay here and there, but it should be shredded, not just vaguely chopped up. There also shouldn’t be too much garbage mixed in–bits of plastic and the like.

3) From tree trimmers. Shredded tree trimmings are one of the best kinds of mulch we can use. When arborists or tree trimming crews are working in your area with a wood chipper in tow, go talk to them and ask if they have plans for all those trimmings. They may be willing to dump them in your driveway for free.

We recently posted about someone working on an app to unite tree trimmers with people who want mulch. This revealed that 1) sometimes getting those guys to deliver is easier said than done, and 2) that some areas already have networks which link up tree trimmers with mulch-needers.

As to point one, I’d say that you should just keep trying and be willing to pay a little if necessary. For our most recent mulch delivery, we actually paid our arborist’s crew $50 to bring us a mountain–a literal mountain–of mulch, enough to cover our front and back yards. It was worth the money.  As to point 2, check around and make sure that there isn’t a system already set up which you can take advantage of–talk to your neighbor with the richly mulched yard for a start. Where did they get theirs?

4) From the feed store. Straw (not hay!) can be used as mulch, and one bale will go a long way. Now, admittedly, it does make your yard look like the set of Hee Haw, but it works. We covered our entire back yard with straw one year, just for the hay of it. Generally speaking, I’d reserve straw for certain uses in the vegetable garden, which I’ll talk about in a bit.

5) From your recycling bin. It is possible to use shredded cardboard and paper as mulch. It can turn a little unsightly, but it is a nice way to return some paper to the soil. More often newspaper and cardboard are used in specialized gardening techniques like lasagne or sheet mulching, and in lawn killing.

sunflower seedling

This volunteer sunflower seedling is a little stressed, but I think it might do better now that it has a nice blanket of dead weeds.

OK, WHAT DO YOU MULCH, AND HOW?

Mulching perennials

It’s a fantastic idea to spread mulch under all your perennials–all your bushes and trees. In fact, I think this should be law. (If only I were Queen of the Universe!) About 3 inches (7-8 cm) is a good amount. (You use thicker mulch layers for killing lawn and repairing soil. In those cases you lay down something more like 8 inches (20 cm)).

You can also mulch fruit trees with compost instead of wood-based mulch, to give the soil life there a boost, or lay down an inch or so of compost, and then top with mulch.

When mulching your trees and bushes, be sure to leave a couple of inches between the mulch and their trunks. You don’t want the mulch creeping up the trunk–it’s not healthy for the wood.

Mulching your paths, seating and play areas

This is a great way to repress weeds, keeps down dust and mud and make your yard look tidy. It is also fundamentally pleasant to walk on a path of mulch.

Mulch used in open spaces like this can be applied fairly thickly, say 5″ (13 cm), so you have a solid layer which resists foot disruption and smothers the weeds. There’s no need to put anything under the mulch in these situations–not cardboard or newspaper or plastic.

A nice side benefit is that you are protecting and nourishing the soil in those areas, so that one day, if you decide to re-arrange your yard and plant in those spaces, the soil will be in much better shape than if it were paved over.

(ETA 5/15: A reader reminds me to mention that it is a good idea to leave some soil bare in a yard for native bees and other insects. Some native bees harvest dirt and mud for their nests, others nest in the ground and need access to the soil. I’m going to do a whole post on native bee habitat later in this series, so you’ll be hearing more about this. In the meantime, just keep in mind the idea of leaving the odd corner or bit of slope un-mulched.)

Mulching vegetables:

Mulch in the vegetable beds is potentially useful, but also has downsides. It’s very specific and local knowledge, so you have to see what works best for you.

I’ll say straight off that if slugs are a big pest in your vegetable beds, mulch will provide them with lots of nice habitat, so I’d not mulch anywhere near my vegetable beds in that case.

A mulch of clean, bouncy straw can be useful for keeping fruit off the soil. How did strawberries get their name, after all? They are traditionally grown on straw. Yes, indeed!

Erik and I mulch our tomato beds with straw. It insulates the soil and keeps low fruit off the soil. We wait to mulch the beds until after the seedlings are a few inches tall, out of bug noshing range, to be sure we don’t inadvertently host any chewing critters.

Same goes for squashes and pumpkins–sometimes it’s nice to put the ripening fruit on a straw cushion.

However, we don’t mulch our lettuces and leafy greens, though a straw mulch looks pretty among greens. Maybe if Garden Beautiful was visiting for a photo shoot, we’d do a temporary mulch for looks. But bugs that like to eat succulent greens seem to like to bed in mulch, so generally it’s a no-go for us.

All of what I said may not be true across the board. I hesitate to give generalized garden advice, because every situation is different.

Mulching California natives:

This is a charged topic. I can’t speak to native plants of any other region, but here in California we are often sternly advised not to mulch our native plants. I ignore this to a certain extent. In general, I understand the logic. Our chaparral plants are not denizens of Mirkwood Forest. They need sun and air and some dryness. In fact, some like to be dry all summer long. So while it might work for non-natives, it would be wrong to put them on a drip system that waters them weekly and then bury them under several inches of wood chips. They’d suffocate.

Nonetheless, as I said above, Mother Nature is not busy with her broom. All plants drop leaves, even natives, and I leave them in place. Sometimes leaves blow among them from other plants. I leave those, too. If I pull weeds around the natives, I leave those in place. As a result, my natives are lightly mulched, and seem happy enough about it.

Mulching your lawn:

Mulching is one of the best ways to kill your lawn. Instead of going through all the trouble of tilling or solarizing, just lay down a layer of cardboard and a super thick layer of mulch and wait. If you’re interested in doing this, check out this series from UC Davis “Stacey’s Lawn Removal” where a woman walks us through her lawn removal using this technique. As a bonus she has lots of planting suggestions, too.

Mulching your lead-contaminated yard:

Mulching is one way to minimize the impact of lead in your soil. If your soil tests positive for lead, all you can do, short of replacing all of it, is to cover it up. You could choose to pave your yard, or put down a lawn, but mulch is cheaper and easier, and more soil-life friendly than those options. It works by keeping the soil covered, so that lead-laden dust doesn’t swirl into the air, and it keeps little kids who are toddling around up and out of the dirt, so they don’t get it on their hands, and into their mouths.

Reapplication:

Reapply your mulch as often as necessary. Sorry I can’t be more specific! Different mulches will break down at different rates in different climates. Just check your mulch levels and add a little more. This should be no more than an annual chore.

MYTHS AND RUMORS ABOUT MULCH

Some kinds of mulch kills plants:

Use some caution with leaves or wood from plants known to be allelopathic–that is, hostile to other plants, like eucalyptus and black walnut. It’s not as big of a problem as you might think. They haven’t been able to prove that cedar chips, for instance, actually inhibit plant growth, despite all their bad press. But it’s a nuanced situation, and this article by Linda Chalker-Scott is helpful in sorting out the details.

Mulch encourages termites:

Do termites feed on mulch? Yes, apparently so. But it’s complicated. The University of Florida IFAS Extension did a study on this, and decided, in their conclusion that we may as well keep using it:

Further research on mulches and termites is warranted to determine if we should be concerned about using mulch around houses. Also, research is needed on possible repellent mulches such as melaleuca which might serve as an additional barrier for household protection against termites. At this time the benefits of mulches such as water conservation, reduced used of herbicides, and reduced soil erosion are very apparent while the risks to termite infestations due to mulches are unknown. Homeowners will continue to use mulches in landscaping around their houses and buildings. Our current recommendation is to be vigilant and up-to-date with termite inspection and treatment.

Wood mulch robs nitrogen from the soil:

There is also a persistent rumor going around that wood chips or shredded wood mulch robs the soil, and thus your plants, of nitrogen, so you shouldn’t mulch with wood products. While it’s true that the carbon in the wood is looking for nitrogen in the soil as the wood breaks down, but the exchange is very slight, and will not inhibit your plants. Mulch encourages life in the soil, the vital, microscopic life which actually produces nitrogen to feed the plants. (Again, you’ve gotta read Teaming with Microbes!)  The good that mulch does for the soil vastly outweighs the small amount of nitrogen lost where the wood touches the soil.

Bad Mulch?

If any mulch could be considered “bad,” I’d have to point a finger at plastic sheeting and rubber mulches. The problem with these is that they don’t break down and feed the soil. They do some of what mulch is supposed to do, but ultimately, they are not friendly to the life of the soil. Worse, they linger eternally and I guarantee you that one day in the future you’ll be pulling up handfuls of the dratted stuff, cursing yourself for ever thinking it was a good idea to use it.

Gravel mulch and decomposed granite (D.G.)  is somewhere in between. It at least rock belongs in the soil, unlike plastic and rubber, but it doesn’t feed the soil, and almost always is installed with an ultimately problematic layer of plastic sheeting underneath. I could do a whole Tumblr of photos from our area of people who put down plastic sheeting and rock in hopes of having a trouble-free landscape, only to find themselves hosting a fine weed farm. It is far better to put organic mulch down on bare soil. I can’t say it enough–imitate nature and you’ll be fine. Try to be clever with man-made materials, and you’ll be looking at woe down the road.

I speak from experience. Long ago we put down a layer of plastic weed barrier beneath a decomposed granite surface in our yard. That idea didn’t work out and the granite is long gone, but the plastic, despite our efforts, still shows up when I’m digging around. More than a decade down the road, it is in tatters and shreds and is absolutely miserable to remove.

So, learn from our mistakes, and…

Love Your Mulch!

046 Caring for Older Cats

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In this special Catcast, we talk to Dr. Tracy McFarland, who was our guest on Episode 36, about caring for older cats. During the podcast we discuss:

  • Signs you need to take the cat to the vet
  • Dental disease
  • Oxifresh oral hygene
  • The dietary needs of older cats
  • Dry or wet food?
  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney disease
  • Water
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • avmi.net
  • Grooming
  • Step stools
  • Checking your cat’s teeth and gums
  • Feeding times
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Integrating older and younger cats
  • Heating pads for older cats

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

How to make hot sauce

hot sauce

I’ve noticed we sort of drift in and out of some habits, or practices, or hobbies… or whatever you want to call them. In theory I’m big on all sorts of DIY, especially in the kitchen, because making staples at home can really help save packaging, money and food–and condiments, like mustard, mayo and hot sauce, are easy to make.

However, it’s also really easy to fall to temptation and just buy a bottle of something at the store. So here’s a confession: we’ve fallen into sin around here, and haven’t made our own hot sauce in a good while.  We dodge the homemade when we know better. We know a thousand times better. And yet it happens. The jar ends up in the cart, and then in the fridge, and then in the back of the fridge, and eventually in the garbage.

What is appealing about the jar on the shelf? Why does our hand drift toward it? Perhaps we are enchanted by the evil hot sauce rooster.

Anyway, I just remedied the hot sauce omission. I made a chunky, fresh and not very hot sauce which brightens anything we slather it on, and I want to share the happiness.

Hot sauce is easy to make,  yet it can be controversial. I actually hesitated to post this, because I didn’t want to step into the hot sauce minefield. People are passionate about their hot sauce, about what constitutes “real” hot sauce, and can be more than a little insistent that their way is the True Way of the Sauce.

For some people, it’s all about the heat, and the provenance of the peppers used. For others, the sauce must be made only of peppers, for others, it needs the earthy notes of onion and carrot and garlic and even tomatoes. For some it is fermented, for others, stewed, and for some, raw. For some, sugar is a necessity, for others, a blasphemy.

The basic technique I’m going to describe makes a simple sauce with nothing in it but peppers, vinegar and salt, and it is fermented to bring out the flavor. I don’t subscribe to any particular school of sauce, but this is the easiest sauce to make for my purposes.

The outcome of the recipe depends mostly on your choice of pepper, but also a bit on how much vinegar you put in it, and what type of vinegar, and whether you strain it or leave it chunky.

We used fresh red peppers labeled Anaheim peppers (kind of like a red New Mexico chile), which are mild, and also some dried California peppers, which are also mild, but a little smokey. These peppers make your tongue tingle–they don’t burn. Our sauce is more like a mild salsa–enjoyable on everything, by everyone.  Later this summer if I get my hands on some good hot chiles, I’ll make a hot batch. Regardless of the heat, the technique is the same.

Hot sauce is improvisational and hard to mess up. I’d recommend not over-thinking it, but rather just throwing it together with whatever you have on hand, however it comes together. Trust me, it will be pretty good no matter what you do. It’s smart to take notes, though, so you replicate your successes.

(Root) Simple Hot Sauce

Makes about about 2 cups.

Takes up to a week to make, but only five or ten minutes of actual effort.

You’ll need:

  • About 1 lb of fresh chiles of any sort, or the same weight in re-hydrated dried chiles, or a mix of the two, stemmed and roughly chopped. (Rehydrate dried chiles by soaking them in hot water for 10 min.) Keep the seeds, unless you want to decrease the heat.
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt–salt without additives
  • About 1 cup of vinegar. Many people use distilled white vinegar, because the flavor is not intrusive. Some people don’t trust white vinegar, thinking it far too industrial a product. I’d say just know your brand–they do vary. If you prefer to use another type of vinegar, just factor in how the flavor will effect the sauce.

First ferment:

Mix your chopped chiles with the salt in a covered jar or bowl and let it sit out at room temperature for about 12 hours to soften and ferment–being a ferment, it doesn’t have to be precisely 12 hours. Leave it out “a good while.”

Add the vinegar and blend:

Add your vinegar to the peppers and blend using a blender, food processor, stick blender or a mortar and pestle. Here’s where the art comes in!

Add the vinegar sparingly as you mix, watching for the texture you want and well as the flavor. (Flavor is a little hard to judge, though, because it has more developing to do.) There’s no right or wrong texture.

Remember, you can always add more vinegar later if the sauce needs to be thinner, or more vinegar-y.

I like thick hot sauce. Some people like it thin. If you like it very thin, you can strain out all of the solids after the second ferment.

Second ferment:

Put the newly vinegar-ed sauce in very clean jar, put on loose lid on it, or rubberband some muslin over the mouth, and leave it to sit out for a few more days–and again, this timing is pretty flexible and will depend a lot on personal preference and ambient temperature.  Two days is probably the minimum amount of time you should give it, and you could let it sit out for as long as a week.

(BTW, I used our fermenting jar for this project–as I do for all our ferments. )

Just taste it now and then, and when you like the way it tastes, stop the ferment by putting it in the fridge.

At this point you can also make all your last minute adjustments, such as adding more vinegar, or salt, or (gasp!) sugar, or blending the sauce more, or putting it in a strainer and taking out all of the solids.

Note that your sauce may separate after sitting for a while, because it doesn’t have stabilizers or thickeners added to it. This doesn’t mean it has spoiled. Just shake it before using.

Keep it in the fridge, and use it up within a couple of months.

Citrus limetta, a.k.a. Sweet Lemon, a.k.a. Sweet Lime

sweet lime
A few years ago, Kelly discovered an unusual citrus, by mistake, at our local Armenian market, Super King. I say by mistake because what she thought was a lemon turned out to be Citrus limetta, labeled as “sweet lime”. Unlike a lemon, it’s sweet with lime flavor notes and a hard to describe exotic backspin.

Adding to the confusion, sweet limes are also known as sweet lemons and a host of other popular names in the Middle East and India where they are popular. Though somewhat watery, I like to eat them fresh, but they are most commonly used for juice. I should note that Kelly is not fond of the flavor.

This citrus is also not anything like a Meyer lemon which, while sweeter than a normal lemon, still tastes like a lemon.

From what little information I could find on sweet limes, there are several different varieties. You’re most likely to find this fruit in places with a large Iranian population. Should you find yourself in such a market, see if you can also score a medlar.