Saturday Linkages: Tiny Houses, Human Cheese, Doomsday Condos and Speakin’ Squirrel

Tiny Cabin in Scottish Countryside

And . . . Anderson Cooper tackles tiny houses

Cat needs to learn water conservation:

No it’s not one of our April Fools day jokes: Breast Milk Ice Cream, Human Cheese

Doomsday condos in old missile silos:

Thomas Rainer’s 5 Myths about Native Plants

Learn to speak squirrel:

Abused Altadena Kitten Still Needs a Home

These, and more linkages, are from the Root Simple twitter feed.

Candied Grapefruit Peel

Erik sourced some nice grapefruits from our friend’s tree and used the flesh to do some homework for his Master Food Preserver program. This left a big pile of organic, unwaxed grapefruit rind on our counter, so I decided to do something about it, and set off to make candied grapefruit peel. This is the technique I came up with by mashing together a bunch of different internet recipes and making two batches of the stuff. The results are delish if a bit rustic in appearance. I don’t think I’d pass muster at French pastry school with my lazy technique, but Erik and I like them a lot.

You must genuinely love grapefruit, the bitterness of it, to appreciate these. If you’re not a grapefruit fan, I’m sure this would work with orange rind as well. If you are a grapefruit fan, you’ll find yourself sneaking off to the candy jar for a little more that sweet-bitter flavor punch.

We’ve been snacking on them straight, but I think they’d be really good chopped into small pieces and sprinkled over vanilla ice cream or folded into scones or dipped in chocolate. I like them as straight-up candy because they’re so intense they satisfy restless cravings, but for the same reason you can’t gorge on them. Actually, I can’t eat more than two at a time. The how-to after the break.

The Technique

I’m calling this a technique and not a recipe. Grapefruits vary in size, peel thickness and bitterness, so results are going to vary.

This is a good thing to do when you’re working in the kitchen anyway, because it takes time, but not tons of attention.

  • Chop your rind into any shape you want. I cut mine into rough strips about 1/3-1/2″ wide and and 2″ long, though there were lots of smaller pieces, too. You don’t have to trim off the white pith. Thank goodness, huh? If it’s ridiculously thick, as it can be sometimes, feel free to carve some of it away as you work. Pieces with huge chunks of pith on them will be slower to cook and dry than the rest. I guess what I’m saying is that standardization leads to consistency. Not that it matters a lot. 
  • Put the cut up peel in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, pour off the water. Refill and bring to a boil again. Boil four times total. This doesn’t take as long as you’d think. The boiling reduces some of the bitterness in the peel. 
boiled grapefruit peel
    • Use about 1/2 cup of sugar for every grapefruit. Pour the sugar into a saucepan large enough to hold the peel. Add half as much water as sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the drained peels and begin to cook over medium heat, stirring occassionally.  e.g. 2 grapefruit = 1 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water.  My batches were made with 5 small grapefruits and 2 cups of sugar.  (Obviously you can play with the amount of sugar–something with little pith, like a thin skinned orange, would need less. And maybe a “lite” version is possible. Try and see.)
    •  Cook the peels over medium heat. They will soften and turn transparent. Meanwhile, the sugar syrup will thicken and reduce. Keep cooking until the sugar syrup is so thick and so reduced that its mostly just coating the rinds, and the rinds themselves are golden and clear like tiny stained glass windows. Be sure to stir lots at the end so it doesn’t burn. This process took an hour in my case. It may have gone faster over higher heat. It would also go faster with a smaller batch.
    Cooking down the syrup
      • Turn the peels out onto an oiled rack to cool and drip off any excess syrup. (Lacking a rack, I ended up spreading mine over the bottom of colanders, which wasn’t a ton of fun, but worked.)  Let them stay there until they lose their wet stickiness. How long will vary–overnight, at least, I’d say. At that point you can sugar them if you want yet more sugar. It looks nice. Put the sugar on too soon and it will be absorbed into the syrup. When they’re totally dry, store them away in something air-tight.
      When almost all the syrup was gone/absorbed, as it looks here, I spread out the pieces to cool.

      A Review of Williams-Sonoma’s Agrarian Line

      Last week upscale retalier Williams-Sonoma announced an urban homesteady line of goods they call “Agrarian”. A number of Root Simple readers responded to the news after I linked to a Wall Street Journal article about the Agrarian line. One reader likened the “Agrarian” items to Marie Antoinette’s 18th century cosplay mini-farm. Another hoped that mainstream acceptance of things like chicken coops and beehives might lead to fewer uptight home owners association restrictions. Yet another speculated that Ikea would come out with similar, but more modernist, options. But rather than delve into the cultural meaning of the Agrarian line (you are all welcome to do that in the comments), I thought I’d look at a few of their actual offerings in beekeeping, chicken coops, canning supplies and books.

      Let’s start with the beekeeping supplies. The hives boxes they offer are very attractive but simply too expensive. If you want English style hive boxes like the ones Williams-Sonoma offers you can get them a lot cheaper at Brushy Mountain. The detailing on the Williams-Sonoma hives are better, but not enough to justify the price difference, in my opinion. Personally, I’d suggest saving even more money and going with the “migratory” boxes used by commercial beekeepers. Our local supplier, LA Honey sells them for a fraction of the cost of English style boxes. Three ten frame unassembled medium supers, a lid and bottom board run just a little over $100 at LA Honey compared with $500 for Williams-Sonoma’s three hive boxes. Hive boxes get smoked, weathered and banged up, so it’s not something I’d spend a lot of money on. Ditch the foundation and you’ll save even more money.

      But it’s the veil in the beehive starter kit Williams-Sonoma is selling that bothers me the most. Like most of the other offerings in the Agrarian collection that veil is more about the image of the activity, in this case beekeeping, than it is about actual activity, i.e. beekeeping. This is, of course, the essence of modern marketing as pioneered nearly a century ago by Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (watch the Century of the Self to go down that left hand path). Use that stylish Williams-Sonoma veil and I’ll guarantee you that you’ll have a few angry bees crawling up the inside of the veil. Inexperienced beekeepers, such as myself, are better off with more protection. It ain’t stylish, but this one piece suit from Dadant has saved my rear on more than one occasion.

      Dadant Bee suit. Prada it ain’t.

      As far as Williams-Sonoma’s beekeeping books go, I’m not a fan of the ones they are selling. I’d get a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping and The Practical Beekeeper Volume I, II  and III: Beekeeping Naturally, both of which tell you how to keep bees without using chemicals and with minimal intervention.

      An Upscale Chicken Coop
      Williams-Sonoma’s “Alexandria” coop is mighty fine looking, but, like the beekeeping equipment, expensive. Just the coop will set you back $879. Add the $399 run and you’ve got some expensive eggs. Peaceful Valley Farm Supply has a decent looking $400 coop if you don’t feel like building one yourself. Update: Make sure to read Terry’s comment on this post for her thoughts on the sizing and weather performance of this coop. I completely agree with her.

      Euro-style Canning Supplies
      The canning supplies in the Agrarian collection are really nice. While the USDA only recommends using two piece Ball/Kerr lids, the attractive Weck jars Willliams-Sonoma carries have a number of advantages. There’s no BPA and the only piece you have to throw out and replace is the rubber gasket.

      Of course if they were carrying our books I’d be writing a glowing review (just kidding, though looking at my taxes, maybe I’m not kidding!). There’s a few excellent books here, especially The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux. Many of the other books suffer from the “Century of the Self” problem mentioned above–they’re all about image, which equals too many pictures and not enough actual how-to advice.

      That a major upscale retailer is selling chicken coops and canning supplies goes to show how much things have changed in the past ten years. I take this as a good sign. Perhaps some of those Weck jars will trickle down to my local hardware store. Maybe Rem Koolhass will design a chicken coop for Ikea (though I pity the poor chickens who will have to live in it). And, someday those uptight HOAs will be so thick in goats they’ll resemble a small Afghan villages. Thank you great recession!