FARM FRESH TUNA: THE PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

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Ripe “tunas” or “pears” from the Prickly Pear Cactus (courtesy of Desert Sun)

The fruit of the Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) are known as “Tuna’s” in Mexico where they are a delicacy, used in everything from jams to salsas to juices and even margaritas. Maureen Gilmer, who writes for the Coachella Valley based DESERT SUN newspaper (visit them at http://www.mydesert.com), has an excellent article discussing the various uses of the plants edible parts, including younger pads called “nopalitos” which are used in a traditional recipe with eggs.

We’re preparing to plant a handful of Prickly Pear Cactuses in hopes of a harvest next spring.

Read Maureen’s great article which provides online resources for recipes as well as information on nurseries that carry the cactuses in the Coachella Valley. You can find it at http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013305310010&nclick_check=1

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Ensalada Nopales (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

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IF THESE WALLS COULD…

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When I moved into the modest farmhouse that sits at the heart of Second Chance Homestead it had seen much better days. The bathrooms smelled like human piss, the sinks and toilets had leaks, and the corners and cabinets had mold. Not to be outdone, the dogs of the previous renter had marked their territory several times over throughout the house. As if this weren’t bad enough, windows were broken, screens were bent and torn, the heating didn’t work, and the bedrooms had something stretched across the floors that vaguely resembled carpet. But all this had nothing on the WALLS…

The walls were so dirty they just couldn’t speak – it was like someone had stuck a sock in their mouths. Or perhaps they were just too ashamed to say anything. A conversation with my dad revealed that they probably hadn’t been painted in at least 15 years or possibly twenty. You don’t say?

I’d wanted to do the painting myself but with current health challenges was looking at a wait of a few months at best, several months more likely. I continue to respond to cancer treatment, and my strength is improving every day, but my energy comes in short bursts, and I often wake up convinced that I can take on a laborious project – only to find, shovel or paintbrush in hand – that I’m all wiped out and in need of a nap after only 45 minutes.

Just as my health has improved, so have things at the Homestead. Windows and screens have been replaced. The bedrooms have new carpet with recycled padding underneath (I insisted). All last bits of pet pee have been scrubbed away. The heat is back on. 

But we had waited on the walls, thinking I’d have the energy to roll out of bed and roll some coats of new paint along the vertical planes of my home. We both thought my cancer treatment would be less taxing – but after learning it had spread to my digestive tract things became more clear. I wouldn’t be painting anytime soon. My date with the paintbrush was set well into the unknown future.

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So just weeks from before Father’s Day my dad, who should be giving me a list of possible presents he’d like on this special day, has turned tables and instead given ME a gift: he’s hired professionals to come in with their guns and spray nice thick coats of paint on the walls of all the common areas in my home. In fact they are at the Homestead right now. And they’ll be there again tomorrow to finish and clean up. 

Consequently Phoenix and I are away from SCH.  When we get back I’ll take some photos of the sparkling new walls and share them with you. And I promise to reveal any tales they tell. 

Special thanks to a generous and kind father who finally was as fed up with the dirty walls as I was.

 

 

 

LATER ‘GATOR: MAKE YOUR OWN ‘ADE (Save Plastic and Money)

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DROWNING IN SPORTS DRINKS

I’m taking a number of medications right now that require me to drink enormous amounts of liquid every day. Though I’m not usually one to consume drinks like Gatorade, ever since starting my cancer treatment I’ve been drinking liters of the stuff. When you are taking in that much water you need it to have a little punch (no pun intended).

THE PROBLEM WITH PLASTIC (including credit card plastic to pay for the drinks)

What has been troubling me tho’ is all the plastic. I know these bottles are recyclable but the gas I use getting them to the recycling center isn’t, and a lot of energy goes into getting all of the plastic from the recycling collection site to the Recycling Factory where it takes more energy to sort and convert it all into new and exciting products. Has anyone done a cost/benefits analysis of the recycling of a Gatorade bottle? I betcha the numbers work out that we’d be better off if the bottle just never existed.

And then there’s the price. That involves a whole other kind of plastic: my debit card.  I can usually find these”sports drinks” at around $1.00 each, but when I’m drinking three a day that’s almost $100 a month I’m spending on colored sugar water wrapped in a plastic receptacle. One hundred smackers on punch. But what’s a poor boy to do?

THE GREAT EPIPHANY

MAKE MY OWN ‘ADE. The idea came to me like a stroke of genius. I was at a local supermarket and had already placed a bunch of Powerade bottles into my cart when I found myself passing the Kool-Aid section. I experienced a quick dose of childhood nostalgia followed by the realization of how cheap it was: just fifteen cents for a packet of unsweetened generic Kool-Aid by Kroger.

  WHAT? You mean I could just MAKE my own ‘ADE at home with a little sweetener and water? For fifteen cents?!? And aren’t Gatorade and Powerade and Vitamin Water and all those other H20 drinks really just tricked out Kool Aid in disguise?   I grabbed a packet of every flavor I could find and threw those Powerade bottles back on the shelf.

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GLASS SAVES YOUR ASS

Once I was at home I started to brainstorm my little ‘ADE factory. I knew I didn’t want to reuse empty plastic bottles to store my finished product. The ethos at Second Chance Homestead is to phase out as much plastic as possible, so I decided to go with glass. Healthwise you can never be too sure when you re-use plastic. If you wash it with a particularly strong detergent, or leave it in the sun for even a short period of time it starts to break down and the chemical components of the plastic begin to leach into whatever liquid you place in it. And if you put a hot liquid into it you’re just accelerating the process. Remember that the next time you rinse out and refill that plastic water bottle of yours.

THE FACTORY

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I regularly buy Mexican cola and soda because the bottles they come in are made of glass in a sleek and sexy design. But I don’t just like the packaging.  You can’t beat the FLAVOR —  because these drinks are sweetened with REAL SUGAR – not High Fructose Corn Syrup. The Mexicans have got it sooooo right. So I always have a few bottles around. And they are usually empty. They would work perfectly for my ‘ADE.

I gathered a few more things I knew I would need: A measuring cup (for water and sweetener) and a funnel to help get the finished product into the bottles. Some waxed paper (more on that later), a sweetener, and…

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RUBBER BANDS! These are the rubber bands my newspaper comes in every morning and I’ve been holding on to them, not just because they are a beautiful green, but also because you can never go wrong with a rubber band, even if it is just to pull it back and send it flying across the room towards a cat. Paired with waxed paper, they would provide the necessary seal my bottles would need.

LITTLE BLACK RAINCLOUD

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For sweetener I chose honey, not only because I thought it would go nicely with the Strawberry flavor, but because I’m also a Pooh Bear at heart. This honey is raw and pure, harvested by local beekeepers whose bees have probably visited a flower or two on my property. It could make anyone impersonate a little black round rain cloud just to get a taste. Sure, it cost almost $17, but that’s 3 lbs of honey. And with all the money I’ll be saving on sports drinks…

THE MEASURE OF A SECOND CHANCE MAN

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A typical Kool-Aid unsweetened packet makes two quarts of finished product after you combine it with water and ONE cup of sugar. Honey can be pretty sweet, so I used just a half cup to make my two quarts. It was more than enough.

To get the honey to blend, I melted it down in the glass measuring cup — putting it into the microwave for exactly one minute. Then I stirred it slowly into the water. Finally, when the water and honey were perfectly blended, I stirred in the Kool-Aid packet and watched with delight as the whole thing turned bright red. I was a kid again. And suddenly very thirsty.

STOPPERS THAT WAX POETIC

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You can just pour the finished product into a pitcher and call it a day, but the whole thing with products like Gatorade is that most people drink them on the go. I’m no different, which means I need a STOPPER to keep the liquid from going stale and/or spilling all over the place. I thought about corks, but since I don’t drink I just haven’t got any lying around. I thought about these plastic cap things my mom used to have for glass bottles but plastic is on the way out at SCH. And where would I find them? I decided to experiment with one of my favorite things: WAXED PAPER.

Two small squares of waxed paper placed over the mouth and secured with a rubber band do the trick as well as anything else you could try. And they have that funky “made on the homestead” type look. I guarantee you they DO NOT LEAK (see photo below). Image

WHAT’S IN THIS STUFF, ANYWAY?

I decided to take a look at the ingredients in my final mix versus the ingredients in a typical SPORTS DRINK. After all, I’m not just interested in the health of the planet, I’m interested in the health of ME. Oh, and of course…you, my readers. Yes. You. I haven’t forgotten.

TIM’S ADE

Below is the list of ingredients in TIM’S ‘ADE. There are just seven, and I recognize each one. Artificial flavoring and food coloring aren’t the greatest but I can live with them, given what I’ve been drinking up til now.

INGREDIENTS:

WATER, HONEY, CITRIC ACID, ARTIFICIAL FRUIT FLAVORING (in this case Strawberry), MALTODEXTRIN, ASCORBIC ACID, RED 40

TYPICAL SPORTS DRINK

NOW – Here is the list of ingredients in a typical Sports Drink.  I recently drank this stuff (I won’t tell you the NAME of this product, but it’s manufactured by Coca-Cola and it’s makeup is very similar to all the alternative brands out there):

INGREDIENTS:

WATER, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CITRIC ACID, SALT, MONO-POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, GUM ACACIA, NATURAL FLAVORS, GLYCEROL ESTER OF ROSIN, VITAMIN B3, YELLOW 5, VITAMIN B12, VITAMIN B12, ASCORBIC ACID, CALCIUM DISODIUM EDTA

Sixteen ingredients, but the ugliest one is the High Fructose Corn Syrup. It’s nice that they have the B vitamins, but I can just take a B supplement alongside my own ‘ADE. And I can avoid the plastic, the cost, and the HFCS. And I get to have the fun of MAKING MY OWN ‘ADE IN MY OWN LITTLE FACTORY. For me it’s a no brainer. I’ll be making my ‘ADE from now on.

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MAKE JOSHUA TREE YOUR TARGET: Shopping Local

The Jelly Donut

When a community gets all up in arms because a General Dollar Store wants to move into town, you know you’re dealing with a different kind of crowd. That’s Joshua Tree. A granola mix of nature lovers, geriatric hippies, artists, musicians, freaks and carnies — they all manage to get along with a mainstreet without even ONE corporate retailer, chain supplier, or franchise restaurant.

But they all have to shop somewhere. This isn’t Burning Man. So what do they do? The LA TIMES answers that question in a great article detailing the menagerie of restaurants, art galleries, vintage clothing retailers and badass thrift-stores that have sprung up along one hip stretch of Highway 62 at Sunset Road. All locally owned, they are loved by their customers. And there is a distinct anti-“big box” vibe on the street.

READ ON to link to the article, link to a photographic slide show of the local area, or link to a map of the area (businesses in the TIMES article notated). Just don’t forget to pick me and my wallet up on your way into town.

READ THE ARTICLE at http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-lh-joshua-tree-ca-shopping-20130530,0,1154436.story

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VIEW a SLIDE SHOW that really captures the scene at http://www.latimes.com/features/home/la-lh-scout-joshua-tree-shopping-photos,0,4868625.photogallery

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CHECK OUT a MAP at http://guides.latimes.com/la-hm-joshua-tree-shopping/

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THE GIBSONS GIVE A GREAT GIFT ON GOATS THAT’S NO GAG

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Wanted to share this incredible gift I received from the Gibsons, friends whom I once worked with at a nonprofit organization years ago.

When they received word of my intentions to create Second Chance Homestead, they were quick to send me an amazing package with a gift that will come in so handy once my goats have arrived.

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Charlotte and Steve found the book together, but I know that Charlotte made the beautiful accompanying card. Talented, sincere, creative, sensitive, smart, funny and clearly inspired, she is one of my favorite people. And very good at her craft. Steve is a bit more serious and sometimes quiet…but his qualities add up to just as much “wonderful” as Charlotte. That is why they make such a great team.

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There is nothing more wonderful than the best wishes of friends, whether or not a gift is included.

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Thank you Charlotte and Steve. And when you come for a visit, I will make sure you have the best comforts available! And I hope it will include goat’s milk and maybe even cheese (but don’t hold me to that).

THE FURTHER DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

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We have two dumps in the area, which are run by the county and city respectively and both charge fees for dropping junk off at the landfill. In the Morongo Valley (the larger region of the hi-desert that Joshua Tree is a part of) many people avoid paying these fees by just driving a few miles down a dirt road and dumping their unwanted refuse in the middle of the desert.

Take a look at the photo above. Those are roofing tiles that were obviously refuse from some construction site. And whoever didn’t want them thought they would do just fine down a dirt road just a few miles from my place.

I could lament the further decline of western civilization, but instead I go out hunting for trash that needs a second chance with the hope of giving it one at Second Chance Homestead. I’ve been loading these tiles into my truck, taking them home and breaking them into much smaller pieces with a hammer (I can work out a lot of anger with a hammer and both my arms are getting a workout as I take turns pounding). I’m going to use the small pieces which have a lovely color and texture as ground-cover on my property. I’ll post a pic when the project is done.

Further signs of the decline of western civilization: look off in the distance in the photograph. That huge monstrosity of a building? It’s the new Super-Walmart that is opening July 17th.  I expect several local family owned retailers to be put out of business over the next year as Super-Walmart becomes the “vendor of choice” for people who value low-prices and convenience over EVERYTHING else.

Did you know that Walmart workers are attempting to organize and striking at Walmart stores across the country? There is a movement of Walmart workers building. They are asking for three simple things: Full-time hours, benefits, and a minimum salary of $25,000 per year for that full-time work. Walmart is notorious for keeping people’s hours at part-time levels so they don’t have to include benefits in their compensation. And working part-time, many of their workers live below the poverty line. Yes. Seriously. That’s how those prices get so, so low.

If you’d be interested in signing a petition in support of these workers please click on the link that follows and sign a petition to show your support. Representative workers are heading from across the country to Arkansas to deliver the petition to Walmart execs at the annual shareholders meeting this June 7th. Add your voice to their plea at http://action.changewalmart.org/page/s/stand-with-strikers?source=20130530_rfr_em_2Image

BLUEBERRY’D (blue buried?) TREASURE…

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So I was digging in the yard and found these two beautiful blue berry colored tiles. It is amazing what you can find in the desert dirt. It’s not a wasteland. It’s a treasure chest.

I take pleasure in small things and unexpected finds. These two work perfectly as coasters to protect the antique suitcase I use as a nightstand next to my bed.

Reminds me of the plot of my favorite Swedish children’s film from the 1970’s. No, it’s not one of the Pippi Longstocking yarns. It’s DUNDERKLUMPEN!, a mixed animation/live action (think Roger Rabbit) written by and starring Beppe Wolgers. He’s the guy who played Pippi Longstocking’s father, so there is a connection. I guess the world of children’s film in Sweden circa 1974 was small after all.

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Beppe’s son Jens has a treasure chest which gets stolen by a lonely old man named Dunderklumpen. He also steals some of Jens toys which come to life and call out to their pal to rescue them. So Jens and his father begin the chase. Dunderklumpen hightails it out of the woods and all over Southern Sweden, never having time to stop and open the treasure chest which he is convinced must be full of money.

[SPOILER ALERT : I REVEAL THE ENDING BELOW]

When at last the chest is opened, those looking on find only the treasures of a child: a feather, a dandelion, and a rock. Those are the kinds of things I’d like to keep in my treasure chest. And those are the kinds of treasures (and simple pleasures) I like to find. 

You can catch the trailer for the film at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzdSLN-Dmrk

SHAVING IS FANTASTIC WITHOUT ALL THAT PLASTIC

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Phoenix poses next to the new tools for shaving the mug at Second Chance Homestead (also suitable for armpit, head and leg shaving – and if you are a hobbit, for foot shaving)

One goal when I moved to the Homestead: CUT DOWN ON PLASTIC. And if you shave in the modern world, you know just how much plastic can be involved.

 I’ve got a brother who is blessed with a mug that sprouts a bit of scrub about once a week. For him to try and grow a beard is an unbearable chore. He’s got enough hair on his head and chest to not get too depressed about it, but he can get by on one shave a week if that. So he doesn’t contribute too much shaving plastic waste to the local landfill. But he does his part.

 I on the other hand, am built like my father, which means that the scrub you shave off this morning is looking like a pretty strong shadow this afternoon. In short, if I want to look like a respectable gent with a clean-shaven face I need to take a razor to my cheeks and chin at least once a day. I’ve even had to shave twice when going out later in the evening if I wanted that “clean” look.

 What did this mean? Plastic, plastic, plastic. Five amazing blades wrapped in disposable plastic. Four blades if that is your style. Blades that pivot, rivet, and even sit Shiva if you want them to.  All of them encased in plastic. And you buy them in packaging made of plastic. You buy them OFTEN, because they don’t stay sharp too long. And that is just the BLADES. Then there is the razor (the part that goes in your hand).  If you’re like me, you are constantly replacing razors because you bought the wrong blades which don’t fit the razor you bought last time. Gilette has it’s own system and it’s own systems within systems and it is all so complicated. So if you buy the Gilette Super Plus it won’t fit the Superior and so on and so on.  And then Schick has got a whole other scheme. And Target and Walmart have their knockoffs. After years of shaving you’ve got a drawer full of razors and an empty wallet. And you don’t even get a really good shave.

 The cream that goes along with shaving also comes in plastic just in case you were worried you weren’t using enough. Or non-recyclable cans of gel. Take your pick.  You still end up a guilty litter monster in the shaving department.

 For the truly decadent there are the  “Disposable” one-time “”disposable” razor/blade combinations that come in packs of 10 and 20. What a WASTE of plastic. But they are CHEAP, and if you live like I do they are a BIG temptation to a SMALL budget.

 But when I moved here to the homestead I decided to do the right thing. I made a decision to switch to old school shaving.Yep. Razor. Blade. Brush. Soap. Re-useable. Wow. What a concept.

Now, you can’t go to Walmart or Target or any drugstore and find anything that will help you make this switch. I know. I tried. The only source I could find was online. Perhaps in a bigger city at an old-school pharmacy you might be able to find a nice shaver, a bowl, a shave soap bar, and a brush – but good luck tryin’.

 Luckily I’m not the only guy who has shifted back in time when it comes to a good, clean (and green) shave. There is a MOVEMENT out there. It’s called VINTAGE SHAVING. Seriously. There are all these sites that sell antique refurbished razors that are amazing – and pricey. But you got to admire the effort they make to restore these things. Many sites have before and after pictures. You can’t believe the transformation. Some even have history on the shaver itself. There are rare ones, gold-plated, “once owned by…” – you name it – all with commensurate price tags. The guys at http://www.razoremporium.com/store/ have a great selection and take restoration and shaving seriously. But there are loads of options – just Google it and see.  And at SCH we really like the idea of giving these old razors a second chance at life.

 Remember – a USED razor gets a NEW blade put into it. So the part that mows your “face grass” is brand new, clean, hygienic. Don’t be scared off by the fact that the device that holds your blade is used. It’s been cleaned. If you don’t believe the guys who sold it to you, boil it in water or send it through a dishwasher cycle. There. You’re guaranteed a germ free shave. No need to be paranoid.

 I do aspire to own an amazing one of a kind refurbished several hundred dollar razor one of these days, but for now I had to stay within my low budget. You can do this LOW budget. But steer clear of “vintage” sites and hit up Amazon.com.

I bought a great shaver through Amazon made in Egypt by the Lord Company and it works just fine. Even better, the English language packaging had me bowled over with laughter:

 “LORD PREMIUM. The Art of Shaving. LORD brings you the smoothness feeling. LORD sterling Razor is made according to high standards to give you a premium shave you can ever get. It’s durable metal parts hold the blade at the perfect angle to the face. This critical angle along with LORD Blade makes your shaving smooth and close all days long.”

In SoCal we’re always talking about Spanglish. Now I know Egyptlish too. You can find the Lord Company at http://www.razorslord.com/

Lord sells blades too, a pack of thirty for under ten bucks. Contrast that with the four lousy blade heads you get from Gilette or Shick at around $14.00 per pack.

 To complete the package I needed a brush, a shave soap, and a ceramic bowl to be able to get the foam just right. Luckily Van Der Hagen Enterprises at http://vdhent.com/ could outfit me with a set that would work just fine (save the plastic handle of the brush – but hey – I’m going to keep this brush for a long, long time).

I don’t really like to just run the tap and then wet and clean my razor in between strokes. It wastes water and I I feel that the tap never gets hot enough. So I like to have a second bowl of boiling hot water to sink my razor into in between strokes. I went to my local thrift store and found that really cool green one you can see to Phoenix’s left. It set me back $1.00 and works just fine.

I used to always cut myself shaving. I have the used styptic pencils to prove it. But using this old method I have only cut myself once when I was trying to get the angle right. Once you understand how this old-school method is done, it’s like a dance with your blade and face every single morning. I love the ritual of it. Boil my water, fill my ceramic water reservoir. Ahhhh….look at the steam rise. Dip my brush in to get it wet, then swirl it around the ceramic soap bowl where it lathers up and cools just enough to not burn my face.  Then transfer the lather to my face with sensual brush strokes that feel great and really lift and lubricate each hair. It’s like masturbation of the jaw. And you’ve never gotten such a clean (green) shave. Trust me.