Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Case for Juicing and Using Everything

This is going to seem like a left-field post. The reason? It is :).

For those who are not aware, I am fairly active on a site called Quora. Admittedly, I have a few software testing questions I have answered but most of my conversations tend to revolve around music, fitness, snow sports, and nutrition. Thus today, I had a chance to answer a question related to something I do on a regular basis, which is "juicing".

For context, here's the original question:

Do smoothies kill the nutrients of fruit and Veg because it’s blended?

My answer actually goes a bit outside of what was asked but in this time of economic uncertainty, shelter at home orders, fears of viral contagion, and a desire to get some nutritional and possible immune system boost (caveat: I make no such claims that what I will suggest will necessarily do that but I do use it as an overall "healthy" approach to eating) as well as a desire to minimize food waste.

Thus to expand on that, I thought I'd talk a bit more at length about the things I do, how you might be able to incorporate them into your daily routine, and why I think it's valuable and ultimately a better use of food items in the long run.

For starters, I have a masticating juicer. It works by pressing foods into a spinning set of prongs/teeth that shred up the food items into fine particles and through a fine mesh screen with centrifugal/centripetal forces applied separate out the liquid and finer particulate components into a juice. The remaining larger pieces of fruit/vegetable pulp are hurled back into a receptacle where it fills and needs to be emptied from time to time. Many people discard this pulp. My main part of this post is to encourage people to not do that. It is possible to use this pulp in a variety of ways.

Let's talk about the juices I most commonly make. I typically order, in normal times, large quantities of apples, pears, carrots, parsnips, radishes, spinach leaves, collard greens, kale leaves, cabbage leaves, and ginger. The availability of each varies by time of year but again, in normal times, I have been able to get most of these frequently in large enough batches to make one or two liters of each juice at any given time. I pour these juices into mason jar bottles and I grab one or two of these every day to snack on, typically unfiltered and some of that pulpy goodness awash in the juice (yum!).

What is often not addressed is what is left over after this process is done, which can be several pounds of the pulp of fruit and vegetables. Depending on what you are juicing, this pulp can be easy to use or it can be challenging to use. It depends a lot on the care you take to prep what you are going to juice. Carrot pulp is easily usable in other things. Shredded ginger is a little trickier but still usable. Apple and pair pulp are easily used to make jams, jellies and fruit butter provided you've taken care to remove the seeds and woodier parts that appear from time to time.

Here are some easy examples of how I get some extra mileage out of foods that the typical juicer might discard.

* when you juice apples or pears, take the cores out first so that you capture the seeds in the core. take those cores and put them in water and boil them down. What you get is a rich pectin you can mix into the cleaner pulp after juicing that is excellent for helping to set up jams, jellies and fruit butter. The fruit pulp itself can also be boiled down and strained through a food mill to get the consistency you want for its intended destination. I like to use these as fillings for pancakes and crepes as well.

* carrot pulp is easy to use and mix into making things like carrot cake, carrot muffins, and as an additional binder for expanding ground beef in meatloaf if that's your thing. It also blends greatly with shredded onions and the pulp from celery juice to make a mirepoix that literally disappears into the dish but contains all of the flavors.

* greens of many stripes make for a finely shredded leaf after juicing. These leaves are great for mixing in with eggs to make both omelets and a Korean style of vegetable pancake base. They can also be cooked in water and blended up with an immersion blender to make for a flavorful soup base.

* sweet potatoes make for an interesting juice component that I often mix with other vegetable juices to cut their "earthy" taste. The leftover fiber makes for a great filling for dumplings and you can make a variation of latkes with the pulp as well.

* one of my favorite items to juice, also to help with cutting the strong earthy flavor of green juices, is ginger. Ginger is a challenge to peel and often you lose a lot of the ginger in the peeling process. To that end, what I do is I boil the ginger first to soften it, then I run it through the juicer to capture the first and strongest batch of juice. I filter that first pass of juice through cheesecloth and the leftover particulates I skim off and boil with lemon juice to make a high acid paste that I can then bottle and keep shelf-stable for up to 18 months. It makes for a great addition to Asian-style stir fry dishes :). The leftover pulp I then put into four cups of water and boil down again until I get a fairly viscous liquid. I put that into another layer of cheesecloth or a jelly bag and let the liquid strain. That remainder liquid makes for a  magnificent base to make ginger beer/ginger tonic if so inclined. The last of the fiber I then discard, though I'm totally open to ideas as to how to use it :).

Both sets of my grandparents lived through the Great Depression and I heard a lot about that time from them as I was growing up. It colored their everyday lives all the way up until their deaths and all four of them had a similar philosophy when it came to doing anything with any resource. Treat it with care, use it to its maximum extent, and be creative wherever possible. A little poem I heard all the time from my maternal grandmother was:

"Use it up, wear it out. 
Make it work or do without"

These ideas, I hope, might be interesting to others and may, perhaps, help us to stretch our food dollars as far as possible and, most important to me, not waste what we buy. If you have a favorite way to use your leftover pulp from juicing, please feel free to leave a comment and tell me what you do with it.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

OK, I'm At Home, All the Time. Now What?

As I have had the past few weeks to be at home full time, there is a definite difference between "working from home" and "sheltering at home". Even when I was working from home, I had the freedom to go out and do other things. Grab food someplace, sit in a Starbucks and work, drive out to band practice for a few hours each week. With Shelter at home policies in place, most of these outlets are not available at present.

I am practicing social distancing to the best of my ability. I have a protocol I use where I use chlorine bleach and towels to help me as I touch surfaces. I carry two zip lock bags that have towels sprayed with chlorine bleach and a handful of N95 masks that I use at different times. I use these when I need to go to the store, which has been a handful of times.

Some people are going to say "no big deal, I'll just order online." Not a bad idea, if you can get the items you want on time and what you want in the quantity you want them. that's not been a foregone conclusion these past four weeks. Several orders that I have made are still in process and of the items I have received, many have been rationed to only a few items per order. This is totally understandable considering the situation but it's a new reality for a lot of us. We are not used to having to wait in line and then to have limited supplies on hand.

The items that are less available are amusing and frustrating. I have yet to see toilet paper in any store I have been to in the past month. I have had trouble finding long-grain white rice, plain flour and I have yet to find any yeast in any store. Fortunately, a friend of mine had a large quantity of yeast she willingly split in half to share with me. I was also able to return the favor by giving her apple butter and apple jelly that I had processed and canned back in December. It has been nice to have it as a bartering currency :).

So what are some positives? Well, there have been a few. I am definitely doing a lot more from-scratch cooking. that's been made a little frustrating by the fact that my oven gave up the ghost last week (it needs to be fixed but for the time being I have a large toaster oven and a range of dutch ovens that I can put on the range if needed so I'm not totally out of options ;). Up until I received the yeast I was making several batches of Irish soda bread. Very good and hearty, lasts a good while, and leftovers, if you make a lot of it, can be frozen for later.

I am taking advantage of a variety of techniques to make basic food items to have on hand such as paneer and labneh from milk, exploring a variety of colonial recipes including a terrific "bread soup" that is exactly as it sounds; water, stale bread, and a hunk of cheddar cheese are all that is needed to make a rich and filling soup that is literally pure comfort food :).

I'm fortunate in the fact that I have a pair of dogs that need to be walked a couple of times a day so I do take them out but I make sure I steer well clear of anyone and walk them down and up my hill. That's my daily "venture outside" exercise as well as a bit of time tending to my backyard each day. to be honest, I could probably spend a little more time on this. It needs it. Additionally on an exercise front, as I have reported in the past I have a mini-trampoline in my office and that mini-trampoline is the foundation of my standing desk. I jump up and down on it a fair amount of the day and that also keeps me moving, gets me tired, and makes me feel a bit more accomplished at the end of each day.

If I'm being frank, I've spent the past few weekends sleeping more than I normally would. I want to say that that is a reflection of not going anywhere or doing any events but truth be told, each week is just exhausting at this stage. By having my partner Christina home with me all day, as well as my two daughters (granted, they are both adults) that changes the home dynamic from when it is just me at home. there's been a need to separate my work life and my home life a little more during this experience and communicating with my team has also required more cycles mentally to keep in touch and keep things moving. That takes a toll on a person and yes, sleep is needed. I have not felt bad about the need for more sleep and I would suggest if you feel like you need it, take it.

One thing that I have taken some additional comfort in over the past several weeks has been to go back and organize my workspace and home. My office itself has been reorganized and refactored multiple times as I am spending much more time in here. Why would I require and reorganize a room I already spend every day in? At least for me, each day is a chance to see if there's a better way to do something as compared to the day before.

An oddity that I have been coming to grips with when it comes to my own attitudes is I really dislike visible cables. It's a strange thing to obsess over, I agree. If I am in the moment of working on something, I do not mind having a few cables visible or needing to wire/rewire various things. However, after a little bit, that desire to have things more carefully placed just comes to the fore and I get into the rewiring habit and break everything down to figure out the optimal clean layout, or as close to optimal as I can get.

As I have been going around the house and organizing/ cleaning, I have to say that I am noticing a lot more items that I find myself saying "if I'm ever going to use this, wouldn't now bring that to the fore?" I think I have gone through the house and deliberately made sure I am using something or can make a compelling case for everything I currently have. I of course have some blind spots in this regard, especially out in my garage, as I have projects I have been pledging to get involved in for years and they are still well hidden behind cabinet doors and in boxes of boxes. That may well be a task to take on in the coming weeks but for the most part, it's still a place I have yet to want to tackle.

 Each day and week brings something new and it also causes me to have to think and adapt to a reality that is unsettling and foreign. All I can do is approach each day as a unique opportunity, do the things I hope to accomplish, and give it my best. That "best" varies, to be honest, and I think it's important to realize that, for many of us, it is going to vary for some time. Some of our tried and true systems will work for us and several will be found lacking. We all have different ways to cope with how we are dealing with these times and in that sense, I'd suggest one additional item and that's to check in on your friends and family, perhaps a little more often than you might in normal times. We, of course, care about each other's health and welfare but this is more of a personal "hey, are you OK?" kind of check-in. Some people are good about saying how they feel and putting it out there. Others not so much. It may seem like a little thing, but a phone call, text, or email and saying "hey, I hope you are doing OK" can make a huge difference to someone.

So in conclusion, know that being home full time is weird for many and this climate is weird even for those of us who are home all the time. Everything has been upended and there's little outside of our own spheres that we can control at this point. All we can do is do our best with the situation we have at hand. I wish you all well and "stay safe out there".