Now that I’m “mature”, as humans go, it’s interesting to think back on the development of those “quirks” which all old people exhibit. As a young’in, I’m sure I never said to myself, “You’d better be careful about this behavior, because it could become one of those strange, annoying quirks that old folks have.” Yup, as I catch myself engaging in one of those quirks, I’m amused to think back on just how it went from an occasional “active” thought to a full blown habit, and now a quirk. Just ask my wife, I’ve got 100s now, if not 1000s, all of which I probably couldn’t change, if I wanted to – which I don’t.
One of the more generic quirks I’ve developed is the desire to live more simply. This started a long time ago, maybe even before I recognized that it was not good to encourage stress in one’s life. And although I read Thoreau, I remember having mixed thoughts about the totality of his writings – since I found it difficult not to think of him as a kind of a kook – a kook with some good ideas – but basically, a kook. But yet, I can see that the idea to simplify one’s life has been a central theme in my life for a looong time – and I would guess there are a lot worse central themes to be driven by in life!
Early on, I tied the concept of living the simple life with the effort to gain some control over the very human desire toward materialism – and this led to a recognition that the desire to “make more and more money” did not meld well with the desire to live a simple life. And so, I set about to implement a plan to live comfortably, but without frills – and I have been relatively successful in this effort, an effort that has been both satisfying and fulfilling. But, the down side of such an effort is that it fills one’s later life with quirks, such as an overriding conscious effort not to waste anything – Oh man, this alone leads to the development of a universe of quirks.
What are some of these quirks related to never wasting anything? How about my collection of reused aluminum foil? Or plastic zip bags? I have taught myself to gather, grow, and prepare my own foods (when possible), and in that process, have learned that doing some things from scratch actually costs more than buying it from the grocery store – such as raising chickens (this example is arguable since if one has a huge field available for “grazing”, and one loves killing and dressing chickens, the scenario changes – I have neither the grazing land or the necessary love!). I also learned how to make cheese, and although this process is extremely interesting, it is essentially, a science, not an art – and it requires some rather expensive, high quality resources, such as goat’s milk, if you are going to make good cheese – this would be fine, if I owned a pet goat, but if you have to buy your milk, it’s far cheaper to trot down to your local cheese shop and save both time and money.
Yes, one engaged in simplifying one’s life learns early the difference between not wasting one’s resources, and a hobby – most hobbies are expensive, maybe well worth the expense to one’s psyche, but still basically contrary to the drive to waste not. I could never call a self-sufficient life style, a hobby, but it’s certainly living a simple life.
One of my chosen simple life activities is making my own bread. Fortunately, this can still be done at home less expensively than buying it at the grocery. And, with a few exceptions, with higher quality results as well. I buy my flours and yeast in bulk, and store the flour in big plastic tubs – I guess the climate in Oregon is favorable to such storage because I’ve never had a problem with bugs. I always keep just two 50 lb bags of unbleached white flour – one high gluten (bread flour) and one low gluten (pastry flour) – and with those two diverse kinds of white flour, I can mix them to make any kind of white flour necessary for any purpose.
I don’t toss milk that’s soured – it’s just too good as an ingredient for bread or muffins. And I make my own buttermilk (when the buttermilk container is ¼ filled, I pull it from the fridge and fill it with whatever milk I have around, and leave it out for 24-36 hours at room temp – result: cultured buttermilk). Does sour milk and buttermilk eventually go bad? Yes, they do – and taste is your discerning tool – sour is one flavor, but when milk gets a bitter flavor, I’d toss it. Yes, there is a difference between sour and bitter – and No, I can’t describe it here, you’ll just have to learn the difference. But I will tell you that by the time your milk turns bitter, it has also separated, taken on a grayish color, and may even have evidence of mold. If your milk has those qualities, it is likely bitter too – taste it and learn. No, you won’t die.
In my quest for the ideal winter squash, my current favorite is the Hubbard – I like this one because of its keeping qualities, easily 5-6 months, its smooth stringless flesh, and it’s rich and delicious flavor. As I recently cut into my last Hubbard in storage, I was reminded of one more wonderful thing about this exceptional squash – its seeds! Yeah, I know – most folks just pull out that stringy mass and throw it away – a bit mistake, folks. Take a look at those seeds – they are plump babies, much more so than other squashes or even pumpkins. This means that there is more “meat” inside that seed – and it’s delicious meat! This is what I believe to be the most flavorful squash seed out there – and here’s how I prepare them.
Toasted Squash Seeds
Simply pull the seeds away from the stringy mass inside each squash, but don’t get too concerned about cleaning them too well – that sticky exterior is not only tasty when roasted, but aids in making sure the salt sticks well to the seeds – so no washing, please. Now set the oven to 325 and put the seeds on a flat pan or cookie sheet, salt to taste (or get creative with a spice/herb mix), and slip into the oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until they taste right when you test them – you do taste test, right?
Put them in a bowl out on a counter where you can grab a few each time you walk by – trust me, these aren’t going to register in your calorie intake, but your body will surely notice them – they are a super digestive tool! I notice that they lose their crunch quickly (say after a week or so exposed), but you can always slip them back into the oven for a quick re-toast (15 mins at 325) if this happens. However, they’re best freshly baked, so eat up while they’re at their most delicious.