Monday, April 7, 2014

steampunk dehydrators & other fun things

the steampunk dehydrator

I had some fun over the weekend cobbling together a solar dehydrator for Gita.  She wanted to dry out some bitter gourds that she had purchased at the Asian food store, and didn't want to smell up the house (because they don't smell good) or burn lots of energy using the electric stove to dry them out.

So I rummaged around in the basement storage room for an old electric grill which I knew had been down there for years, and which I had looked at before and thought that it might have potential as a solar cooker.  It's an old West Bend electric frying/grilling thing that has a black metal base and a glass cover.  From the looks of it, it's between 10 and 15 years old.

Also in the basement junk closet was a bathroom medicine cabinet with a beveled mirror.  It was in perfectly good shape, but it didn't fit in our remodeled and reconfigured bathroom.  So I repurposed it as a solar reflector.

It was a simple - and kind of ugly- combination, but it worked fairly well to dry out the bitter gourds. 
In the spirit of John Michael Greer, I'll call it a steampunk dehydrator, rather than a bathroom mirror married to an electric skillet.

 As for the bitter gourds, Gita will powder them with a mortar and pestle and eat the powder mixed into other foods over the next few months.  It's apparently an effective Ayurvedic remedy for preventing cancer and other ailments.  I've tried them (in whole form, not powdered) in curry, and they're really, truly bitter, but it's a flavor that grows on you over time.  If you enjoy really bitter foods, you can find them at most Asian food stores, or at many farmers' markets these days.


So I started a new job today.  Much the same as my previous one- but in a different location and with a little bit different mix of projects.  I'm still a landscape architect for a consulting firm as my day job.  The upside is that now I'll be working mostly on designing schoolyards and their associated parking lots and retaining walls, rather than parking lots and retaining walls for oil refineries and chemical plants. 

It also comes with a pay raise, which is a bit of a surprise after being laid off, but a very nice one.

The last two months have been a bit chaotic, what with all of the running around that the unemployment deities make a person do to justify the weekly check, the jobsearch itself, and the additional duties that come from suddenly becoming a house husband and primary caregiver for two beautiful kids.

Additionally, I've been pursuing a longtime dream.  Something that has been slowly but surely growing over the last year, and which I haven't discussed in this blog, at least not yet.

Not that it isn't relevant to the eighth acre farm.  It is.  It's all about local organic food production, and making something out of that food.  It's also about resilience in the face of peak oil and climate change.  And it's about building community around something that very much brings people together-- liquor.

Yes, liquor.  In this case it will be produced by the fine establishment to be known as Urban Forage Winery and Cider House.

It's an idea that has been brewing for a while, and which still has a long way to go, but if you'd like to follow our progress, I'll be blogging about it at the Urban Forage Winery and Cider House blog.  I may be posting there a bit more often than here, since that's where my energy is focused at the moment.

We're hoping to kick off a Kickstarter campaign soon, so if you're feeling generous, feel free to participate!  I'll give details as the time gets closer.



  1. How cool! I love the ingenuity of the dryer. And so exciting about the winery! My husband has started making farmhouse wines this year, and used a lot of foraged fruit, it's amazing how much fruit there is in urban areas--what a good idea.

  2. Awesome! We pray for your success.

  3. That's excellent! I'm also involved in starting a cider cooperative. We have sourced a shed to keep the barrels in, have planted 50 or so apple trees, and one of us is a master green woodworker - so he will be making the press. It'll be a while before our own trees are ready to produce (I'll plant another 20 or so next winter) so we are scouring the local area and identifying trees which are not being harvested. We should have our first batch this October - I'll write about it on my Fox Wood blog. I will be following your project with interest!

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