“Heat an entire room for 8 pence a day!” says the title of a video making the rounds on social media. After watching the video, I could already see some problems with this claim. But the heater looked useful, so I decided to try it out, and see what it COULD do.
A link to the original blog post with the video that I watched is at the end of this article.
The setup consists of a bread pan, two clay pots (one large, one small), and four tealights. The tealights are placed in the bread pan, and lit. The small clay pot is placed upsidedown over the tea lights, balanced on the edges of the bread pan. The larger pot is balanced in the same manner over the top of the first one.
The first problem I had, was with the design of the setup. It looked like a fire waiting to happen. Tea lights, in a bread pan, sitting on a magazine. Tea lights get hot when they burn down. Probably not hot enough to light a magazine on fire, but to me, a child raised in a home with wood heat and taught by her father to respect fire, too much of a risk.
So I purchased a clay pot tray, and turned it upsidedown for a fire-proof base. I had to improvise some of the other elements a little also, but the end result was equally efficient, with one major difference:
My setup held only three tealights, not four. It does not significantly change any of the aspects which I am reporting on – I did not try to heat a large space, and the number of candles does not affect any of the other numbers, since I used his original numbers as a baseline.
These are the problems I found with the system:
1. The room the Brit heats in the video is a VERY small room. It is also generally a fairly WARM room. So the amount of heat he required was fairly minor. A toaster oven used to heat his noon meal would have produced sufficient heat for an hour or two in a room that size. Just pointing that out, because “an entire room” in this case, wasn’t much at all. By comparison, we are talking about a bathroom, or a bedroom in a 1970s singlewide trailer (you know, those little bitty bedrooms).
2. He lists the price of tea lights at about 1 pence each. This converts to anywhere between 1 and 2 pennies USD, depending on the exchange rate. This price is found NOWHERE for tea lights. At least, nowhere I can access that actually ends up BEING that low a price by the time the costs are tallied. The lowest I found was 4 cents each. I paid 6 cents each for mine. While this is only pennies we are talking about, the cost doubles, or triples when the actual cost is calculated. That is very significant. His 8 pence a day now becomes 16 or 24 pence – or 32 to 48 cents.
3. He claims that the tealights burn for “about 4 hours”. This, again, is rather an exaggeration. Mine burned for 2 and a half hours. Perhaps tealights are larger in Britain, but I doubt it. Perhaps they are made of a different type of wax – but if it burns longer, it also burns cooler, so there is a trade-off. Since mine burned for just 2 1/2 hours, I have to base my calculations on that. Our costs just increased by 50% again, if we have to do three burns instead of two for the same heat. We are now up to 48 to 72 cents per day.
4. Some people with whom I discussed this suggested that “residual heat” in the clay pots would compensate some for the shorter burn times. The pots cooled fairly quickly, retaining radiant heat for only a short time, and being completely cooled within half an hour. This means that they’d only have useful residual heat for about 20 minutes. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call the burn and heat time, combined, about 3 hours. We still have to do three burns for anywhere close to 8 hours of heat (based on his original concept of 8 hours equaling a day).
5. Because he only counts a day as 8 hours of heat, you still have 16 hours unaccounted for. To truly heat for a day, you’d have to again triple your cost. This brings the cost of heating a tiny room up to somewhere between $1.44, and $2.16 for an actual full day. Now, I realize people are NOT going to try to use this to heat a home, but we have to calculate it in that manner in order to see how it compares with other heat forms. If you can heat an entire 3 bedroom house for about $200 a month, in SEVERE cold (yes, we did so in Wyoming – an 1800 sq foot home), then it works out to about $6.66 per day to heat the whole house. The room in the video was about 8X12 ft, so that works out to about $.36 per day to heat that space using gas or electric, for a full 24 hour time period. Here, in the south where we live now, it is half that amount. For any amount of real heating, the tealight heater is simply NOT economical. I point that out, because his main claim is that it is cheap heat. It is not. It is actually very expensive heat.
So is this little thing good for anything? Turns out, that when you take it for what it IS, and not for what it is NOT, it is actually good for something!
1. Spot heating. When you need a little extra heat in a single area, for a short period of time – this kind of heating is ALWAYS more costly than whole house heat, on a square foot basis. What makes it economical is being able to heat just a single small area rather than having to increase the heat throughout the house. I am using mine to rapid-cure silicone. In the summer, our silicone for our Fermenta Cap products cures in about 4-5 hours. In the winter, even with the heat on in the house, it can take 24 hours, sometimes more, to cure. This slows our production to the point of getting us seriously behind in order fulfillment. I can pour my silicone, light three tealights in the burner, and walk away – the heater is safe to leave unattended as long as there are no pets or children in the room (my heater is also safe ONLY because I have tested it and know it to be safe). The burner puts out just enough extra heat in that one small area, to cure my silicone within 4-6 hours. MUCH faster. That is worth 18 cents per day to me! If I need to leave the house, and the burner has only been lit a while, I can blow it out, and place the clay pots over the tops of the silicone molds, where the residual heat works on them, safely, while I’m gone. This has been a benefit to us, and a good method of heating this tiny area.
2. A cozy alternative to a fireplace. The warmth of an open flame just has more romantic appeal on a cold winter evening. A candle powered heater, and a warm mug of hot chocolate, and a good story to read with the family could make any evening special.
3. Emergency heat. It is likely that the heater would get hot enough on top to at least heat water, and in an emergency, a little heat is better than none. Because it is off-grid heat, all you need is to be sure you have SOME ventilation if you light more than one, and be sure you have matches on hand.
There are some safety issues if you decide to experiment with this type of heater. The issue with heat from the bottom is only one potential issue. Since this is an open flame, standard cautions regarding candles and fires apply.
1. When you have tealights concentrated together, they create more heat than a single candle. The wax in each tin will quickly reach the melting point all the way through, since you have a covering over the lights that make the candles heat up more. Liquid wax tends to wick out over the edges of the tin, so that whatever surface you have them on can become covered in a thin film of melted wax. Under the right (or wrong) conditions, this can be a fire hazard. Make sure that you have them in a fire proof dish or container, and that the bottom is insulated from heat build-up so it does not overheat the surface the assembly is sitting on.
2. The clay pots need to be placed over the candles, at a great enough height to avoid a flash fire on the surface of the candles. Since the wax becomes liquid fairly rapidly, a build-up of heat on the surface of the tealights can cause the entire surface to ignite – this only happens when there is sufficient heat to maintain the fire without needing a wick. If this happens, you’ll hear the sound of the flames (a quiet roaring), and black smoke will billow out of the hole in the pots, and around the edges. This may not exactly be a fire hazard, but it produces so much smoke that the smoke alone could be deadly. The fire is also very difficult to put out – you’ll need to find a way to smother all of the candles at once or they’ll re-ignite. To avoid a surface flash fire, make sure the inner pot is at least 2″ above the surface of the candles. Depending on how you have your larger pot set up, it may need to be more. Also make sure that you have not closed off the sides around the candles in a way that concentrates heat back into the center of the candle group – give it a place to radiate OUT, as well as UP. Test the setup thoroughly before leaving it unattended, and test it again if you make any modifications, no matter how small. It is probable that the original setup with the tealights in a bread pan is also at risk for flash fires, and that what looks like a simple setup may not be so simple. Variations in the size or shape of the pan can make what is safe for one person, very unsafe for another. Test carefully, and be prepared to put out a surface fire if needed – a second bread pan to turn upside-down over the top of the first one would work well to put out the candles, or you could use a cooking pot, by using the flat bottom to smother the candles if they are in a different arrangement.
3. To generate additional heat, some people close the hole in the smaller pot. If you do so, make sure that whatever you use to close or block the hole can withstand very high heat. The greatest heat build-up is right at the top of that smallest pot, and it can be far hotter than you think.
4. Make sure you have hot mitts close by, in case you need to blow out the heater. You have to remove the pots – you’ll need a safe place to set them also. Think about this BEFORE you have to do it, and things go more smoothly.
5. Keep it away from kids and pets. This thing gets HOT on the surface. It is designed to trap and radiate heat, and it does just that. It will get blisteringly hot on the surface of those pots. If you don’t like such risks in your home, don’t use this kind of heater.
My conclusion is that the video circulating is inaccurate, and even somewhat careless in how it presents the options for this type of heater. But I also feel that it CAN be useful, if you understand what you are dealing with, and the actual potentials for use.
I will be assembling some of these, and testing various setups, so I can include a few in my emergency supplies. I think they CAN be a help in a power outage, and in some other unique situations.
We are conditioned to think that sour milk is a harmful thing. If you are talking about pasteurized milk, it can be. Sour pasteurized milk can have some really nasty opportunistic pathogens in it.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is a different thing entirely. When it sours, it develops a wide range of microbial growth, including many helpful probiotics. It DOES contain some bacteria and fungi that would be considered to be harmful pathogens when in higher concentrations, but they are balanced and neutralized by the much more plentiful helpful microbes.
So why is pasteurized milk so risky when it is soured?
If you kill all the good bacteria and yeasts, then the milk is completely lifeless – for all of about half a millisecond, until it comes in contact with air again (or the inside of a milk jug, sterilized or not, or equipment, etc). It becomes a fertile environment that happily cultures any opportunistic bacteria or fungi that come along – the fast growing nasties are able to thrive, breed, and multiply without restraint. There are no natural inhibiting “enemy” or “competitor” strains to slow it down or to mitigate the effect. The ones that grow fast are likely to be fairly harmful, and they are likely to grow in very high concentrations. The fact that commercial pasteurized dairy products are stored for long periods of time in production, transit, and then on the grocery store shelves means that there is ample time for them to grow to very high levels. Levels NOT seen in fresh raw milk.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is chock full of a full complement of bacteria and fungi. If you leave it out at room temperature without ever putting it in the fridge, it will develop into buttermilk. Buttermilk is just old fashioned “sour milk” which old recipes call for (they are not asking for that nasty stuff that pasteurized milk turns into when it gets too old).
Refrigeration does affect it some. It will develop a different complement of microbes at higher temperatures than it does at low temperatures, but they are generally equally healthy.
So, when your raw milk turns a little off, what can you do with it? Turns out you have a lot of options!
NOTE: It is still healthy enough to drink. You can drink it as long as you do not mind the flavor. There is no need to worry that you have to “catch” it before it goes the least bit off to save your kids from being harmed, or to avoid ingesting something dangerous. It is just milk, with a little more probiotic benefit.
- Make Biscuits. Southern buttermilk biscuits are a natural for sour raw milk, and so are buttermilk pancakes. You can also use it in any other recipe calling for milk, depending on how far off the flavor is, including things such as custards, milk gravies, and even home made macaroni and cheese or alfredo sauce. All of these cooked options will kill both the beneficial and harmful bacteria and fungi.
- Make Smoothies. If you usually use yogurt or kefir in smoothies, sour raw milk is a good substitute. Bet nobody even notices! Microbes are kept intact.
- Make Cheese. Let it sour a bit more, out at room temp for a day or so. Dump it in a pot, and heat until curds form and separate – to the point where you cannot touch the side of the pot at the level of the milk without it stinging. Strain, and either use as fresh cheese or press to make a hard cheese. You can also substitute it in any cheese recipe for buttermilk. Cooked cheeses result in a pasteurized product. You can also simply strain it without cooking if it has curdled, and use it as a soft cheese. It will be VERY full of microbes.
- Pasteurize it and make yogurt or kefir from it. You CAN do either one without doing so – they are, after all, just variations on sour milk! This process kills anything that might be lurking in your milk, and replaces the microbial assortment with a cultured assortment (which isn’t that different in kefir than it is in ordinary sour raw milk, by the way!).
There does come a point where it is too far gone – but that is quite a bit further along than most people think! Milk that should NOT be used will be discolored (more than just a little yellowing), it will have mold on it, or a very unpleasant smell. You won’t generally mistake if it is too far gone.
Sour milk is actually one of the benefits of using raw milk. Our ancestors knew this, and had uses for fresh sweet milk, and uses for aged sour milk.
The more I use it, the braver I get. I started with just using it in baked goods and cheeses, but we now use it in many other ways. My favorite is probably smoothies – my probiotic smoothies have single-handedly healed a number of annoying health issues for me.
NOTE: Because of the rabid “sterilize everything” Nazis, and various government entities which subscribe to the theory that killing everything must be better than retaining any kind of natural balance, I am compelled to leave a disclaimer. This is my opinion. It is based on broad research and experience, but it is still my personal view, provided for informational or entertainment purposes (making buttermilk biscuits is great fun). Use it as you see fit AT YOUR OWN RISK. I am not recommending this to heal or treat any disease, and am not a medical professional, nor a health or nutritional professional.
Mormons don’t drink alcohol. At least, they all know they aren’t SUPPOSED to (doing so is considered to be fairly serious). The word “ferment” for a Mormon typically has only ONE meaning – that of making alcoholic drinks (intentionally, or unintentionally). And yet, I sell fermenting products, and fully believe that the products we sell were inspired of the Lord.
In the trendy world of the foodies, the word “ferment” is often preceded by the prefix “lacto-”. But when foodies get lazy, they drop the prefix and go with “fermenting”, and assume that everyone they are talking to knows what they are discussing. “Lacto-fermenting” refers to any process of fermentation which produces lactobacillus – a healthy form of bacteria. And there are several forms of fermenting which produce this kind of bacteria – alcoholic beverage production is only one form.
Most avid lacto-fermenters are not terribly concerned about the alcohol content. Oh, every once in a while someone will question it, with specific fermented items, but everyone else is quick to shut them up with reassurances that while no one has actually MEASURED it accurately, they are all CERTAIN that it is safe, and to go ahead and consume it as a health drink, give it to your kids, etc. This is in spite of a vast body of anecdotal evidence that clearly shows that SOME lacto-fermented foods ARE in fact alcoholic – with enough alcohol content to intoxicate (as in, raise the blood alcohol level as measured by blood tests). As a rule, pretty much ANY food with sugar (including tomatoes) will go ALCOHOLIC when fermented. This includes water kefir, soda pops, sweet teas, and many others. If it has sugar, has been fermented, and tastes bubbly, the alcohol content is questionable at best.
I don’t make those foods. Ok, so I once made a batch of salsa, which after fermentation was so boozy I had to heat it in the skillet to evaporate the alcohol before using it! We gave up on water kefir, because it smelled boozy.
I refuse to take chances. I KNOW what alcohol smells like, and if that smell is there, it is not something I am willing to take a chance with, for myself or my family. I just won’t go there. Because I am a Mormon… and I not only LIVE it, I BELIEVE it. I have seen enough evidence in my personal life for the efficacy and wisdom of the Word Of Wisdom (the guideline for what we eat and drink that forbids “strong drink”, meaning alcoholic beverages), that I do not need to be further persuaded. I simply will not argue the guideline into a lesser observance. I know too much to even try. I will walk on the safe side. I have no desire to do otherwise.
So why do I sell products for “fermenting”? Because of all the OTHER stuff that you can do with them!
They are good for pickles, salsa without tomatoes, condiments, sourdough, kraut, and other good wholesome foods. These foods do not have significant sugar, and do not develop the alcohol that sugary foods develop. They do develop a lot of tasty probiotic microbes though. Good living food that helps the body compensate for the chemical exposure of modern life. And these products are created through a process of fermentation, without the resulting alcohol that many people associate with the word.
Do some people use my products to make things that I would disapprove of? Undoubtedly! But my God is a God of Agency – granting the choice for good or evil to each person. I sell products and provide information for making healthy foods. If people use my products for unhealthy things, that is their choice, and I am not responsible for that. No more than if I sold televisions or computers and they chose to use them to view harmful media.
The process of developing this business persuades me that it was indeed inspired. I am not creative enough on my own to have conceived of our airlock jar caps, nor the even more complex process of creating the prototype, developing a mold for it, and then a process for making more molds. I haven’t that kind of brilliance in me, and some of the aspects to it all are truly brilliant.
But it does put me in an awkward position sometimes… I no longer introduce my business by the name (FermentaCap) to other Mormons. Instead, I just say that I make a lid for making Old Fashioned Brined Pickles. Most nod, with that look on their face which clearly says, “I have NO idea what you are talking about!”. A few hear “pickles” and wonder what in the world would make you need a special lid for THAT. Still fewer nod enthusiastically and ask for my website URL – but they are the ones who understand that “fermenting” does not just mean alcohol.
Nothing tastes as fresh and flavorful as old fashioned brined foods. Kraut that has not been canned has a complex flavor and crunchy texture – it is not limp and sulfurous (my husband, a confirmed kraut hater, will even eat it mixed in tuna salad). Dill pickles are firm, dilly, and garlicky, with a pleasant bite of vinegary flavor (even though they have no vinegar in them). Salsa is pickly and spicy. Good food, that is still alive and bursting with nutrition.
And THAT is why I, a diehard Mormon, manufacture and sell fermenting products.
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“You’ll need a four wheel drive to get up there.” she said. “The road in is pretty rough.” We had no 4X. “We’ve got what we’ve got.” I said, gesturing to our well-used sedan.
On the way in, I kept looking for the road to get bad. The pavement got a little rougher, but no worse than the road we drove home each day (better in most respects than the Indian Nation Turnpike – a hazard which they CHARGE you to drive upon!). In fact, it was better than many of the roads I’d seen in Oklahoma. When it eventually gave way to gravel, it was well-graded gravel, no potholes (which was more than could be said of the pavement). Overall, a very driveable road, just a few holes to dance around. It helps to be a logger’s daughter, gives you perspective on such things. But then, I’d also lived in Wyoming for 15 years.
Interestingly, I’ve seen more bad paved roads in Oklahoma than I’d ever seen in Wyoming. For some reason, people don’t complain about them in Oklahoma – as long as there is pavement, it is considered a drivable road, no matter how many open potholes, melted dips, overlayered rough patches, or heat buckles in the surface. Gravel, though, is considered “rough”.
“Rough roads” in Wyoming mean REALLY rough roads, and they DO take a 4X with extra clearance underneath to drive. Overall, Wyoming takes much better care of their roads than does Oklahoma. There are more miles of road per capita in Wyoming than in Oklahoma, and a larger percentage of gravel roads – but roads are more valued in Wyoming as well, and they are better kept. There, they are a lifeline. So when someone mentions a rough road, it is pretty much all angles, gullied ruts, boulders, and mud. A paved road with potholes doesn’t even count – you can drive around those!
The other thing we kept hearing about the planned trip was, “That’s a long drive – Pretty though.” It wasn’t a long drive. Just under 2 hours. Less than the distance we used to go to do our shopping. Less than the distance Kevin commuted for two years. Their idea of pretty was different than mine too – I like taller trees, grassy meadows, streams, and whitecapped peaks. This was all fluffy short trees covering rolling hills. Green, yes. Not so sure about pretty.
Many other things mean something different in Oklahoma than what they mean in Wyoming. “Small town” for example. It means 300 people in Wyoming. It means 10,000 people in Oklahoma. There’s a VAST difference between a town of 300, and a town of 10,000.
“There’s NOTHING there!” she insisted, about the last town on the way. “I mean NOTHING… No grocery stores, no fast food, no services, NOTHING!”. It was an awful lot of nothing. A small grocery store, a number of motels, gas stations, convenience stores, local restaurants. In all, a thriving community several times the size of some we’d been in.
“Warm day” also means something different. Anything above 50 in Wyoming is a warm day. In Oklahoma, it has to get up to 80 to earn that distinction. In Wyoming, your biggest bills come from heating in the winter. In Oklahoma, they come from cooling in the summer.
“Stiff wind” is something that does not translate. In Oklahoma, you get gusty winds now and again, and when a storm goes through, you’ll get an hour or two of winds that try to bat your car around on the road (the shiftless, unpredictable winds that accompany a storm with tornado warnings). But people constantly say that it is a windy place to live – and I think they must be people who have not lived anywhere with real wind. The Wyoming breeze blew through on a daily basis, fairly consistent (and the Wyoming definition of “breeze” is a good stiff wind anywhere else). Very little gustiness, mostly a steady solid stream of air from west to east, with enough force to ruin all but the most stiffly sprayed hairstyle. When it got REALLY windy, it could (and did) knock down small children, pull roofs apart, shove cars off the road completely, and even tip over semis, and it didn’t do that for a few hours, it would do it for days at a time. Oklahoma wind is a capricious teenage prankster who occasionally goes too far. Wyoming wind is a practiced, constantly relentless bully, intent on making sure you know who is boss.
There have been many other issues where the words being used meant something different to the speaker than they did to me. So much so that I wondered why they were even commenting upon the issue, it seemed so much like a NON-issue. Just a matter of being used to extremes, I guess.
Many small and large cultural differences as well, and some attitudes that are noticeably different.
Once you’ve lived in Wyoming though, the lack of a nearby McDonald’s or Wal-Mart really isn’t the harbinger of isolation that many people think it is. In fact, it becomes more of a welcome condition. Something that feels a little more like… home.
It was the color of daffodils. Cream the color of most butter, skimmed off the top 2 inches of the jar, put into a smaller jar, and shaken by hand for about 20 minutes while we chatted and watched a video, produced butter of a strong yellow color, the exact shade of spring daffodils and buttercups (there’s a reason they called them “buttercups”). The color you never see in grocery stores, except from egg yolks.
Butter is easy to make, and there are several ways, from low tech, to mechanized. Shaking it in a jar is one of the traditional methods. As a child, we made it in a Kitchenaid Mixer. You can also use a hand mixer, or food processor.
Cream from milk from any animal works to make butter. It is made around the world from cow, goat, sheep, even horse, camel, and llama milk. There are probably a few other oddball animals in there somewhere too.
When milk is let set, the cream rises to the top. At least it does with some kinds of milk, like cow’s milk. Other types, like goat and sheep milk, are naturally homogenized, and the cream stays more suspended in the milk, with just a thin layer separating (a cream separator can pull out a large amount though, and goat and sheep milk often have very high butterfat in spite of appearances).
The cream can range in color from pure white, to a soft yellow. The color depends a lot on the breed of animal, and the diet of the animal. The resulting butter can also range in color, from pure white, all the way through a very intense yellow.
Cream is skimmed off the top, usually using a spoon or a flatish ladle (we have a deep gravy ladle that works nicely). You can’t really get it all without a cream separator, but that’s ok. Leaving a little cream in your milk is a good thing.
The cream is then put into whatever contraption you use to make butter – a jar, a butter churn, or the bowl of your particular appliance. According to some sources, the naturally homogenized milk types work best if the cream is shaken, not beaten to make butter.
The goal is to stir or shake it until the butterfat clumps together. This means you spend 95% of the time just stirring, shaking, or beating the cream.
Make sure you allow it a generous sized bowl, or a jar that is only half full, because it will generally expand in volume during the process. It will then reduce in volume and suddenly clump together into visible lumps of butter. Beat it a bit more, and it will clump mostly into a single mass. Be aware that if you are doing this with an open bowl and a mixer of some kind, it will probably start to splash wildly when it turns.
Pour off the milk (it is just skimmed milk, nothing special about it unless you cultured it first). You can stir the milk back into the rest of your regular milk if you want.
Now, what you have is butter, with lots of little bubbles filled with milk. If you want the butter to keep well (or to keep out of the fridge), you need to get that milk out of it.
The butter may be VERY soft by now – especially in warm weather. You may need to pop it in the fridge for a bit before proceeding. When it is cold enough to work without sticking too much to the spoon or paddle, go forward.
Use a butter paddle, or the back of a spoon, press down on the butter to squeeze out milk drops. Periodically rinse it under cold water – you can keep it under the cold water stream if it is cold enough to chill the butter, but if you live where your cold water warms up in the summer time, you will need to just rinse periodically.
Keep pressing the butter and working it to get the milk out, until it doesn’t come out white anymore. Then remove it from the water, and press the water drops out.
Add salt if you want salted butter, and work the salt through it. Since you are never going to be exactly certain how much butter you have, you really have to salt to taste every time.
Once the salt is blended in, you can put it into a butter pot, or mold it, chill it, and then remove it from the mold.
So what about that Buttermilk stuff? Why does buttermilk taste like sour cottage cheese if it is just milk that has had the fat removed?
Well, cream is actually easier to skim off the top of cultured milk. By “cultured” we mean fresh raw milk (not more than 24 to 48 hours old if it has been refrigerated, after that the microbe balance can be off), which has been left at room temperature to “sour”. You know those old recipes that call for Sour Milk? They aren’t talking about that nasty stuff that you get when your pasteurized milk stays out too long, or is too long in the fridge. No, they aren’t talking about that AT ALL.
Pasteurized milk goes nasty because all the healthy and friendly bacteria have been killed in the heat processes. So it is just wide open for contamination by opportunistic nasties.
Fresh raw milk though, has a complement of healthy bacteria, and when left out of the fridge for 1-3 days, will sour in a pleasant way – more like cottage cheese in smell and flavor. It will sour and thicken within about 24 hours, and that is when you want to skim the cream for butter. After a couple of days, it will start to separate, with curds on top, and whey on the bottom. At that point, it is really good for making no-rennet cheese.
When you culture the milk first, you end up with classic buttermilk, and cultured butter. In other words, expensive butter.
Now, you CAN make butter from cream that you buy at the store. Put it into a container so that the container is only halfway full, cap it tightly, and shake it if you don’t have any equipment to process it in another way. You’ll end up with fairly white butter. It will still taste like butter.
Making butter is one of those old skills that is so simple, that pretty much anyone can try it. It is fun, and gives you the feeling of experiencing a little history if you are not the kind of person that is into adopting it as part of a lifestyle. Personally, I really like knowing what is in my food and where it came from, so making butter is just part of the whole package.
And making butter leads naturally to making a loaf of homemade bread. Because there is nothing better than fresh, warm bread, and homemade butter!
I love being able to have any kind of fresh flour that I want – white wheat for all purpose flour, durum for pasta, soft white for pastries, rye for breads and crackers. Ok, so I’m a wheat flour sort of person. A home mill can also make rice flour, bean flour, or flour from other grains or legumes. In general, it cannot mill oily seeds, such as sunflower seed, or nuts, such as almond.
I have used many kinds of flour mills. The worst, was a Wonder Mill (very poor design, multiple problems), the best and most reliable has been a K-tec (Blend-tec), which, although it has some awkward features, has produced the most consistently fine flour, and the best and most troublefree operation. I used one heavily for more than 10 years and only had to replace a filter. It died after being dropped, for the second time.
Something about mills – there is no such thing as an “easy clean” flour mill. They are all pretty much a hassle to clean. We used a brush to brush out the flour from the milling area, and washed the bin and intake cup. You can’t get absolutely all the flour off the mill – it will never be as pristine as new, after you get it home. Just use it regularly and you won’t have a problem. If you leave it sitting where bugs can get at it, it may attract weevils if you don’t use it for a period of a few months.
Milling large batches at one time can help with the cleaning hassle. Mill enough to make it worth the time it takes to clean it. Extra flour can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months, or in the freezer for far longer. Otherwise, it should be used within 2 weeks if left at room temperature.
Fresh flour is something special. Oh, you probably won’t notice a huge difference in flavor. That isn’t where the real magic lies. Nutritionally, it is amazing stuff. The wheat germ and oils are intact, and the nutrients have not degraded. It supplies a far more complex and usable variety of nutrients. It is also devoid of the preservatives and anti-caking agents so common to commercial flours.
Commercial flours are not truly “whole” anything. The wheat germ is separated off, and not included in the flour – the oil in the germ shortens the shelf-life, and commercial flour producers don’t like that. So you aren’t getting true whole wheat in the first place.
Flours from the grocery store shelf are also old. You didn’t think they removed that germ for YOUR benefit, did you? By the time you get it, it is already many months old, and the older it is, the more the nutrients have degraded. It is a poor shadow of what it should be.
A good mill will produce fine whole wheat flour that is a pleasure to use. None of that chunky bran stuff that gets in the way of making light cakes and biscuits, or making a smooth gravy.
I love having the right flour for the job. I tend to use more common grains, and have not branched out into triticale, spelt, einkorn, or kamut, though they mill nicely in a home mill.
Hard Red Wheat – the standard “brown bread” flour. It has a very whole wheaty flavor, and dark color. Fine milling helps to lessen it a bit, but it is a stronger flavored wheat.
Hard White Wheat – a good all purpose whole wheat. Produces a lighter colored and flavored flour. In many foods, families do not notice the substitution. It makes gravies and sauces without significantly changing the flavor, and produces bread that acts like half white half whole wheat. It is higher in gluten than Hard Red wheat, so it rises better. This is my favorite wheat, and the one I use for almost everything. If your family is having a hard time making the adjustment, try this wheat.
Soft White Wheat – makes pastry flour, with lower gluten. Does not work well for bread, but is perfect for pie crusts, tortillas, biscuits, and other foods that get rubbery if worked too much. Using a low gluten flour keeps them flaky and less sensitive to being worked too long.
Durum Wheat – the classic pasta wheat. Has a somewhat rubbery texture when cooked. The nice thing is, when you make pasta that is half whole durum, and half hard white wheat, you come out with a nice golden pasta that is only slightly darker than most commercial pastas. All durum produces a fairly golden pasta that holds together well without getting gluey. This flour can be substituted for anything calling for “semolina”. Interestingly, using whole fresh milled semolina flour gives you a yellowy pasta, NOT a brown pasta. Commercial whole wheat pastas most likely have bran added to the flour – for some reason they seem to think people will not believe it is what it is unless they alter it with chunks of nasty tasting bran. Your homemade whole wheat pasta tastes much better.
Rye – rye grain can often be purchased where wheat is sold. Fresh whole rye grain is also very nutritious, and makes a terrific bread or cracker.
If you have special dietary requirements, a home wheat mill is a wonderful asset to help you reduce the cost of specialty flours. A bag of brown rice is far less expensive than the same quantity of rice flour – and you can be certain it is both fresh, and cleanly produced.
When you mill grain, it produces quite a lot of heat, and the flour will be warm when it exits the mill. Fresh milled flour is also higher in moisture than flour that has aged a few hours. This may make it more difficult to work with, especially in bread. Freshly milled flour will rise faster, and requires less water in the recipe, by 1-2 Tablespoons per loaf. It can also sour in about half the time, so watch it carefully.
It takes about 10-15 minutes to mill a good sized batch of flour in the average mill (about 12-16 cups), including cleaning the mill and packaging the flour.
There have been times when I did not have a wheat mill, and was unable to get fresh flour. My body notices the difference, and my health improves when I am able to use fresh wheat flour instead of just partial whole wheat that is months old.
Fresh milled wheat is one of the things that helped me heal from Crohn’s. I also just really love a good fine milled light wheat flour, so I’m hooked on milling my own.
If you love good food, and have the time to mill your own periodically, a good wheat mill will prove an asset to your kitchen, and the flour it produces will provide a healthful addition to your meals.
“Go to the store, and buy some vegetables.” If given this instruction, chances are, 90% of America would return with one of two things:
1. A can of corn, a can of green beans, and a can of peas, or perhaps the frozen versions of them.
2. A head of iceberg lettuce (or Romaine if they are particularly adventurous), a bag of carrots, and a bag of celery. Perhaps a head of broccoli.
If asked to get fruit, they would return with canned peaches and pears, or with a bag of apples, oranges, or a bunch of bananas.
Meats consist of beef, chicken, and pork, and seafood is a limited range of fish and shrimp.
These are the foods that commercial agriculture has determined that we need to have in abundance on our grocery store shelves, so we are conditioned to think of them as being the only things available. Sure, you think of onions, parsley, cabbage, or other similar foods that are also available, but this is still an EXTREMELY limited range!
The other day I saw a post on “What to do with the strange vegetables that come in your CSA box”. Those “strange vegetables” aren’t really strange at all! They are traditional herbs and vegetables that have been served up on the tables in regions around the world since time immemorial.
While there is some difference in regional availability of some items, our stores do not carry the wide wealth of cultural heritage that our ancestors knew. Since the industrialization of food, so many foods have disappeared from the collective memory.
Does anyone else remember eating ground cherries? I still remember the flavor. So completely unique there has been nothing else that even compares. I remember huckleberry jam. Eating smelt, fried in cornmeal. Parsnips in the soup. And the flavor of Jerusalem Artichokes – another unforgettably distinctive flavor that I can recall to mind even though I’ve not had them for more than 30 years.
Now, in a completely different cultural region from where I grew up, I am finding that the grocery store is pretty much the same here as anywhere else. But the garden potential is not!
Strangely, the gardens here tend to grow the same things as gardens elsewhere, even though there are many plants that grow here, exceptionally well, and produce better. Again, industrial agriculture has sanitized the individuality from the seed catalogs – that is, until recently. Within the last 10 years, the availability of regional foods is once again being promoted in seed catalogs, and there is an absolute wealth of foods which your grocer never heard of!
One of the great strengths of eating local is that some local farms are now returning to providing a wider variety of regionally appropriate foods. This means farmer’s markets, CSAs, co-ops, and on-farm purchasing provide access to some pretty amazing stuff.
We’ve also been conditioned to think of many things as “weeds”, when in times past, they were valuable forage crops for people. Some of them come up and produce long before your garden is ready to hand you a salad. Chickweed is a great example. It makes a very nice salad, grows prolifically, produces very early in the spring (often coming up before the snow is completely gone), and insists on growing whether you want it to or not. It is healthy and delicious. Instead of trying to exterminate it (this is the commercial ag solution – which feeds the coffers of the chemical companies, and makes you buy vegetables instead of eating the chickweed), we should be eating it! There are no problem weeds if we are eating them! And a surprising number of the most pernicious weeds are edible!
Locally, you may also be able to find duck, rabbit, pigeon, crawdad, freshwater shrimp, and other meats that you would not find in the grocery store. You may find grass-fed liver, marrow bones, and other good foods.
Look beyond the blinders of the grocery store food supply. Consider food in a new way. Look for sources for the old and traditional foods. Many of them provide the health benefits to compensate for the modern life, and hold the keys to preventing avoidable diseases. You don’t have to use them medicinally – you just have to eat a wider variety of foods!
Conditioning is a powerful thing, but breaking out of it is a wonderfully liberating feeling. We are told over and over that industrial agriculture is the key to “cheap food”, but in fact, opening our eyes and seeing what is already here, free, and discovering the things that grow best in our area with the least effort is the real key to affordable food. Small local farms, and backyard gardens can achieve this far better than large and impersonal “rule by popularity” industrial farms.
Take a look around, and see what you can find that you didn’t see before. Give it a try. There’s some amazing stuff out there, right in plain sight!
Honeybees are under attack, suffering from something which scientists have labeled as “Colony Collapse Disorder”, where entire colonies of bees die off en-masse. Commercial apiaries may have many hives collapse one after another. The seriousness of this trend cannot be underestimated. The honeybee is under threat of extinction, and the situation worsens daily. Some farmers in China are already having to hand-pollinate crops. If even ONE farmer in the world has to hand-pollinate seasonal crops which are out of doors, there is something very wrong.
While there are other pollinators for most crops, honeybees are vital to sustaining the perpetuation of many food crops.
It appears that the bees are thin our region as well. Plants that should be dropping blossoms as they are pollinated are still filled with blossoms that have been open for more than a week. We are concerned as to whether we will have some kinds of crops this year.
It is logical to assume that both Pesticides, and GMO foods are at the heart of this situation. Pesticide use has consistently increased in the last 5 decades, and especially in the last two, as insecticide resistant insects have developed. Pesticides are not only used on commercial crops, but on lawns, landscaping, and some are sprayed both from the street and from the air, over many cities, to control mosquitoes. While a pesticide may be more or less effective on various insect types, they are harmful to all, and long term damage builds with each exposure.
GMO crops with BT genes are toxic to many insects. It is logical to assume that their pollen would also carry this toxicity, as would nectar from those plants. In addition to direct harm, insect resistant GMO crops create another round of insecticide resistant insects, which increases the problems with ever heavier applications of pesticides.
It is probable that herbicides play a role in the demise of bees, as well, because while herbicides are not specifically targeted to bees, they are poisons which target many plants upon which bees depend – many of which are considered to be weeds by the commercial food production industries.
More than that though… Commercial beekeepers are greedy. Whereas most home beekeepers are careful to ensure that the bees have sufficient honey to last through the winter, commercial beekeepers supplement more – they rob more honey, and feed more sugar syrup to offset the extra honey they’ve taken. Sugar syrups cost less than the honey they lose if the bees feed themselves – and when feed for the bees is supplemented, they will both feed from it, AND make honey from it. So most commercial honey is NOT just the concentrated nectar of flowers and plants. It is substantially inflated with concentrated sugar syrup – to be exact, CORN syrup. Corn syrup is the most commonly used supplemental feed for bees. And the most heavily BT GMO contaminated crop, is CORN. Feeding bees corn syrup that is contaminated with BT genes is tantamount to feeding them slow poison, and it contaminates their current food source, and is then concentrated as honey, and provides a concentrated contaminated food for later use.
It is important to point out, that corn syrup in and of itself is NOT necessarily a threat to bees. It is fairly certain that it is only the BT Genetic Corn, and syrup made from THAT which would pose the greatest risks.
Pesticide and herbicide residues in nectar, GMO contamination of nectar and corn syrup, result in heavy contamination of the natural and supplemental food of bees. When bees make honey, those contaminants are concentrated into their winter food. So when bees are feeding on honey, they are feeding on concentrated poisons.
I believe the salvation of the honeybee is not in the commercial beekeeping arena. I believe it is in the arena of the backyard beekeeper.
Backyard beekeepers are more solicitous of the wellbeing of their bees, and do not typically over-rob. They feed on average far less supplemental syrup than commercial beekeepers do, and home beekeepers are fairly UNLIKELY to use corn syrup. This eliminates one major risk right off the bat.
Commercial bees are also the most vulnerable to being wiped out by pesticides or GMO crop exposure due to mass exposure, because commercial bees are typically placed near crops in need of pollination – usually near a substantial acreage. A commercial honey producer wants to drop many hives at a single drop point – he does not want to have to put one here, and one there, to get sufficient crop exposure to feed the bees. Therefore, commercially owned bees tend to feed on large scale commercial ag crops. There is a high likelihood that an entire hive of worker bees, and an entire season’s production of honey, would be seriously poisoned.
The backyard beekeeper though, has bees that get a wider range of exposure, and the chance that the entire working element of the hive will be exposed to a large expanse of GMO crops, or heavily pesticided vegetation is lower. Each bee is more likely to run a gamut of exposures – with at least some of their forage being fairly clean. The hive as a whole will do the same – while SOME of the bees may die from exposure, the entire hive will not. While SOME of the honey may be contaminated, all of it will not.
Bees kept in backyards, where they are not exposed to disease from large masses of bees are also less vulnerable to other threats that can wipe out a hive. Careless beehive inspectors from government control agencies pose one of the largest threats to the health of backyard hives – because they inspect both commercial and backyard hive systems, and have, in numerous instances, spread disease from one to the other.
The future of the honeybee is currently threatened by careless agricultural practices. Keeping bees in your backyard is one way to be part of the solution to keeping our valuable agricultural partners working and thriving in the future.
We can’t control what big ag does. We can sometimes influence it, with a lot of effort, but usually our ability to do so is extremely limited. By taking a little piece of responsibility for one colony of bees though, we can make a difference to our own community, and protect that one little piece.
Many towns are now allowing beekeeping within city limits. Check with your town and see if you are one of the lucky ones. If so, invest in a top bar hive (there are several types) and a colony of bees, and begin a new adventure in helping to save the honeybee.
There is much more than honey at stake.
After seeing a friend cooking eggs in an Ogreenics skillet, I finally thought a ceramic skillet might be worth a try. She was cooking eggs, without oil. They adhered, but peeled easily away when the eggs were turned.
I cook a lot of potatoes in the skillet. And potatoes stick, in everything except teflon. Teflon wears out, fast, and bits come off in the food. Ick. Food purist or not, teflon just isn’t a good option for hard use. No matter how gentle you are with it, eventually, it peels.
Cast iron is great for a lot of things, but potatoes, and corned beef, stick, even if your cast iron is nicely seasoned. They stick to stainless steel also. Hopelessly. They stick regardless of the amount of oil in the pan. They stick regardless of the type of oil. They just stick. And you loose all that delicious crunch, because it all sticks to the pan, and you have to soak it off when you wash the pan. And really, why bother frying potatoes if you lose the very reason you fried them in the first place?
I purchased a Wearever ceramic coated skillet.
First, we cooked bacon. The skillet is so slick that you really need kitchen tongs to cook bacon. Trying to catch it any other way is near impossible. It just slides around in the pan and you can’t even get the utensil under it. But it wiped out afterward without the tiniest bit of sticky brown bits.
Then, the potato test. Diced potatoes, sausage, onion, all into the pan along with some butter. Heat on. The whole mess slid around effortlessly in the pan. Again, the problem was not with sticking, it was with sliding. Hard to get the turner under it to flip it. But at the end, the finished food slid out cleanly onto the plate.
It passed the test without even working up a sweat. I suspect it would handle reheating mashed potatoes much like it handles eggs.
Nothing sticks to this. You can’t make it. And you can use a durable metal pancake turner on it. No need to use a wimbly plastic thing.
I suppose someday someone will find some kind of health reason to not use ceramic cooking pots and pans. But until they do, I’m sold.
We were out walking the other day, and I spotted some wild garlic. Honestly, I don’t know how I knew that is what it was, I just did. I walked over and tugged on a top. I guess I kind of expected the bulb to pull out. It did not. The top broke off. Determined stuff.
Whatever, it told me what I needed to know. I was right! A pleasant garlicky smell drifted up from the stems, and stayed on my hands.
I grabbed a clump, and started working on it, trying to see if I could get a bulb up intact. It is VERY deep rooted for a bulb, so it took a bit of working, but I finally managed to separate out a full plant. I toted it home and planted it in one of my pots in my container gardens.
Then I got online and did an extensive search to make sure that I did indeed have what I thought I had. The verdict? If it smells like garlic, and has tube like leaves (just like chives), then it is indeed wild garlic.
It is considered a weed, and an unwelcome one almost everywhere that it grows. This is because it can cause problems for horses, and if milk cattle consume it, it will flavor the milk (in fact, butter made from such milk was considered a specialty item in Switzerland at one time). While this means you really have to watch for patches that have been treated with herbicide, it also means that when you find good patches, no one minds if you quietly remove them. It is fairly resistant to most herbicides, so it can survive even when it has been treated.
Healthy wild garlic looks different than struggling wild garlic, and if it has been sprayed, it will most likely survive, but be less healthy. Stuff that is struggling will look kind of like anemic chives. The healthy stuff has straight leaves that stand right up, and it grows in a tight very tall cluster, instead of a floppy and spread out bunch.
I snuck out and liberated some more the next morning, and scattered it through my pots. It helps deter some kinds of pests. Since it is a bulb, it transplants easily, even if it does not have much root on it when it is moved. It should be moved before it sets blossoms – it will form a classic teardrop shaped green bud at the top of the central stalk, which will then form a cluster of bulblets and kind of odd flowers. The bulblets will scatter around it when they mature, giving rise to the next generation of wild garlic. It appears that the bulblets may be more of a seed packet than a true bulb, because they drop to the ground and grow – but the new garlic bulbs form 2-3” underground. Some of the new ones also split, sometimes into two or even three bulbs.
I gave it some time to flush out, with a few good waterings, and some time to let any contaminants from the previous location work out. Not knowing what the neighbors might have applied to the growing location, this is a good idea (though it appears they did not use herbicides – other properties did have wild garlic, but it was wimbly and pathetic compared to the lush and upright clusters that I dug). You could do that by putting the bulbs in water for a few days if you did not want to grow them.
When I was ready to sample it, I chopped about 4” of two green spears very fine, and cooked them in butter with some sausage. I made a cheddar cheese sauce and mixed the sausage and garlic into it, and put that over some rotini. The flavor was gentle, and a little more complex than domestic garlic. It was a very enjoyable flavor. I think complements cheese a bit better than domestic garlic, which can get a bit nauseating when combined with cheese, and I think it would do better with potatoes and perhaps eggs as well.
A little seems to go a long way, though the flavor was not overpowering, nor was it sharp or hot like garlic can be if you get too much. Had I used more, or if I had used the bulbs, the flavor may have been different than it was with just the greens. I had used a similar amount of domestic garlic greens in a similar dish, and the flavor was more concentrated. The wild stuff seems flavorful, but mellower.
It does have some health promoting benefits that are a little different than those of domestic garlic. Similar in the kinds of things it helps, but different in how it helps.
This is something I definitely want to have on hand for use, and as a part of my herbal medicinal arsenal. Enough to deliberately cultivate it in a controlled environment. It may seem silly cultivating weeds, but some are so valuable that I find it worthwhile to assure consistent availability.
It was a nice find, and one that I am enjoying.
“Look at all that chickweed!” I said, as I finished showing the neighbor the ginormous patch of chickweed just waiting to be gathered. He pointed to the patch next to it and asked, “Is that one edible?”.
I glanced at it. Green leaves, vertical growth, pink flowers popping out between the layers of leaves. “I don’t know.” I told him, “But I can find out.”.
I circled the edge of the fence and came around to my front door, and went in the house. I got on the computer, and searched for “pink wildflower”. Then I went back out to memorize the features of the flower in question. Right by my door – vertical growth, green leaves, pink flowers popping out between the layers. I looked it over. Rounded scalloped leaves. Square stem. The leaves formed little pagodas up the stem, each layer smaller than the last. A spray of buds and fluted blossoms on top, and more blossoms between each layer.
Rather pretty, actually.
I went back in, to look at the search results. It took a while. But eventually I found it.
Henbit. A fairly aggressive weed that can fill entire fields with a splash of purplish color in the spring. I went back to the search engine and put in “henbit”, and dug through more descriptions and images, just to confirm and make sure of the identification. No question, there wasn’t anything else exactly like that!
I searched “henbit edible”. Sure enough. Oh, not one of the more popular wild edibles in your ordinary “I eat a few weeds around the farm” type person, but very commonly consumed among rabid wild foragers (I use that description with the utmost respect!).
Henbit on the left, Purple Dead-Nettle on the right. Purple Dead-Nettle
does not always have reddish leaves at the top.
I learned how to distinguish Henbit from Purple Dead-Nettle. People talked about the differences exhaustively, explaining the differences in the leaves, the colors, the blossoms, the arrangement of the leaves, etc. To me, the difference was simple once I saw a good picture. Henbit has rounded scalloped leaves. Purple Dead-Nettle has pointed scalloped leaves. The shape of the leaves is distinctly different. The rest of the differences may vary depending on how they are raised, the stage of growth, etc. But THAT is distinctive in each. Once I recognized Henbit, I knew for sure it WAS Henbit, and not Purple Dead-Nettle. Not that it mattered all that much, since both are edible, but I like to be certain.
I also searched the medicinal properties. Just to make sure that it did not have something that would aggravate any of my known issues. In fact, it sounded like a good match for some of them, so I gathered a little from around the door and front of the house.
Henbit is fairly chewy. I like it boiled for about 5 minutes, or sauteed in butter and garlic. When added in with spinach I can’t really tell the difference, except it takes a little more chewing. I have also eaten it in a salad – takes even more chewing. Flavor is unremarkable – just sort of green. Texture a little rough. Not hairy. I am not fond of hairy.
Over the next few days, I experimented with it and a few other discoveries.
Then today, Kevin brought home the rabbit hutch he’s been working on. He had to drop it off and then head off to do some work in another location before lunch. He and the driver dropped it off… right in the big bed of chickweed.
Just about the time I ran out of henbit on this side of the fence.
After the rabbit hutch was moved, I wandered over to survey the damage, and see if I could gather a bit of henbit to mix with dinner.
There was the chickweed – sadly crushed, but rallying. And right beside it… NOT Henbit! Purple Dead-Nettle! I recognized it even though the leaf color was green to the tops, without the characteristic red or purplish blush on the top leaves (that comes with full sun – I have long known that reddish colors in plants tend to come out with sunlight, and these were in the shade of the fence). I did do another net search to make sure that my assumption about the red color was correct, prior to using any.
It is called Dead-Nettle because it does not sting, like Stinging Nettle. Dead-Nettle is not really a nettle, rather, it is a member of the mint family, as is Henbit. Both have square stems, characteristic of that family of plants.
The leaves are fuzzy. Try as I might, I could do no more than nibble a single leaf, just to say that I had. The flavor had a bitter edge underneath, but was otherwise an unremarkable anemic green flavor. Based on how it is described by other people, I suspect the flavor may be affected by how and where it is grown. I can’t quite manage that much fresh fuzzy, so this is something I will be using only as a pot herb, or pureed to bits in a smoothie.
I had some in a smoothie later, and it imparted a bit of vegetable flavor to the drink, but was not strong enough to isolate a particularly identifiable taste.
There is less said about the edibility of Purple Dead-Nettle than about Henbit. The hairiness of the leaves seems to put people off, except for die-hard foragers.
I do like the blossoms though! They are a valuable nectar source for bees in the early spring (as are Henbit blossoms), and they taste lightly sweet. Of course, gathering just the blossoms for anything more than a scattered garnish would be unbearably tedious. They were fun to pull out and taste though.
It was kind of cool to find the Purple Dead-Nettle, and to instantly recognize what I had not recognized mere days before – that we had two different, but very similar plants growing on opposite ends of the fence. And to recognize now that they only look similar when one is not paying attention. Once I examined them to identify the first one, I could no longer mistake the two. It took only a close look to see the many differences.
Even though I don’t consider it a choice edible, it is nice knowing that I can use it if I need, and trying it has given me an idea of what to do with it to make it tasty and enjoyable if I do have the need.