orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

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Monday, 29 November 2010

Book Review: The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle

I very occasionally do a book review on this, so today I have felt moved to do one again.  I have been following the exploits of Mark Boyle for a wee while.  He has been in all the papers as the mad man who had decided to go without any money for one year.  It immediately caught my attention, partially because we live virtually moneyless ourselves and was wondering how he managed to completely avoid it and on the other hand because the subject of money has been one that has always puzzled me (as can be read on a previous post of mine) and Mark having a degree in economics clearly must be more knowledgable on the subject than me.

First of all I should tell you how I managed to get hold of a copy of this book.  I did ask the man himself for a free copy, from one moneyless man to an almost moneyless man type thing.  He said in principal yes except he didn't have any money to send it to Italy.  Makes sense of course, just testing... ;)  So my bloggy friend Laura of the French Country Challenge very kindly ordered me a copy for my birthday.  Thank you Laura.  In the meantime it has come to my attention that another friend has actually ordered me a copy too.  If and when that arrives, I have at least one copy free to whoever would like it.  Unlike Mark I think I could spare a little for postage.

Right enough of all that, what's the book all about then, I hear you ask.  Below read the very first paragraph of the book:

From the onset I knew I was going to like this book.  Mark describes his experiences of his first year of living moneyless and outlines his reasons why he did it.  I say his first year, which was the original intended period he had set himself as a sort of social experiment, but today in fact he has just completed his second year and has no intention of quitting.

The really refreshing thing about the book is that nowhere does he claim to be certain that his way is the right or correct way or even the only way of living.  He states his main reason for renouncing money as, that it separates the human being from what (s)he consumes.  Thus it makes us unaware of the real impact of what we consume.  In other words we consume something and when it's broke we throw it away and buy a new one.  If we had to make this item ourselves, we'd learn very quickly to keep things going as long as possible.  Or as Mark put it: if you had to clean your own water, you sure as hell wouldn't crap into it.

I can relate to this.  Take the example of the olive oil we pressed a few days ago.  Pure costs were something like €30 for petrol and the same for pressing.  Add to that 3 people putting in an estimated combined 80 (wo)man hours in at say a paltry €5 an hour that would result in a price per litre of  €23!  That's expensive oil!  Whilst I was a bit disappointed at the low yield this year, I have a real sense of achievement and I know the real value of this oil.  It wasn't a moneyless transaction in my case, but the principal applies here too.  I could have gone to the supermarket and buy a €2.99 bottle

In the early parts of the book Mark shows that he has an economics degree, when he describes some of the more ridiculous problems with the current economic systems.  One of the more interesting facts, which I eerily had read somewhere else on the same day is the practice of fractional reserve banking.  When I wrote my history of money I had no idea this unbelievable practice exists, but it essentially means - now hold on to your seats if you are an economic greenhorn like me - that the banks basically make up the money the lend you as they go along.  yes, as in make-belief.  It's true!  95% of money DOES NOT EXIST!

Mark gave a nice simple explanation how this works, so even dim lights like me can understand this:  Mr. Jones deposits 100 moneys with Mr. Bank.  Mr. Smith comes along and wants to borrow 90 moneys from Mr. Bank.  With this he goes to Mrs. Baker to buy bread.  Mrs. Baker then deposits the 90 moneys with Mr. Bank.  How much money does Mr. Bank now have?  100 or 190?  According to their books 190.  And what happens if Mr. Smith can't pay back his loan and Mr. Jones and Mrs. Baker want to withdraw their money?  That's the mess the world economiy finds itself in now!

What I want to know is, if the banks have just made up the money they've lent me, surely I don't have to repay them money that didn't exist in the first place?  Or I could make it up myself and pay them back with Monopoly money?

Anyway, I digress.  Whilst the book is not exactly a how-to guide, Mark has added some practical tips, some of which I shall try out in due course.  He tells us how to make a rocket stove:

Must look out for a couple of oil tins to build one of those on our land.  He also tells us how to make paper and ink from mushrooms:

He makes toothpaste from cuttlefish bones and fennel seeds.  Now I don't know where I'd find a cuttlefish bone, but I added fennel seeds to my latest batch of homemade tooth paste

Mark keeps saying he went into this experiment being essentially unskilled, however he is putting himself down there.  The skill that has made his experiment such a success and has brought him international fame (which I don't think he was seeking in particular...) is his boundless energy and enthusiasm.  He managed to organise a free festival for over a thousand people with 3 weeks notice, feeding them, entertaining them and all, whilst simutaneously holding dozens of interviews.  If what he writes is true (he may have made it all up of course...) he slept just 5 hours a night, sometimes less.  Hat off to him for that, I couldn't manage it.

The other area that took my interest was what Mark calls skipping.  Now before you all start hopping around, he means raiding supermarket skips for perfectly good food thrown out because it had simply run out of date, or the packaging is slightly damaged.  Considering the many tons of food that get thrown away each year, Mark says it's not only not a slightly seedy activity rummaging through bins, but a civic duty to liberate perfectly good food from landfills. 

I have had a short stint working for a small chain of convenience stores in London and I remember very well how it broke my heart to see sackfulls of food being written off on a daily basis.  All my lunches during that time consisted of out of date food.  I shall have a look at skips around us more from now on.  It would solve sourcing many foods that I can't grow myself and maybe a few freshish morsels of meat for Eddie, the Beagle if nothing else.

I heartily recommend anyone who is serious about "green living" to read this book.  It's a good read, not in any way schoolmasterly and it may give you some ideas on how you can make changes in your life that really matter.  There are compomises along the way, which Mark admits.  The royalties for his book are going into a trustfund to buy a plot of land to start a moneyless village, where people can come to (for free of course) to learn how to live moneyless.  Or simply to try it out for a while.

I have an eye on a plot of land myself, with a clean river, enough land to support a small community, a number of mature fruit trees, possibilities to expand and planning permission.  It's even on the market.  If ever we come into money (and we may) we could buy ourselves into complete freedom.  Mark has done it, just an ordinary guy from Donegal, so why not me... or you for that matter.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

More Rain Damage...

After the olive harvest we needed a days rest on which we only went out on a walk for some wild food foraging.  The one day turned to two as the rains returned.  So yesterday was the first time in a while that we got back to our own patch of land in Arcola as opposed to the olive grove in Popetto.  And we discovered further damage caused by the rain:

Half my cold frame had slid away.  There used to be a yard in front of it where we could walk along and from where we could access the cold frame.

Inside the tyre there used to be a Florida cranberry, which was already unhappy about being planted in such an unhospitable climate.  This has given it the final nail.

It had slid along with half the bed that we had just dug over to plant brassica on top of the straggling remains of my tomatillos.  Susan is just rescuing what she can, while Eddie looks on being a puzzled about the new shape his familiar landscape has taken on.

I provisionally repaired the cold frame, but this is what the mud looked like that I was standing below it:

The soil is absolutely saturated!  Today there's a bitter wind blowing and more rain...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

At the Frantoio Part 1

After another only half day on Monday due to miserable weather,

we finally got a whole day's worth of olive picking in on Tuesday, the day before we were due at the frantoio, the olive mill.  Here are some views of my co-workers as seen from the top of a tree:

With all those rain interuptions we have only managed to pick about a quarter of the trees so far, however many were still quite green and might benefit from a couple of weeks longer on the trees.  Besides, we couldn't have fitted any more olives into the car.  As it was I let the girls drive to the frantoio, whilst I took the bike for the 15km journey.  I got there 15 minutes before them, not having taken the scenic route the ladies took...

Anyway they got there without me having to send out the search troops.  We unloaded the car onto the scales:

...and they weighed in at 184kg.  I already started salivating and calculating.  Last year our relatively small harvest (half of what we have picked this year so far) yielded 1 litre of oil for every 5kg of olives.  I didn't realise at the time that this was a particularly good yield and was hoping to double our oil quantity for this year on the first harvest alone.  I was wondering whether we brought enough containers.

Let me take you through the process at the frantoio.  Unfortunately they no longer have the old stone presses to grind your olives.  They are only left as reminders of more romatic times:

First the olives get separated from any leaves and stalks you may have been mixing in with them:

Next the olives are washed:

Then they end up in this container where they are crushed:

This is what it looks like from the inside:

Finally they are pumped into the press where the oil is separated from all the other components:

This is an overview of the control centre:

This whole process takes a little over an hour, during which time you wait in anticipation:

Finally the green liquid appears:

and you gather it in your containers:

Finally the result, but... big disappointment!  This year's resa or oil content is a mere 10 % as opposed to last year's nearly 20%.  This means out of every 10kg of olives you get only 1 litre of oil.  Hardly more than last year, even though we have gathered twice as many olives!

Apparently we are not the only ones with that problem.  All that recent rain has meant that, whilst the olives looked nice and big, even healthy (apparently olive flies don't like the rain much either, as we haven't noticed any signs of an attack at all), most of it is just water bloating up the fruit.

And the taste test?  Not as good as last year.  If you want to be kind you could call it 'delicate', but frankly it's rather on the thin and short side.  It has some fruity and grassy notes, but much less of the spicy notes we had last year.  And, so far at least, still not enough to last us through the year.

We are looking to get another appointment mid-December, but I can't help feeling quite disappointed.  The cost of the pressing and the petrol for going up to Popetto a few times and then to the frantoio works out at the same price as some cheap supermarket oil, and whilst the quality is better than that, it's not exactly exceptional.  The vagaries of nature...  At least we know WE made our own oil.

So any helpXer's out there wanting to help gather our harvest mid-December, as Cat will be leaving us tomorrow.  We've got quite used to having her around and she was definitely a help achieving what we did.  So thank you Cat, come back any time (in 3 weeks would be good... :) )

Monday, 22 November 2010

Persimmon Cookies

...or kaki biscuits, depending on your linguistic preferences  Although, these things are definitely cookies, I reckon.  You know the ones that Cookie Monster devours (I'm told he's now a politically correct veggie monster!). 

Anyway, I'm often asked what I do with my kaki / persimmons / sharon fruit, whatever you want to call them.  Some people apparently simply eat them, but I'm really not very keen on them, so have always turned them into my "I can't believe it's not mango chutney" chutney.  But now our little helper Cat has found another delicious use for this fruit: Persimmon Cookies.  She was reading a book called Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen.  At the end of the book there were some recipes including this one:

Apparently Mennonite cooking is particularly good, because they chain their women to a stove all day.  Cat has made those for us twice so far (we didn't have to chain her up for that!) and they are delicious, retaining a nice moisture.  Highly recommended recipe.

In other news our olive picking is being constantly interupted by rain.  Sometimes this almost enhances the spectacular views from the olive grove in Popetto:

Other times we hardly see a thing:

And we have had plenty enforced breaks and didn't even bother starting on Sunday:

Finally Eddie and Cat are bonding well:

If you want to know what Cat makes of all this check out her blog.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Olive picking under way

The olive harvest is fully underway at last.  One has to make an advance appointment at the frantoio, the olive mill.  We had decided we were going to deliver our batch on Tuesday the 23rd November, partially because, that's roughly when our olives were ready last year and partially because it was going to be the last full day of our little helper Cat.  However, they told us they were booked out until the end of the month.  After much begging and pleading they finally agreed to squeeze ('squeeze', get it?) us in on Wednesday after we established that Cat could stay an extra day.

So this put the pressure on: olives have to be picked by then, but... Last Tuesday rumours started going around, that were even reported on radio: 20 days of rotten weather.  Apparently the cockerel crowed 3 times before sunrise 5 days before full moon, which according to local wisdom heralds 20 days of rain or something like that.  So the signs weren't good.  So when on Wednesday the weather gods sent us some glorious sunshine speccially for my birthday, although we had other plans, we decided to put at least a morning's work in on our land.  We came home with 3 full trays, but we were resigned to the fact that we would probably get quite wet for the rest of the time.

Thusday it turned out just like that.  It was miserable.  We finished the largest trees on our plot in Arcola bearing the ripest olives, but left a few of the greener ones hanging, because we were just getting soggier and soggier.  We'll pick them later for eating, we thought.

Today we went over to Popetto, where we look after a much larger olive grove consisting of 40 trees (our land has some 15 trees, not all of them producing).  As we woke up and looked out the window, the weather looked good, but as we drove up the valley clouds moved in and it started raining heavily.  By the time we reached Popetto we just waited 5 minutes before the skies cleared, giving us a great days work.

Unlike last year, this year some of the trees gave us incredible yields.  The trees closer to the house, which were in better condition prior to us starting the pruning job last year were heavily laden with fruit this year

So we managed to get about 6 of the trees done today.

As you can see even some sunshine peeped through now and again.  Getting home we weighed our spoils and altogether we've picked over 90 kg so far.  That's more than we had from the entire plot last year and almost two thirds to our minimum quantity as charged by the mill of 150kg. 

So another good day weatherwise and we'll be there!  Grazie alla Madonna!

In other news we took a wee trip along the coast to one of my favourite places, Montemarcello and the nearby black beach of Punta Corvo (in Montemarcello we met the above Madonna, by the way).  While there we got caught out in more heavy rain and a thunderstorm which churned up the seawaters in such a strange way that part of it turned sand coloured, leaving a distinct line bordering the areas over rock.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Wild Food of the Month November: Autumn Olive & of Little Helpers

To those of you who have been following my recent posts it will come as no surprise what the wild food of the month for November is going to be.  NO! NOT the coypu, i still haven't managed to catch one, it's the autumn olive berry.
Now I have identified it with the help of my dear friend Mr'H. in Idaho I can't stop singing it's praises!  The name comes from the silvery olive colour of its foliage.  It's a shrub or low tree, not at all related to the actual olive, native in Eastern Asia and producing oodles of bright red, juicy berries.  Eaten raw they taste somewhere between a redcurrant and a cranberry, both fruits that I can't grow to save my life in our climate.

Further research revealed that the berry is not only edible and tasty, but extremely good for you with up to 16 times as much Lycopenes as raw tomatoes, making it a potentially powerful cancer preventative.  The plant is regarded in many places as an invasive non-native species, which has been planted along river banks to prevent erosion, but because of its high germination success has been known to displace native flora in some places.  The site where we found it there are only about half a dozen or so trees, absolutely laden with fruit.

Due to it's ability to absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere in can thrive on extremely poor soils and fix nitrogen in the soil and make it available for other plants.  The wood makes good fire wood, carving wood or can be used to build solid wooden posts.  The fruit, apart from simply enjoying it raw, can be juiced, made into jam, fruit leather, dried, added to cakes etc. etc. etc...

Now I want to save some seed to plant on my land.  Non-native it maybe, but something that prevents erosion, a recent problem as you'll have noticed, and has so many other uses, sounds just like the thing I like to grow.

On a slightly different note, this week we are having a little helper staying with us, Cat from Oregon.  We have recently signed up with a website called helpX, that brings together people who travel on a budget and would like to experience their destination more intimitely and are willing to work for a bed and meals, with people who can do with a hand with something.  So Cat became the first in hopefully a long line of people who decide to share our lives with us.  So today and yesterday we gave her an introduction into our lifestyle by taking her wild food foraging and then turning our spoils into lovely preserves.

It's the season for 3 different fruits at the moment.  One is the fruit of the strawberry tree, which Cat is picking up there and of which I have spoken extensively last year in a post which is proving to be the most googled post on my blog.  The recipe of a strawberry tree fruit jam I posted at the time was only a limited success.  We ate it, but I wondered if it was worth our while again as it turned out to be a bit bland.  So this year I decided to add some different ingredients to make a Christmas Jam.

This is what we did.  We picked about 500g strawberry tree fruit.  Then we added 500g of autumn olive berries.

and maybe 150g myrtle berries

Here's Susan in action picking some of them:
To those 3 fruits we added a chopped apple, zest and juice of one orange, a spice mixture consisting of cinnamon, vannilla flavoured sugar, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  We cooked that until soft, than added 500g sugar and boiled fast until setting point.  After that we pressed this through my tomato mill to get rid of the rough seeds and achieve a smooth consistency..

 Reheated it and bottled it in hot jars.  Boy was this delicious!  I shall make biscuits filled with this stuff for Christmas if I can keep my greedy mits off it for long enough.

The other experiment with autumn olive berries was along the lines of my (in)famous "I can't believe it's not mango chutney" chutney, in the sense that we made a "I can't believe it's not cranberry chutney" chutney consisting of unweighed and unmeasured quantities of autumn olive berries, apples, onions, ginger orange zest and juice and white wine vinegar.

Mix up and boil for a couple of hours until a good consistency is achieved and bottle into hot jars.  Again, absolutely delicious and will make a great accompaniment for turkey or chicken.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I should have set the dog on you!

After a few more days of torrential rain, we've set off to our land again for the first time to check for more damage and pick some food.  On the way there we came across this fellow:

Big old rodent he was, never seen such a thing before.  The body over a foot long, the tail too, huge webbed rear feet.  Looks a little like a beaver, but has a round rather than flat tail.  We had Eddie on a lead at the time and the chappy obviously had ventured a bit too far from the water and he's not the fastest on his feet.  So he just sat there looking at us and we at him wondering who he was.  He let me to within 3 feet of him and take this photo without a zoom lens before he slowly moved off towards the river.

Research on the web seemed to suggest he's a coypu or nutria.  They are not native to Europe, but have been introduced from South America for their fur.  Initially they were farmed, but they never proved very profitable, so they were released into the wild.  Now they are regarded as an invasive species threatening much of the native fauna.  Their meat on the other hand is lean and low in cholestorol.  Now had I known all that, I should have let the dog loose, who was dying to get to him, hence would have done something good for the local environment, get a few good meat meals and a pair of new fur slippers.  Well next time we see him we'll find out how good a hunter Eddie is... :)

In other news, the damage on the land hasn't got much worse.  The kaki tree (persimmon) is dropping it's colourful leaves onto my favourite deckchair:

The kaki are nearly ripe, looking like bright Christmas baubles

And the river is full to overflowing

Happy days for coypu