In Praise of the Humble Potato

You say Po-TAE-to and I say Po-TA-to.

Kennebec. Pontiac. Norland Red.

Burbank. Russet. Yukon Gold.

Even the names are beautiful, humble and poetic.

So useful. So nutritious. So versatile.  So comfortable and comforting.

Just in case you’re wondering, all Russet potatoes are Burbanks, but not all Burbank potatoes are russet. The Russet Burbank is described as a natural genetic variant of the Burbank potato. It has a russet-colored skin that visually identifies this potato type. The Russet is the world’s predominant potato used in food processing, so you have probably seen a lot of them and eaten even more.

I grew up in a meat and potatoes household. Although my mom grew a garden full of a wide variety of vegetables, my dad really only believed that there were 4 kinds of vegetables worth eating. Those were corn, peas, beans and potatoes.   As a result, most of our meals were created with those basics but there was always plenty! If we didn’t have enough production of potatoes from the garden, my dad would stop by a roadside stand in the fall and buy a bag of 100 pounds for about $4. That would last us through the winter and into the early spring.   In the fall, potatoes are at their least expensive and best quality compared to any other time of year. Buying them in bulk and storing them is as good an investment now as it was when my dad was doing it in the 60’s.

Storing potatoes is one of the earliest self-sufficiency skills I learned. We always lived in an old house with an unfinished cellar. We would put the potatoes down in the basement in a barrel and just go to collect what we needed when it was time to make supper. Once in awhile we would come in contact with a slimy potato that had to be tossed out. We were warned that we should always bring up anything that had been in contact with the bad potato so they could be used right away. As kids, the science wasn’t explained to us. It was just the rule. Now that I understand the science, it’s still a rule that I live by.

Here are some rules for successful potato storage:

  • Choose a potato variety that is appropriate for storage.  My favorite is Kennebec.  Some like Russet.  There are others.  The grocer or garden center should be able to tell you which potatoes are going to be good for storing.  You can also go online to find the attributes for most vegetables.
  • Raw potatoes should not be washed before storing. Remove the big chunks if you have been digging during a wet season.  However, a powdery coating of dry soil toughens the skin and helps them stay dry longer in storage.
  • Check all potatoes over for spade cuts or bad spots. If there are soft spots, cut away the bad section and use only the good one or discard the whole potato.
  • Do NOT store anything with a bad spot or spading fork cut.
  • After sorting, store the unwashed raw potatoes in any place that is dry, cool (but not cold) and dark. Exposure to sunlight will cause the skin to go green, get bitter and can cause illness if you eat a large quantity.
  • Frequently check your stored potatoes for any that have developed soft spots and discard them immediately when you find them.
  • Wash and dry any potatoes that are in contact with a bad one during storage.  Keep it apart so it can be used soon.

With smaller houses and less storage space, it is still possible to find good storage for potatoes. One way is to store them in milk crates in a pantry, cool closet or heated garage alongside an outer wall. If the area has a window, drape a heavy cloth over the whole stack. With the coolness  of the wall, the airflow created by the construction of the milk crates and the dark provided by the cloth, it works beautifully. As the potatoes at the top are used, take the crates out to store and start on the crate below it.

Also, if you have a rarely used, cool bedroom; a layer of crunched up paper under potatoes in an under-the-bed container is the perfect place for storing them. Winter squash and pumpkins can be stored there also!  The main idea is to keep them dry, dark and cool but not frozen.

Another favorite way to store potatoes is simply to put your pressure canner into play.  

As with other vegetables, canning potatoes is a great way to control the salt level and quality of the food as well as customizing the cut of the finished product.

Quart Jars of White Potatoes cut into cubes
Fast Food at its Finest!
  • For best results, the potatoes should be washed and peeled before cutting into your favorite shapes – slices, cubes, shreds or small whole potatoes.
  • A mandolin is a useful tool when cutting potatoes into thin, even slices. Be very careful when using a mandolin because it has an extremely sharp edge. 
  • A French fry cutter is great for making cubes. Simply put the potato through the cutter and then cut the ‘fries’ into chunks. This cuts the potatoes into really nice sized cubes. 
  • Always follow the instructions for canning that came along with your pressure canner. 
  • Do NOT try to pressure can anything completely absent of salt.  A little salt is absolutely necessary for successful canning.

Once the potatoes are processed and cooled they are ready to eat! You can rinse them, cold and use them in potato salads. You can microwave them to have them warm. You can mash them with garlic and butter. You can drain them, dry them and fry them with your favorite seasonings for fantastic hash browns. In a pinch, you could eat them straight from the jar! 

The potato is the workhorse of the pantry. It is low in saturated fat and sugar.  It has no cholesterol or sodium unless you add it. It is also high in potassium and vitamin C as well as very high in vitamin B6, the vitamin that helps to improve moods. 

If you have stories or recipes using potatoes, I would love to hear from you. Please share them by adding your comment to this post or contacting John at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Rhythms of Fall

It’s the beginning of fall here in Wisconsin—my favorite time of the year. Everything is getting that tired look to it and the evening temperatures are beginning to dive a little more often into the 50s and 60s. The leaves are starting to change just a little. Soon I’ll be up in the woods cutting up dead trees for winter. It’s not nearly cool enough for the first fire yet, but that will come too. Soon I’ll have the smell of woodsmoke permeating the house as I enjoy the cool fall evenings in front of my wood stove.

Last week I began picking my grapes and apples. Both have produced abundantly this year. In fact, just one cane produced a little over 40 pounds of grapes. The apples are smaller than normal, but plentiful, weighing the trees down. The pears this year suffered from a lack of activity from helpful insects and an overwhelming quantity of the harmful variety. The point is that it’s a time for picking things and preserving them for the winter. There is a certain feeling that comes over you as you begin to bring things into the house and see the larder shelves swell with all you’ve produced. Most of the fruit will go into juice this year, which means my Victorio Strainer will work overtime.

As part of my fall preparations, I’m starting to dry the herbs that have grown all summer. My herb garden is a little limited this year because the weather just didn’t cooperate as much as it could have. Still, I have plenty of celery (actually lovage) seed to use, along with the dried leaves. The rosemary, two kinds of sage, and two kinds of thyme have all done well (though the rosemary is not quite as robust as I would have liked, it’s quite flavorful). The dehydrator is up and running now, helping me preserve the herbs I need for cooking this winter.

Of course, the herb garden produces more than just herbs for cooking—it also produces a robust number of items for tea. Right now I four kinds of mint growing: lime, lemon, chocolate, and spearmint. The first three are definitely used for drinking teas only because their subtle flavors are lost in other sorts of uses. The spearmint is used for tea, cooking, and mint jelly—that essential add-on for lamb meat. Rebecca actually had eight different kinds of mint growing at one time, but they have gotten mixed together over the years or were hit especially hard by this last winter. The herb garden will need some focused attention this upcoming spring to get it back into shape.

In some respects, the combination of a hard winter, a late spring, and a cool summer conspired to make this year less productive than most. It’s the reason that you really do need a three-year plan for stocking your larder to ensure that you have enough food for those years that are a little less plentiful. Fortunately, my larder has an abundant supply of everything needed to sustain life (and quite a large number of things we made purely for pleasure as well).

There are some fall-specific things that I’ll eventually take care of. You already know about the work part of it, but there is time for pleasure too. For example, I’ll take time for my usual picnic at Wildcat Mountain after the fall color begins to peak. So, how are your fall plans shaping up? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

An Issue with Cloud Computing

The world is heading toward cloud computing at a frantic pace. However, the question is whether cloud computing is ready for the world to rely on it. I keep hearing about major outages of line of business applications. This is not good. Businesses need to be able to rely on these applications in order to complete their daily operations. However, when they aren’t functioning properly, it can cause big problems for the business. Of course, some businesses do reach out to IT companies in Melbourne, or somewhere closer to their office, for help with these sorts of problems. That usually helps businesses to continue working with few problems, ensuring that they can get their work done. However, for businesses without IT support, this can cause huge issues. For example, Visual Studio Online recently suffered a major outage. If you’re a developer, the last thing you want to hear is that you can’t access the application you use to create new applications. Just think about the implications about such a scenario for a while and all kinds of negative images come to mind.

What really gets to me is that Microsoft did manage to get Visual Studio Online fixed in about five hours and it identified a potential source for the problem, but it still doesn’t know the cause. Not knowing the cause means that the problem can easily happen again. The loss of income to companies that rely on Visual Studio Online could be huge.

However, the basic problems with cloud computing aren’t just limited to application availability. The biggest problem is saving data to the cloud in the first place. Application development is tricky at best. You absolutely don’t want to give your trade secrets away to other companies and losing data is too terrible to even consider. There is also the connection to consider-whether your users will be slowed down by inefficient communications. Cloud-based applications can also change at a moment’s notice and it’s even possible that a company could simply orphan the product, making it completely unavailable. Losing access to your application in the middle of a development cycle would mean starting from scratch-can your organization really afford it?
Don’t get me wrong. Online computing has a lot of advantages and there are times when using a cloud application works just fine. In fact, I use a cloud application to write my blog each week. However, I also save a copy of the posts to local storage because I simply don’t trust anyone else to make my backups for me. One of my non-business e-mails is also a cloud application. I don’t make a copy of the data in this case because losing it wouldn’t cause any hardship. The point is that I think through the ramifications of using cloud computing carefully and make informed choices-something every organization needs to do.

sd-wan to disconnect from my network. Your business simply has too much riding on the applications you use to have to worry about whether the application will even be available then next time you need it.

I’m sure that some people will write to let me know that their cloud application has never failed tns-serif; font-size: 14px;”>Will cloud computing ever be ready for prime time? I’ve had a number of readers ask that question. I’m sure that cloud computing will continue to improve. There may come a time when you can trust it hem, to which I would add, “yet”. Desktop applications fail too, but with a desktop application, you’re in control. You have a copy of the software locally and you don’t have to worry about the software becoming unavailable or being changed at precisely the wrong time (adding code breaking functionality). Let me know your view of cloud computing at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

Communication of All Kinds for Fun and Profit

A number of readers have taken pokes at me for my recent Writing Letters post. Interestingly enough, since the time I wrote that post, I’ve picked up another pen pal. The post, in case you haven’t read it yet, makes the point that most forms of communication have a purpose, or are at least a bit fun to employ. As long as I have correspondents, I’ll continue to write them letters. It’s something I look forward to doing now each Thursday night. There is something quite nice about receiving letters in the mail and I don’t relish ever giving it up. Having pen pals can be a lot of fun! As long as you get the address right and the name, you’ll know where it is going and who it’s going to, for example, if you are writing to someone in Argentina you can use https://www.codigopostal.ar/ to find the zip code you need to get it correctly delivered.

It was while I was reading some reader e-mails that I came across another form of communication in the ComputerWorld article entitled, “Telegram not dead STOP Alive, evolving in Japan STOP.” Interestingly enough, in the country where the telegram was first sent, Western Union stopped sending telegrams in 2013. The final telegram was sent on July 14th. Perhaps someone should mention to Western Union that the Japanese have a thriving telegram business and suggest we follow their model. It’s hard to see someone else take over a technology that we created through innovation and hard work.

The point is that there is something to be said for older forms of communication, even those that aren’t particularly practical today. Although I can make a strong case for writing letters, the arguments for continuing to use telegrams, except for the pure pleasure of sending one, are a bit weaker. Even so, it’s interesting that the Japanese have continued to make them work. The difference seems to be one of desire and, of course, innovation.

My one, and only, telegram turned out to be of the singing variety. Fortunately, the fellow who delivered it had a pleasant voice. You can still find places that will deliver a singing telegram for you, complete with the tchotchke of your choice (mine came with balloons and a letter from my wife, telling me she loved me). As a high speed form of communication, the telegram’s days are done. We have all sorts of other ways to accomplish the task now. However, getting a telegram could still be viewed as quite special.

There are many other interesting forms of communication. I’ve never had anyone hire a skywriter for me, but you can still find them online as well. I imagine more than one fellow has relied on skywriting to propose; although, it never occurred to me to try it. Nothing quite attracts your attention though like a message written in a clear blue sky-assuming that the weather is accommodating.

As an author of technical books, I spend a great deal of time looking at communication in all its forms: verbal, aural, visual, and other forms. I once spent a month researching the tactile vocoder-a device that allows its wearer to hear through the skin using vibration. Imagine that you’re deaf and the tactile vocoder makes it possible for you to hear again, even if you don’t have actual ears. So, it’s not too unusual for me to look at communication both old and new to see how it’s being used today and whether it might not be employed in some other manner. So, yes, I still write letters and I’m still rooting for the telegram, but I’ve also looked into odd devices that help people communicate in amazing ways. Communication, in all its amazing forms, is something you do from the day you’re born until the day you die. Let me know about your view of communication at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Welcome to Labor Day

It’s my sincere hope, if you’re an American, is that you’re reading this post on Tuesday and that you’re not stuck in front of a monitor on a perfectly beautiful Monday. Labor Day is literally a day for celebrating the contributions of the labor force to the wonderful standard of living we now enjoy. Originally it was meant to highlight the hard work produced by people in less than ideal conditions. I’ve explored some of this information in two previous posts: Labor Day, Time for Fun and Reflection and Labor Day, Eh?. (My Celebrating Labor Day post was simply to let you know I’d be offline.)

I did come up with a few interesting facts about Labor Day this year. For example, I discovered that it’s traditional for men to wear a straw hat from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and then a felt hat the rest of the year. In fact, there is a cowboy etiquette site that will steer you straight on all the rules. Of course, most men don’t wear hats any longer and my hat would break any tradition because it’s made from cloth. As with the rule that women can’t wear white after Labor Day, the hat rule has faded into obscurity (even more so because I could find few references to it).

A number of other nationalities celebrate Labor Day, which I found interesting. For example, if you speak Spanish, Labor Day is called “Día del Trabajo”. However, in Mexico, people actually celebrate May Day (Primero de Mayo) as Labor Day. Over the years I’ve become more interested in how people in other countries celebrate holidays that are close to or the same as our own. The fact is that Americans used to celebrate Labor Day in May as well. After the 4 May 1886 Haymarket Riot, American’s celebrated May Day as we celebrate Labor Day now. The 10 May 1894 Pullman Strike convinced President Grover Cleveland and Congress that a different holiday was needed, which is how we ended up with Labor Day. Interestingly enough, Canada celebrates Labor Day on the same day that we do.

Today is a day celebrated with family time, picnics, the last outing somewhere, or possibly just a barbecue. No matter how you celebrate, make sure you take time to consider the reason for the celebration. Somewhere, perhaps not even in this country, someone is working in a factory in less than ideal conditions to provide the goods that you use on a daily basis. Yes, they’re getting paid (hopefully), but factory work is usually hard and not appreciated by those who have other tasks to perform in life. Today is the day to give these people their due. Let me know your thoughts about Labor Day at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.