Saturday, July 31, 2010
Bear with me - this isn't the post I thought I'd be writing this time around, but sometimes rolling with the changes can be ok too. For some of you, trying to learn to live a new, frugal, lifestyle, everything probably seems so new and different. Trying to replace old habits with new ones is hard - doing such mundane things as planning and packing healthy lunches, or learning to grow or perserve your own food can take all the concentration, determination, and effort you can give it.
I've been living like that for quite a while now. I've learned what I need and the ways to go about getting it. It can be so easy, once you've figured out what works for you, to get complacent and lazy, even. You get into a rut, and find it can even be quite comfortable. That's where we are right now, and it could be so easy to just vegetate there, but that's really not my style.
I bust out of my ruts, usually, by traveling. I love seeing new things, experiencing different cultures, learning new ways of looking at our world. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't see things the same way however. Right out of college in the 70's, he did the whole see-Europe-with-a-backpack-and-a-Eurailpass bit for a summer, and when he got back to the States said he'd never get on a plane again. And I understood - he'd tried it, and he didn't like it. Ok, I can accept that.
But in return, I told him before we got married that he also had to accept the converse about me. I love the experience of culture shock, the nervousness of trying something new and different - it can be stressful, but for me, it's a good, energizing type of stress. So our pre-marital agreement was: I won't bug him to go with me; he can't say anything when I go without him.
And so now, here I am, 1,000 miles away from home. I don't have access to my home computer, nor the photos I'd though about using for my turn to post here. Sometimes, I can get really adventurous, ending up writing home from internet cafes where the keyboard is strange, but this time around I'm visiting family. Mom lives in Denver, so I flew out to stay with her. It just so happens, though, that she was planning on going camping with my sister, down in southwestern Colorado, near where a brother lives. So, adapting again, I'm now writing this post on Mom's laptop, borrowing internet access from another camping friend. I also get to go visit some friends I haven't seen for 25 years too. It feels good, getting a new outlook on life. And then, in a week, I'll be back in my familiar groove once again, but refreshed too. What do you do when your life needs a bit of a reset? When out of your comfort zone, do you feel good stress or bad stress?
Friday, July 30, 2010
Living the Frugal Life
A while ago we had the chance to spend a little time with my husband's oldest friend. In his mid-forties now, this friend is a charming, energetic, and creative entrepreneur who has built several businesses to astonishing financial success at a fairly young age. He came from a very large family of modest means and though he always had food to eat and decent clothes, he always felt poor by comparison to my husband's average middle class family. Today he's worth millions, but he's always got five new ideas he's excited about, one of which will likely play out and make him another pile of money. I like this man who is so smart and seems so "real." He's also on the brink of a contentious and messy divorce, his second.
Now I don't mean to criticize this person in particular; as I said, I like him. But I don't know any other people that I'd consider truly rich by even American standards. And I want to use the wealthy as a lens to look at the wider culture of my own country. I think this man exemplifies something that most of us are saddled with - a drive for more money, to possess more things, to enjoy more experiences that involve airplane flights, and distant hotels. Simply put, we all want "more" - however we happen to define that. The difference between most of us and my husband's friend is that by any rational standard, he's made enough money several times over to do all of those things. He can literally afford to do whatever he wants. He says he'd love to have time to teach his two children how to garden. But what he does is continue to make more money. That highlights for me the absence of any concept of enough in our culture. We may not even be able to articulate what it is we long for. But longing, acquisitiveness, desire, covetousness are so deeply inculcated in our culture that the very concept of "enough" is foreign, strange to us. Even when we amass huge amounts of money, we seem to have no sense of satiety, contentedness, of simply having enough to be happy. Contentment is rare, and if you are content with little, this is somehow suspect, as though it were a fault rather than a remarkable achievement.
I think about this quite a lot. I don't mean to say that I live an ascetic life of austerity and meager pleasures. Of course there are things I would still like to have - a hoop house or greenhouse, and a better dresser than the one I bought for my first dorm room. And goodness knows we've committed to spending quite a bit of money to put in a passive solar heating system. I can't say that we'd have no use for another $5,000 in our annual budget.
But I do believe that I understand better now - in a visceral sense - what some of humanity's greatest teachers have pointed at:
"Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity." - The Tao te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell
"Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship." - Buddha
"The best things in life are nearest. Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life." - Robert Louis Stevenson
"A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone." - Henry David Thoreau
"He has the most who is most content with the least." - Diogenes
Each of these quotes by great thinkers had crossed my path by the time I was in my mid-twenties. I understood them all on a superficial level. But I did not really believe them. I actively did not want to embrace beliefs that I thought would lead to living happily with less. I could not grasp these ideas as truths that made sense in my own life. In short, I had no sense of enough.
I do now, and I give a lot of credit to the sustainability movement for helping me reach that understanding. But I've also seen from my own direct experience that the richest people I know are not the happiest. The happiest people I know are not people who were born well off or who spent their youth working to amass a lot of money. The people who have seemed both happy and "rich" to me have been utterly indifferent to status or markers of wealth - their own or anyone else's. They seemed somehow to stand outside of the material drive of our culture. It was the literal work of their hands, their moral courage, their appreciation for what they had, their unfailing ability to find the good in other people and take them on their own terms that made an impression upon me. Each of those people embodied a zeal for life that made them cherish each day they were given.
I haven't reached that earthly state of bliss. I don't live in the way that those I most admire did. There are still material things I want. I know that I say these things from a position of incredible privilege by global and historical standards - that what I reckon as a very modest life is unimaginable luxury to millions of people. But I have enough in my sights. I believe it's a place I can get to, and genuinely admire those who have reached that state.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I was on the road for almost three weeks this month, first in a country I'd always wanted to visit, Portugal (here), and then in a region I love, Tuscany (here). But my vegetable garden did not share my enthusiasm for travel. By the time I returned home, it had become a forest of healthy weeds threatening to choke my weakened plants. Traveling when you have a vegetable garden is an issue.
~ my unruly tomato plants invaded by weeds ~
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I'm always trying to find ways to make things instead of purchasing them. I sometimes buy bone meal for the garden. I like to use it when I plant garlic, onions and other bulbing plants. I don't like to buy the stuff at the store, because I know it comes from animals that have lived in CAFO's and have been fed antibiotics and hormones. Since I buy my chickens at the local farm, they're pastured and happy and healthy as can be. I try to make the best use of them when I buy them, they are expensive and I don't like to waste anything. When we get done eating a chicken, this is what we have left.
Usually I bury these bones somewhere in the garden, or put them in the compost pile. They do take a while to break down though, so I thought I could make my own bone meal instead. I simply put the bones in a blender and I had bone meal. Not quite as fine as the stuff you buy, but much healthier for my garden.
I feel good knowing that nothing is going to waste and the bone meal I'm using in my garden is the best quality.
What do you do with your chicken bones? Have you ever made your own bone meal?
Monday, July 26, 2010
If your climate allows, now is the time to be getting your fall and winter vegetable garden planted in preparation for those shorter days that are inevitable as summer slips by. Fall and winter gardening is about harvesting not growing - so it is important that the plants get some growth on them before the shorter days of September arrive.
While we wait all winter for warmer weather so we can start our seeds, now the sun is here with a vengeance and the heat that was coveted just a while ago, is now hindering seed starting efforts. Cool weather crops get a little balky when soil temperatures reach 85 degrees F, but with a little effort we can mimic the cooler weather of late spring and early summer and still get the plants going.
For vegetables I want to transplant, I provide shade for my flats, or at the very least morning sun only, and protection from afternoon sun. After our cool, wet spring when it was time to start my fall and winter brassicas - we got our first heat wave - the thermometer hovered just below the century mark for a week - all the while when I watered I worried about actually stewing my seeds it was so warm. But shade and daily watering did the trick. Our greenhouses are oriented north and south, and by placing my flats outside on the north end of the greenhouse, the plants receive bright indirect light, and are shaded by the greenhouse somewhat. Now the seedlings can handle a little sun for growth, but since they are in black plastic flats I have to keep a careful watch on them for any signs of heat or drying out.
The other conundrum is direct seeding in hot soil - seeds like to germinate when the soil and air conditions are right- warmth and moisture are what seeds really, really want. Providing that in the garden in the right combination is harder by our hand than that of Mother Nature's. Have you ever noticed the flush of new weeds seeds germinated after a summer rain, compared to the mediocre showing of weeds after irrigating your garden? Some stalwart candidates always show up near drip lines or where you water, but after a rain, everyone shows up at the party. I swear, during our dry summers when it finally does rain, I can hear the plants sigh with relief. They like water on every surface - not just at their roots. Maybe a comparison for us would be a spit bath as opposed to a shower - not the same by any means.
It may seem counter-intuitive to add a blanket in oppressive heat, but actually my lightweight row cover that I use for daikon radish and salad turnips actually reflects the light and helps the seeds germinate as if it was a cooler. And with seeds like carrots and parsnips that take a long time to germinate but want cool, moist soil but no crust, the row cover works very well, because it bears the brunt of the pounding water droplets, allowing water through while keeping a soil crust from forming.
If you don't use row covers, and just plain don't want to use the product, there are other methods too. One that works especially well is to irrigate the area you want to plant very well, and when it is dry enough to work, plant your seeds. For fine seeds that take up to 3 weeks to germinate, covering the furrow with potting soil or seed starting mix works good too. The peat moss in the potting soil holds moisture and doesn't crust allowing the tiny seedling to emerge. I have also heard of using boards or cardboard too, to keep in moisture, the seeds don't need light to germinate, and the board will keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge.
I am sure there are many more ideas out there, but these are just a few that I have had success with. Happy Fall gardening!!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I recently read an article that stated research from www.itsmyid.co.uk found the average British woman's handbag is filled with £342 worth of essentials, which works out to $522 US, $590 Australian dollars or $543 Canadian. The article stated that some experts felt that was a conservative estimate...this of course inspired me to count up just what my average handbag contained...
The breakdown of costs were:
Handbag (what Americans call purse)
ARTICLE: £51 MINE: £10 (on sale - 6 years old!)
Purse (what Americans call wallet)
ARTICLE: £29 MINE: £10 (on sale - 4 years old!)
ARTICLE: £28 MINE: £0.05
ARTICLE: £105 MINE: £0.00
Make up, Perfume
ARTICLE: £18 MINE: £13 (if I remember it!)
ARTICLE: £47 MINE: £30
ARTICLE: £25 MINE: £5.99
ARTICLE: £40 MINE: £1 (the dollar store!)
MINE: £70.04 - but the truth is, 90% of the time I don't take my ipod or make up with me (I really only take them on long journeys), which would bring my total down to £27.04. Although, the resale value of a purse & handbag which are four years old is certainly less than £20 so it is probably only worth a fraction of £27.04!
Extra things I generally do carry in my handbag are: a cheap notebook I've made to make lists of things to do, a change purse to give coins to anyone in need (the homeless or someone selling Big Issue), a couple of healthy snacks and water which helps me not spend money and the truth is I rarely go anywhere without a book from the library!
The last time I carried my ipod was en route home after volunteering overseas, I very much enjoyed listening to my favourite radio program, because it is a rare treat it is very much appreciated.
I like that my handbag and list of essentials is short. I'm very happy to go for a walk without noise, to work, volunteer or exercise without the distraction of a phone. I enjoy my lists made on scrap pieces of paper which gives them another use before being recylced. My handbag's contents have not always been so simple in fact I'll admit I used to carry a lot of stuff all the time, now I'm glad it's a sign of a pretty care free, frugal, green & simple existence.
What do you carry around with you? I'd love to hear the contents of your handbag or pockets! Is it a reflection of the change in your life?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I love sheets for material use. Big pieces of fabric most folks throw out when they no longer match the bedroom, and I pick up cheap for sewing! These two are some most recent creations. Super Boy is modeling the skirt, because he insisted, but it is for Pony Gal. I found this number at a Goodwill in the Big City and also ended up making myself a skirt with it. The dress on Pony Gal is from an old sheet of my grandmother. She had to move to an assisted living facility a few months back and I grabbed some sheets from the stuff that she had to part with. I love that I can keep a part of her with us in odd ways. Pony Gal has clothes made from Dad's grandma's stash as well.
(Sorry about the fuzzy pictures-apparently I couldn't stand still that day ;) )
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
When openly embracing a simple, green, or frugal lifestyle, you will inevitably have to make some changes to your current way of living. In the fourth of my not so obvious series of posts about green psychology, I will try to explain the different stages of change, and what to expect when embarking on your journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Please note that I am not a psychologist, just someone who has gone through an incredible change, and hopefully can articulate from experience what each stage feels like. The information provided is a rehash of many sources found on the web, that I have collated into a sensible format.
During my life's journey I have found that change is an unusual and personal thing. I have noticed that some people embrace it and find it exciting, while others resist it with their very last ounce of strength. Why is that so, I have often asked myself? Why would humans rather endure pain and discomfort of the status quo than change for the better. Usually, the change happens when they realise that the pain of the status quo is a worse place to be than the change itself or the new reality. Change can be made by you or made to you. I prefer the former!
Lets dig a bit deeper to discover the emotional stages that happen when humans are confronted with a change. I found this diagram below which is a seven-stage adaptation of the five stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the acknowledged expert on grief and bereavement. Following the publication of her book "On Death and Dying (1969)", it became clear to practitioners that the stages in the grief model were transferable to all personal change and had a far wider relevance than just to death and dying. So, based on the evidence that all change contains some sort of loss, her model is used to this day to map where an individual is at any given stage of a change that is affecting them. (Click chart to enlarge)
Lets go through each stage whereby I have attempted to articulate the types of emotions that you may (or may not) experience during the stage:
Stage 1 - Shock. This reaction is usually immediate and from experience, it can be within a few hours. Even if you have planned this change, the fact that it is actually upon you will give you a strange feeling of disorientation. This stage will last longer if it is unexpected.
Stage 2 - Disbelief/Denial. You have usually managed to get back to everyday life at this point. Intellectually, you know that the change has happened and what may happen, however emotionally, you may block out the new reality from daily life. You will probably be processing this new reality in your sub-conscious mind. Cognitive Dissonance usually occurs at this stage, and you are more likely to get stuck in this phase if you are change resistant.
Stage 3 - Self doubt. This is a very uncomfortable stage. Old habits and beliefs are no longer relevant, as are some of the things that used to be important to you. Your sense of identity will be shattered. You feel a sense of nothingness until you develop a new way of 'being'. Your confidence will be low, and you may be fearful of the future, become angry, depressed, and have an overwhelming sense of guilt. I have personally felt doubt as to whether I have made the right decision or whether I am up for the job. You also may want to seek isolation to mull it over further, and at the same time feel unmotivated.
Stage 4 - Acceptance. You have come to the decision to accept the change and face the future. By letting go of the past reality, the pain goes away and finding your new way of being becomes exciting and a challenge rather than a loss. Your energy levels will be going up, as this stage usually begins just after rock bottom on the emotional scale. You still might not know what you are going to do, but at least you know that your reality has changed.
Stage 5 - Experimentation. You try something new from the new paradigm, but don't be surprised if you can't stick to the plan. You could be all over the place, trying little changes to fit with your new reality. You will still be working it out in your mind, however your energy levels continue to rise. Try little things before attempting any major change at this stage, because you may slip back to self-doubt if a large experiment goes pear shaped.
Stage 6 - Search for meaning. When you have embarked on your journey towards your new reality, you may start to appraise where you were before the change occurred, what has happened since, and why. You will begin to fit your experience into your "life story" and re-examine your view of yourself and the world around you. You will start to make sense of it all.
Stage 7 - Integration. At the end of the change process, and all being well, you will be comfortable, confident, and a feeling that you belong or are seeking belonging in your new way of life.
Now just a realisation on my part. Change may be difficult at times and for a long period, but it can also be exciting, energising and uplifting. It is a part of life. Also remember that just because there is a model, it does not mean that everyone will experience all stages or the same change in the same way as others. Every person is different and the above model is for guidance only and is based on my own experience. Yours may differ significantly.
I see major changes happening within our society, and I see many people stuck in stage 2 - Denial/Disbelief which is disheartening. However lately I have noticed many more people who are more advanced and are well towards the end of the cycle and seeking like minded individuals or groups to enforce their new paradigm. I often write on my personal blog about the big issues like climate change, peak oil, collapse, and demonstrate the things you can do to soften the blow and assist. Living a simple, green and frugal lifestyle will help to us no end, as will paying down as much debt as you can. However, if you have a basic understanding what stage of change you and others around you could possibly be in, it could help to adapt to the current situation in a better way.
I wish my family and I had have know about the stages of change when I had my very own green epiphany! Maybe my wife would not have thought I was having an affair at the time.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I've been canning jams for about four years now, this being the fourth summer. I learned from reading books and the Internet. I learned to can pickles the same way.
This weekend I took a freezer jams class. I probably could have learned how to do freezer jams from a book as well, but pectin intimidated me. Sugar + fruit I could totally handle, but add unknown substance from a packet? Yeah. What could possibly go wrong? Another benefit was that I would get to meet and chat with other people also trying to learn about food preservation.
I came home to this:
A 14$ bushel of Missouri peaches. They are coming to a full ripe on the counter.
The downside is that I don't have room in my freezer to play with my new found freezer jamming skills. The upside is that I will be learning a NEW skill, once again from book and Internet, canning whole peaches in light syrup, making peach butter, and peach jam. That is IF I can get to canning them before my lovely children eat them all. They have already eaten 30 between the two of them in the last two days. It is craaaaazy how good these little peaches are.
So what are your favourite peach things for canning? Pie filling? Mixed berry and peach jams?
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Like Kate, in her post yesterday, I too am finally getting to eat fresh out of the garden. Then, too, the heat of summer has finally arrived, so long cooking times heating up the kitchen is the last thing I want to do. Stir-frys are our quick, easy meal of choice, and the ingredients vary depending on what's available at the moment. Just like a Chinese menu, choose one from Column A, one from Column B, etc, adjust amounts according to how many you'll be serving and/or if you want leftovers, and dinner can be on the table in half an hour.
Gather your choice of ingredients. If you'd like to serve your stir-fry with a grain, such as rice, noodles, couscous, whatever, get that started cooking while you prep one from each of the following:
Mix & Match Stir-fry (4-6 servings)
Cut into thin, bite-size pieces (it's easier to cut meat into thin strips if it's partially frozen):
1 pound medium shrimp OR 1 pound boneless pork OR 2 whole chicken breasts OR 1 pound beef top round OR 1 box extra-firm tofu
Slice into bite-size pieces, and micro-cook, steam, or boil until crisp-tender (just a couple of minutes), then drain:
2 large carrots OR 1 cup broccoli buds OR 1 cup fresh asparagus pieces OR 1/2 cup cauliflower
Cut into uniformly-sized slices:
2 cups bok choi or Chinese cabbage OR 1 cup fresh pea pods OR 1 cup fresh mushrooms OR 2 medium tomatoes, seeded
If necessary, cut into uniformly-sized slices:
8-oz can water chestnuts, drained OR 1 cup walnut pieces OR 1 cup dry-roasted peanuts OR 2 stalks celery
The Basics - these are in every stir-fry
1 clove garlic, minced OR 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cooking oil
(optional) 4 oz. fresh or canned bean sprouts OR bamboo shoots, drained
Stir together, and set aside:
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Once you have everything ready to go, start cooking: in wok or large skillet heat the oil until the surface looks wavy. Stir-fry garlic or ginger 30 seconds, add green onions and stir-fry another minute. Add Crunchy Ingredient plus sprouts or shoots, and continue to stir-fry another couple of minutes. Remove everything from the skillet to a plate.
Add Vegetables I and II to the skillet, stir-fry 1 minute. Remove to the plate.
Add more oil if necessary, and stir-fry half the Protein 2-3 minutes, until browned. Remove to plate, and stir-fry other half. Return all Protein, garlic mixture, and Crunchy Ingredient to skillet. Give the soy sauce mixture a quick stir, and pour into skillet. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Vegetables I and II, cover, and cook another minute or two. Serve atop or alongside your prepared grain choice.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Living the Frugal Life
Experienced gardeners are accustomed to dealing with gluts from time to time. The glorious avalanche of food coming in all at once - whether it be tomatoes, green beans, zucchini/courgettes, potatoes, or something else - can be met with a variety of strategies ranging from sharing it among friends, family and neighbors, to food preservation. There are even cookbooks devoted to single ingredients which come in very useful when those gluts happen.
But there's another, less discussed, phenomenon with which gardeners also contend. It's the trickle - that slow but steady production of a few cherry tomatoes per day early in the season, or a scant handful of snow peas (mangetout) from just a few plants. When you have a trickle of any particular crop, it's hard to build a meal around that one vegetable alone. Nor does it make much sense to spend the time to preserve such tiny amounts of food. If the trickle is really small, it's not usually an issue in my garden, because a couple of cherry tomatoes will just get popped straight into my mouth. Sometimes though, I like to cobble a meal out of several trickles gathered together.
Of course, there's always salad. Most garden vegetables can go into a green salad to add new colors and textures. But I figured you already knew that, and wanted to offer you some other ideas. Both of the following dishes are easy to prepare, full of healthy fresh vegetables, quite frugal, and consistently delicious.
Bi Bim Bap
This dish hails from Korea. Although it has many of the same basic ingredients as stir-fried rice, the finished meal is quite different. I prefer it over stir-fried rice by quite a large margin. Since I've only started making this dish fairly recently, I'm going to have an expert introduce it to you. In this charming video Maangchi demonstrates every step in making a batch of bi bim bap large enough to feed a small army.
There are a few things I do differently. I'm usually preparing bi bim bap for only two people. So I don't take the trouble to pan-fry each and every type of vegetable in separate batches. I simply cook them all together, which also makes sense when dealing with the small quantities of garden trickle. I've never added the ground beef or all the sugar she uses, and honestly haven't missed either of them. Also, this is probably entirely inauthentic, but I've found I most enjoy bi bim bap prepared with sushi rice. The chewiness of this rice and the fried egg (I leave the yolk slightly soft) gave our vegetarian version of the dish plenty of ballast without heaviness. I liked the sesame seeds Maangchi put in the scallion sauce, so I usually sprinkle some on top of my serving when everything's all mixed up.
Good garden crops to use for bi bim bap: zucchini, carrots, snow peas, green beans, spinach, any cooking green, and just about any member of the cabbage family, chili peppers, scallions, onions. Small quantities go quite far in this dish if you have a variety of vegetables.
Spicy Peanut Noodles
I'm going to have to explain this one myself. This dish also has clear influences from Asia. I don't know if any country claims it as their own, but it's well adapted for use in many growing regions. I especially like to use a variety of greens in this dish, as well as cherry tomatoes cut in half. For a dish that serves 2-3 people, you will need the following:
8 oz (250 g) rice noodles, soaked in cool water to cover for about 45 minutes, then well drained
3-4 cups (about 1 l) mixed vegetables, chopped
spicy peanut sauce, made from:
- 1/2 cup (~120 ml) peanut butter
- 1/4 cup (~60 ml) soy sauce
- 1/4 cup (~60 ml) rice wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- ground chili pepper to taste
- water for thinning
When preparing the vegetables, I usually separate them into three bowls. The smallest one contains the seasoning ingredients, such as minced fresh ginger and garlic, plus sliced onions or scallions. In this bowl I add a generous quantity of the cooking oil. The next bowl contains most of the vegetables, cut up appropriately for stir-fry. The last one is for any vegetables I only want to cook for only a very short time, such as cherry tomatoes, which have become an essential ingredient in this dish.
Simply mix all the ingredients for the spicy peanut sauce together in a clean jar with a lid. Give the ingredients a good stir and then shake it vigorously to blend.. The level of spiciness can be suited to your tastes. I like a mild but full flavored chili pepper powder such as ancho or molido. I use a level tablespoon of these chili powders. If you like more heat, or if you only have cayenne on hand, then obviously adjust the quantity appropriately (i.e. probably downward unless you're a capsaicin freak). I add just enough water so that the sauce no longer looks like I could frost a cake with it. It should be thin enough to pour, but no thinner. After preparing the noodles you may have some of this sauce leftover. It'll keep in the fridge (nice and neat in that jar) for about a week.
The dish works best in an extremely hot and large open pan. I use a monster cast iron skillet, preheated for 10 minutes so that it retains enough heat to keep the ingredients sizzling throughout the cooking process. Try to have all your vegetables dry to that water doesn't cool down the pan. In any case, you want a big and very hot pan, something with a long handle to stir the ingredients around with, and tongs to toss the noodles with the other ingredients. You also will need all your ingredients lined up and ready to go before you begin. Mise en place for you pros and former pros out there.
Heat your pan over very high heat, preheating it for up to 10 minutes. If it starts to smoke, it's a sign you're ready to start cooking (seriously), but turn on the vent fan so the fire department doesn't show up. Add the seasoning ingredients mixed with a generous amount of cooking oil to the pan. Stir for only about 15 seconds and immediately add the majority of your other vegetables. Cook these, stirring constantly for a minute or two, until you see them wilt a bit. Then add any other vegetables that require very little cooking time. After another minute of cooking, push all the vegetables to the center of the pan. Add the drained rice noodles around the edges of the pan, leaving the vegetables in the middle. Pour the spicy peanut sauce over the noodles. Wait a moment and then begin to incorporate the vegetables, noodles, and sauce. Work around the edge of the pan, grasping some vegetables and some noodles with your tongs, turning them over to mix them together. All ingredients should be thinly coated by the spicy peanut sauce. Add more if it seems to need it. When the noodles are thoroughly heated through, the dish is ready.
If you can't get rice noodles, you can use half a pound (1/4 kg) of spaghetti, but it'll need to be thoroughly cooked beforehand.
Good garden crops to use for Spicy Peanut Noodles: Swiss chard or other cooking greens, sweet corn cut off the cob, eggplant/aubergine (finely cut), any member of the cabbage family, carrots, cilantro or basil, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, green beans, etc.
Both of these vegetarian dishes have become emblematic of late spring through summer in our house. We make them frequently in during this time and find them extremely satisfying. I hope you'll enjoy them if you try them. And if you have any garden trickle strategies or go-to dishes, please mention them in the comments.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The older I get the more I enjoy the simple things in life. Sometimes they're are a little more work but usually more rewarding. I really love kneading bread by hand, hanging the laundry outside, and sweeping the floor with a broom. I love the quiet time I have during these activities, no loud vacuum cleaner, mixer or dryer; just the swoosh of the broom, the quiet sound of dough, or the breeze rustling the leaves.
It seems like we've gotten caught up in having appliances that do chores for us, to save us time and make our lives easier. Then we have to work long hours to buy those appliances and to pay the electric bills to run them. Not to mention, we have to put up with the noise they create in our lives. Doing chores the old-fashioned way helps me slow down and appreciate the little things that might go unnoticed. My chores go from drudgery to relaxing by simply taking a little extra time to do them the simple way. Of course I don't always do things by hand, but I try to when I can. I sweep every other week instead of vacuuming, I hand make bread most of the time and I line dry the laundry if it's sunny and warm. Not to mention, I enjoy the lower electric bill and the longer lifespan of my appliances.
Are there any chores you like to do without the help of appliances?
I can also be found at Chiot's Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Not Dabbling in Normal and you can follow me on Twitter.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Lettuce is one of the ubiquitous garden vegetables that everyone is familiar with, and rightly so since it is available in so many colors, shapes, and flavors. Just a quick look at a seed catalog will astound you with the range available. Lettuce has a reputation for being easy to grow and I have to agree, but after growing many varieties for mesclun sales, we had to find an array that would allow us to harvest for 8 months of the year. And even with all the more pungent greens available, when you want lettuce there is no substitute.
volunteer lettuce in the garden.
While everyone probably agrees that lettuce isn't hard to grow during the spring and fall, the hot dry days of summer present a different challenge if you are to have salads every day or at least several times a week.
Continuously picked lettuce looks a little ragged but keeps producing for a longer season.
There are several key points to summer lettuce:
1) Variety selection - look for the key words: slow to bolt, tolerates hot weather, also it helps to peruse seed catalogs for southern states. We had excellent luck with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seeds.
2) Romaines are very heat tolerant with their stiff ribs and thicker leaves. Our favorites are Parris Island, Jericho, Little Gem and Valmaine. Other heat tolerant leaf varieties that work well with our dry summers and scant irrigation are Anuenue, Simpson Elite, Red Sails, Oscarde, Thai Oakleaf, and Flashy Green Butter Oak to name a few.
3) Once the plants get large enough to harvest a few leaves, pick your salads by taking several leaves from each lettuce plant every few days. This sends a signal that the plant needs to keep growing and not set seed (bolt). This probably extends the harvest of your lettuce plantings by 3 weeks or many times much longer. If you wait until the entire head is harvestable, you risk the chance that a hot spell will stress out your plants and cause them to bolt.
4) And last but not least, practice successive plantings. I seed lettuce every 3 weeks in 6 packs, and plant out transplants. We eat huge salads, so I am planting 18 - 24 plants for 3 people, but you may get by with 6. It's easy to tend to a 6 pack or so, and you know exactly what you have to plant come planting time. Lettuce seeds like cool weather for germinating, so the controlled environment of starting them inside or on a cool porch works very well versus the hot summer sun and warm soil in the garden. When it is time to plant your transplants, evening is a good time, to give the plants a night to recover from the shock of transplanting.
New plantings coming on and almost big enough for a light harvest.
I hope these tips are useful, there is nothing better than a cool, refreshing summer salad!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Currently on my personal blog, I'm running a series about 100 ways to save money! Thinking about it, a lot of the actions I take to live a more frugal lifestyle also help my home run more simply and more environmentally friendly. I certainly use less water, electricity and gas (petrol) than most and try to reuse or refuse as a part of my life choices.
My top 10 tips for beginners trying to save money are:
1. Write everything down that you spend and review it at the end of the day and week. Are you making the best use of your spending?
2. Commit to no-spending days - something I now live by! Begin with 1 a week, followed by 2, 3, 4...it is amazing how much you can save!
3. Take cash grocery shopping with you and only spend that cash!
4. Cut 10% off your grocery bill (if you usually spend $100 a week, commit to only taking $90 a week with you) - use what is in your cupboards, planning your meals, making meals from scratch. My tips alone made me slash 75% off my budget!
5. Reduce your laundry costs by wearing most things several times before washing them and hanging clothes outside to dry.
6. Use money jars to budget your spending for the week!
7. Define everything as a need or a want and if you find something you want like makeup or a new book, force yourself to wait 48 hours before you purchase it!
8. Commit to saving, even if initially you can only put $30 a month into an account, once you see that money building it makes you think about ways in which you can save more
9. Use the library and community recycle/swap programs
10. Always be prepared - I spend money when I don't have lunch with me at work or need a quick snack or tissue or lip gloss. I now make sure I always take lunch, a snack, lip gloss, tissues, wet wipes, gum and anything else I/we may need with me.
11. Commit to making meals from scratch, starting with one night per week. I personally have soup night one night per week, I make a large batch of soup and it is our meal one night a week (with a simple salad) and one lunch per week, the leftovers are frozen and we then have a pick of great soups for Saturday lunch - with a buffet style salad. This alone cuts about $7 a week off of the grocery bill. Today's soup is broccoli!
12. Have a leftover night, pull all leftovers out the fridge and make that your main meal!
13. Shop local
14. Before you buy something new, check out your local thrift shops and freecycle.
15. Watch how much water you use, I shower after I swim (at my local pool) but at home I am still very mindful of how much water is used. I make sure taps are off, showers are short, laundry is washed at 30 degrees and the kettle is only boiled with how much water is needed.
I'd love to hear some of your tips for beginners looking to save money! I'm always amazed at just how many ways there are to save!!
Friday, July 9, 2010
from Spiral Garden
Here in the southern hemisphere we're in the midst of winter. Depending on location - this could mean quite mild weather, or "real" winter with snow and ice and cold toes!
What I love about winter is the warm, nourishing foods. Here are a few of my favourite winter meals...
Baked Lima Beans
500g dry lima beans
800g tin diced tomatoes
2 medium onions, chopped finely
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups hot water
2 tblspn fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp dried herbs
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the lima beans overnight. Rinse and simmer in fresh water for 50 minutes. Heat a little oil and saute onion. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix with rinsed beans and place in lightly greased baking dish. Bake uncovered at 170 degrees C for 30 minutes.
This recipe makes a lot and freezes well. Serve with crusty bread and salad or steamed vegetables. Very hearty!
This makes a lot - so it's great to feed a crowd, or to freeze half for another meal. This would be great with pasta, as a pie filling, as a topping for jacket potatoes or served with mashed potato and steamed vegies.
3 cloves of giant Russian garlic, chopped finely
brown onions, diced
2 cups red lentils, rinsed
3 cups water with 1 tbspn Vegetable stock powder (Massel)
2 heaped tbsn tomato paste
3 x 400g tins diced tomatoes
400g mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried Tuscan herbs
fresh ground black pepper
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Put all ingredients into slow cooker. Stir. Cook on high for a couple of hours, checking that the lentils are softening. When lentils are the right texture, turn to low.
Vegetable & Chickpea Stew
2 x 400g tins diced tomatoes
1 tblsp olive oil
2 large brown onions, diced
4 celery sticks, finely sliced
*I use leaves too, fresh from the garden
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tsp grated fresh ginger
3 tsp sweet paprika
1kg pumpkin, peeled & cut into 2cm cubes
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1cm thick slices
2 x 400g tins chickpeas, drained & rinsed
500ml water with 3 tblspn Massel stock powder
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and celery, and saute for a few minutes. Add garlic, ginger and paprika and cook, stirring, for a further minute.
Place tomatoes, pumpkin, zucchini, chickpeas and stock/water mix into slow cooker. Add sauted ingredients. Stir well and cover. Cook on high for a couple of hours or until vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened. Turn to “Keep Warm” or “Low” until it’s time to serve.
Serve with rice and steamed greens on the side, this makes enough for the eight of us and two containers for the freezer, so it's another recipe for many!
And for dessert...
1 tbspn cornflour
3 cups milk
3 tbspn sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix and whisk first 3 ingredients in a saucepan. Place onto heat and keep whisking until it becomes thick and creamy. Take off the heat and add sugar and vanilla and whisk through. Don’t add sugar whilst on the heat or custard will stick to the pan.
You can add cocoa to make chocolate custard or add cinnamon or other spices for a different flavour.
I used to think that homemade custard would be lumpy or eggy-tasting or otherwise unacceptable. No idea why I thought that, but this is smooth, creamy and delish!
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
I am so, so very picky about how my laundry smells and how I wash it. It has taken a while, and quite the journey through mainstream detergents (I used the free and clear varieties there), to organic/natural ones, to now just making it myself. People don't really realize that clean laundry should smell just that-clean. Mainstream cleaners use so much unnecessary stuff to perfume the laundry, then you add the softeners (anyone heard of vinegar?) and the softeners sheets, and it is intense! I cannot stand to wear clothes or really even be around them, if they have been washed conventionally anymore. It hurts my nose. Clean is that fresh smell when there is an absence of other smells that were previously in the fabric-an easy smell to find when washing things like your husband's work clothes or dirty diapers.
The formula I like to use for my clothes is from here. Very easy. I use their actual brand of laundry soap bars for the soap I use on diapers as it uses less oils in it, thus giving me less to rinse out of the diaper, thus cleaner diaper. I am less picky for our day to day stuff. I use whatever natural/locally made soap I find. It is actually great for the ends of soap. I can grate them up and toss them in and not, instead, get them caught in my hair while shampooing. Like I mentioned before, if you think you need a rinse or softener, just put vinegar in the same slot you would put regular stuff, but not just in with the soap. This negates the effects of the oils in the soap, which help with the cleaning action. It has to come in its own time. We dry our laundry on a line as much as possible, though with the rain here lately, the dryer has seen a little more action. I also have an indoor rack I use, but with the amount of laundry we've had from some basement water/lightning fire issues, it hasn't been enough. Drying outside adds another hint of fresh to the clothes, as well as softening if it is nice and breezy out.
Here is the basic laundry soap recipe...you can add essential oils or just use a soap with them if you like for added hints of fragrance.
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup baking soda
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Deviating From The Norm, I mentioned that I have realised that I have different thought patterns that others around me. Once again, due to my green transformation, I find that I am deviating from what is considered normal behaviour. Let me give you a few examples, which may seem a little crazy, but hey, that is just who I am.
Driving down the freeway the other day going towards Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, I noticed that the roads department were installing high tension steel cables as barriers. My very first thought was that it was really nice of them to protect the trees from cars hitting them. Maybe I am right? If the drivers didn't do irrational things in their cars, then the trees wouldn't need barriers to protect them!
Every time I walk to the Gym on Sunday morning for exercise rehab, I am always gazing up at the roof tops as I power walk my way down the road. Why, I hear you ask? Certainly not because I am admiring my neighbours homes. It is to determine the best houses that solar panels would work on, of course. As I live in the Southern hemisphere the north roof get direct sun and the bigger the roof, the bigger the system. There is nothing quite like a big north facing, unshaded roof. I even comment to Kim (my wife) when we drive past massive warehouses and factories, that they should have solar panels on them, or at least have a big rainwater tank connected. Is it just me?
When it is windy, I don't complain. I just wish I had a wind turbine. When it rains, I don't complain. I just dream of having more space for a larger rainwater tank, and think that the veggie patch is loving all this extra water.
When I see a green lawn, I just want to rip it up and plant vegetables. Where others see weeds, I see food for my compost bins or chickens. Where others see empty jars, I see jam receptacles. Where others see empty beer bottles, I think of my next batch of home brew beer! Where others throw away lumber, I see chicken houses. Where other see pretty city lights at night, I see dangerous carbon emissions. My green thoughts just keep on coming.
The 3R's have become an obsession, to the point of if I can't use it, I try and find another person who might use the item. Nothing elevates my blood pressure faster than someone putting a recyclable item into the general waste bin at work. It is not like the co-mingled recycle bin is not right next to it with a great big label or anything!
Anyway, enough of my unusual thoughts, because I could go on forever listing the weird green ways that I ponder each day. Am I alone in this behaviour or do our readers also have random green moments of insanity like I do? I would love for your to share your "out there" think with us. Don't be shy!
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Two things that cost us a lot of money when it gets hot at the farm: Popsicles and beverage. When we were newly married my husband got so sick from dehydration and exhaustion that he was admitted to the Emergency Room and administered fluids for 4 hours. After that experience I made it my job to keep everyone working at our home in the heat hydrated and taking breaks when necessary. I kept Pedialite frozen pops on hand for immediate heatstroke treatment. Those can cost 10$ a box. Gatorade has basically the same stuff but more HFCS. Ugh. Neither has nutrition, they are just a quick fix.
Now that we have kids who will play play play until they collapse even if it is 106 degrees F outside with a heat index of 10 degrees higher and humidity to boot, I have a different arsenal to battle the dreaded dehydration monster. Our farm provides what we need and it is not expensive (unless you count the stained clothes, but that's just part of farm life anyway!)
There are two things that we now consume: Mint tea and fruit puree Popsicles.
Brewing mint tea concentrate; stock pot full of water, food processed Spearmint leaves, bring to a boil then cover and turn off, let sit for 2-3 hours, then add 1/2 cup of raw turbinado sugar for every 2 gallons. Then I put it in freezer safe pint jars and freeze. It is really strong, so when the time comes I take 1 frozen pint in a pitcher and pour over that cold water to fill...still strong so I serve over a glass full of ice. It is really not at all like "tea" but rather minty ice water. Very refreshing with the added nutritional bonus. I think that the Spearmint vs Peppermint makes the tea, as Spearmint has a much lower menthol content and is not as strong. I'm not sure I'd like it with Peppermint. I have not tried chocolate mint or lemon mint. They added bonus over sports drinks is the folic acid content (vit B9) and natural potassium and lots of other essential nutrients! Mint tea is packed full of natural, easy to digest, goodness!
I dried the remaining mint from that harvest. The dried mint gets stuffed into mason jars with a few grains of rice and used all winter long for hot tea and seasoning. With the next harvest I plan on making mint extracts for cookies.
I've been making so many Popsicles. The kids gobble them and the good kind with no HFCS are expensive and not much selection at our local grocery. Why would I pay 5$ for 6 Popsicles made out of strawberry puree when I just harvested 60 lbs of strawberries and put them up in my own freezer? It just seemed so ridiculous. So I've been using frozen juices and better yet pure unsugared fruit purees. The favourite right now is Watermelon pops. Watermelon in a blender= most yummy dripless stainless Popsicle EVER. No extra sugar so the kids can eat as much as they want. I had to order more moulds because of the freeze time. They eat them so fast. So I will keep a total of 20 pops in a freeze cycle. I have also made these with yogurt and fruit, actual juice (like apple cider or fresh squeezed orange juice or lemonade made with honey or raw sugar).
Saturday, July 3, 2010
The heat of summer has finally arrived. I needed a casual alternative to pants, a bit more appropriate than shorts, to wear. Making a denim skirt is an easy afternoon project. I've been turning old blue jeans into skirts for decades, a fashion that never seems to go out of style. It's easy enough for a beginning sewer too, involving only a bit of cutting, pinning, and straight, flat sewing.
Start with a pair of blue jeans that fit your waist and/or hips. Making a skirt is a great refashion for a pair of pants where the inseam is beginning to wear or fray. The cut-off legs are what make the gores of the skirt, and have to be long enough to reach from skirt hem to within an inch or two of both the bottom of the zipper fly and the back yoke of the pants to look best. A jeans skirt, therefore, can't be much longer than knee length, unless you want to piece together two pairs to make one skirt.
Either mark where you want the hem while wearing the pants, or better, with the pants lying flat, flip the legs up to the bottom of the back yoke and cut across where the fold is. I used an old pair of my husband's pants, now too small for him in the waist. He'd ripped a hole in the knee, but since he wears a 36" inseam I knew I could cut away that ripped bit and still have enough length left.
Laying the pants flat, cut away the inseam just inside the stitching and discard.
Cut the seams and hems from the pant legs. When finished, you should have four long rectangular pieces. Pressing them flat will make it easier to put the skirt together.
Match the side seams of the pants together and lay it out flat, front to one side, back to the other. Pull the curved crotch out front and back, smoothing everything so it all lies flat and equal. Cut the curved crotch away, making a straight cut from bottom hem to an inch or two from the bottom of the fly. Do the same on the back, making a straight cut from back hem to a couple of inches below the yoke. Use the leg pieces as a rough measure, since they will be filling in the area you're cutting away, to make sure they'll reach from hem to the top of your cut, especially in the back. After the photo above, I ended up making the back cut reach up even higher, after laying out the pant leg to make sure I'd have enough.
Rip the seam, front and back, another inch beyond where you've cut. Then press about 1/2 inch of the cut edges to the inside, overlapping one side of the ripped part of the seam over the other on the outside. Laying the skirt down flat, position one rectangular leg piece underneath, smoothing it flat, and pin into place.
On this skirt, I used golden thread that would match the top-stitching of the blue jeans. Top-stitch the front gore into place. I turn the skirt inside-out, to make sure I won't catch any other part of the skirt in my stitching. Then, making sure the leg part lies smooth and flat on the bottom, I stitch right next to the pressed edge from hem up to the top, across the top of the gore, and then down next to the edge on the other side. To match the jeans stitching, I top-stitched another row of stitching 1/4" from the first row on all pieces, and went back and forth at the top of each gore for extra reinforcement.
Trim away the excess pant leg material from the inside of the skirt. Do the same for a gore on the back of the skirt: rip the seam another inch (I think it looks best when the gore reaches all the way to the bottom point of the back yoke, if you have enough pant leg material to reach that far), press the cut edges to the inside, lay flat to get pant leg into position, pin, top-stitch, and then cut away the excess inside. The photo above shows a closeup of the reinforcing cross-stitching at the top of the gore.
If you want a straight skirt, you can proceed from here to finishing the hem. But I wanted more of an A-line skirt, so using the remaining two leg pieces I added gores to the side seams as well. Instead of cutting the side seams away, I just ripped them open up to where the front pocket was attached inside. After picking away torn bits of thread, I pressed both edges to the inside, laid the skirt flat, positioned, pinned, and top-stitched a gore into each side. To make sure I wouldn't catch any part of the front pocket in my stitching, I pulled each one up and inside-out the top before sewing. To make a nice point or corners at the top of the gores, leaving your needle down in the material, lift up the presser foot, and spin the material around the needle. Put the presser foot back down to stitch in the new direction. Stitching backwards and then forwards at the very top makes a nice bit of reinforcement over the seam. Cut away the excess bits inside.
Try the skirt on to decide where you want the hem. Lay the skirt out flat, front to one side, back to the other. Trim away the uneven bottom edges, making a nice, slightly curved, bottom edge. If you want a finished hem, leave an extra inch, press to the inside and top-stitch down all around.
For this skirt, I want the bottom edge to fray naturally. After trimming to the length I wanted, I made little bar tacks, stitching forwards then backwards, about half an inch from the bottom of each seam to keep them from ripping upwards. After a couple of times through the wash, and some thread-picking, I'll have a nice soft fringe along the bottom edge.
This is just a basic skirt. But jeans skirts make great bases for customization too. Add a cotton ruffle (or three), or maybe practice your embroidery stitches. Ready to start sewing?
Edit added later: Since my sister, Annodear, asked for a photo of the finished skirt - here ya go, such as it is. My only full-length mirror is old and spotty, and having to use a flash doesn't make it any easier. This pose, you can see both the front and a side gore.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Living The Frugal Life
I'm not a terribly organized or foresighted person. I'm often caught up short on occasions when it's appropriate to give a gift. Just because I resist the pull of consumer culture doesn't mean I don't enjoy giving things to those I love. Indeed it's far more satisfying to give gifts that I've had a hand in growing or otherwise producing. So I'm making an effort this year to prepare and set aside things from my kitchen, garden, and other home production for holiday gift-giving or other occasions. Jellies, jams and other garden preserves are obvious choices, and for good reason. I now have a small supply of either raspberry or strawberry jam in jars sized for giving. But in thinking a bit about other things I want to have on hand come the holiday season, I've come up with a few ideas I thought were worth sharing.
Herbal salves for skin - I'm collecting calendula (pot marigold) blooms, comfrey leaf, and lemon balm leaf now, in the height of summer, to infuse in olive oil. Later I'll strain out the herbs, warm the oil and melt pure beeswax into it. Some of the beeswax might even be from our bees this year. This makes a lovely soothing salve with anti-microbial properties which promotes the healing of burns, abrasions, and insect bites. I gave it away in four ounce jars last year and have gotten several compliments and requests for more. I'm happy to comply.
Herbal teas - Bee balm (monardia), New Jersey tea, and lemon balm all grow in my garden. They all make lovely tissanes after simply being cut and hung up to dry. I'm still looking for pretty jars to put them into to make the gift look special, but the herbs from my own garden are a pleasure to give.
Elderflower cordial - This non-alcoholic drink made from our elder blooms is wonderfully refreshing in ice water during summer, and lends a festive touch when added to champagne. This is something I feel is quite special, so I've just made my third batch of it. I'm glad to feel I've got enough of it to give some away.
Felted mittens - I am especially having fun pursuing this project. I've scoured rummage sales for cheap wools sweaters and my own closets for those I've outgrown or worn holes in but couldn't bear to part with. Now I have the chance to re-purpose them with very little effort. After felting the sweaters in a hot wash cycle, and possibly dying some of them, I'll be making dense, warm mittens out of them. This page explains the details.
Garden seeds - This one is for gardeners and seed savers more accomplished than I am. I can manage a few of the easier seeds. But if I were more meticulous, knowledgeable, and skilled, I'd love to assemble a collection of seeds for giving, from my garden to a friend's. Even better would be the ability to give an aspiring gardener the diverse stock of seeds he or she needs to make a start.
Hand crafted gift wrap - The Japanese have a lovely custom of wrapping their gifts in cloths, called furoshiki. Selecting lovely bolts of cloth to make my own double-sided wraps was a pleasure as well as a chance for me to learn some basic sewing skills. I chose fabrics to pair up with the idea that each wrap would have a side appropriate for Christmas, and another appropriate for birthdays or any other general occasion. Whether or not you chose to include a hand crafted wrap as part of the gift, or ask for it back, it makes a lovely impression. Best of all, with every re-use, you'll be saving paper and tape that would otherwise be manufactured as future landfill.
Loofahs - I'm growing loofah (luffa) gourds for the first time this year, and hoping for a bumper crop to give away as scrubs for the bath and shower. We'll see what the harvest brings, but as the scrubs wear out, this could become a perennial gifting favorite if the plants do well for us.
What other things do you produce or make yourself that you give away as gifts? Please share in the comments!