Sunday, 8 August 2010

When you wander off the simple, green, frugal path...

by Eilleen, Consumption Rebellion

Hello everyone,

Readers of my personal blog would know that I have been having a hard time lately. I am now at the tail end of wrapping up my divorce and things have finally sunk in that I really am now a single parent. While the simple and frugal path has helped me at the beginning of this big life change - (indeed, I was astounded at how easily I was able to adjust to an income a third of what I was used to) now that the big upheavals are behind me and the dust is settling, I found myself craving "easy" and "normality".

And so over the last few months, I found myself opting for more and more takeaway and convenience meals. Buying things that "everyone else" has....I even bought a TV, even though I didn't really watch it! Buying presents (just like everyone else does) and buying DVDs so that my kids can watch something (on the brand new TV) while I sit and absorb the enormity of the changes in my life.

Unfortunately...and like my life previously.... I found that "buying normality" doesn't work. And there is nothing "easy" about over-consuming. In fact, the further I wandered off my values the more unsettled I became.

The problem with an over-consumerist lifestyle - once you have embarked on it - is that its pretty hard to stop. So many concepts are heavily marketed and attached to a consumerist lifestyle. Concepts like "normality" and "easy" - in short "the life you want to have". And even though I know that these are all illusions, they are very very tempting illusions anyway.

So where am I going with this?

This blog was created to inspire and help people live a simpler, greener and more frugal life. So many people have told me in my personal blog that sometimes reading blogs like these can be intimidating because people seem to do it so easily (oh there's that word again).

But as you can see, my own journey to a simpler life has not been easy. I was able to achieve it for a few years and for a long time, I experienced the quiet joy of finally living within my own values. Then slowly, slowly, I just....stopped.

I do have a more selfish motive for writing about my journey. I have found that blogging helps me take those little steps back towards a simpler path....and it helps me remain accountable. :)

So what little steps am I taking? Well, I have started with a budget challenge (that also involved a bit of decluttering) and I have also started sewing again. I am really grateful for Frugal Trench's post below this one because its reminding me of even more little steps to take.

For now I am here very very far from a simple, green or frugal life. Just like that time years and years ago, when I stopped buying brand new for the first time, I have a long way to trek to get back onto the simple path. But I know that with my little steps, I will get there.

"Looking for Reality" by Alice / Cornelia Kopp

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Little Simple, Green & Frugal Game

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

I recently ran a series called 100 ways to save money on my blog, I did it because each day I receive emails asking where to start. The reality is there are so many ways to embrace a more simple, green & frugal life, but it can seem overwhelming, particularly if life is proving stressful. Part of what has helped me over the years, is learning from others about what works for them; while we all may be in different seasons in our lives, with different budgets, other's small tips have made the world of difference to me. So today, I thought we'd play a little game to encourage each other! The game is sharing what 1 tip you would recommend to be more frugal, what 1 tip you would recommend to be more green and what 1 tip you would recommend to live a more simple life! Here are my three....

To live a more frugal life my one recommendation to start would be....commit to no-spending days! Nominate two days each week where you don't spend anything, that means you don't buy newspapers, gum, groceries, lunch, buy your bus pass, pay to go to the gym etc. Obviously if you have memberships that's different as it isn't costing you anything on those days, but commit to two days a week where no money leaves your wallet, purse etc. This will really help you see how little purchases which are usually unplanned, effect your budget and will help you live a more frugal life by taming the temptation to spend!

To live a greener lifestyle my one recommendation to start would be...always try to buy everything (or as much as you can) second hand, that includes clothing, kitchenware, books, gifts, toys, garden ware etc. The reason this works for me, is it really stops me making as many unplanned purchases as it takes time to find what is needed and it is greener as you are reusing what has already been made/used and not adding to the "chain" of more things needing to be produced. I keep a small list on my refrigerator door with things it would be handy to find, that might be a book I love which I'd like to own or new canning jars. I allow myself time to find them and trust that I will. I have been waiting for a particular recipe book for over a year, and two weeks ago I found it for about $2 (instead of $20!).

To live a simpler lifestyle my one recommendation to start would be...commit to set evenings at home and one day (or most of one day) each weekend. I began doing this five years ago, committing to Monday evenings, Wednesday evenings and Friday evenings (after our "let's celebrate the weekend swim") as well as from about 1pm Sundays at home. Caring for four children, with busy school and extra-curricular activities was impacting on simplicity, a few small changes and prioritization helped. Knowing we had Sunday afternoons & evenings to draw, read, craft, go for a walk, listen to music and not go anywhere (I also limited errands in the home) was so restful, add to that three evenings a week where after the busyness of school & homework we could walk to the park, play board games, read stories etc well it just made life more simple and easier. I think we often feel that going to the movies, meeting up with friends, going out for dinner and the like, will make us feel better, and I think in the moment it does, but long term, coming up with a more restful and relaxed home life really does help you life a simpler life, where you have time to establish a good routine, keep up with the household and just rest.

So those are my three recommendations?
I'd love if you added what your three tips would be! I'm sure you'll teach me something I can implement to take another step on this journey!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Peach Salsa

by Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

Peaches are, by far, one of my favorite fruits to preserve. I mean, I really love canning most fruits, but the things I can do with a peach-wow. One of my most requested recipes right now (and by far one of my favorites) is my peach salsa. I am planning on buying another load of peaches to make more salsa, jam and syrup next week, but took a week off this week to do some pressure canning of summer squash and beans. In the meantime, this is how I make my salsa-I love simple. I have seen other recipes that include extra spices or veggies that just take away from the simple, stunning flavor of this salsa.
Enjoy!

Peach Salsa
6 c pitted peaches, diced
1 1/4 c diced onion
4 jalapeno peppers, diced (seed these if you don't want it too spicy. I personally like only a little edge)
1 bell pepper, preferably red, diced and seeded (though an color will suffice)
1/2 c chopped fresh cilantro or 1/4 c dried
3/4 c white vinegar
2 T honey

Combine all and mix thoroughly. Raw pack into cleaned, sterilized jars and hot water bath for 20 minutes (more if you are too far above sea level).

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Cumquats

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

A friend of mine gave me a couple of kilograms of Cumquats last Friday.  I was not sure about what to do with them all, so I did a bit of research.

A Cumquat is a very small citrus, that grows well in colder climates.  It also grows well in pots or a large container.  Wikipedia states;

"The Round Kumquat (also Marumi Kumquat or Morgani Kumquat) is an evergreen tree, producing edible golden-yellow coloured fruit. The fruit is small and usually round but can be oval shaped. The peel has a sweet flavour but the fruit has a sour centre. The fruit can be eaten raw but is mainly used to make marmalade and jelly. It is grown as an ornamental plant and can be used in bonsai. This plant symbolises good luck in China and other Asian countries, where it is sometimes given as a gift during the Lunar New Year. It's more commonly cultivated than most other kumquats as it is cold tolerant. It can be kept as a houseplant."
Now when they mean sour, well all I can say is that sour is not the word for this fruit.  My tongue is still stinging from the first time I ate one.  The peel is actually sweeter than the centre!

I have kept some aside for marmalade to go with the other citrus I have grown, however I turned a kilo of them (2.2lbs) into something I have been meaning to try for a long time.  Cumquat Brandy!


Here is the recipe;

Cumquat Brandy

You need:
Cumquats, sugar and a bottle of brandy.

Method:
  • 1kg cumquats
  • 500g sugar (you can use 375g sugar if preferred, or more than 500g for a sweeter liqueur)
  • 1 bottle brandy
Prick the cumquats all over with a skewer or darning needle. Place in a large jar with the sugar and brandy. Shake or stir each day until sugar is dissolved (about 10 days).

Leave 6 months before using brandy, at which point the cumquats can also be consumed.
Now, I am yet to try it, but I reckon that it should taste just like Cointreau.  Well here is hoping anyway.  I will let you know in six months time!

Has anyone else tried this type of home made liqueur?  I am dying to find out if it will be worth the wait.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

How We Raise Our Pigs

by Danelle at My Total Perspective Vortex

A couple months back I engaged in a comments discussion about pork. The idea that pork, pork fat, and all things bacon related are bad for your health is very ingrained into our local Midwestern American culture and others too.

It's not entirely true.

It's not the pork. Rather, its not entirely the pig's fault. I'll preface this to say that if you ate all bacon all the time, you might be very very happy but not very healthy...or you'd die a very happy death. Mmmmm, bacon. Everything is better in moderation. Now, that said, I'd like to share with you some things I have learned over the past two years about pigs, bacon, and food.
Our Berkshire pig on his first day at our farm....
Breed affects behaviour, temperament, farrowing skills- all which matter to the farmer, but not as much to the consumer. We raised Yorkshires (what is typically grown in confinement and ends up in the conventional grocery stores) last year and Berkshire (heritage) this year.  The Yorks were still incredibly tasty at harvest BUT they didn't eat clover or play as much. That said, some breeds pasture better than others, which is why we chose Berkshire to raise this year. Plus Berks make better and more lard.

Pigs relaxing in the shade.
What DOES matter is 1) what they are fed and 2)where and how they are housed and 3)how they are butchered.

Feed: Corn and soy mix with added amino acids- that's standard. Most feed has GMO grain in it. We feed ours Reichart's Dairy Air goat dairy whey, 4-H grain mix, and veggies when we can. Finished on walnut, apple, squash, and whey or milk. They also sometime get buckets of canning scraps (NOT table scraps, pigs can contract the same diseases that humans can so they never get food that has been in contact with human saliva, ever.), like peach skins and bruise cuts, tomato cores, and corn cobs. We are working with a local co-op to make us a special grain mix that they can prove has no GMO grain in it and working to analyze the rest of their diet to see if we can eliminate soy altogether. We might have that balance done for next year's run.

Pigs eating goat cheese whey.
We hand mix the grain with water in 5 gallon buckets before giving it to them. Wet slop is easier for them to eat and it minimizes loss for us from wind blowing and excited pigs. We've tried it both dry and wet. The pigs prefer wet. It also aids in hydrating them and making sure they get clean water when it is very hot and dry like it is right now. They don't move around as much in the heat so getting them fluid is really important.

Water. Access at all times to CLEAN water. Not well water. Very important. Seriously. VERY important. Most well water in Iowa (where we live) is seriously and dangerously contaminated. If people can't drink it, neither should meat you will consume.  We run a hose out their waterer from our house water. We check it everyday to make sure it is full and clean.

Pigs eating clover and dandelions.

Housing. Open air and sunlight? How much room does each pig have in the enclosure? Ours have 2000+ square feet per pig. Confinement can be 6-8 square feet per pig. There are lots of arrangements that are in between. Hoop buildings where the pigs are still indoors but have more room and can run around together, smaller pasture arrangements, larger herds on pasture......all variables.We have 18 pigs on one acre. It is bordered on two sides by stands of trees, to the south and west. These trees provide windbreak and shade at the hottest parts of the day. Shelter from storms and harsh wind or sun are required, we have a couple options for them: a tarp pulled over a hoop that is open on both ends and a metal hoop building with a solid end at one side and hay bales stacked on the other.






Windfall apples.
Medications. This question is rarely asked by customers. All anybody cares about are antibiotics and hormones- which are VERY important things to care about, but they are not the only things to care about. We do not give our pigs hormones. Ever. If a pig gets sick we might treat that pig with an antibiotic, but it is NOT practice for us to give them medications just to make them grow bigger.

Pigs have to be wormed. It is a different wormer for pigs on pasture because they are exposed to different worms, lungworm is more common in pastured pigs for example. Confinement pigs are given lots of full spectrum, according to our local vet.  Some people don't bother and the parasite load of the pig is just...hard to imagine. Lungworm can kill a pig by suffocation. So we choose to worm them. I will even go as far to say that it is cruel not to worm the pigs.  Death by suffocation is not something that can be prevented by good diet or animal health. Their wormer is a really small does that gets mixed in their feed when we see it is needed. In the time we have had this group, we've wormed twice based on visual queues that worms might be present.

Vaccines. Most livestock vax's are way safer than human vax, our pigs have been vaccinated once for a respiratory disease that has 80% livestock death and is common in our region, transmitted by wild birds and more of a threat to pastured animals.Some farmers choose to give more, some none at all. If it matters to you, ask.

Our pigs get to live about 6 months to a year. We harvest them when they reach a target weight (around 250 pounds). We hand measure them to estimate this.  This year we have separated out 4 to be harvested at a time and we can then treat this small bunch to more apples, fruit, nuts, and whey.

We use a local, family run meat locker. The animals are killed humanely, and they only take small groups at a time. They also use a hot water carcass wash versus a lactic acid or celery wash. Their process for curing is better too, they use less nitrates and more time. So the processor matters a LOT in the process of making your meat healthier and better for you. It's not enough to claim grass fed or pasture raised if the animal goes through a nasty slaughter house with poor processing.

Slices of cottage bacon that required extra lard to fry, even in my inherited 100+ years old well seasoned cast iron skillet.

There is a lot to pork that matters. It is not just buying directly from the farmer, but all these other factors that go into making safe healthy meat. Honestly, we learned much of this in the last 18 months while becoming "pig farmers".

Then it comes home to the consumer. How it is cooked matters. How it is stored matters. Having a good product is just the beginning.

I never thought I would ever cook with lard. Or fat back. Or many of the other parts of pigs that have names that sound like if you eat them you'll get a fat back too. Lard is better for you than processed veggie oils. My family has better health now that we use olive and grapeseed oil, butter, lard, and coconut oil instead of Crisco, corn, or canola (rapeseed) oil. Better cholesterol levels, better sugar levels, and better overall health. We don't worry about weight gain or irritable bowel and even the severe ulcers I had are no longer a problem. No, its not all credited to our pork, but a general better lifestyle and healthy approach to whole foods, local foods, and natural fats and oils.

Good pork, and humane meat animal raising practices are out there. If you want it, go out and get it. Support those who do it the way you want so they can keep doing it that way.

I also don't claim to be an expert. We've been running pigs out here only two summers, but I can try and answer any questions you may have about our pigs or pork in general.

*edited to add: manuer run off and watershed. These are also important considerations for us. We have a small group on a large grassy pasture, one acre located in a section of about 10 acres. We also have an eleven acre pond and a creek. Neither have shown any contamination or fish kill from run off. We had been told that running pigs on grass pasture would destroy the ground, but while they do root around, their section is still mostly green grasses and clover. The trucks that installed the fences detsroyed more ground than the pigs have. This is also one of our reasons for rotation. The pasture used to be corn/bean rotation so we are restoring it by putting animals on it.