Monday, 8 November 2010

Batch baking

by Francesca
FuoriBorgo

baking

On baking day, my small kitchen looks like a mess, but there's a method behind the apparent madness. Cool baking sheets sit on chairs, awaiting their turn to go into the oven, while piping hot ones are cooling on the table or the stove-top. The countertop, where all the kneading and mixing takes place, is dusted in flour and cluttered with baking ingredients and implements. And my sink? On baking days, you can't even see it for all the dirty pots and pans and mixers piled up there!


baking


The method is: batch baking. On the day when I need to make bread, every 5 days or so, I also bake one or two pizzas, a main dinner dish (like the lasagne verdi shown above), and often a cake or some cookies, too. I slip in odds and ends, too, like the stray potatoes that I keep finding in the garden after we harvested the main crop, or the hot peppers that I'm drying out before grinding them to make chili powder.



I bake in a batch to conserve electricity - I save on pre-heating, which takes up to 15 minutes with my oven, and do most of my weekly baking in the two hours or so that my oven is on. But I also like this system because grouping all my baking in a batch is a more economical use of my time.



In all the years I've baked in a batch, I've only had one mishap, when I tried to bake pretzels and bread at the same time. That day, I learned that some baked goods, like pretzels, need a hot and dry oven, while the bread I tried to bake with them was filling the oven with humidity. Since then, I've baked pretzels first, on their own, and everything else right afterwards.



Baking in a batch has also stood the test of time: it's how most baking was done until not too many years ago, when a frugal lifestyle wasn't a choice, but a necessity (here).

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Waste Not, Sausage and Duck Gumbo

by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

Last week I made an apricot glazed duck (from our farm) and part of the way the recipe said to cook the duck was to steam it for 45-60 minutes first and then roast it until the skin crisped and THEN glaze it. It was GOOD. The process though left me with about 1/2 gallon of duck steamed broth. Not a true broth but still something I didn't want to waste. So I looked around and found a recipe for gumbo with duck and sausage! It was a good template and so this is how I altered it:

Sausage and Duck (or chicken) Gumbo

couple slices of bacon
1/2 cup of butter and flour (for roux)
Andouille sausage (1 lb), cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped smaller than bite size
3 stalks of celery, chopped bite size
1 green bell pepper, chopped bite size
1 clove or garlic crushed and minced (or 1 tsp of garlic powder)
1 Tbs of seasoning salt (like Swamp Fire or Slap Yo Mama)
1 Tbs of dried parsley
2 quarts (1/2 gallon) of duck (or chicken) broth
3 bay leaves

Fry bacon slices and sausage
Add celery, crushed garlic, bell pepper, and onions
When everything is fried up and spattering, add the broth
Bring to a boil and then simmer.
Add bay leaves and season to taste
Make roux with melted butter and flour, add to soup to thicken.

I used Jasmine rice to serve it over, but traditionally long grain is used.

Later, I served it over rice noodles and the girls actually licked their bowls clean. THAT is a rare occasion. They had seconds and ate until all the gumbo was gone.

That meant that the recipe above made enough for two full meals for a very hungry family of four.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Crinkle Skirt Care

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
The crinkle skirt, sometimes called a broomstick skirt, is a staple in many women's wardrobes. And for good reason - the full, but pleated, skirt flatters almost any figure, the cotton fabric is cool and breezy in summer but wears just as well in winter with sweaters, tights and boots, and the lightweight cotton fabric is easy to wash and dries quickly. But once washed, how to get, and keep, those nice, vertical crinkles?

I've seen posts that suggest wringing and twisting the damp skirt, but that leaves crinkles that look more wadded than vertical. Other posts say to tie the skirt with lengths of string, then cut them once dry. Besides being time-consuming, this can leave the crinkles uneven, and I'd be afraid of possibly snipping fabric instead of string. Some wrap the skirt around a broomstick before tying, hence the now-common broomstick name for such skirts. But I prefer the old-fashioned method.

I learned the secret of perfect crinkles when I inherited a 1950's Albuquerque fiesta dress - the original crinkle skirt fashion. Its solid-color red cotton fabric is heavier than today's lightweight skirts, to hold up to the rows of rick rack and ribbon. When I ended up with my aunt's blouse and skirt combo, she had kept the skirt encased in a nylon stocking with the toe snipped off, the crinkles perfectly formed and maintained. Eureka!

Of course, nylon stockings are a bit harder to come by now, so I reuse snipped-off legs from tights or pantyhose. After hand-washing your skirt, holding the skirt by the waistband rolled together, squeeze out (don't wring or twist) as much water as possible, down the length of the skirt. Since the fiesta dress is such heavy material, I'll hang it up by the waistband to drip-dry a just a bit - you want the skirt to still be damp to dry crinkled. Stretch the pantyhose leg down the length of the damp skirt, pulling the hem down equally, and hang or lay out your skirt "sausage" to dry. It will dry that way without any further fuss, but I usually take the skirt out, shake it, and re-encase the skirt a time or two to make sure it gets completely dry. The clean skirts then stay in their stocking cases in my closet, either hanging or laid out horizontally, to keep their pleats from flattening. Easy-peasy perfect pleats, every time.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

House Cow FAQs

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Also posted on Home Grown

It's been over a year since we first got a house cow, and we've learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the most common questions people ask us, and our replies. We are rather unconventional in the way we manage our home dairy, and I encourage cow owners to seek out information most suitable to their animal before following our example.


How do you tame a cow from a commercial dairy?

This was harder than I expected. Lucy was very frightened and stressed about being away from her herd. At first we had to use fences and ropes to get her to co-operate because it was important that a) we fully milked her at least once a day and b) the calf we also brought home (not hers) got milk. After the initial rough days, Lucy would lead on a halter (the show type with a small chain under the chin). From there we brushed her, spoke kindly to her and got her used to a routine - dry food with minerals and molasses, same time of day, same people around, same calls and commands... Within months Lucy would come when called and take herself into the milking shed at least some of the time. She didn't kick or otherwise carry on for us.

Where do you get the foster calves from?

Our foster calves are calves from a nearby dairy which are excess to their needs. In commercial dairies, male calves are often killed at birth, or they are raised to sell for veal. Some female calves are not kept as replacement heifers because they might be the wrong bloodline or colour, or they aren't a strong animal. If a dairy runs about 200 cows who each 'work' for several years, and each cow has a calf per annum (the usual way in commercial dairying), and half these calves are female - the dairy can't use 100 replacement heifers each year. And so there are often perfectly lovely little heifer calves available for a low cost in dairying regions. And that is how we got Honey and Poppy! We use the term 'foster calf' to describe a calf raised on its own mother for a couple of weeks, who then comes to our farm to drink milk from Lucy until weaning age.


Do you really milk by hand?

Yes! I got a quick lesson from a friend who hand-milks, and a few tips from others who have milked by hand in the past, and within a couple of days had mastered the art! I find milking by hand is relaxing for the cow and I, and it ensures that no damage is done to the udder or teats during milking. Also, milking machinery isn't cheap!

Does owning a cow take a lot of time?

When I'm milking, or monitoring foster calves closely, the cows take me about an hour to an hour and a half each day. That is to feed, water, clean, milk, check the animals over, move them to other paddocks, and so on. To some, that may seem like a lot of time, but it is my exercise and 'hobby', and provides our family with milk. When I am not milking or required for so much hands-on work, I only need to check the cattle and their water once each day.


What do you do with the excess milk?

Excess milk has usually gone to foster calves at our place - I only milked out what we could use, and trusted the calves to take care of the rest! Currently, we don't have any calves on Lucy so with excess milk I make yoghurt, kefir, custard, soft cheese and so on. I also give milk to our animals sometimes, who seem to like it and digest it well.

Doesn't milk have to be pastuerised to make it safe?

After reading information from the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, we decided that the benefits of raw milk outweigh any small risk of contamination, for us. Also, because we control the health and hygiene of our cow and home-dairy facilities, we are confident that the raw milk we're drinking is a quality product.

How do you treat health problems in your herd?

We have been blessed to not have many health problems to date in our herd. We follow the advice of Pat Coleby who has excellent resources for farmers regarding minerals and nutritional supplements. We believe that this prevention is worth the investment of time and money. For buffalo fly, worms and ticks, all common pests in our area, we have tried Neem oil, and a specific mix of essential oils as well as supplementing their diet with specific minerals including diatomaceous earth. For behavioural issues we have used homeopathy and herbal treatments. We are not totally against conventional treatments and will use them if the health or comfort of our animals are at stake.

I hope this interests those of you curious about having a house cow, or looking into having your own cow sometime. I highly recommend the following resources:

Weston A Price
Sally Fallon- Nourishing Traditions
Keeping a Family Cow Forums
EnviroNeem
Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby
The Healthy House Cow by Patricia van den Berg
The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsly

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Simply Happy

by Chiot's Run

"Our life experience is based more on our individual level of awareness than on any particular external experience. Our enjoyment of life is profoundly enhanced by the knowledge that we don't need much in order to be happy. By consciously adopting a simple lifestyle, we give ourselves the opportunity the be satisfied and happy, whether or not we strike it rich or not."

Mother Earth News in article about Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin


Unhurried Sense of Time

As I was reading this article, I started thinking about all the things that Mr Chiots and I have given up over the past couple years while working to simplify our lives. The more we give up, the less we find that we need and the happier we find ourselves. One of the best examples of this simplifying was in giving up cable TV. I think when we were paying for cable, we thought we had to watch a lot of TV to get our money's worth. We found ourselves spending way too much time in front of our television wasting valuable time watching things we didn't really want to watch. When we finally pulled the plug, we found ourselves free from that need. We started spending more time reading, working outside, pursuing our hobbies, and getting projects done that we'd been putting off for a long time for lack of "time".

It's not that we don't watch TV at all any more, we still watch some, but we no longer pay a fortune for it and we no longer watch things just to watch them. Since we work in the visual arts (video production) by trade, we watch films and some shows for inspiration. We have one of the cheapest Netflix subscriptions (which is fantastic when you live in the country) so we watch movies or TV shows on DVD or instant streaming from their website.

I'm happy that we took this one simple step at it seemed to be a turning point for us. After we quit cable, we started finding more places to cut back and more ways to simplify our lives. As a result we're much more content, we have much more time and we've saved tons of money, which we used to pay off our mortgage many years ahead of schedule. It's amazing how all the little things in life add up to a great deal.

In what ways have you simplified your life in the past couple years? Any great suggestions for the rest of us that are searching for the simple life?