Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Make Your Own Brown Sugar

by Chiot's Run

There are lots of things you can make at home for much less than you can buy them at the store. Not only does it save money, but it saves time as well. No more quick trips to the store to get brown sugar when you start baking and realize you're out. I've been making my own brown sugar for quite a while, mostly because it can be difficult to find organic brown sugar when you live in a rural area and it's pretty expensive when you do actually find it! I definitely couldn't get organic brown sugar for less than $1.50/lb, which is about what this costs me.



To make your own brown sugar all you need is white sugar and molasses. I use organic evaporated cane juice sugar (not Sucanat) and unsulphered organic blackstrap molasses. The general recipe is 1 cup of sugar and 2 Tablespoons of molasses. You can adjust the molasses amount or use a different kind of molasses to suit your tastes. I'm partial to blackstrap or sorghum molasses. I also like to use at least 2 Tablespoons or a bit more, since I like really dark brown sugar and a pronounced molasses flavor.



After adding the molasses to the sugar all you have to do is mix. This can take a while, you can use a mixer if you're making a large amount, the whisk attachment works very well for this task. Mixing by hand is also fine and I have found much quicker than using a mixer, I like using a fork for this method. Don't worry if you have small lumps of molasses in the final product, I usually don't mix until completely combined.



Another added benefit to making brown sugar at home, is that it's always fresh. It smells wonderful and it's always nice and soft. It has a much deeper flavor than store-bought brown sugar, which I really appreciate! I usually make up just enough for my recipe, but during the busy holiday baking season I might make a batch to keep on hand.



Now you can add this to the growing list of things you can make at home. You'll have a constant supply of fresh brown sugar for baking all kinds of delicious goodies.

Have you ever made brown sugar at home? Any other great things you make at home you'd love to share?

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, 29 November 2010

Preparedness in the barnyard

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Most conversations about preparedness center around the household. All well and good. But in our modern homesteading world many times we stock our pantries very well, but the barn cupboard may be a little bare. It's pretty easy to run to the feedstore and pick up a bale or two, a bag of scratch or alfalfa pellets. We are an on-demand society of consumers, but to be more self-reliant we need to scale back our on-demand ways a little in regards to our livestock that help us produce food, fiber etc., for our table.

In our area that normally doesn't really experience any long-lasting winter storms, when one does hit, it's not unusual to see people unprepared for the cold, and wintry weather, so I won't write about water and feeding systems for areas that always experience months of freezing weather, rather I will dwell on having flexible systems and supplies on hand just in case, for more moderate climes that experience short duration storms. Consider this a drill for a real emergency. Winter is a good time to assess your stock keeping capabilities. Do you have enough storage for feed, adequate water, enough money to keep your stock all winter? Can you get more feed, if needed? Do you have like animals in groups, or pairs so they can keep warm and commiserate? Nothing worse than a lonely pig... . And a huge one - do you have enough time to do extra care taking during the cold weather if need be?

Keeping stock hydrated goes a long way towards helping them cope with cold temperatures. We like these tough, Rubbermaid water troughs. We sometimes have to chop a little ice, but you can save yourself some trouble by only putting out the water the stock actually needs for a day. The 50 gallon trough in this photo is for my daughter's horse. She only puts in what he will drink for the day, and she dumps it at night. Less water, less ice. She places his trough within reach of a hose, and when she is done, she drains the hose and puts it away. Nothing worse than having a frozen hose full of ice.

The cows only drink once a day also in this cold weather. I feed them, they tank up on hay, and then come and drink. When we fed outside all winter, and they went to the canyon for water, they would all trail to water once a day, and according to rank, drink their fill and then trail back to bed down and ruminate. Anthropomorphizing makes us think the animals need all the comforts we have, like running water at all times, and feed all the time. But they really can be comfortable with the basics. Don't go overboard - especially during stressful times during storms. You have to take care of yourself too.

Being prepared by having extra feed on hand can be a life saver. Plus, livestock need to eat more during cold weather in order to stay warm, it's amazing how fast a growing pig will go through feed in a cold snap. One thing that helps is to have a higher protein feed source available for cold snaps. Feed your best hay, bump your chickens up to grower ration, throw a little extra something to the pigs. It all helps.

And there is something to be said for only taking the bare necessities of stock through the winter, and keeping a seasonal schedule. On our farm, we don't want any young stock that couldn't be weaned if a catastrophe arose, and we time breeding for no babies being born this time of year. Sure, it makes for good dramatic blog entries to be risking life and limb to save a piglet or calf from the cold. But in reality, it is kind of cruel to animals and their tenders alike and is just another unintended consequence of our on-demand society. There is no seasonal differences in the grocery store - just one big ol' homogenized food storage area. If you want to grow your own food, grow it, and grow it in season.

Back to the subject of water, these small indestructible tubs are great too, for small stock. We use a gravity flow bell waterer for the chickens, but despite being placed on the south side of the greenhouse for thawing, that assumes we get sun. That doesn't always happen. To keep chickens laying eggs in the winter, it is imperative they have water during the day. Usually a tub like this suffices until the thaw. Just a stop gap measure, but it does work and is easy to clean when it gets soiled. These also work good for pigs for a short spell, it's just that pigs like to play, and inevitably that water tub will end up in the pig toilet area, with smirking pigs looking on while you retrieve it for them. I have yet to see hens do that...


This past cold spell brought a few house fires due to heat lamps being used for urban flocks. Chickens are incredibly hardy when fully feathered. Which is another reason to not have babies during winter. If your chickens have a dry, secure place to bed down at night and have been properly fed and hydrated during the day, they DO NOT need heat lamps or lights to keep them warm, and adding a light at night can throw off the egg laying schedule too.

So, to make things go easier during the inclement weather, stock up as much as finances allow on:
Feed - hay, grain, milk replacers, etc.
Bedding material
Minerals
Livestock medical supplies
Auxiliary species appropriate watering supplies

And hopefully take some time to enjoy the beauty of a winter storm.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

My children and pocket money

By Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

I hope everyone is having a lovely weekend.

I think one of the most important things I can teach my children is how to manage money. In our consumerist world where we are often told that our dreams can be bought and bought NOW... and the true price of this seems to be a very high personal debt level.

Anyway, I know many people have many approaches to pocket money but I thought I'd share my approach.

See, I've decided not to tie pocket money to chores. Simple reason is that I just don't see the two of them as related. My children have always done chores anyway and its something we do to help each other, our friends and our community. The intrinsic value of chores are a sense of belonging.

But I'm starting to digress....

The other reason why I don't tie pocket money to chores is that it helps me teach my children about money without having to think about chores either. For me, my children have "earned" their right to money by becoming proficient at the very basics of it - the adding and subtracting by 1s, 5s and 10s.

Once my children have become proficient at the basics, the next step for us is for them to now become proficient at managing that money. That means learning about financial goal setting, saving and using alternatives.

Financial Goal-Setting

The biggest rule we have is no goal, no pocket money. I've found that the times I've blown my budget has been when I didn't have a clear idea of my goals and what I'm saving for.

So my children have to have goals -their goals can be anything they like and I encourage them to go for something that is slightly out of reach of their $6 a week pocket money.

Currently, my 6 year old son's goal is to buy a Nintendo DSi. An extremely difficult goal BUT he is adamant that he will be able to do it. (His 7 year old sister had saved and bought her own Nintendo DS so I think its a competition thing for him too. hehe) He set this goal in June 2010.


Photo by Emily

Talking about Saving

I have told my son that in order to get his Nintendo DSi, he would have to save his $6 a week for almost an entire year. He will be 7 years old and in a different grade by the time he can get his goal. This means that he can't use his pocket money for other things - like buying food at special canteen days or buying little toys from op (thrift) shops. He listened very carefully, asked me a few questions ("what if I get given toys as a pressie, would that be okay?"), then nodded very seriously and said he knows he can save for an entire year.

Looking at alternatives

I then gave him alternatives - he could buy a second-hand Nintendo DSi because its a bit cheaper (he was not sure about this idea - he's very worried that the second-hand item may be pink....you can tell he has an older sister....).

I also told him that he could supplement his pocket money by selling some of his current (good) toys (he didn't like that idea).

He also stated that he could also save any birthday money that he gets from relatives.

Now comes the willpower

So now, its been over 5 months since he set this goal. And he's had to make some tough decisions since. The latest one was when he decided to forgo buying a special lunch at school (his school does not have a canteen and so the entire school gets very excited on those occassions when food can be bought).

I have always made it a rule that if my children want to buy food, then it has to come from their pocket money. After re-counting his savings, my son squared his shoulders and went "no, I want to use my money for a DSi - not for food at school."

But then there are exemptions

I have to say though, my son did not exercise his willpower at first. He did succumb to the odd lolly every now and then. The last 3 months he has done EXTREMELY well and has not spent a single cent of his pocket money or birthday money.

However, there was one notable exemption that did make me VERY proud of both of my children. That was when they decided to donate some of their pocket money to help a little girl get treatment for cancer.

What we are all learning

Its interesting to see how my son is processing and thinking about money and savings. For him, he seems to rely a lot on willpower in his management of money. Compare his story above with that of my daughter's who at the same age relied (and still does rely) more on alternatives.

And in all cases, my children are learning to prioritise their spending. So many people make the mistake in thinking that money gives you choices. But I don't think that's quite right. Its what you do to that money that gives you choices.

I'm also learning through this exercise how important it is to talk regularly to my children about goals, savings and alternatives. There are times when they've surprised me with how quickly they can grasp complex concepts and their determination to achieve their goals.

If you have any stories about pocket money, I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Simple Does It

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches


















Every now and then I realize I'm making a mistake, I'm over complicating life. Sometimes I feel a need to have things a certain way, like I'm failing if my plate doesn't look, smell and taste all together epicurean. Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to make things perfect that I seriously contemplate making something bought look homemade and fret (for a quick second!) at the fact I'll never have the skills to make something fit for a food magazine. And then a little voice inside me whispers some home truths, usually at the same time I smell toast toasting and marvel at it's succoring nature, it's ability to evoke so many wonderful emotions, it's ability to say so much about the beauty of simplicity. And somehow, by the time the butter is spread, toast has taught me a valuable lesson. Food, like life, doesn't need to be as complicated as we make it. Sure it's good to occasionally stretch oneself, but one's feet need to stay firmly planted on the ground.

With the stress of moving and new challenges, coupled with a few kitchen baking disasters (I may never try to make lemon tart again...) I've decided, as I ease into winter (-12 tonight....brr) and long work hours that I need to take lessons from toast with butter. Sometimes simple is all you really need. And so this week, I noticed a little change in my kitchen. Gone were the piles of dishes, dread about what to prepare and grumbling and instead simple, basic, joy.

And for the curious, my new simple favourites are:

Breakfasts
- Toast with peanut butter
- Yogurt with homemade granola, almonds & fruit

Dinners
- Fish with salad & green beans
- Homemade soup with homemade rolls
- Homemade curry with rice & veggies
- Beans on toast :)

Snacks
- fruit with peanut butter or almond butter
- cheese and crackers
- canned apple sauce

Lunches
- leftovers
- cut up veggies with hummus
- winter veggie pasta

















One day I'm sure I'll try something more complicated, but right now I'm savoring in the simple. And after a simple meal and a simple evening spent knitting, my heart and soul tell me I'm in the place I'm meant to be, even if I never succeed at lemon tart!

Do you get little reminders to focus on the simple things? What does your food say about you?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Teaching What Matters Most

By Bel


from Spiral Garden



One of my passions is helping other families connect with nature. I love writing about getting kids into the garden, and walking the talk by enjoying our garden, nature walks, photography, camping and other nature-inspired activities, with my children.



There are some very good resources for children which cover topics such as permaculture, organic gardening, peak oil, solar energy, etc.



Here’s some of the info I found:



The ABC Book of Gardening for Kids is a good one. About $16 or in most library systems.


You must read The Lorax by Dr Seuss!!


Backyard Science (books and TV - again ABC) is great too.


Depends on their age, but Jackie French is good - her Chook Book and self-sufficiency books are pretty easy reads. My 10 year old likes ‘my’ Jackie French books.


The Department of Environment and Heritage have free resources about environmental issues.


Living Earth Games, which include permaculture principles and are heaps of co-operative fun. We own and enjoy both Gaia’s Garden board game and the Living Landscapes cards.


There are environmental and social justice topics in mainstream school resources like those available from RIC where you can browse every page of every book. Also, find ideas here.


My kids love those permie DVDs like ‘Eat your Garden’ and the ‘Gardening Australia - Permaculture‘ DVD with Josh building his backyard permaculture setup from scratch. They’re not aimed at kids, but they’re very simple and entertaining.


For solar energy and peak oil, you may look for educational material from CSIRO, petroleum companies, the ‘green’ department of your local energy companies (gas and electricity).
Docos and TV shows like Catalyst aren’t aimed at kids but aren’t too difficult for them to understand either. I prefer not to dumb-down the facts and science behind this issue. It is amazing to hear their positive solutions and alternatives and their ideas about what would be more difficult in a time where oil is very expensive and how we would cope etc. They really are positive about relocalisation and alternative energy sources, permaculture, community gardens and co-opping and all sorts of other things which come up from Peak Oil discussions.


Carbon calculators are fun and informative. Try this site for links to a few different ones (some are inaccurate for rural folk etc due to penalties for not using public transport for example).


We watched The Power of Cummunity- How Cuba Survived Peak Oil DVD 2006, then a friend came back from Cuba with amazing photos and stories to tell of their thriving communities… We talked about similarities and differences, and how such a crisis would affect our community, our nation.


We took time to read about The Great Depression in Australia, for if there is an oil crisis (or other event) we could experience such a time again. It’s so far removed from our very wealthy, urban and ‘instant’ society that we enjoyed studying what occurred during this period and why.


Where are you? Maybe there are farms nearby you can visit to learn about food production. Community gardens are great too. Some larger Permaculture farms have open days.



More Links:


Solar Energy Projects
Sustainability Education
IPEC
Permaculture Stories for Children


… and so it goes. An alternative curriculum, just a click away! Enjoy!