Sunday, 31 January 2010

My Introduction to Angora Shearing

by Lynn at Viggies Veggies

I had a surprise chore this weekend, because I saw the trailing rope of hair on the German Angora that signaled she was ready to be shorn. There was a lot of research I needed to do before I was ready to get started on harvesting my rabbits, but they set the time table here not me. So once again I am learning something new by fumbling my way though it.


So my goal for today was just getting hair off the bunny without her clawing me to death. I succeeded there at least. I got the hang of handling her and rolling her on her side to keep her calm. Putting my hands on her ears to stop her when she got impatient with me. Holding the hair down and sliding my scissors under small rows to cut close. I think by the end I was doing all right. I'm sure the fiber isn't perfect, but since one of my next projects will be to learn to spin I now have a bag to practice with.


I knew from the breeder that I'd need to cover her to keep her warm. Luckily this old sweater arm was just the right size. I've left the fur on around her bottom and shoulders since she lives in an unheated sunroom and it's snowing out. I'll just trim around her bottom so gross things don't get caught down there. I like how it leaves her looking like a slinky dog.


Friday, 29 January 2010

Classics on my Bookshelf

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I think I'm older than most of my fellow writers here. I lack the fervor of the newly reformed too. I've always pretty much lived this lifestyle. I missed most of the greed and acquisitiveness of the 80's because I spent that decade living in a rather remote mountain town. Back when I was wanting to learn more about a self-sufficient lifestyle, there was no Internet and mentors were hard to find. So I turned to books.

And even now, with information so easily available, just a few keyboard clicks away, I'm still apt to look to my self-built reference library for answers. I'll check out new information, but some of my old books have served me well for decades. I've noticed that many of them, unavailable for many years, are now back in print. Others you may be able to find cheap, second-hand, as some old folks start looking to downsize their living space and clean out old clutter. Here are a few of my favorite titles; ones I think are worth snapping up if you happen to come across one, and perhaps even searching out.

Hands-down, the stuck-on-a-desert-island, one-book-only, choice I'd pick would be the Encyclopedia of Country Living, by Carla Emery. That book covers everything, in an easy to read, amusing style. She's written how-to's about raising animals, gardens and orchards, recipes, preserving food - everything from midwifery to burying your dead are covered in this one amazing book.

For those looking to build up an emergency store of food, I have an old book, finally now available as a reprint. The new Passport to Survival, by Rita Bingham and Esther Dickey, is a step-by-step plan for first figuring out how much of what you'd need for a year (as members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, they are writing from experience), tips on how to acquire and store it, and then recipes for using what you've stored. Parts of the book I read with a critical eye, as they can get a bit preachy about some "miracle-food" items, but overall I consider it a valuable resource.

I just recently wrote about my sourdough starter over on my own blog. My copy of Adventures in Sourdough Cooking & Baking, by Charles Wilford, is so well-used I might have to start looking for another copy. It's a great reference for a beginner, with instructions about the care and feeding of your starter. There are a multitude of various bread and breakfast recipes, but also things like noodles, cookies, and pot pie dough.

I grow my fruits and vegetables in a rather harsh, high-desert, climate. I absolutely love anything written by Eliot Coleman. His Four-Season Harvest has helped me stretch our fresh-eating season to practically year-round. I'm still playing with various season-extender covers, but his writing is helping us to redefine normal in terms of a seasonal diet.

We do have a root cellar for storing winter produce (and the fig trees - a whole 'nother story) - dug and built by hand. Root Cellaring, by Mike & Nancy Bubel, helped with figuring out the design, how to use it, and the best storage varieties of fruits and vegetables. I know this one will appeal to fewer readers out there, but I can't tell you how much I love "shopping" in my cellar during these cold, snowy, winter days.

In finding the links to the above books, I've noticed the covers of most of them don't look like my copies anymore, but I'm sure most of the information hasn't changed. I have lots of cookbooks too, that could be considered "classics," such as the Small Planet, The Farm, or the Moosewood ones. But the recipes they contain, though revolutionary at the time, are now pretty much standard fare. Other books on my kitchen bookshelf, such as the Make Your Own Groceries ones, are no longer in print. I also figure I might have left out your personal favorites, so please, any more suggestions are welcome in the comments.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Going Meatless - What's Your Reason?

by Kate
Living A Frugal Life

There's a lot of talk on green-themed blogs about vegetarianism and reducing meat consumption. People come to this topic out of many different concerns - health, ethics, environmental degradation, and frugality, among others. All of them are valid motivations. Nonetheless, diet is a very personal topic, and it can be a very divisive one as well. I've yet to meet anyone who enjoys being lectured about their dietary choices, their financial affairs, or someone else's religious convictions.

But a meatless meal seems to be fairly free of contention, so long as we don't get on a soapbox and assert that our own reasons for eating less or no meat are The Right and Proper Worldview. As I mentioned, I believe there are many good reasons to abstain from meat consumption at least for some meals. It doesn't matter to me very much why people eat less meat. I'm happy to discuss any good reason for doing so, as long as it doesn't put people off the idea altogether. So let's talk about some of those reasons.

I found that having a large garden and keeping laying hens naturally steers me away from preparing meat-centric meals. With a lot of effort invested in growing vegetables and producing our own eggs, you can be sure it's a high priority for me to use up those ingredients. Preparing meals centered on vegetables and eggs naturally crowds out some opportunities for meat-based meals. In this case, reduced meat consumption is an unintended consequence of taking more responsibility for our own food production. It's an unintended consequence we hardly notice, and don't mind at all. Eggs supply plenty of protein, so we're never at risk of running low on that nutrient. We eat better because we enjoy the superior quality of our homegrown food, not because we're dutifully giving up something we enjoy in order to settle for "health food."

Out of both a desire to save money, as well as a sense of respect for the taking of animals' lives, I think it's important also to stretch meat as far as it will go. Meat can be an accent and a contributing ingredient just as well as it can dominate a dinner plate. No part of an animal need be wasted. Making stock from animal bones give you a "second helping" of the meat that would otherwise be lost. A vegetable soup made with meat-based broth but no other meat is sort of veggie, but also sort of meaty. We get that bonus animal protein without the need to raise, feed, and kill another animal. Consuming the (unjustly) less celebrated bits of an animal, such as the organs, tongue, cheeks, tails, etc, not only stretches a budget, but it also precludes the travesty of killing an animal only to consume a few select parts.

It's also costing the planet too much to produce the quantity of meat that the current human population chooses to consume. If there were only 500 million humans spread around the world, we could probably eat all the meat we wanted with few repercussions to the planet. That simply isn't the case with nearly 7 billion of us. Not only are we despoiling the environment through the incredible concentrations of manure concomitant with factory farms, but the grain that goes to feed industrially raised animals, bought and sold as it is on the global market, literally deprives the poorest of our human family the ability to feed their children. There is indeed enough food at the moment to feed all the people on this planet, but not if we feed a huge proportion of that food to animals (or worse yet, our cars).

Then there's the human health angle. Those of us in over-developed societies eat too much industrial meat for our own good. We're suffering from excessive levels of heart disease, colon cancer, obesity, and any number of other diet-related diseases. Almost all meat sold in the US comes from animals on industrial feedlots fed genetically modified corn, which raises a whole host of other insufficiently understood human health concerns. Not to mention, GMO crops are doused with incredibly high levels of pesticides which critically threaten honey bees. Honey bees provide crucial pollination for one out of every three bites of food the human race consumes. Pigs and cattle are routinely pumped full of sub-therapeutic antibiotics. (In other words, they are all given antibiotics routinely, just to keep them alive in disgusting conditions, rather than on an individual basis if a single animal happens to get sick.) This gives rise to alarming strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Eating a hamburger every other day may mean that there's no effective treatment for the pneumonia your grandmother comes down with. It may mean that the life-threatening food poisoning your toddler contracts after eating ground beef can't be treated with any antibiotic we now possess. Industrial meat undermines not only human health, but also our medicine.

I've been reminded by the Meatless Monday Challenge that it takes a relatively small change in the diets of millions of people to add up to huge knock-on effects on a global scale. If every US resident who now eats meat went meatless once per week for a year, it would result in a savings of 12 billion gallons of gasoline and 13 trillion gallons of fresh water, while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution. The idea of going without meat one day per week is hardly radical or new. Indeed, it was for all intents and purposes the law in Europe for many centuries. The Catholic church now holds Catholics to meatless Fridays only for six weeks out of the year. For many centuries Catholics were required both to fast and to abstain from eating meat on Fridays year-round, and on many other holy days. And for much of European history, what the Catholic church dictated had all the force of state law. The Orthodox churches likewise required periods of dietary restraint of their adherents. Though there were variations to this rule by region and era, no person in Christendom was a stranger to fasting or meatless meals. If you're of European descent, your ancestors lived this way for many generations. Would it be a true hardship for us to do the same?

Don't get me wrong - I don't ever envision myself as a vegetarian, and I'm not asking anyone to become one. I believe that animal protein is something that Homo sapiens sapiens evolved to consume. Healthy, natural meat is good for us. There have been human cultures that subsisted almost 100% on animal flesh and animal products. While I very much respect the ethical choices of vegetarians and vegans, I have no personal qualms about killing animals for consumption, and have done it myself. (Raising them in unspeakable conditions, treating them cruelly, and the callous wasting of any part of their bodies are the things I can't stomach.) As Sharon Astyk pointed out recently, there is no such thing as a bloodless human diet which is also sustainable. Without animal manures, or massive inputs from petroleum-based fertilizers, no soil on this planet can indefinitely support grain or vegetable cropping. We are all responsible, whatever our dietary choices, for the deaths of other creatures. Yet there are still ways to mitigate the harm we must do to keep ourselves alive.

How do I resolve these issues? My personal choice for the time being is to buy meat only from local producers who keep their animals on pasture, treat them humanely, never use hormones, and only use antibiotics when an animal actually needs veterinary treatment. In this way I can and actually do know the people who raise my food, and I know they give a damn about what they sell to their customers. I pay a fair price for this meat, which is significantly more than I would pay for industrial meat purchased at the supermarket. This means my money stays in my community and supports practices I believe in, and that meat makes up a smaller portion of our diet than it would have ten years ago. I waste no part of any meat we buy, even to the point of burying the bones in my garden to add nutrients to our soil. On the rare occasions I eat out, I usually opt for a vegetarian meal unless I happen to know that the meat comes from a local ethical farm. When we do eat out, I prefer to patronize restaurants that carry such meats, and I make a point of ordering them. Eventually I would like to take more responsibility for the meat we consume by hunting and/or raising meat rabbits.

I'm curious to hear from all of you about your approach to eating meat, or not eating it. What are your dietary choices, and how did you come to them? Have you changed your diet in response to concerns about food safety, frugality, ethics, or for other reasons? Are you currently in the process of changing your diet? If so, what challenges are you facing? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Power and Importance of Our Lives

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

There is a rift in the sustainable and simple living movement. There are those who believe the most important thing we can do is change the way we live our lives at home. Because it makes our families healthier, our budgets easier, and our lives happier. And then there are those who believe that each of those little changes in our lives do not matter, because the danger of climate change and peak oil and poverty and greed are so huge, that if we don't change things on a massive scale, we won't make it as a people.

I used to believe the latter. I used to believe that while it was important to me to eat healthier and support local farmers, what was important for humanity and the planet were only the big, political - and societal - changes. So I worked for many, many years to learn how to change the world on a massive scale.

But you know what? In a way, I ended back where I started.

I tried art, design, narrative film, and documentary film. I searched for how to tell people the world need saving. And after 20 years, I realized that telling is important, sure. But the real thing that incites change in the world is doing. Doing publicly, sure, but doing - it is the action that makes the difference.

Nobody wants to be told what to do, or what to think. But everyone loves to watch successes happen. Everyone loves to watch people become healthier and happier. Everyone wants to believe that they can live better on less.

Our individual and family changes are powerful. The stories we tell about them are also powerful. And together, our doing and our telling about it is one of the best tools we can use to incite real, solid, movement-based change in the world!

Just in the last 2 years since I began blogging about my own personal changes, I have seen the number of simple, green, and sustainable living blogs increase exponentially - have you? It's amazing, isn't it?

At the same time, I've seen more businesses cater to local and green living. I've seen more organizations working to rebuild greenbelts and replant forests. The amount of socially and environmentally responsible investments has grown considerably. It is now ok to talk about shopping in thrift stores and recycling everything imaginable, and not using plastic, and turning down the heat, and so on and so on. The gardens, oh the gardens - how many more people are planting vegetable gardens!

Societal Change Is Happening. Because we individually are changing our lifestyles, and we are telling others and showing others about it. People see our passion, our health improvements, our enjoyment in going back to the basics. And that passion is catching!

Now this does not give us an excuse not to vote, not to join community efforts to create change. These things are necessary, too - and we should all take part in the stake of our community, national, and planetary laws and goals. But what we do every day at home is equally important. As we learn and grow and redefine how we live our lives at home, we are spreading a movement of change in how the world defines normal.

So don't stop, and don't let yourself get down when it's tougher. Keep moving forward, and changing the world - one day at a time.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Make Do or Do Without

by Chiot's Run

I have always loved this quote:

What fabulous rules to live by. If you follow this advice you'll save tons of money and not end up with a house full of stuff you don't need. Mr Chiots and I try to live by this rule. When we first got married we didn't have a dining room table for several years, we simply ate on the sofa or floor. We had hand-me down furniture and a really old TV someone gave us. We have replaced most of these items over the course of the 12 years we've been married, but we've always waited until things have died before replacing them. Using things up can be difficult in our society that emphasizes hip, shiny, new and trendy. We look at magazines and watch TV shows and then notice that our old hand-me down sofa looks dated, old and doesn't match the curtains. We start to feel inadequate because our stuff looks shabby. I'll admit, we went through a phase where we bought some shiny new items, but that phase is over. Now when we think we need something we usually try to figure out something we have that will do the job. If we can't do that we try to find it secondhand or used. We only purchase new as a last resort (except in certain areas, like cordless tools, certain appliances and some business equipment).

We've saved a lot of money in our garden by using native rocks gathered from the woods surrounding our property to build our retaining walls, edge our flowerbeds and to use as stepping stones. Since we live on a very sloped lot, we need small retaining walls to help with erosion (don't want to lose all that hard work amending the soil). We could have easily bought stepping stones and retaining wall stones, but that would have cost us a small fortune. We invested some sweat equity gathering all these rocks (Mr Chiots bearing the brunt of that work). I think these look much better than the ones make of man-made stones. They're beautiful and FREE!

Using items you already have, instead of purchasing is kind of like a scavenger hunt. It's fun trying to think of things in a less conventional way to fulfill a need that you have. I have to laugh every time I make tea because we don't have a proper teapot, even though we've avid tea drinkers. Our teapot is a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup that gets used for cooking and as a teapot several times a day.

There are times when making do is a little more work than buying new. When we built and installed our rain barrel system we wanted it to be high so we'd have some water pressure and so we could store things underneath the barrels. We didn't want to go out and buy wood for the platform, so we tore out half of our deck and used that lumber. We didn't like the dimensions of our deck anyways and it wasn't build very well, so we killed two birds with one stone so to speak. Sure it took a lot longer and was a lot more work than a trip to the lumber yard, but we ended up with a studier smaller deck and a free rain barrel platform.

Wear it out - gardeners know about this rule. The garden is usually the final stop for those clothes that are no longer fit to be seen in public. Do I really need to say anything about these? This photo was take a year and half ago and these jeans are still in service, but barely. I'm sure they'll end up as something else in their second life after they can no longer be worn.

Do you have any great examples of living by this quote?

Monday, 25 January 2010

Savoring the winter roots

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Almost weekly during the winter, I dig roots for the kitchen and the barn. Posts about the process are here and here. This post will deal with the kitchen aspect of our weekly winter harvest.

In recent history roots have been considered peasant fare, since root crops keep well and are usually root cellared or preserved allowing a measure of self-reliance from stores. It was thought that purchasing food from the store was the sought after ideal. However, the pendulum has swung back to favor independence from the store these days. Food borne illness, concerns about food miles and just a general yearning for simpler times are bringing these delicious foods back to the kitchen. And most roots require medium fertility for growth making them a great choice for self-reliant gardeners.

This week my harvest included carrots, beets, parsnips, black spanish radish, rutabagas and celeriac.

I could eat rutabagas almost every day, but my family kicks a little at that, so I have to fix them in different ways to keep meals from being boring.

Sauerruben, or lacto-fermented rutabagas are a welcome change from kraut made from cabbage. My husband inherited his grandfather's 12 gallon Red Wing kraut crock and boards, but I don't fill that crock too often with kraut. It is too much at one time.

No one in his family was interested in that "old thing" so he gladly brought it home along with the weight boards and kraut cutter. The kraut cutter met a fate common to many good usable antiques though... :( One time his family was visiting and we had a function to go to. Well, long story, short, while we were gone they cooked up the idea to refinish and varnish the cutter so it would look "pretty" on the wall! Sighhh - Homer Formby strikes again. It looks good...but is not safe for food preparation any longer.

When we decided to replace it, we first checked Lehman's and they have a great kraut cutter, but it seemed expensive with shipping, and then luck would have it, we found the perfect cutter in an antique store for a little less.

Like new, I have used this for many slicing jobs.

However, I did pay a little more than the original penciled price of $2.75! The antique store where we made our purchase had bought the stock from an old hardware store. Our cutter had never been sold, we were the first ones to put cabbage to the blades!

Today, I made sauerruben with some of the rutabagas from this weeks dig. Basically just sauerkraut made with turnips or rutabagas.

Using the kraut cutter is actually easier than grating the rutabagas. But it is a two part proposition. First, I slice the rutabaga very thin.

Then I coarsely chop the rounds into rustic slices. The slices are incredibly tender, and slice easily. The whole operation to prepare enough for a half-gallon jar took about 5 minutes. Peeling and cutting of the root ends took about 5 minutes as well.

Just like sauerkraut, use a non-reactive container since you will be adding salt.

I use Celtic sea salt, and the recipe is the same as for kraut: 3 Tablespoons per 5 pounds of vegetable.

The salt will bring out the juice in the vegetable for the brine.

Pack tightly in a wide mouth jar, crock or ?? Make sure brine is covering the vegetable. Cover tightly. Some people use a plastic bag filled with water, or a small canning jar filled with water to keep the vegetable below the brine. Fermentation time depends on temperature - 70 degrees F or lower is better for fermentation.

Now on to dinner, rutabagas lend themselves well to gratin dishes. More pungent when fresh, cooking seems to moderate the flavor a bit.

Two rutabagas, and 1 celeriac bulb parboiled and layered with grated cheese, and one large onion sliced in a shallow baking dish, plus a quick Bechamel sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Pop in the oven for about an hour and you have a great vegetable side dish. If you have a favorite au gratin or scalloped potato recipe, just substitute different roots for a change of pace. And if you can bear it, cool it and reheat the next day, it is even better.

Rutabaga? If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Grow your own Mung Bean Sprouts

Post by Thomas from A Growing Tradition Blog

mung bean sprouts
I've been meaning to learn how to sprout mung beans for a long time now. Recently, I was finally able to give it a try. I've eaten them all throughout my life and would keep a consistent supply in my refrigerator if I could. More and more supermarkets carry them these days, but unfortunately, 9 times out of 10, they are already rancid by the time I see them on the shelves. I sometimes make a special trip to the Asian market to buy some, but hopefully soon, I won't have to.

My uncle used to sprout mung beans in a black garbage bag in the basement. However, I'm hoping to keep my own sprouting operation limited to the kitchen. I looked at various commercially made sprouters online, but in the end, decided to make my own out of two plastic containers that I had lying around the house. One of the containers is about an inch smaller in diameter than the other one and fits nicely inside. This will act as the sprouting vessel. Using an electric drill, I punched holes about an inch apart all around the sides and the bottom of the smaller container. This allows excess water to drain into the larger container, which is slightly concave at the bottom. Drainage is crucial as excess moisture can cause your sprouts to rot. And since air flow is equally as important, I drilled holes into the larger lid as well. Finally, you want to cut the smaller lid into a circle that is of the same diameter as the bottom of smaller container (I will get into why this is necessary below). Note: this sprouter will only work for large seeds.

mung bean sprouter 2
sprouting vessel

I purchased my mung beans at the Asian market. A 12 oz bag costs me 99 cents. You want to make sure that the beans you intend to sprout are food grade. If you'd like, you can buy organic beans from a supplier that tests their stock for E. Coli and salmonella. Since commercially produced sprouts have been identified as a major source of food born illness, you want to be fairly confident in your seed source. Another option is to treat your seeds before you sprout them. To do so, heat a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide (about 2 and a half tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide for every 5 cups of water) to 140 degrees F. Monitor and maintain at this temperature using a kitchen thermometer. Using a small fine-mesh strainer, immerse the seeds into the solution and swirl them around every minute or so for 5 minutes to ensure uniform treatment. Remove the seeds and rinse under running water for 1 minute.

Next, you want to soak your seeds in water for 12 hours at room temperature. Your seeds will begin to drink and plump up during this time. The next morning, drain the seeds and remove any debris or hard or discolored seeds. Then rinse them well under running water.

sprouting mung beans
mung beans after 12 hours of soaking

Place the seeds inside the sprouting vessel, shaking it a bit to get them somewhat level. Place the smaller lid directly on top of them and add your weight. Mung beans sprouts grow longer and thicker if they are subjected to pressure. You can experiment with the amount of weight to use but I have read that you should use 0.5 ounce of weight for every square inch of surface area inside your sprouting vessel. Also, you can use practically anything as a weight (as long as it's sterile). I used a couple of ceramic ramekins of varying sizes. Place the sprouting vessel inside the larger container and cover with the outer lid. Keep your sprouter in a dark corner of your kitchen counter.

You want to rinse your seeds 2-3 times a day for the first few days. It is important that your seeds do not move when you do so as you want them to form a secure mass as they grow. Again, this will help you get longer, thicker sprouts. I rinse by removing the sprouting vessel, adding enough water to the larger container to cover the seeds by an inch or so, then slowly immersing the sprouting vessel into the water and lifting several times to rinse. Repeat this for the first 3 full days.

On the 4th day, cut down on rinsing to once a day for the next 2-3 days. When you do so, keep the seeds immersed in cool water for 15 minutes. Doing so encourages the sprouts to really size up. By the 5th day, you can also remove the weight. The sprouts should be firmly in place by then and should be ready by the end of the 5th or 6th day. Final tip: to separate the green skins from the sprouts, toss the sprouts gently in a large bowl with your hands. You will notice that most of the green skins end up at the bottom of the bowl. Then place the sprouts into a sink or large bowl filled with cold water. The sprouts will float and the skins will sink to the bottom. Run your sprouts through a salad spinner before storing in the fridge as they keep best when dry.

mung bean sprouts 3
As you can see, the end result is good but not perfect. I will play around with the weight, rinsing schedule, and sprouting days to see if I can get them looking a bit longer and thicker. However, it's important to note that they will never look exactly like commercial mung bean sprouts, which are grown with chemicals and gases in 500 gallon drums. At the end of the day, what counts is taste. And these taste like the freshest mung bean sprouts I have ever had. Finally as far as how much seed to use when sprouting, I poured enough dry seed to cover the bottom of my sprouting vessel by one layer (maybe a little more).

Update: I forgot to mention- you might want to make one slightly larger hole about a quarter inch in diameter at the bottom of edge of sprouting vessel. This will help drain the water during rinsing. Cover the hole with your finger when measuring your dry beans. After soaking, they should be plump enough not to fall out.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Cyclone Season

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

In Far North Queensland we're currently on cyclone-watch. This is something which happens at least once each Summer.

After experiencing Cyclone Larry in 2006, I became more aware of the need to be prepared for a disaster. There were 13 of us cut off from civilisation in one house (our friends’ place). Compared to most we had it easy - solar power, independent water source, food in the cupboards and garden, wood stove and so on. But still, there were challenges.

Disaster-preparedness is no longer seen as a freaky survivalist behaviour. For more information on stockpiling food, see Emergency Pantry List and Food Lifeboat.

Most local councils and/or state governments have disaster preparendness manuals or guides.

Apart from food - consider power (cooking, lighting, heating etc), water, medical needs, hygiene requirements and more.

And in case you need to evacuate your home, a Go Bag packed with essentials will be of great assistance.

One thing that I didn't think about before the cyclone was having enough fuel in the car to get where we need to (without power, many fuel stations can't operate), and having cash at hand too - because the power was down for over a month in some areas here in 2006, and without power the ATMs and EFTPOS didn't work. So they are two new preparations we add to our list. These would apply to almost any type of emergency.

I also thought about what I keep in the car - a hat and pair of footwear per person, some water and cups, toilet paper and tissues, a torch and pocket knife, some rain protection, a well-stocked first-aid box and so on. These are in our car 24/7, not just in cyclone season. It means we can leave the house at a moment's notice with at least some basic protection at hand. When I had babies this list included a nappy (diaper) bag. In fact our nappy bag was only brought inside to re-stock it, then immediately returned to the car. Now we have the smallest bag with 2 pair of undies for little kids, a face washer, some wet wipes and very little else!

What possible emergencies do you face where you live? What precautions do you take?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Simple & Frugal Ways To Give

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

The current situation in Haiti is grave, it is hard to actually imagine what it must be like to see people being operated on by the side of the road, families starving to death, thousands of people dying in front of you and millions or orphans with nowhere to go. Before I downshifted and simplified I often felt overwhelmed by need and struggled to understand how I could help. As life has become simpler and I have more control of my finances it seems a lot easier to find different ways to help, different ways to encourage others and different ways to use the talent and time I have. I have so much less financially than I did last year or the year before and yet I'm able to do more. A few friends has said to me that they can't even watch the news because they know there is nothing they can do, their comments have made me think about putting a post together with a list of things you can do - for big budgets and small budgets, for those with time and those without. I would love if any readers contributed ideas as I hope this post inspires people to realize their talents big and small and find ways they can help!

Giving Money

  • Allot a certain amount each month into the budget for giving! I find this helps me budget for helping others in the same way I budget for my rent, bills, car etc!
  • Find a charity whose philosophy you agree with - I sponsor children through World Vision and their updates and letters just bring me such joy!
  • Keep a jar in your home for coins which you can allot for spontaneous giving! This means when there is a disaster or when someone in your circle of family/friends is trying to fundraise you have money handy to give!
  • When there is a disaster or need, look at areas of the budget you can cut out! For example, I have a budget for a weekly hot chocolate or coffee with friends, that £3 a week is a very easy luxury to go without over the next few months so that I can give more to projects in Haiti!
  • Look for tiny yet still important ways to give - spare change after the weekly shop to charity boxes or people collecting!
  • Remember charities in your will
  • Remember giving in your yearly plans/goals
  • Remember that we all have different gifts, you may not be able to go to Haiti to help, but your small donation might help someone else be able to go to Haiti to provide care for those in need!

Giving Time

  • There are thousands of charities which are collecting for Haiti and other countries in need - could you donate a few hours to collect money or fundraise?
  • Several charities are packaging items to send to disaster areas, could you give an evening or 1/2 a day at the weekend to help box up items?
  • Could you organize a fundraiser? Even having a meal at your home and asking friends or family to attend and make a donation which you will give to a charity like Red Cross or World Vision or Doctors Without Borders?
  • Could you make something to sell with the profits going to a charity?
  • Could you attend a fundraiser put on by a Church or charity or group? I am all set to attend one this weekend and am really looking forward to it :)
  • Could you send an email to friends and family with links to organizations collecting or fundraisers?

Giving Things

  • Do you have anything you could sell where you could give the profits to charity?
  • Do you have any clothing, jewelry, shoes, books, knick knacks that you could give to a charity shop?


  • Could you say a prayer, light a candle, hold people in your thoughts?
  • Could you talk to others about the need, which might encourage them to act?

None of these ideas are time consuming or earth shattering, I hope they are simple and easy and encourage others to think about the ways they can give. In this season of my life, which includes both unemployment and opening my home to friends who are homeless due to burst pipes, it can be very very hard to believe that you are in a position to help and yet the more I commit to simple, frugal and green living, the more I see the opportunities to help are all around!

I do so hope some of you might be able to share any giving ideas you have!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Learning to Love Squash

by Badhuman

I want to like squash because it's local and it's seasonal and its relatively easy to grow but the reality is I don't really like squash- any squash. I think it's the consistency... I don't like creamy soups which is a common use for squash and I don't like it in big chunks... Butternut squash is okay mashed in with potatoes but not spectacular. But I haven't given up hope and even I can say this is a pretty good pasta recipe, butternut squash and all!

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It's relatively simple to make although it does take a little time to roast the vegetables.


- 1 medium butternut squash
- 1 small sweet onion, peeled and diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper (don't go to light on the salt and pepper or the overall effect will be too sweet)
- 1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
- 1 pound farfalle pasta (I used whole wheat)
- 3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 4 ounces high quality Parmesan, shredded or shaved (quality matters because the sharp/salty taste of the cheese balances out the sweet of the squash)

Step 1:
Heat the oven to 375°. Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the strings and seeds the middle cavity. Flip the squash halves upside down and peel them. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes.

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Step 2:
Toss with the onion, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Mince about half of the fresh sage leaves and also toss with the squash. Spread the squash mixture in a thin layer on a large baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes or until the squash is soft.

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Step 3:
Heat salted pasta water to boiling and cook the farfalle until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Step 4:
As the squash finishes roasting, heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large high-sided sauté pan. Drop in the rest of the sage leaves and fry for about a minute, or until they begin to just shrivel up. Remove with a slotted spoon and salt lightly. Crush with the back of a spoon.

Step 5:
Cook the pasta and squash mixture in two batches so there is enough room in the pan for the pasta to be pan fried versus steamed. Cook, stirring frequently, for five minutes or until the pasta is heated through and getting crispy on some of the edges. Add the pine nuts and cook for another minute. Stir in the cheese and serve.

Recipe originally posted here.

What's your favorite squash recipe?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Sense of Urgency?


This post is a revamp of an opinion peice that I wrote about a year ago, but it makes even more sense to me today in light of recent world events. 

Since Copenhagen was deemed to have a shallow and listless outcome, I still notice when I talk to people about the seriousness of climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, people still tend to not take me too seriously, for two main reasons:
  1. "If what you say is true, why isn't the government doing a lot more?", and,

  2. "If what you say is true, why aren't there people protesting in the streets? Why isn't there a really big, loud protest movement?"

Both seam like reasonable assumption, but only if they were true.  Even as recently as yesterday, I was talking to a friend who just could not connect the dots about climate change and deforestation in our state and why weather pattens were changing!

So, I believe that one reason for taking drastic public measures in the form of activism, street marches, protests, walk against warming etc. in addition to just making your life simpler, as best you can, is quite simply to create a sense of urgency in the general population. Because right now, that sense of urgency is not there at all, certainly not in the minds of some world leaders.  Mind you, that may change pretty soon if water gets scarce and food supplies dwindle as they are in some parts of the world.

For instance all the factual articles and warnings about prolonged droughts, record heat-waves, bush-fires, melting ice shelves and ice caps that are documented in national newspapers, in posts on environmental blogs similar to mine, and speeches by our political leaders are all thwarted by the mechanism that counteracts the creation of a sense of urgency by the usual means.  Below is a classic example of how this counter-intuitive mechanism works.

A while ago, I was working at in an office tower,  when there was an loud alarm. It sounded like it might be something serious, but I didn't know for sure. So I looked around to see how other people reacted. Since nobody seemed overly worried, I concluded that it was probably not a signal to leave the building, and so I continued working instead of running down the fire stairs Sure enough, it turned out to have been some technical glitch with the alarm system in the entire building. 

The same phenomenon occurs in the larger context. When ordinary people read about truly alarming stuff in the newspaper, hear it on the radio, or see it on TV, they will check around them to see how everybody else is reacting. If other people don't seem to be overly worried, they'll shrug, decide that the alarming report was probably exaggerated, and continue about their daily business. 

Only in the case of climate change, peak oil and resource depletion, we know it's not a technical glitch, and it's not an exaggeration, either. They really should be worried. By not being worried, right now, could turn out to be fatal for the entire human race.  And all this talk about saving the planet is rubbish.  What we really need is to save ourselves from ourselves.  The planet will get along just fine with out us, albeit in a slightly altered state, but with a lot less species inhabiting it.

It is this reason, in my humble opinion, is why we need to start behaving like people who really do believe they are living in the time of the greatest emergency mankind has ever faced. We need visible and drastic action because only visible and drastic action communicates to people that there is an emergency going on.

My reaction of late has been a strong one.  Not only am I trying to live a sustainable life, I am now acting as if there is a real emergency (there really is, you know), living a local diet, starting a sustainable living community group, reducing consumption further, and blatantly advertising my actions to my work colleagues, and jumping at the chance to get politically vocal any way I can.  If more people also begin to notice the emergency, then my work is done, and people will begin to act in a better way to help avert the climate crisis and other issues by voluntarily lowering their carbon footprints and consumption, or alternatively, the governments of our time acting on policy and legislating large cuts in emissions and change the way we use fossil fuels and rapidly depleting resources.  

Crisis over, the emergency really goes away and we can look future generations proudly in the eye without shame of inaction. I believe that in this point in time, this will be the only way we will be able to save ourselves, unless of course a global leader takes the reigns and leads us down the right path to avert the emergency.  But leadership is a rare commodity indeed in our current democracies.  It will be up to people like you and I to step up to the crease or plate and bat to a record score!  As individuals we can only do so much, but as a collective group of concerned global citizens we can achieve amazing things.

In fact, leadership is the only real renewable resource we have in our democracies!  Food for thought indeed.

What do you think?  Have I got it completely wrong, or am I on the right tack?  I would love to read your opinions about these issues.

Dinner: Cheap, Healthy, Exotic

from Amy of

One of our very favorite soups is an Indian lentil soup. The curry and other spices makes it kind of exotic and the short, simple ingredient list makes it inexpensive and easy to throw together out of things you can stock in your pantry.

1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 coriander seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 TBSP olive oil
1 chopped onion
2 chopped garlic cloves
5 cups stock (we use Better than Bouillion chicken)
10oz red lentils
1 can chopped tomatoes

Crush up the seeds in a mortar and pestle, heat them in a dry frying pan for a minute (honestly, you can skip this step too; it just intensifies the flavors). Then saute the onions and garlic in the oil and add in the spice mixture. Put in the broth and lentils and cook until the lentils are tender (about 20min). Add the tomatoes and let it cook another five minutes. Now *carefully* whiz it all up in a blender until almost smooth (a little texture is nice) and pour it back in the pot. You may need to do this in a couple batches.
It's easy to double or triple this recipe and store a few meals worth in the freezer. It's perfect thawed and heated and tastes just as delicious as the day you made it.
If you don't have the spices in your cupboard already, that will be your big investment. Otherwise things like canned tomatoes, onions and lentils are cheap and easy to keep on hand. For garnish you can fry up some green onion slices and mix fresh parsley into some plain yogurt. I love the yogurt mixture on top!
We like to serve something fresh and colorful with the soup. This was a salad composed entirely from our garden, so definitely cheap! But a nice side of curried peas and potatoes, an interesting fruit salad or even a simple green salad with a bright flavored dressing would be great.
Another delicious and inexpensive accompaniment is homemade, whole wheat naan. Peter Reinhart has a wonderful recipe that comes out fluffy and chewy. But some nice whole wheat toast to dip in the soup would also be tasty and satisfying.
Bon appetit!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Healthy cookware

by Francesca
all drawings by artist J. Anzalone

For years I've been striving to grow, buy and prepare the healthiest foods for my family, but it was only a few years ago that I stopped to consider the safety of the pots I was cooking it in. The fact is, even with the healthiest raw materials, your meals will only be as healthy as your cookware.

The main concern with cookware is that it not add toxins to your food. This can happened in three ways: by using chemically reactive materials with the wrong kind of food (like using aluminum pots for cooking with acidic foods), cooking with the wrong kind of cookware (such as non-stick skillets for high-heat cooking), or using damaged cookware (like a badly scoured stainless steel pan).

At first, when I set out to improve our own cookware, I was overwhelmed by the countless choices and the enormous range in prices. I also found it quite tricky to navigate through the maze of what materials are best for what kinds of food at what temperatures: even if you chose quality cookware and take proper care of it, there's an ideal pot for each specific use!

To simplify things, I tried to make sure my cookware met the following criteria: 1) inert or moderately-reactive, 2) good heat-conducting materials, and 3) locally made (which, as is it happens, in the case of terracotta and copper, is also the kind of cookware that was traditionally used in my part of the world).

artwork by J. Anzalone

TERRACOTTA - EARTHENWARE – Earthenware is an inert material with excellent thermal properties, perfect for lengthy cooking over low to medium heat and in the oven, as for soups, stews, and casseroles. Because of its porousness, it requires just a little care before each use to avoid cracking: run water over over the pot so it absorbs some moisture, and heat it slowly to avoid thermal shock. Once heated, terracotta retains heat for a long time.

(Note: to avoid high levels of lead and cadmium, ensure that your earthenware is from a reputable manufacturer, or have it tested.)

TINNED COPPER - Considered one of the best and safest choices, copper has wonderful conductivity and can be used for a wide range of tasks. A plain copper pot is perfect for making polenta, but for all other cooking, copper that's been thinly lined with tin is a better choice. A shallow, tinned copper pan is my pizza and focaccia pan of choice, for instance, because it produces a perfect crust. Wipe it clean after use – avoid washing or scouring, which will remove the tin coating.

(Incidentally, tinned copper cookware is very different from the stainless steel cookware thinly clad on the outside with copper, where the copper is basically only cosmetic, and has little effect on how the food actually cooks.)

CARBON STEEL – An excellent, inexpensive and under-appreciated choice for many different cooking methods. It heats up rapidly and can be used at high heats. It must be thoroughly dried and seasoned after each use to prevent rusting. It blackens over time, which probably explains why it's not so popular, though blackening also means that the pan has essentially become non-stick.

CAST IRON – I'm very partial to cast iron skillets, which can be used on a high flame burner for searing, frying, and making crepes, but also for baking. Cast iron has excellent heat retention and diffusion properties. Always thoroughly dry and season cast-iron cookware after use to prevent rusting.

(A word about ENAMEL cookware: this is cast iron cookware with a vitreous enamel glaze, often in beautiful colors. The glaze prevents rust, thus eliminating the need to season the pan, and allows for more thorough cleaning, but it can't withstand quite the same searing heat as uncoated cast iron. Too expensive and delicate for my use – the coating can chip)

STAINLESS STEEL – One of the most versatile cookware options, though it' s not recommended for cooking acidic foods for long cooking times. (Many sources also say you shouldn't use abrasive materials when cleaning stainless steel.)

TITANIUM NON-STICK COOKWARE – I still sort of like non-stick, I must confess, probably because I learned to cook at the time when Teflon and non-stick cookware seemed to be so much handier than traditional pans. There are significant health questions about Teflon (refer to sources below), so favor titanium, and in any case buy only high quality non-stick cookware. Make sure never to over heat it.

GLASS – An inert material, but heat reflective, so not very good for cooking. It can be good for some kinds of baking, though, and is excellent for storing food.

ALUMINUM – A cheap, light-weight material, with good thermal conductivity, but it's chemically reactive. Personally, I don't use it for much more than boiling water when I cook pasta. Favor cast aluminum.

artwork by J. Anzalone

There are a lot of cookware options to chose from, and more excellent on-line information is here and here.

However, if you're like me you'll find over the years that just a handful of invaluable pots distinguish themselves from all the rest.

What are your favorite pots and how do you use them?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Crockpot Soapmaking

by Lynn at Viggies Veggies

I'd been planning on waiting to learn to make soap for a while yet, because I'd heard it made to sound so expensive and complicated. But my net.friend Dilli recently tested out a crockpot soap recipe she found that demystified the process for me. It's pretty well fool proof. And while talking to her about it, I realized I didn't need any special supplies or equipment. The only thing I purchased to start was an inexpensive bottle of lye from the hardware store.

crockpot soap

I used a 48 ounce bottle of vegetable oil, 6 ounces of my new bottle of lye, and 14 ounces of water. That's it as far as consumables. The supplies included my crockpot, a stainless steel whisk, two glass measuring cups, gloves, a kitchen scale, and a glass casserole dish to use as a mold. I didn't have a full sized dish so I also lightly greased a muffin tin for palm sized round soaps.

It's a very easy project that comes out to be a good money saver. Dilli even made this great video that steps you through the process. It's based on a tutorial she found here. If you've never made soap before, the tutorial is a good read as it emphasizes a few safety tips.

Friday, 15 January 2010

A Big Batch of Meatballs

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
I eat meat, but can just as easily do without it. I think of meat as a condiment to a meal - it adds flavor but it's not the main attraction. But Aries is an avowed carnivore. He'd make a meal of meat and bread if left to his own devices. He won't eat salads either, so I sneak veggies into his meals by making lots of soups and stews in the winter (out of the veggies stored in the cellar), and stir-fries in the summer (right out of the garden). I'll rarely buy meat when I make my twice-monthly trip to the market, unless it's some turkey ham to flavor a pot of beans.

But we also have a grocery store a block down the hill. Aries will walk down there a couple of times a week - because his bank is inside, or for me if we're out of milk. Usually, he'll check out the meat section for the must-sell-today specials. Yesterday, he came home with two pounds of country sausage, reduced to 99¢. When someone hands you that much ground meat, it's time to make meatballs. I had a pound of ground round in the freezer (also bought on sale, $2) - taken out to thaw yesterday, I made a big batch of meatballs today.

Big Batch of Meatballs (makes 75 1" meatballs)

3 pounds ground meat (I usually use a combination of beef and pork)
1½ cups fine bread crumbs
1½ cups finely chopped onion
3 eggs
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup ketchup
salt & pepper

Mix everything together. Grease, or spray a broiler pan with non-stick spray. Roll mixture into 1" meatballs. The easiest way I've found to make equal portions is to dump the mixture out on my cutting board, shape it into a 1" high rectangle, and cut it into 1" cubes. Arrange over the slits in the top of the broiler pan, and bake 400º 20-25 minutes. I'll usually take them out of the oven after 15 minutes, and using a fork, flip the meatballs over so they'll brown on the other side too, putting them back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes.

This recipe makes enough to fill my broiler pan. After the cooked meatballs have cooled, I move them to a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer. After they're frozen hard, I transfer them to a gallon freezer bag to use as needed. Classically, I'll add some to a tomato and veggie sauce to serve over pasta, but they're also good in a brown sauce with mushrooms and yogurt as a meatball stroganoff, tucked in a pita pocket with lots of cucumber slices and a bit of ranch dressing, or Aries will sometimes make a meatball sandwich with cheese and barbecue sauce.

For a normal meal, Aries will have 4-5 meatballs as a serving, and I'll have maybe 3, so this $3 of meat will make 9-10 meals for the two of us. Today, I only had 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, so I used 1 tablespoon soy sauce too, and didn't add any salt or pepper (also, because the sausage had seasoning already added). They turned out just fine.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Hot Potato Trick

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

We grew 100 pounds of potatoes in 2009. A fair portion of them are still in our garage. We'll continue eating them up over the winter, aiming to have none left by the time the weather warms up and signals them to begin sprouting.

With so many potatoes available, you can be sure I feel some urgency about using them up. We eat them often. Anytime I fire up the oven to do any baking, I scrub a few potatoes and slip them in there to piggyback on whatever else I'm cooking. That just makes good sense to me, getting the most out of an appliance that uses enormous amounts of energy. But there's a little trick I use when baking potatoes that I thought was worth passing on.

Metal skewers for shish kabob or grilling help baked potatoes cook through faster. I always use these unless I know the oven's going to be on for a really long time anyway. I have found that a large potato is done about 10 minutes sooner when pierced by a skewer than when left alone. This is especially useful when I want to bake potatoes of different sizes. I use my skewers on the largest ones, and they all cook in the same time. It's also handy for potatoes of any size if the main dish in the oven is only going to take 30 minutes to cook. As a rule of thumb, potatoes take 45-60 minutes to bake in the oven. If I skewer the potatoes and put them in the oven as it warms up, and leave them in the oven as it cools down, most of them can still finish with a quick-cooking dish.

When using this trick, don't crowd the potatoes too tightly on the skewer. The reason this works is because the metal will conduct the heat of the oven into the center of the potato. But if the entire skewer is buried in one potato after another, it won't work. Space your potatoes out on the skewers, leaving a few inches between each one. If you don't have enough skewers for all the potatoes you want to cook, put the largest ones on the skewers first. The smaller ones will cook faster anyway.

I usually don't have anything specific in mind when I piggyback baked potatoes in this way. If need be, cooked potatoes will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. They're a great basis for soup, where the distinctive baked potato flavor will do far more for the soup than simply simmering raw cubed potatoes in broth. They're also likely to end up in a dish of pyttipanna, or Spanish tortilla de patatas, hash browns to go with breakfast, or simply as potato salad.

I love frugal hacks like this one. Have you got any to share? Let us know in the comments, please!

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Learning New Skills

by Chiot's Run

Mr Chiots and I have been trying to learn new skills to be able to do more things for ourselves, and to save money. Earlier this winter, our car needed new rotors and brake pads. Instead of taking it to the dealer or the local repair shop to get new ones Mr Chiots did the task himself, saving us a bundle. Not only did we save several hundred dollars in installation charges, we also purchased and installed really high quality pads & rotors that will last much longer than the usual ones that are put on.

He found a great resource on-line with a wonderful "how-to" guide and was able to put the new pads & rotors on in a few hours.

It was such a success, he helped a friend change his a few weeks later. Learning these skills not only saves money but it's a way to learn new skills and become a little more independent from the shopping cycle. We won't be doing all of our auto work, but any that we can do we will.

Have you learned any new skills recently?