Thursday, 30 September 2010

Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce

 By Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow
Though there have been no gluts of tomatoes this year, the plants we did get in are doing very well. I canned a bit of diced tomatoes to use for salsa throughout the winter, as we do not like canned salsa. The other big thing we use is sauce for pizza and pasta. I do not like just pureeing tomatoes and trying to get them cooked down and thickened up at the last minute-usually we have pizza or pasta when we are running short on time, so I needed a grab and go sauce. I found a recipe for an oven roasted sauce, and tweaked it a bit to our taste. It turned out beautifully and was very simple.
First, cut up enough tomatoes to generously fill a 9X13 or standard sized rectangular casserole dish. Put some olive oil in the bottom before you toss them in to help them from sticking and add flavor. I used about 1/4 c.  I kept the tomatoes in quarters-anything smaller and it can get very tedious to pick out the skins later. Then I quartered one onion and broke up the cloves of one large head of garlic, though I DID NOT skin them and put all of that on top. I also had a couple sweet peppers in there somewhere just chopped a bit.
Put all of this in a 450 degree oven for 45 minutes, then turn it down to 350 for another hour to two hours. Just watch everything roast. Once the tomatoes are sufficiently cooked down (their insides should squish well and the skins just fall off) and your garlic squeezes right out of the skins, you are done cooking.
Let everything rest on the counter until it cools enough you can handle it. It may take a while. Just cover it up and do something else. Once it is cool, squeeze the garlic out of its skins and remove all the tomatoes skins you find. All those skins will make your sauce bitter. Start moving the veggies to a food processor-it took a couple batches to get everything done.  Once you have pureed everything to a sauce, including all the juices in the bottom of the pan, mix your batches together and season with salt, pepper, oregano, basil and sugar to your taste. Fill jars and process 35 minutes for quarts, at 10 pounds pressure in your pressure canner.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Home Brew Beer

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Enough words, time for some movies on the SGFC.

I ran a beer making workshop a few months ago, and want to share it all with you today.  It is in three parts, so those who are interested in making your own beer from a kit, enjoy the show and I hope you learn or can share it with your partner.  You even get to hear my cool Aussie accent!


If you want to see how my beer turned out, have a look at this post titled "Beer Tasting".  It all tastes great, and it is very cheap at 46 cents a 750ml bottle.  The initial set up cost was about $80 for the first batch and all the equipment, but every brew after that, the price reduces as you pay back you set up cost from the savings.  Suffice to say that I have not bought a beer for a very long time.

Just a reminder.  Please drink in moderation.  Having an abundant supply of the amber nectar does not necessarily mean you have to drink more.  Words of wisdom from a man who knows!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Uses for Cracklings and Lard

 by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

Cracklings waiting to be strained off of melted lard.
"Cracklings (American) or crackling (British) is a crisp, deep fried food that may be made from various animals. Pork rind cracklings are popular in the American south. The skin of all kinds of poultry are used to make cracklings, including duck, chicken, goose and game birds. Some classic dishes, such as cassoulet depend on a top crust made crunchy by turning the skin of the duck used in the dish into a topping. Cracklings of all kinds are eaten plain, folded into breads and dumplings, and sprinkled atop dishes on their way to the table to add crunch. They are part of all traditional European cuisines, since the use of all parts of a butchered animal was nutritionally and economically important. They are called Gribenes and traditionally made from goose or chicken in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine."- from Wikipedia

So that's what they are. Our fat comes ground from our butcher so we're not going to get nice little squares to be made into chips. However, there are LOTS of tasty uses for cracklings here at the farm!

The crackling product coming from or off of the slow cooker, low heat fat rendering into lard, looks like underdone ground pork. It is less meaty and more fatty and smells a bit like bacon. It needs to be cooked more before using, but stores best at this fresh off the lard form.

So to use it, thaw it. Then fry it up in a cast iron skillet over low to medium heat until it is crispy (high temps you risk flash point and lots of smoke). At this point, depending on how I am going to use it, I season it with a garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne mix I use instead of plain salt. You can season it to taste many different ways, but the Cajun in me prefers cayenne. I've also uses thyme, salt, and cayenne with a bit of maple syrup. Look at what application you'll be putting them to, and season accordingly. I find that they have a slightly porky flavour unseasoned, but that it is rather bland.

So fried up and crisped and seasoned, what now?
  • I use in place of bacon bits on salad greens.
  • Mixed up with bread crumbs for casserole toppings. 
  • Green bean casserole, as an ingredient and with the fried onion bits that go on top.
  • I intend to also use in white gravy for biscuits and gravy, but have not yet.
  • As a pan liner for cornbread. If used like this really pay attention to seasoning, it will carry the bread.
  • Sprinkle on roasts just before serving. 
  • Add to brown gravies just before serving.
  • Mix with cream cheese or sour cream as a spread or dip.
So you see, it is more of a condiment, has a lot of flexibility, and use.

Now lard is just as easy. Any recipe that says use vegetable shortening (Crisco), substitute 1:1 for lard. Pretty easy that. You'll get flakier pie crusts, more tender cookies, lovely sweets. 

Other uses:
  • Greasing pans for pancakes and egg or fish frying, for cakes and breads.
  • Slice open lean roasts and tuck in a bit of lard. Makes for really tender meat. Especially useful for dry lean venison roasts. 
  • Oven fried potatoes, use instead of whatever oil you'd use. We used to use olive or peanut oil.
  • Fried chicken. Pan fried or deep fried. Results in a really crisp and delicious chicken breast. 
  • Dutch oven popcorn. 2 Tablespoons of lard, 1 teaspoon of salt, cover the bottom of the oven with kernels, cover and heat. When popping is done, remove from heat.  So incredibly good (can also be made with bacon grease, btw). 
  • Fried with plantains and served with rice
  • Added to Asian style stir fry and fried rice (seasoned with soy sauce)
Last weekend I made plain old sugar cookies with lard instead of shortening as a taste test sample at a local farm open house. I used the most basic sugar cookie recipe I could find, no added flavours like cinnamon or vanilla. I subbed the lard and I switched out the called for corn syrup with maple syrup. These cookies were good. Not fabulous, but lots of people comment on the fact that they'd thought there would be a porky flavour from the lard and they just tasted like sugar cookies. That is exactly why I made them. There was even an older baby who'd never had a cookie before, and his mom gave him my cookie as his first! That was really flattering.

5 years ago my husband brought home lard for pie making and was super excited to use it. I was totally grossed out. At that point I still thought I had to microwave my food to make it safe to eat, even fresh out of the oven food would get zapped for 30 seconds. How far I've come that I now raise and render my own lard. Food for thought, I guess.

Are there any uses I have left out? What do you or would you use lard and cracklings for?

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Assembling a 1st Aid or Emergency Kit

by Kate
Living The Frugal Life

Recently I was fortunate enough to have a young man with EMT training and work experience as a guest in my home.  When I told him I was interested in putting together first aid kits for my home and car he kindly retrieved his own emergency medical kit from his car and spent about an hour going through it with me, explaining the use of each item.  I thought this would be valuable information to share with the readers here.  This is a summary of what he told me.

Look at a surplus military supply outlet for a good backpack to hold your kit.  It should have one zipper that allows the pack to open up completely and lay flat, so that you can see most or all of your supplies at a glance.  It's helpful to have small slots to hold some medical tools and supplies in place so that they don't jostle around inside.  He also liked the particular pack he carries because it can expand outward by means of "bellows" construction compartments, but the pack can also be fastened down as tightly as the contents allow by means of straps on the outside.

When he opened his pack and laid it out on the floor, one side had a mesh screen which clearly showed the contents of that half of the pack.  Here, he said, he kept the items he might need most quickly, such as:
  • a face mask (for himself), 
  • latex gloves
  • blood stopper bandages - which can either be stuffed into a large wound or rolled all the way around a torso or thigh
  • Quickclot - a powdered substance that can be poured into a large wound to clot it very quickly through chemical action.  Interestingly, he would be prohibited from using this as a working EMT, but it's legal for ordinary people to carry and use.
  • antibacterial, single use towelettes 
  • triangular bandage, which can be used as a sling, comes with safety pins, and is sometimes called a "cravat"
On the other side of his pack he carried the following:
  • saline solution in a spray tip bottle - good for flushing out wounds and many other purposes
  • triple antibiotic ointment - both a large tube and single use packets
  • a space blanket - good for hypothermia victims, but he also said it's a good emergency shelter
  • Sam splint - a splint that can be cut to fit anything from a finger to an elbow, and though flexible, will hold its shape and support a great deal of body weight
  • tampons - sterile and designed to be highly absorbent, so as good for puncture wounds as for menstruation
  • fabric tape and water proof tape - good for all kinds of bandaging and splinting
  • Ace coflex bandage - looks like the familiar tan fabric binding, but this stuff sticks to itself which is very useful when you need a lot of pressure applied constantly
  • Instant cold pack - a chemical snap pack that can provide instant cold, but only over a very short period
  • burn gel - a liquid coated bandage used as first treatment for a relatively small 2nd or 3rd degree burn
  • sterile gauze pads in various sizes
In the outer pockets of his backpack were other items, such as:
  • plastic oral pharyngeal airways, also called "artificial airways" - these come in graduated sizes and are placed all the way at the back of the mouth of an unconscious person to maintain an open airway
  • medical shears - he said they'll cut through absolutely anything a person might be wearing, critical if you need to get at a bullet wound or cut through an underwire bra to use a defibrillator
  • CPR masks - these provide a one-way barrier against infection, in favor of the person providing aid
  • tongue depressors - good for depressing tongues or improvising finger splints
  • hemostats (2) - he said the most likely scenario for him to use them would be if he were to help a woman deliver a baby
  • seat belt cutter - looks like some envelope cutters I've seen, but used to safely and quickly cut through a seat belt to remove an accident victim from a vehicle
  • window punch - used to shatter tempered glass in cars, but won't work on the windshield, only side windows, and you need to wear a glove when using one of these
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • glucose gel - for diabetics in a coma
  • ear plugs
He also recommended a website to me as a good place to find the sorts of supplies he carries at very reasonable rates.  Although you must order from Moore Medical in bulk quantities, he said that the bulk quantities weren't huge, and in any case you'd often pay the same price for one or two bandages at a drug store as you'd pay for 100 by ordering through the website.   It seems to me that since I want three separate kits anyway, buying in bulk isn't so very unreasonable.  If I can find even one other family who wants one kit for their home and two for their vehicles, that's a six-way split for any items purchased in bulk.

Taking a first aid class and putting together first aid kits has been on my goal list since the beginning of this year. Although I have yet to schedule my husband and myself for Red Cross classes, I now feel that I can at least get started with putting together some basic supplies.  And perhaps paying attention to such hope-we-never-need-it stuff will encourage me to find a class at a time convenient to both of us.  

Do you have first aid or emergency kits in your home or vehicle?  If you do and you include any items not listed here, please share in the comments.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Autumnal Chores

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
As the nights get longer and cooler, my indolent summer grasshopper ways give way to a spate of ant-like autumnal activity. Of course, like any good ant, there's the annual season's end garden harvesting and putting by. Thankfully, a kitchen full of steam from vast pots of boiling water is now much easier to withstand in the cooler daytime temperatures. But the kitchen isn't the only place seeing activity.

By the end of August, the cellar stores are at their lowest point - only a few apples and the last bit of sauerkraut remain. Those move up to the refrigerator. The storage racks easily come apart and are taken outside. Next, the floor gets a good sweeping, then the walls washed down with a long-handled brush and a bucket of water with a bit of bleach added. Storage bins and the racks get scrubbed down too, and left to dry out in the sunlight. This annual cleaning keeps pests or bacteria from ruining the food we'll be eating throughout the winter.

Once the cellar is clean and put back together, it's time to start getting the inside temperature down. I open up the cellar door nightly, on my way back from closing up the chicken coop. A screened frame made to fit over the stairwell keeps critters and falling leaves out, while still allowing the colder night air to sink down inside and the warmer air rises through the vent in the back corner. Each morning, on his way back from opening up the coop for the day, Aries closes everything back up, trapping the cooler air down there in the dark. By the time the apples and root crops are ready, the cellar should be ready too.

The house has stayed warm enough that we haven't had to light a fire yet, but we know that time isn't too far off. The wood stove pulled out, the chimney gets cleaned and inspected. Soon, the wood and kindling boxes will need to be filled.

My nesting instinct really kicks in now too. I want a warm and cozy nest to curl up in when the snow starts falling. The lighter summer bedding and table linens are washed, line-dried, and stored, as heavier autumnal textiles take their place. The equinoxes are my reminders to turn our mattress - "equalizing the wear" so to speak. While I enjoy the newness of each of my seasonal changes in decor in their turn, the fall colors are my favorite. I love the golds of autumn, both inside and out.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Harvesting the last tomatoes

by Francesca

Each day for the last 10 days or so, I've wondered whether this was the day I should harvest all the remaining tomatoes on the vines. Our days are growing shorter, but the nights are still warm. However, fall officially begins tomorrow, and one of these evenings temperatures are liable to drop suddenly. When is the right time to harvest those last tomatoes?

This year I only grew the two kinds of tomatoes I like best (here): date tomatoes (possibly the same as the English "grape tomato"?), and beefsteak tomatoes.

last date tomatoes

I've had a very large crop of date tomatoes, which are wonderful little bite-sized morsels of intense flavor, and though the plants are now showing signs of decline, they're still healthy.

However, the beefsteak tomatoes, which I'm very fond of because they're excellent both raw and in a sauce, have recently become heavily infested by stink bugs.

last tomatoes

These stink bugs don't seem to harm the plant itself, but they ruin the tomatoes:

last tomatoes 2

Above you can see what the damage looks like: a discolored area on the surface of the tomato.

last tomatoes 3

And on the inside, the flesh is dry and corky.

So, I've decided to leave the date tomatoes on the vines as long as the weather holds, whereas I chose to harvest all the healthy beefsteak tomatoes, most of which were unripe, before the stink bugs got to them.

What do you do with green tomatoes? In my part of the world, we keep them in brown paper bags together with an apple: the ethylene gas from the apple encourages ripening.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Quick & Easy Composting

by Chiot's Run

Lately I've been thinking about things I can do to save time in the garden and I decided trench composting would be a great way to do this. I started composting directly in the garden areas that need the most help. Now I don't have to worry about nutrients leaching from the compost pile, which is something I've been reading about. If your compost pile isn't covered, the rain will leach nutrient from the compost into the soil below. Why let all that hard work get leached away? I started trench composting a couple months ago. My parents used to do this when I was growing up. It's a quick and easy way to compost all that stuff from canning.

All you have to do is dig a trench in the garden area and add a layer of your compostable things. Then back fill with the soil you removed. By spring it will have turned become compost and the worms will have distributed it in the garden. No turning, no layering, it's quick and easy! You can dig one long trench and simply fill along as you add the compost items.

I still have my regular compost pile for the large amounts of garden waste, but I'm thinking of starting to put this pile in the garden areas I need to amend, that way any nutrients that leach out with the rain will at least be going into a garden area I'll be using in the future.

Do you practice various forms of composting?

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, 20 September 2010

Garden Lessons

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

I keep a garden journal in a simple notebook. Nothing fancy, college rule size lines represent my rows in my gardens - and my hieroglyphics mostly likely would take some deciphering by anyone other than myself. I keep track of varieties, planting & harvest dates, amendments, tillage and weather. The information when set down isn't that important, it is later when I am able to look back and draw conclusions or make decisions on past events that my garden chronicle takes on its true identity.

This year while most of the U.S. baked, we grew moss on our backs, the Pacific Northwest is known for its rainfall, but this was the hardest year for gardens/crops in my garden memory. In a normal year, we have a rainy spring, and then a lull in May enabling at least some planting. This year there was no lull, which delayed planting until mid to late June. Those first plantings in May are a critical time for some of my winter roots. They need a full growing season to mature, if a month gets lopped off on the beginning, my winter stores are in jeopardy. The jury is still out on my root crops normally planted in May, they are plugging away slow and steady. Root crops I plant in June are doing well. No differences there. Definitely this has been the year for cool weather crops.

Warm weather crops have been almost non-existent in my garden this year. I have peppers only because they are planted in a hoophouse where I can exert a little more control over the temperature. With our cool nights this summer we couldn't have began to come close to the minimum heat units needed to ripen warm season type crops. I can't go by the days to maturity on a seed packet - which is just an average anyway - I have to think of heat units. For instance, at my location a 69 day early sweet corn takes on an average, 95 days to ripen. This is where my garden diary excels. Garden books are great as a baseline, but the lab that is my garden is where I get most of my new information for next years garden and beyond.

From past notes, I knew that dry beans were out if planted any later than Memorial Day, so I didn't waste my seed. It was a good thing too, they would never have matured. I just picked my first green beans this past week. Normally in early September I am harvesting those beans for seed for the next years crop, and getting ready to put the poles away for winter. While I am a little wistful about tomatoes and corn, I am not writing off the garden season as a bust. Rather, it was just different and we had to adapt. Using my garden notes of past successes and failures, I could make informed decisions on whether to plant certain vegetables on not. The cooler weather actually made my later plantings of fall and winter vegetables easier. It's sometimes a push to keep cool weather transplants stress free in August - but this year it was a snap.

My garden notations are invaluable to me in my ongoing quest to grow most of our own food. Do you keep a garden journal and does it help you make better decisions for planning your garden?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

How To Render Lard in a Crockpot or Slow Roaster

It is not my usual posting day but I simply could not wait to share this so I got special permission to make this extra post!

by Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

Our butcher does not render the lard that our pigs produce for people, but they will grind it up and bag it to be included with the order. Still, rendering lard has set in our cultural imaginations as something dangerous, messy, smelly.....ect. I came across several historical accounts that involved houses burning down as a result of lard splatter during rendering or of severe, debilitating burn injuries. Most accounts talked of men with long sticks and huge kettles over open fires doing the rendering due to the danger factor.

I'm not kidding.

That doesn't work for our modern kitchens. At least not mine. I did a bit of research and found lots of links to sites that had people buying a couple lbs of lard and doing small batches on the stove top or in a dutch oven. But that's still not what I needed. Last year our butcher presented me with a full 5 gallon bag, frozen hard. It took three days to thaw mostly. I needed a way to do this thing in bigger batches and explain to customers how to do it too.

So my starting point was my experience last year. It wasn't hard, it did smell though, and the end results had some problems. This year I was having none of that.

My first batch was completed on Thursday and came out exactly how I wanted it to.

So start with the big old bag of frozen lard. This bag was about 3 gallons. I let it completely thaw in my fridge.

It would fit in my 7 quart crock pot, but I also have an 18 quart electric slow roaster that I wanted to try out. Either would have worked great. A smaller amount would work in a smaller crock pot too.

I scrubbed out all the equipment I was going to use. Any old food residue will contaminate, even dust from sitting in storage. Wash and rinse before use no matter how clean it looks.

I set the fat in the roaster and set it at 225 degrees (low on a crock pot). Some say to put 1/2 cup of water in too, but I didn't. I put the lid on and came back in 1 hr. In that time a lot of fat had liquefied so I scraped down the soft sides of the fat glob in the middle.

1 hr. later repeat.

Lots of extra room. A 7 quart crock pot would have been more than enough.
 1 more hr. later and it had all liquefied and the meat chunks that will be cracklings were floating on the top. I stirred and broke those up a bit more. No splattering involved. Not really any bad smell either. Many of the accounts I read said this is a critical time to watch though. The cracklings will soon sink and then rise up again. When they sink and then rise, it is done. If you wait too much longer then the lard will start to brown and take on a more porky flavour.

So now I was checking every 20 minutes or so and I actually saw the sinking in progress. Yay!

Very clean and clear.
Once that happened I got my containers out. Last year I used old yogurt and ice cream plastic containers. Bad idea. They looked clean, but were not. The result was that the cracklings got contaminated and spoiled fast, the lard also developed mold and growth at the bottom once thawed in the fridge. This year I used sterilized for canning (washed in hot water and soap then boiled in water for 10 minutes) glass freezer safe jars. In our experience, lard can last up to 2 years in the freezer, though the official time is more like 1 year. It is supposed to last 3 months in the refrigerator. Cracklings are more of a meat product and will last 6 months to a year in a freezer and 1 week in the fridge. So when storing cracklings think about how they will be used and store in individual servings (sandwich size freezer bags or small freezer safe 1/2 pint jars are what we use).

As it was cooling. Chad thought it was lemonade concentrate and almost tried to drink some.

To put in the jars I got out my widemouthed canning cone and some cheese cloth/mesh folded over 4 times.  I just laid it in. I used a metal measuring cup and scooped the lard/cracklings mix into the mesh. The lard drained into the jars, the cracklings separated out. When enough cracklings built up, I dumped them into a big bowl to cool. I filled the jars just below the freeze line and capped with a sterile lid.

After cooling and freezing.

No splattering since it was all done at low heat. I laid a towel out to catch drips but those were minimal.

I did put my purse in the car (in case the house caught fire) and a bowl of ice water waiting (in case of burns). Neither was necessary.

Lard can be used in place vegetable shortening in any recipe. Crisco type shortening was developed to replace lard with its longer shelf life (of like 20 years, ew). Lard should not be shelf stable, ever.

Anyway. No mess, no stink/smell, super easy, clean jars. I'd call this year's process a success!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Respite Weekend

by Abby of Love Made the Radish Grow

Things have been terribly busy around our farm this year, so much so, we haven't gotten too much respite. Last week my husband took off from work, the beginning half of which we took care of some bigger projects around the farm and about halfway through we hitched up and headed out of town. My sister stayed at our place to keep an eye on things while we enjoyed a much earned, and needed, break. I think it is easy to get so caught up with all the to-do's that we forget to stop and replenish. Living the simple life is hardly "simple". There is often more work when you are keeping an active homestead, complete with a large garden in full harvest mode, a bevy of animals, winterizing to do as well as the usual day to day. We need rest, though, lest we get burnt out. We took our weekend at this time, intentionally, as there was a swap meet the husband wanted to attend for classic car parts, and the kids and I hit many rummage sales, stocking up on the next size in clothes and shoes for the kids and fun items for me, like enameled mugs, vintage childrens' books and crochet hooks. We fished, we grilled, we knitted (okay, I knitted, and a dear friend who camped a night with us knitted) and we relaxed.
What do you do to get away from it every once a while? We only need it occasionally, but we always come back refreshed and ready to work harder than when we left, full of ideas and ambition.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

My Dichotomy

by Gavin, from The Greening of Gavin.

Have you ever been split between two paradigms?

Well, my life seems to be a constant tug of war between the two main parts of my day that both demand equal amounts of my attention.

Firstly, my job.  I work with a multi-national in Information Technology in the central business district of Melbourne, Australia.  I need to travel from my semi-rural home to the city each day with a total round trip of 2 and a half hours, door to door which is 50 km one way.  I drive to the train station in my Hybrid car, then catch a country train for 50 minutes, then a city train for 10 minutes, and walk from the underground station to a high rise building and work on the 31st floor in a little cubicle that a battery hen would enjoy, surrounded by workmates who probably do the same.

Whilst at work, I do the best I can to be sustainable as I possibly can in an office environment.  I avoid printing, turn off lights in unused meeting rooms, shut down my computer and monitor when I leave, and take the stairs when travelling between floors.  I also work very hard and am proud of my accomplishments at the end of the day.  It is a complex and stressful part of my day, getting even more complex as time goes on.  I often think about the diminishing returns of technology, and that increasing complexity creates larger and larger technology failures.  It is this complexity that is one side of my dichotomy.

Alternatively, when I arrive home, my entire day changes.  Simple tasks like checking on the chickens, enjoying good food from our garden, savouring time with loved ones, and just enjoy the little things like pottering around the garden at my own pace.  Life just slows right down.  I don't need to try and be green and sustainable at home because that is just the way we have designed everything around us, the way we all behave, and what we like talking about.  A very simple lifestyle and we continue to simplify it at every chance we get.

So, as you can see, I have opposing forces at play each Monday to Friday.  One of complexity, hustle and bustle of city life during the day, and a slow, simple lifestyle during the non-job times.  I often remember back to what my life was like when I only had one reality to deal with.  It was unfulfilled, boring, and mind numbing.  Now that I have this yin and yang thing going on, I find that feel kind of in balance and certainly in tune with the things that really matter in my life being, family, the environment and sustainable living.  However, if the balance was tipped the other way towards a completely slow lifestyle, would I still strive so hard in my endeavour to make my local community a better place to live by promoting and educating other about the joys of a simple and sustainable lifestyle? 

I don't really know the answer to that question because I haven't reached that part of my journey yet.  However I can tell you that I know which one I prefer, which is the sustainable lifestyle that our family constantly strives for.  I bet by now you are wondering why I don't throw away the complexity and fully embrace the simple life I so enjoy and desire.  Well, there is this little thing called a mortgage that still needs to be paid off.  We have been pulling together all of our resources together to pay it down as quickly as possible, and all being well, I predict that it will be paid off in 5 and a half years, just in time for my 52nd birthday!  When that happens I believe that my dichotomy will vanish, and all I will need is part time work to earn enough for the few simple needs we will have.

Do any of you have the same dilemma?  City by day, and country by night and weekend.  What are your experiences and what plans do you have to embrace a simpler lifestyle?  If anyone has already made the switch, I would love to hear about your experience.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Education Goes Both Ways

by danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortex

This not so little piggy went to market on Thursday. He was in the finishing acre, feasting on really good fresh picked apples (some windfall too, but not as much since we found a really good tree to pick for this week) and 10-15 gallons of whey per day between just four pigs. We also offer them grain but they are not eating much of that, opting for the delicious food instead.  Next week the new round of pigs will also get pears. Very exciting change in season. :)

We are learning a lot keeping these pigs. It is only our second year, our first with a heritage breed, our first with so many and in a large pasture area. Last year we had 4 in a much smaller pen, they still had shelter and grasses and natural shade, but it is really not the same living environment we offer the pigs this year.

This year is also different in that we intentionally kept these pigs to sell. Last year we had 4 to ensure that we'd end up with at least 1, assuming we'd make major mistakes and then when we didn't lose any, sold them at harvest time. This year we pre-sold all the pigs, took deposits, and educated people about how our livestock is kept, the effect of feed and clean water on meat quality (some of which we are still in the process if learning!), what questions to ask and why, and much more. Some of the education was for non-customers as well.

Last week we had a feed/nutrition specialist from our co-op visit the farm. We are trying to eliminate from the purchased grains what we can if it is being provided elsewhere in the pig's custom diet. We asked the co-op to take a whey sample and have it analyzed for protein, amino acids, and nutritional value. The idea is that they whey might replace the soy element in the grain mix and possible the lysine additive too. Then we can just look at the starch part of the grain mix (currently corn) and try and further improve the quality of that too. Understanding pig nutrition is complicated and actually that applies to a lot of livestock. Chickens are also omnivores and have similar complexity of nutritional needs.

The feed guy said he'd never seen a pig set up like ours. He'd seen outdoor pigs, yes, but not on so much pasture and not being fed apples and whey. We had a lot of  things to say and it occurred to me later that we were once again educating a non-customer about a different kind of farming. The more we do this the better. By we, I mean everyone who values the kind of food system we hold as ideal. We may not be exactly where we want to be just yet, but as we move towards it and learn more and more we are also teaching, sharing, and feeding more and more. The data collected from our whey samples will help the next farmer who wants to customize their pig feed. The feed salesman now has a point of reference, novice as we may be, and the relationship is important.

And that's just it, isn't it? We talk all the time about relationships with farmer to consumer, but just as important is how we support each other with farmer to farmer and farmer to supplier (be it for feed or livestock or seeds) connections. It isn't all about informing the media for spin and hype, or marketing to customers.....the system is more complicated than that.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Carrot & Chili Pepper Escabeche

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

Because I've found myself making this easy dish again with late summer carrots and chili peppers, I'm re-running this earlier post from my personal blog.

The Chantenay carrots I grew this year are coming in well right now. They don't look normal, do they? Gardening has so many of these "real world" opportunities for discovery. Yet even if their tops are nibbled by rabbits, and they're not exactly supermarket models, these big fatties give me a whole lotta carrot to deal with. So I've been making escabeche with them, our recently harvested garlic, and some poblano chili peppers that are also ready in my garden about now. In my usual, rambling, inexact way, I present my methodology/recipe for this dish. The steps may sound a little complicated, but I find that I can hand wash a few dishes or attend to other things during the hands-off periods in the progress of the recipe.

Chili Pepper and Garden Fresh Carrot Escabeche

You will need:

a garden with carrots growing in it
olive oil
1-2 bay leaves
fresh chili peppers, of whatever potency you prefer
2 cloves of garlic
oregano, dried or fresh - chopped if fresh
rainbow peppercorns (optional)
distilled white vinegar or cider vinegar
kosher salt or sea salt

First, dig up some carrots that are ready to come out of the earth. Rinse 'em off, compost the greens, and trim off any wispy side and bottom roots. Once inside, scrub the skins very well with a scrub brush, and trim any damaged areas, but do not peel them.

Select a saucepan according to the quantity of carrots you have. You'll want the carrots to fit (just) in a single layer in the bottom of the pan after a very coarse chopping up. Put this pan on the smallest burner you've got. Into the cold pan, pour sufficient olive oil to form a shallow pool that covers the bottom of the pan. You want more oil than just enough to coat, but only a very shallow pool, about 1/8 inch or so. Add one or two bay leaves (fresh are spectacular if you can get them) and put the heat on under the pan at the lowest possible setting. Let it heat for about 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the carrots. Slice a couple of chili peppers open, and knock out any loose seeds. You may remove all the seeds if you prefer. Smash and peel two small cloves of garlic, and have some oregano on hand. (Don't overdo the garlic; it should not be the dominant flavor in this dish.) Optionally, rainbow peppercorns can also be used, so if you want those, have them handy.

Remove the bay leaves from the oil and discard them. Increase the heat to medium high and add the chili pepper slices and the crushed garlic. Cook the peppers and garlic in the oil for 2-3 minutes, turning once or twice. Remove the chili peppers and reserve. Add the chopped carrots, the peppercorns if you're using them, and a very hefty pinch of the oregano. Increase the heat to high and immediately add enough water to just barely cover the carrots. Put the lid on the pot and bring the liquid to a rapid simmer.

When the water simmers well, turn off the heat. Without dumping the contents of the pot into a colander, fish out the carrots and remove them to a bowl right away, and add the reserved chili peppers to them. Douse with a generous splash of distilled vinegar while the carrots are still hot. Toss the vegetables well in the vinegar. When they have cooled slightly, skim some of the cooking liquid out of the cooking pot and add it to the bowl with the peppers and carrots. Aim for about a 50-50 mixture of vinegar and the oily cooking liquid. Sprinkle with salt to taste.

Serve the escabeche while still slightly warm, or chill and snack on them from time to time. They'll keep for a week or so in the fridge, and they're a nice addition to summertime smorgasbord-type meals. Also good with open faced tomato and basil sandwiches. These barely-cooked carrots have a nice firmness to them that is almost crunchy. Toothsome and satisfying. Brave eaters can enjoy the peppers. (And shhhhh! Don't tell anyone they're vegan!) Pretty tasty, if I say so myself.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chile Roasting Time

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
It's the time of year when I try for a delicate balance of harvesting. I want to let everything get as ripe as possible, but also don't want to be out trying to harvest it all some blustery evening as the temperatures plummet (or snow is starting to fall). So I watch the forecasts, keeping in mind my own micro-climate's min/max thermometer readings. So far, the lowest we've had here has been 37 degrees, but the forecasts for the next few nights are back above 40. So, I'm still bringing things in at a pace that allows me to properly put up the harvest for later.

This evening, it was time for one of my favorite harvest rituals - roasting chiles. None of my big New Mexico chiles have ripened to the red stage where they can be strung into ristras to dry. But I did manage to get a basket full of nice thick green ones to roast, with some more immature ones left on the plants for maybe a bit longer.

Picking chiles at the proper stage for roasting is done mainly by feel. Immature chiles won't be "meaty" enough to have much left after roasting and peeling. Immature ones have a ridge-y thin feel to them, and are often a bit lighter green in color. The perfect chiles have a glossy smooth, heavy feel to them. They might have a bit of reddish-orange color starting to show, but once they're completely red they're better dried. The chiles will snap off the plants at the junction of plant and stem, but I then cut the curving stems close to the fruit so they won't later catch in the grill. I try to pick chiles late in the afternoon, on a beautiful still day. I roast them outside on the deck, so I want a nice evening to enjoy this fall task. Ideally, I have a bottle of white wine chilled in the refrigerator, too.

I fire up the barbecue grill, all three burners on high; get tongs and a paper sack; and pour myself a glass of wine. The idea is to roast the chiles on all sides enough to have the skins darken and start to split apart (wearing eye protection isn't a bad idea), but not so much as to char the insides. Using the tongs, turn the chiles to get all sides; leaning curved ones against the others to roast the outside curve, mashing and flattening them if necessary as they soften and split to allow the inside curves to roast too. I sip my wine, savor the wonderful smell wafting from the grill, look out over the valley as the setting sun lights up the hills beyond, and mentally voice a little toast/prayer of thanks for another year's bounty.

When the chiles are properly roasted on all sides, they're dropped into the waiting paper bag. When all are done, the bag is wrapped around and the chiles sweat and cool. The chiles emit an oily juice that will soak through the bag, so mind where you place the bag, and wash your hands if you get any on them. The bag and all can be put into the refrigerator for a day or so, if there isn't time to peel the chiles immediately. When ready to peel the chiles, WEAR GLOVES (I like latex surgical ones for working with both tomatoes and hot peppers). Rip open the bag, take a chile and peel away the tough skin, scraping gently with a paring knife if necessary. Cut off the cap at the top, and split the chile up one side if it hasn't split already. Slide the knife under the stringy ribs to slice them away, and scrape most of the seeds off the top of the chile. Use the knife to lift the chile, and dunk it in a bowl of water to rinse off remaining seeds and skin bits. I tuck and fold each chile into a flat little square "packet" and put them on a cookie sheet. Important: do NOT touch your eyes or nose - after removing your gloves, wash your hands, under fingernails too, with soap and water - BEFORE using the toilet too! After freezing the chiles on the sheet, I dump them into a freezer bag for later. Aries likes to take one out to make an ortega burger or chicken sandwich; I chop and add some to chili or other Mexican recipes throughout the year, or when I'm ready to can a batch of salsa.

When I really get a bumper crop, I also can some in half-pints. Pack roasted and peeled chiles, whole or chopped, into sterilized jars to ½" headspace, (optional - add ¼ teaspoon non-iodized salt and/or ¼ teaspoon lemon juice to each jar). Do not add any extra water (if canning with added boiling water, leave 1" headspace). Seal and process in a pressure cooker or canner with a couple inches of water; 10 minutes venting steam, then to 10 pounds pressure at sea level, 15 pounds above 1,000 ft (for higher altitudes pressure is increased, not processing time); for 35 minutes at pressure. Let canner cool to zero pressure on its own before opening. As with any canned vegetable, chiles should be boiled 10 minutes before eating, so canned chiles are best used in soups and chili. Be forewarned that canning chiles ups the heat factor too - use discretion when adding to recipes.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Skills to Survive

I had an interesting conversation with some friends the other day about the skill set many of us have in our modern world and the skill set people had 200 years ago. Many of us now have skills that aren't directly linked to our survival. My skills as an business manager earn me a salary of money which I then give to a grocery store to buy food which it purchased from someone else. If something drastic happened in our world and we could no longer earn money, or if we could no longer buy food at a grocery store many people would be in a huge pickle. This is because our skills are no longer directly linked to our survival.

There are many of us that are trying to learn these basic survival skills once again, things like growing food, raising poultry, hunting, eating seasonally, canning, baking, building, sewing, knitting, spinning, etc. Some of us were lucky and grew up with parents that grew food, mom's that cooked from scratch and dad's that built furniture in the garage. Others weren't so lucky. Even if we were lucky enough to have parents that were into that sort of thing, most likely we didn't pay attention or hated gardening, or perhaps they just didn't do some things you are now interested in. As a result many of us are now trying to learn these skills through the internet, books, videos and from others.

One of the things I've noticed as I strive to learn new skills is that there's a huge overload of information. It can be difficult to glean the good stuff from the bad. I find it amusing sometimes when I read a book about something like keeping chickens that was written by someone that didn't grow up with chickens and just learned about them a few years ago. They often say things in the book that seem completely ridiculous and go against the way nature intended things to be. Books can be a good source of info, but they can also be completely wrong or not as in depth as they should be. Sometimes they completely gloss over important information. When researching a new topic I usually read 5-10 books about it and then assimilate all the information from the various sources. Usually I end up with a pretty good idea of how it should be done.

I find a lot of wonderful information on blogs and through internet friends (like all of you). Blogs are a great way to connect with others that are like-minded not only for advice and information, but also to have a support network. The connections I've made through blogging are not only a great source of information, but also a wonderful network of support!

I have also been working on building a network of local people that have some of the skills I don't posses so I can purchase or barter for their goods or services and learn from them. I have yet to be able to raise chickens or keep dairy cows, but I have a small local farm where I get these items. I know that I can rely on them to provide me with quality milk, eggs and meat and I'm so much happier giving them my money. Bartering is also a great option when you have developed a small local network for the things you need. One spring I traded 50 tomato seedlings for a good amount of pastured meat from a local farmer. I have also traded elderberries and other items for items I can't produce myself.

I am now confident that I have many of the skills needed to survive should I ever need them. Lets hope we never need these skills for some major disaster, but it may well be that they'll come in handy during a localized natural disaster or even an extended season of unemployment. I'm more comfortable knowing that I have a safety net, beyond our monetary emergency fund, in the skills I've taken the time to cultivate over the last 5 years. I would hate to be scrambling to learn these things when I needed them most.

What kinds of survival skills have you been learning over the past couple years? Where do you find the best information?

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, 6 September 2010

Embracing your bioregion

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

There are so many buzz words out there today in the simple green movement, some are fitting, and some are well, just buzz words. Sustainable, local, locavore, green, and the list goes on. But many times the words are just words or marketing tools. In our all out quest to save the world from everything we are losing sight of what really matters. Do my neighbor's hot house tomatoes in May qualify for local? Well yes they are local, they don't travel great distances to get here, but the huge energy costs to get tomatoes ripe here in the cool, cloudy Pacific Northwest make them not such a good choice if the buyer wants to lessen their energy impact. Another neighbor keeps a heated greenhouse also, where she grows citrus fruits. She fusses, and worries and gets her fresh citrus a few here and few there, but mostly she complains about heating the greenhouse and the keeping the plants happy, then she sends her hubby to the store for lemons so she can make marmalade. Her citrus is local, and zero-mile but the energy expenditure is huge, and she is frustrated most of the time because of her personal energy is drained also. My personal path down this road was raising chickens for sale à la Polyface , every bit of grain we fed with the exception of oats was shipped in from long distances. Not exactly an environmentally sound enterprise for our farm. Not to say we couldn't have sold scads of poultry and eggs raised this way - just that we didn't really feel comfortable after awhile having our so many of our eggs in one basket, so to speak. It wouldn't have taken much of a hiccup in the transportation system to cause us a lot of problems and heartache.

We have been told for so long as consumers that the world is our oyster, and we can have anything we want food-wise any time of the year. We all want to be so distinctive but really we are all so alike. These days you could take any grocery store produce department and plunk it down anywhere and it would look the same as one in a totally different region. With a modern transportation system at our beck and call, we have out-of-season fruits and vegetables year round in every town. And I won't even touch the processed food debate in this post with a ten foot pole. It's no wonder people don't know where their food comes from. Because it comes from the store! And they're all the same for the most part in every part of the country.

There is no celebration of heritage foods, or bioregional foods. And now it trickles down to farming and gardening. I love sweet potatoes but growing them is a crap shoot at best in my location. They belong in the South, same with peanuts or a myriad of other local, regional food stuffs. Farmers and gardeners love a challenge, the self-reliant gene that makes us want to try to grow everything, and the confidence that we can, makes it a little hard to swallow when we fail. When everyone celebrates with someone else's heritage and local food, it is no longer local, and then becomes scarce. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its salmon runs, which are scant at best now. When you have doctors telling you to eat salmon for it's health benefits and everyone jumps on the fishing boat the salmon in is big trouble. Of course, we always think we can outsmart and do an end run around these types of problems. No salmon, well, we will farm them. No chicken feed grown locally, well, we'll plow up the back 40 and plant some. No limes for the margarita, we'll just get us a citrus tree and an atrium and sit back and sip away. I am not trying to point fingers really, since this type of thinking is hard to get away from. If I run into a road block on some type of idea or project, I always try to think of ways to duplicate at home what I have purchased somewhere else. It's a hard mindset to quell - I got a start the other day when I saw a recipe requests for homemade gummy worms, and chocolate syrup, and this was on a healthy food/farming forum that I read.

I have been trying to embrace our local foodshed more, but I have quite a ways to go on this one. First I have stopped trying to grow many vegetables that are really just marginal in my climate. Ok, sure I will grow peppers and tomatoes in a hoophouse, but I will not heat the hoophouse. And I am justifying that hoophouse in my mind by using it as a season extender... Baby steps. A biggie is maple syrup, I like just a dab on my breakfast sausage, you know, the salt/sweet thing, but really just a hint of homegrown, homemade applesauce has been just as enjoyable with my breakfast and satisfies my sweet tooth. Maple syrup will have to be a treat from now on. It doesn't seem like much, these changes I have made, but I hope they will add up over time.

Have you found yourself rediscovering your heritage foodshed as well?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walking...Going Car Free!

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Just shy of a month ago, I moved abroad. I left my little eco friendly car behind (no room for it on the plane you see!) and arrived car-free, but not quite care-free. The decision to go car-less for as long as possible was both purposeful and intentional and while I had a small moan yesterday on my blog, the reality is, I have found it a very blessed experience. I suppose, for me, owning a car is like owning a TV, it provides opportunities, but it is very easy to over-use. If a car, or TV, charged $10 for a 30 minute use and you had to pay to drive/watch I would probably find it easier to choose to walk when the car is in the driveway or find something else to do rather than stare at a screen...but alas "free" at point of entry is too tempting at times. And while I didn't own a car from age 17-24 I have gotten a tad too comfortable with the convenience of it all!

The weather has been hot, well over 100 degrees each day, yet my commitment to walking everywhere has meant I've simply found a rhythm which works for me, a rhythm which makes me be more purposeful and sacrificial, which chooses priority over apathy. I walk to a pool and swim (to exercise and cool off), walk to shops, job interviews, visit friends, run errands, go to the bank, volunteer or pretty much do anything else. Most of where I need to go is no more than about a 75 minute walk each way and to be honest, walking has opened up a whole new world. While I'm in a smallish city on my walks I've seen deer, beavers, raccoons, groundhogs, robins, blue jays, cardinals and an adorable yellow bird I've not yet been able to name. Friends of mine who go the same route in their cars have never, in 10 years (compared to my month), seen any such beauties. Through walking I've met people, happened on community farmers markets, found new places to explore and felt an incredible connection not offered by the disconnect which is an easy consequence of using a car to get from point A to B, B to C, C to D. I've noticed that many people are happy to "go for a walk" but not to "have to walk" to a specific point. Many people have asked me how I've walked in this heat and the answer is, I try to accomplish tasks early in the morning (which has provided a natural rhythm to my days), I wear long sleeves and a hat, I drink water and when it gets too much I simply "pull over" and find a new place to explore for a bit of a breather! I've also found that walking everywhere has made me need to be organized, I can't simply "nip to the shops" when the shops are a 65 minute walk each way, so being purposeful about my time has become a necessity!

The reality is, at some point I may "need" to get a car, because in my line of work 90% of jobs advertised list one as essential for being hired. Many years ago, I remember seeing a neighbour who lived 40 feet (1 house away) from the postbox drive down her drive and stop at the postbox, collect her mail and drive back. I asked her if she forgot something and she said she simply couldn't be bothered to walk. I hope, my couple of months with no car makes me choose to connect when possible rather than disconnect, helps me keep with the simple, frugal and green commitment of walking whenever possible and makes me less like my old neighbour and more like the person I am today.

While I know for many a car is a need, if for some reason I find a job which doesn't require a car, I am seriously considering trying to go a year without. When you add up car insurance, tax, petrol, break-down cover and (for many) the car payments, compared to my two working feet it seems like a very expensive want...or I could find some sort of a pay as you go system, $10 for 30 minutes which I think would mean I choose my feet a whole lot more and sitting behind the wheel a whole lot less.

Have you ever gone without a car out of necessity or circumstance? What did it teach you? Did you find it a simple, green and frugal choice? Have you ever cut down on your use of your car and how did you keep yourself motivated when it was there to be used?

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pass It On

I have been thinking a lot here lately about education and passing on knowledge. I submitted the forms necessary for our area to be "official" homeschoolers this year, as my daughter is of the mandatory reporting age. Our reasons for keeping our children home are numerous and varied. From personal experience, there is so much learning that should happen at home, anyway, that it made a lot of sense for us. Much of that knowledge is of the homemaking variety. My daughter and son can be whatever they choose when they are older, but I expect them to be able to make dinner for themselves, sew clothes if needed, plant a garden and various other homesteading tasks that get easily left behind in modern schooling.

Recently I was given the opportunity to teach some classes at a local farm/store, and I have loved it. I love that the classes exist, period, really, though, as the fact that people will pay to learn something like making jams, making soaps, sewing aprons and cooking from scratch, tells us that priorities are changing, and for the better. There are so many crafts and skills that are getting lost-lost in a fast paced society and also due to changes in priorities. There was a time when schools (and grandmothers) taught girls how to do simple homemaking tasks-basics at the very least-so they could maintain a home when they were older. It didn't matter what path they were going to take-working full-time, having children or not-they needed basic skills. Young men were required to learn how to change the oil in a car and simple woodworking. Currently many of these programs are being cut from schools due to lack of funding and families no longer pass that sort of knowledge on, if they even possess it. I think the priorities of our society have shifted. What is even more troubling is that the older generations have even been removed from these skills in many cases. I know many families where the matriarchs or patriarchs are just as clueless about how to perform tasks many of us in the simple/frugal/green movement do everyday as their younger counterparts are.

Luckily, those of us who have learned, either from the internet, friends, grandparents who have been there, books or other classes are seeing the need to pass on that knowledge. I love showing others how to do things-whether it is mending a garment, recycling a sheet into something new and fun, baking bread or canning the season's bounty. I love to do it whether I am getting paid (which is just a nice bonus for a one income household) or not. I think education is vital for the survival of communities. Many people hear me talk about something and their response is "I didn't know you could do that!". It is important to keep up with our public display of the things we do to open up opportunities to teach others. It isn't that there isn't something for us to learn from folks who live faster, more modern "normal" lives, but much of what we do is getting lost and the only way to preserve these skills, which may be necessary someday-we cannot know-is to teach them, both to the next generation and to current ones.

I end in saying how very tickled I was about the attendance of the sewing class I co-taught over the weekend. A very close friend and I taught an intro to sewing class, and helped the ladies there to sew simple aprons. They were giddy that there was an easily accessible outlet to learn something of the sort, and we were happy to pass the knowledge on. The thing that got me was the ages of the people there; from a teenager (who turned red every time we mentioned tagging her in a picture of her in her apron on facebook for all her friends to see-which we had no intention of doing, but she was so darn cute) to ladies in their thirties and forties. The bread baking class last month had ladies in their fifties. It is awesome to see people willing to learn, no matter their age, and being able to make that happen. If those who have the knowledge do not pass it on, whether to their children or others, it will be lost. Knowledge is one of our most valuable resources, and one that is both easily wasted and easily given. I hope more people take opportunities to give it. It is so terribly fulfilling to see someone use their new skills, and in knowing that they now have the chance to pass it along.