Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Home Made Ricotta

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

Those of you who read my blog may know that I am a passionate amateur cheese maker. I took a cheese making course at my local community house about two years ago, and haven’t looked back since.

I have made the following cheeses so far with great success; Feta, Wensleydale, Gouda, Pepper Jack, Pyrenees with peppercorns, Parmesan, Romano, Camembert, Stilton, Yoghurt Cheese and Caerphilly.

However, not all cheeses have been successful. For instance, once when making Wensleydale with UHF Full cream milk (which is not advised), and I had a total disaster when the curds did not set. I thought back to the cheese making class, and I remembered that one of the ladies mentioned that if the curds doesn't set after a second go, never throw out the milk because you can always make Ricotta out of it.

So, out with the cheese making book and off I went. I brought the milk to 90°-95°C stirring all the time to ensure that the milk didn't burn, and then added half a cup of white vinegar. This is meant to separate the milk into a basic curds and whey. Guess what? Nothing happened! This was the most stubborn milk I had ever come across. So in a panic, I threw in another half a cup of vinegar. It finally worked. The whey was visible and the curds were so tiny that you could just see them. I strained the curds and whey through cheesecloth in a colander and waited for 5 minutes. The cheese was still very hot so I had to be careful not to burn myself.

After a bit of mucking around, I ended up with two containers full of creamy Ricotta. I added half a teaspoon of salt to each container and stirred well. I now make ricotta with fresh whey that is left over from when I make a cheese, and add one cup of full cream milk to it. That way, I don’t get very too much ricotta and none is wasted. To make a small amount, just use 2 litres of full cream milk and quarter of a cup of white or cider vinegar. It works fine this way as well.

I used it in the filling for some ravioli that I made the next day. It tastes very nice indeed and much better than the store bought stuff that they try and pass off as fresh ricotta.

The old saying is true;

“When at first you don't succeed, try, try again.” Or “Waste not, want not!”

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Holidaying away from the web

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I am writing this post whilst lazing in bed, 200 miles from my computer and Internet connection. I had considered rescheduling my post for when we returned home, but realized that this was a good opportunity to try out a much hyped piece of modern technology - the smartphone. This isn't my own, but my much more gadget minded darling other half's, who over the years has amassed quite a collection of electronic wizardry and the assorted tangle of spare cables and wiring that go with it.

This week we are away visiting family, who aren't connected to the Internet. If I was at home, I would be logging on first thing in the morning and probably also in the evening too. If something interesting is occurring somewhere in the world - and there always seems to be something - then I would probably be checking in on that during spare moments too. I have blog feeds to catch up on, email to check and reply to, news sites to read (all of which seem to offer live blogs of various news stories on a seemingly daily basis now). I occasionally take a look at Facebook just in case anyone is trying to contact me. Then there are the forums that I check into on an on-off basis. All of which come embedded with hyperlinks that allow me to hop around the web reading the background, sideshows and tangents of every story I come across.

All in all I could probably fill entire days with online activity. At the end of which I would have achieved very little of actual value and would have a headache. Most of what I do online is a complete energy and time drain that detracts from the things that I would like to be doing. This week I haven't had that luxury. This tiny screen and infuriating touch keyboard, combined with very temperamental mobile broadband has made all of my usual online activity a chore. It has also drawn my attention to the things that I really miss being able to do, the things that when I get home I should use my nice ergonomic PC and Internet connection for.

My own priorities are to streamline my blog feeds and decide whether I need to be reading them everyday. At the same time I would like to be writing and tweaking my own blog a little more often (though I blame pregnancy related brain fog for my recent reluctance to string words together), simply because I enjoy it. I plan to check news sites no more than a handful of times a week and to ignore all the hyperlinks encouraging me to delve into non-stories far more deeply than I need to, instead using the Internet to research things that I actually need and want to know about, not the things I "should" know about.

Everyone's priorities will be different, so how do you manage you time online? Do you find yourself distracted constantly or have you managed to strike a balance?

Thursday, 24 March 2011


by Amy of My Suburban Homestead 

Well, dear readers, I haven't been as active in writing about my homesteading experiences as I have been in the past. This is largely due to the fact that I am pregnant, and most of the time struggling to keep my eyes open and nausea at bay! Most often I've been curled up under the blankets catching up on movies I've wanted to see over the last few years but have been too preoccupied with other projects.

In preparation for the new addition to our family, I've sold off all of my extra chickens. I had been selling their fertile hatching eggs on e-bay (which is a great way to make some extra money from home, by the way if you have a rooster) because I would like to focus on just our family needs. I find that when I have too much going on and try to make a little extra money for myself, the effort that I spend in doing so ultimately means that I have less time to spend on things that would save me money in the long run, such as making my own laundry detergent or growing food or even building a fire in the wood stove. Like they say, time is a precious commodity.

On my personal blog, I wrote recently about our first experience in raising our own pig for meat and lard. If this is something you've been considering, you might find this an interesting read, and if you are a veteran in raising pigs, I'd love to hear your feedback on your experience.

I've also got three runner ducklings in the brooder, and am hoping that they will help me keep the slugs and snails under better control this year.

I'm finishing up my master gardener course, and have learned a lot. I hope to apply all that I have learned this year and will keep you updated on the progress and new varieties that I am attempting to grow. I have a lot of vegetables growing in the house already, and it should be quite the productive season! 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Reaping the Rewards

by Chiot's Run

If you've been reading here for a while you've heard me talk about my experimentation with winter gardening. This past winter I covered 3 of my hoop houses in the back garden with greenhouse plastic. They were filled with all sorts of greens, onions, leeks, and celery. I've been checking on them all winter, just waiting for the chance to harvest my first salad. Eating the first salad from the garden in the spring is kind of like kicking off the season. Once your body tastes the fresh healthy greens it starts to crave green in earnest.

The First Harvest

Last week I finally enjoyed a salad of greens that I planted last fall. If I had planted the seeds in the spring this year, I'd still have at least another month until I could harvest anything. Truth be told, I could have harvested a salad a few weeks ago, but I've been too busy and it's been to rainy to get out into the garden.

First Harvest of 2011

There's nothing quite like the first salad of spring. It's amazing how your body craves what it needs. I harvested spinach from the garden that contains: vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E, K, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, and many more. In addition to homegrown spinach, I also harvested some bitter cress and dandelion greens. These are also full of health benefits including tons of vitamins and they are said to have detoxing benefits for your body. Just what we need after a winter of being cooped up in the house eating too many baked goods.

First Harvest of 2011

Not only is it healthy for the body to grow some of your own food it's healthy for the soul as well. There's something extremely satisfying about producing some of your own food and foraging for some of it in the wild. Perhaps it harkens back to our hunter gather nature.

What are you harvesting from your garden right now?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Bloom Where You Are Planted

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

When I think about the culture around me, I think it is a culture of excuses; the truth, is I used to be a part of that culture. All around me I hear the statement if only; if only we had the money to have land, we would hang out sheets to dry, if only we had a bigger kitchen, we would make jam, if only we could afford it, I wouldn't work so much. I used to believe those lies myself. I used to think everyone else had easier options because they had houses in the countryside, or more money, or less demanding jobs. Slowly but surely through small, little steps in my frugal, simple and green journey I began to see the truth.

-I may not have land to plant, but I can grow herbs in my kitchen
-I may not have acres for chickens, but I can volunteer at a farm
-I may not have a garden, but I can hang my sheets inside
-I may not have a big country kitchen, but I can make jam and preserves and cook from scratch
-I may not have solar panels, but I can reduce, reuse and recycle
-I may not have a big garden compost, but I have my vermicomposter in my little city flat

The truth I discovered is this: in almost any circumstance, you can choose to bloom where you are planted, or choose to stay underground. Listing all the reasons you can't simplify, or make frugal, green choices, will never let you break through the barrier to a purposeful life. Thinking everyone else has it easier, or is able to make choices you can't is debilitating. But when you see a life filled with choices and options and gratitude, you begin to bloom into something that grows before your very eyes. Your life may look different to others, you may have unique strengths, challenges and barriers, but your bloom can be just as beautiful.

I'm attempting to choose, even in more challenging times, to bloom where I'm planted, are you?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Soda Bread

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Saint Patrick's Day this week meant good some prices on corned beef. I was working yesterday, so put carrots, potatoes, and a chunk of corned top round in the crockpot before I left. When I got home, I added a few cabbage wedges on top and put the lid back on. While the cabbage cooked, I mixed up a batch of soda bread and got that into the oven. Dinner was ready in 30 minutes.

Soda bread is a wonderful quick bread, and not just for Saint Patrick's Day. It's easy to mix up with staples in most everyone's kitchen, ready in a little over half an hour. Aries always cuts into it as soon as it comes out of the oven, eating it with butter melting into the slice. I think it tastes even better the next day - adding the optional sugar and raisins makes for some great breakfast toast.

Soda Bread (makes 1 10" round loaf)

2½ cups flour (+ a bit more for shaping)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
½ cup raisins (optional)

1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar)
1 egg (optional*)
2 tablespoons oil (optional*)

Preheat your oven to 350F (175C) and grease a cookie sheet. Mix dry ingredients together, and stir in the raisins if using. Mix wet ingredients together in a separate cup, then stir into dry ingredients only until all is moistened. Dump onto a floured board and shape lightly into a flattened 8-10" round loaf. Place on cookie sheet, and cut an "x", an inch deep, into the top. Bake 30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned.

The reaction of the baking soda with the acidity of the buttermilk or vinegar in the milk acts as the leavening. Over-stirring or kneading the dough vigorously will make the bread tough - mix gently only until it holds together. Cutting the cross in the top allows the heat into the center of the loaf, allowing for a more even rising. I like to use 1½ cups whole wheat + 1 cup unbleached white flour most of the time.

**Edit** One of the really great things about this internationally written blog is the international input we all get. I loved the comments from Jo, at Smallholder Wannabe so much, I wanted to add them into the body of this post. She grew up in Ireland, and gives some insight into "real" soda bread:

"Having grown up in Ireland, I was brought up on soda bread. This recipe is the rich people's soda bread - ordinary people's soda bread would not have the egg in but just use 2 cups of flour to one of buttermilk and the bicarb and cream of tartar. When I was a child living in the town, the milkman delivered bottles of buttermilk to your doorstep along with the milk. Now buttermilk costs a bomb so we always go the route of a drop of vinegar in the milk to sour it.

"I use the same recipe as the soda bread to make scones but just rub in a little bit of fat. Egg never went in scones but country folk who had hens might have put an egg in the soda bread for Sunday tea or for visitors. Even in spring, country folk would rarely use eggs in soda bread if there was half a chance that they might be able to sell them. Nobody we knew classed as wealthy farmers but just ordinary farmers/smallholders trying to earn a living off the land."

So I've marked the egg and oil "optional" too. Thanks, Jo!

I bought some swiss cheese this week, and still have some fresh sauerkraut in the cellar. I'm thinking reuben sandwiches should be on the menu tomorrow night. I'll just whip up a rye version (replace half the whole wheat flour with rye, leave out the sugar and raisins, and add some caraway seeds) of this soda bread.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

It's Nice to Share

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

Collaborative Consumption Groundswell Video from rachel botsman on Vimeo.

Interested in joining this movement? It's not just goods which can be exchanged, services are equally swap-able. Here is just a sample of the initiatives thriving worldwide right now -

A to Z Barter
Alternative Currencies
Babysitting Clubs
Barter Bank
Book Crossing
Community Exchange System
Food Swap
Friends with Things
Garden Share
Home Exchange
Lending Club
LETS Australia
Small Mart
Shared Earth
Urban Garden Share

And don't forget local city libraries and toy libraries, seed bank groups, community gardens and textbook exchanges. Do you know of a fantastic collaborative consumption opportunity? Please share a link in the Comments section!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Plastic - where green intentions and frugality collide?

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I finished organising the yard this week. This involved collecting all of our stray plant pots, discarding any broken ones; and taking the rest inside for a good wash. The majority of them are plastic; and every year more and more are thrown out as they are degraded by sunlight and the elements. I am astounded at just how much plastic there is in my garden. Nearly all of our large planters are plastic, bar a tyre stack – and even that must comprise a proportion of plastic additives. All but a handful came to us second hand, mostly pulled from skips and rubbish piles (I even found a huge planter dumped under a bush in the local park). Our garden chairs are plastic, the washing line is plastic, as are the dustbin and the water butt. This week we took in a serviceable plastic storage chest that was destined for landfill; a handy place to store all of that other garden plastic.

Plastics are irreplaceable in some capacities – I am glad for medical plastics and plastics in the electronic goods that make my life a little more interesting. But over the last few decades we have managed to substitute plastic for a wide range of materials that were doing excellent jobs, for no other reason than plastic is cheaper - at least at the manufacturing and shipping end - and seen to be low maintenance. At the consumer end, the price tag may be smaller than the metal or wooden or glass product sat next to it (if indeed there is an alternative to the plastic), but does that make plastic the frugal choice? The stainless steel washing up bowl that my mother has kept for the best part of 30 years has cost her far less money in the long run than the or five or six (minimum, I am guessing) plastic bowls she would have got through in that time. The bowl will probably be going strong in another 30 years with no maintenance.

The golden rules of waste management – reduce, reuse, repair and recycle - fall apart at 'reuse' when it comes to plastic. Single use plastic food containers may be pressed into service for a short while storing leftovers - but when my plastic garden chairs break, they will be going straight to landfill. No part of them will be reusable or repairable; the reason that plastic is 'low maintenance' is mostly because we perceive it to be cheap enough to throw out and replace regularly. The plastics that our kerbside recycling scheme does accept will be recycled into an inferior quality plastic that is unlikely itself to be recyclable; and ultimately it too will go to landfill, never to fully biodegrade.

Our addiction to cheap goods with short life cycles (admittedly not an attitude we reserve only for plastic products) has resulted in huge swathes of land being devoted to landfills and every ocean on earth hosting nation state sized floating garbage patches, stretching across the surface and downwards into the depths. On UK beaches, where I would have found beautiful pieces of sea glass washed up on the beach at the high tide mark - beachcombing being a truly frugal delight - my son will be lucky to find anything but abundant toxic plastic fragments. I think that this situation is unlikely to change soon. There is still huge incentive for manufacturers to be mass producing plastic versions of nearly every object under the sun. During an economic downturn, when people have less money to spend, this is especially the case. 

So what can you do? You can follow the lead of one woman and her positively heroic journey to rid her life of plastic; most of her 80 strong list of actions fits in nicely with frugal living goals and you will probably find that you are doing a lot of them already. My own approach is going to be to extend the life of all that ugly plastic that I already own and re-purpose it to the extent that I can. But what happens when the time comes to replace these things? How long should we expect for our posessions to last - a few years? A decade? Our whole lifetime and beyond? And how much are we really willing to pay?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Home Made Cherry Jam

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

What do you do when your friend gives you a 20 litre bucket full of cherries of various grades for free?

Well you spend an hour sorting through them, keeping the split ones for jam, and the good ones for eating.  Unfortunately, all of the rotten ones, which was about a quarter of the bucket, went in the compost bin and some for the chickens.  Such a shame but I didn't hear a single chook complaining!

So on to the jam making.  Here is about 1.5kg of cherries that were water damaged, with just splits in them that had not turned rotten yet.  They still tasted very nice.

So here was my little system to pit them.  One small bowl for the pits and stems, One medium bowl for the halves and a very sharp little knife. I have since discovered the joy of a cherry pitting tool that makes this task so much easier.  Don't forget to wear an apron, as the juice stains your clothing quite well.

So here is the recipe and method which I adopted from the back of the Jamsetta packet:

Gav's Cherry Jam.


1kg washed and pitted cherries
1kg white sugar (warmed)
50 gm packet of Jamsetta (pectin)
4 tablespoons of Lemon Juice
1 quarter cup water

1.  Place the cherries in a large saucepan and mash with a potato masher to release the juices.  Add the water and lemon juice and cook gently, uncovered until the fruit is soft.
Note: the pan should be large enough so that the fruit and sugar should not occupy greater the 1/3 of the pan's capacity.  It increases in volume when it boils.
2.  Add the Jamsetta and warmed sugar (place in an oven proof bowl in a oven @150C for 6 minutes), heat gently until dissolved, stirring constantly.  Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
3.  To test for a set.   Place a saucer in the freezer for 5 minutes, remove.  Place a level teaspoon of jam on the saucer and leave for 30 seconds.  Run finger through jam and if set, it should crinkle.  If not boil for a further 3 minutes and test again.  My jam set at 13 minutes boiling.
4.  Once gel point is achieved, remove jam from heat and stand for 10 minutes.  Pour into sterilised, warm, dry jars and seal.

And there you go.  4 jars of the best cherry jam I ever did taste.  I didn't skim the pink fluffy stuff from the jam as I liked the taste of it.  I had some on my toast for breakfast and it was to die for.  Even my wife Kim agreed that it was the best jam I have ever made.  I think I will give up using the bread-maker for jam, as you have far more control over the gel point doing it the real way.  A far superior jam and flavour.

What are your favourite jams and jellies?

Monday, 14 March 2011

List of International Seed Catalogs, 2011

by Francesca

Below is the final list of International Seed Catalogs for 2011 with links to the sites, that I have compiled with your input and help. It's subdivided by country, in no particular order. Some of these catalogs don't ship abroad because of customs restrictions on importing seeds, but the aim of this list is to be a useful reference tool for gardeners around the world, primarily to find good and reliable seed supplies in their own area.

If you have more recommendations, please leave them in the comments, and I'll include them in the 2012 edition of this list.

Thank you very much again!


ABSeeds (large selection of chilli seeds)
The Real Seed Catalogue


Seed Savers Exchange
Sustainable Seed Co (large selection of organic and heirloom seeds)
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Burpee Gardening
Seeds from Italy
Territorial Seed Company
Eden Organic Nursery (seeds from around the world)
Seeds of Change
Fedco Seeds
Abundant Life Seeds
Peaceful Valley Farm
Horizon Herbs
High Mowing Organic Seeds
Pinetree Garden Seeds
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Victory Seeds
Wood Prairie Farm
Johnny's Selected Seeds
Gourmet Seed


Kings Seeds
New Zealand Tree Seeds


Heritage Harvest Seeds
Salt Spring Seeds
The Cottage Gardener
Stellar Seeds
Sunshine Farm (certified organic)


Thursday, 10 March 2011

Soap Nuts and other Laundry Fun

By Danelle @ My Total Perspective Vortext

Here's the deal. My dearest husband has this terrible, painful skin thing and medicines are not working for him. The ones that do a little bit are icky AND expensive, but they treat a symptom not the root cause. He's always complaining about things smelling too strong or itching, especially clothes. I thought we should change bath soaps.  That helped a little. So what about laundry soap? I tried recipes for such soap, but even those have borax, or fels naphtha, or washing soda- all of which he reacts to.

Then I found soap nuts.

When I stumbled upon the Sapindus tree and its fruit/berries I was intrigued. I had been frustrated that all "soap" must use lye, but here was a plant that produces an agent that much of the world uses for laundry. Hmmmm. I cannot grow it in a zone 4/5. Surely someone has packaged it and is marketing it to hippies.

Someone got there before me AND I could order from them through That said, I was a little ashamed to use it, afraid that this would deeply root me as one of them, especially when it arrived and had a floating yoga hippie on the box and a free pair of love nut earrings.And then, what if its all a scam?

Then my daughter itched at me. So in went the soap nuts and in went the clothes. They came out clean. Since there are no harsh detergents, they say there is no need to use fabric softener. They smelled Like cotton. And DH itches less, claims that his shirts are so soft they tickle. So I washed sheets. The sheets dried in 20 minutes instead of an hour and each load had barely anything in the lint basket. It was seriously like I'd entered the laundry room of the Twilight Zone.  I did the ultimate test, really stinky, slimy dishtowels that had sat in a bucket for two days. Clean? Oh my yes. I didn't even have to run them a second time or with bleach. When the soap nuts are used up, you compost them. I am sooooo totally the laundry queen! Now...... if only I could grow them myself!

The only downside I saw was that my clothes are not super lamb soft like I was used to. I will continue on the quest to fix this, but DH and Lil'Bug don't seem to care. Also, I feel good about letting Lil'Bug help (she is such an adorable helper!), even handle the soap nuts. Check out the photos on the left for all the action packed sudsy goodness. (You have to click on the wash load picture to see most of the sudsing.)

But after a month I was getting frustrated with the soap nuts so I switched to Method brand detergent. Then my husband's skin issue came back, painfully so. He asked why, why, why did I stop using the nuts. Well, 1) they didn't lather up the 3rd use like they do the 1st (supposed to get 3 wash loads from every sack) 2) that made it expensive 3) the bag kept breaking open in the wash and then I was picking nut bits out of the clothes or out of the dryer.

He didn't care. He wanted his skin back.

So I researched a cheaper nut source. I found a supplier in Illinois that sells a lb for 18$ plus 3$ in shipping. That's 150 nuts as apposed to 60 nuts. Way better deal if the quality is as good. It is. Bonus, they now sell on Amazon too! So, then, what about the other issues?

While searching for a different supplier I found a couple blogs and a couple product reviews. One said to brew the nuts in a tea and use that for shampoo. ?? Well, wouldn't that work to get a more consistent laundry detergent too? And eliminate the nut bits? Hmmm, yes.

And so......I brew with 4 cups of boiling water in a quart mason jar, 10 nuts. I use 1/2 cup of the "tea" for each load at the beginning of the week and 1/4 at the end when the concentration gets stronger. The mason jar should have a lid to prevent spilling, use as a pouring strainer for the nut bits, keep the cat/ flying bugs/ laundry lint out, and keep the mixture from going rancid. I don't make more because I don't use more than that in a week. I get 10 loads from 10 nuts or 150 loads from the lb bag. Excellent. I get the sudsing I needed, no bits, and my husband's skin back. :)

An added bonus is that I cut the cost of our laundry. I only need one rinse cycle and dry time seems to be 1/2. We don't have to buy fabric softener or a separate wash for delicates and wools. No phosphate ground water contamination, so I can feel really good about the waste water not adding to water pollution.

Also, did you realize how many non auto related products have petroleum? Forget SUV's, our dependence on the stuff goes way deeper: cosmetics, lotions, plastics, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hair product, detergents, air sprays, candles, Fells Naphtha, goodness, I am still surprised when I find yet another petroleum product. So many go on our skin, the most absorbent organ we have. I am certainly glad to eliminate one more from our use, since that is likely the basis of our family's allergic reaction.

I also get the label of "hippie" from my husband's friends. Fine. It's possible my friends think so too.... ;) If only I could grow my own nuts, then I'd be truly, truly deserving of that label. And actually, I was reading that Quinoa has a saponin shell when first harvested that has to be washed off to make it edible.....I wonder.....

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Swapping Seeds

by Chiot's Run

This is the time of year when most gardeners (at least us northerners) start going through our seeds and planning our spring/summer/fall gardens. I usually order my seeds in January and organize them into my seed stash when they arrive. I also have a spreadsheet that they get entered in to that contains dates for sowing, harvest, and notes about each variety after I've grown them in my garden.

Garden Planning

While organizing all of my new seeds I always come across varieties I didn't like, didn't do well in climate, or for which I just have too many seeds. Some packets come with so many seeds you'll never be able to eat all the cabbage if you sowed every seed. All of these get set aside for seed swapping. I also set aside seeds that I save from my favorite varieties of tomatoes that I've saved seeds from, after all you don't want to just give away things you didn't like.

Saving Tomato Seeds

Seed swaps can be local or global. I just traded seeds with a friend from the Netherlands. This past Saturday there was a seed swap at my local farmer's market with all the local gardeners. If you have a blog you could set up a mailing seed swap and send around a big envelope of seeds that people can take from and add too, kind of like a chain letter of sorts.

Seed Swapping

Swapping seeds is a wonderful way to find varieties that that do well in your local climate or new varieties you've never heard of. Any way you end up doing it whether local or global, I'd highly recommend swapping a few seeds. It's a great way to get rid of seeds you don't want and you make may a few new friends through the process. You may be surprised at who you meet and what you end up with.

Have you ever participated in seed swap?

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 Ethel Gloves and Not Dabbling in Normal, and you can follow me on Twitter.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Progressive Stew

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Food Security is on many peoples minds these days, I posted about our mainstay food crops that we rely on in this post on my personal blog. Bel has written several posts here recently too. Rather than growing or buying food to match recipes, in my kitchen, meals are planned around our food stores or garden depending on what season we are in. That is our food security, basically eating what we can grow and store easily. While that may sound like a recipe for disaster, (pun intended? maybe) actually a little kitchen magic occurs when you are forced to innovate and use up what you have.

My kitchen week starts out with a broth fast for dinner made from our chicken broth. I always have broth on hand for cooking or soups. My husband has digestive issues and a rich bone broth is helpful on that front. Usually seasoned with onion, garlic and sage this light soup is delicious and health giving.

The next day, though we are ready for a little more substantial meal and I use the leftover chicken broth as seed for the next day's stew. Usually roots are the norm, as they grow and store easily.

We're not really fussy eaters, and the blend of vegetables is always different, and may range from celeriac, and carrots, to rutabagas and parsnips or all the above. And of course more onions and garlic.

Freezer stores come in handy too. I freeze in jars, so the soup may contain corn, sweet peas and mushrooms depending on what needs using up. I am not using a recipe per se, just utilizing what is available and working through our stores.

Using our own grass fed beef is another way to add flavor and substance to the stew. Season and brown the stew meat, deglaze the pan with last last swig of wine and add to the chicken broth. This is also when I make a quick look through the fridge too. Wanting to keep this meal frugal I look for dibs and dabs of stuff. That little bit of salsa in the jar? Just add water to rinse the jar and throw in the watered down salsa. The jar is rinsed, saving water, and the salsa finds a new calling, flavoring the soup. Same with that little teaspoon of jam or pesto languishing in the back waiting for some toast or crackers, it can lend flavor to a soup too, giving you a balance of salt and sweet. Taste as you go, you may not need more seasoning when all the flavors meld.

If you're wanting to stretch your meat budget a little, after browning the meat, reserve half for another meal, it won't be missed in this flavorful stew. And of course, if you don't eat meat at all, vegetable stock and vegetables would work just fine. It just depends on what you have on hand.

Our stew simmers on the woodstove all day, but a slow cooker would work great too.

What's your most frugal meal?

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Do What You Can

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Do what you can, when you can. That's my sustainable living mantra. The past couple of months, I've been fretting because I've had to resort to using my clothes dryer. I prefer hanging my clothes outside to dry, but the weather's been too cold and snowy most of the time. I have a little folding dryer rack I can set inside the bathtub, or in front of the wood stove. But since I'm working in an accountant's office until after Tax Day, plus trying to get a new fund-raising event organized within the same time period, I'm feeling a bit stressed for time quite often. I just don't feel like taking the extra time out of my day to load up that rack, and move it from place to place for the couple of days it takes to dry each load. I still only wash two to three small loads of clothes each week, but I just want to get them dried and put away quickly.

So, for now, I'm choosing to use the electric dryer. And, for the time I'm saving to do so, I'm also choosing to continue cooking our meals from scratch instead of using convenience foods, and take care of my stress levels by getting out for a daily walk with the dog. Both Tax season and the fund-raiser will be done the weekend of April 15th. By then, the weather should be nicer and I can get back outside with the laundry. I just keep telling myself that, in my case, sustainability is not and all-or-nothing type thing. Just do what you can, when you can.

During the 10 years I lived above 10,000 feet, I couldn't grow warm-season veggies such as tomatoes or peppers. But for our three months of "summer", I could grow short-season, cool-weather things like peas and lettuce. So I grew what I could, within the constraints of the climate.

Before I salvaged an old sewing machine from a burned-out trailer, I had a needle, thread, and pair of scissors. I did my sewing and mending by hand. Just do what you can, with what you have at the time.

And sometimes, you'll find, that you really don't need some things. Having a clothes dryer is nice for right now, but I don't mind the time it takes to wash my dishes by hand. I've never had a dishwasher, but then again, don't feel like it's something I need, either. It all just comes down to making your own choices for where you are right now. And as the days get longer and warmer, I know I'll feel like getting back out to my clothesline.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Food Security

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

This is related to my recent post about an impending Food Crisis... Not a new topic by any means, but something that I feel is worth bringing to everyone's attention again right now.

The only two suggestions I offered to this global issue were to eat local (grow your own if you can) and eat less meat. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?

Our local LETS group has been running a series of Simply Living Workshops, and last weekend we hosted an afternoon to share methods of growing food. With a group of around 30 people we created salad boxes, no-dig beds and raised beds. These are just three basic styles of food gardens which have been explained here on the Co-op blog as well as numerous other places on the web. All gardening methods can be learned online, through books and magazines, and from your neighbours, family, friends or community organisations. But it's one thing to learn about a garden, and start a garden... Right now is the time to follow through. And after that garden is started, tend it like crazy! I am reminded of a term I first read here in a post by Throwback at Trapper Creek, "Garden like you can't go to the store." Wow! That really hit home to me. Imagine having to eat only from my garden from tomorrow, for a long time! What was once a hobby is looking more and more like a necessity.

Image from technabob

In response to the many comments I received on the Food Crisis post, I'd like to summarise...
  • Identify local sources of food and support these producers now. Don't wait until crisis hits and you need them.
  • Eating less mass-produced meat is one way to make the available food go further. It generally takes more than 10 kilograms of grain to raise 1kg of meat for our consumption. Pasture-fed and wild meat of course have much less impact.
  • Grow nutrient-dense foods, not just what you like to eat. Sure, plant what you like to eat, but make room for foods which I call 'survival foods'. Depending on your location and circumstances these could include, but would not be limited to: sprouts (indoors), high-protein leafy greens, perennial tubers, high-yielding beans to dry and berries. Reconsider edible "weeds" and local wild foods. Get (at least) a couple of chickens, if you can.
  • Stockpile basic food, but don't rely on a stockpile alone. And please invest in stockpiling basic grains/flour, oil, dried legumes etc before you stock up on snacks or any other luxuries. In the event of any emergency, it's pertinent to have non-electric ways to prepare these basic stockpiled ingredients... A manual grain mill, an alternative cooking method and appropriate pot, recipes, salt/herbs/spices, etc.
This is the way we live our lives, except for gardening like there is no store. And that's my mission for this season. We've been tackling a huge To Do List out in the garden after our recent cyclones and torrential rain, and we're looking forward to expanding upon our ever-faithful perennial plants over the coming weeks. For me, this is no longer about saving a few dollars, learning a new skill, getting some mental-health time or exercise...

Are you feeling like it's time for action? What Simple, Green or Frugal changes seem more urgent to you in this current situation? Is this reflected in your local community too?

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Home Made Wensleydale Cheese

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

No so long ago, I made a video tutorial for Wensleydale Cheese which I think you will enjoy. 

This cheese is up there with my favourite cheese Caerphilly and on a scale of 1 to 10, I give it a 9.5 especially when you hit that layer of sage in your first mouthful!  The only down side of this cheese is the 8 hours it takes from milk to mould.  Well worth it if you have a rainy day and can't think of anything else to do.

You can find the recipe that I used at this post titled, Wensleydale Recipe and Method.

Here is a bit about the cheese itself.   Wensleydale cheese is a firm and slightly flaky cheese but not dry or crumbly, in fact quite the reverse, its moist and quite succulent with a melt in the mouth forte to it. Slightly sweet but not that it is immediately noticeable and with no after-taste, Wensleydale is perfect to accompany all fresh fruits including apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit and strawberries to name but a few.

Also nice with a glass of light wine, or a cold beer with a Wensleydale ploughman's lunch, Wensleydale is also great on rye or crackers.

No wonder Wallace and Gromit like it so much! For other ramblings about my cheese making journey, pop on over to my cheese posts on my personal blog.  You will find a wealth of information on how to start making this wonderful dairy product in your own home.