Monday, 25 January 2010

Savoring the winter roots

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Grow your own Mung Bean Sprouts

Post by Thomas from A Growing Tradition Blog

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

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

mung bean sprouter 2
sprouting vessel

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

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

sprouting mung beans
mung beans after 12 hours of soaking

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 January 2010

Cyclone Season

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Simple & Frugal Ways To Give

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

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

Giving Money

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

Giving Time

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

Giving Things

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Learning to Love Squash

by Badhuman

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

pictures 022

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


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

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

pictures 016

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

pictures 018

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

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

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

Recipe originally posted here.

What's your favorite squash recipe?

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Sense of Urgency?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dinner: Cheap, Healthy, Exotic

from Amy of

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

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

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

Monday, 18 January 2010

Healthy cookware

by Francesca
all drawings by artist J. Anzalone

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

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

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

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

artwork by J. Anzalone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

artwork by J. Anzalone

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Crockpot Soapmaking

by Lynn at Viggies Veggies

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

crockpot soap

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

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

Friday, 15 January 2010

A Big Batch of Meatballs

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

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

Big Batch of Meatballs (makes 75 1" meatballs)

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Hot Potato Trick

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Learning New Skills

by Chiot's Run

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

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

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

Have you learned any new skills recently?

Monday, 11 January 2010

Making making do doable

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

The homemaker has a heavy load to carry these days in tough economic times. When many people reminisce about the Great Depression, a common thread is that they don't remember really going hungry. I am sure though that times were very tight. My family on both sides were farmers, so food was ample and other things were in short supply.

But I suspect that the person who was running the kitchen had many tricks up her sleeve to make foods stretch and maybe added a little whimsical touch now and then to lighten things up. There are many good posts on this blog and many others about cutting back on various things, but I want to go the other way and throw out some ideas about what to do with what you have, when you feel you can't cut back anymore.

Scratch cooking takes some planning and a well stocked pantry, but even the homemaker who doesn't work needs to save a little time now and then. I have found if I have components of meals made ahead it frees me up for some creative thinking at meal preparation time. Like pennies, little things add up.

This year for our Christmas meal, I wanted to concentrate on using up what we had in the pantry instead of splurging on meal items. A quick look at the freezer inventory revealed a pork tenderloin that needed using. It seemed to be a perfect fit, and my daughter wanted to try a recipe that she had seen on a blog. So we made Pioneer Woman's pork tenderloin with cranberry sauce. It was fun to break tradition a little, be more creative with the holiday fare, and make do with what we had on hand. We saved money and had a great time doing it.

Even though I am a SAHM now, I work at home, most days outside, so I still don't have the time to leisurely work on meals. Habits I started while I still worked full time off farm stand me in good stead these days too. Hash browned potatoes are daily breakfast fare, so I try to keep boiled potatoes on hand. That way they are ready - jackets and all - they will cook as fast as the eggs, and a farm breakfast from scratch is ready in minutes!

And while the rules here state that lunch is a fend for yourself kind of deal - the person behind the apron still has to make sure the lunch supplies are available. I keep cooked beets on the ready too. I know beets aren't usually considered a snack food, but in the winter months, when the roots are at their best, a quick beet salad tossed with olive oil, orange juice and seasoned to taste is a delight. A small treat of citrus with my peasant fare beets. Yum, I don't feel like I am going without at all, and with the beets already cooked it is just minutes to mealtime. Slow food, fast.

And, I find even though I get a little down, from the weather or just the realization of my work load, if I make others around me happy, it is contagious and I am happy too. It doesn't take much to bring a smile to someones face - yesterday I made sourdough muffins, and when no one was paying attention I used a star cookie cutter to cut out a few muffins. The stars and I had a secret. The little stars looked like they were making snow angels in the corn meal, and shrouded under a dish cloth to raise, no one was the wiser.

When I started to cook the muffins, I placed a star in the middle of the array and waited for a response. I knew the smell of fresh muffins would bring the troops close to the kitchen, and the reaction I hoped for followed. Muffin munchers were delighted and it really didn't cost me anything to just add a little touch of whimsy to brighten our day.

These are just a few things that came to mind today from my kitchen. But other things we do for each other can really make bleak times seem a little brighter. My daughter did my afternoon chores for me yesterday without being asked, and it was a blessing as my errands in town took longer than expected. I have a friend whose husband saddles her horse for her before they ride out, all small gestures but so meaningful.

Please share your tips and tricks with us, thriving while being thrifty never goes out of style!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Making Candied Kumquats

Posted by Thomas from A Growing Tradition

candied kumquats
I've always been curious about Kumquats, and can still recall the first time I laid eyes on one. I was probably six or seven years old, the place was Long Wood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I remember "liberating" a kumquat from a small tree inside one of their massive conservatories. (Some children steal toys, I stole curious foods.) After trying unsuccessfully to peel it, I ended up popping the entire thing into my mouth. Since then, I've been hooked.

candied kumquats 2
I actually really enjoy the sweet sharp tang of the kumquat peel and so I don't mind munching on them raw. However, I've heard they were excellent candied so this was my project for this particular batch from the grocery store. Hopefully one day I'll be able to pick fresh kumquats straight from my very own dwarf tree. I plan on purchasing one from Four Winds Growers sometime soon.

candied kumquats 3
I started off by slicing about 4 cups of kumquats crosswise into quarter inch pieces. Then came the tedious task of removing all of the seeds with a toothpick. In a small pot, I heated 2 cups of sugar, 2 cups of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt for a few minutes until the sugar was dissolved. Then I added the kumquats and simmered the mixture uncovered on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, I placed the cooked kumquats to a bowl and boiled the liquid on medium-high heat for another 10 minutes until it reduced to a more syrupy consistency. (Don't over do it. The syrup will thicken as it cools.) Finally, I added the kumquats back in.

candied kumquats 4
As the jars cool, the candied kumquats will plump-up as they absorb the sweet and slightly-tart syrup. I like a bit of bite to them so I didn't simmer the kumquats for too long. For those who particularly love the citrus rind in marmalade, these candied kumquats are definitely worth trying. I already love them spooned over vanilla or coffee ice cream. I will also have to try them on french toast.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A New Year

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I love a fresh new year. It starts with the clean-up as we prepare for the festive season. We finish up our homeschooling and tidy out everyone’s desks and school books, taking stock of what’s required in six weeks’ time, after our summer holidays.

There’s lots of cleaning out the fridge and pantry with all of the extra cooking and food with Summer, Christmas and New Years’ entertaining.

For most of January we have no commitments – none of the children’s classes or activities are running, no school work to do – a month of freedom! I love this time! I generally do some de-cluttering around the house, organise financial matters, write up my new year diary and calendar, plan for the coming year of home education, shop for resources, deep clean rooms I’ve neglected, catch up on mending, take stock of the freezer and pantry, etc. As homeschoolers, we don’t have to take the same holidays as schools, but I do enjoy having the month of January to catch up! In between all of these tasks we picnic, swim, walk, watch movies and relax together.

It’s also a time for me to take stock on the year that was, and goals for the New Year. I’m not huge on New Year’s Resolutions, but I have a group of friends who pick a word for each year. I haven’t joined them before, but am inspired by their choices – mindfulness, patience, me, dare, acceptance, trust, shine, enterprising… My word for 2010 is Be. It's all about me doing too much, and not taking time to just Be. Be available. Be Mum. Be still. Be calm. Be me.

Are you excited by a new calendar year? Do you make resolutions or turn over a new leaf in some way? I’d love to hear about what the New Year means to you.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Where Do You Want To Go This Year?

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

In many ways this is an incredibly exciting time of year, people make plans and resolutions galore and are determined that this new year will be their best yet! There is nothing wrong with hoping and planning, but I recently read that the vast majority of people fall off the bandwagon within 6 weeks and feel overwhelmed with grief and frustration. Looking at previous years, I can now pinpoint just where I went wrong, I was determined to do too much. I looked at where I wanted to be and was determined that if I lived according to a big list/plan and stuck to my never ending lists of must do's, I would get there. Needless to say, my good plans came crashing down within a matter of weeks. I soon realized that in my determination to simplify I was actually complicating my life, I was giving myself more things to do without reducing the other things that got in the way. I was magically trying to find another 10-15 hours in my week, well no amount of fairy dust would magically give me that amount of time without making cutbacks elsewhere. The reality was, I wasn't realistic, I wasn't simplifying, I was complicating.

Maybe you are struggling with energy and eating right. Perhaps you'd love to shed 10 or 15 pounds, or grow your own and live off the earth. But at this place in your life can you actually grow your own? Many of us can't yet, but we can certainly start with the determination to eat breakfast each morning and shop locally. We can read a book about food, become interested in the slow food movement, try growing herbs in pots or put our name down for allotments. All small, practical and relatively easy changes to make.

My personal dream is to have a small holding. I would like rescue animals, my own hens for eggs and a place of peace and tranquility. There are times where this dream seems impossible, where it feels like it is slipping farther and farther away. And yet the biggest barrier is getting over the fact I want my dream to be a reality now, that I'm letting a sense of entitlement slip in. So what do I do instead? I keep my blog real and document thoughts I have on the future, I spend time in the great outdoors, I learn about keeping hens, I spend less so that I can save more.

My hope for 2010 is that people do not feel yet another year has slipped by without being able to achieve the changes they'd like. My hope for 2010 is that we view the year as a part of a long journey, a journey of further discovery of self, a journey of education and a journey of hope. My hope is that we learn to simplify, reduce and see that small steps really do make you stay the course.

Hopefully, your goals this year can be SMART so you will see 11 months from now just how far you've come.

S - specific
M - measurable
A - achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R - realistic
T - time-based, tangible

May all our Co-op readers have a SMART year! And if you find that pixie dust which magically gives you another 15 hours a week, do share ;)

What are your plans or resolutions for this year? Are they SMART? Do you feel they are realistic?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Meat Safety

I'd love to say that I only eat free range, organic, antibiotic free, small farm etc etc meat but the reality is that we usually buy our meat at the grocery store. I realize I'm effectively supporting practices that I don't believe in but my current alternatives are limited. I tried to convince my husband to become a vegetarian and he told me in no uncertain terms that wasn't going to happen. So our compromise is to buy less meat and the meat we do eat is organic and antibiotic free but it's "big box" organic so I wonder how good is it really?

What I never thought about was the safety of meat in schools, perhaps because we don't have kids? But when reading the paper a couple weeks ago I learned that in the United States many schools receive meat that doesn't meet fast food standards! Seriously, they serve our kids chicken that not even Hardees will sell for a $1. Fast food chains (while not the vanguards of healthy eating) are far more rigorous in testing for bacteria and pathogens then the national standards. They, in fact, test ground beef 5-10 times more often then the US Department of Agriculture tests beef produced for the nation's school system. If you think that's scary then consider the fact that fast food chains set limits for bacteria in burgers that are ten times more stringent then the national standard for schools. Compound this with the fact that school children are more susceptible to food borne illness and the fact that the meat may not be cooked long enough to kill the pathogens before it is served.

And the silver lining is that as low as these standards are they are stricter then the standards for meat sold in the grocery store. Perhaps it is to time to reevaluate my options...

What about you? Do you eat meat? Where do you get it from? Are you concerned about meat safety?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Eating Locally

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

One of my five goals for 2010 is a 100 mile diet, or a 160 km diet as I am calling it.  Our family has only been on it for 4 days, and we are finding it quite a challenge.  It was created by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon who were the first to take this type of diet up in Vancouver, Canada.  To learn more about the 100 mile diet visit

It has only been a few days and only a few meals have been fully local, with the main reason being that I have quite a stockpile of food in case of emergency that we regularly rotate to keep it fresh.  About 3 months worth in fact.  One of my conditions of the local diet was that during the year, we would still use food that we already had stored in the house and supplement it with local fare as we went along.  I certainly didn't want all that stored food to go to waste.

The challenge has encouraged my wife and I to examine where our food really comes from and I don't mean the supermarket either.  Some of the weird examples in our stockpile so far are; a can of corned beef from Brazil, canned tomatoes from Italy, canned whole potatoes from Belgium! Cheap food is not always local.  I have no idea why we import all of this food, when most countries could probably feed themselves if they wanted to.

So, to prove a point, I am going to give it my best shot to eat as local as we can for an entire year.  We may have some tough times, but I believe that with determination and a lot of research, we can manage to achieve this goal.

To that end, I am growing more food than I ever have, and instead of giving away surplus to friends and neighbours, we are delving into the garden every day to harvest produce to cook that night.  I feel like we can really make a difference to our health, and help promote local food production in our area by letting people know why we attempting to be locavores for a year.

If you would like to find out what sort of 100 mile radius you have a look at this map.  Just type in your address and the red circle will show you what sort of challenge you might have in trying the 100 mile diet.

Farmers markets are abound in my area, so there will be no problem picking up local fare.  I have 8 chickens who keep me well stocked in eggs and both my wife and I are good cooks, so we shouldn't have a problem whipping up a meal from all of this fresh produce. 

So far we have managed quite well, and last night I cooked up some leek, potato and ham soup all from local sources, and my wife Kim made a Peach crumble for desert from peaches grown in our little orchard.  Not only do we believe that we will save a bit of money over the year because we won't be buying expensive processed foods, we will also probably loose weight as well.  This is because the processes foods have ingredients that make it near on impossible to trace the origins of the food, are usually high in fat, and low in nutrients, so we are going to steer clear unless we can guarantee they are all from local sources.

I know it is a big challenge, but it is probably one of the most exciting ones I have taken up on my journey towards a sustainable lifestyle.  It is nearly like being self sufficient, but with help from others, if that makes sense.  It will lower our environmental footprint dramatically, and raise community awareness that it is possible to live locally without importing food.  I am also hoping that it will raise the profile of our local food producers and I will certainly let them know why I am seeking them out and will offer to promote them on my blog for free.

So, every Sunday I will be writing a post on my personal blog about how easy or hard it was to eat locally for that week, lessons learnt, and the percentage of food that we managed to source from our area for each meal.  Is this a face that looks worried (as he trims a tiny leek)?

I was wondering if any of you had taken up this challenge, and if so could you please share any tips via a comment.  If you have please let me know of any downfalls or easy wins, because any encouragement at this early stage would be most welcome to me and my family. 

It is going to be a great year!

Monday, 4 January 2010

When less is more: pruning

by Francesca


When I started gardening ten years ago, and I didn't expect this activity to become so much more than just a way to grow our food. The slow, steady pace of tending a garden is for me a constant learning experience, and almost a meditation.

kiwi vines to prune

Pruning, which in my part of the world starts at the beginning of the year with the pruning of grape and kiwi vines and olive trees, is a good example. I've learned that there are many reasons for pruning, which range from functional to purely aesthetic, but all involve the removing some parts of the plant in order to improve the plant as a whole. Most plants in our gardens, in fact, will improve both their health and their yield if we cut them, carefully, back to less.

I find that living better on less is a positive message for the new year, as well as a good general philosophy of life.

Before you start, you'll need two pruning essentials: a) correct tools, and b) a basic knowledge of your plants.

forbici del giardiniere

Correct tools:

For most pruning jobs, the proper tools are leather gloves and a pair of sharp pruning shears. Before buying a pair of shears, or any other equipment, it's worth doing a little research, as many companies make tools with replaceable parts. With proper care, these tools can be used almost indefinitely (for example, here are shears like this).

Know your plants:

Before you go out and start cutting away, learn something about the growth and vegetative cycles of the plant you intend to prune, to determine when to prune it – and whether to prune it at all. Also, consider your aims in pruning this plant. Are you trying to improve its appearance, increase its yield of fruits or flowers, or lengthen its lifespan by cutting away dead or diseased material? The answers to questions like this will help to determine what overall pruning approach you take.

pruned grape vines

There are three key concepts to keep in mind when pruning:

  1. First prune off all dead, diseased, or parasite-infested parts of the plant.

  2. Always cut above a bud - never too close or the bud will die, and never too far from it or the vegetative part above the bud will die causing dead tips.

  3. The apical bud is predominant over lateral ones, and will grow more vigorously (hence, if you prune the apical bud, your plant will tend to grow laterally and not vertically) . The apical bud and is more evident in younger plants than in older ones, and it's more evident in trees than in bushes and shrubs.

There are many valuable on-line resources for pruning. This is an excellent, thorough introduction to the reasons and methods of pruning, and here is a straight-forward guide filled with how-to tips on pruning many common garden plants.