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Friday, December 31, 2010

Making the Organic Vegan (sort of) Resolution

I can't truly be vegan. I keep chickens and use their eggs, I keep bees and use their honey, and in the future I want rabbits and goats and will use their wool/fiber. I have read about being vegan and the reasons for it, and I respect where they are coming from, but sometimes those ideals don't seem rational or practical. If I take care of my unconventional pets well, and they happen to share with me their gifts (that would otherwise spoil and go to waste) why can't they be used?

Veganism is a puzzle to me. I know a lot of vegans who have cats and dogs as pets, as if what they feed those pets doesn't matter. Now that's cheating to me! If anything, I think it's more inhumane to own a pet that requires the death of another animal for its own sustenance, than a person eating eggs & honey or wearing the wool of a well cared for pet that would shed these things anyway. (And yes, I consider my bees to be my pets!)  But, I digress...

So anyway, while I can't truly be a vegan by the current definition, I would like to adopt some vegan habits like avoiding meat and dairy completely, even though I eat these minimally right now. Rather than attempt this cold-turkey overnight and fail miserably, I've decided to take a pro-active stance and incorporate more vegan dishes into my life to crowd out the old, less healthy dishes. When thinking about my vegan starts and stops in the past, what immediately comes to mind is the fact that I never had a lot of vegan recipes to draw from. It takes time to learn new ways of doing things, to develop new habits, and you know how folks are these days... if it doesn't happen for us instantly, we just go back to our old habits.

My plan is to alter the meals I make now into vegan versions, or near vegan as possible (using the occasional egg for baking or adding honey instead of sugar isn't a sin to me.) Not too hard since I don't cook meat at home at all and rarely, rarely eat it out because it's hard to find organic, humanely raised meat. I don't like milk and really don't care for a lot of dairy products, it's just that darn cheese that's the problem! We love lasagna, pizza, enchiladas, etc! However, those can be made deliciously without cheese; I've tasted cheese-free versions and know that it is possible not to miss the cheese at all. It's just a matter of learning how to make these dishes without the dairy really well. It takes time to find good recipes! That's why I've decided to learn and test out at least 5 new vegan recipes a month and slowly develop a new way of cooking and eating.

At the moment I have a huge stack of vegan cook books waiting for me at the library. I wonder if they are open today...?

As for organic, I advocate it 100%. After reading and studying up on chemicals and the damage they do to our environment and our health, it's a no-brainer. All organic is the way to go. If you think you can't afford to buy it, change your mindset. Cheap food only leads to more health problems later. Think of organic food as a very important investment. I'd rather pay a few extra bucks now, rather than thousands in medical bills later. Organic is a much more simple concept and an easier food transition than going vegan, but Lee is sometimes hard to persuade when it comes to parting with the extra pennies for the organic version of whatever we buy in the store. I was shocked to learn that he had never been to a Trader Joe's before last weekend when we went (WTH?), but I think he was even more shocked at how inexpensive it can be to shop organic. If you can afford an unhealthy daily latte (or any other vice), you can afford to give that up and buy healthy, organic food! If not, grow your own! That's even cheaper than conventionally grown produce.

Bottom line, in all the reading, studying and video viewing I've done on food and diets in this last year, what I've learned is that we need to consume more vegetables and fruits for better health. Another food resolution of mine is to meet and exceed the recommended 5 a day. Shouldn't be too difficult with the garden plan I have for this coming year!

Good luck and all the best to you in the New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The New Nest

Chipmunk wasn't too upset that I removed her mass of muddy eggs and covered the dirt floor of the shed with aspen chips. I was a little concerned that she might not like having her second nest messed about with, but the very next day she left this gift. All seems to be well again.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Missing Eggs

Today I found Chipmunk's new hidden nest with 14 muddy eggs. I had suspected she was still laying, I just didn't know where. Apparently when I cleared the morning glory vines, and her previous nest underneath it, she decided to relocate to the garden shed.  I cleared the space and laid down some aspen wood chips, so hopefully she'll keep laying in the same spot.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Adventures in Chicken Keeping

Red, our hen with an insatiable curiosity.
The chickens have been so nutty lately, and Red has been driving me up the wall (er, fence rather) so much so, that I was almost considering the fabrication of my own chicken guillotine. My advice: if you don't want a challenging chicken, and especially if you don't have tall backyard fence, skip the Welsummer breed. No matter how enticing those dark brown colored eggs may sound. She hasn't even laid anything for us yet, the ungrateful wench. Hah.

For the last two weeks, that pesky, meddling hen has breached the divide between the neighbor's backyard and our own almost on a daily basis. I have dutifully hopped the fence each time, collecting up the bothersome bird, tossing her over, then madly scrambling back over myself. I wouldn't feel so sneaky about it if she did it when the neighbor was actually home and I could just ask to use the gate, but nooo, things never work out so easy do they? Then again, I'm not sure how the neighbor would react... so maybe it's better that she hasn't been home?

In the morning these past few weeks when it was time to throw out the scratch for the girls, I'd have only four running up. I'd look over at the neighbor's yard and there would be Red, darting back and forth as if she were looking for some magic portal to appear in the fence. Each time I collected her, I'd clip the feathers on one of her wings a little shorter. I hated doing this, but even more I hated the idea of my neighbor getting her feathers ruffled over our pesky hen scratching up her perfectly manicured lawn.

When I finally clipped the feathers on Red's wing so far that I couldn't clip anymore, I decided to start surveying the yard. How was this crazy bird getting over the fence still with only one reasonably flappable wing? I couldn't catch her in the act unfortunately, so I had to make some assumptions. Now the fence itself is fairly low, it's only about 4.5 feet tall, however, none of the other chickens had bothered to clear it. I knew that Red had, previous to wing clipping, been the best flyer of the bunch, but still, if she had been flying over then certainly she could fly back? What I hadn't considered though, was that she was also the most crafty. She was like those raptors in Jurassic Park... watching, learning, waiting for the perfect opportunity. We had a large log rolled against the fence at one end, and the kids' sand table against the fence closer to the house, aha!  She was using these to climb up on and then hop the fence. I moved both of these away. The next day, Red was in our yard with the other ladies, her plans apparently foiled.

A few days later though, I came outside to find her back on the other side of the fence. Absolutely baffled and convinced that I was going to find her a new home, I noticed that this time it was my fault. I had left the recycling bins too close to the fence, and somehow she had managed to jump high enough to get on top of them and then over the fence. After putting away the bins, I hopped the fence and gathered her up for what I hoped would be the last time. Luckily, that was the last time. At least to this date.

In other chicken news...

When I removed the morning glory vines from the fence, Chipmunk's (our Easter Egger) nest was disturbed and she hasn't laid an egg since. At least, not that I have found yet. I am dreading the moment I come across her new nest and find 20 odd eggs stacked up!

Our chickens are molting and look absolutely ridiculous!

Though I've read that most chickens stop laying in the Winter, our Barred Plymouth rocks haven't yet quit! As previously mentioned, Red never started laying but neither did Chilly, our Blue Cochin. Salt and Pepper have been quite productive. If you are in it just for the eggs, Plymouth Rocks seem to be a good bet.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Frost Bites

While the rest of the world, I assume, was out battling for the best deal on cheap landfill stuffing, I was happily hoeing away in the garden today. It was beautifully sunny, and just warm enough to get some cleanup done after the first bout of frost hit during the last few days. There's something kind of sad about the first day in the garden after the frost, when you have to handle all of those dead plants that you so lovingly raised and cared for during the spring and summer.

The poor tomatoes were trying so hard to put out more fruit, the Roma was absolutely loaded, but unfortunately they were all pretty green. I picked a big bowl of green ones before frosty day one, thinking that the nearly ripe ones could ripen on the counter and the rest we might try fried. I've never tried fried green tomatoes, but Lee was all for that idea since he loves friend (ugh) food. Give him a menu with a million choices, and he'll zero in on the fried item.

The frost also clobbered the morning glory vines, so I gathered the last of the seeds and began to dismantle the vine off of the wire fence. This ended up taking a lot longer than I had originally anticipated and I almost totally forgot about lunch. I grabbed a quick bite of Thanksgiving leftovers, and then went right back out to get as much out of the light as I could, especially since the radio announced that it is supposed to rain tomorrow.

Our most sassy and daring hens, Red and Salt, flew over the fence into our neighbor's yard, so I lost a little time climbing sneakily over the fence (no one was home next door) and grabbing the squawking birds, tossing them back over into my yard and scrambling back over the fence. Those darn birds! I clipped their wings, even though I hated to. I know that if they ever flew over the fence when the neighbor was home, we'd probably get some complaints (our neighbor's yard is immaculately manicured.) In the end, I only cleared half of the fence. I probably gathered a pound or two of seeds without exaggeration!

Salt and Pepper clearing the new flower beds.
Finally, I cleaned up the last of the squash and pumpkin vines and started digging new flower beds in the "lawn" part of the backyard. I've been trying to shrink the size of the lawn so we can save time and energy from not having to mow as much. I'd really like to be rid of it all, but I have to compromise and share the yard. Anyway, the extra flower beds around the entire perimeter is my passive aggressive way of cutting the lawn space. And I'll just keep expanding those beds until someone complains. Hah. Our hens, Salt and Pepper, helped to dig up the new flower beds.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Boobs?

Just a moment ago I was organizing my cookbooks, when I quickly thumbed through one of my grandma's old cookbooks, appropriately titled "Grandma's Cook Book" though it was written by someone else's grandma, a lady who went by the name of Rose Santich from Rock Springs, Wyoming. Apparently my grandma got an autographed copy, because on the inner cover it's signed "Hope you enjoy my book" and dated Aug 6, 1979. Rose writes in her introduction that Wyoming is a melting pot of nations, and that there was as many as 51 different nationalities in her small community. She explains that her own nationality is Croatian, but that she has included many recipes from other countries- those that she felt were the best from each. It ends with a sweet dedication to her grandchildren, "I hope my grandchildren will find as much in these special recipes as I have had in collecting and using them for the past forty years and in recording them for their use."

Funny thing is though, as I was thumbing through, I thought I saw the word "boobs." Chalking it up my tired eyes blurring the letters of some other word, I casually skipped back a few pages only half expecting to find what I thought I saw. Sure enough, there was the word boobs under the rolls and bread section. My eyebrows lifted at the hilarity of it, a recipe for boobs in a grandma's cookbook? Who would have thought? 


I've tried a few of grandma Rose's recipes, and I love many of her cookie recipes, but I have yet to make an attempt at cooking boobs, so I can't really tell you how they are, or even what they are for that matter. I tried looking them up on the web and only found porn and breast cancer links. If you'd like to taste some boobs though, I'd love to hear how they turn out. Here's the recipe:

Boobs

5 1/2 cups flour, sifted
3/4 cup powdered milk
2 cups warm water
3/4 sq. melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 beaten eggs

Sponge:

1/2 cup warm water
1 yeast cake
1 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp flour

Mix sponge ingredients together and let rise. Beat eggs in bowl; add sugar and salt. Mix well. Add melted butter and milk, which has been mixed with warm water, and sponge mix, then add flour, a little at a time, beating all of the time until all flour is used. Beat about 20 minutes, then let rise until double in bulk. Turn over onto floured cloth and knead it in cloth (easy). Put back in bowl which has been washed and greased. Do this the same way 2 more times. The third time, turn on floured cloth and pay it out with your hands, not rolling pin. Cut with large size glass and fry in deep fat in electric frying pan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My First Canning Experiment

I'll admit, I've been a little reluctant to get my feet wet in the canning waters. Not sure why, other than it just seemed like a big amount of prep and possibly a bigger amount of mess and I was just never ready to put in the time. I was always missing some key ingredient and I couldn't can whatever fresh fruit I had at the time because by the next trip to the market it was less than fresh. Then the next time I'd have something new and fresh to can, I would be missing a different key ingredient for that recipe. Getting tired of this crazy cycle, I just decided to make something pretty simple for the first go-round: pizza sauce. Not all of the tomatoes were fresh off the vine, but they were fresh enough.  Besides, you can't tell me that the store bought canned tomatoes are all cooked the day they are picked. I am sure those tomatoes sit around for days before they are processed.

The canning process was a little hard to figure out at first. The instructions on the canning box seem to be written backward to me, then I realized that I was reading it backward. I was almost afraid to touch the jars after I washed them, afraid of contaminating them. I didn't realize that everything was going to have the hell boiled out of it anyway, so it really didn't matter. After I got the jars filled with sauce, it seemed like a relatively easy task. I wasn't sure what I had been so afraid of. Then after the jars were processed and I set them on a rack to cool, I began to fret once again. I noticed that some of the jar lids looked wonky. After they cooled for a couple hours, I noticed right away that some of the lids looked suspicious, and with a slight touch they popped right off. I poured those contents into freezer bags and tossed them in the freezer. Out of ten half pints, I ended up with six well sealed jars of pizza sauce. I didn't think it was as bad I had originally feared though. I didn't think any of them would take.

Next, I am going to see about learning to make pomegranate jelly with Lee's mom so that I can see how it's all supposed to be done. There are some things that you just feel better about learning in person rather then going step by step from the pages of a book.

Yesterday I felt like my kitchen had been turned into a pizzeria, as I also made several gluten free crusts to freeze for the wheat- intolerant child of the house, Rowan. Unfortunately his mum is a convenience-food sort of gal and doesn't do a whole lot of made-from-scratch at her house, which means that they never get pizza since gluten free pre-made pizzas are hard to find.  He's always super excited when we make it. I think he asked a dozen times last night if it were ready yet. In fact, he and his brother were so excited about it that they ate more than they normally would have and overstuffed themselves, by the end of dinner they were half asleep from chewing exhaustion. There is absolutely no pizza left today.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Farm City

Today I finished the book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. It was a page turner for me. The setting was Oakland, and having lived there previously I'm surprised and disappointed I never heard of her farm. It was interesting to imagine a farm in the big city and I could easily imagine and relate to a lot of what she wrote about. I found myself nodding my head or thinking, "yep, that's about right" when she would mention something that reminded me of my own experiences in Oak Town, like her neighbor living in the warehouse, her other homeless neighbor living in abandoned cars, the monks, and the other one-of-a-kind characters that you could only find in a place like Oakland. I think the craziest part of it all, was that she went all out and raised pigs. Not pet pigs, not potbellies, but full-on porkers! Novella is much braver than I though, because she was raising her animals mainly for meat. While I respect people who kill their own food more so than those who buy it in a grocery store, I know that I could never do this myself and so my diet will remain mostly vegetarian. (I will sometimes accept a bite of steak or chicken if I am a guest and I know the meat was humanely and organically raised.) I'm a big chicken, so I don't eat my own, heh.  There is an excellent bibliography and I can't wait to track down some of the books listed in it. Novella is still in Oakland, still farming, and even has a Pop Up Farmstand that you can visit.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Homemade Bread

When you've been to France and have lived in the Bay Area just down the street from an artisan bakery, well, you do become a bit of a bread snob. No longer does prepackaged supermarket bread cut it unless you don't have any other choice, or maybe you are just too lazy to make your own. I think both are the problem for me, but mostly the latter. I even have a bread machine in the cupboard collecting dust. Lately, I've been having bread cravings. Like good bread cravings. Fresh bread cravings.

When Lee offered to treat me to Jamba Juice last night on the way home from working on the movie set, I looked down at my gut filled with Halloween candy and I asked if I could pop into Barnes and Noble next door to get a magazine instead since it would be about the same price. He shrugged and said sure, then put in his order for his Pumpkin Smash smoothy. He wasn't going to give up his smoothy for a magazine. (I swear he's a pumpkin nut and has been driving me crazy lately about cooking everything with pumpkin. I even had to debate with him about not using the kids' Jack-o-Lanterns for pumpkin pies and soup!)

I grabbed up the latest copy of Mother Earth News, and then saw that the bookseller was also stocking a wide array of similar magazines, including a special "Country Skills Series," also from the publishers of Mother Earth News. I had a hard time walking away without a copy of each, but I decided that I definitely couldn't pass up the Guide to Homemade Bread because the cover promised 3 DIY bread oven plans! I've been wanting an outdoor adobe bread oven for a long time now.  So that, and the 131 bread  recipes, sealed the deal. Slurping what was already the last of his smoothie (yeah that didn't last long), Lee looked at the two magazines in the crook of my arm and mumbled through the straw in his mouth that he had only agreed to one. I assured him that I'd get the other one with my own money. Then I showed him the bread magazine and his eyes popped. Suddenly the price of two magazines didn't seem like a big deal.

I'm looking forward into trying out some of the bread recipes, especially now that the house is cold and a warm oven is more than welcome. The lingering summer heat we experienced this year was such a baking turn off! Glad it's finally on it's way out... now that it's what?  November!?  Yeah, and the leaves are just now turning color.

I'm also looking forward to planning out a bread and pizza oven. If you've never had a wood fired pizza, you are so missing out!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Chopping Down the Sunflower Forest

The last few days were spent clearing the dead garden debris, mostly squash vine tendrils & giant sunflower stalks.  Some of those stalks were close to three inches in diameter and 15 feet tall! One had a face that spanned about 20 inches side to side. Just the seeds from that one flower will replant my entire sunflower garden next year, with tons to spare!

We carved up the Jack-o-Lanterns that we grew. The boys had fun, but the big, thick pumpkins were a bit much for their little hands.  After the lid cutting and gutting, they really only had enough energy to cut out eyes before they sat down for a rest and a snack while Lee and I continued on. In the photo to the right you'll see mine on the top right with Rowan's below it. Lee's is on the top left side, with Liam's below it. It was a fun day, but the carving took a lot more time than we had anticipated, so we had to rush to get the boys fed, dressed, and ready for trick-or-treating.

Oh, and my favorite part about carving pumpkins is saving and roasting the seeds (after setting aside enough for next year's crop.)  I soak mine in brine for a couple of hours, drain them, and then add some olive oil (just enough to coat them) and spices and bake for about 40 minutes to an hour to get the shells nice and crunchy.  Here's a couple of spice combinations I tried this year:

Savory

2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp of garlic granules
1 tsp of sea salt

Autumn Spice

1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice

Friday, October 29, 2010

October Freshness

Wow. Does Fall just seem to be stuck on fast forward or what? I'm still trying to figure out where the time has gone? I've had a number of things keeping me from garden, house, and craft projects, plus the garden is pretty well done for this year aside from some butternuts that are still ripening. The tomato plants are still producing their second-round crop, and Mr. Stripey who played stubborn all summer long, dropping his blossoms, has finally put out this late in the year! My, and his tomatoes were well worth the wait!

I had to clear out my old house at the ranch, which was serving as an art storage facility, because a good family friend will soon be occupying it. So, now our garage is inundated with large paintings and canvases. Some of which have spilled into the house. Also, I had to bring back my old furniture which I couldn't bear to part with, so combined with Lee's furniture we currently have a maze to navigate on a daily basis. Trying to make sense of it all hasn't been easy, especially when you have a ton of daily tasks already to keep up with. On top of that, Lee is putting together a short film and we've been using a spare room at the ranch house in which to put together the set. Tomorrow is the test shoot. Honestly, I can't wait until it's over. It's been a lot of stress to get it together in such a short time, and at the busiest time of the year when holidays are one right after the other! Holidays are basically on the back burner right now, not that we are the type of people who go all out anyway. If Lee didn't have kids, I would suggest we just ignore the holidays this year completely. The icing on the cake was that we both got sick this week, and I'm still sniveling.

Anyway, somehow amidst all of this chaos I was able to experiment with some laundry soap recipes. I made a pact to stop using manufactured detergent full of chemicals, and decided that as soon as our last bottle was empty I would start making our own. No more fabric softener or dryer sheets either! I thought initially that it was going to be a lot of extra work for a tiny amount of savings if any, but when I added it up it turned out to be much less expensive per load than any brand bought in the store. Another fella online has documented all the facts and figures if you are interested to see just how much you can save. Mind you, his recipe is different from mine, but you get the idea. Plus, it's perfume free, so anyone with allergies or sensitivities can rest assured that it is safe for them. It's biodegradable, and there's no wasteful plastic packaging! The Borax, Baking Soda & Washing soda come in paperboard boxes, and the soap is wrapped in a sheet of paper, all of which can be recycled but will biodegrade even if they aren't, unlike plastic bottles.

I even reused our old plastic detergent bottle to house my homemade laundry soap. I rinsed and thoroughly dried our old detergent bottle. First I chipped out the inner spout with a screwdriver (use safety goggles!!) to make the opening larger. Then I made a funnel from the top of a 2 liter soda bottle to fill the detergent bottle with my powder detergent (the spout of a regular funnel is too narrow and the grated soap gets stuck.) The cap/cup = almost 1/2 cup, which is about what I use per load. The powdered soap pours just fine.

I've been using the soap for a week now, and so far I've noticed that it washes really well. It doesn't leave behind any scent, but it also doesn't leave behind any odors either. My biggest fear was that it wasn't going to get smells out, but I did the ultimate test and washed the dog's blankets. It worked great! They smell clean without that fake, chemical fragrance that most detergents leave behind. The whites look really white, and I almost want to say that they look better than with the commercial detergent. Try it for yourself and see how it works!

Powder Laundry Soap Recipe

1/2 cup soap flakes*
1/2 cup baking soda
1/4 cup washing soda
1/4 cup Borax

1. Grate bar of soap with the finest grater.

2. Mix all ingredient in a large bowl.

3. Store in a sealed plastic container.

4. For top loaders use 1/2 cup. Front loaders use 1/4 cup.

*You can sometimes find a bag of soap flakes in the laundry isle, but I used a laundry bar that I grated up by hand with an ordinary cheese grater. It's just soap, it washes off like dish liquid, so it's okay to use the one you cook with. If you can't find a laundry bar, use a pure bar of soap like castile or even Ivory (no moisturizing bars, etc, because these can leave a film on your clothes).

Fabric softener?  Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. No, your clothes will not smell like vinegar. Dryer sheets? The vinegar takes care of static cling. You might also consider wool dryer balls. Don't care about perfume free and love having scented clothes? Purchase pure essential oils in a scent that you love. A couple drops on a dryer ball or homemade dryer sheet (piece of felt) should do the trick. You can also add a few drops to the wash cycle if that's not enough. Happy laundering!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Dog Ate My USB Camera Cable

Seriously, that's my excuse for not posting the last couple of days. (Oh the joy of owning a new puppy!) It just doesn't seem like blogging without the pictures. That, and I've been busy cleaning (does it ever stop?), and purging through eBay and Etsy. I haven't had a whole lot of crafty or homesteady things to report on as of recently anyway, and when I do get some downtown, I am utterly exhausted. Not to mention this summer weather in the middle of October is absolutely ridiculous and makes me really cranky! I want to get outside and prepare next year's beds already!

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but it seems we need to shift our seasons and months around to match each other again. It appears that we have cool weather up to June now, and hot weather through to October. It's like months fell of the track on the calendar year circuit, and the seasons just kept going before the months were put back on again. If that makes any sense? Maybe whoever invented the calendar was just a smidge off in their calculations, like they left a day out somewhere which has disrupted the whole system but it's taken several thousands of years to notice? Okay, these ramblings are tellings me that I am in need of a well-deserved nap.

Keeping my fingers crossed that my new USB cable gets here soon.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Swiss Chard-Potato Curry

One of our new favorite staples as of late is Swiss Chard-Potato Curry. At first Lee didn't like the sound of this, as he doesn't really care for the actual spice curry, but when I told him that it was cumin
& cayenne and not curry his attitude changed. Not sure what his deal is with curry, but maybe if I give it to him in small, almost undetected doses (is that possible with curry?) he will build up a tolerance for it's taste. Heh heh.

Anyway, this is such a simple dish that I really didn't expect a lot from it, but boy was I surprised.  Mmm mmm, that's some good stuff!  This last time I cooked it, I added more Swiss chard than what the original recipe called for, and substituted honey for brown sugar. The Swiss chard is packed with antioxidants, if that sort of thing impresses you. Full of vitamins A & C, iron, potassium, and fiber. We used the red because it's touted to have a stronger flavor and because our grocery store doesn't stock the green, but either one will work!

Also, we cooked some of our squash this way too minus the potatoes and Swiss chard. Just as yummy!

I'm all about food that is quick, easy and inexpensive to make these days, and it's always a big plus when you don't have to suffer with something bland. If you try it out, let me know how you like it!

Swiss Chard-Potato Curry

3-4 medium red potatoes, unpeeled & cut into 1" pieces (we also threw in a blue potato for fun)
1 TBSP veg oil
2 TBSP brown sugar or honey
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 cups chopped Swiss chard (or more to taste)
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained

1. Boil potatoes for 5-7 minutes.  They will be tender but not fully cooked.  Drain.

2. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add potatoes, sugar, cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper. Saute 5-10 minutes, depending on potatoes.  Check the thickest one to make sure it's cooked all the way through.

3. Add Swiss chard and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover.  Simmer 4-6 minutes until Swiss chard is crisp tender.

4. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Possum Living

After pining away for cooler weather and rain the last couple of months, and finally getting it, I'm not sure what to do with myself. Oddly, I feel like staying inside, even though it's perfect gardening weather out there right now. It must be the sudden overcast skies and drastic drop in temperature that is making me want to clean up the nest for hibernation. I've had to bring the last of my belongings here from the ranch, as some new tenants will be taking up residence in my old abode, and now our house is jammed packed with boxes and art canvases. I've been listing stuff to sell on eBay and Etsy. At the same time, I've also gotten a little sidetracked with ordering seeds on both sites. Today I got my heirloom seeds for rainbow carrots - red, orange, yellow, purple and white! I don't even have to wait until Spring to plant those. Excited to try them out! Other than that, I have been catching up on reading and curling up with hot beverages. I just finished Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money.
I highly recommend it, not only for the insight but for the entertainment factor. I found it to be bizarrely funny in some places, downright practical in others. I did skip the chapter on meat though, as I have no plans to slaughter rabbits or any other animal myself. I did browse down the list of various animals at the end of the chapter, each with a description of what it's meat tastes like. It was a bit off-the-wall to someone who's only ever eaten cow, chicken, turkey, and fish. Do people really eat muskrats, opossums, and armadillos? I also skipped the chapter on making your own booze, because I don't really see much use in learning such a trade when I don't care for alcohol. I do admire the fact that the author and her father got by without "real" jobs, and were able to live off of $1,498.75 in the mid 70's, though I've no idea what those numbers would translate into present offhand. I met a family of three adults (two parents and their grown son) about 6 years ago who had similar ethics, and somehow they were all three able to live on less than 2 grand a month. They even drove fairly nice cars, took vacations, and drank fancy coffee.  None of them worked "real" jobs. On the rare occasion the son did freelance work and the mother had a rental property, but they mainly worked in their garden. It amazed me, because they lived quite well! The dinners I shared with them were some of the best, as they practically grew everything themselves. I guess it's all about penny pinching and creativity. In this book, you will also find recipes, gardening & foraging tips, a natural antidepressant remedy- running, and even a bit on selling craft items.  ****

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Enjoying the Fruits of Our Labors

Asian pears and apricot-sized peaches from the trees at the ranch, whose limbs were practically breaking with fruit!












Our ancient almond tree in the backyard still tries. We collected this small plate of nuts, but it's probably time to think about planting a new almond tree.










The Ruby Red sweet corn was the best! We definitely want to plant this again next year.











Jack-o-Lanterns just in time! Still have a few more on the vine that are dark green, just about to turn orange.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Farmer Jane & Edible Estates

Farmer Jane: Women Changing The Way We Eat by Temra Costa was a great book. I didn't have time to finish it before the due date, but I would definitely check it out again or pick up a used copy. It's very informative and inspiring! I definitely want my own tractor now! What I liked best was that at the end of each chapter, there was a section called "Recipes for Action" which gave you ideas on how to join in this force of women farmers, whether you are just an "eater", a farmer or have a food business, with simple things that you can do.  ****
Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn, 2nd Revised Edition wasn't exactly what I had hoped it would be, but it was still cool nonetheless! I was looking for a book that had a listing of edible plants and their care that you could use in front yard landscaping. What I got was a really interesting book with a brief history of lawns and gardens, arguments against lawns, and the mission statement of the Edible Estates project- which is to replace lawns with edible landscapes. The book documents the first four lawn replacements that the project has implemented.  ****

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Glorious Morning!

Today is watering day, so I got distracted with many things in the garden while moving the sprinklers around this morning. I noticed that we have some late bloomer pumpkins, cantaloupe, and various squash developing, as well as a second crop of roma and cherry tomatoes. I guess everything needed a little rest before ending things with a bang. I also noticed that the morning glories are finally going to seed, so I had to grab a container and start harvesting.

I've been growing morning glories for over 15 years, beginning at the ranch. The first year I planted them, I had massive amounts of blooms so I never had to purchase more seeds thereafter. I only had one color though, a deep violet purple. It's really cool to know that some of the current seeds I have were handed down from those original plants. This year I have some new, young plants in the mix. I bought some new morning glory seeds to add to the mix. I really wanted some different colors, so I added magenta, pink, light blue, medium blue with pink stripes, and a very very blue to name a few.

Morning glories are a very prolific vine. If you aren't careful, they can invade other plants. They creep up trees, along fences, and over anything it can grab onto and crawl up. We used this climbing tendency to our advantage however, and encouraged them to cover the fence that separates the neighbor's yard from our own. The fence is open wire and doesn't offer much privacy when it's bare, but it does provide a great climbing structure for the vines. The vines in the backyard get a lot more sun than the ones in the front, so the foliage is very thick.

Morning glories are also fascinating because they close up during the day when the sun hits them. During the morning, you can witness them in all their glory, hence the name, or on overcast days they may stay open until evening! I thought it was interesting to learn that they are a native of tropical America. They can produce up to 300 flowers a day! Morning glories are super easy to grow. They love loads of sun and poor soil. The perfect flower for the black thumb!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our Visit to the Cheese Factory

Whew, what a day.  We had to drive down south to Marina del Rey today to drop off Lee's camera to be serviced for his film project.  Left the house at 4:15am. No human should be up at that hour, and 12 hours on the road in one day when the temperature is 100F degrees is no fun at all, however, we did end our day with a neat new discovery: Bravo Farms Cheese Factory.

Our attempt to find a non-fast food option for lunch on the way home along 99 was looking quite dire (if you've traveled that way, I am sure you concur), but then I started seeing these funky-cute painted signs on the side of the road every mile or so, advertising everything from handmade cheese, fruit stand, petting zoo, ice cream, cafe, gift store, pumpkin patch... and each one had a little phase at the bottom that said things like, "why not stop in?" "You know you want to stop." "Please, please, please stop in!" I'm a sucker for pumpkins farm animals, so we pulled off on the exit as prompted by the string of signs. Our curiosity was piqued the minute we pulled up and saw the place.
It looked like a mini-western town. It was jam-packed with old antiques everywhere, from the old milk truck full of antique milk bottles, to the coin operated kiddy horse ride that still worked! There was so much stuff to just look at and check out. I could have spent a whole day there.
We had lunch in the cafe which apparently is world famous, according to their brochure. I just loved how they served our water in mason jars. The free chips and delicious salsa were delightful.
I ordered their "Good Ol' Macaroni & Cheese" which was made with their famous handmade cheddar... Oh, gosh, mmm, the best mac & cheese I've had for, well, ever since I usually only eat Annie's.
The decor was fantastic. Like I said before, so much interesting stuff to look at! An oggler's utopia. Very eclectic, yet charming and stylish in an off-the-wall sort of way, which I quite admire.
Out back, there was more western town facade, and a cute little courtyard picnic area that opened up from the cafe. On the other side of the facade was a petting zoo with mini donkeys, goats, sheep, and bunnies. They also had pigeons of all colors. At the end of the boardwalk, there was a cool game room/vintage arcade.
Inside the gift shop were all sorts of goodies, from antiques, to salsas, jams, candies, and of course cheese! I loved how they displayed their wares. Along the cooler where the cheese was displayed, there were buckets full of little iron fish, horsehoes, stars, and various other little odds and ends. We didn't even make it back to the antique store or fruit stand there was so much to see, but we'll be back for sure now that we know it's there.
We sampled most of the cheeses that were available. Lots of cheddar, everything from chipotle cheddar to sage cheddar. We ended up bringing home the premium white cheddar. I look forward to going back, which may be as soon as next week... since we have to make that trip again, ugh, to pick up the camera!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chicken Scrapbook

Just six months ago, we received a peeping box from our postal carrier (the stork is just a myth folks, it's the mailman who brings babies!) Inside were six little balls of fuzzy cuteness. Unfortunately we lost one of the little Welsummers, but the rest of the girls were strong and healthy and have become a cherished part of our family. They follow us around when we are outside, prefer to eat scratch from our palms instead of on the ground, and look forward to their favorite treats- apple cores and carrot peelings. They all have their own personalities. Salt, our Barred Plymouth rock, is a bully. Pepper, same breed, is her henchman. They must think because they were the first to lay eggs, that they rule the roost. Red, our Welsummer, is the trouble maker, she likes to peck our bare feet, jump up on the trampoline, and chase the cats. Chipmunk, our Easter-Egger is sweet, friendly, and minds her own business and lays the beautiful green eggs. Chilly, our Blue Cochin, is shy and a bit of loner, Salt chases her, but she's our favorite. She has beautiful poufs of green-black feathers and makes us laugh when she runs. Here's a little photo spread of the girls when we first got them, and what they look like today.
After a long internet search, I finally stumbled across My Pet Chicken, the only online supplier I found at the time that would ship small numbers of chicks. I didn't want to just go down to the local feed store and pick random birds without knowing what they were. We wanted birds that were friendly, hardy, and interesting looking. After some research and comparison of breeds, I was able to narrow down a list of birds that would suit our needs. I placed my order and we (im)patiently waited for our little package to arrive, and just a few days after Easter, it did!
We were so excited when the package arrived. The brooder box that we had set up had been ready for about a week before they arrived. Inside the little box was a nest with a little heating pad, and our chicks were all huddled inside. We immediately put them in their new home, and they went straight to their food water and then hunkered down under the heat lamp for a good nap.
We only ordered 4 babies originally, one of each breed. We ended up with an extra Barred Plymoth Rock and an extra Welsummer, because there is a minimum number of birds that can be shipped and this ensures that the chicks stay warm and survive the shipping journey. One of our Welsummers didn't make it, but the others thrived and were quite lively! Early on Red was a very sweet baby, so it's funny that she grew up to be the most persnickety. The two plymouth rocks ruled the roost from day one. They were always popping around and pecking at your hands. Chipmunk was also a little daredevil as a chick, but ended up being sweet and a little shy. Chilly was always shy and sweet.
Baby Chilly entering the awkward teen chicken stage, when the adult feathers start to come in. We named her Chilly because when she was still completely fuzzy, she looked like a baby penguin. We loved her feathery legs and feet. She looks like she has a big pair of feather bloomers on.
Chilly today. Even though she is a Blue Cochin, she turned out all black. 25% of Blue Cochins do turn out black. She's still beautiful though, and her feathers have the most gorgeous green sheen.
Chipmunk at a few weeks old. She started out with fuzzy stripes and puffy cheek feathers like a Chipmunk, hence the name. We had no idea what she was going to look like as an adult, so we were fascinated as her feathers started to come out.
Chipmunk today. She is now a lovely golden color with pretty black detailed feathers on her back and wings. She still has the puffy cheek feathers. She is the only one that we own that has green legs and feet! She has started laying green eggs almost daily the last couple of weeks.
.Little Red. It's hard to believe she was so sweet and shy when she was little. She was a late bloomer. The last of the bunch to get her big-girl feathers. She and chipmunk always looked very similar with the stripes and feather patterns, just different colors
Red today. Miss Sassy! Like Chipmunk, she's acquired some really beautifully patterned feathers. She keeps us laughing on a regular basis with her silly antics.
Either Salt or Pepper as a young'un. They both looked pretty much the same, but the other photo of the opposite chick was blurry. It's hard to see the beak from this angle, but that's how we told them apart- by the pattern of black on their beaks. Salt had less black on her beak.
Pepper today. We thought that she was going to be at the top of the pecking order since she was the first to mature and the first to start laying, but it turns out that Salt is the head honcho. We now tell them apart from their combs. Pepper has a droopy comb that flops over to one side, she's more Emo.
Salt today. I interrupted some important dirt pecking when I took this picture. For the longest time her comb and wattle didn't grow, and we were worried that Pepper might have been a rooster since salt looked so different. We were relieved when Pepper started laying eggs!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Finally, a Farmer's Market!

This summer we tried to hunt down a decent farmer's market in our local area.  For some reason the one in our little town was cancelled this year, we were unable to find a listing for one in Los Banos, and the market in Merced has shrunk in size significantly. The local paper had touted that Firebaugh, a town about 15 minutes from here, had the best farmer's market in the county. What a joke! It wasn't a farmer's market, it was a flea market. There was one produce stand with produce shipped from Mexico! The rest of the booths were cheap toys, clothing and other manufactured goods from Mexico. So we were about to give up on the whole farmer's market thing, since the next closest Market, Turlock Farmer's Market, is at an odd time on an odd day according to our schedules. Then Lee needed to make a trip to Nasco in Modesto to pick up some supplies for the set construction of his current film project, and so we decided to get as much out of the trip as we could and check out the Modesto Farmer's Market.

Our Modesto Farmer's Market fare.
Wow, compared to what we've been experiencing in the realm of central valley farmer's markets lately, we were quite impressed! So much selection! Yummy samples! Friendly vendors! Almost made me want to move back to Modesto (hah!) We brought the kids along on this trip, their first trip to a farmer's market (aside from the Firebaugh experience) and they were a bit skeptical because they thought a farmer's market was just a flea market. They ended up having a great time and had to sample everything. I ran into my great friend and fellow art student Rita while we were there, who told me that she was Crafty Acre's biggest fan and read it religiously. What an awesome compliment! Makes this effort all worthwhile when I hear that people enjoy reading what I write. (And it was fantastic to see you again Rita! Can't wait to catch up with you again in the future!) 

We didn't do any major shopping on this trip since our fridge was already stocked, but we did let the boys pick out a lot of things that they wanted to try. We got the most delicious peaches and white nectarines from J&J Produce (their stand is located on the corner of Geer & Whitmore in Highson.) We sampled all of the honey flavors at the Pure Valley Honey Bees booth, and all voted in favor of buying the blackberry honey, super delicious and fruity! The boys were totally fascinated with the blue potatoes from Zuckerman's Farm, so we picked up a small sack. We stopped by a table full of grapes, every different type you could think of and Rowan shouts,"there's a tarantula in those grapes!"  It was in fact, just a small, fuzzy jumping spider. I'm sure that made the vendors happy¡ Actually, the ladies were quite nice about it, and said that the spider was just part of their natural pest control team. Glad there weren't any other potential customers at the table right then, but I still felt so bad that I insisted we buy more than one bunch of grapes. They turned out to be the best grapes I've tasted this summer, but I didn't catch the name of the farm unfortunately. Liam and I chose some Jalapeno Cheese Bread from Word-of-Mouth Baking Company and it's already gone, as I just finished off the last of it while typing this post- this coming from someone who hates Japapenos and anything else fiery! Speaking of fiery, we got some super yummy basque piperade from Beret Rouge. The boys all voted for the spicy, but I think I prefer the sweet because I have a hard time enjoying the spicy after a few bites. Maybe it's just me, but when my tongue is on fire it's difficult for me to enjoy food. We sampled all of the cheeses at the Oakdale Cheese booth. My favorite was the goat gouda. I am looking forward to getting a couple of Pygoras or Nigerian Dwarfs and testing out my cheese making hands in the future!

There were a lot more booths that we didn't have time to stop by or purchase from, but we do plan to go back. When we asked the boys if they had fun, they were in complete agreement. Liam, who just turned 5, told us that next time we come back we should try all new stuff that we haven't tried yet. Ah, is my influence rubbing off on him? We finished off our day with lunch at Extreme Pizza since they offer a gluten free crust. Poor Rowan's diet is quite limited and he rarely gets pizza unless I make a homemade crust for him, so he and Liam loved it! Nice to see more restaurants are offering gluten free options!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Book Reviews

Finished some books, acquired a new stack, and have even more waiting for me to pick up at the library right now.

Finished Books:
Homemade Contrivances and How to Make Them: 1001 Labor-Saving Devices for Farm, Garden, Dairy, and Workshop was an interesting step back in time! This is a reprint of the original. Though my backyard plot isn't in need of a lot of the things in this book, it was a really fun book to browse over! If I have a bigger farm of my own in the future, I'll definitely add this book to my collection. It's nice to know that this information hasn't been lost. ****
The Urban Homestead (Expanded & Revised Edition): Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City (Process Self-reliance Series) is a must read for anyone who wants to get back to basics. It's a great starter reference for farmers in town. There are ideas for everyone, whether you have a yard or just an apartment balcony. A wide array of topics are covered, from gardening & canning to keeping chickens. I appreciate the writing style, which is really down to earth and down right funny at times. I read the older edition because that's all the library had, so I am not sure what new information is included in the newer edition. *****
Don't Throw It Out: Recycle, Renew and Reuse to Make Things Last had so much information that I didn't finish it word for word. It's one of those books that you just want to have around to digest little by little. It's jam-packed full of really cool ideas to help things last longer, ways to recycle things that you would have never considered before (I was happy to read ways to recycle bike inner tubes, which I had saved thinking that they might come in handy), and lots of money saving tips. Used copies are going cheap online right now, so I may add one to my collection. ****
The Dirt-Cheap Green Thumb: 400 Thrifty Tips for Saving Money, Time, and Resources as You Garden is another one of those books that are nice to have on hand and read a bit at a time rather than page to page. Lots of great tips, but many were things that I had already known. ***
Don't Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps was a really fun book, but again, another one that you'd want to keep rather than check out because there are so many little projects you want to try that you'll never be able to cover them all in one library loan period. I would like to try out all of the growing projects with Lee's kids. I was also surprised at how many ordinary kitchen items you can grow! *****
The Honey Trail: In Pursuit of Liquid Gold and Vanishing Bees is a fantastic adventure! Not only is this book full of interesting little insights on bees and honey, but all of that information is woven beautifully into a story of a women's travels around the world. ****
The Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and On-Line is an indispensable resource for crafters. The illustrations were done by one of my favorite illustrators, Emily Martin (The Black Apple). *****