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.  ****