Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's Sunday...

May you enjoy a day of Sabbath rest...

"For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy."  - Exodus 20:11

And be blessed!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Seeds! They're Arriving!

I don't know which makes me more excited. Getting the seed catalogs in January or the seeds themselves in February! If you haven't done so, you need to order ASAP because seed sales are anything but sagging and last year, seed companies sold out of some varieties early.  As we all know, they just can't whip up a few more whenever they want!

This year I received seeds from three sources: Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, and Hometown Seeds.

I love their bright yellow packaging that is water proof - if you have them sealed! I find these are handy when out in the garden as the package really holds up.

On the back, they have covered just about every imaginable bit of information you might need while out planting. No need to keep going back to a gardening book to look up info.

Can I have two favorites? Honestly, I think I split my ordering needs between these two companies this year. I was so impressed with Seed Savers Exchange mission to preserve seeds, especially heirloom varieties.

Love these photos...

And my favorite part? The directions for saving the seeds are right on the back!

This was a new company that contacted me about survival seeds. If you don't have some of these in your freezer, you should. It's kind of like having a savings account, only in seeds instead of dollars. Now I'm not a doomsdayer, but there is such a thing as being wise - whether in regards to economy or catastrophy. Having some stored seeds allows you to have a back up for getting a garden started in the event that you can't get ahold of seeds at some point, whatever the reason. And all these are non-hybrid and will produce true to variety. 

As you can see, these came packaged in mylar, ready to go into my freezer. I love that! These should store for about 10 years in the freezer or 5 years on the shelf (if in a cool place).

I just have to share one thing I'm very excited about. I am going to grow my first beans for drying. I've wanted to do this ever since I went to Maine in 2003. We had stopped at a farm that had a stand with maple syrup, fresh apple cider, and produce. But they also had several varieties of dried beans grown right there on the farm. Not your ordinary varieties, but unusual ones, much like these two that I picked...

Actually, I picked two more, but they aren't all in yet. I will have to limit myself because I have only so much space, but I had to try!

So, now I just have to be patient to plant. That's really hard. I'd much rather have spring weather right away and get started! At least I can start some of them indoors and feed my gardening desire! I just need to plan when.

Please share something new you are doing in your garden this year and inspire us!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Easy Garden Composting

If you read my recent post on The Kitchen Composter or Composting Around the House, you're may be thinking, "Okay, that's easy stuff to do, but that outdoors thing... well, that's too difficult for me." 

What if I told you it was just as easy?

Photo Credit: Joi

There are books upon books written on the subject if you're looking to brew some hummus in hurry, for a large farm, or commercially, but if you're looking to make compost on a small scale at home, it's pretty much a no fail garden project. And don't we all like a garden venture that is actually going to work! Seriously, by God's design, organic matter breaks down. It's just a matter of how long can you wait.

Mother Earth News has just published an article in their recent publication "Guide to Organic Gardening" which includes an article "Compost Made Easy". Of all the things I've read on composting, this one truly made it seem like a piece a cake (or better yet, a good mud pie!).

You can also watch Master Gardener Ed Bruske, a D.C. gardener who was a former journalist for the Washington Post on a series of on-line videos he's put together at MonkeySee. Each of the 15 videos is about 2-4 minutes long.

One last resource you may find helpful, Lars at CompostingInstructions.com has put together an entire website just devoted to making this black gold for your garden. You can find pictures and all sorts of information there.

Easy Compost Basics:

• Compost is made up of green (wet) materials and brown (dry) materials. 

• Green would be things like grass clippings, manure, and stuff from your kitchen compost.

• Brown would be dry leaves, pine needles, dead plants (not diseased), and newspaper.

• Aim for a mix of 1/3 green and 2/3 brown materials, but 1/2 and 1/2 will still compost just fine. Like making a soup, this doesn't have to be perfect to come out great.

• All organic or living things WILL break down, eventually. To accelerate the breaking down into hummus you need 1) air flow; 2) moisture with drainage; 3) optimal temperature; 4) and a balance of green and brown materials.
Photo Credit: wisemandarine
• Use a composter that allows air to move through the pile. (More on this on another post).

• If you're pile seems dry and dusty, turn and add water.

• Too wet, turn and add dry material.

• A healthy pile will feel warm to the touch, except maybe in winter. If it is too cool, add more green high-nitrogen material, such as manure, and turn.

• Place your compost pile strategically - near your garden where you'll use it; under a deciduous tree if possible (shade in summer so it doesn't over cook and sun in winter to keep it going as much as possible); and near a water faucet so you can add water when needed.

• A hot compost pile may break down quicker, but won't necessarily be richer in microbial diversity.    

• Like fine wine, a compost pile that is allowed to mature over a longer period of time will be richer in these micro-organisms. 

• Any size compost pile will work, but keeping it about 3 feet tall will allow it to start heating up and still be a size you can work with.

• Turn it when you can (although not necessary). No need to be legalistic about how often, however you may need to turn more often if it gets too wet.

• Smell your pile to determine it's health. You want it to smell earthy, but not stink. 

• If it stinks, it could be 1) too wet - add more dry material; 2) kitchen scraps too close to the top - turn and work them down below the surface; 3) no smell at all? In early fall you may find you need to add water if you have a lot of brown material which you just added.

• Some leaves tend to be "leathery" like California Oak leaves and should be run through a shredder before putting into a composter. Otherwise, it could take longer than necessary to break down.

Want to share an additional tip?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

No-Sugar Fruit Cobbler

Every now and then a girl has got to have dessert, but you don't want to use sugar. How about honey? This cobbler recipe was adapted from  Dr. Connie Peraglie Guttersen's book The Sonoma Diet. While this recipe is not super sweet, the natural sweetness of the fruit should help curb that need for a sugary treat.

I doubled the entire recipe to fit a 9 x 13 casserole dish and then I doubled the amount of butter again (although sometimes I leave it just as it is). The recipe originally calls for peaches and blueberries, but you could substitute just about any fruit you have around the house. A great use of any fruit you may have frozen this summer if you didn't add sugar to it!

No-Sugar Fruit Cobbler

2 C. whole wheat pastry flour
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 stick butter (you could use 1/2 a stick)
2/3 C. cold water
2 T. + 2 tsp. cornstarch
4 T. honey
6 C. fresh or frozen fruit such as peaches (unsweetened and skins removed - although I left some on because my husband likes it that way)
2-4 C. raspberries or blueberries (unsweetened)
2/3 C. plain yogurt
2 eggs 

In a large saucepan, stir water and cornstarch until combined... 

Add honey (Mine had crystallized, but no worries. It's good to use anyway.)...

Add peach slices and cook until thickened and bubbly. Stir often...

Add blueberries (or raspberries), cooking until bubbly...

Pour into casserole dish...

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resemble coarse crumbs...

In another small bowl, stir together  yogurt and egg...

Add yogurt mixture to flour stirring until just moistened...

Drop dough on top of filling in small mounds evenly spaced over the entire dish...

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly and top is beginning to brown nicely. You can insert a toothpick into the dough to make sure it is baked through (the toothpick should come out clean). 

Now you can enjoy a guilt free treat this weekend!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Preparing The Garden Path

I know it's still February, but our warmer winter and extra rains have caused things to green-up just a little bit early this year. And as a result, grass is starting to grow where I'm not sure I want it. Like my garden paths. 

I could leave it to grow and just mow it, but I don't want the grass competing with the vegetables for the little water we have out west. Second, it would die fairly early in the season and just be a mess.  Third, we only have a non-electric mower that would fit in these path spaces and we really don't need the extra work.

Last year, I just left the dirt and kept it hoed. The results. A couple of tough days hoeing in the beginning, some easy maintenance the remainder of the summer, and lots of mud. Whenever I watered, the boxes seeped excess water and made the paths a mud pit. I really didn't care for this much.

My solution? Mulching the paths. I'm hoping that it will keep things dryer by creating a barrier between me and the mud. Instead of a plastic material, I opted for something that would eventually compost into the ground because it was natural and won't have to be removed in the event that we decide to move things around, and just because it was cheap!

Here you can see how we layered newspaper with straw on top. You can't see how thick the paper is, but you need enough that it won't break down too fast and you have weeds come through mid summer.

Here is how it looked when it was nearly complete:

I really liked how it turned out. We'll see this spring and summer how well it works. In case you're considering this for your own garden, here's some tips you might want to consider:

• Working with straw is messy business. Wear boots or you'll be picking bits of straw out of your socks. And a jacket that repels water should repel straw bits, too.

• If you have allergies, wear a mask, or do like me... stand up wind when breaking it up into pieces.

• Your surface underneath should be level and free of big rocks or sticks. This will make for a smoother surface to walk on even under all that straw. But don't dig up weeds; they'll die from lack of sunlight. If you have holes, the straw can be slick and you could slip into a low spot.

• When laying the paper, choose a day that isn't windy. Wetting your papers a bit the night before will make it lie flat and be easy to work with. 

• Add extra paper in spots where you know water tends to puddle. That way it won't break down as fast.

• To keep the straw from blowing, wet it slightly with a hose. We knew rain was coming later in the day, so we just let nature take care of it for us.

Perhaps you're wondering how many newspapers and how much straw do I need? My garden is roughly 24 feet long by 14 feet wide with four raised beds. (I like lots of room in between for maneuvering).  I used one bale of straw and two and a half crates of newspaper that were leftovers from the newspaper office (Thanks, Dawna! These will be going back to the Post Office asap!).

This is truly an experiment and I have no clue really how well it's going to work. But, I won't know until I try. This project seemed to have the potential for a big payoff with little risk or investment since it took us about an hour and only cost us $7 for a bail of straw. 

I'd really like to know if anyone has ever done this and how it worked for you. Do share!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Twister #1

Wardeh, at GNOWFGLINS™ is having her weekly Tuesday Twister where everyone shares what they have been doing in their kitchen for the past week. I'm actually going to post about the last two weeks, because I did a couple of things during that time period that were real leaps for me in terms of cooking new things.

First, I had purchased some raw milk on Saturday morning and as always, I put it in an ice chest in the back of my car while I ran a few more errands. I had no ice in it, but since I wasn't going to be out long, I really didn't worry about it. 

Later that day, about six in the evening, I got to thinking about where the milk was since I didn't see it in the refrigerator. I had asked the girls to help unload the car, but had failed to mention not to forget the milk! Sure enough, I found it in the back of my car in the ice chest, completely room temperature. Frustrated, I took it in the house and got ready to pour it down the sink.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I should put it in the fridge and do some online investigating to see if anything could be done to save it for some kind of use. (My mind was hoping for yogurt, since you heat yogurt anyway.) Keep in mind this is raw milk, neither homogenized nor pasteurized. 

After reading a bit and a quick email to verify my thinking, I felt confident that I was on the right track. In the "old days" raw milk was allowed to sit out and sour. This was often called Sour Milk or Clabbered Milk, but it was actually left out longer than 12 hours. How far we've come in such a short time! Now we think milk that has been left out is a danger and threat! And I confess, I was a bit leery. I had never done such a thing.

Anyway, I proceeded to make the yogurt overnight in my dehydrator. The next morning, my brave husband took the first taste and approved. Anxiously, I gave it a try as well and was very pleased with the resulting product. But I confess, I waited another day to serve it to my children because I wanted to see if he or I got sick from eating it! Eventually, we ate the entire container of yogurt and everyone loved it. And we are all still alive to prove that it is safe to consume room temperature raw milk if your original source is good. We must talk more about raw milk soon!

Second, I boiled a chicken. Okay, stop laughing! Yes, I've boiled a chicken before, but not like this...  Following the directions in Nourishing Traditions, I added vegetables, apple cider vinegar, and water, to a whole chicken with the wings and neck chopped up. This was then boiled and simmered for over 6 hours. Yep. A long time. It could have gone longer, but I needed it for dinner. 

The resulting product was unbelievable! I had chosen to do this because two people had a head cold in our family and needed the nutrients and vitamins from the chicken stock. It was amazing how the bones started to break down and add to the broth (I wonder what it would have been like if it had gone longer?). This was not gross like it sounds, but it was rich and delicious. You'd probably have to try it to believe me. 

Just curious, but what went down in your kitchen this week?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Kitchen Appliance Poll

Thanks to everyone who voted in last weeks Kitchen Appliance poll. Overwhelmingly people do NOT want to go without a mixer! I'm guessing this may have to do with the fact that a mixer is one of the most common kitchen appliances.  Take a look at the final count...

Which kitchen appliance would you hate to live without?

 2 Dehydrator
10 VitaMix/blender
21 Mixer
 2 Food Saver/Seal-A-Meal
 9 Grain Mill
 3 I don't use any of these!

What would I have voted for? Probably my VitaMix. I must use this thing two times a day for smoothies, making mayo or ketchup, dressings, sauces, and hummus, just to name a few. But if I had to, I could use it for even more things. With the addition of a dry blade container, I could grind my wheat in it as well (although I love my grain mill for this). If I didn't have an immersion blender, it could be used in it's place to puree soups (which I've also done before). If you want to learn more about a VitaMix and what it can do, just visit the VitaMix website.

I must mention the Food Saver. I bought this for freezing fruit and peas last summer. And it works great for this kind of thing. Whenever I buy nuts or cheese in bulk, I use it to vacuum pack these items in smaller quantities as well. But I fell in love with this when I found the Jar Sealer which comes in two sizes and the meat marinator. You can read my previous post on this appliance here.

The poor dehydrator got the fewest votes. Such a shame! Once you own a dehydrator, and I mean a good one like an Excalibur, you will wonder what you did without it? I've used it for all kinds of fruits, drying herbs, and recently, making yogurt (more on that 'story' tomorrow!). 

So, I hope you're curious about this weeks poll. It may prove to be controversial! But let's be nice... I do love a good debate as long as everyone is gracious.  

In the context of a clean dairy, is raw milk safe?

See, I told you. You probably already know what I think, but I'd like to hear what YOU think! I hope to be writing some posts on this soon. There's lots to say about it no matter which camp you're in.

Go Vote!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Transitioning Your Family To A Healthy Diet

You've decided that a healthy diet is the best for you and your family and it's time to move them down the path of a new Food Journey, eliminating processed foods and refined sugars. You want to start eating fresh fruits and vegetables the way God intended. But upon mentioning this to your spouse and children, instead of accolades for your wise resolution, you find you're met with some slight (or rather not so slight!) resistance. 

I  know... you're shocked! Doesn't everybody want to eat healthy? Ummm, no.

We like our food to taste good, comfort us, and be ready the second we decide we're hungry. Even if your family eats most of their veggies, they have developed certain tastes over the years based on what has touched their palette most often. It will take time to retrain that same palette. But it can be done! And the younger the child, the easier this can be.

Right before our second child was born, I began my own food journey and started helping my family down this path with me. My husband was not resistant, but he was a bit leery and certainly not ready to give up all his favorite foods. Being my spouse and not my child, I certainly didn't insist he change, but rather, I allowed him to make his own decisions. We had a few bumps, but now, he has joined me and encourages the children, too!

How can you transition your family so that they'll follow along?

• Do not announce or demand that you are changing how your family eats forever! Talk about making a couple of changes to help everyone feel their best. Discuss that you will make only one change at a time.

• Don't tell them you are no longer buying white rice in lieu of brown. Instead, mention that this new kind of rice (or whatever) has a wonderful nutty flavor (or some other characteristic depending on the food)!

• When possible, mix some things together, switch back and forth, or try different varieties, gradually increasing the use of the healthier choice until the transition is complete. I did this with the brown rice thing (one of our bumps in the road! We finally found a variety we both could agree on - Brown Basmati).

• Do not get rid of everything in your pantry right away. As you use up an item, replace it with a healthier alternative when possible. For example, instead of vegetable oil, buy olive oil. Instead of white crackers, try a whole grain variety.

• Don't start hounding them to give up sugary, processed foods. Provide alternatives for them to snack on; something natural, like oranges, frozen grapes (fun!), or nuts. Find a good cookie recipe with things to add in like oats, dried fruit, and sucanat instead of brown or white sugar. You may just have to say no at times and yes at others (to the kids, not the spouse!). Be sure to talk about the fact that sweets are treats best eaten in moderation and keep only a few on hand at a time. 

• Freeze all the candy when it comes home from a party or other event. Out of sight sometimes will help it remain out of mind! After a while, it just disappeared! (Works well for the younger ones.)

• Take some of the family members with you to a farmer's market to select a few fresh items. Let them help pick and then prepare it together. Children are especially anxious to eat whatever they helped prepare!

• Look for a recipe that would appeal to your family's tastes. For example, my family will eat almost anything in a soup! If your family likes skillet dishes or casseroles, try introducing a new veggie in one of these.

• Learn to adapt favorite family recipes. Your husband will most likely notice a change in his favorite casserole, but just comment that you have made a healthier substitution and that you would like him to give it a try for a couple of rounds. And if Friday night is traditionally a pizza night, get the family together and start making your own pizza using fresh, quality ingredients.

• Learn to use herbs, spices, and healthy sauces or juices when cooking. I love to use fresh lemon juice or vinegars to liven up veggies. Foods that might normally be bland become amazingly appealing with these simple additions.

•Select only the freshest, in-season vegetables because of their flavor, nutrients, and appeal. Frozen vegetables, while an acceptable alternative, just don't have the same flavor. Remember, you are aiming to convince family members to willingly buy into the healthy lifestyle.

• Purchase a good resource for preparing vegetables, such as Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. While I'm not a vegetarian, it is a great resource for knowing how to select and prepare produce that I'm not familiar with (and many that I am!).

• Avoid overcooking vegetables as it causes them to loose their flavor and become less appealing. Steaming is very healthy and grilling or broiling often brings out the natural sugars and flavors! (Avoid using the microwave for cooking and heating).

• As you read books or articles about healthy food choices, share with your husband and children what you are learning. Begin to talk about the real facts of food.

• Set aside one day a week that the family can enjoy their old favorites. For us, this is often on Sunday, a day we celebrate Christ' resurrection. It is a joyous day and one of rest. Often we are with friends or relaxing from our week's work. So this is a day we sometimes set aside tight restrictions.

• If your spouse is still resistant after all of the above, ask him if he desires the children to eat healthy and what that would look like to him. Often we want this, but we have not been willing to set the example. If this is the case, discuss how the two of you could do a better job of this. Agree to some basic changes with the understanding that the two of you will come together after a certain period to discuss how it is going and if you wish to make any further changes.

• Read Rex Russell's book, What The Bible Says About Healthy Living, together as a couple and discuss it chapter by chapter. 

Don't give up and throw in the towel if your family doesn't get excited, even after some heroic attempts on your part. Give it more time. Keep at it, praying for guidance and direction as well as insight into what will help your specific family. On the other hand, if you're off and running, but have a hiccup once in a while, don't fret about it. Just remember that even in the most committed families, this happens (I confess here and now, it happens in mine!). Especially when traveling or entertaining guests! Look at the big picture and consider what your family is characterized by the majority of the time.

The more you provide healthy alternatives that are tasty and appealing, the more willing your family will be to trying something new. And as time passes, you'll find that their palette is changing for the better. 

In the last two years, whenever we go to a wedding, my daughter that has the infamous sweet tooth, almost always comes up to me with her cake and asks if she must finish it. "Why", I ask? "It's too sweet." Ahhh, sweet victory! 

Would you be willing to share your own transition tips?


 Photo Credit: Simon Howden Free Digital Photos 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Questions Answered for eCourse Cooking Class

A couple of days ago, I wrote a brief post on the eCourse I signed up for over at GNOWFGLINS™ with Wardeh Harmon. I know some of you may have additional questions and she has written a post that answers a lot of inquiries many have already brought to her attention. To view that page, just click here and it will take you right to the Q and A. 

Look at this wonderful water kefir that we are going to learn to make! A great alternative to soda that is actually healthy for your family with wonderful probiotics! I know you may be buried in several feet of snow right now, but this will be a terrific skill to know how to make when it's topping 90 degrees this summer...

Okay, just one more. I've always wanted to master sour dough bread. Now is my chance with the eCourse! My family will adore me!!!

Classes are less than $10 per session. But don't wait... Registration ends Monday, February 22nd at 5:00 PM Pacific Standard Time. 

One friend has joined me already. Want to make it three? Just click the link above or the one in the sidebar (Simple Plan • Healthy Food).

Too Many Lemons? Never!

With citrus in season, you may find yourself blessed with too many lemons. No need to let them go to waste. You can always make lemon curd. But if you have only a few minutes you can extract the juice and freeze it for later use. (And if I had more time, I could have peeled some of the zest and frozen it as well! Too bad.)

After juicing, measure into 1 tsp. amounts so that you have an equal portion in each ice cube tray...
Update: It's actually 1 tablespoon!

pour into tray and freeze! Easy!

The next day, just pop the lemon cubes out of the ice cube trays and place them into a zip lock bag. Now you'll have a measured amount of lemon juice whenever you need it. These can easily be cut in half for smaller amounts as well.

This took me all of 10-15 minutes (with interruptions from dear children)!

I love to add some lemon to my chicken noodle soup! And tuna isn't so fishy when you add just a bit of lemon juice. Another favorite use of mine is lemon juice with a bit of butter on fresh steamed veggies. It's nice to have these ready!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Composting Around the House

Composting is easy generally easy for the home gardener and what little work is involved is definitely worth the effort.  And while there is a lot of actual science behind composting, especially if you want to formulate a specific structure to your compost, thankfully it can be simplified for most of us who not commercial farmers.

Why Compost?

• reduces waste in landfills
• makes great amendment for your garden soil (Hummus! Think of a rich forest bed when you dig down into the dirt with your hands.)
• added drought protection - improved soil holds water better
• improves aeration of existing soil (and it encourages earthworm activity which further aerates the soil!) 
• adds nutrients to your dirt
• neutralizes toxins in soil
• can help plants overcome imbalances of soil pH levels
• acts as a growth stimulator for plants

What's not to love about all that? This stuff is like a gold mine for your garden! And again, it's easy to do! This would be great project for some elementary aged boys (and of course, girls, too)!

So, what can you put in your compost? Well, it would almost be easier to tell you what you can't add, than what you should include. But since we looked at kitchen compost pails yesterday, let's start with kitchen scraps...

Kitchen Composting
*anything that was ever alive at one point

coffee grounds and coffee filters
tea and tea bags
fruit and vegetable scraps 
egg shells
grain scraps (like pasta, bread, and cereals)
small amounts of paper (like the paper tea wrapper, paper towels, or napkins)

Composting Around the House

dryer lint
100% cotton
paper from your shredder
small amounts of shredded cardboard

Don't Compost This!
*some of this is only because the smell will attract unwanted visitors to your compost pile, so if it doesn't bother you or your neighbors, go for it.

fatty or oily products (like meats, and salad dressing)
dairy products (yogurt, butter, cheese, etc.)
woody material (takes a lot longer to break down)
anything that is not organic (such as plastic products)

When you think about it logically - Is this organic or not? Was it ever alive? - then this list is pretty easy to remember. But, you could always print this up and tape it to the inside of a cabinet door until all the family members become familiar with the list. 

Yesterday, a couple of readers made a good point about dumping the kitchen compost pail  when the weather is bad and you really don't want to walk out to your composter. They suggested a rubber maid container or garbage pail on the back porch where you could dump it until the snow melts or rain stops. But if you have lots of critters, like me, this may be stored better in the garage, away from the door. Even without the meat and dairy in it, some animals will go crazy for your compost waste! There is also a method called Vermicomposting also known as Earthworm Composting which can be done inside in a large rubbermaid like container. I'll talk about that more another time!

Just think how productive you're going to feel when you have a nice can of scraps to add to your compost pile. And less waste. That's living a lot closer to the land if you ask me!


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