Got a lot of blackberries? Then check out this recipe for Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather.

I'm not a huge fan of fruit leathers, but this turned out super good! And, really, you can't go wrong with blackberries, mint and rum.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Another Bushel of Harvest Posts

Rather than reposting harvest related blog posts from years' past, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of posts that would be appropriate for the fall harvest time of the year. Here are my top 8 favorites:

1. Processing sugar pie pumpkins - How to roast, process and freeze all those lovely pumpkins that you either grew or are buying from the farmers market, farm stand or grocery store.

2. Corn preservation methods compared: I compare different corn preservation methods and let you know how they all turn out.

3. What to do with all those apples: From canning, drying, freezing to making drinks, they're covered in this post.

4. How to ripen green tomatoes: From storing them wrapped in newspaper in a box to putting them in a paper bag, what's your favorite method of ripening green tomatoes?

5. Saucy apples: My favorite apple sauce recipe.

6. Hard apple cider: A link to how to make hard apple cider.

7. Preserving food for the winter: This post has my favorite method for drying apples.

8. Grilled pumpkin with rosemary and sea salt: This recipe is up over on my mostly neglected food blog (and at Mother Earth News). It's one of my favorite things to do with pumpkin.

What's your favorite fall harvest recipe or activity?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

RIP Sarah, 2/10 - 9/14

RIP, Sarah, you big, white fluffy butted chicken. May you forever peck at delicious cabbage worms in the big hen house in the sky.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Almost Amish book club: Introduction

Welcome to the Almost Amish book club!  For each chapter of this book, I'll be including a chapter summary, discussion questions and challenges. I'll be cross-posting on Facebook, where we tend to have more comments, so if it's all crickets over here or you're not seeing  much activity, you might want to check out my Facebook page.

Also, I know it's not the middle of the month yet, but I thought I'd go ahead and do a warm-up post, starting with the book's introduction chapter. That way, those of you who already have the book and can't wait to get the show on the road have something to start with.

Chapter Summary:
In the introduction, the author, Nancy Sleeth, explains how her family got to be where they are. That is, living a simpler life. Her husband, the director of emergency services and chief of medical staff at a hospital, was worried about the state of the planet and wanted to do something about it. He wanted to quit his job and dedicate their lives to fixing the problem but he decided that they needed to lower their own footprint before tackling the much larger project of educating people about living more simply.

These decisions came about after a series of family tragedies and the realization that you only have one life to live, so make it count. Around the same time the couple embarked on a faith journey. This, coupled with their interest in environmentalism, led them to the goal of serving God by saving the planet.

They started this adventure by analyzing their own impact on the planet and were disappointed to learn that they used six times more energy than the rest of the world. They lowered their thermostat, planted a garden, bought less consumer goods, got rid of their TV and switched their one remaining car with a hybrid. They ended up downsizing their house, reducing their energy consumption by more than two-thirds and their trash production by nine-tenths.

The couple began leading community clean-ups, tree planting efforts and discussions on faith and the environment. The wrote a couple books, and started a nonprofit organization, Blessed Earth. Because they were identified with simplicity, faith and service, they were oftentimes confused as being Amish. Hence the title of this book.

The 10 principles that we will cover in this book, mesh with beliefs in Amish society. The first up (Chapter 2) will be regarding the home - simple, uncluttered and clean with the outside reflecting the inside.

Discussion Questions:
D1. What events (if any) have occurred in your life that made you want to either simplify your life or get off the "American Dream" track?

D2. What do you hope to achieve by simplifying your life? Do you have financial, environmental or personal goals?

D3. How far are you willing to go to achieve and "almost Amish" lifestyle? Baby steps, moderate changes, or go big or go home?

Challenges:
C1. Make a list of the things you feel like you need to change in order to live a simpler life. Think of it as goals to shoot for. We'll revisit this list at the end of the book club, so you can see if you've met them.

Since this is an intro section, you're getting off easy with the challenges. Consider yourselves warned.

Previous Posts:
Almost Amish book club! announcement post

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Full time homeschooling middle school

Howdy! Sorry I've been MIA this last week. School started on Wednesday and, on Monday, I made the executive decision (with support from my husband) to full time homeschool my 7th grade son.

He was scheduled to do 2 classes at his middle school this year, but the times they wanted him to take classes messed up my work schedule too much. So, I figured adding 2 more subjects didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. But, it did leave me scrambling a bit to cover my work schedule with a sitter and add a few more things for him to work on.

As far as our decision to homeschool our son, we meet about 8 of the reasons shown in the graphic at the right. I'm still freaking out a little bit about this decision, but I know he could step back into the part-time schedule at school if it doesn't work out. However, at this point, I don't think he's going to want to.

I've spent a lot of time reading about different homeschooling techniques. Last year we basically did school at home. We followed the 6th grade curriculum for the most part. I think it was good for a transition, but ended up being relatively uninspiring and there was still a lot of struggle and resistance. I have become much more interested in the idea of unschooling, but have settled on something in between for now. More of an eclectic, student-driven homeschooling within the general guidelines of a 7th grade curriculum. In other words, I'm going to offer the material and let him spend as much time on something if he's interested and sweep quickly over things he's not interested. Plus a whole lot of other fun stuff that doesn't involve sitting at the kitchen table all day.

My son's big resistance is with math, which is surprising because he's naturally extremely adept at it. I don't know what happened in public school that made him hate it so much, but we are taking it slow. I'm using the Life of Fred math books and I've already determined that he's going to need a lot of review work. I, frankly, don't think he did any work in 6th grade math at school last year, so we have a bit of catch up to do. But, that said, I want it to be a positive experience. It's also a huge lesson for me to give up the fear and control of having to do "such and such work in x amount of time".

So far, the first couple of days have gone well. I think I've got things organized enough at this point that it will get easier as we go along. And, with more of a gradual focus on unschooling, it should get easier altogether. Most importantly, he seems to be much more relaxed and happy about school. And, for once, I don't have to worry about issues at school for the first time in 8 years, which is a huge relief.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Almost Amish book club!

I recently heard about this book, Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life (2012) and decided to put it on hold at the library.

In it, the author of the book, Nancy Sleeth, talks about how she tried to reduce her and her family's reliance on technology and get back to a simpler lifestyle. Along the way, she explains how she went about making conscious choices to limit and/or eliminate technology's hold on her life and how getting back to basics can lead to "calmer, more focused, less harried lives".

She focuses 10 chapters on 10 different areas of
life:

1.  Home - simplifying and decluttering
2.  Technology - reducing time spent
3.  Finances - saving more and spending less
4.  Nature - time spent enjoying outdoors
5.  Simplicity - keeping things small and local
6.  Service - reaching out to others
7.  Security - self-sufficiency and hard work
8.  Community - knowing your neighbors and local businesses
9.  Family - growing relationships with family
10. Faith - spirituality and life*

I was thinking that, rather than reading it all with my by myself, some of you might want to read along with me and discuss and try to implement some changes that coincide with the book chapters. For each section, I will pose some challenges for you to do. I had mentioned doing another Buy Nothing challenge, but the financial section would cover that as well. And, it's been a looooong time since I attempted a book club.

So, I was thinking about 2 months for the book club. That gives us enough time to read the chapters as well as make some changes in our own lives. I plan on starting sometime mid-September to allow time for you to get a copy of the book, either from the library or on Kindle or however you want to do it.

If you are interested in participating, please leave your name in the comments so I can get an idea of how many people are interested in actively participating or just following along. Either on here or on Facebook!

*For clarification on the religious elements of this book, see my comment to this post below...

Affiliate links are included in this post to help support giveaways and such.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Drying laundry indoors and out

I'm so excited! I got the new laundry drying rack I ordered. That's 79 more feet of drying space, baby!

You see, I've been exclusively drying all our clothes outside for the last month since the weather has been so nice and dry. And warm. Of course, it's August so that helps considerably.
 
We were going to install something more permanent outside, but I wanted something that could be used both indoors and out. Mostly because we live in Seattle and 9/12 of the year, it's too cold and drizzly to successfully dry outside.

I've tried drying our clothes indoors during the winter, but generally give up because it takes so long to dry (several days) and I run out of rack space. So, in order to keep the air drying going, I figured I'd solve that problem by investing in more laundry drying racks. And, I've also decided that putting the racks not in the laundry room (which tends to stay fairly cool) but in the family room downstairs (with the vent opposite our oil heater) should make the clothes dry faster.

In any case, I'm pretty excited to continue line drying, even throughout the year. I'm very interested to see how it affects our electricity bill as well. Seattle City Light started sending us comparative reports on our electricity usage and I'm embarrassed to say that it's much higher than I'd like. A lot of that is because my son does part-time homeschooling so the space heater is going a lot during the day. And everyone likes to leave the lights on in the house wherever they go.

Anyway, I'll report on the impact of reduced dryer usage on our bill as time goes on.

What about you? Do you line dry at all? If so, is it yeare round or just during the summer?


Warning: There be affiliate links in this here post to help support giveaways and such like.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A week of canning, gleaning and baking

For those of you readers who don't follow me on Facebook or just don't like Facebook, I wanted to give you a wrap-up of what I've been up to the last week. Or, if you're on Facebook and you missed it, here's what's been going on around our homestead. Well, aside from the usual gardening business of being inundated with tomatoes, basil, blackberries, lettuce and green beans.

Gleaning


1. Apples (Round 1) - from the neighbor down the street. I've gotten apples from them in year's past and this year, they let me pillage their tree again. These apples are small and not very attractive. I ended up making applesauce as well as juicing them and making apple jelly (see below). I got about 8.5 pounds.



2. Apples (Round 2) - from the next door neighbor. These apples are much larger and tend to have less scabs and other problems. I used some of them for the apple jelly and still have a fridge full of apples. This is the first time I've asked these guys for their apples. They don't speak English very well and it took a bit of back and forth before they understood what I was asking. I got about 20 pounds.



3. Tomatoes - I walk by a house down the block that has a parking strip vegetable garden, so I get to check out what's growing every day. I've spoken with the owner a number of times before. I was noticing that they hadn't been picking their large yellow tomatoes so I decided to see if they'd be willing to trade tomatoes for some apple jelly. My neighbor was more interested in giving the tomatoes away as she was getting sick of them. She was also in the middle of making apple butter from her own tree and asked if I wanted some apples. Since I already has a fridge full of them, I reluctantly passed. But, I did score more tomatoes than we could reasonably eat in a day or so with the promise of more to come.


Canning


1. Bread and butter pickles - I had a ton more pickling cucumbers lurking in my fridge after making two batches of spicy relish. I love bread and butter pickles, so I decided to finish off the cucumbers making them.

2. Brandy applesauce - I used the crockpot for making this. Since the gleaned apples were small and I was planning on running them through the food mill, I just tossed a ton of them in the crockpot with some cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and water and let it break down overnight. After milling them and bringing it back up to temperature, I added 1/3 cup apple brandy and canned them. Yum! (my Courvoisier Applesauce recipe is here).

3. Cinnamon brandy apple jelly - Yes, I like brandy with my apples. I really didn't feel like peeling and coring all those tiny apples, so I juiced them in my Breville Super Juicer. I added 2 teaspoons of ground ginger and 1/3 cup apple brandy to the final creation. I'm making more of this since it turned out so amazing.



4. Smoky blackberry rum jam - I spent far too much time running our backyard blackberries through the food mill to remove all the seeds, but the end result is well worth it. Dried chipotle chiles and rum give this jam quite a kick!


Baking


1. No knead honey sandwich bread - After reading a bunch of sites on no knead bread and how to adapt it to sandwich bread, I tweaked it a bit to include honey and whipped it up. It doesn't rise as nicely as kneaded sandwich bread, but it's so easy, who can complain?



2. Blackberry pound cake - My husband actually made this one, but I helped, so I'm going to include it. I'd take a picture, but there are only crumbs left. Here's the recipe though and the picture of what it should look like :) We didn't use basil, but home grown lavender instead.

Blackberry pound cake perfumed with basil


Picture courtesy of Kitchen Vignettes

3. Pumpkin chocolate chip bars - Yes, I made this again, this time without the black bottom and just milk chocolate chips throughout. My son loves it so much I'm going to make it again tomorrow after work cause it's so easy.



Whew! It's been a busy week! What have you been up to?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

August Garden Porn - Raised Bed Edition

The other day I created a list of all the stuff I've currently got growing in the garden (as of August 2014) and I claimed that I'd post some pictures. I took a bunch of photos yesterday afternoon, but photo editing them is taking freaking forever, so I've decided to post them in chunks. Therefore, today's post includes the 8 (eight) 4' x 4' raised beds in the backyard (minus the strawberries, cause there's not much to look at there).

I apologize for the floating row covers. The birds have been eating down my seedlings and I'm also trying to keep the cabbage moths off of some things. You'll have to trust me that there's stuff growing under there. I love you people, but not enough to fiddle around with unpinning and repinning this crap. Also, I tend to plant things in quadrants so it should be easy to follow. There are a couple things in the surrounding borders listed as well.

So, without further ado... starting from East to West in my yard (sunniest to shadiest):

Clockwise from top left: rutabaga, beets, cucumbers, beets
Clockwise from top left: carrots, kale, parsnips, lettuce, carrots
Clockwise from top left: cabbage, Italian parsley, pac choi, green onions

Clockwise from top left: green beans, parsnips, shelling peas, more peas
Clockwise from top left: onions, leeks, green beans, more beans
Clockwise from top left: cilantro, radishes, lettuce, green onions (tucked in)
Clockwise from top left: broccoli, brussels sprouts, more sprouts, more broccoli
Next time I'll post the experimental garden spot, chicken coop, long raised beds and greenhouse pictures. And, then! I'll do a satellite shot showing where all this is in relation to my yard. Because you just can't get enough garden porn, I always say!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Life in the Garden - August 2014

Since I post a little here and there about what I've got growing on our urban farmstead, I thought it would be helpful to give you a run down of everything I've got growing, foodwise, on our less than 1/10th of an acre in Seattle.

Fruits:
Blackberries
Raspberries
Blueberries
Strawberries
Apples
Pears (haven't yet produced anything)
Cherries
Plums
Grapes
Figs (don't really produce anything)
Lime (indoor)

Vegetables:
Asparagus
Rhubarb
Artichoke
Leeks
Green Onions
Brussels Sprouts
Green Beans
Shelling Peas
Onions
Radishes
Lettuce
Pac Choi
Parsnips
Carrots
Beets
Rutabaga
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Swiss Chard
Slicing Cucumbers
Tomatoes
Pumpkins
Bell peppers
Hot peppers

Herbs/Flowers:
Basil
Rosemary
Lavender
Sage
Chocolate Mint
Oregano
Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
Cilantro
Thyme
Black Oil Sunflowers
Calendula
Lemon Verbena
Echinacea
Tea

Eggs:
3 Chickens

I think that's it! I'm sure I'm forgetting something. When I get around to it I'll either take some more pictures or make a video tour, showing what's what.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Black Bottom Pumpkin Bars recipe

I'm trying to use up the last of the frozen pumpkin puree we processed from last year's pumpkins to make some space for this year's pumpkins. And, really, who needs an excuse to eat pumpkin, especially when it's paired with rich chocolate?

Although these are bars, it's more of a delicious, moist cake. And the beauty of it is that you can substitute all sorts of fruit purees out for the pumpkin. I've made this with applesauce and bananas as well.  Or a mix of all three. It just depends on what you have on hand. You can't go wrong!

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably fresh ground)

1/4 cup baking cocoa*
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

Directions
1. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, egg and pumpkin.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix well.

4. Divide batter in half. Add cocoa and chocolate chips to half, spreading into a greased 8" x 8" baking pan. Add remaining batter to the top and swirl it with a knife.

5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

*I use a high quality cocoa like Valrhona

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather Recipe

Yum!
If you have tons of blackberries you are trying to preserve, like to drink mojitos and don't mind chewing your fruit in a gummy format, then this fruit leather recipe is for you.

And, yes, it does contain rum. However, since it's cooked, the alcohol burns off, so you can safely feed these to your kids without worrying that you're a bad parent.

Feel free to halve this recipe.

Blackberry Mojito Fruit Leather

Ingredients:
8 cups blackberries
1/8 cup mint leaves, chopped 
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup rum
2 tablespoons lime juice
zest from 1 lime

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees F. Place blackberries and mint leaves in a large pot over medium-high heat and cook until blackberries release their juice and fall apart. About 10 minutes.

2. Remove blackberries and mint from the heat and run the mixture through a food mill to remove seeds. If you don't have overly seedy blackberries and don't mind mint flakes in your leather, then you can skip this step.

3. Return strained blackberries to pot and add applesauce, honey, rum, lime juice and lime zest and return to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Taste mixture for sweetness and add more honey if your berries are too tart for your liking.

4. Remove pot from heat and let cool for about 20 minutes.

5. Line two 11" x 17" baking sheets with parchment paper. Pour 1/2 of the puree onto each sheet and spread thickly and evenly with an offset spatula. Put into oven and bake for 6 hours or until no longer wet.

6. With a pizza cutter or kitchen shears, cut the paper in half. Cut the sheets into 2 inch strips and roll up. Store in an airtight container.  Obviously, don't eat the parchment - peel the fruit off.


Friday, August 15, 2014

What are your personal cleaning habits?

Every couple of years I like to ask these personal hygiene questions since I'm always curious to see the answers. I do this because there is such a huge focus in our culture on bathing and bath products and sterilizing everything that I wonder how much that advertising infects our consciousness. And our pocketbooks.

One thing that always sticks in my mind is the commercials from the late 1970s for Mitchum antiperspirant. The ad's tagline was "so effective, you can even skip a day." Back then, the concept of not showering everyday wasn't such a big deal.

Well, there's no way in hell you'd see the same sort of ad campaign today. What has changed in the last 30 years that people are so averse to appearing not up to bathing "standards"? That is: showering, shaving, shampooing and getting all gussied up every single day?

So, with that in mind...

What are your personal cleaning habits?

1. How often do you shower/bathe?
2. How often do you wash your hair?
3. How often do you brush your teeth?
4. How often do you floss?
5. Do you use "natural" body cleansing products or conventional ones?
6. Do you use deodorant, antiperspirant or something else?
7. If you shave, how often do you shave?
8. Have any of these habits changed as you've tried to live a greener lifestyle? If so, which ones and how?
9. Where do you live?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Big Foot Peed on my Tent

Caught in the act. Sort of.
I've had our 4 person tent set up in the backyard because the kids like to camp out back. And, since we haven't been able to go actual camping due to health issues, this is as good as it's going to get for a while. It's been up for about a month and we've slept in it, oh, once. Mostly because our neighborhood is super noisy. Something I didn't actually realize until, well, I slept outside. So, my motivation for suggesting camping out back these days is low.

Since my son, Henry, has a bunch of stuff out in the tent that he doesn't want to put away, I find that when I have the least bit of an inkling to pack it up, I realize it's more of an effort than I feel like doing at the time. Plus, I keep thinking, "Hey! We should sleep in the tent!" In other words, we are trapped in the ninth ring of backyard camping hell.

The other evening I was sitting in the backyard trying to unknot a skein of yarn while my son was chasing the chickens around the yard, when he mentioned that there was pee on the tent's rain fly. I figured Paco, our urban farm Chihuahua, had decided to season the back end of the tent as a result of his frustration at not being able to get into the tent and snuggle in Henry's sleeping bag due to his lack of opposable thumbs and all those confounded zippers.

I also considered that perhaps it was one of the evil neighborhood cats who also like to deposit delectable kitty gifts for Paco to enjoy. And, by enjoy, I mean smear its creamy goodness all over his neck and back, rendering my dog stink tolerance to shut down like a fainting goat on the 4th of July.

So, while I was scraping up chicken poop after their romp in the yard so Paco didn't roll in that equally delightful mess, I noticed the pee spot that Henry had alluded to earlier. Except that it wasn't a pee spot from anything shorter than a 7 foot tall animal.

There's no way a 10 pound dog could have peed up that high, nor a cat. Unless, of course, the cat jumped 8 feet in the air, threw out a roundhouse side kick, suspended itself in the air, and peed on the side of the tent. A little too much Matrix choreography required, methinks.

The only real possible conclusion, of course, was that our local, Cascadian big foot, aka Sasquatch, had visited our yard in the middle of the night and peed on the side of the tent. It certainly couldn't have been a pee loaded NSA drone sent to fertilize my plants and misfired.

I guess I'll never know the truth, and the mystery that is Big Foot lives on.

Image courtesy of here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cold Antler Farm winner!

Congratulations to Krissie of the blog, Crazy Cats Recipe World!

You are the winner of the book, Cold Antler Farm: A Memoir of Growing Food and Celebrating Life on a Scrappy Six-Acre Homestead. I'll be sending you an email!

Thanks to everyone else who participated in the giveaway.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Using Lemon for Deodorant

Of all the personal care products that I've switched out for organic, all natural or otherwise inert options, antiperspirant/deodorant is the one product that I just can't make the switch.

I've tried countless natural deodorants (they didn't really work or irritated my skin), made my own (definitely irritated my skin) and always ended up back with the nasty aluminum based antiperspirant. It was the only thing that kept the stink at bay. Unfortunately, it also seemed that the more I used it, the more I relied on it to combat the stank.

I've been reading a lot lately about the human skin microbiome and how, with all this washing and scrubbing and antibacterialing, we've completely offset the balance in our skin. The "good" bacteria gets disturbed, allowing the "bad" bacteria to run amok. For the last month, I've only used soap on the more critical areas - pits and bits. Not only does this keep my skin from drying out, but I'm hoping it is also allowing my skin bacteria to return to its preferred external homeostatis. I'll write more about this later (I'm doing another experiment there), but back to the pits.

Anyway, a reader on Facebook (thanks Brenda!) recommended using lemon slices as deodorant and there seem to be many people it's worked well for. It's one of the few things I haven't yet tried. Rubbing alcohol or vodka is the only other one I haven't tried, but I'm afraid they're too drying and it seems like they would really wallop skin bacteria in a bad way. However, maybe that's what's needed. But, I digress.

So, starting today, I'm going to use lemon slices for deodorant for a week and will report back and let you know how it's going. I'm giving it a week mainly because I suspect there will be some residual benefit of the commercial antiperspirant for at least a few days. Hopefully, if it fails, peak stink won't occur until the weekend, when I'm not at work.

What's your favorite non-commercial (non-antiperspirant) method to not repel the rest of humanity?

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