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, December 31, 2012

Top 5 Posts of 2012

Stealing the idea from the Lazy Homesteader, I thought I'd do a post! I know, shocker. Anyway, here are the Top 5 Posts of 2012 (from all of a few months I posted):

1. Most popular post from 2012: Top 10 Urban Farming Books. Since this post, there has been a veritable avalanche of urban homesteading-like resources out there, but these are some classics.

2. Most viewed post of the year: The Skinny vs. Curvy Ideal. Coming in at over 30,000 views, this post keeps them coming.

3. Most commented on post: The Life of your DivaCup. Talking about vaginas is always a crowd pleaser. 15,000 vaginas, er viewers, can't be wrong.

4. Best food post of 2012: How to Make Maple Brown Sugar Cured Bacon. Using our pig share's pork belly, this was the best bacon. Ever.

5. Most controversial post: The Letting the Wolves Howl series on wolf poaching. This caused a serious ruckus on Facebook.

If you like these sorts of round-ups you can check out the Top 5 Posts of 2011.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Courvoisier Applesauce

A couple people on Facebook were asking for this recipe and I figured it was just easier to post on my blog. So here we go....

First of all, I have to state for the record that I actually do not like applesauce. Of course, I grew up on industrial applesauce where there's no flavor, the texture is gritty and it has a metallic, off-taste to it. It's something I generally avoid.

This recipe, however, has cured me of my aversion to applesauce. It's like chunky apple pie and the taste is out of this world. It blame the cognac.

Basically, you throw everything into the pot and cook it until it breaks down (unless instructed otherwise). If you leave the skins on reddish apples, it will give the applesauce a nice pinkish hue (you can retrieve the skin once the apples break down).  I like my applesauce chunky, so I just use a potato masher when everything softens up, I just take out the vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks first. If you like your applesauce more smooth, use a food mill. When it's the consistency you like, add the lemon and cognac. Cooking time will vary depending on the type of apple you use.

Ingredients
4 pounds apples quartered, unpeeled and cored
scant 1/4 cup granulated sugar
generous pinch kosher salt
1 cup water or apple cider (+ more to keep it from scalding)

1 vanilla bean, cut open — cook with apples and remove prior to mashing
2 cinnamon sticks — cook with apples and remove prior to mashing
1 teaspoon lemon zest —  stir into finished applesauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice —  stir into finished applesauce
1/3 cup Courvoisier, or other cognac or brandy — stir into finished applesauce, cooking for an additional 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol

If you want to can this applesauce, follow basic canning rules and water bath can for 20 minutes (quart) or 15 minutes (pint or smaller). This recipe makes about 3.5 quarts of applesauce.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Letting the Wolves Howl: Part 5

This 5 part series, Letting the Wolves Howl, covers the poaching of an endangered grey wolf in Washington State in 2008.

Here are the links for:
Part 1: Poaching the Pack
Part 2: Hunting Down the Killers
Part 3: How to Skin a Wolf
Part 4: Not Just the Wolves
Part 5: The Sentencing and the
backstory.

The Sentencing

When Bill White was indicted for wolf poaching in June 2011, he faced nine felony counts, including conspiracy and obstruction charges. If he were convicted, the combined charges could have resulted in decades in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. If Tom White were convicted, he faced up to eight years in prison. Erin White’s conviction could have led to more than ten years jail time.

The White's trial didn't occur until 2012 and the convictions (after plea bargaining) were as follows:

  • Tom and his wife Erin agreed to pay $35,000 in fines
  • Bill White received six months of home detention
  • Tom White received three months of home detention
  • State charges on other wildlife related crimes remain pending

Since the Lookout Pack wolves first returned to Washington State in 2008, the skinned carcass of a gray wolf was found dumped by the roadside in neighboring Skagit County, with a bullet hole in it. In 2010, the pack’s breeding female disappeared under suspicious circumstances, her radio collar mysteriously going silent. In 2008, the poaching of a young wolf was discovered and, over the years, other members of the Lookout Pack had disappeared, their bodies never found. By 2011, of the original nine members, only one adult male and one or two sub-adults remained, dispersed throughout the area, the pack no longer together.

As of 2012, biologists say the Lookout Mountain pack appears to be reforming. They also said another eight packs are believed to either exist or are developing in the state.

For more information on reducing poaching in Washington state, visit Conservation Northwest and to read their statement on the sentencing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Letting the Wolves Howl - Part 4

This 5 part series, Letting the Wolves Howl, covers the poaching of an endangered grey wolf in Washington State in 2008.

Here are the links for:
Part 1: Poaching the Pack
Part 2: Hunting Down the Killers
Part 3: How to Skin a Wolf
Part 4: Not Just the Wolves and the
backstory.

Not Just the Wolves

Upon further questioning, Bill then stated that he did, in fact, know about Tom’s killing of the wolf and admitted that he had lied to the agents earlier. He admitted that his son had come to him for Brausen’s address. He also admitted that he had asked Ralph the previous year about shipping pelts, but Bill denied any involvement with Tom and Erin in this particular incident and didn’t know that they had actually tried to ship the pelt.

At that point, the agents explained they would be continuing with the warrant, authorizing the seizure of their computer to look for correspondence with Ralph Brausen. Bill was also asked if he had any emails or photos on his computer in reference to the killing or shipping of wolves and he insisted there were none.

However, in addition to photographs of illegal treeing and hunting of bobcats and mountain lions, WDFW agents found several incriminating photos related to the wolf death on Bill White’s computer. In the photos, Tom White is shown holding a dead gray wolf in the woods (see above photo). Two of the photos show a severely injured left front paw that is consistent with a trap injury. The background of the photos showed heavily torn up ground and vegetation that is indicative of a trapped animal trying to free itself. There was no sign of a fence nor was any fence wire visible in any of the photos. On the ground there was a camouflage backpack with an unzipped padded rifle case lying on top. The lack of fencing and the injury to the wolf’s paw ran contrary to Tom White’s story about it being caught in a fence.

Emails found on Bill’s computer from 2008 stated that he and others were hunting three wolves near his home. In addition, in January, 2009, Bill White sent an email claiming he and others had shot two wolves in a group of nine and, later, one wolf in a group of three. It was unclear whether or not they had shot three more wolves or three total during that timeframe.

The indictment against Bill White, which didn’t occur until June 2011, also alleged that he had illegally applied pesticides in a manner intended to kill wolves. In the indictment, Bill faced nine felony counts, including conspiracy and obstruction charges. If he is convicted, the combined charges could result in decades in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. If Tom White is convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison. Erin White’s conviction could lead to more than ten years jail time.


Next installment: The Sentencing

Monday, August 13, 2012

Letting the Wolves Howl - Part 3

This 5 part series, Letting the Wolves Howl, covers the poaching of an endangered grey wolf in Washington State in 2008.

Here are the links for:
Part 1: Poaching the Pack
Part 2: Hunting Down the Killers
Part 3: How to Skin a Wolf and the
backstory.

How to Skin a Wolf

Skinning a wolf is a delicate and difficult process that usually is done inside an outbuilding or a shed to make sure that no damage occurs to the hide during the skinning process. Tissues, sinew, hair and blood are usually left behind as remnants of the skinning process and can be found on the floors, tables, knives and saws that were used. These tissues contain DNA, which can be used to match the tissue to a specific animal and species of animal. The DNA in these tissues remains intact for long periods of time especially in a cold, dry environment like that found in the area near Twisp, WA. A trained forensic scientist can extract DNA from these tissues even after they have been imbedded in tools and surfaces for a long period of time.

Trappers and hunters usually take photos or videos of themselves with their kills as evidence of their prowess. This is no different when it comes to endangered animals. This photographic evidence can be found in photo albums, on videotapes, in undeveloped film negatives, on memory cards, computer disks, CDs, DVDs and computer hard drives. Hunters routinely keep the hides, skulls and claws of the animals they have killed, storing them in freezers, sheds or displaying them in the home as trophies. Many trappers and hunters will keep records, invoices, notes, letters, calendars, telephone numbers and addresses in order to document where, when and how their trophies were taken. If they are sold or transported, that information is kept as well.

On February 25, 2009, WDFW Special Agent Corky Roberts arrived at William White’s house to present the federal search warrant. At the same time, other agents went to Tom White’s residence with a similar warrant. William White explicitly waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak to the agents. He claimed he had no idea what they were talking about and stated that Erin White was in big trouble if she was trying to ship a wolf pelt. William’s wife, Suellen, was agitated during the interview, claiming they were being set up by the Forest Service for denying their employees access to the White’s property to look for wolves. She was also agitated at the idea of the agents taking their computer for evidence, claiming she desperately needed it for job hunting purposes.

Meanwhile, over at his son’s residence, Tom White had confessed to WDFW agents to killing the wolf and having his wife attempt to ship the wolf pelt. Tom claimed that he found the wolf caught in a fence and had to kill it in order to get it out. When William White was told of his son’s admission, he appeared oddly unphased, showing no surprise, as if he already knew about it.

During the interview with William White, Agent Roberts had stepped out to receive a phone call. The Canadian officers who had interviewed Ralph Brausen in Alberta stated that Ralph had admitted to talking with Bill White about a phone call he received from a police department about the package and wanted to know what was going on. Mr. Brausen also admitted that he had spoken with Bill in the previous year regarding the hunting of wolves in Alberta and whether or not he could have one tanned there if it was shipped to him in Canada.

This information ran counter to what Bill White had previously told the agents about his contact with Brausen. When questioned about this discrepancy, Bill stated that Brausen had indeed called him about the package but he said he didn’t know where or what was in it. He also added that it was the Omak Police that had called and that the package was leaking something. He denied any discussions about wolf pelt tanning and wolf hunting.


Next installment: Not Just the Wolves

Friday, August 10, 2012

Letting the Wolves Howl - Part 2

This 5 part series, Letting the Wolves Howl, covers the poaching of an endangered grey wolf in Washington State in 2008.

Here are the links for:
Part 1: Poaching the Pack
Part 2: Hunting Down the Killers and the
backstory.

Hunting Down the Killers

In late December 2008, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Special Agent Corky Roberts contacted the Alberta, Canada Department of Fish & Wildlife asking for information on Ralph Brausen, the addressee on the package that contained the bloody wolf pelt. Since you can legally kill wolves in Alberta, Canada, it is not unheard of for hunters who illegally kill wolves in one jurisdiction to ship or transport them to somewhere they can be legally taken in order for it to appear as if it had been harvested legally.

Suspecting this was the case, Agent Roberts requested Brausen’s hunting license, vehicle registration and other identifying information. The hunting license stated that Ralph had hosted a big game hunt for William White, of Washington State.

William White, a rancher who lived on Lookout Mountain Road near Twisp, WA, was the first person to successfully capture photos of wolves in Washington State using a trail camera located on or near his property. Earlier that year, White had notified the press about the images and sightings before contacting the WDFW, making it clear that he was not supportive of wolves being allowed to establish packs in Washington.

William White had a son and daughter-in-law named Tom and Erin White who resided on his property on Lookout Mountain Road. WDFW officers obtained identifying information for both of them, the DMV photo of Erin White closely resembling the woman calling herself “Allison” at the FedEx drop off in Walmart. Around the same time, officers saw a car that matched the description of Allison’s SUV and got the first 3 numbers of the license plate. They were able to track it down to a red 1999 Lincoln Navigator with the license registered to Tom White of Lookout Mountain Road in Twisp. A photo lineup was shown to the FedEx clerk and Erin was picked out of the pictures shown.

After analyzing samples from the FedEx package, forensic scientists were able to show that the wolf hide was indeed related to the wolves in the Lookout Pack. Because this poaching was in violation of both state and federal law, a search warrant was obtained for both Tom and William White’s residences for evidence in the federal investigation into the possession and attempted smuggling of an endangered gray wolf.


Next installment: How to Skin a Wolf

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Letting the Wolves Howl - Part 1

Last summer I pitched a book to my publisher regarding the delisting of wolves from the Endangered Species list in 2011. I wanted to examine the issue from both sides of the coin - from an environmental standpoint as well as from the viewpoint of hunters/ranchers and others impacted by the growing population of wolves in several states in the U.S., covering the history and ecological aspects of wolf populations.

Because of my schedule I've decided not to write this book, but wanted to share with you a little of what I researched. Please note, this is a real rough draft...

One of the more interesting stories I ran across involved the poaching of wolves in Washington state in 2008. The following excerpts (which I'll post over several days) are based on news articles, information from Conservation NW as well as the actual reports from WDFW agents.

Since their delisting, more than 500 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in Idaho and Montana alone. [Photo courtesy of Conservation NW.]


Poaching the Pack

It was mid-afternoon, just a few days before Christmas, 2008, and a large white package sitting on the FedEx counter was addressed to Ralph Brausen of Hardisty, Alberta, Canada. The woman, who was dropping off the box at the FedEx shipping outlet at the Walmart in rural Omak, Washington, claimed her name was Allison and said that she needed to get it shipped out that day. Since it was so late in the day, the clerk told her it couldn’t be done. Allison took her package and headed back out to her red SUV.

She returned later that afternoon, unsuccessful at her attempt at the local post office. Allison, who had short, wavy brown hair and was wearing a pink shirt, black pants and a maroon jacket, needed to get the package out as soon as possible. She paid her shipping bill, declaring that the box contained a rug worth $50, and left Walmart. When the FedEx driver came to pick up the package, he refused the shipment because the package was leaking what appeared to be blood.

The clerk at the shipping outlet called the Omak Police and, when they opened the box, they found the unprocessed and untanned pelt of a wolf inside. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) agents were called in to investigate. The phone number that Allison had given with the package didn’t check out so the investigators started reviewing the Walmart surveillance tapes. Allison was seen on tape carrying the white package from her red SUV in the parking lot. Based on the vehicle filmed on camera, the agents narrowed it down to a few possible car models, but beyond that they had no immediate leads on who was responsible for the poaching of one of the few wolves known to exist in Washington State.

The Lookout Pack of the Methow Valley in north-central Washington was the first wolf pack to return to Washington State since their eradication in the 1930s. First sighted in the spring and summer of 2008, this pack consisted of six wolf pups and three adults. Based on DNA testing done by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, this pack was 100% wolf and was genetically related to wolves from British Columbia or Alberta, Canada and had made their way to Washington from there.

Because gray wolves were a federally and state-listed endangered species, poaching one of the pack carried a heavy penalty. Killing a federally listed endangered animal is a federal crime and the penalty includes up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison. Because of this, in other areas of the U.S. where illegal wolf hunting occurs, the preferred method of many hunters is what they call “SSS” – shoot, shovel and shut-up. For example, in 2010, an Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings defended a charity fund-raiser titled the “.308 SSS Wolf Pack Raffle”. The first prize included a Winchester .308 rifle and a shovel. The sheriff in question claimed he was not advocating shooting federally protected wolves but that the raffle’s name stood for “safety, security and survival.” He neglected to mention the shovel.


Next installment: Hunting Down the Killers

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Weekend Link Lovin'

I thought I'd start doing a weekend post with a wrap-up of useful things that sprung up during the week. Enjoy!

1. Just because you haven't heard enough yammering about the Diva Cup, here's a review from Surviving and Thriving on Pennies. Anything that involves vaginas and contains the phrase "squat and go treasure hunting for it" deserves a read.

2. Still trying to figure out how to sow seeds indoors? Here's a quick tutorial. Plus, who can resist a blog with a banner consisting of people with overly large and out-of-proportion heads for no reason?

3. Forgot to participate in Screen Free Week (or didn't know about it)? Here are some alternatives to fill your time instead of rotting in front of the TV/computer screen.

4. If you didn't get caught up in the brouhaha about the plastic beach product, Turtlebacks, on Facebook earlier this week, now's your chance to get a primer recap from My Less Plasticky Life. I prefer to use the product as beach boobs (BB) instead. They get a lot less sandy that way. And, my enhanced bosoms won't kill real turtles because my BB, hopefully, won't get swept away in the waves. How embarrassing.

5. Feeling skunky? Getting rid of the stench of being sprayed by a skunk is a stinkin' pain. Here's a  solution that doesn't involve wasting your precious tomato juice.

That's it for now. Have a great weekend!

Friday, May 4, 2012

How connected are you?

I've been reading a few books on cyber security lately (don't ask), specifically Cyber War by Richard Clark, and it has really got me thinking about how vulnerable the peoples of the United States are against a major network failure or attack. What I'm talking about is of the information kind - meaning the Internet and everything connected to it. And I'm not just talking about web content and whether or not you can satisfy your Pinterest jonesin'.

The impact to daily 21st Century living would be intense. All our banking, payments, gas pumps, food distribution and much of our information and jobs depend on the Internet and its various parts. The Department of Defense, the NSA and other government agencies are working to protect government information and networks (and, for that matter, exploit other nation's vulnerabilities), but aren't doing much by way of protecting commerce and citizens.

Does your job rely on connectivity? How do you buy food, pay your bills, etc? Just protecting your immediate network won't matter much if the whole shebang is attacked. Even if you use cash or checks, the underlying bank systems are impacted.

Anyway, I'm just curious as to how much, if any, thought you've put into these vulnerabilities. I know we discuss a lot about getting off the grid, but unless you own your own home outright and grow your own food/stockpile it, you are impacted whether you like it or not.

For us, we use the web for online banking, we use credit cards for every purchase, we get all our entertainment from the web (Netflix, etc.), we get all our information from online (all newspapers, magazines, etc.) and our jobs are 100% dependent on it. How about you?

Finally, how vulnerable do you think we are? And how crippled would we be if attacked (say, by North Korea)?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012 Independent Publisher Book Award winner

I'm so excited! I got news today that I've won a book award.

I won a Silver in the Health/Medicine/Nutrition Category of the 2012 Independent Publishers Book Awards for my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, What You Don't Know Can Hurt You, by New Society Publisher!

Not only do I get a medal and certificate and medal stickers for putting on my book, but there's also an awards ceremony on June 4th, during BookExpo America, in New York City.

Can I get a Woohoo?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Top 5 benefits of climate change

Diane, of the blog, Big Green Purse, is hosting this month's Green Mom's Carnival on the impacts of climate change. I know all the other participants in the carnival are going to be covering the negative impacts of climate change so I thought, what the hell! Let's cover the positive points and how it benefits me, personally. Which is really what it's all about, no?

1. Carnival Cruises from Seattle to Paris going over the arctic. No pesky arctic sea summer ice to impede the non-stop fun of cruise ship style rock climbing, cabaret and the 24/7 buffet gorge. Plus, no Titanic-like surprises! I can just roll out of bed onto a ship and be in Paris tout suite! Bonjour Cap'n Stubing!

2. Beach front property. Right now our house is situated close to Puget Sound with no view. With a few meters rise in ocean levels, we're going to be sitting on a gold mine of beach front property. That, coupled with housing pressure from immigrants from the more dessicated areas of the country (I'm talking about you southwest. And southeast. And midwest.), can only mean an amazing increase in property value. Win-win!

3. Tropical weather without the vacation prices. No change of latitude will be needed for this change in attitude. Forget the crappy 10 months of dreary, wet, cold, depressing Seattle weather. All we need is a little climate change to shoot sunny skies our way. Better weather + beach front property = margarita time! Now. Who wants to party? Since all the other tropical areas will be underwater, Seattle will become the next beach vacation spot.

4. Less animals, more people. Animals suck. They use all our resources and don't contribute to the economy. They poop on our cars, wake us up with their confounded singing and other noises and make doing fun things dangerous. Like hiking and swimming. The worst thing is these dirty creatures carry diseases that make humans sick. And that's just wrong. So, less animals + more humans = better planet!

5. More zombies. Who doesn't love zombies? Zombies are loads of fun, easy to outrun and mercifully stupid. If lying out in the sun, hiking in the animal-free forest-deserts and hanging out on my beachfront property gets boring, shooting zombies will provide hours of free entertainment. Let the games begin!

Anyone want to rent a room?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Do women genetically own the bitchslap face?

A male friend of mine asked me the other day my thoughts on something he had been mulling over. He had experienced many times over the years what he described as a physical facial reaction by women that bordered on intense distaste over some really minor things.

You know it, it's the look of disgust/exasperation/worthlessness shot your way by the fairer of the species when she doesn't like something. It's the kind of look you'd expect if you just told her you ate her baby. But, in reality, you just did something like put an item in the wrong recycling bin. Or took the last spoon in the lunchroom.

Now, before you get your collective panties in a bunch, not all women do this. Just certain ones. I've known them myself and I don't quite understand how they think they can socially get away with it. I have too much respect for others to willy-nilly pull out the primate look of mean. It just doesn't communicate any message I want to send across.

We were trying to figure out why (some) women do this, yet men don't. I've never seen a man use a similar facial expression, no matter the circumstances. It reminded me of the primate facial expression charts from Ye Olde Anthropology classes I took.

I suspect women do this as a throwback to their, historically speaking, limited physical and social power. Letting you know, straight out, that she's upset about something without verbally, or physically, having to do anything beyond "the look". As in, do not even think about taking advantage of me in those bushes. Or, in modern terms, do not even think about putting that plastic in the food waste bin.

More interestingly, humans seem to share a number of similar expressions with chimpanzees and other apes, but I wonder if female chimps own the look of disgust/exasperation as well. In any case, have you experienced this yourself? Do you know men that facially react in a similar way? Or are you the queen of the bitchslap face?

Oh, and for those of you who doubt the similarities in primate behavior, I present you this:


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The life of your DivaCup

Warning: Graphic Pictures Ahead

I've been using the DivaCup for almost 5 years now. For those of you not in the know, the DivaCup is a silicone reusable menstrual cup. You slap it in, cup side upside, and empty it twice a day. And, yes, I've been using the exact same cup. Month after month. Year after bloody year.

When I first started using it, the manufacturer advertised that it would last 20+ years. Or something like that. Then they retracted that and said to replace it every year. Some legal, government standards, CYA move or other. I still think that's ridiculous. Mostly because it's perfectly usable for far longer than one year. Clearly, I've been rocking the same one for 5.

However, I have to say, maybe they have a point. You see, I've kind of lost the sheer delight of stuffing a relatively uncomfortably stiff, golf-ball sized hunk of plastic up my tender goodies. And not just for the unpleasure part. But because it, well, looks revolting. Years of being exposed to, how shall we say, menstrual bits, have stained it. So, rather than looking like a pristine, new clear-white cup like below:


it looks more like this:



Ah, I'm just kidding. This is an image of the remains of a DivaCup that went up in flames. I really couldn't bring myself to photograph my nasty old cup. I'm not that gross.

Anyway, I was wondering if any of you have the same problem as me. Dark red stained cups. Bordering on brown. Any trick to restoring its original luster? If not, I'm going to replace mine just because I'm sick of being disgusted five days a month.

Monday, February 6, 2012

NTA Book Club: Part 1 - Laying It All Out

Welcome to the first book club post for my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You! This is the first of seven posts and will cover Part 1 of the book, Laying It all Out. The format will be the same for each Monday's postings: review followed by discussion questions. If you have questions from the section outside what I'm mentioning here, feel free to ask! I'm splitting the book up into small chunks to make the book club an easy breeze rather than feel like a midterm exam. So, expect them to be short and fun!

Part 1: Laying It All Out - Review
In this section, I describe why I started looking into environmental toxins in the first place. The most compelling reasons were linked to the fact that my son was diagnosed with developmental problems on the autistic spectrum and, more alarmingly, my husband was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of blood cancer with a relatively dire prognosis.

After wondering why two of my family members were stricken with such debilitating diseases, I wondered what environmental factors beyond genetic predisposition triggered these conditions. As I did more and more research on the potential for toxins such as pesticides, solvents and other chemicals to contribute to autism and cancers, I became curious to find out what my own body burden level of toxins were.

I also started looking at my own health problems and wondering what environmental impacts could be triggering those issues. I started looking at the true risks of many of the chemicals exposures we subject ourselves to on a daily basis and looked into whether or not those exposures meant anything significant.

Ultimately, I lined up a number of chemical body burden tests to determine how I ranked in comparison to the average American. Was my body more or less exposed to toxins and, did my aversion to chemical-based products by choosing organic and "natural" products really amount to anything?

Discussion Questions
1. How concerned are you of the long-term health consequences of the chemicals you knowingly (via consumer products) and unknowingly (via background exposure) are exposed to? Do you think they amount to anything or is it just a load of paranoia?

2. All the chemicals mentioned in the book are deemed "safe" by the FDA, do you think they are safe or do you think we need far more testing done on them?

3. Do you feel like you have more and more friends and family members being stricken by diseases like cancers and autism? Do you think these are on the rise or is it just a matter of better diagnosis and reporting?

4. Do you think that organic and "natural" consumer products are safer than conventional ones?

5. Would you undergo toxin body burden testing if you had access to it and it were paid for?

Feel free to answer the discussion questions in the comments of this post, or via Facebook if you are following along from the fan page. And, if you haven't yet read the book, you are welcome to participate as well!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How to make maple brown sugar cured bacon

Tuesday night I prepared the pork belly that we got as part of our pig share using a maple brown sugar cure as described in The Urban Farmer Handbook.

It went as such:

1. Rinse and pat dry pork belly
2. Mix equal parts coarse kosher salt, dark brown sugar and maple syrup (in this case I had 8.3 pounds of pork belly so I used 1/2 cup of each ingredient)
3. Rub mix all over pork belly
4. Place into gallon Ziploc bags
5. Store in fridge for 7 days
6. Flip bags every other day to distribute cure

While I hate the idea of using plastic bags, I hate trichinosis even more. So, in spite of my apprehension, given the amount of belly I had to work with, I used 3 one-gallon bags. After the cure is complete, I'll be smoking the bacon. More posts to come to finish the job...

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the process to whet your appetite:

The Pork Belly:


The Cure:


The Meat Side:


The Skin Side:


The Finished "Product" - three gallon Ziploc bags of curing belly:


Have you ever made your own bacon from pork belly?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going in on a pig share

Monday night our pig farmer was kind enough to pick up our half of a pig share from the butcher and deliver it to our front door. I ended up sharing a whole hog with Annette Cottrell from Sustainable Eats and the author of The Urban Farm Handbook after she hooked me up with Luke Conyac of Conyac Brothers' Farmstead.

I had gone up to visit their farm a few weeks earlier to watch the hog slaughter that was masterfully done by two gentlemen from Silvana Meats who came to the farm to process the pigs.

The Conyac brothers raise a mix of Herefords, Gloucestershire Old Spots and what we got, something that is called a Bluebutt, which is a cross between a Hampshire and a Yorkshire. I had the delight of seeing all of their pigs in their natural environment as I hung out for a while post-slaughter. They run a small farm operation of less than 20 hogs, which makes for a cozy farmstead.

They raise their hogs on rotated pastureland and supplement with a local certified organic feed. As you can see in the picture above, they make quick work of the grass and shrubs, which necessitates the need to move them from one section of the farm to the next. This particular pig we got was finished on an organic grain mix of barley, oats and wheat from a nearby supplier in the Skagit Valley.

The Conyac's charge $2.75 per pound live weight and then there's the slaughter, butchering and smoking costs from Silvana Meats. In the case of my pig, the hanging weight was about 88 pounds per half (minus the head, trotters, entrails and other sundry parts).

As a result, we had delivered roughly 70 pounds of meat (which ended up being about $6.50/pound) as follows. Not a bad deal for local, organic, pastured pork raised in an ├╝ber-sustainable way:

  • 1 shoulder roast
  • 2 smoked ham roasts
  • 1 smoked picnic ham
  • 2 ham hocks
  • 5 pork loin roasts
  • 1 country style ribs
  • 1 pork spare ribs
  • 1 baby back
  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • pork belly
  • pork sausage

I spent Tuesday evening getting the pork belly prepared for a week long curing in the fridge for making bacon. I'll be doing a separate post on that, but as a teaser, here's a picture of the belly in the maple brown sugar salt cure:

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Defending Your Chickens Against the HOA

The following is a guest post from Shannon Boling. Shannon was raised in the country and now lives in the city. An aspiring urban homesteader, she spends her time planning events for teachers across California when she's not gardening, canning, crafting, cooking or chasing her chickens, dog and cats.

Shannon writes at the blog, Where is Shannon? Make sure you check it out! And, thanks to Shannon for this contribution!


Defending Your Flock Against the HOA (aka your neighbor doesn’t like your chickens)

Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having to defend my dear chickens at my neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) Board meeting. After numerous complaints from a single neighbor, my husband and I had to attend a hearing in which the fate of our chickens was in the hands of 3 unknown Board Members. Though I won’t go into about the actual specifics about my case, I did realize I had a new wealth of information to share with other folks who may be up against a similar threat. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the murky waters of HOA rules.

Tip # 1: Do your research

This may sound pretty obvious, but knowing the rules is the most important part of building a case for your chickens. Read your CCRs carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the rules about animals, think beyond the box. Have some knowledge in your back pocket.
  •   What are the proper channels one should take when filing a complaint against a neighbor? In our case, the HOA encourages neighbors to resolve issues on their own. Our neighbor never contacted us with her concerns about the noise our chickens made. Knowing that the HOA encourages neighbors to deal with issues on their own shows that she a) doesn’t know the rules, and b)if she knew them, she didn’t act upon them.
  • Find out what the proper dispute resolution sequence is (for my HOA, it was having a hearing, then mediation, then arbitration). It’s good to know what steps you’ll need to take in case they deny your case.
  • Are there height/dimension limits to any coops built in your yard? Do they need to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ houses? This is important to know. For example, if our coop was another 2 feet taller, we would have had to get approval from the HOA to build it.
  •  How much authority does the Board really have? In our case, the Board had the final say on issues – meaning one cannot get a measure put on a ballot for the neighborhood to vote on. Some HOA’s allow members to gather enough signatures to get something on the ballot (how democratic!) This is worth looking into just in case the Board decides against you – you could still get a petition going and leave the vote to the masses. 
  • Get your city and/or county’s municipal code, and be sure to include it with your materials. Many CCR’s defer to the municipal code (be sure you don’t have more chickens than you are allowed!) Thankfully for us, our city doesn’t have a restriction on the number of hens you can keep for non-commercial purposes. 
  • If your HOA is run by a management company, get to know the person that works with your Board. If they are friendly, use their knowledge of the CCRs to help build your case. This proved to be a great resource for me - I was told there was a 1987 CCR that prohibited poultry in our neighborhood (which changed in 2007). I never would have known that if I hadn’t *gently* prodded my contact. 

Tip #2: Get the support of your neighbors

I can’t stress this one enough. Thankfully in our neighborhood, everyone loves our chickens. It was really easy to pass a document around for their signature, stating that they did not believe our chickens were loud or a nuisance to the neighborhood. If you do get people to sign a document, be sure to include specific language related to the CCR’s. I used “loud” and “nuisance” because there is a rule against loud animals that are a nuisance. This allowed the Board to compare the CCRs with the support signatures apples for apples. Once you get those signatures, create a graphic that shows your house in relation to all that signed your petition. This is a great way of visually showing those who support you in your neighborhood. Finally, if you’ve got great neighbors like mine, you’ll have them come as your posse to the Board meeting. I had 5 adult neighbors (and 1 child) attend the meeting and speak in support of our chickens. Hearing this from others really showed the good impact our flock was making in the neighborhood. (Note: a carton of eggs is a great way to show your thanks)

Tip #3: What have other Associations done?

Google “HOA and Chickens” or any combination of “chickens”, “HOA”, and “CCRs”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Backyard Chickens has a few great forums with information from other chicken owners and their experiences with HOAs. I found a few promising articles and presented this information to the Board. I think it’s important to highlight that people all over the country have chickens, and there are many different ways of accommodating them in a HOA (whether that means restricting the number of chickens, or how the decision to allow chickens is made).

Tip #4: Are you willing to compromise?

On a personal note, this was the hardest part for me to come to terms with. If the Board votes no more chickens – are you ready to go to the next level (i.e. court) to keep them? Are you willing to give up a few hens to keep the neighbor(s) happy? After taking everything into consideration, I decided to pair my flock down from 6 to 3. Sure, I miss the extra eggs and the sound of a happy coop. But, because I showed the Board that I was willing to compromise, they agreed to let me keep my remaining girls. In the end – totally worth it.

Go to the meeting with confidence and your head held high – after all, you are a steward of this uncharted urban chicken-raising territory!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Products mentioned in The Non-Toxic Avenger

I've made a new page, that is available from under the banner above by clicking the tab "Products from the NTA Book", where I list many of the products that I mention in my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You. The list includes links to the products.

You can check it out here:

Products Mentioned in The Non-Toxic Avenger.

These are many of the products we have switched over to in order to reduce our exposure to chemicals. We still use all of them today.

If you have a product type that's not listed, let me know and I'll add it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hoop Houses and Urban Winter Garden Tour

I was just going to go outside yesterday and take some pictures of the many different vegetables we currently have growing in our hoop houses (as described on The Crunchy Chicken Facebook page), but I decided that I might as well make a video about it.

So, for your viewing pleasure, here's a short video of what's growing in our backyard in late January, 2012. I apologize for the weird camera smudginess at the beginning. I think our camera got some salt water spray on it from our recent trip to San Diego.



To watch the video on YouTube (if you are experiencing technical difficulties), you can see it here.

What do you have growing in your winter garden?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top 10 Urban Farming books

I wanted to create a list of essential Urban Farming books for those who are just starting out as well as for the more experienced urban farmer. I selected books that don't concentrate on just one topic (like city chickens or vegetable gardening in small spaces), but on a wide variety of topics that range from growing food to raising animals and beyond.

For those of you who live in the city (or the suburbs), I hope this helps!

1. The Urban Farm Handbook, by Annette Cottrell and Joshua McNichols: Here's my review post, this is still one of my favorites.

2. The Essential Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter: This one is on my to-read list. I read Novella's previous book, Farm City, and loved it.

3. Urban Homesteading, by Rachel Kaplan: I'll be doing a review/giveaway of this one soon.

4. Your Farm in the City, by Lisa Taylor: This book is put out by my local Seattle Tilth and I can't believe I haven't read it yet! Time to hit the library.

5. The Urban Homestead, by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen: This book covers more than you can possibly imagine and will inspire you to try new things.

6. Urban Farming, by Thomas Fox: From the makers of Urban Farming magazine (Hobby Farms).

7. Urban Agriculture, by David Tracey: I'll be doing a review/giveaway of this one as well in the upcoming weeks.

8. Mini Farming, by Brett Markham: This one is geared towards those who have 1/4 acre to work with.

9. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading, by Sundari Elizabeth Kraft: This book covers the basics as well as everything from composting to clean energy.

10. The Backyard Homestead, by Carleen Madigan: Here's a short review post - this one is geared more towards a larger amount of land than most people have in their urban/suburban backyards, but it's valuable nonetheless.

Consider yourselves warned: There be Amazon affiliate links in this post.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Non-Toxic Avenger: The Book Club!

Now that the blog book tour for my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, is wrapping up this week, I wanted to announce that I'll be hosting a book club starting in February.

It will be in the same format as most of my other book clubs: each section will start with an overview, followed by discussion questions. The only key difference is that I'm the author on this one!

Here's the tentative schedule for the book club:

2/6   Part 1: Laying It All Out
2/13   Part 2: Getting Started
2/20   Part 3: The Baseline
2/27   Part 4: Adjusting to Non-Toxic Living
3/5   Part 5: Going a Little Bonkers
3/12   Part 6: Figuring It All Out
3/19   Part 7: Wrapping It Up

You don't need to have read the book to participate, although it does help!

I've created a page on Facebook if you'd like to participate in the book club that way as well. Just head on over and "LIKE" it!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blog book tour - Week 4

This week wraps up the month long blog book tour for my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger. I'll be visiting the following blog and, as the post goes up, I'll be updating this post with the direct link. I hope that the blog tour has given you some more info about the book! I'll post a wrap-up with links to everything next week so it's in one spot.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/24/12http://www.climatemama.comBook Review

Thanks to everyone who has participated!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Blog book tour - Week 3

This week I'll be visiting the following blogs. As the posts are up I'll be letting you know the direct links. I'm hoping this will give you more information about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, as well as let the readers of the other blogs learn about it as well.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/16/12http://tippecanoegreen.blogspot.comBook Review
1/17/12http://eco-novice.com/Book Excerpt
1/18/12http://www.GroovyGreenLiving.comInterview
1/19/12http://thenonconsumeradvocate.com/Book Review
1/20/12http://www.InWomenWeTrust.comBook Excerpt

Thanks to everyone who is participating!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The smoke screen of hidden flame retardants

The following was originally posted on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families blog:

BritaxRoundaboutWhen my children were babies, their health and safety were high priorities for me as their mother. They still are. I made sure I breastfed my children as long as possible and made sure I bought them car seats with the highest safety ratings.

As a mom, I take pride in making sure that I am doing everything I can for their well being. I expect that children's products available on the market are safe and contain nothing to expose their young, growing bodies to hazardous chemicals. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

A report released on Wednesday from Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States shows that children and families are exposed to chemical flame retardants in children's products. These toxic flame retardants were found in 85% of the products tested, ranging from nursing pillows, changing pads to car seats. The most prevalent flame retardant found was chlorinated Tris (TDCPP), a chemical that was voluntarily removed from children’s pajamas in the 1970s when it was found to cause adverse health effects. In fact, California recently classified chlorinated Tris as a carcinogen, and evidence links the chemical to neurotoxicity as well as hormone disruption. It's a chemical that should not be anywhere near our children.

So, that nursing pillow from My Brest Friend that I received as a gift and used with both my kids when they were tiny? Two different kinds of toxic flame retardants. The co-sleeper my babies slept in by Arm's Reach? Five different kinds of toxic flame retardants. The Babies R Us Changing Pad that we used for at least three years? Three different kinds of toxic flame retardants. And the Graco SnugRide Infant Car Seat and Britax Roundabout car seats that got years and years of use? All contain chlorinated Tris.

To say this makes me irate is an understatement. Without research like this, how would consumers even know what kind of toxic exposures our children are being subjected to? And, furthermore, this illustrates the fact that there are probably far more undiscovered toxins lurking in the many household products that are surrounding us.

To read the rest of this post and find out how you can avoid flame retardants in your kid's products, please visit the original article here on the Safer Chemicals blog.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top 10 Homestead Goals for 2012

Erica over at Northwest Edible Life is running a giveaway of The Urban Farm Handbook and, as part of the giveaway, she's asking what the entrant's Big Urban Homesteading goal is for 2012.

Well, since I already have the book and I have a lot of goals, I decided I wanted to share them in a post. I also wanted to find out what your homesteading goals are for this year, urban or otherwise.

Here are mine (in no particular order):

Top 10 Homestead Goals for 2012

1. Double the number of chickens we have (we are getting 3 more chicks in March)
2. Go in on a pig share (done this past weekend - post to follow)
3. Add one more raised bed in the backyard (work in progress)
4. Get front yard re-landscaped to remove grass and put in edibles (March/April 2012)
5. Get started with meat rabbits (May 2012)
6. Buy some pasture land in Eastern WA (working on convincing the hubs on this one :)
7. More canning - tomato sauce and pickles, relish and, of course, jam
8. Join the Honey CSA from Urban Bee Company since we won't be hosting a hive
9. Get into goat cheese making (working with a local source)
10. Learn how to dispatch rabbits and chickens (hooking up with The Urban Farm Handbook authors Annette, for rabbits, and Joshua, for chickens)

So, what are your homesteading goals for 2012?

Pig pic from the wonderful Conyac Brothers' Farmstead in Marysville, WA.

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This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Blog book tour - Week 2

This week I'll be visiting the following blogs. As the posts are up I'll be letting you know the direct links. I'm hoping this will give you more information about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, as well as let the readers of the other blogs learn about it as well.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/9/12http://www.bestofmotherearth.comBook Review
1/11/12http://www.thegreenparent.com/Guest post
1/11/12http://blog.saferchemicals.org/Guest Post
1/12/12http://www.mindfulmomma.comBook Review
1/12/12http://www.greenokla.com/Book Review
1/13/12http://condo-blues.blogspot.com/Book Endorsements

Thanks to everyone who is participating!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Non-Toxic New Year's Resolution

Many of us make New Year's resolutions revolving around health - generally of the lose weight, exercise more and eat better kind. But few stop to think about other things that affect our health. Sure there is quitting smoking and wearing seat belts and other very valid resolutions. But what about reducing your exposure to toxins? And not just if you live near a pesticide sprayed field or a superfund site.

No, I'm talking about the toxins we are exposed to in our every day lives. Toxins like Bisphenol A (BPA) that's found in plastics, canned foods and on store receipts that cause hormone disruption. And, what about Triclosan, a potent anti-bacterial, that's found in many things from hand soaps to toothpaste and tennis shoes that can contribute to super resistant bacteria and cause a whole host of health issues not just for humans but for fish and aquatic life downstream?

I propose that this year you look at not just the amount of food and what kind you are eating when trying to be healthy, but also what you are putting on your skin and breathing in that also impacts your long term health. And, because the whole topic of toxins in consumer products can be extremely overwhelming, I recommend people focus on the following low-hanging fruit of toxins.

For this year's New Year's Resolution try this instead of or in addition to your other pledges:

1. Get rid of the anti-bacterial soaps. Nobody needs them - studies show that good hand washing is just as effective at cleaning as anti-bacterials. Avoid the ingredient: Triclosan

2. Ditch the non-stick. Start with your frying pans and work your way through your bakeware. Choose quality stainless steel, glass or cast iron instead.

3. Avoid artificial fragrances. You'll be surprised at how many products in your home contain artificial fragrances which house the chemicals phthalates, which are powerful endocrine disruptors. Avoid the ingredients: artificial fragrance or parfum.

4. Stay away from canned food. Most canned items are lined with BPA, which has been shown to cause healthy breast cells to act like cancerous ones. Make your own soup and store it in glass jars, buy dried beans and look for BPA free cans. And, while you're at it, stay away from soda cans.

5. Buy organic food. Stay away from pesticides by choosing organic foods over conventionally sprayed ones. Your body and the environment will thank you.

Are you willing to pledge to lower your toxic exposure? Which ones are you avoiding?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

30 minute mozzarella

Last weekend, my husband and I hit up The Cellar Homebrew near our place for some cheese making supplies. Since we got a cast iron pizza pan for Christmas to replace our old non-stick Teflon pizza pan, we wanted to try out making pizzas. And what better way to top our homemade pizza dough and pizza sauce I canned from last summer's tomato bonanza than by adding fresh made mozzarella?

I dusted off my old Home Cheese Making book that I've had for years (and never made anything from) and decided to actually use it. Over the years, I've been too lazy to scout out the odds and ends required to make mozzarella, opting for easy homemade cheeses instead.

Since we were busy with other things over New Year's weekend, we went with the 30 minute recipe, rather than the more traditional one. The 30 minute recipe is super easy and goes a little something like this:

1. Mix citric acid into gallon of whole milk (make sure it's not ultra pasteurized or it doesn't work)
2. Heat until warm
3. Add rennet
4. Stir and heat until 100 degrees or so - the curds will magically appear
5. Remove curds with slotted spoon
6. Microwave on high for 1 minute, drain whey and knead with spoon
7. Microwave for 35 seconds, drain whey and knead with spoon
8. Repeat #7 and knead in some cheese salt
9. Eat or store

I was flabbergasted at how easy this was and how quickly it came together. My husband was dubious about the whole process and predicted it would take me an hour and a half at least to have some form of cheese ready to go. Nay sayer, I tell you!

With the cheese all ready to go, we sliced it up and put it on the pizza. It was very good, but not exactly what I expected.

My final thoughts
It certainly wasn't like the fresh mozzarella balls we buy from our favorite market. It wasn't as creamy and looked more like a combo of fresh and the Organic Valley regular mozzarella we buy. I was hoping we would be making caprese salad like crazy, but I wouldn't use it for that. The texture is all wrong.

Would I make it again? Maybe. I think I'd rather try making the longer, more involved mozzarella recipe from the book and see how they compare.

Photographic evidence
Here are some pictures of the process for your viewing pleasure:

Right after adding in the rennet, the curds separate from the whey.


The cheese curds after removing them with a slotted spoon.


Paco, casting a spell, "You must give me all the cheese..."


Melty cheese, right out of the microwave.


The finished product. Note the cheese browned in a rather oddly brown way.



Have you tried making mozzarella? Did you do the 30 minute kind or did you go the traditional route?

This post is part of this week's Homestead Barn Hop and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blog book tour - 2012!

Hey everybody! Tomorrow kicks off my blog book tour. What's that, you ask? Well, it's like a regular book tour, but rather than travel all over the country (with a high travel carbon footprint), I'm virtually doing a book tour on people's blogs. For the most part, this tour will be three weeks long and will visit several dozen blogs.

This week I'll be visiting the following blogs. As the posts are up I'll be letting you know the direct links. I'm hoping this will give you more information about my new book, The Non-Toxic Avenger, as well as let the readers of the other blogs learn about it as well.

Tour DateBlogType of Post
1/2/12http://www.thecrunchychicken.comBook Tour Launch!
1/3/12http://eco-novice.com/Healthy Child, Healthy World Nomination and Q&A
1/3/12http://farmersdaughterct.com/Book review
1/3/12http://www.momscleanairforce.org/Guest post on clean air
1/5/12http://www.mnn.com/Book excerpt
1/6/12http://www.RetroHousewifeGoesGreen.comInterview
1/6/12http://www.strocel.com/Podcast with Amber (20 minute interview)

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