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Archive for May, 2012

Getting Caught Up

Well, we started our garden in March.  I was so proud of myself for getting those potatoes and onions in the ground!  In the past, I’ve always been lucky to get a garden in by Memorial Day, let alone to plan ahead enough for March!

For the most part, our April was warmer than usual, so near the end of the month, I thought I’d get a first phase of beans planted. I was feeling pretty good about myself and this year’s garden… then came the month of May!

Between being swamped at our dog grooming business, the husband helping his dad with their concrete business, and living our carnie life of selling Italian Ice on weekends, we have been lucky just to survive the month of May.  Add in 3 of the boys playing baseball, and it’s just been ridiculous (but fun)!

We unexpectedly got part of this past weekend off, so we put those days to use by pitching in as a family to get the outside chores done.  A few “befores” of the landscaping:

And, as embarrassing as it is… a “before” of the garden:

Yes folks, those are all weeds!  #1 and the husband worked on the front of the house, while I worked on re-potting all of my tomato and pepper plants.  I’m trying them in containers this year, as I obviously don’t have much time to weed them… we’ll see how it goes!

And (drum roll please!) here are the “after” shots…

The husband and #1 got a lot of the front landscaping done, the husband tilled the weeds from the garden for me (love that guy!), and I was able to plant more beans, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, and spinach.  I considered our day of hard work a success!  Even though we got started early, it was hot and very humid.  The little boys lucked out… they got to play in the water because #1 had to do their work in addition to his own (he was complaining about his mean parents making him work on one of his days off from school)!

Of course I NEVER complained of such things when I was his age…. (me, my sisters, and dad in front of our “jungle garden” when I was younger!)

Now, if only I can stay caught up through the rest of the summer!  How do you stay caught up with your gardening during the busy summer months?

 

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The Food Diet

I spoke to a young woman today who was on, let me see if I can remember this, a “High Protein, High Fiber” diet. (Ah. A quick google search indicates that this, apparently is the Livestrong diet.) As restrictive diets go, it’s not too bad. The list of foods is deep and flavorful, and introduces people to important concepts like “whole” and “fresh.”

But it’s a Diet Capital D, and if we know one thing about Diets, it’s that no one sticks to them.

So I am introducing my own special diet. This diet requires zero will power, and you don’t need an expert to tell you how to follow it. I expect to turn up on Oprah and Tyra, and I’m working on the brand image.

It’s called the Food Diet. And what you eat, get ready, is….

Food.

The Would-Michael-Pollan-Or-Your-Great-Grandmother-Recognize-This-As-Food type of food:

Fruit, in the original packaging (i.e. its own rind)
Bread (from the bakery, please, and made today)
Eggs
Butter
Meat (and yes, including Chicken skin, pork chitlins, and marbling.)
Rice
Noodles
Sweets (you heard me)
Snacks (Yes, snacks. Do I look like the type of person who would skip the snacks?)

If it comes in a bag with a lot of writing on it, it’s probably not food. If you can’t combine it with a couple other things to make a third thing it’s probably not food (for instance flour+sugar+eggs+butter=cookies. Try doing that with Flaming Hot Cheetos.). Anything in a box (with a lot of writing on it) that you combine with water or milk to make a third thing is probably not food (for instance, instant potatoes).

For that matter, if it says “instant” it’s not food. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what is meant by “instant oatmeal.” Not sure how much more instant you get than just regular oatmeal. What are they doing to that stuff that it needs to be labeled “instant?” I’m thinking of starting my own brand of Instant Fruit! (Xanstant Fruit, maybe?) It looks like, um, fruit. Just add chewing.

If it’s in a superfluous package, it’s not food (think McDonald’s apples). Any meal product (as opposed to snack or dessert) that lists sugar or high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient is not food. (For instant, major-label bread.)

You get the idea. You don’t need a list of “acceptable” foods. When you’re on the Food Diet, if it’s food, by the above definition, then you can eat it.

The best thing about this diet is that it means you can eat anything. Potato chips (provided they’re made from sliced potatoes, and cooked in oil.) Popcorn (just throw popcorn in any paper bag, and zap it for under 2 minutes–sorry Orville, ALL popcorn is microwave popcorn). Cookies. Fried chicken. Spaghetti.

As always, eat with moderation. Take time to prepare it. No eating standing up.

That’s it. Tell Oprah she can call my agent.

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Sunday Photos: Brown

Brown is the color of the earth and is associated with things that are organic and natural. Brown can bring feelings of wholeness and stability, even dependability.

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While I take a look around outside there are many browns. Some organic and natural, others from lack of rain and rather depressing. Inside there are a lot of browns too; bookshelves, wood floor and kitchen cabinets. Stop by Sincerely, Emily to see more “brown” photos today.

Incredible details on my loofah shell

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When you’re putting in 5 community gardens, brown is the color of building. Here’s the browns in Xan’s world right now:

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How do you feel about brown?

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Two weeks ago I did a post on making ginger mojitos using homemade ginger beer…. I should have started with a post on how to make the ginger beer followed by a post about making ginger mojitos.  Well, this is a bit out of order, but here it is…

I my younger days I was one of those gals that always had a diet soda in my hand. In my late 30’s I limited my consumption to 1-a-day, like that was a good thing. “Good” really isn’t the right word, it was at least better than several cans a day, but there came a point as I learned about the harmful affects of aspartame and other ingredients where I stopped drinking soda and needed to look for other more healthy alternatives.  There were a few other things that motivated me to make the switch. I was starting to simplify things in the kitchen by getting away from boxed and pre-package food. Making my own beverages just fit right into that plan and at that point everything just came together. I have been making ginger beer for about 3 years now and haven’t looked back.

I didn’t “invent” ginger beer, nor am I the first to talk about it in the blogging world. What really caught my attention (along with the money I would save and it being a healthier option) is it is a naturally fermented drink that is full of beneficial enzymes that are good for your digestive system and all around good health.

There are only a few  ingredients you need to get started.

  • Ginger – either ground ginger or fresh ginger
  • Sugar – I use organic sugar (use what ever works for you)
  • Water – filtered. If unfiltered, let sit for 24 before using
  • A few Golden Raisins (also known as sultanas)
  • A small pinch of dry yeast (optional)
  • Lemon Juice (need towards the end in 7 days)
  • Cheesecloth or butter muslin – something to cover jar and also to strain it later.

Start with a quart canning jar (any glass jar will work) and fill it with 10 ounces of water. *Add a spoon full of sugar and a spoon full of ginger… what is a spoon full? For me, it is the cereal spoon out of the kitchen silverware drawer. Roughly, it is about 1 -1 1/2 tsp. Stir your liquid really really well. You want the sugar to dissolve and the ginger (if using ground) to break up. This is the point where you can add a pinch of yeast to speed up the process, or leave out the yeast and let the natural wild yeast in the air do its job. You will only add this pinch of yeast once. This is also the point where you would add a few golden raisins. I did this when I first started making ginger beer. There is wild yeast on the outside of the raisins that helps with this process. It is funny, I had forgotten about the raisins all together until I dug out my recipe to read it over to write this post and realize that I have not used the raisins in quite a while.

Cover your jar with a tightly woven cloth. This could be cheese cloth, butter muslin or in my case an old nylon stocking (it was brand new, never worn, but I did wash it before I put it into kitchen duty.) When I initially started making ginger beer I used cheese cloth, but the holes were just too big and I had fruit flies in my ginger mixture! UGH! Even doubled, the cheesecloth wasn’t enough for those nasty little flies. That is when the nylon came into play. It works. You will have to find out what works for you and if you have fruit/vinegar fly issues, you may need to secure your cloth with a rubber band.

*Repeat this for the next 6 days (7 days total) – add sugar and ginger and stir.

I label my jar with the day I am going to strain the mixture

After a few days, you will begin to notice little bubble forming at the top of the liquid along the edge. This is great! It’s working! You may even notice some volcanic activity at the bottom of the jar. As the enzymes eat the sugar it is turned into carbon dioxide. And it is a cool little science experiment going on in your jar. In my area, I will get the bubble forming in a few days, but won’t notice any volcanic eruptions until around day 4 and 5. They are pretty amazing and fun to watch. If you have kids, they will get a kick out of that part. I keep showing it to our cats, but they really aren’t interested.

On day 8, you are going to strain your liquid. You can keep the ground ginger mixture to start another plant, or toss it in the compost. If you use it again, you still need to add sugar and ginger each day, but your next batch of ginger beer will have a deeper flavor. It’s up to you.

I use my nylon for the straining part – you can use what ever works for you. The reason for using a fine strainer or tightly woven fabric/towel is that you are trying to keep as much of the ginger mixture out of your final drink for a clearer beverage. It never works that way for me and I really don’t mind if my ginger beer has sediment at the bottom or not.

Once you have strained your liquid you want to add the juice from two lemons. Yup, lemons come in all shapes and sizes. You are looking for around ¼ – ½ cup of lemon juice.

Take 3 cups of sugar and dissolve it in 20 cups of water. I used to use 3 plastic 2-liter bottles I had and divided the water/sugar up equally between 3 bottles. The 2-liter plastic soda bottles worked great. I put a mark on the side of each bottle for the water measurement and then added 1 cup of sugar in each bottle. As I have moved away from plastic I have been experimenting with glass and will share more on that later.

Once your water/sugar is dissolved pour in your ginger mixture dividing it equally between your bottles. Lightly cap your bottles. You are almost done…

You will need to let your capped bottles sit out on the counter for a few more days. They will continue to ferment and build up natural carbonation. In the cooler winter months, that takes a little long for me because our house is kept rather cool, but in the summertime, 1-2 days is all I need. There is no way of knowing how much carbonation will develop. Each day I squeeze my bottles to see how they are doing. If they are firm, I need to release some of that carbonation that is building up, if not, I let them sit a bit more. Even though they are from the same batch, keep in mind that each bottle will be different. Now that I am experimenting with glass, it gets a bit tricky. If too much pressure builds up you can wind up with a shattered bottle. I don’t care to experience that on the counter or inside the refrigerator, so I tend to release the gas a few times a day to be on the safe side. I would like to try using a cork that is lightly inserted in the bottle. I figure if the gasses build up too much, then the cork will pop. Not sure, just a thought and I need to find some corks that will fit my bottles.

After a few days you can put your ginger beer into the refrigerator. It will slow down the fermentation process, but it will not completely stop it. The longer it sits and ferments, to more the alcohol content goes up. I never brew ours with the intention of making an alcoholic drink and it never lasts that long around our house anyway. Also, the longer it sits the more carbonation builds up. Beware: just because your bottle doesn’t feel full and tight, when you take it out of the refrigerator, doesn’t mean that it isn’t carbonated. There have been a few times where there is a delayed reaction and as I uncap bottle and start to pour – BAM – geyser. This leads to a very sticky mess to clean up, but it is amazing when it happens.

You can see a little volcano eruption at the bottle of the jar.

Enjoy your ginger beer over ice or at room temperature.

According to wikipedia, ginger beer originated in England in the mid-18th century and reached the peak of its popularity in the early 20th century. I would guess that over the past decade it has gained popularity again through blogs on the internet as people want to learn more about how to make things at home that are healthier options as well as less expensive. I have been thrilled to learn how to make a lot of things at home. I know exactly what ingredients are in each thing and know they are healthier options that what I used to purchase in the stores. Ginger beer is just another item I am happy to make on my own.

Just a few things you can make on your own:

For some other homemade soda recipes, check out Jennifer’s post from July of 2012 here at NDIN on making soda pop.

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

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Chicago’s motto is Urbs in horto:  City in a garden.

And flowers are nice. I love the gardens that our city has shoe-horned into every nook and cranny. I love that they give away a million tulip bulbs every year after the bloom is done. I love our world-class park system.

But imagine a city that remembers that gardens do not mean flowers alone. Imagine a city that integrates food production within the existing urban fabric. Cafe lined streets on which restaurants grow the food that they serve to patrons. Homes with window boxes filled with Swiss chard and cherry tomatoes instead of petunias and ivy. Office buildings that eschew tulip beds on favor of tomato-filled planters, where employees pick their lunch, instead of picking up their lunch. Imagine city governments that rewrite codes to make it easy for unused land to be used for temporary community gardens. Imagine suburban city councils and home owners associations that see the beauty in an eggplant and let people plant them wherever the sun is, be it front yard or back.

Imagine Urbs in villam. City in a farm.

Today, people in urban areas don’t know how to grow food, but during WW2 Chicagoans started 500 community gardens & 75,000 home gardens. They harvested more than 2,000,000 POUNDS of food and led the nation in the Victory Gardens movement. What if we reached  back into our past to do it again—to make home and community gardening the norm. What if we created an attitude that could lead to edible plantings in every sunny yard, park, store window, work place, and empty lot in the city, private and public.

Urban dwellers in particular, and all Americans–urban, suburban, rural–cannot keep relying on remote, even overseas, sources for our food. It costs too much in personal, economic and planetary health. It divides us from our very DNA, which evolved for us to be farmers and gatherers. Urbs in villam has planters full of tulips down one side of the street, and planters full of tomatoes down the other. By seizing opportunities like the economic crisis that halted construction, leaving lots empty, we can integrate food production into spaces that we already have.

The key is to educate our citizens about how easy it can be to grow our own food, where we live and eat it.

What is your community doing to bring food production home?

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Sunday Photos: Red

Red has been associated with prosperity and joy. Red is also connected to passion and love. In Chinese tradition, it’s the color of luck. Brides wear it, and birthday money comes in little red envelopes.

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I have one garden area dedicated to reds and oranges. The funny thing about the two photos I am sharing is that neither of them are from plants in my garden… they are from my neighbors gardens. I have more red photos posted over at Sincerely, Emily today.

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Under the eaves at Xan’s house

On the table

In the belly!

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Here at Chiot’s Run I don’t have many red flowers because I’m not a big fan of them. I lean more towards purple, white and green. As an edible gardener, I do have lots of red tomatoes showing themselves in the garden come late August and September.

And who can resist a big bowl of red strawberries plucked perfectly ripe from the back garden? We always enjoy them in strawberry shortcake, a crumbly lightly sweetened biscuit topped with sliced strawberries and drowned with fresh raw milk from the farm. Here’s my recipe for Strawberry Shortcake.


Of course I have to mention the Red Ethel Gloves, though sadly they’re no longer available (though many other colors/styles are). Sadly, my red pair is just about worn out and ready to be retired for good.

I do have an All Things Red set over on my Flickr Photostream.

What does red mean to you?

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My contribution to ye olde NDIN blog this week is a re-post from my blog, Pocket Pause. I decided that after drooling over these butter photos on Wednesday, i’d like to do some more drooling on Friday. Forgive me. – Miranda

Butter was given a bad name years ago, replaced with man-made margarine packaged in wasteful plastic tubs full of heart attack causing ‘frankenfood’ with fewer calories. To be completely honest, i kind a like margarine. It’s salty. You know what is also salty? Homemade butter blended with SALT.

As you probably know, many of the authors here at Not Dabbling are advocates for drinking raw milk. I prefer raw goat’s milk, which is why we’ll be raising miniature Nubian goats, but also enjoy raw Jersey milk and belong to a local co-op who supports a young farmer with her 2 cows. I realize that the ‘raw milk debate’ is a ‘thing’ these days, but i’m not afraid to say that i prefer raw milk, can digest it MUCH easier than pasteurized milk, and it is my opinion that the enzymes and other goodies found in raw milk are important and worth whatever ‘risk’ there may be in skipping pasteurization. It’s all about the handling, folks! Raw milk is also known as “cream line” milk because the cream rises to the surface. I skim off this cream to make butter, and to leave my drinking milk at a lower butter fat percentage, closer to 2% milk. Whole milk is delicious, but i don’t think my waistline needs to be ingesting that on a regular basis. ;)

I encourage you to visit this website, as well as some of the sources they reference at the bottom. The entire article is wonderful, but here is the cheat-sheet “20 reasons butter is good for you,” which is worth a Pin, if you ask me. ;)

  1. Butter is rich in the most easily absorbable form of Vitamin A necessary for thyroid and adrenal health.
  2. Contains lauric acid, important in treating fungal infections and candida.
  3. Contains lecithin, essential for cholesterol metabolism.
  4. Contains anti-oxidants that protect against free radical damage.
  5. Has anti-oxidants that protect against weakening arteries.
  6. Is a great source of Vitamins E and K.
  7. Is a very rich source of the vital mineral selenium.
  8. Saturated fats in butter have strong anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
  9. Butter contains conjugated linoleic acid, which is a potent anti-cancer agent, muscle builder, and immunity booster
  10. Vitamin D found in butter is essential to absorption of calcium.
  11. Protects against tooth decay.
  12. Is your only source of an anti-stiffness factor, which protects against calcification of the joints.
  13. Anti-stiffness factor in butter also prevents hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and calcification of the pineal gland.
  14. Is a source of Activator X, which helps your body absorb minerals.
  15. Is a source of iodine in highly absorbable form.
  16. May promote fertility in women.9
  17. Is a source of quick energy, and is not stored in our bodies adipose tissue.
  18. Cholesterol found in butterfat is essential to children’s brain and nervous system development.
  19. Contains Arachidonic Acid (AA) which plays a role in brain function and is a vital component of cell membranes.
  20. Protects against gastrointestinal infections in the very young or the elderly.

Those are some great reasons to eat butter! So, let’s make some! (If you don’t have access to raw milk, pick up some organic cream instead.)

Homemade Butter

First you must separate the cream from the milk. Skimming the cream was difficult when i purchased my raw milk in regular milk gallons. Luckily, my local farmer sells her milk in wide mouthed half gallon mason jars. We bring in a jar as a ‘deposit’ when purchasing the milk. I have a handy little spoon (the type that looks like a mini ladle) that i use to carefully scoop out the heavy cream into another large mason jar, or in this case a food processor. Making butter is easy: all it takes is agitation. When making butter with the cream from a half gallon, i usually do it “by hand” in a large jar: shake shake shake shake. This batch was rather large, however so i saved time and sore muscles by agitating in a food processor. Easy. Though, i always have a hard time not just stopping at whipped cream. ;)

As you agitate the cream it will slowly begin to thicken, turn to whipped cream, then begin to separate. Once you get chunks of butter suspended in a milky liquid (buttermilk!), stop and move the operation into a quart jar. Carefully pour out the buttermilk (and use for baking and other recipes) and replace with super cold water. Shake, pour off, pour on cold water, repeat until the water runs clean. Place the butter into a bowl along with a pinch of salt and press any residual water out with a wide spoon. You can leave your butter salt-free, but the salt will help to preserve it, and i personally love the flavor. To store my butter, i pressed it into ice cube trays and covered them with wax paper and froze them. Now i have perfect little butter loaves: one in the fridge, the rest in a ziplock in the freezer. You can further preserve butter by making ghee.

I had a delicious piece of toast with a thin slice of melting homemade butter on it this morning, as did my husband. In his words: “man, this is delicious with your butter on it.” Yes it was. Go make some butter! It’s fun to do with kids, and it’s nutritious and good for you. Love margarine too much? Add some salt and maybe some other spices while you press out the water, and do yourself a favor: scrape out the cancer-spread and re-use the tubs for holding buttons or something.

How about you? What’s your stand on the “raw debate?”

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