Archive for September, 2009

….otherwise entitled “Just Because The Recipe Has a French Word In It And Scary Amounts of Milkfat Doesn’t Mean You’re Julia Child”

Three ingredients. 

I’ve now achieved a personal best in the flop category and managed to botch a recipe involving only three ingredients.  Cheers!  😉

It’s probably a good thing we don’t have regular TV service or cable, or whatever higher tech thingies there are out here nowadays, because I seriously love watching cooking shows and can really lose track of time once I’m hooked.

I love seeing the personalities of the cooks and finding out new ways to make the same old ingredients into new culinary expressions.  I love seeing regional specialties, unearthing time-honored favorites, and trying to guesstimate measurements and techniques of cooks who whip together recipes by memory instead of using a cookbook.  I loved Julia Child, who never took herself too seriously.

These give me hope. 

Sometimes hope is a good thing, helping us navigate the unfamiliar.

And sometimes hope, which they say springs eternal, can get ugly.  

It’s ok.  My kitchen’s not a cooking show and my half-melted plastic chicken-shaped wind-up timer tells no tales.

But since I have the keypad handy, I can detail The Ugly in case anyone out here is under the delusion that most folks who try to make things from scratch, who love the terms Homesteading/Sufficiency/Handmade, and who have indulged in other exploits with some degree of success at times are always successful.  Sometimes they, like me, are seldom successful at certain particulars.

I remember once when the NotDabbling site solicited for reader questions, and one of the readers asked “do you guys ever make mistakes, or have any flops at the things you try?”

Ah hahahahahaha!  Around our house, the flops are considered part of life  in general, because we just can’t take things that seriously…or we’d feel constantly defeated.  And so Hope dangles that tantalizing carrot of possibility again just in front of our noses, and the journey continues.  You have to keep a sense of humor…

I can cook well enough to fend off starvation and to keep my husband from looking to other women for sympathy meals.  In fact, I’m fairly good at some things, and those have usually come with some practice.  After years of honing The Art of the Wheaten Doorstop, the stars aligned and I was  finally able to make a decent loaf of bread deemed edible …real butter slathered on much of anything straight from the oven elevates the Humble to the Eaten.  I’m pretty good at soups, baked desserts, roasts and meat dishes.  I don’t mean good as in gourmet, but there are some recipes guests have requested after meals…always a compliment!  So we won’t starve or have to rely on packaged goods too much.  And I still love to experiment.

However, there are total blind spots and black holes in my cooking abilities.   To date, I have yet to make anything custardish or involving incorporating egg into a warm liquid without ending up with curdled egg yuck.  So much for homemade banana pudding with a custard base, boiled custard with nutmeg, certain sauces, and one of my favorites…creme brulee… krem broo-layyyy, oooo-lah lah…

I know better than to inflict my egg or dairy blunders on any recipe inherently French.  I just have too much respect for their cuisine  (or maybe it’s just fun faking the accent after having had six years of French in high school and college, having traveled to all the European French-speaking countries, and nearly marrying a native French speaker…and yet remaining nearly illiterate in the language, arrgghhh :))

When I’ve Googled recipes till my stomach is growling, perused my cookbook shelf for new ideas from some of the pros, I still end up thumbing through the motley collection of Mom ‘n Pop cookbooks …the ones put out as fundraisers for colleges, churches, companies, and special causes.  Some of my friends have contributed their family recipes to these cookbooks, and I love cooking things passed down from friends.  And I love those Comfort Food fundraiser cookbooks, the sort of meals folks cooked before we knew what was happening to our arteries.  Things like chicken spaghetti are a part of my history, though the Cheez Whiz and RoTel will never likely make it into the Taste of Provence books and none of the particular ingredients are likely to remember their origins.

The other  day, I remembered a conversation from years ago in which a friend of mine, who is a really good cook, told me she makes a “mock fruit brulee” by putting a layer of green seedless grapes in a glass dish, spreading sour cream over the top, and sprinkling brown sugar over that.  Then, according to her, you refrigerate it overnight and the brown sugar forms its own sort of glaze by “melting” into the sour cream…and that’s it.  Easy Peasy!  Well, different, at least.  But this friend is noted for her great meals.


(This is exactly how I begin my downward slide…with a fragment of a memory, and available ingredients.  I should be asking myself “do I even LIKE grapes IN anything culinary??  non, non, zut alors! <—by the way, that’s not even a contemporary french phrase.  So much for expensive college classes.  But you can come by sooooo much faux french by watching Beauty and the Beast 1,235 times with one’s daughter from age two and up.  And for so much cheaper..but I digress…)

 Well, I’d never tried This Dish before today.  But today I had the ingredients, nevermind that my grapes are red rather than green, and nevermind that I could not find my friend’s recipe being duplicated by any online search I did.  Hmmm.

(tiny inner voice warning Danger, Will Robinson)

Ignore tiny inner voices.

Hope.  Springs eternal.

So here’s what happened.  No, these are not grape tomatoes.  They are grape grapes.

Ah.  So innocent, the grapes.  Come into my kitchen, said the Robbyn to the grapes...

Ah. So innocent, the grapes. Come into my kitchen, said the Robbyn to the grapes...

There.  That wasn’t hard, was it?

Next step, sour cream.

Try this step with your cardiologist present.  Much more fun!

Try this step with your cardiologist present. It's all about kitchen safety, ha

 Oh yeah, don’t forget the brown sugar.  It goes on top of the other two ingredients. 

And oh, while we’re at it, how about some cream cheese, mayo, a few sticks of real butter, and some fudge sauce?  No??  Ok, we’ll stick to lowfat then…

Now invite the endocrinologist over the join the cardiologist, and get your glucometer out.  You can become diabetic just looking at this

Now invite the endocrinologist over to join the cardiologist, and get your glucometer out. You can become diabetic just looking at this

It’s at this point, I’m either impressed at the ease of this dish, or growing surpremely wary.  I mean, when was the last time I made anything featuring grapes in the bottom of a dish, except in the 1970s when lime green jello was all the rage?  (till everyone learned it builds up in things like pancreases and spleens and to keep it on the market they’d have had to begin calling it Spleen Green?)  You know, back when Food Coloring was its own food group and we drank neon Koolaid with real sugar and rode our bicycles with wild abandon hyped up on a perpetual sugar high? (that is, other kids did…my parents were all sensible and we drank water and tea, woo)

Oh yeah, about the grapes…

I am now becoming insecure and secretely kicking myself for the potential waste of that much sour cream.  And brown sugar.  I’ve become stingy…or at least frugal…with those in the past few years as we’ve gotten really careful and are making more from scratch.  And those grapes would have been great sliced into the chicken salad, hmm. 

Sheeze… well, “what’s did is did.”  

Oh the flashbacks to Home Ec awkwardness…the days of trying to make a basic icing (with food coloring, what else?)  and having to repeatedly unpick sewing errors on a mint green dotted swiss dress I hated even in the Butterick picture.  

I soldier on.  If three ingredients qualify anything as soldiering.  My friend was so sure this easy recipe is foolproof, and good.

Next step, fridge.  And it’s a good thing…the brown sugar’s already beginning to dissolve into the sour cream…

Better get this into the fridge, pronto

Better get this into the fridge, pronto

 Fridge picture made possible by the Letter P, for Papertowel.  I didn’t have time for the Full Monte Fridge Cleaning.

Not too thrilled at this point with how this looks.  But let's give it eight hours and check back

Not too thrilled at this point with how this looks. But let's give it eight hours and check back

At this point in the procedure, I’m underwhelmed.

But Hopeful!!

I go and cook less picturesque, but entirely dependable things.  Such as dinner.  Tonight was homemade calabaza soup.  It’s total peasant fare, but my husband loves it.  Hooray for soup!

Jack's fave Cuban soup

Jack's fave Cuban soup

And then I took care of the beloved furball.  Here’s what the family canine had for dinner…

Kaleb, be glad dogs can't eat grapes...that's all I can say

Kaleb, be glad dogs can't eat grapes...that's all I can say

 Eight hours later, time for a fridge check.

There’s no photo, so I’ll just draw everyone a little word picture.  Brown melted goo escaping in a lava flow over the edge of the glass dish, making a sticky oozing Crakatoa landscape of that shelf in the fridge.  So much for procrastinating cleaning any longer.

I consult some Google recipes that are similar, which call for hardening the brown sugar  melty stuff under a broiler for about three minutes.  Convinced that a puddle of wet brown sugar is not quite the effect originally intended, I heat the broiler and have the good sense to put the dish on a cookie sheet before putting it into the oven. 

An oven check after two minutes shows it bubbly (is it supposed to be bubbly?) and resulting in a slightly thicker but still melty brown liquid.  I have a few seconds to decide its fate.   Does it need to heat up just the merest bit more?  The online advice suggested not burning it.  I put it in for one more minute.

It went into a total oven rejection, and when I pulled it out, the sour cream had slumped down unevenly over the (poor poor unsuspecting) grapes.  The brown sugar was a horrid mess.  I shoved it back into the fridge. 

I’ll deal with it later.  (cue Gone With the Wind music as Scarlett assures everyone tomorrow is another day)

Maybe sheer neglect will work wonders and it will take on the fridge interior-nuanced Terroir of green tomato relish, acidophilus yogurt, turkey stock, assorted condiments, and valencia orange juice?  And then it will have to be named something frou-frou chi-chi like Chateau Qu’est-ce Que C’est, or Specialite de la Maison Frigidaire …

It’s at this point that most people would quit, having the sense to know when to retreat and wave the white flag.  I was just ticked off at having wasted that much of my luxury pantry items stash in one lousy, ill-planned dish.   I don’t even like fruit dip.  This topping was like a fruit dip disaster.  I have no idea what I’ll do with the sour cream mess.  Here’s what it looks like….


Please thank me right now for not including the photo.  It aesthetically induces the same kind of nausea I had my first trimester when pregnant with my daughter…


So, as you can see, it’s not all about successes.

But let’s see what we learned today:

1.  Ditch the fruit goop.  Robbyn hates grapes all gooped up with other things.  Lesson learned!  Unless it’s anything resembling a cobbler or pie.  Different story altogether…

2.  I am not a From Memory person. I do well to remember my name.  I should not be trusted with “vintage recipe memories” sans written evidence.

3.  Robbyn cannot engage dairy products and heat together without curdling them to kingdom come.  But she can enrage them.  If you need a curdler, I’m your girl!

4.  One refrigerator shelf got cleaned.  Hot caramel sauce blends beautifully with SO MANY OTHER things sitting together on glass surfaces. Especially after having cooled to a bricklike density. It might be the first time a chisel has ever found a practical use there beyond the icebox.   And now for the other shelves…

5.  Robbyn should refrain from science experiments involving copious quantities of brown sugar unless they are entitled “Oatmeal Cookies,” “Molasses Walnut Cookies,” or the like.

6.  Keep feeding the man soup.  Soup erases all ills.  Equilibrium will not be breached if this one important rule is obeyed.


So, to recap, here’s the recipe:

Les Raisins Miserables

Grapes.  Lots of sour cream.  Plenty of brown sugar.  Why?   Because you can.  And it’s the only three ingredients you remember.  And you never forget.   Stick to that story, no matter what.

Layer them in a clean glass dish and put into fridge for 8 or more  hours, or until fully coating all the other contents nearby.     

Scratch head and wonder why you decided to attempt this, while preheating oven broiler and placing rack 4 inches below top of oven interior.  Place funky goop mixture dish below broiler and close oven.  Pace floor and stare at the timer.  You can set timer for anything you like because you’ll either undercook or overcook this..there is no other option.  If you opt to undercook it, remove from oven after three minutes and marvel at the wilted grapes peering up, confused, through the newly-formed curd crevasses, as brown sugar lava seeps down, down, down.

Hastily return the dish to the fridge shelf.  Be sure to do this while still very hot, so it will partially warm all the other fridge ingredients to unsafe temps in order to precipitate bacterial blooms so intrinsic to the contribution of  your own unique”terroir” (those subtle tastes from the surrounding area).  Keep it uncovered.  You know, just for fun.  Then when it takes on a special patina, take it as a surprise to the friend who gave you the recipe in the first place.  Or discard it entirely, throw all caution to the wind, and just whip up a retro batch of lime jello.

Enjoy!!  😉

Read Full Post »

Drawing a blank

Tuesday morning, up before the dawn.  Chores, cold rainy, dark.  Hot coffee in hand, contemplating the day, and mentally planning how to get the most done.  I can hear people starting to stir upstairs.  CC getting ready for work, the kids working their way to the land of the living.  I turn on the computer to get a jump on the kids school day and to check in with the world.  First thing that pops up is a reminder that I need to post on NDIN this morning.  My mind goes blank.  I’ve got nothing.  Usually I have a post already written, or at least a well developed idea in my head (I spend a lot of time having conversations with my self.)  This morning I had nothing.  When I first started writing for NDIN I was given a topic list as a guide depending on the week.  It wasn’t a hard fast rule, if I wanted to write off topic I could, but it was nice to have a topic to focus on for the week.  This week the suggestion was Craft or Hobby.  So while I drank my now tepid cup of coffee I let my mind freewheel along the craft/hobby byway.  Before long I realized that I don’t have any hobbies any more.  There are some “crafts” I do, mostly practical building and farm related stuff.  But other than that, nothing.  Once I had hobbies.  I painted, took pictures, wrote, fished, made furniture, rock climbed, and a host of other things.  Now I have kids instead.  Their projects, hobbies, and needs seem to take up all the time I used to spend on hobbies.  I guess that’s my hobby now, raising kids.  For example, this past weekend was spent camping with my son’s Webelos den.  I’m the leader, so I needed to go.  It was quite an adventure, a group of 9-year-old boys, two nights, three days, rain, cold, camp fires, hotdogs and s’mores.  Not exactly a hobby, but fun.  We got to explore relationships, respect for all living things, and basic survival.  Boys who had never camped got to sleep in a tent in a huge thunderstorm, make their own food, hike all over the scout reserve, and learn to work together.  It left me exhausted, but pleased with the results.

This coming week is the county fair.  JJ and RR are taking some of our goats.  We get to be there with the animals all week.  The goats have to be in their stalls on this coming Thursday.  My week will be spent helping the kids decorate the stalls, move the goats, and prepare everything for the coming week.  4H is great.  The kids have learned a lot and grown a lot in the program.  It is my other “hobby”

The rest of my time is spent on the farm, building and creating, making this place the haven we want it to be.  That’s my hobby too, but it’s also my job.

So, what are your hobbies?  How do you fit them in?  Has homesteading changed what you consider a hobby?

Read Full Post »

Making the best of it…

Please forgive me for not posting last Monday. We are in the section of the country that has had the extreme flooding from rains last week. As a matter of fact we ended up being “stuck” at our house because waters all around our area blocked us in. No work, no school, no driving any where. No big deal as we were very high and dry and have plenty of food stocked up —though unfortunately some of our neighbors had quite a bit of damage to their homes.

I did however get a bit of work done outside in the days after because  all this rain really softened up the soil and so that is what this post is about.

A number of years ago I decided to try the heirloom variety of asparagus named Precoce de Argenteuil. I purchased some seeds and easily started my own asparagus plants. (I highly recommend trying them if you are nervous about venturing into something other than annuals. They are extremely easy to start). I also wanted to try the variety Conovers Colossal but still haven’t gotten to it yet. The seed of that variety was difficult to locate a few years ago though I notice it is much more available now. I also grow purple passion for its fancy color but the Argenteuil is quite tasty and productive and I can’t say one or the other is my “favorite” .

Overall I am happy I went to the slight, very slight, trouble of starting asparagus from seed.

Because I grew my own asparagus from seed I did end up with both male and female plants. If you have never grown asparagus and purchase roots from a store you will get only male plants. They “pre weed” out the females. To get the most production from asparagus you are suppose to, over time, pull the female plants and leave only the males. The females put some production into setting seed and thus a bit less than into growing a larger root system. Larger roots mean more spears in the spring. Since I was not entirely sure of how many more plants I desired I have left my females to produce seeds for me. Which they have done quite nicely but not to the point of being weedy.


You can see a picture here of a now uninhabited bird nest. This is the prime way to easily get asparagus to sprout without you having to do a thing. At the beginning of this year I allowed all the little itty bitty baby asparagus I found to stick around. They grew very well under a previous spot were an old bird nest had been in last years fancy flowered beans (ones I look at more than pick). They grew and grew and when last weeks rain literally flooded everything I used that time to pull them up and move them to their new spot. Since the ground was so saturated I had an easy time of pulling up their quite extensive root systems and putting them in their new spot without damaging them. I did have to be careful while planting not to pack them too tightly in the wet soil though—one consideration when doing gardening in the rain.

I find asparagus to be quite decorative, though a bit tall as mine are easily between 6 and 8 feet tall. Because of the height, these new ones will be used to screen a pen that had our rams when we had sheep and then our guinea hogs at one time. The hard use that the pen received left it without grass, though excellent soil, and it is now starting to re grow vegetation. Being at the front of our property it is a bit of an eye sore—-to me anyway—and over time the asparagus will stop people wandering by from seeing in to it. Another plus for that spot is that with a fence behind it I will only have to support one side to keep the plants out of the way. Asparagus absolutely requires an out of the way spot or very good support to keep it from being an annoyance during the mowing season as its weight makes it floppy.  You can see its even floppy in my picture —though that is more because I just planted those little guys and so they are not able to hold theirself up right now (I did after all “rip” them from their old home 😀 ). They will be fine there though and next year…while still young …they will again stand up on their own. By year three though, watch out! Containment will be in order.


Asparagus, for those of you who do not grow it is a VERY easy vegetable. Related to onions and yuccas if you didn’t know (just a bit of trivia)  And even if you are not that familiar with eating it you should put in a row. Consider it a decorative plant that, as it grows larger over the years, will allow experimentation so that enjoyable ways of eating it can be found. It is much easier to experiment with something free out of your yard than costly (and non organic) out of the grocery.

And thought there are some pest for asparagus, a nice clean up in the fall will stop most all of that nonsense. As you can see by the bird nest picture I will soon be pulling out dried asparagus stalks and composting them or adding them to my burn pile to get ashes for my garden from (a fabulous source of garden nutrients). I then wait for a late fall day usually in November, when I have a low amount of garden work, and throw on some kelp and some greensand, maybe a bit of lime and/or ashes depending on what is needed. Then, along with a fresh batch of mulch/compost, the bed is done and requires no more care form me. That’s it. Well…except for picking in the early spring 🙂

If you decide that you would like to try growing asparagus from seed I originally started mine the second week of January in my zone 7. I usually can safely plant out by the third week of April, definitely by the fourth, though asparagus babies can go out earlier with light protection/mulch.

The plants did end up taking up a bit of space under the lights while still inside, but it was well worth it. I do believe I would wait until the second week of February next time though— if I ever get around to that Conovers Collosal that I want to try. Once outside the plants are little the first year and need a bit of weeding so that won’t be out competed.  By year two  though they are well on their way and don’t require more than a light weeding to help them, and by year three the weeds can’t really make it in any longer and they more than hold their own.

I hope this encourages some of you to try your hand at starting some from seed—you will find it well worth the time and space.

Read Full Post »


Random Integer Generator

Here are your random numbers:


Timestamp: 2009-09-26 23:20:36 UTC

That’s the winner of our knitting / fiber book giveway – TechChick!  Congrats, Monica will be contacting you about your prize.  Another giveaway will be coming your way soon, stay tuned.

In the meantime, feel free to look over our community resources in the sidebar including our discussion group and flickr group.  Also don’t forget if you have a question for our panel to answer on a Friday Reader’s Question post, please e-mail that to Kathie at mtkatiecakes@yahoo.com.

Read Full Post »

My Dilemma…

I have a problem, a dilemma…a cunundrum

Let me explain…

My mother works two jobs, one in our town in Western Washington.  One over the mountains in my home town of Yakima.  Yakima grows apples.

My mom works for the biggest apple grower in Yakima Valley.  She also happens to be best friends with said apple orchardist…thus the reason for her schlepping over the pass every other week to work.

My mom and her boss/friend/apple grower are both in their 70’s, they are both very nice ladies.  They both like to pick apples for me.

They pick apples, by hand, from various favorite trees in the orchards.  Two little old ladies out picking apples for my family because they love us.

Here is where it gets dicey…

I know what they put on the apples in those orchards…to say they are not organic is an understatement.

Now my mom knows we eat as organically as possible, but she would never tell her friend that I don’t want her apples because they are sprayed…that would hurt her friend.

My mom also knows that I’m frugal…a tightwad if you ask my teenagers.

So I have a bountiful amount of free apples coming in, freshly picked from my mom and friend but I also have the dilemma of should I eat them…should I let my family eat them?

What if I washed them really well and peeled them?

Can I use the peelings in the compost?

I know that these almost 80-year-old orchardists will never ever consider going organic so getting them to try is not even an option…it would be like trying to convince my mom to get a tattoo…not gonna happen!

So there you have it…

Frugality vs. Organic

The final showdown.

Any words of wisdom you can throw my way???


BTW, I have had this dilemma for almost 10 years… nothing like being on the fence so long your hiney is starting to hurt!



Organic apples from our orchard…not even close to enough for all the applesauce we go through!

Read Full Post »

Garden medley

Heirloom or hybrid?  Purists would have you believe gardening is an all or none proposition.  I think you can have both if you choose to.  A garden is a personal expression of the person who tends it.  I know farmers who plant nothing but hybrids and others who plant only open pollinated crops.  Either is beautiful in its own right.  Me?  I use both – I save seeds that were gifts from people who were dear to me, and I adore my hybrids too.  Each serves a purpose and deserves my care-taking.

I contemplated these thoughts while working in the corn patch today…


Hybrid sweet corn – it grows here and ripens, we like to eat it, because we like tender, mildly sweet corn. 


Taste and texture are very subjective.  I don’t care for starchy corn, so I grow a SE hybrid with lightly sweet, delicate kernels. 


For corn meal, I rely on an open pollinated variety that will actually ripen in our cool, northern climate.  It is in the process of drying down.

Some ears have dry husks, some don’t.  I see the birds are checking the progress too.


Both corn varieties are at home here.  The hybrid sweet corn is ready now, and the flint corn will continue to ripen.


The rye and vetch cover crop signals the transition from this years corn patch to next years potato plot.


Heirloom marigolds in the corn are beautiful in their own simplicity.

100_8503But I can’t take my eyes off of these late golden hybrid sunflowers. 

How does your garden grow?  Heirlooms only or do you mix and match?

Read Full Post »

there’s been a lot of talk about the swine flu and how to prepare it lately online. a lot of scary talk, from mandatory vaccines (which incidentally, the manufacturers have just had a law passed on their behalf which holds them unresponsible for any side affects that might occur from said vaccination) to quarantines and more.

many people are wondering what to do to prepare for the flu, to help prevent it, how to lessen the severity and duration and how to avoid the secondary bacterial infections that can occur from complications of it. i hope to be able to touch on all these things and give you a starting point for feeling confident in preventing and/or treating any cases of the flu that might come into your home. today i’ll cover what to do to prevent the flu from entering your home.

first of all, to vaccinate or not? honestly, that is a personal decision that you alone have to decide. i can tell you that research has proven that the flu vaccination (for any flu, not just the swine flu) will NOT prevent the flu. it will only lessen the duration of the flu by 1-2 days and lessen the severity of it. also, the vaccination needs to be taken at least 10 days before the flu is contracted to be effective. herbalist michael tierra recommends taking homeopathic thuja occidentalis 30x starting 2 days after vaccinating for 3 days, 3 times a day, with a dosage of 10-20 drops for liquid or 4-5 for pellets. he recommends taking this for prevention and to treat reactions, including guillain-barre syndrome (which is one of the side effects of the swine flu vaccine).

whether or not you decide to vaccinate, there are precautions you can take to avoid the flu. one of the most obvious is hygiene. frequent hand washing is a must. watching what you touch in public, possibly bringing along your own alcohol wipes to wipe off shopping carts and your hands is a great idea. most public places offer handy wipes and while i generally wouldn’t use them, for this time of year, it’s a smart choice.

~as an aside, if you do get the flu and your doctor recommends tamiflu, please be aware it is only helpful if taken in the first 1-2 days of contracting the flu and will not ‘cure’ you of the flu but only lessen the duration and severity….see a pattern here?!~

getting large dosages of vitamin d3 to keep our vit d levels up has been proven effective for preventing the flu. the problem with us folks in the northern hemisphere is that no matter how much time we spend outdoors this time of year, we are not going to get the necessary amounts of vitamin d into our system because the angle of the sun/earth will not allow it which causes many people to become vitamin d deficient in the winter months. paul bergner recommends going to a tanning booth 3 times a week for 20 minutes, using a tanning bed with uvb rays. (if you go this route, make sure you specify you want a uvb bed as most beds are calibrated for uva). this is too short of a time to get sunburn or cancer is the most natural way to get vitamin d3 this time of year (funny, i never thought i’d recommend a tanning bed as ‘natural’ but here ya go!). another way to get vitamin d3 is to take 4-5000  iu a day. there has also been some suggestion of eating sun-dried mushrooms which contain vitamin d2, another useful form of vitamin d that could also be effective. a third way of getting enough vitamin d would be to visit south florida or mexico during the winter and hang outside between 11-1, exposing as much as your body as possible (your face does not absorb enough vitamin d on its own).

diet plays a large role in remaining healthy as well. avoiding the usual recommendations of processed and refined foods, eating lots of dark, leafy greens, drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day all have their merit. cooking bone broths and using them for daily cooking in place of water (for rice, beans, soups, etc) are another great way to get lots of valuable nutrients. adding 4-6 ‘sticks’ of astragalus roots to a soup/broth once a week will give your entire family a huge immune supporting and building herbal treatment without them even knowing it. garlic is another great herb to try to consume daily. rosemary gladstar has a great recipe for pickled garlic. unfortunately, it takes 12 weeks to completely process but it’s great to have on hand any time of the year! here’s my version of it:

peel as many cloves of garlic as you’d like. i generally fill 1 quart jar full of them. try not to nick the cloves as they will become discolored. fill the jar full of either tamari or apple cider vinegar. i usually make 1 jar of each because they both are tasty! label and set aside for 6 weeks. after 6 weeks, strain off half of the tamari or vinegar and top the jar back off with raw honey. shake well to mix and then set aside for 6 more weeks. now it’s ready to consume! eat a couple a day to keep the germs away! these make tasty gifts as well. if you start a batch today, they will be ready on december 17! just in time to give away to family and friends for the holidays and possibly even enough time to save yourself from the flu season (jan – mar is typically the hardest hit time).

exercising daily is important as it keeps the blood from getting stagnant. exercising outdoors is preferable so that your lungs can breathe in fresh air. something as simple as stretching or yoga every day is the perfect way to begin your day, especially if done outside. it’s an invigorating and wonderful way to start the day!

other important factors are adequate sleep, lowering stress levels and having a happy outlook on life.

one final factor is using herbs to help prevent the flu from arriving on your doorstep. i’ve already mentioned using garlic and astragalus in your daily/weekly cooking. burdock is another great nourishing root that is quite delicious when cooked right! here’s a great recipe to try it out:

Burdock-n-Wild Rice

2 cups sliced Burdock root (about 4-5 medium-sized roots)
5 or 6 Wild Leeks (can substitute 6-8 cloves garlic)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Thai peanut Sauce* (find at a local co-op or ethnic food section of grocery store)
1 cup wild rice, uncooked

Cover washed and sliced fresh burdock roots in 2 cups water with ½ tsp baking soda. Bring to a boil, pour off the water. Cover with fresh water and boil gently until burdock is very tender, about 10 minutes.   Drain thoroughly, put into a skillet.  (Note: cast iron may discolor the burdock root)

Add chopped leeks or garlic.  Sauté in 2 Tbsp olive oil for 5-10 minutes.  Meanwhile cook wild rice in 2 cups water, 20-30 minutes. Mix sautéed burdock with cooked rice. Add ½ cup Thai peanut sauce.  Serve hot or cold.

*Can substitute any favorite stir-fry sauce for the Thai peanut sauce

burdock root can be found growing all over the place or in your local asian grocer. it is also known as gobo.you can add some chopped root to any soup base. just be sure to follow this method before adding to stocks or soups to make it palatable:

cover washed and sliced fresh burdock roots in 2 cups water with ½ tsp baking soda. bring to a boil, pour off the water. cover with fresh water and boil gently until burdock is very tender, about 10 minutes.

elderberry is another great herb to take that has shown to be prophylactic for the flu. unlike echinacea which should only be taken for a short period of time, elderberry can be taken daily for long periods of time. it’s great as a tincture (glycerin is actually best because it draws out the constituents better than alcohol), syrup or elixir. taking a ‘touch of the recipe’ as the ballwin sisters were known to do on occasion on the waltons, is actually a wise choice for this time of the year, especially when elderberry is involved!

echinacea can be taken as well but i’m backing down on recommending this because of conflicting information about the ‘cytokine storms’ inhibition. i think early on, it is great to help as a preventative but once the flu hits, i would stop use immediately. since this post is already so long, i will not go into detail about this subject but if you are interested in learning more, you can google cytokine storms and echinacea to get more details.

all these factors boil down to having a better chance of avoiding the flu or lessening the duration and severity of it. if you are stricken with the flu, don’t panic, for most of us, a few days in bed, lots of nourishing bone broths and/or miso, herbal teas (think antivirals such as lemon balm, peppermint, licorice, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, boneset, chamomile and st. john’s wort) to help support the body without wildly stimulating the immune system and lots of ginger, garlic, elderberry and astragalus will be the key to a quick recovery and lack of secondary bacterial infections.

next month, i’ll go more in depth on what to do while you have the flu.

Read Full Post »

The Cornbread Gospels

At the risk of being typecast as the cornbread writer, I have to share with you about a book I recently got. It’s called The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon (you’ll have to ask her about that) heretofore known as CD, if you don’t mind. When I first heard of the book, I just knew it was going to be great fun to read. I was not disappointed.

I guess you’d have to call The Cornbread Gospels a cookbook, simply because it contains over 200 recipes. But it is fascinating and entertaining to read in a way that cookbooks usually are not. The story of cornbread is told from ancient history to modern tradition. The recipes range from regional favorites to international varieties and include recipes for using leftover cornbread, side dishes to go along with cornbread, and cornbread based desserts. Each recipe is accompanied by a short story or an explanation of why it is included.

In addition to the history and the recipes, the book also contains interesting snippets of trivia and helpful information, menu suggestions, a glossary of pantry items, and handy substitutions. CD’s observations on cooking were sometimes embarrassingly accurate. I must count myself among the southern cornbread makers who would not defile my grandmother’s skillet by baking cornbread with apples in it! (I was absolutely scandalized to even read of such a thing.)

With the author’s permission, I’m going to share a recipe with you that I cooked myself. I will add photos of the process. I wanted to try something a little different than what I am used to, so I chose Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread. It was southern enough to still be real cornbread, but contained cornmeal only and no flour, which is different from how I learned to make it.

Note a few differences between my pictures and the recipes:  instead of buttermilk, I used almond milk with a little lemon juice in it (because my son doesn’t eat dairy or soy.) And I only made half a batch. My big oven doesn’t work and a 10” skillet won’t fit in my convection/toaster oven. I used a five or six inch skillet which was just enough for about half the recipe. Oh, and sadly I could not find stone-ground meal. I had to use the common stuff and I’m sure my experience suffered for it.

Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread

1 tablespoon butter or bacon drippings

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal


  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the butter or drippings in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, and place it in the oven.
  2. Combine the eggs and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisking together well with a fork.
  3. In a medium bowl, combing the sugar, salt, baking soda, and cornmeal, stirring well to combine.
  4. Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, beating just until dry ingredients are moistened, no more.
  5. Pull the skillet from the oven. It should be good and hot, with the fat sizzling. Swirl the pan to coat it. Quickly transfer the batter to the hot skillet and return the skillet to the oven.
  6. Bake until browned and pulling away from the skillet, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot, in wedges from the pan.


I cooked this while my five-year-old son was at school (so I could cook and take pictures in peace.) It was still nice and hot from the oven when he arrived home. He asked what smelled so good. When I told him cornbread, he asked if he could have a piece. I cut the cornbread into 8 small wedges and told him he could.

I went about my business and I heard him saying how delicious the bread was. A few minutes later, I went to the kitchen to finish dinner. I looked in the skillet and half the bread was gone. (Do growing boys NEVER stop eating?!) He had started on his 5th piece when I made him put it down and wait for dinner! You don’t know how lucky I am that there was any left for me to take this last picture. If I had been away for ten more minutes…

I served it along with CD’s Skillet-Fried Cabbage (recipe in the book) and what else could possibly go with that except home grown purple hull peas cooked with bacon?


Read Full Post »

Politics, Government, Regulatory Agencies, The Plague, all things I try to avoid.  On my personal blog I sometimes rant about issues, usually to no avail, but here on NDIN we have agreed to leave political ranting alone.  We have touched a few issues, particularly ones that impact the world of the homestead/micro-farm.  The NAIS was one such issue.  I’d like to poke another one for a moment.  Hopefully it won’t turn and bite me.

Creeping Regulations.

I’ve been following some of the “food safety” bills that are working their way through the Congress.  They worried me because they made no allowances for micro producers or small diversified farms and they had the potential to put a huge financial burden of farms like mine.  The bills also had NAIS requirements imbedded in them and similar programs for all produce.  I watched, wrote, talked, watched, tracked, and worried.  The momentum for passing these bills seems to have died (the bills haven’t gone away, they just are not the top priority right now.)  So I keep watching but don’t worry to much.  Imagine my surprise when I read about a farmer in Ohio who was sanctioned by Ohio Department of Health for washing his lettuce.  The sanction comes out of new rules the ODH developed from some USDA/FDA guidlines.  I went looking for the guidelines and found that they cover all the points presented in the “food safety” bills.  They aren’t law.  They aren’t even USDA rules yet.  But in my state and many others they are being adopted and enforced as law.

So, how can it be bad for a farmer to wash his lettuce before taking it to the farmers market?  There were several supposed problems. 1) Water is a vector for ecoli. 2) Washing the lettuce made it appear to be Ready to Eat, and it wasnt treated or labeled as such. 3) Cutting and bagging greens is “processing” and must be done in an inspected processing facility.  There are lots of other things in these guidelines that could make life pretty tough for the small farmer. 

The same thing is happening with the rules governing Cottage Food Production.  This is the category that allows people to sell baked goods, jams and jellies, candy, etc. that they produced at home.  Sales are usually limited to local markets.  Now our state has just changed the rules to exclude just about anything that hasn’t been cooked.  “A “Cottage Food Production Operation” is not permitted to process acidified foods, low-acid canned foods, or potentially hazardous foods or non-potentially hazardous foods not listed above.  Low acid food means any food with a finished equilibrium pH greater than 4.6 and a water activity greater than 0.85. Acidified food means a low acid food to which acids or acid foods are added (Ex. Beans, cucumbers, cabbage, puddings, etc.). Potentially hazardous foodmeans it requires temperature control because it is in a form capable of supporting the rapid and progressive growth of infectious or toxigenic microorganisms (Ex. Raw or cooked animal products, cooked vegetables, garlic in oil, cheese cakes, pumpkin pies, custard pies, cream pies, etc.) Non-potentially hazardous food items/processes not permitted to be made or performed in a “Cottage Food Production Operation”–Snack Foods (potato chips, popcorn, trail mix, etc.); Cereals including granola; Repackaging of Foods; Production of Dry Food Mixes; Drying of foods including Herbs and Fruits, etc.  These rules have put several vendors at our local market out of business. 

I know that most of the authors and readers at NDIN are involved with small scale food production and sales in some way.  We are either producers or consumers or both.  This issue will impact our lives.  The best we can do is get informed and get involved.  Rule changes usually have a public hearing before they happen.  We need to be there and make our voices heard.  If we are producers we need to know what the rules are and work with the regulators to find solutions for our operations.  If we are consumers we need to help the people we buy from be aware.  We don’t have to like the rules, aspire to political office, but we must get involved in the process.  Ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Read Full Post »

Common Sense Frugality

It seems that almost everywhere I turn these days there are articles and stories about saving money and extending tight budgets.  Generally these articles make it seem like frugality requires some sort of advanced degree.  I suppose it’s a sign of the times, everyone is looking to trim their expenses in some way or another.  It occurs to me that frugality isn’t about complicated schemes or detailed plans as much as it is about common sense and simple steps.  You may already know and use these tips, but just in case you don’t let me share a few of my favorite common sense tips.

  • Growing up my parents and grandparents were always telling us to turn off lights, shut refrigerator doors, etc. because we didn’t own stock in the electric company.  These days I belong to an electric co-op so in a sense I do own stock in the electric company, but I still turn off lights, use the clothesline instead of the dryer and turn off power strips to keep my electric bill down.
  • Combine trips when driving somewhere.  If I have to run errands I try to combine it with my workday commute, this way I don’t have to drive at all on days off – saving money on fuel and auto maintainance.  
  • Reconcile your checking account – I’m constantly amazed by folks who don’t do this and face overdraft fees on a monthly basis.
  • Don’t waste anything.  Use up leftovers or fresh produce, don’t let either mold or rot in your refrigerator or pantry.  Re-use old clothing for cleaning rags.  Re-use jars or other containers for a multitude of uses.
  • Beware of memberships that include automatic renewals and cancel subscriptions you don’t use.  If you’re not going to the gym, why continue to pay for it.  If you’re heating with wood, why are you paying for natural gas too?  If you just want to try something new, go for it, just make sure they don’t automatically debit your checking account or charge your credit card after the trial period if you don’t want to continue.
  • Buy Second Hand – I’m constantly amazed by how many people think this is a hassle, but you’d be amazed at the quality of many second hand items and the money you can save over new.  Try it out – nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So what your favorite common-sense frugal tip?  I know I’ve missed some good ones that are worth sharing.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: