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Archive for October, 2009

Our kids cook a lot.  We started out having them help us with what ever we were making.  They learned to mix, measure, crack eggs, identify ingredients, etc.  Gradually we did less and they did more.  Now JJ, who is 11, can make many things from scratch without any help from me at all (except getting a few things off high shelves she can’t easily reach.)  Lot’s of people think cooking is too hard or too dangerous for kids.  It’s not.  It does take some training (which is good, fun time spent together) and it takes a certain amount of willingness to accept messes (kids can’t cook without covering everything in flour and goo) and occasionally odd results.
 
 
Cinnamon Rolls




YUMMM!

Alan can also be found at Roberts Roost writing about his families adventures on their micro-eco-farm.

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A friend recently said to me that they wouldn’t want to mess around making sausage because for the amount of product his family ate it didn’t seem worth it to bother with it. Time wise I mean.

I completely understand how he feels because I have felt the same way before. Not specifically about sausage but I could fill in a number of other things that I felt originally, for whatever reason, weren’t worth me doing –when put into my “wasn’t very good doing it” limited time to product perspective anyway.

Yet years down the road I know find myself doing things that I consider too “time consuming” and “not worth it” like canning potatoes, making applesauce from scratch (even after the canned jars have been used up), making hamburger rolls on the days we want burgers, making homemade stock with some extra to freeze or can, grinding grains, and many other “hard and time consuming” things.

I do all these without really taking much more time than it would for me to run to the store and pick them up. Of course we all know that the quality is far superior to the store bought and well worth the extra time. I also don’t completely do all of this because I feel that home made food taste better and is cheaper than store bought either—though those are two of my main reasons. Truthfully I make many of these items from scratch because I am now so comfortable doing them and it has become so ingrain that it really ISN”T that much more time —-and it DOES taste better and cost less.

A number of things have led me to this point in my life though. I didn’t get here because I am super woman, and I didn’t get here because I do in fact stay at home. I got here through small steps and small attempts.

Over the course of time I have added these things slowly. As I have became successful and comfortable with those I initially began with….I then added others to attempt. No matter how stressful it seemed at first…each attempt yielded better and better products until I no longer had to think about doing it. I have made bread so many times now that I do not even need a recipe for the two main types we eat. For less eaten breads like bagel or English muffins—I still need a recipe. But I am overall so comfortable with making bread now that even a recipe that is new or not memorized takes very little extra time out of my day.

Unfortunately I do find myself occasionally saying things similar to my friend above. I, like all people of my generation, seem to feel that going to a store and buying something pre package represents quicker food. I also, like every one else fall into the trap that something unfamiliar is by far harder and takes longer—especially when someone has already done it for you. How often though, living out in the country, has it taken me just as long to get to a good restaurant, or even to the closest open grocery store? Often it would have been quicker for me to make something in my kitchen. Maybe not a 4 hour pot roast but I can make a batch of marinara sauce and spaghetti in probably the same amount of time it takes to go across town to my favorite Mexican restaurant. Better than spaghetti….I can whip up tacos even quicker—even if I do home made tortillas. Mine may not be quite as perfectly round as the restaurant’s….but they taste just as good.

I notice that we don’t seem to count driving to and from the grocery store….and our time strolling around in it…in the “cost” of these so called quick foods. Yet…..we consider a trip to the store at 5 o’clock after work to be easier than going home and making something. Ick..I hate going to the store at that time because it is swamped with people.

So, what about harder things though like sausage? Or homemade pasta? Or even canned foods?

These are all things that once you do them more than twice….you start to build your own routine. Falling into a groove so to speak. A groovy groove. I think it takes at least two times to fumble through some of it and then after that it starts to move into the easier or just as easy category because you know, and are becoming comfortable with, what exactly needs to be done. And since many of these “time consuming” tasks can be scaled up to include many days or weeks worth of product ,we actually end up saving time. Saving time by pre preparing our meals (at least partially) and saving time by removing some of the time spent in stores. Maybe not right at first but over time. Canning is a great example of that. Yes, it takes time and it does mean you have to spend a number of days in the kitchen. Yet when accomplished days and days and even weeks worth of meals are done.

Another example I have for this time to savings is our dairy cow. When our cow first calved and we started milking we felt very out of sorts, rushed and limited in time. Never quite seeming to have a handle on all the paraphernalia, and routine, that went with the milking. However it didn’t take long to develop a routine with our cow and milking her. And to get all our paraphernalia together cosistently. We then added the routines of dealing with our extra milk like making butter, separating off cream, making cheeses (still working on getting tasty cheese though ;-D) always going back through the “are we doing it right” or “what storage containers will work best” and many other items that required us to learn how to deal with them.

Yet…all fell into place. And of all the things we have ever added to our home the care of our cow has actually worked out to be something that we get that time to value wise is immeasurable. It has also decreased our time going to and from the grocery by so much (very odd I know) that we found we then needed to plan and stock up on other groceries because we were no longer there many times a week. Kind of steam roll effect. Or rock down a hill. The momentim every time we added one of the “labor intensive” task was great. Moving us more and more into higher quality food, better health, time savings and just plain enjoyment of what we accomplished.

As I have added each task to my life…sausage making, animal butchering, making breads, milking cows…..they all seemed as if they would clutter my life to the extreme. Yet as I became comfortable with each task they actually allowed me how to save time in other places. And…I still vacation and I still go to visit my family. We still have time to hang with friends and to get projects done on the weekends.

As I come to the end I am not sure I really made a point but I think I will sum it up this way: Add some homesteading and self sufficiency skills to your life. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you weren’t interested in them. Begin slowly…adding one at a time until you feel comfortable with it. Then…add another, whether it’s making sausage, caring for livestock or even canning up all the soup you eat every year.

Over time we build the skills and the tools to do these things second nature without rushing off helter skelter for something we forgot. Eventually you will become so good at whatever it is that you won’t forget—but it does takes practice and time at first. As I always tell my children: Don’t worry if it comes out badly at first, practice makes perfect. And sausage is still edible even if you leave it too chunky or rip the sausage casing.

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As promised part two to my personal bread challenge (if you are looking for part 1 it can be found here.)

Now down to the nitty gritty…or they yummy part!

First of all here is my make twice a week whole wheat bread recipe that is almost identical to the one that my folks made for so many years…my go to recipe…everyday bread for sandwiches, toast, and just because I feel like bread!

Mix…2/3 Cup Oil (I use organic canola), 2/3 to 3/4 Cup Sweetener (honey, molasses or a combo), 5 1/2 Cup very warm water.

Add…3 Tablespoons yeast and let proof (stand until the yeast is all puffy!)

Mix…4 heaping Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten, 2 Tablespoons Salt, your ‘extra’ flours up to 4 cups (I usually use 1 Cup rye, 1 Cup oat, and 2 Cups White Whole Wheat flours)…you do not have to add these flours but it is fun!

Mix into liquid/yeast mixture.

Then add your Whole Wheat Flour

In total you use about 14 Cups of flour (this includes the ‘extra’ flours)…this is approximate as it is slightly different each time.

All of this I do in my Bosch Bread Mixer…you can do it by hand.

Knead 10 minutes. Turn into very large oil coated bowl.  Cover and let rise until doubled.  Punch down, form into loaves and let rise till it is about an inch above the rim of the bread pans.

Bake at 350 until a deep golden brown (or 195 on a bread thermometer)(or until it sounds hollow when tapped)

This makes 6 loaves or 1 large pan of sticky buns and four medium loaves.

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My sticky buns are made from this recipe.  I pre-cookk raisins with brown sugar and cinnamon and then roll out my dough into a rectangle and add the raisins on top.  Roll into a long log. Slice into rounds and put in a pan that has a little oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts at the bottom.  Flip the whole thing over when done so the sticky bottom is on the top and the plain top is on the bottom.  I am trying hard to resist the urge to be humorous here about sticky bottoms and sticky buns…but I will refrain!

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Next is one of my all time favorite recipes it is directly from the back of my bag of King Arthur Flour’s organic cracked wheat.  I don’t make it for us anymore since going vegan but I still make it for my friends and they always appreciate it….it is heavenly!

Pour 1 1/4 Cups boiling water over 1/2 Cup Cracked Wheat in a large bowl, cover and let rest for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Stir in 2 Tablespoons butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 Cup Honey or Molasses let cool to lukewarm.  Add 2 teaspoons yeast and let proof for about 10 minutes (skip this step if using instant yeast)

Stir in 1/4 Cup organic dry milk, 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour, and 2 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour ( I used White Whole Wheat)

Knead by hand, mixer or bread machine to make a soft slightly sticky dough (8 minutes by hand is what I did).  Let rise covered till doubled (1 1/2 hours or so).  Shape into loaves and put into 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.  Cover and let rise till 1 to 2 inches above rim.  Cut a vertical slash down the middle of the loaf place in preheated 350 F oven.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until brown and hollow sounding when tapped or 195 degrees F on instant-read thermometer.

Makes 1 loaf.

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Finally there is a whole book that Alan asked me about that I use often.  It is called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It truly is a time saver and an incredibly easy way to make bread.  My go to recipe is the olive oil dough that I use with white whole wheat flour for pizza and focaccia bread.  There are recipes galore in there although most are not whole grain.  It takes a little playing with the recipes to adapt them for whole grain flours but it is well worth it.

The concept of this book is to mix without kneading, let rise and then put the dough in the frig for use every day.  Just grab some, shape, sometimes let it rise or sometimes not (depending on what you are using it for) and voila…bread in just minutes of prep time…awesome!  It keeps from 5 days to almost 2 weeks depending on the recipe…if you love sourdough leave it in he fridge a week and use, yummy!

Now for the technical stuff.  I use a very old Bosch Mixer, Grain Master Whisper Mill for grinding grain, I order most of my grains from Azure food co-op with some speciality flours from King Arthur.  King Arthur also has a great book called Whole Grain Baking…wonderful recipes!

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Lastly as far as baking with kids here are a few hints to make it easier and more fun.  I bake with two little ones ages 6 and 2, they both have their own stools to bring to the counter (although the baby ends up on the counter most often) They each get an itty bitty bread pan or two to make their own loaves…trust me this can take a loooong time.  We use measurements and reading recipes for reading and math for homeschool.  We often give bread as gifts which the kids love…they make a card and tie the loaf up with ribbon.  Sweet Girl likes to experiment with different spices in her bread…some have been hits (pumpkin pie spice) some not so much (white pepper).  Remember this is a learning experience for them…this is how we bring up the next generation of bakers and lovers of real food.

Most of all have fun…take the time…it is seriously worth the effort!

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Kim raises organic fruits, veggies, critter, kids, and a camel over at the inadvertent farmer

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Growing Stevia

I am all about the sweets. I’ve always enjoyed fructose, sucrose, pure extract of nerds candy. It all comprises a significant portion of my diet. Really, it’s the main reason I go to the gym…so I can eat more. Ok, seriously, high fructose corn syrup makes up such a large portion of the typical American diet that it sort of troubles me. We need sweeteners to be sure, but HFCS is not a great choice, apart from its affordability.

Anyhow, since I am interested in providing what I can of the things that we eat, I keep bees for honey. Bees have to be the absolute best insect in the world. What other creature make the garden produce more and also give me sweet liquid gold?! So, bees are great producers of fuel for my sweet tooth, but I hate to put all of my eggs in one basket. I decided to try my hand at growing stevia.

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Stevia is a an herb in the Chrysanthemum family that grows most typically in South America, but is being grown elsewhere as its market increases. It has been used by indigenous folks to sweeten drinks for centuries. You see, stevia leaves are 10-15 times sweeter than table sugar. In its refined form, stevia powder is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar.

Although stevia is grown on large farms and is becoming more popular in its processed forms (look for Truvia in the grocery store), it is well within the reach of any gardener or plant lover to grow enough stevia to make significant sweetener for one’s own table. Last year, I bought two small, pitiful stevia plants from a mail order place. I immediately transplanted them into typical house plant pots and set them in a sunny spot on top of an array of 6 computer servers in my office. The plants remain warm around the clock upon the computers and get plenty of sun and water.

My plants have grown incredibly fast and have produced long winding vines. The runners trickle down from my computers clear to the floor. Folks stop by my office and snatch leaves from the plants to chew on.

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So, stevia makes a great sweetener. It’s natural and clean and can be used in an unprocessed form. For diabetics, the benefits are even greater. Stevia does not elevate blood sugar levels and provides no calories.

If you are interested in providing an alternative sweetener for your family, it’s worth your time to consider growing stevia at your place. So what do you think? Have you heard of stevia or truvia before? Have you tried either? Does the role of HCFS in our food make any difference to you?

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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Newspaper Pots

Here is an older article from my previous blog. We needed a filler for today so please excuse my re post. Enjoy the information and links though.

Ever thought about buying one of those wooden round peg “things” that make newspaper pots? Well, except for the fact that they look nice they are totally irrelevant because there are lots and lots of links on line for many different styles of newspaper pots.
Really my issue with the purchased wood pot maker is that it is only one size and often gardeners need multiple sizes for our different potting needs.
So today I am adding some links for different newspaper pots to make. Please hang on to these instructions because you may find yourself using them sooner than you think. Especially if you decide to start asparagus, or some other early plant.
Not only can you use newspapers to make many many recyclable pots of different sizes, but they are easy to find and get for free from friends and neighbors even if you don’t take a subscription.  And if your community like mine does not recycle newspaper, which makes a great place to acquire lots of newspaper, then another really good place to get large reams of it for pots or mulch is your local school. Since we don’t take the paper, nor do any of our neighbors, that is where we have to go when we need large amounts. Since I also use newspaper under my mulches to ultra suppress weeds, I try and start collecting in the late fall/ early winter since the schools are out in the summer and I will then have more trouble finding enough paper for all my needs. Usually at least one of the teachers will use them for the current events so it’s a great place to start with anyways.

So here are some links that will give you a number of different ideas and styles for pots to make.
Since this is an older article from my previous blog some of the links were bad and needed replacing but all seem to be pretty good still.
Here is my favorite style of pot demonstrated by no ordinary homestead along with a video for those of you who enjoy learning that way.  This is a new link for this article but I do so enjoy this more “square” style of news paper pot.

There is also this one without pictorial, just word directions : http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/polachic49.html
Here is a seed envelope making page which is handy for right now Seed envelopes.
Here is another pot: Newspaper pot 2
Here’s another pot: Newspaper pot 3
And a few more pictures here: Newspaper pot 4

Now I know that you can also use things like toilet paper rolls but I have some problems with those:
1—they aren’t big enough when you need to grow out things like tomato seedlings that need to be potted and repotted.

2–I buy the “triple” roll size rolls. So I would have to save those all year just to get barely enough rolls 🙂 And when storage is an issue—who wants to. I’d rather just toss them in the compost pile.
3 — For those of you who are paperless, even in the bathroom, that idea leaves you a bit high and dry (sorry…couldn’t help myself 😉

By the way—I also own a “soil blocker” as seen here: Peaceful Valley farm and garden
I own the smallest and the medium size. I love them for seed starting when I have the room to set up all my seedling “stuff” Sometimes my garage is chock full of too much stuff for me to get everything going. Slowly we are rectifying that problem but sometimes we have large projects going during the winter and our storage space comes at a premium. Seed blocks (with cats, dogs etc are a bit messy for beside your bed)
However I do love to use them to start things like sweet peas or other seeds that don’t “really” need to be sprouted inside but maybe I just want to. The seeds that come fast and quick….so I don’t need to have the block around for long. Eventually I will invest in the big one but since I really only need it for a few plants I just haven’t gotten around to purchasing it. Each year though I get better and better at starting and supplying all my needs for my garden so I do see it in my future. During the interim the newspaper pots take up the slack since I can make them as big as I need them to be.

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The power of a garden

I’m not an eco-warrior, or a tree hugging environmentalist.  I’m a farmer/philosopher who love his little piece of the planet and writes about it.  Once in a while big issues seem to mesh with the small issues of my life.  Climate Change and what we can do about it is one of those issues.

 

October 15th is Blogger Action Day. Bloggers around the world will be writing about Climate Change. The blogs participating are all listed at the Blogger Action Day site. It should be an interesting conversation. I will be posting about Climate Change from a local, micro-farmer’s point of view. You can check it out on my blog on the 15th. Working on that post got me thinking about home gardens and their impact on the climate and Climate Change. Here are some of my thoughts…

As I understand it Climate Change is caused, to a great extent, by increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon (CO2 mostly). There are lots of sources for carbon, but the increase comes almost exclusively from the use of fossil fuels. This is carbon that had been taken out of the system millions of years ago. Adding it back in, as smokestack or tailpipe emissions, fertilizer, aerosols, or what ever increases the total amount of carbon. That is the problem.

Home gardens help with this issue by allowing us to use less fossil fuel to meet some of our basic need for food. If we can grow it in our own back yard then we don’t need to drive to the market to get it. It also means that it didn’t have to be shipped to the market. That reduces fuel used for transporting food at both ends. If we grow it in our back yards then some mega-farm doesn’t need to grow it. Large scale farming uses huge amounts of fossil fuel for equipment and fertilizer. Much of that use is eliminated in the home garden. Again we have reduced the amount of fossil fuel used. If we grow it in our own back yard we generally get fresher, better quality food that contributes to better health. Better health means less utilization of the medical system and reduces fossil fuel use by reducing trips to medical facilities for us and for the folks working in the system. Growing it in our own back yard reduces the amount of packaging used to keep food fresh while being shipped and displayed at the market. If you can get a product from the market to your house with less than three layers of packaging you are doing well. All packaging uses fossil fuel in its manufacturing. Eliminating it reduces the amount of fossil fuels we are using. If we grow it in our back yard using natural or organic methods and materials we produce or acquire from local sources we further reduce the amount of fossil fuel used. The list goes on and on.

From my perspective, here in the dirt, growing our own food and supporting local (within 20 miles of our house) farmers who grow what we can’t is one way we can take a giant step toward halting global warming.

 

What are you doing, deliberately or inadvertently, that reduces the amount of new carbon being added to the system?

 

 

Alan can also be found at Roberts Roost writing about his families adventures on their micro-eco-farm.

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The value of scales

While I was working this weekend the idea for this post popped into my head. As I hung my feed bucket up onto the scale for like the zillionth time I realized that it was a great topic to write about.Why? Because most people don’t have scales in their home. Well..except for those stupid ones that never seem to work well to weigh their selves with 😉

Of course I don’t have great words of wisdom to say about picking one—truthfully there aren’t many to choose from unless you go into the high high price ranges of $150 or more. And really they aren’t all that complicated so you don’t need me to give you tips on using them.  I would just like to tell you about the two I own though and why I think they should be in every good cooks kitchen and every farmers, homesteaders or gardeners shed.

My first scale that I ever purchased was my hanging scale. I initially got it to weigh my newborn and growing lambs so I could evaluate how well they grew and how well their mother’s fed them. By the time 2007 came and we had the hard late freeze that wiped out most fruit and nut trees, all berries and just about everything that any creature ate in my area and then we proceeded to have a serious (serious!) drought….I began to use it to weigh my feed with.

Now..I had never have been one to weigh my feed up to that point. I generally use my eyes to tell me what condition my animals are in.  I mean..you know a fat sheep or cow when you see one and you know a too skinny bony animal too. But the drought that year required us to feed so very extensively  that I could not waste one drop of feed — it was too expensive to do so. So..we began to weigh everything. Even our hay flakes.

And when you use these scales to feed or weigh with you will find that they  “zero out”. Pretty much all scales do that. This function makes them  easy to use with buckets, pails or anything you hold items in. You can see in the picture below that the needle is not on zero. That is because the weight of my empty bucket takes it to zero and then I can weigh my feed without trying to calculate the weight of my bucket in the equation.

Beyond that, after weighing all that feed for months on end, I became so used to  using the scale that year that for the very first time I weighed my garden produce. Not that we had much that year but it was something I had never bothered done previously even though I owned a hanging scale. It just wasn’t something I though about to be truthful. I never thought it would be a big deal

Over the years though..Wow! …what things I have learned by weighing them.  I am now an avid weigher of all sorts of things. Soil amendments, feed, produce and on and on. The things you learn when you weigh and mark down items is amazing. I mean…I now know the average it costs me to produce items in my garden and orchard because I weigh all of it coming out. So..if I see another farmer that has a product at least as good as mine but for a better price…or not much more expensive and quite a bit better than mine….. I can buy it and KNOW that I have saved money. No guessing……all knowing (in a non deity kind of way).

My second scale is a table top scale. The picture is actually my second one since I completely wore out the first.  I do not like this one quite as well as my first one but it’s a small thing. I tried to write why I don’t care for it as much, but it just didn’t come across in a meaningful way. Needless to say…each digital scale is a bit different and you have to learn and decide which extra functions you like and enjoy. This one does weigh to a higher weight than my old one—a function I do enjoy. So..it works out I suppose.

My original reason for purchasing a digital scale is because the necessity of mixing my own minerals came up.  We had a terrible time with correct mineral balance for our farm when we first purchased livestock years ago. The value of correct minerals…not just a stupid salt lick…is something I often mention and try to plug frequently.  The scale in turn is highly invaluable when you do mix—though not every farm has the extreme problems we seemed to at first.  The mixing all began because  of one of our original Dexter cows. She became the catapult that lobbed us into the mineral making business—but we have never regretted it. It does however require a digital scale that reads and weighs both in pounds and grams and down to small tiny measurements.

Yet  by the very process of owning this tool another “door” opened up for me—  cooking. Suddenly it became a different thing for me. Especially canning new recipes. I could WEIGH all of the items instead of passing a recipe by that had weigh measurements only or guesstimating as to the amount of product I had. It also made things like making brine solutions and other “formulaic” things much much easier.  I can’t say that I get the same day to day use from my digital scale….but it is invaluable to me too.

And since I now own a digital scale I use it for weighing my mail and other odd things you never expect you will use a scale for—-until you have one!

Overall when I originally purchased these items I spent maybe…$75 dollars between the two original scales. They are a tad more now..but not by much. And though at the time (when parting with my money) I didn’t hold the scales in the same esteem I do now…..you can tell that I am right happy that I had to purchase them. I find them valuable enough on my place that replacing them is never a maybe I will kind of thing. It is an absolute that each one will be replaced as it wears out or is broken.

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