Archive for February, 2011

First published for last year’s Challenge, on Mahlzeit

Ready for the Real Food Challenge, starting tomorrow? Here’s an 8-step guide to getting back control of your own food supply, from the simplest to the most obsessed.

Easiest: Stop shopping at the big chains like Safeway
Buy your groceries from the locally-owned neighborhood grocery store, if you’ve still got one. In big cities, you’ll find these in every Polish, Chinese, and Mexican neighborhood, although less and less in the other immigrant areas. Don’t be intimidated by the language or the comparative messiness of these stores. They have to abide by the same health laws as the chains. But you’ll be putting money in the pocket of a local, family merchant, rather than a multinational several states away.

A little more challenging. Seek local brands.
You may need a couple of trips to the market, to write down brands so you can research them (or check them out on your smart phone if you’ve got one). A lot of packaging now will say “product of STATE” and/or product of COUNTRY. Careful though. They play games like shipping California milk to Wisconsin and bottling it there, then calling it Wisconsin milk. Dairy labels have a code that allow you to track not just where they were bottled, but which farm the product came from.

Still with me? Read some labels.
Buy certified organic. Many shops now carry organic brands, especially the chains, if you don’t have a local family grocer. Check ingredients, too. If it’s got high fructose corn syrup in it, don’t buy it. Let’s get rid of our dependence on King Corn. Even refined sugar is better for you and better for the planet, plus, it tastes better. Look for “cane” sugar. If it just says sugar, it’s beet sugar and almost certainly from a genetically modified plant. Yes, this means you’ll have to stop buying soda. Don’t worry, I’ve been working on a homemade syrup that tastes like Coke! As soon as I figure it out, I’ll share it with you! (So far, some combination of citrus , coffee, and caramel seems most promising…puts on mad scientist coat and goes back to work.)

A little harder, because now you’re denying yourself stuff
Only buy in season. This means no fresh fruit in the dark of winter in my area. But I’ll let you buy locally-grown preserved fruit and vegetables, including jams, canned, frozen, pickled, etc. You’ll also have to relearn what’s in-season when. You can’t tell anymore by what’s on the shelves.

Do you have some time left?
Don’t buy things with ingredients (this is straight out of Michael Pollan). And I don’t just mean frozen pizzas and pre-prepared meals, or soup in a can. I mean jam, salsa, bread, crackers, granola and other breakfast cereals, desserts, etc. Make them yourself. Soup is easy and cheap. Making jam is rolling off a log. Ditto tomato sauce and paste. Don’t know what you’re doing? I seldom baked before I started trying to eat like this. I thought it was hard. I thought it was boring. Turns out it took exactly 3 weeks to figure out how to make all those baked goods. Even your mistakes will taste better than the corn-syrup and salt-laden imitations they’re forcing down our gullets.

Now it gets challenging. Plan ahead.
I don’t mean plan what you’re going to eat on Friday. I mean plan in July for what you’re going to eat in February. If you want locally grown, organic jams, pies, tomato sauce, and vegetables when snow is on the ground, buy it at the farmer’s market in the summer, and “put it up.” This will be a lot of work in July and August, but basically you won’t have to cook in January, February and March, because you’ll have done it already.

In pretty deep? Plant a vegetable garden.
Start with the things you know you eat a lot. Produce only what you need for the summer at first, then start adding within the constraints of your time and space. If you don’t have a yard, put some pots on your porch. If you don’t have a porch, put some herbs on a sunny windowsill. Don’t worry about budget. You’ve saved so much money taking the steps above that you have plenty to start a garden. What you can’t grow, buy at the farmer’s market.

Meat, dry goods, dairy
Look on line at FamilyFarmed.com or localharvest.com for merchants, farmers, and markets near you that have these things that are difficult to find locally.

Finally, give yourself a break.
We live in an interconnected, global society. I firmly believe you should eat in season (including imported fruits like oranges), and make things that make sense to make (bread, jam, main dishes) but that you can carry it too far. Humans have always traded. Get your cinnamon from the east, and coffee, and chocolate. Don’t deny yourself oranges in Canada, or rice in Illinois. But seek out fair trade brands, and locally-owned distributors. If you want to eat out or order in, try to find a restaurant that buys locally-grown foods, but the next best thing is to just go to a one-off, family owned business instead of the national chain. For the goddess’ sake stay out of MacDonald’s, can you do that for me?

If we all follow these steps as far as our time, energy, and budget allow, even if we never get past step one, we’ll go a long way toward repairing the damage that our profligate and blindered life style has gotten the planet into.

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Here at Chiot’s Run we try to incorporate a lot of healthy fats into our diets. We don not eat any soy, canola, corn, or other types of vegetable oils. We do eat coconut oil, red palm oil, olive oil from a small farm in California, bacon grease, beef tallow, and lots of local pastured butter. Since we’re kicking off the Real Food Challenge, I figured I’d feature some Real Oils in our Sunday Photo Post today. You can make a few simple changes by swapping out processed oils for more natural ones. The biggest change you can make is simply switching from margarine to real butter, pastured is the best if you can find it locally. You’ll know it’s pastured by the deep yellow color. Read up on the great benefit of Real Butter here.

Pastured butter and ghee is our biggest source of fat. We make some of our own butter (here’s a how-to if you’re interested), and source some from a small local dairy. I also make my own ghee, I have directions on my blog.

Finding ways to incorporate coconut oil into your diet is also a good move. Read this post on my blog about the health benefits and the different types of coconut oils.

Olive oil is also healthy, we get our organic cold pressed olive oil from Chaffin Family Orchard, a small farm in California. I order 2 gallons every January and rebottle it into glass bottles when it arrives.

Of course I always save the bacon grease when I make bacon and use it for all sorts of things, from frying onions and potatoes, to flavoring beans. I never let a drop go to waste. Incorporating animal fat is also great for your health, read up on healthy fats over at the Weston A. Price Foundation.


Down here at Unearthing This Life, we’ve “reverted” to real fats as well. The largest part of fat in our diet probably comes from milk fats. We love our butter here! We’re fortunate enough to have access to milk that is not ultra-pasteurized so it still has some of the goodness that raw milk has. Also, we only drink whole milk. Ours is not homogenized, which means the beautiful cream rises to the top. A dollop of that cream on top of some hot chocolate… YUM! Between making our butter and several other cultured dairy products like clotted cream (recipe) and we get our daily allowance of all things milky.

Like Susy, we also use a lot of animal fats. We reserve bacon drippings, beef tallow, and duck fats. When we harvested the pig in fall we fully intended to make lard, but we had a cooking accident and burned the fat. I think both families almost cried over the loss. Seriously, he makes a fabulous confit, I’m sure he did cry.

Another big deal for us is that all of my fats are organic and that I purchase minimally processed when possible, and depending on the need. I refuse to purchase canola oil simply because it is highly contaminated by GMO’s. Organic animal fats (from dairy to lard) ensure that the animal has not been given growth hormones or antibiotics. If you look for minimally processed oils that are unrefined, remember that they are going to have more of the flavor of the food that it comes from. Peanut oil will smell and tastes like peanuts, coconut oil like coconuts. Refined oil will have a more neutral flavor but it will be more processed.


So while I know some of you are cringing over the thought of adding fat to your diets – I want to reassure you that fat is needed by your body to survive. It’s food for your brain. Some fats, like those that come from walnuts and olives have been shown to add elasticity to your arteries allowing better blood flow. No one is suggesting that you begin consuming large amounts of fat, however it is worth the research to find out what fats can do to help your body.

What’s the biggest source of fat in your diet?

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March Collage

So many of us are working our way toward a more self-sufficient lifestyle. With that in mind we here at NDiN wanted to share some general guidelines of what to plan for on a monthly basis. Whether you’re a gardener, a beekeeper, a forager, or you keep animals, hopefully our monthly guides will help you plan ahead for the month. Depending on your exact climate you may find you need to adjust your schedule depending on your region.

March is the time that many of us can get outside and begin cleaning up the yard and start focusing on our spring and summer gardens for the year. A very few places are beginning to see the last frosts of the year and most of us are seeing sure signs of spring. Either way, it’s definitely warming up! So start gearing up to head back outside. (If you’re in a different climate you can search our archives for planners later in the year.)


  • Many gardeners have already begun indoor seed starting. Average start time is 6 weeks before the last frost of the season. Be sure to read the instructions on your seed packets or refer to a well-regarded manual for the best way to start each type of seed.
  • Down in the South, the Ides of March is our reference date for planting peas and onions out. Other cool weather crops like spinach and lettuces can also be planted outdoors as long as they can take a light frost. Just be sure you’re past any hard freezes in your area and be prepared with some row covers or old sheets and buckets just in case the weather turns foul.
  • If it’s not too soggy from spring rains, it’s a great time to turn beds and till soil. Work in amendments and oxygen and help break up weeds.
  • Now that they are coming out of dormancy, roses should be ready to be cut back and pruned.
  • If tulips haven’t flowered this year, try pulling up the bulb after the foliage has died back (mark the plant with a popsicle stick) and letting them go dormant and dry out indoors over the summer. In the fall, you can replant and fertilize with compost. If it doesn’t bloom the following spring you can remove the bulb altogether.
  • Cut back ornamental grasses.

Outdoor Home and Yard:

  • Work on mole hills by walking over them. It’s still early enough in the year for many that seeding isn’t necessary unless you live in a runoff area.
  • Make sure those gutters are repaired from winter storms as the spring rains will be upon
  • Rake up late falling oak and maple leaves and pick up sticks and nuts.
  • Make sure mowers and yard tools are repaired, sharpened, and ready to be used.
  • Remove and spray screens (repair if needed) to clean dust and debris and improve air flow and view for those warmer days. Doing so also helps keep your windows cleaner on rainy days!


  • Continue to work with birthing livestock.
  • Set up fencing or housing for new purchases for this spring. Many farmers will be starting to ween and begin selling baby livestock in the next month.
  • Hatcheries are really beginning to work full-force! Make sure you’ve got your egg and chick orders in!


  • Keep an old towel or two by your entry way to minimize tracking in on muddy work days. Clean it up at the end of the day so your home is still tidy when you’re ready to relax.
  • Finish your indoor chores during the cold mornings or rainy days. You know you’ll want to spend sunny and warm days outside, if you have the choice.
  • Join us for the Real Food Challenge!!!!!

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I’m a 30 year old black man who grew up in the some of the rougher “hoods” of NYC. On any corner you can find, a liquor store, a Mc Donalds, a Kansas Fried Chicken fast food spot and a “corner store” that makes most of its profit from sodas and juice, as well as cigars used to wrap “blunts” or marijuana cigarettes.

I knew nothing about natural anything. I had no idea what organic was, what buying local meant, or what I would do with the fresh foods I passed at the Union Square farmers market. I never heard of homesteading, or sustainability. All I knew was death through processed foods and hard liquor and slavery to a system that only cares about profiting from us.

I am now aware there is another way and I thirst for it. I am intimidated by what I have learned. Change can be scary but I thirst for it now. I need to learn more and more.

I really appreciate this blog as well as this post in particular. I’m sorry for the long-winded comment but I am simply excited to be on this journey.

I see a lot of you making comments already make foods from scratch. A lot of you already garden and grow your own organic fruits vegetables and herbs. I also know some of you already know how to, can, bottle and pickle your foods….

….My question is how does someone like myself learn to live this life? Is it a matter of searching one recipe at a time on the internet? Is it a matter of going to a school like http://www.iuhoakland.com/ to learn these skills? What are your suggestions? from facethelove


When I read this comment I thought it deserved a dedicated post. I’m sure there are many of you are wondering the same thing. How do you get started down the road of homesteading, growing food, canning, pickling, making things from scratch, etc?

My first main piece of advice is to START SLOWLY!

When we first read a book, see a movie, or hear something that makes us want to make big changes to our lifestyle it’s easy to get a little overzealous. We want to clear our pantry of all processed foods and start making everything from scratch. We want to avoid pesticide and irradiated produce from the grocery store so we decide we need to grow it all ourselves. We decide that storing food in plastic is killing us so we need to spend hundreds replacing all of our plastic containers. We no longer feel comfortable eating meat from the grocery store and want to make sure the cow was allowed to eat grass and the chicken was allowed to peck for bugs. We decide we need to buy a big chest freezer and a half a cow, and we needed to do it all yesterday! But this can be a HUGE mistake! There’s nothing worse than making changes that you can’t stick to, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew, or the changes will most likely not stick. You may end up back where you started, hundreds of dollars wasted and feeling guilty. That is why I recommend starting small, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself or your family (because if you have a spouse or kids, they’ll be making these changes along with you).

Here are a few of my recommendations if you want to turn around your life:

1) Give yourself time, it took a lifetime to learn you current bad habits, give yourself time to change. Be patient, it may take a while to find local sources for things you want, or to find a recipe that works for your family and it may take you a while to learn how to make the perfect bread.

2) Start small. I recommend trying to source eggs and meat locally as you’re your first venture. It’s actually fairly easy to find eggs that a neighbor or local farmer is producing that are much better quality. Meat and poultry is also fairly easy to source. If you live in a city, you may have to take a Saturday and drive outside of town to find a farm, but take the family long, talk to the farmer, tour the farm, it’s of great educational value not just to your children but to yourself as well. If you want to start growing your own food, start with a small 4×10 garden, grow things that can be harvested rather quickly and that are fairly easy to grow: lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber…

3) Decide how often you can feasibly incorporate new foods, through learning to cook them, buying them, sourcing them locally, or growing them yourself. I’d recommend maybe one per week. Head to the farmers market and pick out something you’ve never tried before, if you have children, let them choose, they’re more likely to be excited about the new venture if they’re involved in making the decisions. That gives you time to learn to cook each thing.

4) Try to find others around you, friends or neighbors, that are already doing a few of these things and connect with them, they can be an invaluable resource of knowledge. You can ask gardening advice, they might even give you seeds or plants. They can help you with your first batch of canning. Most of us who are living this kind of lifestyle already are thrilled when others want to join and are more than willing to share what we know. Build a support network of local folks, these people will be an invaluable resource for you, and who knows what kinds of relationships will spring from this journey. You may find a spouse, a future best friends, or get to know one of your neighbors.

5) Be patient and persevere. It will take a LONG time to feel like you’ve mastered something. You may not like bok choi the first or the second time you cook it, but keep trying. You may find you never like it, but trying it and learning to appreciate things you don’t love is an important part of this journey. You may fail at making bread so many times, but don’t feel bad about feeding your compost pile as you try. One day you’ll make the perfect bread and it will all be worth it.

6) Learning to appreciate food for it’s nourishing qualities instead of it’s taste is something we could all spend some time on. Food should be good, but sometimes the things we make to replace store bought items don’t quite cut it, we eat them anyway because we don’t want to waste food. It’s an important lesson to learn, especially for children, while you eat your simple, not super great meal, talk about all the people in the world that don’t have a choice, those that don’t have food or don’t have good food.

Any questions from newbies or great advice from our seasoned veterans in this area?

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Don’t lie–I know that the first thing you do in the morning is put coffee on to brew and then go online to see who has “talked” to you since you last signed off. And usually, it’s no one. (Well, what did you expect, they were all asleep, too!) But a few mornings ago, I had a lovely surprise when I booted up my email–an invitation to join this wonderful community at Not Dabbling. Through this site and each individual blog, I’ve climbed mountains with Jen, and grown seeds with Susy, and watched Kim’s kids disappear into a sunflower house. I’ve enjoyed Tennessee sunshine, Ohio winters, and camels in the Pacific Northwest.

I grew my own Chicago garden in lockstep with my family. We moved in to a vast expanse of grass in 1986 (actually a vast expanse of snow, since it was December).  Plus, I suppose “vast” only in city terms-  27×60 feet (or 3/100s of an acre) with about 1/3 devoted to edibles, 1/3 to ornamentals and the balance in paths and patios and ponds.

As the children grew so did the garden, adding vegetables, trees (well, the trees come and go), more flowers, more paths, structures, and whatnot.

The phrase “not dabbling in normal” barely touches the surface. I have it on good authority that I’m a little off the beaten track. I’m a feminist homemaker with a full time job, a political leftist with traditional values, and a non-believer who loves ritual, follows the goddess, and asks the unanswerable questions. I dabble at a lot of stuff- fundraising, figure skating, sustainable life style, cooking for non-cooks, gardening and general hell-raising. Normal I ain’t.

I like to think I’m wise, but probably I’m just opinionated. I like to call myself straight forward, but mostly I think I’m just cranky. I throw myself into the fray, and like as not get thrown back out, bloody but unbowed, as the poet says.

My children are grown and gone. The garden is grown but comes back every year, a lovely metaphor on the nature of parenting adults. What can I bring to NDIN? Think of me as the crazy aunt you never had; my children assure me I’d have been brilliant in the role.

I hope everyone here learns something from my gardens (find them at My Folia/xan) and my recipes (find them at Mahlzeit) and maybe even my skating (on Xanboni). I know in the year I’ve been following this blog I’ve learned alot about gaining friends, finding connections, and how to make mayonnaise and baking powder. And I hope to offer a perspective of someone who has always taken the road less traveled, even in a traffic jam.

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“We should all do what, in the long run, gives us joy,
even if it is only picking grapes or sorting the laundry.”

E.B. White


This past week we had a few days in the 50’s here at Chiot’s Run and I was so happy that I could hang out a few loads of laundry. There’s nothing quite as wonderful as a towel, sheets or a shirt that has been dried by the sun and the wind. What’s not to love about line drying your laundry? It saves on your electric bill, makes your clothes last longer, and you get to go outside to hang them up. I love the way the laundry looks hanging out in the garden, especially in spring when everything is still dormant. I doesn’t even bother me to hang my “unmentionables” out for the world to see (well, I suppose just the deer and the rabbits and my one neighbor see them), it is a good excuse to buy pretty underwear! Here are a few photos of the airing of my clean laundry.

Are you a line dryer? Does your climate permit doing it all year long? Do you ever dry laundry in the house during the winter?

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It used to be all that I’d preserve was tomatoes. After a few years of that I started freezing apples and peaches that I’d purchased by the bushel. When we moved to our current property we were loaded with wild blackberries, so preserves and jams obviously had to go on the list.

Now, after almost 10 years of canning, freezing, and putting by for the winter, we have a pretty good stash of goodies that help us get through until it’s time to start harvesting wild and gardened foods again. This year we put up tomatoes, chow chow, several types of fruit preserves, honey & pecans, chutney, pear and lemon preserves. We froze roasted red peppers, squash, and pumpkins, as well as a half of a pig we processed ourselves. We have onions, potatoes, winter squash, and sugar pumpkins in dry storage, and we recently joined a meat CSA. We also have dried herbs for seasonings and teas – things like sumac berries, lemon balm, and mints. And finally, I managed to save some of those wines that I brewed (hic). 

I almost feel like we’ll be cheating for this year’s Real Food Challenge (Don’t forget to sign up if you’ll be joining us)!

So, of those of you that will be playing along this next month – what will you be falling back on that you “put by” this past year? Do you mainly can, freeze, use a dry storage system like a cellar? Or will you have to start from scratch and pick up your supplies from stores and growers?

You can also find Jennifer blarging away at Unearthing This Life. There she rambles on about chickens, organic food, gardening, and living in rural Tennessee.

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Here at Not Dabbling, we’ve been discussing whether or not we’re going to do the Real Food Challenge again this year, it seems like a lot of you are interested in it. If you’re interested in participating again this year, we’ll once again spend the Month of March once again focusing on Real Food.

No doubt you’ve all got some great stories and tips as some of you tried to incorporate the Real Food Challenge throughout the year. I’ve even spent some time this winter reading up on a few thing about pet food, and I might do a post or two about that during the challenge, after all, pets thrive on Real Food too!

Are there any specific things you’d like us to focus on during the Real Food Challenge this year? Do you want to join us again this year?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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“The smell of good bread baking,
like the sound of lightly flowing water,
is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight”


— M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating


Here at Chiot’s Run I spend a lot of time baking in the winter. Freshly baked bread is good all year long, but there’s something especially warming and cozy about it on a cold winter day. I find myself baking a lot more bread during the winter than I do in the summer. Here are a few of the loaves that have been making their way out of my oven this winter.


Jennifer here! Since last year’s Real Food Challenge we’ve taken to baking all of our breads year ’round. We make everything from our sandwich bread to our pizza dough. I’ve found excellent recipes for our sandwich buns, bagels, and pitas. But once the weather turns cool I start to crave things like cobblers, sweet quick breads, and scones.

Ironically I think I’m more prone to bake an “artisanal” loaf of bread during the summer months when we have more guests staying with us. During the winter months we definitely bake more breakfasts and a few extra sweet things. Perhaps we cut down on those “artisanal” breads to make up for those sweeter things?

Are you a bread baker? Do you bake more bread in the winter?

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It’s that time of year to start thinking about the upcoming sugaring season. If you’ve never sugared your maples before I’d recommend that you give it a go. It’s loads of fun and you end up with maple syrup at the end. It’s a great way to slow down and take notice what goes into the production. It will certainly make you not ever want to waste a precious drop, even if it’s not your own homemade syrup.

Mr Chiots and I have been sugaring our maples for a few years. Last year we got over a gallon of syrup from our trees. It’s really not that difficult, basically you collect sap from maple trees (they don’t have to be sugar maples), boil it down, finish to a certain temperature, strain and enjoy. I’d highly recommend getting a book like Backyard Sugarin’ to read through before you begin. I’d also highly recomend reading the book Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup, it is not only the story of making maple syrup, but some history and an explanation of the beauty of the process. This article from OSU is also very informative.

This week I’ll be getting out all of my spiles and washing them up. I’ll also get all the jars and wire hangers ready. We’ll put a tap in the big maple tree that we can see from the kitchen window and we’ll keep our eye on it. When the sap starts to flow we’ll tap the rest of our trees (about 25 total).

Then we’ll spend our days gathering sap and boiling it down. Hopefully our season lasts longer than it did last year so we get a few gallons of syrup. There’s nothing more wonderful that enjoying tall stack of pancakes topped with maple syrup you made yourself. It’s also a great conversation when you’re at parties and gatherings. People are truly amazed when they find out that regular people make their own syrup.

If you’d like to tap a couple of your maple trees you’d better start looking for some supplies. If you don’t need tons of supplies Tap My Trees is a great place. I go my local Lehman’s store to purchase what I need, you may also be able to find a local store if you check around.

Do you or have you considered tapping your maple trees?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, beekeeping, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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