Sunday, February 26, 2012

Independence Days Challenge 3: 02/25/2012

OK, so I said I was going to follow through on this and I am. I just don't have much this week due to the usual: work and travel. So, here it is in the short and sweet.

Planted: Planted a flat of peppers and one of tomatoes. The peppers are up and the tomatoes are no show. This is odd. I will give the latter one more week before I realize the company I bought the seed from is probably not reputable. I also transplanted the tomatoes seedlings I planted as an experiment using the dense seed method. They are doing great!

Harvested: Eggs only this week (2 dozen)

Preserved: Uh! The weeks are already starting to blend together. I believe last weekend I preserved a 1/2 dozen half-pints jars of blood orange marmalade. It was suppose to be sauce (since the last try at marmalade made sauce), but I actually got perfect marmalade! I also filtered the vodka/Meyer lemon fusion and made the syrup to start the aging process for Limoncello!

Waste Not: Working hard, very hard, in getting the boys to not waste food. Sometimes it works, sometimes not (and, more often, the chickens and dogs eat really well!) Also,the usual Rs.

Want Not: Stored nothing this week. I also did not thrift shop (gasp!) or buy any books. I guess in not shopping or eating out while on the road, I get to store the per diem money.

Eat the Food: Black bean chili (pantry items), peach crisp (using the rest of the granola I made two weeks ago and my own canned peaches), eggs in many forms.

Build Community: Sadly, I was not a part of a community this past week. I was transient.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Independence Days Challenge 2b: 02/17/12

Time again for an IDC update. I have no idea where my time goes, but Friday sneaks up on me before I know it.

This is a hard time of year for me. It is a period between winter and late winter and summer (in the north anyway; south is another story where "spring" actually exists). Of course, with all the mild weather we've had this winter, it seems rather spring like now (but I know better to wait as winter may bare her teeth yet).

So, this is the quiet IDC time, in a sense, yet it is also a time when the little indoor chores can be completed (at least in theory!)

Planted Something: Started more seeds: tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplant, cumin and basil. The flats of seeds started on my first IDC (technically the one before the challenge actually started) are up and some have their true leaves. I need to put them under lights (I bought a light in KY and it didn't work so I have to return it). Currently, they are near the big Victorian windows of my office.

I guess I can also put in this section the kombucha starter I received at that Permaculture group. I started it last weekend and I see it is doing well.

Harvested Something: One kumquat from my (poor, suffering) houseplant and lots of eggs (I've already lost track of the number-maybe 24).

Preserved Something: Nothing this week.

Waste Not: The usual "R's": Reduced food waste, Recycled packaging and papers, Reused jars and yogurt containers for planting. Also, brought home my compost from KY for the chickens or garden (it is already part of the system at the farm).

Want Not: Found some interesting cookbooks at the thrift store this week, including Daniel Leader's Local Breads. I've always wanted this book (and hope in my extreme disorganization I don't already have it. Should I find it, I plan to have a giveaway. I already found I have two copies of Gaia's Garden). I also found two large planters on clearance at a home improvement store. They will be perfect for the apartment planting. I also picked up a Youth Catholic bible for the oldest boy who goes to Catholic school (as an aside, my kids are being raised Catholic because of paternal tradition. Funny, since I consider myself to be pagan; however, I think the structure and community is good for them, so I go along with it. I just express that religion is a personal choice for each person and we respect all beliefs in that way. I have to say I am having some second thoughts on this choice of mine due to the recent political issues and the war on women in the US, but that's a topic for another day).

Other want nots, we had our taxes done last night (yay!) and are expecting a large-ish refund (which, sadly, will go on the "get out of debt" pile). I ordered more trees from a local conservation district (hazelnut, American cranberry, red maple, black cherry, and flowering dogwood). The trees I ordered a few years ago (and noted on that year's IDC!) are doing well and have grown tremendously. I need to fertilize them soon. I may actually get a crop off the apricots (fingers crossed). I also bought more seeds: Asian greens and radicchio.

Last, I worked out 5 days this week and have continued eating healthy (vegetarian and no sugar). I have lost a total of 15 pounds and want to lose another 15 by May or June. My clothes are fitting better already!

Eat the Food: I made granola with honey from the neighbor and it was wonderful. I used leftover vegetarian fajitas (we ate out last night for the first time in months) in our eggs this morning. I am making vegetarian split pea soup (from the stores) with curry.

Build a Sustainable Community: Yes! I attended another meeting in KY. This one is a group focusing on building farms everywhere and anywhere. The topic for this month's meeting was berries and an organic berry farmer taught us the ins and outs of planting Blueberry, raspberries/blackberries, and strawberries. I learned I have been making many mistakes! So, I plan to retry blueberry plants this year and care a bit better for the raspberries I have planted. I really want to start a group such as this in Indiana. I also met a few people who are putting their urban properties into edibles. One woman lives about 6 city clocks from me in the same neighborhood (Louisville) and we exchanged phone numbers. I really enjoyed myself!

Skill Up: Learned how to take care of berry plants and how to increase crop yields (all organically!) I have also been reading from the 2011 influx of urban farming books. So far, I think the one called Urban Farming Handbook is my favorite even though it (like a lot of them) focuses on the NW corner of the US. I am also studying how to graft apple buds. I plan to order rootstock to try and save our two damaged "wild" trees and an old Granny Smith I spotted in an old abandoned farm property near the farm.

Monday, February 13, 2012


So, if my super-micro-managing-supermanager doesn't force me to travel this week, I am going to another Meetup in Louisville. This one is every month on the 15th and is sponsered by the owner of a great coffee shop here in Louisville (the owner is so awesome he uses compostable coffee cups and saves the coffee grinds for vermiculturing). This meeting will be about caring for berry plants and includes a potluck of healthy, local foods and a seed swap.

Being that this will be my first time at the meeting, I wasn't sure if I should bring something. However, I wanted to experiment with making something healthy this weekend and I came up with my potluck dish: Chunky Granola!

It is good. I mean really good. I used honey that my neighbor gave me from his hives (local to me in IN anyway...shhh, don't tell!), sorghum I bought awhile ago from the Amish (also a Northern IN local food) and the secret KY ingredient: Bourbon! The rest of the ingredients (rolled oats, almonds & pistachios, pumpkin seeds, dehulled hemp seeds, and dried cherries) are organic and good (sadly, not local); I am really pleased how it came out. I made it last night before I left to go back to KY, but today it is even better! I hope it stays good until Wednesday.

If you are interested in making some for yourself, I altered this recipe. She calls for milk (I omitted it to make it vegan [well, except for honey] and I used the Bourbon instead). I also omitted the brown sugar and added a bit more honey. I used half canola oil and a bit of olive oil (to use up a small bottle I had). Last, I added cinnamon and cardamom for a bit of flavor.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Independence Days: 02/10/2012

I am actually posting this a day early because tomorrow, I am going to be busy, busy and then right on the road to the north. KY is going to be under a winter weather advisory tomorrow through Saturday. I only hope I get up past it before it starts (I dread driving I-65 during bad weather).

I am still missing my Canon Rebel. I have no idea where I put it. This is the trouble with living 4 hours between two places. I constantly fret over what I left behind (wallet-check, keys-check, compost-check...that sort of thing).

The last week has been a busy, but productive one. I even (drumroll) received multiple compliments from my supervisor! :)

OK, here is my update:

Planted: heirloom tomatoes (I hope not too early); several varieties of hot peppers; eggplant, bell pepper and tomatillos (verde and purple). The cabbage and broccoli I planted a week ago are up and I think I see teeny asaparagas and rhubarb sprouts (probably, wishful thinking!) I also attended a seed starting course through a Permaculture group I recently joined. We learned this guy's technique for dense seed planting and were able to bring a little Ponderosa Pink tomato seedling home. The next two weeks I hope to finish up on most of the seed starting. I may start another round of tomatoes, but we'll see how the early ones go.

Harvested: Eggs

Preserved: Nothing this week

Waste Not: keeping apartment compost to take home each weekend (I found a lidded container to use for storage and I will freeze when weather gets warmer); took cardboard and shredded paper waste at work to recycling center. I saved useful planting containers including toilet paper rolls. Mostly ate vegetarian this week (I had fish twice as I had some in the freezer to use up). I read a book a co-worker loaned me called Forks over Knives and they make the case for a plant based diet. I was a vegetarian for over 13 years. I have been off sugar for 2.5 weeks and feel so much better and I've lost 10 pounds. I think, after I use up what I have left as far as meat goes, I am going on a strictly plant based, whole foods diet (however, I am keeping eggs and possible dairy, but I'm still on the fence on the latter). I have been using up all the lentils and beans I stored (for years) and the food has been fabulous. I guess I should talk about this in Eat the Food.

Want Not: My youngest son Lyndon asked me last night why when we practice tornado drills (or go to the basement in inclement weather) we don't take my sweet dove Peace with us. I guess I just never thought about it. So, together, we made up a new plan that includes putting Peace in his cage (or grabbing him, according to L.) and taking him with us. Pets are family and should be part of the plan. For a four year old, he's an amazingly observant person. That all being said, I guess I will need to store some bird food in the basement for emergencies.

  • This week I stored extra cans of beans, coffee (another thing I really am thinking of weaning myself off of permanently), hulled hemp seeds, tea, and chicken feed.

  • I thrifted a couple of planters for the apartment garden & some cookbooks.

  • I purchased fruit trees, berry canes, and seeds. I also picked up a seeding heat mat at a (KY) local seed & garden company (more on this place in a moment).

  • Worked out (so far) four times (want not health problems or obesity!)

  • Add a couple of reference books to my library.
Eat the Food: As stated above, I made a big pot of lentils and ate on them for most of the week. I bought this spice from Trader Joe's awhile ago called (I think) African Smoked Peppers. It is smoked cayenne peppers and you grind it into your food. I love it and will definitely be going back to TJ to stock up on it.

Build a Sustainable Community: Oh, I had an excellent week here! I joined a Permaculture group and had my first meetup. We learned how to plant using the above referenced technique and then we had a fermentation class. My favorite part was the kefir. I am on the lookout for real kefir grains (it is rumored a local co-op sells them, but I struck out today at one of the locations). I also learned a new technique for capturing sourdough yeast and the presenter brought an awesome cranberry pecan bread spread with creme fraiche. OMG was it ever good! This is why I am torn about giving up dairy. I am looking forward to the next meeting.

I also supported local businesses. I bought my pole bean seeds from a seed company that has been in Louisville for several generations. I met the owner at a conference last month. The shop is really great (they have a great book selection).

Skill Up: Here is a great way to make a sourdough starter. Go out in your yard and find a tree. The teacher used an oak. Take 3-4 leaves and rinse them briefly. Then place the leaves in a Mason jar with a bit of filtered water and shake it like a polaroid (yea, stole that from the Black Eyed Peas!) Then add a few teaspoons of rye and whole wheat flour. Lightly cover it (or use coffee filter and rubberband). Wait a few days and then add enough of the WW flour to make a pancake batter consistency. This is now your starter!! The guy teaching this part dries his extra in a sunny window and we all got to take home our own starter! I also obtained a new kombucha starter (The one I got from a friend a couple of years ago (Hi K!) finally gave out when I transferred to Louisville. Now I can start again. Now I just need that kefir starter!

One more skill up this week: The wonderful tasting creme fraiche! Take organic heavy cream and put 2-3 Tablespoons of buttermilk into it. Cover with the coffee filter and put in warmish spot (like the top of a refrigerator). In a few days you'll end up with something similar to cream cheese

Monday, February 6, 2012

My Own Notes

1. I've lost 9 lbs over the past 2.5 weeks. I have many more to go, but already my diet and cravings have changed.

2. I do want a glass of wine. Or a beer.

3. I was very productive at work today. I didn't let it get me down.

4. I watched a thrifted DVD tonight Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (I so love that movie). I am a forced responsible version of the flighty girl.

5. The test Roma seeds I planted are up and happy. So are the broccoli and cauliflower.

6. Tomorrow night I have my first "meetup". I am learning some gardening techniques and about the fermentation process.

7. I am reading a great (once again, thrifted) book called Wild Shores. It was written in 1984, but it futuristic.

8. I miss my kids tonight.

9. I still need to get my taxes ready to calculate. Sigh.

10. I found a recipe for a ginger raisin biscotti. Oh, can't wait until I can eat flours again.

11. And I can't wait until I can plant flowers again!

12. I really need to focus on only a couple of things at a time. I think I would feel better.


Friday, February 3, 2012

Independence Days Challenge: 02-03-2012

Well, this is update number one for IDC. Of course, this is the short week as the IDC just started Wednesday (and I wasn't sure if this Friday was the first post or next week...either way I have a few tasks and challenges to contribute this week). Next week will be better. I will be planting more seeds, learning TWO new skills (well, refresher you could say on one), and probably canning something!

This week:

Plant Something: I planted asparagus, rhubarb, broccoli and cauliflower seeds and they are now in my warm and sunny office. I hope they sprout as it is older seed (I cleaned out my seed storage and am testing and purging old seed-a lot more to go).

Harvest Something: We found four eggs in the big barn (Lyndon has great egg spotting eyes). Sadly, the chickens are laying all over the place due to coop damage last month (we had 60 MPH winds that also pushed down several trees-more on that in a minute). Nothing plant wise yet.

Preserve Something: Not this week, but maybe this weekend which will be on next week's IDC list.

Waste Not: Fixed the old compost bin an X built for me. It's been going strong since 1999! Scraps to chickens is normal event. I rotated (self)canned goods in pantry so older stuff is in front. Found and cleaned all the old seedling pots I have saved or stored (in barn, garage or house) and see I do not need to purchase any (except the 2 I bought down in Louisville) this year. On the same topic, I collected a bunch of insulated coffee cups from the DH car (he's a total slob) to use for seed starting. This is from the recent past, but I have a stack of yogurt cups for the seeds as well. The seedling trays I found out in the barn should hold them all. In sad news, my MIL bought a 1/4 beef to can and freeze. She was telling me about it and said they planned to cut up the meat into chunks themselves (less cost). At first, she said it would have bones. I asked what her plans for the bones were and she said she didn't want them. I was excited. I could roast them and make nutritious bone broth. However, she said that she had the butcher debone the meat and wasn't taking the bones.

Want Not: I have been on a bit of a "no spend" since the start of 2012 and am doing fairly well. I have not purchased anything beyond necessity or for spring planting. I did add Roasted Green Tea, star anise, and a spice mix (cinnamon, cumin, anise and clove) and sweet basil seed to the pantry. I bought these at a small 'mom and pop' Asian store in KY. I also received many seeds in the mail this week. I ordered most of them from very little businesses. I hope they are good (all heirlooms, but I will later buy hybrid tomatoes and green pepper plants for garden gaps from the IN Amish). I bought mostly heirloom tomatoes and hot peppers (Peter's Pepper, fish, and some others I can't remember off hand), and a smaller variety of other heirloom seeds (zucchini, cucumbers, beans, ect.) I also order bare root trees, three apples to replace the two mature ones we lost in the winds, two hazelnuts, and two raspberry plants (these will arrive in April).

I also surveyed all the damage the winds and heavy, wet snow caused. DH started to cut up the trees (despite never listening to me say I planned to order mushroom span. Sigh) and I requested long enough poles from the branches to use as trellis for beans and vines. He broke our chainsaw (and I just paid $60 to have it tuned up and sharpened) and I am not sure if it can be fixed. Can you tell I'm unhappy with him right now? He constantly sets us back 5 steps for every one we manage. One of the trees was a very nice apple tree (and a less nice one fell as well). It really looked healthy so its a bit sad. There was also damage to the chicken coop's yard fence and will need to be fixed. I am planning on painting the coop and putting in a rock "patio" in the front in order to cut down on the mud, so maybe the revamp is a blessing in disguise. We are taking out the floor and switching to a deep mulching method. This method requires deep layers of wood chips and each year it naturally composts the litter for the garden, but keeps the top nice and dry and clean for the hens (and rooster). I think it would be best for the yard which is often a mud pit and I am hoping it alleviates the stress of cleaning it with our harried schedules.

Eat the Food: Well, since today was my first full day home (in Indiana), I made eggs for breakfast and lunch. Tonight, we had a Thai inspired stir-fry, but the only item in it I can say is part of this challenge was an older jar of green beans I threw in.

Build a sustainable Community: Not much to report here (yet). Stay tuned for next week!

Skill Up: Again, next week will be more exciting here! However, I am always reading blogs and books and other items to learn. In fact, I did read about the deep mulching technique this past week, but I can't remember if it was in one of the three-4 books I'm reading or the 'net. Beyond that, I will try to be more specific in the future.

Are you playing along? It's easy!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Independance Days Challenge

Sharon's bringing it back!

For several years (I lost count), I participated in a challenge meant to celebrate the steps we take to bring independence from the system. What system? You may ask. Most of them is the best I can reply.

There are so many issues to bring us down: unemployment (or, my favorite, underemployment); eco-troubles, political problems, societal clashes, rising inflation, rising costs, poisons in our food...Yea, it's depressing. Personally, I've mentioned my struggles: away from my children during the week, away from my farm, stuck in a job that is quickly turning my dark hair grey.

Independence Days Challenge challenges us to rise above the issues and be aware that we are capable of survival by performing small steps towards self-sufficiency. In the early days of IDC, someone once called it a Camp TEOTWAWKI event (The End of The World As We Know It). Sounds much happier that way, doesn't it? Seriously, it does seem to me the world has crossed a boundary that can never be recrossed again. Adjustment is all we can do. In this case, focus on the positive. You do amazing things everyday!

So, check it out! The best part is learning from others walking a similar path. You will be amazed by what folks accomplish in the course of a week! Me? I will (try really, really hard) to post my updates on Fridays. Um, maybe Saturdays. Either way, I am really looking forward to participating in this challenge again.

Here are the categories in a nutshell:

1. Plant Something: Just as it sounds. Plant a garden. Plant a seed. Plant a forest. Plant a thought.

2. Harvest Something: Well, if you do something in #1, you will harvest food. However, this can also mean Farmer's Markets, CSAs, foraging, gleaning, eggs, honey etc.

3. Preserve Something: Can, freeze, the food you harvest.

4. Waste Not: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Compost. Time.

5. Want Not: This is the stockpiling part of the challenge. Find ways to store items that could be essential to survival off the Merry-go-round we are used to riding. In the past I have placed vintage blankets, farming/gardening equipment, extra wool sweaters (thrifted, of course!), canning supplies, alcohol. It can also mean repairing or building something (home, chicken coops, shelves), gathering reference materials (library, thrifted books, new books), or just "...wanting what you got" to badly quote Sheryl Crow.

6. Eat the Food: This one ties into "Waste Not". Never, ever, ever, never waste what you preserve, harvest, or store. This is the place to tell everyone what you are eating. And, everyone loves food porn. I'm just saying...

7. Build Community Food Systems: Being Independent is not the same as being alone. Build a community. Find a way to make all this shit better. Really. Be creative.

8. Skill Up: And speaking of creativity, learn something. Read, join a class, observe, find information. It may be the most important step you can take at this moment in world that needs improvement one teeny step at a time.