Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Eat Your Weedies

Weeds & Greens
Anyone who has planned a community event knows that people will show up if there’s food.  Better yet, throngs will appear if the food is free.  Until recently I assumed this was a cardinal social rule…but I've discovered an exception.  Imagine a garden growing in a neighborhood.  It doesn't have to be planted, fertilized, watered, or cultivated.  Sadly, it grows and decays each season without much more than a passing glance or aggravated huff from the humans that share its habitat.  Why?  Because this garden is hidden in plain sight.  It is the crabapples that litter the sidewalks, the dandelions that riddle the yard, the burdock burrs that tangle Fido’s fur, and the green haze that carpets the forest floor.  Somewhere between the passage of time and the progress of society, the wild plants around us have been demoted from life-giving nourishment & health to pretty ornamentals at best and noxious weeds at worst.  I've always appreciated this garden, but now I’m beginning to study it.  Like a preschooler looking at the jumble of letters that fills an encyclopedia, I’m facing the overwhelming excitement that is the plant world in my own proverbial back yard.  Plant by plant, part by part, one culinary and medicinal use at a time, I’m learning to utilize the wild garden around me.  I don’t have to be an expert, I just have to begin.  I’m writing to share that you can, too!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cold Frame Update: There's a Radish in My Salad!

February 17th
In chilly February, Weldon and I planted a variety of seeds into our first cold frame.  In chilly March we hovered searching for tiny emerald shoots to emerge under the glass roof.  For weeks we watched as erratic temperatures and sporadic sunshine struggled to coax our radishes, kale, chard, spinach, and beets from the soil.  Now April is here...and it's still pretty chilly. Thankfully, a good warm rain last week and a few days of bursting sun did wonders for our adolescent veggies...

April 7th

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Paste, Powder, & Pearly Whites

For the past two weeks I've been miserably consumed by the banal efforts to recover from dental surgery.  In all my years I've never spent so much time thinking about, let alone coddling, my mouth.  I went in for a routine appointment to remove my two lower wisdom teeth.  I came out with a golf ball in one cheek, a chunk missing from my jawbone, and bruising that a prizefighter would be proud of.  After nearly fourteen days of mushy foods and lethargic couch conquering, I’m finally feeling like myself again (despite the creepy stitches and cavernous divots in the back of my mouth).  It seems only right that after all this oral pontificating, I launch back into the blogosphere with a post about an old school dental product that’s making a comeback with homemade health nuts like me: Tooth Powder!  You may wonder why in the world I’d go to the effort to make my own tooth powder when convenient tubes of paste line the shelves of any grocery.  What on Earth could be so bad about the minty goop that advertisements promise will kill germs, fight plaque, and blindingly whiten my chompers?  Later in the post, I’ll get into why I've chosen to ditch conventional toothpaste (even natural varieties can be questionable).  For now, let’s take a look at how a few inexpensive ingredients and less than five minutes of effort can boost oral hygiene to a sparkling level.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

We All Scream for Ice Cream

Ice cream in March?  I have a medical excuse.  No, really!

Two of my wisdom teeth have been displaying such interesting contortions that my dentist insisted an oral surgeon remove them for exhibit in the dental hall of fame.  Lucky me!  I have an appointment for tomorrow.  In preparation for my open-mouthed marathon, I've been busy making a few healthful, nourishing dishes that I can consume (a.k.a. slurp) later this week while I hide from admiring dental enthusiasts (a.k.a. recover at home with ice packs strapped to my cheeks). Unfortunately, ice cream has yet to be lauded as a top ten health food, but I decided to add it to my list of recovery foods for this week.  I'm posting my favorite homemade custard-based recipe, comprised of (mostly) nutrient-dense and delicious ingredients.  There's plenty of good stuff in this sweet delight, so I have no qualms about eating it for this "special" occasion.  Besides, the soothing cool will be a welcome relief from the throbbing of my hole-y lower jaw.

P.S.  As a springy St. Patrick's Day spin, I've added organic mint flavoring and mint chocolate sandwich cookies to the classic vanilla base.  Get creative as you customize the ice cream flavors to your personal and seasonal favorites!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Reading: Research or Recreation?

It's hard to justify a post about reading when it's 70 degrees outside and the sun's Siren call is beckoning many of us.  Attempting to live up to its schizophrenic reputation, March came into Kentucky as a roaring ice and snow storm last week and threatens to bring rain and freezing temperatures by tomorrow.  But sandwiched between these blustery spells has been a slice of heaven bringing the promise of paradise on the other side.  Last week's winter wonderland (the worst this season) had me snuggled seven-layers deep on my couch.  I spent hours reading, savoring the sedate activity before spring's bustle of activity catapults me into the kinetic and outdoor world.  In my opinion, reading is an oft-overlooked element of the auto-didactic, do-it-yourself lifestyle.  It is a fundamental homestead skill.  Blissfully, I blur the lines between research and recreation.  I admit I rarely have time for many of the bestsellers or latest novels, but works on How-To, witty philosophical musings, food, nature, and even classic literature keep me plenty busy.  I have an unending list of titles I'm eager to keep churning through.  I make time to read just like I make time to grow my garden, cook from scratch, or care for livestock.  The homesteading two-step of researching and doing is just that, a dance in which two indispensable partners must find their rhythm without overpowering each other. I don't consider reading a luxury; I consider it a gratifying requirement of the lifestyle I've chosen.  Despite the frenetic pace in which most of us live, there are subtle ways to lace the schedule with a good read.  So, dear readers, bear with me: Below are my tongue-in-cheek tips for How to Read.

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Can't Believe It's Real Butter!

I can think of a few bedazzling achievements from the 1980s:  the hair crimping iron, Hammer pants, the Back to the Future movies, Swatch watches...and yours truly!  On the other hand, there are a host of notable disasters from this quirky decade. One such product will remain nameless, but is the antithesis to this week's post hero -- home-churned butter!  With the advent of shelf-stable vegetable-based substitutes and the vilification of dietary fats in Western culture, for over seventy years butter has been squeezed out of its rightful place as a nutritional staple.  However, the tides are turning as trans-fats and processed butter substitutes are being exposed as health threats.  Instead, real butter from pastured cows is being recognized as a rich source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), beta-carotene, Omega-3s, selenium, and Vitamins A and E.  But it is another member of butter's myriad assets that is currently making nutritional headlines: Vitamin K2.  Scientists are finding that K2 in grassfed milk butter is essential for keeping bones healthy and arteries clear from calcification, among many other benefits.  How's that for a reversal of the notion that butter clogs the arteries!?  As we continue to recover from the many oddities of the 80s, I'm thrilled that butter is back on the menu where it belongs.  For a more thorough look at good vs. bad fats and why healthy fat is our friend, see the "Food" tab on my homepage. Also, please read more about Vitamin K2 and its integral role in our diet.  Now for the fun part -- the simple steps to making delicious, homemade butter.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Keep it Simple, Seedling!

I can't help but smirk when I hear the words "simple living" because the phrase and reality are as similar as black and white.  When the woodstove won't draw properly, the milk sours before there's time to make yogurt, the weather doesn't cooperate with drying the laundry, and "fast food" must be made from whole food ingredients that act more like Eeyore than Speedy Gonzalez, it can be really difficult to find the "simple" in the life we've chosen.  In some respects, there's very little that is actually simple about homesteading...which is why Weldon and I are finding it imperative to follow Simplicity as a guiding light.  My husband likes to call it "lazy", I prefer "efficient".  With each passing year in our farming and homesteading experience, it seems we aspire to be even "lazier" in our ventures ("more efficient", really).  All the while, we remain unwavering in our ideals. With so many worthwhile endeavors to engage in, it's not difficult to recognize the predicament and to concede that perhaps the lazy/efficient way of doing things is the most likely to yield fulfillment and balance in the bigger picture.  There's already an element of hard, why make it any harder?

And so, I'm only slightly hesitant to admit that Weldon and I are evolving into lazy (though passionate) gardeners.  Why till?  Why weed?  Why fertilize or spray?  Our gardening priorities have become whatever is low-maintenance, high output, and keeps the soil, microbes, plants, and us happy.  We both love to grow things, we just don't want to work overly hard at something Nature is pretty adept at doing already.  This year, we decided to turn part of our stubby, sandy anti-yard into a few raised beds for cultivating vegetables and herbs.  Along with our existing container gardening, we are trying our hand at year-round growing (a la Eliot Coleman's books) and using a methodology called square-foot-gardening (a la Mel Bartholomew's books).  Our previous seasons of experience with hay mulching and composting are leading us toward a system that will ideally keep weeds at bay, soil nutrients high, pests to a minimum, and good-eating to the max. Though the forecast this week says it's still winter, Weldon and I spent part of last week renewing our friendship with soil and seeds!