Thursday, May 29, 2014


Deus Ex Machina is sponsoring a giveaway on his blog.

Be sure to check it out ;).

The Future of Health

I picked up what looked like it might be an interesting book at the library the other day. It's called Maine Roots: Growing Up Poor in Kennebec County. I've probably mentioned before that I like reading about such things - depressed times and how people coped with them. I have my reasons for this obsession.

It's interesting, as the book takes place in the early part of the 20th Century. In the late part of the 19th Century, that part of Maine was bustling. Several small communities sprang up around the Kennebec River and its tributaries to support the logging industry. There were thousands of small farms, and most of the people subsisted quite comfortably, if not extravagantly, on what they grew on their farms.

Then, the railroad came along with its produce grown all over the US, and the small farmers along the banks of the Kennebec, with their thin soil and short growing season, could not compete. Things dried up, and by the time the Great Depression hit the rest of the United States, much of what had been bustling communities had dried up into near Ghost Towns.

It's important to note that before the Great Depression, industry was booming. The world was getting smaller as the railroad connected the eastern US to the western US, and steamer ships brought goods and people across the wide Atlantic and to our shores. It was a time of huge technological and medical advances. Food was plentiful. Goods and services were available and most people could afford them, and for those who didn't have the cash-on-hand, the former, more conservative, attitude toward credit slackened. People started borrowing to buy what they wanted or thought they needed.

It wasn't so very different from the world in which we find ourselves today. Everything looks more extravagant from this side looking backward. Certainly, we pay a lot more in dollars today for the same goods and services that were purchased back in those days, and, perhaps, we live more comfortable (if not better) lives than our great-grandparents. We also do a lot less, move a lot less, and consume a lot more.

But the markers for what happened in the early 20th Century to recur are present today. We borrow too much money. We consume too much. We've grown too fast.

As the saying goes, those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, and I submit that the average person - who thinks he/she knows history - doesn't really know all that much about what happened back in the day, or why. If we had learned those lessons from our great-grandparents and grandparents, we would have avoided debt. We wouldn't have trusted in the "system." We wouldn't be where we are.

But we have a short memory, and history textbooks aren't designed to really teach the how's and why's of where we've been.

And where we are destined to return.

Maybe more today than back then, we have the tools to weather another economic collapse, if we start putting them together now.

I have my opinions about modern medicine, especially the pharmaceutical industry, but my opinions are irrelevant to the fact that, our medical systems is incredibly complicated and horribly expensive. The average person already can't afford medical care, even though the recent ACA attempted to rectify the situation. There will be gaps in care, or the mandated insurance policy won't pay for the care the individual really needs. The ACA will likely fail, too, though, and we'll be left with care that we can't afford and that won't make us better.

The option is self-care, and we have a wonderful tool in a set of books that is published by the Hesperian Press. The point of the books is to provide information and assistance to communities where medical care currently doesn't exist, but the books can be incredibly helpful in the future.

If you've gotten this far, the whole point of this entire post was to provide a link to the Hesperian Health Guides. I was fortunate to be gifted a copy by my aunt many years ago, and I've since downloaded digital copies of others of their books, including the books on dentistry and midwifery.

There's no such thing as too many books.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Busy-ness of Life on a Suburban Farm

This time of year is so busy. We're in between dance competitions and the annual recital. Classes and activities are winding down, but before that end, there's always a rush to get things done. It feels hurried and full, like everything needs to be done NOW, because we're out of time.

The homestead follows that same pace. We start the spring, slowly, easing into the warmer days and above freezing nights, waiting until the right time to put the tender plants in the ground. Too early and we lose them. It's best to wait, but in the waiting, we might miss that perfect window of opportunity. Maybe we don't get the peas in soon enough, and then, it gets too hot for them, and we never get peas. Sometimes, the cold hardy plants go from seed to seed so quickly, we miss the fruit. In a space as small as ours, every inch has to be put to its best use. We can't afford waste.

It's a really bad time for injuries, but that's exactly what I've been battling for the last four days - a hurt back (from too vigorously weed-whacking) and the need to be able to get out and plant: the seeds - potatoes and corn; onion starts; cabbage and broccoli seedlings. And the need to be able to get out and dig up the tenacious Jerusalem artichokes and reclaim my herb bed, that I would like to transform into an edible flower garden this year.

And then, there are the baby bunnies - two litters from our two does. One of whom is a new mama (even though she's getting long in the tooth for a rabbit) we've tried, unsuccessfully, to breed several times over the years, and I'm a bit concerned about the kits, as it doesn't look like she's really caring for them. The other doe is an old pro, and her kits are growing exactly as expected.

And we're on our second batch of baby chicks, which means we have half the chicken we'll raise for the year. The first batch should be ready to go to the butcher in another week or so.

Things are moving so fast now, and until the middle of July, it doesn't look like things will slow down. Or not, because late July to mid-August will be right about peak harvest time with lots of canning and processing, and in the midst of all of our gardening and harvesting, we'll also be trying to harvest and prepare as much wood as we can for the coming winter.

But, maybe, that's exactly the way it's supposed to be, and things won't really slow down until the end of October, when we move into the "death of the year", the harvest is in, and we start spending long evenings next to the woodstove.

Keep an eye on Deus Ex Machina's blog for some exciting announcements including, perhaps, some chat about the ewe hide we've been gifted and the process of tanning it, an outline of our Foraged Sundays summer project, and a giveaway.

Time to plant the corn!

Free food!

Painted potato towers - I'm determined to be both utilitarian and pretty this year ;)

Week old baby buns

Gratuitous cute kitten picture

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reusing New-Old Stuff

Deus Ex Machina and I were chatting the other day about stuff in the world, as we often do - sharing stories about things we've read in the media. He's a CNN guy, I have a Yahoo page with various news outlets and I read Der Spiegel, and of course, we're both Facebook aficionados with a cornucopia of friends and acquaintances across the political and social strata who comment on both sides of the spectrum. There is a lot of information out there. We take all of these little pieces we get from all of these different places and boil it down, and the sticky mess in the end isn't as bright and shiny as some would want us to believe.

The media tells us that the economy is improving. Our eyes tell us that it's not. Prices are increasing every where. We went to a birthday party the other day and gave $20 cash (because the celebrant is trying to earn cash for an upcoming trip, and cash, in this case, seemed appropriate). When I thought about that sum, though, it seemed so paltry. When I was little $20 would have been a fortune, but today ... I spent $11 at the ice cream parlor the other day for a milk shake, an ice cream parfait, and a dish for the dog. We spend so much money for so little these days.

There are other things that seem to indicate things aren't in as wonderful shape as some would have us believe. We can see that, overall, there is a lot less being built, and like in China, many of the recently constructed homes and offices sit empty of owners/tenants.

I'm not complaining about that though. I'm happy to see less build-out. In fact, the question came up the other day while chatting about the whole climate change argument of how maybe the urbanization of the world is partially responsible for the climate change. Still man-made, for certain, but the fact is that cities are hotter than rural areas. It's called the "heat island effect."

Recently, Deus Ex Machina referred to this article about the overabundance of cars. According to the article (which Snopes has been unable to prove or disprove), in spite of lack of new car sales, car manufacturers are continuing to roll out car after car after car on their assembly lines, and the result is that all over the world new cars sit empty, unpurchased, and rotting in parking lots - often built for just that purpose - or abandoned air fields (or on test tracks) - a sea of new cars, just rotting. It's like a scene of a mall parking lot in one of those post-apocalyptic movies.

Car manufacturers insist that they can't reduce the price of the cars to sell them, because if they did that, then no one would buy them for full price ... and they would lose money. They can't reduce production, because too much of the world's economy is tied up in the car culture, and a reduction in automobile production would result in worldwide mass layoffs.

So, the cars sit, rotting. They, probably, eventually, get recycled.

It's interesting that a whole group of people work to build cars and create jobs for a whole group of people whose job it is to recycle cars for scrap.

Personally, I don't understand how the auto industry can afford to make cars that they aren't selling ... oh, wait, maybe I do understand.

What bothers me is the notion that without car manufacturing our economy would completely collapse, which is what the Big Three automakers claimed when asking for the $50 billion bailout back in 2008 (and, frankly, I'm pretty sure they were in trouble a LONG time before 2008, but saw an opportunity to cash in on a country that was hip deep in fear). The argument seems to be that, without auto manufacturing, every facet of our economy, across the board, would be negatively affected, and the result would be like a cascade of dominoes as one after the other, businesses and industry would cease to be productive.

I disagree. I think we're a lot more resilient and creative than that.

In the late 1930s and 1940s, dozens of companies geared up to begin creating goods for the war machine. At the end of the war in 1945, our economy didn't crumble when those businesses no longer had the war to manufacture goods for. Instead, those companies switched gears.

The companies that were manufacturing chemical weapons started marketing to our farmers and with the support of the 1970s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, squashed small farming (especially anything that resembled pre-Depression farming using real fertilizer and soil amendments) and enabled the Big Ag (and its inherent diseases and mal-nourished food stuff) to take over, not just our food supply, but our government also.

The companies that were providing shelf-stable food for our soldiers, started marketing to the "housewife", and we are on our third generation of children raised on Bird's Eye frozen foods, Banquet Frozen Dinners, and Chef Boyardee in a can.

The companies that were building munitions, tanks and other vehicles are, now, making our family cars.

I'm not saying that I think it's okay, and I'm not happy with how our entire economy has been confiscated by companies that started out as manufacturers of the war machine. My point is that those companies adapted, and with encouragement and motivation, they could adapt to the new, lower energy world we are becoming, not by polluting us and our world, but by reenvisioning their role in it.

Maybe car manufacturers would be smart to take a look at the tiny house movement. With the vast numbers of homeless in this country, and the growing movement to downsize, a savvy car manufacturer could make the move to, instead of a tiny, incredibly expensive, electric car, a mobile car with a large, roomy interior where a person could live. The fact is that people already live in their cars. Why not make it for real and make the car more livable? Seats that fold into beds, more storage space, little heater/stoves built into the interior.

And it could also boost other parts of the economy. All of those malls that are closing down these days, could be rehabbed to offer parking space for these vehicles, and the mall itself could be a support center with bathing facilities and camping supply stores. They could even rent kitchen space in the food courts for people to prepare home cooked meals (with food purchased from the onsite community garden and/or grocery store). They could even turn some of the store spaces into lockers where the car dwellers could store extra stuff, like their winter clothes.

It could be the New Age homeless encampment. The fact is that homeless camps exist, and instead of pretending they don't or passing laws to make them illegal, companies, business owners, and land owners could get proactive and creative and start envisioning solutions to solve the problems ... instead of catering to a dying economic model.

We could solve the homeless problem, solve the problem of decaying shopping centers, and keep people working.

Or we could just wait until the cars are inoperable and turn them into chicken coops.

Either way.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Thinking Food

Breakfast: Boiled egg (from my chickens), a bit of cottage cheese (from a regional, employee-owned creamery), and sprouts (from my sprouter).

Making good food choices doesn't have to be that hard. It can take a bit more thought ... maybe a little more effort ... than grabbing a poptart, but the rewards are exponentially greater - including the fact that it just tastes better.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

New-Old Picnic Table

A few years ago we found a picnic table in need of repairs (the seating plank on one side was missing) in a junk heap. We brought it home, fixed the seat, gave it a coat of paint, and began enjoying dinners on the lawn.

Fast-forward four years, and the top is starting to rot. Using some other pieces of wood gleaned from cull piles here and there, Deus Ex Machina repaired it today. My daughters gave it a fresh coat of paint using some leftover pale yellow and pastel purple we used in another project.

And, voila! We have a new (old) picnic table to start out our outdoor season.

The wood scraps from the table repair will be used to make a potato tower - as we are ever experimenting with increasing our yields.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Breakfast of Champions

I've always wondered why it's okay to eat donuts for breakfast, but it's not okay to eat cake. Seriously? What's the difference? So, I'm on a crusade to change the way we look at food.

I know it's purely a cultural thing - having foods that are deemed appropriate for certain meals. Here in America, breakfast foods are well defined and specific, and there are things people eat for that first meal of the day that they will never eat at any other time of day. Or they will eat those foods, but always with the label "Breakfast for Dinner." Like pancakes, which are always breakfast food, and sausage patties. Why can't we eat sausage for dinner with whipped potatoes and biscuits?

Eggs are a stereotypical breakfast food. Well, except that some people eat eggs for other meals. It seems to be more in the way it is prepared. Eggs fried, poached, or scrambled are breakfast food. Eggs in a quiche or boiled are not breakfast food. Which is actually kind of silly, because it's still an egg. Right?

And the above mentioned sausage. Some "sausage" (that is, a cured meat) is never eaten at breakfast, like pepperoni.

After I'd been in Germany for only a couple of weeks, I traveled by train to Berlin with a group of other soldiers. We slept on the train and arrived in Berlin in the morning. We all wanted breakfast, but one of the soldiers insisted on an "American-style breakfast." I pointed out the McDonalds, but what he wanted was a home-cooked, sit-down, bacon-eggs-biscuits-and-gravy meal. He'd been in Germany for a couple of months, or so I was told. I'd been there for two weeks. I said, "You're not going to get that here", but he couldn't hear me over the rumble of his belly, and undaunted, we walked around Berlin for three hours, looking for some place to get breakfast. By then, it was lunch time. We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café. Apparently, he had never considered the sage advice, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

I learned quickly after that experience, and I didn't spend much time with folks who couldn't adapt. With the exception of when I ate at the dining facility (where I could get a real American breakfast), when I was in Germany, I ate sandwiches for breakfast, and I don't mean breakfast sandwiches with egg, sausage or bacon, and cheese on a biscuit a la Egg McMuffin. I mean Brotchen (which is a little roll) with some cheese and coffee. That was breakfast.

The words we use for meals aren't really meant to be descriptive of the food that is eaten. We don't really eat "breakfast for dinner", unless we really do, in the sense that we don't eat all day, and then we break our fast at what most people consider dinner (or supper, depending on the part of the country where one lives) time. In American culture, we don't really know or think about the fact that breakfast means the first meal after fasting for a period (like when we sleep). It is a break fast and really has nothing to do with eggs and bacon or pancakes or Brotchen mit Kase. It's not about the food that makes up the meal, but rather about when the meal is consumed.

It's possible that certain foods have traditionally been consumed at certain times of day, because of the caloric or nutritional value of those foods. Like foods high in protein, perhaps, are consumed in the first part of the day, because protein gives us energy to get through the day. It's just a theory.

So, my goal is to debunk the notion that certain foods are only appropriate at certain times of the day. This morning, I had beans from breakfast. I almost had leftover chili. Maybe I'll have that tomorrow.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cook Food - Your Mouth Will Thank You

When we decided to change our diet to local foods, I will admit that it was a transition. One of the first things I learned to make was flour tortillas for Heuvos Rancheros. My tortillas aren't as good as the ones I get in the store, and I don't like to use them for wraps. I can't seem to get them thin enough - even with the crappy tortilla press I bought.

I also learned to make homemade pasta, which is a lot better than the store-bought dried stuff.

Over the years, I've added a lot of foods to my menu - foods I didn't grow up eating. I make a pretty awesome dumpling, and I learned that the egg noodles that I've been making for years and years (from a recipe my mom passed down to me) are actually slippery dumplings. I also learned that the basic recipe - flour and eggs - is the same for pasta.

I was incredibly wowed by my own prowess in the kitchen when I learned to make pita bread and Naan (Indian grilled flat bread). Those foods no longer hold any mystery for me.

Likewise sauces, marinades and dressings are all easy, and if I know, sort of, what I want to cook, but it's something knew, I've learned how to do a quick Internet search, which has led me to discovering some pretty incredible dishes. My spice cabinet is so full stuff drops out all of the time, and there aren't very many spices in there that aren't used on a weekly basis. One of my favorite spices is cumin. Why didn't I know about cumin sooner?

I've even learned to cook with some pretty exotic ingredients - well, exotic to a woman who grew up thinking that the Chef Boyardee pizza kits were homemade pizza.

Tonight, I made nettles soup. It was so good that for the next hour after we ate, I was still buzzing from the yumminess of the meal.

And that's what food should be about. Americans don't enjoy food. We don't enjoy cooking it, and we don't enjoy eating it. At least that's what I have to assume from the neon horizon of blinking fast-food signs and the mega-stores filled with prepackaged, quick and easy to prepare meals that taste mostly like salt or sugar. When I started experimenting with different flavors, my salt hand grew incredibly light, and I can't even stand overly sweet foods anymore.

Since Deus Ex Machina and I have changed our diet, since we started eating, mostly, whole foods (most of which I have to cook), and since we started incorporating foraged foods into our diet, eating has become fun. Dinner is an event - not just a satisfying of our bodies' need for sustenance. I like food, and I don't mean that in a way to imply that I eat from an addiction position. I don't eat for some kind of endorphin rush. I enjoy meals of home cooked foods eaten at the table with my family, and I eat slowly, savoring each bite, because - not to brag - but honestly, sometimes, the food tastes just that good.

I know people will eat and then, after having stuffed themselves (like at Thanksgiving dinner, for instance), will rub their bellies and loosen their belts and exclaim how good the meal was.

But have you ever had a meal, after which your mouth retains the memory of how good it tasted? It's like a craving, but you're not craving it, you're remembering and savoring the flavor.

That's what good food should do.

I was talking to my daughters one day about wine (because we heard some drink responsibly advertisement on the radio). I said that drinking shouldn't be about "having a good time", but rather about making a meal better. I told them that a good wine makes the food taste better. It's true.

There was a time in my life that I ate because I was hungry. I didn't particularly enjoy eating. It was just something I had to do ... like paying taxes. Learning to cook using whole foods has taught me to enjoy my food, too (I still don't enjoy paying taxes).

This morning my daughter asked me if I would make cinnamon rolls. My daughters almost never ask for something special, and so I was happy to oblige. Homemade cinnamon rolls sound daunting - at least when I've made them for other people (other than my children, who take for granted that "made from scratch" is the way it's done and can even make their own food "from scratch") they've expressed how impressed they are. I don't think cinnamon rolls are that hard to make. In fact, it's kind of easy, and it doesn't really take that much more time to make than it does to make the ones that come in the can from the refrigerator section of the grocery store.

Here's the basic recipe I use, but I don't do a lot of measuring, especially for the cinnamon and sugar. It's mostly just a "to taste" kind of thing.

I encourage you to try it, and once you do, you'll wonder why you didn't do it all along.

Cinnamon Rolls

1 1/2 c warm water
1 1/2 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
3 to 4 cups flour

1. Combine water, sugar and yeast in a bowl. Mix and set aside to allow yeast to proof (five to ten minutes, and during that time, I'm usually doing something else).
2. Add salt to yeast mixture.
3. Stir in flour one cup at a time until you have a workable dough. It should not be too sticky or too stiff. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If it's too stiff, you'll just have to work with it, and it won't, really, change the outcome much.
4. Flatten the dough into a 12" x 12" square (or so. Measurements don't have to be exact. The point is to get it flat and squarish, because you're going to fill it and roll it).
5. Sprinkle liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Approximately 1/2 sugar and about a 1/2 tbsp of cinnamon +/- to taste. Experimentation is half the fun of cooking.
6. You can add dried fruit (raisins, currants, cranberries, cherries), as desired - or not. My girls don't like dried fruit and so that doesn't get added.
7. Roll the dough into a jelly roll. Be sure to keep the ends even.
8. Slice the roll into 1" pieces. It will make 10 to 12 cinnamon rolls.
9. Place into a round, buttered baking dish (like a spring form pan, or a deep dish pie pan).
10. Bake at 375° until golden brown.

For the icing, I use 1/2 cup butter, softened, mixed with enough powdered sugar to make it almost stiff. When the rolls are finished cooking, but still hot, spread the icing. Serve warm.

They are delicious.