Sunday, September 30, 2012

One Last Taste of Summer

I love coffee cake, and I love blueberries. I have had this recipe hidden away in my recipe box for years now. It was stolen from the bowels of the internet somewhere, and I am sorry if I don't give proper credit, because I can't remember where it came from. It's not my recipe, and if you know where it came from let me know so I can give proper credit.

Blueberry Buckle

3/4c. sugar
1/4c. shortening (I used lard)
1 egg
1/2c. milk
2tsp. baking powder
2c. flour
2c. blueberries

1/2c. sugar
1/3c. flour
1/2tsp. cinnamon
1/4c. butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350

1. Grease and flour a 9" square pan.
2. cream together sugar and shortening, add egg and milk, mix well. Add baking powder and flour mix well then carefully fold in blueberries. Spread into the 9" pan.
3. Mix together dry ingredients for topping then add butter. Using a fork mix/mash the butter into the dry topping ingredients to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle on the top of the blueberry batter.
4. Bake for 45-50 minutes, make sure to test it by sticking a toothpick in it, since cooking times vary depending on your oven. Mine's older so it took almost an hour for it to cook properly.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cell Phone Free

So, a little over a month ago, I let my phone expire, and I didn't bother to do anything about it. Partially motivated by the fact that I moved to a dead zone for the particular cell phone company I was using (though they tried to convince me that I had service), and partially motivated by the desire to eliminate a hefty monthly bill. At first, I admit I was a little nervous. After all my smart phone did everything, calendar, contacts, it even connected me to my email, facebook and the various blogs I follow.

A lot of you are probably wondering where the silver lining is. Well, I feel a lot more free, and I have been able to focus better. I get sucked into constant updates at my fingertips as easily as the next person, but overall, I had to be honest with myself and admit that responding to a friend's status could wait until the next time I was at the computer. So I took the plunge, I got rid of the cell phone and you know, within a week I rediscovered quiet. It's amazing how much easier it is to focus on a project when you don't have alerts and updates interrupting your train of thought every few minutes. I know, some of you are saying "why not just turn your phone off?" Well, it's not that simple when you have a 5 year old, a few times when my phone was off people needed to reach me and couldn't and that experience has made me terrified to repeat that. Luckily it was nothing major, but just the thought of "what if it was an emergency" haunts me.

So aside from missing my alarm function, and my calendar tracking my daily life for me, syncing up my google calendar to my phone, I am enjoying this newfound freedom. The other day I talked to a friend on the phone for 2 hours, not once did I think to myself "I wonder how many minutes I've used for this month." So while, it is taking some getting used to, I realized that I let something that started out as a luxury masquerade in my life as a neccessity. Now I am beginning to wonder what other things have hidden themselves in my day-to-day life pretending they need to be there.


I really love this video, it gives you so many great ideas for re-purposing old wood pallets. I love reusing things, and finding new innovative ways to keep things from going into the trash. Did this video make you want to go out and snag as many wooden pallets as you could? Cause that's how I feel right now... I need to start saving up to buy myself a drill!

What items have you found new uses for? I love learning new ways to re-use!

Cob, Straw and Cordwood, Oh My!

I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family where we are always looking at alternative building methods, talking about alternative medicines, and keeping an open mind concerning the world around us. My parents, Aunts and Uncles have done a lot to shape my world view, and I am highly appreciative. Not only was I exposed to spiritual/esoteric things such as energy work, Reiki, and auras, but we also talked a lot about living off grid and being self sustaining. One great memory I have is going to an open house at the Earthwood Building School, nearby in West Chazy, NY. It definitely opened my eyes to all the different building materials available to build a house, which is good, you need to dispel those expectations of "what a house should look like" early in order to keep an open mind about things. So this search for an alternative material to build a house is founded in my childhood, and these are the three options I am looking at the most.

Definitely the most malleable option. These houses look like everything from hobbit huts to adobe houses. I love the warm organic feel that they have to them, and how you can pretty much sculpt these houses to look like anything you want.
This picture just shows how creative you can be with this building material, I love how whimsical this house is. It is labor intensive, however, and you can read all about it in the blog The Year of Mud. It chronicles the author's year long adventure to build her little cabin. Though, I do love how this looks, and have read that these structures are pretty resistant to various environmental problems (i.e. cold, humidity, rain etc.) I almost feel that the time needed may make this more appropriate for a garden shed, or another out building.

Straw Bale
Super quick and made out of a waste materail, this is a wonderful option, that can literally be put up in a matter of days. This is by far the quickest of the three. I love that the thickness of the walls does an amazing job insulating the interior. Which living in the frozen north, insulation is always something in the forefront of your mind when thinking about building a house. There are a ton of pictures online.
There are also a ton of books you can find, filled with various house plans for these structures. Dancing Rabbit's Blog gives a good step-by-step to sort of outline the process involved. I think this is the option I am leaning toward, not only because I like the look of them, but also the quickness with which they can be built highly appeals to me, as there are about a million other projects that I am adding to my to-do list every day. However, I can admit that I am totally in love with the way the interiors of these houses can be designed.
I have always loved the way exposed beams look inside a house, although I have never been much for white walls, that's an easy fix. But really, how cozy does this look? I can imagine a nice little wood stove, and a comfy old couch in this room. Wood floors, are a big love of mine as well, as I am a huge fan of the old rag rugs. I am currently knitting a rug out of old t-shirts actually, and I will post results on that when I get a little further along.

Finally, the construction method that has a special place in my heart thanks to the folks at Earthwood Building School. I love that these houses look like they are built of stone when you view them from a distance, it's just amazing to look at. Then when you factor in the amazing R-value (insulating factor) this is really a win win. The downside is this technique is also quite time consuming.
I do love how these houses look, and you an get quite creative with them as well, by adding bottles to the walls, or getting creative in how you finish the plaster in between the log ends. These structures are a wonderful choice for cold climates, and despite consisting of exposed log ends, they are actually pretty fire-resistant according to Rob Roy (one of the teacher's of the Earthwood Building School). You could ideally construct this house out of wood cleared from the lot you build the house on! But like I said this can be time consuming, not only because you need to strip the logs, cut them, stack them and let them dry, but also because you have to build up the walls much like building a brick wall. The folks at Earthwood have open-houses, and there is actually one on October 6th that I am hoping to attend. Another great thing is that they have several structures built with different materials on their homesite. So if this interests you at all you may want to check it out. I am going for a refresher, but also to kind of relive a moment from my childhood by including my child this time.

So this is a really general introduction, and I know there are other green building techniques out there (such as packed earth, just to name one). But these are the three that appeal the most to me and my climate. I will probably get more in depth at a further date, but this is definitely to a great introduction to building with something other than wood and drywall.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why the interest in homesteading?

Honestly, I get asked this a lot by people, not necessarily that specific question, but people are always curious as to how I developed the avid interests I developed. For example, I am very interested in crocheting, knitting, quilting, sewing, canning, herbal remedies, learning about caring for small livestock, gardening, to name just a few. Some of these interests I suppose seem atypical for someone my age, but I love the feeling of being able to make things myself, or being able to fix something that is only a little broken. However it goes past that, to a whole philosophy about life. I tried my best to put it into words, I feel like I had a hard time saying exactly what I wanted to, and sometimes I strayed from my topic a little, but here it goes, my revelation the other night. Caution: This is going to be long, and possibly vague at times...

I realized today, that the planet is going to be just fine, despite what we're doing to it. We may melt the ice caps, tear more holes in the ozone, and pollute our rivers, lands, and air. The planet however, is going to be just fine, it's been here for billions of years, and it will be here for billions more, the only thing that's going to destroy this planet is when the sun finally collapses in on itself and sucks the planets of our solar system into it. There is always going to be life on earth, bacteria, insects, animals, but not in the way we see it now. If things keep going the way they are going humanity is doomed. We don't need to save the planet, we need to save ourselves, we need to find value in human life past what we can produce and consume, and start seeing a bigger picture. We need to work together to reduce what we use, we need to alter our lifestyle to be more in tune with the earth's cycles, and we need to see the planet as something we need to care for, not something that is there for us to exploit. Until we find a value in people past what business measures we're going to continue to see high rates of suicide, addiction, homicide, depression, anxiety, violence in the workplace, divorce, and all of the other ailments that are rampant in Western culture.

Our culture breeds disappointment and a feeling of helplessness, feelings of unrest and dissatisfaction. Convince people they are lacking something and they will keep striving to fill that hole, we don't want complete and content people, we want hungry people who will keep wanting more to fill that void. Find everyone an opiate, keep them from thinking too hard about their lot, but also keep them from being too happy. People that are really unhappy question things around them, so we just need to keep them distracted with hobbies, religion, social groups, activities, movies, music, and all the other wonderful things pop culture brings us. So keep people just happy enough, and keep that feeling of unrest so they are constantly striving to figure out what they need, and if this breaks up a few families, then it's an acceptable casualty. But, this actually helps big business also.

I feel that the disappearance of the nuclear family was no mistake, just as the disappearance of extended families living together was no mistake. They both increase the need for resources, more housing, furnishings, need for utilities. Think about it, how many resources does three generations living together need to consume compared to just parents and kids, and then to take it one step further, how many more resources do those parents and kids need now that the parents live separately? Think about how much more those kids need, essentially two sets of clothing, more toys and room furnishings. It has even become a joke, what do kids in movies say when parents announce they are getting divorced? "YAY! Two Christmases!" A single person on his/her own needs just as many "things" in their apartment (or house) as a small family does, unless they are renting a room. So two people being single and living on their own, (which is becoming an increasing trend in our culture) use more resources and spend more money than two people living together.

The more we break groups apart, force people into smaller living spaces, scatter families, move jobs away from where people live, encourage people to be uncompromising when it comes to what they want, are all the better for big business. The less you trust your neighbors, the more locks, weapons, security equipment, the further you need to travel to get to the people you trust, the better for big business. I know at this point this sounds more like a conspiracy theory than anything, and you're probably trying to figure out what my point is, but trust me, there is a truth here, and you feel it.

My point is this, we need to start forming communities, building relationships with the people around us, or moving closer to the ones we love and trust. We need to start pooling resources, helping each other out, producing things for ourselves and not just consuming. Daniel Quinn described it as a New Tribal Revolution, of people working together to give each other security and support. Picture this; within a block of you there is nothing but the people you love and trust, friends and family, a grocery store and garden that together give you all the things you need and your job. How much will you spend on childcare, how much driving will you do in a week, how far will you need to travel for social events? This sounds very utopian, and perhaps it is, but there is something to be said for the tribal structure, of having all those supports so readily available.

All of this culminates into my vision for my life, a homestead and possibly a family business. Where we focus not on making a ton of money, but on making sure that we all have enough, so that we all are provided for and we're focused on the health and wellness of everyone involved.

Simplistic, and in no way grandiose, I just want contentment from my life, security. I don't need new cars, big TVs, several sets of fine china, I just want to know that my family, my friends, and myself will be cared for. Which, is no easy feat, and is going to take a tremendous amount of work, but, I feel it can be done, and maybe if not completely accomplished in my lifetime, I hope to start people thinking and be like the pebble dropped into a still pond.

All of this, I will admit makes me laugh, it is idealistic, but it reminds me so much of my childhood. When I was in high school, my group of friends and I would talk about growing up together buying a chunk of land and building a group of houses. We talked about having a communal kitchen so we could all eat meal together, and would all be able to hang out and be there for each other. It's funny to me how my vision in life has essentially come right back to that. Just shows you that the ideas of children are worth exploring, because sometimes they are seeing things with astounding clarity.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I love that the computer I do my writing on is sitting next to a window that overlooks mountains, with only a few houses to break up the landscape. There are advantages to living out in the middle of nowhere, mostly that I am not crowded by people, that I don't know. However, there are drawbacks, I am sitting here, on a bright sunny day and it's barely 60 degrees outside, and we had our first frost already. This presents me with a pretty large problem, we have a very short growing season, and I don't have a greenhouse...

So I am sitting here, sipping tea, and researching seeds. My goal is to grow predominantly organic heirloom seeds, because I have read enough about GMOs to know that I am not interested in letting those near me. Looking at the calendar, I am going to have to start seeds indoors, and even still, we had our last frost at the end of May, so realistically I have two months that I can rely on to stay in a decent temperature range to not kill my plants. One of my absolute favorite sites for seed on the internet is Heirloom Seeds. Not only do they have a ton of seeds to choose from, but they also offer premade packages that are pretty awesome. While I will admit that some of the complete garden packages may seem pricey, what you're getting out of it justifies the price.

So I have a list of seeds that I will be ordering from this site, and I figured I would share. I specifically selected items with a short growing season, and tried to get as many varieties of vegetables as possible. The only thing I am going to have to find from somewhere else are sweet potatoes.

The items with an asterix are available as certified organic seeds as well, and the number in parenthesis is the average days to maturity.

Tomatoes: Stupice* (55), Sub-Artic Plenty (40-60)
Pole Beans: Ideal Market (68), Sunset Runner (60)
Cucumber: Double Yield* (55-60)
Spinach: Giant Winter* (50)
Pumpkins: New England Pie* (105) [I love cooking with pumpkins, so I will make a sacrifice to ensure I have some for consumption.]
Squash: Spaghetti* (100), Black Zucchini (45)
Sweet Peppers: Rainbow Bell (68-80)
Hot Peppers: Jalapeno (70)
Beets: Ruby Queen* (52)
Carrots: Nantes Scarlet* (70)
Onions: Crimson Forest (60)
Turnips: Purple Top White Globe (55)
Sunflowers: Large Grey

I also think that I am going to opt to get some of their wildflower mixes, because it is always a good idea to have a ton of flowers around to keep those pollinators close by! They have a beneficial insect mix, hummingbird/butterfly mix and a honeybee mix that I will most likely be using on the sloped part of my lawn that isn't suitable for really much else other than flowers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Harvest Time

Wow, can you believe it's September already? I for one, am still in denial. There is still so much I need to do before the temperatures drop and the snow starts to fall! This is definitely a busy time of year, but also, a wonderful time of year. Wonderful, of course, because it is harvest season. Some of us are busy canning, and storing away what we can, while others (like myself) are just enjoying nature's bounty. Because I moved from a city apartment, to a house that's quite a bit away from it all, all that I was able to plant this year were flowers. However, despite this, I am still visiting Farmer's markets when I can and enjoying locally grown foods whenever possible. I am fortunate to live in an area surrounded by farms and orchards, there is no shortage of locally grown crops.

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the apple harvest. I love fresh apples, I love eating them raw, and cooking/baking with them. Of course, if you're eating apples that have been shipped to you from half way 'round the world, you probably don't share my love of them, trust me, I know your pain. I have eaten apples that were shipped here from Argentina, and well, if that was what I thought an apple tasted like, and what their consistency was like I would make nothing more than applesauce with them. However, I was fortunate to grow up in a town in Norther New York where apple trees definitely outnumbered people, so I have a great love of the fruit and it's many varieties. It is hard to say what my favorite it, currently I am loving Gala apples, and so is my son. But I also love Macs, and Granny Smiths.

So versatile, and so tasty, what do you do with your apples? Well one of my all time favorite recipes comes from the blog Piece of Cake. So you can either go to her site, or just continue scrolling down, this one is in my "favorites" tab in my recipe box, and I am sure you'll love it just as much as I do.

Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes about 20 two-bize-sized bars

For the apple-oat bars:

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup diced apple (about one small apple, I like Fuji or Honeycrisp)
4 ounces white chocolate chips

For the white chocolate cream cheese icing:

2 ounces white chocolate chips
2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (more or less, depending on your sweet tooth and how stiff you want the icing to be)
Ground cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil (with a few inches of overhang on all sides) and spray the foil lightly with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and oats and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth and lightened in color. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat in the egg and vanilla until well-blended. On low speed, blend in the dry ingredients. On the lowest speed or by hand, stir in the apple chunks and white chocolate chips.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake just until a toothpick comes out clean, about 35-38 minutes. Do not overbake. Let the bars cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then use the foil “handles” to remove the slab from the pan. Let cool completely on the rack in the foil sleeve, at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the icing. In the microwave, melt 2 ounces of white chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl in 30 second bursts at 50% power, stirring after each interval until smooth. In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Add the melted white chocolate and beat until smooth. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar until the icing is slightly thickened and sweetened to your liking.

When the bars are completely cool, spread the icing in an even layer over the bars, using the foil to create a dam of sorts that will keep the icing from dripping down the edges of the bars. Refrigerate the bars with the foil sleeve until the icing is firm, at least 1 hour.

Remove the slab from the foil to a cutting board and dust with cinnamon. With a large, sharp knife, cut into about 20 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Monday, September 3, 2012


When I first looked at my backyard and started trying to determine what to plant and where I was absolutely ecstatic to see two flowerbeds right next to the garage. They are raised and one is a perfect size for kitchen herbs, while the other, was long and narrow. However, when I really put thought into it I realized the long narrow bed does not get much sun at all, and to top it all off, the dirt filling it is rather poor, it's sandy and it's rocky. We don't have normal sand here either, we have sand from the mines, so it's black, due to the ore content. It's pretty difficult to deal with in a gardening setting, and really, it makes me nervous as hell to begin converting the backyard into a productive food garden because I can't help but to think about the amount of money good dirt is going to cost me and I get dizzy. But that's beside the point at the moment, the point of this post is, what do I put in a flowerbed, that is pretty much rocks and sand?

So looking at the dirt in the flower beds left me sort of pessimistic, but when I did a little research and really thought about it, I realized violas were the answer. First of all, these guys are perennials, so I am not going to have to replant this bed every year (which, is a HUGE bonus cause I would like to be able to focus on my vegetable garden next spring). They also come in a huge variety of colors, which is appealing visually to me and to pollinating insects which are always handy to have around. Finally, and most importantly, they can grow practically anywhere, and I mean anywhere. You don't have to look to hard to find pictures of them growing in sidewalk cracks, and even on walls!
Just look at that little plant! It's barely got any soil in that hole in the wall, and it is THRIVING! Amazing! Of course, these guys would be totally fine in my little flower bed, which really, has little more to offer than a crack in a sidewalk. (The image to the left was on The Pothole Gardener specifically in a post concerning living walls). So I went to one of the local green houses and selected a few different colors that I liked and started planting, the picture at the top right of this post shows what I started with back in May.

So now it is the beginning of September, leaves are changing around here, nights are getting chilly, and I am breaking out my favorite sweaters. I love sweater weather. My violas are just thriving, and I will have to admit that there has been so much going on here the past few months that I have barely paid these guys any attention. I did scatter some egg shells amidst them to deter the slugs (crushed egg shells are not only good for the soil but they are like walking on broken glass for a slug).
But really these guys have been on their own this summer, and they are doing fantastic, they have bloomed continually, and have dropped a ton of seeds, which the birds have enjoyed eating. I couldn't be more pleased, they really earn their reputation for being eager growers. I think that I will make some candied flowers before their growing season ends. It's just a matter of dipping them in egg whites and then dipping them in sugar. Super simple, and an elegant to top off a cupcake.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


My Pinterest

I figured I would share my pinterest account. While it's not completely dominated by gardening and homesteading links, there is a great collection of craft projects, things for kids, recipes and all sorts of things I have gathered. So check it out, and follow me if you so desire!

Book Review: Grow It!

Grow It!:The beginner's complete in-harmony-with-nature small farm guide by Richard W. Langer
I stumbled across this book at The Cornerstone Bookshop, and for $6, I really couldn't pass this up. Not only do I love old books with cheesy covers, but it was also on a topic, that as you may have already guessed, I am highly interested in. First of all, I would like to point out that I find this book highly amusing for 2 reasons: 1, the cover makes me giggle and I came really close to tagging my Dad in the photo cause the picture reminded me of photos of him from when my parent's first met, and 2, the book is so obviously written with for the audience of city mice looking to become country mice. Sometimes the book is a little dated, but it was published in 1972, and besides the information that this book is really useful for is completely timeless.

This book is just bursting with information, and I was really pleasantly surprised at just how much information I found in these pages. I have to admit I completely skipped the chapters on tillage, and grain because they in no way apply to anything I ever plan on doing, but I devoured the other chapters anxiously! I am going to supply you with a listing of the chapters after just so you can see the amazing array of information that can be obtained from this book. Really, I can't say anything bad about this book, it definitely earned it's endorsement from Mother Earth News, and I was really pleased with the sections especially on livestock. It gave information on everything from their care to their butchering. I could go on forever, but really, a listing of the contents of the book will tell you whether or not this is something you want to try and track down for your homestead's library.

The Land: Your soil-watershed-pond-woodlands
Tillage:Farm Equipment-what it is-how it works-how to use it right-plowing-harrowing-sowing your fields
Fertilizer: Barnyard manure-green manure and how it grows-composting-liming
Fruit: The orchard site-planting-pruning-harvesting-apples-cherries-peaches-pears-plums
Nuts: Almonds-beechnuts-chestnuts-filberts-hazelnuts-hickory nuts-pecans-walnuts
Berries:The berry patch and what's in it-blackberries-blueberries-currants-gooseberries-grapes-raspberries-strawberries
Vegetables: Bountiful varieties from asparagus to watermelon-getting a head start on spring-mulching-how to raise your own seed for future harvest
Pest Control: Preventing pests-feathered and crawling friends-safe nontoxic sprays-how to kill the bugs without killing yourself
Grain: How to raise, harvest, and make flour and feed from your grain-buckwheat-corn-oats-rye-sunflowers-wheat
Forage: Your pastures and meadows-what to grow and how-grazing livestock- making hay-winter fodder
Goats: Breeds-housing-basic equipment-feeding-breeding-kidding-weaning-milking
Chickens: Starting a flock-the henhouse-the brooder-feeding-gathering eggs-how to dress a chicken for your broiler
Other Fowl: Ducks-geese-swans-turkeys
Pigs: Breeds-housing-equipment-feeding-breeding-parasites and other problems
Honeybees: Who's who in the colony-starting a colony-the beehive and where to put it-equipment-handling your bees-swarming-honey and how to get it
The Larder: How to keep what you harvest for the winter-root cellars-krauting-drying fruit-making cheese, butter and yogurt-setting clabbered milk-smoke curing your meat-sausage making-lard and cracklings
Catalog: The government will give you a hand-ordering by mail your farm equipment, organic fertilizers, livestock, fruit and vegetable seeds, and tree stock-publications galore-farm books for winter evening reading

See, what a wonderful amount of knowledge to be had from this book! Really all useful, the catalog is the only chapter that is pretty much completely out-dated. This book has definitely earned a place on my bookshelf.