Browsing the archives for the living simply category.

Keeping chickens & eating them: Thoughts on our first experience processing

It’s a cold and gloomy day here, we are in the upper 50′s this afternoon and the vibe is very lazy.

Everly has been watching childrens movies on the couch today, specifically snow related holiday ones. She knows the seasons are changing and is excitedly dreaming of lots of snow this winter.

I’ve been spending some much needed time on my own blog’s todo list between caring for the girls and the home.

On days like today an effortless, home-cooked, nourishing meal is best. So, I’ve got one of our roosters in the soup pot in prep for Everly’s favorite dinner, chicken and dumplings.

Remember my blog post about Helga Crowing back in September? We always knew we needed to learn the art of chicken processing, for the sake of self sufficiency, homesteading and respect for the life cycle/ process but we weren’t all that excited about it. If we were keeping chickens and eating chicken we knew that it was logical to be able to process them when their time was up.

We’d heard lots of negative hype surrounding killing and processing your own meat so we weren’t sure if we’d be efficient and effective… Or if the process would sit well with us. The morning a rooster crowed we knew it was time to find out. Turns out we had two surprise roosters.

Luckily, Nathan was a champ and he singlehandedly remedied that situation, he did great.  Once the bloody part was over the girls and I came home, we went to the store so no gory blood scenes would be witnessed.

When it came to plucking we were pleasantly surprised and Everly was curious. Chicken feathers are her favorite so she was curiously watching all the feathers that would soon be hers. I think we’ll make a dreamcatcher with some eventually.

 Two roosters went in the freezer that night and today I am finally cooking one up. Thanks to Helga #1 we’ll enjoy a homemade, nourishing meal on this cold fall evening. Thanks Helga for your meat and for the learning experience.

 

My compost pile has been moved to my kitchen floor because of my baby…


It is true…

Most times thoughout the day I’ve got a smattering of food under Adalyn’s chair. Thankfully I had the forethought to lay a kitchen towel under her seat… and I can just shake it off out in the yard for the chickens so it’s all good…

… but this messy baby eating stage isn’t doing wonders for my housekeeping morale. Help!

Easy 5 Min Cloth Diaper Elastic Repair Trick

I’ve been on a mission to repair all my cloth diapers. You see, they are 3 years old now, they’ve been washed a TON since Everly was a baby and now Adalyn is using them and for the most part they are working great… The laundry tabs are a bit haggared but still work and they are just a bit stretched out but aren’t an issue for short periods of time.

The main issue is I’d like Adalyn to be able to wear them without leaking overnight but the leg elastic is so loose that abundant wetness isn’t being kept in the diaper any longer. So I got my cloth diaper repair kits from the diaper manufacturer and have been meaning to gradually repair them but I’ve been super intimidated about how to thread the new elastic through the already-sewn-closed holes. The last thing I have time for is disassembling and reassembling 24 diapers. So I’ve been brainstorming…

Yesterday I finally figured out how to make this repair easily, after trying a few other bloggers trick for the repair. Here is how I did it:

Canning food: It’s not just for grandma guys. It’s for your own good!

You’d think I was prepping for the end of the world if you saw my canning shelf right now! The truth is canning and preserving foods isn’t just a nostalgistic hobby for the homestead, in most places it is THE ONLY WAY to feed your family homegrown goodness year round.

This time two years ago I was couponing and stockpiling dry goods. Getting stuff for free or very cheap was nice and we did save so much money on food! The food stockpile came in handy and kept us afloat during the hard times of unemployment  but after a 6 months of eating our stockpiled dry goods crap and miscarriage/ new pregnancy my body was not happy.

The ugly consumerism truth: The vast majority of those food items you’ll find coupons for are terrible for you (Poptarts, Hamburger Helper, Canned soup, frozen meals, sugary yogurts etc). I blogged about this in a previous post and am proof of it. I am STILL getting back on track nutritionally speaking and Adalyn’s nutrition and health may also have been impacted.

Specifically, my digestive enzymes, gut flora and my ability to digest and properly absorb nutrients was compromised by the abundance of not-so-good-for-you foods. I only noticed it because of my baby’s digestive troubles that directly related to my breast milk and thus my own nutrition/ digestion. It looked like food sensitivities and failure to thrive in baby Adalyn but the trouble went way deeper than weight gain and eating enough calories.

Recovering from all those bad foods (MSG, excessive gluten, excessive sugars and excessive carbs) takes time, tears and struggles. I am left feeling very jaded about the state of America’s food supply. It truly is scary to think of how detrimental GMO crops, pesticides on food, MSG additives and altered-for-convince gluten/ sugar can be on the human body. And that is is all virtually unavoidable in a consumer setting. It is even worse to go though the consequences of those food choices (or lack thereof) and I’ve scraped by much better than others I know.

Did you know?

GMO foods leave lingering genetic material (that was inserted artificially) in your body long after eating the offending foods? The only published human study on GMO foods showed that GM soy transfers into bacteria living inside out intestines and CONTINUES to function. Source: The book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risk of Genetically Engineered Foods, by Jeffery M. Smith

MSG, found in almost all processed foods, essentially stimulates your brain cells to death! MSG also has detrimental impacts on vision, hearing and much more. Source: The book Excitotoxcins: The Taste That Kills by Russell Baylock

The facts about our foods is mounting and I feel driven to get away from all the funny business when it comes to feeding the family. But it isn’t just about the what ifs or the debate about how safe or toxic these foods are (I won’t launch in to a full blown rant :P). The bigger issue is how prevalent these foods are and how unavoidable they are if you choose to rely on others to bring your food to you.

When visiting the local farmers markets we found that even the smaller mom & pop farms find it impossible to farm profitably without pesticides. Today I was alerted to just ONE 100% organic farmer at the farmers market and that is just sad.  If you don’t have the buckets of money to buy premium certified organic everything (that often comes from so far away and isn’t as fresh or is irradiated when entering the country) you have one other choice besides resigning to the toxic pesticides on your foods…

Take Charge Of Your Own Food

For us, growing our own food doesn’t just stem from frugalness. We NEED to be in charge of our food from seed to table so we can skip the pesticides or the GMO strains of food, so we can be sure no questionable preservatives, flavor enhancers or sugars are junking up the food. Our health depends on it.

Each jar canned is another snapshot of the spring/ summer harvest and it will be greatly cherished in the dead of winter when the only option will be store bought produce tampered with pesticides that is shipped in from other countries.

  

So, yes I am working on preserving more food today and no, I am not stockpiling for the end of the world.

Have you ever canned food?

#CrunchyConfessions Shared: You tell me yours I’ll tell you mine!

We all know being crunchy can sometimes be viewed as radical, weird or just downright crazy. In our society of throwaway uses and conveniences as first priority we often end up spending way more that we need to for things and we generate lots of waste when we really don’t have to.

I think the key is to get over the negative perceptions and to reeducate ourselves on ways to live most economically. In an effort to wave my crunchy flag and inspire or educate others on reusing, re-purposing and wasting less I’ve been compiling a fun little “Crunchy Confessions” list to share with you. Some confessions are mine, some are others. All are interesting. Try a few in your home!

  1. Reuse plastic bags: Those unwanted and always mounting plastic grocery bags that always find a way to our house despite our best efforts are reused for scooped dog poop each day. We scoop poop then tie the bag off and trash it. One day’s scooping per bag and doing this keeps the stink and flies away from our trash can. You can also use plastic grocery bags for the cat litter box scoopings and any other nasty stuff you want to tie off and toss out.
  2. Just rinse off in the yard: Sometimes instead of wipes or bathing I let my poopy toddler swim in the old kiddie pool water to get clean, then I just empty the pool and refill it later.
  3. No thread goes to waste: I can’t throw old clothes away, like hubby’s undershirts and t-shirts. So I re-purpose them and make reusable “swiffer sweeper” pads, or braided rag rugs, t-shirt quilts, dust cloths or diaper liners from them. They can also make good kitchen cleanup rags or garage mess rags. Like for oil messes and other hubby stuff :)
  4. Use those blown out socks as dust rags! Wash and repeat.
  5. Replace facial tissues: Snot rags often replace kleenex when we’ve got sniffly people. I just use soft cotton fabrics that have come from diapers, old receiving blankets, undershirts, etc and cut them to a reasonable size so they are used to dry running noses and then rewashed and reused.
  6. Replace toilet paper: Teresa says, “yeah, this is a combo frugal/lazy/gross/crunchy. Sometimes when we’re almost out of toilet paper and i can’t bring myself to buy @ today’s prices (remember when under $0.25/roll was normal? it’s twice that now. and i’m not old.) or am too lazy to go to the store, i wipe with the baby washcloths we used for reusable diaper wipes and wash them like i did the diapers.
  7. Save clean foil: I also reuse aluminum foil! Like when I’ve made a baked potato or something else that has left me with clean crumpled foil. I just smooth it out gently, fold and reuse at another date.
  8. Reuse and re-gift gift packaging: Reuse gift bags & untorn tissue paper or better yet use comics to wrap things!
  9. Recycle cardboard in your own home:Make seedling starters from cardboard cereal boxes or toilet paper/ paper towel rolls.
  10. Hold the clippings: I wind all the grapevine clippings (when we prune for a new year’s growth) and turn them to wreaths. You can also do this with trimmed evergreen bushes or vine plants.
  11. Replace the lawn: Instead of seeding the yard or spraying to kill weeds use a free lawn replacement plant=clover! I just dug clumps of clover from back behind my backyard and planted them inside the back yard. It will be our lawn replacement, it feeds the chickens, feels great to walk on, needs less mowing, when flowering it attracts beneficial bees oh yeah it is free too and will suffocate out other weeds/ grasses so no more spraying or seeding the lawn.
  12. Catch the rain: Harvest rain water and use it for watering the lawn/ garden.
  13. TapThatMom says, “I wash out baggies and reuse them. Only shave my legs once a week, water down my juices so we get more ounces per jug. I could go on and on!”

Now, I’d love to have you share your own confessions in the comments below…

or to tweet them with this link-> “Do you have a #crunchyconfession? http://wp.me/pbXEE-287 Mine is:________”

Brewing Homemade Kombucha: A DIY Healthful, Homesteading Adventure Shared

I am pleased to share the next step in our homemade kombucha adventure and our recipe. If you are wondering what got us started on the kombucha and fermented foods craze you can find out more here or why kombucha is known as the miracle health elixir read more here.

As I wrote about previously, before you can brew your own batch of kombucha you need a starter. You can either buy one somewhere online (which apparently isn’t as good since live bacterias are killed off in transport), get one from a friend/ company locally or simply grow your own.

Since a kombucha SCOBY is a raw live bacteria culture that can easily be contaminated with unknown mater I felt better being 100% responsible for the growth and sanitary conditions of mine rather than trusting the technique and working conditions of another person I didn’t know. What you decide to do will depend on your own comfort level of course.

I shared my own recipe, photos and experience growing my SCOBY here if you want to grow your own.

Before you start your brew be sure you have a large, unleaded wide mouthed jar to hold your brew. Also take time to sterilize your jar and materials so your brew and SCOBY aren’t compromised.

Once your slimy starter is done you can follow the steps below to begin brewing.

To Make 1/2 Gallon of Kombucha

  1. In a large 1/2 gallon, non-leaded glass jar or container begin your brew with 8 cups of hot water and 4 tea bags. Brew your tea and let it cool to room temperature, preferably overnight. You can use green or black tea from what I’ve read. I used black tea for mine.
  2. Sweeten your tea with 1 cup of sugar and mix till dissolved. I used Sugar in The Raw for mine since I had it on hand to use up but my recipe called for white sugar. Note, more natural sugars will work differently than white sugar. I believe my brew needed a bit more time since I didn’t use white sugar but it still worked out great.
  3. Pour 1 cup of the reserve kombucha (that your SCOBY grew in) in your sweetened, brewed tea. Reserve your SCOBY’s leftover fluids though (and recover with a cloth), it will grow a backup SCOBY on top and will later be your SCOBY’s “hotel”.
  4. Transfer your SCOBY from it’s growth jar to the sweetened, brewed tea jar. Place on top but know it is fine if the SCOBY sinks or floats. Mine was floating initially and then sank but then came back up.
  5. Cover with a cloth, secure cloth and wait 5-7 days for it to brew. Taste test it from about day 5 on. If it is too sweet it needs to brew longer. It will go from sweet to vinegar like as it brews so frequent taste tests will allow you to end the initial brew when it suits you. Mine was ready at day 6 this round. Don’t let it get to vinegar like, you may not be able to stomach it. It should taste like the unflavored kombuch sold in stores but without the fizz. The fizz and carbonation happens in the next ferment.

Secondary Fermentation & Flavoring Your Kombucha

Your secondary fermentation happens once you bottle your Kombucha and add any flavorings to it. Here is how we did ours:

  1. Sanitize about 6 swing-top/ flip-top bottles or you can use regular mason jars.
  2. Move your SCOBY and about 1-2 cups of kombucha back to your kombucha “hotel”. A new SCOBY will likely have begun to form on top while your kombucha was brewing, this is great. Just reach in and grab your SCOBY even if it appears to have a thin milky film on top of it.
  3. Once your SCOBY is out of the brewed kombucha it is time to add some flavoring. The easiest way is to add fruit purees to the kombucha. We added a kiwi, strawberry, banana puree this time. Add about 3/4 cup for your half gallon of kombucha and mix. Don’t be alarmed about foam and any bubbling reaction. Ours produced quite a bit of “head” on top of the kombuch once the puree was added, we just bottled it that way. We also didn’t opt for straining the fruit puree before adding, this did result in quite a bit of fruit pulp in our kombucha but we think the added fiber and nutrients are great. Strain if you prefer a less pulpy drink.
  4. Next siphon or use a funnel to fill your jars with brew. My half gallon of kombucha ended up making 5 bottles of finished brew. Or fill your mason jars and cover them with their lids.
  5. Allow the flavored, bottled brew to sit out on the counter for an additional 3 days for the secondary fermentation process. This is when the brew becomes carbonated.
  6. Once your 3 days of secondary fermentation is up transfer the bottles to the fridge for a minimum 1/2 day so the carbonation settles a bit and your brew gets cold. Opening the bottle prematurely is reported to cause major kombucha sprayage much like a shaken soda does so you’ve been warned ;P
  7. Lastly, enjoy your kombucha and start a new batch

Be aware that refrigeration will slow fermentation, but it will still occur – so if you drink your kombucha over months instead of days or weeks, be sure to release the pressure and excess carbonation every few weeks, and realize that it will continue to consume sugar and grow more tart, even vinegar-y, over time.

We learned this the hard way with some older bottles of brew. I am still cleaning off the walls and ceiling!

Stay tuned for other fermented food adventures shared like saurkraut, kefir and cheese. You can subscribe to the blog updates at the very bottom of this page.

Kombucha: Digestions Friend & How You Can Grow Your Own Kombucha Starter.

Somewhere along the way we discovered kombucha at a natural food store, it was actually Nathan and his love of tea.

He was surprised when he took his first drink because of how different it tasted. Very much fermented with a hint of vinegar. He had me try it too, I wasn’t a fan but he managed to finish his entire bottle that day.

Kombucha is a probiotic rich, fermented tea beverage. It is considered a raw food that is beneficial because of all the probiotics and antioxidants that it contains. It’s great for digestive health and is also said to be a powerful detoxing beverage.

It contains lots of essential vitamins such as folic acid, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin B12. It also contains antioxidants including EGCG, Glucuronic Acid, Lactic Acid & Acetic Acid. Bacillus coagulans & S. Boulardii are the probiotic organisms it typically contains.

After discovering firsthand how beneficial kombucha can be I decided I wanted to try to making my own because frankly it’s expensive stuff. Plus, our household is no stranger to fermented or brewed beverages. Turns out making your own is quite easy too!

Here’s how to grow your own starter:

Kombucha starter is as easy as one bottle of organic raw kombucha that is unsweetened combined with 1 cup of room temperature sweetened tea (can be black tea or green tea). All you do is pour your bottle of kombucha into a glass jar, then you add your cup of sweetened tea.

Some notes:

  • Be sure to sterilize the jar that you’ll use to make your kombucha starter in first!
  • Cover your glass jar with a towel so it can breathe and so it stays contaminant free. I chose to rubber band a towel over the lid. Then place your jar in a warm place to grow.
  • People in colder climates will need to wait longer than those in warmer climates for their starter to grow as the warmth of the liquid lends to the sugars being consumed and thus growing the starter.

My kombucha starter 12 days later. See the top layer?

Your kombucha starter, known as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), a Mother, mushroom, etc. grows at the top of your liquid overtime.

In the beginning it looks like a thin-film but it slowly thickens as your jar of liquid sits. Once it is about a quarter of an inch thick you can get started making your own homemade kombucha.

You can find the subsequent Kombucha recipe here.

“Change Comes to Dinner” and thoughts on eating locally.

I just started reading a new book titled Change Comes to Dinner, I’m only halfway done and I’m already in love! It’s an inspiring book about all the individuals across America working to make local, sustainable, natural foods more of a realistic option.Eating locally is no doubt important to us as many of you already know but it can be hard to do. During these bleak winter months, it is no doubt difficult to find fresh food options locally. The limited availability of fresh food is a bummer in winter and I’m not ashamed to admit we are in serious food rut as a result.

Regardless of the limited availability, we still believe investing our food money locally is the best option. Actually, I stubbornly refuse to hand over our hard-earned money (whenever possible) to companies that truck in, mass-produced fruits and vegetables. You can read more about why here.

The 1st chapter of this book shares the story of an individual whose mission is to make locally produced foods a viable buying option for community members. He does this by filling an old school bus with produce and other local food items, essentially he is operating a rolling–school–bus–farmers–market in his area.

How cool is that? It actually reminds me a lot of the types of people you would find living at The Farm in Summertown Tennessee since many arrived at The Farm on a school bus caravan of sorts when the community was established.

Heck, I would even be willing to buy and operate a rolling–school-bus–farmers-market of my own here in the area.

The lost art of local food is a total shame. And I wish more people would understand why and get on board to support their local farmers.

Not only is it good business to support local food growers but it also protects the community from suffering the consequences of any unforeseen fallout or production issues or contamination that may occur at one point or another on the few large-scale farms that basically monopolize the agriculture business and provide us with all our food.

If you are curious about eating locally or if you are jaded about the state of our country’s local food affairs this book is a must read.

Climbing the laundry mountain… So high, the climb.

I’ll admit it, as a family of four I am now getting my butt kicked with the laundry.

It is not so much the cloth diaper laundry that is killer but just the shear volume of stuff to wash in a week. Sure the spit up outfits and bedding is a temporary contributing factor as is my inability to focus more than say five minutes on any one task before I am needed elsewhere… but I am honestly floundering in the piles of clothes guys.

Thankfully, piles of dirty clothes aren’t hanging around but I have a serious problem getting the clean ones put away. You see, right now there is this giant pile of stuff in the bedroom chair that I fold and mess with on occasion but basically we just rifle through the giant pile to get the wrinkled, clean but cat hair covered clothing item that we want to wear.

Dressers and folding clothes is kind of overrated when you have newborn in the house!

Luckily, this weekend my husband and I were able to knock out the laundry together because we stayed home. Actually, he knocked it all out as a treat to me.

Some ways we’ve found laundry success:

Be strategic about the laundry.
In our house, the key is folding the laundry and putting it away during Everly’s (our toddler) nap time. Folding and putting things away while she is awake means things immediately get unfolded and thrown about the house.

I wash, dry and pile the clothes in a room where Everly jumps in the clean pile and throws clothes around but when she passes out for nap time, if I have the energy and determination, I bust out folding and putting things away.

Also, USE THE BUZZER on your washer and dryer! It is a great way to remind you of when laundry cycles end and prevent the dreaded mildew smelling laundry that sat in the washer, all wet for several hours or days.

I also tend to wash clothes by laundry basket instead of mixing them all together and then separating colors out. In doing this I can avoid the sorting and carting of laundry all around the house.

On my motivated days Everly’s laundry basket down stairs gets divided by light & dark, then washed and dried separately. Then her dry clothes go right in to her room where they are folded and put away immediately, or jumped on and thrown around. Nothing wrong with letting the kid have fun right?

Our upstairs clothes get laundered together and then I know I can just cart them all back up stairs for folding and putting away.

Also, if you wash clothes predominately in warm/ cold water (like we do) and don’t have any brand new, potentially bleeding fabric colors in your load you don’t even need to divide colors. I only divide loads when I am washing new stuff, have major stains to treat or are laundering something new.

You don’t need all the fancy laundry products to get clean clothes!
We don’t use bleach in our house and I make my own laundry detergent for washing clothes, bedding, etc. I do buy special cloth diapering laundry detergent though.

Adding borax to a load of dingy whites will brighten them right up. Also, stains can be bleached out with the sun if you just hang them to dry outside. All my cloth diapers with poop stains get sun bleached as well as my cloth menstrual pads.

Any blood on clothes can be stain treated with some peroxide and then laundered in cold. Cold water rinses the stains out then you can launder with hot water to disinfect if you’d like. Don’t launder your stained stuff in hot water without doing a cold rinse first. The hot water sets the stains in.

Want soft clothes without the perfume and additives of fabric softener? We do! We use distilled white vinegar to soften and also freshen the laundry. Vinegar is great for removing stink from clothes too, like when our cat pees on a bath mat or when our cloth diapers start smelling like ammonia.

Doing laundry doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. If you just plan your strategy and arm yourself with simple laundry helping products you an dominate the piles easily and cheaply.

For more laundry tips and posts visit: http://www.blogher.com/fluff-and-fold-family or enter the $250 Sweepstakes at http://www.blogher.com/life-well-lived-moments-sweepstakes-3-share-moment-and-enter-win-250

 

Garden woes and thoughts of fleeing the homestead to have a baby…

It is not easy to up and leave in the middle of your season harvest after putting in all the hard work and anxiously awaiting the payoff.

We are fixing to abandon the garden now and turn our focus to the upcoming birth of Baby Sister. It isn’t as bad as it could be considering the garden hasn’t been all that productive. It’s been an off year for us, probably because Nathan isn’t ever home to tend the garden and with me all big and pregnant things weren’t planted to tended to as well as they should have been.

[POPUP=IMG1]The disappointments for us this year were peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, squash and potatoes. Squash vine borer and squash beetles killed off our plants right after the first setting of fruit. We had zucchini, pumpkin, gourds, butternut squash and they were all destroyed right away. It was the year of pest attack for us, I guess we weren’t proactive enough in the beginning cause the bugs pretty much killed off all the stuff we had going out back beyond our yard. Other than the tomatoes, beans and corn.

The successes are of course tomatoes, our favorite lemon cucumbers, pretty popping corn, lettuce did well, beans (soup and fresh ones), okra, swiss chard, radish, turnips, strawberries, collard greens, carrots, grapes, sunflowers and blackberries have done great.

We figured out the mystery of our Etna Bush Beans and were happy that the early ones we picked turned out okay. Apparently, the pods get white with red stripes (much like the beans inside the pod). They are best picked for drying and soup making once the pods show red and have turned white and begun to dry out.

Another Etna Bush Bean note is that once the first round of pods are removed, the plant will re-flower and set new pods… or at least our have begun to. This is a welcome surprise since our 8 plants didn’t yield as many as we had anticipated and many more will need to grow before we are making soup with them.

I was hoping to get a quart mason jar filled with soup beans this year, you know to grow a pound or two of soup beans for winter… Not sure how many rows and rows I’d need to plant for that. I’ll keep you posted though.