Saturday, March 6, 2010

simple supper-vegetarian tacos-lentil/rice taco filling

One of our  favorite meals here on the homestead is tacos. They make a great garden veggie using meal that is quick and easy yet mostly nutritious. Of all the things we eat tacos is probably one of our most served meals all year round. Unfortunately meat prices are crazy insane and one never knows what they are buying. Making bunny, goat or chicken tacos require some  time in preparing the meat to make it taco worthy. In the  busy months of the year that is not always an option  being that we only cook on wood and that requires tending. When I am busy working, walking back and forth 27 times to check food and tend fires does not a productive day make so I had to find a suitable alternative.

A couple years ago I ran across this recipe on hillbilly housewife and decided to try it. It quickly became one of our favorite healthy dishes to  make as well as an over all  good base recipe   for a wide  variety of meatless meat dishes and could slow cook all day long while we were out working.  When I make this recipe for 4 people I double it and get three meals and a snack or two out of it. Normally we do tacos twice then at least one meatless dish and often times two. With just the two of us  here  a single recipe will give us 4-5 meals. Pretty good for the price of a few lentils, some brown rice and some spices.

 lentil/rice taco filling
  • 3/4 cup dry lentils
  • 3/4 cup brown rice (do not substitute white rice, it just isn NOT the same)
  • 4 cups  water
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes (I don't like the msg so I make my own "bouillon" replacement)
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • I like to dice up onion and  jalapenos
In a 2-quart saucepan bring the water to a boil. As the water is heating, add all ingredients. Bring the whole thing to a nice fat boil. Reduce the heat to low. Place a lid on the lentils and allow the mixture to simmer for about 45 to 50 minutes. The water should be mostly absorbed.

  This recipe does very well in the crock pot on low for 7 to 8 hours or on  high for 3-4 hours. A double recipe fits nicely in the crock pot too.

For tacos, make some home made flour tortillas, add veggies, sour creme and home made salsa  and YUM!

plotting and planning

I am in need of  a map maker, one that can fit all of my garden beds onto one  sheet of paper. I then would like it  laminated so I can use dry erase  markers to  plot and plan the beds each season and wipe it all clean again and start over. I would like it so that it   folds up like a map and is conveniently stored away when not needed. Dang, what a business venture for a talented person,  too bad I have no such talents.

I love plotting and scheming planning the gardens out each  season but I am horrific at actually mapping all of the beds out  and especially bad at getting them all on  a single slab of paper. I think much of my issue is the terrain of the land and because they are  spread over approximately 5 acres of land. If it was a big old flat spot it would make things much easier however I have beds on   hillsides, in dips and down in  hollers and to top it off I am a horrible artist and can draw nothing to scale.

Today I am heading out to once again try and get the beds on a piece of paper and decide what is going where and when.It is always fun to  try and rotate things too as we grow so many  things that it is hard to find a rotation system  that works out according to soil  and space needs. I am doing more productive things too, no worries, I have the manthing with tiller in hand  and I have lots of carrots and onions to go in

Although I spend countless hours each winter doing these two jobs, more often than not I end up just planting  what ever feels right  at the time the bed is ready. I then scribble it on a scrap piece of paper that   eventually gets thrown out and I am left to wondering for several weeks just what I planted where. Thankfully  I have a pretty good memory and at least remember that a particular bed is planted. Well except for that one bed last year that I had the poor kids  prepare for me no less three times and wound up with a mixed mess of veggies that was near impossible to get in to because it had so much seed.

I still would like a fold up laminated map of all the beds though, I would feel much more organized  with it.  What sort of system do you use for plotting and planning your beds and for crop rotation?

Friday, March 5, 2010

I am so cheap-aquarium hot houses

 The other day an internet friend asked me if those were aquariums that she saw in one of my pictures.This  is such a cheap and easy garden helper that I  have used for the last several years and I just assumed everyone knew about the magic of them. I was wrong and I know better than to assume  anything.

So, for those that do not know, don't throw those old fish tanks away!! Those old, cracked or  unused aquariums that are stashed in attics, garages and closets everywhere have  a perfectly good use  on a homestead of any size and any where. They are a dime a dozen at garage sales, flea markets,dumpsters and curb sides the world over and to buy a small 10 gallon one  brand new it  will only set you back about 10 bucks.Not a bad price for a mini hot house that is lightweight, easy to clean, able to be moved and never needs  repairs.

One method of using the aquariums is  inverted over the top of plants out in your very early spring or late fall gardens. Here, I am able to  use them all winter long  and keep a few greens alive under the aquariums. Though they do not grow much during the winter months,  as soon things warm a bit the plants under it begin growing immediately. When temps warm enough during the day (over 40) I tip the tank up and then put it back down at night.If I dont the plants will cook in there.  Small container plants can also go under them to give them a boost in the early  spring and you an earlier harvest on some of your veggies.

Once I know the  over wintered greens and herbs are not going to get any more super hard frosts for an extended period of nights I bring the  tanks into the greenhouse  and they become my small cold frames in the greenhouse. Since space is  limited in there rather than trying to lift them up and down daily  I  sit them upright and place my seed tray or  cups in there where I can water from the bottom and on real cool night cover with  a layer of plastic and blankets if need be. If you dont have a greenhouse  you can do the same thing out side and either invert it over your seed pots or trays or use as above and cover on very cold nights.

 I do not have enough old aquariums hanging around the homestead to move all my baby plants to the  greenhouse real early, but I can move a fair amount and not have to worry about them freezing  on our still   low 20 degree nights.

signs of spring

Our first flowers of spring have finally started to bloom here. They all finally started blooming  yesterday. The crocus and little purple things are everywhere   and the daffodils should be full bloom with in a week or so. I love the first spring colors and flowers, it is much like a rebirth  each time it happens and makes me feel sooooooo good!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

WOW just WOW

FDA warns of Salmonella risk from common flavor enhancer -
Thousands of types of processed foods -- including many varieties of soups, chips, hot dogs and salad dressings -- may pose a health threat because they contain a flavor enhancer that could be contaminated with Salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.
Salmonella was detected in one lot of hydrolyzed vegetable protein made by Basic Food Flavors Inc. as well as inside the company's Nevada manufacturing facility, according to the FDA. Basic Food Flavors Inc. is one of only a handful of companies that makes hydrolyzed vegetable protein, but its customer list is extensive
The FDA has posted on its Web site a list of products that are being recalled by their manufacturers. The list contained 56 products as of midafternoon and is expected to balloon. It can be found at

I don't normally write about what I find in the news but this one is a BIGGIE! Some days I get very tired of gardening year round and trying to provide us with as much food as I possibly can but when I read articles like this I am thankful that we have the ability to grow the majority of our own foods and choose to do it.

Talk about an instant shortage of food!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

more kids

This evening we went out to feed the  critters their evening meal and  we  heard an unfamiliar  "mahhhhh" coming from out of the  holding pen. After looking  a bit better we noticed two little brown fur balls laying in the enclosure. One making lots of noise and trying to stand and one laying  in the dirt, dirty and dang near frozen.  Momma was not really tending much to either one of them as it was obvious she knew if she didn't eat her food right that minute she was going to die of starvation.

I went in to check on the little darlings and see that they were ok and make sure momma was doing well . Both looked fine other than a slight lack of care  but the smaller of the two was close to freezing to death. Now I am  not in to taking heroic measures in order to save animals  here on the homestead and I  no longer do the bottle baby thing unless it is absolutely needed but I will not let a critter die simply because momma had a very big lapse of judgment.  I also know in  years past she has always been a very good mother so i  scooped the near froze one up and  wrapped it up in my coat.

I didn't think she  was actually going to live. It was so cold and wet its muscles were contracting and pulling its neck in funny  positions and the breathing was pretty screwy.  The only thing this kid had going for it was that it was trying to suck. I went out to the freezer and grabbed a couple frozen packs of colostrum and set it in  some warm water to thaw  and worked on drying the baby off. As I was drying, I was stimulating and rubbing quite briskly while switching out towels that I had hanging on the wood stove door. I then decided to  just let her warm and rest a while to see what happened as I had done all I would do. I tucked her into a nest of warmed towels on top of the dirty clothes basket and left her sit a while. Within an hour she was looking around, neck issues fixed and standing up. I gave her a bit of  colostrum which she willingly took  and  she began following me around the shack.

  Knowing I didnt want to  bottle feed a baby for many reasons, I decided to take her back  and see if momma would  mother her and take her back after my having messed with her a while.  I walked in the pen set the kid down momma immediately took her in and began mothering. Baby then decided  she was still hungry and went searching for a teat. All seemed well so baby is now back with  momma and I don't have to play momma goat.

I gotta say, it's kind of funny that no matter what sort of baby it is, you still  mother it  like it was your own. I caught my self rocking the beast  as I did my motherly duties. Don't tell the manthing I said this but I think in his old age he is softening a bit. I caught him checking her out and I think, even petting her a couple of times. Miracles never cease!

I am so cheap-crystallized ginger

We have  been making our own lacto fermented soda here for a little while now and one thing I have noticed is that we have a lot of ginger bits that seem to be perfectly good yet  getting  thrown away.  We make our starter here using ginger  but after a few batches of soda, the ginger " feeder bits" need to be strained. I had been throwing them away   but after tasting a bite of a piece realized that the ginger was not only still crunchy  but had a lot of flavor in it yet. The only  apparent difference to me   was a slightly alcohol flavor to the pieces of ginger. 

As I fished through the fridge for my fresh ginger root to refresh my  starter culture I had to move a jar of mango and ginger marmalade a friend has sent me from Australia. It was then that it hit me what I needed to do with the ginger, crystallize it. There was absolutely no reason why I couldn't take the strained bit and make our very own crystallized ginger at a fraction of the cost of what it is to buy it, know what was in it, be recycling  in the process and making another of our own natural  healing agents in the process.

Ginger is a wonderful herb for many different ailments. Some of gingers' therapeutic actions  are anti-nausea, stimulant, circulatory stimulant, vasodilator (opens up blood vessels to improve blood flow), anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warms tissue externally) and diaphoretic (stimulates perspiration to increase elimination through the skin and can help reduce fevers).  It can also help to lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.  It can assist to lower blood pressure & helps stop coughing.  For many of these therapies  ginger is drank in a tea form or by eating crystallized ginger pieces. Instead of using ginger for our  teas, I instead use the ginger pieces as a sweetener and simply throw a few pieces into  whatever flavor tea I am drinking as it steeps. The ginger pieces can also be used in various cooking dishes as well as desserts and other confections. It goes very well in many marmalades and is a wonderful accompaniment in some chutneys and served with meat. 

Making your own crystallized ginger is very easy. Cube or slice your fresh ginger root (Already done if you are being cheap like me and recycling it). Place ginger in sauce pan, cover  with water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, reduce heat and continue boiling until water is nearly evaporated. Measure  the amount of cooked down ginger and add equal amount of sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring back to boil and stir constantly. Lower heat and continue to stir until water is  evaporated and  ginger is near dry. Cool and coat in sugar. Store in airtight container  for up to 3 months, longer if it is  stored in fridge.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

indoor and GH fall/winter garden 2009-first tomato harvest

cutting costs- laundry

Way back when, we used to have a washing machine here on the homestead. It was an honest to goodness technologically advanced apparatus even, not  an old fashioned wringer type  or anything. Unfortunately when people see a washing machine they are going to use the thing as often as possible while they have one available to them. This is especially true of road dogs, people in transition and the trail hikers, all of whom we have opened our doors too in years past. Though they can go  weeks on  end in stinking, dirty clothes and with out bathing  in a proper shower, when   they see  those two  modern conveniences   in places they land, they are going to use them to their full advantage and then some.

Ya see, it wasn't the use of the machine itself back in those days that was the issue, we weren't as frugal a few years back as we are now. It was the amounts of water  that people were using while washing their clothes and bodies that was the problem. As I have mentioned before, our only water source here is  a cistern. For two people  it is more than enough water storage. For four people in a dry year it is a bit more difficult. For anything over that it becomes  a challenge to keep water use  to a minimum so that we dont run out. Often times through the years we have had eight to ten people here at a time and for a while there were thirteen of us.

After several mishaps of running the cistern dry over the years(either from too much washing or malfunctions with the machines), having to make emergency water runs to the pond to have any water at all and then a few years of drought on top of it all  we pulled our washing machine out. We began going to the laundry mat to do our clothes. It worked well if you got to the laundry mat  before it opened and raced to find a machine or three quicker than  any one else. Unfortunately over time as gas prices went up and the economy went down, the laundry mat became down right expensive. Every two weeks it was 15 dollars to  have clean  clothes. when the driers went from 8 minutes a quarter to 7 and then 6, we  decided that 30 dollars or more  a month was too much just  to have some  clean clothes.

I really wanted to find us an  old wringer machine. I had actually grown up with one as a child of the 70's. Granny had one at her summer camp   and it   was a lovely monster. I  recall going out to the back room, which was also the bait, tackle, beer fridge n fish butcher room to sit and watch the machine clean the clothes while talking to  gran. Looking back on it now it was a comfort  thing and relaxing in its own way, much like watching a fish tank.When the clothes were through, I would help to feed the clothes to the wringer and hang them out on the line.

Unfortunately,  wringer washers these days are few and far between. Many folks have rediscovered there grandness and have gone back to them. Many are now planters for flowers and  most have long been forgotten about and left to  rot away a sad, horrible death in falling down  barns and garages across the lands. On the rare occasion that one can be found,  they tend to be very expensive  and entirely out of our price range. While the dream of having my very own wringer washer  hooked up to  pedal power  remains, we had to come up with a solution that works for us in the mean time.

The purple tub is for washing and rinsing. The wash tub is for washed or rinsed clothes (or for boiling whites in) after wringing and the mop bucket and wringer are my wringer.The plunger is for agitation of the water and clothes. The wringer wrings clothes out pretty good and is much easier on the hands than wringing by hand.

The only thing that doesn't wring well are blue jeans and over the years I have learned that jeans really don't need to be wrung out and dry just as well leaving them to drip. The only thing that I can not wash in this manner is blankets. We still run them to the laundry mat a couple times a year

I think most of our clothes come out cleaner using this method than they do in a machine. I do a wash, rinse, rinse cycle on the clothes. If they are extremely nasty they get a pre-soak as well. Socks,undies and wash cloths are boiled on the stove in a wash tub before washing and then . If water if truly minimal and clothes are extremely grimy, a half cup of ammonia can be added to the rinse water.  The odor dissipates while the clothes hang to dry.

  A Large load of clothes take me about an hour total from start to finish with a couple few minute soaks to rest my arms. An average load uses about 25 gallons of water. Since we don't use harsh chemicals in our laundry ,our gray water from washing is used on garden beds in the summer. We line dry all the clothes  both summer and winter.

In the winter washing is a bit harder unless I bring the whole system, which I can do, inside. I must admit this winter since it is just the two of us here, I have been taking our one large load to town each month and just washing it there and bringing it home to dry on the line. For 4 bucks our wash is done while we do our running about and it saves me a bit of a hassle and a bunch of pain. My bones  and muscles aint what they used to be.

With the cold blast of weather, I decided to dry our clothes at the laundry mat as well  on our last town trip. It is now a quarter for every five minutes of drying and the machines have all went up another  quarter per load . I wont be doing that again soon.

A friend of ours has a couple videos for washing clothes with alternative methods.

I know others  use alternative methods for washing clothes. What is your system ? What other ingenious ways have you run across or employed in cleaning your clothes? What tips or tricks or suggestions do you have for those either by choice or out of necessity find themselves with out a washing machine?

Monday, March 1, 2010

monday's mountain musings

Another week of fairly horrible weather out. Very cool and damp weather with  high winds all week and a storm warning for tonight and  tomorrow even.  They are saying 5 or more inches for us, that is supposedly snow however it would be no surprise to simply get a foot of rain.I chalk the heavy winter and spring rains up to raising the water tables for when we don't get  as much rain in the summer. Of course, last summer(near 100 inches for year) it was trying to make up for the three prior years of drought, so we don't really need  more precipitation of any sort. In fact I would prefer we didn't get any for a spell so that we could get a few more of the garden beds woke up.

Speaking of gardens, I kicked most of my greenies to the gh yesterday. I know its harsh to take them from the comfort of the loft and the nice little light shining down on them everyday  and chuck them in the cold gh, but they had to go. I needed room for my next round of babies. I have now started, some alpine strawberries and three new types of crazy hybrid tomatoes. All of this  round will either remain in the loft   for the season or go into the gh and be grown there. I also  started a couple cucumbers, zucchini and squash for th same purpose. One or two of each plant will go to the gh, a couple will go to  containers and  a couple  will stay up in the house for the balcony and loft summer grow.  This week I will begin planting the rest of the tomatoes, peppers and egg plant as well. When we go to town  next, I will also grab another pound or two  of onion sets.

My  first two tomatoes are ripe! Well not quite ripe, but they are turning  and if I can leave them alone long enough to turn red  they will be  quite  lovely. Unfortunately  every time I pass by them they scream at me to  fry them   now, so I cant promise they will make it to a pretty red mater picture. My winter cucumber also now has baby cukes growing so soonly we will  have cucumber/mater salads again. YUM!  Funny though, my winter  garden, that was really  planted before fall started,  will begin   to be harvested about the first day of spring. What a long  time to wait  for  veggies but then again  now that I know how long it takes for my winter grow with only natural light to start producing,I will keep it in mind  so that on the first day of summer i will plant my winter grow this year.

Today we went and helped a friend prepare his first real garden. Actually  a neighbor tilled it for him with a tractor, we are helping put up  an 8 foot fence  around the perimeter. I also  helped him plot out what to plan, where and when.  Now if he follow instructions and he has a  good season, he should be able to produce darn near all his food the entire summer with some to put back for the winter.

Gumbelina is two weeks old now. She has straightened out well  health wise  since her birth  and is growing at a fast clip. She has also  learned to speak Japanese rather fluently and can count to 50 in Portuguese. She is such a smart girl.

And finally, we are moving out of the stone age with  our grinding methods.  No worries, not too far. To explain further, I will make a post on   grinding  grains around the homestead with our various methods after the new one arrives .