Thursday, September 29, 2011

Biting off more than you can chew?

posted by Melissa Baumgart
Homemade pita.  Don't bite off too much.
Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew?  And then choked and almost died, but finally hacked whatever it was out, breathed again and sighed with relief?  Totally, me too.

Homesteading month was kinda like that.  I had warnings from friends:
"Take it easy."
"You don't have to do everything in three days."
"You're gonna burn out."

"No, no, no," I replied.  "I can do this, see I was created with a strong constitution.  I can do everything, and hardly ever say no to any invitation to go out and have fun on top of it.  In fact, even if you don't ask me to have fun with you, I am at home having my own party-of-one, thank you very much."

And so went urban homesteading.  Doing, doing, and doing some more...sometimes feeling guilty for not doing enough.  Seems I was also created with a penchant for guilt.  It makes for an interesting mix...overdoing everything and guilt about not doing enough.  I could list off all the things I have done since I last posted, but I won't.  (I will say that I discovered pasta making is challenging, and that my daughter Lily is a much better pasta maker than I.)  Suffice it to say, I continued on with homesteading and having fun until I could do no more.  Literally.

Lily, master-pasta-maker.
As of this past Sunday, I have barely homesteaded. (I even ate fast food!  Not even like food out that was well made, by someone else's hand)  I did manage to learn to knit. (Finally!)  But that was only because I was stuck somewhere with nothing to do but watch A Perfect Storm repeating on the television.  It's an entertaining movie, but really?  Twice in a row?

Right now, soup is on the stove, and it is the first home cooked meal I have had since our second paella feast of the month this past Saturday.  I don't think I have any photos of the yummy event, since I left my camera outside and it rained that night.  Wow, everything just keeps looking up.

Today, a friend of mine at school gave me some water kefir grains, milk kefir grains and a kombucha baby (or scobee, as I believe they are called.)  (check out my cousin, Margaret Hurley, demonstrate how to make your own kombucha)  This will constitute my last ditch effort at homesteading, to make those three things.

That reminds me, school has started again.  I am taking Anatomy & Physiology 2, Microbiology and Statistics.  (Must get 4.0's)

Life is full of lessons, and it seems like the one glaring me in the face right now is "Slow Down, or I'll make you slow down."  (I don't want to, believe me, I feel just terrible about it.)  I thought urban homesteading would be that, I thought it would slow me down, but it didn't.  It totally did not, at all.  So much so that Amy and I both are reconsidering our choice for next month.

It is in line with life being "digestible", as in not biting off more than you can chew.  And less about going out and wine tasting and beer tasting and spending a ton of money on supplies to make our own, which sounds super fun, don't get me wrong.  But with this new lesson being thrown my way, it seems like going out and drinking all month is not slowing down.

Check back to see what October brings...
It would be fun to hear what you would pick if it were you.  Let us know here on the comments, or on our Facebook page!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Knitting makes me hungry

By Amy Baranski

Note to reader: I meant to post this days ago but held up for some reason...present-time knitting update to come.

I'll knit anything. Give me a ball of yarn. Twenty inches of string. I'll stitch it up. Since my first attempt, I've started to enjoy knitting. Perhaps the recent assistance has something to do with this lifted attitude. Or maybe it's because I have no set destination, so unraveling rows of stitches to start again on an faulty line means little to me.

I have not ventured passed 25 stitches. Although the other night I put two rows of 30 together. But, I left the knitting needles and yarn behind, as they were not mine. I figure that I'm building memory for my hands.

The little  projects pictured to the right were my attempts to bind off. That's the part when you stop knitting. I became delighted when Googling: how to stop knitting. It sounds, in part, like a support group. I'm sure there is one, perhaps laying on the cutting-room floor of an old Christopher Guest  movie.

Out of all my clothing knits are among my favorite. One of of the best accessories I ever had was a beautiful chenille scarf, Merlot in color, knitted by my sister. What a wonderful homemade gift to give during the high holidays.

That brings me back to the point of this month why we chose Urban Homesteading in the first place. When Melissa and I revealed our list of things to try this year I had canning and she had Urban Homesteading. We realized that one was an activity of the other. So we combined the two. My hope was to acquire a new set of skills throughout the home and to try and become more self-sufficient. I am the type of person that would like to hire a maid. While I deeply love cooking I also enjoy the effortlessness of eating out on the town.  So, forcing myself to focus on home economics (the closest I ever got was a personal finance class in high school), seemed like a worthy challenge. And so far it has been.

But we are not perfect and trying new things has many challenges. Among them is will.

Which brings me to one fateful night a week or so ago. It's football season, and since no one in our apartment building has cable television anymore, a gaggle of us headed to the Montlake Ale House. Here I ordered a plate of Nachos--covered in sour cream, and a plate of wings. It was delicious and lovely and I loved every bit: being served, not washing the dishes, lacking investment in the ingredients and the presentation of the food. So knitting makes me...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Deep down in your plums

posted by Melissa Baumgart
From the wealth of Amy's plum harvest, I also made some plum jam.  It happened yesterday afternoon.  I have been saying I was going to make jam since the first day of this month, and it finally happened.  No, it wasn't with those beautiful blackberries we picked, the rest of those still sit in a plastic container in my refrigerator.  Wasted.  That's how it usually goes around here.  Best intentions become smelly and rotten and shoved to the back of the fridge.

Notice their deep hue.
After Amy made it look so easy to can; taking care of the sauce after I feel asleep, and then it seemed like every time I saw her lately she had just canned this or that.  So, there I was with 8 pounds of plums, and I got to canning.  Speaking of plums, have you seen the Will Farrell but about the plums?  Make sure you're kids aren't around and check out that link.

 So, the plums, first I cut up all the plums and simmered them on medium heat until they became mushy and a lot of their juices had oozed out. (Still laughing from the Will Farrell thing.)  They went from a yellow fleshed fruit to a soup of bright red.  Next I used my blender to purée the plums and their juice to a cohesive mixture, and then strained it through a colander to remove some of the peel.

Jars of jam waiting to "set."
From there, I followed the instructions that came in my box of Pomona's pectin.  I think it would be boring to go over the whole process, so I suggest you follow your own instructions in the box of Pomona's pectin that you purchase.  It is pretty simple: add calcium water, then sugar and pectin, bring it to a boil (one that can't be stirred down, learned that at the canning class!) and then you have jam.

Homemade jam on homemade toast.
You should have your canning water bath ready and boiling, your jars hot and your canning funnel and jar grabber tool on hand.  You fill the jars, wipe the rim clean, put on the lids and once your basket (you can get one of these, pretty essential tools at a hardware store that sells canning supplies) is full, you gently place it in the boiling water.  My instructions said to boil for 10 minutes.

And now, I have jam!  It's just a shame that we ran out of peanut butter yesterday.  I was all excited about being "that parent", you know, the one that sends their kids to school with homemade bread and homemade jam sandwiches.  This month has proven to me, beyond a doubt, that I will never be that parent.  And probably cure me of any desire to be one in the future.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Sum of All Things Plum

By Amy Baranski

Jennifer Borges Foster and David Nixon
 in front of their plum tree.
The other day my friend Jennifer invited me to pick plums from her and her husband David's backyard. Jennifer and David are both artists and just great people. When she offered their plum bounty I was thrilled—that word could easily describe the sum of all things plum. But there are other words to share. So many that I thought it best to post a Q&A Jennifer and I did via Facebook.

Here's a formal intro to my friend:

Jennifer Borges Foster is a poet, bookmaker and the editor of Filter, a hand-bound limited-edition literary journal. Filter is available on her Etsy site, Open Books, Elliot Bay Book Company, and Wessel and Liberman. She has received grants from Art patch, 4Culture and the Seattle Mayor’s office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, and was short-listed, twice in 2007 & 2011, for the Stranger’s Genius Award in literature. Her poems have appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, Failbetter and other journals. To get a small, but satisfying, sip of her poetry check out the current issue of City Arts.

She is currently participating in the Authorship Project at The Project Room. This series explores the role of the maker, group collaboration, repurposing materials and who gets the credit. Check out the above link for more details. In the near future, October 20, 2011 to be exact, Jennifer will host The Ecstasy of Influence and evening with Heather McHugh.
Zombie apocalypse-ready garden beds. 

Q: I'm curious what's the first thing you do after you've made something new?
Sleep? I tend to take on projects that are pretty all-consuming, and I often end up working late into the night. When something is actually finished, I try to take a good look at the project or poem to see where it succeeds or fails. Poems take a lot longer to judge.

Q: Why do you garden?
My Dad had a garden when I was a little kid, and my second home (where I kept my horse) was a small farm with a big garden, so I guess growing up around growing food made a big impact on me.

To be really honest, I've been somewhat obsessed with apocalyptic visions since I was a kid, so part of my urge to garden comes from the need to be self-sufficient. I lived off the grid for several years in my late teens/early 20's, gardening, keeping chickens and horses, and living in relative isolation - great conditions for possible apocalyptic survival.

Plums from Jennifer and David's tree.
Photo by Jennifer Borges Foster.
One day I realized that I talked with my animals far more than I talked to humans, and I decided to move to the city and die with the rest of the non-prepared. We've got a huge garden in the front of our house in Columbia city, and several of our neighbors joke that when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, they are heading to our house - so I guess my gardening still has that end-of-the-world flair.

Q: How do you maximize growing space at your home?
We bought a house last year, and the major drawback was that the front, south facing yard was all concrete. Bleh! We decided to avoid jackhammers and possible old oil tank explosions, and put in ten 8'x4' raised beds instead. They've been amazing! They do save space, and they help to minimize weeding, rock populations, and all that pesky bending over.
Plums - local, compassionately grown, and super fresh.
Generous plum growers=awesome urban homesteaders!
Photo by Amy Baranski.

Q: Use three words to describe your food politics:

Q: What's the first edible you ever grew?
The first garden I grew on my own (at age 19) was packed. Beans, carrots, kohlrabi, lettuces, cabbages, turnips, tomatoes, squash, you name it, I grew it.

Q: Do you have a favorite outside place, what's it like?
My favorite way to be outside is on horseback, running. Wooded trails are great, but I'd take anything!

Q: How did you learn how to cook/bake/preserve food?
Watching my parents and reading.

Q: What's your earliest memory of the garden?
I used to pull all the peas from their shells and eat them when I thought my parents weren't looking (age two). Turns out they were looking, and thought it was cute.

Q: What are some of your favorite tips for canning?
Experiment! It seems pretty serious when you are putting up lots of food to eat over the course of a year, but disregarding that and taking chances with uncommon flavor combinations is more rewarding than eating the same thing every year.

Q: If you were traveling to outer space & what three earthly spices would you take?
SALT Crushed red pepper Sage

Q: What one fruit would you take?
Apples - they travel well.

Q: What performed well in your garden this year? Did you/do you have any pest problems? Everything did great! It turns out that the concrete pad our beds are on is a giant solar heating mat, so our garden flourished even in the dismal cold of this spring and summer.

Squirrels! They shucked and ate all the bottom ears of corn - next year we'll have to build a squirrel proof corn box. We also had cabbage worms, which I've never had to deal with before. We hand-picked and killed all the worms, something I don't relish. Next year we'll cover our kale and other brassicas.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Drama of Homesteading

posted by Melissa Baumgart
growing my own food.
When I first picked this topic, Urban Homesteading, for one of our months, I didn't know much about what it would entail.  I knew it meant to be more self-reliant, but I didn't really have a detailed picture of all the things I could do to make that happen, living in an apartment in the city.  So, I went to my trusty computer and Googled "Urban Homesteading."

The first thing that comes up is a link, Urban Homestead ® - Path to Freedom.  When I was researching the idea, there wasn't that little ® after the words Urban Homestead.  I looked through their website and found their list of 10 Elements of Urban Homesteading.  Their list follows:

  1. Grow your own FOOD on your city lot.
  2. Use alternative ENERGY sources.
  3. Use alternative FUELS & TRANSPORTATION.
  4. Keep farm ANIMALS for manure and food.
  5. Practice WASTE REDUCTION.
  6. Reclaim GREYWATER and collect RAINWATER.
  7. Live SIMPLY.
  8. Do the work YOURSELF.
  9. Work at HOME.
  10. Be a good NEIGHBOR.
I thought that it seemed like a great place to start.  Most of them I could work towards, and some I knew would be out of reach, like keeping animals.  My plan was to check back in with the website as it got closer to Urban Homesteading month.  But before that happened that little ® showed up.  I first head about it through a Facebook page called "Take Back Urban Homesteading."  

It turns out that the Dervaes family, the one that owns the website and I mentioned earlier, Urban Homestead® - Path to Freedom, decided in 2010 to trademark the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading."  Then in February of this year, they wrote letters to bloggers, authors and other organizations using those terms requesting they stop doing so without permission or attribution.

The Take Back Urban Homesteading Facebook page arose as a way to gather forces and keep people who are against this kind of trademarking informed on what is happening.  There have been petitions filed by at least three groups requesting that the trademark be canceled.  

Now I don't feel so great about the website I once thought was so cute and inspiring.  I don't know why they decided to trademark these terms, it seems I can't find any interviews with the Dervaes family since the controversy occurred.  Perhaps their lawyers say it is ill advised to speak about it publicly.  It seems odd to me to think of this urban homestead with lawyers advising them on trademark rights and issues.  

If they truly are into simple living and being good neighbors, then what does it matter if other people use the term urban homesteading?  Why do they care?  Unless they have something to gain?  

What are your thoughts on the topic?  Am I missing something here?  Are they more innocent than the people against them say they are?  I mean, as the Dervaes family says on their website (and yes, this is a direct quote, I am giving attribution, please don't sue me):

"Please note that this is a noncommercial, family-operated venture.  We're not a huge organization nor are we backed by one.  It's just us four with a desire to make our world better.   This website is written, created, developed and run by the Dervaes "kids" because -- let's face it -- Dad (Jules Dervaes) is a luddite at heart and hates computers. 

We devote countless hours to this site, and, despite the opportunity for profit, we remain committed to keeping it an advertisement-free forum. We do this because we believe in giving freely to others, a value upon which strong, healthy communities are built. We hope you will take this principle to heart, and will view this site not just as a place to “take” (answers, ideas, inspiration), but as an opportunity to “give” as well. Whatever you may gain by reading about our journey, please remember to “pay it forward” to others in some fashion."
But maybe these other people just started homesteading all on their own, with the help of the Dervaes family or their website.  Don't they deserve to use these words too?  The book titled The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City by Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen was published in 2008, three years before their trademark.  Why did they get a letter asking them to stop using that term?  

If I could trademark a term, would I?  Should I see if "Good Luck With That!" is trademarked by anyone?  And then could I get a little something every time I heard someone using it?  

"Oh no you didn't!  Those words are mine!  Pay up or give me attribution."


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just another Tuesday (Glee) Night

posted by Melissa Baumgart
Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
Tuesday Night Dinner
Today my plan was to attempt to keep up with my goal of making bread 3 days every week and that whole everything from scratch thing.  Even though I spent last night at a pub eating everyone's leftovers (does that count since I didn't order it myself?) and tonight at a movie theater watching the season premier of Glee.

I did make bread, and it was the best so far.  I am thinking the more you make bread, the better you get at it.  Tonight's bread was crusty on the outside and fluffier inside.  Makes we wonder what the next one will be like?  Because so far I have to say, as good as it is, it is not better than store bought.

I also made another recipe from my new favorite cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller.  This time I went for the Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup.  Making a soup from his most simple of cookbooks, is not simple at all.  You have to accomplish multiple steps, like cooking each vegetable separately and cutting your own parchment paper lid.  This last part seems to be an essential for most soups.  At least this recipe didn't call for some already made ingredient from the back of the cookbook, like many other recipes do.  You really have to plan ahead.

Here is the recipe, and I have to say, it was pretty damn good.  As is everything else I made from said cookbook.

Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
8 ounces of applewood smoked slab bacon
3 Tablespoons canola oil
2 Cups thinly sliced carrots
2 Cups coarsely chopped leeks
2 Cups coarsely chopped onions
1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
Kosher salt
1 ½  pounds sweet potatoes
2 Sachets (1 bay leaf, 3 thyme sprigs, 10 black peppercorns and 1 smashed garlic clove wrapped in a cheesecloth)
2 Cups French de Puy lentils
8 Cups chicken stock
1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I did not use this)
Freshly ground pepper
Cilantro leaves

Cut the bacon into lardons that are 1 inch long and ½ inch thick.

Heat the canola oil in an 8 to 10 quart stock pot over medium heat.  Add the bacon, reduce the heat to low, and render the fat for 20 to 25 minutes.  The bacon should color but not crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon and set aside.

Add the carrots, leeks, onions and curry powder to the pot and stir to coat in the bacon fat.  Season with salt, reduce heat to low, cover with a parchment paper lid (*see note below), and cook very slowly for 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.  Remove and discard the parchment lid.

Meanwhile, peel the sweet potatoes.  Trim them and cut them into ½-inch dice.  Put the potatoes, one of the sachets, and 2 teaspoons salt into a large saucepan, add cold water to cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain and spread on a tray to cool; discard the sachet.

Add the lentils, second sachet, and stock to the vegetables, bring to a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender.  (At this point, the soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Spread the bacon in a small frying pan and crisp over medium-high heat.

Add the vinegar to taste to the soup, then add the potatoes and heat through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve garnished with bacon crisps and cilantro.

-Makes 10 Cups

*Using a parchment paper lid for soups allows some evaporation because of the small steam hole cut in it.   But because it covers the meat and/or veggies, it keeps the liquid from reducing too quickly and prevents the surface from becoming too caramelized as it cooks.  It's like having a lid and not having a lid at the same time.

To make a lid:  (this is my I-don't-want-to-type-anymore-version of making a parchment lid)
Cut a piece of parchment paper the same size of the pot you are using.  Fold it into a triangle with one curved side and cut a small piece out of the center)


Monday, September 19, 2011

How to Make Fresh Pasta

posted by Melissa Baumgart
Our "family recipe"
Last year in Tallulah's kindergarten we received a request from her teacher: "Send in a family recipe."  In true Baumgart fashion, we waited until the morning it was due, and quickly jotted something down on a scrap piece of paper.  I think I even had Lily do it for us.  She was "the good one" at the time.  At least there is always one kid willing to man that spot at any given moment.

She wrote down all the ingredients to blueberry cobbler, since Lily had just made that the weekend before.  She is an amazing baker, even at 11 years old.  I stuffed the paper into Tallulah's backpack, feeling accomplished and kinda like I might look like a together kind of parent.

Turns out her teacher put together this amazing book of recipes, highlighting that they were from each kid's family recipes.  Oh, great.  Most kids offered recipes (including instructions, not just the ingredients like our page had) from their culture.  There were recipes for tamales, which I used last Christmas Eve, and for Ethiopian stew; not to mention recipes from Micronesia, a great great grandmother's Wassail recipe, and luckily a recipe for fresh pasta.

Kindergarten recipe book.
Isaac, The Pasta Man, and his family shared their recipe for fresh pasta and marinara sauce.  Since the tamales turned out so well during the holidays, I turned to the Kindergarten cookbook once again.  Especially since Jamie Oliver seemed to be no help.

Here is their (adapted) recipe:

Fresh Pasta
6 eggs, beaten
1 Tablespoon salt
1/3 cup water
4 cups flour (I think we used a little more)

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the salt.  Add flour and water alternately in small amounts, and then knead until well blended.  Remove from bowl, and oil the bowl.  (We did not do this.)  Return dough to bowl and let stand in warm room until ripened.  (We also did not do this, we just started rolling it through the pasta maker right away due to time constrictions.)

Note:  Dough may be refrigerated overnight.  If refrigerated, let stand until room temperature before working in additional flour and running through the pasta maker.

Form dough into small balls about the size of a lemon.  Pat into the shape of a rounded rectangle, and then flatten in a pasta machine.  Start at the thickest setting and work your way to the thinnest.  Make sure to flour the pasta before each pass through the machine.  After the last (smallest) setting, drop the dough through the pasta setting that you desire (i.e. spaghetti, linguini, fettuccine.)

Boil in boiling water for about 1 - 2 minutes, depending on thickness of noodles.  It seemed fun to let the kids test it and tell me when it was done.


Steady Now. We are so Urban!

posted by Melissa Baumgart
In the process of becoming cheese for lasagna.
We dined on homemade pinto beans and rice with salsa verde and tomato salsa, and a side of jicama red pepper salad.   Red sangria accompanied the meal.
It all commenced with a late night mozzarella cheese making session, that went on way too long.  (In preparation for the upcoming Sunday's Italian feast.)  Do I sense a trend in Urban Homesteading?  Very time-comsuming.

You may have heard about Saturday.  Wow!  It was an epic day of homesteading.

The best deal at the market, $2.00/lb
Amy and I woke early to head out to the U-District Farmer's Market.  It is my favorite in Seattle if you are looking for straight up produce and food, not arts and crafts.  We quickly realized that the event of canning, which we thought would take us 4 hours in total (including gathering ingredients from the market), would indeed take us a but longer.  Little did we know, one of us would be asleep by the time the cans came out of the water bath.

Local potatoes at the market.

A side trip to a lovely Ace Hardware in Maple Leaf came with the overwhelming realization that fall has come to Seattle.  The streets up north were lined with leaves that had fallen and as we drove, the leaves continued to fall on the car like rain.  The hardware store is a great place for canning supplies, I just wish we had a cute little place like that on Capitol Hill.

Onto the Farmer's Market where we purchased 30 pounds of tomatoes, local and possibly organic.  In all, after I bought the cans and my share of tomatoes, I spent $49.00 for the complete canning experience I was embarking on.  It seemed like a lot, and had me wishing I lived in New Jersey or somewhere else where tomatoes are plentiful this time of year.

Food mill + Tomatoes = yummy mess.
As we walked past Golden Glen Creamery's stand I couldn't help be inspired by the cheese curds.  It's been weeks since I have had poutine, and I have been craving it even more since the weather has cooled.  After tasting the curds and chatting with the lady about what cows they use, I bought into my poutine dream fully.  Next was to locate the perfect potatoes for the french fries.  I was sold on the Cal White's.

The orgasmic poutine.
To make a long story short: par-boiling 30 pounds of tomatoes, passing them through a food mill, pureeing the scraps and passing them through a food mill, trying to simmer the sauce down by half; this all can take quite a while.  It can take all day.  Now we know.  It is messy, it takes a long time, and if you add in making your won poutine from scratch...well, that is just the icing on the cake.

I could have ended everything after that poutine, and died a happy lady.  It was better than Smith's.  And the post-poutine coma lasted til morning.  Poor Amy had to finish the canning without me, because I passed out.  I was sad to miss that fun sound of the cans sealing.  Amy assured me it was anti-climatic, but I think if we had been there together, Snoop Dogg playing in the background, she would think otherwise.

Soccer and more soccer.  And then home by 5:30pm and fresh made, totally and completely from scratch lasagna and pesto fettuccine with green salad on the table by 8pm.

Yes, I par-boiled new tomatoes, passed them through the food mill and cooked them down to a sauce, again.  I also, finally, succeeded at making fresh pasta!

I made lasagna noodles and fettuccine!  I whipped up a basil pesto from the gardens out front.  The lasagna was like to other I had ever made.  The noodles were so thin, and the cheese (remember, we made the cheese Friday night) didn't totally melt and I didn't have the usual amount of ricotta since I was working with the leftover whey to get it.  But it was very, very satisfying.  And I can't wait to make pasta again.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Knitting makes me tipsy

By Amy Baranski

This is a short note to say that I have knitted a coaster.

It pleases me to no end.

If I had my little way I'd eat peaches every day

By Amy Baranski

Before I head out to brunch this morning I started caning canning some peaches. Thankfully this is taking considerably less effort and time than the tomato sauce of yesterday. Sheesh.

Peaches are yummy, and they are in season and were less expensive per pound than the saucing tomatoes we bought yesterday from the farmer's market. I do enjoy peach cobbler, my neighbor Megan makes a mean cobbler, note to self: get her recipe.

Let me know if you have any peach recipes!

Today I am going out for brunch. This is the first meal I'll have eaten out all month. But a friend is in from out of town and I'd like to visit with her. Aside from the pizza that Bob ordered one night, I've been eating from home, and mostly from scratch, except for that whole popcorn bonanza.

Brunch is at Voula's. I've never been, but it looks like a great joint. I don't know about that Chinese pancake. If it were really Chinese it'd have chicken feet. But that Pork and Chipotle Eggs Benedict and the blueberry pie look delish.

Then on to my neighbor Ida's sixth birthday party! Maybe I should save the sweets for then. Ah decisions, decisions.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

7 Quarts 9 Hours Later

By Amy Baranski

This day of canning lasted nine hours too long. Canning "tomato sauce" was very labor intensive. That was a WHOLE DAY for a two ingredient recipe.

While it was mostly fun (was it?) it's hard not to remind myself that it was a lot of time that I could have used for other things, you know, like reading my 45 pages a day. I gave up a whole weekend day for 7 quarts of "sauce," actually less than that because Melissa and I are splitting them. Depressing.

The best part about the process was the poutine that Melissa made for dinner. Oh poutine!

Instead of detailing each step to the canning process (which you could easily read in a canning recipe somewhere) I've posted pictures of the event after the jump.

Our life is a blog

posted by Melissa Baumgart and Amy Baranski
AMY:  "Suddenly, I feel very uninspired."

MELISSA:  "I know, like, if we start by saying 'We went to the Farmer's Market today' that is so lame."

AMY:  "It should be funny."

MELISSA:  "Well, did we laugh today?"


AMY: (singing)  "Uncomfortable silence."



We went to the Farmer's Market today.

We bought 30 pounds of tomatoes to can today.  We also bought potatoes and cheese curds to make our own poutine tonight since we can't go to Smith and get our usual.

Gotta go wash those tomatoes.  I think this canning thing is going to be an all day experience.

-Amy and Melissa

To do or not to do

3 Hour Challenge: Complete

Here are all the things I wanted to do, but chose not to:

Sunflower in my garden.

  1. Check stats on the blog.
  2. Eat more bread (homemade) and butter
  3. Google "what is this rash on my leg?"
  4. Google "why is my big toe numb?"
  5. Check stats on blog.
  6. Google "seriously, what the F is on my leg cause it really itches!"
  7. Google a sangria recipe
  8. Check blog stats.
  9. Find interviews with Mason Jennings online.
  10. Watch a knitting video on You Tube.
  11. Google "Mason Jennings baby died"  (some of his lyrics lead you to think that)
  12. Google "greif workshop washington" my neighbors had told me about this thing they went to and I wanted to know more.
Here are all the things I did instead:
  1. Took out the compost.
  2. Tidied up the apartment.
  3. Vacuumed.
  4. Returned random things to my neighbor and chatter a bit with her.
  5. Had a blog meeting with Amy.
  6. Folded (a lot) of laundry.
  7. Eavesdropped on neighbors a few doors down arguing in the street. (Look, my family gives the neighborhood plenty to listen to, I should get a little in return.)
  8. Listened to Mason Jennings's new album.  (and some other MJ stuff)
  9. Washed more laundry to fold.
  10. Did the dishes.
  11. Saged the house.  (and the neighborhood for that matter, I had an unruly sage stick that would not go out.)
  12. Ate a spoonful of freshly ground peanut butter.
  13. Scrubbed the kitchen floor.
  14. Planned a dinner and went to the market for ingredients.
  15. Made a plan to make cheese with Amy after dinner.  
Done.  Now forging forward into our Saturday Morning Canning Project.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Simple Cornversation

By Amy Baranski

One of my daily homesteading tasks which I so proudly announced to the world is making meals, mostly from scratch. You think this would help promote a more healthful diet. In my case, I'm eating popcorn everyday for lunch. My kernels are organic purchased from the co-op.

It's a whole-food right?

Perhaps all the years I spent working concessions at ACT III theaters (now Regal Cinemas) buttered me up for this daily challenge. Rotating my oil selection is just, well, the salt on the corn.

My in-laws like the popcorn. It's sort of a family affair--one of those quirks you come to love about the strangers you meet up with on holidays. I have not been married long.

They hail from the Midwest. Corn land.

Last winter, or spring, (it gets confusing in the NW), I watched King Corn, a documentary about two college fellers who head back to their "ancestral" home of the Midwest to grow and track a whole acre of corn! Their raison d'être is, and in no other words, corn. Just like their hair and other bodily samples, which they had a scientist test. Most of what we eat derives from corn. The film is worth watching, but hardly groundbreaking.

I have not consumed a whole acre of corn, this month. I feel, however, a real sense of shame after I finish each batch. I religiously lick my fingers and hurry to place the bowl in the sink before the urge to stick my face in it and lap up the remaining pool of salt and butter overtakes my good senses.

I don't think this counts as cooking from scratch.

Yet I keep doing it.

It's such an enjoyable experience. Four simple ingredients: oil, salt, butter, and corn. It's a wonder I haven't done this everyday.

The 3 Hour Challenge

posted by Melissa
I Have Worms!
Worms and worm poop.
"So, when your worms reproduce and you have too many, do you just go to your friends and say, I have worms?"

This was one of the questions Amy asked at our worm bin workshop we attended last night.  It got quite a few laughs.  The other good one was when Tallulah asked if she could have the green plastic piece that popped out of the bin after drilling.  I think people were expecting some cute little kid question about worms.

Just drillin' in the park.
It was a great workshop, and Amy gave all the details on her last post.  She was the first to volunteer when the drill was offered up to make the drain holes in the bottom of the top bin.  They do this so you can collect worm tea, which is a liquid (basically liquid worm poop, Tallulah loved that) densely packed with nutrients for your plants.  The Seattle Tilth volunteer said you can mix 1 tablespoon of the worm tea with 1 gallon of water and use it to spray your plants, indoors and outside.

The only bummer about the class was the timing, and only because as a new homesteader (I want to scream, "Faker!  I am a faker!") I am not used to the amount of planning that is required.  If you take on a challenge like this, it would behoove you to be organized and prepared for each day.  So, the class was at dinner time, and I had not planned a dinner.  I was originally hoping to try my hand at pasta making again.  Now, I wouldn't be home to do so.

The Oddity of Food Choices
I texted Jamie, who was with the older kids at soccer practice.  "There is no dinner, get something to eat for you and the kids."

I figured I would just make due with what was on hand, maybe some lettuce and a little quinoa from lunch.  I stopped by Big Mario's to get Tallulah a slice.  That was hard, standing in front of all that pizza, smelling it, almost tasting it.  Then watching her eat it, NOT finish it and leave it lying there, tempting me for the rest of the evening.

Taking some control over my situation, I made my own pizza.  I used the bread I made that morning, got a tomato from out back in Amy's garden, some basil from the front garden and some cheese from dinner the other night.  I have to admit, it was pretty good, and looking at them side by side, mine "looked" better and healthier, more fresh.  But I still longed to have the slice from Big Mario's instead.  WHY?  What the hell is wrong with me?

What would be your choice?  Do you also crave "junk" food?  Do you find that the more you eat it, the more you crave it?  That reminds me of that movie, Supersize Me.  And believe me, if I don't get a handle on this, I will be supersizing myself in no time.
Choice #1
Choice #2
Jamie got home with the other two kids with a family meal from Ezell's fried chicken for dinner, and promptly announced, "I won't be going to yoga, I am eating chicken instead."  Really?  Are you kidding me?  I don't know why, but I wanted it all, the whole bucket of chicken, the fake mashed potatoes, the bad coleslaw.  I think that sometimes when I go to one extreme (no processed foods), I desperately want to swing back to the other.

Perhaps another thing to throw out of my-life-is-junk drawer?  Wait, I thought I dealt with this the other day at lunch?  OK, starting again, healthy food choices, actually homesteading and less screen time...for the next three hours. 

Is there something you want to change? A behavior, a thought pattern?  Could you do it for three hours?  Let me know...share your ideas or commitments on our Facebook page.


Why I Want Worms

By Amy Baranski

Last night we attended a free program in Victor Steinbruck Park on composting for apartment dwellers. The program, cosponsored by Seattle Parks and Recreation and Seattle Tilth, focused on worm bins, a composting system with a small footprint.
Building the bin.

I've been interested in creating a compost system for my apartment, as I currently dispose of organic matter (mostly food scraps) by dumping them into the building's yard waste container located in the alley. The city collects the waste and transports it to Cedar Grove. Cedar Grove, in turn, creates compost, used by Seattle City Parks, and customers, like myself, who can purchase it for use in home gardens. So, I'm buying the same food twice just in two different forms.

Creating a worm bin renegotiates this system, and ultimately amortizes the original cost of my food purchases, as well as the start-up worm bin cost. I get nutrients for myself, first, and then my plants get their nutrients all from the same original veggies and fruits. Presto!

Ashes to Ashes Soil to Soil

Worms basically macerate the food scrapes you feed them. Gritty particles of sand or soil combined with enzymes in their gizzards break down the food waste particles they consume. These then travel through the worm's digestive system and become worm castings--worm poop! The worm castings can be used in your garden. Garden gold they call it.

The bottom bin catches worm tea.
The instructors at Seattle Tilth said worm castings go farther than regular compost because they contain more nutrients. This means you can use less worm castings per square inch of your garden than you would compost. This process produces another useful byproduct: worm-castings tea, this is worm poop in liquid form.

Lucky for us, we got to smell both byproducts last night. The worm poop smelled like soil. The tea did not smell. Which brings me to another point. The worm bin can be used indoors because if done correctly they don't stink.

Worm tea anyone?
So why not keep some of your food scraps a little longer and let them work for you?

Building the Bin is a Cinch

The great part about this composting class, similar to the Canning 101 workshop we previously attended at Madison Market, was that worked together to build a worm bin. It was done in under an hour.

Seattle Tilth provided instructions on materials, assemblage, usage, and how to mitigate problems with the worm bin should they arise. I've included their instruction sheets in the resources links below.

Now I just need to gather all the materials and tools and find a friend with extra worms to spare.

Free Resources

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Safest food in the world

posted by Melissa
There's the kim-chi, right on top.
I did it.  I ate the kim-chi.  It has been sitting in my fridge for days now, and I expected it to become one of those things that I get to throw away after homesteading month is over.  But today Amy came down for a lunch/blog meeting and after I re-heated yesterdays veggie-quinoa dish, I suggested we just do it.  Put that kim-chi right on top and eat it.

Yesterday while using my essential computer time researching things for the blog, I listened to an audio interview, Noble Rot, on the New York Times website.  It was with Sandor Katz, a self proclaimed fermentation revitalist.  He has authored two books, Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved.  The one line that stood out to me was that he called fermented food the safest food in the world.  It gave me a little confidence in my own fermentation enterprise.  (Although my stomach is quite gurgly at the moment.)

It tasted good, and was a nice touch to the veggies and quinoa.  I think next time I will add more crushed red pepper flakes, or maybe even some chopped jalapeños.  It needed more kick in the spice department.

The other day, I watched this video of Jamie Oliver making pasta (say it like he does).  He made it look extremely simple.  For real, watch it, he put together a creamy pasta dish in less than 7 minutes.  Start to finish.  So, when my neighbor stopped by wondering if there would be enough food for her Italian potluck that evening, I offered to make some pasta.

My mess.
It was a mess.  I had semolina flour everywhere.  I didn't want to use semolina at all, because the true italian recipes call for 00 flour.  What is that?  I can't find it anywhere!  There I was slipping on the semolina, adding more eggs, kneading and kneading the damn dough.  And then came time to try the new pasta maker.

If knitting makes Amy angry, then pasta is my knitting.  (Truth be told, I don't like knitting either.)  This flipping dough looked like Swiss cheese coming through that machine.  I kept trying again, cranking the machine over and over again.  Shoving the huge chunk of dough toward the rollers.  Unbelievably, it started coming together!  At that point I could barely muster any enthusiasm, as I was already quite deep into frustration mode.

I folded it all up, just like Jamie says to do.  And sliced it so I could toss it into pretty, fluffy, thin tagliatelle, just like he did.  But it just all stuck together in clumps.  I felt so defeated.  No, Jamie Oliver, it wasn't all Rattle rattle rattle rattle....huh, huh huh huh, wee ee ee ee.... for me.  And thank god my friends weren't watching me, I would have impressed no one.  

I threw it all into the compost and I sent my Jamie to the market to buy a box of pasta.


I had my second day of successful bread making in a row!  Yesterday I tried baguettes made of spelt and wheat.  They turned out OK, but were not as light and fluffy as I would have liked.

Today I tried a French bread recipe I found online.  I think it was the best bread I have ever made.  Definitely consistency-wise, with a nice crusty outside and light inside.  I would add more salt next time.  But I did add a little on top of the butter when I had a piece, steaming, right out of the oven.  mmmmmm


Chilly Weather = Chowder

posted by Melissa
Potato-Corn Chowder
Adapted from Fields of Greens by Annie Sommerville
Makes 8 to 9 cups.  
Prep and cook time:  1 hour 15 minutes

Chicken stock (Or vegetarian un-chicken stock)
5 ears of corn, shaved, about 5 cups
1 pound of potatoes, cut into small cubes (I used baby dutch yellow potatoes)
Salt and pepper
2 bay leaves (mine were from Linda's garden in Illinois.  Thanks Linda!)
Prepped ingredients.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

Warm the stock over medium heat, and when hot to the touch, turn it down and keep it on low.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lo and behold, there was a cassette tape

posted by Melissa

There it is!  I completed the kitchen junk drawer task.  There was minimal throwing away.  Admittedly some (very, very little compared to past attempts) went into other drawers elsewhere in the house.  Some of those switches were to get the object in it's rightful place.  And others were just to get it anywhere else but in the drawer I was in charge of cleaning!

The bread turned out too!  Hallelujah!  (Can you say that if you aren't religious?)

The silver lining was this:
I found a cassette tape, that I nearly threw away, for lack of knowing what the hell to do with it.  Lo and behold (now, wait, isn't that religious too?), I almost trip over a boom box on the floor of my kitchen and guess what?  It has a tape player!

The recording quality was for shit, but when I turned up the volume, behind the loud white noise, I could hear voices.  It was of a session with a shaman I once had for my birthday a few years ago.  As the volume increased I heard her say 

"Spirit wants you to write.  Be creative.  Write!  Write!  Write!"

Somehow, I feel better than I did earlier.  And I can't wait to make some time to hear what else she had to say.  I recall her being quite funny, dropping the F-bomb a lot and saying things like "that's fucking hot" about good advice from my spirit guides.  

Here's to being open to what is...and going with the flow, even when sometimes it feels like you're stuck in your very own junk drawer.

Half-Way Homesteading

posted by Melissa
It's Wednesday.  Half-way through the school week.  Half-way through the work week if you are lucky enough to have a job.  "Hump Day", some people call it.

Maybe half-way through, maybe.
I am at the crest of a couple of other humps at this moment.

Half-way through the drawer organization.  And I F'n hate it.  If it were another month, I would just throw everything away.  But no, it is homesteading month, and I made a commitment to recycle and not make extra trash.  What do people do with batteries?  And why so I have so many in so many drawers?  I don't even know if they work or not.  That makes me want to just quit right there.  Never fear, I will trudge on.

Spelt and wheat bread, half-way through rising.
I know I was supposed to do this drawer yesterday, but the day got away from me.  I blogged, chatted with Amy about some upcoming excitement for the blog, picked the kids up, took Tallulah to soccer and then had to make dinner. (Recipe coming up in my next post! Yum!)  We didn't eat til nearly 8pm, and then it was bedtime.  So, here I am today, at noon, still wading through the quagmire that is my junk drawer.  I hope I get it finished; unlike the laundry that I keep throwing out onto my bed everyday in the hopes that I will fold it, and then shove it back into the hamper every night at bedtime.

Half-way through baking bread!  Now that is exciting.  I finally found a recipe that Lily brought home with her from Baltimore.  She spent some time baking rolls this summer with her Grandmom's neighbor, Miss Emily.  I am going to see if it will also make a couple baguettes for a potluck I am attending this evening.  I was almost finished mixing it when I ran out of flour this morning.  So, I quickly ran up to the market and grabbed some more.  I hope that pause in mixing doesn't affect the outcome.  I don't usually have luck with yeast breads.

Lunch: spiced quinoa, kale, beets and zucchini.
And I am half way through my lunch.  I made the time to take care of myself today.  One of the personal, my-life-is-junk-drawer things I am going to incorporate is clearing out the quick crappy food, and replace with whole foods.  It was one of my rules of the month, but somehow after the first two days, I lost track of my intentions.

That can be a challenge with this blog.  When I have set up goals, and then I put them out there for the world to see...and then I don't live up to them.  It can create a lot of guilt for me, which leads me down a dark spiral.  Feeling bad about anything is one of my go-to emotions, and feeling bad about myself is even easier.  Perhaps another life junk drawer item to pitch?

So, while I don't feel like a rock-star in the homesteading department, I am going to slowly pick myself back up and start again.  After-all, the month is only half-way over.  I still have plenty of time to get back on the homesteading horse and ride.  (Sometimes I wonder where this crap in my head comes from?)


Knitting Makes Me Angry

By Amy Baranski
My 1st self-directed knitting project. What is is?

Last night, I decided to teach myself how to knit. I had one lesson from nine-year-old Levi, earlier this month. It was a difficult lesson. This time I turned to YouTube instructional videos. I knitted the entire ball of yarn I had, it amounted to 29 inches long once knitted (ten stitches a row).

I am not good at knitting. Nor do I think I particularly like it. It hurts my left hand--the location of a childhood sports injury. I find that knitting makes me angry. While I was knitting last night, I stopped and threw the knitting needles on the ground yelling "I hate knitting."

Melissa saw me do it.

I want to believe I can knit. I want to think I will knit and maybe crochet heirloom quality Christmas ornaments like my grandmother. Or that my little nephew, who will be born in November, will get a beautifully-knit baby blanket from me. But my hands are all thumbs. There's no getting around it: my knitting is ugly.

Nonetheless I am determined to knit.

Happy stitches.
Knit isn't a particularly pretty word. If it weren't for the conclusive "t" at the end the word would sound like a nag. It reminds me of some fat-faced kid whining "neener-neener-neener," over and over again. An untrained parrot.

Yet somehow it's fascinating that a long string wound up by the rhythm of one's hands can take such form: an arm, a toe, a sweater, a sock. Even if it is ugly, it's handmade. There should be satisfaction in that.

Knitting requires counting, a tedious task that may have disastrous consequences if not done. I know this. Did you look at the pictures yet?
Angry stitches.

Then there's Knitta, leg warmers on a postal box or bike rack. These graffiti artists love to knit. It must make them happy. I don't think I could ever be so happy as to knit around the city.

It's a skill that one should have--the making of one's own clothes. I suppose if I'm stranded alone with a bunch of sheep, some sheers, and sticks I could whittle needles and try to spin yarn from wool and knit. You know, it's probably the first thing I'd think of. What else would I do?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My life as a junk drawer

My kitchen junk drawer, tagged (like lots of things in my home) by Tallulah.
posted by Melissa
I was just thinking that sometimes my life feels like a junk drawer.  And not my friend Kate's junk drawer, hers is all neat and orderly.  I bet Amy's are too.  No, more like my junk drawers, everything just thrown in until it can barely shut.  And then I go start another one.  I think I am out of drawers.

Once in a while, I tackle them and clear it all out.  It's reaching that time.  I think it may even have been on my list of what I wanted to accomplish this month.  If it wasn't on there, it should have been.

And perhaps I need to do that with my life as well.  Clear it out, keep what is useful, toss what isn't.  Behaviors, thought patterns, habits, people?  I wonder if that is what all this unsettled feeling is that I have been carrying around the past couple days.  Just enough discomfort from there not being any more room to "shut the drawer".  If I can't shut the drawer, then there it is.  And I can't just keep walking by it, or walking through my life pretending it isn't there.

All that junk.

So, today I will clear out one of my junk drawers.  Maybe tomorrow I will do another.  I want to be accountable, so I am putting it out there.  Expect an update with photo tomorrow.

And as far as my life, well, that may take longer than one day to sort out.  It's not that heavy, I hope you all aren't thinking something major is going on at the Baumgarts.  Just time to slow down, isn't that what this month is all about, in a way?  If I clear out what isn't useful, maybe I'll feel more capable of slowing down.

Oh, and I plan on making either fresh pasta with my new pasta maker (Thanks, Jamie!) or potato corn chowder with my new food mill (Thanks, Amy!).  Because, even if the junk drawers of your life need a cleanin', you still gotta eat.

Wish me luck,