Sunday, March 20, 2011

Would you like some tea?

Have you ever felt compelled to make fermented tea from a slimy hunk of fungus?

I have.

I'm blessed to have cool friends who have things like kombucha scobies to give away. A couple of weeks ago, I became the proud owner of my very own scobie. (Thanks, Apryl!) And now, we have successfully fermented our own batch of kombucha.

I have to tell you, this is about the most disgusting-looking thing I've ever considered ingesting. In general, we're taught to avoid things that are growing fungus. But kombucha is different. That mushroom on top is chock-full of healthy probiotics, spreading it's healthy goodness all through the tea.

I had a fantastic time poking at the scoby with a wooden spoon. There was lots of "Oh, ew!" and some minor squealing going on. I'm such a sissy when it comes to things that are slimy.

And then there was the question of who would be doing the tasting.

Thankfully, my sweet oldest daughter happily volunteered (a brave little soul, she is.) I mixed it with a splash of cranberry-raspberry juice, and she drank it all up.

Then Littlest One demanded her own glass. I gave in and tasted it... and honestly? It was really good. It tastes just like the kombucha I buy at the health food store. And it's a heckuva lot cheaper. You can reuse the scoby over and over, growing new baby ones to give away with each batch. How cool is that? It's like the gift that keeps on giving!

For more information about kombucha (and in case you're convinced I'm crazy) here's an informative link:
Kombucha Tea (wikipedia)

And here's the site where I got my kombucha-making directions from:
The New Homemaker: Kombucha

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kitchen Curtains: Finished!

In case you were wondering what happened with the Kitchen Curtain Project (because I'm sure you all have nothing more important to do than think about my kitchen curtains), I'm happy to report that I finally finished them.


I am a terrible photographer. And taking pictures
of curtains is not easy. Forgive the awful photos.

Kitchen curtains. We've lived in this house for five years, and it finally looks like someone lives here.

Overall, I'm really happy with them. They change the look of the kitchen so much. They don't cover my beloved windows too much, but they make it look a little bit homier, and that was my goal. There's not one bit of peach in them, and yet they managed to tie in the Ugly Cabinets nicely (saving me from having to paint the cabinets and yes, even making me almost start to like them.) They're retro-vintage-y but still simple, and I love that about them. And I got to use nine different fabrics, which is always fun, especially when it involves patchwork.

Lace shopping was more of a chore than I expected it to be. Apparently, lace is pretty expensive stuff, especially when you need to buy twenty four yards of it. Everything I found in town (which wasn't much) was going to double the cost of the whole project. In looking around online, I found Lace Heaven, where I was able to purchase just the right laces for $.25 to $.39 a yard. The shipping was faster than I was expecting, and they actually gave me more than the yardage I ordered. Because I was ordering more than 5 yards, I even got a discount on the already insanely low prices. I'm not normally one to push other websites and stuff, but if you're in the market for lace, definitely check out that site. It's a keeper.

The best part of all? Every last bit of them was sewn on the Singer. And that thrills me, even though no one will ever be able to tell.


Two other pictures I took today and thought I'd share:

After a week of gorgeous, gardening-in-tank-tops weather, the first of the daffodils finally blossomed. Just in time for a mid-March evening snow.
And a picture of the Baby Chickens. Because they're cute, and it's spring, and everyone should be looking at pictures of baby animals.

(That's Goldilocks - the shy one- on top,
Matilda -the feisty puffball- on the left, and
Mrs. Tweets -the noisy runt- in front.)

Waiting for Sprouts

It happens this time every year - Waiting For Sprouts. I plant all my cold weather crops as soon as I can pry the cold soil loose (the package says "as soon as the soil can be worked", does it not?) And then we wait. And wait. And I convince myself that I am a failure as a gardener and that nothing is ever going to come up and my family is going to starve, and panic sets in.

Seeds are smart little things. They might be able to survive the cold nights of early March, but they see no reason why they ought to. They wait until the soil is warm enough for their taste - St. Patrick's Day, most of the time - and start tentatively poking their heads out to test the air. I should remember that seeds are smarter than I am, and that it's the seeds and the plants - not me - that are really in charge of my garden.

Well, anyway, we finally have a couple of sprouts. The turnips rows are up, and some kale here and there are sprouting. So if all else fails, we'll at least have turnips and kale to eat. We can survive on turnips and kale... right?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Goose Day 2011

March marks the month when the snow geese fly heavily over the Eastern side of our state, and the Department of Wildlife encourages hunters to shoot as many of the beautiful birds as they can, to help control a burgeoning population. My husband, always being one to help out where needed, packed up his guns and decoys and made the trek to the Eastern slope. He returned with 20 geese, and had a great time.

I wish I could tell you that I am able to find some enjoyment in plucking geese, but that would be a lie. It's flat out miserable work, and hardly worth it for the amount of effort involved. We plucked two, saving the down for another pillow. After that, we gave up and he just skinned the rest.

I won't post the pictures: I know I have some vegetarian readers who wouldn't appreciate them much, and dead geese aren't all that photogenic anyhow. There are a few pictures on last year's goose blog if you're desperate to see them.

The girls have absolutely no qualms about a pile of dead geese by the fence. We hung them by their feet on the swing set as we plucked. Cora alternated between "helping" to pull out feathers, and swinging alongside a dead, half-plucked goose. It never occurred to her that it might be a little strange. Chloe held wing feathers in her hands and ran about the yard pretending to fly. They have a healthy understanding of where their food comes from.

So now we have feathers all over the yard (and the house, and our clothes) but we have a pile of snow geese in the freezer too. So it's all worth it in the end, right? Eh, well... maybe.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

It was only a matter of time.

So we grow most of our own food. We eat hunted, self-processed meat. We make dairy products from local, raw milk.

There was only one logical next step.

I can't say I've ever really wanted chickens. Chickens are messy. They're noisy, they don't smell very good, and I don't eat eggs.

On the other hand though, chickens are useful. They eat bugs, they fertilize, they entertain and educate little girls, and while I don't eat eggs, I really like cookies.

So without further adieu, meet Jupiter, Goldilocks, Mrs. Tweet, Matilda, and Grammy*.

Sadly, Van Gogh died in the box on the way home from the feed store. It was a rough lesson to learn, a little earlier than what I'd have liked. My poor Bigger Girl had a very hard time with Van Gogh's death. We had the "baby chicks are very frail, some of them are likely to die" talk right before we picked them out. Obviously, that talk wasn't much preparation for the realities of life. It took drawing pictures of Van Gogh, writing a story about her, talking a lot, asking God to please make sure Van Gogh is very well taken care of in heaven, and a promise to buy a replacement chicken tomorrow to finally get the poor girl off my lap with dry eyes.

But anyway. We'll just be grateful for the five healthy baby chicks we have left, and we'll cross our fingers that the rest of them survive. I have to admit, they are so stinkin' cute. We can already see little "personalities" in each of them, and have entertained ourselves endlessly just watching them and "talking" for them: "Hey! Why'd you step on me? I'm gonna peck you for that! Hmph. Watch where you're going!" "Hey, let's all fight over one piece of grass, since there are only eleventeen million other pieces laying here, too!" It's good for lots of giggles.

These chicks are certainly already very well loved. The girls check on them about every fifteen minutes. So does the dog. Wait, scratch that, the dog hasn't actually stopped checking on them yet. She just lays down there with her nose pressed against the cage, watching them. I don't think she wants to eat them... maybe. I don't imagine these baby chicks smell much different than the ducks and geese she's supposed to fetch. That's gonna take a bit of training. And I can only imagine what these tiny baby chickens must think, having the nose of a 105-pound hairy beast just inches away from them all day.

The cat, on the other hand, is so self-assured that he simply knows he is more important than these silly little birds, and doesn't have the time or desire to bother himself with them. He came in, sniffed, and walked away with his tail in the air and began demanding more food.

The Daddy isn't so sure about this whole 'chicken thing'. Mostly, I think, because he's not so keen on the idea of having to build a coop. I reminded him that he's a Homeschool Daddy, and that Homeschool Daddies have to do things like build chicken coops. He agreed, begrudgingly. Then I reminded him: either he can build the coop... or I can build the coop. And we all know who would do a much better job.

Thus marks the beginning of the Chicken Expedition. If all goes well, we'll have eggs come July or August. I'll keep you posted.

*When you let a three year old name things, she chooses the names of the people she loves the most, hence the name "Grammy". I'm pretty sure that's a compliment, Mom!


And the logistics, for anyone who cares about this stuff.

The breeds are New Hampshire Red, Auracana, Black Sex Link, Golden-something-or-other, and I can't for the life of me remember the last one. Van Gogh was a Polish. They're all egg laying breeds (or dual-purpose), and they're all (hopefully) female. (Because it would be devastating to have to eat one. For heaven's sake, we've already named them. You can't eat an animal once you've named it. But we also can't legally keep roosters.)

We're keeping them in the basement for now, right below the seedling table, in a wire cage lined with newspaper that's covered in dried grass clippings. There's a heating lamp on them, and we're feeding them standard baby chicken food (grower/starter.) They seem far more interested in the dried grass clippings than in the food, though. (I have no idea if dried grass clippings is an acceptable bedding for baby chicks, but we had some, so I decided to go for it.)

And that's that. Here's hoping this turns out to be a successful venture!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

No more cardboard!

My family has been eating muffins that resemble the consistency of cardboard for three years now, since I first started realizing whole wheat really is better for us. They haven't complained. In fact, I think they may have forgotten that muffins can actually taste better than that. I find myself saying, "They're pretty good, in a healthy sort of way." You know what I mean, don't you? You can taste the "healthy" in whole wheat baked goods. Where you might be able to eat two or three light, fluffy muffins, one whole wheat muffins sits something akin to a brick in your stomach.

I have exciting news to share with you, oh healthy-muffin-makers! There is a way to have lighter, fluffier muffins and still use whole grains. In fact, I actually used half stone ground spelt flour, and these are the lightest muffins I've had in years.

The secret? Soaking the flour. I've been reading back through Nourishing Traditions and tried the muffin recipe in there. It starts with soaking your flour in plain yogurt overnight (or longer.) Then you add the rest of the ingredients to the mushy sort of dough that it becomes, and then you bake them at a lower temperature, for longer. They look funny, these soaked-flour muffins. They are sort of marble-y in color, though that may come from the cinnamon I mixed in. (Our muffins were apple-cinnamon, but the options are endless.)

Here's the recipe I used:

1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c. spelt flour
2 c. plain yogurt (I used homemade, but I assume store bought would be fine. But homemade is cheaper!)
Mix together the above ingredients, cover the bowl, and sit it in a warm place overnight.

In the morning, add

2 eggs
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
3 Tbsp. melted butter (or other fat of your choice.)
And anything else you might want to add - we did a good sprinkling of cinnamon and some chopped green apples.

Don't expect it to resemble muffin dough. It's almost sort of like a really gooey yeast dough after soaking in the yogurt all night. Mix it well - it takes a bit more work that your average muffin dough.

Be sure to butter your muffin pan really well. Fill the cups almost full, but not quite. Bake for about 40 minutes at 325 degrees (or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, yadda yadda, you know the drill.)

To me, these tasted only barely healthy. The texture was to die for. If you've got a sweet tooth, you'll want to add more sweetener.

Soaking flour is a great habit to get into. It requires more preparation and planning than whipping up a batch of muffins or pancakes the morning you want them, but it's worth it for the health benefits - and apparently for the quality benefits, too!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sleepy Girl

I decided to try breaking the Littlest One of her daily naps. She was staying up so late at night, playing in her bed instead of sleeping, that I assumed she didn't need the extra hour or two during the day. That seems logical, right?

Except that now it seems that every afternoon, I see this:

Or this:

Maybe she's not ready to give up those naps, after all?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Potting Up

I love listening to my daughters talk to the seedlings in the basement. They talk to our baby plants the way most people would talk to a baby human, all high-pitched and squeaking and cooing.

"Oh, hello there little baby plant. How are you doing today? Oh look at you, getting so big and strong!"

"I'm going to give you a new home today, little tomato plant, because you are soooo big now."

"Here you go. This is your new home. Are you cozy in there? Such a good little tomato plant you are."

"Now, hold very very still, and I'm going to give you more soil, so your roots can grow bigger and stronger. There you go, now you're all set. Good little tomato plant, you keep growing now, okay? And some day we will put you in our garden and you can see what it's like to live outside like a big, grown-up tomato plant. Won't that be exciting, little tomato plant?"