Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wild eating

     The weather is finally conducive to gardening!  I am out in the garden in full force.  Picked the new growth off the catnip and washed it up real good.  I'm in the process of drying it for my herbal medicine stash.  It makes a great stomach relaxer and helps sleep when it is drank as a tea.  
     I also found oxalis in the yard while cleaning up a wild area.   I will be making some of that into skin ointment tomorrow.  I have eczema on my right leg and the dandelion root won't be pickable until the fall for my ointment.  Apparently, oxalis leaves will make a nice ointment for it too.  I will be trying it.
     Another thing I learned about oxalis is that the flowers will make a nice yellow dye.  I will try some of that tomorrow and then I will dry some flowers and see how well they make a yellow dye.  If the dried flowers make as nice a dye as the fresh ones I will dry a whole SLEW of them! My yard is Full of oxalis.
    I also will be drying dandelion leaves and flowers and picking miners lettuce in the next few days.  I have read that miners lettuce makes the BEST salad but alas, i have never tasted it.  I have tons of that growing in the backyard also.  I will post pictures tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Potato Leek Soup

The leeks have finally made it to the farmers market here in Northern California.  I didn't get to go to the market on Saturday due to a severely sprained ankle but hubby went and one of the things he brought home was 2 leeks.   Here is my recipe for the potato leek soup that I made Saturday night.
     Scrub 4 red potatoes really well and cut up into bite sized pieces leaving the skin on (any potato can be used but if you use a thick skinned Idaho potato you should peel it)   put into water to cover and boil until pieces are tender.
     While potatoes are boiling, cut 2 leeks in half the long way and soak in a cold water bath to help any dirt and sand to settle.   While leeks are soaking mince 3 cloves of garlic and chop 1/2 of a white or yellow onion.  Set aside.  Wash leeks carefully being sure to get all sand and dirt out from between the pieces.  Thinly slice the whites and the greens.  Get out a large frying pan and heat with a couple tablespoons of cooking oil.  Saute the leeks, onions and garlic together, stirring continuously until they are just cooked through. 
    Drain the potatoes and add the leek, onion, garlic mixture to the soup pot.  Add I box chicken (or if you are vegetarian, vegetable) broth and heat.  When warm add 1 cup milk to the mixture.  Season with a pinch of cumin, a tsp or more of white pepper and salt to taste.  I always add  1/2 cup cream to the pot at this point and heat just until hot.   Serve with hot homemade bread.

Another setback

      Yes! I've had another setback.  Last Wednesday, while rehearsing for the show I'm in, I rolled my ankle and sprained it really bad.  It's been 5 days and I am finally up and walking with a brace.  But, no major work has been done since it happened. 
     I have to say that my dear, darling husband is now talking self-sufficiency and emergency prepardness.  I'm not sure how that happened but I'm really happy we are slowing getting to be on the same page. 
     I have been planting seeds in the windowsill and hubby brought home leeks from the farmers market for the first time this week.  I made potato leek soup with them and red potatoes.   Along with some homemade bread, we were in heaven.  Looking forward to next weeks market just so I can do it again.
     We are still using the grocery store for a few things.   I keep having to remind myself to take baby steps.  I haven't learned to make pasta yet.   I haven't figured out the flour, sugar, baking powder things yet either.  So, off to the supermarket we go for staples.  
     It looks like the incessent rain has finally stopped and I will be able to line-dry my clothes again.  I have been waiting for that. 
     I will be out in the garden today to see what has happened in the last 5 days and to transplant a few sunflowers that have finally grown tall enough to be set out.  I'll update later. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daily bread

     I haven't written in a week because it's been raining cats and dogs here and I have had nothing new to write about.  Basically, I am working, rehearsing (I got a part in our local production of "Jesus Christ Superstar") and watching the news.   Not good writing material.
     But, during this "I don' wanna' go outside" whine, I started making my own bread.  I was surfing the web and ended up at the King Arthur Flour site and they have recipes for EVERYTHING! that can be construed as baking.  I was in heaven.     
     They have a recipe for Daily Bread that literally takes only a few minutes a day of work.   I'm not gonna reproduce the recipe here because it is a proprietary recipe owned by King Arthur Flour but you can go to the website and get it (and a ton of other recipes) free.  
     I love it!  I get up in the morning and put the yeast, sugar and warm water in the mixer bowl.  I then add 1 cup of the flour and stir.  I then go and make breakfast for myself and hubby.  When I am done with that i come back and turn on the mixer, add the rest of the flour and let it mix until it makes a nice dough.  I take it out put it in a greased bowl, cover it and leave it in the livingroom (cuz that's where the fire is) all day.
     When I come home from work I take it out and shape it on my pizza peal (with lots of corn meal underneath so it will slide into the oven and not stick)  I teach my first piano lesson (1/2 hour) and then go and turn on the oven.  I teach my second piano lesson, then go and put the bread into the oven, by the time the 3rd lesson is over, the bread is done!  I can do this every day and have fresh bread every day, and I know what ingredients are in the bread!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Raining Again!

     It's raining here again.  Thwarting all my urges to get outside and work.  I have to remind myself that my seeds and baby plants must be rejoicing in their new homes.  There really is plenty to do here in the house. 
     The basil in the windowsill is finally sprouting.  I'm looking forward to transplanting them into their  permanant homes in pots right next to the front door.  There are 12 plants this year.  2 massive plants last year just weren't enough.   I'm hoping to make lots of pesto before they peter out in the fall.
     I'm cleaning out my cupboards.  I realize that there is a lot of food in there that isn't being used in it's present state and I sure HATE to throw away perfectly good food.   I found dried cayenne peppers that I grew last year so I ground them into cayenne powder (which I use all the time while cooking)  and I baked the chocolate chips and rolled oats into cookies (we use steel cut oats now for breakfast) I'm making space to store stuff that I will use.
     I had to go back on my not spending any money at the grocery store this month.  My job had a potluck on Friday that I was expected to participate in.  I had planned on making something on Thursday night but the pictures of the tsunami just kept me enthralled until late.  When I woke up in the morning and realized that I had not done what I needed to do, I had to break down and go to the store.  I have to say that I bought just what I needed and added a bag of local rice to put in my emergency food storage.  Total cost $16.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Beds

My husband went yesterday and got the last yard of dirt for the new planting beds.  They are now full of topsoil and compost.  
     Went out this morning and planted cucumbers, lettuce (yeah, I know it's late) zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and sunflowers.  There is more coming but I'm still deciding on some stuff.
     Back in the root bed, we now have a great showing in radishes and the carrots are coming up also.  I planted another successon of radishes, carrots, parsnips and beets today.  I have space for one more planting in a few weeks.
     In the legume bed, the peas are happily climbing their chickenwire fence and I planted the rest of the bed in blue lake green beans and black beans.  The green beans will be great for eating as they ripen and they also freeze well for winter stews.  The black beans will dry on the vine and be put away for longer term storage (with a few for replanting)
     The dill is all over the garden and I am happily drying it in the microwave to save for the future, leaving enough out there to make fresh dill sauces and dill pickles later in the year.


     The recent massive earthquake in Japan has reminded me about being prepared.  I came home from my audition on Thursday night and decided to check the news before I went to bed.  I was speechless as I watched the tsunami wash over town after town destroying everything in it's wake.
     Of course, we cannot adequately prepare for an initial matter how hard we try.  Mother Nature has to run her course and we have to ride it out.  But, if we survive the initial disaster, chances are that we will NOT be the people most in need of rescuing.  Chances are that we will not be a priority.  But, chances are that there will not be water or electricity or gas to cook on. Chances are that travel to the store will be difficult at best and when we get there (if we get there) chances are that the shelves will be close to empty because others will have reached there before use.  Chances are that we will have to hole up and survive on our own until things get up and running again. 
     I have always known this and I have always had the "I'll do it tomorrow" mentality.  I've been too busy living my life to spend so much time on stuff like that.  I'm learning my lesson.  This is part of self-sufficiency.   Stocking up is as important as having enough.   Having a plan for the essentials if the grid should go down if essential.  Hopefully, we will be lucky enough to never have to put the plan into action.      

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


     The radishes are coming up!  I only takes a few days for radishes to sprout.  But, they always make me happy.  It makes the relentless weeding worth something.  And let me tell you, the weeds are full of themselves this week.  It's probably because of the weekend rains but I filled a good 5 inches of the compost bin with grasses and weeds today and that was only the beginning.  I think I will be weeding until my hands are green this week.
     Had spaghetti with homemade sauce made from our own canned tomatoes for dinner tonight.  I'm still using up the dried spaghetti but one day I'll make my own. (or at least try)   Also, made an herb salad from the garden.  Brought in some frost-kissed lettuce and dill, cilantro and thyme.  Added a few olives from the fridge and oil and vinegar dressing. Viola....dinner.    I'm really ready to add some radishes to the  salad though!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Working and Garden update

     Well, it's back to work at the day job.   Sad to say I'm driving because the rain ( and my own laziness) kept me from working on the bike this weekend.   I also have lots of stuff to take and put into the storage at work.  Tons of boxes of costumes, props etc.  I guess I don't feel tooo bad about driving today.  I still want to get off the gasoline bandwagon tho. 
     The peas are liking the cold and rain...they are climbing their chicken wire fence and I believe I see the beginnings of blooms.  Crossing my fingers!   I'm going to put in a few more pea seeds where the beans that were killed by the frost were.  I'll wait another week to start beans again.
     My husband got us scrap rebar and cut it into pieces that will help the raised beds stay where they belong.  I hate to say it but I think he might be getting into this farming thing.  We will be getting a load of topsoil this week and spend the weekend mixing in compost.  By that time I think I will be able to put in squash and tomatoes and maybe peppers.
     Going outside now to check the potato plants.   Hoping that too much rain too soon didn't cause them to start to rot instead of growing.   

Monday, March 7, 2011

Green Cleaning

     Today was house cleaning day.   I have Monday mornings off work so it has been tagged to be our house cleaning day.  I wanted to try using baking soda and vinegar to clean so I put it to work  for me today.  
     I have to works pretty well.  I have a bottle of vinegar water that I use for windows and I brought it with me into the bathroom.   I shook baking soda into the tub and wet it with the vinegar water.   I let it sit for a few minutes and then went at it.  I was surprised that it did the job as good as tub cleaners and smelled a heck of a lot better.  
     I used the vinegar water on the floor and it cleaned beautifully, at least the mop had as much dirt in it as it usually has when I use other cleaners.   It's hard to tell if the floor is clean because it's so old it's the color of dirt anyway.  I may have to remedy that some day. 
     I used it on the stove and I used it on the counters.  I like the stuff.  I'm gonna use it all the time.  I'm hooked.  That doesn't mean that I'm gonna throw all my other stuff away.  Not yet!  I feel that if I've already bought it, there really is no savings of any kind for me to throw it away unused.   The companies that make it won't know, or care, that I threw it away.  They already have their money.  So I will finish using what I have and not buy any more.   At that point I will be voting with my dollars (the kind of voting that big companies understand) and it will be worth something.
  By the way, I found a recipe for a hair detangeler.  You'll never guess what it is.   Vinegar water!  Yep! you heard it right here....clean your house, detangle your hair, vinegar does it all!   I poured some into the empty (almost) hair conditioner bottle and added water to fill.   I used it today during my shower and it worked!  I can't say for sure that it wasn't because of the leftover conditioner in the bottle, but I'll know soon.  I'm hooked, and my hair doesn't smell like vinegar at all!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rain and Mustard

     I said I was going to check out the bike in the basement today...but, the rain is here without let-up.  I went out to check on the potatoes (make sure they are draining well) and empty the extra water out of the seed pots and came right back into the house.   Not a day for working outside.  The bike will have to wait until another dry day.
     I decided to try to make mustard from the mustard seeds that I collected from the mustard that I grew last year.  I got out the book (lost Arts) and read about what to mix with the mustard and they were no help.  Apparently, you can mix any liquid with the ground mustard and make it into a paste.  So, I made little piles of mustard and added 1) Riesling wine  2) tarragon vinegar and 3) water.   They all tasted awful.   But wait!  The book says to wait at least an hour to taste....Ok.  tick, tock, tick, tock.  is it an hour yet?   Finally!  now the water one is really mellow...I can eat it but it's essentially tasteless.   The vinegar?  Very spicy!  The wine?  sweet but not very full of taste.   So, I mixed the vinegar and the wine and I'm gonna try it again tomorrow.  I'll let you know.
     So, while playing with mustard I realized that I really had to shower and go to work.  In the shower I realized that I am almost out of hair conditioner.  Why am I worrying about mustard?  By tomorrow I won't be able to get a brush through my hair?   Off to find out how to make hair detangeler with household ingredients.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Getting on the Bike

     I was thinking about the price of gas and the carbon I use driving 2 blocks to work.  It's not so pretty.  So, I have this bike in the basement (actually there are 2) but neither have been used for more years than I can remember.  I'm not a mechanic but I can pull them out tomorrow and take a look at them and see what they need. 


Potatoes and New Beds

     Well the potatoes went in today.   Had to spend some time in the compost pile to dig the good compost off the bottom for the potatoes.  Ended up turning the pile while I was at it.   I added the pre-compost from the kitchen pile while turning and buried it deep to help it finish composting. 
The newly turned compost heap
Beautiful rich compost to use on the potatoes
     The turning didn't quite get finished because there was a pair of bumblebees frantically searching through the compost that was left on the old pile.  I went in and looked up bumblebee nests and it seems they very often will nest in the ground.  Since bumblebees are VERY beneficial for the garden, and they are not aggressive, and their nests only last a few months, I have decided to leave that last pile right where it is for the time being.
Potato cages
     Back to the potatoes.   I read somewhere that growing potatoes in a wire basket would work well for someone with hard clay soil like I have.  So out came the chicken wire and drip system stakes.  I broke up the soil in 6 places and made 6 wire cages.  I staked them down with the drip system stakes and put in about 3 inches of compost.  I planted one potato in each basket reserving the rest of the seed potatoes to plant next week.  I'm not sure if the coming rain will cause any of them to rot so I'm hedging my bets with the second planting.   As the vines grow I will add compost to the cages to bring up the soil level and encourage potato formation.

My four new planting beds
     While I was out there my husband came out and asked what he could do.  I took advantage of the situation and had him build me 4 new planting beds.   Last year I built 2 beds on our south facing slope and our plans were to build 2 more this year.  But all the stuff was there and the laborers where there and the space was there so I took advantage.   I now have 6 planting bed to work with.  My son wants to plant 1 of them so that leaves me 5 to work with.  Just what I need to  practice good crop rotation.

Friday, March 4, 2011

More planting

    Friday is usually a heavy work day for me but the 7th grade took over my classroom so I came home for a while.  Got some more clothes on the line, (I'm liking this hang dry stuff) and made miso soup with some of the vegetables from the freezer.  Our ultimate goal is a $0 grocery month.  Since I have lots of staples on hand.  That might just be a possibility.  I never realized how little of each item we really eat. 
     I transplanted some of my sad tomatoes into larger pots with the extra time.  It's really too early to set them out in the yard, but I did take the time to put the carrots, radishes and beets out in their regular places.  We'll know soon if the soil is warm enough...the radishes should come up in a few days.   Weeded the lettuce patch and decided to make a salad for tonight's dinner along with the leftover jambalaya from last night and maybe some biscuits if I'm not too tired.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wood Ashes

Cleaned out the wood stove today and got a whole can of wood ashes.  I know that people use wood ashes for lots of stuff so I was not really ready to put it into the landfill.  It seems it's time to use google to get more information. 

What I found was that the most common uses for wood ashes are to put in the garden to make the soil more alkaline and to make lye for use in making soap.  I am now very interested in making soap.  I am, however worried because I keep hearing that lye(which is what is make from the wood ashes) is really caustic and will eat flesh.   That worries me no end.

For the moment I will be saving ashes and putting some of them in the garden, especially where the pine needles are.   But, I am not ready yet to try to make lye.   Maybe sometime during the summer.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wood ashes

     We cleaned out our wood stove and got all these ashes that I knew were good for something so I did an internet search and got lots of ideas to try.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dinner without going to the grocery store

So, now that I'm recuperated, I'm back to working to make us more self-sufficient.   I'm not ready yet to completely drop everything and go cold turkey, but I'm doing what I can. 
     I got a gift card to a local "non-big-box store" so I went today and checked out the grass-fed ground beef.  I figured I would use the card to buy it and if I didn't like it, it was no loss.    I also picked up some plant-based laundry detergent and all natural shampoo.  
     Dinner tonight was the beef cooked on the George Foreman grill.   We resisted the urge to go and buy hamburger buns and ate the burgers on the bread we had instead.   I made a salad out of the lettuce that is growing right outside the front door, some early peas from the local produce market, some fire-roasted peppers that we already had in the pantry and a few of the olives that are sitting in the fridge.  I also added some sunflower seeds that were hanging around in the freezer.   I figure I need to use up the stuff we have here in the house or the resources used to process them went to waste. 
     The beef was the best I have tasted in years.  I had forgotten what good beef really tastes like.  I would recommend grass-fed beef to anyone!  The salad was also pretty good for a garden/fridge forage.

Pictures of Homemade Firestarters

                                          Filling the cartons with sawdust
                                           The sawdust pile.  Leftover from yesterday's wood cutting
                                          Melting the candle nubs.
                                          Pouring the wax...let cool and you're done

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Planning Ahead to Keep Warm

This week has been a killer.  I teach music at a K-8 school and once a year we put on a full-on musical production with the Jr. High students.   It's the one week of the year that I can't do anything else.  Last week was that week. 
     We finally closed the show yesterday and I stayed up all night striking the set and closing everything down.  Today I slept most of the day.   I just didn't have any energy to do anything.  Now I'm up (yes it IS the middle of the night) and thinking about where our self-sufficiency journey will lead us next. 
     I did find time to cover the sensitive plants before the frost.  Tomorrow morning I will be uncovering them and checking for damage.  I'm a little worried about what I will find but part of the process is learning to accept what I cannot change.  We'll see in the morning.
     Yesterday, my husband spent most of the day splitting wood from a tree that was cut down on the property last year.  It is now dry enough to cut and split and that was how he spent the day.  It will be put into dry storage and seasoned to be used next winter.  (Or this winter if we have another cold snap)  We do 90% of our heating by wood stove.  Most of the time it keeps the house pretty warm.  We have a ceiling fan that we put on low and that circulates the hot air around the house.   Many people don't know that if you reverse the direction of the fan in the winter, it will pull the hot air down off the ceiling (where it likes to hang out) and put it where you need it most, down near the floor.
     There are a lot of shavings on the patio left over from his cutting of the logs with the chain saw.  I asked him not to sweep them up because I'm going to make fire starters out of them.   We don't have chickens (yet) so we still have to buy eggs.   I make everyone in the house save their egg cartons and we use them, the sawdust and old candles to make firestarters.   Just fill the wells in the egg cartons with sawdust.  Then, melt the old candle nubs in a double boiler on the stove.  (do NOT just heat them in a pot directly over the flame, they WILL flame on you.  I know, I did it!)    Then take the melted wax and pour over the sawdust until the tops are sealed enough that the sawsdust will not fall out and the carton is saturated with wax.  Store in a cool dry place. (doesn't everything say that?)  When you are ready to use the starters, tear one well off the carton and place it underneath the kindling and wood in the fireplace.   Light the edge of the carton and let it go.  If you have gotten enough wax on top, it will burn long enough to start the sawdust on fire, which will, in turn, start the kindling.  Then, it is all up to your firebuilding skills.   good luck!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New plantings

Here we are, the end of February in Northern Calif.  Time for planting.  The lettuce is coming up next to the front door so the cold weather plants went into the garden yesterday.  I transplanted cabbages and peas and a few bean plants that had gotten too large for their peat pots.   The peas and cabbages seem to be happy....the beans, not so much. 
     Of course, the best laid looks like it's gonna snow in the bay area for the first time in 20 years.  Really?  Right after I put the first plants out in a brand new garden?  I'm not sure that mother nature is on my side on this one.   Any other year, it would be the perfect time to plant.  But not this year.  So, tomorrow will be the day to look for some way to cover and warm the poor new transplants.   Wish me luck.


The garden

      I'm starting with our garden because it seems that starting a real, eating garden will be the best first step toward becoming more self sufficient.  I've learned a lot lately about our food chain and I have become convinced that the closer to home a food is grown the better it is for our economy and our planet.  I could go into my reasons, but there are plenty of sources out there for that information.
     So, looking at our house from the street, there is a planter box running half the length of the house, parallel to the house and about 4 feet wide.  The left side of this planter box has 3 grape vines planted.  I did carefully prune them this winter so they should be bearing this summer.  Planted in the right side of the planter box are strawberries.  They seem to be getting ready to give us a few strawberries any day now.   The plan is to increase the grapevines and the strawberries each year until we have grapes all the way across with strawberries growing underneath them.   I've never seen grapes and strawberries planted together but since that is what I inherited I'm going to give it a try.
     On the left side of the house is a patio that gets morning sun only.  We have planters on this patio and will be planting something in them this year.   Also, to the far left is a very short slope up to the neighbors patio.  We have some herbs planted there (oregano, thyme and a little cilantro bush that I hope to nurture into salsa) and lettuce seems to be growing there too. 
     The rest of the left side of the house is pretty much in shade all the time.  The garbage cans are there and the kitchen compost bin is there.  Then we have some hostas and a jade plant. At the rear of this shady area (where it gets SOME sun)  is an ill-planted grapefruit tree.  It has just this year started to give us some very small, very bitter grapefruits.
     The area directly to the rear of the house is in shade from the 2 very old, very large pepper trees.  Don't know what to grow there.   Maybe nothing.   At the edge of the property is the other compost heap.  It needs LOTS of work.
     The right side of the house is the garden area.  It is a south facing slope that catches all of the midday to afternoon sun.  Up front, towards the street is a Meyer lemon tree that gives us lemons almost year-round.  The only time we don't get lemons is in the hottest part of the summer.
     Behind that, facing the afternoon sun are 2 planter beds that I built last year that are 8x4 feet each.  I am planning to build at least 2 more on that hill and one on the bottom flat area between the houses.
    We own the duplex next door and my son and his wife live in the upper unit.  The lower unit will eventually be up for rent but it is certainly not ready now.  Their yard however, runs directly into ours and  I am planning to take full advantage of that to put in another bed running across the sunny area behind the houses.  We have an avocado tree that never gets any taller and never give us avocados, and a small area planted in bulbs, the rest is open for use.  
     We also have a small bit of open space with a stream behind the house that someone once threw a blackberry cane into.  I'm not telling who that was but you can imagine.   Now, that whole area is overrun  with blackberry bushes and WILL be part of our eating plan this year.
     So, that is the "before" of our journey.   From here we march on, trying out new things as often as possible to making us more self-sufficient and less dependent. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Journey Begins

     Actually, the journey began sometime back when I was about 5 or 6 years old.  We were living in a house with a large backyard and my father raised chickens and gardened just about everything he could make grow back there.  I used to follow him all over that yard, watching everything he did. 
     As I got older though, I delved into the world of "Don't make it! Buy it!  We have everything you need right here!"  Of course I got caught up in getting what I wanted as quickly as possible.  I bought everything and even got into using credit cards to buy everything NOW!
      Then, I got married to a wonderful man who is still at my side after 34 years.  Together we raised 2 wonderful children who are now off and leading lives of their own.  We lived like our neighbors and enjoyed life but through it all there was always the yearning for something simpler.  
     My husband is an outdoorsman who loves being in the forest.   My daughter is now in college to be a biologist and my son has the gardening bug.   It seems we all want to reconnect with the earth in one way or another.  This year I decided the time was right to give in to that old yearning and set up my self-sufficient life right here.  Why wait until I can move to the country?  
     My husband and I live on a large lot in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The house is fully on the grid.  That means we have electricity, gas, water and sewer from the city that we live in.  We have television and internet access from our local cable company and we buy gas and groceries from the local big name stores.  We are totally reliant on the big corporations and the government.   We ( I ) want to change this.
    The next post will focus on what we have to work with and my view of what needs to come next.  Please follow us along on our journey.   Even if we only get a few steps into it, we will be making a difference in our lives and in our impact on the earth and maybe, if you find something interesting in this story, you can make a difference too.