Monday, April 27, 2009

I promise the adventures are ongoing....

Yeah, its been a while since I posted.  The problem is when there is the most to post about, you have the least amount of time to post.  So much has gone on in the past month, not just with our homestead, but also with our church.  My husband and I have spent a lot of our time helping out with renovation our new church building.  From the homesteader perspective, it has been cool to help out because I have seen how to do things like frame walls, put up drywall, run wires, tile a floor.  Hopefully now that I've seen it, with a good how to book, I'd be able to do a lot of those things.

We have also started our spring crops.  We had peas, broccoli, cabbage, onions and swiss chard in the garden and tonight, my husband and I planted potatoes, beets and carrots.  It is supposed to rain for the next several days so everything should get a nice healthy drink.

Our chickens are still laying and really are the same as before.  We have had trouble getting a hold of baby chicks because the hatchery has been sold out every opportunity I have had to drive and get them (the hatchery is a little over an hour away).  Honestly, with all the work the garden has been and all the hours we have put into the church, it is probably better that the chicks have been sold out.

Our rabbits have finally taken off this spring.  Two weeks ago Rapunzel had a litter and two of them are still living.  She always has small litters, but seems to have a high survival rate.  Ruby unexpectedly had a litter Saturday.  My husband found her just as she was finishing birthing and hurried and put a nest box in and moved all the babies into it.  Today when I checked, two were still living and looking pretty good, which means she is taking care of her litter.  Ruby's date with the pressure cooker has been postponed....

Our little dog Oscar died.  It was for the better.  He really was the dog no one wanted.  My husband's cousin rescued him and we took him in and prolonged his life a year and a half longer than it would have.  He couldn't control his bowels or bladder and always hobbled on one of his back legs.  Psychologically he wasn't quite right either.  For a dog that had never been fixed, he was extremely meek and passive.  He died with his friend Shadow, the huge Labradoodle that no one wants either, but we still have.  When did we become a home for dogs no one wants?  I will miss Oscar.  He was the only animal that I felt myself get close to loving...until he would pee all over my clean laundry.

BTW...I may start trying to update my blog Twitter style so that I post things more often and then when I get a chance, go back and write on the more interesting things.  I still have to post pictures, don't I?  Darn satellite internet!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sad news (and the reason why it is so easy to kill bunnies and eat them)

I'm sad to report that Ruby had her bunnies and let them all die (and gnawed around on one of them).  It didn't look like she made any attempt to keep them warm and they died of exposure.  When people ask me how I can just kill a bunny that is so cute and just skin it and eat it, this is the reason why it is so easy (plus, we have the white ones with the red eyes, so they are kind of creepy looking to start with--anyone ever read the book Bunicula?).  If a mommy bunny is willing to let all her bunnies die of exposure, you are just reminded that they are food, not real smart and (gasp!  we'll see if I have any PETA folks reading my blog) probably don't have any emotions...or at least very primitive ones.  The good Lord gave us rabbits to be food, either for us or some other creature.

I was thinking about the situation with Ruby and her bunnies today while I was sitting on the porch swing, enjoying the beautiful day.  Female rabbits don't have a whole lot of control over whether or not to let a male mate with them.  Actually, two bunnies...getting it pretty funny to watch.  The male kind of chases her until she gets worn out and he jumps on her, does his thing (like a cute furry jack hammer), he falls over and then they are done.  The say she gets of whether or not she wants to be a mother is in taking care of the babies.  She can let them die, or eat them, or she can take care of them and help them grow.  I imagine that is a quirk of the evolutionary process.  The mother is the one that has to do all the work, so don't let her decide whether or not to propagate the species until she gets a good look at all those cute little faces.  Although, remember, I seriously doubt rabbits have much in the way of emotions.  We are going to give Ruby one more chance at having a litter before she makes her way to the pressure cooker.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ruby is nesting!!!!

I'm happy to report that one of our doe rabbits, Ruby is nesting!  Joe bred her a few weeks ago and she is beginning to pull her fur out and make a nest for her babies!  In a week or two, we should have a new batch of baby bunnies.

Rabbits were the first animals we tried to raise for food and so far, it has been fairly successful.  We have one buck, Max and two does, Ruby and Rapunzel.  Last year we got a few litters of rabbits and we have learned a lot about raising bunnies, butchering bunnies, cooking bunnies and how to get bunnies to mate (which is hilarious to watch, by the way...I'm sure there is a youtube video somewhere where you can watch).  I have been freezing their hides so we can tan them and make things with them (if I get enough, I can make a rabbit fur blanket!).  We had to take a break breeding them over the winter since we couldn't heat the area where the rabbits were (they are outside, but out of the wind) and now that spring is springing, it is time to start mating them again.

We have experimented a number of ways to cook rabbit and I think I have found my favorite way...Rabbit Noodle Soup.  Take a skinned and cleaned rabbit (no head or paws, but ribs and belly meat in tact) and put it in a pressure cooker.  Add chicken broth, wine, beer, canned tomatoes, raw carrrots, celery, onions and garlic to the amount you want for soup.  Put the lid on the pressure cooker and cook at 15 lbs of pressure for 15 minutes and let cool naturally.  Once cool, take out the rabbit and pull all the meat from the bones.  With the juice left in the pressure cooker, run an immersion blender through it to blend up any of the solids left from the vegetables.  Then pour the liquid into a soup pot and add the chopped up rabbit meat and frozen vegetables to taste (we like a lot of vegetables).  Once the vegetables are hot, then add egg noodles to taste (we like a lot of egg noodles) and cook until noodles are soft.  I didn't need to add much seasoning because I used homemade chicken stock and it was seasoned pretty heavily, but I did add some all spice and some basil.

One other good recipe we made with rabbit was rabbit pizza.  Take pizza dough and make a crust.  Use barbeque sauce instead of tomato sauce.  Chop up cooked rabbit meat into bite size pieces and put on pizza.  I also added some chopped onion to the pizza.  Then top with mozzarella cheese and bake in a 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.  It came out like the barbeque chicken pizzas from pizza places but better.  It was excellent.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sickness is not very Homesteadery.....(followed by chickens)

Well....the not shopping for six weeks thing is going pretty good, but other homesteader pursuits have been put on the back burner.  My family, sans me (Praise the Lord!!!), has had a really bad cough since just after Christmas.  Last week I took my daughter to the doctor because I noticed she wasn't hearing me and since then we've spent our time in doctor's offices getting hearing tests, chest x-rays and nose swab cultures and sitting in the pharmacy getting inhalers and antibiotics and little plastic face masks with tubes on them that cost $48 (I think if I would have had time, I could have made one myself and it would have been a great homesteader project).  Anywho...she's getting better and my mind is back on my homesteader pursuits.

Back during the first week of February, I started selling eggs and delivering them to people I know who wanted to be put on an egg route.  I am happy to say that my demand now is greater than what our chickens are producing and it is time for me to start shopping for some baby chicks.  When we first decided to get chickens, we inherited some from my husband's cousin who had lived in the country and was moving back to the city and also some from the older man who lives in front of us who was tired of taking care of his chickens.  They all were fairly old, but we were getting a fair amount of eggs from them.  After butchering some of the non-layers (I found a great method for making chicken stock and getting meat from the chickens at the same time and canning everything!!!  I'll share it another time) and having a few get eaten by chicken hawks and a dog (nothin' yer can do wit a chicken eat'n dog sep shoot um'---or keep them in your barn until you find someone who'll take him), we were down to 10 or so chickens and decided to buy chicks.  We learned alot from raising the chicks and out of 25, only 13 survived.  Turns out that dogs, weasels and hawks really like chicken.

As of right now, we have about seven of the origional chickens and thirteen new ones.  We have one old rooster (his name is Cletus) and one new rooster (his name is Firebird).  The old ones were mixed breed, but mostly brown layers and the new ones are all araucanas, the kind that lay the colored eggs.  

Since my egg demand now outweighs the supply and it is time to buy new chickens, I've been looking at the chicken catalogues trying to find what breed I want to buy.  Honestly, I would love a mix.  That is one thing I like about the araucanas, they all look different.  The problem is they are cheaper to buy in quantity and the smallest quantity is usually around 25.  My husband doesn't want to get arucanas again and thinks he wants a good laying breed.  I like the colored eggs, but if we aren't getting araucanas, then I want to get brown layers.  I know...they don't taste any different from white eggs, but I do like the aesthetics of brown and colored eggs and I just enjoy cooking with them more.  I associate white eggs with those thin, watery, tasteless eggs that are on sale for 89 cents every week at the grocery. It's weird, but when I see all those white perfectly shaped eggs that come in the carton from the grocery, I forget that they came from something living.  It is almost like they come from an egg factory somewhere.  I guess they would kind of have to in order to get that many perfectly uniform eggs.  I'm really not one of those animal right's hippies, but the whole chicken farming thing is a little creepy--and I don't think the results are culinarily worth it.  I don't know why more people don't have a few chickens in their yard and get their eggs that way.  As long as the zoning doesn't prohibit it, it is pretty easy.  But I digress....

So my husband is looking at buying red star sex linked chicks.  I would prefer Rhode Island Reds.  My husband also is entertaining the idea of getting some meat birds, like Jumbo Cornish X Rocks.  Those chickens creep me out a little because they have been genetically bread to have the huge breasts (okay...any guys reading my blog can quit giggling now...) and they look like mutants.  You have to butcher them at 10 weeks or else they get so big their legs can't support them anymore!

By the way, I realized that I can upload pictures to my blog.  For those of you who read it on a regular are the coolest people in the whole world...but you might want to check back on previous blogs in the future to see if I uploaded pictures for them.  It may take me a week or so with our super slow satellite internet!!!!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Our lenten homesteader experiment...

One of the very few holdovers I have from my Catholic upbringing is observing the practice of giving something up for lent.  I always thought stuff like giving up chocolate or not eating meat on Friday were kind of lame, but some years I would do stuff like save all my change and send it to a charity or one year I tutored some friends for free (it was college, they were musicians and needed to pass a math class--'nuff said).  This year I decided to choose my lenten challenge for myself based on our homesteading lifestyle.  I decided to give up shopping and eating out from Ash Wednesday until Easter.

Over the past year that we have lived at our homestead (I can't believe it will be a year Feb. 28th!), I've been slowly building a stockpile of groceries in the basement.  I read several takes on the stockpiling idea and decided the best approach would just be to stockpile things that we use on a regular basis.  In other words, if I would usually buy three jars of pasta sauce every two weeks, buy six every two weeks until you have enough for a length of time.  It might sound like we ended up spending twice as much on our grocery bill as we normally would, but with all that we harvested from the garden last year, the deer meat we got this fall, the rabbit meat, eggs and chicken meat we get from the animals we raised, it wasn't too much more of a cost.  I think we are finally to the point where we can comfortably go for six weeks or more without going shopping.  

We did have to make an exception for two things.  We don't have a source of milk on our homestead yet, so we will have to buy milk and since this is not growing season, we will need to buy certain fresh produce items in order to cook.  I thought about buying some of the fresh produce and freezing it, such as celery, but we ran out of room in the deep freezer (maybe a sign that we need a second deep freezer).

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and Easter is April 12th.  With the exception of milk and fruit and veggies...and gas for the cars...we are not going to purchase anything until then.  

There are already two things that I forgot about.  I forgot that the Easter bunny will need to purchase a few things for the easter baskets.  I also forgot about my son's birthday on April 10th.  Maybe I'll just make everything I need for those two holidays.  I think I have a few things for my son in the closet anyway and I made sure to stockpile cake mixes.  I mean, if something tragic happened and we HAD to live on our stockpile of food, I would be a much more pleasant person if I had chocolate cake occasionally. :)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Homesteading Books #3

Here is hopefully the last list of homesteading books (I need to get them off the office floor!):

The Chopra Center Herbal Handbook by Deepak Chopra and David Simon:  I'll be honest...I put Deepak Chopra on the same level as the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi...which is a money grubbing Easterner that is smart enough to dupe us Westerners into believing the mystical magical stuff they pander.  This book, though, is valuable because of the encyclopedic section on herbs and their potential uses.  He also give precautions about herb usage, which is something hard to find in other herb books.

Readers Digest Herbs by Lesley Bremness:  This is a great reference book for herbs and how to use them.  The color pictures makes this indispensable, in addition to the directions and recipes for using herbs and the growing recommendations on each herb. 

The Doctors Book of Home Remedies from the Editiors of Prevention Magazine Health Books:  This is another encyclopedic volume, organized by illness, that offers simpler home remedies for each malady.  Some are obvious, like asthmatics should stay out of smoky rooms, but others are things I had never heard, such as switching to butter milk to help with lactose intolerance or using fresh beer instead of mousse in your hair.

The Complete Outdoorsmans's Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Berndt Berglund and Clare Bolsby:  This book is a collection of recipes using wild plants found in various parts of the country.  The recipes are organized by plant and before each set, there is some information about identifying different plants and how to store and use them.  Since the plant pictures are just pen and ink drawings, it is a little hard to identify them (which can be dangerous) but there are directions for making acorn flour, so the book definitely has its upside.  I think I would want another resource with more reliable pictures before I would start scavenging the woods, but the recipes in here look awesome to use.

The Complete Woodsman's Guide by Anthony Acerrano:  This book is much like a wilderness survival manual.  It isn't so much intended for permanent homesteads, but more for backpackers and people who may need to be in the wilderness for extended periods.  There is some information on firemaking, cooking, reading the weather, knot tying and other skills that would benefit just about anyone.

Deerskins into Buckskins by Matt Richards:  This is a beginning to end instruction guide on not only how to tan deerskins, but also how to make all the tools you need to do it.  Sewing instructions are also included.  This book is great for all its pictures and explanations.

The illustrated Hassle-Free Make Your Own Clothes Book by Sharon Rosenberg and Joan Wiener:  This book cracks me up.  It is written by two hippies (aren't most homesteading/back to the land books) and is copyright 1971.  The clothes designs are definitely dated and some of the prose is hilarious, but it takes a lot of mystery out of sewing clothes for people like me who have trouble using patterns.  I made the Joseph costume for our church's live nativity using this book.  My husband would like me to make him a Joseph costume to wear around the house (maybe if I make it in woodland camo print, it wouldn't look like such hippie garb).  Does anyone know what AC-DC clothes are?!?

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith:  This was our first book on vegetable gardening and this guy really has some good ideas about gardening in it.  He is all about organic methods and though I think he takes it to the extreme, there are certain tips we've picked up that work well for us.  If you were going to buy one book on vegetable gardening, I would think this would be it.

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers by Edward C. Smith:  This is another book by Mr. Smith that focuses on vegetable gardening using containers.  We have tried this on and off for a few years now (there are awesome directions online for making your own self-watering containers for really cheap!) and there are certain things that grow better in containers than others.  I'll never try growing eggplant in the ground again.  They just don't compare to eggplant grown in a container.  Cherry tomatoes do really well in containers too.  For people who come to me wanting to start vegetable gardening for the first time, I suggest making some containers and starting there.  It is best to get yourself hooked on growing stuff without worrying about weeds and hoeing.  Then move on to the bigger garden.

Toymaking with Children by Freya Jaffke:  This is somewhat misnamed because I'm not sure most of these toys could be made by children or even with them helping (I think it is translated from German, so this may be why).  This is a resource for making simple Waldorf toys.  A lot of the directions require wood carving or knitting knowledge, but a fair number of the projects could be made without it.  There is definitely a Waldorf slant to the writings, but it is a good resource regardless.  

Soapmaking for Fun and Profit by Maria Given Nerius:  The first part of this book has directions on how to make all kinds of soaps, mostly melt and pour, handmilled and lye soap.  The second half of this book is about starting a craft business and a lots of the nuts and bolts involved there.  It is an excellent resource on either account.

Smart Soapmaking by Anne L. Watson:  This is strictly about making lye soap and it involves her own method, which uses a stick blender.  Since you know I haven't made lye soap yet, it should be obvious that I haven't tested her methods, but they come very highly recommended from reviewers on  Hopefully in a few weeks, I'll be able to report back on her methods.

Handy Farm Devices and How to Make Them by Rolfe Cobleigh:  This is a reprint of a book written in 1909 that gives directions, some thorough, some cursory, about making farm implements yourself.  As much as I would love to use the hawk trap for trapping the hawks that bug our chickens, that is now a federal offense.  I may try other things and I'm sure I'll blog about them.

There will probably be one more homesteading book post because I know there are various books around the house that I haven't written about.  At least this gets these books out of my office!!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Science projects and grow lights

Well, I dumped science project #2 in the sink today.  I tried another sourdough starter and instead of following my own advice and making bread when it first started smelling yeasty, I kept it the full four days and today it stunk so bad I gagged when I smelled it.  After making and tasting the first batch, I know what smell ends up as tastes in the bread and I know what I was smelling was not something I wanted to taste.  Maybe I'm not keeping the starter warm enough.  It is hard to keep anywhere in the kitchen 80 degrees consistently this time of year.  I think I will try the sourdough starter again in the late spring when it is warmer.  As for now, I'll chalk the pursuit up to failure and maybe hunt around on the internet for a good sourdough starter.

My husband ordered the seeds for the garden last week and they have slowly been trickling in. I bought him a shelf and he bought some used fluorescent lights and we are in the process of building a grow light stand so that we can start the plants from seeds early.  This weekend will be the right time to start the early crops like peas and cauliflower from seed (I'm dreaming of pickled cauliflower...yum, yum).  I can't believe the garden is creeping up on us like this.  I also want to get a cold frame built for when the plants get beyond seedling size.  We have two big double hung windows that we will use for the top of the cold frame and then probably scavenge some wood to make the sides.  The ground is so sloppy right now, it might be a great time to start digging out the pit for them.

I want to start trying to make soap, but I keep getting scared about it.  I guess the scariest part is having to use the lye.  I keep telling myself that I use cleaners that are just as harsh as lye is all the time, I shouldn't freak out too much, but it's not helping.  I have deer fat and duck fat stored that I need to use soon.  Maybe this weekend or next will be my soap making weekend.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Finally, a recipe for good sandwich bread

My main goal with all this bread baking recently has been to find a recipe for a good, solid sandwich bread.  If I can make my own bread, that is one less thing that I need to make frequent trips to the grocery for.  I know, I could buy bread in bulk and freeze it, but honestly, I'm not that crazy about thawed out bread.  It's cheaper to bake my own, too.

With my current attempt at a sour dough starter heading the same direction as the last one did, I decided to give a different bread recipe a try.  I made the Whole Wheat Bread recipe from The Joy of Cooking and it turned out pretty good.  It definitely has a dense enough texture to make a fine sandwich bread.  The taste is a little lacking, but I think next time I'll use the upper range of the honey suggested (she suggests 1/4 to 1/2 cup of honey and I used 1/4).  I think some add ins would be nice too, like flax seeds or sunflower seeds or maybe some wheat germ.  The recipe makes three loaves, which is cool because I like to make a bunch of bread at once, but it may have been a little much for my stand mixer to knead.  Yes, gasp, the happy homesteader has given up hand kneading and instead kneads her bread in a stand mixer.  Well...unless I'm mad at someone, then I knead bread.  Kneading bread by hand should be reserved for therapeutic purposes.  I'm a little nervous, though, because I heard a weird grinding sound from my mixer and I hope I didn't hurt it.  Keep your fingers crossed for my mixer.

Monday, February 2, 2009

First major failure of the homesteading adventure...

The first major failure is...starting a sourdough yeast culture in my kitchen.  I used the recipe in the Joy of Cooking book for starting a culture from the yeast in the air in your kitchen.  The first day, it started bubbling and had that scrumptious yeasty bread smell.  The directions, though, said let it go for 4-7 days before using it.  I did and yesterday was day 5 and it was super sour...not in a good way.  I decided to give it a shot and see what it tasted like anyways and used it to make a half loaf of the sourdough bread.  It was disgusting.  It had this sickingly sweet sour taste and it didn't rise at all.  I have to admit, I was afraid to eat it and am still worried that I'm going to fall over dead in the next few hours from eating something that...well...let's just say that you shouldn't make bread from anything that would get first prize in a middle school science fair!

I will give starting a starter from scratch one more shot before breaking down and ordering a sourdough starter off the internet.  If I get that good yeasty smell again on the first day, I may just use that and see what happens.  We bake so much bread in our kitchen that I'm sure we have spores floating around.  If I could get my husband to brew a batch of homebrewed beer, that may add to our airborn yeast count.  I'm sure women 75 years ago didn't get the best starters the first time around, either.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Update to "Static"

It worked! I mixed up the fabric softener liquid by putting 1/4 cup of cheap fabric softenter (to cut down on cost, I bought the cheapest fabric softener refill I could find) in a wide mouth mason jar and then added two cups of water to it and shook it to mix. I cut up a regular kitchen sponge into fourths and stuck them down into the water. I was really surpised at the tiny amount of displacement that the sponges made. There really must not be much to a sponge!

When I used them in the dryer, I pulled out one sponge, squeezed it just enough so it wasn't dripping and threw it in the dryer. It worked awesome. Everything was soft and there was little to no static in the laundry. Very easy!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Homesteading Books #2

Here are more of my homesteading book selections and what I think of them.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer--This is the cooking bible, so to speak.  Not really a homesteading book, but if you are going to cook your own meals, you need to know how to do it right.  If you cooked every recipe in this book and it came out right, I would say that would be the equivalent of going to cooking school...or better.  In the 75th anniversary edition, she even covers some info on canning and cooking wild game!

Cee Dub's Dutch Oven and Other Camp Cookin' by C.W. "Butch" Welch--This is a dutch oven cook book that specifically focuses with dutch oven cooking over a campfire.  Good recipes and good stories, this book taught me how to cook over a fire with my own dutch oven.  It came in really handy when we lost electric for 4 days in September.  

Kill It and Grill It by Ted and Shemane Nugent--Okay, Ted Nugent is just cool.  I don't really dig his music, but anything else with Ted Nugent is cool.  It is almost equal parts prose and recipes.  The recipes are pretty good and cover a wide variety of wild game, but if you aren't a kill it and grill it blood brother, the prose may be annoying for you.  Personally, I dig it.  

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning by The Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante--This book is exactly as it is titled.  Apparently, they solicited a bunch of French people, who are good at preserving food without freezing or canning it, and got their methods.  Some of the directions are more complete than others and to be honest, I'm scared to try most of them because of the "they are not FDA approved" stigma.  I'll get over it eventually.  I'm actually looking forward to dandelion season so I can try out the dandelion wine recipe.  I tried a recipe last year that required you to remove the green nub that holds the petals on.  I realized I'm allergic to dandelion pollen halfway through removing them.  This recipe just boils them, nubs and all.  Maybe I'm tempting fate too much by trying this again, even with the new recipe.  We'll see.

Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook by Mary Bell--I don't know what else you would want in a book on dehydrating.  This covers it to buy a dehydrator, how to dehydrate just about everything, every method for doing it and a bunch of recipes on how to use what you dehydrate.  I've made a bunch of stuff with my dehydrator and it has all turned out spectacular.  In fact, I went kind of dehydrator crazy for a while.  The fruit roll ups are killer.  I keep meaning to try the pumpkin ones and to try dehydrating tofu to make crackers.  That would make for a good blog post.

Cooking with Sunshine by Lorraine Anderson and Rick Palkovic--I haven't had this book long and this isn't the right time of year for solar cooking in this area, so I haven't been able to test the solar cooking methods out yet.  But I do have plans to build one of their cardboard box solar cookers and trying out a few of their recipes.  The book says that in southern Ohio, we should have about 160 days where the sun is strong enough to cook food well, minus days where the weather is bad.  We'll see how well it works come spring.

Okay...enough for now.  Believe it or not, I still have more books.  I love books.  I would love my own personal library...what am I talking about...I already have one. :)


Cure for an icy satellite dish

My husband rocks!!!

We can't get high speed internet at our house and my husband needs a connection that is faster than dial up for when he needs to log into work.  Our only other option was satellite internet.  Satellite internet, though fast sometimes, is a pain in the butt.  I complain about it constantly.

Reason #35 satellite internet sucks:  During a snowstorm or ice storm, anything that accumulates on the satellite dish makes the satellite go out.  Major suckage.  Especially since we are in the middle of a really bad ice storm.

Quick fix...take a few gallons of hot water and pour it over the satellite dish to melt all the ice/snow.  Chip off anything that won't come off.  Dry the dish as best you can while being pelted by sleet.  Then...brilliant...spray with cooking spray.  The oil will hopefully repel the water freezing on the dish, or at least make it easier to clean off.

Now, we only did it about 10 minutes ago, but obviously we have our internet back since I'm typing a blog.  I will keep you all up to date on how well it works long term.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I hate fabric softener and used to use dryer sheets begrudgingly.  I don't like the slimy feel fabric softener leaves on fabric and the scent makes me want to puke.  If I wanted to carry smell around on me all day I would wear perfume, not fabric softener.  When I decided to start making my own laundry soap I also decided to quit using dryer sheets in the dryer.  That way, everything I used to do laundry was homemade.  It worked great for a while.  But now that the house is full of dry heat, the static is driving me nuts.  I was trying to dig through a clean laundry basket a while ago and got shocked a few times, not to mention having to peel clothes off of the fuzzy blankets I washed.  It is time to remedy the dryer sheet issue.

I read that you can take a regular kitchen sponge, cut it into fourths and dip it into a solution of one part fabric softener to eight parts water.  When the sponge is saturated, wring it out lightly and throw it into the dryer, like you would a dryer sheet.  When the drying cycle is over, just put it back into the solution until it is time to use it again.  

I have to go out this afternoon and will need to stop at the grocery on the way home to get a few gallons of milk before the "white death" strikes.  I will also pick up some fabric softener and try this.  If it works, I may look for my own fabric softener recipe.  I'll let you know how it works. is my laundry soap recipe.  At first, I used a recipe that created laundry gel, but found that I wasn't using it as much as I would like because it was so time consuming to make.  Here is my laundry powder recipe that I've found works really well.

1 cup fels naptha soap, grated into little pieces (if fels naptha is too strong for you, I heard Ivory
 soap works.  Fels naphta does smell strong, but I used it directly on my skin to help dry  up poison ivy, so I don't think it is particularly harsh.)
1 cup baking soda
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax 

Mix all together (it won't be anywhere near homogenous because the fels naptha will want to settle out...just mix it as best you can) and use 1/8th of a cup in each load.  For those who can do their math, this should make about 32 loads of laundry worth.

If the load is really dirty, such as ketchup stains, caked on mud, etc., add a 1/4 cup of oxy clean powder to the load.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Homesteading Books #1

Okay, I've been a slacker.  I've had a lot of stuff going on this week and I haven't done anything particularly homesteadery.  I will, though, fulfill my promise of writing about the homesteader books (or at least books I think are helpful to the homesteader) that I have.

Ball Blue Book of Preserving--This is the #1 canning primer out there.  There are also sections on freezing and drying, but by far, this is a great canning introduction book.  I can't imagine learning to can without it.

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine--This should be your companion book to the Ball Blue Book after you get a little canning under your belt.  There are tons of recipes in here and lots of creative things to can.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery--This is regarded as the go-to book for all things country living.  I love it, but also would only give it 4 1/2 stars.  She is a little bit of a hippie, and not all of her information is absolutely correct, but the environmental rantings and bad information are in there, but few and far between.  Mostly just an enjoyable resource.

Storey's Basic Country Skills by John and Martha Storey--Another encyclopedic volume of country information.  This time, though, it is a collection of articles by experts on different topics.  This book and the one above probably weigh 10 lbs. each.

Back To Basics:  How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills by Readers Digest--This is probably my favorite of the encyclopedic country books.  It covers hundreds of topics with color pictures and in lots of detail.  Though you may need to do a little more research on each topic to do it well, it is a good place to start from.

The Self-Reliant Homestead by Charles A. Sanders--This is probably my least favorite general homestead book because the way it is set up is hard for me to glean information from.  Honestly, I probably haven't given it a fair shake.  It will always have a place on my bookshelf, though, because of the section on selecting a homestead firearm and because of the quote, "If I had to settle on just a single firearm for use on the homestead, I would probably choose neither a rifle nor a handgun.  Given the "one gun" alternative, I would have to choose a shotgun".  Amen, brother.

The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymour--This book would be an excellent resource if I lived in the UK.  Unfortunately, a lot of the gardening advice isn't good for midwest USA.  Other than that, it is a good book, especially for the recommendations for being self-sufficient on 1 acre, 5 acres, 10 acres, etc.

This is probably good for now.  I still have a stack here on my office floor to write about, so I'm sure more book posts will follow. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MLK day Festivities

I canned another meat recipe yesterday.  I canned the seasoned ground meat recipe from the Ball Blue Book using more ground deer from the freezer.  This time all the jars sealed!!!  I was so excited.  By accident, I put a tablespoon of season salt into the mixture instead of a teaspoon (I do that way more often than I like to admit) but this time the taste was AWESOME.  I don't think it would have been salty enough without it.  It was actually really quick and easy to can and a double batch of quart jars fit into the pressure cooker, so even the processing time was quick.  The taste is really good, but it is a neutral taste, so I think it would be good for tacos, spaghetti, pizzas, casseroles...anything that uses crumbled browned ground meat.

My dear husband did his own homesteadery activity yesterday.  He made homemade suet cakes.  One of his favorite winter pastimes is to shoot starlings out of the back yard with his air rifle.  He did some reading about what kind of suet cakes attract starlings and he found that the smell of peanut butter draws them in.  We picked up some suet from the meat department of the grocery store (I'm thinking it was about 2 lbs, but I forgot to look).  He brought it home and cooked it to render the fat from it.  Then he mixed in a half cup of peanut butter, a cup of corn meal and enough bird seed to make it look like the suet cakes from the store.  He then set the bowl outside to cool and harden.  When he brought it inside, he cut it into four pieces and put one piece in an old onion bag and hung it on the swingset.  I haven't seen any birds on it yet, but I haven't seen any birds at the bird feeders yet today either.  It's a shame you can't eat starlings...then again, a cat won't even eat a starling.  If you don't know why starlings are bad, check out this website:

Friday, January 16, 2009


Last night I tried the no knead easy bread recipe from the Mother Earth News website.  The idea is to make a big batch of dough and keep it in the fridge, taking out grapefruit size balls of dough at a time to bake.  I made the recipe that uses 3 cups water, 1 1/2 tbsp of yeast, 1 1/2 tbsp of salt and 6 1/2 cups of flour.

I found the directions to be a little confusing so I don't know if it turned out correctly.  The recipe kept emphasizing that the dough needs to be wet...I got an EXTREMELY wet dough.  It was the consistency of that toy slime they used to sell.  It just kind of globbed and dripped between my fingers.  I added enough flour to the "grapefruit sized ball" to actually make it a relatively round shape and let it rise.  It didn't make a big loaf of bread...maybe dinner sized with four servings.  It was really dense though, which I like really dense breads, and it was kind of salty, so I didn't need to add butter to it. (I'm finding that most of the time when you want to put butter on something, you really want to put salt on it.  Garlic salt mixed with walnut oil is a great substitute for butter flavor.)

The recipe says that as the dough ages in the fridge, it gets more of a sour dough quality to it and the taste continues to improve.  I'll let you know what it does.  So far the recipe is 5 stars for taste and a 2 stars for ease of use.  I'll make another loaf this afternoon and we'll see what the difference is.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


We're all sick.  There has been this cold going around my husband's family for almost a month and everyone has it and no one can seem to shake it.  It kind of comes in waves, first was the wave of chest coughing, then the wave of runny noses, then the waves of sinus pressure and ear pain.  Right now, and for the past couple of days, I've just been tired.  

I was telling myself, wow, you are really tired, don't worry about the homesteading blog, but then one of my writer friends, Rudi, reminded me last night of all the great home remedies that one can try.  I thought to myself...well, golly, what kind of homesteader are you not trying out all those home remedies yourself!!!

My favorite home remedy is peppermint tea with honey.  It cures an upset stomach and also soothes sore throats.  Something about hot liquids causes you to cough up all kinds of mucous.  I grew tons of peppermint in the garden last year and dried it in the basement.  I have it crumbled in a tin canister in the cupboard, but I don't want to use it because I want to save it for something...I just can't seem to figure out what.  That is one of the hard things about making your own want to save it for something special, which never comes.

A really good home remedy to encourage you to cough up mucous...but that I will never do to gargle with apple cider vinegar.  I have always had a problem with congestion and when I was studying voice in college, my voice teacher, who was probably getting close to seventy, swore by it.  One shot glass (every college student has a shot glass, right?) of apple cider vinegar, gargled as long as you can stand, which if I ever made it past 10 seconds, I was doing good, and you will cough up mucous for 30 minutes or more.

My husband wants me to plan out what herbs I want to plant this year in the garden.  I think I'm going to try to have my own herb garden plat, separate from the regular garden.  I wish I would have done that last year before I planted all that peppermint.  I also planted a St. John's Wort plant last year and a chamomile plant.  I never got enough blooms on either to do anything with them.  I've had tea with both St. John's Wort and chamomile in them and those two seem to work, too.  I never had success with St. John's Wort in pill form, but my husband and FIL have (they may not have admitted it worked, but everyone around them did!).  

I may go through some of my herb books I've collected and see if there are any herbal remedies to try and I'll report back here about the results.  I have one by Deepak Chopra that is kind of off the wall.  I still need to list my recommended homesteader books, don't I?  Maybe I'll do that today during kiddo nap time.

I'm also going to try a no-kneed bread recipe I found on Mother Earth News.  I love fresh bread and if I could stop buying it from Krogers, I would.  I'll let you know how that goes also.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Okay...I have a confession

My confession is I'm in a homesteader funk, just 10 days into my new years resolution.  I figured I would get to this point eventually, but I didn't think it would come this soon.  Yesterday was horrible.  I knew I was dreading doing anything, but the winter doldrums were too much to take.

I realized late last night, though, that I was engaging in some homesteader activities even though I wasn't actually producing anything tangible.  My husband and I got our first seed catalogues of the year in the mail and we started talking about our garden.  It is so much fun to pour through the different varieties of corn, tomatoes, squash, peppers and gourds!  I'm such a foodie!  I get so excited thinking of all the culinary possibilities! I'm all excited because we'll get to plant beets this year and I LOVE pickled beets.  I was so disheartened when I saw that High Fructose Corn Syrup was an ingredient in canned beets from the store!  I'm not one of those hippies that needs everything to be organic or anything, but High Fructose Corn Syrup is bad for is Trans Fat, so I avoid both.  We have a list of veggies that we want to start from seed and my husband is looking into getting grow lights to start them indoors. 

Today, as far as motivation goes, is a different story.  I just finished a pot of Southwestern Vegetable Soup (from the Ball Blue Book again) and we are going to have it for lunch and what we don't eat, I'll can.  It is quite spicy, but the husband really likes spicy food, so I know he'll gobble it up.  I may also try another batch of something with the ground deer.  We'll see if the jars seal better this time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I know...I skipped a day...

Well, the marmalade venture was a success.  I got four half-pints of orange marmalade and nine half-pints of grapefruit marmalade.  They even jelled well!  Now I just have to figure out what to do with it all.  We do use jelly, especially with peanut butter, but I have to be careful not to make too much.  I was thinking that I could heat up the grapefruit marmalade and thin it a little and use it as a dressing on fruit salad.  I still, though, can't get past the weird taste of grapefruit.  I love the initial sour taste, but the bitter aftertaste gets me.  My husband really likes it, though, so I guess he'll eat his own fair share of it.  

The only real complication I had with the marmalade was getting it to boil down.  I boiled and stirred those pots forever...the grapefruit I stirred for almost 40 minutes.  I found that I can do the gel test better with a metal spoon than a plastic one, but even with a metal spoon, I was just getting drops, not really gel falling off the spoon in sheets.  It is solid at room temperature, though, so I guess I did it right.

I didn't do any homesteader activities today. :(  I didn't even go out to feed the rabbits and the chickens.  My husband had to do it when he got home from work.  Wednesday night is bible study night and on a whim I decided yesterday to prepare a lesson.  I guess I made the lesson up from scratch, so is that considered a homestead activity?  Probably not one any of my blog readers are particularly interested in.  I also spent the day frantically cleaning the house.  I thought about mixing up a homemade cleaner, but that just wasn't in the cards for today.  Maybe another day.  My lesson turned out okay.  I didn't like it much, but they decided to do the second part next week, so either they liked it, they were just being nice, or they are lazy and don't want to come up with their own thing.  I guess it doesn't really matter, we were studying the bible and talking about God and that is all that counts.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Finally! I started the marmalade!

I finally found time to start on the marmalade.  I'm making a half batch of orange marmalade and a double batch of grapefruit marmalade.  I searched high and low for an orange marmalade recipe after a friend gave us several oranges and two grapefruits.  Only a few of the oranges got eaten and no one touched the grapefruits.  I finally found recipes for both marmalades in the trusty old Ball Blue Book.  

You have to remove the peel and slice it thinly and then chop up the pulp, add water and boil it and then let that mixture sit for 12-18 hours.  Right now, both batches are sitting on the counter.  It is supposed to be an icy day tomorrow, so I'll stay home and can marmalade.

I also posted to my mom's group website that I was thinking about selling our surplus eggs and starting an egg route.  I already have two people interested!  I'm pretty excited and if I get enough customers, it will justify buying more baby chicks in the spring.  Right now our 20 chickens lay about 6-7 eggs a day.  I wouldn't be able to have a ton of people on my egg route, but I could start a waiting list if more people are interested.  Here in a few months, we'll be getting even more eggs.  I wonder if I can sell other stuff like that too, like soap.