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Monday, May 28, 2012

Our Little Tomato Story, Part 1


Is anyone else disgusted with the way tomatoes taste these days? I often say that kids these days don't even know what a tomato is suppose to taste like....am I wrong?

If there is one thing that Maurice hates it is gardening....at least the weeding part...he thoroughly enjoys eating the fruits of our labors however!

So here is a  little story about our quest for a decent tomato....

As I mentioned Maurice hates gardening but he does love a good tomato, so one year he bought a packet of seeds and started growing some. He took such good care of them..he was sooo proud! When they got big enough to plant outside he dug out a spade and went to work digging up the grass for our little garden plot. Yes, all by hand...no tiller needed! It was a lot of work...but he really loves tomatoes!! We also planted a few bell peppers and most likely some chilies (I can't remember that far back). I remember the peppers because this is when I fell in love with bell peppers...I couldn't get enough of them.

Anyway, the tomatoes plants were getting some beautiful fruits on them, but we started having issues with bugs. I mentioned our problem with these pesky little creatures that were wreaking havoc with Maurice's pride and joy to my mother one day. She had a solution....spray them with soapy water and they will go away! I hung up the phone and I was all excited to take my mom's advice and save the day while Maurice was at work! So, I searched for a spray bottle...loaded it up with soapy water and skipped out to the back yard and doused Maurice's tomato plants with the soapy solution! I mean I gave them a good soaking! Impressed with myself, I went back into the house and waiting for him to get home from work so I could tell him the exciting news! Problem solved!!

A few hours later, he comes home and heads straight to the back yard. I must not have heard him pull up because all I remember is him coming in the house screaming at me "What did you do to my tomato plants?"
Puzzled, I told him what my mom told me to do and then asked why. He drags me out to the back yard and said "look"! OMG....THEY WERE ALL DEAD!! In a few hours I had managed to kill the plants that he had been babying for months! Obviously, I got my mom on the phone and was like "wth did you just make me do? Do you hate me or something?" Well, this happened to be about the time that Antibacterial soap was coming into popularity. And since we are always on the cutting edge of new fangled products, of course I had some. And of course my mom hadn't considered this! Lesson learned!! Needless to say, after I got an earful I was forbidden to ever touch Maurice's tomato plants ever again!!

Over the next several years we had minimal success with tomatoes! Blight seems to a big issue in this neck of the woods!
An example of what tomato blight looks like
source: http://www.hanway.co.uk/what-a-shame/




Stay tuned for the rest of the story....I have some tomato plants to take care of!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What is a Locavore?

Hey there again, it's been a while eh? Spring is probably not the best time to start this blog thing....ugh, who am I kidding? The season is not the reason! It's mostly my inability to make a decision on a topic for a post...even as I am typing this I have no idea what this post is going to be about. That is the introvert in me!!

Okay.....Got it!

How many have you heard the term Locavore? I believe one of the first times I seen this term was in Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which I am sure many of you have read (it was out several years before I got around to it). This book really lived up to the hype!



So, this morning while strolling through my Facebook news feed (ya know, to find out everything I missed while I was sleeping) I noticed one of my favorite sites Fresh Eggs Daily, had a post on finding local egg sellers.

 Hey, I sell eggs!! So I clicked on the link for Local Hens to see if any of the other local egg people are listed! Apparently not.....nearest local egg seller is 156 miles away, and the next nearest is 326 miles away. SWEET! Looks I got this market cornered!!

It was on this website that I seen a good definition of Locavore (for those of you who have been seeing the term around more often lately and not taken the time to actually see what it means)....

Locavore: a person whose diet consists principally of locally grown or produced food.


This reminded me that a few weeks ago while listening to The Splendid Table podcast or maybe it was You Bet Your Garden (I can't remember which); an app was mentioned that I wanted to check out. I don't remember which app it was, but I am sure I downloaded it; and then I seen another app, and then another and then another....you see where this goes. Smartphones are great aren't they?

One of those gazillion apps I downloaded that day was Locavore. Which was surely destined to never be looked at again. Until today! Which isn't entirely true....I briefly looked at once. The app itself is pretty cool (which is why I downloaded it..duh). You can share pictures, there is a category for foraging and a recipe category. The best part (in my opinion) was the "local" category....you have local sellers, local foods that are in season or coming into season soon, and local locavores.

Hmmmm....I don't know about the accuracy of foods that are in season or coming into season! It says that dandelions are coming into season in 2 weeks....that is strange....my yard has been yellow for at least 2 weeks already. BUT, it has been an unseasonably warm year....so I will forgive them!

Here's the reason I only looked at it briefly....the nearest locavore is... wow...only 36.47 miles away, not bad! After that 89.94 then up to 120 miles, and it just keeps on going up from there. I am sure there are more out there that are close they just aren't wasting their time downloading apps and the like.

Enough about apps! NEXT.....

This will be the third year that we have been super serious about our garden, and lets face it...it doesn't get anymore local than that!! Gardening is A LOT of work...dirty work! But the amount of satisfaction that comes from the oh so delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs is soooooo worth it!

Last year while I was pulling weeds and harvesting veggies, all I could think about is how cool it would be to open a restaurant featuring all locally grown food....just so happens there is one just a half mile from my house that is for sale!! How cool would that be? Way cool (is the correct answer)!! Problem is...well money is always a problem (almost not even worth mentioning, but I did)....but more than that is how to go about it? Is there a market for it? Hey....I even just came up with a name...."Locavore"....what do you think?

I did step way out of my comfort zone last year and finally went to our local Farmer's Market to sell some of our extra veggies; although my homemade artisan bread was the biggest seller.

Farmer's Markets are all the rage these days....but apparently not where I live! Most nights there were only about three vendors, towards the end of the season a few more showed up to get rid of their excesses. Also, I thought more people would be standing in line to check out all of the local produce. After talking with a few people, I soon realized the reason for the absence of the huge crowds I had envisioned. Nobody knew about it! A serious lack of advertising. If people did know about the farmer's market, they were confuseed on the time and place.

The lack of advertising is part of the reason for my Dustyacre Homesteading facebook page and for writing this blog! To get the word out about fresh, local produce!!

Becoming a locavore is not something I set out to do....but with all of the disturbing facts coming out about our food and food regulations, and even increased awareness about healthy eating habits; it seems like the ONLY thing to do! I am fully aware that given the region I live in, this is not possible for all foods or year round even...but every little bit helps!!

I want to close this blog post with something Maurice said a couple of years ago on Earth Day...kinda sums it up!

"In honor of Earth Day, I am hauling produce that was grown in the desert to store shelves 2100 miles away, burning up 380 gallon of diesel fuel along the way." (The actual quote was much better, but I can't find it word for word....you get the idea!)

EAT LOCAL!!











Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My First Auction Experience

How many times have you read through the auction part of your local newspaper or on bulletin boards and thought to yourself..."wow...that would be cool" or you turn to your significant other and said "we should go check that out"? But you forget or you have other things going on or just plain too lazy? If your like me it happens quite frequently!


Usually they are just so far off that I forget about them. This particular auction was posted in the entry at work just a few days before it was to be held AND I walk past it several times a night; if it wasn't for those two things I totally would have blown it off, just like always. Plus   given the fact that I was severely hung over the morning of AND I would have to go alone....it is simply amazing I actually went.


I literally got out of bed a half hour before the start of it....and felt like crap! BUT....there was just some way too cool stuff that I couldn't miss! Soooo....I took care of the mutts and chickens (who clearly weren't happy), transferred money to my checking account and out the door I went. Let me tell you, I was nervous as hell! I don't go to these type of things all by my lonesome. Did I mention I felt like crap?


Apparently, this was the place to be Sunday at Noon sharp! If it wasn't for my fairly new interest in "prepping" I would have turned tail and run!! 


However, I put my big girl panties on and checked it out! 


First thing I was interested in was the brand new chicken plucker....they started the bid out higher than the amount of money I was prepared to spend for the whole day. They ended up bringing it down, so I got 1 bid in...but quickly went much higher. It ended up not selling. This is when I woke up....I have this smartphone in my pocket that I rarely put down. Turns out the $150 I was prepared to spend was a bit low...however, the $600 this dude paid for this thing one year ago and used once seriously overpaid! Either way, next up was an anvil that we have been kind of wanting for years. It went for $50, which is probably reasonable....but not for me! I am kind-of a cheap skate...


I spent the next few hours waiting for what I was there for...






Maurice has been looking for one of these grain grinders for quite some time, and if he can find one, it is outrageously expensive and don't offer shipping because of weight. I was instructed to get it, if at all possible! While I was waiting, I happen to stop and talk to a guy I knew....turns out the dude that was with him was also interested in the grinder, Crap! After finding this out I went and stood by it and felt like everybody in the building was going to bid on it! I was freaking myself out! Then I started thinking about all the auction shows I watch on TV and was trying to go figure out how to psych this guy out. By the time it came up, I was shaking like a leaf. Honestly, I am amazed I was even able to raise my hand at that point. I have NEVER  bid on anything in my life. 


SCORE!!! I Won!! It was a lot of money to me, but evidently they are pretty hard to come by. I can't wait to grind up the Red Floriani Flint Corn we are growing for the chickens this year.


 Next up...... A kick ass waffle iron!


Ok, this was literally 4 items away from the grinder I had just won! Wouldn't ya know...three items after the grinder they moved half way across the building. Now this was set to be the very last item up for bid. OMG...


I love pancakes....Maurice hates them...but he will eat a waffle occasionally! If we are at home I use the waffle iron my mother gave me, which can probably be considered an antique also. But when we go camping I like to make pancakes for breakfast...this is about the only time Maurice will reluctantly eat them. 


Several more hours later and after several very expensive items sold, the crowd was dwindling....the waffle iron is finally up! After all of this waiting and getting my very first bid ever out of the way..my nerves have calmed.


Score!! Now I can take our compromise with us!!


Now that I am 2 for 2, I have just one more item that I am super excited about...




That's right...it's a butter churn! 


Another hour later....it's mine!!


All in all, I was there for 6 hours....good thing I didn't really have any plans my day off. I won every bid that I really wanted...I am hooked!! 


Before I won all of these awesome items, my teenage neighbor girl laughed at me and asked if I was Amish! That was just because I have a garden and bake bread..


Now... I can grow my own corn and grain, grind it for feed or flour, cook pretty much anything over a fire AND churn my own butter for bread or waffles. 


I should go ask her if I can borrow her cows for the afternoon so I can plow my garden...hehe!





















Friday, March 9, 2012

My little herb garden.....

Several years ago we put new windows in our house. There was a little debate about putting in one of those garden windows in the kitchen. After we heard the price, the debate was quickly over! After all, I hadn't even successfully kept any plants alive in the house up to that point (with the exception of a plant I got from my grandma's funeral). Eight years later, this decision seems like a very poor one! I would give anything to have more window space for all of the herbs I have.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, Maurice drives truck; and it was after one of his first trips to California when he came home raving about the tacos on the taco trucks. He spent a week trying to re-create these mysterious tacos. When he finally got it right (hint: less is more), I'm not exaggerating when I say this is all we ate for months. I must say, I have no idea where "Americans" got their idea for tacos because real Mexican tacos are "da bomb."

You might be asking yourself what tacos off of a taco truck have to do with herbs....Well, quite simply...Cilantro, that's what! Before I elaborate, I want to point out that I just had an "aha' moment...not only did tacos from a far away place kick off our herb growing infatuation; but they also kick started our own little food revolution. Huh, that's cool! Okay, now that I am done patting myself on the back....back to Cilantro!

As I was saying, we ate nothing but tacos for months. Which means we were constantly at the store buying an ounce of Cilantro for $2.99. As you can imagine, that gets a bit spendy. So, hey...here's an idea...grow your own dummy (me, not you). Duh!! For $2.50 I can buy a packet of seeds and have an unlimited supply! Well, that is if you can get it to grow. After a couple of failures, we finally had a good amount of cilantro. Next came basil. Again, after a couple of failures I finally managed to get a very nice pot of basil going in the window above the sink. However, I also managed to kill it off last year after putting it outside. And much to my dismay, I planted another packet of cilantro and basil in the house with no success. Ugh....

Turns out I am much better at getting stuff to grow in the ground than in pots in the house. One (and I want to emphasis One) of our favorite spots in the garden is the herb section. Last year that included Chives, thyme, parsley, rosemary, dill, curry plant, marjoram, mint, oregano, basil, and of course cilantro. I think I can honestly say that there is nothing more satisfying than walking out to the garden and collecting a handful of herbs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I mean, seriously....it's just right there!

Fast forward to harvest time and time to clean out the garden. Well, I can't just let all these scrumptious herbs die out here. So out comes the spade! Oh, wait....there is something more satisfying than walking out to the garden to gather herbs....walking 10 feet across the kitchen in the dead of winter to gather herbs! I am trying to upload a picture of our little herb garden, but it doesn't seem to be working (gotta love technology)!

Growing herbs is just half of it....the other half is what to do with them?

Cilantro is easy (if I had some)....pico de gallo or guacamole are two of my favs. Chives...well can any one say baked potato with chives? At the moment what I have the most of is parsley...I was uber excited to find out that I can make a pesto with parsley instead of the elusive basil (not having much luck with it). So, here is   my version of a classic pesto.....

2 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp pine nuts
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups parsley
sesame seeds
onion
oregano
thyme
curry plant
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesean

Process the first 3 ingredients in food processor for a few seconds, add the next 6 ingredients until well blended, then slowly add the olive oil...when that is incorporated add the cheese. Voila...pesto! The great thing about pesto is that there are many variations...as mine is. You can use walnuts in place of pine nuts, as pine nuts can be expensive. This pesto is absolutely fabulous tossed with pasta!

If you are growing your own herbs and are having a hard time figuring out how to actually use them, I strongly suggest "The Herb Farm Cookbook" by Jerry Traunfeld. It is a fantastic guide to growing, handling and cooking with herbs with over 200 recipes. I also like to use my Vegetarian cookbook...not because I am a vegetarian (I love my meat); but because vegetarian dishes add flavor using herbs and spices. I quite often take one of those recipes and just add whatever meat I want to it.

As planting season is quickly approaching, I will be adding a few new herbs this year.... lavender, stevia, and mojito mint are a couple. I am also going to try several different types of basil and our household favorite...Cilantro!

Happy planting....and stay tuned for more herb uses and hopefully a picture....grrrr!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bread.....

Bread is a staple in almost everyone's life! Me, I could live off of it....and often do survive on a diet of toast and peanut butter, or a sandwich of some sort. While bread has always been a part of every single meal I eat...my fascination with making it started many years ago and my disgust with store bought bread has been more recent.

My favorite part of any holiday meal at the in-laws was the homemade bread...she made roughly 6 loaves and 2 pans of buns. Always enough to send some home with us. One year I finally thought "If she can do it, so can I!" So, I finally asked for her recipe, which she was more than happy to give me. Much to my dismay, it wasn't quite the same.

Eventually, I bought a bread machine (which I know now is completely unnecessary and a waste of hard earned money). The ease of just dumping all the ingredients into the machine was fascinating at first. However, when it broke I took the plunge and made it the old fashion way!

It wasn't until I discovered Mother Earth News and their 5-minute a day Artisan Bread, that I got serious about bread making! http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/Artisan-Bread-In-Five-Minutes-A-Day.aspx. This recipe changed our lives! I went from making bread a couple of times a year to making a couple of times a week. It literally takes less time than to make a cup of coffee, really!! Before you go to bed mix 1 tsp. yeast, 1 tsp salt, 3 cups of unbleached flour and 1 1/3 cups water...when you wake up in the morning punch it down stretch it 3 times, let it rise for several hours....punch it down and stretch it 3 times again (this is where you want to shape it; i.e put in bread pan, make into buns, etc), let it rise again...when it is double in size - bake it! I promise you won't be disappointed! This bread was my best seller at the Farmer's Market!!

I have been making this recipe for 2 years now, but as we all do I get lazy occasionally (apparently really lazy, considering how effortless this recipe is) and attempt to buy bread at the store. In my attempt to buy the most healthy bread I can, I look at the ingredient list on each loaf. It is utterly disturbing and equally baffling as to why on god's green earth the ingredient list is a half mile long. I mean seriously....bread requires 4 ingredients, not over 20!! I was going to go through the work and list all of these ingredients in commercially sold bread but I found somebody else has already done this (duh, of course I am not the only person on the planet with these concerns). http://blog.fooducate.com/2010/11/04/the-top-20-ingredients-used-in-bread-miniseries-part-3/.
This is a fantastic source for learning about the ingredients,what they are for, and how bad some of them are!

I haven't even mentioned price...which always seems to be the reason for people not being able to eat more healthy. I honestly, have no clue what a loaf of bread in the store costs anymore (it has been 2 years since I have even looked in the bread isle)...Last year when I tried to figure out what to charge for my homemade bread at the farmers market I attempted to break it down...but the cost of each ingredient so minimal I think I gave up...but if I remember right it was under $1 per loaf (more like $.40) to make it yourself.

So C'mon people........Wake up and smell the bread!!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Starting out....

Welcome to my very first blog!

To be honest with y'all....I haven't even read very many blogs, but for some reason I feel an overwhelming need to start blogging about our little life here on the homestead. So, I guess the first place to start is to introduce the characters....

Jen - that's me! 
Maurice - the love of my life and Boyfriend of 19 years.
Deacon and Gimpy - the house cats; there are several random outdoor cats also.
Ned and Daisy - the dogs.
      and our chickens....

Now, that we got that out of the way I suppose you might want to know a little bit about us. 

Eleven years ago we got to the point that we were getting tired of renting. I said to Maurice, either we buy a house or lets move away. My family has lived in this sleepy little town there whole lives and I was ready to be the first to get the hell outta here! Well, we bought an acreage! It was the only place we looked at...but we fell in love! I had one requirement...a big kitchen! Maurice's one requirement....a shop! It had both! As a person who had lived in town my whole life..this was heaven. I can't look in my neighbors window (not without binoculars anyway). We could play music as loud as we wanted, we could walk outside and shoot a gun, there was a huge garden spot, there was a huge yard for our beloved white shepherd, Lord to run. What more could we ask for? 

When we moved out here, we both worked in manufacturing jobs. Maurice left his job and dabbled in construction for a year before he ended up becoming a truck driver. He worked for a couple of companies until just 2 months ago when he purchased his own tractor. I was one of the millions who lost there manufacturing job three years ago. Not all was lost though, I was able to go back to college after 20 years and am now working my dream job.....managing a kitchen. Ironically, (as I realized last year at my 20 year class reunion) it is the same kitchen I was working at when I graduated high school. There will probably be more on this subject in later blogs.

If someone would have asked me twenty years ago where I saw myself in twenty years....organic gardening, being a foodie, homesteading, prepping, being concerned about the environment, reading books, and learning how to be self sustaining are definitely not words or phrases that would have ever crossed my mind. Geeze, what a nerd!! The amazing thing about getting older is figuring out that being a nerd is cool! It's fun and exciting to learn new things (if that doesn't sound nerdy, idk what does). 

So, that is the jist of it!

As I said earlier, we are foodies so there will definitely be recipes and pictures as future subjects. Other subjects I have planned are must read books, chickens, my farmers market experiences, pet stories (inevitably), herbs, gardening, prepping, environmental concerns, solar and wind power, and whatever rants I need to get off my chest. I already know my first rant.....bread!! 

Please be patient with me as I get this blog going....as with everything....there is a learning curve, but I will eventually figure it out!!

Thanks for reading and I welcome to read comments, tips and advice!