Coming Full Circle…

Rosie2_June Masog

When I was a little girl living in Hawaii my parents sent my brother and I on an airplane, alone, to spend summers with my grandparents in Northern Minnesota.  I dreaded those summer getaways… all I could think of was spending my summer with “old” people, out in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely nothing to do.  It was time spent in the garden, stealing apples from old man Marco’s apple tree, dirt road rides in search of wild critters, hanging out at the lake diving for clams, and walking down the street to the corner store to buy penny candy.  Oh, and, yes, going to the annual polka festival.  A night out to eat was to the local Bonanza, where all I longed for was the lollipop at the end of my meal.

To top it all off, I was somehow taught, led to believe, that growing your own food or buying local was embarrassing, going beneath yourself.  I vividly remember my grandfather coming home one day with local strawberries.  All I could do was laugh at the thought that Minnesota strawberries were so much better than a strawberry from elsewhere (like I was some expert that strawberries from a tropical island were so much better).   I also remember being so critical over a fireworks show in town, thinking how could such a local celebration be so much better than seeing one in a huge city like New York City?

As I write this blog I am amazed at how much I disliked those times.  How could I not have appreciated and enjoyed all that I did, and learned?  It’s so sad.

Here I am today living in a simple home, with a few acres, out in the country in Maine.  The life I have today is actually is no different than my grandparents.  Gardens, fruit trees, fishing, hunting, buying local, and supporting community efforts.  I have come full circle.  Everything old is new again.  The passion I have for this lifestyle, for me and for my family is deep.  It is important to myself and to my husband.  Shouldn’t our kids know that locally grown food is so much better than food grown thousands miles away?  Shouldn’t our kids know the importance of where our food comes from?  Shouldn’t our kids know basic outdoor skills?  Shouldn’t our kids experience green trees and fresh air?

I wish I could go back in time and enjoy my Minnesota visits more.  I wish I could tell my grandparents how much those visits influenced who and where I am today.  I only hope that both are looking down at me from above smiling… and, of course, shouting, “I told so”‘!

Bob1

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

garden

Down with the groundhog I say!

Today is the first day of Spring and up here in the Northeast there is no sign of it… anywhere!  Instead, Mother Winter continues to drop snowflake upon snowflake.  If I’m not mistaken Punxsutawney Phil did say, “And so ye faithful, there is no shadow to see, an early Spring for you and me.”  You were surely mistaken… you… you… you rodent!

Okay, so let’s just pretend Spring is upon us.  We can now start planning and planting seeds for the garden!

In the past our homestead has done a combination of starting seeds indoors and directly planting in the ground from plants purchased at our local garden store.  This year we’re taking a bigger step and starting all of our seeds indoors using grow lights.  It’s probably a good idea we’re doing this since warmer weather is no where in sight.

My favorite part of garden planning is deciding what to grow.  We always do the standard… tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, peas, beets, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, carrots.  We take a further step and also grow potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, squash, kale, swiss chard, pie pumpkins and edamame (soybeans).  In addition, I always like to pick a couple of ‘testers’ crops.  Two years ago I tried okra and got three.  I consider that a success since the okra was forced to grow up here in Maine.  Last year I took a stab at a few artichokes.  No luck.  However, I hear artichokes are perennials, but also hear they can’t survive winter.  We shall see what happens.   I also have tried bok choy, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and hot peppers.

This year I’ve decided on three ‘testers’… sweet potatoes, peanuts and banana peppers.  It is always fun to try out something new in the garden.  Who says you must stick to standard crops you find in the grocery store?  Even if you don’t know what kohlrabi is, or have no idea what to do with bok choy, watching them grow is almost as enjoyable as cooking and eating it.  You can always give them to your neighbor.  Or, better yet, you might find a recipe and a new found love!

If you’re not quite ready to try an unusual crop consider the commonly grown vegetables that come in an array of colors and varieties that you can’t find in the store.  How cool is it to pull up purple carrots?  Blue potatoes?  Zebra tomatoes?

Carpe diem fellow gardeners!  Carpe diem!

Will Isbell Carrots-closeup-thumb-500x375-1404

 

 

This post was featured at the Homestead Barn Hop.

Barn-Hop

The Latest Craze… Juicing.

juicing omega juicer review1

Alert: there is a juicing craze out there!

Okay, so maybe I’m behind the bandwagon a bit… I am just now realizing the fascination America is having with juicing. From time to time I’d stumble upon a Facebook post on someone’s latest juicing recipe, followed by a colorful Instagram picture of the scrumptious juice in a tall glass. So this got me thinking… maybe I should be yet another follower and check this curious phenomenon out. I mean, I like juice. My kids like juice. However, I hate the price of juice, the ungodly ingredients in juice, and the fact that it takes a picture of the American flag to let the consumer know the fruit in the juice is actually grown in the U.S. And, yes, I did watch “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” and “Hungry for Change” on Netflix. If that doesn’t motivate someone I don’t know what will.

After much research I found a juicer that would fit my family needs best, an Omega brand. It’s not the most expensive model out there. However, it is pricier than other models you can purchase in the box stores. The Omega juicer is said to extract the most amount of juice, and works well with greens. You can find many reasons as to why you should juice. And there are just as many reasons out there why you shouldn’t. Each person differs. For me, the primary reason was not to fast or put myself on some crazy juice diet. I just wanted to be able to make fresh, wholesome juice. And to combine a couple of carrots, a celery stalk, or even a beet in my juice.

I also like my Omega brand because the model I purchased allows me to make my own nut butters, baby food, and even pasta! On top of that it homogenizes and even grinds coffee beans! The grinding of coffee beans means a lot in this house. Not because we are huge coffee drinkers (which we are) but because last summer my husband’s military duty to his country took him to South America. That trip to South America landed this household with 40 bags of coffee beans… from Columbia. Folks, we have a lot of coffee!

Juicing has gone well so far. My daughter has really enjoyed it. She even drank a spinach, pineapple and carrot juice I made the other day. My son, on the other hand, sticks to just plain orange or apple juice. When he’s not looking though I throw in a carrot or two. We’ve also made pasta which turned out really well and my son LOVED. I think he had three helpings of spaghetti that night.

Down the road I look forward to making some baby food with this gadget. Spring is around the corner and soon the garden will be thriving. I can’t wait to make some jars of baby food for the newest addition to our family!

Cheers!

Juice

Ghee Whiz!

GheeDo you know about ghee?

Ghee is the pure butterfat left over after the milk solids and water are removed from butter. It’s used widely in Indian cooking, and the word ghee is the Hindi word for fat. It is made by melting butter, cooking off the water and separating the clear, golden butter fat from the milk solids. Ghee has a high smoking point so it can be used in high-heat cooking, much better than butter. It also has a longer shelf life that butter and, when stored in an airtight container, can be kept at room temperature almost indefinitely.

Ghee lacks hydrogenated oils and is a popular choice for health-conscious cooks as well. Additionally, since all the milk proteins have been removed during the clarifying process, ghee gains further nutritional value because it’s lactose free, making it a safer alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. It is said to have nutritional value, helping in digestion. In addition, it is rich with antioxidants and acts as an aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from other foods, serving to strengthen the immune system.

Now that you know all the wonderful stuff about ghee let me tell you how I was introduced to it. Enter my first husband belly rubbing of 2013…

I return home day to find mason jars full of a yellow, buttery substance. I asked my dear husband what said substance was his response was, “ghee”. Ghee? Ghee What?

Husband: “It’s ultra clarified butter, dear.”

Me: “Well, golly ghee, deary, I have no idea what it is but I’ll take your word for it and go with your crazy new find.”

Another educational mission for me. I did research and, low and behold, found a lot of information on ghee. I do not think it is widely known so, in a baby step to spread the word, our Christmas gifts to our neighbors not only included homemade jam and truffles, but a pint jar of ghee.

Ghee is very simple to make. All you need is a 1 lb stick of butter (organic or not as you desire… or twenty 1 lb chunks if you’re husband!). Next, follow these steps:

  • Using a medium saucepan, heat butter on medium heat.
  • Allow butter to melt and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. You will notice that the oil will separate itself. The top will begin to froth; remove froth.
  • Allow the oil to become clear where you can see the milk solids in the bottom of the pot. Once they start to brown you are close to being done. Once the ghee is clear and and stops “crackling” you are done. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Strain ghee through 3-5 layers of cheese cloth (my husband used a colander to hold the cheese cloth) into a separate pot then pour the finished product in to canning jars while hot (ensure you wipe the top of the glass where it seals).
  • Once they are full cap your jars with you canning lid and tighten down your rings until they are snug. As the ghee cools the air in the jar will cool as well and create a vacuum seal.
  • Then you can just throw it in your pantry or basement for a long, long time. However, once opened it lasts for about 6 months in the refrigerator.

Ghee Whiz! That was easy! Now enjoy!

ghee2

It’s 2013… Another Journey Begins!

CABies Homestead

As I close the door on 2012 and open a new one in to 2013 I am excited for what lies ahead.

2012 was the year to focus on my ultimate goal.. to be as debt-free as possible, which will allow me to stay home with my kids and take up homesteading.  I am happy to say that goal was achieved and I am fully prepared to bid adieu to the corporate working world and say hello to the simplistic, homesteading way of life.

I can stay home, raise my kids, take care of my family, garden, learn new skills and, top if off, raise some chickens and get some beehives.

Thus today begins another journey.  Join me for another year of storytelling, education, soul searching, and, yes, some more husband belly rubbing!

The fruits of our labor…

Nothing brings pleasure than seeing the fruits of your labor.  All your hard work and dedication… the goal you’ve been reaching for has been achieved.  Such an awesome feeling…. that of accomplishment.  Ahh… like opening an ice-cold bottle of beer… er, iced tea, after a hard days work.

A few weeks ago we celebrated just that at our homestead.  It was early evening, after dinner, and the kids were about ready to clean up.  My husband looks out the window and saw a mama fox (belly full of babies) in our yard.  We’ve known for a while now that we have critters that roam our land.  Every morning I’m awakened by the cackle of a male pheasant.  A few weeks ago I spotted a turkey cruise around.  Even the ‘squatter’ woodchuck has taken refuge in our freshly delivered wood pile yet to be stacked.  Yes, the fox is a predator, and can certainly cause more harm than good around our small, country home.  But the sight of her just reinforced the purpose of our work… to create an environment that we can grow our own food, maintain the land, and bring nature back home.

I’ll be honest, our garden has struggled a bit.  We are extremely lucky to not be part of the drought that affected so many farmers this season.  In my neck of the woods we received heavy doses of rain in a short period of time, along with prolonged humidity.  I’m not sure if that affected our overall harvest, or if it’s the fact that we choose not to use any pesticides (thus making our garden all the more desirable to those pesky pests).  Or if it’s because my husband was gone most of the summer and taking on the garden, kids, work, and other chores became too much for me.  Regardless, overall, our garden still produced more than enough veggies for us to enjoy.

Next summer I hope to be able to spend more time at home (if my goals are achieved), allowing me to really concentrate on the garden, and maximize its full potential.  Last summer I spent a lot of time in the garden, and enjoyed just sitting among my veggies taking in all the colors.  This year I did not do that, and I missed that tremendously.

This summer my husband and I discovered kale.  Of course, I knew of kale, but I never really KNEW of kale.  I even had three huge bunches growing in our garden.  I just wasn’t sure what to do with it all.  That was until I went out on a lunch date with said husband (which is extremely rare – like lightning hitting you rare) to Olive Garden and devoured their Zuppa Toscana soup.  It’s basically spicy sausage, potatoes, and kale in a creamy broth.  My oh my was it yummy!  It has led to me saute it a dozen different ways, even making some kale chips.

As the season comes to an end I’m still hopeful we’ll continue to reap the benefits of our garden.  Cool weather is upon us and it’s time to think of those cool weather veggies… cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radishes, onions, beets, carrots… and more kale.  Tis’ the season!

Grounds for your garden…

This past weekend, on a whim, with my daughter in tow, I gave my percolator a rest and trekked to my local Starbucks for one of their high-calorie frozen coffee delights.  As I was waiting for my drink I noticed a sign, “Grounds for your Garden”… free grounds for your garden.  My mind was racing… “Really?”, “Wow, this is pretty neat!”… “Okay, what are you waiting for, ask for some grounds!”

I finally worked up the courage to ask the kind lady behind the counter if she had any grounds.  Low and behold they had one bag left!  A big ole’ 5 pound bag of coffee grounds. 

As I drove home, inhaling the intense aroma of coffee, I thought about the grounds sitting in the seat next to me.  What do I do now?  I’ve heard they’re good for your garden and for your compost, but how much?  Where?   What plants?  Again, I deferred to my husband and his never ending wealth of knowledge.  (Ugh, it pains me just to write those words.)

Here is what I found out from him (and from MY OWN research):

  • Coffee grounds can provide a valuable source of nutrition for your garden if used properly. It is high in nitrogen, but is also acidic. Nitrogen is also very valuable for the fast-growth of vegetables
  • Coffee grounds make the soil easier to till, thus it is easy to put nutrients and also easy for the plants to absorb them.
  • Coffee grounds can be applied directly in the garden along with other materials as a side dressing for vegetables, roses, and other plants. Using coffee grounds for plants and garden soil eliminates the risk of increase of pathogens entering the soil.  They help kill diseases living in the seeds and roots of the plants, keeping them healthy for growth. 
  • They make an excellent addition to your compost. Coffee helps maintain the balance of nitrogen which is helpful in decomposition of organic materials.
  • Worms fed with coffee grounds combined with other materials will flourish. They are attracted to them. So as they feed and move into the soil, they help spread the nutrients and fertilize the plants. They also aerate the soil, inviting more oxygen for the roots.
  • It is economically friendly and minimizes the use of chemically based fertilizers. It is also environmentally friendly since you help the trash going into landfills where they are only left to rot and put to waste.
  • The caffeine and acid present in coffee grounds are known to be fatal on slugs and snails that infest the plants. Spreading or spraying coffee on the soil around the plants would prevent slugs and snails from attacking them.

Other benefits:

  • Coffee grounds are free
  • They keep moisture
  • They are easy to store
  • They smell good compared to other natural and organic garden compost/fertilizer

There are a bunch of conflicting stories out about the benefits of coffee grounds.  You’ll find pros and cons, friends and foes.  Until I can absorb all the information out there between books, blogs, my husband, and the interweb, I’ll tread lightly on how many bags of grounds I use.  But I’m still going to enjoy my cup of Joe everyday!