January 29, 2016

How To Render Chicken Fat

Remember those commercials about never selling a fatty yellow chicken? Well, fatty yellow chickens were what we had when we thinned the flock of our oldest hens not too long ago. The idea was to make way for the up and coming Australorps, so they would feel comfortable in the hen house, rather than constantly being chased away by the older birds who thought the place was theirs. I saved all that yellow fat and recently pulled it out of the freezer to render.

Rendering is the same thing as clarifying. Are you familiar with ghee, or clarified butter? The idea is to remove the non-fat parts in order to increase shelf-life. Solid fats are extremely stable (which is why hydrogenation came into being). It's the bits of liquid, muscle, and connective tissue which decompose quickly.

Contrary to what those commercials wanted us to believe, the yellow fat in a chicken is the prime fat. The whitish skimmings from cooking chicken are of lower quality. When we butchered all those hens (about ten of them), I canned the meat, collected the yellow fat, and froze it for rendering later.

The process is a simple one, it just requires the time to hang around and keep an eye on it.

Cut the fat into small chunks. Smaller = quicker melting

Put in a heavy-bottomed pot with a small amount of water. Heat gently.
When it seems that no more will melt, skim out the unmelted bits.

The water keeps the fat from browning and evaporates as the fat melts.

It does not want simmering or boiling! It only needs a gentle heat to melt the fat. Not all the chunks will melt and can be strained out. These are the "cracklings." They can be used in cooking (see my recipe for Cracklin' Cornbread), or fed as treats to cats, dogs, or pigs. (Chickens like cracklings too but since feeding chicken to chickens may seem repulsive, let them have the cracklings from goat or pork.)

Strain into wide-mouth canning jars and allow to cook in the fridge.

After the fat has solidified I put on lids. I always wait to put on lids
to avoid condensation by capping a warm or hot substance. The small
amount of chicken broth in the jars will be well-preserved by the fat.

As you can see, those ten fatty yellow chickens gave me four pints (a half gallon) of rendered fat. It remains a soft fat and never becomes truly hard like lard.

So what does one do with it? According to Putting Food By, it makes great biscuits (and it does). It's also said to be the must-use fat for good matzo balls. Others like it in pie crusts. For me, it's mostly a matter of not wasting anything from the animals we process at home. 

Other animal fats can be rendered too. For how to render goat fat click here. 

January 27, 2016

"Coffee Cakes"

My baking with wood ash experiments are only a small part of the content of the eBook I've been working on, although it all revolves around the creation of carbon dioxide bubbles. I've had a lot of fun experimenting with this and would like to share some of my successful recipes. This one is for "Coffee Cakes." Coffee was my kitchen acid and baking soda was the alkali. The "cakes" refers to them as cupcakes, although their low sugar content makes them good as muffins too.

You can see that I got a beautiful rise on this one!

"Coffee Cakes"

1/2 C sugar
1/4 C softened butter
1 egg
1 and 3/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2/3 C strong, regular coffee

Cream sugar and butter, add egg and mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture, alternating with coffee. Stir enough to moisten all ingredients. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full and bake for 12 minutes at 425°F (218°C).

Frost for cupcakes if desired, or eat plain for muffins. Makes 1 dozen.

"Coffee Cakes" © January 2016 by

January 25, 2016

Snow Days

The weekend brought us our first winter weather, starting with 1.25" of wintry-mix rain on Friday and ending with 3.5" of snow on Saturday.

The ducks didn't mind but the chickens hung back.

The pigs? As long as food is part of the deal they're in.
After eating they headed back to their cozy straw beds.

Goats and snow don't mix so that was a "no way."

Cats go out on an "as necessary" basis only.

Except for going out to keep hay feeders full and water buckets ice-free, Dan and I used the day for indoor projects. For me it was making bone broth, baking bread, and knitting a baby goat sweater.

One of my snowy day projects was making bone broth from
all the chicken bones I've been saving. To each gallon of water
I add 2 tbsp vinegar to dissolve the minerals from the bones. 

While keeping the fire stoked and the pot simmering I knitted.
This is one baby goat sweater out of 4 or 5. More on those here.

Dan worked in the dining room on the windows.

Dan filled insulated under the window with both batting (left)
and foam. The foam is very dense and doesn't allow air through.

The first step was to install new receptacles, the second was to cover
the gap in the wall.We decided to incorporate that into the overall 
window trim. Once the whole thing is painted, who'll be the wiser?

We were glad for the progress, but still have a way to go.

We're gradually melting out from under of all the snow, leaving a huge wading pool between the house and the critter sheds. I'm glad we didn't get any more! Ice on the trees has meant quite a few falling branches, but at least we didn't lose power.

How was your weekend? Did anyone else get snowed in?

Snow Days © January 2016 by Leigh 

January 23, 2016

Baking With Wood Ash? (Part 3: The Results!)

When my ash water/vinegar experiments were a bust (see Part 2), I felt like I was at a crossroads. I could continue researching the chemistry of the process, or I could get on with my baking experiments. I opted to do some baking!

In preparing the ash water for baking I made a few changes from the way I did my test batches. This time I increased the amount of ashes to make a 1:1 solution of equal parts hardwood ashes and water. Also, I followed Farmer Liz's and Jake's suggestions to use hot water. According to The Caveman Chemist, hot water should extract about 225% more potassium carbonate from the ashes (which is what causes the leavening action by reacting with the acid to make carbon dioxide bubbles). I let the solution sit overnight and then strained out the ashes the following morning.

For the baking part of my experiment I decided to make drop biscuits. I used one of my standard recipes but quartered the amounts. My base recipe was
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 cup (2 tbsp) palm shortening
  • 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) milk
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

I used white flour and white vinegar in all the recipes, I only changed the baking soda in my experimental samples (details below). I made four batches with four biscuits each and baked them in my toaster oven at 425°F (218°C) for 8-10 minutes. Here's how they looked after baking.

Samples #1-4 - top (above) and side view (below)
From left: base recipe (#1) with 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp vinegar 
Next (#2): I replaced 2 tbsp milk with 2 tbsp ash water plus 1/2 tsp vinegar 
3rd: replaced milk completely with 1/4 cup ash water plus 1/2 tsp vinegar 
Right (#4): 1 tsp dry sifted wood ash with 1/2 tsp vinegar

Next I broke a sample of each biscuit open.

They are in the same order as the above caption. 

Obviously the baking soda and vinegar biscuit on the left rose the best. #2 (2nd from left) with 2 tbsp ash water rose well, but 4 tbsp (#3) less so. The same was true for the dry ash (#4 on the right), however, they both still rose! Since I added more ash water to batch #3, I might have suspected a higher rise. What I think is that it would have benefited from more acid (vinegar) and I would have gotten a better rise. Ditto for the dry ash biscuit on the left - more vinegar to make more carbon dioxide bubbles. If I were to continue experimenting, that would be my next step.

When they were cool, I sliced them open. This gives us a better idea of texture and color.

Left: baking soda biscuit. Right: #2, the 2 tbsp ash water biscuit.

Left: #3, the 4 tbsp ash water biscuit. Right: #4, the dry wood ash biscuit.

One thing I noticed immediately was that all three batches with wood ash were not completely dry inside. In other words, they could have baked a little longer.

Color? I expected the dry ash biscuit to be more grayish than it turned out, but I don't find the color objectionable at all. What do you think?

How did they taste? [Drumroll................] They tasted like biscuits. No odd flavor or bitter or soapy aftertaste, which apparently is a problem when baking with pearlash (which is more concentrated because it is purified and refined). Batch #3, in which the milk was replaced with ash water, actually had a pretzel flavor. Pretzels are dipped in lye water before baking to give them their characteristic shiny pretzel brown (known as the Maillard reaction), but apparently the lye water adds a characteristic pretzel flavor as well. If you take a second look at the photo of #3 above, you can see that the surface of that biscuit is somewhat shiny like a pretzel.

My next test was to have Dan try them. He liked them too!

So, back to the original question. Can hard wood ash be used in place of baking soda for baking quick breads? Absolutely. The ash water method took a little advance preparation and had less impact of biscuit color, but in a pinch hardwood ash could be used too, although I would recommend a very fine sieve to prevent random grittiness.

Anyone game? If you do try making your own ash water, keep in mind that results can vary because the chemical composition of hardwood ash varies according to wood type and burning temperature. I would recommend a small test baking with each new batch of hardwood ash.

Lastly, here are links for part of my bibliography plus some other related stuff:

Now available: How To Bake Without Baking Powder: modern and historical alternatives for light and tasty baked goods. Includes 54 non-baking powder recipes. Click here for chapter titles and where to buy.

© Jan. 2016 by Leigh at 

January 20, 2016

Around The Homestead

All of my tidbits, updates, opinions, and random thoughts since my last "Around The Homestead."

Critter Tales

I reckon my happiest news (to me anyway) is that Critter Tales made The North Country Farmer's list of "The Best Homesteading Articles and Books of 2015." This is a really great list with a lot of good resources referenced, and I'm honored to be on it. Do check it out.

Just between you and me, making this list offsets my disappointment that Amazon opted not to discount it. (Apparently this is a trend at Amazon, as reflected by comments at the CreateSpace author forum.) I had hoped for a good discount, because since Critter Tales has 125 more pages of information than 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, it is more expensive to produce. As it was, I took lower royalties to make it as affordable as possible.

Reviews coming in on Amazon are really encouraging and if you've written one, thank you, thank you! Readers' opinions are much more convincing than anything I could tell folks about the research, stories, and conclusions about critters that I write about. If you've read Critter Tales and are willing to do a review on your blog or website, I'd be very grateful. I'd like to start a "What Readers Are Saying" page and will link it to you.

And speaking of critters, here are those updates...

Muscovies

"Has she got something to eat?" is the question on every critter's mind
these days. Apparently sharing the chicken yard is okay, just not the coop.

Due to territorial disputes over the chicken coop, the Muscovies moved out and into the pecan tree. The unfortunate consequence of that is that our drake disappeared. I went out one morning to do chores and he was nowhere to be seen. There were no remains to be found and we suspect an owl. Now I need to get another flock husband for my ladies.

Eggs

This is one of my Australorp eggs. I've never
had a white spotted and speckled egg before. 

I'm getting about 6 or 7 eggs per day now from 10 first-year Australorps, my 2 old Speckled Sussex, and my elderly Buff Orpington. None from the ducks yet, although I think they'll need they're own nest boxes for that. Those are on The List!

Bees

Early morning shot of Honeysuckle Hive.

No activity from Honeysuckle hive, although none is expected this time of year. I've noticed that when the winter winds blow, the bushes in the shelter of the fence are still, while everything else is whipping around like crazy. That means my bees get shelter from those fierce cold winds too. I'm thinking maybe I should clear more along this fence for my next two hives.

Pigs

Polly and Waldo

Once the weather turned a proper cold, we did the deed and processed our two young pigs. I'm still working on pork and hope to have some blog posts about that in the future. More piglets are on the way.

Goats

Jessie, Violet, and Illini

Also more goats on the way! Kidding starts at the end of next month, with most of my girls due in April.

Dining Room Windows

Caulking is still in progress, but first coats of paint and primer are applied.

The temperatures have mostly been too cold to finish the exterior caulking, priming, and painting, but on occasion we get a day warm enough to make some progress. I have to say that getting these in the dining room along with better insulation has made a wonderful difference inside the house. Our wood heat is much more efficient now, and even with nighttime temps dropping into the teens, the front part of the house is still above 60 in the morning. The kitchen is the exception, because it is at the other end of the house from the wood stove. A quick fire in the cookstove gets things warmed up.

Back To Basics Living Box Set Bundle

This is my offering for the B2B Bundle

There's an interesting discussion at my 5 Acres & A Dream The Book facebook page about the contrast between different philosophies of marketing. Click on over if you're interested and have an opinion, or come back here to leave a comment. I'd be interested in what you think.

Coming up next

My next post will be the much anticipated results of my baking with wood ash experiments!

Parting Shot

Cats, of course

Around The Homestead © January 2016

January 18, 2016

B2B REMINDER

For those who asked, here's a reminder about the Back To Basics Living Box Set sale. The sale starts today, January 18, and ends January 24 at midnight central time.

To see what's included - click here.

To see the offers and coupons you get with the bundle - click here. (HINT: Taking advantage of one or more of these offers will pay for the Bundle!)

For pricing and ordering information - click here.

To take advantage of the free Back To Basics 15 Day Challenge email course - click here.


January 15, 2016

Eliminating Plastic: Part 1 - In the Fridge

I know I'm not the only one who dislikes plastic, so I thought it might be interesting to share ideas and compare notes with those of like minds. Step by step I've been looking at the ways I use plastic and then considering what I might doing differently. I'll start with one of the areas I've already made some progress with - storing food in the the refrigerator.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother didn't use tupperware to store her leftovers, rather she put them in bowls and used what looked like shower caps to cover the bowls. I figured out that plates and saucers were even better, because I could stack the bowls and save room.

A variety of bowls storing leftovers in the refrigerator.
The jar to their left contains leftover roasted potatoes.

I found clear glass saucers at a thrift shop and really like them for a quick peek at what's inside the bowl. Clear glass bowls are good for that too. For larger quantities, I use larger bowls with plates.

I also like wide-mouth canning jars and glass peanut butter jars for storing leftovers.

The jars above contain sauces, grated cheese, and cheese marinating in
a balsamic vinegar salad dressing. The nice thing about using jars for the
sauces is that they can be both mixed and stored in the same container.

Another idea: Fern (Thoughts from Frank and Fern) makes reusable food wraps. Click here for how she does that. Her post includes a lot of good links.

I still have some plastic storage containers, but as they break I don't buy more. Instead I'm looking for more ways to eliminate plastic. How about you? Have you thought of ways to not use plastic containers to store food in the fridge? I'd love to hear about them!

Related Posts:
Eliminating Plastic: Part 2 - Laundry

January 12, 2016

Baking with Wood Ash? (Part 2)

In Part One I asked the question, "Can I somehow use hardwood ash as a substitute for baking soda?" We looked at the history of baking soda, including it's early precursors made from hardwood ashes. The earliest recipes refer to the somewhat refined products of potash and pearlash. But how would that equate to sifted hardwood ash? Unknown. The chemical composition of hardwood ash is highly variable, depending on tree type and burning temperature. Still, for a little kitchen chemistry experiment, I figured I'd just have a go and see what I got.

To test my ashes, I made ash water by stirring the ashes into one-quarter cup of filtered water and letting it sit overnight.

Making ash water with hardwood ashes collected from the wood stove.

I made three solutions: one with one tablespoon of wood ash, one with two, and the last with three tablespoons. These were stirred into 1/4 cup filtered tap water. The insoluble components sank to the bottom and the next day I poured off the clear water containing the soluble components that I wanted.

My first step was to test each of these with litmus paper.

Left to right: 1 tbsp, 2 tbsp, and 3 tbsp.
I judged the results to be 10, 11, & 12

This kind of pH testing is approximate but still helpful. As you can see in the caption, I found the solutions to be progressively more alkaline.

The next step was to see how each of these would react with an acid - in this case white vinegar. I started with a "control" of 1 tablespoon baking soda in 1/4 cup vinegar.

My control - reaction was immediate.

For my test subjects I used one-quarter cup vinegar and 1 tablespoon of ash water. Here are my results.

Solution #1 (with 1 tbsp wood ash) - no reaction.

Solution #2 (with 2 tbsp wood ash) - no reaction.

Solution #3 (with 3 tbsp wood ash) - no reaction.

Surprised, I dumped the remains of solution #3 into the vinegar and, again, no reaction. I had been expecting at least some reaction so I was puzzled. I did one more vinegar experiment, this time adding 1 tablespoon dry hardwood ash.

Solution #4 - wood ash in white vinegar - reaction. 

The reaction was not as vigorous as the control, but it was a fair one nonetheless. The murky color, however, doesn't seem to recommend straight wood ash for baking, does it? Still, it got me pondering.

Now, I have to mention that chemistry was my worst subject in both high school and university. That being said, my conclusion was that somehow, combining the ash water and vinegar did not produce carbon dioxide gas, which is needed to make baked good rise. My theory was confirmed in a comment in Part 1 by Jake from The Homestead Laboratory (if you haven't visited his blog, by all means do. Lot's of really good stuff there.) He wrote:
"Passing water through wood ashes extracts both potassium carbonate and potassium hydroxide (and other potassium salts, and the sodium salts, too, but there's fewer of those). I don't think most articles consider that there is a significant amount of potassium hydroxide, but that's what reacts with carbon dioxide to make potassium bicarbonate. Potassium carbonate wouldn't react with carbon dioxide; it's already "fully carbonated." :-)"
Potassium carbonate is pearlash, which I mentioned in Part 1. The lack of reaction would explain why the historical recipes I've seen do not call for an accompanying acid. The reaction must therefore be heat activated.

So my preliminary experiments did not turn out as I expected, and left me wondering about those references to ash water I told you about in Part 1. What's next? This post is probably long enough, so I'll answer that in Part 3. Click here to continue.

Now available: How To Bake Without Baking Powder: modern and historical alternatives for light and tasty baked goods. Includes 54 non-baking powder recipes. Click here for more information and where to buy.

January 10, 2016

Book Review: The Back To Basics Living Bundle

Back To Basics Living Bundle

Honestly? I don't even know where to begin. This collection of over 65 eBooks, eCourses, and subscriptions is so loaded with information that it's going to be hard to pick out just a few things to tell you about. Let's just say it is an amazingly well-rounded collection of everything related to homesteading, preparedness, and DIY. I was delighted to get my hands on an advance copy.

What I can tell you is that it covers every aspect of homesteading and then some. Categories include cooking from scratch, DIY, frugal living, green living, homeschooling, homesteading, natural remedies, preparedness, and simple living.

Topics cover things like seasonal meal planning, seasonal cooking, freezer meals, the how-to of fermenting fruits and vegetables, a dehydrating eCourse, DIY facial and body scrubs, zero waste cooking, natural cleaning, homeschool planners, kids' chore charts, several cookbooks, rabbits, goats, chickens, bees, gardening, pickling, soil building, herbal remedies for colds, flu, skin problems, natural mothering, homemade beauty products, preparedness checklists, a prepper crash course, decluttering, home organization, homesteading without a homestead, even how to make money from your homestead. And more. My own contribution includes a 4-book mini-bundle from my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos: "How To Preserve Eggs," "How To Mix Feed Rations with the Pearson Square," "How-To Home Soil Tests," and "How To Garden for Goats." Click here to see a complete list of what's included in the bundle with links to more information about each. You're probably already familiar with many of the authors.

Here are some of the tidbits I found while perusing the various eBooks: how to make scrapple, how to get the gaminess out of wild game, how to clean chicken feet, how to make herb infused honey, 25 ways to clean with cream of tartar, why eating everything on your plate won't solve world hunger, how to make an edc kit, what to do with the pencil shavings I've been throwing away, and a discussion of frugal versus thrifty (I'd honestly never thought about that).

And then there are the vendor offers. I've got my eye on the $30 off one case of Tattler wide mouth lids!

The only bad news is that this is not a permanent collection. It will only be available for seven days: January 18 - 24. Click here for details, information about purchase options, or to sign up to receive more information.

Also! A freebie! The free Back To Basics 15 Day Challenge is an email course designed to share some of the how-tos of working toward a simpler, back-to-basics lifestyle. If you would like to sign up for that click here.

Okay, enough hoopla. I really do think this is an excellent resource. If your budget is as meager as mine is, at least sign up for that free 15 Day Basics Challenge. Or, if you'd like a super-discounted copy of the bundle plus earn a little $$ by offering it on your own blog or website, sign up to become an affiliate, here.

January 7, 2016

Baking With Wood Ash? (Part 1)

Just a note to let you know that tonight I will be Scott Terry's guest on Christian Farm and Homestead Radio. The link will take you to the live show, starting at 8 p.m. Eastern, or you can download the podcast at a later date. We'll be catching up on homestead activities and discussing Critter Tales

Now that Critter Tales is behind me, I'm turning my hand to working on more volumes for my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos eBook series. Yes, I know that sounds like it contradicts my New Year goal of going hard-copy for information I don't want to lose. From a writers' perspective, however, eBooks (like my blog) give me a chance to get something published, get feedback, and edit them later. My eventual goal (Good Lord willing and the creeks don't rise) is to compile the series into a paperback. The one I'm working on at present is "How To Bake Without Baking Powder."

When we think of baking without commercial baking powder, recipes for homemade baking powder come to mind. So do old-fashioned recipes calling for saleratus and sour milk or buttermilk. All of these work on the same chemical principle: an acid + a base = carbon dioxide bubbles which cause a batter to rise. While doing my research, I ran across an interesting statement in a Wikipedia article.

"In times past, when chemically manufactured baking soda was not available, "ash water" was used instead. Ashes from hardwood trees contain carbonates and bicarbonate salts, which can be extracted with water. This approach became obsolete with the availability of purified baking soda."

How could I not resist following up on that?

I know ashes in one's food probably sounds gross, but consider that wood ashes have been used historically in cooking worldwide: in Mexico for nixtamalization of corn for masa, in the Philippines as Lihia, in Nigerian cuisine as Kaun or Akaun (Cooking Potash), in traditional Scandinavian foods like lutefisk (lye fish), for making olives in the Mediterranean, in old European recipes for Greek and Polish cookies, as Pottasche for browning German pretzels and lye rolls, in gingerbread, in Chinese Century eggs and noodles. Native Americans also used wood ash to make hominy. Cooking with ash is considered a trendy gourmet technique, and think of ash-coated cheeses. Or how about this paleo recipe for steak cooked on a coal bed?

All of that might not convince you, but the prepper in me is always running in the background asking, "How would I do that if I couldn't buy or barter for it?" In this case, "How would I bake quickbreads if I couldn't get baking soda? Could I somehow use hardwood ashes if I had to?"

There were no references for that tidbit at Wikipedia, so I had to do a little digging on my own.  In his blog post  "Where does soda bread come from?," Joe Pastry mentions that Native Americans used ashes to "lighten" their grain cakes. Susan Slack ("Pearl Ash – A forerunner to Baking Soda") further states that the Hopi made a thin batter of blue corn meal, wood ash, and water to make piki, their staple bread.

In terms of actual recipes, the earliest references I could find did not call for wood ash proper, but rather for potash. Potash is a product which is refined from hardwood ash. It was in use in American cookery in the 1700s. Example proportions are found in an old "American Potash Cakes" recipe in The Domestic Encyclopedia, Or, A Dictionary Of Facts And Useful Knowledge, Chiefly Applicable To Rural & Domestic Economy: With An Appendix, ... And The Veterinary And Culinary Arts... (published in 1802): a half-teaspoon potash dissolved in a half-teacupful of water to 1 pound flour (about 4 cups) and a quarter pound of butter (1/2 cup).

In Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats, transcriber Karen Hess states, "that American women were routinely using this chemical (made at home of wood ash) in their baking," (page 201). She is referring to pearl ash (or pearlash), but gives no clue as to how it was made at home.

Pearlash (potassium carbonate) is a purified form of potash. It is sometimes found in recipes of the American Civil War era and before. The modern leavener of the time, however, was saleratus (Latin for aerated salt). Chemists had discovered that by exposing potassium carbonate (pearlash) to carbon dioxide gas, they could make potassium bicarbonate. It was twice as potent as pearlash, with one teaspoon of saleratus being equivalent to 1-1/4 teaspoons of baking soda.

In the mid-1800s a purer form came onto the market - sodium bicarbonate. Originally developed in Europe, the first American manufacturers of sodium bicarbonate also called it saleratus. Later it became known as baking soda.

Okay, so the history is interesting, but how can I, as a DIYer, use that information? By experimenting! More on that soon. (Click here to read Part 2.)

Now available: How To Bake Without Baking Powder: modern and historical alternatives for light and tasty baked goods. Includes 54 non-baking powder recipes. Click here for more information and where to buy.

January 5, 2016

A New Problem in the Garden

I've never had this happen before.

A soggy, overgrown radish plant. I chop these and feed to the goats.

This poor plant shows the classic symptoms of being water-logged:
  • drooping, wilting, twisting, yellowing leaves 
  • soft sponginess at the base of the leaf
  • rotting roots

Considering that we've gotten 24" of rain in the past three months with no time to dry out, I suppose it isn't a surprise. And this is in the upper part of the garden where the drainage is good. Our last rain was six days ago and I hoped the affected plants would perk up. Alas, they did not.

It's been sunnier for the past few days but colder. More rain is expected by the end of the week. Some things you just have to take as they come.

January 3, 2016

My New Favorite Cookbook

We've talked about favorite cookbooks before, but it's been awhile. I was recently asked to review this one - Pieces of the Past Cookbook, and can tell you without all the usual reviewers' disclaimers that this is now my new favorite cookbook. It is a collection of recipes compiled by the members of Homestead Community Post, an online community whose goal is to learn more about living off the land.

A quick glance at the table of contents reveals a well-rounded collection of recipes: Appetizers & Snacks, Breakfast Foods, Soups & Salads, Vegetables & Side Dishes, Meats And Main Dishes, Breads, Desserts, Beverages, Condiments Sauces And Dressings, Food Preservation, Homemade Mixes And Commercial Substitutes, Home Care On The Homestead, and Health And Beauty.

"Baja Quesadillas" page 73 (using "Taco Sauce" page 299)

That's over 400 pages of a wide range of recipes, enough to delight the heart of any recipe collector, especially recipes like buttermilk syrup, Instant Oatmeal Packets, homemade pop tarts, chokecherry syrup, Ezekiel 4:9 (sprouted grain) bread, crock pot baked custard, cream cheese chicken with broccoli, beef bologna, citrus vinegar cleaner, and borax-free dishwasher detergent.

"Granola #4" page 28

What I really appreciate about this cookbook, is that it includes the kind of information that homesteaders and do-it-yourselfers are looking for: how to make nut butters (with tips for specific kinds of nuts), cheese making, candle making, a soaking and sprouting chart, slow cooker basics, soaking and cooking dried beans, gluten-free eating, a thorough list of gluten-free flours, grains, and meals plus their best uses, and more. It also includes wonderfully unusual recipes such as canned sausage, canned milk, wheat-free chickpea pasta, ghee (clarified butter), deodorant, toothpaste, chocolate body scrub, and homemade sunscreen.

"Pumpkin or Squash Soup" (I used cushaw) page 66.

Three formats are available: a Kindle version at Amazon (where you can "Look inside"), PDF, or paperback. Click here for information on all three versions plus how to order. Prices are reasonable.

January 1, 2016

2016: What's Ahead?

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your upcoming year will be blessed and bright. Did anyone else make a list of goals, plans, or resolutions? Here are mine - Dan's and my annual list of homestead goals. I have to confess that we aren't adding many new goals; mostly we are going to continue with last year's ambitious goals.

House - The priority projects for this year are to finish the dining room windows and then install our 1550-gallon rainwater tank. After that we need to finish the front porch if we aren't too busy with the next goal.

Goat Barn - We have another idea in the works, but I've lost track of which number plan this one is. I wonder if this goal will win a "most years running" award?

Fencing - Fencing the rest of our property is another carry-over goal. It's unlikely we can do both this, the barn, and finish the porch this year, so fencing will likely show up on next year's goal list  (along with either the barn or the porch!)

Honeybees - I plan to add two more hives.

Garden - I want to continue focusing on year-round gardening.

Writing - I've never actually considered this a specific goal, but I see it as how I encourage others in their own homesteading, so maybe it is a goal. Besides the blog, I plan to plug away at my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos.

Preparedness - You've probably noticed that I don't write much about preparedness, nor do I use the customary labels to describe Dan and myself. That's not because I don't believe it's important; I think it's extremely important and have written about it elsewhere. In 5 Acres & A Dream The Book I talk about food storage preparedness and how it was a life saver during an unexpectedly difficult time. In Critter Tales I go into detail on how we are working toward thoughtful sustainability in our critter keeping.

I don't write much about preparedness on this blog because for me, the key is lifestyle. I believe that as we increase our ability to meet more of our own basic needs, then the more prepared we are. Dan and I are striving to change our way of living to one that is less dependent on the things that have caused the need for preparedness in the first place. That's what I write about here.

Anyway, I do have two preparedness goals I'll share:
  1. Alternative tools - by this I mean human-powered tools, of which we already have a lot. While I do buy and appreciate time- and labor-saving tools, it seems prudent to think beyond stocking up on things that have a built-in shelf life: batteries (even rechargeables don't last forever), solar battery chargers, and fuel. These things are good short term, but I think true preparedness thinks long term as well. This year I'm planning to analyze and prioritize the things we do, decide what's okay to do by hand, and continue to invest in low-tech equipment and tools for the tasks we need help with.  
  2. Hard copy information - I like eBooks for light fiction and perusing non-fiction (although when I'm doing research or needing to know how to do something, I find indexes and physical pages more expedient than screens and memory cards.) In terms of preparedness, the ability to access eBooks requires energy plus those accouterments I mentioned that have a shelf-life. In addition, I have tons of wonderful information saved on my computer as either bookmarks or link lists. These are great as long as the websites are up and I can get online. But when those websites disappear, our internet goes down, we don't have electricity, or the computer dies, all of those links are useless. I'm not suggesting printing out all those web pages, but I do want to make sure that I have needful information available should the lights go out.

For a simplified list that still seems like a lot. How about you? Do you have goals, resolutions, or plans for the upcoming year? Does anyone else have contenders for "most years running?" I'd love to hear about them.