February 25, 2021

February 21, 2021

All Those Pecans

Last fall, we collected our biggest pecan harvest ever.

One afternoon's picking.

In years past, we would shell our pecans by hand. This year, we found a little country store that offers pecan shelling for 40 cents per pound. 

Shells cracked.

We have to separate the shells from the meats by hand, but it makes a nice activity in the evening while watching a DVD. According to the folks at the store, it was an abundant pecan year for everybody. 

Now that we have such an abundance, I've been experimenting with ways to use them. When I only have a small amount of something, I tend to want to ration it, or save it for special occasions. With a large supply, however, I need to get in the habit of using them. Part of my appropriate self-sufficiency is building menus around what we are growing and harvesting. 

So, what have I been doing with them? Here's one we like—pecan meal pancakes.

Pecan meal pancakes

To make the meal, I grind the pecans in my blender. By experimenting, I found that substituting half the flour in any pancake recipe with pecan meal makes a delicious pancake with a good texture.

Chopped, pecans are good as a salad topper.

Carrot, raisin, and chopped pecan salad.

I also dug out an heirloom recipe of my great-grandmother's. These were a traditional Christmas cookie at my grandmother's house, and my mother made them sometimes as well. To me, they taste like Christmas!

Butterscotch Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups pecans - cut, not chopped 

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs. Add rest of ingredients. Dough is very soft. Bake at 350°F (180°C) till brown. Yield: easily 4 dozen or more. 

These are very sweet, at least much sweeter than I'm used to these days. I could try cutting the sugar, but I think next time I'll increase the pecans. The recipes calls for the pecans to be cut, not chopped, which I'm guessing is for a specific texture. You may notice from the picture that I didn't cut them, but used whole halves. Next time I'll cut/chop them and increase the amount to use the cookie dough to hold them together. Besides putting more pecans in every bite, that will temper the sweetness some. 

So there are my recent pecan experiments, to add to my chocolate pecan bars and lacto-fermented apples & cranberries (which contains pecans.) The next time I make a dessert, I'm going to make a pecan meal crust for a pie. And I think somewhere I have a recipe for butterscotch brownies (blondies) that I'll have to try one of these days.

Pecans are rich in oil, and so the shelled nut meats are best stored in the freezer. I've filled four gallon bags with them so far, and still have a bunch to go. A nice addition to our diet. 

All Those Pecans © February 2021

February 17, 2021

Kidding Round Two

With the frigid air bearing down on us, I was concerned about River, who was due any day. Yesterday, about 9 am before the temps started to plummet from our balmy upper 30s, she delivered a healthy baby boy!

He had one foot forward and one leg behind, so I helped pull him out. You may recall that I didn't think she was carrying more than one, so my guess was correct. 

The concern in winter is getting them dried off before they get hypothermic. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. 

Like many first-time goat moms, she wasn't too sure about letting him nurse. So I held her, and he found his first breakfast all by himself. It's always a relief to get that first colostrum into their tummies. 

All cozy in the kidding stall.

And, of course, here are the "big kids," now 11 days old.

Miracle's twin doelings.

Full of energy.

One more doe to go. Nova is due in mid-March.

Kidding Round Two © February 2021

February 15, 2021

Appropriate Self-Sufficiency

Those of you who have read my books or blog know that I frequently use the word "self-sufficiency." It's a hold-over term from my back-to-the-land days, when it was a widely used term to describe the goal of the movement. When I started my homestead blog back in 2009, I picked up the familiar term to describe our primary goal. What surprised me at the time, was how people reacted to it. Some people got it, but it was almost startling that so many others scolded me for it, declaring it was impossible or isolationist (in their thinking). Then, I found myself trying to explain how I was using the word and started to say "as self-sufficient as we are able." Eventually, I switched to "self-reliant" which seemed acceptable, even though it meant the same thing to me. 

Recently, I've been reading Carol Deppe's The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. Here, I was introduced to the term "appropriate self-sufficiency." Brilliant! Except that she never exactly defines it, other than to distinguish personal independence from "honorable interdependence," i.e. developing skills that will be useful to an interconnected community. That's great if one has such a community. Unfortunately, many of us who seek a less consumer dependent lifestyle are often considered oddballs by those around us. Because of that, I want appropriate self-sufficiency to be applicable to me too.

What came to mind is the term "appropriate technology," which Merriam-Webster defines as "technology that is suitable to the social and economic conditions of the geographic area in which it is to be applied, is environmentally sound, and promotes self-sufficiency on the part of those using it." Other definers relegate it to third world scenarios, but those of us who understand that hard times happen everywhere, may rightfully define the geographic area as being our own homestead, even our own backyard. Dan and I certainly do, and is why we make lifestyle choices that we feel are environmentally and economically reasonable (for us), though others think our choices are nuts. A good example would be our decision to give up air conditioning

How could we define appropriate self-sufficiency? Perhaps as self-sufficiency that is suitable to my economic conditions and social concerns within the geographic area in which it is to be applied (i.e. my homestead). I think one thing adding "appropriate" does, is allow the term to be customized according to individual goals. What's appropriate for me, may be entirely different for you. 

If appropriate self-sufficiency allows me to define my own parameters, then what would they be? Certainly, that would include anything that allows us to live in relative security and comfort during hard times, whether those hard times are related to weather, health, income, political upheaval, or economic disaster. What areas are realistic for me to consider?

  • Food?
  • Shelter?
  • Water?
  • Energy?
  • Safety?

So, how do I go about achieving greater self-reliance in all of these areas? Well, that's what I've spent the past 12 years writing about. That's what fills the pages of my books and the posts of my blog. Most of it isn't spectacular, profound, alarmist, or even emotionally motivating. Most of it is a rather slow, mundane plodding in a particular direction that isn't of much interest to the majority of folks. Yet, I do it—Dan and I do it—because learning to be less dependent on a dubious consumer system and fickle government feels like the prudent thing to do. 

On the one hand, it's kind of fun to find a word that fits my world so well. On the other hand, so what? Words are constantly evolving; sometimes arbitrarily, sometimes deliberately. How they are perceived can make communication easy or difficult, but it doesn't really change me. As a writer, of course I always hope to use words in ways that have meaning to others and encourage them. I don't always expect to succeed, but I enjoy trying.

February 11, 2021

And the Chicken Report

Last time, I showed you our first baby goats of the year. This time, I'll update you on our chicken news. We got our Dominque chicks in September, so they're almost 5-months old, and pretty much gown up. 

First pullet egg laid just the other day.

Of the original twelve chicks, nine turned out to be roosters. We only keep one rooster, so over the past couple of weeks, Dan has been thinning the flock. Here's our keeper. 

He was the least bold of the bunch, and so became a likely candidate for keeping. Bold cockerels are often thought to be friendly, but in our experience, these usually end up being the most aggressive. They're bold because they have no respect for the humans. We prefer roosters that respect our presence with a little distance. In return, we respect theirs. 

Each of the three hens seemed to have her own personal rooster, all of which are gone, so now everybody has to adjust. The two in the above photo now allow Mr. Rooster to tag along, but the third hen has been more reluctant and slower to hang out with the "flock."

Mrs. Lone Chicken keeps Dan company while he works on the buck barn.

My ideal number of chickens is six hens and a rooster, but we'll take what we've got. We're happy to have fresh eggs again and hopefully, one these will brood some eggs to hatch! Even so, four is actually the perfect number for the chicken tractor, which we'll put to use this summer. 

And the Chicken Report © February 2021

February 7, 2021

Babies! Twins! Girls!

Friday afternoon I was getting ready to start on pizza dough and then head out for afternoon chores. I was standing at the sink when Dan stuck his head in the back door and said urgently, "Come now!" I knew what that meant because Miracle had gone off by herself in the barn earlier in the afternoon. We'd both been keeping an eye on her. "Already part way out," he said as we ran to the barn. By the time we got there, the first baby had just been born. About 20 minutes later, we had a second baby goat, both little does. Here they are at about an hour old. 

First born


Miracle had been so big, we were actually surprised there were only two. But she's always tended to be fat, so the extra girth is pretty normal for her. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day. February hasn't been as mild as January was, and I admit that's a concern when baby goats are due. I worry about them getting hypothermia when they are brand new. 

Here they are the next day, not quite 24 hours old yet. Even in their sweaters, you can see that after they dried off they weren't as dark as they first looked. In fact, they both look just like their mom!

The biggest difference between them is that the first one has waddles like their daddy. The second born has more white on her crown and face.

I have at least one other doe due to kid next month (Nova). And maybe another one in a couple of weeks. That one (River) I'm less sure about because she wasn't very cooperative when she had her date with Magnus. They were both first timers and one assumes they'll figure it out, but . . . ???? She doesn't look very big, but she seems to be getting a little bit of an udder, so that's hopeful. There may be one hiding in there, after all. We'll see!

February 3, 2021

Spring Cleaning: In Praise of Baking Soda

I've always tried to be conscientious about my cleaners, especially since we sometimes use our greywater for watering things like fruit trees, corn, and bushes during a long, hot droughty spell. In fact, I did a blog series several years ago, analyzing the cleaners I used and what I could purchase locally that would be greywater friendlier. At the time I was looking mostly for ready-made products to buy. Turns out, it was a whole lot simpler than that. Here's what I've learned.

First spring cleaning project - bathroom. Here's my tub. 

Bathtub before

Some of you may remember when we remodeled our bathroom (back in 2013). The bathtub was original to the house, which was built in the 1920s. It's an old clawfoot style, and while we liked it, the original finish was chipped and scratched. The surface underneath was rough and stained. Dan bought a kit and refinished it. It looked great for several years and then started to chip off. The surface underneath was terrible to keep clean. I've been using Bon Ami on it for years, but it still always looks dirty. This time, I decided to try something different. 

My tub cleaner was a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.

I dabbed it on, let it sit for awhile, then scrubbed hard.

For cleaning rags, I like old cotton socks. These are the ones that are too far gone to darn, so I cut off the toes to mend more salvageable socks and use the rest for rags. The loopy inside of the sock is pretty good for scrubbing. Here's what the tub looks like after cleaning...

I was thrilled at how well this worked! So
much better than my commercial product.

After the bathroom, it was on to the kitchen. I found the baking soda made a wonderful scrubbing cleanser alternative for the kitchen sink. Then I found a video on using baking soda to clean the oven. I was really impressed with her results and had to give it a try. 

Oven before.

First, I swept out crumbs, then I made my baking soda paste.

It's just baking soda and water, mixed to a spreadable paste.

I blopped it on with a clean paintbrush.

I let it sit and work for about 24 hours.
It's recommended to keep it damp.

The back, sides, and door wiped up easily. The bottom,
however, required some scrubbing and scraping.

Can't argue with the results!

I've always hated cleaning the oven because of oven cleaners. I've been burned because they are so caustic and they smell terrible! It's such a relief to find something effective and safe. Plus, baking soda is a standard pantry stock-up item for me. Cheap, and with only a cardboard box to deal with as waste; better on both counts than the stuff in a spray can! 

I also use a lot if vinegar when I'm cleaning (learning how to make my own!). It works great on mirrors and sinks. If the sink needs scrubbing, I use baking soda. Washing soda is fantastic for a perking cycle to clean the coffee pot. Salt is my favorite for cleaning cast iron skillets and cutting boards. And I'm not so lazy that I don't mind applying a little old-fashioned elbow grease. 

Do you use natural cleaning products? What are your favorites, especially for stubborn areas?