Saturday, April 20, 2013

What Works- Wild Foraging, YUM!

Here's where I may lose a few of you to my weirdness.  I love all things natural and I have always been interested in wild edibles. However, I have been tempered by a healthy sense of fear and the chance I would poison myself, or worse, my family.

Today, I was overwhelmed with curiosity as I found so many tender shoots and leaves coming up around my yard that I HAD to try it. I already knew about burdock and dandelion and collected those.  I looked up a list online of more I could try, like violet leaves and chicory.  I have a plethora of 2 other kinds of 'weeds' that I would LOVE to start eating, but do not know what they are yet.  If anything, it would reduce the sheer quantity around my yard.  Those are yet to be researched, but I will do it with glee.

In my little adventure, I found a site that was a goldmine of information.  It is here...  It covers so many kinds of plants, flowers, and cooking methods.  They have online classes and youtube videos, as well. I'm DYING to try some of his acorn ideas! And noting that all North American grass seeds are edible makes me want to try to add them to flour for bread or pancakes, or cook in oatmeal, etc.  Oh boy, this site is dangerous to me, lol.

Back to my foraging... I took all my greens, cleaned them of random grass blades and old leaves, soaked them in cold salted water in case there were hitchhikers, rinsed well, and steamed in the microwave.  We were going to eat a quick meal of ramen noodles today, so I added my greens and 1/4 c shredded mozzarella cheese to the noodles.  They were good! They tasted a lot like spinach and collard greens, but fresher and 'greener.' Needless to say, they camouflaged ramen into something that appeared and tasted healthy :)

Caution: Do NOT eat anything unless you are completely sure of its identification.  There are copycat weeds that grow near edibles and it would be good to take a wild edible class or two, read books, and watch more you tube videos until you are very confident that what you are picking is the real thing.  Also, double and triple check the sources.  Some sites have conflicts with others regarding the edible parts or status of certain plants.  You could always check with your local cooperative extension office for advice and identification help as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kitchen essentials.... really basic equipment

Talking about equipment in the kitchen for people just starting out or wishing to pare down, we could all disagree about what is necessary, but since I am the one blogging, I'll share what is in my drawers and cupboards :)  The basic food list will follow in another post. I have other posts that shared specific equipment that are shining stars, but this is a 'staples' list.

Fist I'll start with 'Can't live without.' **disclaimer: I am NOT talking about a survival/emergency situation for those who might be ready to jump on me about being frivolous ;) ... we could all work with aluminum foil, a sharp knife, and a sanitized stick for most things in that situation. Also, remember I have a large family to feed, so my list may require more things than yours. I am sure I missed some things, so this list may morph a little over time...

Measuring cups/spoons (Nothing fancy- dollar store plastic does the same job as stainless)
Fork for whipping or as a simple pastry blender
Bread pans can be used for baking bread, vegetables, meatloaf, small roasts (stainless or glass last longer, aluminum is cheaper, but hazardous to your health)
9X13 can be used for casseroles, large roasts, poultry (I have one ceramic and one glass- both work great and release stuck on food well in cleanup)
Large bowl (My favorites are a very large stainless one I use for mixing everything including food and natural detergent- see other posts... the other is a large plastic Rubbermaid type with a lid for serving/storing salad or bread dough)
Large spoon for mixing/serving/measuring
Sharp knife for prep/serving/measuring/peeling
Strong hands and arms for kneading/blending (since a Kitchen Aide blender is NOT on the necessary list. Don't worry, if you don't have them yet, you will)
Potholder or dishtowel for hot pans
Cookie sheet for toast, bread loaves/cookies/breadcrumbs/dehydrating
Rolling pin or something with round sides like a can of vegetables

Pasta pot with cover (stainless steel chef-ware type pots last forever and through many 'burnt on' projects... I know this from experience)
Saucepan with cover (I've had the same one for my whole marriage of almost 22 years, and it was second hand- makes coffee/hot cocoa as well as sauce, etc)
Frying pan (cast iron is my favorite, my other favorite was a chef-type that finally broke a handle after 20 years-makes skillet bread/desserts as well as frying foods)
Sharp knife (from above) prep and serving
Large fork for lifting roasts or stirring/separating pasta
Large spoon from above for stirring sauces
Baking pans/mixing bowls as listed above
Potholder or dishtowel from above
Meat thermometer
Can opener

Large mixing bowls from above
Pans from above
Large fork, spoon, and knife from above
Potholders from above for the table if food is coming from the oven

Soap (grated pure soap works is multiuse for body and sink)
Dishrags made from anything- cut down old towels or facecloths are fine (reusable saves money)
Onion bags or aluminum foil (use as pot scrubbers (do not use foil on fine surfaces)
Baking soda for soaking/scrubbing
Vinegar for degreaser to add to sink or for soaking

Not so basic, but nice to add...
Pastry blender (pastry blender is faster and works for meatloaf as well as pie crust if the blades are 1/4" or more thick vertically)
Hand mixer
Manual chopper or blender
Toaster for smaller servings
Sponges with scrubber side
Bottle brush
Candy thermometer
Muffin pan
Rolling pin
Cooling rack

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What works in the garden

My favorite spot is the garden.  There are so many things that can be done here free or cheap, believe me, I know. 

A couple years ago, I got the homesteading bug. My kids called me Amish, it was so bad.  Some days, it still is, and they still call me Amish.  I put everyone to work hand sawing and nailing old boards into raised beds.  (Hubby wasn't home and I didn't know how to work the circular saw.)  Also, I couldn't find the wood saw, so we ended up using a metal saw.  It was tough work, but it did work!  However, there is something to be said for the right tool for the right job, lol.  Anyway, the first year, we ended up with some pretty nice raised beds and used the rocks from digging and leveling the ground to border the edges. Donated fencing was used around it, but I splurged on mulch as a reward for all that digging!

This year, I wanted to add a few more beds, but save some labor.  Since we broke a couple of dressers during the winter, we used the rest of the drawers as premade raised beds after the boys drilled holes in the bottoms. (Make sure to use real wood, not pressed or treated board.) It is best to set them out in the fall and use leaves and other raked debris to fill and break down over the season.  By spring, the compost will decompose and you will have a good start of soil mix to plant in.  My drawers never made it out last winter, so I used all my clippings from clean up this weekend to fill them.  I will mix this with potting soil and keep refilling it with compost over the growing season as it breaks down. I do this every year in the raised beds pictured above and they work fantastic. 
Hollow concrete cinder blocks make great planters as well as a raised bed edge in place of boards (or drawers!)  I will use 6 of them to plant green beans that will climb over a hog panel.  This is going to act as a trellis when placed on its end with one side bent to sit under my porch edge.  It's easy picking beans when they can hang down overhead.
Old mini or venetian blinds work well when cut to size and used as plant/seed markers in the ground.  Use permanent marker and take in after the growing season or the writing will fade with the snow. 
Cut up pantyhose or knee highs work terrific as plant ties as they give a little without harming the plants. 
Cardboard pizza boxes and newspaper work wonders to start new beds or kill weeds in larger areas. 
Place the cardboard over the area and weigh it down for the winter season.  I even started new flower beds over established lawn by covering the area with layers of newspaper, wetting it down well and allowing it to kill the grass off.  You can wait for this to happen over a season or use it right away.  Just dig holes through the newspaper and ground beneath, then tuck the plants in.  Finish by placing mulch over the newspaper.  Last year, I had tall perennials (involuntary spilling over from my neighbor) growing in the area I wanted to plant in this year.  I cut them all down to the ground as best as possible, but because they left a couple inches of stubborn and sharp stalks, I placed cut-open black plastic garbage bags over the whole area. I was at a loss what to keep it down with though, when I remembered all the mason jars my friends gave to me.  They held it all in place most of the summer until I could rake leaves and other yard debris over it in the fall.  By planting time, I should be able to remove the plastic out from under it and turn the soil.
Conservation centers, colleges, and County Extension offices usually offer soil testing to see if your area is safe to grow in, better suited for other kinds of plants, or missing critical nutrients.  If you are not doing raised beds or making your own soil mix from scratch, then testing your ground is an important step.  It is cheap to do, usually $10-15 a sample, and easy.  They usually instruct you to dig about 8 inches down for vegetables and collect samples from 8-15 areas within the area you want tested.  I took this pile of samples, mixed it together, took out a couple cups of it and dried it on newspaper for a day.  Then we mailed it in a plastic sealable bag with the appropriate form, and of course, the fee.  They send the results back within a week or two. 
I mentioned this before, but your compost pile and beds will benefit if your kids have any small pets that do not eat meat.  It counts as the dry component, especially if you use shredded office paper like we do.  Rat, hamster, rabbit, mouse, bird, and guinea pig litter can be applied directly without aging right onto your beds, as well as chicken poo.  Use caution when using bird litter as the uneaten seeds will probably offer a few volunteers in your garden.