Vegucation: A Vegetable Growing Primer

Growing food is THE best way that I know of to create a resilient and prosperous household. We all eat, most of us three times a day. And we all know by now that the bulk of our calories should come from fruits and veggies. So why not improve your health and  your wealth, while learning what I call a valuable ‘life skill’? It’s a real vegucation!

I thought it might be helpful to if I passed on some new things I’ve learned about growing spring vegetables. So, for what it’s worth:

1.    20150401_163220[1]

2. Remember the cold snap that I tried to prepare for over the weekend? I covered half my cabbages with overturned coffee cans, and when they ran out, I covered the other half with a tarp. The cans clearly did a better job of protecting them.

Before Freeze:


After freeze:


The bok choy on the left was the section covered with a tarp. See how badly it got bit by the cold? The ones on the right are fine!

3. Don’t plant things too close together, especially if your soil is deficient in nutrition…


4. Learn to identify things you don’t understand. That’s why God made the Internet after all. In this picture, I kinda figured the root on this tomato I pulled out last year didn’t look quite ‘right’…

20141015_133838I sent this image to a state extension agent late last fall, and then forgot about it as we moved into winter. I got a recent email from him telling me it was ‘root knot nematodes’. Some organic control methods include increased sanitation and fertilization, solarization of the soil, increase of organic matter, letting the bed lie fallow for a season and planting resistant varieties. I’ve been gardening for many years and had never seen this in my beds but I pass it on to you as simply a part of your own vegucation.

5. EAT WHAT YOU HARVEST (or, in some cases, eat whatever comes in your CSA!)  PLAN YOUR MEALS AROUND IT AND LEARN TO USE IT IN MULTIPLE WAYS! Some day, I’m going to write that seasonal cookbook I’ve been dreaming about for several years. That didn’t happen today, but I did try a Hungarian-inspired recipe that used up some ‘seen better days’ potatoes, cellar-stored beets, cabbage, carrots, beans and more. I piled it all in my solar cooker this morning and the veggies were tender in 6 hours, giving me plenty of time to work in the garden, run errands and write this post.  I love the caraway flavor in this stew! Can I grow caraway in my herb bed? I don’t know, but I think I’ll increase my ‘vegucation’ to find out.


(Solar Reflections of Hungarian Stew)

Adapting to the Heat is Kinda Cool!
July 11, 2014, 8:03 AM
Filed under: Adapting to Change | Tags: , , ,

This blog hasn’t been very active lately, even though I think about it a lot. (that counts doesn’t it?) It occurred to me today that part of the reason I’ve been quiet is because I’m back into that summer time groove of gardening and “puttin’ food by”. It’s such a natural and routine part of my life that I guess I considered it rather, well,  too routine and not interesting enough to write about. So, I tried to look at my daily activities through your eyes, hoping to see some ‘transitioning patterns’ or ideas that I might share with you. 

Transitioning to a way of life that involves using less fossil fuels and adapting to a warming climate can cover a lot of activities, from adapting our daily routines to the vagaries of the weather to eating cooler, lighter foods in summer than those we eat during the colder months. I’ve found that working in the heat of the day makes me pretty miserable so I’m waking earlier and earlier to beat the heat. Right after breakfast I walk to the community garden to inspect the live traps we set each night for the raccoon mama and her teenage son (or daughter) that are waiting, right along with us, for the corn to ripen. So far, we’ve only caught two smallish rats, but regardless of what live animal gets tricked into going into traps, I don’t want them to suffer, like I do, in the heat of the day, so I go early to check, and then to get my days’ gardening chores completed. I finish just as the sweat begins to drip off my chin. After a brief rest at home, I take my daily walk with the dog because I worry about her burning her paws on the asphalt or overheating in her black fur coat. Days are spent in front of the fan, snapping, slicing, dicing-and drinking sweet apple mint tea 😉

This week I’ve been…

canning beans…


drying zucchini slices…


and chopping peppers for drying…


We harvested the onions this week, so I’m taking advantage of the sun to cure them for a few days…


while cooking our supper too!


We aren’t doing any baking these days because heating the oven is simply not worth it. My west-facing kitchen windows can really allow a lot of heat in in the late afternoons, even with the shades drawn, so if I’m not using the solar cooker, I cook my evening meal before that happens, generally right after lunch. That leaves me all afternoon and evening to pursue other projects. Last night I cut down a small tree to make way for a greenhouse that’s going to be put in its’ place. Tonight I moved all the rockers and crap things off the front porch and scrubbed the accumulated road dirt and dust off the siding and floor, all while enjoying the shady side of the house in the barefoot comfort of cool hose water. Tomorrow evening I plan to attend the opening reception of a new art exhibit at a nearby downtown gallery called “Lens on the Larder: Food Ways of Appalachia”; I’m already looking forward to walking there in the cool of the evening and enjoying some local foods, photography and stories. Who says transitioning to this way of life is somehow difficult or hard? It often just requires some simple adjustments to our schedules, menus or clothing.

Before the days of central heating and air, everyone worked and slept by the rising and setting of the sun. Farmers and field workers often enjoyed their main meal, or ‘dinner’, at noon, giving them an opportunity to fully refuel after a morning’s work outside, while also offering them a respite until later in the afternoon when the sun wasn’t as high. Front porches served as the warmer-months living rooms, and summer kitchens were screened affairs where the days’ cooking, eating and canning took place. Corn was shucked and beans were broken while sitting under the shade of a tree. Folks were completely tuned in to the sun, the rain and the seasons. I’m trying to adapt to that way of life as well, and though I enjoy turning on the AC at times, I’m happiest with the windows open. Thinking back, I attended an un-air conditioned school and lived in a house without it, all while growing up in central Alabama. We didn’t suffer, it was just part of summer!

I recently covered my upstairs skylight with newspaper to prevent the sun from shining in so brightly, and it really did help with the heat buildup up there! Each evening, when the outside temperature drops to a lower point than the inside air, I turn on the window fans up there to further cool things off. We sleep on the first floor of our home, which is naturally cooler, and have gotten so used to the ‘white noise’ that the fan provides that it’s become like a sleeping pill for us. One summer while I lived in California, the state was experiencing ‘rolling brownouts’ where the electrical usage was cut during the hottest parts of the day. During those times our office ‘adapted’ by allowing us to wear shorts and sandals, changing lunch break times and doing those tasks that didn’t require electricity: filing, phone calls, and data entry on our battery operated lap tops got us through. Our own electric company is working towards a similar setup here in NE TN, where we can voluntarily sign up for ‘time of day’ usage rates, which will be lower than regular rates. It saves them power and us money, but it’s all about adapting any way you look at it.  For me, adapting to the heat just means doing my work in the cooler hours, eating meals on the porch, and napping or reading in the heat of the day. I enjoy a greater sense of resiliency by changing with the seasons and find it’s kinda cool actually!















Lean In

When we were kids, my group of friends would always say “Lean in!” when we had something earth-shaking we wanted the others to hear. We all knew it was time  to ‘listen up’ and ‘pay attention’. So, lean in, I’ve got stuff to share. I’m noticing more and more and MORE that average, every day folks are beginning to transition their lives. In some cases its subtle, in others, major. But, as Bob Dylan sang to us 50 years ago, “the times they are a’changing”.

For example, yesterday I read a blog post from an ordinary suburbanite mom that was encouraging her readers to prepare for emergencies by putting together bug out bags for each family member, complete with a list of suggested items to include. In part it reads: “I am not talking fear or panic.  I am promoting intelligent, practical, thoughtful preparation.  I don’t know what is around the corner, but I must admit to a growing need to learn all that I can and adjust my outlook to one of greater self-sufficiency and resilience”.  I totally agree with her, and have had my own bug out backpack for over 10 years now, but her post reminded me that I should recheck and update it. With the extreme weather we’ve been experiencing over the last few years, and becoming more extreme it seems with each passing season, it’s a suggestion that every person should consider. My friend in Pensacola, FL is unable to get to work due this week due to washed out bridges and roads from Tuesdays’ storms, while many in Mississippi and Alabama are devastated and homeless after getting hit by tornadoes. This ‘before and after’ picture is from his Facebook page…


Are you prepared for such things? Lean in and take heed.

I’ve noticed an uptick in local community gardens and food forests. There’s keen interest in the canning classes I enjoy giving…

My Little Diva 002

…as well as a renewed desire to learn other kitchen skills such as pie and biscuit making and cooking meals from scratch. Classes are full for cheese-making, bread-making, fermenting foods, as well as making yogurt, kombucha and kefir. Workshops on everything from organic gardening and building raised beds to woodworking and soap-making are sold out. The local beekeeping school had 400 people attend this year, by far the largest number ever, and clandestine chicken coops are all over the city now. I  went to a well-attended lecture Tuesday night at the local college, called “Brightening the 21st Century” given by ‘The Solar Sister’. Her story of turning an old chicken coop located on the nunnery grounds where she lives, into an environmental learning center was enjoyed by the room full of folks that were there. During April, our local university held a month-long calendar of Earth Day celebrations and events for the first time ever. When I left the lecture hall, I saw this out in the hall and wanted to show you too: the ‘Mixed Paper’ and “Cans&Plastic” bins both had stuff in them, but the container on the far right which was marked “LANDFILL” was empty.


In the two years I’ve lived in my urban neighborhood, the number of red recycling bins I see out on the curb on Monday mornings has quadrupled. (That’s not saying a whole lot, since I had to call the truck drivers almost every week for the first month or two we lived here because I was the only one on the street at the time that was putting it curbside and they would ‘forget’ to stop), but the point is, lean in here, more people are recycling, growing some of their own food, and using renewable energy than I’ve ever noticed. I received an email from a friend just this morning: “I finally ordered my own solar cooker today!” Lean in friends, this is all good news!

People are also learning to reuse and repair again, as well as recycle. The local shoe and bike repair shops have long ‘wait times’ they are so busy. I recently went to a small engine repair shop to pick up new belts for my 23-year-old tiller and  was fifth in the line of customers buying their own parts to repair their own stuff. My youngest daughter has recently begun to renew her long-neglected sewing skills, and the Bernina sewing shop that opened downtown a couple of years ago seems to be always quite busy. Lean in: people are indeed transitioning to a future that is based on localized food, sustainable energy sources, resilient local economies and an enlivened sense of community well-being.

I am thrilled to see the changes taking place! Not only are we taking control of our lives again, according to recent articles I’ve read, we’re also saving more for retirement and carrying far less debt than we were when the ‘economic depression’ began in 2008. That downturn has brought about some rather nice changes in my own life: in response to lower incomes and higher prices, my circle of friends has been getting together for potlucks and cookouts and birthday celebrations more often these days, ending these festive times with board games or music jams. Fuhgeddaboud cover charges or drinks by the glass. We brew our own beer or wine or herbal sun tea and enjoy the comfort of being in our own homes, saving clubs and restaurant outings for rare special occasions. Now there’s even talk of forming an intentional community, right here in our urban area! There’s hope and light everywhere, you just gotta lean in to find it.


Frugal Friday- April 25th, 2014

As the weather warms, I’m enjoying being in the garden and eating fresher home-grown foods, while still using up the bounty from last year’s garden. We ate beets, carrots, parsnips, green onions, lettuce and spinach this week, and because Michael’s chemo treatments don’t allow him to eat raw foods, I tried a new recipe for Creamed Spinach. It was really, really good. With a lot of sunshine, we cooked outside this week, on the grill and in the solar cooker, and even went to a picnic last night, so I know summer’s on its way. As you know, frugality isn’t just about saving money. It’s equally about saving time, resources, and energy (both personal and grid type). This week was a strange conglomeration of all of those things, with less about money than usual.

Monday: Got my old washing machine repaired, and it only cost $120, and that included two visits to my home-one to diagnose the problem, and the second visit to replace the part that had to be ordered. It’s running great, and I’m happy that it wasn’t the kind of repair bill that made me question whether I should fix it or buy new. Savings over new: Geez, who knows? The point is really about taking care of, and using up, what we already own, rather than buying new.

Tuesday:  Every freaking day is Earth Day as far as I’m concerned. We cannot ‘save the earth’ only recognizing it one day a year and after 40+ years of ‘celebrating’ the day, I see more environmental destruction and degradation than ever. That said, I still feel a ‘thrill’ when it’s mentioned, or when I know deep down inside that I’m living it every day, in every way, that I possibly can. In light of that, Earth Day is always the time of year that I’m trying to get my garden plot ready for planting and heavy summer production. Living in a downtown urban area doesn’t lend itself well to finding animal manure for composting and fertilization, unless you count the piles of dog shit in the park. But a fellow gardening friend took pity on my whining about the lack of poo,  and we were both able to drive our trucks on a beautiful spring morning out into the country, to a local alpaca farm, where the animals’ owner filled both trucks with huge loads of FREE composted manure with her little mini front loader! Not only did I get to personally meet the gang responsible for this wonderful windfall…


…when I got back to the community garden, I got help unloading it from several friends that happened to be in the wrong right place at the wrong right time! Priceless!


Wednesday:  Expecting company for dinner, I decided that my stove top could use a good scrubbing and cleaning. I like to line my burner pans with foil to catch drips, mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to scrub them. It was time to change the foil. See how clean it looks now? This was a 15 minute job (I should’ve taken a before picture for comparison but forgot to) Savings? Hours of scrubbing!


Thursday:  Remember my telling you about how Michael and I enjoy volunteering with our local university’s arts department? Not only is it a great way to support the arts, we earn free tickets for our time too. But all of the volunteers were invited to a wonderful end of year ‘thank you’ picnic last night, complete with an old-time band and contra dance after the meal! The catered meal was fabulous, we got to meet and eat with old friends, and then dance off the calories afterwards. Savings? Priceless!






Friday: Continuing the cleanup of my oven required me to use a Brillo-type steel wool pad on some spots. I always cut the new pads in two, which sharpens my scissors and results in fewer pads being thrown away due to rust. 1/2 a pad almost always does the job. Savings? Well, it’s like getting a free box cutting them in half like that, AND it cuts down on the waste they make since they rust badly if  you try to ‘save’ them after a use. Just sayin’…


As  you see, there were no big dollar savings this week to speak of, but again, all the little things do add up to  big savings in all the areas of our lives. Whether it’s cutting brillo pads in two or dancing and picnicking with friends, I consider it an art to live my life in an abundant and meaningful way as I transition to a lifestyle that is based on lower energy, less money, climate changes and an economy that will NEVER return to “the way it used to be”. I hope my blog  inspires you to find your own ways to become more creatively resilient, and to use your own local resources to their fullest. Have a beautiful weekend!

Resilience with Oven Canning?
February 10, 2014, 10:23 PM
Filed under: Alternative Energy, Canning, Food Storage, Oven canning, Resilience | Tags: ,

I canned my first jars of green beans when I was 21 years old. Forty years and thousands of jars later, I’ve never poisoned anyone with the foods I’ve put by. I attribute that to the fact that I am a complete NAZI about always, always, always using the safest approved methods for canning fresh foods. Cutting corners during canning is like cutting your own throat. Now, all that said, I want to introduce you to a ‘new’ method of canning I tried recently. It is NOT an extension approved method, but I was so intrigued with the idea I had to at least try it. You can google ‘oven canning’ and find ten sources for it and ten against it. It’s not meant to be used for wet foods, or those with fats in them, only for dry goods.

I like to buy foods in bulk because when I do, I’m supporting a small, locally owned business, packaging is greatly reduced, and because it’s usually more cost efficient to do so, both in terms of price per unit and in terms of environmental impact. The only con is having to store the stuff. I often store bulk items in five gallon food grade buckets, plastic lined tins, or gallon sized jars. My thinking is that by sealing some of those dry goods in smaller containers, (including the bags and boxes of  ‘regular sized’ products that I open) I can store them more easily on my pantry shelves and that those sealed jars will be far better at keeping oxygen, moisture and bugs out of the pantry, which are the big threats to any food. Please understand, I’m not depending on this method to make the food safe to eat later, I’m just hoping it will keep the already safe foods that I do keep in my pantry, fresh longer. That’s a big difference from canning fresh foods! This method is being touted as being able to keep food fresh for 10-20 years, but my plans are simply for 1-2 years, just like with my regular canned goods.

This method was just as easy as it looks. I sterilized and dried two dozen jars, set them upright on rimmed cookie sheets, and then filled the jars, leaving 1/2″ headroom. Putting them on cookie sheets keeps them stable while in the oven, catches any spills, and if breakage were to occur, would make it lots easier to clean up. I then placed the cookie sheets with the filled jars in a preheated 200 degree oven for one hour. Just before the hour was up, I simmered my lids and rings in a saucepan of water to sterilize them and to soften the rubber seals. After reading this tip online (and you know, if you read it on the internet it MUST be true 😉 ) I sterilized some USED lids that I had saved for a craft project and screwed them down tight with the rings, returning the jars to the oven for another half hour. I let everything cool there overnight, and this morning, voila! All but one jar had sealed, even though I’d used the recycled lids. I love being able to see at a glance what I’ve got stored in the jars! Now I’m planning to use some half-gallon canning jars that were given to me but that were too tall for my canner, to oven-can some whole grain flours, dog biscuits and the freshly ground grits and corn meal that I buy at the Farmer’s Market.


The news is full of dire weather and climate change forecasts, predictions of food and energy shortages due to the prolonged drought in our western states, and rising prices because of it all. I’m certain our futures will be lived under dramatically changed circumstances and resilience is the key to improving our quality of life, regardless of all that. Using resources I already have on hand to keep food fresher longer (I’d LOVE to get away from a freezer altogether!) is just another form of resilience. And that’s awesome. Next up this summer: using this same technique in my solar oven!

Weather weirdness

I’ve been pretty busy with spring chores lately: building raised beds for our community garden plot…


cutting grass and making hot compost with the clippings, playing music, hosting company, working out and watching it rain a lot. But it’s mid-May folks, and I’m still making soups! I normally don’t make soups in warm weather, I like to reserve it for those cool days of fall and winter but last Thursday I had a guest for lunch and even though we were able to enjoy eating out on the patio for the first time this season, and it was sunny enough to cook it in my solar cooker…


the fact remains, I was making soup on May 2nd! Then, last weekend we had a house full of company from Nashville, so we decided to go to Asheville for the day. It was so windy and cool there that folks had coats and hats on all day.  ‘course, we had fun in spite of the wind…


By the time the company left on Sunday, it was so cool and rainy I decided to make soup again, which we enjoyed again on Monday-May 6th and I gave the last bowl to my brother on May 7th, another cool day. It has gradually warmed this week, and I’ve been busy weeding and planting, but lo and behold, Sunday and Monday night low’s are forecast to be in the 30’s!!! If that ain’t soup weather I don’t know what is! My fall-planted pansies are still blooming their hearts out, and the lettuce hasn’t gone to seed yet. So I keep cutting it, thinking that any day I’ll see it elongate and begin going to seed, but so far, it’s holding well. And because it was a fall planted variety, it’s especially well suited for cool weather. Last year, I harvested a huge batch of honey in May, which was the earliest my bees had ever filled their supers, and that was simply because spring had arrived so early in 2012. This year, there’s not much honey flow at all because it’s been so wet and rainy. This week saw a RECORD BREAKING heat in Michael’s hometown in California, with 18″ of snow last week in Minnesota. “Record ‘latest ice out dates’ have been and will be set this year for many Minnesota lakes; a problem for some anglers this weekend as they gear up for the Minnesota fishing opener. Some may actually take their ice augers with them across the far north rather than lugging the boat along“.  My friend from Oregon writes that her normally rainy, rainy season that used to last through May and often June too, has been replaced this year with weeks and weeks and weeks of dryness. You know, Portland, that rainy place.

This weather weirdness has made gardening difficult for me. I still haven’t planted my tomatoes or peppers, and just this week finally planted summer and winter squash, green beans, edamame and limas. Last year I picked my first beans in early June! If all this rain keeps up, I’m afraid my potatoes will rot before they produce, and the seeds I planted will be washed away. The good thing about raised beds in wet weather is that they drain faster. Conversely, the bad thing about raised beds in dry weather is that they drain faster.

So, why am I rehashing the spring weather? I just want folks to recognize and accept the fact that climate change is real, it’s happening and our weather is  going to become even more unstable because unfortunately, we’ve reached the tipping point and the planet simply can’t ‘normalize’ anymore. We can’t change the weather, that’s a fact. All we can do now is to take steps to become more resilient. In order to  survive and thrive in turbulent times we need to organize ourselves at the grassroots level to carry out a series of transitions-not only in terms of food and farming, but also in transportation, housing, health and education. From the state-wide climate action meeting I attended this week, to realtors touting a home’s walkability score as a selling point, we’ve started that transition. Just this week, Sebastopol,CA became the second town in that state to mandate that solar panels be installed on every new home built. The economic law of supply and demand ensures that the new mandates will begin to bring the price of the roof top electricity makers down to an affordable level for many more of us eventually. Community supported agriculture, community gardens and farmer’s markets continue to grow each year while 54 public schools are being closed in Chicago next year because of their being underutilized. Tennessee Transitions tries to explore some of the ways that we can gracefully make our own transitions to a rapidly changing climate and economy. After all, it’s not just the weather that’s weird.

keep calm


STOCKing up

Stocks are up at my house today. Homemade vegetable stocks, that is 😉  It’s one of those eazy- peazy things I do to save money and eat healthier, while  helping us to reduce our dependence on store-bought goods. If those weren’t good enough reasons, I’m able to make it from otherwise wasted foods, and I wrote recently about how I’m trying to reduce that too. Here’s how easy it is. I save all my onion, celery and carrot tops, mushroom stems, squash and tomato ends and other vegetable scraps in a gallon sized plastic bag in your freezer. When the bag is full, it’s enough to make about 7 or 8 quarts of rich, golden brown, good tasting stock that can be used in any recipe that calls for it. Here’s the before:

Dump the frozen contents into a large stock pot, and add 8 quarts of water, 4 bay leaves, 12 whole peppercorns, 4 crushed garlic cloves and 1 heaping tsp of whole thyme. Then I usually add a couple of diced sweet red peppers that are diced and frozen or dried when the garden’s is pumping them out faster than we can eat them, 2 or 3 quartered potatoes or turnips, (a good way to use culled potatoes, with the bad parts cut out) and then, depending on how much celery, carrots and tomatoes I see in the bag, I’ll add a few more of those things if necessary. I also added the leftover cooking liquid I had from a pot of fresh green beans I’d cooked earlier in the day to make part of my 8 quarts. Notice too, there’s no added salt. Most commercial stocks are heavily salted because I don’t think they add things like red peppers and thyme. Salt is cheap, after all. Anyway, bring  it all to a boil, then simmer while covered for a couple of hours on the stovetop, woodstove or solar cooker. Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables and seasonings. Ladle hot stock into hot, sterilized  jars and process at 10 pounds for 35 minutes. Pints for 30 minutes. I’m guessing that you could add chicken or beef  drippings to this recipe for a meat-based stock, but I’ve never tried that. Seems it would be a good way to use up those pan drippings after cooking those things. Chickens and worms both LOVE the soft-cooked veggies that are left over from this, or you can toss ’em on the compost pile. Here’s the after:

Spot checking at a local grocery store, a quart of Swanson’s vegetable broth costs $3.29. At that price, the 8 qts I made today then are worth $26.32 (plus tax!). And since I’ve started using Tattler Brand Reusable Canning Lids and Seals, I don’t have to pay for metal ones anymore either. All my canning jars were collected free over the years, and my canner is now 38 years old. My total cost: about 60 cents worth of carrots. The self-sufficiency and pride in producing something that tastes so good from food waste~ PRICELESS!

So, what’s this got to do with Transitioning? Skills like growing food and preserving it for later use, being able to repair things rather than buying new ones, or repurposing something old into something new can help us cultivate an inner resistance and resilience that, regardless of where the stock market ticker stops at the end of the day,  can help us feel in control of our lives, at a time when many of us are having  a hard time with that. Even if Peak Oil was a myth, even if our futures turn out rosy, isn’t that a good feeling to have? 

Soakin’ Up the Sun and other ‘Little Things’
August 27, 2012, 8:36 PM
Filed under: Food Waste, Frugality | Tags:

I enjoy being frugal, because it allows me to live a better lifestyle than I might afford otherwise, and I ain’t ashamed to say it. I was taught the concept of frugality by my mom-a master- who was a product of the Great Depression. She was taught how to live well on less by my grandmother. I read a piece just the other day that said that during the war years when everything from sugar to milk was rationed, that frugality became such an accepted way of life that once the war was over, folks remained extremely frugal for many years afterwards (my own third generation story is proof of that).  Near starvation, or doing without a lot of things, will do that to you I guess. These days  I’m convinced that our economy will never fully recover (regardless of who’s President), jobs won’t ever be as plentiful and energy supplies  are becoming scarcer and more expensive each passing day. Faced with those beliefs, frugality just makes good sense for me and mine. Here’s a few examples from today:

I cooked tonight’s dinner in my solar cooker this afternoon- Red Lentils with Curried Cabbage- and it cooked in an hour and a half, just 15 minutes longer than the recipe called for to get the lentils tender. I like knowing my electric meter doesn’t spin when I use the cooker, which saves me money, and offers me a bit of comfort knowing that I’m not using finite resources when I use it. Another  advantage to cooking in it is that by becoming handy with it during good times will help me know how to keep good meals on the table in the event of an extended power outage – Hellooo Isaac!

While supper soaked up some rays in the backyard, I spray-painted an old file cabinet out on the front porch. The cabinet is now living-room worthy, and the paint job was free, thanks to the can of paint I picked up at the Washington County Neighborhood Convenience Center’s ‘paint room’. Check it out:

Another example of frugality I employed during my all expense paid trip this past weekend to Breaks Interstate Park (that I won by simply entering my name and crossing my fingers) was to bring home the little hotel bars of soap that we used only once each night. I know the hotel maids are instructed to throw any opened bars away anyway, so why waste them? There’s enough soap to use in our showers for at least this whole week-and fancy French Milled soaps too, a far cry from my homemade bars made of saved slivers. If you stay in a motel, do you just leave the leftover bar on the sink, or do you bring it home? Knowing it will be thrown away makes that a moral and frugal choice for me, and I thought about that as I soaped up this morning in the shower.

Michael and I are getting ready to walk to the public library, where no doubt we’ll find some books and DVD’s to check out, and on the way may stop at the Salvation Army Thrift Store to see if they have any khaki shorts for him. From what we eat, to what we wear, to the choices we make for our home and life, being frugal allows us to live that richer, fuller lifestyle I’m always going on about. I know many folks that always seem to be struggling with their finances, even though I know they have a much larger income than we do (that’s not saying much however)  ;).  I guess it’s more than just frugality for me; a lot of it has to do with mindset.  I enjoy the challenges of ‘using up, wearing out, making do or doing without’, but  I LOVE the security that comes from paying cash and having savings. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth having if it means losing that.  As we learn to transition to a lower-energy, lower-resource world, I believe all those little things we do-whether it’s fixing a  drip or repairing your bike, making a quilt from scraps or a meal from scratch- CAN make a difference in meeting our daily needs.

I’ll finish with an example of EXTREME frugality-it’s called Dumpster Diving and I want to show you a picture that a local student took recently of his haul after one evening’s diving excursion behind a local Johnson City market! Buckets and bags of produce, bakery items, grains and vegetables-it looks like enough to feed a family for a week! The waste blows my mind, but so does the act of dumpster diving, although if I was truly hungry, I’m sure I’d dive right in too…

What are your feelings about such an extreme sport? What do you do to practice frugality?

WHAT? Wheat Meat!

I’m back to making seitan (pronounced say-tan), or wheat meat, in my slow cooker. Seitan is a great meat substitute, made from whole wheat flour and a few ingredients that most kitchens already  have on hand.  I used to make this regularly, and somehow got out of the habit, but found some new recipes recently that called for it and so decided to make some more. I bravely served it to non vegetarian company in a fricasee Friday night, and they wanted the recipe! So, I pass it along to you here too:

Seitan is best when left to gently simmer for several hours and, once again, the solar or slow cooker, comes to the rescue. For a firmer texture, add 1/4 cup of powdered wheat gluten to the mix. I also like to freeze it in meal sized chunks to make the texture more meat like, but that’s not necessary. The cooking liquid may be strained and used as a stock in sauces, soups, or just to cook some fresh veggies in. My dog loves  it poured over her dry kibble! 

1 large carrot, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 large yellow onion, quartered

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 cup tamari or other soy sauce

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 quarts plus 3 cups water, or more as needed

6 cups whole wheat flour (about 2 pounds)

1. Combine the carrot, onion, garlic, tamari, and bay leaves in a 6 qt slow cooker. Add 2 1/2 quarts of the water, cover, and turn to high

2. Place the flour in a large bowl and add the remaining 3 cups water. Stir well to combine, adding a little more water if the dough is too dry. Turn dough onto a flat surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. OR put it all in the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl OR your bread maker.  Place the dough back in the bowl and add enough warm water to cover. Let rest for 20 minutes

3. Remove dough from bowl and place the dough  in the sink. Knead the dough under running water  until the water is almost clear. NOTE: I do this step over a dish pan and use the pour the water over plants. The dough should now be a fairly smooth ball of wheat gluten, or raw seitan.

4. Depending on how you plan to use it, leave the raw seitan whole or divide into 4 or 5  smaller pieces and add to the simmering stock. Change the heat setting to low, cover and cook for 4 to 6 hours.

5. Remove the cooked seitan from the cooker and let cool. If you are not using the seitan right away, it can be stored submerged in its stock in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for up to 5 days or frozen for several weeks.

Now, here’s some suggestions for using seitan. When ready to use, I partially thaw, then  slice it medium thin, like you would a beef roast or ham. Heat 1 T. of oil in a large skillet over medium heat, adding shallots or onions if desired, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Remove onions, add another Tablespoon of oil in the same skillet and add the sliced seitan and cook until browned on both sides, about ten minutes.

This can then be added to stir fries, vegetable stews (like the fricasee shown below, with carrots, onions and potatoes), or hot and sour soup. It also makes a VERY good sandwich on a grilled faccocia with melted cheese, onions, lettuce and tomato and sprouts. In other words, use it like beef,  just not as a stand alone entree. 

You may ask, “Why not just buy beef?” Glad you asked that question!! By now we all know about the life-long  antibiotics and growth hormones that are fed to the cows, and how those substances are bad for human health.  We all know that the methane the cows produce are serious contributors to global warming and we’ve all seen the ‘hidden videos’ filmed in feedlots and stockyards, showing how badly the cows are mistreated. Our doctors have warned all of us about the cholesterol and heart problems that eating meat regularly can cause. But, in the context of this blog, I’m choosing to focus on simple things we can do in our daily lives to help us transition gracefully to a lower energy world. You can bet that the end of cheap oil will make trucking frozen beef across the country from the meat-packing plants in Minnesota, or jetting it from Argentina, simply unprofitable in such a world. By contrast, growing wheat and milling it into flour has been part of  humanity since Biblical times and could be accomplished locally, without the use of oil. I believe that learning skills like cooking from scratch, taking care of our own health,  growing and preserving food and developing resilient local economies will enable us to not only survive, but to thrive, no matter what our futures hold.

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