Monday, February 28, 2011

Sustainable Seafood: What to Enjoy and What to Avoid *Guest Post*

Things are pretty busy here at the homestead. We're preparing for some big life changes and i just don't have QUITE as much time to write as i'd like to. I need to be out in the garden more! I don't want to let the blog go completely silent, however so i've invited some guest bloggers to post some articles. Please forgive my absence, but enjoy the change of scenery for a few days. Thanks for understanding!

I found this article enlightening. I eat my fair share of tuna and tilapia, but always avoid shrimp unless it's locally sourced from our gulf. So many fishing methods are devastating to the environment: may this article help you make responsible decisions.

*Esther Booker earned her social work degree online and is currently working towards her paralegal certificaton credentials

Seafood is a staple of many a person's diet, but for those who are environmentally conscious, it can be very difficult to sort out what is OK to eat and what should be avoided. Seafood comes from all over the world and is grown, caught, processed, and transported in a wide variety of conditions. Finding sustainable seafood is confusing, especially because what sustainability actually is is often misunderstood.

To clear up: sustainable seafood is either fished or farmed in a way that does not harm the surrounding ecosystem and does not decimate a species' population. Fish that reproduce slowly, like an orange roughy, are vulnerable to over-fishing, but small breeds that reproduce quickly like anchovies are sustainable. Check these seafood do's and don'ts to figure out which seafood is sustainable, and which is not.

What's sustainable

  • Alaskan salmon and halibut: Buying American is almost always the way to go, as US fishing standards are much higher than those in other countries. Alaskan fish are considered healthy species with thriving populations, and so are sustainable. Plus, they're pretty tasty too.
  • Oysters and mussels: For shellfish, oysters and mussels are considered the most sustainable. They are plentiful, and so fishing will not decimate their populations; often grown locally, and so reduce the energy costs associated with freezing and shipping; and as a small shellfish, contain less mercury than bigger fish. In that way, they are better for your health as well.
  • Sardines, anchovies, and other small fish: Small fish populations have little concern of over-fishing -- there's just too darn many of them. Though you can't make a meal out of them, as a nice accompaniment to a salad or other dish, small fish like sardines and anchovies are a worry-free addition.
  • Atlantic lobster: Many a New Englander's favorite seafood is actually sustainable when bought locally. Atlantic lobster populations are doing fine, and when bought locally don't leave a carbon footprint. That said, don't buy Central American lobster: they're fished in subpar conditions, and the environmental cost of bringing them up north is just too much
What's NOT sustainable
  • Tuna: Tuna is a favorite of people all over the world, and that is why it is being over-fished. Some species of tuna are doing OK, like some albacore. In general, however it'd be best if people stopped fishing and eating tuna altogether to allow the species to recover. It is estimated that 90% of the sea's large predators are being over-fished -- they just don't re-populate as quickly as small fish. Plus, most tuna, even dolphin-free brands, are not caught using environmentally-friendly practices. And more so, tuna contains high amounts of mercury, which causes health problems for people the world over. Say no to tuna.
  • Shrimp: Imported shrimp are grown in Asia and Central America and grown in their own raw sewage. Sound appetizing? Worse, this waste is allowed to pollute the sea as the shrimp are held in open pools or mesh cages. Even US-farmed shrimp are caught using trawl nets, which hurt sea turtle populations. It's just not worth it for such a small fish.
  • Tilapia: Tilapia is native to Africa's Nile River and so is extremely rare in the wild. Imported tilapia is farmed in Asia, where fish are given hormones to induce sex changes so they turn into bigger, more lucrative males. They are also treated with pesticides and other chemicals, which are absorbed by humans when eaten. Plus, a lot of energy is used to freeze and transport the fish to your local grocery store. Local tilapia is not perfect either, as it still may contain antibiotics and pesticides.

Food for thought, indeed! What fish graces your table most often?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Introducing Guest Week!

Things are gearing up to be super busy here around the Homestead, and i'm taking a week off. I should probably be waiting to take this week off until the third week of march instead of the first, but maybe this will go so well that i'll do it again! Never fear, there will be plenty to read from some great, new voices.

I'd like to introduce:

Marigold of Hideous! Dreadful! Stinky!
Heidi of Yellow Door Barn
and Foy of Foy Update: Garden.Cook.Write.Repeat.

I follow each of these ladies' blogs and they all have something to contribute that lies in the realm of An Austin Homestead's mission. Marigold is ingeniously crafty and has a knack for cooking some kid friendly, yet delicious meals. Foy is a horticulturist, gardener extraordinaire, and cooks up some mighty tasty meals as well. Heidi is lucky enough to have two goats (in Austin city limits!) just about to kid. I can't wait to see what they come up with for us to enjoy next week, along with another few guest posters.

I'll be back with more gardening, kitchen, and critter news on the 7th. In the meantime, i think i need to get Pocket a tall glass of water: she's shedding all over the house and panting like there's no tomorrow after a wicked few frisbee tosses.

Brussel Sprouts or Seasonal Greens with Tabouli Grains

I must admit, this didn't turn out as well as i'd like. It's much more delicious when i saute kale or broccoli greens. BUT i was in a hurry to leap out the door and bring this to a pot luck, so the texture got a bit goopy and the seasoning was a huge guess on my part.

This post can also be found over at Yard Farm Austin, where i'm proud to write garden and kitchen tips.

Brussels are one of those hit or miss veggies. Some people love 'em, others despise 'em - but i'd guess if you slather enough olive oil on a mess of brussels, most people will eat them with at least moderate enjoyment.

This recipe pairs the decadence of extra virgin olive oil, with the high protein/fiber bulghar wheat, and is a great way to use many of the seasonal greens ripening right now: kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli and even brussels sprouts.
  • 1 cup bulghar wheat
  • 2 cups water, veg, or chicken stock
  • Garlic to taste
  • Bushel seasonal greens, julienned or chopped finely
  • Good olive oil
  • T meyer lemon juice
  • Several hot peppers, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Onion greens, chopped
  • Herbs and spices to taste: I like smoked paprika, turmeric, cumin, basil, even curry powder.
  • Optional chopped or canned tomato.

Sautee the greens, garlic, hot peppers and half spices in a good drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. (Lemon juice helps greens retain their 'green' plus it tastes super great!). In the meantime, cook bulghar wheat in 1 of 3 ways: Cover with boiling water/stock and cover until soft. Add to boiling water and cook until soft. Mix with water and cook in microwave for 2 - 5 minutes, cover until soft. They all work fine. Once the greens are cooked to your liking, add the soft bulghar wheat (with any excess liquid drained off) to the saute pan and mix well, adding the remainder of the herbs and spices and a bit more olive oil.

Serve warm or cold, on the side or as a main dish, topped with freshly diced onion greens.

Sautee the greens, garlic, hot peppers and half spices in a good drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. (Lemon juice helps greens retain their 'green' plus it tastes super great!). In the meantime, cook bulghar wheat in 1 of 3 ways: Cover with boiling water/stock and cover until soft. Add to boiling water and cook until soft. Mix with water and cook in microwave for 2 - 5 minutes, cover until soft. They all work fine. Once the greens are cooked to your liking, add the soft bulghar wheat (with any excess liquid drained off) to the saute pan and mix well, adding the remainder of the herbs and spices and a bit more olive oil.

Serve warm or cold, on the side or as a main dish, topped with freshly diced onion greens.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wholesome Wednesdays: Real Food

Not Dabbling Real Food Header

I did not participate in the Real Food Challenge last year, but think i will this March (despite this March being intensely busy and full of WAY too many things to think about). Since we already eat pretty much solely what i refer to as 'real food' the challenge shouldn't be too hard for us. Depending on the parameters the ladies at Not Dabbling In Normal and Chiot's Run, among other participating blogs set: we should be fine doing what we usually do. 

Some foods we'll be cutting out: soda, sugar free gummy bears. Some foods we may cut out depending on the rules: Annie's Macaroni and Cheese, Morningstar Farms Veggie "Chick'n" Nuggets.

Those are really some of the only 'pretend' foods we eat around here. I've been meaning to try Marigold's SUPER SECRET chicken nuggets soon. Our chickens are laying so we have plenty of 'free' protein to take advantage of. My garden is finally growing, thanks to some excellent composted horse manure from Dripping Springs, some improved weather, and more careful attention to actually WATERING it, so i'll have my own lettuce big enough to eat in a week or three.

Homegrown Tomatoes and tamales from the Gourmet Tamale Kitchen in Wimberley

I didn't participate in the challenge last year because i was afraid that the term 'challenge' might encourage people to go all out for a short while, then fall back into old habits once the challenge was over. I read and followed the challenge, though - and it truly seemed that the people participating or reading were truly concerned with developing a system for a new way of living and eating. I love to set a good example, and eating real food (and growing it if possible) is one of my great passions. At the gym ust yesterday, a young mother expecting her second child stopped and asked me some questions about growing a veggie garden. A. I just love it that people ask me about this stuff! B. I just love that i know enough now to be helpful. I recommended an easy way to start, some easy plants to start, and some tasty plants that grow well here and would be fun for her and her kiddos to plant, harvest, and eat.  I'll be participating in the challenge to help spread the good word about eating 'real food' while also growing as much of it as possible.

Delicious Homemade Granola

Would you like to join the challenge this year? For the month of March, head over to Not Dabbling In Normal and their sister sites for a fun, healthy, and wholesome challenge - sure to increase your knowledge, immune system, and pride.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Can You Hear the Screaming of the Hens, Clarice?

I happened to be in Buck Moore Feed yesterday and overhead a woman talking with another customer about the noisiness of roosters and the 'pastoral sounds' of hens. I had to interject, saying my hens are PALENTY noisy. She agreed, but her opinion was that their 'noisiness' is more zen like. I had to chuckle.

These girls are NOT feeling very zen like right now:

Scratching, clamouring, clucking and howling. They are very, very, very noisy.

It is spring and my yard needs some grass. They do a very efficient job of consuming all those tender shoots and thus will be confined to their mobile coop for a few weeks. Much to there very, very audible chagrine.

I DO hear the screaming of the hens, Hannibal Lecter. I hear it every morning and so do my neighbors, much to THEIR sometimes audible chagrine.

Good thing we don't have a rooster, ay?
Do your hens cause a ruckous, or are they pastoral, cooing darlings?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day of Work

Man, oh man. What a gorgeous weekend! I planted some things in my garden and will be spending today working in some clients' gardens for Yard Farm Austin. Check out their website if you're interested in having some gardens put in for yourself or a friend - affordable and super attractive, Zach and his team can put together a great bid for you to help transform that yard into a farm with less elbow grease needed from you.

In my garden i planted:
  • Cabbage
  • Asian greens
  • Lettuce seeds (already germinated!)
  • Kale seeds (already germinated!)
  • Kale
  • Chard
  • Beet seeds
  • Mustard seeds
  • Carrot seeds
I guess that misty mist on Saturday, paired with perfect temperatures really got those seeds thinking about sunshine.

What did you do in your garden this weekend?

Friday, February 18, 2011

South Austin Urban Farmers Market

Don't forget to include our Farmers Market in your shopping plans this weekend! Become a fan at our Facebook page and download a coupon good with any of our vendors.

My line of Nude Soap products will be in force with some luxurious skin creams and soaps in brand new and gorgeous packaging with plenty of samples to try.

Munkebo Farm will have green shallots, spring onions, leeks, oregano, dried basil, dried oregano, lemon thyme, duck eggs, duck leg quarters, whole duck (upon request), organic apple pie, berry pie, organic granola, berry crisp bars, pepper jelly, green tomato chutney, Seville orange marmalade, balsamic vinaigrette and artichoke dip.

Radiant Baubles will have her fabulous decoupaged magnets and some delicious treats to boot! 

Tune up massages for just $5! Cannot beat that!

Tasty treats, produce, local goodness. Come on out! East side of Manchaca Rd just south of Ben White (290).

What I've Learned This Winter: Cold Sensitivity in my Crops

This year was really the first real Winter i've had the pleasure to experience in Austin. The past 4 years have been uber mild. Even last year with it's 'NEAR RECORD LOWS' days were nothing to compare with the actual deep, hard freeze we experienced this year for several days. Bitter winds, cold days, even snow! This was a great year for me to sit back and watch the few veggie plants remaining from my Fall/Winter planting to see who would survive the freeze, and who'd wilt in defeat. Last year i covered everything with an insane amount of sheet, tarp and even heat lamps and christmas lights. I had harvested most my goodies this year, though and decided to see what happened to the remaining few. My future homestead will involve easily assembled floating row cover, some cold frames, and maybe even a green house. I need to know which veggies need to be protected, and which can be left on their own. This is what i observed this year:

Broccoli can take a frost, even a hard one. But it needs to thaw out the next day. Several days of frozen to the bone was more than it could handle. First frost: still perked up. Second frost: frozen, but still edible. After a few days of frozen: wilty, burned, suitable only for compost and chicken feed (the eggs have been SO GOOD lately, btw)

Kale: Kale did great. I have some in raised planters that totally died a sad and uneccessary death. The plants that were in the main bed in the ground are still growing, with some frost burn on the outer leaves. I've read that a frost will make them sweeter. My plants are still oddly tiny, so not much has been harvested for report on that matter. First frost: just fine. Second frost: frozen, and perked back up. After a few days of frozen: plants in the ground: badly frost burned, plants in raised beds: dead and sent to the compost heap.

Cabbage: This one makes me sad. I've never grown a successful cabbage. The snails or aphids always get them. I had one beautiful cabbage head that is no longer beautiful. The chickens were sure stoked. First frost: perked back up. Second frost: wilty and upset, but still alive. After a few days of frost: total mush and frost burned.

Onions and Garlic: The real troopers of the bunch! They're still a bit wind burned, and some of the garlics are still droopy and displeased, but most will be making it through to June. I lost a few little onions, but most are just fine. The multiplying onions are frost burned, but just as vigorous as before and the bulbing onions seem to be back on their way to making bulbs. First frost: fine. Second frost: knocked over and frozen in the wind, but thawable. After several days: frost burned, wind burned, a few melted, most A. OK.

Flowers: Violas rock. Calendula not so much. The violas got some frost bite, but they're well on their way to filling in the gaps. The Calendula, very unfortunately, totally melted. The ones in the ground might spring back, but the planter housed ones are a loss. My soaps and lotions are sad to hear that.

Herbs: Most appear to be coming back. The lemon balm is singed, but has some greenery at the base. The sorrel is filling back in. Both of these were surrounded by multiplying onions that may have helped to insulate. Not sure about the thyme, they were tiny to begin with. My large sage is a little droopy and the rosemary even got some frost bitten leaves. The margoram is a loss, but it was recently planted and pathetic to start with. I think if there had been more snow insulating the plants, more would have survived.

Xeric: The Agave Marginata is not pleased. Frost bitten and stunted. It's had some strange set backs in growth this past year and we may pull it out and replace with the pups it's happy to clone. Smaller pups that had been transplanted melted with the freeze. All the native yuccas and agaves are totally fine (we harvested them a few lots over a while back). Prickly pear: no good, but will probably come back with new pads.

So, that's my report. It's good to know your plants: who can survive and who needs babying. Research and guidelines are great, but first hand evidence is the best. What were your losses and successes this year?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Probiotic Coleslaw

Including probiotic foods such as fermented pickles and yogurt is essential to healthy digestion and great for all around good health. We have yogurt for breakfast every morning with chia seeds, banana, and soon bee pollen. The protein really keeps us going strong all day without the drowsy effects that eating wheat has. Try having toast before you hit the gym and then have yogurt the next day instead: i'll bet you'll be jumping higher on the yogurt day! I make our yogurt every two weeks. We get raw milk and I always save enough yogurt from the previous batch to make the next week's new batch of yogurt. It's the most delicious yogurt either my husband or i have ever tasted, and the cost is ridiculously frugal: a quart of White Mountain yogurt will set you back over $5. I turn one gallon of milk into about 5 quarts of yogurt for about $7. It's very easy, doesn't require any special skills or tools, and has increased our health by leaps and bounds. Immune systems, check! Healther skin and hair, check! Increased energy levels, double check!

Yogurt for breakfast is great. Yogurt in baking is really great, but i really don't need to be eating more baked goods. So, how can one use yogurt for dinner recipes? Yogurt is great added to a curry or cream sauce. Yogurt can be used as a sauce or dip, and can be incorporated into just about any recipe that would normally use cream, milk, or sour cream. Get creative! You get the most health benefits by not cooking out the good bacterias, so always add the yogurt at the last minute and don't let it boil.

A recent favorite in our kitchen has been a yogurt sauce/dip. We used it on our nachos on game day, and it's really, really delicious on fried fish or in fish tacos in place of ranch dressing. Use whatever herb you have growing seasonally, we've been using cilantro:
  • Plain Yogurt (whole milk yogurt will make a thicker dip, skim is saucier)
  • Pinch herbs (cilantro, dill, basil, mint, you name it)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Pinch cumin
  • Salt to taste

Blend this up until the garlic cloves are completely chopped. The fresh garlic, and herbs along with the probiotic rich yogurt is a real immunity booster, and super delicious. This sauce is so versatile and can even be added to some shredded cabbage to make the most delicious coleslaw with no fat needed.

Do you make your own yogurt? What are your favorite yogurt based recipes?
This post can also be found at the blog hop: Simple Lives Thursday

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wholesome Wednesdays: The Good Neighbor

My mom recently said something to me that is oh, so valid:
"There is nothing more valuable around here than a neighbor you can count on.Nothing."
She followed that with some expletives about her no longer good neighbors down the road, but her statement is absolutely spot on.  She lives in rural southern Oregon, high on a mountain meadow and a fifteen minute drive to the first 'town' where she can purchase groceries or get her mail. This is where i was raised: with my horse Misty, my dog Amber, 180 acres plus limitless woodlands and prairie owned by the BLM to wander. When it snows, you cancel your Christmas party because no one could possible get to your house and when it pours you hold tight and try not to get sucked into the culvert you're trying to clear. It is an amazing life, but it's made much harder by being neighbor to someone who hasn't got your back. Free range cattle often find their way onto her property due to poor management by their 'owners.' The neighbor down the way has made it his life's work to eek every nickle and dime from my folks out of court fees over some dispute over right of way easements. My mother just wants to be left alone up on her hill, and her bad neighbors are making that difficult.

I, on the other hand am currently living in the suburbs. I pretty much hate everything about that. I have no use for a city - i don't have money to go out, i don't enjoy shopping, i despise traffic, and the prices around here are suitable more to wealthy 20 something un-marrieds, versus poor 20-30 something marrieds. My yards are big enough to plant a decent sized veggie garden with some very lovely perennial plantings, throw a ball for my dog and get sweaty raking leaves. They aren't big enough to raise anything larger than a few hens, throw a frisbee for my dog without it clearing a fence, plant veggie gardens big enough to actually feed us, or get sweaty putting up fence lines. I need some room to grow and expand. A change may be coming soon, i'll update y'all more later. In the meantime i try to focus on what i DO like about living in this suburb full of car alarms, ice cream trucks, traffic noise, motorcycle-revving neighbors, feral cats and lack of any sky.

I have some good neighbors.

Since i bought this little place and started ripping out nasty carpet, replacing it with beautiful bamboo, destroying my yard to fill it with compost and organic vegetables: i've developed a good relationship with at least ONE of my adjacent neighbors. My goings on about the homestead often prompt comments from passersby, and i love talking to them about organic gardening, backyard hens, or whatever variety i'm cultivating at the time. Our neighbors to the north have been a God send on more than one occasion. We're all dog lovers and often trade dog-sitting duties with each other when our pooches are in need. They cried as much as we did at the passing of Tela, our husky and get as much joy from Pocket's antics as we do. They help us care for the hens when we're out of town, and we both play house sitter for each other when on extended vacations. It's good to know you have someone to watch out for you and your home.  We have other great neighbors too: friends that live in an adjacent neighborhood do the bulk of our house sitting when we go out of town. They love getting fresh eggs in payment, we're just so happy their willing to work for eggs. Our across-the-street neighbor has occasionally stopped by to ask us if we know someone who drives a such and such vehicle because he came by several times last week: thanks, that was just our house sitting friend.

Wow, it's crazy to look back at the first year's little garden.

The suburbs can be full of busy-bodies (i know because i'm one of them, peering out from behind my shrubbery) but they can also be full of good neighbors if you take a few moments to reach out and chat with them. It can be harder or easier to reach out and make friends with your neighbors in a more rural setting. I love going back home and running into at least a dozen folks that i grew up with every time i pick up the mail at the post office, despite not having been home for over three years, not counting my wedding. Gosh, that's depressing.  I have taken to heart the value of neighbors and will always seek out those around me and try to befriend them with baked goods, fresh eggs, or a friendly gesture or favor. It's as important to help out others as it is to have others to help you. I'm too poor to donate money or goods to charity, but i can donate my help when it is needed and am always willing to help out my friends. It feels great to give your crappy vacuum to someone who has no vacuum at all, to bring fresh eggs to a potluck, or let your neighbor's dog out to pee a few times a day. The simple things are the greatest things, and they pay for those big favors that inevitably come up in the future. One day your water main will burst and you might need to shower at your neighbor's house, or get buckets of water for your animals.

Won't it be great when you don't feel bad asking for that help, but instead feel like good neighbors? Don't take it for granted, and try not to burn bridges. You never know when you'll need to cross them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Best Roasted Chicken. Ever.

I roasted some chicken last Friday following Sally Fallon's recipe from Nourishing Traditions. I love roasted chicken, but it seems every time i try, i follow some other recipe from the internet and end up with under done chicken. I just bought an oven thermometer (after i roasted this chicken) to see if my theory was true: and yes indeed, my oven is about 8 degrees cool. Lame.  I fiddled with my temps, and by following Sally's recipe, plus my own fiddlings, came out with the most delicious chicken ever. My husband loved it so much that he INSISTED that i write it down. And so i did:
  • Preheat 375 (380 for me because my oven's so cool, not in a good way)
  • Clean chicken, set neck and innards aside for soup and doggie treats
  • Salt the cavity and stuff with fresh herbs and half of a quartered whole lemon. I used rosemary and sage.
  • Chop more of the herbs and slide with some butter and salt under the breast skin
  • Lay chicken upside down (breasts down) on onion slices in a roasting pan or pyrex casserole
  • Cut the top off a garlic head or 4 and place cut side down in  pan next to chicken
  • Rub skin with some butter, season with salt and pepper, squeeze half of lemon over chicken reserving some juice for the other side
  • Roast one hour
  • Flip chicken (insert a long handled spoon or fork into cavity and carefully turn the chicken over using tongs or a sharp fork. Help holding the roasting pan in place is helpful.
  • Season skin with some coconut oil and more salt and pepper and lemon juice. Homemade seasoning salt is good here, too.
  • Quarter some mushrooms, toss with coconut oil, salt and turmeric and nestle around the chicken. You'll want to stir this occasionally during the next cooking period.
  • Cook for another hour until the legs are loose and temp is over 165. 
I finally got a hot, well cooked, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside DELICIOUS chicken up to 190 degrees inside! And those mushrooms all coated in decadent chicken grease? Come ON! SO GOOD. I made some mashed cauliflower with beets for the side dish and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. Leftover chicken went to chicken salad the next night and soup on Sunday. I think i'll be making this for guests soon.

Proof that this method works every time: This chicken was made in August 2011 and was PERFECT.

Chicken grease is so delicious, but my expanding waistline wouldn't mind it if i invested in a RACK to keep the chicken lifted out of its fat. This may result in a slightly less moist chicken... but that's what gravy is for! hahahaha.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Whole Foods Market: Affordable Options for Simple Living

A few weeks ago I posted a bunch of recipes for homemade body and housecleaning alternatives. I'm in love with my deodorant and tooth powder, and formulated the absolutely best dish washing soap i've ever used:
  • Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds ($7 for a HUGE 32 oz bottle) 
  • Vinegar  
  • Water
Simply mix 1 part Sal Suds, 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water in a squirt bottle, old dishsoap bottle, or spray bottle and bam - dishwashing, counter cleaning, refrigerator scrubbing goodness! A little bit of Sal Suds goes a really long way. I used to swear by Mrs. Meyer's dish soap. That stuff goes a super long way as well, but it's really spendy and isn't concentrated like the Bronner's. The label recommends mixing 1 tsp to a full sink of dishes or gallon of water for all around household cleaning. I mixed some with some baking soda and cleaned the disgusting stains of my fridge door handle. Amazin' stuff!

Anyway, it is obvious that for environmental, health safety, and frugal reasons I've been trying to learn and formulate new cleaning products from the household and natural ingredients i have on hand. I just read a blog post about using lemon halves to bleach the sink or tub - genius! I cleaned off the nasty scuz from my car's battery with some baking soda and vinegar just yesterday before giving a neighbor a jump. I like to make things and make due, but it's also nice to find a good product available in stores for a modest price.

I've been contacted by a lot of PR folks lately looking to get me to pitch their product. I like free stuff as much, or probably more, than the next guy, but An Austin Homestead has standards and I will only accept products or articles that i feel will benefit my readers.  When a representative for Whole Foods contacted me, i jumped on the opportunity. Austin is the headquarters of Whole Foods and home of their very first store front. It's a doozy! They are remodelling as well, and the already vast realm of organic foods seems even vaster. I'm completely obsessed with this bulk food section and could spend all day there. Thus, i moved along quickly. I do have to wonder though, we are in the capitol of Texas and everything, but will all those lovely leeks really get purchased before their no longer fresh?

I had been asked to review some of the new and affordable cleaning products under the Whole Foods or 365 brand. I was almost out of my Seventh Generation dishwasher detergent, so i grabbed one of those and a glass cleaner. The prices were similar to the budget eco-friendly brands like Seventh Generation, but were much less than Mrs. Meyers or Ecover. The ingredient list is very clear and discloses all, and the packaging is attractive and ergonomic.
I'm pretty sure the people behind me in line through i was a nut taking pictures of the counter
The detergent smells DIVINE and seems to clean the dishes really, really well - even with blenders full of lotion. I don't love that the box is oversized to the amount of detergent inside. It comes wrapped in a plastic bag inside the recycled cardboard box (thin plastic, but plastic just the same) with a plastic scoop for divying out the detergent. This is more convenient than the normal pup out metal spout thingy, but i feel that packaging inside packaging is kind of misleading. I guess i'll be saving up a lot of little plastic scoops if i keep buying this brand of detergent - they're useful, but i'd probably rather use the metal spout, despite increased awkwardness. Whole Foods is very fashionable (i've actually wanted to work in their design dept working on packaging, but alas) and knows what the consumer has an eye for.

The glass cleaner and all purpose cleaner's bottle are very attractive and made from partially recycled content. It isn't see through, so there's no need to add freaky blue dye to the solution. The glass cleaner i have been using is some $1.50 grocery store brand with ammonia. I'm not sure if ammonia is terrible for the environment. Probably is. It sure works well though. The WF glass cleaner doesn't cut through the puppy nose prints as well as the ammonia cleaner does, and it doesn't spread out as easily. It seems more concentrated. It does wipe off streak free, so i'll continue to use it when the heavy duty toxic stuff isn't necessary.

I'll still be calling Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" and keep most of my grocery shopping confined to HEB and Central Market - but it's nice to find out that there really are very affordable options to be found within the temple of Whole Foods.

Now, if only they wouldn't support Monsanto and GMO Alfalfa.... but that's for another post....

*Disclaimer: i was given a Whole Foods gift card in order to purchase these items, but was under no obligation to choose the 365 or Whole Foods brand items, or even to review them here. My opinions are solely my own.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Some Food Love

I recently learned some hard news to hear: a friend of mine is going through a hard time in her life. Her news hit me a little close to home, and i felt the strong need to show her a little extra love: in the form of food. I tend to think of myself as kind of curmudgeonly. I don't love humanity as a whole. I'm not overly effusive with praise or smiles or frivolous niceties. But i'm proud to know that when those close to me are hurting i step up to the plate: Extra hugs for my grandmother when she lost her husband. Increased willingness to help with chores when my mother was dealing with problems in her life.
I'm not singing praises for myself: i'm still a curmudgeon. But the least i can do is reach out with a little extra kindness to someone who has touched my own life in a positive way. I'm good at food, so I made her some muffins.

My lemon tree is not dealing with this long freeze very well, and i accidentally left all the fruit on the stem during one of our coldest nights. All the fruits froze solid! Fortunately, they still juiced fine. Unfortunately, the zest was not too keen to jump off (so i made some candied peels too, yum!). I made some DELICIOUS lemon/poppyseed bread/cake the other night with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I was going to turn that into muffins, but doubted my accuracy in changing the temps and times from bread to muffins. So, i adapted this recipe from Arctic Garden Studios. They turned out very moist and delicious, best eaten warm, not too sweet, and very fluffy! I added a little cornmeal for different texture, as well as poppyseeds to half the batter. I also doubled it to make 2 dozen:

Meyer Lemon Muffins
adapted from Arctic Garden Studios, adapted from Not So Humble Pie

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour including about 1/2 a cup of cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon Meyer Lemon Zest - i used all i could scrape off of 8 curmudgeonly lemons
  • 1 1/4 cup homemade yogurt
  • 2 freshly laid eggs
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (since i doubled i used 8 T butter and 2 T Coconut Oil)
  • 1/4 cup  Meyer Lemon juice
  • Lemon peel infused simple syrup from making candied lemon peels
  • Tablespoon or 2 poppyseeds

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Spray your tins or use fancy nonstick ones.
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest and combine thoroughly. In the center of the dry ingredients and add the yogurt, eggs, butter, and juice.
  2. Mix together until the batter is combined, but don't overmix. Makes a nice, lumpy batter fizzing with activity. Add the poppyseeds last.
  3. Fill muffin wells 3/4 full.
  4. Bake for 18 minutes or until the muffins are light golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Don't over bake.
  5. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and glaze with simple syrup.

These are way yummier warm (or frozen) with plenty of steam pouring out of their light, fluffy selves.

I can't make my friend's life less difficult. We all have our personal struggles to deal with from time to time: such is life. What i can do is give her moral support and maybe fatten her up a little bit. It's hard to feel too sad with such a bright happy taste dancing on your tongue. Make muffins out of joy and bring joy to others. I think that's a pretty good motto ;)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Composting Doggie Toilet- A How To

Pocket the Pembroke Welsh Corgi is very smart, but she's not smart (or tall!) enough to actually USE a toilet, but we can certainly pick up after her and dispose of her poos in an environmentally sensitive way. Throwing dog poo away is frowned upon by our garbage collectors. Runoff is bad for the aquifer and bodies of water. The sewer isn't the place for it either (apparently dog poo doesn't break down as easily as human poo?): what, then are you SUPPOSED to do with it?

My yard is teeming with poo disposing bug life: i've seen a pile of poo one day turn into a pile of bugs  the next. Quite fascinating, really. I think I have the chickens with their constant supply of 'organic matter' to thank for that, along with organic gardening practices. - I want to eliminate piles altogether, however. So:

We're building a composting toilet!

It's been on the docket for quite some time, but we finally got around to it last weekend. Here's a great link with step by step instructions, and here's how we did it:
  1. Take an old bucket. These Home Depot buckets cost about a dollar
  2. Drill some holes along the sides and bottom of the bucket
  3. Dig a hole and place rocks at the bottom of the hole. Put the hole somewhere downhill from any veggie plantings.
  4. Place the bucket in the hole.
  5. Place the poo in the bucket.
  6. Add some septic starter and maybe some compost and water and VOILA!
  7. Fit a lid for the toilet and maybe paint a cute picture on it. You don't want anyone falling in there.

We couldn't find organic septic starter for a few months, so the poo kind of built up. Gross, i know: sorry. With the septic starter added, this poo should start breaking down quickly. We'll keep adding the starter occasionally to keep things 'active' and what was once nasty dog poopy will become broken down compost. The liquid will run out of the holes, fertilizing the back corner of our yard - you'd do better to place the hole someplace where the compost tea would help out some ornamental plants or something. Eventually the poop should break down enough to be used as compost on non-edible plants. No more reeking yard! No more toxic waste in the garbage can! It's easy to turn something foul into something useful and not stepped in.

What do you do with your dog's 'yard deposits'?

This post can be found at the Simple Lives Thursdays blog hop.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wholesome Wednesdays: Raw Milk

This post could be quite an undertaking, but instead I think I'll just post a few links to articles concerning the health benefits, controversies and laws addressing raw milk, along with some personal opinions. I'd like to delve more deeply into the matter, and i'm super open to comments in opinions from my readers - so post away!

I've been unable to drink store bought milk for most of my life. It always made me phlegmy and later in life gave me bad tummy aches and worse gas (especially bad for the innocent bystanders in my life). The very concept of humans drinking cow's milk is unnatural and only digestible due to a genetic mutation that most folks have. We 'lactose intolerant' are actually the norm, despite the FDA's suggestions via cute milk mustached advertisements. That being said, the store bought milk that has been pasteurized 'for our protection' is even more difficult to digest: lacking key enzymes and good bacterias essential for proper breakdown and access to milk's calcium.

Copyright Chiot's Run

For almost a year I have been drinking raw milk that i purchase from a local co-op. The co-op consists of health conscious folks and 'real milk' advocates and provides an opportunity for Austinites to pick up raw milk from a natural Jersey cow farm in Schulenburg. In Texas, we are CURRENTLY lucky to have farm sales of milk be legal, but not all states are so lucky, and not all farms are conveniently located. It wouldn't do the environment very good if all us raw milk drinkers took a weekly drive to Schulenburg, so instead we pay the pick up location (a family with a shed and a few extra fridges) a small fee to help with the electricity, order our milk (and raw cheese and beef, etc) online via a google doc and pay the farmer directly for the product he drops off. The milk is fresh (though not as fresh as i'd like: from my own animals), and best of all it's raw and chock full of all the enzymes that milk should be. I ferment most of the milk we pickup into delicious yogurt. It's my bi-weekly routine and i've noticed more energy following a breakfast of yogurt and chia seeds than i ever had eating grains or even eggs. I save some of the milk to drink raw and to add to our tea. I skim the cream off the top to make our butter and occasionally make sweet treats with it. I make farmers cheese infused with homegrown herbs and peppers. And best of all: i have no extra phlegm and my digestion suffers no foul repurcussions. I'm able to digest this milk and my bones and skin and hair are healthier for it.

Pasteurization is great for the expanding world: there are tons of us and tons who don't do their own cooking, farming, growing, or canning. Yes, there should be steps taking to 'protect us' from bad bacteria and pathogens, but no: not all bacterias are bad and our gut requires quite a few to function normally. Safely, cleanly, and fastidiously harvested raw milk should be available to those who want it. i can't wait til we have a small herd of goats on our homestead so that i don't have to rely on raw milk shipped from out of town, and i can be responsible for the clean handling and storage of fresh milk that's even more easily digestible than cow's.

You may have noticed some news concerning raw milk lately. People claiming it's poison and can kill you. People claiming it should be banned. People clamouring for it to be more widely available.
Here are some links i've read recently:

-Time Magazine
 -Amish Raw Milk from Boing Boing
-Real Milk
-Milk Laws
-FDA vs The Constitution

Take a gander and don't hesitate to give me your thoughts: pro or against. All I can say is that i feel great, my skin feels great, my immune system is super great, and my digestive system is functioning A OK!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Guest Post from Father Dominic Garramone: PIZZA BASICS

I was recently contacted by Reedy Press, publisher of Father Dominic Garramone's book Thursday Night Pizza, a book with tips, recipes, and instructions on how to create the perfect pizza dough and some yummy pizzas. In his community, he chooses Thursdays as the day for pizza making because:
Thursday night is haustus night. Haustus (from the Latin hausere, to be filled or satisfied) is a weekly community night with snacks. We sit in the community room and discuss current events, argue politics, (...) It's a way to relax, but also to strengthen the bonds of community.
I like that. I like meals that bring people together, for the eating and/or for the making. I like to host sushi parties where everyone tries their hand at rolling their own sushi. And for Valentine's Day this year, my hubby and I will be making 'his and hers pizzas' using Fr. Dominic's recipes. He'll make mine (with the Italian crust) and i'll make his (with the American crust). I'll probably wing my own topping and sauce recipes, but i'll take his into consideration. This is a sweet little book, small enough to fit anywhere in the kitchen, and has some really fun and unusual recipes that i'll definitely try, although i'm not much of a recipe user. Pizza is another of those bread making ventures i wish to master, and Thursday Night Pizza should help me on my way.  You can get your own copy in bookstores, online and at

*As an official disclaimer: as a member of 'the media' i was requested to write about this book in exchange for a free copy but was under no obligation to write a review: positive or negative.  My opinions are solely my own.

I'll post the results of our his and hers pizzas next Tuesday, along with further thoughts on this book. For now, enjoy a guest post from Father Dominic on the basics of pizza dough, the real key to delicious pizza.

Some pizza dough basics

I generally distinguish between two basic styles of pizza dough: American and Italian.  What I call “American” style dough is made with bread flour (with a relatively high protein content), uses oil and milk to condition the dough, and has a little sugar in it, both for taste and to facilitate browning.  “Italian” style dough uses a softer flour (all-purpose will do fine), and only yeast, water and salt as the remaining ingredients.  Italian-style dough is also a much wetter, slacker dough than its American cousin, and so I usually make it in a stand mixer.

Not only are there differences in ingredients in the two categories of dough, the methods used for shaping the crust are also different.  An American-style crust is rolled out with a rolling pin, so that the dough is “de-gassed” and both the thickness and the interior texture more regular.  American-style dough is also somewhat denser and chewier than its Italian counterpart. By contrast, Italian-style dough is stretched by hand, never rolled, resulting in larger air pockets throughout the dough and an uneven thickness and texture.  Italian-style crusts are sometimes smaller, but even in larger sizes are used for pizza with fewer toppings than the usual pile of meat and veggies on a typical American pizza.

Here’s an easy rule of thumb for the amount of dough for a pizza: for a medium thick crust, use one ounce of dough for every one inch of diameter.  The majority of home pizza pans are for a 12” to 14” pizza, so 12 to 14 ounces of dough will be about right.  Obviously, use less dough for a thinner crust and more if you prefer thick crust, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Another aspect of creating quality pizza dough is the amount of time the dough rises, and at what temperature.  A long, slow rise will produce a better pizza crust.  You can achieve this slower rise either by using cool or even cold liquids when mixing the dough, and/or by refrigerating the dough as it rises.  You can even make your dough in the evening and refrigerate it overnight for the next night’s supper.  Just be sure to allow for a couple of hours for the dough to come to room temperature.

One last note about creating quality pizza crusts: buy yourself a pizza stone.  Pizza stones are made of a durable fired clay called stoneware.  They are usually round, 14” to 15” in diameter, and are available at most large department stores, discount outlets and even some grocery stores.  The stone pulls moisture out of the bottom crust and makes it crisper, and we all know soggy crusts are the bane of good pizza.  So the next time you’re at a Pampered Chef party and don’t know what to buy, go ahead and get a pizza stone, and while you’re at it, get a wooden peel or paddle so you can get the pie in and out of the oven!  

Fr. Dominic Garramone is a Benedictine priest and monk of Saint Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois. You can reach Father Dominic at frdom at st-bede dot com.

Monday, February 7, 2011

RIP Fish

The cold snap has brought more than just frozen plants to our little homestead. I was sad to find 4 dead fishies floating amongst the pond weeds this morning. Luckily, the chickens and the compost heap will utilize their frozen little bodies.

2 fish remain.  May they see long, sunny, warm days ahead.

The snow exposed another threat this past weekend. Raccon:

As far as I can tell, he wandered through the front veggie garden and back into the yard near the chicken coop. As the girls remain unmolested, we can give another thanks to Josh at Mobile Chicken Coops for such a sturdy design.

It is late. I am full of nachos, still. The house must be vacuumed. This Urban Homesteader needs to get off the computer and back to work.         Hasta manana!

Let me know if you'd like me to re-post the recipe for these beauties, along with the delicious bean dip. So good. So much. So full.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Day in Austin!

Gym classes are canceled so i stayed home, made bacon and eggs for breakfast and played with our puppy and hens. The hens are NOT cool with this snow business (they refused to walk around, just stood and stared at their feet in terror), but Pocket sure loves it.
Here are a few cute photos and a video for your enjoyment.

We'll see what, if anything bounces back after this long cold spell. I'm pretty sure the onions and garlic will bounce back and i left one broccoli un-harvested as an experiment.