Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Few Doses of Ranch Cute

I love this place where i grew up. Bald eagles, hawks, lizards and horses all love it too. It has been such a joy these past two weeks to watch our little urban fur-baby discovering her true ranch dog self. It took 3 days for her to warm up to Blinca, the resident golden but now they're both careening about together like the best of pals. They even play tug of war together! It's really rewarding to watch our little pup get to be a real dog with limitless space to sprint about and chase frisbees, and even more rewarding to occasionally have training sessions or sporadic commands that are still flawlessly obeyed. I'm so proud  :)

 My parents happened to take in some kitties from our local vet's office: they'd been singed in a brush pile someone was burning and she took them in to raise as barn cats. She fixed 2, but the third happened to get pregnant on her first heat. My mama's cat Hermione was pregnant when we moved here last week, and i happened to notice a not-so-pregnant Hermoine a few days ago. My folks were just about convinced the kittens hadn't made it, but i had a feeling the bunny furred cat had just hidden her brood away. And as luck would have it, a rat-seek training session with the dogs found not rats, but Hermoine with 4 tiny kittens.

What a lovely hay nest!

Then, just yesterday the cats found a nest of another sort... sadly 1 of these cuties was dispatched by Smokey the excellent hunting barn cat, but 2 had the luck of being cuddled and re-nested by my softy of a husband. It seems to be baby having season for the small critters around here!

Baby bunnies are CUTE!

My husband and I are toying with keeping one of the kittens.....

  But we should really get the barn before we get the barn cat.......    shouldn't we???

This post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Road Recipe: Mac and Cheese

Who doesn't love mac and cheese? I know my husband is obsessed with it, and we always have plenty of boxes of Annie's mac and cheese in the cupboard for his go-to bachelor meals when i don't want to cook. Annie's has several varieties that include organic pasta and real cheese. The ingredient lists are short and wholesome, and although a box of mac has more calories than i need on a frequent basis, it's a great option for camping or quick weeknight fixes.  I never make it as is, though. You know me, i like to mix it up. My stovetop mac methods include playing with additional herbs or veggies, meat and oil. I also like to add more cheese. For our first night on the road at South Llano River State Park i made our mac thusly:
  • 2 boxes Annies mac and cheese - Cheddar shells
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Chopped jalapenos
  • Dash smoked paprika
  • Big spoonful of ricotta cheese
  • Large can tuna

I usually cook the pasta about 1-2 minutes shy of the box directions, about 7-9 minutes total. I usually throw half the jalapenos in the boiling water and the other half at the end. If i'm using sausage or hot dogs, i chop them and add them to the water first. Throw in the pasta, bring to a boil and cook then drain. Add the tuna first, then the milk, any oil (truffle oil!!!) or butter if you're using it and the cheese dust and remaining peppers. Stir well then mix in the cheese. I often do the cheese mixing right in the bowl i'm serving in so as not to dirty the pasta pot. When using tuna, i like to put it in first so that it warms up with the residual pot warmth, then add the cold milk etceteras.  Add chopped cheddar last if using so that you get yummy globs of not-totally-melted cheese here and there. The ricotta totally made this batch: creamier than normal and very flavorful.

Some other variations i like:
  • Tuna and Peas with Peace Parmesan (my favorite!)
  • Buddy's Chicken Sausage with extra cheddar and jalapenos
  • White Cheddar Shells with truffle oil and dried basil

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Road Recipe: Breakfast Nests

I love cooking camp breakfasts, perched over my coleman stove, hot tea in hand and fresh air in my lungs. If we're planning a day full of hiking, i'll make bagels or sausage. On less active days, i still like to cook up some eggs, especially since we were traveling with the last dozen of our ladies' eggs. A favorite camp breakfast with my family has always been eggs in nests. Similar to Foy's Eggy In a Basket, I like to use a sweet bread with the savory eggs. On this particular trip, i picked up some cranberry walnut bread from Central Market which made nice small little nests to start our 2nd day on the road.

**Eggs and toast is just as good, too - even better when you have limited space in your pan. You'll notice from my photographs that i didn't actually make nests while at the state park. This day i made toast and eggs, but i did make nests the following day - so pretend this photos are of nested eggs and bread, tee hee.

Love the new souvenir mug, don't love the newly gained 10 pounds. Grrr.

I buttered the pan and placed the torn bread into it, topped with a bit more butter. I like to wait until the bread toasts a bit before dropping in the egg, as the egg cooks very fast. Drop the eggs carefully into their nests and season with some salt and smoked paprika or herbs, flipping once the bread and egg white have binded some and can be flipped without falling apart. Cook until the amount you like, breaking the yolk after you flip if you like it more well done. Delicious with hot sauce, too!

What's your favorite camping breakfast?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: South Llano State Park

I am in love with this state park. My husband and i have visited and camped in many of Texas's state parks, and have enjoyed most. But i think this particular site may be our new favorite.

Just outside of Junction, TX South Llano isn't very close to any large cities, and so feels a lot wilder than some of the parks we've stayed. There are no oil rig drones, no highway noises, no summer camp screams. There's just lots and lots of bird song. South Llano SP is home to a Winter turkey roosting area, and has many bird blinds all over the park for observing the amazing bird population. In the short time we were there (and we never made it to a blind, sadly) we saw wrens, a painted bunting, hawks and some very tiny and very cute little warbler looking thing. Our morning was started to a chorus of birdsong and our evening ended with sights of swallows snacking on stray insects. I highly recommend this park to any birder or person keen to see plenty of wildlife. We also saw bunnies and a few whiptail lizards who took advantage of our on sight water spigot.

Random photo of me posing as a gypsy with my hanging onions

South Llano is also great for recreation. There are really excellent trails which we utilized on an earlier visit later (and cooler) in the year. They would be good for bikes as well as hiking and meander under some tall trees. All Texas state parks enforce a 6 foot leash for your dogs, so be ready to practice your walking on-lead. We took Pocket here when she was just learning, so the trails were slow going. She'd have great fun winding around the trails now though.  There's a sweet day use area at the beginning of the park as well which is great for swimming or tubing down a little shoot. We fully utilized this area on this particular visit, as it was 100 degrees out! Floating in the light current was just divine and the perfect end to our first day on the hot road. There were quite a few folks playing in the water in the early afternoon, but it cleared out nicely and was certainly nothing compared to the river areas close to Austin.

South Llano SP seems to draw folks from all over the state. Every time we've been there, we've engaged someone in conversation, and they've all declared their love for the park, and their willingness to drive as far as necessary just to relax in the river's waters. If you're looking for a camping destination to take the family before school's back in, or just wanting to take a day getaway - i recommend making the drive out to Junction and getting your fill of the waters, trails, and birds of this state park.

Friday, June 24, 2011


A new work space. Boxed up materials. Different time zone. New website in progress..... Nude Soap is having a hard time adjusting to our new location!

I figure i'm experiencing working condition growing pains, i might as well re-work some of my recipes to be EVEN BETTER than before. I love my soap, but one can always improve their work, yes? The new recipes will be just as moisturizing and gentle as the old ones, but with better lather and longer shower life and refined packaging. If you have a favorite variety, just let me know before ordering and i'll send you the new version when their ready: names will change, but product is pretty much the same. I am discontinuing my old 'Cleansing Soap' and replacing it with a new version that doesn't rely on vegetable shortening. It was a quick fix in the beginning, but my standards have been raised and 'shortening' doesn't make the cut.

My original product line consists of Moisturizing Soap, Moisturizing Shea Soap, and Cleansing Soap, each with several variations with herbs and essential oils. I've tweaked the recipes some and will now be offering several blends each of Shea Butter Soap, Herbal Soap, and a new Cleansing Soap including healing herbs and essential oils. The essential oil/herb blends will remain the same as before. I'll also have seasonal specials including the all new Shasta Sage Hemp Soap which should really rock. I may love it so much as to make a hemp soap one of my full time products.  I'm very excited to launch the new soap, but fiddling with soap calculators is sure a headache!

Monday, June 20, 2011

We Made It!

5 days, 2,000+ miles, treacherous dust devils and high winds, gorgeous views, 2 motels, dehydration, plant casualties and confiscations and some sore muscles later, An Austin Homestead and The Rommels have arrived in Merrill, Oregon right at dusk.

My Meyer Lemon tree was lost to the state of California.

Pocket is thrilled with her new leash free life with her Auntie Blinca (a golden retreiver) and boundless new smells to investigate. I'm thrilled to be home to sunsets and wide open spaces. My husband is thrilled to begin a new phase of our lives in a brand new spot for both of us (Willamette Valley) with so much potential in store.

And I think these folks are thrilled to have their little girl back. ;)  More unpacking to do and some serious soap making for Nude Soap this week, but i hope to be back on a regular blogging routine asap! On the docket:
  • Road recipes
  • Treacherous driving conditions
  • Dead plants
  • Confiscated plants and federal quarantines
  • Motel reviews
  • Sights and stops along the road
Anyone want to come over and help us unload this huge van??? Ha ha ha ha!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tonopah, NV

Thank you, Clown Motel. Thank you for your world's largest collection of porcelain clowns. Thank you for your festively patterned carpet. Thank you for your pet friendly policy and your lovely mountain view. Most of all, thank you for affordable comfort at the end of a 10 hour drive in Big Bud, our 24 foot Budget truck.

So far I'm thrilled with our experience with the Clown Motel, and unless we encounter maniacal giggling or eery circus music in the middle of the night, I'll be posting a full and positive review of this establishment soon.

I can't wait to get back to daily posts, but thank you all for your patience as we weave our way north. We're almost there! ETA tomorrow evening!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Travelling Update

Phew! Driving for 6-10 hours a day is exhausting! And sadly i've been without wireless most of the time and don't have one of those fancy multi purpose phones to post with. Here are some tantalizing tid bits from the past few days that i'll be sure and elaborate on as soon as we're more settled.... All that's missing are the photos of the best camping mac and cheese ever. Stay posted for those!
Also, apologies for not resizing all these photos to be uniform. My brain is too toast to do the math in html.

 Let the adventure continue! Hopefully more tomorrow. Also, thanks to all of you for your encouragement and good wishes! They're inspiring!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


It's finally that time: An Austin Homestead is on the road, Austin to Oregon. I hope you'll join us on our travels, and forgive me for fewer posts while we're en route and getting settled. This year is going to be amazing and full of adventures, i can feel it!

The house was full of boxes and now those boxes fill one big ole' moving van, after one long day (10 am to 7 pm with still a few odds and ends left) of packing with the husband. What a day! And now the adventure begins, on the 2nd day of our 3rd year of our marriage!

We're off! I'll do my best to post snippets along the way: sights, road food, silly photos, notes and souvenirs. I'll be elaborating on the highlights once we've landed. In the meantime, wish us luck! We're Oregon bound!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Wonderful Read

I have been very remiss. I received a copy of this wonderful book, Urban Homesteading direct from the author months ago and have yet to write about it.

This is a very sweet book with some gorgeous photographs and tons of excellent information and instructions. This book is definitely geared toward the urban homesteader, but has some great info that i'll be sure to use in my country homestead, like how to grow mushrooms around the garden. I'm totally stoked to do that!

This book  makes a great coffee table piece, but has enough juicy information to make it suitable to a library, which is where it's packed up to go right now. Great info, approachable ideas, and urban focused projects make this book valuable to anyone looking to 'homestead' in their back yard or even in the inner city. I recommend it!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Storing Onions

This post has moved, and so have we! Head over to Pocket Pause for the updated article.

I posted about curing and storing onions a few weeks ago and finally dug out the pantyhose from one of the many boxes we'd packed in preparation of listing our house. My friends think my hanging onions look a bit like a modern art piece. I tend to agree.   Read more at Pocket Pause now!

What's your favorite method of storing onions?

This post can be found at the Barn Hop - check it out every Monday!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Out to Lunch...

Man. My husband and i very rarely go out to eat. I am a great cook, and we're both thrifty so it doesn't usually make sense to spend 3 times as much on a meal that i probably could have created just as tastily in the comfort of our own home.

However, we're "going away" next wednesday and there have been a LOT of out to eats with friends. And i've gained at least 10 pounds. Seriously. I feel it. I haven't stepped on the gym scale because that would depress me way too much, but i can tell my already 5 lb over ideal has been topped by at least another 5. And there are 3 more dinners left to go. Ugh. I've even had to skip a few of my step aerobics class, so i'm getting it from both sides: consumption and lack of excercise. I put in a great, sweaty Body Step class this morning though, and might have even burned off at least 3 bites of sausage mac and cheese.

So, my question is this: how in the world do so many Americans go out to eat for so many meals and not feel that there is something very wrong and imbalanced in their lives? How are there still not calorie estimates on most menus? And why are sides of veggies still slathered in olive oil or butter instead of just lightly steamed and fresh?

What's your experience going out to eat? Do you do it often, or is it a special occasion event only?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wholesome Wednesdays: Pineapple

I do not live in Hawaii. Or south America. I do like pineapples, however and when they're on sale i occasionally purchase them. Does it make it better if i serve them with locally caught wild hog and homegrown veggies? I hope so.
I have always preferred the tangy pineapples to the 'sweet gold' ones, but i'll take them either way, especially grilled or spiced (soaked in apple cider vinegar and spices).

I would assume pineapples are pretty full of sugar, but do they have nutritional boons to balance that sweetness? Let's find out.

I like to start at The World's Healthiest Foods to see what they say about an ingredient. If it's in their site, it has something good to offer. They often focus more on the actual nutrition, including minerals and complimentary foods to eat to get the most out of the ingredient- versus calorie count which focuses more on if an ingredient will make you fat or not. Pineapple gets a pretty good review, and has anti-inflammatory properties as well as enough vitamin C to make it a good immunity support.

That's a whole lotta manganese! According to WHFoods:
"manganese, which is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. For example, the key oxidative enzyme superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within our cells), requires manganese. Just one cup of fresh pineapple supplies 128.0% of the DV for this very important trace mineral. In addition to manganese, pineapple is a good source of thiamin, a B vitamin that acts as a cofactor in enzymatic reactions central to energy production."
 That crazy talk supposedly means that pineapple is a great source of energy. No wonder it tastes so great after a long day of swimming in the heat. Pineapple is also good for your eye sight, so perhaps i'd better be eating even more of it, as i'm feeling some macular degeneration coming on in my impending 30s.

Calorie Count gives pineapple an A! Turns out this sweet treat isn't so bad for ya after all.

It's definitely mostly carbs and sugar with a smidge of protein, but 78 calories for a full cup of pineapple doesn't seem so bad to me. I think i'll go eat a few more chunks of pineapple right now! Oh, and it's fantastic to float a piece of pineapple in ice tea - flavors the tea just a bit and then you have a yummy snack waiting at the bottom of the glass.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Envirosax Giveaway Winner

CONGRATULATIONS! To The Cali Dreamer, comment number 52.

Thanks to all of you who entered the contest and who found An Austin Homestead. I hope you'll stick around for a while. This blog is about to become a travel blog for a stint, and then relocated in Oregon where I'm sure to have lots of adventures and serious gardening troubleshooting for your enjoyment and information. My woes are your gains!

As for the giveaway, Envirosax will be shipping your prize shortly. I love your comment about using reusable lunch kits. I personally always used a brown bag (reused about 100 times and worn to a frazzle) or a hello kitty soft sided lunch box i picked up in Hawaii when i was 12 or so. My husband has even sported that to work - to much joshing by his co-workers, i'm sure.

I really loved some of your comments, readers! There were some really great tips to be found on minimizing waste in a way that's easy and convenient to do. Here are some of my favorite tips that you guys submitted:

That last one is swell: i do that all the time too! The checkers think i'm crazy, but it's not as if my driveway is a mile long here in the suburbs. This contest has been a lot of fun, and i hope you new friends will stick around. I learned one other great tip during this giveaway: how to make a screen shot on my mac without using Grab It: Command Shift 4, you can grab a selection and it saves it to your desktop. What a time saver!

I'm working for Yard Farm today (on a day forecasted to be 101 ugh), so I'll see you all tomorrow with a Wholesome Wednesday post about pineapple. It seems to be in season right now, though definitely not locally sourced. We've had it a few times this week (our favorite so far has been mixed up in one of my delicious bulghar wheat/ sauteed veggie mix ups) and I'd like to learn what benefits we're getting from it. Tons of sugar, that's for sure!

Monday, June 6, 2011


Thanks to all you wonderful folks who entered my giveaway for an Envirosax bag!

The winner will be announced as soon as i have enough time away from homesteading (aka eating delicious wild hog ribs) to post!

Give It A Rest! (Your Garden, That Is)

That's right, it's not even Summer yet (June 21st marks the official start date), and it's already time to let our Summer gardens do a bit of resting. This has been one heck of a hot and dry Spring, and those who were lucky to get plants in early and maybe have really big rain barrels are the lucky ones. I've seen plenty of nice tomatoes and peppers on our clients' plants, some really excellent chards and some massive beets. But the plants that were put in at the end of the season are still struggling to cope with the heat. Yellow leaves, stunted growth, dropped fruit: all signs of plant stress due to hot weather.

We were spoiled last year with plenty of rain and a longer, cooler Spring. My garden was slammin' last year , producing tons of cucumbers, tomatoes and other goodies. We might have missed out on a great early season, but there's still hope for the Fall. Take this time to chill out a bit, despite the heat and get ready for your next planting season. Here are some ideas for things to do with your garden now and

Harvest! With any luck your veggie plants should be putting on tasty fruit, and most will produce more and produce tastier if you harvest often. Cucumbers taste best when still small - don't let lemon cukes actually turn yellow or they'll be dry, and can get bitter if left to overripen in hot sun. Bells peppers can be picked early or late, green or yellow/red/purple/whatever color they mature to. Hot peppers can also be harvested green or ripe: red jalapenos have a sweeter flavor and are slightly milder. Keep 'cut and come again' harvesting your chard and summer greens. Pick off any blooms on basil and other herbs to keep the flavor sweet. Green beans will respond with tons more beans if you harvest often. Tomatoes can be picked as soon as a hint of 'blush' can be seen. Keep them safe from bugs and birds: let them ripen in your kitchen. Onions should be about ready: when their tops start to wither and fall over you know it's time to pull 'em.

Water. Keeping the garden watered in this drought is a difficult task. Water for an hour every other day to get those roots digging deep for moisture and water early in the day before the heat will seek out and evaporate.

Troubleshoot and Weed. It's hot outside, so plan a little time in the morning for some garden bonding. Catching the first signs of pests or disease early can mean life or death for your crop. Weeding is also lighter work if done little bits at a time instead of waiting for their roots to grab deep and flowers to go to seed. Bugs are drowsy in the morning and can be caught and squished more easily.

Save Seeds. If you let some lettuce bolt and flower, you probably have harvestable lettuce seeds. There are tons of books on how to save seeds, and i've read zero of them. Keep your harvested seeds in a breathable container, like an envelope to keep any moisture from rotting the other seeds, but try to be sure and only pick off the driest seeds that are ready for storage. Glass jars also work well for saving seeds, or even the original seed packet. Green beans and peas are really easy to save: let them dry on the vine and pick them off to dry a bit more in the house. Break the hard seeds out of the dry seed pod for storage. Marigolds and wildflowers also have easily saved seeds, and will readily reseed themselves next year if you don't dead head.

Plant. You can get away with putting in some more cantaloupe and watermelon this time of year, as well as okra and sunflowers. For the most part though, save planting for July.

Plan. Pumpkins go in July 4th to be ready for Halloween. Peppers and tomatoes do well in the Fall when put in around July 13th. Eggplants, sweet potatoes and chard will also do well in the Fall. Start planning where you want to put your Fall gardens, and what plants are doing well enough now to keep their location, and which should be pulled. Plan ahead for September/October as well: garlic and onions like the cooler months as do cool season greens.

Although Summer is a time of rest in the garden, it's also a time of bounty. Whip up a delicious batch of gazpacho and sit in the shade sketching out your next garden. Leave the heavy digging for the cooler months, or even consider leaving it to your local edible garden installer: Yard Farm Austin, whom this post was originally written for. I vouche for their excellent work and commitment to organic veggie gardening. Their badge will remain on this blog until i'm re-settled in Oregon, so feel free to check them out for all of your gardening needs!

This post is part of the Homestead Revival Barn Hop!