Friday, December 30, 2011

I'm Not Dabbling

Please head over to Not Dabbling in Normal for this morning's post, and get ready for more handmade holiday projects revealed next week here at An Austin Homestead.

Ponder also this: I'll be changing both the url and the name of my blog in the next few months to reflect my new Oregon based persuasion. The blog's mission will be the same: to post tips and recipes on how to live and cook sustainably, healthfully, and joyfully, and will also (eventually) include more homesteading tips, livestock raising tips and troubleshooting (as we learn ourselves) and follow our transition for suburbanites to rural hobby farmers. I'd like to name the blog after our farm, but it's looking like the farm purchase may be delayed some. Any ideas for a great name???

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Handmade Holidays #1: REVEALED!

Yay! Christmas is over! That means it's time for me to cry every five minutes, ponder over whether i should spend my Christmas checks on bills or new stuff, and finally reveal those handmade gifts i put together this season! I suffer from 'Christmas Let Down" something fierce, so i'm looking forward to extending the season a bit with these reveals.

As you may remember, this was my first handmade holiday teaser, way back in October:

Did you guess what it was? I didn't receive any correct answers in the comments, but i did get a request for a 'sew along'. If anyone is still interested, i'd be happy to write up a tutorial on how to crochet your own MARKET BAGS!

They're also great for storing onions or garlic in the kitchen, are dyeable (100% cotton) and have a pretty massive capacity. I'm kicking myself that i didn't weigh them and put a tag inside with their tare weight, so that my gift recipients won' t be paying extra for the weight of the bag. Next time!

Shall we have a sew along/ Shall i write a tutorial?

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Dinner Contribution

Well, don't i have egg on my face? I thought for sure that i had posted my favorite side dish recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner in the past, but i was wrong. No old post to re-post for me! This is the basic jist, however:

Patti's Sweet Potatoes (or squash)

This dish is best prepared the day ahead.
  • 1 squash or sweet pie pumpkin OR
  • 6 or so yams/ sweet potatoes
  • Half gallon of apple cider
  • Whole cloves/ cinnamon/ salt/ pepper/ paprika/ cayenne
  • Splash cream sherry
  • Olive oil or butter
Cut squash or yams into evenish sized cubes. Toss in melted butter or olive oil with savory seasonings. Roast at 400 until cooked through, at least 30 minutes- stirring occasionally. In the meantime, pour cider into a medium sized pot with the cloves and Cinnamon. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and continue to cook down until it has reduced to at least 1/3 of its original volume. 
Once squash/yams are cooked to your liking, place into an appropriately sized baking dish and cover with the cider. Toss a few times, cover and put in the bottom of the fridge (or the really cold garage). 
To serve:
Toss potatoes/squash a few times to work the cider juice around all the veg and add a drizzle of cream sherry. Place in the oven at 350 to reheat. Serve hot!

This dish is my stand by side dish to bring to any large meal. You can top it with some spiced pecans if you want to get fancier, but this is very tasty just by itself. I love this dish because you can cook it ahead of time and slowly reheat it in between other dishes being baked. Much better than canned sweet potatoes with marshmallows, don't you think??

What's your favorite side dish to bring to a family meal?

Last Minute Shopping? Shop Sustainably: a Guest Post

The Benefits of Shopping Locally/Sustainably

- Adam Jacob from Frugal Dad has provided this post. is a personal finance and frugal living website.

We all love the convenience and simplicity that technology affords us. With just a few clicks on your computer, you can purchase virtually anything: food, a car, a spare part to fix your broken appliance. But do you ever stop to think about the miles that your purchase(s) travels to reach you? You’re not alone. Many people don’t realize how unsustainable some of their shopping habits can be.

What is shopping locally/sustainably?
Environmentalists urge people to shop and eat locally, but many people do not understand how buying from local food growers relates to the environment. To understand this, consider the food on your plate and the processes it has gone through to reach you. Depending on what type of food it is, it probably went through a minimum of four of these processes: how it was grown, harvested, processed, packaged, shipped to the retail outlet, prepared for consumption at your home, and finally where the waste goes. Each of those processes has an effect on the environment. They directly affect the earth’s natural ecosystem, positively or negatively. A process that is most sustainable is one that has the least negative effect on ecosystem. Locally made goods skip or minimize some of the processes, reducing the environmental impact.

So how do YOU benefit when buying locally?
1. When a local farmer sells directly to you, he’s not likely to attach much importance to packaging, transporting, or the shelf life of his food items. Instead, he will choose to grow and harvest food crops in a way that guarantees the utmost quality of freshness, taste and nutritional value. Local famers tend to grow seasonally too, something closer to what Mother Nature allows. So, in addition to eating better tasting, more nutritious food, you’ll also eat seasonally when you buy locally.
2. It takes less energy to process food grown and sold locally, so by buying locally, you help reduce the carbon footprint because less energy used means less emissions into the atmosphere. Imagine the amount of energy it requires to grow, process, and transport food for a family of five every year, and we’re talking about fossil based fuel sources.
Fossils are a non-renewable source, which means they degrade the earth during the drilling and production process. Fossil fuels are used to power machinery used when applying agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, on the farms. Worse, these fuels are again used to ship the food across the country, or the world, and even in refrigerated storage trucks during the journey. If the food is going to be processed, that takes up even more energy, not to mention the unhealthy additives used to preserve it. Locally grown fresh foods skip many of these processes, hence more energy saved.
3. Most local farmers grow organic foods - foods grown strictly through natural farming methods. This means that by buying local foods, you contribute towards minimizing the use of potentially harmful chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, most of which are petroleum based. Chemical residue on the plants eventually ends up polluting the soil, water bodies, the atmosphere, and some may even end up inside your body through consumed food. Chemical residues are believed to increase the incidence of certain health ailments, especially tumors, and resistance to antibiotic treatments. On the other hand, natural farming methods work in line with natural ecosystems to preserve fertility of soil while drawing ‘friendly’ insects and pollinators to avoid the use of hazardous chemicals. This is a more sustainable method of farming as it replenishes soil through natural means. When you buy from a local farmer, you’re indirectly contributing to this process.

Final Thoughts
Do you ever think about the impact of your consumption of meat and dairy on climate change? Simply altering the way you enjoy animal products can have a huge effect on climate. Meat and dairy production contributes to a great deal of the global green house emissions. Animals bred on corn and soybeans in confined farms emit higher amounts of methane gas, which greatly contributes to global warming. This means that reducing your consumption of meat from these animals has a positive impact on the environment - less demand, fewer animals reared - saving your health too in the long run.
If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you’ve taken the first step! Take the next step by buying a few products from your local farmers market or that haven’t traveled as far. Even the smallest of efforts makes all the difference.

See Frugal Dad for personal finance tips.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Cousins

The holidays are upon us and i find myself back at my childhood home, surrounded by family, a lovely local Christmas tree, plentiful food and plentiful critters. My mom's fur family consists of two geldings, 1 golden retriever and a handful of barn cats. We brought Pocket along with us to play with her cousins, but left behind her sister and my oldest pet: Holly the Christmas turtle.

Holly the Christmas turtle, with bow

I got Holly (who came with her name already in place, but seasonally appropriate) for Christmas the year before i went to college. (For those of you counting or guessing: i've had Holly for 12 years, eep!) She's travelled with me to my dorm room, to several apartments, to warm and sunny (and then cold and air conditioned) Texas and now up to Philomath. She loves the damp and temperate Willamette valley best, but she spent many years living down here in the dry of southern Oregon with her biggest fan, my daddy #2 while i was away at graduate school.


Holly loves Christmas! Something about the glittering lights and their warmth, mountains of presents to scale and ribbons to wear always gets her to show up out of the woodwork. This year, she's safely back at home, sitting on her heating pad under the couch. She might be missed by her unlikely sister, but honestly: probably not.

Pocket and Holly interact

Pocket was raised with this odd pet ruling our roost, and has always been a careful housemate, occasionally helping us find her when she's lost. Which is is often. A 6 inch turtle who roams freely in your house is often hidden, often in a discarded garment on the floor.

Holly knows what good is, and a warm corgi by the space heater is definitely good.

Happy holidays to you and all your kin: furry, scaley or even covered in human skin!

- Miranda, Pocket, Holly and the Husband

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pork Chops

I gotta admit, i used to hate pork chops. They were my dad's favorite meal when i was a kid, but i just couldn't get into the way my mom cooked them. With raisins. I just wasn't into it. (sorry mom)

So, when i stopped into a local meat market, i was surprised to find myself leaving with a package of pork chops. I only recently started including a decent amount of meat in our diet, and am still not super familiar with how to purchase meat or how to cook it. Rack of lamb? Ribs? Roast? Eh?  Pork chops were familiar, so i grabbed them. I'm glad i did.

I still didn't really know what to do with the chops, though. I sure as heck didn't want to use raisins, but you need to eat something with pectin in it when eating pork to help our human bods digest the stuff. Remember that applesauce i put up earlier this Summer? I finally cracked a jar open, and it wasn't as bad as i worried it would be (i burned it when i cooked it down). I added some chopped jalapeno to the sauce and warmed it up for a perfect slightly spicy/slightly sweet side to our meal. And then i left it in the microwave until we were 90% done with dinner. Sigh.

I think i did pretty well: from confused in the meat market to cooking a well balanced meal of pork chops, mushroom gravy, little baked potatoes and a side of broccoli (and applesauce). I winged the chops, and they turned out great. First i sauteed the chops with some onions and nitrate free bacon, then i added some mushrooms and herbs and topped it all with some homemade chicken stock. No worries about dried out chops OR undercooked pork. I can't wait until we're growing our own hogs and i can spend even more time humming, hawing and experimenting with the meat we package up.

Have you ever found yourself feeling like a fish out of water at the grocery store or market? Did you try something new, or stick with the one thing you recognized?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dark Days Challenge Week 4

One helpful tip for folks looking to eat locally, seasonally, and healthfully in the Winter: learn to love squash. Squash is one of the latest crops to be harvested in the fall, and generally has long storage times. Some varieties can store all the way until spring if you keep them dry.

For my Dark Days meal this week, i made some scrumptious squash soup. Warm, healthy, tasty and locally sourced: this soup is as easy as it is delicious.

This was a very basic soup: one squash and one leek coarsely chopped and boiled in enough water to cover them. I threw in some herbs and spices and finished the soup by blending with my immersion blender and adding just a touch of yogurt and milk. Served with a side of crusty bread baked just 6 miles away and you've got yourself one satisfying meal! (Especially when you slather the bread with homemade garlic butter, nom nom nom).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dog Food Supplement: Seasoning Salt for Pocket!

Since making the switch from kibble to a raw diet, Pocket has been eating with gusto! Other corgi parents may find it surprising that she's always been very picky, dainty, and unwilling to over eat. She'll often take a day off from eating if she didn't get enough exercise that day (wish i could control my caloric intake like that), and has amazing skill at picking out even the tiniest of 'unpalatable' crumbs. Case in point: she always leaves any trace of beet skin at the bottom of her bowl, but picks out all the delicious squash first thing.

So, as much as i believe feeding raw food is the best way to go with her- i want to be sure she's picking up enough extra goodies that may or may not be included in her kibble. Extras like kelp, omegas, minerals etc are important to a pooch, and since we don't live on land where she can forage on clover etc, i need to give her the goods myself. So, i got to work dehydrating some fresh things and picking up some bulk dried herbs at the grocery store and mixed up some 'seasoning salt' to add to her evening meals. By grinding up and mixing together assorted healthful ingredients, and combining "gross" spirulina and beet with "delicious" yam and apple i can add just a touch of this 'salt' to her food without her being able to pick it out.

I let her lick out the funnel to see if she liked it... i didn't have to wash it out much later, so i guess she does!

She'll get a tip of a spoonful every day, and i'll be sure and add other seasonal yummies as they come around. Broccoli is her favorite right now, and the aforementioned delicious squash. She eats up the meat then brings the broccoli to her bed to gnaw on it a while. It's gratifying to feed my dog nourishing food, and to rinse out a totally empty bowl in the evenings. No more kibble being thrown to the chickens because she's not into it - just a diet of 2-3% of her body weight in raw meat, veggies, yogurt, eggs and seasoning salt to keep her body healthy and fit! Gotta love the sound of a bowl being licked clean to the last drop!

If you feed your dogs a raw diet, how do you supplement it to be sure they're getting all the nutrition they need?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sharing Holiday Cheer

Tired of waiting in lines? Frustrated with the new cashier at your favorite grocery store? Exhausted from filling out rebate paperwork?

You're not the only person involved in holiday purchases and transactions: on the other side of the counter is a living, breathing human with feelings and frustrations. Don't forget about your customer service representatives when spreading holiday cheer this season.

I'm spreading a little extra cheer this season: read more about it at Not Dabbling in Normal.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pocket's In for a Change

As many of my long time readers know, my hubs and i are proud parents of one 20 pound almost-two year old..... who is covered in fur.  Isn't she cute?

Pocket's first whiff of sea air at the Oregon coast

Since before we brought Pocket home, we've been planning for her long, healthy, well educated life. I'm a bit of a task master when it comes to her training, but i also bring all my nutritional savvy to her dinner bowl as i do in our own kitchen. As a pup, we fed her Nature's Variety kibble and raw diets. This very expensive, and very high quality dog food was the best we could get in the city, but we want even more wholesome food for our fur-baby that will in turn more reasonably fit into our budgets.  Even Nature's Variety, with its probiotics, grainfree and well balanced ingredients, and raw options doesn't quite get it. Kibble, for so many reasons, is so off the mark. Dehydrating, sapped of nutrients, not very tasty, and far removed from what nature really intends for our dogs to eat: kibble just isn't a great option.

For all the reasons kibble is a poor choice of dog food, i've been supplementing Pocket's food from the beginning with homemade, grain free treats, veggies from the garden, and chunks of human grade raw meat and bones, plus guts and old meat scraps not as appealing for human consumption that i sourced from local farmers. Even with her fairly high quality food, Pocket has had problems with itchy ears to the extent of requiring medication. Moving forward, we will continue to feed Taste of The Wild kibble in small quantities: i'd hate to go backpacking and have nothing to feed the pooch without swerving her diet off its normal course. But i'm talking small quanities, like less than 1/4 of a cup. What will we be feeding her instead?  Real, raw food: raw meat, raw and cooked veggies and herbs, plus homemade yogurt and local eggs.

Once we're raising our own animals for meat, milk and eggs, (and living more rurally with access to squirrels and buns to hunt), we'll have even more options for feeding our pooch. For now, we have to source what we can from local farmers and butchers, and have so far found some great resources. I'll be posting even more about Pocket's new and improved diet in the following weeks here at AAH and over at Not Dabbling in Normal. I welcome your questions and suggestions... i am aware that the subject of what to feed your children: furry or otherwise, can be source of some contention and disagreement and i welcome the conversation!

What do you feed your pets? Do you think your pet's diet or health has room for improvement, and have you noticed any ailments in your pets that could be due to allergies?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cran/Apple Nut Bread, Revised Recipe

After yesterday's re-post of some of my favorite cookie recipes, i thought i'd re-post the recipe for my cranberry nut bread, with this year's variations. This bread is healthy, not too sweet, and goes great with a big slab of salty butter: yum! I was lucky to get some locally grown cranberries this year and used up some of the last of this Autumn's apples. The walnuts were local too, but i can't use this recipe for our Dark Days Challenge because of the glut of flour sourced from who knows where. All the other ingredients (save the sugar) were local though!

Cran/Apple Nut Bread
  • 3 1/2 cups flour (i subbed 1 cup whole wheat)
  • 3/4 Cup Sugar (increase by 1/4 cup if you want a sweeter bread)
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups milk (or orange juice)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (local walnuts)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cups chopped cranberries and apples
  • Drop almond or vanilla extract
  • Pinch cinnamon and cloves
** I doubled this recipe to make 2 pans of bread
Preheat oven to 350. Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl. Mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl, add to dry ingredients and stir well until mixed. Pour into pans (this recipe fills 1 9x7 pan unless doubled) and let stand 20 minutes. Bake for 50 minutes ** I had to bake my doubled recipe for about 90 minutes- always check with a chopstick or long toothpick.

Remove and let cool a bit, then remove from pan onto a nice towel to finish cooling. You may wish to grease the bottom of the pan before you pour in the batter. My walnuts were so fresh that they didn't release as much grease as this recipe usually does.

As you can see, there isn't much left. I cooked 2 loaves, brought one to a potluck and stuck the other in the freezer for later. We're already eying that frozen loaf! This bread makes a great gift and can be baked in mini loaves to share with many friends.

Do you bake for friends during the holidays?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Cookies!

I'm not doing much baking this year, yet... but here is a re-post from last year with some of my favorite cookie recipes. Let me know if you try any of them, or comment back with YOUR favorite cookie recipe!

This year i've tried foldover cookies filled with homemade jam. I've baked a few loaves of my favorite nut bread and may just have to bake another as the one i used pumpkin puree and duck eggs in was so good we ate it too fast and i want some more! My husband and i have been rekindling my mother and my tradition of making an annual gingerbread house. We've somehow managed to make this process last 3 days instead of one, but hopefully i'll have some photos of the finished product for you tomorrow. Gingerbread houses rock because the cookies just get yummier as they age and it's fun to pick them apart between christmas and new years. I'm not making my sugar cookies this year, but my favorite (chocolate variety) cookies are on the docket for tonight. Christmas just isn't Christmas without sucking the coldness out of some chocolatey, fudgey variety cookies.

Chocolate variety cookies
Gingerbread cookies for Texas

Sugar cookies with half whole wheat flour
Spiced Pecans

What are your favorite holiday cookies? Have you succombed to the delights of refined sugar despite normally health eating habits like me? I may have gained 3 pounds (2011 edit: 20 pounds, sigh), but i'm still enjoying my annual guilty pleasure of holiday cookies and quick breads.    Now, enough typing, and more cookie eating!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dark Days Week 3

I continue to struggle along with cooking only SOLE ingredients... i keep adding things like pasta or store bought onions. Sheesh. I finally did it, though! My contribution to the Dark Days challenge this week was a Sunday afternoon brunch of one of my favorite recipes: nests!

The eggs came from a good friend about 12 minutes down the road. The bread is again Dave's Killer Bread out of Portland, OR and the butter is by Tillamook on the Oregon coast (the husband picked up pasteurized milk instead of raw milk, so no homemade butter for me, grr!) I added homemade hot sauce i bottled back in Austin and cooked until perfectly yolk-gooey, white firm. I did add salt and pepper, not locally sourced but at least purchased in bulk!

Are you participating in the challenge with us? Check out the other bloggers over at Not Dabbling in Normal and look for the first re-cap of participating bloggers from the Western persuasion this Sunday!

Friday, December 9, 2011

My First Stew!

I have never made beef stew. I'm a seasoned turkey/chicken souper, but i have never stewed. I also do not own a crockpot - my old one got dinged in one of my many moves. So when my mother gifted me with several pounds of local, grass fed beef along with a scribbled recipe for her beef stew, i was hesitant to commit to the project. I promised the hubs that i would, though and it really turned out amazing!  I started cooking at about noon, 2 hours late according to my mama, and the smells of stewing yum filled our little apartment for the rest of the day. I wish i'd baked up a fresh loaf of crusty bread to go with the flavorful stew, but a slice of toasted Dave's Killer Bread with local butter was pretty nice too.

Mom's Beef Stew, a la Miranda
  • 1 pound grass fed stew meat
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • the last of the potatoes ( about four small potatoes, chopped )
  • 1 turnip, chopped
  • 4 small carrots, chopped
  • bunch of cilantro, chopped (okay okay - chop everything in this list)
  • several hot peppers, fresh and dried
  • tomato sauce, paste, or roasted - i used some frozen tomatoes i had roasted during the summer
  • optional celery and/or other soupy veggies like parsnips, radish, etc
  • 1/2 cup - 1 cup mushrooms - i used some blanched and frozen chanterelles from an earlier mushroom hunt
  • salt/ pepper/ clove/ cumin
  • drizzle oil
  • 3 cups water/stock/red wine
  • splash apple cider vinegar
  • splash worchestershire sauce
  • handful flour 
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
As per usual, the measurements are approximate.  Toss the chopped onions, garlic and meat in a bag with the flour. Coat the bottom of a stockpot with oil and brown the meat. Cover with the liquid and toss in everything else except for the carrots, potatoes, turnips and cilantro. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and keep covered on low for the next foreseeable future. About an hour before serving add the other veggies and splash of vinegar, bring to a boil then cover and simmer on low again until potatoes and carrots are cooked to your liking.

What really surprised me about this stew was how much it tasted like my mom's, even though i'd added cumin and hot peppers. My husband said 'well, it definitely tastes like beef.' I guess that's it: i just don't really know what beef tastes like. In this case, it tasted good and was the perfect amount of spicy. The roasted tomatoes added some sweetness and the vinegar at the end brightens the stew up a bit. The cilantro just adds another level to the stew without making it 'chilly' like at all.
I'm really looking forward to seconds tonight, along with some locally baked crusty bread. :)

Do you have a favorite stew recipe? Where did you get it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small Town Holiday

My hubs and Pocket and I went to the annual tree lighting at the Philomath museum last night. There were lots of people, most who knew each other, plenty of cookies and hot cocoa and singing middle school students. For us new comers, the tree lighting was the perfect small town event. We didn't feel like we had to 'mix' with anyone, but Pocket brought plenty of new friends by to say hello. She's good for being the social one in the family. I'm a sucker for pretty lights, and we got plenty of that. 6:30 and dark is the perfect time for a tree lighting, and i'm glad we made the 4 block walk to see it.

Happy holidays, everybody!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Comfort Food

After a long and foggy day, a big plate of roasted veggies is just what the doctor ordered. Add a few dried herbs from the Summer's harvest, and you've got one of my favorite simple meals.

We're almost out of vegetables from the Summer's local harvest. The local farmer's market doesn't get going again until January, so our groceries will be coming fro grocery stores for the next month. Sigh.

Where do you shop when you can't get to a farmer's market?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Photos from Dark Days

The Dark Days challenge has started! Check out Not Dabbling in Normal on the 18th for re-caps from our western region, but in the meantime here's what the western bloggers have been up to lately:

Kitsap Farm to Fork had some really great reflections this week. Her late Summer chores take over her blogging time, but her family is doing some things my family dreams of doing: growing most of their food. Her post this week reflects on where the ingredients she's cooking with lately come from - and there's nary a mention of a store or even a local purchase - she grew most of it! Kudos! I think Diane really summed up the challenge when she said:
And the best part about this meal?  It was a meal eaten around our family table with my husband and children, we were truly grateful for the bounty of our life, and were able to talk and laugh as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  Regardless of whether your food comes from 100 miles or 1000 miles from your home, if you are unable to eat with the people you love, they are dark days indeed!

Cocoa and Coriander with her Toasted Beet and Carrot Panzanella

Reluctantly Blogging's Borscht

I really want to know what borscht tastes like!

Four Four Ten's "All American Meal"

I'm doing my best to think of some SOLE meals i can cook up in the next few weeks... the freezer is pretty scant! But hopefully I'll come up with some gems.

Have you been able to cook any all-local meals lately?