Saturday, February 27, 2010

Aaaaaand we're off!

The first seeds are in! I started them on Wednesday - 13 different varieties of tomatoes, with two starts of each one. I still want some Green Zebra tomatoes too (they're my favorite, but I didn't have seeds for them yet), so it looks like we'll have 28 separate tomato plants this year if all of them take. Woohoo! Tomatoes, tomatoes, out the wazoo. It'll be a busy canning season.

But for now these little seeds are waking up indoors, in the guest bedroom with a space heater to keep it nice and warm in there. They're still a little ways from going outside, but it feels good to get the planting started finally!

It's definitely spring out there, and Portland's cherry trees are blooming beautifully. Some of them, anyway - not ours, and not our next-door neighbor's, but we do at least have little buds forming on ours. I'll get a picture when it finally blooms; it'll be nice for our baby cherry tree to resemble something besides a Charlie Brown bare-stick tree.

This week we're planning to build a little fence across the front yard and move the roses in front of it. I have a landscape plan and my seed catalogs, so once I get the seeds ordered and started we can get moving on the yard... eliminating the grass completely and replacing it with edibles and flowers! I can't wait!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Saturated Animal Fats: To Your Health!

I just came across this excellent article (click to read). It explains how it happened when, after thousands of years of consuming delicious saturated fats such as butter, we in the USA suddenly decided that those fats were unhealthy and should be discarded in favor of hydrogenated trans fats and other solidified oils. Even after heart disease became the #1 killer, and the original researcher discovered a massive flaw in her own work and tried to correct it, we stuck with the margarine myth for decades.

Of course, the article never mentions the one really serious flaw in margarine, the one that's worse than heart disease: It tastes like ass. Sorry, but it does. I don't know anyone who's ever said, "You know what this dish REALLY needs to enrich the flavor? A big glop of hydrogenated vegetable oil!" In fact, one of the first discoveries I made when I first began cooking in my teens came when I realized that you could use less fat and get more flavor with a small knob of butter. The margarine was so blegh that you had to use huge scoops of it just to get a faint hint of artificial butter flavor. Give me just a little pat of real butter any day!

So I enjoyed reading that over my coffee-and-raw-milk this morning, and now I'm off to clean the house and make our Shabbos dinner (game hens, root vegetable mash, and turnip/kohlrabi greens tonight, perhaps with fresh wheat rolls). First, though, I'm actually proceeding with plans I had before this article - whipping up some tasty animal fats for cooking!

The raw milk we buy is obviously not homogenized, so I typically make butter with the cream. However, today I'm going to make clotted cream with it instead! I grew up reading about clotted cream (typically on scones with jam) in British novels as a kid, though I didn't really know what it was. I've still never had it, though it sounds delicious, so I'm making it today. In the morning I think I'll whip up some traditional English scones and serve them with clotted cream and jam, and maybe tea instead of coffee for once, just to keep it authentic.

Today's cooking adventure that most excites me, though, is schmaltz. I've always heard that schmaltz, known to gentiles as "rendered chicken fat," makes a better cooking fat than butter. I've been idly thinking of making my own schmaltz for several months now, but this week our local paper actually did an article on cooking with various animal fats, and they included a recipe for schmaltz! So I take that as a sign, and I'm going to raid the freezer for all the chicken skin and fat trimmings (the ones the dog didn't eat) and see about getting schmaltzy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Urban Roots

Click that video above to see the trailer for a new documentary called "Urban Roots," which is about urban farming in Detroit. That city has lost half its population in the last few decades and has more empty lots than any other American city, and as we all know it also suffers from abject poverty. The urban farming movement, the same one we're joining up with here in Portland, is there to revolutionize Detroit and this looks like one fantastic documentary.

I can't wait to go see it!

One Dog: Free to a Good Home

I am very tired today. Why, do you ask? I'll tell you.

I worked a day shift yesterday, and Keith was off working on a commercial. Ordinarily we crate Patch whenever we leave the house, because he snacks from the litterbox, knocks over the trash and strews it everywhere, jumps up on the kitchen table, and wreaks general havoc. But I took the bus to and from work yesterday, plus work itself, and it seemed cruel to keep the dog locked up for 8 or 9 hours. So before I left, I shut up the cats in the back of the house where the litterbox is, left the dog in the front of the house, moved the recycling bin out to the porch, and stacked the heavy compost bucket on top of the trash can to weight the lid down. Then I took the dog out to pee but he refused to go, so I put him back in and left.

I returned home in the evening to a very guilty-looking dog. He had knocked over the trash, compost bucket and all; fortunately the lid stayed on the compost bucket so at least the rotting compost wasn't scattered everywhere. The trash, however, was. In the trash was a huge mound of spiced flour we'd used for making chicken wings over the weekend; we weren't composting it because it'd had raw chicken rolled around in it. The flour was all over the kitchen floor, creating an unholy mess. To cap it all off, the dog had also peed on the kitchen floor.

I got that cleaned up and went to the back of the house, to discover the cats had managed to climb into the back of the bathroom cabinet and pull out a roll of toilet paper, which they shredded into confetti all over the bathroom and all down the hallway. It looked like the morning after a ticker-tape parade. I cleaned that up too.

By this time all the animals were wailing for their dinner. I told them to wait. "I'm going to go check on my pets who don't trash my house," I snapped. "The good pets. The ones who give me good food and garden fertilizer. The ones who earn their keep." Then I went outside. The chickens were fine; Jane and Lana had laid eggs. So I brought them back in and fed the mammals and made my own dinner.

Later on, Keith came home, and we went to bed early because he had to get up at five in the morning for work today.

So, shortly after three a.m., we woke up to the kind of noise you'd expect to hear if you turned on a faucet full blast but the pipes were clogged with mud. Keith got up to investigate, and the dog was sitting up in his kennel, looking guilty and also very ill. He had thrown up once or twice, but the sound that woke us up was that of absolutely FOUL diarrhea. At that point we realized that there had been quite a bit of chicken bones, chicken fat, and other waste in that trash, and I hadn't seen any of it when I'd cleaned up the mess earlier. All that chicken was about three or four days old (our trash doesn't fill up very quickly and it has baking soda and a lid so that it doesn't stink).

Retching and gagging, Keith put the dog out into the yard, and Patch was eager to go. Keith bundled up the bedding and took it out to the trash, and we cleaned up the rest of the mess with a strong vinegar-water-alcohol solution. We decided to leave the dog outside for a bit - clearly he wasn't feeling well and we weren't eager for a repeat occurrence - and I lit several strawberry-scented candles around the room. Finally, an hour and a half before Keith had to get up and drive an hour for work, we managed to doze off to flickering candlelight.

Thirty minutes later, we woke up again to a tap, scratch, scratch, tap. Roxy, our mama cat, was displeased to be shut out of the bedroom and wanted back in. So Keith got up and let her in (she woke him up first), at which point she glanced around the room and walked right back out.

The dog seems to be feeling much better now but I'm still tired, and I know Keith is exhausted. When they say pets are good practice for having babies, is this what they mean?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I got that picture of Patch when I was hiking on Sauvie Island with Peta recently. We did a seven-mile hike through the woods and along the beach; I think the beach was Patch's favorite part, as he tore through the sand and ran like I've never seen him run. He splashed around in the river and had a terrific time. He was a bit more subdued in the woods, though he did find lots of interesting smells, and we all enjoyed the walk.

The hike ended at a tiny curved beach with a lighthouse on it. We sat there for awhile and ate peanuts and threw sticks for Patch to chase. Then, behind the lighthouse, we found this:

It must've been where the lighthouse guy lived, when there was one. Charred wood still surrounds it. There was a big flagpole hidden in the woods between the house and the river, and the whole area was overgrown with blackberry brambles. In the summer I'm coming back with a bucket to get as many of those blackberries as I can!

Closer to home and the present, it's looking like spring here. We might get a bit more winter - it's raining again today - but look what I found in my yard! It's the first crocus, starting to come through!

I planted the bulbs back in October and they're all putting out shoots now. I planted irises too, and look at this fancy spotted iris that's starting to peek out through the mud!

I also have garlic shoots coming up absolutely everywhere. I planted a ridiculous amount of garlic. Soon I'll be cutting and eating those tasty garlic shoots, and at the end of the summer I'll have the bulbs themselves. Yum!

The roses are putting out leaves all over the place, and the rhododendrons are covered with little buds. Even if it is still raining, spring is definitely here now.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mouse in the House!

A little over a week ago, while Ben and Peta (my Aussie friends) were still visiting, I got up one morning to make biscuits. I was humming along in the kitchen, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Roxy (our mama cat) with a toy. Looked like a grey mouse toy we used to have but I hadn't seen it in awhile. She put it down, and... it wriggled. OH MY G-D IT'S A MOUSE!!

I've never had a mouse in my house before and I was so embarrassed to have one while company was visiting. To make matters worse, the mouse got away while Roxy was playing with it, and escaped to who-knows-where. Fervently hoping that the mouse wasn't pregnant or a new mom, we finally shrugged it off - "We have three cats," Keith explained. "If we have a mouse now, we won't for long."

We didn't see the mouse again, or any signs of one - no chewed things in the pantry, no droppings. So we concluded that the mouse must've gotten out of our house, and forgot about it. Until today.

We took our drive out to the country for our raw milk and came home to find a semiconscious grey mouse on the kitchen floor. Fry and Davey, our adolescent kitties, were playing with it. As we realized what they were playing with, before we could react, Davey grabbed the mouse and ran off to our bedroom, where he hid with his prize under the bed. Keith followed, and eventually moved the bed and grabbed the stunned, barely living mouse in a paper towel.

Thus began the struggle of conscience. Neither of us wanted to kill the mouse, but if we let it go outside it would just come back in. We were in full agreement that there was no room for a mouse in our kitchen - yuck! Besides, it was already half-dead. We both wished the cats would've just finished it off, but they were playing with it instead, so clearly the job fell to Keith in his position as Man Of The House.

He took the mouse outside, dispatched it quickly, and tossed it in the trash.

Probably not the most respectful end for a living thing, and we both felt awful about it, but it had to be done. Hopefully we have no other mice, and if we do, I hope the cats actually do their freaking jobs on them. I hate that we have THREE cats and Keith still had to be the one to kill that poor little grey mouse.

So RIP, little guy. Your end at Keith's hands was more merciful than it would've been in Roxy's teeth; I hope that's some comfort.

May no more mice bring us such sad decisions.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Oh, happy day!

NAIS has been scrapped!

This is fabulous news for farmers everywhere, and for people like us who keep chickens and support small farmers and otherwise remain engaged in our food system. This is terrific news for the persecuted Amish farmers in Wisconsin. Most of all, this is wonderful news for all of America because it's a score for freedom, independence, and property rights. We the People fought an oppressive government agency and won. Hallelujah!

This is very welcome news as I spent the afternoon with my hopefully soon-to-be Representative in Congress, going over plans for her campaign. The conversation drifted repeatedly toward gardening, herbal medicine, raw milk, and natural living; NAIS itself even came up in the conversation. And now freedom has prevailed for once, so hopefully this is a good omen for those of us working to change the face of Congress this year!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tofu-Turkey Meatloaf

No, I don't have a picture of it. Why? Because we dug into it before I could snap a picture, and we devoured it like we always do. I found a recipe on the internet a couple years ago that featured tofu in meatloaf, and jotted down my own adaptation of it in my notebook, so I'm not sure where the original idea came from. I do remember that it was bland when I first made it, and it included ground beef, so mine is lighter and tastier.

99.99999% of you see "tofu-turkey meatloaf" and think, "ewww." I agree, it's three completely unappetizing words, especially strung together like that. But trust me - it's the bomb diggity. It's healthy, it's filling, it's comforting, and you would never in a million years guess that it has tofu in it. And it's gluten-free, too, if that's your thing.

When you buy the tofu for this, stick it in the freezer. Then a few hours later, once it's frozen solid, move it to the fridge for a day or two to thaw out. Freezing like this changes the texture of the tofu and makes it meaty and chewy, kind of like ground chicken.


1/4 cup hoisin sauce
3 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey

1 (14 oz) pkg firm or extra-firm tofu, frozen and thawed
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 onion, finely chopped*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped*
1 or 2 stalks celery, finely chopped*
1 carrot, finely chopped*
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 good squirt of sriracha (very optional - it's spicy!)

* I throw the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in the food processor together and give them all a communal whiz-up to save time.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).

First off, use a great trick I learned from Anne over at FabFrugalFood - she's the official tofu expert, having written the fantastic cookbook 101 Things To Do With Tofu. Drain the water out of your tofu, put it in a clean dishtowel, and give it a good hard squeeze over the sink. Wring all the liquid out of it that you can, then open up the towel; you now have drained, reasonably dry, well-crumbled tofu. Dump that into a large bowl.

Add the rest of the meatloaf ingredients to the tofu and mix it all up. Transfer to a loaf pan and pat it out smooth. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes.

While it bakes, mix up all the sauce ingredients in a bowl until well-blended. When the timer goes off, take out the meatloaf and brush half the sauce on top. Put it back in the oven, uncovered, for another 15 minutes. Let it stand a minute or two and then serve with the rest of the sauce on the side.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Review: The Urban Homestead

Keith was browsing through the bookstore the other day (always a dangerous financial situation!) and he picked up a copy of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. I've been reading it first and... wow! This is the perfect Bible for everything we're working towards here.

Yes, there's a chapter on gardening for homegrown food. There's some on foraging wild food. There's raising chickens, rabbits, and goats; there's worm composting (about which more shortly), there's canning information and everything you'd expect. Then they take it a step farther and include information on solar power, composting toilets, greywater recycling, and everything else you need to know for maximum self-sufficiency in the urban environment. Score!

So now that it looks freakishly like spring outside - sunny, fairly warm, with new green shoots coming up everywhere - we have the design for our front yard's edible landscaping and Keith's built the first raised beds in the back, with only a few more to build. We've got our seed catalogs and will be ordering soon so we can get started on the early veggies and the hot peppers. And now we're talking about building a solar oven for the backyard so that we can cook in the summer without heating up the house, and also save on our gas bill while we're at it. It'd be nice to have a brick oven out there too for wood-fired pizzas and breads! And eventually a greywater system and more rain collection barrels... ohh, so much to do.

Those of you who are interested in urban homesteading, I highly recommend this book. It's nice to find such a comprehensive guide in one place!

By the way, you may have noticed that when I mention books here on this blog, I link to them on and not on Amazon or another major retailer. This is because Powell's Books is a business worth supporting! Located right here in Portland, they are the largest independent book retailer in the world and still provide excellent service at a great price. Their main location downtown occupies four stories of a full city block, and every employee is knowledgeable, friendly, and efficient. These people love books. So if you order books online, give them a try instead of Spamazon!