Children & Big Business

I try to support local business as much as possible. I did all my Christmas shopping in small stores, except for a few things I could only find online. In particular, I use our small local hardware store whenever I can, only going to Home Depot or Lowe’s if the small store doesn’t have what I need. This week, though, I went in with a big list, and I know that they had everything I needed, but I left empty handed. Why?

Two words: No Carts.
Despite the fact that they have wide aisles and plenty of room for some small carts, they don’t have any. Which makes it very hard for me to shop there sometimes with an active, independent 2 year old. Lucas just won’t stay with with me for very long, he wants to run around or lead the way around the store, and I can’t carry him and a bag of grout and ten other items. We picked out paint chips and a couple small things, and by then (10 minutes into the trip) he was refusing to listen. So after a couple warnings from momma, we left with only the paint chips and a crying child to show for it.

The thing is, Lucas loves shopping. He will tell you himself. He whoops with joy when we get to a store, and he will happily sit in a cart for hours. So, it looks like for the next few months, while we work on this issue, Mommy will be shopping at Home Depot. Which saddens me. I’d rather give my money to the little guys.

At my own health store, we have a central room, and we are comfortable with children running around in there (Lucas does, why not everyone else’s kids?) But at our store, while there are no carts to be sure, there is also nowhere for them to disappear to, no aisles or nooks, and the kids are always in sight. Which is good, because moms are our best customers. I am not sure why the hardware store hasn’t thought of this, or maybe they have and it isn’t a priority for them. The majority of their customers are men — but I wonder if they had carts, if more women wouldn’t shop there?

What about the rest of you? Do you find that your children shape where you shop? Or are they better behaved than mine? LOL.

Living Off the Grid

Yesterday brought up some interesting conversations in my house. It all began with a posting on craigslist.com for a $700 1982 Winnebago that “ran excellent, needed some cleaning.” My husband’s first comment was, “that would be so cool. Then we could buy some land, put up a few quick outbuildings, and take our time building a house while we live in it.” Well, color me shocked. I mean, I know he likes the idea of building our own place and that he’s into green-living, but I never imagined he was so close to my own thoughts on the matter. We were so excited to have this prospect, we were set to buy it before we saw it, planning how we would rent it to his brother for $200 a month until we had some land, or how we could go “camping” in the summer.

So we looked at the ‘bago, and WOW, needs some cleaning was an understatement. That vehicle, while great on the outside, was a biohazard inside. The windows were slightly open to air it out for visitors, and we didn’t even go inside, but the mold set off my coughing for a good 30 minutes afterwards. The seats and ceiling were totally ripped up, and the carpet was foul. We agreed we’d rather live in a teepee if those were our options!

But it did bring up other thoughts, like how rough would we want to live in the end, with or without power, off grid or not, outhouses, etc… And it turns out he is much more of an off-grid guy than me. While I want to reduce our power consumption and can and grow a lot of food, I also like seeing what the world has to offer, and partaking in it. I would be cool with an outhouse in the summer, for most toilet needs, but in the winter, no way. If given the option, I would much rather spend the money on fancy composting toilets for the house.

And, until the nation is much much greener, I feel that it is my duty as an environmentalist to buy power from the electric company: because see, we buy 100% green energy through an option that our provider gives us. The way I see it, the more of us that ask for these options, the more the power companies will have an incentive to create green energy, and provide the options to more people, and so on. Of course, I am trying to reduce our electricity consumption, but I want to make sure that the power companies know that I exist as a customer. Because if all of us who want green energy go totally off grid, we simply disappear as a voice. The power companies forget about us, and forget about green power. And I, for one, don’t want to see that happen.

How to Brew Up Some Good, Healthy Fun

As promised, this post includes herbal ale recipes, and one great mead recipe. Always sterilise your equipment and bottles, and use only stainless steel pots and steel or wood utensils — no aluminum, that can react with your brew.

My family makes cognac and liquer, and I spent a fair bit of time as a wee one touring factories. But as an adult, my first personal foray into brewing any sort of alcohol began with mead. My very first recipe was a success, and I have tried many variations of it. They have all been very tasty tho some variations had a bit too much fermentation, and there were a few explosions! Those recipes have been retired, so have no fear: the mead recipes in this post has never exploded, and always tastes great.

Most mead recipes you’ll find online involve months of aging before they are ready to drink: not so this recipe! It is best drunk within 6 months, but can be tasted as early as the week after you begin.

* Speed Mead Recipe *
(a refreshing, light but strong mead)

3 gallons water
2 Tbs Powdered Ginger or 4 2-inch slices fresh ginger root
4 Cinnamon Sticks
2 lemon’s peel
1/2 Grapefruit or Orange Peel
1 Tsp Fennel Seed
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 LB Honey
Baker’s Yeast, 1 packet

1. Bring water to a boil, lower heat, add spices and simmer spices in water for 10 minutes.
2. Add Honey, stirring constantly. Do Not Boil, this will kill the live aspect of the honey.Skim off any white “scum” that appears, this is the non-soluble part of the honey. When no more scum forms (after about 1/2 hour), remove pot from heat and cover for 12 hours.
3. Strain liquid to remove spice particles. Dissolve yeast in a 1/8 cup warm water, and add to liquid. Cover and leave for 12 hours.
4. Rack (pour slowly) into clean, sterile jugs, leaving the settled yeast dregs at the bottom of the pot. Fold clean paper towel or fabric, place over top of jug, secure with rubber band and leave undisturbed at room temperature (pantry is great for this) for 2 days.
5. Refridgerate or put out in cool area at 40-50F for 12 hours.
6. Rack again, leaving any dregs. Refridgerate or put out in cool area at 40-50F for 2 days days.
7. Add 1/4 cup vodka to kill yeast. Cap jugs and refridgerate or store in cool area for 3-4 more days, minimum, to allow carbonation.
8. Bottle and/or drink!

* Red Rose HerbAle *

5 gallons Water
1 cup rosehips
1/4 cup dried lemongrass
3/4 cup fresh ginger, sliced
1 tsp coriander seeds
5 lbs sugar
1 Tbs. baker’s yeast

1. Bring water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer herbs in water for 15 minutes over low heat.
2. Remove from heat, let cool enough to handle, strain and add sugar.
3. Let cool to 75-80 degrees and add yeast. Stir and cover. Let sit for 48 hours undisturbed.
4. Bottle. This will continue to ferment slowly for a month or two in bottle, but can be drunk as early as when it is bottled. Ours was best after two months, and stored great for several more (beyond that I don’t know, it was all gone by then!!)

* Spring Cleaning HerbAle *

3 gallons Water
3/4 dried dandelion leaf
3/4 dried nettle leaf
1/8 cup dried orange peel
1 tsp cardamom
3 lbs sugar
2/3 Tbs. baker’s yeast

1. Bring water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer herbs in water for 15 minutes over low heat.
2. Remove from heat, let cool enough to handle, strain and add sugar.
3. Let cool to 75-80 degrees and add yeast. Stir and cover. Let sit for 48 hours undisturbed.
4. Bottle. This will continue to ferment slowly for a month or two in bottle, but can be drunk as early as when it is bottled.

BYOB — Brew Your Own Beer

After I get off work today we’re taking a little road trip to our “local” brewing supply company about 30 minutes away. There we’ll be buying some of the ingredients we need to brew some of our own beer and wine, and I’ll also be picking up some malt powder or extract because, well, it tastes good and is good for you! As a child, I grew up on a fabulous mixture of malt, carob and brewer’s yeast mixed with Milk called Tiger’s Milk. Unfortunately the company now only makes snack bars, and I really miss that drink sometimes… But I digress.

In our home, we love to make things from scratch — presents, foods, furniture, and yes: alcohol. My husband dreams of the day when I’ll let him set up his own still. For now, he is limited to the softer stuff. I like my home, and I think a still needs to be far far away from it!

In the past we’ve made honey mead, dandelion wine, herbal ales (the biggest hit of those was a rosehip & lemongrass brewed with sugar, about 9 percent alcohol.), clone beers, elderbery wine and red grape wines. This spring I want to make an old-school, 1400’s style ale with dandelion and nettles: cleansing your liver and kidneys while you drink!

My husband is Irish/Scottish, and a big fan of the beer. I’m an herbalist, and believe that if everyone switched from modern beers to drinking more of the old-style ales from the days before hops-style beers, they’d all be beter off. Someday, I can see us running a small brewery where we make ales like that… Hops are a relatively new introduction to beer that became quite popular b/c their bitterness helps preserve beer — great for when beer was all you had to drink on long sea voyages where water wouldn’t keep long. But hops are also chock-full of phyto-estrogens that are great for calming and for menopausal women, but not great for men: they don’t need all that estrogen, and it puts a lot of extra weight around their abdomens. So, I do my part to try and brew an herbal ale with healing properties for every modern hops beer he brews. The rosehip beer I brewed had ginger in it, great for digestion, gas and metabolism, and the rosehips added a lot of vitamin C, calcium and pretty rosy color…

I’m not sure what we’ll come back with this time, but you can bet there’ll be some recipes and reports here on Monday. I’ll also go and dig up that great rosehip recipe. In the meantime, we’ll be at the brewing store and reading our favorite brewing book.

Spring Thaw

This is what it looked like here in CT yesterday, with temperatures practically spring-like in the low 40s. Ice was melting on the slow part of the river, which was misnamed “Lake” Lillinoah by settlers because in this wide stretch the river actually slows down so much that it freezes and you can skate or fish on it. After this gorgeous afternoon, we had an evening of snow. The weather channel reported it as a half inch — try 5 inches! No one plowed the roads until late, and cars were stuck everywhere. It was totally unexpected, totally beautiful, and the last hurrah for winter. It’s already halfway melted, at 8:30 this morning.
More ice melting.

Luke running to the water’s edge to find rocks and throw them into a small open pool. Gotta run fast, those rocks are sneaky!

Huh. Where’d they go?

Goodbye winter!
We’ll miss you, just a little bit.

The good things in life ARE free.

Love. Air. Sex (for most of us anyway). Peaceful thoughts. Laughter. And, now, actual things are free. Thanks to craigslist.com, freecycle.org, and bulk trash pick-up days in a town near you, you can get most of the things you need for free, or substantially cheaper than you would buy them. We all know that we live in a consumer economy, and the thing is, most of us have more stuff than we can handle. So we give it away. We throw it away. We even plead with people to cart it off, sometimes!

I know people who have remodeled their kitchens with very nice appliances that they got for free or a couple hundred dollars on craigslist. This morning, I am picking up 18 free canning jars in the town next door, from a posting I put on freecycle. I am hoping to get more this season, but it is a good start. So far my husband’s uncles gave me 12 1/2 gallon jars and 12 quart jars, and now I’ll have 18 pints. Canning jars run 1-3 dollars apiece retail, so so far I’ve saved around $65.

Two of my favorite weekends every year come once in Spring, and once in the fall: they are the weekends before bulk pickup week in a ritzy town nearby, when every one cleans out their attics, barns, closets and such and put things out in neat little piles on the side of the quiet country roads.
In past years we have gotten brand new wrought iron garden benches, nice antique chairs, feeders for our chickens, slides and gyms for our son for outside, fencing of all kinds, brand new windows, lights, shelves, tables, tricycles and bicycles, a new push reel mower, purple marten house, and oh, too many things to even list here. This year I’ll be looking for nice fencing (iron would be great) and more canning jars. A small freezer would be nice, too.
The key, I’ve found, is to have a clear idea of what you want, and an expectation to find it. Every year we get the exact things we are looking for, plus a whole lot more. The year I wanted a purple marten house, I actually found it on the last road I went on, and as I drove down the road I was singing “purple marten house, purple marten house” as I approached each house. And then as I neared the fourth (and second to last) house I said, “here, it’s going to be here!”, only – 70% believing, and when I got out and looked behind the huge pile of carpets and junk they had out, there it was, a huge one, lying down on the ground, in great condition. Not a beautiful wooden one as I’d hoped for, but a very nice large metal one that would be easier to clean out each season. Last year, I got a greenhouse that is a clearly a bit um, aged but with some paint will be beautiful. I looked it up on the internet last night, and brand new it would have cost be $749 plus shipping. Not bad!

“Freecycling Weekend” as we like to call “bulk pick up weekend” is really fun, lots of other people are out looking at the piles by the road, and the previous owners leave signs on things like TVs and Ovens to let you know if they work or not, or even what they need to be fixed. It’s recycling at its best, because this stuff is headed straight for the town transfer station, and then the dump.

So, don’t be afraid to look, and to ask, for what you’d like. It’s out there, just waiting for someone to love it.

Edible Flowers: Violets and Dandelions

Spring is right around the corner, and with it dreams of fresh, good eats straight from the garden. Two of the first flowers to appear in my yard (and lawn, much to my neighbor’s dismay and my delight!) are Dandelions and Violets. Both are edible, and very good for you.

Violets are packed with vitamins A and C — in fact, ounce per ounce violets have more vitamin C than oranges. The flowers have been prized for centuries for candies and jellies, and can also be used in salads. The tender leaves, too are very good in salads. Dandelion is a superb liver cleanser and diuretic (the french name for them is “pissenlit”, pronounced “peace-on-lee”, which literally means bedpisser). Every part of the dandelion is edible — you can use the root for teas, coffees, flours and tinctures, the young greens are great in salad and the elder greens after the flowers come out are good in soups or cooked like spinach. The flowers can be made whole into tasty fritters, or made into wine or jam. The wine, is an old family favorite, in fact my grandmother says my grandfather liked it a bit too much, so she stopped making it. Poor grandpa… This spring, I plan to make Dandelion and Violet jam, as part of my canning mission.
*Dandelion Jam Recipe*

2 cups dandelion petals
juice and zest of one lemon
2 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
1/2 packet of powdered pectin
Pick the dandelion petals from the flower tops, avoiding the bitter green bits. Pour boiling water over the petals and lemon zest, and steep for 20 minutes. Many recipes call for you to strain the dandelion out to make a clear jelly, but I prefer to keep the beautiful petals in the mix. Add the lemon juice and sugar, return the infused mixture to a boil, then add the pectin and boil for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Take the pot off the heat, pour into canning jars and process via water bath for 10 minutes.

*Violet Preserves*

2 cups violet petals
3 cups sugar
2.5 cups water
2 teaspoons lemon juice (preserves the violet color)
1/2 packet of powdered pectin
Pour boiling water over the petals and steep for 20 minutes. Many recipes call for you to strain the violets out to make a clear jelly, but as with the dandelions, I like to keep the petals in. Add the lemon juice and sugar, return the infused mixture to a boil, then add the pectin and stir it all the time and cook it for about 20 minutes on the low heat or cook until thick. Take the pot off the heat, pour into warm canning jars and process via water bath for 10 minutes.

Baking Day

After a romantic weekend spent walking hand in hand with DH at the aquarium and many home improvement stores, and having a good carpenter/roofer friend over for dinner, I feel much better. Apparently, where our roof is leaking indicates that it is an easy fix, and our friend even offered to help us when it’s time. I think he will also get really into our solar heater design, too. I had so much fun at Lowe’s that I am going back today to pick up some bamboo blinds for our bedroom (they look so great in the other window we put them in).

Today is baking day, again, in my house, and today Luke and I had help from our friends, a mom and daughter, age 3. We made bread and my magic oatmeal cookies. They are magic because they are so healthy that I don’t mind if my son eats them all, and they taste divine! Every time I make them they are a little different, b/c I always change the flours, the dried fruits, the nuts and kinds of chocolates I put in. But here is the basic recipe:

MAGIC OATMEAL COOKIES:

2 cups flour (any kind! mix them up. I love using a 1/2 cup almond meal for added nutrition)
2 cups rolled oats
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil, vegetable oil or butter
1/2 cup sugar (or honey, agave, molasses, maple syrup, or stevia powder, adjusted)
1 Tbs Baking Powder
1 to 1.5 Cup Add-ins: I usually put in dried fruit, chocolate chips & nuts. Mix it up! 2 of the best combos I’ve done were: Prunes, Cranberries, Currants, Walnuts, Hazelnuts and Semi-Sweet Chocolate OR White chocolate chips, apricots, almonds and cranberries.

Spoon onto trays and bake in preheated oven at 350*F for 15-20 minutes.

Today’s batch used dried pineapples, walnuts, and semi-sweet chocolate chips. No sugar, just 1/4 cup of powdered green stevia leaf. For flour, I had some old jiffy cornbread mix I needed to use before it expired, so I used that for one cup of the flour, and regular unbleached flour for the other half. This was one of my most experimental batches and it is fantastic. My friend ate about 7 cookies before she left! I’ve even made them with rye flour, with great results.

Enjoy!

Heat Tape Rant

Well, as you all know, we have a leaky roof due to ice dams this year, which we hope to fix next month. It leaked a tiny bit last year, too, but we thought it was an isolated event since it only happened one day. The previous owners from four years ago had put up heat tape on the roof, which we’ve never used, having never used heat tape in any other house in CT in over 30 years. After the leakage this year, we plugged in the heat tape to melt the ice which was blocking the gutters, which really helped with the leak. But the bloody heat tape, which is only covers the about 60 feet (alas, in a zig zag pattern, so its at least twice that long) increased my electricity bill by $100 dollars, and almost doubling our usage. I am really, really annoyed.

I suppose I should be grateful that my roof has only minor damage. And that we use 100% green power. And also that Spring seems to be coming early and everything is melting. . .

Nope. Not feeling grateful. Ah well. Maybe tomorrow. . .