Wednesday, October 29, 2014

One-Year Blogaversary: Reflections and the Year in Pictures

Day by Day Homesteaders, this week marks the official one-year anniversary of this blog.  As of today, October 29, 2014, it has been exactly one year since I published my first post for this blog.  I have to admit that I was a little scared at first to let my voice be read by the world, but I was driven by a desire to share what I have learned about gardening, homesteading, and becoming more resilient.

Writing this blog has actually been really fun, since I have always enjoyed writing, and it has been a great motivator for me to learn many new homesteading skills.  I enjoy learning these skills, and it is really exciting to learn how to do yet one more thing myself at home.  I hope that you have enjoyed learning new skills from reading this blog, and perhaps you have even begun to see the world a little differently.  I especially hope that you feel more empowered to try some of these projects yourself.  I also hope that you feel a little more connected to the natural world around you and to others around the globe.

In our modern world, many of us have simply never needed to learn how to do or make many of these things ourselves that we do as homesteaders.  For many of us, the convenience of store-bought items is often much more alluring in our busy lives than the effort that it takes to make them ourselves.  However, what have we traded and lost in exchange for our “conveniences”?  Here are just a few thoughts:

We have lost the connection to the resources (e.g., the time, the energy, and the natural resources) that it takes to actually make many of these things. 

We have lost the understanding of the ingredients in our foods, body care products, and many other products that we use everyday. 

We have lost the quality and the nutrition in our food, as well as the sense of community that often goes with the preparation of traditional and nourishing foods and the “breaking of bread” together. 

We have lost the skills necessary to make our own medicines from plants as generations before us have done.

We have lost our sense of place, and are quite often socially isolated from one another.

To me, homesteading activities help us to reclaim some of these things in our lives, even if it is done just one day at a time.   We don’t have to figure all of these things out all at once.  We can implement these steps gradually, as we have time, energy, and resources to do so. Before you know it, you are living a much more resilient lifestyle and are so much more empowered in your own life.  Through homesteading, we increase our resiliency, empowerment, and yes, abundance.  That is what Day by Day Homesteading is all about, my Dear Readers.

I look forward to sharing with you much more resiliency, empowerment, and abundance in the future.  I’m so glad that you have joined me on my Day by Day Homesteading journey, and I hope that you are having your very own Day by Day Homesteading adventures in your own life.

Below are my top twelve favorite pictures from the blog over the past year, one for each month of the very young life of this blog.  These are my favorite pictures that I took myself.  Perhaps I should also write a separate post about my favorite posts over the last year...

Do you have any personal favorites that I didn’t post here?

From "My Permaculture Herb Spiral," November 27, 2013

From "Seeking Peace and Simplicity During the Holidays," December 15, 2013

From "8 Tips for Growing Indoor Herbs in the Winter," January 27, 2014
From "16 Tips for the Seed-Starting Newbie," February 25, 2014
From "Celebrating St. Patrick, All Things Irish, and Cultural Food Traditions," March 17, 2014

From "Why Permaculture is Truly Awesome," April 1, 2014

From "The Fungus Among Us," June 25, 2014

From "When Squirrels Attack," July 8, 2014

From "When Things Don't Grow as Planned," July 1, 2014

From "Garden Video Tour!," August 5, 2014

From "Adventures in Herbal Medicine and the Making of a Comfrey Salve," September 16, 2014

From "Falling Leaves and Colorful Trees," October 8, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It’s Soup-a-licious!

My Dear Readers, I have been battling what I believe to be the flu over the last several days.  Thankfully, I have been taking my handy homemade elderberry-echinacea syrup that I made about a month or so ago, as well as temporarily increasing my vitamin D supplementation, taking extra vitamin C and taking some of my homemade holy basil tincture to support my body’s immune system.

As most of you can probably relate, when you are sick, you don’t necessarily feel like eating much.  What I did want to eat a couple of nights ago was soup, however.  NourishingTasty… Soup!   Not so unusual right?  Well, in our case, we had no soup in the house at the time, so I sent my husband to the grocery store to seek out a very specific brand of soup that is not only gluten-free, but also, as far as I can tell, does not contain many of the icky additives and preservatives that most commercial soups contain, such as MSG and yeast extract (which, from what I have read, is also not very good for you).  Unfortunately, some of these additives like yeast extract can be found in many of the “organic” soup and broth brands on the market.  Much to my disappointment, this particular store did not have the kind of soup that I knew and trusted, despite carrying this particular product in the past.  Strike #1

Next, my husband proceeded to go to a second grocery store looking for this soup and purchased several cans of a different “organic” brand of soup and brought them home because he could not find the brand that we were looking for.  Sadly, upon examining the ingredient labels, this soup did contain yeast extract, and I decided that, even this soup was not fit for human consumption.  Strike #2  The grocery store will be receiving these “gifts” back, and we, in return, will be blessed by receiving our money back.

My husband felt defeated in this “Incident of the Sorry Soup,” but I told him that it certainly is not his fault that the majority of the food companies in the United States put such crazy ingredients in processed foods in the name of “flavor.”  In his defense, he is not as used to braving the jungle of processed foods in the grocery stores as I am, and most of the time he doesn’t need to worry about translating the food label ingredients into plain English.  It really is like learning another language while seeking something to eat in the processed food jungle that won’t adversely affect your health somehow…

I am not only the cook in my family, but I am also the primary grocery shopper, the gardener, and the resident nutrition and health guru.  You could say that food and what we eat is my territory in our family.  I have a passion for great tasting and whole, nourishing foods.  Foods that actually resemble what our grandparents, great grandparents, and past generations ate and actually recognized as food.  Most things on the average grocery store shelf today have little resemblance to real food.

Most of the foods that my family eats are not processed foods, and I prefer to make most of our meals from scratch, and from whole foods.  There does happen on occasion sometimes, however, when the chef is “out,” as I was the other night being ill, or life just plain gets to be too busy.  Then, I just do the best that I can and try to find the most natural and organic food possible given the circumstances.  I live in the real world just like you do :). 

In this case, the plan of getting the preferred commercial soup failed, and I had to come up with something, and yes, I still wanted soup!  “Well,” I thought, “I’ll just have to make my own homemade soup tonight…” 

In reality, I have actually sworn off of buying most commercial soups and generally make my own at home 99.9% of the time because:

1.)  I have gluten and milk allergies, which reduces most commercial soup options that exist on the face of the Earth.
2.) Even most of those commercial soups that happen to be gluten-free and milk-free tend to have one or more ingredients that human beings should never ingest, or they just taste terrible.
3.)  Homemade soups generally just taste better and are more nutritious anyway.  You can also add (or exclude) whatever ingredients that you want.  This is a win-win scenario!

There is also the realization that, like so many other foods in our modern diets, we have just gotten used to eating the pre-made stuff and don’t even consider that we could make such things ourselves at home.  They could turn out to be even better than just about anything from the store anyway.  And many of these homemade creations really do not require that much work to make if you already have the ingredients on hand.

My Improvised Soup Creation
So here is what I did to make my own homemade soup.  I had no recipe, just inspiration, miscellaneous ingredients in my kitchen, and an intense desire to eat nourishing soup because I was ill.  I assure you that you too can easily do the same yourself, or make your own version of it.  In my opinion, cooking in many cases is more of an art form than an exact science, and you actually have a lot of room to play around with.  Gluten-free baking, on the other hand, is another story.  It needs many more exact ratios of dry to wet ingredients that are involved.  That is another story for another day, my friends…

1.)  I used two quarts of pre-made gluten-free, organic, and appearing to be healthier, chicken stock from the grocery store that I had on hand (a great case for why it’s so great to always have some stock or broth in your kitchen.  You never know when you might need some!).  Obviously, homemade stock or broth is way better than the store bought kind, and it’s always great to have some of the homemade kind on hand in your freezer as well just in case. 
Vegetarians/Vegans: I am confident that vegetable stock or broth should work fine as well, if you prefer.
2.)  Separately, I took a couple of chicken breasts from my freezer (optional), filled up a pot with water, and boiled the chicken until it was cooked thoroughly.  I do this from time to time if I need some cooked chicken in a hurry.  After the chicken was thoroughly cooked, I took it out of the water, chopped it up and reserved it for later.
3.)  I chopped up a small onion, as well as some kale and parsley that I had harvested from my garden earlier in the week and already had sitting in my refrigerator.  I estimate that this amounted to about two to two and a half large kale leaves and about 1/4 -1/2 cup of parsley for those of you taking notes, but trust me, this all about improvisation and what you already have available in your kitchen.  I had originally intended to use these greens in my fruit and veggie smoothies earlier in the week.  However,  I never got around to making them, and therefore, they dedicated their lives to my soup.
4.)  I had some dried shiitake mushrooms in my cupboard.  These and other types of edible mushrooms are also great staples to have on hand, since they are so good for you.  Among the many nutritional benefits of mushrooms, they are a good source of protein, vitamin D2, and contain a special class of immune supporting carbohydrates called polysaccharides.
5.)  I also had some uncooked gluten-free pasta on hand and added that as well.
6.)  The basic process:  I heated up the stock, added a few cups of water (again, not an exact science here) and added my chopped onions, kale, parsley, mushrooms, chicken, and gluten-free pasta.  I added some sea salt and pepper, and heated everything up until it was boiling for several minutes, and ensured that the greens, mushrooms, and the onions were cooked.

It was very delicious soup!

There are a plethora of variations of this basic process, and an almost endless number of things that you could add to basic broth or stock to make soup.  I have made variations of this soup using frozen or fresh vegetables, adding both dried and fresh herbs, cooked rice or other grains or pasta, onions, and garlic.  You could even add prepared beans or legumes if you wish  The sky is the limit, really, but have fun, be creative and nourish yourself.

Tip: Consider adding some super herbs and superfoods like astragalus powder or keep powder (or other seaweed) to your soup for even greater nutritional value.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Tale of the Lone Garden Survivors and My "Green Eggs and Ham" Produce Story

The Lone Garden Survivors
Dear Readers, as I wrote last week, we are currently experiencing autumn in all of its glory here in the upper Midwest of the United States.  These changes in the season have meant that I have had to remove my warm season crops from my garden, such as my tomato and pepper plants, a couple of weeks ago.  On the other hand, my kale, radish, rainbow chard and pac choy plants have been growing quite well in this cooler weather, thank you very much!

The fact that I still have these plants growing is not so much due to planning and planting a fall garden, but because this is simply when these particular plants have been growing the best.  Many folks recommend that you actually plan for a fall crop of cool season varieties of vegetables, and perhaps some day when I am a much more seasoned (and much more organized) gardener, I will actually strive for that.  However, for now, I am just happy to still have something that I can harvest this late in the season.  Eventually, I hope to explore season extension much more, but until then, I will still enjoy the bounty that remains in my garden at the end of the season.

Kale, one of the cool season crops that I grow in my garden, is admittedly one of my favorite vegetables.  Its organic, dark green leafiness just says to me, “Hey, I am super-awesome and nutritious!  My favorite way to consume it is to add it freshly harvested from my garden to my fruit and veggie smoothies.  I also enjoy sautéing it in organic or grass-fed butter with some chopped garlic in a pot, add a little sea salt and pepper, and right before serving, squeeze some fresh lemon juice over it.  Delicious!  I have also made homemade kale chips before, which are also pretty tasty.  

The truth be known, I did not discover the wonders of kale and pretty much every other leafy green vegetable outside of lettuce until a few years ago when I started getting interested in healthy eating as an adult.  Such unidentified green leafy vegetables were just not a part of what my family ate when I was growing up.  You can be sure that they will be a part of my own family’s diet in our kitchen, however.  It’s too late to turn back now!

I think that leaning how to cook and prepare vegetables in tasty ways is key to enjoying them, as well as perhaps getting children to eat them.  Having garden fresh produce is extremely helpful as well.  The excellent flavor and nutrition of such produce is just not easily found in a grocery store.  Perhaps such treasures can also be found at farmers markets, since foods being sold there are most often harvested fresh that very day. 

Another reason why I like to grow kale is that nutritious organic greens like kale and rainbow chard are so expensive at the grocery store.  You can have much cheaper (and tastier and more nutritious greens) if you just grow them yourself.

A good tip for parents for getting your children to eat more veggies is to put them into a smoothie and then just add enough fruit (berries are a good choice due to their lower sugar content compared to many other fruits) so that they can’t tell that they are actually consuming something green.  Eventually your children may even get used to consuming a higher percentage of leafy greens within the smoothies, and perhaps they will eventually be willing to even eat them (gasp) by themselves.  Be sneaky if you must, parents! :)

My Green Eggs and Ham Story
This experience with tasteless store bought produce was the case for me when I was growing up.  The majority of experiences that I had with eating tomatoes were the tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store, and I really did not like them.  My mother grew a few tomato plants every year when I was growing up, but since most of my experiences with tomatoes were with store bought tomatoes, I decided that I wanted to have nothing to do with them.  A regrettable tragedy...

Most of my adult life, I largely avoided eating tomatoes, except for when I ate a token tomato here or there, thinking, “Even though I don’t really like tomatoes, I know that these are supposed to be healthy for me, so I’ll just eat one anyway,” while not really enjoying them.    This actually continued until I decided to start growing a garden last year.  I observed how many people went gaga over planting tomatoes, and I thought, “I don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with growing tomatoes, but maybe there is something to this homegrown tomato thing after all.  Maybe I can make some good sauce from them or something…”

So, I bought a flat of heirloom tomato plants last spring, planted them, and waited for them to grow.  Wow, did the tomato clouds part for me!  It was one of those Green Eggs and Ham moments (a Dr. Seuss reference for anyone not familiar with the children’s story), and after tasting one of my first homegrown heirloom tomatoes that I grew myself, I said, “I do like tomatoes, Sam I Am!” Turns out, I was just accustomed to eating bad tomatoes, and never truly had a really good one until I grew one myself...  

So now, I have become a tomato snob, and I will only buy store bought tomatoes if I am desperate to add them to some homemade guacamole when tomatoes are not in season.  I can only count a couple of times that I have eaten tomatoes when not from my garden since I have started to grow them.  When you have had the best, nothing else makes the grade.  Am I right, homegrown tomato people?

For those of you who have never eaten a homegrown tomato before, just know that most of those grocery store tomatoes were picked unripe far too early, and then they do not ripen well post-harvest.  This results in a much poorer flavor profile than those tomatoes that you can get from your garden or directly from a farmer.  Not only that, just like almost all of the produce that you buy at the grocery store, the varieties that you are likely to find there are selected for their characteristics of traveling and storing well, and sometimes their physical uniformity and appearance, but flavor and nutrition tend to get ignored (which are pretty much the most important things that we’re supposed to obtain from produce in the first place, are they not?).  Most grocery store produce is mediocre tasting at best.  This really becomes apparent once you start growing your own produce in your own garden, especially if you grow organically.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Falling Leaves and Colorful Trees

Autumn has officially arrived in my region.  The leaves on the deciduous trees have been changing colors, signaling the end of their growing season.  The days have gotten cooler, almost to near freezing on a number of nights (and two weekends ago, we had high temperatures in the mid 80s during the day (that’s degrees F, for everyone outside of the U.S.)!).  We are definitely receiving fewer hours of daylight during the day now, and my garden has slowed down substantially.  I have also not seen many bees buzzing around my garden since it has gotten cooler.

I have harvested all but one of my pie pumpkins (I will post about my experience in making gluten-free pumpkin pie from my own pumpkins after I attempt that project), and a few days ago, I pulled up the warm season plants from my garden, including my tomato plants, pepper plants, zucchini, acorn squash plant, cantaloupe plants, and watermelon plants.  I have more green tomatoes than I know what to do with right now… 

Just as I felt at the end of last year’s growing season, it is bittersweet pulling up those plants from my garden that won’t survive the cold winter here.  I felt a little sad saying goodbye to those plants that were growing so strong and mightily and were still producing well.  Such is the life of a gardener in a temperate climate, right?

I will post a year-end review about what I learned from this year’s garden season very soon.

My Hike in a Northern Forest
My husband and I had a wonderful experience this past weekend admiring the fall colors in northern Minnesota.  We drove for several hours to get there, and then on Saturday spent most of the day hiking in Voyagers National Park, the only national park in the state of Minnesota.

It was very peaceful hiking in Voyagers during this fall season.  I imagine that the park is much busier during the summer, but for our hike on Saturday, it was very quiet and we never saw any other hikers on the trails we traversed.  I have always been drawn to forest ecosystems for as long as I can remember, and I have a very special place in my heart for trees.  They play so many important roles for us and for our planet, and to me it’s almost as if they are the “people” of the plant kingdom due to their dominance in many types of ecosystems.  In a way, they even seem to look a little like people, with their tall and slender trunks resembling torsos and their branches extending like arms and fingers…

With this feeling of kinship toward forests, I hiked along the lovely trails in the park and reflected upon how many of us far too often miss out on these types of experiences that I believe are a part of our natural birthright as human beings.  Getting reconnected to the natural world feeds our souls in a way that nothing else can. 

I believe that we actually have needs as human beings to connect with nature, and when we don’t, our souls suffer in some way.  Sadly, many folks who have never had these sorts of experiences will likely never even know what they are missing.  Others living in cities never get an opportunity to connect with nature at all, and they live their entire lives in a human-constructed jungle.  Truly a tragedy…  There is almost a tangible energy that one can feel when surrounded by living things that simply does not exist when surrounded by manmade concrete objects.  

Our hike in the forest was absolutely lovely, and it gave my husband and I a chance to recharge our batteries and our souls a bit within the framework of our very busy lives.  If you are currently experiencing the season of autumn wherever you live, I encourage you to get outside, explore, and enjoy the beauty and the wonderful experiences (and tasty food!) that this season of the year has to offer.  If you are experiencing a different season where you live, embrace it!  You won’t regret it.

Below are a few pictures from our hike in the forest this weekend.  I hope that you enjoy them, but I hope that they also inspire you to get outside and take some of your own beautiful pictures of the season.  Make some memories that you won’t ever forget.  Life is short, my Friends!

We spotted a grouse (according the one of the park rangers, anyway…).    

I am always on the lookout for interesting looking mushrooms!    

One of the many gorgeous views within the park…    

There were many interesting twists and turns along the paths that we walked upon…  Just like life, don’t you think?    

One of the awesome trees towering above our heads…    

Going up?

The sun would soon set…    

Looks like a tree-person to me!  What do you think?

This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop

Thursday, October 2, 2014

How I Made a Holy Basil Tincture

For those of you who have been patiently waiting to learn how I made a Holy Basil/Tulsi Tincture, today is the day that you have been waiting for! Over the weekend, I completed the process for making an alcohol-based Holy Basil tincture.  If you haven’t yet read my post about Holy Basil, feel free to check it out to learn more about this awesome super herb and its benefits.

Alcohol-based tinctures are very easy to make and they provide you with an extracted form of an herb that is convenient to carry.  They can also be easily taken in water.  My experiences thus far have primarily been limited to alcohol-based tincture making using fresh herbs that I have grown in my own garden, so that is the process that I am emphasizing here.  For those who wish to avoid alcohol, you can also make glycerin-based tinctures, and even vinegar-based tinctures, but I have yet to try those methods myself. 

The tincture making process is pretty simple: 

1.) Chop up your fresh herbs and put them into a clean and dry glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.   Mason jars work well for this, but you could certainly use any clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

2.) Pour enough 80 to 100 proof alcohol (such as vodka, gin, brandy, or grain or grape alcohol) to cover the herbs by two to three inches. 

3.)  Cover the jar with a lid and store in a warm place for approximately 4-6 weeks.  Shake daily to help infuse the herbs into the alcohol.

4.)  After 4-6 weeks, strain off the spent herbs from the finished tincture and discard/compost the plants.

5.)  Bottle your tincture as needed into a labeled dropper bottle.

The best scenario is to store your tinctures in a cool dark place, since ambient light can break down those super important medicinal compounds in the herbs that you want in the first place.  My personal solution for this is to store my tinctures in a cupboard, and I make my own homemade “label sleeves” made from cut paper bags that I wrap around the jars and fasten with tape to help reduce the amount of light that they are exposed to.  

According to Rosemary Gladstar, alcohol-based tinctures should stay good for many years, glycerin tinctures should stay good for about 2-3 years, and vinegar-based tinctures will keep for at least a year, and sometimes they will last even longer.

Dosages of tinctures are given in terms of drops or dropperfuls.  While I cannot recommend specific dosages for specific herbal tinctures, I can give you a quick list of dropper dosage equivalents:

1 Dropperful (35 drops) = ¼ teaspoon = 1 mL
2 ½ Dropperfuls (88 drops) = ½ teaspoon = 2.5 mL
5 Dropperfuls (175 drops) = 1 teaspoon = 5 mL

One of the trickiest parts to tincture making that I have encountered is how to keep from spilling them (and losing some of your work) when you are pouring the liquid tincture from one container to another.  I have to admit that I have not yet figured out a foolproof method for doing this, but using funnels sure does help a lot.  I use two different sized funnels that I have at home: one that has a very skinny end to allow for the tincture to be poured directly into the dropper bottle, and a larger one with a wide end that came with my canning kit that helps me to pour tinctures from one jar to another.  I also place a clean bowl underneath the dropper bottle as I am pouring tincture into it to hopefully catch spills.  This is not always 100% effective, however, and is more of an art form than anything else.

My recommendation is to use organic alcohol for making your tinctures, if you can find it.  It certainly doesn’t have to be a top of the line brand (unless you want to spend that kind of money), but you are making herbal remedies here, and I presume that one of your health and wellness goals is to reduce your exposure to chemicals.  I also prefer to use organic alcohol for these purposes due to the use of GMO crops in many conventional products.

I purchased my dropper bottles from Mountain Rose Herbs, but I’m sure that you could buy them elsewhere as well, including some natural food stores.

You might also explore making your own herbal tincture formulas using several different complementary herbs.  As I always recommend, please do your own research to determine which herbs work well together and which ones are right for your personal use.  Also, please consult with a health practitioner about which herbs may or may not be right for you if you have any particular health concerns, are taking any medications, or are pregnant or nursing.

Below is an outline of the process by which I made my tinctures.  Notice that I made several this weekend: a Holy Basil tincture, a lemongrass tincture, and a Jiaogulan tincture (also known as Gynostemma), an adaptogenic super herb that I am growing in a pot.

Holy Basil/Tulsi and Lemongrass harvested from the garden, along with my herb clippers.

Chopping up the Holy Basil.

The Holy Basil in its new mason jar “home” for the next six weeks and the organic vodka that I used to make the tinctures.    

Filling the jar with enough vodka to cover the herbs.  Some leaves did float, but they settled down some after a couple of days.    

Cutting up the lemongrass with kitchen shears.  I found that my herb clippers weren’t working too well on these thick and course blades of grass, so I took out the heavy artillery and switched to cutting the lemongrass with my kitchen shears.    

Ready to infuse for six weeks…

My Jiaogulan (Gynostemma) plant that I have growing in a pot.  I am uncertain as to whether this plant from Asia would become invasive in my garden, so I keep it in a pot. 

Cutting up the Jiaogulan for the tincturing process.    

Everything that I need to complete my tincture making process after the three tinctures have been sitting for about six weeks (except for the larger canning funnel).  Note that the third jar label should read “Jiaogulan” instead of “Jiaojuglan.”    

The Holy Basil tincture with the spent herbs.    

Ready to pour the Holy Basil tincture into the jar and strain the spent plant material with a fine mesh stainless steel strainer.    

Pressing as much liquid out of the spent herbs as possible.  As you can see here, some spilling did occur when I poured the tincture into the jar, so it can take a little care and effort to keep from spilling some of your tincture.  Still learning best practice techniques…

Pouring the finished tincture back into its original jar after removing all plant materials.    

Ready to pour the tincture into the dropper bottle…    

The finished Holy Basil tincture.    

All finished!!!    

This post is shared at Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop