One young Catholic family on a Journey towards Intentional and Communal Sustainability. One Artist, one full time Mama and two babies, we'll tell you about all our successes, and failures, as we try to make it in our overly Consumeristic society on just the bare necessities.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Logan's Kefir Tips

Logan, you're the star of a blog again!

Logan is a good friend of mine, and one of the several people who have told me that they can't post comments.  Luckily for me, she has my email address!  So I am going to share her wonderful kefir tips with you!  After a good hour conversation with her, and studying these tips, I seem to have my kefir working properly.  We switched to using local organic pasteurized milk for milk kefir for the time being since I was having so much trouble and didn't want to "waste" my good, expensive raw milk.  But I just did a batch with raw, that's how confident I am in my technique now.  THANKS LOGAN!!!  YOU ROCK! (By the way, Logan is the proud mother of 5 -yes, 5!- children under the age of 4, so the fact that she found time to have an hour long conversation with me AND send me this wonderful email is amazing!)

Hey Britt, Here are the complete troubleshooting tips that came with my kefir.  They have the range of things that can go wrong.  I also don't care that much for straight up plain kefir, so I mix mine with flavored stevia drops.  They are kinda expensive but a little goes a really long way so its more economical than on first glance.  All italicized comments below are mine. (The Red is me-Britt)

good luck,


Kefir is too fluid or Sweet 

Possible causes: The kefir grains were old; Fermentation temp was too low;  The Milk was too hot and the ferment was damaged; Fermentation time was too short; inhibition of the microorganisms; or it was exposed to too much air. 

Tips:  Use grains more frequently and store properly; Observe temp and times carefully; rinse equipment with clear boiling water before use; keep container closed as much as possible.

Taste is too sour

Possible causes:  Fermentation temp was too high; the lactic acid bacteria develop faster and dominate.  The yeasts are inferior which results in an absence of CO2 production. I suspect this is the problem you are having, a hard to remedy one too in the summer, I suggest next time you go too long just let it go a bit longer until it separates and make kefir cheese  *see below or make smoothies with it where you can hide the taste with sweet fruit
Tips:  Carefully observe fermentation time indicated in order to allow the yeasts to promote the metabolic process sufficiently.

Unusual taste and/or surface mold

Possible causes: The undesired breakdown of the milk components due to the possible presence f foreign microorganisms resulting from unclean working procedure.  Sources of contamination:  Insufficiently heated milk, water, air, unclean equipment.

Tips:  Prepare kefir under sanitary conditions to prevent contamination by foreign bacteria. Rinse equipment with boiling water, avoid long exposure to air.  If this happens dispose of batch! Do not consume defective batch. Start a new batch with clean grains. (whoops!  This is exactly what I did!  Good thing I got new grains!)

Separated into curds and whey
Possible causes: Fermentation temp was too high.  Fermentation time was too long.

Tips:  Run through a cheesecloth and make kefir cheese. Kefir cheese is one of the best tasting soft cheese in my opinion, I think the closest tasting to store bought cream cheese, we throw ours in the food processor with garlic, salt, dill, to make a yummy spread. I agree- I like to make mine into ranch dip, which is very similar, only I add a tablespoon of homemade mayo, and some onions or onion powder as well.

Party Recap- Homemade Crackers

So my attempt to not spend any money on this party didn't work out so good.  But I made a really good attempt.  And my favorite success was my homemade crackers!  I found a really good recipe here, and I tweaked it a bit for what I wanted to use it for- cheese and liver pate (which I didn't get a picture of because I forgot to put it out until after the party started).  So here's what I did-

Homemade Sweet Rosemary Crumble Crackers
2 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. Real Salt or kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed
8-10 Tbs. butter
¼ c. water
¼ tsp. vanilla
1 Tbs. honey
salt and crushed rosemary for topping
Preheat the oven to 410.

Add the dry ingredients with the spices to your food processor and pulse a few times to mix, then add the butter and process until it forms a crumb.  (If you don't have a food processor, use 2 table knives or a pastry knife to incorporate the butter to a crumb) Mix water with honey and vanilla only as long as it takes to make a dough.

Then I tried two different methods to bake them.  First, I used a pizza stone.  Actually, I used an old kiln shelf that was broken, which is made from a similar clay that commercial stones are made from.  (More on this later) I rolled the dough nice and thin out on the floured stone directly while the oven was pre-heating.  Then, using a pizza cutter, I made cuts to form square crackers.  This made extremely deliciously crispy, delicate crackers.  EXCEPTIONAL!  But there were 2 problems.  First, your stone has to be completely dry or they will stick! Mine did, and I had to let it cool and dry over night in order to get the offending crackers off. Second, if you only have 1 stone, doing the second batch can be a problem.  I perfected the technique last night, but for Monday, i had to use a cookie sheet for the rest of the crackers.  A cookie sheet gives you slightly less crispy and more doughy crackers- they have less "crunch" and more "munch".  still good, and probably ideal for something like hummus.  again, i rolled the dough out directly on the floured sheet, but couldn't get it as thin because of the sides of the cookie sheet being in the way.

To reuse your stone, you have to be super careful.  First, using a metal pancake flipper, remove the crackers a few at a time to a waiting cooling area.  the carefully remove the ROCKET HOT stone and rest it somewhere safe- I have tile counter tops and that worked nicely.  Slip the already rolled out dough onto the hot, hot stone with the spatula, and using the pizza cutter, quickly score it into cracker sized bits.  Then back in the oven  until they're crispy delicious.

I left out a time- that's because it depends on the thickness of your cracker, and the heat of the stone you're working on or the cookie sheet.  I found that with the cookie sheet, it took just about 10 minutes.  With the cold stone, it took a good 10 minutes as well, and with a hot stone it was more like 6-8 minutes.  It might take longer for your, or less time, so I recommend letting them cook for 5 minutes undisturbed, and then checking on them every minute or so until you figure out how long it will take for your oven and baking apparatus.

On Pizza Stones

I've never owned a pizza stone, but always coveted them.  I was seconds away from buying one a few months back, when he noticed it in the cart and chastised me- "you know I can make that, right?"  It's true, baking/pizza stones are nothing but bisqued clay (meaning they didn't get all the way to temperature and are still slightly porous) that is UN-glazed. 

Then Joey mentioned to me that he had a broken piece of kiln shelf (which is what your mugs and bowls get placed on in the kiln that gets heated up to 2300 degrees!)  That is the ULTIMATE pizza stone.  The kind of clay that it's made out of has such a high melting point that only an industrial kiln can even MAKE it (Joey, how hot does it fire to?  thousands of degrees, I assume. Joey: Yea, um. something like 3,200 I think).  So it's great at retaining heat.

So if you can find an old kiln shelf- broken ones work fine as long as they're a big enough piece, great!  Just make sure that you scrap all the old kiln wash off (which keeps glazes from sticking to it) and that any glaze spots that are on it have an "off gassing" point that is well beyond your oven. Most do, they usually fire to at least 1000 degrees.

If you don't have a ceramicist husband like me, you can also use unglazed ceramic quarry tiles often found at hardware stores.  You can also special order a hand made one through our Etsy Store.  Just because he never made one for me doesn't me he wouldn't for you!  And think, he could put your family name indented on the top so that all your bread comes out with your own personal signature!  How cool!

Finally, I'm going to be playing around with this recipe a lot in the next couple of days- I'm in love with it!  But Joey and I have pretty much cut grains out of our diets except for treats, so I'm going to try making almond flour and coconut flour crackers and see how that works out!

Next- Homemade Cocktail Sauce- it's so simple you'll scream for joy!

Linking back to GNOWFGLINS Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pictures of Monday- Discussion tomorrow

The Spread

Chocolate Covered Jackson Pollack Strawberries. 

Fruit with Yogurt Dip

Homemade Crackers and Cheese Platter

Shrimp and Cocktail Sauce (Homemade)

Where all the money went!

Let's Party!

We all got to soak our feet and get facials!  What Joy!

Oh, and Charlotte got to hold our friend's baby- and she was in love!

Comment Problems

Hi all!  Boy, did we have a busy weekend and Monday!  As you might remember, Monday night was my fancy ladies only party that I had to plan for.  I'll be posting on that in a bit. 

I've heard from at least 2 people now that they are having problems commenting on my blog.  I'd say leave a comment if you are too, but that's just silly.  Is there anybody out there in cyber space who CAN comment who knows why some people can but others can't? 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Making Milk Kefir- or am I?

I'm so incredibly frustrated! 

I purchased dehydrated dairy kefir grains from a website back in August and had absolutely no luck getting them anywhere. I tried putting them straight in the milk and in a reusable "brew bag".  I tried rinsing them, and I tried not rinsing them.  I've tried it with a lid on top and with cheese cloth on  top.  Nothing.  And then, as things were starting to look positive, I killed them.  Yup, I left them in the jar without milk overnight because my brain went on vacation.  Oops.

So, yesterday I spent 10 bucks.  I found a local person through Craigslist who was selling her extra grains.  I told her my woes, and she said it sounded like the grains never fully matured.  So I bought her fully matured grains, and was flabbergasted by how many there were!  I had maybe a teaspoons worth from the dehydrated grains, and she gave me practically a cup!  She assured me they would work- they always work for her!

So, I tried them last night, and- nope.  NO luck.  I'll try again tonight with cheese cloth instead of the lid, but I am getting frustrated!  And a little ticked off- I'm wasting all this good, expensive, raw milk on failure after failure.  But my husband LOVES kefir and would drink it by the gallon if he could.  But at $5 a liter in the store for whole milk non-sweetened organic (pasturized) kefir, we just can't afford it.  Especially this month of (supposed) non-spending.

So does anybody have any hints?  Any helpful solutions to my problems?  I'm at a loss here!  Please!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Great Jello Jigglers! It's alive!

This is a video of the most recent batch of homemade chicken stock after it set up over night in the fridge.  As I was about to dip the measuring cup in to pour it into jars for freezing, I realized it wasn't going anywhere!  I was able to dig it out eventually-it was exactly the consistency of jello- but only after I took a fun video for you to watch!

Chicken stock is easy to make.  Simply save all the bones and bits from your leftover chicken dinner, and maybe some raw bits too (I had a few backbones in there from when I split a few whole chickens to grill and chicken necks).  If you have access, which I do not currently, add some chicken feet for added jello-ocity!  I keep all my bits, along with some onion skins, carrot peelings and celery hearts in a freezer bag in the freezer, and after the bag gets full, into the crock pot it goes!  Add water (pure if you can) just to cover the bones, and maybe a dash of salt, set it on high for a bit, then low over night and through the next day (making sure it never dries out) and there you go!

(you can add apple cider vinegar and let it sit for a few hours before starting the crock if you'd like, but I haven't found this to make much difference)

To "clarify" it I line a plastic colander with cheese cloth (actually, I use some old fashioned diapers, you know pre-prefolds, that I inherited from my mother's stash.  Works just as well) and place that over a large mixing bowl to catch the deliciousness.  Let everything drain through the cheese cloth, and then let the stock sit overnight if you'd like, or use it right then if you can't wait!

So now you have a delicious, and extremely nutritious addition to all your soups, to cook rice beans or other grains in, to saute veggies in- the possibilities are endless!  My husband raves that my stock is so good, you don't even notice if the soup doesn't have any meat in it!  In fact, in this recipe I only used maybe half a cup of chicken (even though I call for a cup, I just didn't have that much) but we couldn't tell the difference.

This is a great money saver- why buy canned stock at the store that doesn't have half the nutrients when you can make your own!  I want to step up to vegetable, fish and beef stock, but haven't gotten that far in my journey yet.  Maybe soon!  But for now, enjoy the jiggle.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Introducing "Yumbo"

Mommy Bowl and Toddler Bowl (half way through lunch when I thought to take a picture of them)
 Today we had Chicken and White Bean soup for lunch.  What a delicious idea!  Charlotte wants to share her new favorite dish with all our favorite readers.  Enjoy!
Mommy made soup for lunch

Let me think

I'll get this chunk of beans and meat right here...

Steady, steady...

Open wide!  I hope this is good.

Surprise!  Wow! This is YUMBO!

Getting every single drop

Keep licking, there might be more on there.

That was so good it deserves a smile- but not at the expense of getting that last drop.

Still smiling, still licking.  Really, there's more in your bowl, you know.

I think she'd rather have a straw.
Mommy Bowl and Toddler Bowl both empty- YUMBO!

By the way, those are some of Joey's bowls.  If you'd like a set yourself, you can order anything you want over at our Etsy store.

Yumbo Chicken and White Bean Soup
(serves 4 lunch portions, or stretch it to feed 6) 

1-2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 small clove garlic, if desired, smashed.  I didn't use it this time, but would next time.
3 stalks of celery, chopped
handful of celery leaves, also chopped
about a cup of leftover roasted chicken.  We roast chickens whole and then leave the leftovers in the fridge for a weeks worth of meals like this.
3 cups of homemade chicken stock, or at least 1 cup stock and the rest water, or add water to make it stretch a little if you have more people.
2 cups of White Beans, soaked overnight in 4 cups of water
teaspoon salt, and some fresh ground pepper

Add to each bowl
1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
dollop of sour cream

Saute the onions and celery and celery leaves in the butter in a soup pot.  Add a pinch of salt after they've cooked for awhile, but not too soon or they'll just be soggy.  Add the garlic at the end and saute for a few minutes, but not too long.  You don't want it to brown.

Add chicken stock, chicken and any needed water to make the amount you'd like.  Add some ground pepper and let it cook for half an hour.  Add the beans, and cook 40 minutes to an hour, or until the beans are cooked but still firm.  Sprinkle parmesan and a dollap of sour cream on each bowl and enjoy!  YUMBO!

(**Yumbo was a term originally coined by Joey while Charlotte was beginning to eat solids, and we would use her Bumbo chair as a high chair.  Joey would sing Charlotte her Yumbos in the Bumbo song while he fed her her applesauce.**)

**This post was shared on Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday on 9/21/2011**

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Plan it- Don't Panic

One thing I've been trying hard to do is keep a weekly meal plan, or at very least a day to day plan.  As our summer garden harvest has subsided, I've relied more and more on the farmer's market for our fresh fruits and veggies.  And that will be coming to an end here pretty soon itself.  And that means things are going to get a little more difficult!  So I'm going to team  up with a few other bloggers and moms and try to keep a successful weekly meal plan in Keeper of the Home's "Plan it- Don't Panic" 6 week meal planning challenge!  It starts on Monday (although she jumped the gun and started yesterday herself) and I will be posting here my weekly plan and how I did for the previous week on Monday nights.  So come see what we're having for dinner- and what we didn't- and maybe... JUST MAYBE... I'll actually get a recipe in?  One that doesn't turn into dog treats, that is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

If you have to pay, pay less.

Despite the recent upset to our plans to not spend money thanks to troubling brakes on our car the whole ordeal has become a triumph and a testament to the goal of our little experiment.

After some pulling to the left, some funny sounds and an initial estimate from a repair shop our family was looking at a bill upwards of $500 to keep our family car safe and sound.

We rely on working brakes to help promote a healthy nap routine.

I would love to say that this all has become an impetus for me to learn car maintenance and to become a journeyman mechanic overnight. Sadly this is not the case, in fact I still basically have no idea how to fix cars other than changing a tire and replacing a battery.

What I do know, from my past as a full-time researcher, is how to find information and compare facts. The first step was to check whether the parts prices were reasonable or not. On a very quick inspection of napa and autozone's websites I realized that no, in fact the parts prices which I was initially quoted were reasonably inflated. I'm not saying that it was a scam, but in the very least the rotors which I was told needed to be replaced were much fancier than I needed for tooling around the suburbs in our little family car.

Armed with this information I was prepared to confront the repair shop and point out that I wasn't entirely ignorant (at least not about parts prices if nothing else) and demand some reduction in the repair cost based on the significantly lower priced rotors I found.

Before I walked in to make these demands I also decided to check the labor costs which I was quoted. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in allowing businesses to charge whatever they please for their services, but I'm also a firm believer in not paying it unless I feel that it is justified.

The first other shop I called for a quote was a nice, small, local chain of maybe...3 shops. The guy who answered was very helpful and polite. However, the quote which I received was just a few dollars less than the chain repair shop which gave me the initial quote. The difference was that the parts prices were cheaper at the local chain while the labor costs were more. But Britt and I agreed that this is a case where I do feel it to be justified to pay more, in a small, local shop you tend to get better customer service and more reliable work (because their business relies heavily on customer referral). In the case of a large national chain, they work on volume first and foremost.

I then called another chain in town and asked for quote on the same work just to double check. This shop however quoted me nearly $150 LESS than the intial $500 Britt and I were expecting to have to shell out. But thats not all...

When we actually arrived at the shop and the mechanic looked our car over for 10 or 15 minutes he told me the typical "yea, you need new brakes, see here? this is worn, that is worn etc." but then he informed me that not only did he think I didn't need to replace my rotors, but they weren't even close to needing replaced. There was something about him needing 16,000...something to retool them and that mine had 50,000. Like I said, I don't know jack about cars, but I do know that 50 is way bigger than 16 and that was good enough for me.

All said and done (I just need to pick up our car in the morning) the cost for fixing our brakes on the car ended up being just over $225. Funny how not paying for the cost and labor to replace parts that don't need to be replaced can drop the price.

In retrospect I should have called the small local guys back with the new information and see what kind of deal they could have given me. But you have to forgive me for being a bit impetuous once I found out that I was saving $275.

All things considered, I don't feel too bad spending money today, since after all I saved more than I spent thanks to a few minutes of research and shopping around.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Uh oh.....

This is the entire reason we're doing this "experiment".

Yesterday, I took the girls up to the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Morrison, which is up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  On the way back, I noticed a weird pulling in the brakes on our car.  We only have 1 car for the family, so we try to treat it like a baby so we don't have to be without it for crazy repairs. So this morning, I took the car in to have them checked.  We just had them checked in June and they said they were fine-but I just found out that they didn't check the whole brake but only part of it-let me tell you how angry that makes me!  Because now, instead of paying for them to clean and fix minor repairs, we have to pay for new brakes, pads and roters!  Almost $500!  I could scream!

Luckily, we're borrowing a friend's car for the week already, so we have a couple of days to figure it out.  Maybe we can find a friend who can do the work for less?  Long shot, but it's worth the try.

Anybody have any suggestions for our delema?  We already spent our spare cash on Joey's new wheel.  Ugh.  How much worse could this get?!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Half Way There

Today is September 15th, which marks the half way point for our Spending Free Month. (See our original post with our rules and such here.)  So I figured I'd give you an honest recap of how we've been doing, and what we want to do for the next 2 weeks!

What we've spent money on:
A case (30 lbs) of pasture based butter (as explained here)- $102.25
A new saw blade for Joey's rotary saw- $10.78
Parking downtown for the art museum (of which we're members)- $5.00
Dog Food (whoops!  we ran out on the second day of the challenge!) $35.66
An Emergency Safeway run for frozen pizzas and juice when I was in bed with Strep Throat- $32.50
A few things for my Sister-in-Law's housewarming party that we didn't know we needed- $35.80
A "new-to-us" electric pottery wheel for Joey's studio (as explained here)- $525.00
Brent Pottery Wheel (not ours)

Farmer's Market- $22 over 2 weeks
Groceries for the first half of the month- $84.08
A meal for a homeless man downtown- $8.64

Without the wheel, that totals $300.91. (with, it's $825.91

Yup, way WAY over our $0.00 goal!

(By the way, this does not include our monthly bills and expenses that we can't get away without paying, such as electricity, water, our raw milk share, etc,)

However, with the exception of the emergency Safeway run, my sister-in-law's party purchases, and the homeless man's meal, all the other purchases fell within the rules.  Joey couldn't build any more raised garden beds, his goal for this month, without a new blade for his saw, and the other items fall into the category of "stupid-and-prideful not to make" (I'm not going to let our dogs go hungry, or deal with the repercussions of dumpstered food for them, nor will I pass up the butter sale that only happens 3 times a year, or the wheel deal that we've been searching for for months just because of our blog).  But, in the attempt to be completely honest, I've laid it all out for you fair and square.

So what are we going to work on for the rest of the month?

Joey is still working on raised garden beds for our yard (we have HORRIBLE soil!) and will need to find both lumber and dirt/manure/compost to fill them with.

I need clothes.  Like WHOA!  I'm loosing weight from my pregnancy like I can't believe, and I don't fit in any of my clothes right now- just that weird in between stage.  But I have a sewing machine and decent skills, so I'm going to try my hand at something like this.

I still haven't gotten my hands on a yogurt maker... hint hint, Dyno-Mom!

mmmm.... looks good, right?
I'm throwing a fancy cocktail party for some friends at the end of the month (which was planned before the month long experiment began) and I will need to procure several items somehow- including h'or d'ouvres and drinks. I'm going to try my hand at making homemade crackers and bruschetta bread, as well as try to invent a few drinks with the liquor we have on hand (not much, I might add!).  I MAY make a purchase of 2 here, like a bottle of wine, but I'm going to try and do everything sans money if I can. Anybody have any good ideas?

Joey will be explaining his 1 week rule for his "found objects", as well as showing you how he's been using the things he's discovered on his night time city explorations.

And so much more!  But all in all, we're going to be trying even harder to keep to our original plan.  As the month progresses, it's gotten both harder and easier.  I am getting super comfortable with packing lunches and snacks for the road so we don't get caught with a cranky, hungry toddler or growling stomachs, but I need to work on remembering our water bottles.  More than once have we been caught racing home to get something to drink!  I've done pretty well with my No Dryer Challenge, but some unfortunately cold, wet weather over the last week has caused me to have to plug it back in for a few days.  Otherwise we'd be naked.  If I were better at checking the weather reports and planning laundry days accordingly, I think I could do a lot better.  Also, Joey and I have both lost about 5 pounds this month- which I think is at least in part due to the fact that we haven't gone out to eat once!  THIS is our weakest point.  Even though we always try to choose the most "real food" option out there (hello, Chipotle and Sazza Pizza, I love and miss you both!), we eat out WAY too often.  We just love it too much, I guess.  But it's starting to feel more like the special treat it should be at this point.  I can't wait until Joey and I get to go on a date in October!  I'm going to pick the best restaurant ever, and know that it will be only a once in a while treat from now on!

So keep watching, and we'll keep trying to amuse and inform you.  Hopefully we're not the only ones getting something out of this blog.... hello, anybody out there? ..... We'd love all your comments with your own sage advice and honest questions and will keep trying out new ways to make a month without money both fun and interesting!

***Taking part in GNOWFGLINS Simple Lives Thursdays***

Tea party

A while back, Joey and I stopped buying sodas, and we both saw the effects on our waist lines (well, I was pregnant at the time, so it was more of a bump line!).  But we both still crave delicious drinks.  So here's a few of our drink choices we've either come to love, or tried and tossed, and their pros and cons.
Tea anybody?

Sparkle Water (aka mineral water or Seltzer water)
This was our go-to for a long time, and it still is, but only as a treat.  This was a great way to quench our soda cravings, especially with a dash of lemon juice or orange juice added in.  The bubbles really do something to kick water up that extra notch!  We call it Sparkle Water in our house for the toddler's sake-it makes it special, and also helps warn her that she's about to get bubbles up her nose.

While I could drink Perrier, or even grocery store seltzer all day long and be more than happy, it isn't budget friendly.  I looked into getting a seltzer bottle, until I realized that the major health benefits come from natural sparkling water.  So the cost does not justify drinking it daily- except when I'm pregnant.  For wahtever reason, I have a hard time keeping myself hydrated when I'm pregnant- I just don't like drinking liquids.  But the bubbles make everything go down smooth.  So it's worth it then.

Kombucha (aka Baby Beer)

We were introduced to Kombucha originally by my brother-in-law, and reintroduced by Dyno-Mom, who gave us a baby SCOBY.  I love the stuff, Joey does not.  Charlotte does though, which is good because around the time we got the SCOBY we were having trouble with her finding random beer bottles to try and drink out of whenever we had beer.  It wasn't very often, but she would kick and cry every time we took the beer away from her and scream "BEER!" at the top of her lungs.  I know another little girl who was equally attached to the hops whose word for "good" was "beer" until she was about two.  ;-)  So I know it's not just my kid who has to be curtailed from the Guinness glasses.  So now she call Kombucha "Beer"- which is just fine.  Yes it does have trace amounts of alcohol in it, just as much as vinegar and other daily edibles, so I don't let her have more than a few ounces a day.  The only real problem is when she asks for her "beer" while we're in the check-out line at the grocery store.  True story.

Charlotte teething on an EMPTY beer bottle at about 6 months
In any case, Kombucha is an acquired taste.  But to those who acquire it, it's both delicious and cheap, if you make it yourself.  And it's bubbly-  big plus in my book!  All you need is a baby SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) from a friend or make one yourself from a bottle of raw Kombucha bought at the store, tea and sugar.  I use Newman's Own Organic Royal Tea (black and green combined, or just black) and sucanat, an unrefined sugar with a load of minerals.  But you can use cheap black tea and cheap white sugar and get equally as good a beverage.  The sugar is ingested, totally or in part depending on how long it goes, so you don't get any or much yourself.  And it's pro-biotic!  Yay good bacteria!

Kombucha in a continuous brew

Hello, Mother!

Kefir (water and dairy)
As I said before, Joey doesn't dig on the Kombucha- it's way too vinegary for him.  But he likes kefir, both water and dairy.

Kefir is a fermented beverage using small, grain-like SCOBY's that are not the same as the large mass of SCOBY that creates a Kombucha mother.  Dairy Kefir reigns from the northern European regions, like Poland.  It is a thin, yogurty, tangy, bubbly concoction that is made with milk and Kefir grains- cauliflower like cultures of yeast and bacteria.  Water Kefir is actually a traditional "Small Beer" found around the world in many different cultures, and can also be called Tibicos.  It is made using sugar water and flavored with a variety of different fruits or extracts.  Joey likes vanilla water kefir as he says it's very similar to Cream Soda, whereas I've recently found that adding slices of a green apple to the secondary ferment makes a very delicious drink.
Water kefir on the left, dairy kefi on the right, and crab apple cider in the middle
We are still experimenting with Kefir.  I got water grains from Melissa (Dyno-mom) awhile back, and they've been doing great.  I also ordered dehydrated dairy grains from Cultures for Health and we've been having less luck with them.  I think I MAY have just now figured them out, but we'll see.  I'm less of a fan of dairy kefir in general, but that's probably just because I've never been a big milk drinker. I had a hard time digesting pasteurized milk all my life but I'm starting to be able to drink more since we switch to raw milk awhile back, but I certainly don't crave it.  All in all, water kefir is practically free.  Melissa has a good overview of the in's and out's on her blog, here.  Dairy kefir is a little more expensive, especially if you use raw milk, but I have friends who love it so much they'd rather drop the grains in their gallon and just drink that instead of regular milk anyway.  Joey would, but I'd rather not, at least not until we get our grains ripe enough so that they're working properly.

Other things we've tried-

Ginger beer- good, cheap and easy.  We still make this from time to time.  Melissa's tutorial here.
Crab Apple Cider/Wine/vinegar- There will be a post on this coming up soon that we're doing for Melissa's blog.
Tea- Iced or hot.  Right now, Joey is going through practically a gallon of iced tea a day.  We make sun tea so we don't have to heat up the kitchen, or worry about breaking a glass pitcher with hot liquids.
Coffee- not cheap, not super healthy, but oh so good!  I used to drink it black, but now I add a tablespoon or so of cream or whole milk, and occasionally a dash of vanilla or a shake of cinnamon.  If you can drink it without sugar or other sweeteners, it's not nearly so bad as people make it out to be.  Just moderation, people.
And then, there's the good old fashioned water bottle.  We'll be talking about that in a later post.

Linking up with GNOWFGLINS Simple Lives Thursday

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Inspired Wisdom

Britt and I were talking about the upcoming couple of weeks, and what we've learned from the last few and in the midst of our conversation this bit of inspired wisdom came forth:

"investment of time mitigates investment of money"

Sure, its not news, but it was eloquent enough to someday become a cliche.

And after all, cliche's are true, you know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Guess what landed in our backyard: The Sequal

For all of you who were stumped by the images from our Guess what landed in our backyard post then brace yourselves for the answer:


...I have no idea either.

What I do know is where it came from, which is certainly something and even more certainly less disconcerting. It was another dumpstering find, one that I wouldn't have taken home had Britt and I literally not just been talking about material to build an awning for our back porch that morning.

The object is... well, huge. I'm not particularly certain about its dimensions but spread out it nearly fills our backyard. That being said its likely somewhere around 1/4 acre. What is more shocking, and subsequently perplexing, about its size is that the piece we have is only about a quarter of the whole (I know because I saw the other 3 pieces laying near the dumpster as well.)

When I first picked it up I surmised it to be a billboard since many companies opt to use tarp style billboards instead of paying for the cost of painting and/or installation of more permenant billboard material. However, the dimensions on this thing are waaaaay too big to be a billboard. The "small" piece of it which we now poccess is probably a billboard size itself.

The other odd thing is that some of the text on it is only 2 or 3 inches tall, making it ineffective for billboard distances. What was this used for really? No idea, honestly. Based on the text and imagery it seems to have been some kind of advertisement for a phone company but this piece of material would have been seriously enormous.

Nevertheless, for our purposes its awsome. The material itself is some kind of rubberized plastic which makes it (as I'm sure was its intent) weatherproof. It also is actually a small mesh, which will allow for both (some) light as well as air to pass through the (for lack of a better word) fabric.

This is wonderful news for two reasons: First of all, this material will be essentially ideal for the awning which we are looking to make for our back porch. Allowing some light, but providing shade, and also able to stand up to sun and other harsh elements.

The other benefit of the material, since we have more than enough to spare, is that it should also function as a pretty useful cold frame for our garden bed. We have a funny growing season here, we have enough sun for many months, but frosts come in pretty early sometimes. Hopefully this material will be both insulative and permeable enough to give us another month or two of growing for our new crops of spinach, swiss chard, beets, kale and winter squash. Maybe pumpkins too, providing our dachshund doesn't eat any more of them.

Farmer's Market Monday

Farmer's Markets are so pretty!
Mondays are Farmer's Market days for us.  Since we'd had my cousin and her family over for dinner Sunday night, we were completely out of vegetables.  And since one of our original rules allowed me to spend money on fresh veggies and the like to keep our family running on a healthy Real Food diet, away we went to visit with our favorite Farmer's family, mentioned here in Joey's post. Unfortunately, Darrell is still not doing so well, so please keep praying for him.  But Alice and Alicia were there and ready to enjoy a quick snuggle with Beatrice while Charlotte munched on a slice of their delicious Rocky Ford Watermelon.
Bea's got their attention!
Mrs. Alice and Beatrice get a good cuddle in

Charlotte enjoys her Rocky Ford Melon with Joey

Alicia's turn to cuddle while Mrs. Alice helps another customer
We got away with enough tomatoes (ours aren't turning red in the garden), red potatoes, yams, and an onion to last us the week for just $4.  I also bought a spaghetti squash and a bunch of dill for the dill pickles I needed to make at the stand a few down for $4 as well.  We love our Farmer's Market for sure!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Makings of an Artist

We're having quite the busy week here on the LAC home front, so please forgive our brief absence.  My cousin moved into town with her 2 young girls close in age to ours and we've been enjoying the play dates and dinners and trying to help them get moved in as easily as possible. 

 St. Charles Boremeo by Gwyneth Holsten was commissioned by us for our daughter Charlotte
We also got to have dinner with our wonderful friend, Gwyneth, to talk about art and Christmas presents!  Gwyneth Holsten is probably the most talented person I know, and she's made art for both our family and our friend's for quite awhile. We're hoping to start a local artist's cooperative with both her and Mark Thomason, another family friend/artist, and maybe a few others.
St Joan- Painting on Canvas by Mark Thomason

But, just so you don't think we've abandoned ship....

We spent money.

Wait, what?  What did I just say?  We broke a rule!  Yep, we did.  Well, actually, we didn't exactly.  An unwritten rule that Joey and I agreed on at the beginning of the month was that if we found something that we've been looking for at an unbelievably low price, that it would be stupid and prideful to pass up that opportunity just for the sake of the "experiment".  Specifically, we've been looking for a new wheel for Joey's studio because his has been unbalanced since we bought it 2 years ago, and we don't have the equipment or the mechanical aptitude to fix it ourselves- which leaves us only the option to get it professionally centered, and we haven't found anybody in the area willing or able to do that for us without great effort or expense.  So we decided to look for a totally mechanical wheel (instead of the kick wheel that he currently has).  With a centered wheel, Joey should be able to throw several pieces a day, which should amount to money in our pockets by the end of the month if we plan things right. 
Apothecary Jars by Joey

But really, since it was a business expense, does that really count?  :)

So hopefully in the next few weeks, Joey's Etsy store will stop making that annoying cricket chirping sound and get filled with beautiful mugs and bowls and the like in order to help us on our journey towards true sustainability.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lemon Vinegar Cleaner

Joey just posted about finding loads of lemon peelings in a dumpster last night.

Thank you, sweetheart, for NOT bringing them home.  But for anybody interested in what you can do with leftover lemon peels, here's what we do.

(by the way, this works equally as well with any citrus fruit- lime, grapefruit, orange, etc.  Lemon just smells the nicest I think)

I stopped purchasing household cleaners quite awhile ago.  Not only was I concerned about the price of these chemicals, but I had a crawling baby at the time and really didn't want to rush her off to the hospital after ingesting something toxic, and I didn't like the other option of not cleaning!  So I found a great recipe for a general all purpose cleaner on this site.  And I pretty much use it for everything!  I will say that I have adapted it slightly to my purposes, but the basic recipe remains.  Here's what I do:

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

Mix 2 tablespoons of homemade citrus vinegar with 1 teaspoon of borax in a glass measuring cup. (this is very important that you do this first!  If you try to mix the borax in last, or the vinegar, you get a clumpy gross mixture that NEVER combines and ALWAYS gunks up your spray bottle!)

Fill the spray bottle half way with WARM water, and add HOT water to the glass cup with your borax-vinegar mixture.  I do this because the borax-vinegar mixture needs the hot water in order to incorporate itself into the mixture, but I usually use cheap Dollar Store spray bottles that can't handle the straight hot water.  After mixing the solution in the measuring cup with a fork until it is all dissolved, pour it into the spray bottle (use a funnel if necessary).

SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE!  Shake it until it's all well incorporated!

Now add 1/4 cup (no more) of Dr. Bronner's or similar Castile Soap.  I like Lavender the best, but Peppermint is good too.  If you're using Dr. Bronner's and you think he's a crazy nut-job like I do, you can opt to have your husband make funny little slip covers for the bottle so your guests and reading age children don't have to read his drivel.  Or you can just hide it under the sink and pretend like you have no idea what I'm talking about.

You can also add some tea tree oil (no more than a teaspoon) at this point for a disinfecting agent.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.  We try to not be too afraid of germs around our house.

Now, as for those lemon peels?  This is so easy, Joey does it!  (Actually, Joey is very comfortable in the kitchen, a fact that I am proud of, especially when I'm pregnant!)

Take your citrus fruit.
Peel it.
Put peels into a large mason jar, or other glass jar.  Whatever works.  Pack them in tight.
Now pour cheap, white vinegar- the kind that's $3 a gallon at Costco- into the jar.
Put the lid on, and put it in the back of your pantry, or some other place equally as dark and lonely where you will forget about it for several weeks to months.
When you do remember it, a year from now, strain the vinegar/peel solution through a cheese cloth to catch all the bits of fruit, and store in some other kind of glass container.  Or use right away.

The vinegar is a great cleaning agent by itself and has the added bonus of all of the cleansing properties of vinegar without the awful vinegar smell (something to which Joey is particularly sensitive).  Plus, the citrus oil has added cleansing powers! It's great at getting stubborn grease off your stove top!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ceci n'est pas une recipe

This was going to be my first recipe post.  But it's not.  So DON'T do what I did.
Neither Joey nor I were feeling very hungry tonight.  Probably a combination of getting over strep throat and dreary, cold weather.  But we have a toddler, so dinner is not optional around here.  If Charlotte doesn't eat dinner, she wakes up at 2 in the morning begging for "eat its".  Not a good midnight snack experience for anybody.  So here's my "nobody wants dinner recipe":

By the way, Dyno-mom, you may want to look away for this one!  I can hear the text messages dinging at me from the future!

"Cookies" for dinner?

Take 1 acorn squash, roast it at 400 degrees for an hour.  Turn off the oven, leave the squash inside and forget it.  Until the next day when you need to roast peanuts.  Say "whoops!" To yourself, then put it in the fridge.  Forget it for several more days.

Pull said acorn squash out on the evening in question.  Beat 3 tablespoons butter into the squash with a hand mixer. 

As you're cutting up butter, listen to your daughter fussing and whining, and allow her to eat a tablespoon of butter straight off the stick.

A pinch of salt maybe?  Think about just making acorn squash mash and adding cheese.  Decide not to because your toddler is begging you for cheese.  Add honey instead.

Now listen to your daughter beg you for honey until you finally give in and give her a spoonful.  Now you get to listen to her beg for more "honey spoon" all evening!

my pantry, in great state of disarray

The Baby will start screaming at this point, practically throwing herself out of her (very illegal) perch in the Bumbo on the counter top.   (No, really, she didn't almost fall, I swear)  Go nurse for 15 minutes or so while your husband gives water to the toddler who dumps it all over the kitchen floor.

Look in the pantry, find nutmeg, and coconut flour,  decide to make cookies for dinner.  that should appease a toddler bent on honey, right?  And healthy-ish too!

Mix squash mixture with 1 1/2 cups coconut flour, some homemade vanilla, some cinnamon, some chopped candied ginger and walnuts... sounds good, right?

While you're putting away the spices in the pantry, be sure to find the bag of REAL coconut flour.  The mystery substance you just added to your "cookies" is definitely not coconut flour.  hmmmm.... what could it be?  What did I buy recently and forget to transfer from the grocery store bulk bag?

Arrowroot powder?  Really?  Did i just put 1 1/2 cups of arrowroot powder in my child's dinner?!?!

Quickly add 1 cup of real coconut flour, but not in time to save the first batch of cookies that's already baking in the oven.  Oh dear.

During the second batch of cookies, find the REAL arrowroot powder in the pantry.  You KNEW you didn't buy 5 pounds of it!  Still unsure of the mystery powder floating in your pastry thick cookies, you turn to your husband.

mystery flour cookie
"Oh, that's the white flour we keep around to thicken sauces and stuff."- he must have forgotten to put the label tag thingy back on.

Well, this is no longer a healthy dinner then i guess.  But maybe they'll turn out ok?

OH!  Whoops, you forgot an egg!  I bet you could add it to the 3rd batch, right?

3 batches- first one on the left with just the mystery powder, second in the middle with added coconut, 3rd with an added egg.
In the mean time, heat up the leftover cheesy brown rice you made a few days ago for the fussy, hungry toddler.  Give her a few spoonfuls, along with a "cookie".

Charlotte is offered a cookie
Now, take a guess what Charlotte had for dinner?
She picks the rice over the cookie

And I heated up the leftover Salmon Chowder we had for dinner the night before.

The "Cookies" will now be relabeled "Dog Treats".  That is, if THEY will eat them!

***Linking up with Real Food Wednesdays with Kelly the Kitchen Kop

A Quick Observation

More to come later today, but in the mean time here is a little teaser factoid for ya:

If anyone ever needs ...dozens of pounds of lemon peels, then you should go check out your local Chic-Fil-A dumpster. Not only are they plentiful, but they are clean and easy to grab, as they are thrown away in the boxes which the lemons came in.

And no... I don't know what you would do with pounds upon pounds of lemon peels either, but I'm not here to tell you how to live your life, ok?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fulfilling Apspirations

When first endeavoring into dumpster diving I was asked what kinds of things I was seeking. For the most part my response has been, "I'm mostly just curious, but I guess I need some wood for some new raised garden beds."

With now literally 5's of hours of experience dumpstering in my neighborhood this past week I have come to understand a few things. First of all, the back of 5 Guys is THE GROSSEST place I have ever been. I won't say it was greasy because now isn't the time for dramatic understatement, I will however, say that after I walked away from the dumpster my shoes were slipping on the asphalt parking lot.


The other thing I realized is that I may have picked one of the most difficult classes of items to procure from a dumpster: building materials. Afterall, why would someone throw away lumber? At best I've been hoping to collect enough odd pieces of furniture or other refuse to create some makeshift garden beds and call it a day.

Enter in: the second lesson in the importance of building relationships: knowledge.

A friend of mine is a handyman/carpenter/cabinetmaker/pipe craftsman and I mentioned to him my fruitless search for lumber when he made an observation so obvious it had to come from wisdom. "Why don't you check out some places who are remodeling or constructing, you know, with one of those big roll away dumpsters." Construction site to find construction materials? Who would have thought?

Now, when people mention "free" and "construction site" in the same breath you are typically looking at jail time and hefty fines for grand larceny. But this wasn't my friend's intent at all, but instead the refuse from the both the demolished/remodeled site as well as the cull/fall from the job itself. He has worked at enough large construction/remodel sites in his life to realize that big contractors tend to have a different philosophy when it comes to their business model: fast is better than efficent. That being said, any length of lumber under 4ft is often just tossed. Extra driver bits, left over insulation, surplus nails, all of these things are typically just thrown away rather than stored because these big contractors work on a strategy of volume.

Well, this is all fine in theory, and I trust my friend's experience, but I've already checked 20 dumpsters and didn't see more than an old door stop when it came to lumber being tossed. So I figured I'd try it out and see what the dumpsters at remodels had in store.

*image to come*

...alright, so he was right. One visit to a single business undergoing a remodel and I am now the proud owner of enough straight, clean (besides the odd nail here or there), lumber to build at least one, perhaps two new raised garden beds. I'd have more but my car simply couldn't hold the rest of the 2x4's which were discarded by the re-modelers.

I'm looking forward to continuing to pick the brains of people from all walks of life and find out the little hidden secrets of what, when and how people throw things away.

With that in mind: anyone work(ed) at a restaurant know tips for finding the hidden stockpiles of compostables in the sundry trash bags filling their dumpsters?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Power of a (super cute, irrisistably adorable) Smile

Britt briefly mentioned the other day the sweet score we got on discounted butter because our daughters are cute. Today, we continued to reap the benefits.

As I alluded to on my last post, we have a crab apple tree. I was just excited to have access to something that is fruitful (literally and figuratively) on my own property. However, an unexpected benefit to our harvest was that we were able to arrange a trade of crab apples for some peppers and a handful of other produce from one of the vendors at the farmers' markets which we frequent. Beyond access to free peppers, the biggest benefit was that this transaction opened up future barter possibilities.

Today we asked the mother/daughter duo (typically a father/daughter duo but he is struggling with kidney troubles, please pray for him) if they had any fruit that was past its prime. The mother, who incidentally is an awesome old southern grandma, said that she had some peaches that were pretty much not going to last past the end of the day. Since we've lately been trying our hands at both wines and canning (thanks to some seconds tomatoes which we got from this same vendor a few weeks back) we were all over getting these soft soft peaches.
The icing on the cake though wasn't these fuzzy lil delights, but rather the fact that both the mother and daughter couldn't resist how pretty Charlotte and Beatrice were in their bonnets. Because of our past conversation and interest in these peoples' lives, our frequent patronage of their stand, and our pretty little girls the sweet southern grandma threw in a bag of free pickling cucumbers which we were eyeing. She said we could grab anything else we wanted too, but not wishing to be greedy we said that our peaches and cucumbers were already more than sufficient. In response she pinched Charlotte's cheeks and then threw in a tomato and a clove of garlic, completely unprovoked by us.

The point of this post isn't to brag about my daughters (well...not exclusively) but rather to emphasis the importance of building relationships as not just a means to procure resources, but rather as a resource themselves. People are always more likely to give you deal, lend a hand or just in general help you out, if they know you. In short, people will treat you like a person if you treat them as one.

Next time you are at the Farmer's Market at Havana and Yale in Aurora on a Monday, or at the intersection of Colfax and Peoria on a Tuesday be CERTAIN to stop by and get some great deals on fresh fruits and veggies from Alice, Daryl and Alicia.

I gotta tell you, this kind of interaction, and the bag of free garden squash at church yesterday, is precisely the kind of thing I dream of in our world. I think that "self-sustainability" is both a pipedream and worse, disordered. However, I am a BIG advocate of community sustainability, some might call it distributivism, I just call it loving your neighbor.