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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombucha- Or Raising Your Bubbles from the Dead

Just a quick thought.

My Kombucha hasn't been flatter.  It's so Dead and I want so badly to make it UnDead!  I recently redid the perpetual brew batch that I have going on my kitchen counter because every single time I bottle it I get nothing but flat vinegar.  No bubbles whatsoever.  Yuck.  Seriously yuck.  But I didn't want to waste all that time, energy and not to mention expensive sugar down the drain!  So I revived my Kombucha!  *(note, no Zombie Virus required)

What you need (or don't need)-
a swing top bottle filled with flat as a pancake kombucha
a little bit of apple juice
so guts (no not literally!)

What I did.  

It's seriously this simple. I filled the bottles to the shoulders with flat, sour, undrinkable kombucha.  I added a dash of applejuice (unfiltered if possible) and then...dun dun DUN!.... I cut off a piece of my mother SCOBY and stuck it in the bottle.  And VOILA!  Two days of cold weather kitchen later I have so many bubbles, I had to open the bottle over the bathtub (I kid you not!) so it wouldn't explode on the computer screen.  Just a tiny, tiny piece, of course.  Maybe half the length of my pinky finger.  Oh, and I promise, my Zombucha won't eat your brains.  But it may make you a zombie slave to it for life.  Just maybe.

Yup.  It worked. :)

Go get your bubble on!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Everyday Art for Art Every Day

Joey is a working artist.  Maybe you haven't heard me say that enough?  (haha, just kidding!)

Joey working with a student during one of this ClayShops

Dancing Bunny by Joey

But what you don't know yet is that we are both artists.  Actually, we are all artists in this house.  Why?  Well, besides the fact that I dabble in creativeness whenever possible, however possible, and besides the fact that Charlotte is a coloring fiend, and besides the fact that Beatrice knows just how to Jackson Pollack up her diaper?  We make art a priority.

Joey and I were talking about priorities the other night.  Every person, every family, has them.  Whether you know it or not.  Are you the kind of person who lives for that 10 minute run at the end of the day and dreams of the day that it could last forever "if only you didn't have the dishes and laundry to do".  Well, then dishes and laundry are your priority- over running.  You've said so, it's true. 

Charlotte and Clay
If you walk into our house, you won't find clean counters or immaculate floors.  Those only exist if my in-laws are coming or I'm having a house party.  Or maybe if I'm having a crazy day.  Or I'm 2 weeks overdue with a baby.  Anyway, you'll almost never find that.  What will you find?

A Perpetual Art Table in the family room for Charlotte to color however, whenever she wants.  Often, you'll find Joey or I drawing here as well.  And we save the butcher block style paper to make cards and wrap presents in. 

Charlotte with her Godmother at the art table

Clay.  Everywhere in every state imaginable.  There is ceramic art hanging from every wall, on every shelf, and in every cupboard.  There's often a little ball of clay rolling around on my carpet (way easier to get out then playdough I might add) and there's always clay dust footprints leading up from the studio in the basement where Joey works all day.  And if you go down those stairs?  Heaven forbid, it's ALL clay!

A finished Yarn project by Britt
Yarn.  From projects in process or never to be completed.  I'm ok with those.  I like to think that I'll finish them someday, but I know I won't.  I like to look at the "Octopus blanket" I started to make when I first learned how to crochet and think about how much fun I had, and how much yarn it took!  I'll never finish it, this I know for a fact, but I still like it.  And if it's ruined, I don't care.  Too much.

Fabric.  Again in different states of progress.  I like things that way.  Besides, I have babies.  By the way, I'm not much of a pattern follower as I am a pattern maker-upper.  I think I drive people crazy sometimes because of this.  I often drive myself crazy because of this.
Bea's Baptismal gown made by Britt

Digital Cartoon Britt by Britt
The Camera.  I try to keep the battery up and the lens clean(ish) and the whole thing as accessible as possible.  I love photography.  My Dad taught me everything I know on a Minolta (which I still proudly own, and sometimes use) growing up, and then I learned how to manipulate digitally on the computer when I got my Nikon as a wedding present.  Although I don't do that much any more since we don't have any good programs and I don't have any large amount of time to devote to small details.
Digital Cartoon Joey by Britt

"Deady Bear" by Joey- magnet
Ideas.  We have 3 dry erase boards in the kitchen, a corkboard in the "office/sewing/movie room", a chalkboard in the studio and ideas on slips of paper everywhere.  Joey used to carry a tiny notebook, but since he's home more, I find drawing and sketches of future projects everywhere.

Art Museum pamphlets, Gallery Opening Cards, our friend's paintings and drawings and doodles, magazine clippings of words and colors, homemade magnets, cartoon stickers drawn onto package labels.  If it's artable, we art it.

Oh, and then there's the kitchen "art" of course.  I have been having a lot of fun with that lately since my sewing machine requires a clear lap-most of the time.

We have Fun!
So anyway, Joey and I make art a priority.  Everyday.  Maybe we don't always have matching clothes because I forgot to start the dryer, and more than likely if you come to my house I'll have to clear the counters in order to make you a cup of tea. But we're happy. Our children are happy.  And our family knows where our priorities lie.  Art is just one of them, of course, and yes our dishes and laundry do (usually) get done.  But I can't preach that everybody should have a spotless house and a perfect loaf of bread every day because I don't think everybody should.  That's not how God made us.  We are not Carbon Copies of the same 1950's housewife, and I'm happy for that.

Zombie Turtle Cartoon by Joey
Every Saturday we will be bringing  you Every Day Art.  This will be a recap of how we brought art into our home that week, with suggestions and projects for you to help you bring it into yours. Art is not always paint on a canvas or clay on a wheel. And sometimes it's not the end result itself, but the process that brings you beauty and peace into your home.  I hope you enjoy it.  I also hope you jump in and tell us how you bring art into your lives, or better yet, how you incorporate your own family priorities into your everyday life.

What Did Your Week Look Like?

A Bea in a Bear!  The weather finally turned cold around here

Charlotte in her new Elf Hat that I designed and crocheted for her for Make It Month

Little fingers meet "baby tatos"

Our last thriving crop.  I cut it back to only a few leaves before the snow, maybe it'll survive?

She's almost 2.  So Serious
And yet, so much fun!

It's never too early to read to the baby!  And that's an original Golden Book, so I'm pretty sure it's full of lead for her to chew on- should she choose to chew.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Green Spiced Monster

We have a plethora of unripened, green Tomatoes.  I'm also up to my eyeballs in roasted green chiles that I got at the farmer's market on Monday.  So, what to do about this dilemma?  Make Pesto!

What?  Isn't Pesto just Basil and nuts?  Not this pesto!

Green Chile and Green Tomato Pesto

2 green tomatoes
1 - 1 1/2 green Chiles- roasted, seeded, and skinned

Roasted, skinned, seeded and split
a handful of fresh basil (from my window herb garden- still going strong!)
another handful of pine nuts (crispy-fied)
2 small chunks of Parmesan cheese
about a 1/4 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

To make-
  1. Wash your Basil, wash and slice your tomatoes and chile.
  2. Put your Basil, Salt, Black Pepper and Pine Nuts in the food processor- process for a few seconds.
  3. Add your tomato and chiles, pulse another few seconds
  4. add the Cheese and EVOO.  Another few pulses.
  5. Taste to make sure it's the right spice level for you- add more chile for more heat, more tomato for more bulk or more basil to even out the spice.  If it's too spicy, too bad. There's no going back, so add your chiles a little at a time if you care about this.  Although a cup of milk with dinner might help.
  6. Top your favorite food!  We did pasta (a special treat for the toddler in the house who thinks pasta is likened to candy since we've cut back on grains!) but it would be good on pizza, spaghetti squash, etc.  Tell me what you topped with it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Its Snowing Outside: Perfect Time to Work on the Garden

As I write this post I am looking out my window onto my backyard which is covered in 6inches of snow and I'm thinking "perfect time of year to work on the garden."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to go trudging through the snow to plant seeds or anything but late Autumn and early Winter are crucial times to work on your garden; although, its not what most people think.

The first lesson when it comes to gardening is that making an effective garden is a year-round activity, at least if you want it to be healthy and fruitful. Sadly the majority of hobbyist/backyard gardeners only think of their garden when they walk by the potted plants at Lowes in early Spring. But if you haven't done anything with your garden by then, its too late.

You may recall from some of my dumpstering exploits that I procured a reasonable amount of lumber by which I was able to make two nice new garden beds. Because last year I spent way more money buying dirt and manure trying to fill the bed than I could have ever imagined (let alone the fact that nothing makes you feel more like a fool than buying dirt) I vowed to utilize only free sources to fill these new beds.

An added benefit to using this approach instead of buying commercial top soils and fertilizer is that you can have a healthy organic garden which can produce as well, if not better. To achieve this free, organic, biodiverse soil for your garden bed you first have to understand few things. Well... really only one thing actually: decomposition.

For decomposition of organic materials (the crucial ingredient in any good soil) you need: life (worms, insects, bacteria etc.), water (to encourage the life and to expand the cellular structure of the organic material) and time (often much less than you'd think if you have enough of the other two).

Soil is simply a combination of minerals, decomposing organic matter, water and filler material. If you look at your average commercial bag of topsoil and you'll often see manure, humus, peat moss and vermiculite. Translation of all of those things? Rotting stuff and filler. Just because it is simple though does not mean that it isn't vital in fact Colorado State University is currently engaged in a global campaign to revitalize soil. Plus, as President Roosevelt once said during the Dust Bowl crisis in America, "A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself."

When starting a new garden bed there are several schools of thought in regard to preparing the site, many people will recommend things like tilling, either by hand or with a powered tiller. This is a good idea, as it loosens the soil and introduces air into the soil (something that many people neglect to realize plants need too). However, I'm a bit of a pragmatist when it comes to work, in as far as I don't care to do more of it than necessary. That being said, I prefer the "lazy man's" approach to preparing the site: laying down cardboard.

Charlotte helping flatten out the cardboard scraps.
Cardboard is easily sourced from.. just about everywhere, dumpsters, your own packaging refuse, or any grocery/department/liquor store will gladly give you more than you can take.

(photo credit)
The cardboard that I laid down in our new beds serves a few important functions. First of all, it creates a barrier for preexisting weeds so that they do not spring up from below when it comes time to plant your edibles. While this dense cardboard barrier is enough to keep weeds from popping up it is also permeable, organic matter. Once it has had sufficient water and time to decompose it will provide additional nutrients to the soil as well as be soft enough for the roots of your jack-o-lantern pumpkins to reach down through.

Charlotte's jack-o-lantern "Nice Guy" (ps. thats not a real knife she has)

However, the most important function which this wet layer of cardboard provides is an ideal habitat for worms. Worms are the hard workers that do the tilling and aeration for you, if you just give them the right environment, food and time to do the work. Not only is allowing worms to till your garden for you a less work intensive approach, but it is in fact more effective than hand tilling because it gives the added benefit of worm castings (aka. poo). I'm not enough of a scientist to know precisely how or why, but decomposed material which has been consumed, digested and expelled by worms has a significantly higher amount of certain important garden nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen than if the organic material were left to decompose by itself.

This is part of the reason this snowy, cold, wet, time of year is ideal to do these kinds of garden preparations, because enough moisture (by means of snow), time (by means of passing through the non-growing season) and encouraged decomposition (thanks to expansion and contraction of water logged celluar structures) takes place that by the time next spring rolls around you'll have a lovely dark, rich, worm ridden soil to plant your delicious lovies in.

Enjoying the fruits of last year's soil preparations.
The next step, after laying down your cardboard is to lay alternating layers of "greens" and "browns". Greens are things like: grass clippings, kitchen scraps, rotten jack-o-lanterns etc. Browns are things like: dead leaves, corn husks and mulch.

This time of year is often a great time to layer your kitchen scrap sourced "green" heavy compost because it has already had several months of hot weather, insects (flies, pill-bugs etc.) and moisture to allow for the scraps to compost nicely. Its a perfect time of year to empty out your compost bin into your aspiring garden beds.

Raking in a year's worth of kitchen compost
As for this time of year being a good time for "browns", I think you can look out at your leaf covered lawn and only guess. There are lots of good ways to get "browns" but frankly I can't think of a more universally beneficial strategy than to use the leaves from the trees around you, which so graciously have decided to fall down for easy pickings. You get to clean up your lawn, you get to add nutrients to your garden, you get to provide a insulation to the decomposing "greens" between each layer, and you don't contribute to our already over extended landfills. If you're nice I bet your neighbors will even let you have their leaves too!

(photo credit)
Once you have laid alternating 2inch layers of "greens" and "browns" until your garden bed is full, the last step is: wait. Simply let the worms do their job underneath, the organic materials throughout decompose and the snow, rain, and sun encourage the whole process.

Thanks to a little proactive work in the late Autumn and early Winter you can enjoy soil that retains water, but allows it to drain and is full of rich organic nutrients but resists the growth of unwanted weeds by next Spring when you're ready to plant.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Giveaway Results!

Thank you to everyone who commented on our blog and spread the word about our little experiments, recipes, crafts, and all around shenanigans here at Our Live Active Culture.

The official list of contestants was:

3. Holly and the dog
4. Holly K.
5. Nicole
6. Sarah
7. Sarah
8. Andi
9. Liz
10. Logan

Thanks to some inexplicable atmospheric math jargon and the good people at we were able to utilized the finest in impartial number picking:

The official winner of our 1500 pageview celebratory cup giveaway is: Liz.

Congratulations Liz, please put your color(s) preference in the comments of this post and email us your address. After glazing and firing, we will put your cup in the mail within a week of you getting back to us.

For everyone else who did not win, thank you for participating, and if you are terribly heartbroken about not receiving a cup you can always order one from me. In fact, as a consolation prize I will give you a special rate: small toddler cup: $5 (plus s/h) tumbler style cup: $10 (plus s/h).

1500 Pageview Giveaway Reminder

Attention! Don't forget that this is the final day to put in your entries for the 1500 Pageview Giveaway.

As of the writing of this post you have...13hours and 10minutes left to reply to our post, spread the word on facebook(G+, twitter etc.)

Good luck! We will announce the winner tomorrow.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Public Radio Fund Drive Philosophy

Our local Public Radio just finished up their semi-annual fund drive.  It's a week of them talking my ear off about why I should give them money instead of feeding my kids or feeding other, possibly starving, people.  Yup, I like public radio, especially the "ad free" part, but it's pretty low on my priorities list for charities.

But here's what really gets me. Throughout the week, the radio announcers were bleeding my ear constantly about how all they need is "the same amount as that cup of coffee you buy every day".  First, I don't buy a cup of coffee every day.  I don't need to, especially now that I figured out how to make my own FauxBucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. Also, that would mean leaving the house, which would require clothes, I hear.  And finally, if I bought a latte every day for $5, I would not have that $5 to spend on, say, meat, or butter, or other, delicious and nutritious foods to feed my whole family. 

But the radio announcer isn't asking me to give up my non-FauxBucks latte.  He's just explaining that the money he wants me to give is the same as that coffee.  Which implies that he wants me to buy the coffee and give him the money for the coffee.

I'm sorry- does this sound an awful lot like "have your cake and eat it too"

(By the way, that saying never made sense to me until I moved out of the south.  Of COURSE I'm going to have my cake.  Isn't that the same thing as eat my cake?)

So, here's Mr. Radio Announcer telling me, Mrs. Housewife to double my budget in order to give him money so he can provide me a service that is a) free and b) is not necessary to sustain my life or lifestyle.  If NPR went off the air, I wouldn't faint.  I might be sad for a day or 2, but then I'd finally get a new CD player so that we could listen to music in the morning.  Sure, that might cost me a couple of bucks, but considering the one we have works for about 10 minutes at a time and we paid all of $10 at Goodwill for it, it might be worth the investment.

But back to Mr. R.A.'s budget sense. 

He later told me that if I were to become a "Network Member" (read- big spender) and gave him $100 a month, it would be "less than what you're spending on internet and cable combined- and you get more out of it!"  Ok, I'll grant you that public radio is WAY more entertaining that Cable.  But that's why we don't have cable.  And public radio is still free, by the way. 

In short, the American mentality is seeping through on this- if it's worth the same as _____ then it'll cost the same as ______.  But cost and worth are not the same thing.  Is Public Radio worth something to me?  Yes.  Is it worth $100/month.  Oh heck no.  It's not worth money at all!  It's worth my time, and that is what I give it.  Money doesn't factor into that equation at all.

Am I saying you should never give money to NPR?  No.  I don't know your personal situation, but I do know mine.  I know that the homeless guys downtown deserve my extra dollar not spent of non-FauxBucks a lot more than a radio tower, no matter how awesome the programing.  And I also know that if I have a dollar to spend, that doesn't mean I have two.  And I learned all that even WITH a public school education.  See, our government can do math sometimes!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pork and Pumpkins Are So Appetizing!

Pork and Pumpkin with Bacon and Red Wine sauce, sprinkled with Roasted Pepitas and Pecans!
We went to a party Saturday night, and I promised to bring something.  I was going to make chile, but someone else was already bringing 18 pounds of meat.  So I thought that was covered.  Instead, I made these delicious, incredible, completely invented appetizers. They were awesome.  They were amazing!  They were a huge hit!  And they were pretty to boot.  You should make them for your next fall party- Halloween, All Saint's day, Oktoberfest, or Veteran's Day anyone?  Thanksgiving too!
What do these things all have in common- other than being delicious that is?
1 pie pumpkin
1-2 lb pork roast, fat trimmed, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 package nitrate/nitrite free bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces before frying
About 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
About 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper  to taste
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons organic sucanat or other dry sugary thing like rapadura, etc.
Roasted Pumpkin seeds or Roasted Crispy Pecans
What?  You don't keep a pumpkin peeler in your drawer?
 Step 1- Peel your pie pumpkin.  I have several from the garden, but this one was from the store and was a "Baby Bear" pumpkin.  Our Dachshund likes to eat our pumpkins out of the garden, so we're having to fence off the remaining few in an attempt to get them to ripen without becoming Dog Food.  Anyway, peel your pumpkin with an ordinary pumpkin peeler.  If you don't have one of those, a potato peeler will do.
Save the seeds!  But for more immediate use than usually suggested
 Step 2- Cut your pretty peeled pumpkin in half (the easy way is easier- don't try to fight the stem).  Then scoop out the seeds and save for roasting later.  Cut the pumpkin flesh into chunks about the size of the top part of your thumb.  It's finger food, you know?

Here's my pumpkin chunks on the roasting pan ready to go.  I added about half a stick of butter, sliced up all over the place, and a few pieces of fat from the piece of ham I used- just for flavor.  Lard would probably work well here, but I don't have any.

Step 3- Sprinkle salt, pepper, and cinnamon over the whole thing, then stick in an oven preheated to 415.  Roast the whole thing until they are tender but NOT mushy.  20 minutes did it for me, but it will depend on the size of your thumb- ahem, I mean pumpkin chunks.

(Step 3 1/2- fry your bacon.  Cut the bacon into 1/2 inch strips before frying- it'll go faster and be easier in the end.  Don't let them get too crispy- then you can't put them on the toothpicks!  You can do all this while you're chopping and roasting, so whenever you want to make your bacon is fine by me, as long as it's before....)

Step 4- Cut your pork roast up into similarly thumb-like portions.  You could roast along with the pumpkin, but I was afraid that they would take different amounts of time, so I pan fried them in the bacon fat that was left over from cooking the bacon  Which turned out beautifully.  I added salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin powder to the meat before sauteing.  Then you're left with this-
Pan full of beautiful "Pan Scab" and some bacon pieces
 Step 5- Use that delicious pan scab!  This is the technical part.  Make sure you wait until your pumpkin and pork are done for this part.  Mine was sitting next to me on the stove when I did this.  Don't let it go far!  Make sure the pan is super hot, then add about 1/2 cup of red wine and 2 tablespoons of sucanat (or any dry sugar- don't know about honey, if you use it let me know how it works).  Stir, Stir, Stir like crazy!  Get all that delicious goo into the wine, and let the wine and sugar get nice and thick.  When it starts congealing just a little, take it off the heat and pour it over the roasted pumpkin and cooked pork immediately.  It's too good too wait!  Plus, if you do, you won't be able to pour it.
Just about ready- it's bubbling, but as long as you keep stirring, it won't burn

Step 6- Prep.  Take your toothpicks and repeated puncture a piece of pumpkin, a sliver of bacon and a piece of pork.  Over and over until your serving plate looks like this-

Then Sprinkle your roasted Pumpkin seeds over top, and maybe a few roasted Crispy Pecans, if you'd like.  Pecans make everything better to me, so I did.  It just gives you something to scrap the plate with when the meat's all gone.

 Step 7- ENJOY!

A close up of the finished product- pumpkin, bacon, and pork- amazing!
Surprise!  My husband makes funny faces when things are delicious!

Linking up to Real Food Wednesdays!