Archive for December, 2015


Personal finance gurus have been arguing about debt since the dawn of time. Should you have debt? Should you be debt free? Is there good debt? Or, is all debt bad? The debate rages on.

And, on and on and on.

But, there is one sure thing…anyone who has been in debt and is NOW out of debt will swear the being out of debt is a whole lot better. There is peace of mind, the feeling of being in control, the feeling of accomplishment and flexibility to do things you weren’t able to do when debt loomed overhead.

If this is a frequent conversation or thought at your house, as it was at mine, then start the New Year off with a goal, and a plan to work towards being debt free in 2016.

To start off, review your household expenses and see where you can make cuts. Sweat the small stuff because they can become big expenses over the course of a year. Remember, reduction isn’t depriving yourself it’s working towards freeing yourself from the yolk of debt, worry and constant payments.

Here’s a few simple, and painless, ways to get started. Once you get the hang of things you won’t want to stop until you owe nothing to nobody. As an incentive, I’ve included how much I save by making these changes.

• Cut cable service – Save $960/year
• Switched car & home insurance providers – Save $300/year
• Packed my lunch – Save $2,600/year
• Eat breakfast at home or take to work – Save $1,560/year
• Made tea at home – Save $500/year
• Bought clothes at consignment or thrift stores – Save $1,500/year

THAT’S $7,420 A YEAR!!!

Imagine if I put that towards the principal on my home mortgage??!!

That sure makes the New Year look a whole lot brighter.

The ABC’s of a Homesteading Life

Saturday, December 26, 2015

pples hang low on branches that bend to the ground. Picking time is just around the corner. There’ll be cold crunchy crispness for fresh eating, sliced sweetness in pies and tarts, savory baked apples and “just past prime” apples cooked down and made into an applesauce that is perfect with a succulent roast pork.

Bread rises in the warmth of a kitchen then is pulled hot and fresh from the oven on a holiday morning, smothered in butter or honey or a homemade summer jam. It’s heady aroma filling a quite farmhouse.

Chicks pip and crack, making their way, wet and weak, from the warmth of their eggshell cocoon. They grow plump and fat, peck and scratch the ground, finding bugs and worms while growing into stately layers or succulent roasted dinners.

Daydreams. A cool, late summer evening to celebrate the past and dream of the future; to praise protectors that make it possible for a single mom and a child to live a farm life, at the edge of suburbia with the help of a few good friends, a pen full of lambs and a coop full of chickens.

Eggs hidden in corners and behind bales of hay like small nuggets of buried treasure, waiting to be collected or hatched to replenish an aging flock, or cooked into a hearty breakfast fit for a farm girl.

Fruit trees spread their branches, pushing their blossoms out to become a new year’s crop blushed by the sun and ripened in the heat of summer.

Gardens grow rich and green; tangle and twine through their beds before producing brightly shaped crops perfect for eating fresh, freezing or canning.

Hands dive deep into rich black soil, making way for a fall sowing of seeds. Pulling spent crops, moving manure from coop to compost and from compost to bed.

Imaginations wander, thoughts emerge, ideas form and a town lot slowly transforms into a productive oasis of food and fiber; simplicity and self-reliance.

Jam bubbles and sputters on a red hot stove; releasing its summer juices for a concoction that will remind us of warmer weather on a cloudy winter’s day.

Killing goes hand-in-hand with the raising and growing, providing the family with safe, wholesome food for the year. Prayers go up from grateful hearts for an animal’s good life, which sustains ours.

Lambs jump and frolic, getting strong and fat on good feed. Their fate…to some a cold death, to others a year’s worth of dinners wrapped in paper and stacked in a freezer.

Mason jars line the shelves, gleaming with our brightly colored harvest; enough to feed a family all winter long.

Night time falls silently over our little farm, quietly relinquishing its hard working inhabitants to sleep.

Owls hoot from high in the trees, swooping down to earth anytime a mouse scurries across its path.

Pumpkins gleam in the dusky autumn sun, waiting to transform our farmhouse into a fantasy of fall splendor before being turned into pies and butters and breads and cakes.

Quilts lay out like rainbows over the horizon; pieced together from scraps of fabric or worn out favorites to keep a family warm from the harsh winds of winter.

Rain storms roll through the valley, coming down in sprinkles and showers; downpours and droves, nourishing the parched spoil, renewing life on our little farm.

Season’s change; from the long sunny days of summer filled with fresh eating from the garden to the cool crisp days of fall and harvests put up for winter store to the promise of spring with the turning of soil and the planting of seeds.

Time chases us as we plan and work and move toward a more self-sufficient life, building and planting to live self contained. But, time is also our friend, for life is about the journey and not the destination.

Understanding comes from days working the soil or tending the animals. Old worries, past ambitions, long held desires fade into the distance as new truths take hold and become part of who we are becoming.

Victories abound on our little farm; barns are raised, skills are learned, chicks are hatched, kits are born, lambs grow, gardens produce and animals give their lives to feed a grateful family.

Wash hangs on the line, blowing in the soft breeze, taking in the sweet scent of a contented farm.

X-altation from a life lived simply brings contentment and comfort.

Yarn spun from a harvest of wool; washed and carded and put on a wheel, wraps around clicking needles or flies through the strings of a loom; emerging as hat or scarf or sweater, bringing warmth and comfort to the wearer.

Zucchini’s flourish in compost rich beds; dark green and golden yellow even striped become the base for breads or cookies or muffins; sliced or sautéed or stuffed and baked. They become the center of our meals.

We have come a long way since the first spade plunged deep into the soil; the first animal walked our land. We have much still to learn, but we produce our own crops and raise our own meat. That’s enough.

For now.

How to Make Squash Seed Gremolata

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Gremolata Greenbeans

I know you’ve been eating lots and lots of squash since we posted the perfect roasted squash recipe. And, with squash comes loads of seeds, probably more than you need for the garden. So, what to do with the rest?

Well–not wanting to waste a food item that can be made into a fabulous accompaniment how about trying a simple gremolata?

This recipe uses the seeds from just two squash so you don’t have to wait long to try it.

Once you’ve scooped the seeds out of your squash, rinse them, pat dry and remove any stringy stuff. Spread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and lightly roast the seeds in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. (you can also use shelled pumpkin seeds, known as pepita’s) No far sneaking samples, though. I know they are pretty (and tasty) enough to eat right from the pan, but hold yourself back.

You’re ready–place 2 garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Now, add 1-cup of flat parsley, 1/2-cup chives, the zest and juice from one lemon, salt, to taste, and freshly ground pepper, to taste. While the food processor is pulsing, drizzle in 1/8 to 1/4-cup of extra-virgin olive oil and process until the seeds are finely chopped.

There you have it, a savory, nutty gremolata!

Gremolata can be a topping for braised meats. But, don’t stop there.

Sprinkle over roasted vegetables, like asparagus, greenbeans, brussels sprouts, carrots and others to make an impressive looking dish with major deliciousness.

Sneak some gremolata into your next batch of meatballs for great texture and bright flavor.

Mix with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar for a great tasting salad dressing.

Sprinkle over pasta instead of parsley to boost the flavor.

Add a bit more olive oil and flavor-up meats or chicken by rubbing it on.

Making Mulled Spiced & Spiked Cider

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spiced Cider

Today was firewood day. Long overdue due to the hollowing winds and searing temps we’ve had lately. Definitely, NOT in keeping with the Christmas season.

This weekend came just in time, as we had used the last remaining logs from last year’s firewood stack last night.

We are fortunately enough to have a local rancher who allows us to pick up firewood for free, as long as we load and haul it ourselves. Not a bad deal in my book (and the exercise ain’t bad either). Our truck will hold about 2 cords of wood, and hold us until we can get another 2 cords the beginning of January.

The weather was chilly, about 48-degrees. Not frigid by any stretch. Cool enough to work up a sweat filling the truck bed with seasoned, split eucalyptus and not feel overheated.

Before we left, though, I had a feeling that we’d be wanting a nice warm drink when we returned. Something soothing to take the chill off with just a slight kick to warm us down to our toes. So, I readied the crock pot!

My “go-to” recipe on these cold days is a crock pot version of a mulled spiced cider, with a bit of a kick. How hard you want that kick to be is entirely up to you!

Here ya go.

Pour 1 gallon of apple cider into a crock pot;

Add 3 small apples, cut in half and, 2 oranges, cut into quarters;

Now, toss in 1/2 cup fresh whole cranberries, 3 whole star anise, and 2 small cinnamon sticks, about 2-inches long;

Add to that a teaspoon of ground ginger and ground cloves.

Here comes the kick…pour in 1/2 to 1-1/2 cups of bourbon.

Set the crock pot on high and GO STACK FIREWOOD!

When you return, not only will you house smell amazing, but you have a piping hot seasonal drink that will warm you down to your toes.

I like to serve mine in clear glass coffee mugs or pint sized canning jars. To be extra festive, float a thin slice of apple or orange on top, or use a cinnamon stick as a stir if you like an extra cinnamony flavor.


To learn more about stacking firewood or making a more efficient fire check out these two articles.

The Science of Stacking Firewood

Building a Fire to Improve Heat Efficiency

How to Roast Butternut Squash

Friday, December 18, 2015

Roasted Butternut Squash

Nothing says winter more than squash. And, a roasted creamy butternut squash is a cold weather favorite at our house!

And, butternuts are loaded vitamins and nutrients, too!

We usually have squash as a side dish to roasted lamb or pork, but sometimes we make it a light supper all by itself. There’s nothing like a piping hot squash drenched in butter, spices and maple syrup. Yummy!

We usually grow our own and store them, but in season they can be found at farmer’s markets or grocery stores very inexpensively. Find a cool dark place in your pantry or cellar and buy baskets of them to store so you can have this sweet and tasty treat all winter long.

For baking, I like to choose heavy, thick necked squash rather than those with long skinny necks. This will give you more “meat” and a nice hollow seed cavity for the goodies.

To prepare your squash:

Cut in half long-ways, leaving the stem and bloom ends intact. You don’t want all the sweetness spilling out. Now, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff. I like to use a melon baller because it has a lightly sharp edge that slices through the flesh easily. I don’t peel my squash because I don’t want the flesh to get hard and crusty during cooking.

If your squash came from the farmers market you can save the seeds to plant your own crop, or roast them like pumpkin seeds.

Score the fleshy neck part of the squash in a diamond patter so the butter, maple syrup and spices can sink in.

Place the squash, skin side down, in a baking dish. Try to nestle them together so they keep each other from tipping over.

Now, for the good part.

Place about one tablespoon of butter in the seed cavity of each side, followed by a tablespoon of maple syrup. If you prefer you can use brown sugar instead of the maple syrup. Then sprinkle the whole thing with pumpkin pie spice. The amount is up to you.

Pop it into the over and bake at 400-degrees for about an hour. Spoon the melted buttery sweet syrup over the neck a few times and let it ooze into the scoring. At one hour, insert a knife to make sure it is baked all the way through. If it is, the knife will slide through the fleshy part easily. If there’s any resistance continue baking and checking until it is done.

To bake a more savory, rather than sweet, squash drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and bake as above. Herbs like savory, sage, tarragon or thyme will also compliment a savory version of the baked butternut squash.

If you can’t wait a whole hour for your squash to bake, peel the skin off with a vegetable peeler, cut into cubes and then toss in the ingredients for the sweet or savory version.

There’s a few ways you can serve your squash. One is to serve it whole so the flesh and syrup can be scooped out together with each yummy mouthful. Or, you can scoop out all the flesh and mash it, like mashed potatoes, or puree it if you like a smoother consistency.

But, no matter what your favorite turns out to be you’ll be loving your squash all winter long.

Earthworms – your garden’s best friend

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

When we think about a garden’s soil teeming with life we generally think of tiny microbes that can only be viewed with a microscope.

But, there’s one major player that needs no magnification—earthworms. These industrious creatures burrow into the soil, improving its structure from the surface down, and producing castings that feed the earth and provide nutrients to plants.

Around the world there are about 7,000 species of earthworms. They live in most countries, except hot, arid deserts and very cold regions with permafrost.

No matter where you live, these squirmy wigglers bring huge benefits to the garden as they chew their way through the soil, forming small pathways for water to drain, oxygen to reach the roots and carbon dioxide to escape.

Earthworms that live close to the surface typically eat organic matter, like grass clippings and dead leaves. Worms living lower grind their way through the soil gleaning fungi, bacteria and other bits of organic matter trapped between the soil particles.

For the most part, earthworms ingest soil and the like at a rate up to 30 times their body weight each day. All the while, their up and down and sideways movements deposit nutrient-rich castings to plant roots, redistribute organic matter and allow water to penetrate. The lubricating mucus earthworms secrete helps bind soil particles, open pores and help prevent caking and erosion of the soil. They also help prevent runoff in rainy areas.

There are three main categories of earthworms found in the garden—shallow-dwelling, field worms and deep-dwelling night crawlers.

In my area, shallow-dwelling field worms are most common. They live in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil for about a year or two, creating horizontal tunnels and secreting their castings wherever they travel.

Field worms are primarily active in the spring, when the soil is moist and the temperatures are moderate. Hot, dry soil sends them deeper into a resting stage, but they perk up in the fall with early rains or irrigation, then return to a resting stage to wait out a cold winter.

Deep-dwelling night crawlers are rare in my area, but more common in the east and mid-west, where they dig vertically into the soil creating tunnels several feet deep. When they slink to the surface to gather food and slide down to digest it, then back up again they deposit their castings and plant residue on top of the soil.

Like field worms, night crawlers burrow deep into the soil during hot spells, then perk up with spring and winter rains. Some studies claim they can travel up to 60 plus feet in one night. Night crawlers can live 3 to 4 years, if they’re not collected for fishing bait.

Another category of earthworm is the red worm, those debris loving wrigglers that thrive above the soil in leaf litter and compost bins or worm bins.

For most of the year in my area (the Central CA Coast) earthworms are dormant, curled up in little balls just below the soil’s surface encased in a protective covering lined with mucus.

No matter which type of earthworm you have in your area they are a powerhouse worker in the garden and should be cultivated, encouraged and protected, so they can produce maximum benefits for your vegetables and flowers.