Here Comes the Rain Again…

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Those sages of our time… the Eurythmics… at least had the forecast right for the Willamette Valley yesterday and today. Here Comes the Rain Again indeed.The winter rain has returned in earnest and I’m not really sad about it – normally I would be complaining something fierce. Whining about wet feet, wet clothes… wet head; but in fact, I’m very thankful.

For those of you that aren’t from the Willamette Valley and aren’t aware of the current conditions around here – we’ve been under drought conditions for the past several months – We had a pretty dry summer, and an extremely dry fall – thus far the winter is shaping up to be the same. In fact, we have a couple of really rare winter wildfires burning in parts of the state! All of those should be quantifiable indicators but the TRUE indicator that it’s really dry… is that the Californians that have come to Oregon for our incredible summers.. ARE STAYING!! No… seriously… they didn’t all move back at the beginning of October when the rain starts… like they normally do! They’re overwintering!

All joking aside – we have had a total precipitation in the month of January of 1.47 inches of rain. Ordinarily – we average around 6.5 inches… December, November, October, and September… all the same story… We have next to no snow pack currently, and the reservoirs are already the lowest I can remember seeing them in a very long time…

All of this adds up to the potential for a very dry summer.

… BUT – if there’s one thing Oregon can do – it’s surprise you. A few years back – we experienced Juneuary… where it snowed at the valley floor on the 6th of June. We’ve had other June’s where it has just POURED rain for most of the month… but the ordinary deal we have with the weather around here is that it gets to pour buckets of rain for like 9 months out of the year – and what we get in return is 3 good months of awesome weather. Year after year – we gladly make the trade…

However, this year – the weather didn’t get the memo.

It has really reinforced my need to get our water collection system up and running on the coop – get the gutter hung, piped to the barrels – and put that roof to work. Turns out It’s more difficult to to garden if you’re on water restrictions – it’s bad enough at this point, it might just impact what and how we plant this year if it doesn’t start shaping up in the next month or so… so somewhat new territory for us here at the Little House on 17th Street.

If there’s one thing gardeners and homesteaders for that matter are good at doing – it’s rolling with the punches.

Interestingly – all of the almanacs seemed to point to a horrific winter up here in the Northwest – so far, it seems as though all of that has headed southeast of us. Realistically, it’s not worth worrying over, but worth keeping an eye on for planning purposes… because garden planning season and the time to start seeds is right around the corner…

What are your favorite dry weather crops?

Which crops do you plant that don’t require heavy watering during the summer months?

Applesauce Yummies

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Here at the Little House on 17th Street – partly due to my recent endeavor at weight loss and fitness – but mostly due to Shannon’s preferred methods of preparing meals, we’re always looking for ways to smarten up some of our favorites. I like cookies – and in the old days I would eat close to a dozen at a time… (not all at once mind you… but one here, two there, three a little later… by the time I was done, the bowl was gone, and I had my Forever Alone face on…)

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It turns out – Shannon used to make these cookies before I had started working on my weight without me even realizing it. I had no idea they were significantly healthier than the recipe on the back of the Toll House Package – I knew they looked different, but they were pretty delicious – I couldn’t even tell there was flax in them!

The recipe we use is adapted from the Rodale Natural Foods cookbook, and Shannon sat down with the boys and made a batch last night… We love em, so we thought we’d share the recipe with all of you. They’re designed to be a sort of drop cookie, and they don’t really flatten out like Toll House and make the ‘traditional’ looking Chocolate Chip Cookie… but looks aren’t everything. They taste amazing.

Applesauce Yummies

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour (Sifted)
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 Cups Rolled Oats
  • 1 Cup Natural Unsweetened Applesauce
  • 1/2 Cup Honey
  • 1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
  • 1 Egg (We used 2 Tbsp Flax Meal to 1/4 cup boiling water as an egg substitute – let it cool till it goo’s… then toss it in with the rest of the ingredients…)
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Cup Chocolate Chips (optional)
  • 3/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts (optional)

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees, while the oven is pre-heating, grease a baking sheet.

We’re not real big on pomp and circumstance over here… Mix all of your dry ingredients together, and in a separate bowl (large mixing bowl) mix all your wet ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Fold in your chocolate chips and walnuts if desired… then drop in teaspoon sized cookies onto the greased baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges start to turn brown.

Remove from the baking sheet and cool on wire racks. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

The beauty of this basic recipe is 4-fold:

1) It’s simple. Seriously – doesn’t really get any easier than this. (ok.. opening a sausage pack of Pillsbury Chocolate Chip cookies is easier… but then you don’t end up MAKING the cookies because you’ve eaten the entire sausage pack with a spoon… then there’s the inevitable shame spiral…) These are also cheaper than the bill from the therapist.

2) They can be fully customized into the type of cookie you want. Add anything you want! Hand in Hand with total customization comes the ability to alter – can’t do refined sugar or looking to reduce it? Cool – sub out carob for the chocolate chips. Can’t do eggs? Use the flax seed substitution we used. Can’t do gluten? Sub out the whole wheat flour for some other variety… the possibilities are pretty endless.

3) Did I mention that they’re really good? They’re also something you can feel good about giving your kids – as it’s got applesauce, honey, and other natural ingredients… (unless of course you added the chocolate chips like we did… in which case that means you have a problem… you hear that honey? A problem!! She needs an intervention…) All joking aside, these are better for you – they don’t have an entire box of butter, 3 cups of refined sugar and unicorn sprinkles… so they’re pretty good for you as far as cookies go – but they hit that sweet spot we all get now and again.

4) Less than 100 calories a piece. That means you can eat ten, six, three, one or two and not blow the budget.

Give ’em a shot – our family loves em – we think yours will too.

Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut

Here at the Little House on 17th Street – we LOVE sauerkraut.

I could go on and on about all the benefits of eating lacto-fermented foods, the loads of probiotics, the digestive enzymes, the need for these beneficial bacteria in our diet today as everything is super-pastuerized for ‘safety’… but I won’t get into all of that here. Suffice to say, if you’re going to give this a shot – you too are convinced that you need to eat more fermented foods.

We have a somewhat interesting track record with sauerkraut here at the Little House. We have attempted it several times before, a couple times it’s even turned out ok… but now that we’re making Kefir – with its seemingly endless supply of whey, we can now make a sauerkraut has a boost of lactofermentation from the Kefir whey, which will give us a more consistent and predictable product.

Since I’m home with sick children today and can’t get anything else done – I decided to destroy the kitchen experiment…

In order to make this version of sauerkraut, you’ll need:

  • 1 head cabbage
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 Tablespoons of Himalayan Sea Salt
  • 1/2 cup of Kefir whey
  • 1/2 gallon Wide-Mouthed Mason Jar
  • a large glass mixing bowl
  • Basic Kitchen Utensils – knives, wooden spoon, potato masher/meat tenderizer…

Once again, for the TL;DR folks… it should look a little something like this

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To get the process started – you’ve got to core and wash the cabbage really well before you start thinly slicing it for the sauerkraut. My preferred method for coring the cabbage is to slice it into quarters, then to angle cut the core out of each quarter like so.

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Once you’ve got the core out of the cabbage quarters, you can wash each one really well, and with the outside of the cabbage facing down, thinly slice the cabbage into ‘kraut’-like sizes. You may wish to cut the long strands in half once to make them more manageable.

Once that’s done – you’ll want to put the cabbage into a glass bowl so you can add the rest of your ingredients prior to putting them into the fermentation crock.

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Now you can concentrate on your other ingredients. The carrots and the onions, or whatever else you want to add to your sauerkraut. That’s one of the cool things with homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, you can really add whatever you would like. It’s all up to you.

I peeled the carrots and then used my food processor with the shred/grate disk to make them small enough to complement the sauerkraut, but as I was doing that, I had a thought (my wife informs me these are dangerous) – the vegetable peeler would work well giving you some long thin peels that would look pretty good in there. I suppose it’s a matter of preference – I went with grated this time around.

Once the carrots are done, using your hands – mix everything up. Yup… that’s right. Dig in!!

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Next came the onions, and they were probably the easiest to do – just make sure you slice them on the thinner side so as to not have some super thick pieces once they ferment. I halfed mine once they were peeled, and started at one side with the cut side down slicing them along the rounded side.

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Mix the onion into the rest of the vegetables really well, and make sure that it’s evenly distributed.

Next we have to sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of Sea Salt all over the cabbage, carrot and onion mixture, and mix it in really well. You’ll want to sprinkle the salt two or three times, mixing the vegetables and salt together really well in between those sprinklings.

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Sprinkle the 1/2 cup of whey over the top of the vegetable mixture and continue to mix. If you don’t have Kefir whey, you can get whey from quality dairy products with limited pasteurization, we used to get whey from Nancy’s yogurt – you can put it in a cheese cloth, and hang the cheese cloth over a bowl in the fridge letting the whey drip off – and then not only do you have whey – you have yogurt cheese and can use it around the house.

But 1/2 cup of whey should do us in this experiment.

Once that’s been added – grab your meat tenderizer, potato masher or the like, and it’s time to take out your aggression on the sauerkraut. You’re working on bruising the cabbage and vegetables, in order to allow them to mix with the salt, release some of their water, as well as start the wilting process.

So go crazy. Let that sauerkraut have it. SHOW IT WHAT’S UP! IT CAN’T TALK TO YOU LIKE THAT!! DOESN’T IT KNOW…. sorry about that… got carried away…

Once you regain your composure… you can smash and stir the vegetable mixture about every 6-8 minutes for 45 minutes to an hour.

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Once the 45 minutes is up – it’s time to put the sauerkraut into the fermentation container you’re going to use. We have a large ceramic crock we use for pickles, but that’s overkill for this particular project. A 1/2 gallon mason jar is the perfect size. Using a canning funnel, spoon the mixture into the jar, packing it down as you go.

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Pack it down really good – so much so that the fluid brine made by the smashing and stirring + the salt we added earlier can rise above the vegetables. If there’s isn’t quite enough brine to cover the vegetables, you can top off with a little water (chlorine-free) so if it’s tap – leave it sitting out for at least 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate off. The chlorine can kill the beneficial bacteria in the fermentation vessel.

Once you’ve packed it down, we have to seal it. A friend suggested using a ziplock bag – pressed down into the jar and looped over the edge of the jar, and then fill the bag up with water. The water holds the cabbage down in the fluid, as well as expands the bag to seal the edges.

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Once it’s full of water, it’s ready to sit for a few days – a little warmer than room temperature is a good idea, but you don’t want to exceed the low 70’s, or go lower than upper 60’s. There’s a definite sweet spot – right around 70 degrees. Put the lid on the jar – set it aside for about 3 days. You should begin to see bubbles and activity in the jar at that point, and the primary fermentation is complete at that point. You could eat it right away – but it gets better with age. If you put it in the fridge for about 2 weeks, once the primary fermentation is done – it should be money.

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We’ll update you on this batch later next week. Here at the Little House on 17th Street, we’re going on Sabbath Silence. Have a great evening, and we’ll catch you all on Sunday.

Happy Fermenting!

What’s to fear about a little Kefir?

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Shannon and I have taken the plunge.

Nope, we didn’t go swimming – seriously guys, it’s January – no… we have taken the plunge into the world of probiotics.

That little bit of lactose based moonshine-like goodness pictured above is Kefir. (The Adam’s Jar makes it taste better) Recently our neighbor a street over with whom we often share wonderful conversations about homesteady topics, gave us a REALLY good Kefir starter. She’d been feeding it on raw milk for a while, and it had absolutely taken off, in fact was getting away from her a bit, so she split it and gave us a good sized gob of the kefir grains and home we went to experiment, (prancing with excitement) and immediately placed the grains into a mason jar 3/4 full of raw milk… it did it’s thing, one time, two times, and now 3 batches later, the picture above was taken.

Kefir, for those that are not aware, is a fermented milk beverage. The Kefir grains which function as the starter are a symbiotic collection of bacteria and fungus that just so happen to LOVE lactose. They go flat ballistic in raw milk, and in the space of 12-36 hours at room temperature – will ferment the milk that they’re sitting in into a liquidy, yogurty substance.

It’s good – but it is an acquired taste. It’s sour, sweet, yeasty… kind of all rolled into one. One of the primary reason people consume it however is that it is an incredible probiotic, capable of repopulating and fortifying intestinal flora. While yogurt contains anywhere from 5-7 different probiotics… Kefir can contain up to 30+. It’s fantastic stuff for folks that have digestive issues, and even if you’re lactose intolerant, letting the Kefir ripen on the counter for a while allows the microbes to digest most of the lactose giving you a beverage you can safely consume without explosive after effects…

It has been around for 1000’s of years and the peoples of Caucasus mountains produced and consumed Kefir regularly, with anecdotal evidence that it was beneficial to their longevity.

So back to the image at hand.

This is our 3rd batch of Kefir so far and it seems as though the Kefir grains are getting stronger and more effective with each batch. They are just rip roaring at this point. In the picture you can see the divide between the Kefir and the whey. The whey is the clearish-yellow liquid on the top – that can be used in all manner of things, from various recipes, soaking grains in it, making fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, and a whole host of other uses – the bottom stuff is the kefir. You can drink it straight, mix it into smoothies, drizzle it over fruit, etc. in order to get all your necessary probiotic goodness.

I think we’re going to use our whey to make sauerkraut with – since as we understand it, it helps to make a more consistent product each time. If there’s anything that can be said about our sauerkraut experiments thus far… “consistent” would not be one of those things. “Good” might not be mentioned in the same sentence either. We need some help…

We’re having fun with the experimentation process though… seriously, it’s the dead of winter. What else are we going to do? If you’ve never given Kefir a shot – you should give it a whirl, it’s fun to watch it do its thing.

If you want to find out more about Kefir, or want to find out anything and everything you could ever want to know about Kefir – check out Dom’s Kefir Site.

Prost!

There’s just something about winter…

There’s something about winter.

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It’s not the cold weather. It’s not the lack of daylight. Ok… it is totally both of those things…

Winter just screams, “HIBERNATE! BE LAZY!!” … and in the interests of full disclosure – man oh man, have I listened to that voice around this house the past few months. School started in September, and it’s been a constant sprint ever since. If you’ve ever run full tilt down a hill, you know sometimes once you’re going, that coming to a stop just isn’t going to happen… that if you even try to slow down, you’re going to end up on your face – that it’s just better to run through the end and naturally slow down on the level ground…

That’s what this school year has felt like to me. It’s been a full tilt sprint downhill, but with a slight pause in the run at winter break – it feels as though we’ve leveled out and I can stop and breathe, and at least post a quick update.

Around the house – very little has gone on. It’s been so unbelievably cold and undeniably winter that we have put many of our outdoor projects on the back burner until early spring. The chickens are self-sustaining for the most part at this stage, we go outside in the morning, open the door and they do their thing. The house is still falling down around us – we have got to remodel and update the exterior soon – but I don’t know where we’re going to find the funds to do that… so until we do, it waits and we pray that it continues to stand…

The one project I’ve undertaken is me. I’ve been working on myself a bit this fall/winter – so I embarked on a bit of temple maintenance this past birthday. October 26th I turned 33. I decided that this was the last year that I am going to spend unhealthy. Period. So I started eating cleaner – a lot lower on the food chain, cut the sodas, cut the junk food – and started working out regularly. On the day after Thanksgiving – my friend and I started a juice fast. We are nearing the end of that now (I’m on day 29 of 40) and am down 45 pounds total since October 26th, but more importantly – I feel really good. Looking forward to eating again, planning for how to deal with this when we’re done with the fast – and planning on growing a lot of what we will eat fresh this coming summer as seed starting season is just around the corner. There’s always a twinge of excitement at seed start time…

The chicks are currently our only real “homesteady” project. We’re down to 3 now – I had to put one down. (which btw was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do). Something happened – and the chick got stuck to Arugula’s belly, and as Arugula freaked out and ran all over dragging the baby with her… Shannon and I couldn’t get the baby free. We actually had to cut the feathers off of Arugula to do it, and by the time we got them seperated and the baby free – the chick’s left wing was destroyed (broken in several places), bleeding, and we just knew it wasn’t good. So… we wanted the farm life… and with the farm life comes doing hard things… Like taking care of issues just like this. So I dispatched it, and then there were 3. Those three are growing like weeds, and I have a bad feeling consist of 2 roosters and a hen – We have friends who want them when they’re ready, we won’t be keeping them – but the mission was accomplished: Arugula got to be a mommy – and hopefully she’ll be free of her broodiness for a while.

We need to get lights installed in the coop – the chickens are currently not laying, (likely due to the lack of daylight) and we’re going to have to trick them into starting up again – so over break I have that on my to-do list. I’m also planning on doing some plastic hoops over the beds in the front as well as the back to allow for a better winter growing season.

I know we’ve done a pretty terrible job of updating this regularly – but I’ll try to do a bit better job of getting on here periodically – I started another blog (to document the process of the personal reboot) which will allow me to discuss topics I come across that pertain to health, spirituality, wellness, etc.. I don’t know when I plan to update it given my lack of updates on here, but a guy can dream right? The blog address is tawhare.wordpress.com

I hope this update finds you well,

Cheers,
Ben

Thanks to those who have stuck with us despite the lack of updates – we really appreciate it!

The Important Things in Life

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It is interesting to me how the loss of someone close to you causes a person to become deeply reflective of their own life… to an extent, it causes a person to go back over their lives and their priorities with a fine toothed comb.

A friend of our family just lost her battle with cancer this morning, and as I read the news, tears stinging my eyes… I couldn’t help but think of those who are left behind and the adjustments they will need to make.

I’ve made them myself in the not so distant past. My own father passed in December of 2008, and I remember the late night phone call one evening when I was having trouble with my car in order to get help to diagnose the problem and letting it ring 2 or 3 times before I realized, ‘Wait. Dad’s Gone.’, the feeling of emptiness in the garage back home, the things left unsaid, or worse yet – the things that WERE said that can’t be taken back.

Death is the great equalizer, and in these difficult times, we as humans become extremely reflective. We run through things in our heads, we replay our lives, and we relive those memories, both good and bad, and when we come out the other side, we have a new focus, and often renewed priorities.

… because let’s be honest – when you examine your life and the stark reality that you are still alive while someone else dear to you is not –  each passing minute becomes suddenly more precious – every day becomes a gift.

So doesn’t it beg the question of how we spend that time? Or at the very least, is the time that we’re spending enriching our life in some way? Are we “redeeming the time” as it discusses in Ephesians 5?

As I’ve meditated on this today, I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that no – I am not. My priorities are all mixed up. I find myself focusing on the unimportant, and neglecting the most important – and I think if you truly take a step back and look at the world around us, perhaps even your own life… I am not alone.

We’re more focused on what’s on television than we are with what went on during our child’s school day, we’re more focused on getting to the next level of Candy Crush Saga than we are on connecting/reconnecting with friends, we quickly heat up a meal so that we can get to the gym, or to the office, or to a meeting, rather than sit down and have a meal with our husband, or our wife and our children… we’re MORE CONNECTED THAN EVER on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, text, phone… yet in a strange twist of irony, we are more disconnected inter-personally than ever before. (Yes… I recognize the irony of me making this statement on a blog… so thbbbpppttt.) Our kids are screaming watch me, watch me, and we have ‘more important‘ things to do.

We only get one turn on the merry go round.

So what is truly important in life? I made a short list today as I worked reflecting and meditating, and here’s mine in order of importance. Yours may be different, but this is mine…

1) Faith
2) Spouse
3) Family
4) Work
5) Friends
6) Recreation
7) Self
8) Everything else.

Facebook – doesn’t even rank, Television – doesn’t even rank, Keeping up with the Kardashians??? How about giving up on the Kardashians… because Kim and Kanye’s baby, or getting to level 50 on Farmville, or what so and so is doing on Facebook doesn’t mean anything anymore when you’re on your death bed praying for a little more time with your loved ones.

Hezekiah was granted additional years after prayer and supplication, and I truly believe my friend Stefanie was too… but the merry go round ultimately stops for us all. Some get a longer ride than others, but it’s not the length of the ride that’s important…

… it’s how you’ve spent your time.

I came across a poem a while back. The author escapes me, but the message is unforgettable. The gist of it was that the date at the beginning of your tombstone isn’t important, nor is the date at the end, it’s the dash that is in between that matters.

How did you live your dash?

It’s easy to sit back and analyze, meditate, and reprioritize – but I was in this same place when my dad died in 2008… making it stick and making it last is tough.

Changing your life, changing habits, changing routines is tough.

I come home from work, I check Facebook. I check my email. I check cnn.com, I check the statesmanjournal.com, I check wordpress.com, I check wimp.com, I check wins.failblog.org, failbooking.org, giantitp.com, I read about things that interest me, woodcarving, fishing, gardening, guns, news… and before I know it, hours have gone by.

Everything I’ve just listed goes in the ‘not important category‘. It’s really not important… At. All. Helping Shannon around the house – important. Getting projects completed? Important. Playing a game with my kids – CRUCIAL.

Mankind has let ourselves become so distracted in life – willingly let these corporations, apps, shows, movies, celebrities into our lives… and the only people who can put a stop to them is us. This is part of why we started this homestead process – it was a direct challenge to the flow of the world around us – rather than go downstream with the rest of the world, we decided to head upstream. Do something different – go against the flow, but fighting against the current allows us to be swept downstream little bit little with the flow.

Time for a course correct.

Here’s what I’m going to do, and I’m going to challenge you to join me in the month of August. Give it 30 days.

  1. Make a list of your life priorities in order of importance.
  2. At the start of each day – put your number one priority first.
  3. Do not go on to the second thing until SOMETHING has been done on the first.
  4. Then move on to the second, and the third, IN ORDER.

So – for example: using my list – taking care of things that Shannon needs building our relationship, cannot be done until I have checked off taking care of my relationship with God. Prayer, or study or SOMETHING to connect with Him needs to be done before I move on to my spouse. Then comes Shannon – I don’t put work before her, She comes next – so maybe it’s helping with the dishes, or just taking time to sit and talk, or finishing a project that she needs done. Then the kids – work doesn’t come before them either. Kids first. It doesn’t have to take 3 hours, just something to let them know how much I love them. Then work, then friends, then self – then all the other distractions (if there’s still time in the day)

I think this will help prioritize, and invigorate ones life and relationships, because when it all comes down to it, life is like every Arnold Schwartzenegger movie – it’s all about relationships.

I don’t know about you – but when someone asks me how I lived my dash, I want to be able to reply with a smile on my face…

“I lived it well man… lived. it. well.”

A Bees Perspective

A Bees Perspective

Life has been insane of late with school ending and summer job starting – haven’t had much time to even breathe, let alone get outside and get updates done. I managed to get out and take a couple of pictures the other night though…

Taken from the back corner of our property where the girls head out on their daily jaunts.