The Joyful, Simple Life of a Frugal Housewife

I have a little book that was written by Mrs. Child in 1832.  The American Frugal Housewife is surely just as useful today in many senses.  The author almost lost me when she noted that coffee was not economical and could be avoided.  Oh, she’s a strict one, that Mrs. Child.  Her prose is clear and concise and the book is ever fun to read.  Going on two hundred years old, it is a bit of history rolled into a gentle reminder that not that much has changed.

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If you make a dollar, only spend eighty cents.  If you make fifty cents, only spend forty.  The original Dave Ramsey.  Why do all the girls these days need the new bonnets from France when clean, proper dresses and a ribbon will do?  Girls have no home education these days!  In this book she covers everything from cuts of meat (she would wonder about me and my vegetarianism), to how to make custard, and Indian pudding.  She discusses herbs for cooking and all their medicinal values as well.  A new onion will take the pain out of a wasp sting.  Every housekeeping gem that we housewives- even in the twenty-first century- could ever need are in this book.  She would tisk-tisk me for sure.  But in this time and age, I am not too bad.  But there is always room for improvement.  A simple, frugal life is a life of peace.

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The gents installing the meters for the solar panels on our homestead were surprised at how little electricity we use.  Now it can all be generated from the sun.  When you walk through our gate, past the Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign, you will find yourself in a large yard.  Under snow, it looks ordinary, but this spring you will find dozens, upon dozens, and dozens of medicinal and culinary herbs.  This year, enough produce growing to last us eight+ months.

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When you come in there is a wood stove and nice wood floors that are easy to clean.  Plants and aloes and seed starts fill my home.  We read by candlelight and oil lamps.  Twinkly lights are the electric lights.  Piles of books to read, board games, and a tuned piano supply entertainment. We rarely watch television.  In the warmer months we will sit on the porch or go for a walk, all free things.  And blessed time together.

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In the kitchen, home cooked meals are made.  I am finally getting used to not cooking for  all the children.  Just me and Pa and some left for the puppy.  Our root cellar is dwindling but there are still over a hundred jars of produce put up.  There are fresh eggs from the coop.  Cups of herb tea steaming on the counter.

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You will almost always find me in an apron.  They are so practical and keep my long skirts clean.  I make all of our own medicine, prepare our meals, create much of what we need.  I can sew a quilt, make our own soap, brew some meade, put up green beans, bake sourdough bread, make antibiotics, save seeds, use the library, ride my bike, and if I make fifty cents then I shall save ten!  More likely five cents, but we’ll get there.

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Such a good life indeed.

The First Warm Day in the Garden (onions, garlic, rhubarb, and the elusive robin)

It was over sixty degrees for a pocket of time yesterday without its normal accompanying arctic wind to ruin all of the fun.  I sat in a lawn chair, my face to the sun intermittently reading and sipping a glass of wine until my face felt warm from those glorious rays.

“There are no robins,” I told my husband.  Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself.  If the robins were not even here yet, then spring is not arriving early.

Little flitters of tiny, iridescent wings wafted past me.  I hope they are beneficial as opposed to a nemesis in my gardens.  They landed here and there.  I stood up and stretched and walked around my garden paths.  In the beds were rogue, forgotten splays of green- dark and alive.  Onions and garlic.  A tiny bit of spinach appeared in the pathway.  Funny place to grow.

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I let me plants go to seed in the fall because I am more interested in permaculture and sustained food than I am in neat rows.  (Which I seem to be rather bad at anyway!  The rows look like when I write on unlined paper.)  So the spinach decided to grow there, huh?  Well, so be it.  Bits of Swiss chard grow under a tree.

I am still getting used to the climate where we have moved.  It is warmer here but it is certainly not temperate.  But the growing season is quite different from our old town.  Here, I usually would plant onions and garlic (if I forgot to do so last fall…which I did) when I do the potatoes, right around St. Patrick’s Day.  One doesn’t want the beds to be waterlogged with snow for the next few months because the bulbs will decompose but a nice, damp, rich, fragrant, earthy, heady, malleable bed does call for something to be planted, don’t you think?  So, I took a cue from the garlic and onions that were already growing and planted my bulbs.  It was therapeutic in a way that only gardeners can understand.

I loosened the first four inches of soil.  Along somewhat crooked rows, three inches apart in all directions, I carefully placed their bottoms down and the papery points up, gently pressing them into the ground.  Eighty bulbs of red onions.  Three large heads of garlic separated into cloves.

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And four roots of rhubarb.  Every spring my Great Aunt Donna would call me and say, “Time to get the rhubarb!”  We would drive to Denver and head into her large back yard with her.  She taught me to place my thumb at the base of a stalk and lightly pull just so.  The foot and a half long stalk would easily come loose.  We both had a paring knife and would quickly remove the large leaf at the top and place it in a pile of ever growing foliage.  She would predict what her old apple tree was going to do this year.  Her beds were clean.  The compost was moving along nicely.  She would have me throw the leaves in the bin.  Into plastic newspaper sacks, the rhubarb stalks would go.  She would save a few for herself and send us home with pounds of them.  This will be the first season without Aunt Donna.  What will happen to her rhubarb?  I hope mine gets as full and healthy as hers.

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“Guess who’s here?” I shrieked into the phone.

“Who?” my husband answered, nearly alarmed.  The shrill chirping voice was almost a shock.  I recognized it before I saw them.  A pair of them hopping through the garden beds.  “The robins are back!”

 

What the World Eats (and being aware of what we eat!)

I saw the photo montage go by on my Facebook feed of What the World Eats.  Each photograph of a family in a different country with all the food that they eat in a week.  It took me by surprise, really.  Many of the countries that I thought would have healthier food choices did not.  And the ones that I would consider healthy had little more than five bags of staples like beans and rice.  What really astounded me though was the sheer amount of processed food.  My goodness, big companies have made their way around the world.  One photo showed liters and liters of Pepsi.  Packages of pre-cut meats.  Boxes and boxes of processed foods.  And some produce.  It made me think, What am I eating? What would our photograph look like?

Just for a day I began photographing my meals.

When we had our practically off-grid farm there for a bit, we were practically self-sufficient.  We had a root cellar filled with fruits and vegetables.  A freezer full of local meat and my own cheese curing from my own goats.  What that photo wouldn’t show is all the food that went to feed the animals that I consumed.  (Nor would it show the chronic heartburn, weight gain, and gout.)  What do I eat now? was a question that would ultimately help me see what I could make myself and just how much processed food I consumed.

Breakfast- I love a bowl of cereal for breakfast.  I buy the organic box of raisin granola for $4-$5 and it feeds me for five days with roughly four cups of cereal in the box.  I wrote a book many years ago called, Gone Vegan, and I pulled out that trusty manual to find my old granola recipe.  It is so good and it made doubled the granola in roughly 40 minutes for a fraction of the price.  One less box I need to send to recycling and one less plastic insert that goes in the trash.

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Homemade Granola

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix 6 cups of oats with 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 T pumpkin pie spice, and 3/4 cup of canola, sunflower, or safflower oil, and a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.

Spray a cookie sheet with oil and after mixing all ingredients well, pour onto cookie sheet.  Drizzle with agave or maple syrup.  Bake for 30 minutes, stirring half way through.  Then add 1 cup of nuts and 1 1/2 cups of dried fruit (I used pecans, raisins, and cranberries) and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.  Stir a few times after it comes out of the oven as it’s cooling to keep it from sticking or clumping.

Now, this is delicious with almond milk.  And indeed, I can make my own cashew, hemp, or almond milk.  But, I usually buy the carton because it lasts longer.

Lunch- For lunch I had a power smoothie.  My Vitamix is ten years old (a new one is on my wish list) so I have to juice the big stuff first.  I put in the juicer a large leaf of aloe, 3 apples, 3 carrots, a big handful of chard, and a chunk of ginger and turmeric.  Then I poured that into the Vitamix and added a big banana, spirulina, maca, hemp protein powder, pumpkin pie spice, frozen berries, a dollop of both peanut butter and coconut oil.  A drizzle of maple syrup or agave and on the machine goes.  I split it in half and send my husband with his tomorrow in his lunch and drink my half with a few crackers and vegan cream cheese and jam that I preserved.  I could certainly make my own crackers but they aren’t quite as good as organic Ritz style.  But maybe I will work on that this week!  I do buy packaged vegan cheeses and meats.  The packaging is far less waste than the actual act of raising meat and dairy and the karmic value of going vegan is astronomical as well as the lessened impact on the environment.

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Dinner- Pizza with a homemade, 15 minute crust.  I topped it with my own preserved tomato sauce, vegan mozzarella and cream cheese, a ton of spices, and a bunch of delicious vegetables.

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The next night we had vegan carne asada with crisp oven fries, cashew queso, Beyond Meat crumbles, guacamole, tomatoes, and homemade red chile.

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The Big Picture– Well, I have a bit to go, don’t I?  But being aware is the first step to doing better.  So, yes, we use some packaged items and some of them could be made and some of them are the lesser of evils.  But produce is a large part of our diet and so are healthy grains.  I grow all of our produce for the four months we garden and I preserve a few hundred jars of produce a year.  This year with my expanded gardens and vertical gardening techniques, I hope to produce doubled what I have been.  This continues to increase our nutrition intake and lessen our footprint even more.  Preparing more ethnic dishes, like Indian and Mexican food allows the use of more beans and pulses, further increasing our health, and costs less environmentally and monetarily.

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Vegan cheesecake with homemade chokecherry sauce

As Americans especially, we have a lot of unwiring to do.  I hope in a year or so to look more like the family from Guatemala (sans meat) then the one from America.

http://time.com/8515/hungry-planet-what-the-world-eats/

 

 

This Year’s Secrets of the Garden

Already I can feel the air shifting, changing.  I had been watching the birds and animals a month before the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a hard winter.  My crops are finishing up weeks early, ready to be placed asleep beneath layers of heady compost and blankets of straw.

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This year’s lessons were plentiful.

#1 I sought to use up all the seeds that I had collected over the many years of gardening and not purchase any this year.  Most were not viable and I had to do mad dashes to the store to get seeds/seedlings in order to have a garden!  I grew tomatoes from seed.  One large vine was struggling to turn ripe so I pulled the whole thing out and hung it in the kitchen.  It is now producing luscious, red tomatoes.

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#2 I did not purchase expensive potato starts.  Instead I filled my apron with potatoes from the kitchen.  Organic and growing eyes, fingerlings, reds, and a few yukons from a friend’s nursery.  They took off better than any potato start I have ever had.  I filled baskets and had three huge harvests of delicious potatoes.

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#3 I discovered a little nemesis to my farm’s name.  The Squash Bug.  Few pumpkins were found last year and this because of that wretched little bug and his army.  I shall be spending this winter’s reading time perusing garden books for organic methods to killing said enemy.

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#4 If it doesn’t grow well over here, then plant some more over there.  I never plant in rows.  I plant everything together.  This year the weather soared above a hundred degrees way too early and I did not have any spring crops.  Almost all of my new herb seedlings were toasted quickly beneath the scorching May sun.  I planted many things on the east side of the house and they thrived.

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#5 Mother Nature grows best.  The squirrel that hid a pumpkin seed in front of the porch is my hero.  The vine is up on the porch and produced the only pie pumpkin because the squash bugs didn’t know where to look.  The ristras hanging from my porch had their seeds scattered in an April wind and I will have New Mexican red chilies soon.  A rogue head of popcorn I didn’t know was there planted itself and grew in the herbs gardens.

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#6 Let things go to seed.  I had prolific basil and arugula.  The radishes and carrots reseeded, as did lettuce and spinach.

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#7 My perma/straw beds that I created this spring were genius (I say so modestly) and I had little work this year to keep them weeded.  I will add three more next month.

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#8 Some things cannot be tricked.  I grew ginseng and gingko until they realized they were in Colorado and promptly died.  Peppers, which have always been impossible to grow up north, grow plentiful and flavorful in Pueblo.  (The eucalyptus and ginger were tricked successfully, I must add.)

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#9 Water and compost are all you need.  The sun does the rest.  Plants want to grow.

#10 I love gardening.

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My porch and many gardens were taken over by morning glories, which effectively shielded many herbs and young trees from the record-high temperatures.  I enjoy feeding the birds and watching the wildlife.  I let the rogue “weed” trees grow and ended up with a lovely privacy fence.  We ate well.  Every year is different.  Even when some things don’t work, something else always does.  A good lesson for life from this Farmgirl’s perspective.

The Charming Garden

20180501_143251There are many efficient and simple gardens out there and they are all lovely.  I thrive on color and texture and I love a little whimsical touch.

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We spend much of our time outdoors if it is nice out so we treat the yard as if it were an extension of the house.  Two comfy chairs (not couches or discarded recliners please) make a nice place for settin’ with a glass of sweet tea, to watch the world (and neighbors) go by.  They don’t match, but someday they will.  I always have about twelve bucks in my gardening budget so we use what we have!

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Trellises anywhere you can put them invite vines and climbing flowers.  They add a vertical element to the garden.  Of course, our old farm sign still graces the porch.

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A yard (or a house) should never be quite perfect.  Complete orchestration takes out the whimsy and comfort of a place.  We have weeds and barren places and we have beauty and interest.  Our gardens invite the visitor to look for fairies and sit awhile to watch the birds.

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These trellises are a bit rickety after years of use but attached to the fence they make a lovely architectural image, like a large picture in the garden.

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I have friends with very efficient gardens that are self watering, raised beds that can stand the test of time.  Again with twelve dollars, I get more creative.  I want my garden beds to become part of the earth.  Each spring and each fall as I add more compost and chicken straw from the coop, I want them to nestle down into heaps of greatly fertile soil that restores Mother Earth.  My simple method is logs surrounding cardboard topped with straw, compost, and soil.

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This soon-to-be herb garden is awaiting its soil.  The trellis in the center is for scrambling vines to add height to the bed but also to create beauty.

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I love how the beds seem like they just rose out of the ground.  I didn’t leave enough room for the mower in between the beds so I took empty chicken feed and mulch bags and lined the space between the beds then topped them with mulch.

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The spring crops peek out of the soil.  My fingernails are gloriously dirty.  I love springtime!

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Most of our decor are natural elements but sometimes you need a little bling.  I added the wind vane/solar lights to create a fun vibe.  The tractor and the bicycle are adorable.  There are more beds to be made and more twinkly lights to be added.

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We put pumpkins from the root cellar in the trees for the squirrels and put out a big bowl of bird seed along with a bowl of water for birds.  The hummingbird feeder is full.  We love the Snow White feeling here.  We welcome all the critters.

We eat alfresco every night of the summer so it is time for me to clean off the table and put a nice woven blanket on it.  Yesterday a lovely, rich rain fell upon the beds and the earth and the birds sang and is beautiful in this charming garden.

 

The Autumn Gardens (Spring and Fall Crops and the Great Harvest)

20170929_121332Fall crops grow beautifully and swiftly in their haphazard rows.

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The spring crops that I painstakingly place inches apart in the early cool of spring take awhile to germinate in the cold and then go to seed when summer decides to come on strong.  When those very same seeds are planted in  late July or early August they germinate quickly from the warm soil, ample water and light.  Then the nights become brisk and they soak up the cooling temperatures and thrive, which is why they are called cold crops!

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Of course I have all the energy in the world in April.  By then I have been dreaming of my garden for many months and am ridiculously excited to break ground.  By late summer we are getting tired of weeding and daily waterings and bugs so fall crops look more like mosaic puzzles than long tidy rows of food.

I had one bed pretty clear from the spring crops so I roughed it up with the hoe and planted-or rather, kind of threw in- a bunch of seeds.  Carrots, spinach, lettuce, peas, cabbage, and radishes came up with the colors of early spring with no help from me.  I forgot to water the seeds several times.  And yet they surprised me with their delicious arrival.

There are still tomatoes and other delicious summer crops in the garden.  The weather speaks of a freeze coming Monday.

Seeds and plants want to grow.  They are hard wired to do so.  As an experiment when the flea beetles came to town to chow down the cruciferous crops, I left a few of the broccoli and others to see what would happen.  I think we will have broccoli cheese soup tonight.  This garden has been a lovely experiment this year, one I allowed myself to do being in a new climate and a new place with un-amended soil.  Amazing.  Plants never fail to thrill me.  I think I will have radishes for breakfast.

A Simpler Idea Board

I love this concept from Country Living magazine.  Take a picture or photograph that strikes you, that you love, that inspires you, and build a room (or house) around it.  I have had this picture torn from the back of the same magazine on my fridge for most of last year.  It is so lovely in its simplicity, the apron, the chicks, the colors, the flowers, it feels like home.  The saying, “Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring” has certainly been inspirational.

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Taking elements from this photo, I will put together the living room.  I think light yellow paint, soft like the chicks we will get in spring, will be lovely.

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A new sofa cover
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Post cards that belonged to my friend, Kat’s, grandmother, Hilda. These gems are over 100 years old and the text whispers stories of times past. Like the one that reads about a friend’s new fangled wringer washer!

Next week I will begin painting and making the home feel like spring.

Farmgirl Gardening Series (Knee High by 4th of July)

“Here we go corn, here we go!” clap clap “Here we go corn, here we go!” stomp stomp.  My cheerleading days come in handy around here.  The corn is indeed up to my knee.  The sweet corn will likely make it before the season ends!  Some of the popcorn is up to Maryjane’s knee and I don’t think that counts, but we will keep cheering and watering and see what happens.

I did not ever thin the carrots.  I meant to, I really did.  I reached down and pulled one of the thousands of seedlings and out came a tiny little carrot.  I dusted the dirt off and ate the sweet the little thing and decided I rather like baby carrots and wandered off to the next task.  In season this week is the end of the mustard, kale, lettuce, arugula, collards, and herbs.

Just like when kids go from being little ones and one year in junior high shoot up taller than dad, the plants will do the same.  They are ten year olds right now, just cute and new but in the next four weeks we will see them jump up and start coming into their own.

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The gardens look beautiful.  Each person’s plot their own, filled with their favorites, the bunny rather enjoying the buffet.  Shh, I told him I wouldn’t tell on him!

Next week, compost tea and fall crops (already!), see you ’round the garden!

Friday Farmgirl Gardening Series Week 10 (erosion, hail, hoppers, and hope)

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And this, my dear friends, is one reason we do not rototill!  With the crazy summer storms we have been getting an inch of sandy thick topsoil from the neighboring gardens slid onto my plants and pathways.

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My novel takes place in the 1930’s and through my grandparents’ stories and books I am learning about the dust bowl.  Something we were never taught in school and something that could so easily happen again as we deliberately and repeatedly deplete our soils of nutrients instead of building on top of the soil.  Soil does not like to be barren!

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“Oh hail” is my new cuss word.  Grasshoppers are my nemesis.

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Yet, each day the soil and my plants call to me.  I find my respite and peace with fingernails caked with dirt, birds flitting by, and despite everything, the harvest.  Plants want to grow.  Spinach, baby kale, baby collards, arugula, lettuce, and nearing the end of radish days fills my basket.

I thin a few carrots and beets each day.  It is the most loathsome job in the garden I know.  I think that I will just put two fingers down for two inches, pick everything in between, but goodness, those seedlings are everywhere.  Which direction do I go?  Two inches this way?  Then I take out that nice tall one…It is rather stressful but it must be done, for carrots one or two inches in girth feed folks a lot better than two millimeters in girth.  The kids need room to grow.

Next year, I think, you shall find me at the end of the winter months at a table with a glass of wine and opera blaring carefully dotting each seed with glue and placing them strategically two inches apart on long strips of toilet paper.  Though that sounds dreadful to my “do six things at a time” mind, listening to Andrea Bocelli and dotting seeds with glue sounds a lot more fun than the mass killings I am attempting to complete in my garden.

This week I will be laying more mulch and making everything tidy.  We’ll see what there is to harvest.  We’ll start planning our fall crops.  We’ll listen to birds, get a sun tan, and plan up new recipes inspired by the garden.

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My balcony garden is doing amazing, may I add.  Just goes to show that the best gardens have a roof!

Spring Produce and Lemony Spring Soup

It is easy to find dinner inspiration when it is not the dead of winter!  The garnet orbs caught my eye as I was watering.  One might have thought I had found gold the way I danced over and started pulling those beautiful earthy radishes from their bed.  The first crop.  Lettuce, lamb’s quarters, lemon verbena, lemon balm, and lemon thyme joined the pile of growing dinner plans.  And a leek!  Left over from the gardener the year before, I am thankful.  I have never been successful at growing leeks!  Home it went.

Lemony Spring Soup

First gather all inspirations.  I had small potatoes, red and yellow, from the market, a Jerusalem artichoke, radishes, herbs, greens (wild and cultivated).  Use what you have!

First we start with a sofrito.  In Italy this is onion, garlic, carrot, celery.

I chopped 1 leek, 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 carrot, 1 celery stalk and sautéed in beautiful olive oil until the leeks and garlic were savory and transparent.  I chopped 2 potatoes, 1 diced Jerusalem artichoke, the radishes and added them to the pot.

I used a few leaves of lemon balm, a few of lemon verbena, lemon thyme.  I saved cilantro for the end because I am the only one who adores it.

Chop up greens and herbs and add to pot with 2 cups of vegetable broth.

To the broth I added 3 Tablespoons of Vietnamese Lemon Curry but you could add Italian seasoning, or Mexican seasoning, or Spanish, or your favorite curry or nothing at all!

Add 2 slices of lemon and 2 one inch pieces of ginger, and a real good splash of white wine to the broth and let simmer until everything is tender.

Check your flavor and add salt and pepper if needed.

I add cilantro to my bowl first so Doug doesn’t have to have any.  Remove lemon and ginger pieces.  Pour yourself a big refreshing bowl.  Delicious!