25 January 2013

Are You Prepared?

We are having an ice storm today. In this area, that could mean downed trees, no power, (or water for those who are on wells), and it could be days before electricity is restored. North Carolinian's are also notoriously bad drivers in inclement weather, so we will be staying off the roads... Actually there will be little reason for us to be on the roads. After Hurricane Hugo destroyed our cottage and we lived in the shell of the house for 6 months, (starting in Sept. so we spent the winter in it), I decided to never, never, never, be unprepared for an emergency again.

Hugo blew into Waxhaw, (180 miles inland), with 110 mile an hour winds, it sat over our area for hours. The winds from the hurricane were bad enough, but the storm also spawned tornadoes, at least one of which tore across our property, twisting the tops of the trees off 18 feet up the trunk and ripping our roof and siding to pieces, throwing most of it into the woods. Fortunately, we were staying with my brother that night, or we may have lost more than our house.

Extensive damage done to the power lines all over North Carolina left us with no power,(and no water), for 3 weeks. Then the day they restored power to our area, there was an accident while clearing pieces of our destroyed roof, which caused our power service to fall to the ground. An electrical crew working down the road came to help and ended up cutting the power at the pole. We were unable to get our power back until after our electrical inspection 6 months later. This meant that most of the reconstruction was done without on site power. We borrowed a generator from a neighbor when he wasn't using it, another neighbor put an extension cord over the fence for us to use, and we worked by propane lantern, using hand tools when it was necessary. With just the two of us working, (and an infant and 7 yr old that needed tending), it took us a long time to get finished enough to get inspections.

 During all this time we were living in the only room in the house that wasn't exposed to the outdoors. We all slept there, my husband, our 7 year old son and I slept in sleeping bags on the floor. The baby, who was 4 months old when the hurricane hit, slept in his crib, swaddled in snow suit, and covered in a goose down comforter. We had an old Franklin Stove that we could use to warm our hands by during the day, and I used it for cooking, but it had draw problems due to damage done to the chimney, so it smoked terribly, and wasn't safe to burn while we were sleeping. It was a long winter and an uncommonly cold one, but we managed, and I'll just say to make a long story shorter, that we all survived. We got the house closed in and had power by late April. But it still took more than 5 years before we could really say we were finished.

After that experience, it became one of my missions in life to research and procure all the things we would need to live comfortably and safely through whatever life threw at us. We now have multiple ways to heat, heat pump, propane wall units, and a wood stove. We have enough water in 55 gallon drums, treated, sealed and sheltered from the elements, to last 3 people for a month. We also have a hand-held water purifier, that will purify water from a mud puddle if necessary. A "bug out bag" is packed and ready at all times. Our camping gear is kept close at hand with lanterns, propane cook stove, sub zero sleeping bags, light weight tents, backpacks and everything we would need to set up housekeeping away from home if need be. We have a "working" pantry for daily use, a 3 month pantry, which has enough food to feed four people for 3 months, and a long term storage pantry that contains enough to feed 6 people for a year. We keep these pantries up to date and rotated and we use what we store and store what we use.

In the near future I will be doing a weekly post on Pantry Keeping and Preparedness. I will start from the beginning and outline how to get started and what to do first, from there I will have tutorials on canning, dehydrating, emergency nutrition, natural medicine, first aid, wilderness survival, foraging, non electric cooking,  packing your own food for long term storage and more.
Part of our 3 month pantry which includes freezer, canned, bottled and dehydrated foods as well as bulk medicinal herbs, staples like pasta, rice and dried beans and comfort foods like tea and organic sugar.

The world as we know it doesn't have to come to and end or manure hit the fan, for an emergency preparation plan to make good sense. Natural disasters, economic hiccups, personal financial problems, loss of a job or illness can all be very difficult to deal with if you aren't prepared both practically and financially. But if you are like the ants who put away all summer to see themselves through the winter, you can find yourself well equipped to face difficult times, without worrying about how to shelter and feed your family. Are you prepared?

Blog Hops that this post is linked to: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/ , http://frugallysustainable.com/

22 January 2013

Smoking Cheddar cheese

One day I was in the back yard smoking chipotle peppers, (I grow jalapeno peppers and let them ripen until they turn red, just for this purpose). As I was taking the last tray of peppers out of the smoker, I was lamenting to myself that there was still so much good smoke left and I hated to waste it... I was casting about for something to put in the smoker to take advantage of the remaining smoke, when it dawned on me that I had a huge block of cheese in the house that I was going to cut up into pieces and freeze. I am vegan and don't eat cheese, but my husband loves it. He is especially fond of smoked cheese, but it is so expensive that I usually only get it for special occasions. So I decided to smoke some of the cheddar just as an experiment.

 I was afraid that the cheese would melt, and I didn't want to waste it, so I started out by just putting one small chunk of cheese in the smoker. I looked in the side door of the smoker and checked for heat. The coals were mostly gone and all that was left was the fruit wood prunings smoldering in the tray, so I put the block of cheese on the rack and put the lid on. I left it 5 minutes and then lifted the lid to make sure it the cheese wasn't melting through the cracks. It was warm to the touch on the surface, but was still firm. So I turned the cheese and smoked it for another 5 minutes, then it took it out and smelled it. It smelled wonderful! When my husband got home, I had him try a piece. He said it tasted better than the store bought smoked cheese.

So I set aside some time the next day to smoke the rest of the block of cheddar that I had. The smoker that I have is a Brinkman Smoke 'n' Grill.  I got it on sale at the end of the season at Ace Hardware for $29, but they normally run about $45. It has two racks and two pans, one pan for coals the other pan for water, (if you a smoking a turkey or something that takes a long time, it is necessary to have the water to keep things from drying out). I took one pan out and set it aside. I put the other pan on the hanger at the very bottom of the smoker. Then I soaked small twigs and branches of fruit wood, no larger around than my finger, in a bucket of water. *Note I have a supply of fruit wood prunings from my fruit trees, but if you don't have fruit trees, you can purchase Hickory smoking chips and the natural briquettes at the grocery or hardware store.*

While the branches were soaking, I took several layers of newspaper, twisted them tightly and dripped candle wax on them until they were coated, (I use candle wax instead of lighter fluid, because I don't like lighter fluid). I put the newspaper in the pan I had set aside, add a healthy handful of tinder sized twigs, and then placed a small mound of  natural hardwood briquettes on the twigs and newspaper twists and lit the paper. I let the briquettes burn until they were covered in a light coating of ash and were mostly white on the outside, then I took a pair of tongs and placed three briquettes in the pan that was in the smoker. I placed a small pile of the soaked fruit wood twigs on the briquettes, making sure they were in contact with the coals and closed the side door and placed the lid on the smoker. Before long thick smoke started to leak out around the edges of the lid indicating it was time for me to put the cheese on the rack.

I took the lid off the smoker and checked to make sure it wasn't hot inside the smoker, then I placed the blocks of cheese on the rack making sure to leave room for the smoke to circulate around each block.
 I smoked the cheese for 5 minutes on each side. I did several batches of cheese, so as the briquettes burned down and the twigs were consumed, I added more to the pan in the bottom of the smoker, using the side door.When I was finished smoking the cheese, I took them inside on a tray and put them in the fridge to cool. Once cool, I wrapped them individually in plastic wrap and then stacked them in a gallon freezer bag, and labeled them with contents and date. They will keep for many month without freezer burn since they are double wrapped.

                  Here is a recipe for one of my husband's favorite smoked cheese sandwiches:

Two sliced of homemade whole wheat bread (or a good quality store bought equivalent)
2 -3 Slices turkey breast (or leftover Thanksgiving turkey if it is that time of year)
One thin slice of red onion
2 Tbsp. whole berry cranberry sauce (for the Fall and winter version) or 4 slices of Granny Smith apple (for the Spring and Summer version)
Clover sprouts
2 thin slices of smoked cheddar

Spread mayo thinly on both pieces of bread. Place 1/2 turkey on bottom piece of bread, place cranberry sauce or apples and the sliced onion on the turkey then add the remaining turkey, smoked cheese and the sprouts. Top with the second piece of bread. Press down lightly to settle ingredients, cut into halves and serve. * If you're not a mayo fan then replace the mayo with honey dijon mustard.   Provecho!

Blog Hops that this post is linked to: http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/
Country Homemaker Hop#57


17 January 2013

Rawnola Tutorial

Being on a vegan/raw diet sometimes presents a problem when it comes to rib sticking between meal snacks. Eating raw fruit and veggies as a snack option is great, but sometimes it is nice to have something with some protein in it. My solution  is to keep a supply of rawnola bars on hand. The ones that I have found at the health food store are very expensive and don't taste very good, so I decided to develop my own recipe.
Rawnola bars are full of all kinds for raw seeds, nuts, grains and fruit. They are sweet, crunchy and filling, but they are dehydrated at low temperatures, not baked, so they are raw. They are high in calories, due to all the nuts and fruit, so it isn't something I eat every day, but they are great for tucking into my purse or backpack for times when I am peckish and won't be home for hours.

Where granola bars are usually made with a base of rolled oats, rawnola bars use a base of buckwheat. The reason for using buckwheat instead of granola is two fold, #1 rolled oats are not really raw; heat is used in the process of removing the husk and rolling the grains flat, #2 sprouted buckwheat is not as dense and chewy as uncooked rolled oats, so the buckwheat makes the rawnola bars light and crunchy.

There are several parts to the process of making rawnola bars, so I often break up the process into to two sessions. One session to prepare the buckwheat and to soak the nuts and seeds and dehydrate them. The other to put the rawnola together and dehydrate it.

Step #1 Prepare the Buckwheat

  I usually prepare a large quantity of sprouted, dehydrated buckwheat and then just store it away for use whenever I need it. It makes great rawnola, but is also good for sprinkling on top of salads, or it can be a topping for a bowl of fruit. The texture is similar to Rice Crispies and the taste is not unlike Grape-nuts so it is great as a breakfast cereal as well. To prepare the buckwheat, start with organic raw buckwheat, ( not Kasha which is toasted and won't sprout). Raw organic buckwheat can be purchased in the bulk foods department of your local natural foods store, it may also be found on the isle with other Bob's Red Mill products. If you can't find it anywhere else, you can purchase it online from Bob's Red Mill .

 The buckwheat needs to be thoroughly rinsed. Place the desired amount in a fine mesh strainer and rinse, shaking the strainer for several minutes. Once you are sure it is well rinsed, place the buckwheat in a wide mouth canning jar, (I sprout large amounts at a time so I use a 1/2 gallon jar, but if you want to make less, a wide mouth quart is fine), cover with water to about an inch above the grains and leave to soak for 4 hours covered with cheese cloth and a rubber band or a plastic sprouting lid that will fit a wide mouth jar.

   Once the grain has soaked, pour liquid and grains into a strainer and rinse well for several minutes to remove the thick starchy liquid that will have formed. Return the grains to the jar, place the sprouting lid or cheesecloth on the jar, and invert the jar in a dish drainer or plastic storage container, at a slight angle, lid down to allow excess water to drain away. Rinse in the jar, two more times during the day, being sure to shake as much water as possible from the jar and return the jar to the draining area. Leave overnight to sprout. By mid morning the next day, tiny tails should begin to appear on the grain. 
On top is unsoaked raw buckwheat. On the bottom is buckwheat that has been sprouted and dehydrated. If you look closely at the bottom sample you can see the tiny dehydrated tails

At this point, the grains are ready to be used in a recipe or if you are preparing them ahead for use later, spread the grains out on a Teflex dehydrator sheet on a  dehydrator tray and dehydrate at 105 degrees for 4-6 hours, or until bone dry and crispy when tasted. If you don't have a dehydrator, spread the grains out evenly on a shallow edged baking sheet and place in the oven at lowest possible temperature. Prop the door open with a empty metal can from the recycling to allow some air circulation. Turn the tray 180 degrees at least once during drying process to insure the grains are evenly dried. Once dry store the grains in an airtight container.

I also soak nut and seeds in bulk, soaking and dehydrating a whole bag of nuts or seeds at one time. I do this so that I have a shorter prep time on the day I plan to use them in a recipe. I soak all nuts and some seeds, due to the fact that there is a digestive inhibitor present on the surface of most nuts and seeds that blocks access to many nutrients and can cause gastric distress. The process is very simple. Soak the seeds for the recommended time, drain and rinse, then put in the dehydrator at 105 degrees until the dry. At this point I put them in a freezer Ziploc, label, date and freeze for future use.

Step#2 Assemble and Combine Ingredients
*Pumpkin is just a prop and is not part of the recipe... although that isn't such a bad idea...I'll have to try it in the future!*

2 cups raw almonds, soaked  4 hours then drained
1-2 cups raw pecan, soaked 4 hours then drained
1-2 large apples, shredded
1 1/2 cups date paste, *7-10 pitted Mejhool dates soaked for 1 1/2 hours in water to cover. Reserve 1/4 cup soaking water and drain the rest of the water. Place dates and water in a blender and puree.
1 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 1 1/2 hours then drained
1 cup soaked pumpkin seeds, soaked 1 1/2 hours then drained
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup flax seeds
1/2-3/4 cup sprouted raw buckwheat
1 cup finely shredded coconut
1 cup craisins
1 tsp. pink Himalayan salt, (ground fine), or Real salt
2-3 Tbsp. honey if desired
2 Tbsp. orange juice and 2 Tbsp. finely zested orange peel
1 Tbps. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1Tbsp. vanilla, (I use Mexican vanilla so I use a little less)
In a food processor, place soaked and drained almonds and pecans and process to medium sized pieces.

 Add sunflower seeds, flax seeds and and buckwheat, pulse 2-3 times.Turn out into a large bowl, add pumpkin and sesame seeds, coconut, and Craisins, , mix well with hands.

                 Place shredded apples and soaked dates in the food processor.

  Process the apples, date paste, orange juice and zest, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and optional honey to a thick consistency.

Step #3 Dehydrating and Finishing the Bars
Add the apple mixture to the nut mixture and work in well with your hands. Spread the mixture evenly on two Teflex sheet on dehydrator trays, making sure to square off the edges as much as possible. Place in the dehydrator and set the temperature to 105 degrees. Dehydrate until the mixture is mostly dry on the surface and the Teflex sheet can be lifted at the edge of the sheet and peeled away from the back side of the rawnola, without sticking to the sheet. Slide the Teflex sheet off the tray, place the tray on top of the exposed side of the rawnola, and carefully turn the rawnola over so that the exposed side is facing down on the tray. Peel the Teflex sheet off of the top of the rawnola and return the trays to the dehydrator until the rawnola is dry all the way through. The total drying time will depend on atmospheric conditions, if it is damp or raining it will take longer, but the drying time will range from 12-18 hours in total. **For those without a dehydrator, use the technique described above for the buckwheat. The only difference being to use parchment on the trays when spreading the wet rawnola, and then invert the rawnola onto another tray when the top is mostly dry to the touch and the rawnola can be lifted up from the parchment at the corner.

Once the rawnola has completely cooled, take an extra dehydrator tray and place it on top of the exposed side of the rawnola. Turn the trays over so that the tray that originally held the rawnola is on top. Lift off the top tray and remove the plastic tray liner from the back of the rawnola . Slide the rawnola off of the bottom tray and onto a cutting surface. Cut into bars with a sharp knife. I cut them into strips 2 inches wide and then cut them into individual pieces that will fit into a snack sized ziploc-style bag.  Stored in a cool, dry place these bars will last for a month or more...if you don't gobble them up before then! Enjoy!

Blog Hops this post is linked to: http://frugallysustainable.com/
Country Homemaker Hop#57

14 January 2013

A Look into Fall 2012

Summer slid quietly into Fall and we barely noticed the changes until late October. The gardens at Heart's Ease Cottage were still lush and beautiful well into November. Our "May Rose", (dubbed so since it blooms in profusion in May and then to a lesser degree again in the Fall), surprised us with a second full flush of blooms in September. It was actually still blooming in December...
This Fall was a very busy time for us. Da works in the elections process and this year was a "Presidential", so craziness began in late August and didn't end until early December. Even with the long hours of work and the endless demands of a Presidential election, we managed to get a Fall garden planted and took some day trips, (usually on Shabbat, since that was the only day Da was guaranteed not to be working).

 I spent most of the Fall preserving the harvest. This year we have been eating vegan/raw,  so "preserving the harvest" was done a little differently. Usually I can the tomatoes, beans and other summer veggies, but this year the only water bath canning I did was Bread and Butter pickles. Instead of canning, most of the produce was dehydrated at low temperatures, (105 degrees), to preserve the enzymes and keep it as close to raw as possible. Dehydrating the produce from our garden also makes it possible to package it for long term storage. In the coming days I hope to devote one day a week to blogging about Pantry Keeping. I am very excited to share the concept with you and give some tips on managing your food supplies for use today and to put-by for the future.

 Our first hard frost usually comes around November 15. This gives us a nice long season to enjoy the last of our Summer vegetables. Here in North Carolina the Summers are very hot and we get little or no rain. Tomatoes, eggplant, okra and other heat loving vegetable do fine, but peppers are another story... peppers need to be planted in April/May in order to have their roots systems well developed before the heat sets in, but they will languish in the heat and drop their bloom all summer with nary a pepper on the bush. Once the heat of Summer has passed and the rains start again, the peppers that did nothing all Summer, will be full of blooms and the bushes will be enormous! The peppers don't seem to mind the short days of Fall and will produce more than we can eat or share. Before the frost took the plants the last week of November the peppers had grown to 6 feet and were loaded with pepper of all colors and sizes...it was quite a sight! This year I actually  got the last of the peppers picked before the frost got them, so I had  peppers lining every surface in my kitchen. Since there was no room in the fridge for all them, I decided the best thing to do was dehydrate them. It is really amazing how what covered 20 linear feet of counter, could 24 hours later fit in a quart sized canning jar!

A still life of our late November peppers

The last of the tomatoes and okra and a glimpse of the Bread and Butter pickles.

Beds of Detroit beets and Cos Romaine planted in September will be ready for use in November.

The last of the Spring lettuce was allowed to go to seed so that we can save the seed for next year.

A project in the bathroom that was begun in March has steadily progressed over the Summer and into the Fall. I think we will finally be able to call it a done deed by the end of March 2013! Things always take longer than you think they will, and this year has been full of projects, so it is a good thing we can manage with one bathroom out of service!

One of the day trips that we squeezed in this Fall was to Hanging Rock Park. There are actually several falls, not just one. This one was my favorite, I loved the way the rocks frame area around the falls.

We spent a Sabbath afternoon at Hanging Rock, hiking from one falls to the next, stopping for a picnic and to spend some time reading aloud from a book we were reading together.

Oh and  just one more photo... Tagg says "It's late Mom and I need to go to bed", so I guess I should take a hint and say goodnight. Until next time!

10 January 2013

How to make an Herbal Tincture Part 1

We have recently survived a 4 week bout with sickness. Both my husband and I were struck down and unable to eat, drink much, or get up for days. I don't know what we had exactly, a virus? No one else had what we did... Hm-m-m... we don't know for sure, but what we do know is that we never want to be sick like that again!

Unfortunately, I was not prepared for cold and flu season like I should have been. I am very late getting my tinctures made so we were ill equipped to fight off illness or to treat the symptoms once we were sick. My old standby essential oil blend helped of course, but we came down so fast it really didn't get a chance to work its magic before we were out for the count.

My grandmother's old saying, "It is a little late to close the barn door after the animals have gotten out..." rang in my ears as I kicked myself for not having the tinctures done in September. I vowed to get them done ASAP, but had to wait until I was well enough to drive so I could go to the liquor store for grain alcohol. No...I wasn't going to drown my sorrows in PJ's, I needed the grain alcohol for making tinctures.

There are several tinctures that I like to have on hand for staving off sickness in the fall and winter.  Both my youngest son and I have issues with bronchial asthma, so we lean heavily on Yerba Santa for its expectorant, bronchial dilator and antimicrobial, properties. It is the first thing I reach for when one of the family is dealing with respiratory problems. In order to boost immune response when coming down with something, I look to Echinacea. Olive leaf is indispensable as an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and  immune-booster. In the future I hope to highlight each of these herbs and detail their benefits, but today I want to show you how simple and economical it is to make your own tinctures.

To make your own medicinal herbal tinctures you will need the best quality herbs you can obtain. I order most of mine from Mountain Rose Herbs or The Bulk Herb Store. Both have high quality herbs, lots of information, and tutorials. You will also need at least 90 proof clear alcohol, like vodka. I use 190 proof grain alcohol for the extraction process and then add water to dilute when I am ready to bottle the tincture.***WARNING! Grain alcohol and Isoprophyl alcohol are not the same!!! Grain alcohol is an alcoholic beverage and is purchased where you find other alcoholic beverages, Isoprophyl alcohol or wood alcohol, is a disinfectant and is poisonous. Drinking Isoprophyl alcohol can lead to blindness and possible death.***  There are a few kitchen items that you will also need: a wide mouth pint canning jar, a two piece lid and band or a plastic screw top lid that fits a wide mouth jar, a plastic funnel, a bamboo chop stick or skewer and a pen, some adhesive backed labels and transparent tape.

Fill the jar 1/2 way with the herb of choice. If it is a light weight, fluffy herb, then press down slightly and fill again to the halfway mark. Do not pack tightly, since the herbs will soak up the moisture and swell in time.

 Pour the 190 proof grain alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to where the screw threads on the jar begin, about 3/4 inch from the rim of the jar. You may need to top off the alcohol during the first day or so, as air bubbles dissipate and the herbs soak up the alcohol. It is necessary to keep the plant material covered with alcohol or it could spoil. Stir with the bamboo stick to dislodge air bubbles and uniformly wet the herbs, taking care to break up any clumps of herbs. Top off if the level of alcohol drops below the screw threads.

Write out on a label the name of the herb, the day you started it and the day the tincture will be ready,(the ready date is 6 weeks after the start date). Also note what kind of solvent was used for the tincture. Vodka is only 90 proof and has already been diluted, grain alcohol is 190 proof and will need to be diluted before use, so noting what alcohol you used will help you avoid dilution mishaps later.

Screw the lid on tightly, invert once or twice and then wipe the jar with a clean, dry towel. Apply the label and then cover the label with tape if desired. The tape will prevent ink from running if the jar gets wet during the tincture process. I have found that the two piece lids are water tight, but the plastic lids can sometimes leak around the edges, so I just cover the label to be safe. It is very frustrating to have ink run and the identity of a tincture be in question. If you are doing more than one kind of tincture at a time it might be difficult to tell one from the other if the labels are ruined.

Finally place the jars out of direct sunlight and invert the jars daily to move the herbs around in the alcohol. It is a good idea to put them somewhere that they will be seen, to remind you that they need daily attention . The jars should be inverted at least once a day everyday for a week, at this point they can be put in a  cabinet out of the light and out the way, but need to be inverted several times a week for the remaining 5 weeks.

Now for the savings...
A one liter bottle of grain alcohol is about $18.00, for one wide mouth pint jar half filled with herbs, you will use 8-10 oz. of alcohol, so we will say the cost of the alcohol for one tincture is $5.50. The herb prices will vary by herb, so I will just give you the cost of the Yerba Santa. I purchased 8 oz. of dried Yerba Santa for $7.50. Of the 8 oz. I bought, I used 4 oz. for a pint of tincture, the cost of 4 oz. of Yerba Santa was $3.75.  The total amount of tincture that is rendered from the herb/alcohol mix varies depending on how well the tincture is squeezed from the plant matter when straining. I will say for 4oz. of herb and 10 oz. of alcohol, 8 oz. of tincture is produced and 4 oz. of plant matter goes in the compost. That makes the total cost $9.25 for 8 oz. of tincture solution. If the tincture is made with 190 proof grain alcohol then the end product will be diluted 1 to 1 with water, which will make the cost of 8 oz. of tincture $4.63. The finished tincture needs to be kept in a dark place. I would keep the bulk of the tincture in a canning jar in a cool dark cabinet. For use I would purchase some 1 oz. amber dropper bottles and keep one oz. ready for use in the medicine cabinet. Mountain Rose Herbs sells individual amber dropper lid bottles for $1.15. The cost of home made tincture is 59 cents per oz. plus $1.15 for each bottle used. Which makes the cost per bottle $1.74. This cost does not reflect shipping costs, since that will vary with the size of the order. For comparison I looked up the price of a 1 oz. bottle of Yerba Santa tincture on several sites, the average cost was about $12.00 for a 1 oz. bottle, plus shipping, (average of $5.95). So by making your own tincture you have saved yourself $11.41 per oz. (plus the cost of 1 bottle), times 8 oz.of tincture plus another $5.00 or so in shipping. Wow...

One benefit that can't be factored out in dollars and cents is the satisfaction that you get from being involved in the whole process of keeping your family well. The experience that you gain and the confidence that you have in the strength and purity of the product you are giving to you family, can far outweigh the cost benefits of making your own remedies. If you are concerned about what to do with 8 oz. of tincture, don't worry, dried herbs only have a shelf life of about a year before they lose some of their potency, but herb essence preserved in a tincture of grain alcohol will last for years. If you find you have more than you need, I am sure that there are family and friends that can share the wealth! If the amount produced is really a concern, you can always cut the recipe in half.

Part Two of this post will be published when the rest of the supplies I ordered come in. Until then, why don't you give making tinctures a try! Let me know how it goes...I would love to hear from you!

**As a side note, In some states sale of 190 proof grain alcohol is illegal. Here in North Carolina it is was made illegal a few years ago, so now I drive to South Carolina, (I am very near the border so it is no biggie for me). 90 proof vodka will do the job, if you can't obtain 190 proof grain alcohol.**

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Wildcrafting Wednesday #77
Frugally Days Sustainable Ways #67
Wildcrafting Wednesday #14 
Home Acre Blog Hop #13
Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop #103
Busy Bee'a Blog Hop #11
Farm Girl Blog Fest#28
Strangers and Pilgrims Herbal Linkup

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03 January 2013

A Look Back at Summer 2012

   Summer began in April this year...  Spring began in late January... It was an odd weather year. It was very warm very early, which caused all the fruits to bloom too early. The weather was warm all the way up to a few days after the last frost date, then we had a cold snap. Most everything fared well, but the blueberries suffered. Any of the blossoms that were open when the cold snap came were burned and no fruit formed behind those blossoms. We lost about 1/4 of our blueberry crop, but even so we harvested 35 lbs. of blueberries. We ate blueberries by the handfuls, made smoothies, froze them for later and shared them, so we really didn't suffer much from the lost production, but I hate that we had less to share than we normally do.

   One of my goals for the summer was to renovate my herb garden. During our year in Costa Rica the herb garden went to weeds, an obnoxious weed that invades everything. I had to dig out my surviving herbs, sift all of the soil to eliminate the network of fleshy roots that went a foot deep, and then amend and replant the herb bed. I will make a blog post that shows the process, but for now I am just posting some mid-summer photos of the herb garden, which you will find further down in the post.

Raw Jalapeno Poppers with Cashew "cheese"
   By this point Da and I have been eating vegan/raw for a couple of months. I spent a lot of time researching and developing recipes to convert some of our favorite recipes to a no cook version. I came up with several recipes that we have been very happy with, but I still haven't come up with a no cook pizza that I like. For the most part we have been eating simple meals, but for Shabbat and other special occasions, it is nice to have delicious and beautiful food to serve. I will be posting more about vegan food preps and recipes in the future and leave you with a photo of a finished product for now.

Trail view of the Cascades
   As part of our "take our health back" plan we have been walking and hiking as much as time will allow. We have traveled on many day trips around the North Carolina and a few over night trips a little further away. One trip was to the Cascades outside of Pembroke, Virginia. I lived in Blacksburg in my high school years, which is close by, so I used to go to the Cascades a couple of times a year. It is a beautiful place. Even more so since they repaired flood damage a couple of years ago and did a beautiful job of improving the trails and restoring the river trail. We met a couple at the top, near the falls and I took their photo, so in turn they took ours. It is rare that we have a photo with the both of us in it, so that was a real treat!

   Due to the fact that we are eating as much raw food as we can manage, we didn't do much canning this year. But we did do some canning of things that we need to keep on hand for our emergency pantry and some things like bread and butter pickles, pickled beets and salsa that we just like to have on hand. I have plans for a once a week blog entry on Pantry Keeping. I will discuss maintaining a regular working pantry, but also I want to talk about a 3 month and Long Term Storage (LTS) pantry. I won't call myself a "Prepper", since I am not planning for any particular scenario, but I will say that I don't like being caught unprepared to take care of my family when life happens.

   Finally, I just wanted to share some of the beauty that surrounds us here at Heart's Ease Cottage. We have tried to encourage both flora and fauna to live here in abundance. We live with the windows and doors open when we have to be inside and for much of our life during good weather, we are living outside. So having Flowers, birds, butterflies, and bees to add color to our life is a real pleasure.

 This little bunny fountain is planted with seasonal flowers to cheer a spot near the front door. Impatiens always makes me think about Costa Rica, where they grow wild. My outdoor laundry sink had them growing out of the cement, it made me smile every time I did the laundry.

 Sweet juicy blueberries and strawberries were on the breakfast menu daily. With organic berries costing $6 a pint we were very grateful for the abundance of berries we have growing in our garden!

Zucchini and cucumbers must be planted on the last frost date here in North Carolina, in order to bear fruit before the insects that plague them emerge and ruin them. There are few organic solutions to cucumber beetles and zucchini vine borers, so knowing their life cycles and timing planting dates to harvest before the insect adults emerge is the best solution that I have found.

This Russian Red Mustard was planted in the fall and used all winter and spring as greens. A few plants were left to bolt so that we can collect the seed. Seed collection is an integral part of self sufficiency, but our limited space doesn't permit us to collect seed for everything we grow.

We have an herb garden outside our kitchen door that is planted with a variety of herbs that I can run out and snip and pinch while preparing meals.

Basil and zinnias mingle in the main garden. We reserve a 20 foot bed in the vegetable garden for bulk plantings of larger herbs like basil, dill, tarragon, oregano, which can occupy a lot of space.

Encouraging bees to visit our garden is only one reason that we plant flowers in the vegetable garden. The paint box colors of zinnias and nasturtiums also add cheer and beauty to the garden.

We grow a variety of tomatoes, some for fresh eating, some for preserving. This basket is filled with heirloom slicing tomatoes like Cherokee Black, Mortgage Lifters and German Pink and a tasty little currant tomato that packs a lot of flavor into its diminutive size.

Wherever we can pack them in, we plant flowers and bushes that draw butterflies. By mid-summer the Buddleia bushes and Lantana are covered with 15 varieties of butterflies and skippers. This Tiger Swallowtail is a frequent visitor to the Dark Night Buddleia that is planted below our deck.

This tiny little female hummingbird is smaller than a D-ring on my clothes line. She uses the clothesline as a perch to rest on between visits to the nectar feeder on our front porch.

The Graham Thomas rose, better known around here as Patrick's Rose.

The Graham Thomas bloomed early this year, as did most of the perennial flowers in our garden. Its citrus/rose aroma blended deliciously with the night scented jasmine that grows near by.

Foxgloves are one of my favorite early summer flowers. They grow in great spires in front of the rosemary in May and are completely gone by the time the Rudbekia blooms in July.

Da took me for a visit to my hometown, Blacksburg, Virginia. While we were there we made a day trip to The Cascades in nearby Pembroke, Virginia. It was a great way to end the summer!

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