The Road Home

The Road Home
There is no place like home.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hope In Understanding

Hello, Frank here.

A day or so back I ran across an interesting article I would like to share with you. The gentleman that wrote this article is Michael Snyder. He writes a number of blogs, but the one I follow daily is The Economic Collapse. Oftentimes I run across articles that are interesting and thought provoking, but this particular piece was a step or two above, or at least it flipped my switch anyway. His topic is something that many of you have probably encountered, and are going to continue to experience. Please take the time to read this gentleman's article, and give serious thought to what he is saying.

There Is Hope In Understanding That A Great Economic Collapse Is Coming

The dark clouds on the horizon continue to get closer. We all know there is something coming, you can just see it and feel it in everyday life. If you study moods and trends, then it is easy to see. Actually, it is obvious. Dark times and hard times are not just on the horizon any longer, they are here, they are among us, and they're not just some day going to go away, they are here to stay. If you can't see it, I'm sorry. I hurt for those that can't. Maybe Micheal Snyder's article at The Economic Collapse will help sway your actions if you are a fence sitter.

We'll talk more, Frank

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Please Help Us Grow Cabbage

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that we have not been successful growing, at all. The small green cabbage worms are the nemesis of our crop every time. I thought when I tried growing some this fall, there might not be any of the moths left to get the worm crop started, but that was not the case. These wonderful little worms appear to be able to grow anytime during the spring, summer or fall here. I was able to pick enough of the worms off of the fall broccoli plants to keep them alive, but not the cabbage.
Really sad, huh?

I have read about floating row covers to protect the plants from the moths, attracting paper wasps, using Bt and picking the worms and feeding them to your chickens. It seems that once the garden gets going in the spring, I get busy and don't keep up with the worms, even though the chickens really enjoy them. I would prefer not to use a floating row cover, as it could provide endless hours of entertainment for our cats to the detriment of the plants. I am a big fan of companion planting, but so far the combinations I have tried have not been effective, or the plants grew at different rates, so the companions weren't large enough to make any difference.

The most common kind of cabbage I have grown to date usually look like this. One of the first posts I did when we started the blog last year was "Don't Grow Cabbage Like This", and this picture was the star of the show. This one actually got off to a fairly good start, but in the end, succumbed to the worms, even with a zinnia growing next door.

Frank and I have started trying to eat healthier and consume fewer carbohydrates, so we have added many more vegetables to our daily consumption. I have also revisited my research about lacto-fermented vegetables and purchased a fermenting crock. One of the main vegetables recommended for fermenting is cabbage, which provides another reason for successfully growing our own cabbage instead of consuming what we buy at the store. But, for now, that is all we have access to, so we are purchasing cabbage.

We do like to eat cabbage, we just wish it could be our own.

Another motivation for growing cabbage is how well it will store and keep for longer periods of time than other vegetables. If we were able to master producing cabbage in enough quantities, we could store some for the winter months for fresh eating, keep some in the fermentation crock and can some for soups and other dishes.

So, as you can tell, we need help, and there are probably other folks out there that are frustrated and could use your help, also. Please share your experiences, techniques and advice with us here. All comments are appreciated. And in the process, maybe we can all learn something new.

Until next time - Fern

Monday, December 15, 2014

When There Are No Pellets

What are you going to feed your animals? We have raised animals for many years, dogs, cats, chickens and goats, mainly. As the world has evolved into a place where we are no longer as sure of the animal feed supply as we once were, we have begun to question the sustainability of maintaining our animals should the SHTF. Thus, the title, when there are no pellets. There are many people that write and talk about storing up 500 pounds of animal feed or extra hay in case things get bad and they can't buy anymore. Take dog food, for instance. Eventually, that food will run out. Then what are you going to feed your dog? Are you going to let it go because you can no longer feed it? And if you do, will it leave? It has always been dependent on you. Are you going to eat it? Most people would cringe at reading that sentence, but if it comes down to you or your dog, what are you going to do?

Sustainability. It's something we contemplate regularly. The projects we work on are geared toward sustainability. Why start a new project, especially involving responsibility for another living creature, if it's not sustainable? We have gradually started trying to grow more feed for our chickens and goats. Luckily, these animals can graze and forage for most of their own food, for most of the year, should the need arise.

Our cats will have plenty of rats and mice to eat. But what about our Great Pyrenees, Pearl? She doesn't eat a whole lot, but she does need to eat. That goes back to storing 500 pounds of dog food. But what is dog food?
Most dog food and cat food is made out of corn and other assorted ground grains.We supplement the cats' and Pearl's diet with scrambled eggs from the chickens and milk from the goats. It's good the goats and chickens can forage for themselves, but would some grain be nice? Yes, and you can raise some grain if you try hard enough. But you're going to have to have a way to grind, or crack it for them to efficiently digest the nutrients inside. And if it is truly an SHTF scenario, you're not going to be putting all that energy into raising grain for your animals, you're going to be raising it for yourself. 

When we butcher goats, we save the organs, fat and some grisly meat that we don't eat for dog food. We bag it up and freeze it, then add it to the dog's diet on a regular basis. This, along with the milk and eggs, cut down on the amount of dog food she eats, and also has the added benefit of being a natural food source, which is much healthier than what's in that bag of dog food. So if we ran out of dog food altogether, it wouldn't be a big shock to her system to change over to these other foods. We would need to find a way to preserve this food for the dog instead of relying on the freezer. We would probably can it when we canned some of the meat for ourselves. Sounds kind of familiar, right? Canned dog food.

We have a friend that raised pigs every year for meat. A portion of their diet was always road kill. Yes, road kill. This friend would keep a container in the back of her truck and whenever she found a dead animal on the road, she would load it up and take it home to her pigs. She was different sort, and lived a life of sustainability with solar panels and a wood cookstove long before Y2K and the prepper movement came along, but it's another example of how to manage. 

Now, if the SHTF we're not going to be driving around gathering road kill, but we could trap things like opossum, raccoon, skunks and the like. This could feed our dog and cats, and it could also feed us as well. Until not so long ago, in the area where we live, people ate mud ducks, opossum, squirrels, raccoon, cotton tail rabbits and of course, deer. If people from 
this area ate these animals for food, then dogs and cats can too. Not so long ago, dogs and cats lived off of the leftovers from their owners, and will probably will have to again. We have never done this, but I do know someone who has recently begun to learn how to trap animals the old fashioned way. They caught a racoon and cooked it like a roast, eating only small portions at first to see how it might affect their bodies, which I thought was wise. They thought it tasted good, and just so you know, by watching these folks, you would never expect them to be doing these activities. It goes to show, that looks can be deceiving.

So, if you're thinking about getting animals to increase your ability to raise your own food and become more self-reliant, stop and think about how you will feed them if there are no more pellets. Some animals that are great
meat producers, like rabbits, require specialized pellets when grown in hutches. We researched rabbits more than once because of the great feed to meat production ratio, but it always came back to the reliance on specialized feed. That is not something we wanted to be dependent upon. I know some will comment that you can raise your own rabbit feed, but today's commercial rabbits are extremely sensitive to dietary changes which greatly affect their behavior. Therefore, rabbit will not be on our diet, unless of course, it's wild rabbit, and we have some big, fat, wild rabbits around here.

So, how are you going to feed your animals when commercial feed is not readily available? You can't just say, "Time out, I wasn't ready yet!" and expect your livestock or pets to wait six months or a year while you get ready. I know we're not ready, but we are working on it, and we're trying to be realistic about it. If you know that something is coming, and you're trying to live a sustainable lifestyle, then don't play head games with yourself. When you alter that rabbit's feed it is going to kill and eat any other animal it has access to. And don't think that your lap dog is going to revert back to it's wolf ancestors and start
hunting for it's survival food. It ain't gonna happen. We know that when we turn our chickens out to forage, our egg production is going to drop. Some of the weaker animals may not make it. When we quit feeding our goats grain, the milk production will drop sharply. These are just the realities of raising animals. Will our domestic animals eat foods raised in the garden? Hopefully. Will they eat meat and internal organs from trapped animals? Absolutely. So, give some serious thought to how you're going to sustain your livestock and domestic animals, especially if you are depending on them to provide you with food and protection. It's your responsibility. Think about it.

Until next time - Fern

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Performance of Our Propane Cookstove with Battery Ignition

We shared our new battery powered, propane cookstove with you a while back. I wanted to update that information with it's performance now that we have used it for a while.

First, the oven. I have checked the oven temperature with a hanging oven thermometer off and on, just to make sure the thermostat is accurate, and it is. The difference between this oven and our previous one, is that this new one takes more time. If I fix a batch of biscuits that normally will bake in 10-12 minutes, this oven takes 20 unless I increase the temperature. So things don't bake like I am used to, and don't taste quite the same. Another downside is that if it takes longer to bake, it uses more propane.

I wasn't sure if I would like the open burners or not. I have used a gas stove with open burners before, but it has been a long time, and I couldn't remember any problems accept the occasional piece of food dropped down through the hole. The top is easy to lift, prop open and clean under. So, we haven't really found any downside to the open burners.

The burners are all the same size. I knew it would be nice to have a larger one, but figured this would be fine. They are all 9100 Btu, and just like the oven, take longer to cook things. Since the output on the burners is less than our old stove, I'm not sure if it uses more propane or not. Unless the meal I'm cooking takes a while, my cast iron skillet doesn't heat evenly across like it did with a larger diameter burner that put out more Btu's. For me, that is a negative. If I'm trying to cook a burger, I have to turn it around so all sides will cook and brown evenly on both sides. I have made the necessary adjustments, but if we had it to do over, we would have gotten a different stove.

One of the comments on our previous stove post mentioned Premier stoves. They have a larger selection of stoves with battery powered ignitions, which was the reason we bought the Hotpoint. In our research for this type of stove, Premier never came up. If it had, we would have bought one, probably like this one

Overall, the quality of our stove is lower than we would have liked. It doesn't appear to work as efficiently or effectively as the stoves we have had in the past. The quality of the stove reminds us of one you would find in a cabin that was used for camping or vacation use, not everyday cooking or canning. But, if the power is out temporarily, for an extended period of time, or forever, we will still be able to cook, at least until the propane runs out, and that was our goal.

Is this stove meeting our overall goal? Yes. Would we like for it to be a heavier quality stove? Yes. Do we wish it had one larger and one smaller Btu burner? Yes. Does the battery ignition work? Yes it does, and it works quite well. When we installed the stove, we put in a 9 volt rechargeable battery in the battery slot, and it's still working fine to this day, which is a little over three months now. This time the old adage, 'experience is the best teacher' applies. We didn't know anyone else that had ever had a battery powered ignition on a propane or gas cookstove, so we just had to find out for ourselves.

Until next time - Fern

Friday, December 12, 2014

Reusable Food Wrap

I discovered reusable food wrap almost a year ago, but I'm just now getting around to making some. It's like most things I begin to research, once I get started, it's amazing how much information is out there, and much of it has been published for the sole purpose of sharing with others. This is another instance that I am benefiting from the experience and know how of other folks.

Here are some of the sites I found that led me on this particular leg of my journey in learning.

The really amazing thing about this project is how quick and easy it was, once I had completed my research and obtained some beeswax. From the time I gathered the materials, until I had produced a useable wrap took about 20 minutes for the first one, and even less time for the second one. Most of the time was spent figuring out how big I wanted to cut the fabric and how to get the beeswax pellets to stay consistently spread out.

Here is how it went. First, I chose a piece of fabric. This was a small piece that I have had around for quite sometime thinking it would come in handy for something. And besides that, it has hearts on it and I think it's pretty. Then I rounded up the pinking shears and the box of beeswax.

After I ran across the sites that discussed how to make these reusable wraps with beeswax, I then began researching bulk beeswax. My first thought was to buy a block of wax, figuring it would be more economical. What I found out was that small pellets, or pastilles, cost much less than the blocks, so I compared many different sites and chose one that had the best deal for wax and shipping. I bought my wax quite some time ago, but I have included the link for that site.

The next step was to figure out what size to make the wrap. I have several large bowls I do a variety of things with that I frequently cover with plastic wrap, like this bowl of coleslaw. I turned the larger bowl upside down and gauged the size from that. The smaller bowl, with the coleslaw in it, I eyeballed right side up.

The temperature recommended by most sites is 150 degrees or the lowest setting your oven will go. I started the oven preheating while I figured out what to do next.

I used pinking shears to cut the fabric to help prevent raveling. Although, I figured impregnating the fabric with beeswax would take care of any tendency to unravel. Next, I covered my largest cookie sheet with a piece of foil that was larger than the fabric. Several sites recommend parchment paper instead of foil, but I don't use parchment paper. The foil worked just fine. I folded up the edges of the foil to keep any stray beeswax pellets from escaping, or any melted wax from dripping off and onto the bottom of the oven.

Since my fabric was wider than my cookie sheet and tended to sag a little in the middle, I placed a smaller cookie sheet upside down on the large cookie sheet for support. This helped to keep the beeswax from rolling to the middle of the fabric.

You can tell from reading the linked articles that the first time you try this, adding an adequate amount of beeswax involves guesswork. This is how much I put on the first piece of fabric.

I set the timer for seven minutes, and gathered up a couple of hangers and some clothes pins. Then I cut the second smaller piece for the coleslaw bowl. Before I knew it, the first one was finished.

The directions say to remove the fabric from the foil immediately, and they are right. If you don't the beeswax will start solidifying very quickly and your fabric will stick to the foil. It is hot, so be careful. One end of the first one did stick a little because I took the time to take this picture to show you the small puddles of excess wax. I put too much on the first piece, but not way too much. It gave me an idea of how much less to put on the second piece.


I hung the wrap up on the hanger and left it to dry while I got the second piece ready and put it in the oven. While it was 'baking' I put away the wax and fabric, then took the first piece down to play with.

 When the second piece was done, I found one area without any wax. There were a few small puddles of wax on the foil, so I soaked up some of this excess wax in the bare spot. That seemed to work okay. I think I will be able to tell how well it worked after I use it for a while.

 The fabric turns out kind of stiff. I could stand it up on edge, or fold it, and it would hold it's shape. But at the same time, it is very flexible and will keep whatever shape you give it.

 The directions say to use the warmth of your hands to shape it to a bowl or pan. This works very well, surprisingly so.

This larger piece of fabric will work on a large mixing bowl or on a 13 x 9 baking dish.

I have yet to use these. I will let you know what I think after I have tried them out for a while. I expect them to get soiled and stained during use, but that doesn't seem to be a problem. The directions for cleaning are to rinse in cold water and rub with a dishcloth as needed. Don't use hot water, since it will cause the wax to start melting. These wraps cannot be used on hot pans since it will cause the beeswax to melt, but it should work great on leftover casseroles, bread while it rising or many other dishes, like that bowl of coleslaw.

One of the things that attracted me to this project was the use of beeswax. It is a natural product with no chemical or synthetic components. What would make it even better, is producing it ourselves from our own bees, but if that ever happens, it is a long ways down the road. 

Learning. I talked about it just recently. It can be a lot of fun or a drudgery. Learning is what you make it. As a teacher, it was a challenge to try to make learning fun for my students. I wasn't always successful. But one thing I always tried to model was a love of learning. When I found something to be fascinating, or could make it funny and enjoyable, my students tried so much harder to learn. Maybe that's one of the reasons Frank and I love to learn. We long ago developed an attitude that led to a life long experience of learning. And I am grateful we did.

Until next time - Fern

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My First Coleslaw

Yep, this was my first ever coleslaw. I have never been a coleslaw eater. Frank likes it, but has run into few recipes that are suited his taste. This recipe was definitely an experiment. In an effort to lower the carbohydrates we eat, I have been looking for new ways to eat the types of basic foods we like. We both like cabbage, and I have been cooking with it quite a bit. Then I began to wonder about coleslaw. I looked up half a dozen recipes, and took from each of them what we liked, and left out what we didn't like or want, like sugar. 

Here is the recipe I came up with.

3 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup shredded onions
1/4 cup shredded sweet peppers

We bought the cabbage and onions. I picked the carrots from the garden. This is the first time we have had carrots in the garden in the winter. It is so neat to be able to walk out and pick a few for a meal. They aren't very big, but they are quite tasty, to me anyway. When you ask Frank how they taste he just comments, "Like a carrot." The sweet peppers were frozen from the garden this summer. So, two of the four ingredients came from here. It would be wonderful if we could make this dish from all home grown ingredients. Maybe next year.


I used the KitchenAid to shred the vegetables. I chose the smaller shredding head to see how the texture would turn out. The pieces are pretty small, but turned out fine. I think next time I will experiment with the larger shredder head to see which type we like better.

The dressing I used consisted of:
1/2 cup mayo
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. mustard
1/2 tsp. celery seed

I was skeptical about this dish. Frank's evaluation of the taste would be the deciding factor on the success or failure of this recipe. And, guess what? He likes it! We may leave out the onions next time, or reduce them to see how that changes the flavor. For me. Coleslaw is going to be an acquired taste. It's okay, and I will eat some, but not much. It was surprising that my first shot at making this dish was a success. Surprising, but nice.

Learning. We never get tired of it. It keeps us interested and engaged in living. You just can't beat learning something new everyday. Please share your recipes, experiences, or comments about making coleslaw. I'd love to learn even more.

Until next time - Fern

Monday, December 8, 2014

Whole Wheat Sourdough Rolls

I haven't made bread for quite some time. It's easy to get out of the habit, especially when things like surgeries and recovery get in the way. So, it's back to the bread board, so to speak, even though I just knead it on the counter.

I have a new sourdough cookbook that I haven't used before. It is written in a very straight forward, sensible language that is easy to understand and follow. There are also some great stories and good humor. I appreciate an author that doesn't make any bones about the fact that flops will happen when you make bread. They even have recommendations for brick bread, you know, when it doesn't rise and is ultra heavy. They make bread crumbs or crackers from this very heavy bread which I think is a great idea!

I chose a recipe with 100% whole wheat flour and no sweetener. Frank and I are changing our eating habits and trying to limit the carbohydrates we eat. Some of the sites I have researched explain that the process of fermenting, or proofing your dough allows the lactobacilli in the sourdough starter to predigest the carbohydrates in the wheat, thus lowering the production of insulin when we digest the bread. Another benefit of using whole wheat is the fiber and nutrients it includes. This cookbook also has some very good information and explanations about using whole wheat for a variety of bread recipes.

I took my starter out of the refrigerator a few days ago and starting feeding it twice a day, morning and evening, to sweeten it up a bit since I hadn't used it in quite some time. I explained how to recondition a sourdough starter here. I guess sweeten it up can be misleading. I didn't add any sweetener at all, but by feeding it flour and water, and discarding all but about a cup and a half of the starter after a couple of days, it decreased the acidity or sourness of the starter, allowing for a milder flavor and odor. This is a personal preference. Your starter can be as sour, or acidic, as you like.

The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast recommends you proof your dough for a minimum of six hours to allow for the dough to autolyze, or predigest, which "neutralizes harmful enzymes, breaks down the negative aspects of gluten, and frees up vitamins and minerals for human digestion" (page 43). I ground my wheat and fed my starter last night so I would be ready to make bread this morning. 

This simple recipe includes:
1/2 cup starter
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. coconut oil (I used olive oil)
5-6 cups whole wheat flour

One of the recommendations I found in this book was to let your dough rest for 30 minutes after mixing. This allows the fiber in the whole wheat flour to absorb moisture and make kneading easier and more effective. There are many tips throughout the book that I found very useful. As you can tell, I would recommend this book, especially for beginners with sourdough, like me.

I let this dough proof for seven hours before I made up the rolls. Then I let the rolls rise for another two hours before baking.

The recipe I used makes two loaves of bread. We chose to make rolls this time. This dough does not look like regular whole wheat yeast rolls. It doesn't brown or fluff up as much, and took a little longer to bake. But you know what? We like it. One of the reasons we do is because we know how much better it is for us. It is another step toward trying to improve our health.

Until next time - Fern