Thursday, February 13, 2014

Homemade "Clif Bars" or "Lara Bars"

The first time I tried a Clif Bar I was addicted.  They provide such a boost of energy and they taste really good.  The only problem is they are rather pricey.  So I started making my own, and I have to say they are just as good!  The best part is you can come up with all sorts of flavor combinations.  So here's the super easy recipe:

Homemade Clif/Lara Bars:
1 cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, whatever you like)
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 - 1 cup flavor ingredients:
     dried fruit
     chocolate chips
     orange zest
     peanut butter
     cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. of flavoring such as coconut extract, optional  

Add nuts to a blender and process until finely chopped, then add remaining ingredients and process until it forms a sticky, grainy texture.  If you squeeze some in your hand it should hold its shape, if it doesn't add more dates.  Now press this mixture into a loaf pan lined with foil or parchment paper.  Press it really hard with a flat object (I use a smaller loaf pan).  Cover and chill in refrigerator for about 30 minutes or until set.  Slice it into bars and store in an airtight container.

You can also add extra nutritional stuff like chia seeds, but start out with small amounts until you see how it will affect the texture.  You can play around with it and be creative. So far my favorites are coconut /chocolate chip and orange/cranberry (pictured below).

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Folks, This Ain't Normal by Joel Salatin

There's no beatin' around the bush with this author, he tells it like it is.  And though his point of view can come across as arrogant at times, I have to agree with just about everything he says.  America has definitely strayed far from our roots when it comes to food.  Salatin reminds us of just how far we have digressed as a society.  From farm to table our food travels an average of 1500 miles, shocking when you consider farming used to be a way of life for most families.  Now most people wouldn't know where to begin to grow or raise their own food.  In just a few short generations, we've created laws and requirements that tie the hands of small farmers to the point that they can hardly make a living from their own land anymore. There is a plethora of hoops one must jump through to be able to sell produce, eggs, meat, dairy, etc.  And each limitation and obstacle is tied to another limitation or obstacle creating a big tangled mess.  But Salatin addresses many small ways in which we can attempt to restore some sort of "normalcy" back to our nation.  You may not be a farmer, but there are tiny steps you can take to improve your quality of nutrition and restore some sense of sustainable, healthy living like cooking from scratch more often, buying local produce, eating what's in season, growing edible landscapes, preserving food, the list goes on and on.

The book strikes a chord with me because the author is so passionate about many of the things I am passionate about.  He not only sheds light on some of the ways our culture and our government hinder local and sustainable food production, but also offers insight on how to remedy them.  He's old-fashioned in many ways, but so am I.  Sometimes I felt like I was reading words right out of my dad's mouth.  To say he and I grew up in similar homes with similar values would be an accurate statement.  It was an easy read for me, but I can imagine that his words might stick in the craw of some people I know.  As Richard Louv put it, "Sacred cows beware. "That being said, I wish everyone would read this book.  It would make for some excellent discussions and it just might get people thinking in a direction they hadn't considered before.  I'm pretty sure that was Salatin's intention after all.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Starting Seeds Indoors

On February 8 we started some of our seeds indoors.  I know this may sound early to some, but these plants are intended to go into the high tunnel, which should give us about a 4-5 week jump on the outdoor garden.  I'm using Jiffy seed trays with domes because they came with the "self-watering greenhouse" kit I bought a few years ago.  I will never use those kits again.  The little peat pellets that are supposed to go right into the ground and decompose, do not decompose!  I'm still digging up those things from two years ago.  The trays however, are quite perfect for starting seeds.

I am using store-bought seeds this year instead of mail- order. I save a bunch of money this way, but we will see if they are as successful. In the past I have spent a fortune on seeds and shipping costs. I have to shop around a bit more to find what I'm looking for, but I'm helping the local economy and saving on shipping fees.  

I'm using a soil made specifically for seed starting. 

I filled the trays with soil, planted my seeds according to packet instructions, and sprayed them liberally with water. The trays were then covered with their fitted domes and arranged on a table with flourescent lights hanging just above them. 

The lights are on a timer and automatically turn on for 14 hours per day. Everyday I water the trays and move them slightly so each side is getting its share of light. 

Seeds are sprouting!!!

It's so exciting when those first seeds burst through the soil and reach for the light!  I mean, you put these tiny little dried seeds about the size of pepper flakes on a bed of soil, spray it with water, keep it warm and provide it with light and in a few days.....VOILA!  A miracle happens!  The miracle is called "germination" and the result is LIFE. The wee little tendrils that spring forth are infant vegetables.  They tease you with the hope of what is to come in a few months - as long as you take care of them, that is.  And taking care of them is called "gardening".  It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.  Someone once said "you are never closer to God than when you are gardening" and if you're a gardener, you get that.

It is 4 degrees outside and a foot of snow covers the ground, but Spring has sprung inside my seed trays.  I can almost taste the fresh veggies!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let the 2014 gardening begin!

Well, February has arrived and unfortunately Spring is nowhere in sight.  We've had a ridiculously long and cold winter with way more snow than usual, but that doesn't stop gardeners from thinking about Spring.  Like so many others, I'm itching to play in the dirt!  I've decided to keep a blog journal of my garden this year.  I must begin by declaring that I'M NO EXPERT.  I grew up on a farm, but doing farm chores is not the same as knowing how to grow a garden.  This will be my fourth year of gardening on my own.  It's been an exciting and educational project.  I learn so much from year to year and yet I always feel like I have so much more to learn.  So this journal may contain some gardening errors, in which case you will benefit from learning from my mistakes.

Last year we built high tunnels.  We finished them in October and threw some seeds in the ground at the last minute to see if anything would happen.  Of course we were too late, but we managed to grow some greens nevertheless.  So this year we must begin by preparing our high tunnel gardens.  The ground is still frozen (even in the high tunnel) and there's about a foot of snow on the ground, so we can't do much.

You may have to enable something on your computer to view this video of our chickens enjoying the greens in the high tunnel while the rest of their world is covered in snow:
We started last month by letting a few of our chickens enjoy some green grass between their toes and dirt beneath their feet in the tunnels.  It's the only place on Wopsy Mountain where you can find green grass right now - or anything green for that matter.  The poor chickens hate snow and haven't been able to scratch and nibble foliage for months.  So the chickens get to eat some leftover greens in the garden, scratch and scare up a few bugs, and leave some deposits of fertilizer in the soil.

Note about using fertilizer:  It is recommended that you stop using manure fertilizer at least 90 days prior to harvest.  So these chickens won't get to enjoy our garden again until fall.

Tune in next time for SEED STARTING INDOORS.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A bag of chicken feed and a new shirt...

Growing up I was a tomboy.  My mom says when I was three I played with army men instead of dolls.  I had my first pocket knife (for whittling) by the time I was in second grade and my first shotgun when I was ten.  When not in school, my days consisted of climbing trees, building forts, whittling (with said knife), riding my horse and fishing in the stream down the road. My wardrobe consisted of jeans/shorts and t-shirts.  Dressing up meant throwing on a pair of cowboy boots instead of sneakers.

It was about 7th grade when things began to change.  I started wearing my hair down instead of a perpetual ponytail, I got my ears pierced, and I even started wearing makeup.  The tomboy gradually turned into a young lady.  And with that transition began my obsession for clothes.  Name brands began to matter – like Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans (preferably Jordache because they had a horse on the pocket instead of a swan).  I started accumulating accessories such as shoes, jewelry and purses.  I even started painting my nails!

As I went through high school and college, I tried to keep up with the latest fashions. Then I got married, became a career woman always tried to dress myself in the hottest new styles.  My favorite pastime was shopping!   I frequented the makeup counters at the high end department stores, was on a first-name basis with the sales people in my favorite clothing stores, and knew my way around the mall with my eyes closed.  It wasn’t until the past few years that I began to realize how much money I was spending on retail clothing.  Oh, if I could go back and have all that money I wasted on clothes I’d be a rich woman today!

As with most people, my priorities have changed drastically as I've grown older and wiser.  Environmental concerns now play a role in many of my decisions.  I have been working on simplifying my life by slowly cutting out the extraneous junk that consumes too much time, money and energy with little return.  I recently gave up my career and now work from home running a small business and working on our small farm.  These efforts to simplify and live a “greener” life have affected my attire.  I didn’t realize how much until I found myself driving home from Tractor Supply with chicken feed and a new shirt in the same bag.  I laughed out loud because it wasn’t very long ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead wearing clothes from Tractor Supply! 

I started thinking about how symbolic those items were.  Name brands mean very little to me now.  Although I still wear good makeup, I only own a few pairs of shoes,  I buy more clothes from second-hand stores and garage sales than retail stores, and the only jewelry I buy is handmade from local artists.  Funny thing is, just today a friend told me that she admires how I always look so “put together”.  When I told her that most of what I wear is second-hand, she replied, “Retail is for suckers”.  

I think I have to agree.