Thursday, February 17, 2011

I can't believe I made my own butter

On my mind these past few weeks has been an article in the last Sunset Magazine (a slightly guilty pleasure) about a woman and her family who went Zero Waste a few years back.  We already make a really good effort to reduce, eat locally, use green products, compost, etc., etc., yada, yada, and usually when I read an article about going greener I'm a bit smug and disappointed that they haven't come up with anything new.  This article shook Brian and I a bit.  The reaction in Brian was a bit strange, it almost pissed him off that someone had beaten us to taking it a bit further.  The article has pushed me into action and we're taking steps to move our house towards "zero" waste. 

The area that I'm going to focus on is ridding our house unnecessary packaging.  We shop bulk, but I use their plastic (albeit recycled plastic) bags and then come home and dump them in containers.  The plastic bag step can be eliminated by taking our containers to the store.  Yes, a bit clunky with two in tow, but doable.  With a little planning I think it can work.  I talked to the owner of Nature's Whole Food Depot (I am very grateful for this store that opened a few years ago.  When we first moved to Sonora four years ago you could hardly find organic products at the Safeway) about coming in to get the weight of my containers and then always using those same containers for the same goods (this conversation was prompted when I slogged in a bunch of containers only to have the employee completely baffled by my request and ended up carrying home empty containers and plastic bags full of my bulk goods). 

In addition I think, with some planning, I can make our bread, butter, almond butter, yogurt and maybe cheese using Strauss Milk in a glass container that I can return to the store (you know all this makes Brian love me more).  I proved that it's not completely impossible yesterday.  I managed to make almond butter, butter, yogurt and bake a loaf of bread.  Ridiculous eh?  It was so easy.  I've been making bread from the best book to hit the shelves since the Bible, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, for about six months now and it's such an amazingly easy process, it's not even a process.  I got a yogurt maker and have been making yogurt for about a year, and that's easy too although I have some consistency issues to work out and I'd like to learn to make the delicious Persian yogurt my relatives make.  The almond butter was a breeze.  Roasted some almonds, threw them in the cuisinart, added about a tablespoon of olive oil and jarred it. The butter was so easy too.  It's almost like a well kept secret how easy it is to make your own butter. I followed these instructions, but the process can be summed up in a few words: let the cream set out for the day, put it into a container with enough room to shake the cream around, shake and shake, magically you get a glob of yellowness in the container, rinse in cold water, squeeze and press into a container with some salt if you like.  I think the boys will become my master butter shakers. 

So this is not to say I'll never run out to the store to buy packaged goods, but I'm finding it's much easier not to than I would have imagined.  I think next I'll make our own penicillin. 

 The boys love to help in the kitchen, but these face pencils have done a lot for me in quiet entertainment when they lose interest in what I need to focus on.  Eason started as a clown and ended as a pirate.

A few of the finished products-the bread was eaten more quickly than it could be photographed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who's that small man I'm nursing?

A little cardboard box action

I still can't seem to plan ahead enough to order the photos how I'd like, but here's a jumbled display of our last few days.  We spent the weekend in San Francisco visiting Michlain on her working weekend in the city, eating, biking, walking, eating, eating, walking, eating and shopping craigslists.  As cheesy as it sounds every time we visit San Francisco I fall in love with it all over again.  How, oh how, could we spent a year living there?

We ate at some VERY good restaurants this trip.  Read the following reviews by our little connoisseur.  Maybe this will launch into his own foodie blog.  (There has been a slight miscommunication about what a review involves.  It was presumed it was more hands on, reviews will be completed by the mama). 

Fraiche  the best fro-yo I've ever tasted.  All made at the shop, can taste the tangy yogurtness, fresh toppings (no peanut butter cups here), valrhona and callebaut chocolate, need I say more? 

We're going to abort the reviews.  We have a clown, soon to be an angry clown, if we don't move right along to caterpillar observations.  


Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday book review day

So... I've been reading so many good books lately, feast or famine, I thought I should say a few words on them.  I've decided to give a few opinions on this here blog, because that's what I seem to look for in other blogs.  It's hard to get opinions without a motive behind them, so I'm here to provide them with the only motive being that I like these things and wanted to share that with you.

The first book I'll comment on (because a review seems a bit of a weighty term for what I'll be doing) is Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland. I just started this book, so it's a bit risky to gush over it too soon, but it's one of those books that I find myself reading very carefully so I don't miss anything.  It's based on the life of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist that was famous for painting the First Nations and the rugged forests of Vancouver Island.  I saw a really amazing exhibit maybe 8 years ago on a trip to Vancouver called Carr, O'Keefe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own.  I was commenting, at our waffle brunch last weekend, on how Emily Carr used to have her furniture on pulleys so that she could use her house as studio space and her friends knew that if they dropped by and she didn't lower the furniture it meant that she really didn't want company.  It's one of those things that you learn that stick with you.  Yesterday I was wondering if on our slightly narrow front porch if we could rig a bench on a pulley.  Might looks kind of fun from street view too.  Anyhow, a friend just finished this book and suggested I read it.  Picked it up at the library yesterday and faked sick so I could lay around and read it (kidding, I wasn't faking).  I love historic fiction, not that I love the genre, but I love reading about a real person in a more personal way.  I also like to ponder what was actually real and what was fabricated by the author and fine this provokes me to research more on my own than a biography would.

If you're in the mood for a book about Vancouver Island (I think partly I love this book because Brian and I hiked the West Coast Trail b.c. and it was one of the best backpacking trips I've ever done.) and a really strong female figure then read this book (I'm channeling my inner Lamar Burton).  I also think that was such an interesting time to be a woman.  Women were allowed more freedom in theory, but there was still so much pressure to conform and I love reading about women who didn't conform, like Carr, Kahlo and O'Keefe.  Dad-I think this would be a good audible choice.

Happy Reading!

Just had to add two quick things for today:

Quote of the Day:

"When I'm older, and I'm waiting for a girlfriend, I think I'm going to be a drummer in a band."

Moment of the Day:

Often when we're packing for a trip (we're meeting Aunt Michlain in San Francisco this weekend) the boys like to crawl inside our very small suitcase that I pack their clothing in.  Today, after leaving them on their own for maybe 39 seconds, I returned to find Eason giggling in the room, no Eliot in sight.  I noticed the suitcase was zipped and said "oh boys, we can't zip anyone in the suitcase." I then opened the suitcase to find Eliot securely STRAPPED in the suitcase using the clothing fasteners.  He seemed perfectly at ease.  A picture would have been a nice compliment to this entry, but I didn't want to encourage this behavior.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Painted Ladies

For Christmas we got the boys a kit from Insect Lore.  They have lots of different insect hatching kits (I checked it out and they don't seem to be introducing any insects to areas that might be harmful) and we chose the Painted Ladies kit based on a friend's recommendation.  I was very tempted to get the preying mantis kit, since Eason was a mantis for Halloween this year, but maybe that will be our next insect hatching project.  

After several weeks of waiting (even more than anticipated when do to a communication break down we found the order form in a pile of papers when we thought it was well into the mail system) the caterpillars arrived on Monday.  We've been watching them and making observations and drawings in a journal.  We have been reading some great books that are very informative for kids and adults.  Family Butterfly Book and another one that I can't seem to find now which is disappointing because the photos were amazing.  I'll try to find it on the shelf at the library. 

Here is a fun caterpillar fact:  Caterpillar poop is called "frass."  
"Hey boys, don't forget to wipe your frass."

We're off to eat ice cream on the front porch.  The boys have gotten me hooked.  I've always been hooked on ice cream, but eating it in February on your front porch, basking in the sunlight in barefeet.  Hmmm.  I don't think I'll ever get used to that even if we live here the rest of our years. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


At the beginning of Fall we started a yard overhaul. We had a friend with a tractor and a landscaping degree come out and change the topography of our yard. We gained about twice as much space and are now working to shape that space.

This used to be overgrown with vegetation and weeds and quite a severe slop ie. we never ever used this part of the yard. NOW it's open and flat and will be our mini-orchard provided the trees survive (we are skeptics based on past failures). This last week we planted four different types of figs (Kadota, Black Mission, Brown Turkey and Violette de Bordeaux) three apples (Spitzenburg and Fuji), a pluot with three different grafts (names TBA) a Santa Rosa Plum and two Red Skin Elberta Peaches. I think that covers it. There is so much information out there about how to plant fruit trees it's a bit overwhelming. Much of it contradicts (like most of the parenting philosophy out there). I consulted the Dave Wilson site which has some great information and happens to be where are trees are from. We've tried a few of the multi-planting holes (where you plant 3-4 in one hole) and a few single plantings. We have an organic farmer friend here that seems to have the touch and we took some advice from him as well (in addition to him selling us some extra trees at his cost-Thank You). He plants his orchard and DOESN'T WATER AT ALL until May! It's a bit hard for us to do, but we're going to try it since he seems to have all the luck and us none and this is his career. Brian and I keep having to talk each down from watering with hose in hand. Once, I consulted our friend on how to deal with aphids in our garden. His reply "I've never had aphids." I think if you're going to take advice, this is the guy to take it from.

Here is our newly planted grass patch (all other grass from yard was removed but I was attached to having a bit to lounge on, it's under the straw) our retaining wall (this area was all sloped, now we have three tiers in the back and our pea gravel play area with sandbox, chairs and we're on the lookout for a used fire pit wok-style for marshmallow roasting) and some new soil laid down to create a planting bed around the perimeter of the grass. This will give us a lot more gardening space, allow us to plant some spreading plants and take advantage of the good sunlight here. I'm also very set on finally planting an asparagus bed this year since I've been putting it off and it takes three years to get a harvest.

Close up of retaining wall that Brian built from rock on our property and a work site down the street. Every time we drove by we'd throw a rock or two in the trunk.

The front we are converting to all native plants. The idea in the front is to have little maintenance and watering. Eason's design idea was to place these overturned pots behind our newly planted blue fescue. I like the zen balance to it.

Part of our landscape feature seems to be an ever-rotating pile of something next to the driveway. Redoing the yard is lots of wheel barrowing (with the extra weight of two boys on each trip).

View from front to back. We took out all of the grass that was here and covered it with FREE woodchips that were delivered to our house from a tree cutting job in our neighborhood. It had more greenery to begin with, but it's broken down quickly and we're not tracking a ton of mud inside anymore. Eventually we'll put a gate up at the back of the house that can open or close (to keep escapees out) but for now we just have to keep a vigilant eye on Eliot who likes to take off.

So that's it for now. We are slowly continuing to piece it together. It's a slow process, but we're getting there. AND, Brian's retaining wall stood up to a deluge, so at least we know we've done something right.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sewing Project-Complete

One thing that I can never seem to find time for is sewing. I think because I don't have a lot of experience it takes more concentration, on the other hand I seem to be able to whip up food with chaos all around, but I've had more practice. But I did manage to put together this birthday crown, banner and bag (card will be framed) for a gift. All of the ideas are from Soule Mama's first book The Creative Family. I have a love/hate relationship with her blog (I'm probably committing a crime by stating that). It seems mathematically impossible to achieve everything she does in a day. She's got four kids and one on the way and it still seems like she's knit 28 sweaters already in 2011 not to mention publishing her third book, redoing a 200 year old farm house, homeschooling her kids, and keeping a daily blog. Hmmm, I think I'm missing something critical on how this is humanly possible. Maybe she doesn't sleep? Maybe her kids are very independent. I've thought it over a lot and I just don't get it. But, I'm happy to be achieving what I do I'm just a bit envious I can't fit a book deal into the mix.