Sunday, June 30, 2013


Every once in a while, I want to write about something less shiny and happy than recipes, crafts and gardening. Every once in a while, I feel we must look out of our own little cocoon into the world. Many of us in the wider homesteading and sustainable living communities know why we make the choices we make, we know what we believe in, and we know what science and our own personal convictions tell us is the best course of action. 
Sadly, our private actions, good and wholesome as they may be, no longer suffice to have meaningful impact. That's why every once in a while, we must break out of our comfort zone. We must face the news, we must deal with what is going on in the bigger world around us. And then decide if we should take more outward-facing action than our natural inclination might suggest. 

For those reasons, I'm going to try and give you my thoughts on President Obama's big (and only) climate change speech. In the few days since, we've seen a (very) little bit of mainstream media attention, and some fallout and reactions from different interest groups and parties. I think it deserves some more discussion and attention, though, so here we go....

I'll backtrack a bit, with a personal account of me and my children attending a vigil to end climate silence, in October 2012. We were protesting the fact that climate change was not discussed in any of the debates of the presidential election cycle, a first since 1984. We were encouraging the Senate candidates in my home state to pick up the slack and get talking!
You probably remember a different, but related, event that took place in October 2012. Superstorm Sandy was hitting us then, and was hitting us hard. In almost beautiful irony, the vigil was cut short because the conditions in downtown Boston became unsafe for us to continue. 
I will never forget when I was there - without the kids that time - on October 28th. Bill McKibben was scheduled to arrive. Shortly before him, the presidential candidate for the Green Party, Dr. Jill Stein, was giving an address. The weather was ominous, with heavy gusts of wind and rain. An eerie, early darkness. A news van pulled up. Surely, I thought, in my state of hopeful delusion, they were here for Bill McKibben?  Or Dr. Stein? Of course I couldn't have been more wrong. They were here to film the weather! We briefly staged a bit of a riot, chanting and marching peacefully towards the cameras and bright spotlights. We were told in no uncertain terms that we were not going to be of interest to the news crew. 

The vigil ended prematurely, the storm didn't seem to end, and on some of my local running routes, I still see the damage it has left in its wake. Some said at the time that Sandy helped re-elect President Obama, and they might be correct. Shortly after Sandy caused so much devastation in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg gave the President his coveted endorsement, citing the need to fight climate change as his chief reason

Fast forward a few months. What has Mayor Bloomberg gotten for his endorsement? What have we all gotten for our votes? The speech this Tuesday was the first time the President has fully addressed the issue. The reactions are mixed, unsurprisingly.

From my perspective, the single largest issue currently up for grabs is the permitting situation of the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama very intentionally left himself a lot of wiggle room when he said 'only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution' would he allow it to proceed. Sounds nice (and of course the State Department's report suggests exactly that) but really, this is no longer an open question. Bill McKibbens year-old article in the Rolling Stone was one of the most forwarded article of our time. Some of the most eminent scientists in the country have expressed their opinion to the President. The largest environmental rally in the US, ever, happened this past February to protest KXL. The pipeline would disproportionally affect the native nations, who have spoken out in unity against it. TransCanada's abuse of eminent domain to acquire the land at the cost of family farms was rampant, and in many cases heartbreaking. 
This horse is dead, as far as I'm concerned. But just for the fun of it, I'm linking you to this old article from Fox News (yes! you read that right!), dating back to a time when Obama didn't sign the permit for the next leg of the pipeline, because he felt the Republican-imposed deadline was not going to allow for sufficient environmental review. 

KXL is the issue I have been following most closely, but beyond it, environmental groups have taken offense to the repeated statements of support for fracking. Is the President unaware that one of our many looming crises is a water crisis? Many, like me, were unhappy with the apparent lack of urgency (again, refer to the Rolling Stone article), and the continuing 'all of the above' energy strategy using fossil fuels and nuclear power generation (which I personally see only as an emergency solution to bridge a gap to full viability of truly clean energy).

To be sure, not everyone is so downcast about the proposals in the speech. Here's a nobel-prize winning economist sounding rather upbeat, in particular about the prospect of using executive powers to circumvent a hostile congress. This inspires the hope that President Obama will actually execute some of what he proposes, and that's a very good thing, probably the only way to get anything 'green' done at this point. At the same time, it reminds me just how broken our democracy really is.

Maybe most troubling to me personally, though, is the continued pressure for growth, growth, growth, and the keeping up of the pretense that it is possible for us all to grow exponentially in number, consumption, pollution, production, on a finite planet. It's time for a truly new economy. And truly new metrics for 'success' in a carbon-neutral world. But that's a matter for a whole another post, or a few. It's late, now, and I think this is my longest post to date. So I'll close with agreeing with the president on one thing:

"The question is not whether we need to act.

I think the 'we' in this statement may actually refer to his constituency for once. You and me. Let's act

Small Footprint Fridays - A sustainable living link-up

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Fluffy Strawberry Almond Waffles

We're nearing the end of strawberry picking in our garden, and that means a lot of the berries that even make it into the house have some small imperfections and are best suited to chopping up and cooking or baking. This morning, I picked just a scant pint, which turned into a cup full of chopped and cleaned berry pieces:
 How what to do with those? A rainy cool morning outside, and nobody much motivated to go out and do things, so we made strawberry waffles. This recipe is an adaptation of the 'Nusswaffeln' (nut waffles) in one in my most beloved German cookbook called 'Ich helf dir kochen' (I'll help you cook), an absolute classic. I learned cooking by reading the original 1973 edition, and my mother gave me an updated version at some point of my 'moving out and becoming my own person' journey. The original recipe was modified a tad, to accommodate the strawberries, and a little flax seed for good measure.

1 stick butter
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated and the whites beaten to stiff peaks
pinch of salt
2 tbsp vanilla
pinch of lemon zest
1 1/2 cups milk (I used coconut milk today because we're out of milk)
1 cup flour, I use half whole wheat as usual
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup almond flour
3 Tbsp flax seed meal
1 cup chopped strawberries

1. Preheat your waffle iron

2. Beat the butter, sugar and egg yolk until they are creamy and fluffy. Add salt, vanilla, lemon zest. 

3. Turn down the mixer and add flours, flax seed meal and milk. Go easy on the milk, the exact amount may depend on the type of flour used. Don't overbeat, it should look somewhat thick and lumpy still. The strawberries will add a bunch of moisture to the batter.

4. Fold the strawberries in with a spatula first, and then fold in the beaten egg whites until just about mixed. 

 5. Add batter to the hot iron. If in doubt, use some butter or oil to coat it, these waffles tend do stick! The amount will depend on your iron. Mine is very deep, which gave me a few problems with this recipe. I learned quickly that less is more.... do NOT overfill!

6. Set your iron to a darker setting than you normally would. I'm not going to lie, extracting the waffles was very tricky (as is often the case with fruit waffles, I think). Less batter, more baking, and either flipping the iron to its side, or taking one quarter out at a time, were my most successful attempts. 

Trust me, I wouldn't blog about this recipe if it wasn't worth the trouble. Even those waffles that came out jumbled, were absolutely delicious. And it may well be that if your iron isn't as ridiculously deep as mine, you'll do just fine!

I wonder what they'd be like as pancakes? Hope you enjoy the end of strawberry season! Soon, we'll talk raspberries, very soon!
The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Friday, June 28, 2013

{this moment}

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Here is what happens when a chemical engineer with an interest in all things craft, homegrown and homemade has too much time on her hands. I started soap making a few months ago and I think I'm really hooked. I'm not comfortable giving out recipes or methods, the rest of the world wide web will do that for you just fine. But let me tell you about the goodness and fun that's happened with a few surprisingly simple ingredients! 

It's actually a whole lot like cooking. Except when I cook, I never really follow the recipe. And in soap making, you must follow the recipe to a T. This is where my many years of lab training come in handy, too. It's useful to be aware of where your hands are and what they've touched in the process, since lye is involved and lye is really corrosive.

Soap is basically made by combining some liquid and solid fats with lye, and then the fun starts. The additives! Today, I made a kitchen bar that I'll call 'Lemony Lather' because it has homegrown lemon balm, dried lemon zest and all sorts of wonderful essential oils with citrus notes. 

The herb and citrus zest give the soap a fun texture and a tiny bit of scrubbing action. The soap is wonderful to get the kitchen smell of one's hands. I pour the custardy soap mix into an enamel dish that I'm using as a soap mold. Those antique photography trays are so extremely useful, enamel is like glass, very unreactive and stable.

 The second bar of the night will be a very minimalist 'castille type' soap with nothing but coconut and olive oils. I'm hoping it will replace the kids' body wash, we shall see how that will go down.
 When done mixing, soap needs to sit in a warm, undisturbed spot for a day. I cover it, put it under the piano, and wrap it nicely with an old wool blanket. It will be cut tomorrow while in a still-kind-of-soft state, and then sit on a basement shelf to cure.

 To bridge that gap, you can take a look at some older soaps, starting with a 'gentle glitter' bar that has shimmery mica in it, for sensitive skin.
I experimented with a vegan and palm-oil free very moisturizing oat meal bar, my first time trying this neat marbled coloring. It's not a pretty bar, came out kinda dingy looking, but really nice on the hands.
The first iteration of the kitchen bar had rosemary and lemon balm, and looks like this after being cut and cured for a few weeks:

This last one is my favorite soap so far: The Mocha Mud Bar. It's scrubby, thanks to coffee grounds, cinnamon and cocoa in the mix. Smells a little of cedarwood and cloves, too. It's the perfect clean-up soap after gardening. The photo is my first time trying my own soap, a big moment because the soap takes so long before it's safe to be used. Four weeks of learning... yeah. That again. Patience.

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre
The Self Sufficient HomeAcreThe Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes


One of the best movies ever, based on one of my best loved books. Of course I had to try this dish after reading it! Turns out I took to it like a fish to the water. This version is not the same as in the book (I have never tried that one, maybe I should?), as it's using Ritz cracker crumbs instead of corn meal and it uses some egg to get things to stick. 
I have no idea if it's authentic but I love the flavor. The biggest factor is to cook these things slowly, and let the tomato soften a little bit, without burning the outside. Project patience.... still working on that. Makes the most perfect summer lunch in early summer, when you're waiting and waiting for those tomatoes to turn red. I take this dish as a sign that God has mercy on those of us who are a little impatient...... This serves 2 people who are dainty eaters, or one of me who hasn't had fried green tomatoes in 10 months.

2 large green beefsteak tomatoes
1 egg
1 sleeve Ritz crackers (if you subscribe to a clean/real foods diet, use a cup of cornmeal)
A little butter and some oil (I suppose bacon drippings wouldn't hurt, either, if you have some around)
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tomato to 1/4in thickness. Toss the end caps (the coating won't stick to them anyway). Beat one egg in a little dish, wide enough to fit the tomato slices. Crumble the Ritz crackers, add some salt and pepper and put that mix into a wide, deep plate. 
Heat a mix of some oil and a little butter in your favorite frying pan on medium-low heat. 
Dip tomato slices in egg on both sides, then press down in the crumbs, flip, and press down again. Put in the hot pan, and press down again. Wait. Patiently. Sigh. 
Flip. Press down. Wait. Again! Patiently! Judge by the softness of the tomatoes if they're done. Not soggy but not rock hard either... And then "you'll think you died and gone to heaven", indeed.

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's growing (and what's not) in the Garden?

A quick photographic tour of the late June gardens:


Peapods starting strong! Sadly the same can't be said for the first squash, which fell victim to blossom end rot. I concocted a homemade calcium spray after learning that calcium deficiency is to blame. Glad I learned this on the first one (and well before tomatoes). I very gently limed and put some oyster shell around the base as well.

 For some reason, after the recent hot and sunny spell, the leafy greens are taking off. #headscratch
The cucumbers are setting fruit but so far, they shrivel up and wilt. We're hunting bugs and sprinkle DE.... and keep learning.
 Taste tests must happen right at harvest. It's the only objective way. And oh, the hope and dreams that are encapsulated in those unassuming yellow flowers.

 The purple pole beans ran out of trellis. Next year will have to be a trellis building year. For now I added a few taller maple sticks on the fly. The borage is pretty and a treat for the bees.

 The ribes. My favorites. Not enough to warrant bird netting, and still pretty sour, but I'm pleased with them being just second-year shrubs.

 The blackberries are blooming. They're small and cut way back, I'm learning that I pruned them incorrectly and we probably watered them wrong, too, leading to their near-demise to rust. I'm spraying them with copper soap. Not everyone agrees, but I consider this a garden emergency and I really want to save those bushes. The blueberries on the other hand, needed almost no help this year to look amazing.

 The mess that is the end of strawberry season is here. I'm still picking a quart a day, but I'm also tossing quite a few due to rot and most often slug damage. The raspberries are almost ready to follow suit...

 The potatoes are flowering, and got hilled with more compost and a little extra straw over the weekend. I just love potatoes! The back bean and pea patch is doing well, but there is a big volunteer from the cucurbit family hijacking a whole trellis. It's growing so well, it better produce SOME fruit, I don't even care what it is! Interestingly, the volunteers that sprout up (different types of cucurbits and tomatoes) are very sturdy and have zero pest damage or wilt.... of course from past experience, their fruit isn't always the tastiest ... One day, one day, I'll learn more about seed saving and plant genetics. Learning, learning, that's what gardening is all about.

What is going on in your gardens? Have advice for me? I'd love to hear it!


Monday, June 24, 2013

How to harness a solar energy spill

Really - a post about hanging laundry? I can almost hear my mom and grandmother scratch their heads. Why would people need instructions for that? Well, I often get questions from friends about it, so I thought I'd dedicate a post about the summer part of my laundry hanging system.
Parallel Outdoor Clothes Dryer by Moerman
Manufacturer's picture of my line (or very similar)
You see, I grew up in Germany. People tend to not have as much space around them there, and the type of laundry line you see in the picture is extremely popular. Here in the US, I've almost never seen it.
In fact, it took me a long time to locate this online shopping source, which has several similar models. I have owned my laundry line for many years now, so I feel qualified to write a little about it.

The advantages: 
  •  You only need to dig one small hole to install it. 
  •  It is removable and folds up for storage, leaving only a small plastic 'button' in the ground, should the president or your mother-in-law come for a backyard cookout. 
  • It takes up a small footprint of yardspace. 
  • It allows for privacy when hanging laundry. You simply hang the unmentionables in the center, and be sure to hang large items like beach towels or sheets on the outermost lines. Even a spontaneous visitor in your backyard (and I love those!) won't be a problem. For many people, the privacy issue seems a major hang-up about outside laundry hanging!
  • When you're hanging, you stay in one spot. This makes hanging faster and more ergonomical. I also put the basket on a little table, so I'm not bending down at all.
The downsides: 
  • The initial cost is somewhat significant, though probably comparable if not favorable compared to a classic 'picture book' style clothes line.
  • The folding mechanism of mine broke after several years of use, the day I hung a wet king size comforter on the thing. Oops! Luckily the handy husband fixed it, except it won't fold anymore. Luckily the president only very rarely comes to dinner around here.
I know that in my climate, where the hot summer days are often humid, I need to have the laundry hanging by 2pm to be able to take them down dry at 7pm or so. I can plan around that. If I suspect a thunderstorm later in the day I sometimes break out a vinyl shower curtain that is exactly the size of the laundry rack, and fix it with clothes pins. (Do not ask why, after 10+ years of not owning a shower with a curtain, did I find a vinyl shower curtain in my husband's stash in the basement..... it's sometimes good to be married to a person with slight hoarding tendencies...).

So go out and harness the solar energy that is spilling like crazy these days! You'll even save a bit of money, besides the obvious energy and carbon savings.

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Disclaimer: Sadly I was not paid or otherwise compensated for this glowing product review :-)