Sunday, March 31, 2013

Paw Paw Tree and the Seven Layer Forest

It was exciting to finally install the last of our "upper tree" level of the garden. The Paw Paw tree arrived on Friday, along with blueberries (that are still in the house), 5 grapevines of different varieties and a new Meyer Lemon to replace the one we had indoors that didn't make it.

In the Food Forest idea of setting up an area, there are seven layers:

1.  Canopy layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
2.  Low-tree layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks
3.  Shrub layer of fruit bushes such as current and berries
4.  Herbaceous layers of perennial vegetables and herbs
5.  Ground cover layer of edible plants that spread horizontally
6.  Rhizosphere or underground dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers
7.  Vertical layer of vines and climbers

For our little yard attempt at this: we have a very large, old Maple in the neighbors yard.
The low tree level has 4 different apples, 3 pears, hazelnut, almond, 
The shrub layer has Goumi, Jostaberry, Pink Grapefruit current, Red Current.
Herbaceous layer of perennial vegetables and herbs: herb spiral with culinary herbs, Sea Kale, Nasturtium, Arugula, Horseradish, etc.
The Ground cover layer includes peas (planted today) for fixing nitrogen, Comfrey, and we are still working on this layer.
The Roots or tubers, we have mainly Sunchokes and are looking at more of these.
The Vertical layer of vines: we have Hardy Kiwi, Concord Grapes, and 3 other variety of grapes to install.

We also have 8 annual vegetable beds - three of which we planted today with peas to fix nitrogen for the tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and other annuals that will be growing in the beds.

My planning, right now, is for more culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, as well as pots of flowers throughout the yard and in the driveway to make use of that space. Ideally, I would like to take up the asphalt and install gravel with room for more garden beds that are not permanent.

The first explanation I ever saw about Food Forests was with Geoff Lawton from Permaculture Institute in Australia . He has helped me to see and understand that nature will work if we set up the right conditions for growth. 

The first day of having my hands in the soil again, and it all comes rushing back - winter is over and we are eating the last of our canned vegetables, and the cycle begins again. I have so much to learn, and in the garden, every day teaches me.
The corner of the yard - empty and waiting for a tree

Paw Paw Tree planted - it doesn't look like much now,
but it will be 20 feet tall x 10 feet wide (dwarf)

Buckwheat Coconut Cupcakes (Gluten/Lactose Free)

I searched most of this week on-line for recipes that were gluten, lactose, nut free.  I found recipes with no wheat, but included nut flowers. Recipes with no nuts or wheat, but were made with butter and milk.

So this recipe was an experiment for me - I combined the general measurements of a few different recipes and changed things up to make a buckwheat coconut cupcake. The flavor is a little nuttier than regular flour because of the buckwheat, and I think they came out great!

3 cups flour (I used buckwheat)
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder (aluminum free)
1/3 cup olive oil
13 oz. Coconut Milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Very simple instructions:
Mix all ingredients in a bowl until blended.
Line 24 muffins tins and fill to 3/4 full.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 25 mins.

I tasted the batter - it tasted like other cake batters.
The batter did seem a little thinner to me, but baked into a nice firm cupcake.

I mixed Confectioner's sugar and 2 Tablespoons of Coconut milk into a glaze. Then I toasted some sweetened coconut in the over for about 10 mins. in a roasting pan.  Check and stir - the edges toasted really fast. I mixed the cooled coconut into the glaze and used as a frosting.

The verdict after tasting with the frosting, is that the flavor is more like a muffin, and although delicious with frosting, will be just as good plain for breakfasts with fruit.

Also- because it made 24, I will be putting some in the freezer to see how they keep long term.

All in all - I'm happy to find something to be a dessert for us!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Chorus

I expected winter, 
ever lingering,
when I stepped outside 
this morning.

But during the night,
while I slumbered,
A switch was flipped.

Winter is gone!
Flowers are pushing
through the soil!

A chorus of birds
greeted me and filled
my heart
with songs of spring.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring is in the Front Yard

One of the most important principles of Permaculture is observation. When I read about trees and plants changing the ecosystem of a yard, it's hard to visualize, so physical observation is really necessary. I can see where the sun hits at different times of the year, and what structures heat up even in the winter temperatures. In winter how the wind blows is more evident by the higher snow piles and drifts that were at least a foot deeper than the front of the house, and with the melting - how water moves across the yard, and is mostly captured to stay and be absorbed in the places we will need it. As the fruit trees, vines and perennial plants grow - the garden will continue to change. Every year it will be different, and where we plant annuals may change. This year, we still have a bit of foundational work to do, building up beds and installing trees and plants. And every year there will be the vegetable garden. The bulk of what we will have eventually will be perennial and only the beds will be planted. But all of this takes time...and spring is in the front yard.

The back garden looked like this on Sunday

Spring was in the front yard...trying anyway

Here is a good comparison of the size of the fruit trees when we bought them last year. We replaced the Meyer Lemon and it is on the windowsill - the potted fruit trees are only a year old and have been repotted twice. They love this sunny window!

Two new blueberries waiting for the ground to thaw

We also have a Paw-paw Tree to plant as the last of the higher story of the garden and we are waiting for several new grape vines, a couple Concord and three new varieties.

There are rumors that the next few days will be in the 50's and I hope it's true. 
There is so much to do and I can't wait to get outside and begin!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Weed the Garden of Your Mind and Let Inspiration Grow

This started out as a rant a few days ago and I put it aside to think about for awhile. There is so much negative in the world, and I have decided not to contribute to it, but instead share some of what inspires me! 

For starters, I have this desire to know as much as possible - to always be learning and finding new ways to enrich my life and the quality of life around me. I had the habit of subscribing to every website and blog that I was interested in and it has snowballed. So, when I say that I had 1600 emails in the inbox of one of my email accounts, you know that this has been an energy drain on me - every time I went to check email, it would overwhelm me. So after a good amount of time deleting what I didn't need, archiving what I do need and unsubscribing from many of the lists, websites, etc. that I was getting mail from....I feel much better. 

Intrusions into my life from all directions, overwhelming me. 
Interesting that I had "invited" this.

So, in an effort to simplify this information overload, I am unsubscribed from everything that I can read on my own somewhere else.  I don't need an email that tells me to go to a website or blog that I already read frequently and enjoy. I also unsubscribed from every place that tagged me when I was shopping for the holidays, any kind of alert from Facebook, Linked-in, etc. I took back the control of going to these sites when I feel like reading instead of being daily bombarded with things demanding my attention. 

Other than family, I kept a few that contribute to my mental well-being and I wanted to share here a brief list of what I read most days, or when I have a chance to catch up...

Zen Habits with Leo Babauta - such a peaceful, practical and comforting site to read in the chaos of life. I've read several of Leo's books and have found a direction of simplifying that resonates with me. Sometimes I am in the middle of a stressful day and go to his site and just click on the word Breathe and read:


If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. 
It will calm you and release the tensions.

If you are worried about something coming up, 
or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. 
It will bring you back to the present.

If you are moving too fast, breathe. 
It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.

Breathe, and enjoy each moment of this life. 
They're too fleeting and few to waste.

The Minimalists "Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus write about living a meaningful life with less stuff" I find these guys to be super encouraging in their approach to living life with less things and with more meaningful experiences. They also have several books that I have read and that speak to the minimalist in me.

Rowdy Kittens:  I have already written about how much I appreciate Tammy Strobel and love her book "You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap)".  She consistently shares beautiful things about her life and it is very encouraging. The tiny home, living minimally, etc. are all a bonus to the beautiful way that she photographs the world.

ISO Splash / ISO Furry / ISO Give  - When I need a dose of beautiful images and cute furry pet faces, I go to this website and view the work of Ramon Nayar.  All you have to do is look at the images to see that his view of the world and the way he captures the love between animals and owners is very special. Then read some of the reviews and recommendations and you will have a glimpse into the energy of dedication and quality that Ramon brings to his work and to the lives of the people around him. I have known him for eight years to be exactly this caliber of person and it's so encouraging to see him thriving and doing what he loves. (edit:  See Ramon interviewed here:  Naperville Community Television.)

From his website:  As with all specialties of ISO Splash Photograph & Design, ISO Furry is committed to spreading awareness about related issues, such as pet adoption and volunteering with companion pets to make the world a better place. 

Life Unshelved -  I read this blog because it is written by one of my dearest friends and - because my children are grown adults - I enjoy reading the stories of her little ones, and reliving my own memories of my children when they were young. We also have so many things in common: gardening, cooking, canning, and lately we have each started a writing project and promised to be support and editor, sounding board or whatever is needed. Meg is an invaluable treasure to me.

Choosing Voluntary Simplicity - This is where I go for practicals of living life with a garden and wood cooktop stove. Shirley shares her desire to live simply and live a life of quality with great heaping doses of very practical and useful advice in recipes, projects, etc.  


In addition to these sites, I have a list of blogs that I read, and can't list all of them here.  I really enjoy reading them. I have chosen them each for different reasons, but what it comes down to in the end is that these people contribute to my life in a positive way. They mean something to me and take up a valuable space that I am willing to give them. I am a better person because of their influence in my world.

When I talk about minimalism and simplifying, living a life of quality and less stress - whatever you want to call it, ultimately, the things you fill your time and mind with will either hurt or help you. There is so much beauty and good around us and more than enough people who are expressing it through their vision, writing, photos, speech, and actions. It's up to us to find it and choose it over the negative.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment 
before starting to improve the world.
~ Anne Frank

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

In keeping with the gluten and lactose free cooking, I am always looking for ways to make veggies different and this dish was simple and delicious.

I used 2 bags of fresh brussel sprouts, cleaned and halved them, tossed them in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and some salt and pepper.

Roasted for 40 mins. at 350 degrees F.

They were perfect with mashed potatoes and ham!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Ceremony of Coffee and Tea

I am on a quest to simplify life and slow down the pace of things with the goal of requiring less and appreciating more. Because I usually drink coffee, it takes only a couple of minutes in the morning to put coffee in the automatic coffee maker and rush around doing other things while it brews. This is not my preference, but is often what happens. It tastes fine, but I can't help but think now that something is missing.

Mainly, I am missing from the process. 

When I am in less of a hurry and in a state of mind to remember, I brew the coffee on the wood stove in a percolating coffeepot. There is more to this - the water level, the stove temperature, the sounds of the water heating up until the first sign of coffee appearing in the glass top and then the most important part - move to a lower temp side of the stove and brew for 7-10 mins depending on how strong you like your coffee. The coffee smells delicious, and I drink it black because the flavor is so amazing when it is brewed this way. This is a process that includes me. I need to pay attention, watch, hear, smell, taste and I interact with the coffee. It raises the experience to a level that connects to something inside of me. It slows me down and keeps me involved.

On days like today, when the stove is cool and I heat water up for a cup of tea, there is a different type of ceremony. Looking at each part of the process, the temperature of the water (just to boiling) the 3-4 mins you brew the tea leaves, the milk & sugar, or local raspberry honey (yum!) and the pouring, stirring, sipping, etc. This process also includes me and raises the experience to something other than just consuming.

So as I am writing this, I am listening to classical music, sipping tea and being a little reflective. It is always in the back of my mind to observe the things I do in life and see how I am rushing. The challenge is to take a step back and evaluate even the smallest things, like a cup of tea and if there is a slower and more involved experience I could be having. 

Or, in some cases, if the experience is an experience I want to have at all.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beef Stew Revised (Gluten & Lactose Free)

This venture into gluten and lactose free affects cooking in so many ways. I was planning to make beef stew and realized that I could not use wheat flour to coat the beef or thicken the soup like I have in the past. Also I couldn't use butter to brown the meat. It really wasn't as difficult to figure out as I thought it would be. The most logical thing I could think of was to use instant potatoes to thicken the soup.

1 lb. beef (tenderloin) cubed
1 cup celery 
1 large white onion, chopped.
4 carrots
8 Red potatoes
1.5 cups instant potatoes
Olive oil
4 cups broth - I used organic chicken broth - the vegetable broth has "organic dextrose" in it and I wasn't sure what that meant - need to research this!

Seasonings - this is completely up to you, I used what we like and a good amount of cayenne because we all like heat in our food: Oregano, Salt, Pepper, Garlic powder, Onion powder, Cayenne,  Celery Salt

Because I didn't want the stew to take forever to cook, I cut up the red potatoes and boiled them until soft. (I used this water for the soup when I added the potatoes)

8 Organic Red potatoes

Add 4 Tablespoons of Olive oil to pan, Brown beef.
Add Celery, Onions and Carrots - cook until onions are translucent

Add 1/2 cup Instant potatoes and 1 cup broth

Stir together - it thickens just like flour would

add potatoes, water, and broth 

Add potatoes and water they were boiled in (approx 4 cups) as well as remaining 3 cups broth.

I also added another cup of instant potatoes to thicken, as well as a cup of frozen peas and let simmer for 20 minutes until the carrots softened.

The verdict of gluten free / lactose free stew is that I did not miss the flour or the butter I would have used in this recipe originally.  It is delicious!

A couple of things I would like to share about this meal - in the spirit of simplifying our week and cooking less, we are cooking more on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and doing leftovers of this delicious food as leftovers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This makes our evenings a bit simpler and gives us more time to do the other things we enjoy. 

It just takes a little bit more planning.

Also in this picture are these adorable cloth napkins I found. The tile in the kitchen is yellow and these match perfectly with the Fiestaware dishes and the colors of the kitchen. The thing I love most about them is that I found 40 of them on closeout for $10 and have used them instead of napkins or paper towels, saving money and adding a nice touch to our every day meals.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Just as I Suspected

In a vision I heard this clearly whispered:

Study those who sing the most,
but are free from criticism or praise.

Following that advice, things turned out
just as I suspected:

I started spending more time with birds.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kindred Spirits

I can’t help but be reflective today. Yesterday it was my birthday, and when I look at the people I have in my life today, or have had in my life in the past, it really amazes me how fortunate I am.

My heart is tied to all of you, in so many places, and with many different reasons that we have met and known each other. I have been thinking a lot about this lately – why people come in and out of our lives and I really believe we can learn from everyone. I have been greatly hurt and greatly loved by people, and each of those situations has contributed to how I treat people and live my life today.

If I met you in childhood, grade school, or high school, band, chorus, or singing in a church group, recording albums, or singing in concerts across the US, born into your family or have become part of your family, gave birth to you, or married you, worked with you or for you, gamed with you, shared a chat on the bus, or in a restaurant, confided my whole life and secrets to you, or ventured to unknown places in far off lands with you, sang a song for you, or listened while you sang, wrote great stories with you, gave my heart to you, or took it back, was laughing, eating or drinking with you, or cried the hardest tears I have ever cried, hoped for you, spent hours in prayer for you,  have been offended by you, admired you, respected you, have been inspired by you to be a better person, looked up to you, danced on your feet when I was young, learned to cook, bake and clean with you, learned to garden with you, laughed at my mistakes with you, sat in a basement and rolled dice with you, celebrated at your wedding, comforted you in divorce, saw your children being born, shared your victories and defeats, watched you leave and move on. Met you gaming online, in forums or blogs, Shared your laughter and your tears, and sat quiet in the darkest moments, not knowing what to do, but just being there while you were hurting. Despised you or loved you with all of my heart.

The results are the same: I am changed by knowing you – all of the beautiful, wise, kind, brilliant, creative, genius, talented, amazing people that I have kept in my life.

There are no riches in this world greater than the community of kindred spirits that we gather to ourselves and live our lives with. Some we keep close and others move on, but all change us – even if it’s just a little, and I think we are better for it. Like fine wine aged in a barrel, we are aged along with the people we allow into our lives and develop a depth and flavor that we would not have otherwise accomplished.  I cannot take credit for who I am, but can be grateful for this day and show my appreciation for what I have been given. 

I don’t always express it well, but I am always grateful and humbled by you. I need every one of you to be who I am.

Thank you.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

My first foray into Quinoa

With this new development of gluten and lactose free, I am looking to discover new grains and dishes to make for the week.  I am going to bring Quinoa for lunch and cooked it for the first time tonight.

I'm starting with a very simple recipe:

1 Tablespoon of Oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 carrots chopped 
1 cup Quinoa 
2 cups broth
2/3 cup walnuts (I left these out)
1/4 cup fresh parsley ( I used 2 Tablespoons dried)
There were no other seasoning suggestions on the bag - I did use salt and pepper.

Cook the onions in the oil until they are translucent (5 mins)
Add carrots and cook for another 3 minutes
Add broth and Quinoa and bring to a boil
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15-20 mins.

On the wood cooktop it took 15 mins for the Quinoa to be done.

Bring to a boil (I added parsley here because it was dried)

Simmer for 15-20 minutes 
Yum - the flavor is good, reminds me of brown rice  & veggies
I like the flavor of Quinoa and will bring it for lunch this week with boiled potato and other veggies instead of pasta and wheat snacks.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Choose Your Adventure

I haven’t written much about my health, or the incredible amount of time I have spent in the past few years figuring out why I just don’t feel well most of the time.

Fibromyalgia, food allergies, environmental allergies, asthma, bronchitis, various intolerances, etc. – It doesn’t matter what the name is, I will do anything at this point to be healthy and alert enough to enjoy my life, family, and friends and be able write every day.

After spending most of the last week with a wicked headache and generally feeling bad, I went to the doctor expecting to be told I had the flu or some infection. As with most of my visits, there is “nothing” wrong.  We decided that it is time to be lactose free. No dairy products, not a big deal really because I get sick almost immediately after eating anything with dairy now.  We also discussed being wheat free/gluten free eventually, cutting down on coffee to see if that helps, and a variety of other things along that line.

Rob and I decided last night to change our menu at home to shop and cook differently and start cutting out both lactose and gluten. I want to have a change now.  Coffee, I can easily cut back to a cup in the morning and drink tea when I want something hot to drink during the day. I don’t have a negative reaction to coffee, but I have been having trouble sleeping, so I see this as a smart move. It may change later.

As I finished talking about cutting down on coffee, our mail was delivered and there was a package from my friend Meg in Oregon. She sent me some great teas and a card for my birthday. Not only did it make me smile to get such a thoughtful gift, it was as if I had an instant reinforcement of my decision to drink tea instead of coffee. Sometimes life's gifts need to be really clear for me to see them!

Rob and I also went out for lunch at The Boynton and after staring at the menu forever, I was going to get a salad with grilled chicken, but Rob said, “Why don’t we each get a salad and split the order of ribs?” Brilliant idea! It made what seems to be a whole menu of “no” into something fun. It was a delicious lunch, and before we came home I bought a canister of ginger and licorice tea at the Wine Vine. This will travel easily and I can have something refreshing in the afternoon at work.
Looking back at past posts, I realized I have never written about gardening to fulfill my desire to have a greater local access to foods that I can eat without feeling sick. Last summer it was so amazing to walk outside and have beauty and food right in our yard, and it changed me emotionally and physically to have that access. Until that time, I hadn’t realized exactly how much I personally, need to work outside in nature and grow food and plants.

I am choosing to look at this time of changes as an adventure. I will be healthy and won’t be feeling sick all the time. That’s the goal, so the path has to line up with that goal. This process is not impossible, but it does require a good amount of research, time and effort.

Most of us have something like this in our lives – it takes a bit more work to figure out and more effort to work through, but in the end these efforts are the bigger things that change the direction and add to the quality of our lives.

Even if I don't enjoy all of the details of what is happening now, I know it can change. I also know from experience that small steps or running, you get to the same destination. Sometimes a slower trip is necessary.

So here's to today ! =)