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Urban Homesteading

No Spend October: Week One

Ok, so I had planned on doing this wrap-up on Monday, but since NWEdible is doing wrap-ups on Fridays, I thought I better bust it out.

Budgets are hard. 

I’m usually a pretty good budgeter, but in this short first week, I realized I missed a few items in the budget for the month.

Considerations I skipped:

  • Our chicken feed co-op went out of business in September and we didn’t get any food at the end of the month as planned.  We found a new co-op, but they are in North Boulder, so we had planned to make a large feed purchase this weekend.  I completely forgot to include money for this in our budget.
  • Halloween.  The boys already have costumes, but C didn’t.  Luckily, I came up with something for her (and Rick and I) that won’t cost me much, if anything.
  • Halloween (again).  My sister is coming to town and we have a tradition of visiting haunted houses.  They are totally expensive and frivolous.  I found a Group*n for our favorite one though, and it will be the one and only this year.  $15 not budgeted.  I know.  Bad, bad, bad.
  • H’s birthday.  His birthday is November 1, so I was thinking November.  Not thinking about invitations, etc, that will have to go out this month.  We’ll see what I come up with on this one.
  • Hunting.  We planned the hunting for the year in November, but Rick got offered an opportunity to go with a co-worker at the end of the month.  The license money is already taken care of (he had it set aside months ago), but we didn’t factor gas money for an extra trip.  Another item we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Enough blathering on about things I forgot to account for.

I did have some success this week.  I went to a kids’ resale shop to look for shoes for H.  I also took some clothes to sell with me.  After what they bought, I was able to get H some shoes and the store paid me $4.76.  WOOHOO!  E also badly needed new pajamas.  All the ones he had were waaaay too short.  Like belly-sticking-out-of-his-shirt too short.  So I used that savings to buy him new pjs.  They were $16.26.  I deducted the $4.76 from that, so we did really well in the clothing budget category.

What did I spend this week?

Grocery store:  $33.36
Clothing:           $11.53
Entertainment: $15.00
Total:               $59.89

That means that there is $275.11 left in my budget for the month.

I know.  The haunted house.  It’ll be a toughie to make up.  And I’m feeling guilty for buying it.

What about you?

How are you doing with your budget?  What successes or challenges did you meet in your first week?

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Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

2012 DBG Urban Homestead Tour – Part I

Two weekends ago was the first annual Denver Botanic Gardens’ Urban Homestead Tour.  I was able to go on the tour and be a community sponsor.  It was so much fun to see what others around Denver were doing at their homes.  Each home that we visited was doing something different, and I thought everyone else might be as interested as I was to see our movement moving in the Mile High City.

The first homestead that we visited were neighbors of ours… we could have walked there, but I had no idea this place existed.  We live in an urban area.  Our lot is pretty small (in fact only two of the places we visited had lots as small or smaller than ours).  So I was surprised to come upon the gem that Leigh and Diana have created in my ‘hood.

Leigh is quite the craftsman.  He built the house on the acreage (!) himself, including the above green house.  The big trees were all on the property already, but the cherry, peach, plum and apple trees were all planted by the Bray’s.

Inside the green house they are growing bananas, among many other beautiful plants that we’d never get to survive otherwise in Colorado.

The Bray’s purchased the property from an elderly neighbor (Leigh said she told him she’d never sell), they worked with the city to narrow a portion of the ditch from 20 feet wide to 8 feet wide and at the same time got a the lane behind their property turned from a road into a walking path.

The Bray’s have a large garden area.  The older garden is in the background, and a newly dug garden, for 2013 is in the foreground.

Beyond the trees is where the ditch flows.  Calling it a ditch seems silly – it’s a beautiful, clean creek banked by green grass.  They even have two bridges over it and a little row-boat.  The bee hives are on the other side.  I wish I had taken a picture of it.

The Bray’s invited my boys to use the rope swing over it; I didn’t let them, it was our first stop.  But they did take them up on the offer to play in their tree house and zip-line in the yard.

The Bray’s daughter (pictured with my little super hero-cowboys) convinced her parents to get chickens.

Leigh naturally built the coop himself.  It’s a great design; wired for brooding chicks and a heat lamp for the winter.  Egg boxes that are easily accessible and a fully enclosed run.

See that second coop in the far background?  (click on the picture for a better view).  Leigh and Diana sell the coops that Leigh makes.  They offer three fully assembled sizes to house from 2 to 12 hens, AND free delivery up to 50 miles from Denver.  They can even be rigged with solar panels to power the lights.  Check out their website: chickencoopsofcolorado.com

The next stop took us into the heart of downtown Denver.  Matt McClusky of Foodie Call Catering opened his 2500 square foot garden to visitors.

Matt is using his lot to its fullest.  I loved the hanging tomato plants all along his porch at the front of his house.

Just beyond the fence, all along the front of the house Matt has veggies growing:

If you walk around the side of the house, you’ll see how he keeps pest out of the garden and nutrients in.  My boys were totally scared of the scarecrow, and this is just one of the many compost bins I photographed on the tour.

All along the North side of Matt’s property, he was growing a lush vegetable garden.  I lost track of how many varieties, which included beautiful eggplant and broccoli plants taller than Henry.

Here you can see how he uses trellises along the fence line.

And here are more beds running the full length of his lot.

Finally, here are the super tall pole beans with a beautiful herb garden growing at the base.

The gardens and homesteads we saw on the tour were just amazing.  This is the first of three posts that I plan to share about the tour.  I’m so grateful that all the participants agreed to let me photograph and share their homesteads here, as well as opening their yards to the public.

Edit:  I mistakenly stated in my original post that the Bray family had the city ditch moved, however, the ditch was hand dug in 1863 and it has been in the same place since that time.  Instead, the Bray’s worked with the city to narrow the ditch at the corner of their property back to its original size (8 feet wide) as stated above.  I apologize for my mistake. 

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

No Spend October

Have you all seen the No Spend Month that NWEdible is heading up for October?

The premise of the challenge is to set a budget for one month, not including your regular bills (mortgage/rent, utilities, etc.), that allows you to save a bundle of money by… not spending it.  The budget should include money for food, gas and whatever household expenses you normally have.  But this budget is radical. You are cutting your expenses way, way down.  Down to nil, or as close to it as you can manage.

Like, instead of spending $750 on food for the month, you are only going to spend $120.  Instead of racking up the miles in your SUV, you rack up the miles on your bike, because that gas costs money.  Instead of getting coffee at the drive through, you brew it at home.

Then, at the end of the month, you have a pile of money that you saved.  Maybe enough to jump-start that emergency fund or make an extra house payment, or pay off a credit card.

To join the challenge, you have to do three things: one, set the budget; two, track your expenses; and three, set a goal for what you save.  It’s been a while since I’ve joined in on a challenge.  This one seems a bit overdue for us.  Doing a no-spend month is a great way to hit the reset button on out of control spending.

I read about the challenge over the weekend and decided to go for it.  But I didn’t actually get off to a great start.

Yesterday morning, it started raining at 6:00 am and Rick wanted a ride to work instead of getting soaked on his bike.  So I took him.  The boys, used to going to the bakery on mornings we drive Rick, begged for pastries.  I, weak from lack of coffee, gave in and spent $10 on the way home for buttery, flaky goodness.  Later, as I was cleaning up the crumbs, I remembered it was October 1st!  ARGH!   It’s NO SPEND MONTH!  $10 in the hole already.

It’s ok.  The whole month isn’t shot because of one slip-up on the first day.  I know we can make the ten bucks up later.  We actually used to run a really tight ship around here.  But as we’ve paid off various debts (two credit cards, a car loan and a student loan done!  Woo!), we’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about our spending.

Our budget for October is $335.  We are a family of five, and to be honest, I think we could go lower.  However, we have a few commitments for the month already involving friends and family from out-of-town, that I just don’t feel good about backing out of.  Even so, this will allow us to save $1000 this month.

I plan to put that $1k in a separate savings account towards an emergency fund.

Because I’m always curious how others come up with their budget numbers, I’m going to share mine more specifically with you.

For food, I know we can mainly eat out of the pantry and freezer, except for dairy and flour.  So I budgeted $30 per week for food.  This actually allows for some wiggle room, but I figure that’s a good thing.  I’m hoping I can get some Halloween candy to give away out of this too.

For gas, I cut what we normally spend in half.  This pretty much has no wiggle room, and I think it will be the toughest category for us.  Especially if we get some bad weather.   $60 is about a tank and a half for the month, plus the 3/4 of a tank right the 4Runner is at right now.

Our dining out budget would have been a zero for the month, but since I already blew that yesterday, I accounted for the ten dollars already spent.  Otherwise, we’ll be cooking at home and Rick will brown bag it.

I budgeted $30 for Rick’s hair cut.  He’s been putting it off for a couple of months and is getting pretty shaggy.  When I proposed doing the No Spend month, his only request was an allowance for a hair cut.

E and H both just hit a growth spurt.  H needs new shoes.  I’m budgeting $20.

Now comes the previous commitment part.  We had already committed to a high school football game (cheap), a double date (yay – it’s been so long), and a pumpkin patch (it is October after all).   I figured $12 for the game if we fill the kids up before we go and bring snacks from home.  I’m budgeting $50 each for the date and the pumpkin patch.  That’s cutting it a bit close, but I really want to try to stick to it.

If you add all that up, it’s $362.  I also have $90 in swim-lessons coming up for the kids this month, which Erica says is exempt from the budget.  Together, that’s $973 less than our average monthly expenses.  I wanted to make it an even $1000 in savings, so I’m going to see if I can make up that $27 somewhere.

I plan to keep track of how we’re doing and report here on it once a week.

What about you?  Are you down with No Spend this month?

Please comment and tell me if you are going to join in on the challenge, what you are budgeting (you don’t have to get all specific if you don’t want), and what you want to do with your pile of saved dough.

Categories: Simple Living, Thrift | Tags: , , , , , , | 14 Comments

September Garden Photo Tour

Time for a garden update!  I’ve had a particularly good year in the garden this year.  It’s not been without failures, but overall, I’m pretty happy.

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I really feel like the new bed layout has done wonders for our little crops.  They’ve gotten more sun, the drip system has given them more consistent water and, as you can see by the GIANT tomatoes, they are loving it.

We’ve pulled the beets, garlic, and a few other crops, spread some finished compost and have room to start more crops.  Rotation plans are in the works for next spring.

I even peeped over the neighbor’s fence (the other neighbors).  They moved in this spring, in the rental tri-plex unit next-door.  And two of the households worked together to plant a huge garden in a tiny strip of dirt.  I’ve been so impressed with their hard work!

Want to show off your homestead?  Denver Botanic Gardens is still looking for entries for the upcoming 2012 Urban Homestead Tour on Saturday, September 22 from 10am to 4pm.  Click here for an entry form.

Categories: Food, Garden, Hugelkultur, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Removing Bitterness from Eggplant without Salt

Some years are corn years and some are melon years.  This year is the year of the eggplant.  I keep seeing pictures of beautiful aubergines all over Facebook, from the West coast all the way to New York.  Local Kitchen has called it “Eggplantocalypse 2012,” a term which totally cracks me up.

It seems like eggplant is either a love-it or hate-it fruit.  I think a lot of people want to love it, because lets face it, eggplant is beautiful.

I received this amazing Nubia eggplant in my CSA share last week.

The problem is eggplant tends – heavily – toward the bitter.  Coupled with its weird texture, it just becomes hard to palate.

Eggplant also has a thick, rubbery skin.  Unless I really feel sentimental about its pretty color, I usually peel it completely.  I will at the very least peel half.  In general, the skin is a bit too tough to really enjoy.

I’ve heard all about salting eggplant to help remove the bitterness, but honestly, I don’t like this process.  I’ve never felt it helped all that much, plus it takes too long.

I recently read a novel in which a French man taught a young South American boy to cut and cook an eggplant.  The Frenchman told the boy to remove the seeds.  The boy forgot, but cut the eggplant so beautifully, the man did not care.

This got me thinking, “How would one remove the seeds from an eggplant?  Why would you, since they are totally edible.”  But then I remembered that eggplant is a member of the nightshade family.  It’s the same plant family as tomatoes and peppers.  The pith and seeds of bell peppers are bitter.

I decided to try it.  I sliced my eggplant length-wise and used a spoon to scrape out as many seeds as I could.

Then I chopped it and cooked it up in some ratatouille.

It was sweet and delicious.

Could it have been a fluke!?  Rick suggested I try it again to prove my theory.  So I did, again and again.

All summer long, we’ve been enjoying sweet eggplant… without salting it.

Suddenly I’m hearing my three-year-old say, “I love eggplant.”

I felt like I discovered a whole new way to get kids to eat eggplant!  Wait, no…  I know how to get people to eat eggplant!

It’s magic!!  I know how to remove the bitterness from eggplant!

I searched online to see if anyone else knew about this.  There wasn’t much, although I did discover that eggplant is also related to tobacco and that is why the seeds are so bitter.

There are a few applications when seeding an eggplant is not really desirable, like eggplant parmesan or for a pizza.  For those recipes I use a Japanese eggplant instead, as they tend to be less bitter to start with.

For everything else, seeding is the way to go for me.

Easy Lunch-Time Summer Pasta with Eggplant

1 eggplant
1/2 small zucchini
1 bell pepper, any color
1 large heirloom tomato
olive oil, salt and pepper
pasta, any shape

Slice, peel and seed eggplant.  Seed and chop pepper, halve and slice zucchini and chop tomato.  Combine and toss all with olive oil, salt and pepper in a shallow pan.  Roast in a medium-hot oven (375-400°) for 20-30 minutes, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, being careful not to over cook.  If the eggplant roasts too long it will become mushy.

Meanwhile, boil pasta in salted water until al dente.  Reserve 1/3- to ½-cup pasta water and drain.  Toss cooked pasta with roasted vegetables and reserved pasta water.  Enjoy.

And, here’s the proof…

Categories: CSA, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 16 Comments

Wild Elk and Venison Jerky on Northwest Edible

From the Native Americans to The Hunger Games, people have carried jerky.  You know that if the zombie apocalypse hits, you’ll want some too.

I’m so excited that Erica at Northwest Edible Life has allowed me to do a guest post on her blog about my favorite way to preserve meat.

Rick got this recipe from his mom.  All the men in Rick’s family are big-time hunters, and my mom-in-law is the designated jerky maker for the family.  Her sons, brothers and dad all drop meat off at her house to have her transform it into this good stuff.

I’m sharing the secret recipe over at Northwest Edible.

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Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Homestead Failures: Confessions of What I Didn’t Do

Every once in a while I come across someone who describes me in the most peculiar way.  There’s a great homesteading blog that says something like “the most organized homesteader I know.”  Or, one that shocks me even more, “This woman can do it all!”  Yeah.  Not so much.

I’m a bit bothered by these statements actually.  I try to be pretty honest on my blog – not just all shiny-happy all the time.  I’m not joking when I call myself the LAZY homesteader. I’m really, really great at coming up with an idea, gathering all the materials, and not following it through to completion.  Rick often plays clean-up to my projects.

I’m not sure if I’m more bothered by the fact that I’m somehow failing to communicate the realism of my life ( I have THREE kids that sometimes drive me to drink, people), or if it’s the imagined (implied?) pedestal that someone thinks I’m on that gets to me.

There are a lot of Judgey-Judgertons out there ready to tell you you’re not doing enough, you’re doing too much, you’re doing it wrong, or what you’re doing isn’t as important as what they’re doing.  I’m so not that.  I don’t ever want to communicate that.

I’m not sure exactly what the communication break down is, but I wanted to pause a moment to illustrate for you just how imperfect my life really is.

Please, come with me into the urban homestead confessional.  Forgive me Followers, for I have sinned.  It’s been 11 months since my last confession:

  • This year I planted beets that I failed to harvest until they were good for nothing besides pig food.
  • I’ve completely lost track of my Independence Days challenge this year.  I still have an egg count going though.
  • I never made pickles this year.  And I ignored the fact that my melons and cukes didn’t germinate, I didn’t replant them.
  • I decided to take on the Riot for Austerity.  And then I didn’t.
  • Last summer, I over-bought peaches.  I feel like I still have as many peaches in the freezer this year as I did last year.
  • This spring I used not-quite-finished compost in the garden and then grew lots and lots of weeds.  I generously gave some of this same compost to the neighbor.  I send H to pull weeds for him.
  • In 2011, I gave myself a 20 week organizing challenge: twenty weeks to organize twenty things.  I stayed on track for 8 weeks, went all sporadic, took a five month break, did three more posts on it at the beginning of the year, and then completely blew the project off.  I still have four items to go.
  • I collected too many chickens.  I was like the crazy cat lady of chickens.  We had 14 and they were all stressed and dirty and it stank.  We butchered three and are holding steady at 11 right now.  They are much happier and we’re loving the eggs.  But really I need to find a home for 4 more of them; I’m putting it off because I’m all attached or something.
  • I bought a grow light to start seeds with.  I sat it on the dryer and never opened it.  After four months, I dusted it off and returned it to Lowes for store credit.
  • I drove two hours, round trip, to pick three boxes of tomatoes from my CSA.  I let the husband wash them and then left them on the counter for 19 days until all but 22 were rotten.  At that point, I divided the remainder between the chickens and the compost bin.

What are some things you had the best intentions for but didn’t pan out as planned?  Have anything to confess?

Categories: Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , | 33 Comments

Venison Stew

When Rick and I got married, though I possessed a decent degree of skill in cooking, my meals were rarely balanced (“chicken breast is dinner… what to you mean what else are we having?”).  It took some time for me to learn that a meal included more than one thing.  But there was an exception to this; soups and stews.

I grew up in a home that made soups and stews regularly.  They were a staple in my parents’ home.  Both of my parents worked outside the home, so my mom is proficient at pressure cooking which made soup an easy weeknight meal.  She is also the master of slow cooking a stew for hours to get it just right.  I used to tell people my favorite foods were easy to remember; sushi, steak and soup!  (Mom makes a mean rare rib-eye too).  It’s tradition for our family to have a big pot of potato soup on Christmas day, which keeps everyone out of the kitchen and allows us to spend time together as a family instead.

I don’t know how Rick felt about stew before we got married.  I don’t get the impression that he had it much growing up.  For me it’s soul food.  There is nothing so good as a hot, delicious soup to warm you up at the end of a long or cold day.  I think our kids feel the same way.  If you were to ask H what is favorite food is he will either tell you potato soup or chicken noodle soup – the homemade stuff – which is my favorite as well.

Naturally, having wild game in the freezer means venison stew shows up on the menu pretty often in our home.  This recipe is one that I’ve developed by marrying my mom’s beef stew with elements of a venison recipe that an ex-coworker of mine shared with me from some now-forgotten cookbook.

Venison Stew

8 slices of bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 lbs venison, cut into 1-inch cubes
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
12 oz beer – something you like to drink, but not Guinness
4 cups water
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 dried bay leaves
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp black pepper
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼-inch rounds
3-4 potatoes, peeled or not, cut into 1-inch pieces
¼ cup fresh parsley, snipped

In a 4 quart dutch oven or other large pot, cook the bacon until crisp.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and save for later.  Saute the onions over medium heat in the bacon grease until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Turn the heat up to medium-high and quickly brown the venison.  Add the garlic and saute for about 30 second.  Turn the heat back to medium and add beer, water and spices including salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for about two hours.

When venison is nearly tender, add the carrots and potatoes.  Simmer, uncovered for another 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender.  Taste for salt.  If you wish, thicken the stew by mixing 1 cup of cold water and 1/3 cup flour in a separate container and slowly add it to the stew while stirring.  Reheat the stew to boiling  for 1 minute.  Serve topped with reserved bacon and snipped parsley.

Categories: Food, Hunting, Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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