Homesteading


It took me almost a year, but I finally finished the braided wool rug for the tiny house! I really am not a crafty person and have not finished any large handicraft projects, so I was not prepared for how proud of the finished product I would feel! It all started last Christmas when my sister Karen gave me wool strips from the Pendleton Outlet store in Portland. She brought the most humongous bag and pretended like it was nothing and that she had just tossed some change out to get it, but I know it was a rather costly gift.

 

 

I stripped the wool into 2-inch wide strips as we sat in front of the fire at our beach rental at Christmastime last year. It was a cozy project and a wonderful memory.

 

Braids ready to be stitched into a rug!

 

As winter wore on and spring began to come, I braided and braided. Braided while we watched movies. Braided while I talked to Trent after the kids went to bed. Braided while I listened to podcasts during the day.

When I reached the end of one colored strip, I would stitch on another strip of the same color. As I braided, I rolled the ends of the strips under so the fraying edges wouldn’t show and the top of the rug would be smooth.

All summer and into the fall, I stitched the braids together. This was the most time-consuming of all. As the rug grew larger, it became really hard to manage. Instead of sitting on the floor and working around the rug, I insisted on having it on my lap. This turned out to be a mistake.

 

It’s a braided wool boat!

 

We watched YouTube videos about forest kindergartens as I stitched the last stitch. I couldn’t wait to lay it all out and admire it.

I laid it out and… aughhhhh! It was more suited for being a braided wool boat! Disaster!

My mind started to wander to worst case scenario. What if I have to rip out 6 months of stitching?

I just about cried.

 

 

But thankfully, after a little soak in the bathtub and some stretching and pulling to the edges and a little smooshing to the middle… it laid flat!

 

 

And what a beautiful rug it is! I can’t wait to set it in front of the couch, light a fire in the stove, and curl up with some tea.

I also have some dreams of always taking it with us, no matter what house we live in. I hope someday my grandkids will play on it.

Thanks Karen for the wool. You’ll be with us wherever we go.

 

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Everyone knows how wonderful apple cider vinegar is, and the hype is very founded. It improves health and can have several household uses. I use it a variety of ways, from conditioner to salad dressing!

Here are some benefits of apple cider vinegar:

  • Maintains a healthy blood sugar
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Helps with acid reflux
  • Has active cultures

 

If you buy raw apple cider vinegar with the “mother”, it is about $6-$10 per quart. That’s not really a bad price, but I’m always up for doing something myself and saving a little money!

 

Ingredients

  • Apple juice or apple cider. Some people say you can’t use pasteurized apple juice, but I have made it with pasteurized juice several times and it works just as well as the raw stuff. Sometimes you can get organic apple juice in a handy glass jug, then you can just ferment it right there in the jug!
  • Raw, unpasteurized apple cider with the “mother”.  This is your starter, which has good bacteria hungry for apple juice!

 

Instructions:

  1. Pour your cider into a glass jar or jug. Make as much or as little as you like!
  2. Add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar starter’s good bacteria will begin to eat the sugars and convert them into vinegar.
  3. Cover with a cloth and a rubber band.
  4. Let it sit for 2-3 months.

 

After a week of fermenting, it will become bubbly and taste like sparkling cider. You can stop there and enjoy the best sparkling cider you’ve ever had. But you’ll probably feel guilty about that decision when you’re back at the store buying a bottle of ACV.

Then comes what I call the “nail polish remover phase”. I have never drunk nail polish remover, but I can imagine it would taste like this. You will think your project has failed. You will want to give up. But trust me, if you let it go a little while more, you will have vinegar.

It is ready to use when it is super sour and has lost the nail polish remover taste. It does take a long time to ferment, but it requires very little of your time and effort. Gotta love projects like that!

 

 

We have been blessed to be able to forage windfall apples near our house, so we went the extra mile on this apple cider vinegar batch and made our own apple cider. We juiced our free apples to make completely free apple cider vinegar.

Turning our fresh cider into vinegar is a good way to make the cider shelf-stable and enjoyable all year long. I am thankful for my freezer and refrigerator, but I am always interested in finding ways to use them less and less.

 

 

It looked like apples pooped all over my table but let me tell you, that was the best cider I have ever had.

 

 

It was a fun Sunday afternoon activity for us to all do together. It almost felt like an apple party. I have really enjoyed preserving seasonal food more and more every year. It makes me thankful that I don’t have to completely rely on my preservation skills for our all of our wintertime food, and it also makes me admire the women who didn’t have grocery stores or refrigerators.

 

 

Once the cider was made, we poured it into various jugs and jars.

 

 

Instead of using a starter, I’m using the “mother” that has formed most generously from a previous batch. It is similar to a Kombucha SCOBY in that it is made of bacteria and yeast. It has a similar texture and feel as a SCOBY.

 

 

Lastly, I set the jugs on top of my fridge where they will live for several months! (As you can see, I don’t clean the top of my fridge.)

The foam on top is because the juice is unfiltered. I will filter it after it becomes vinegar.

Apple cider vinegar is a great project to kick off your fermenting journey with– it is simple and rewarding.

Be sure to like my Facebook page for updates each time I post!

*UPDATE*

It is now December 13th, and the vinegar is totally done. It took about 3 months to lose its “nail polish remover” taste. It is the most sour thing I have ever tasted in my life! It has a great flavor and is pretty concentrated. I only ended up with a little more than a gallon. I think some of it evaporated as it fermented. This stuff loves to make big freaky white mothers though!

 

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Lard is a glamorous fat in need of a comeback. She has been sidelined for many years now in our fat-phobic world. We’ve been scared she will make us fat. We now know that saturated fats aren’t the villains they were once thought to be— they actually help with weight loss and lower cholesterol. Common, cheap oils, such as canola and vegetable oil, are oxidized and rancid and contain free radicals, which cause premature aging and cancer.

I have seen the benefits of saturated fats in my own life. When we started the GAPS diet, we began to add coconut oil and lard to everything and I lost 30 lbs in a few short months. I had also struggled with dry hands, feet, and elbows most of my life, but as soon as I started eating lots of good fats, my skin changed for the better. I no longer struggled with dry skin and my skin began to glow (and it still does!).

 

What is lard?

When you heat pig fat, you evaporate the water, leaving behind a delicious, healthy, heat-stable fat. It has been used by a long time by many cultures. Back in 1871, Laura Ingalls Wilder outlines how her mom made lard from the pig they butchered in her book “Little House in the Big Woods”. Back then, they had to build a perfectly hot fire to render but not burn the lard. Ma even saved the brown bits of fat (“cracklings”) for flavoring johnny cake, which was a sort of a corn pancake.

 

Why should I render my own lard?

As it is with many homemade products, you get better quality for a lower price. I have seen lard for sale at health food stores but the price makes me want to run back to Mama Canola Oil as fast as I can. When I bought fat for this batch, I was able to find it for $1/lb. I bought 20 lbs and made 9 quarts of lard. When I compare that price to other high-heat oils I buy (such as avocado and coconut oil), the price is about a quarter of what I pay for them. Also, the fat is a byproduct that otherwise is thrown in the trash. It is a great way of showing honor to the animal and using every little last bit.

 

Where do I find the fat?

  • Butchers are the best place to find animal fat. Many offer fat for a very fair price. I always call before I drive out to buy it just to make sure they have it.

 

  • Don’t decide to obtain fat in the late fall/early winter… many butcher shops use their extra fat to make game sausages as they process the hunting seasons’ catch.

 

Here’s what you need to get started

  • Pig Fat
  • Crockpot

Doesn’t get easier than that!

Try to begin this project in the morning or at the beginning of a long stretch of time when you will be home. It’s no fun to get up in the night to check on your fat. It’s also not fun to wake up in the morning with over-browned oil. (Believe me, I know.) Get out your fat. Cut it into smaller chunks. I cut mine about the size of my hand, but if I had cut it smaller it would have rendered faster.

Fill the crockpot to the top with fat. Turn on the “low” setting.

 

Let the fat render for several hours. If you cut your fat small, it will take as little as 8 hours, but if you cut yours large like I did, it will take more like 24 hours. Check on it from time to time, stir it, and enjoy the happy crackle it gives you as that water releases!

 

 

One it looks like crispy bits floating in liquid fat, it’s time to strain out the solids. (Also known as “cracklings”) I used a large slotted spoon to get out the bigger chunks. NOTE: Don’t throw these out! Save them in a separate container. More about this at the end of the blog post!

 

 

Turn off your crockpot and let the lard cool a bit. Always use caution when working with hot oil! Once it was slightly cooled, Trent used a ladle to scoop the liquid lard, and as you can see, he made a straining contraption with a mesh sieve and a canning jar funnel. You can just use cheesecloth or the smallest mesh strainer you have in your kitchen, no need to go buy something special. Just know that the larger the mesh, the more likely you are to have small chunks in the bottom of your lard jar, which make it less “premium” or pure.

 

 

Once the jars are filled, screw on the lids and set them on the back of your counter to cool.

 

 

Once the jars are at room temperature, move them to the fridge. This keeps them extra fresh as they wait to be used. As they cool, they will lose their amber color and become a creamy white color. Generally, the lower cooking temperature you use, the whiter the lard will be. (See below)

 

 

What should I do with the cracklings?

Put cracklings in a food processor or blender and blend until the pieces are small. Transfer them to airtight containers and keep in the fridge. Then add them to your eggs, refried beans, sautéed veggies, or rice. They add a wonderful rich nutty flavor to savory food. In the picture above, I have added them to my cast iron pan as I am preheating it for scrambled eggs. They taste like bacon bits in the eggs!

 

How to use lard

  • Homemade soap
  • Greasing the pan for eggs and veggies
  • Lotion
  • Oiling moccasins
  • Baking
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Before you read this, go back and read Why Live in a Tiny House? Part One.

 

Our decision to build a tiny house began an exciting change of several of our values. We tried to analyze different things that society told us is healthy or normal and decide for ourselves whether they were or not. Here is our “re-working journey” in a nutshell:

 

House Size

Obviously, home size was one of the first things we questioned. Our culture tells us that one of the marks of successful adulthood is buying a big, beautiful house. Trent has worked for the last 6 years building and remodeling aforementioned houses. He noticed that although owning such a nice house made clients happy, it didn’t bring contentment or peacefulness to their lives. Houses are no longer simply a roof over your head; they have become castles that allow us to separate from each other and from nature.

 

Food

We began to question the food we were eating. We realized that most of the food we were told was “healthy” was actually damaging our health. Pasteurized dairy products have lost their bacteria and enzymes that help us digest them. Our vegetables have been sprayed with chemicals. Many oils from the store are rancid and have been bleached. Even “healthy” pre-made food (such as crackers and bread) have some questionable ingredients. We also realized that the way conventional agriculture is growing our food is wreaking havoc on our soils, water, and air.

 

Plastic

We started to notice how much plastic we were consuming, and this continues to be an ongoing process for me. Plastic is literally everywhere: shopping bags, food packaging, produce bags, storage containers, toys, shoes, garbage bags, blenders, and water bottles. Plastic is convenient and it plays into our consumeristic, throw-away culture, but it takes 500-1,000 years to degrade. Virtually every piece of plastic ever made still exists, except for a small percentage which has been incinerated.

 

Old Skills Abandoned

We realized how few people know the old skills that almost all generations before us have known: how to grow, harvest, preserve, ferment, and sprout food. How to build a house that uses local resources. How to make medicine from plants. How to survive in the wild. How to care for animals, butcher, and preserve the meat.

Our electronic civilization is truly amazing, yet we have become shadows of the humans who walked the earth just a hundred years ago. We don’t know how to survive in the wild. We can’t live without our grocery stores. We can’t make our own clothes. If anything goes wrong in this well-oiled machine, we’re screwed. Nature needs us, yet we have lost our feeling of need for nature. We have all moved inside to be with our virtual world and have rejected the natural world around us.

 

Breaking free from consumerism

We are selfish and our current system makes being selfish easy. We want to consume, but we don’t want to give back. So we buy our single-use items, consume them, and throw the remainders away.

It’s hard to break out of this mindset. I know it’s been hard for me to be less of a consumer and more of a maker. To be honest, I still have a long way to go. It is hard for me to take my mason jars to the store and grind my peanut butter, to remember my cloth produce bags, to preserve food in the fall, and to cook most of our food at home, yet for the time being, these are the things I am committed to doing. They are my current step in a long journey away from consumerism.

 

It is necessary that we consider what affect our choices are having on our land. I deeply desire to leave a planet to my grandchildren that is worth living in. I want them to have fresh air and clean water. I want them to eat food from soils that have been properly cared for. I want them to be resilient and strong.

As I said in part one, we want a full, rich quality of life for our family, and the tiny house is just a small part of a response we are making to our consumeristic culture. I realize that tiny houses aren’t for every one. I also realize it isn’t feasible for everyone to grow all of their own food. 

But we can all do better than we are doing right now.

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