Wild Edibles III: Summer Purslane

Portulaca oleracea - I have always just called it purslane, but as it turns out there are a lot of types of Purslane, and our variety is called Common or Summer purslane. Other names for this plant are pigweed, parsley, or moss rose. See? I write these things so I can learn!

Purslane is a blessing and a curse to us here on the homestead. A blessing, because it grows everywhere at an overwhelming pace, and a curse because it grows everywhere at an  overwhelming pace. I’m sure we could do better about finding uses for it, because for now we really just snack on it when we are in the garden and it is ridiculously hot outside, and sometimes we toss it into salads. I have a lot of little seedling trays in the greenhouse right now full of tomatoes, and it seems like every morning I have to pull little purslane seedlings out. They literally grow everywhere, and they are biggest in the middle of summer.

Purslane is a succulent plant that grows outward in a creeping fashion. It’s little leaves are juicy and sour and slightly salty. Summer purslane is commonly called a weed, but it is really a leaf vegetable that grows wild and quite prolifically. It also grows fast and drops seeds throughout the summer. Summer purslane is an annual that grows best in poor, compacted soils (sigh) and is highly drought tolerant. So in short, it’s right up our alley, climate-wise. I’ve always been told that purslane is most present in Greek cuisine, and it makes sense because Greece would be the right climate for purslane to be ever-present. 
Like I said, our family usually just snacks on this plant and it is present in the random salad, but purslane is really good for you and we should use it and appreciate it more! (I wonder if I can lacto-ferment it?!) According to Wikipedia, purslane contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant, and the particular type of omega 3 fatty acids present in purslane are actually also found in fish, which is odd and cool. Purslane is also rich in vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. One of those little juicy leaves packs a nutritional punch!
Medicinally, purslane is said to support and build weak digestive systems, and when crushed and placed on the skin can provide relief from bee or wasp stings, rashes or other types of skin irritations. It works great on fire ant bites, which are  just as common as purslane in our summer garden adventures.
In the garden, we do not pull this plant unless we have to. Leaving a creeping purslane plant to grow will stabilize soil moisture; protect your garden plants’ roots from the sun, and at the same time will save more water than it will take. The roots of the purslane plant go deep, and bring moisture to the surface that the surrounding plants can use. So purslane is a great ground cover plant, especially in a dry climate like ours.
More than likely, you have some type of purslane growing on your property, even in your potted plants! Please do not pull this beneficial little plant! Learn how to use it and if you have any recipes, medicinal or culinary, please share them with me as I am determined to appreciate and use Summer purslane more often here on the homestead.
You can share your knowledge of purslane in the comments or on the blog’s new FB page, here. As you can tell, I am not especially knowledgeable about this wild edible, so any extra info will be appreciated!! I will be posting pictures of the purslane plants around our homestead on the Facebook page, so stay tuned.
Hope everyone had a great weekend.
Tracy M

Some Things.

Things are blooming and sprouting and blossoming and budding and it’s just so wonderful to see, a miracle that is new and exciting every year. Spring is such a beautiful gift to us here on the homestead.

All of the mama bunnies are big and round and biting mad, so I hope that means that we will have bunnies in a few weeks. Nothing says spring like roly poly baby rabbits.

Regretfully, there is still some butchering to be done before the really warm temperatures hit, so I really hope we get a cold-but-not-too-cold snap so that we can finish up some slaughter business.

Did you know my Dad opened an online store? Well, he did and you really should go check it out here. It’s great and you may see my Amish dolls in there, too! We are working on coming up with a lineup of more handmade items, so keep checking back for more merchandise.

I know I say this every time, but I really am writing a lot more these days. I regretfully decided to drop the job writing for the Coleman paper so that I can start work on the Off Off Grid Meat book and hopefully launch the first of that series by May. We will see. When it comes to getting things in print, I am learning a lesson in patience, it seems. I am still writing steadily for Cultures for Health so if you haven’t checked out their website, please do! They are a wonderful resource to the Off-Off Grid kitchen, to be sure. Don’t forget to sign up for their newsletter, and check out their series of eBooks on so many different topics. You won’t be sorry.

Also, if you haven’t seen the blog’s new Facebook page, you can check it out here (don’t forget to like it, please!) and also you may notice the new Instagram feed in the sidebar. If you are on Instagram you can follow me @tracymbunker.

Well, I have to be off, chores to do and more peppers to plant!


Tracy M

Off Grid Laundry.

It’s a daunting thing, I know. Doing your laundry by hand and totally off the grid is not easier, it is not more fun, and it is usually not more appreciated. That’s that. But, your clothes will generally get cleaner, you can have more control over what kind of soaps and conditioners go into your clothes, and you will have a much deeper sense of accomplishment when you bring in a basket of clean, folded laundry. You will use less water, no electricity and have no real need for anything that you can’t produce yourself. That’s worth something. It’s worth a lot to me.
Washing laundry without the help of machines is a hefty task. I know once I started doing all of my laundry by hauling buckets of water out of the cistern, vigorously scrubbing on the washboard, wringing, carrying and dumping tubs of water, I started to get stronger. And it makes sense. This lifestyle just plain makes women stronger. Not just mentally, but physically as well. I’d put an Amish girl up against any non-Amish boys I know. Seriously, shaking hands with those girls is almost a painful experience. I tease them about it a lot.
There is an assortment of neat little contraptions that you can find online or even in antique or junk stores that are designed to make off grid laundry easier, and I cannot possibly have seen them all. We have this one that we just use for socks. We refurbished it after finding it rusted and in need of a few patches. But it works well now and it is handy for soaking and agitation.
When I was talking about OGLaundry on the Christian Farm and Homestead Radio show with Scott Terry, someone mentioned those little plastic numbers that are oval shaped and have a little plastic stand. You can find them in the Lehman’s catalog and some other homestead supply stores. They spin all the way around, and you crank them with a tiny little plastic handle. We bought one of these when we first moved to the land, and they are just … just junk in my humble opinion. They are too light to stay put with a load of water and clothes, so we ended up screwing ours to a board to try to keep it from jumping around. Ours started leaking really quickly. You cannot wash more than a few light things in them, and you can forget about a pair of pants. Mrs. Bowman agreed with me on this assessment (that they are junky), and you should always take her word before you take mine.
I wash my laundry in metal tubs. Two of them – one for washing and one for rinsing. I haul the water out of our cistern – which isn’t too far from where I wash the laundry on the picnic table. I could pump it, but I just don’t have the patience. I don’t usually soak my laundry because I am bad at forward thinking and I don’t  have a ton of stains I’m worried about. I recommend soaking your laundry if you have young children or other reasons for set stains that could use some extra time in the water. Soaking socks is a great way to avoid scrubbing them – which can get tedious. In the summer, I suggest soaking your laundry in the sun or in a sunny place to warm the water, because soaking is more effective with warm water. You can add your soap to the water before or after soaking, I don’t think it makes much difference.
The old faithful washboard. I love ours. Ours is really big and it is glass. It’s great because it is double ribbed and it doesn’t rust or get weak like a metal one would. It stays cleaner than a metal one, too. I have seen plastic models, but have never used one. I suppose they would work just as well if you could keep them out of the sun and weather. I have a feeling we might need to replace the frame of our washboard before we have to replace the actual washboard. I highly recommend a glass washboard if you are looking to buy something that will last.
We also have this neat tool – we call it a Rapid Washer, because that is what it was called in the Lehman’s catalog when we bought it. We originally bought a metal Rapid Washer, but it quickly rusted and it really isn’t as effective as the plastic one we have now. I don’t know why, but I just like the plastic one better. It is basically just a glorified plunger, and is used for agitation. It works great, but it’s a workout to use. If you don’t want to buy a Rapid Washer just yet, you could always purchase a new, cheap toilet plunger. It won’t be as effective, but it will be better than nothing.

Just know if you have decided to do your laundry by hand that you will find yourself scrubbing Cinderella-style at a spot at some point. It’s just part of the job. There are a lot of tips and tricks to getting out stains and spots, but nothing really beats a good, rough scrubbing on the washboard. Elbow grease is always my first answer when people ask about how to get dirt, sweat, grease, and most anything out of clothes. Farm life will provide some pretty interesting spots and stains, so be prepared. Of course there are ways to make getting them out easier, but one day I will write all those things into my book.
If you want to make your own soap, you should check out this post. When I haven’t had time to make soap (which happens most of the time) I just use cheap, dollar store detergent in small amounts and vinegar in the rinse water. My mother knows how to make soap. She is the soap maker in the family. Someday I will have her teach me.
Then, just get after it! There are tons of different ways to actually wash your laundry, and no wrong way. As long as they come out clean, you are doing it right. Be sure to get all the soap out of them, and hang them out fast so they don’t wrinkle. Wringing your clothes out by hand will lend them a few more wrinkles than usual, but a really good wringer can be kind of pricey, so stress yourself out about it. We got our wringer as part of a pre-y2K barter deal. It’s a really nice one. I only use our wringer for towels, sheets, men’s pants, and things like sweaters and jackets. The rest I do by hand to save time. It’s up to you what you use your wringer for, just make sure it stays clean and that you aren’t in danger of smashing any buttons or other fastening devices. I’ve broken more buttons and smashed more snaps than I am willing to admit.
 Another tip – keep your clothespins in a bag and inside when they are not in use. If you leave them out on the line, be they metal or plastic, they will become weak and the metal parts of them will rust. Rust will get on your clothes and it will irritate you to no end. So keep them in a bucket or a box in the barn, or a shed, or in your kitchen where they are out of the sun and weather. A cute little bag works well, too. We hang our bag of clothespins in the outhouse when we aren’t using them. My mom also has this really neat apron with a huge, deep front pocket, and she uses it to store clothespins, only wearing it when she is hanging up laundry. It works well.

If you get your laundry hung out fast and let it snap in the breeze for a few hours, you really should not need to iron any freshly clean clothes, except maybe head coverings (for the creases and folds) and men’s shirts (if they are nice ones). Everything else should be okay. I don’t like ironing so I only do it when I have to. Sunday morning is usually the only time I find the need for an iron, or when I am sewing a new dress or apron.
For years my Mom taught me to hang my laundry inside out to save the outside from fading in the Texas sun, but I got so sick of turning clothes right side out to wash them, inside out to hang them, then right side out to put them away. So now I only hang my Sunday dresses and aprons inside out, and the rest are all right side out so that I can immediately put them on hangers. I’m lazy.
Speaking of me being lazy, I have to stress something. Don’t bite off more than you can chew with this whole laundry thing. Don’t think you have to be doing all of your laundry Laura Ingalls-style overnight or that you have to make the big switch all at once. Start doing your laundry in a bucket. Small things like socks, and underwear. Do your kitchen towels in the sink. This is a process, and don’t feel badly about having to run to the laundromat some weeks. Also – make your children do their own laundry if they are old enough! Once we started moving off-off grid, every one of us children was on our own for laundry, (except my baby sister) because there was no reason for my Mom to be doing six people’s laundry. They can do it, and they don’t have to be perfect, the clothes just have to be wearable. It’s a great task for little hands, and keeping children busy with something productive is a priceless thing on a busy homestead.
I hope I covered everything. Let me know if I missed anything or if there is anything you want me to talk about. I’ve wanted to do this post for a long time, I hope it is all I wanted it to be, and all that you expected. As always, feel free to ask questions, add suggestions, correct me, or share your own OGLaundry experience and advice in the comment section below.
Tracy M.

Spring is Sprout Season and Shameless Self-Promotion.

Okay, so first things first. I have started a Facebook page for the blog. It sounds weird when you say it like that, but I had been posting the blog updates on my personal page and sometimes there were pictures, quick things and random thoughts I thought should go on the blog but this isn't really the format for sporadic and short stuff. So, here is the Facebook page for The Yellow Rose, bear with me because I just started it today and I have no clue what I am doing. Hopefully it will get better and more useful with time. I will try to figure out how to put a like button on the sidebar for this page soon, but may have to enlist more knowledgeable help for that. Oh, and I put an Instagram feed in the sidebar, if you will notice. Hope that's okay.

Things are very busy here on the homestead, and I would say spring has sprung but with the fruit trees blooming and so many plants in the ground, I don't want to speak too soon. It is chilly and rainy here today, but I am happy about that because the amazing amount of seeds that we have planted, the barley, the wheat, the onions, the garlic, the collards, chard, trees, and strawberries will all be grateful for it.

Look at the three little ducklings! I went back to the charming highschool-gym-made-cosy-home guy who sells chicks and ducks this time of year and bought some more Rouen duckings. I bought three last year, and sadly just lost one last week to a skunk. But the adult ducks now live on the pond, and I hope to get at least three more ducklings to raise this year to send down there with them at some point. Maybe one day we will be hatching our own ducklings with our little flock... group... whatever you call more than one duck.

Other than planting and watering and general gardening, we have been taking some scrap metal and old machines into Coleman when we have the time, cleaning up around the place and making some extra income. That has been a blessing. So has my little brother's great knowledge of trailers - how to hitch, back up and safely pull them. I learn a lot from that not-so-little guy. Turns out I can back a cattle trailer or a 15 ft flatbed trailer like a pro, but this little trailer gets me every time.

Well, I had better go. Lots of writing and other work to do. I haven't forgotten about the laundry post - still working on that!!

The mantra of this blog should be - "One day...."

Tracy M.

Wild Edibles Part II: Agarita Berries.

Okay, so first of all, this post is titled part two because I have gone back and changed the stinging nettles post to Wild Edibles part one. I hope to do a few of these talking about the things that we harvest from the land and how we utilize them on the homestead. We do a lot of wild edible harvesting, so stay tuned for these scattered posts as things come into season or I think of them.

Today I wanted to talk about Agarito, or Agarita berries (Mahonia trifoliolata). Here is the wikipedia page. We call them Agarito, but I have heard them called both names, and I won’t argue which one is correct because I have not the foggiest idea. I do know that they are wonderful and the bushes are in full bloom with little yellow flowers that smell simply marvelous.

As you can see in the picture, these bushes have holly-like leaves and are not very friendly. When they prick you they leave a little stinging red dot that gets itchy later.

Note: You may begin to notice as this series goes on that most if not all wild plants and animals in this part of Texas can and will poke you, scratch you, sting you, bite you, make you itch, make you numb, or make you want to cry. We deal with it, because some blessings have to be unwrapped. Since moving here, I have been cut, scraped, sprayed by a skunk (more than once), bitten by a Black widow, stung by countless hornets (which I am mildly allergic to), chased by snakes and terrified by monster-like bugs (and I don’t spook easy). So it goes. My siblings and I quickly learned to adapt and avoid. End note.

Agarito bushes are dark green with yellow blooms in the spring like you see above, and then little hard green berries in the spring, and then soft, aromatic red berries in early summer. The bushes are hardy, drought tolerant, desert-acllimated and they grow pretty fast from what I have observed. They like to grow at the base of other trees, usually oaks, but I have seen very large bushes standing out on their own before. The bushes can get quite large, we have more than on on the land that are as tall as me and quite big around.

The berries are small and red on the outside, and yellow and seedy on the inside. They are about the size of a pearl. They are a little difficult to harvest, but they are small and sweet and worth it if you can get a lot. We usually start harvesting in the beginning of May, and there are plenty of bushes so we never get them all.  We have developed a lot of silly little ways to get them. Jennifer uses a fork to reach into the plant and dislodge the berries with minimal sticky leaf contact. Robert usually uses gloves, which can get bulky but works okay if you tuck your sleeves into them. I usually just reach into the plant and get them, because I have never had much success with the other methods. I get poked and scratched but it doesn't bother me too much. Someone suggested laying a tarp under the bush and just beating it until the berries come out, but I don't think anybody has tried that yet. Seems like a lot of damage might be done to the plant. The berries are sweet, but if you bite into the seeds they taste bitter. We usually harvest them into a quart jar and then just rinse them and dump them into our crank food mill, which is really good at removing the seeds and despite being small they actually make a good amount of juice.

We have made both wine and jelly from the juice of the Agarita berries, and both were very, very delicous. I can't really describe the taste, they are sweet but slightly sour, and the juice is very light and refreshing. You do have to be careful, though, because we have had small children eat their fill and later found out that a large amount of berries can clean out your system pretty well. I suppose a lot of things are like that though.

You can find a lot of recipes online for the jelly - I will do a post this summer with our recipe and procedures. I would love to try to do a second ferment for water kefir with some agarita berry juice and pulp, I think it would taste wonderful. So hopefully I can do a part two of this part two someday and let you know more about how we cook and use these berries. (You may also notice I am always promising future blogs. I'll get there, I'll get there.)

I hope this was helpful or at least interesting. I will try to be back with part three soon - I hope to do one on mesquite pods for coffee, cactus fruit for an awesome, refreshing summer drink and jelly and wine, cactus pads for pickles and side dishes, wild plums, and wild garlic. These posts will be sporadic and as things come into season, so please stay tuned.


Tracy M

It's Orange Day.

It's Orange Day, 2014!  

 And that means all things orange for today, in protest and in support. You should keep an eye on The Sifford's blog for pictures of the little party we had.

"Today is the day the world calls "Saint Patricks Day", but which I like to call Aint Catholics Day. As some of you know, I like to wear orange on this day and to sip some orange beer in order to support our Protestant brethren in Northern Ireland and around the world. In Belfast, only the flag of St. Patrick is supposed to be used by marchers in order to identify the day, not the color green - which is representative of the Irish Roman Catholics. Of course St. Patrick was not what we call today a "Roman Catholic", since he likely would not recognize the Church of Rome at all, except if he rightly recognized it as the Church of Antichrist. Anyway, we here are trying to start the tradition of wearing Orange on this day, so if y'all want to join us, please do!"
- from Dad's blog, sometime ago.

So, good night and Happy Merry Orange Day.
Tracy M

The Goings-On.

Hello there. 

I thought I might just do a little homestead update today, kind of rambling on about what we have been working on and so on.

This week has been a busy one so far. On Monday, after making lunch, the children and I went to Brownwood to buy some tomato plants to replace the seedlings that didn't make it during "greenhouse" season. We also ended up buying some peppers and broccoli and eggplant, and I also got a lavender plant as the beginning of my "refreshing" the herb bed. And then we ran to Walmart to pick up some groceries.

After we got home, got those in the ground, did some extra tilling and rabbit mulching, hauled a ton of water from the cistern to fill the garden barrels, and made supper. It doesn't sound like a lot, but we were a tired bunch that night. Our next project is to finish re-covering all of the row covers with fresh plastic to protect the plants from the night cold. You know, it really gets me when my weather app says it is going to be 36 degrees at night and I wake up to 22 degrees. That kind of stuff is important! So I have just started covering things pretty much every night, unless it is just really, really warm. This Texas weather, I tell ya.

I have also been working on trying to get the bunnies all pregnant again. I should be butchering the last litter soon, hopefully early next week. Maybe I will post some pictures on that if I remember. It would be really nice to have a few just weaned litters to take to the local "Funtier Days" in May - our equivalent of a County Fair (I won second place in the pie division a year before last! :) A sky-high meringue took first.). The children and I have been talking about doing a bake sale/handmade stuff/baby bunnies booth there this year. We will see if it happens. Also, I would like to look into getting some more breeding stock, too, preferably Californians. It is so hard to find breeding rabbits in our area, though, so I don't get my hopes up.

Lets see... we have had some calves born in the Longhorn herd, but that happened when I was out of town so I have yet to walk out to see them. It's a long way, you know. I have heard they are very pretty, though.

Oh! We have been overrun in skunks! Is this normal? I have never seen and smelled so many skunks in my life! I see them on the road, alive and dead, Robert shoots them, the Stongers are at war with them, they come up close to the chicken house and they have me worried about my ducks every morning. The ducks have moved themselves down to the pond, and they waddle up to the homestead every now and again to check things out and eat grain, and then they go back to the pond. So I worry about them sleeping down there, but so far they have been okay. I would move them back up here (they would not like that) but I am hoping there might be some ducklings sometime soon since I'm pretty sure they mate best on water. Who knows, but I would really, really be happy to see some ducklings this spring.

The Barley that we planted in early winter is not doing well thanks to a dry spell we seem to be going through right now. It is getting brown and just doesn't look well. I have been praying for rain to revitalize our "beer field" (that's what I call it). The garden wouldn't object to some rain, either.

I am so excited for spring, aren't you?! It's going to be great! We have so many plans and hope to get so much done this year - a good, wet spring would really, really start things off well. All according to His Will, of course.

Today, I am writing most of the day, with the regular chores and meal making sprinkled in. Tomorrow, if the weather allows, I will be doing a ton of laundry that I have let pile up, because I do that sometimes, and random spring cleaning chores. Oh! I have been working on an Off Grid Laundry post recently, look for that soon. Until then, check out this interview I did on Christian Farm and Homestead Radio on the subject of doing laundry off the grid.

Well, I know this blog has been sorely devoid of pictures, but I have just failed in the photography department lately. I am sorry. Perhaps I will get that remedied someday soon. Maybe.


Tracy M.

Ten Reasons Why We Should All Write More Letters.

“The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.” - Lewis Carroll 
“How wonderful it is to be able to write someone a letter! To feel like conveying your thoughts to a person, to sit at your desk and pick up a pen, to put your thoughts into words like this is truly marvelous.” - Haruki Murakami
“Every body at all addicted to letter writing, without having much to say, which will include a large proportion of the female world at least…” - Jane Austen (Haha!) 

That's what they have to say - here's why I do it.

Writing a letter is a great excuse to sit down, drink tea and concentrate on only one thing for awhile.

I put this reason first because it is my favorite reason. When else can you sit down and be completely silent and absorbed in one thing for half an hour on a busy homestead? The tea is a bonus. A lot of times I include one individually wrapped tea bag in the envelope I am sending off, just to share the love and make someone sit down for a little bit.

Letter writing is therapeutic and thought-provoking.

It is! Writing letters makes you look back on your week or day and evaluate the good moments. When I am writing a letter I always find myself looking back on a project or time and making it into a great story to share with other people. I find that very, very enjoyable and I know I love to read accounts of other people's adventures and/or misadventures.

Exchanging letters with a pen pal is a great way to keep children occupied with an educational and worthwhile project.

When I was little, I had a pen pal, and I will never forget her. She was a woman in her mid forties at the time and she took the time to write back to every scribbled letter I sent her way. She was my first pen pal and I like to think that the letters we exchanged way back then helped to instill in me a love of writing, storytelling and traditional communication skills. I have had countless pen pals since then, and each one has been a gift and a blessing in those times of my life that they graced. So get your child a safe pen pal and count it toward their English grades. I learned how to spell, correctly and comprehensively write with a pencil, fold a letter according to envelope size, and the parts that should be in every letter. Those are priceless and never forgotten skills, much like making beds and setting tables.

Receiving a handwritten letter brightens someone else’s day instantly.

You know how it feels to get a letter in the mail. Heck, I get excited about bank statements sometimes. (Don't judge.) So make someone's day. Decorate the envelope and write the person's name in fancy handwriting. You will truly be sending smiles across the miles.

Knowing proper letter composition and etiquette is important.

I mentioned this before, but I will mention it here again. Learning about how letters should be written is not snobbish or weird. It is interesting and important. Moving away from the more recent forms of communication like Facebook, emailing, and texting is a big step in our march Off Grid and in our moving toward a more sustainable and traditional style of living. Letter writing is a huge component of any off grid community, close or scattered across the miles.

Keeping up your handwriting skills is a golden habit.

Let's all be honest. Our handwriting could use some work since Mr. Zuckerburg made typing a much bigger part of our lives. I type everything I write professionally, and I find that it kind of numbs me to the actual worth of a word. Writing what I write on paper with a pen would make the whole of my work much, much more precious and dear to me. So imagine what writing a letter would be worth. It takes longer, requires more effort and skill, and is really more valuable in the long run, no matter what they told us in typing class. On this train of thought, maybe I will write something about my love for journaling someday, an even more important practice in the eyes of a farm girl with big hopes like myself.

It gives you something to look forward to.

Just like you have made someone smile when they find your profession of friendship and love in their mailbox, finding a letter for yourself is just a downright joyful experience. I'm not a Nazi about people writing back, but when they do it really makes my day, I tell you. It pays to write letters.

It is personal, kind and touching to know that someone took the time to write you a letter.

Now as you are reading this you might be laughing because you are a mother or a busy farmer or a person with a career. How would you ever find the time? I understand. My pen pals will be quick to add that I am an "on again off again" letter writer and I should probably not be preaching about it. Okay, fine. I of all people know that it isn't feasible to keep up a weekly correspondence when you have a house/farm/job to run. But the next time it is someone's birthday, anniversary or you really would like to reach out to them, just write them a note! Not everything has to be a well compiled, pages-long, eloquent letter. Just buy one of those $1.00 packages of "Hello!" notes at the drugstore, and use them to just say hi, instead of a Facebook message, text or email. I promise it will mean so much more to that person.

Writing letters is an ancient practice and an elegant skill.

Yeah, yeah. We've been over that.

It creates priceless keepsakes that can be compiled and looked back upon on lazy Saturday afternoons.

I have a box on my dresser - a large box - full of letters that I have been compiling for 7 years now. I actually have two boxes, but I can't tell you where the other one is at the moment. Anyways, don't throw away letters once you get them! They are priceless pieces of nostalgia a few years down the road. Maybe that's just me, but I love going back over old letters. It is like going into a time machine and seeing what you were talking about, what was happening and what was important back then. I know, I know, 7 years isn't ages, but it is about 1/3 of my age at the moment, so work with me here. 

As always, this is my opinion on the matter.

Maybe, perhaps I have inspired someone to write a letter! This seems like a good place to give you this:

1251 CR 132
Santa Anna, Texas

Just in case. :)

Tracy M.

My First Written Interview.

I am so excited about this! I have done an interview with Shannon over at the totally awesome Cultures for Health blog. You should really check it out!

Okay, I'm done bossing you about.

Tracy M.

Wild Edibles Part I: Stinging Nettles.

Urtica dioica ... or something like that. I have a love/hate relationship with the plant. Because while walking by it in the heat of summer without long socks is not a pretty or enjoyable thing to do, there really are so many ways to use stinging nettle (wearing gloves) that perhaps I can forgive it it's abrasive personality. Maybe.

This is the picture that wikipedia gives for the Urtica dioica plant. This plant looks a little different from the plant that grows in our dry climate, but I am really sure that they are in the same family. That is to say that using the stinging plant that grows on our property in stinging nettle recipes has not only not killed anyone, it has been 100% effective.
For starters, stinging nettle is extremely useful from a medicinal standpoint. My family has regularly made tintures with it to be taken in defense against allergies, colds and flus. Nettles are commonly used in natural medicinals as an excellent anti-inflammatory, so taking stinging nettle tincures or supplements aids in joint health and urinary tract health, and can also help maintain a healthy head by controlling dandruff and promoting glossy, strong hair growth. We made our tintcure by picking the leaves off of young nettle plants, and crushing them in a mortar and pestle. Then, we filled a pint jar half way full with the crushed leaves (still using gloves- you haven't disarmed them yet) and then filling the jar with cheap vodka. (Is there even such thing as expensive vodka?) Let the tinture sit for a few weeks before using it.

My family has been trying out new ways to use nettles for years. We have boiled it and made a lovely greens side dish from it, we have even mixed it with our canned pork. It is really delicous once disarmed. It tastes like a cross between spinach and cucumber, however weird that sounds. You can just toss it into soups, which is great, and drying and grinding the leaves makes a great tea addition, and I have heard tell that nettle tea helps to ease traditional menopausal symptoms.

The thing I have been looking into most recently is making rennet for cheesemaking by steeping the leaves. That is a priceless use in my book, especially if you don't really have a calf to butcher every year just for cheesemaking endeavors.

Any form of cooking will disarm the scary leaves of this plant. You will want to wear gloves during harvest, but about 10 minutes of boiling, sauteing, or most any cooking procedure will soften or dissolve the microscopic needles that cause irritation.

If you can find this priceless plant growing on your homestead (please make sure it is the right plant before using it!) then you are in business, because there are endless ways to use it. It is the star of some pretty amazing recipes, a few of which I am anxious to try this season:

Garlicky Nettle Pesto

This weird lasanga.

Nettle Ravioli

(Can you tell I love Italian food much?)

If you have ever used stinging nettles in an awesome and different way, let me know in the comments! :)

Until Next Time,

Tracy M.

A Week in the Mountains.

Aaaand I'm back.

It's been a busy ten days. Really busy. And now I am trying to recover, mentally and physically. But what a blast! We spent a week in Angel Fire, NM in a house my Grandfather owns there. I had a really nice time, and the weather was good. It didn't start snowing until the night before we left. It's a beautiful place.

And now I am home again, and it is really icy and cold, but hopefully it will blow over soon so we can get out to the gardens again. We have to get some spring stuff going ready for the last frost (whenever that will be) so I hope it warms back up again this week.

I should be back with a worthwhile post sometime this week - trying to get back into the swing of writing and such. It should be a great month as far as homesteading goes, I am so glad to be home again. I got homesick!

Have a wonderous Sunday evening, and I will talk to everyone soon, DV.

Tracy M.

Five Ways to Serve Home-Canned Meat.

If you are like I was - when you have canned that first batch of beef or pork, you open up that first jar and go ... "Okay, now what am I supposed to do with this?" Or maybe not. Maybe you aren't as clueless as I am in the kitchen.

At any rate, here are some ways I love to serve canned beef or pork cubes - even turkey or chicken. My family has come up with some great and delicious ways to consume this perfectly preserved meat. Here are just a few of them:

1. The most obvious and perhaps the simplest option is to make soup - and this is also a great option if you have canned the broth of your meat, too. You can make any soup from canned meat - and use other canned ingredients from your cold storage, too. You can also make my potato soup with canned pork or canned pork sausage.

2. You can make a great hash-style dish I came up with a few years ago in a wild panic to make a simple but filling meal for a work crew when I was low on groceries. It's simple but we make it at least once a week with a batch of my wheat tortillas. Here is the "recipe", although it is really too simple to merit a written out recipe. You can really add anything to it, I have added fried cabbage, steamed carrots, and even fried collards to it.

Canned Meat and Potato Hash ... Thingy
  • 1 quart jar of home-canned beef, venison or pork
  • 3-4 medium potatoes, washed and cut into smallish cubes
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped coarse
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
Heat about 1/4-1/2 cup of oil over medium high heat until it pops when you flick water at it. Add the potatoes and onions and garlic and cover. Cook the potatoes and onions until they are just tender, stirring them frequently and covering them when you aren't stirring them to keep them steam in and stop them from popping oil all over the place.

Once the potatoes and onions are tender, drain off about half or all of the oil, depending on whether you'd like it in the finished dish or not. Then add the canned beef or pork, draining off the broth if you like, but you can leave it in there for a more stew-y dish. It's up to you.

Salt and pepper the hash to taste and serve it hot with green beans and tortillas. (That's what I do, anyways.)

3. Make a sandwich spread! You can do this with any meat: beef, pork, turkey, venison or chicken, but it is usually better with white meats. Just drain the quart of canned meat, put it in a bowl, break it up with a fork and add 2-3 heaping dinner spoons of mayo. Then you can add a sour element, like pickle relish or sauerkraut. Then you can add really anything - chopped onions, tomatoes, cheese pieces. This can be stored in a covered container in your refrigerator and used to make sandwiches or to spread on crackers, like tuna, or really you can just eat it alone. I do that sometimes.

4. You can put canned meat in your eggs for breakfast - just stir it into the bowl of raw eggs and maybe add some salsa and chopped onions (noticing a pattern here?) and you have a delicious, filling breakfast. Hey, even scoop it onto a tortilla, add some sour cream and bam! Breakfast burritos!

5. Make tacos. You can use drained canned meat cubes to make tacos just like you would drained fresh ground meat. Just add the seasonings to a slightly fried, drained frying pan of canned meat, add some peppers, onions, and maybe some fried potatoes, and you can use those tortillas again with some fresh greens and tomatoes from the garden to make some seriously great tacos. Add some cultured dairy like cheese and sour cream, and you have hit the ball out of the park.

So, you can really use canned meat cubes for a lot of things, I just thought it might be helpful if I shared some ways that my family loves to eat canned meat to help inspire your off-grid kitchen.

If you have some great new ideas or ways you serve canned beef, pork, venison, chicken or turkey, share them in the comments!!

Blessings and I hope you all have a great week.
Tracy M.