Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sustainable chickens

Days are shortening rapidly, and right now, we have no eggs from our hens. We have several pullets who are about the right age to begin laying now, but I've noticed the onset of laying may be delayed when a pullet reaches maturity in the late autumn or winter. We also have one hen (see above) who stopped laying when she went broody for the last time (she went broody 3 times this summer), and has been rearing her chicks ever since. 

My husband is less of a trusting nature than I am, and usually suspects our hens of hiding their eggs. I have, however, learned by observation that when the hens are laying, or are about to begin laying, they mate with the rooster; since they have all been shunning the rooster lately, and since I hear no "egg noises", nor see any suspicious moves of hiding under a bush, etc, I think I can say with a reasonable degree of safety we really have no eggs now. 

We heard from other people, whose hens are laying even now, that some artificial light in the coop at night, and some extra feed may do a lot to promote egg-laying, but we decided we will just leave the chickens be and let nature take its course. They all get some layer's crumbles, all our leftovers, and any plant or insect they can find on our lot, which is pretty large. All our chickens enjoy complete free range, except the Silkies, who are too delicate to be let out to fend for themselves. 

So here we remain, looking forward to longer days and some fresh eggs. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Little children have come to play

Little children have come to play,
Go and tell them that they may stay; 
Go and welcome them with a smile
To a place they may play a while.

Little children have come to play;
Make a gift of a pleasant day.
Sun comes up and goes down again - 
Give them shelter from wind and rain,

From the flurry of rushing by,
From the frown of a winter sky,
From the cry that there is no time,
From the notion that dream's a crime. 

Little children have come to play
Knowing they won't be turned away.
There's a child within every soul - 
Welcome him when he comes to call. 

Bubbles: Cottage Scene with Children at Play - James Dawson Watson
This adorable painting is called "Bubbles: Cottage Scene With Children At Play", by James Dawson Watson.

The poem above was written as I watched my girls play with their little friends, in contented simplicity, for hours. Nothing was required of me but to open the door, step back, smile, and sit in a quiet corner where I could observe without interrupting. Tears of gratitude filled my eyes over and over, for the time which, if not remembered explicitly in years to come, is laying a foundation to be cherished always.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How much does it cost to entertain (and be entertained)?

When you are revising your entertainment budget in pursuit of a simpler, more frugal lifestyle, it always seems you have an endless list of "don'ts": don't eat out; don't go to the movies; quit shopping for fun; and on and on. Instead, let us look at the "dos":

- Do have friends over to visit. Everybody appreciates a platter of home-baked cake and cookies, and some freshly brewed lemongrass tea from the garden.

- Do cook something interesting you have always wanted to try.

- Do curl up on the couch together and watch some great movie, alone or with your friends. The bonus is that at home, versus the movie theatre, you can take off your shoes.

- Do visit interesting thrift shops (but don't buy what you don't need - remember, stuff needn't clog up your home, even if you get it for free!).

- Do take hikes in your surroundings; it can be in the mountains or fields, if you live in a rural area, the seaside if you are fortunate enough to live by the sea, or up some interesting street you have never explored before, if you live in a city. You don't always have to travel far to see something new and fascinating.

- Do take the time to appreciate beauty in your surroundings; observe migrating birds, a glorious sunset, some chickens dust-bathing, the shape-shifting clouds in the sky. Take out your camera and make beautiful memories last by snapping some pictures.

- Do reap the benefits of simple lifestyle. Children who are content with a ride to the grocery store in Dad's car, are far easier to manage than those who will only be pacified with a trip to Disneyland.

Illustration photo: two children on a hike.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My lovelies, enjoying a sunshiny morning

 This bird (notice I'm careful not to say pullet or roo, because I cannot be sure!) might need a little trim to the crest, as you see it gets in the eyes.
 Posing to the camera.
Steered into the right direction by Shira's hand.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Making do with what you have

Shopping was somewhat of a neglected chore this week; and so, yesterday I found myself practically out of vegetables. I had no tomatoes, no eggplants, no zucchini; no carrots, no potatoes, and I was down to my last two onions. So the option of making soup was gone as soon as I contemplated it. My children asked for pasta, but I didn't even have tomato paste to make my usual simple "staple sauce". 

What I did have were a couple of sweet potatoes. I ended up cooking them, mashing them, adding some water and blending it all to form a thick sauce. I then added some fried onions with canned mushrooms, some salt and pepper, and served it all over pasta. I put some of the leftovers in my husband's lunch box today.

So, be brave and daring, and combine whatever ingredients you have to make a creative, unusual meal! You never know, it might become the next family favorite. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shopping strategies

Theoretically, if you don't waste money on gas it doesn't matter whether you go to the store once or three times a week. You just pop in, pick up all the items on your shopping list, pay and go. But, as we all are human, in practice going to the store more often usually results in spending more money, because you spot "just this one thing" you must have (though you perhaps wouldn't have even thought about it if you had not seen it). Then some things are on clearance so you buy heaps, and later it spoils, or you use it too lavishly. In short, the less often you go shopping, the less money you will spend. 

Plan ahead. Plan your meals - at least the more important meals of the week. Don't forget to make alterations when you know you are going to entertain, go on a vacation (so you won't buy what will spoil while you are gone), etc. Then make a shopping list accordingly. 

Stick to your shopping list. Of course there are some bargains it would really be a pity to miss. But most of the "great deals" are not so very great or necessary. Good deals on unhealthy stuff in a box are not really good. Same goes for good deals on stuff that will just clog up space in your home. 

Improvise. If you intended to make, say, avocado dip for entertaining but found out you ran out of avocado, you can quickly run to the store and buy avocado, and perhaps ten other things on the way. Or you can take a look at what you do have, and alter your plan accordingly. If you have cream cheese and tomatoes, for example, you might make tomato salsa and/or a cream cheese dip.

And in conclusion... just love this:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Make things last

Part of living economically is not only the avoidance of unnecessary purchases, but also making things last; by "things" I mean anything you would use long-term - clothes, shoes, appliances - as well as your non-perishable grocery store items, such as toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, cleaning products, etc.

With clothes it's really straightforward. We have work/play clothes, which we tend to treat a little more carelessly (and more often than not, we either got them for free or for a bargain), and we have good clothes, such as for Shabbat. Clothes go into the wash because they need a wash, not because they had been worn once. Of course, with children's clothes, being worn once usually means a wash is in order!.. 

Doing less loads of laundry means reducing your expenses of electricity, water, detergent, and wear and tear on the clothes and on your washing machine. Line-drying minimizes wear and tear, too, not to mention saves electricity. 

Good shoes receive regular treatment of shining, oiling and polishing, which makes them last longer. I have a black pair for summer and a black pair for winter, and they are in such condition that I hope they might last years. Of course, for walking, yard jobs and home, I also have sneakers, mud boots, and slippers. 

When it comes to non-perishables, I guess disposables should be mentioned. I wish I could say I don't use disposables, but I will be honest. I do. Just last night, we had friends over and I used paper cups because it was late at night and I couldn't face waking up to a sink full of dirty glasses. Sometimes, when you go out for a picnic, for example, using disposables makes sense. But generally I try to minimize that.

As for other non-perishables, I don't mean to imply gross things such as that you shouldn't wash your hair, skip washing your hands, etc. Use what you need - but not more than you need, like the manufacturers of every product would have you do (so that you run out soon and go and have to buy more). Have you noticed the enormous holes they make in toothpaste tubes? If I'm not careful and squeeze just a little bit too hard, half the toothpaste comes out at once. 

I used to wash my hair three times a week, and thought I needed it. But then, one winter it was cold and I only washed two times a week, and I noticed that very soon, my scalp adjusted its oil production so that I had the same result as when I washed three times a week. Now I wash once a week, and find it more than enough to keep my hair in good condition. This, obviously, means I use three times less shampoo and conditioner.

It's important to keep your hands clean, especially when working in the kitchen, but you don't have to use soap every time. Using too much soap makes your skin dry. When I use detergents - such as for laundry, for floors, for windows, etc - I always use less than is recommended, and the results are very satisfactory. Remember, the instructions on the package are made by people who want you to use it all up and go buy more! 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Recycled chicken breast

I don't know about you, but around here, every time I make a chicken for Shabbat everyone is vying for the legs, and no one wants the breasts. So, at the beginning of pretty much every week I find myself with leftover chicken breast to try and make something of.

Usually I cut the chicken breast into wedges and then make stir-fry with any veggies I have on hand, to serve over noodles or rice. Today, however, I ran out of onions (an indispensable part of stir-fry, for me), so I simply decided to dip the chicken wedges into beaten egg and then breadcrumbs, and fry until crisp. 

Not the healthiest alternative, perhaps, but at least we didn't waste food. It will do this time. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dough day

For lunch today, homemade pizza with fresh tomato sauce and toppings of olives, mushrooms and grated cheese. I finally managed to get the crust as thin as I like. 

And for Shabbat, challah bread that goes into the freezer until tomorrow evening to keep nice and fresh. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Some yarn again

Just thought I'd share this little photo of a work-in-progress, a round frilly poncho I'm making for Shira. 
It's nice to... I was about to say, work on some special project again, but then recalled that actually, every day of our life here can be considered as a special project.

At any rate, it's good to be crocheting again - and I might even be able to finish this one before winter fully sets in! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Real Food philosophy

I remember once upon a time, when I was in university, I was required to draw up a daily menu which had to include precisely such-and-such number of calories, exact levels of protein, iron, fibers, etc. All food groups had to be represented at each meal. Compiling that menu caused me a great deal of headache, and it was, of course, used by no one eventually. 

Personally I find the idea of a fixed menu very rigid. Obviously, we should all have regular mealtimes (generally breakfast, lunch and dinner, perhaps with breaks for mid-morning and afternoon tea as well), but some days we feel hungrier than at others; sometimes we eat meat, sometimes we don't; sometimes we have a big salad, sometimes we skip vegetables altogether.

Instead of counting calories and fat percentages, here is a simple strategy I usually offer people who are trying to imrpove their eating habits and health:

1. Eat Real Food. By "Real Food" I mean food prepared in someone's home from wholesome basic ingredients such as grains, pulses, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit, dairy products and eggs. You get a bonus for organic fruit and veggies and pasture-fed meat, eggs and dairy products. Real Food does not contain processed artificially flavored products, refined sugars or preservatives (obviously, this is the ideal to strive for; no one should feel guilty for not being able to follow it perfectly).

2. Eat reasonable amounts. I know "reasonable" can be a shifty term, but most people, upon honest introspection, know when they overeat. However, I believe that after a period of Real Food adjustment, people naturally begin to eat less, or rather, just as much as they need, because Real Food satisfies hunger on a deeper, more genuine level; our body feels it has been well-nourished, and no longer gives off constant signals of, "I'm hungry! I need more food!"

3. "Do I really want to eat this?" When faced by something that is definitely not Real Food, ask yourself, "Do I really crave this? Will I feel deprived if I don't get it?" You might find yourself at a wedding reception, facing the most heavenly layered cream cake. I definitely wouldn't be able to resist that. But if you just want to munch on something and find yourself reaching for a bag of chips, you can tell yourself, "This isn't Real Food, and I don't even really like it this much. Therefore, I can put it aside and look for a healthier snack... without feeling I have given up too much." 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Don't use it? Don't buy it!

The nubmer one rule of wise shopping is Don't Buy What You Don't Use (or would like to use but haven't quite figured how, or don't have time to process, etc). Even if it's a good deal. Even if it's a really, really great deal. Actually, if something isn't going to be used, I wouldn't take it even for free. Why waste valuable space? I like it when my fridge, freezer and pantry are well-organized, with space to spare - not so clogged up I can hardly see what's in there. 

This rule is especially true for fresh produce (though for us Jews, Passover puts some extra limit on our magpie-like tendencies as well. There is no point to stock up on pasta if Pesach is just around the corner). Just today, I opened the fridge to see ten sad-looking eggplants on the shelf, and one that rather resembled a Petri dish (I chucked it straight into the garbage bin, though perhaps I should have taken a photo). Of course, I can think straight off the bat of a dozen things to do with eggplant. It's so incredibly versatile, it can be made into all kinds of dips, quiches, stir-frys, lasagna, etc... but I already started my cooking plan for the day, and I knew I will not be able to squeeze eggplant into it. Also, for lasagna I would need hard cheese and other things I currently don't have on hand. 

So, how did it happen that I have ten eggplants in the fridge, and they aren't exactly new residents, either? Easy; generally, I use 2-3 eggplants per week. My husband, however, finds it hard to resist these big glossy vegetables and buys, on average, 4-5 per week, even when they are not on the shopping list. So... they hang around until they aren't so glossy anymore. 

Lesson learned: when buying fresh produce, make a realistic estimate of how much of it you can use or preserve in a reasonable amount of time. For example, you can do a lot of wonderful things with bananas (banana bread, cake, smoothies, etc), but if you aren't into baking right now, or just think, upon honest reflection, that you will not be able to do it, better not buy it. Of course, if somehow these sneaky fruit do end up in your home ("they just fell into my shopping cart and I didn't even notice!"), and your kitchen looks like a fruit market, you can be a good sport and do your best to use it up. 

Other useful rules:

Don't buy it if it's not good for your health, even if it's cheap. 

There is hardly any point to buy more of something if you think it will only get used up faster. We have this scientific law in our home that states The Milk Will Run Out In Two Days. It hardly matters how much we buy. It will still all be gone, and I'll say, "I wish we could have milking goats again. No, no, of course I'm not serious. No, I don't want to go and have a look at that very cute Alpine doe, because I know I will once again find myself with more animals than I can handle."