Monthly Archives: July 2012

Four Years of Julys

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Just hours before July is over, below are the past four years of July’s.

2008

2009

2010

2011

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Filed under four year archives

A Third Year of Buying Grassfed

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Last week Scott picked up our annual beef purchase. We started buying a quarter of a cow three years ago (talked about here in 2010) from a local producer, Beltane Ranch and we haven’t looked back since. At first we started doing this for the health benefits but over the years we’ve found a number of reasons why this makes sense for our family:

•  Buying beef in this way, we know our money goes to three sets of local people, the folks at Beltane Ranch, the butcher, and the meat market. Our money stays in Sonoma, which, because we vote with our dollars, is important to us.

•  We always have dinner on hand. Now that we’ve moved out of town, this is even more important for our busy family. A quick walk through in the veggie garden and a shopping trip in the freezer almost always gives us a dinner. Our quick, last minute dinner now is almost always hamburgers, which are significantly better than any hamburger you can get in a restaurant.

• We eat like kings. All this beef is dry aged for over 20 days. Doing that lets excess water evaporate and increases the tenderness and flavor. You can’t buy dry aged hamburger in the store and to buy dry aged grass fed steaks in the store, for two adults, would cost around $50. We eat them for around $5/lb. and they honestly are delicious (that comes from someone who has never been a big red meat eater). We taste the difference easily now, going to restaurants or parties the difference between our Beltane beef and feedlot beef.

•  We are more creative cooks. We get a little bit of everything in this order so along with steaks and stew meat and hamburger come bones, shanks, and the entire range of steaks. Scott has now mastered the cooking of all the cuts of meat and I know that then I see beef shanks go in the slow cooker, bones simmering on the stove, or a package of ‘T-bone’ steaks thawing on the counter (my favorite cut of steak), dinner is going to be good. We’ve also learned how important it is to raise the temperature of beef up to room temperature before you cook it. Cold beef hitting the grill or stove top results in livery tasting meat. Cooking with room temperature meat completely improves the flavor.

•  It really is much healthier. “Grass-fed meat, milk, and eggs contain less total fat and less saturated fats than the same foods from grain-fed animals. Pastured animals also contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that some recent studies indicate may help reduce weight and prevent cancer, and which is absent from feedlot animals. But perhaps most important, meat, eggs, and milk from pastured animals also contain higher levels of omega-3s, essential fatty acids created in the cells of green plants and algae that play an indispensable roll in human health, and especially in the growth and health of neurons–brain cells.” -Michael Pollen. Grass fed beef also contains much higher levels of Vitamin E and beta carotene. If we are to be committed meat eaters, we are happy to do so in a healthier way.

You too can eat grass fed if you aren’t already. Check out Eat Wild to find local grass fed farmers in your area. And if you are in Sonoma, Beltane Ranch beef is served at Breakaway Café and you can buy it by the pound at Sonoma Market.
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(In other news, I thought I’d try out a facebook page for A Sonoma Garden. If you participate in facebook, please give us a like!)

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Filed under in the kitchen

Summer of Alchemy : : the Good & the Bad

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A while back I posted that I had deemed that this summer I was going to experiment around with more homemade body care & natural cleaning recipes. My first move was researching, which found me with two very promising books from the library: Clean, Naturally and Soap Book, both by Sandy Maine. They both looked so promising at first, full of interesting essential oil blends, nice layouts, easy instructions. I was motivated to start experimenting.

Being that our house was being invaded by ants that week, I set out to make an all purpose soft soap that was advertised to keep bugs at bay. I carefully grated a bar of Dr. Bronner’s Lavender soap, softly boiled it with a mint tea I made from our garden, added in some baking soda & borax, and completed it with a few dashes of tea tree oil. I stirred it gently, so pleased with the lovely smell and the alchemy that was simmering away on my stove. I promptly cleaned all the kitchen counters with it that evening with gusto, so happy to hopefully have found a solution to our ant problem.

The next morning I woke up and not only were there many more ants crawling around our counters, but the ‘soft’ soap I had made turned rock hard. How I’m going to ever get it out of that jar is beyond me. I quickly deemed that recipe a failure.

Moving though these two books, I soon became concerned that every single soap recipe calls for Crisco and that almost all cleaning recipes called for sodium lauryl sulfocacetate. Now I know that there are worse chemicals on the market than SLS, but why use it if there are so many natural cleaning concoctions that don’t call for it. And why Crisco, when you can use a variety of so many other good oils?
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So I moved onto a lotion recipe that used both beeswax and honey. It was called Queen Bee Lotion, a great name! I’ve learned in my experimenting over the years that it’s very important to follow the recipe as written the first time through. Then should I feel good about the results, I can start getting creative. And it’s also a good idea to half the recipe amounts, so as not to waste expensive ingredients if things should go wrong. Very luckily I halved this recipe because look how it turned out. At first I became alarmed because it never set up, it stayed very liquid. And then the next morning I woke up and found it full of mysterious white dots! Would you want to rub this into your skin? No thanks!
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With three strikes against these books, I returned them, thankful that I didn’t buy them. Very luckily though I quickly followed up with a body butter recipe from a book I did buy, Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homeade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self, and I have to say it’s divine! The best lotion I’ve made to date. But I’m not ready to share just yet. Now that I’ve followed the recipe exactly, it’s time to get creative and put my own spin on it and then I’ll share it with you.

Let the Summer of Alchemy continue!

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Summer Days

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The days have been full which means the blog has been quiet. Summer with all kids at home is a busy time! However, with inspiration from one of my new favorite blogs, Floret Flower Farm, I made time to put flower picking higher on the priority list.
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Upon request for banana bread, we decided we needed more shelled walnuts. This should have been a rainy day winter task, but we work against deadline, so with banana bread batter waiting, we cracked one more grocery bag full of walnuts. There is nothing that makes two boys happier than to hand them hammers and tell them to break something, repeatedly. We had those walnuts cracked in no time.
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The kids and I drove up to the mountains and spent time relaxing and hiking with my parents, which was so good. So many wildflowers were in bloom, the meadows were gorgeous!
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I checked in on how The Girls are doing. When our little girl sees the hives she now says, “Hi Girls!” I think things are going pretty well, though I am a tad worried about the laying pattern, or rather lack there of, of one queen. I am hoping to find a mentor soon to go through and show me what I’m really looking at. However as far as I can tell, it looks as though both hives each have one full box of honey stored so far. I’m taking that as a good sign.

Now, on to another busy summer day!

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Filed under Life in Sonoma

Notes from the weekend

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::  The boys and I made a teepee. This had been an idea in my head since we moved here. After we built it, they haven’t played in it at all. Some ideas are better in the head than in reality. I think the view is great, maybe I’ll move in.
::  We made homemade honey cinnamon ice cream in the old hand-crank ice cream freezer. We received that ice cream maker for our wedding, from Scott’s parents, as hand cranked ice cream was their summertime ritual when Scott was growing up. I’d love to share the recipe, but he made it up, as always. It was delicious!
:: After going to a garden party this weekend and seeing what the hostess did with her roses, I immediately came home and planted our mint among the roses too. And I think I’ll plant lavender here and there around them too. Oh the fragrance from it all on that hot day!
::  Though I had no business in doing so, I bought a hydrangea this weekend. It was love at first sight. I tried my best to walk away, I was only there for the bee balm. But as soon as I saw it, my feet wouldn’t move any other direction except to the cash register.
::  Our meals are starting to take a shift towards being more and more homegrown. Beet greens, potatoes & onions. Looking forward to more meals like this!

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If you squint your eyes and turn your head a little….

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I ran into a friend the other week who asked how the garden was growing. I replied back in a relatively negative way commenting on all the things that weren’t doing well. But truthfully, for our first growing season in a new garden, things are going just fine. Yes, there is still a large learning curve we have yet to round, but all in all, things are coming along quite well.

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The tomato patch is developing beautifully. Doesn’t it always amaze you year after year that just a few month ago you put a small speck of a seed in a little soil and now it’s grown to the top of your five foot high cages? Every year I’m in disbelief. New cages were in order.

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The peppers are setting on in profusion after a sprinkling of and watering in of epsom salts a few weeks ago. That gives them a magnesium boost and causes them to make more peppers. We’ve already eaten our first round of Padrons, they aren’t so spicy this early in the season.
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Even though we planted the onions much later than we normally do (in late Feb/early March I think?) they grew almost better than in years past. Before we planted in early January and they’d always bolt before it was time to harvest them, this year nary a one bolted. Maybe the key is to plant them late in this climate.
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As long as you stand back far enough the beans don’t look bug eaten, nor does the popcorn look like rabbits nibbled on them.

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Same with the kale, as long as you squint your eyes and turn your head a little to the left, this row doesn’t look bug bitten in the least.
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The escarole hasn’t been touched at all. I was worried that if the bugs didn’t like it then the boys certainly wouldn’t like it however, last week I made a pasta dish with escarole, spinach and chard from Chez Panisse Vegetables that the boys ate all of, even every last green! I couldn’t believe it. I need to save that recipe!

I guess maybe it’s hard in the garden not to get focused on the things not going well. You put so much effort into tending to things that when a rabbit comes and eats it straight down to the ground, or an unknown bugs wipes out an entire row of seedlings in a night, it’s hard not to let that frustration be our point of focus. But that’s the learning part of gardening, seeing what does grow well, what doesn’t, what your pests are and what diseases show up. Pretty soon, as each year passes, we’ll learn how this little patch of earth works, but for now it’s a practice of passing over the negative and focusing on what is doing well.

Happy weekend friends!

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Filed under state of the garden