Erin's self-sufficiency blog

Dedicated to sharing my efforts in radical homemaking, self-sufficiency, simplicity, and general craftiness on a very, very small budget.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Owl, brown sugar, and kid food.

I worked on a few projects over the past few weeks.  I haven't accomplished a lot of new stuff lately, mostly because what I'm doing is taking a long time, or because I'm doing stuff I've already blogged about before.  That doesn't mean that I'm behind in my homemaking (unless you are talking about cleaning or decorating.  Then I am behind.)

The first thing I want to show is a little owl I knit for the baby.  It's my first knit stuffed toy.  It wasn't difficult at all (okay, that's a lie.  Starting out with three stitches in a round was difficult.  It took me a couple of days how to do this without the needles sliding out of the stitches.)  The pattern is from the lovely Rachel and you can buy it here:  I also have my eye on the All the Trees of the Fields Will Clap Their Hands hat pattern.

It's soooo cute.

I also want to tell you all about something I've been doing for a while that you should be doing too.  That is making my own brown sugar.  Many people are unaware that brown sugar is not, in fact, unrefined sugar, but is refined white sugar with molasses added back in.  So if it's really important to you to use unrefined sugar, look for raw or turbinado sugar, which has a lovely taste.  Also keep an eye out for jaggery in Indian grocery stores.  It is not meek.  If you don't mind eating refined sugar, then you can make your own brown sugar, save a few bucks and not have to worry about weird additives.

You need white sugar, molasses, and a large ziplock bag.  A bowl might be nice too.  Take however much white sugar you want--I usually do two cup amounts.  Then add a tablespoon of molasses for each cup of sugar.  You can add more or less depending on how molasses-y you want it.  Then rub it together.  Really get your hands in there and combine it all (of course you should wash your hands first.)  When you are finished and all the molasses is incorporated, put it in the ziplock.  If your brown sugar starts to harden, throw in a little piece of bread or a piece of apple and it will sort itself out.  If you are using apple, remove it once the sugar is soft again.  The apple won't go bad but it will start to draw molasses out of the sugar.  The bread can be left in there indefinitely.

Finally I made a meal that was the result of a difference in parenting philosophy between Jason and myself.  I think that kids should have to eat all the same food that the adults are eating.  No, they won't like it all, but this way they can develop tastes and learn to try foods they might not like if they are guests at someone's home.  Jason thinks that we should make kid-friendly food and not force them to eat things they don't like.  We struck up a compromise: half the time they will eat adult food and half the time they will eat kid food.  So I thought I'd better learn to make kid food.  I rather haughtily made a statement about chicken nuggets being a forbidden food, because I know what goes in them (a lot of not-good stuff).  Jason thought I was banning all breaded chicken under any circumstance.  So I decided to make my own chicken nuggets, made out of actual chicken.  I took chicken breast (boneless skinless, which I hardly ever use, but which has increasingly been on our table since I became pregnant and stopped liking anything with any sort of depth of flavor).  I took the heels off some loaves of bread and toasted them in the oven.  When they were toasted I ground them in the food processor to make breadcrumbs.  So I cut up the chicken, beat an egg, coated the chicken in the egg, coated that in the breadcrumbs, and panfried it.  It came out pretty good, although a little bland.  I might have to add more salt to the breadcrumbs, or make a tasty dipping sauce (neither Jason nor I are crazy about ketchup).  I also make oven-baked yam "fries", as the smell of the deep-fryer drives me crazy these days.  I tossed them with a little oil and some seasonings: salt and pepper as well as Cajun seasoning.  I baked that until the little yam sticks were tender.  I also made sauteed asparagus, which might not necessarily be the most kid friendly vegetable in the world, but maybe wouldn't be so bad either.  I learned this recipe from a store that was giving out samples.  All I did was snap the ends off the bottoms of the asparagus, wash it, and fry it in a little olive oil with salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic until it turned bright green.  Then I took it off the heat and served it.  You really must try it.  Jason hated asparagus until this recipe. I tasted it in the store and said, "This will convert you to liking asparagus" and it did.  So even if you think you hate asparagus, you must try this recipe.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Odds and sods

I have a few more items that I have neglected to post.  This post will be a round-up of those items.

First, I did this in the beginning of January.  I took a class at Collage in Portland.  It was for feather-earring making.  I made these two in class and I have supplies to make another pair, which I haven't gotten around to yet.

They're quite sturdy, sturdier than any feather earrings I have ever bought.  I've yanked on them by accident and they've been fine.

I also did a bit of baking.  I'm really getting into baking lately.  I made some cornmeal muffins, which I neglected to photograph before we scarfed them down.  I also made these cheese biscuits.

I baked a dozen of these and this was all that was left by the time I remembered to photograph them.  I'd also like to do cookies and cupcakes, with icing, but I'm supposed to avoid having too many sweets and I know I won't be able to resist the temptation.  Somehow, I have aversions to healthy things but never to sweets.

Speaking of aversions, they've made eating a bit difficult.  I can't deal with a lot of protein foods right now, including dark meat of poultry, cottage cheese, eggs, or tuna, basically anything a poor person can afford.  I can have peanuts, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, ground beef, and the white meat of poultry.  Also, I can't have tomato sauce or ramen noodles.  I made this pasta dish to eat around my aversions:

This dish is a pesto-cream sauce with chicken breast and roasted acorn squash on top of spaghetti.  I did not make the pesto myself, as it's hard to financially justify making your own pesto unless you grow your own basil and have access to a cheap supply of pine nuts and good parmesan (it's not hard to justify it based on taste, however.)  Also, I don't have a pasta machine or I would have made fettucini. I did make the sauce myself, which was technically a bechemel rather than a cream sauce but the taste is similar.

Jason is really getting into brewing.  Baking and preserving are my domains (we share cooking) but he is all about the brewing.  The only help he needed making the last batch of ginger beer was in sterilizing the jars.  Otherwise I declare him our household brewmaster!

Valentine's Day

We didn't have big plans for Valentine's Day because we were so focused on the baby that we kind of forgot about ourselves.  We did have a big romantic day however, even if a bit baby-centric.

First, we made pancakes for breakfast.  I was clever and figured out how to make the pancakes heart-shaped by slowly pouring in the batter with a spoon.

There they are in the pan, and here they are all finished:

They were so yummy.

In the afternoon we met with the midwives (of course I want to do birth myself, right?)  It was a good meeting and they shared our values and our vision of birth, so it was great.

For dinner, I made salisbury steak with onion gravy, mashed potatoes, and broccoli with cheese.

The gravy actually came with a mix, as hamburger meat doesn't really give enough drippings to make gravy with.  Although I should try it sometime and see if it's actually true.  I added the onions myself though.

We ate the dinner picnic-style on the floor.  We wanted a picnic outside but it was raining, as it is wont to do in the Pacific Northwest this time of year.

Also, being the romantic wife that I am, I got my husband a beer-making kit.  We are planning on trying it out this weekend.  He will tell me what it's like.

Babythings for my babything

I have an announcement to those who haven't heard:  I'm pregnant!  We're super-excited and looking forward to this baby sooooo much.  I can't even express how happy we both are, and our families have been awesome and supportive.

To celebrate and prepare, I've been obsessed with knitting for the baby.  Since I started knitting for the baby two weeks ago, I've finished two projects.

The first one is a hat that is supposed to be reminiscent of an umbilical cord.  I got the pattern from the first Stitch 'n' Bitch book.  It's supposed to fit a newborn, but I hope to God my newborn's head isn't going to be big enough to fit it!

There's the hat in profile.  Here it is with a roll of tape to give size perspective:

And another shot on the head of the plush cat, Crookshanks:

I've also made a pair of booties from the second Stitch 'n' Bitch book (Stitch 'n' Bitch Nation).  They were very quick and I finished them in an evening.

Here they are with the tape:

They're so wee!  Here they are in Jason's hands:

That's what I've made so far.  Next I want to make a little owl.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On not being dogmatic

As you all know, I try do do things myself whenever I possibly can.  For the most part, this has worked out really well.  I save money, I feel proud of myself, and the stuff I make is usually high quality and I'm happy with it.  I am learning that it is important not to be too dogmatic about this, though.  Not just for the sake of not being all hoity-toity about others who are not doing it, but also for my own sake.

In Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs, there is this:

"This, I think, is most important: if something makes you feel gross, or itchy, or you'd really rather take a pill, listen to your gut and do what is best for your terrifically free and unique body.  This book is about making your life better, not about being hardcore."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I am having problems with my homemade toothpaste.  Jason is doing fine with it, so I'll keep making it for him.  But I am going to stop using it.  I have receded gumlines, which means that I have sensitive teeth.  And the abrasiveness of the homemade toothpaste means that it is scratching at my already-thin enamel.  My teeth have been in a lot of pain lately, whenever I drink something hot or cold, or eat something sweet or sour, or even breath in a big breath of air through my mouth.  It's becoming difficult to chew on one side of my mouth.  So I have decided to stop using the homemade toothpaste and go back to using Sensodyne (or its generic equivalent). I found a sample of Sensodyne from the dentist and it made my teeth so happy.  Happy teeth are teeth that can chew, and chewing is important.  So back on it I go.  I know it contains a lot of fluoride, which can be detrimental to health, but probably not as detrimental as not chewing.  I like chewing.  So Sensodyne it is.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why self-sufficiency?

My husband mentioned to me that although my blog is very good at telling people what I've been doing to increase my self-sufficiency, he noticed that I didn't talk much about why I did it.  Of course, he's heard all my philosophical ramblings about self-sufficiency and it didn't even occur to me that I hadn't shared them with the larger world.  So I decided to explore the question: why self-sufficiency?

#1. Saving money

This is a very straightforward answer.  In many cases, the more you do yourself, the more money you save.  We are in a position of having to save a lot of money right now.  There might be other reasons for saving money: investing in your future, saving up for something important, wanting to donate more to charity.  In any case, self-sufficiency gives you plenty of opportunity to save money.

#2. Getting things exactly how you want them

I read an article lately about how women's clothing is impractical.  It's too thin, doesn't have pockets, and wears out easily.  This can be solved by making clothing exactly how you want it.  The sweater I knit last year doesn't need any other layers, for example.  It's plenty warm by itself.  Also, I can't find cowl-necked, bell-sleeved sweaters anywhere (seeing how it's not 2001 anymore) but I still like them.  This can apply to food, beauty supplies, just about anything you do yourself.  It just takes some practice and skill-building.

#3. Pride

I feel damn good about using something I've made myself.  If you go to the grocery store and buy bread, it's just bread, although it might be yummy.  If I make bread myself, I'm proud of my bread, and I feel that pride every time I eat it or even look at it.  This doesn't mean that everyone needs to make their own bread, but it's good to have something that you can take pride in, especially outside of your paid job.  It's good to take pride in that too, but you don't want your whole identity to be about work.

#4. Intentionality

When I make most things myself, I am more aware of what I consume.  I'm less inclined to throw things away when they're broken.  I have to be very intentional about the things I do and use.  If I spend a year making a sweater, I can be damned sure that sweater is going to get the best care, will be repaired, and will be worn.  So I become more intentional about the things I own and use.  Also, there aren't as many impulse craft as impulse buys as you have to put time and effort into things, so you end up with less stuff you aren't really going to use.

#5. Sustainability

First I must admit that it is true that some things can be done more efficiently on the industrial level, and even consume fewer resources than if you did it yourself.  But for the most part, you waste less and use less energy when you do things yourself.  When you have to buy raw materials and supplies for things you are more aware of where they came from than if you buy finished products.  And that might give you some pause as you think about how things are produced.  In some cases the sustainability issues are clear: when I make my own hair gel, I'm not throwing away spent containers of mousse, and I'm not using any nasty chemicals.  Things can be more ambiguous in other ways though: the energy spent on home canning is less efficient than that spent on factory canning.  In any case, making your own stuff really tunes you in to the world around you.

#6. Fun

My purpose in life is to be a maker.  I have a hard time if I'm not making something.  I have lots of fun creating my own things, from dinner to clothing to beauty supplies to painting.  I think a lot of people have fun making things, even if they don't realize it yet.  Making things is up there for me as a fun thing to do, like heated Uno games or hanging out with friends laughing our guts out.

#7. A slower pace of life

I'm not someone who wants to spend all my time as a huge achiever in my career, networking at cocktail parties, buying all the latest crap, and hanging out with all the right people.  Some people might genuinely enjoy that kind of life but it's not for me.  I prefer to make the mundane special.  That's what matters to me.

#8. Feminism

For some, this might seem like a weird topic to bring up when talking about homemaking.  Well, it is and it isn't.  First, I need to remember that women used to have to do homemaking, and they had no choice.  Some probably hated it but it was the only option.  I would hate for someone to have to do self-sufficiency if they hated it.  That's why the modern conveniences were invented.  And I would hate for women to be stuck in the kind of lives that my grandmothers were stuck in.  On the other hand, in hindsight we can see that it was an overcorrection for the second-wave feminists to totally dismiss the domestic as being unworthy work.  This is because it devalues that which women have traditionally done.  Really, what men have traditionally done and what women have traditionally done should be equally embraced (and performed) by everyone.  So for cultural feminists like me, reclaiming women's work is an important feminist activity.  (For a wonderful critique of that point of view, please see this blog:  I'm so in love with it right now.)

Those are my current reasons for embracing self-sufficiency.  I should also point out that I don't currently work outside the home so I have time for all this.  Someone working a 60 hour workweek might not have time, especially if they have a family they'd like to spend time with.  So it's important that I don't see myself as better than anyone else because I do this.  I am very happy that I am living in line with my own values, however, and I hope others can live in line with their values as well.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A busy week

First of all, I wanted to say that I found the photo of the yoghurt. It looks a little weird but you'll get the idea.

Next, I want to lecture you on something. If you want to eat nutritious food for not very much money, you have to learn to make Indian vegetarian. I heard a quote once that there is no reason for poor Brits (this could also apply to Americans) to eat a thousand times worse than poor Indians. You need lentils, spices, rice, some vegetables, and maybe some yoghurt. The most important spices are cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and maybe some garam masala. I made a dish with a dhal, which is basically lentils cooked in a bunch of water, with some turmeric and salt. Then you fry the mustard seeds and cumin seeds, and when they are brown fry the turmeric and cayenne. Then dump the whole shebang into the lentils. In this particular instance I added some tamarind, which might be hard to find, depending on where you are. I also added a little brown sugar. For the vegetable I fried some garlic and ginger with the same spices (plus a little ground coriander, but that's not strictly necessary) then I threw in some potatoes, peas, and carrots. Then I added some water and covered it until it was cooked. I also made raita, using the homemade yoghurt, plus some lime juice, salt, and chopped cucumber. Then I cooked some brown rice. That's it. The healthiest I've ever been was when I subsisted mainly on Indian vegetarian. In fact, I've decided to become a weekday vegetarian and eat more of this kind of thing.

I gave myself a pretty successful haircut this week. Luckily I have curly hair and can hide all the mistakes. I don't have a picture because I hate having my photo taken.

We did some baking this week. I made bread. I usually make a whole wheat bread, with a little honey or brown sugar in it. I don't have two loaf pans so I shape them into a shape called a batard. When you bake bread, you should try to bake at least two loaves at once so that you don't end up costing in power the same that it would cost you to just buy the bread. Ideally you should bake four or five at a time but my mixer can only support two loaves and I usually don't have enough ingredients for four at any given time.

We also made homemade cookies. I used a whole wheat poppyseed cookie from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook by Mollie Katzen. They were tasty and not too sweet. The dough was really ugly, it was sort of grayish. The finished cookies look fine. I also should note that instead of eggs, I used flax seeds mixed with water. I learned this from a vegan cookbook. For baking, one tablespoon of flax seeds plus three tablespoons of water equals one egg. I like that you can sneak a little extra nutrition in there.

Finally, I want to recommend a book. It's called Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. Its focus is on health and first aid, cleaning and body care, and gardening. I'm most interested in the health and first aid and body care sections. I haven't heard much about DIY in those subjects, and it's such a sweet little book. I think it's a good complement to my other favorite homemaking book, The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency--On a Budget by Kate Payne. Its focus is on decorating, cleaning, gardening, mending clothes, fixing the house, and food preparation. I like to have all these resources around. For example, I'm pretty good at cooking (having gone to culinary school and working in restaurants and such) and I have many gardening books (but no garden), but I suck at decorating, and have no idea how to do healthcare myself. I think my next project is going to be salves. I plan on making a dry skin salve and a sore muscle salve. The procedure is similar to making lip balm.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012


I made yoghurt the other day. I took a photo of it but my photo seems to have disappeared. Anyways, I made it in the crockpot. I put a litre of milk in, and turned it on low heat for 2 1/2 hours. Then I unplugged it and left it alone for 3 hours. Then I took off the lid and scooped out about a cup of the milk into a bowl. Next I added a little package of culture and mixed that in with my one cup of milk. After that I added the milk back to the crockpot, put the lid back on, wrapped it in a bath towel, and left it overnight. It comes out pretty thick, although not as thick as storebought, which contains gelatin. Next time I make it, I'll reserve a quarter cup from the last batch and add that instead of the culture. You can do this five or six times until you need a new starter, either from a package or from storebought yoghurt. Unfortunately we broke the crockpot so I'll have to find another way to make it. I think I can do it in a pot on the stove, and put the pot in the oven with the light on overnight. But I'll have to look it up to be sure.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lip balm and a family recipe

I made a couple of things this week that I'm proud of. One thing I made was lip balm. I used beeswax, olive oil, and lime essential oil. I melted the wax and the olive oil in a double boiler, then added six drops of the lime oil, and then poured it into this little container. That's it! The thing that makes me really happy is that there used to be this all-natural lip balm that I absolutely loved. It was the best lip balm that I had ever tried, and I was happy that I wasn't spreading petroleum products on my mouth. However, I had to stop buying it because it was too expensive. This lip balm that I made? It's exactly the same thing! And the supplies cost pennies. So I think I am making my own lip balm forever.

The other thing that I made was a family recipe from my husband's family. My family doesn't really have recipes that are passed down, although some people have a dish that they're famous for. Anyways, I wanted to make one of the family recipes, called Derr's delight. Jason's aunt invented this recipe when she was in college. You brown some ground beef and add a chopped up onion and a green pepper. Then you add two cups of stock (my father-in-law insists that it must be consomme from the soup aisle. He will be annoyed that I used stock. I don't use consomme from the soup aisle because I can make my own stock from the stuff you usually throw away, and it doesn't cost me anything.) You also add a cup of rice. You simmer this for half an hour, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Because I didn't use canned consomme, I added some seasoned salt. If you use the canned stuff you won't need the salt, unless you love salt. Anyway it comes out gooey and good. It's great student food. I was happy to try out a family recipe. My husband has made it once before too, so it's not like I think I have to keep up all the cookin' traditions, as the woman and all. I just wanted to share in the heritage because his family is my family too now.

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