Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book review - Omnivore Dilemma

This year I included a few books in our children's read alouds that aren't quite classics for homeschoolers, but I felt were important to be read by them. While my children are not as passionate as I am about organic living, they do understand through what I have shared with them and because of their business about why it is important to eat organically.

I began to feel that they needed a deeper knowledge of food and its origins  amongst other things, so that they can stand on their own convictions about what is morally right or wrong to eat and because of that, this book by Michael Pollan, ended up on our reading list: Omnivore's Dilemma

Divided into 4 sections based on meals that he would follow from source to plate, the book shares his adventure in eating the typical fast food meal (McDonalds) in his car with his family was a first stop. This is what he terms the industrial meal and we are introduced to Steer 457 who he buys as a small animal and watches it's progress through the feedlot to a MacDonald patty. 

He covers the broiler chickens, chemical food and all the horrendous food like substances that marketing passes off as something that is good for you. 

The overarching theme of this first section is how this world of food is driven by corn and soy and the decline of family based farms with mega industrial farms with their hazardous fertilizers, chemicals and pesticides taking over the majority of farm land in the USA.

Next he visits the industrial organic meal which is based on a simple illustration of a salad pack and "free range" hens. The salad farm started out with a. Couple who had a vision about prewashed salads which w are so familiar with. Their business expanded to meet demand and soon they were mechanizing and using organic pesticides to supply the customers needs. Pollan clearly outlines why this is still not the best option for people, plants, animals and the earth.

Then comes my favorite. We are introduced to Joel Salatin at Polyface farms. I have known about Joel for about two years and have watched his videos on YouTube when I find them. I have also had his books on my wish list for quite a while. I eventually swallowed the price and ordered his one on family farms which I am expecting any day now. After Michael has spent a week working on the farm in its different sections he ends up in the slaughter shed on the Friday to help with the weekly slaughtering of the chickens for client orders. This is handled honestly and openly and will leave anyone who is an meat eater understanding why city abattoirs as so incredibly wrong!

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms
Doing it the Polyface way means that an animal has a happy healthy life as it is meant to it's natural environment and then it is dead. There is not transporting, stress, pain or misses. It is clean, quick and part of the life cycle.

While this was the chapter that was the best for me, it was also the worst as Pollan also shares exactly what happens in a slaughter house, which is completely inhumane and should be known to everyone who eats meat. As long as industrial animal farms are supported by the public this cruelty will not end.

The farmer who grows our animals for us does not make use of a abattoir, but has a license and the correct paperwork and checks to slaughter on her farm. These animals are raised in a very close manner to Polyface and we eat and enjoy them with a  clear conscience.

Then we get to his hunter, gatherer, forager meal as the last section of Pollan's journey which is a delightful exploit of finding mushrooms he is convinced will kill him, getting cherries from his sisters neighbors tree and hunting for wild boar. This meal is served to the friends who were his guides and partners in finding the food for the table.

At the end of the book he gives his reasoning around why he did not become vegetarian even after his discoveries and how he and his family have transformed their eating habits. He also gives a brief overview of his "food rules" which have now been made into a full book. (The link above takes you to an entertaining and educating Youtube video of Michael Pollan talking about food rules.)

As this was not the only book we were reading it took us a few weeks to work through but was definitely worth it. What I learnt reinforced my passion for eating low human intervention foods, close to natural and beyond organic. For my children they now understand more of my motivation to never feed them or support their buying of what we call "empty calories" and "harmful" foodstuffs. 

Whether they will always make the right choices is not for me to enforce nor control, but we all know that we were set on the right path 12 yrs ago and will continue eating real food, learning how to do it in a sustainable way and encourage others to do likewise.

Go buy the book, read's worth it! It is also available in the young readers addition for under 15's

Sunday, August 10, 2014

She's back!

Having walked the dogs early this morning in a warm and moist forest I could feel the longing to get into the garden when I got home. It has been months since I have done any big work in the vegetable patch as I have been delegating the work to Sam, our Friday gardener.

A combination of the wet cold weather, worrying about putting my back out again and a very busy Saturday each week has left little time to just enjoy working with the earth, plants and seeds. But today that stirring was within me to feel the soil on my hands and get back in touch with where the garden is at.

Tiffany sitting right where I want to sow seed and cover with compost
Like with any living thing, a garden thrives when it gets attention. When the gardener keeps an eye on what is going on, what is struggling, where the weeds and pests are choking out life. This is the connection that I have lost.

Newspaper pots filled with homemade potting soil waiting for seeds
I started with sowing the first batch of seeds for spring...25 each of broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peppers, Roma tomatoes, Beefsteak tomatoes and cucumbers. This week more newspaper pots will need to be made for next weeks seeds.

Sam has turned our compost heaps and had some bags of compost ready for me and a large wheelbarrow full of the most delightful, black, earthy. I used some bucket loads on my lovingly nurtured asparagus plants. I started these from seed in 2008 and they deliver up loads and loads of spears now in the spring.

Toby and Teddy playing in the asparagus beds
I spread the compost around the crowns which was quite difficult because it seemed to be the best place for kitty cats to play.

As I was working there I saw some new spears peeping through! Already!

First spear of the season
I also want to have lots of flowers in the garden this season to aid in pollination by attracting bees, so I planted some sweet peas and calendula in odd spaces. I will also put in my traditional sunflowers by the end of the month.

Within this month I continue to sow seeds of peas, onions, carrots, more tomatoes, squash, butternut (in the compost heap), melons, salads, sweet corn and chillies.

What are you planning for your spring garden?

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Motivation is a slippery thing

Motivation = the condition of being eager to act or work: the condition of being motivated.

I am simply not motivated to do what I need to do in the garden right now. It is the first time in all these years that I have 4 veggie beds standing fallow.

Fallow in itself is not a problem, it is good for the land to rest, however I had planned a rest for the ground next year.

I have been asking myself why I am not motivated to get my hands dirty, sow the seed I need to sow and then watch and wait with the eager anticipation that I know I feel when the first heads of the plants peep above the soil.

We all know it is cold at the moment, but I have gardened in the cold many many times and loved it so this is not the reason.

My paper plans are done, seeds bought, newspaper pots it not as if there is any reason to not just do it!

I have never struggled with procrastination, yet here I sit and write about doing something in stead of actually doing it! Go figure????

Lined up on my dining room table is everything that I need to get my first spring seedlings going...will I find the motivation to do it today?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Just bluffing...

Today is the second day of the most gorgeous weather. The temperature is just right for me, the sun is shining and there is a promise of gardening in my thinking. But I know the weather is just bluffing and within days we will be back to the Cape winter.

That's ok because each season has its own blessings. For me winter is about fires, hot drinks, board games, books, early bed times and the rain watering my garden. Maybe you notice that I didn't write comfort food...thats because we aren't eating any at the moment. We decided (literally overnight) to do a 28 day juice fast after watching Super Juice Me two weeks ago. We are into our 3rd week. The first week we only had fruit and vegetable juices. The second week was cold and we couldn't face cold juice in the evening so we ate protein and vegetables at night. This week we are back to juice again. I hope the weather stays warm so that we don't crave the hot foods.

It has been a good thing for my reluctant vegetable eaters as they have had more minerals and vitamins flooding their systems than before. The younger 3 have made other healthy snacks and meals if they were hungry but they are getting the juices in and that's great!

I am looking forward to cooking again, it's been the hardest thing on this detox. I have also missed sitting around the dinner table with my family. That has always been a highlight of our day when we can sit and chat and savour the meal together. When you have a glass of juice you tend to stand and glug rather than sit and savour.

Today I popped out into the garden and took some photos of whats growing around here...

Borage all over the garden - soon its flowers will attract the bees

Broad beans in all their glory!

Globe Artichoke - we have 5 plants and can't wait to eat their offerings

Gorgeous lemons - I see an aphid cleaning needs to be done soon

Oreganum spreading

Peas, loads of peas

Just one bed of potatoes this year for treats
How's your garden coming along?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Winter...what can you do?

After a few days of delicious sunshine we are back to the typical weather of a Cape Town winter. Fingertips are cold, layers are on and fires lit.

My garden has been drenched in the torrential rain that has come down since early morning before the sparrows were up. There are puddles everywhere and the taller veggies, like broad beans, have bowed their heads to carry the weight of water droplets.

It makes it hard to write about veggie gardening in winter let alone to get into the veggie garden to do anything productive there. So I will be philosophical about it and say that when winter is wet and cold it means we must hibernate, stay warm, plan and rest.

There are some things that can be done on fine days when the sun is out and the fingertips aren't cold. Here in the Western Cape we do not get frost and snow does not reach us on the Cape Flats which means that we can still plants quite a few crops: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, broad beans, swiss chard, peas, lettuce, herbs, kale, beets and carrots.

They grow quite slowly and its best to get them in the ground before the true cold of June and July hit. A second planting of these same veggies can be planted in early August which will mean harvesting just in time to get your spring veggies in.

We loose a chunk of our growing space in the winter due to shadows from the house but we have 7 raised beds that still receive enough sun. The other beds are left fallow for this time, then composted in early spring an planted up.

I have a plan for these beds after seeing the compost heaps at Soil 4 Life the other day and I think it will work. I want to use some old vertical climbing frames that Superman made back in 2009 and turn them into something like this.

While the shade is still over these areas I am going to fill them with composting materials and then in September/October I want to plant creeping veg directly into them to see if I can capitalise on vertical growing space. So winter is a time for planning and dreaming of crops to come.

Living Seeds has just made a print catalogue of their seeds and gardening products which is a good excuse to sit down with a steaming cuppa of your favourite brew and browse through their product range and make your planned purchases.

I should be knitting, cooking warm foods, making soap, reading homesteading type books and increasing my skills, but right now its a fire, cup of tea and blogging.

How is your winter garden coming along?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Slow living 2014 ~ June

After a crispy cold walk with my buddy and our dogs while dodging rain drops, bundled up like the abominable snow man I thought I would reflect on what was for the month of June. I checked in with Christine at Slow Living Essentials this week to see how she was doing and I think, like all of us, she is busy juggling life with homestead, children, winter and learning skills. I am not sure if she will do a link up this week, but I find that looking over my previous month brings a sense of achievement in a small way when most of my time consists, rightly so, of the things that are not easily measured in life.

With that in mind, and with cold numbing my fingers, here was my month of June.


June is the month of mushrooming for us. A few meals were made from the forest offerings of pine rings. I used up my last of our autumn butternuts in a few meals from Save with Jamie. Every time I had to have the oven on for a slow roast I popped one of our butternuts alongside in a dish. Roasted butternut can be turned into a few things like butternut fritters with sage, butternut pasta with gorgonzola cheese, butternut humous on crispy ciabatta and even spicy butternut muffins for breakfast.

The garden has slowed down immensely with the cold weather, but we still have lettuce, spring onions, carrots and spinach to use sparingly.

I try to keep either beef, lamb or chicken stock prepared all through winter. Keeping about 4 one litre jars in the fridge a week is about right for Bolognaise, stews and especially warming soups for lunch. Whether it is chicken carcasses I use or beef bones or the chicken necks my children sell, there is generally enough stock to use for our meals. Stocks are a wonderful easy way to add nutrition to meals and health to your body. The biggest thing for me is the glycosaminoglycans which aids in keeping my spine from deteriorating any more and while I do still supplement with this same pill, stock is just a much more homey way to do it! You can read about other benefits here and how to make it here.

Waste nothing has been high on my agenda this month. I have tried to use up the left over bits of soup in other sauces, wilting veg in bakes or stock, fruit in crumbles (using almond flour as a topping) and even readdressing the food waste hierarchy. Here is an interesting article on this concept and one we implement in our home.


Not that we did any thing much in this area specifically, but my son and I went to visit Soil 4 Life this month when he was busy setting up his square foot bed and we were inspired in a variety of ways for our own garden.

Being "green" can become a religion to some and cause a skewed perspective of what it means to live as a wise steward of the Earth than God has given to us to live out our years on.

At Soil 4 Life we just enjoyed seeing some ideas on making do with what we have and I see where we could have saved money by using existing resources in our home before going and buying new ones.

With this in mind I have to repurpose some items we have lying around for our summer garden. I will have to get Sam busy on this soon as spring will be on us in no time...

My youngest set up a square foot garden bed planting carrots, spring onions, spinach, kale, broccoli and herbs.

I have put in our next broad bean bed, spring onions and coriander this month.

Food, lots of food.

Just a pin to share...


School holidays are upon us and with 3 delicious weeks there will be a few special things to enjoy. Last week it was a visit to Kirstenbosch and the new tree top canopy walk way.

The weather makes things a bit tricky planning outside activities so we settle into the winter rhythm and play scrabble around the fire, cuddle cats and kitten, enjoy fellowship with friends, lie in bed and read...lovely winter things to do when the world outside is dripping wet and cold.

How was your June?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My big fat pantry challenge

Every now and again I have to stop buying groceries and use up what I have and I have decided that now is as good a time as any.

Pantry beginnings
I consider my freezer, fridge, garden and physical pantry all part of this challenge. I didn't have a pantry until August last year, before that my groceries were in a normal cupboard. When we did our renovations we decided on taking a small awkward passage way and turning it into a pantry and a "cloakroom" where we keep sports equipment, homeschool resources, sewing and scrapbooking stuff. These two rooms are separate from one another but used up this dead space so well.

My pantry is a real pleasure...except when it comes to keeping it tidy. Superman says "entropy" (movement towards degradation!) is something that takes place all the time in the universe, so I will spend each holiday giving a cupboard a good cleaning and sorting out, only to find out that within a week stuff is in the wrong place, mixed up, untidy and messy...almost as if it happened on its own :(

Trying to keep order

So yesterday I got stuck into the pantry for a deep clean. Every basket was unpacked, cleaned and repacked in an orderly fashion, shelves wiped down, jars and plastics without lids sent to recycling, and lids without jars too!

I also check expiry dates on whatever I put back into the pantry and fridge. If you keep medicines in your fridge, now is a good time to check those too.

This left me with a clear idea of what I have as basic ingredients with which to create meals.

The garden has some peas, carrots, spinach, lettuce and herbs for me at the moment. Then this morning my freezer was subjected to a stock take.

Tidy pantry
My freezer holds grass fed boerewors, mince, pork hocks, chicken necks (for stock), chicken livers, raw cat and dog food.

My fridge holds eggs, cheese, milk and some odds.

I am truly glad we are having a break from schooling at the moment so that I can be creative with our meals. When I am doing a pantry challenge like this (generally not more than twice a year) I do not plan meals...I take each day as it comes. I figure that besides for milk we should be eating quite well for the next few weeks.

Last night I made a delicious lamb and lentil pie with left over roast leg of lamb. On the side were the last peas and cabbage.

This morning for breakfast was almond and banana pancakes with yoghurt and honey and bacon.

Lunch was sweet potato and sweet pepper soup.

Tonight will be chilli con carne meatballs on bulgar wheat...nom nom, can't wait! Oh...and a peach almond crumble with homemade custard. (We have guests coming!)

Are you up for a pantry challenge?