Friends, family, farmers: Be a part of "The Lexicon of Sustainability"!

Introducing ... The Lexicon of Sustainability from the lexicon of sustainability on Vimeo.

So cool! The project covers important topics like food security, CSAs, farm-to-table initiatives, permaculture and veggie libel laws. Check out the official "The Lexicon of Sustainability" site and also look at Grist's coverage of the project.

Feel inspired? Add your thoughts to the Lexicon site and participate in this exciting movement.

#DIYDecember: Stress-free + fancy (last-minute) food gifts

This is a post that I wrote for my insanely creative and crafty friend Alex as part of her month-long project, #DIYDecember, on her blog and Twitter. The initiative includes tips, suggestions and overall good reads about how to be that much more creative and self-sufficient during this festive month. 

Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus/Kwanzaa/whatever-holiday-you-celebrate is just around the corner...and, you don't have any gifts ready. No worries - here are a few no-fuss ideas for those special people in your life:
Chocolate bark
  • Chocolate bark: This is my go-to candy for impromtu get-togethers. It's so easy: Melt some chocolate, add some seeds and dried fruit, a pinch of sea salt and/or your favorite spices, let it set, break into pieces and put in a bag, tin or good ol' mason jar. Check out more details from my blog here. Bark doesn't excite you? Try some of these other healthful candy recipes from The Nourishing Gourmet.
  • Tea/tisane blends: There may be a pill for every ill, but the same can be said for tea AND you can make your own blends for a fraction of the cost! Since people seem to be unnecessarily stressed-out during this time of year - often leading to colds - why not try a blend of dried calendula (medicinal marigolds), nettle, spearmint, hibiscus, red clover and lemon balm? Simply mix in your preferred proportions based on your own tastes or those of the recipient, and store in a tin or glass jar. Gift with a tea infuser and make it pretty with some fabric for the lid and a nice label describing the blend. Your local health food store should carry dried herbs and flowers in its bulk section, with descriptions of each, and there's usually an expert on hand if you have any questions.  If you're a little fearful of the herb world, check out Mountain Rose Herbs for some blend ideas before you make your own.
  • Hot cocoa mix: All you need: cocoa powder, sugar and/or a pinch of sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cayenne pepper. The proportions are 2 cups of sugar to 1 cup of cocoa. (Sounds like a lot, but think about all the packaging you save by making it in such a big batch.) If using sea salt and/or spices, add sparingly and to taste. If you want to be fancy, put a vanilla bean directly into the mix to enhance the cocoa flavor. Place in a mason jar - pretty much always the appropriate vessel for any gift. Local milk, homemade almond milk, marshmallows and/or a (thrift store) mug offer the perfect accompaniments!
  • Cookies, cookies, cookies: No slice-and-bake here. Make them from scratch**. My favorites: Teff Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe from the amazing Clean Food cookbook), chocolate crinkles, granola bars/raspberry oat bars and, the standard, sugar cookies. Bust out the family recipes and get baking!
  • Dog biscuits: Can't leave out our better halves. Avoid the creepy processed treats from the store and make these. It's also an excuse to get out the cookie cutters. My friend gave me this recipe a few years ago and I've made them ever since. Here's the recipe:
Homemade dog biscuits
1 c. of whole wheat, all-purpose or spelt flour
1/2 Tbl. baking powder
1/2 c. peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter or sunflower butter
1/2 c. milk (cow or non-dairy) 
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. In a medium to large bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, mix peanut butter and milk. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined.
3. Pour the dough onto a floured surface, shape into a ball and roll out until dough is a 1/4"  thick. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters or free-hand.
4. Put cookies onto a lined baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes.
**A note on ingredients: Use fair trade, locally grown and/or organic ingredients when possible. Now is not the time to skimp on quality. Feel good about the gifts you give, not only because you made them but also for the ingredients you've used, which were harvested and produced in an ethically and socially responsible manner.**
  • Make your own recipe book! When all else fails, remind yourself of the adage that it's the thought that counts. Make your own recipe book out of an old notebook or a few pieces of blank paper, a cardboard box for the front and back covers and some yarn, twine or hemp to use as the binding. Include a few of your favorite recipes to inspire a friend or loved one to get in the kitchen.
Alright, time's a-wastin'; get cooking and crafting. Happy holidays!

The Unconsumption, Unprocessed Movement: A lesson in small + the initiatives carrying the torch

I've been giving this whole Occupy Wall Street thing some thinking, especially as a beginning farmer, someone who believes in the power of the local food movement and as a person who stands in solidarity with those everyday radicals: small producers and homemakers.

I've seen this image floating around and re-posted around the Facebook-sphere over the last few weeks. And, as of late (i.e. ever since the birth of modern partisan politics), small business owners and producers have been used as pawns by politicans in their platforms. Besides a photo-op and a well-placed anecdote in a public speech, no one really talks about the real significance behind these small businesses, because, well, it's revolutionary and, perhaps, even threatening to how we view our economy. Supporting small businesses, especially local artisanal producers, means reviving, rebuilding and supporting our rural economies and not relying on such abstract and inefficent concepts like "free market," "globalization" and other macro jargon that simply goes unquestioned. These recent protests are a wake-up call as a nation that these generally accepted theories aren't perfect, don't work and shouldn't be the norm! The scale of these long-held operations is astronomical, and as we see, things can be too big to fail.

Ok, so now that I've gone on what some people may see as a socialist rant, let's talk about solutions. One of the most powerful ways to avoid big business, big ag and whatever else gives you the corporate heebie-geebies is to go small!

If you really don't want to be part of the fledging and failed economic and social model, support your local businesses, food producers and community members. It's not a radical notion, as many people having been living this way for centuries. We've unfortunately cast aside these ideals in the name of convenience. Recently, however, we've seen a homesteading, self-sufficiency revival, closely associated with growing awareness of economic uncertainty AND people who begin to question how they want to live their lives, what we consider work and the distinctions between work and home. Yup, good ol' fashioned DIY can be a money saver, make us feel more productive, fulfilled and - *gasp* - make us happier! Happiness? In our jobs and lives? What a novel idea!

And, while I could bore you with the details of my own life (working on a farm, making almost everything from scratch and how rewarding it is, blah, blah, blah...sickening, right?!) and more of my opining, here are some incredibly cool initiatives to help you think bigger by living smaller and more simply:

Join the movement! Take the challenge!

  • October Unprocessed by Eating Rules: Ok, so, yes, I should have posted this sooner, but it's never too late to take the guidelines posted by creator Andrew Wilder in his month-long eating challenge to simplify and unclutter your diet. A month of unprocessed - and delicious - food. Can you do it? If not a month, try a week, a few weeks, etc. A day even; think about it: Thanksgiving Unprocessed? Sounds totally feasible and fun!

  • Unconsumption: A Tumblr log of all things for the forward-thinking un-consumer in all of us. Check it out for unique ways to rethink about the things in your life, new ways to repurpose and reuse them and feel inspired. What it means to the site's creators: 
Even the Unconsumption logo has a story!
Unconsumption means the accomplishment of properly recycling your old cellphone, rather than the guilt of letting it sit in a drawer. 
Unconsumption means the thrill of finding a new use for something that you were about to throw away.
Unconsumption means the pleasure of using a service like Freecycle (or Craigslist, Goodwill, or Salvation Army) to find a new home for the functioning DVD player you just replaced, rather than throwing it in the garbage. 
Unconsumption means enjoying the things you own to the fullest – not just at the moment of acquisition. 
Unconsumption means the pleasure of using a pair of sneakers until they are truly worn out – as opposed to the nagging feeling of defeat when they simply go out of style. 
Unconsumption means feeling good about the simple act of turning off the lights when you leave the room. 
Unconsumption is not about the rejection of things, or the demonization of things. It’s not a bunch of rules.
Unconsumption is an idea, a set of behaviors, a way of thinking about consumption itself from a new perspective.
Unconsumption is free.
  • Buy Handmade: If you've run out of creative steam, at least buy gifts and other items from local artisans. The products will certainly be original and you can feel good about supporting these artisans. Your local farmers' market is a great place to look as well as from those crafters listed on Etsy and Foodzie.
  • Root Simple: "Root Simple is about back to basics, DIY living, encompassing homegrown vegetables, chickens, herbs, hooch, bicycles, cultural alchemy, and common sense." In other words, a fantastic blog for newbie homesteaders. And, creators Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen are doing the DIY thing in the heart of Los Angeles, so no matter what your location, no excuses! You can homestead, too! I'm looking forward to reading their recent book "Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World" after hearing their interview on The Splendid Table:

The word "movement" can be a daunting term, and, too often, can loose steam after the next "it"-ideology comes along. But, this is something lasting. So, let's not call this homesteading/unconsumption/unprocessed thing a "movement" in hopes of making it sustainable. Let's think about it as a way to live healthier lives, consume less, cook and create more ourselves. In general, let's just try to live more simply, be and become better people, members of our community and stewards of the earth. 

Getting on the canning bandwagon

Blueberry jam
I finally had a day off to do, well, nothing on Sunday, but for people who know me, "nothing" doesn't exist in my world. So, I canned for a few hours in the morning instead. What I made: Herbed pickles, blueberry jam and more caramelized onion jam (more on this recipe later). Not as enthused as I am? I've written about canning (and my little problem with mason jars) before. Canning, pickling and overall preserving of food is such an important skill to learn. And, I only started putting food up a few years ago, by just watching my friends and reading...a lot. If you put the time aside now by freezing, drying and preserving, you can save lots of money, unnecessary trips to the store later on and make some magical gifts for friends. Also, produce is amazing right now, so why not make the most of it?

And, there's no better way to read up on canning than on a rainy afternoon. Food preserving seemed to have skipped our parents' generations and is now cool again with us youngsters...and a lot of hipsters. There have been countless articles, blogs and books written specifically about the canning revival, but here's some of my favorite resources to help you on your canning quest:
  • Put 'Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton: See my book review from February.
  • Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissof: I was a little suspect about this book at first. It was a little too kitschy for me and, on first glance, thought it was trying a little to hard. But, it's now one of my go-to preserving guides. Krissof has organized recipes by season, with beautiful photos, helpful commentary and concise instructions. Even if you're not planning to can, this book provides many alternatives to get the most out of your ingredients and stretch food life, including homemade yogurt. 
  • Canvolution + Canning Across America**
  • Preserved and Pickled
  • Food in JarsNow I can get my daily fix of mason jars. Drool...
A pretty array of fresh fruit and preserves from Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen.
(via Food in Jars)
**And, if you're really inspired/are a super nerd, participate in Ball and Canning Across America's National Can-It-Forward Day! Throughout the day, there will be canning parties throughout the country (you can also start your own, if you're so inclined), demos and streaming of canning demonstrations and preserving instructions. Consider also being a part of Can-a-Rama:

Next Sunday marks the kick-off to Canning Across America’s third Can-a-Rama, a week of home canning parties and seasonal preserving nationwide. With the growing season underway in most parts of the country, we hope you’ll join us at the canning kettle once again for a simultaneous show of cans around the country from August 14th - 20th.
My last attempt to persuade you to can: It's really not difficult or scary! Follow directions on existing recipes, talk to friends about what you want to make, and get preserving. Really ripe, delicious and plentiful right now: Peaches, blueberries, watermelon, onions, early tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini...I could go on. Just can!