Recently in Around the Farmhouse Category


Santa Rosa plum tree 2.jpgIt is terribly easy to become depressed and hopeless in times of war or when tsunamis unleash death and nuclear instability on the world.  Death trudges on its determined route and we sit stunned while counting our sorrows.  What have we got to look to for hope in times of darkness?

gang of tulips 2.jpgDon't ever dismiss the simple answer.  Never assume that the small things don't count or can't weigh against the big things meaningfully.  Maybe the bright coral of a tulip can't bring back the loved ones you've lost.  No one is going to argue that.  But can you not see the joy that nature offers us, the color she splashes across our path to arrest thought, to provoke laughter?  Can you not recognize a path there to light?

elephant heart blossoms 2.jpgWhat about the fruit tree that has hitherto never produced more than a meek smattering of blossoms and suddenly plasters itself with creamy flowers reaching sky high for the impossible spark of life?  Can you be blind to the hopeful ignorance of war and death your plum tree claims?  Listen.

volunteer violets 2.jpgListen to the life around you.  See the fractional evidences of love and hope the world gives even in the grimmest hour.  There will always be grief.  We will always be losing ourselves in graves and the calamities that bring us down to the surface of soil.  We will always be mourning for something.  Therefore we must always be looking for light to mitigate the dark. 

elderberry buds 2.jpgThe most life affirming gift I have ever received in my life were elderberry cuttings from a dear friend who is like a sister to me.  This very elderberry you see, budding as though it was a large-hearted lion of the landscape is nothing more than a sproutling declaring its love, its scrappy will to live, to thrive across continents, between friends.  This cluster of buds is promise, it's new life, it's a message of continuity and peace.

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Never relinquish your most private dreams because even if they never play out in your life they will inform your hope, your ability to move forward, and your  belief that you deserve every scrap of love you have.  Never stop believing in the power of the small voice, the sliver of light in the dark, or in the regenerative power of the earth beneath your feet.

I don't care what your creed is, what your political views are, or what your country of origin is.  There is a universal truth to recognize.  It isn't weakness to love.  It isn't weakness to want peace.  It isn't weakness to want to help your neighbor.  It isn't weakness to listen to the early spring white violets call out for pale sunshine.  It isn't weakness to stop to listen to them.

What's important in life is elemental and not the least bit complicated.  Don't be afraid to love without sophistication.  Just love.  It isn't all you need but it's the best foundation on which to build a rich life.


And bury your hands in soil once in a while.

Urban Homesteading: you can't own who we are

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I have been calling myself an urban homesteader for years.  I knew it was a movement a decade ago.  In fact, it was a movement started in the sixties with my mom's generation of people "getting back to the earth". 

Urban homesteading is a growing movement of people re-learning homesteading skills on a city-scale.  There is a fairly well known website of a family who's also been a part of this movement who believe they are solely responsible for coining the name of this movement, so much so that they have trademarked the term "Urban Homesteading".

I have never personally liked the "Path to Freedom" website run by the Dervaes family but I was happy enough to see another website where people could get information about growing food on small city lots.  I have always thought that the more people talking about urban homesteading and sharing ideas the better.

Now I'm angry. 

The Dervaes family is trying to enforce their dubious trademark on the term "Urban Homesteading" (and "urban homestead" too, I believe).  I don't know all the details but I don't need to know much more than that it is a betrayal of this movement to try to own its name and control its use. 

The spirit of the urban homesteading movement is a non-commercial, non-corporate approach to self sufficiency on a small scale.  What part of this movement is about ownership of its name?  What part of this movement is about owning what and who other people are?  None of it.  What I have loved about urban homesteaders across the board is their willingness to share information for free, their encouragement to others to come join the fun, to explore self sufficiency with the goal of becoming less dependent on corporate America.

Supposedly all of us who have been calling ourselves urban homesteaders for years must no longer use that term.

Trademarking the term urban homesteader and urban homesteading is no different than trademarking these terms: housewife, animal husbandry, homesteader, farmer, plant conservationist, home gardener, city dweller, marathon runner, anarchist, American citizen, nurseryman, self sufficiency, dairy farmer... and this list is infinite.

You can't own me.  You can't own who I am.  You can't own the life I lead and my ability to succinctly describe it to others.  You can't own a grassroots movement.  If a movement can be owned at all (which I don't believe it can) the minute someone owns any part of it it is no longer a grassroots movement but a business.  You can't own what people call themselves.  You can't own the words that describe what a person does and what they believe in.

Trying to own the term "urban homestead" in any of its forms is like trying to own the term "Christian" and then forcing all Christians to come up with some other way to identify themselves and what person on earth is arrogant enough to try to own the faith of others?

Urban homesteading is my faith.  It's my spirit.  Growing my own food and herbs, raising chickens, sewing my own clothes, recycling, composting, choosing open pollinated plants, building raised beds and coops, making my own medicines... this is who I am.  It's what I believe is more important than anything else.  Even when I'm not able to work on all the projects I want, even when all I can do is dry some of my own thyme and cook great food for my family, I am still an urban homesteader and no one can take that away from me.

No one can own me.

No one can own you either.

Please read about this and if you can donate to the Electronic Frontier Foundation who is helping to fight this issue, please do.  If you have a blog or a website and can write about it- please do.  Everyone who has ever considered themselves an urban homesteader should speak up and shout out. 

Riding the Fences of the "Urban Homestead": Trademark Complaints and Misinformation Lead to Improper Takedowns 

Urban Homesteading

Take Back Urban Homesteading

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Spring Approaching

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This is my latest baked bean batch.  I've been working on developing a good vegetarian baked bean dish for ages.  I'm closer now than I've ever been.  Philip and my mother loved this version.  It's almost ready to share.

A lot has been going on around my farmhouse.  We still don't know if the bank will refinance and we're at nine months of not knowing now.  My campaign to unload a lot of junk was going well (did I already mention I got rid of 6 boxes of craft stuff from my office alone?) and then my mother moved in with us permanently. 

Her moving in was a decision we reached mutually for a lot of different reasons.  The number one reason is that she couldn't afford to live in Portland any more.  She loves it there but it's just too expensive.  Another reason is that if the bank refinances our loan she can contribute to our mortgage.

The less official reasons are that her health isn't great and neither of us wanted her to be so far away that if anything happened I wouldn't be able to help out.  She's had bronchitis for a month and has been experiencing vertigo and has been ordered by her doctor not to drive.  So now she's on a leave of absence from work. 

The minute she moved in it's been complete chaos.  Not because of her.  My mom is pretty easy to live with now, something I never thought I'd say ten years ago, and she has a magic way of arranging and organizing things that I was not blessed with.  So she moves in and suddenly we have an amazing living room.  No dead space.  It's wonderful!  What's chaotic is how we've all been getting sick for a month and the pet situation is complicated and extremely stressful.

We love pets.  We are all animal people.  By animal people I mean to say that we aren't people who feel life is complete without animals being part of our family.  My mom arrived with two cats and two huge dogs.  My dog who has never chased her own kitties is suddenly responding to a cat-hunt vibe with the youngest of my mother's two dogs (a big boy named Angus) and our cat Penny is really upset and is now peeing on things. 

Angus is really the apex of all the trouble.  He can reach anything at all and is constantly chewing on whatever he can get his maw around.  Any boots or shoes left around are decimated in minutes.  He'll eat everything in the kitchen.  I roasted a very expensive baking sheet of organic fennel and turned my back for less than three minutes and he had licked over it all and already eaten half of them.

On the plus side my mom got our dishwasher fixed.  I don't mind hand washing dishes but I confess that it gets overwhelming doing dishes here and never more so than with one more person living here.  Not only did she get our dishwasher fixed (it's been broken for over a year) she actually cleans the kitchen every couple of days! 

Stitch and Boots is meant to be my homesteading blog but lately I realize it's mostly been my cooking blog.   I am not going to officially change the focus because I keep hoping to do some other household projects to share here.  I'm using this place as my flame of hope, if you don't mind me saying such a silly thing.  I have not really done any garden planning for a year while writing my novel and working and trying very hard to hold everything together with thin threads. 

I was reinspired the other day by a talk I had with my Kung Fu teacher and a couple of other students at our school about GMOs and though our talk was angry (not with each other- with the situation of not being able to keep GMOs from our own diet due to no labeling and contamination of non-GMO crops by a growing number of GMO crops) out of the anger I remembered something fundamental: growing your own food matters.  Growing my own food matters. 

Even though I might have to leave this house mid-season, it's also true that I might be here (in limbo) for as long as another year and in that time I can grow at least two crops in my garden.  I already have the beds, they just have to be cleared of quack grass ("just" is not doing justice to the problem- remember I broke a shovel on that stuff?!).  So I talked to my mother who is largely responsible for having given me a passion for gardening in the first place and she's going to help me.  We're going to do a small vegetable garden. 

It will be an act of good faith that we'll hopefully still be here a year from now.  Two years from now.  A decade from now.

She has requested one whole bed for her own experimentation with square foot gardening.

There is nothing more important than for all of us with yards and balconies to grow open pollinated food.  With all my house and life turmoil I lost sight of that.  I'm watching the spring bulbs surface and though I'm sad to see winter winding down I am feeling the excitement of spring and all the new growth it brings with it.  I'm excited to clean out the dead growth from my strawberries and let the new leaves up into the light.  Snow watch 2011 is over. 

It's time to plan the only part of my future I can be sure of which is that no matter where I live I will always grow food.  It's the best offering of hope I can make.  It's the grandest gesture of love I can share.

My photo book is finished- come look!

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my book cover.jpg
I have taken a break from writing my novel to create a book of my photos with some of my very best observations, meditations, and advice from my years of writing Dustpan Alley.  Please come take a look inside:

Preview of "Straight from the Jugular"

I had intended (and worked hard) to get it done in time for Christmas ordering but unfortunately I didn't make it.  Doing it well was more important.  I'm not gonna lie to you, I'm very proud of this book.  Even if you don't buy it, go check it out and leave a comment if you like it.

Here's the introduction to the book which explains the connection between writing and photography and what I look for in photos:

When I first started taking pictures for my blog, Dustpan Alley, I committed all the usual photo crimes: lots of flash, not quite in focus, poor lighting, and no working on the pictures in Photoshop later. I am, above everything else, a writer, so at first I just used the photos to punctuate and illustrate posts in a perfunctory manner.  The writing was all that counted to me, but something happened along the way; I started playing with the photographic possibilities.  I started caring about the composition of my pictures.  I took pleasure in getting a sharp picture, a picture with its own story, a picture that could stand on its own.

My pictures still mostly sucked until I got my first good quality point and shoot.  My Canon SD850 took sharper better quality pictures than my ancient point and shoot could.  I could take much better macro shots and it was faster, capturing natural light better.  Suddenly my pictures were speaking to me, guiding my writing, inspiring posts rather than simply punctuating them.  I took my camera with me everywhere keeping my eyes peeled for anything interesting to capture, anything that might bring me more words, that might have something to say to me later.  Getting my first DSLR camera was a fresh revelation and though much bulkier to drag around than my little point and shoot, it takes even better pictures so I am rarely without it.

This is a book of my photographs that have sparked narratives and uncovered stories.  As is true with my writing, I'm not interested in capturing only the pretty or the awe-inspiring.  I'm not interested in self portraits that show me always at my best or pictures of other people that they would put in their school yearbook.  What I look for is motion, color, transitory moments; I want to uncover the blood and the guts, the trash, and the paint underneath the paint.  I want to see the sting, the opening, the flight, and the dreams that live and die just beyond our sight.  I want to revel in the minutiae, the detritus, the flecks of light that catch us, and follow the eye where it goes when we're not thinking too much about it.  I want to find the humor, the daily irreverence, and the jubilation of daily life.

Just like my writing, my photographs come straight from the jugular.

I have collected in this book some of my best and each picture is paired with observations and thoughts I've taken from my writing.  The words don't always immediately seem to go with the photographs and I'm not going to tell you why I paired each one as I have, I am only going to say that in each pairing there is something that binds them for me, whether it is mood, color, texture, or narrative.   

Home is Wherever My Hands Get Dirty

Pinny who never moults 2.jpgAfter five months of applying (and reapplying) for a HAMP loan to stay in our home, we've decided to let it go into foreclosure.  It could be many months before the bank will even look at our continually resubmitted paperwork and in the meantime we've had time to consider the direction our life has been going in, what our true needs are, and what "home" really means.

We've been homeowners for 10 years and I admit that I fell into the faulty belief that if I owned a home I would be stable, wouldn't ever have to move, and I could plant fruit trees and watch them mature.  When I moved into my first home and gushed to my dad that I would never move again he said I was wrong, that I would outgrow that house and move at least once or twice more.  Turns out he was right.

I've planted fruit trees in three out of four homes I've owned in a decade and seen not a single one mature because we have either outgrown our house, been forced to sell it in order to not to lose our equity in it, and then two more homes later and we just keep moving, just keep moving.

Curly-Sue or Mo 2.jpgOwning a home gave me the freedom to discover cooking, gardening, housekeeping, and keeping hens.  It gave me the inspiration to learn to can my own food and it taught me to ask what I can do for myself so that I can avoid calling someone in to do it for me. 

Owning a home guarantees nothing.  Most people don't own a greater percentage of their home than the bank does.  Most people don't live in the same home for more than a few years because in spite of how far civilization has come, people are becoming more nomadic again. 

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I have had this hunger to "settle" for as long as I can remember because I resented moving so much as a kid.  I hated it.  My son is learning to hate it too.  I kept thinking that the best thing in life is to have a little plot of land of your own to grow food on and a house you love and will grow old and die in.  It's a combination of an American myth and my own fairytale.  It's what we're supposed to want.  It's what we're supposed to work ourselves stiff for.

I had the house I never wanted to leave.  I had the house I wanted to die in.  I had it all.  I had every bit of that dream and life carried it away from me on a foul wind.  Ever since losing the house of my dreams I've clung to the same ideal, trying to recreate what I had.  Every time I try to recreate it rips right out of my hands and leaves me with a wrecked foundation and a bunch of matchsticks to start over with.

I knew there had to be a message in there somewhere.

Sometimes life has to kick you in the head until you learn to duck and cover.  Sometimes you have to stop trying to rebuild the same thing over and over again.  Sometimes you have to look at everything differently and under the bare-bulb light of raw interrogation.  What if what you think you want so bad isn't what you need and what if creating the life you need leads to to a life you really want?

Home is not about ownership of property.  Home is not about owning anything at all.  Home is about what kind of a life you can make with the materials you are given and that you are able to find.  Home is about nourishment.  It's about self sufficiency.  Self sufficiency isn't just about having a garage full of tools or a field of wheat, though those things are good if you have them and can keep them.  Self sufficiency is about rolling your sleeves up no matter where you are or what you're doing and asking what you can do to improve a situation, a person, or a place.  It's about rolling up your sleeves to make things with your own two hands.  You don't have to own a house to make things with your hands or to fix situations, places, or people.

I despise the old saying "Home is where the heart is" because it's such a shameless oversimplification and meant to provoke a warm (predictable) emotional response from people and the people who say it usually aren't homeless or heartbroken.

Home is where you nourish yourself and your family.  Whether you do that in a house you own, or a rental, in an apartment, or in a commune.  Home can be the shelter you took your kids to to be safe and warm.  Home isn't anything as simple as your heart. It's earthier, harder, and primal.

As we've been waiting and waiting for the bank to answer our plea for assistance I've had a lot of time to ask myself what I need and whether what I need is what I want.  They aren't necessarily the same thing.  What I need, and what my family needs, is to reduce our responsibilities and burdens.  We need to cut out about fifty percent of our belongings.  We need to pare down, lighten up, get back to the core things we need in order to take care of ourselves.  We need a living space that's half the size of what we have because we can't take care of what we've got with our limited time and income.  We need to either have a postage stamp yard or no yard because as passionate as I am about gardening, that's not what I need right now.

We need to have time to enjoy each other's company without constantly dealing with all the little/big things that are falling apart right now or the things we've obligated ourselves to do or the things we should be doing as homeowners and can't and are therefore constantly stressed out about.

The decision to let the house go into foreclosure hasn't been an easy one and though I have to admit that it's making me more emotional than I like being, it already feels like a tremendous load is about to lift from my life.  It feels as though this is the first right decision I've made in five years.  It isn't easy to pry my fingers from the ghost of the dream I spent ten years fixated on.  It's hard to let go of something everyone else thinks you should die trying to hang onto.

A house is just a house.  I can't live my life as though an apocalypse is about to render all people without acreage into starving vagabonds.  A house isn't a home if it keeps you from doing what you're really supposed to be doing.  A house isn't a home if it drains more from you than it fills you with.

The only truly sad thing about this decision is that I must find a home for my 9 loved hens.  The oldest three, Dot, Flower-bud, and Pinny are my sweet old biddies who have served me so well and who will take hens that are at the end of their laying cycles to let them retire in comfort?  I'm heavy with the need to relocate them but there's no question about it and there's so much to do to prepare for the future move, the sooner they get settled somewhere safe and good, the sooner I can deal with the change ahead.

My life has never been settled and I see now that it doesn't matter.  What matters is that the best day of every week is when Philip, Max, and I go out to dinner together.  What matters is that I can cook amazing food and support local growers and sew and nourish my family in any shelter.  What matters is that I finish writing my book and get it published.  What matters is that I teach my son not to dogmatically hang onto ideals that don't work for him as an individual. 

What I hope for is a cottage no bigger than one thousand square feet, a tiny yard for my pets to enjoy, a good kitchen, and a corner to write in.  Or perhaps we'll find a cool old apartment downtown above the stores.

We won't likely move until late spring so I have time to weed through and curate my belongings down to an essential collection.

Yesterday Max asked me what I most want.  What thing do I really really want the most?  I couldn't think of anything I want.  I need some new sheets but that's not what he meant.  I don't want anything.  I haven't got an appetite for things the way I used to and it reminds me of when I was first married and I was filled with earthly wants and desires.  I remember burning with the desire to own a home when I was living in our sweet old apartment in San Francisco and here I am, seventeen years later, on the other side of it all.  What I'm remembering is how amazing my apple green vintage kitchen was. 

I've been in a lot of different kitchens and I expect I'll cook in a lot more before I die.

Home is wherever my two hardworking do-it-yourself hands dig in and get dirty.

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So Much Abundance

best fennel 2.jpgI think it's funny that when I'm in the middle of canning it's almost impossible to prepare actual meals.  I end up eating a lot of sandwiches and easy food.  Back when we had more money it was a great excuse to order in from restaurants.  This week the best thing I ate was this pan of roasted vegetables all of which I got from the two organic farms I buy from.  The tofu isn't organic and came from the regular market. 

I cut up two sweet potatoes, a few small Yukon potatoes, an enormous fennel bulb cut into six wedges, one whole block of tofu, and an entire head of garlic on my roasting pan.  I cut everything into (roughly) 1.5" size pieces.  I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and drizzled a generous amount of olive oil over the whole thing.  I cooked them at 400 degrees, turning them about every ten or fifteen minutes for an hour.

Best meal I've had all week!  I'm not usually a huge fan of fennel but I have to say that eaten this way has changed my mind.  I can no longer remember how I've fixed them in the past.

The best thing I ate the previous week was a pasta sauce I made with chanterelles and caramelized onions added to a sharp white cheddar cheese sauce.  The sauce was so thick it worked well to spread on toast and broil. 

All my other meals have been breakfasts of eggs, cheese, and tomatoes or lunches of cheese tomato sandwiches. 

best roasted tomatoes 2.jpgI did make (and freeze) some tomato soup.  I consulted friends for herb ideas and everyone has something different to suggest.  I ended up using fresh thyme from the garden and the very last of the fresh local basil.  I thought it was really nice but Philip preferred it as a dip for a grilled cheese.  He didn't love it on it's own merit, which is why I didn't bother posting my recipe here.  It needs work.  All soups should be worthy of standing alone. 

Vespa pack mule 2.jpgI made my annual trip to the local farm Bernard's this year for tomatoes, summer squash, and eggplant - all upick.  I ended up getting some jalapenos even though I promised myself I wouldn't.  Here's what I packed on my scooter:

74 eggplants
3.5 pounds jalapenos
34 pounds green and red tomatoes

All of this food cost only $36.95.  I am not kidding.  The eggplants were 25 cents each, the tomatoes were 47 cents a pound, and the jalapenos were comparatively expensive at 99 cents a pound.

free walnuts 2.jpgLast year my friend Laurie brought me a box of walnuts she'd collected from her mother's tree.  I put them in the freezer and only just cracked them all open in the last few weeks.  I portioned them into vacuum sealed bags and put them back in the freezer.  Walnuts are expensive to buy and I can go through a lot making this recipe for walnut pesto sauce.

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The pickles.  This was not my year for pickles.  There weren't any pickling cucumbers available for upick so I decided I'd make dilled beans.  When I tried picking at the farm it was not a great moment for them either.  So I resolved to just make extra cauliflower pickles.  I love dill cauliflower pickles so I figured I'd be just as happy eating these as the usual cucumber dills.

The day I brought home my giant bunch of dill-heads I was so giddy with excitement that I got chatty with the Rite-aid check-out guy who could be expected to have no interest at all in pickles.  To my surprise I was wrong.  I said "Dill!!" and he said "Pickles!" and I spazzed out at him when I found out his grandmother makes cauliflower pickles and it turns out this barely-twenty-something kid is a fan of cooking blogs and home canning

Those dill-heads would turn out to be a grim* reminder of the superiority of insects.  For anyone who doesn't know, it is generally best not to wash herbs any time you can get away with it.  I have been pickling for 4 years and have never had any problems with my dill.  I've grown complacent and careless, apparently.  I canned 17 quarts of pickles and every single one of those jars has a few tiny floating pickled aphids in them. 

I thought I was going to have to dump the jars out and cry over a very large beer.  Luckily my husband and my mother are more intrepid eaters than I am and have declared that they are perfectly happy to rinse the pickles before eating. 

I obviously had to make some aphid-free cauliflower pickles for myself.  I got more dill heads, really nice looking ones that didn't seem to have any aphids on them.  But I wasn't going to take any risks so I soaked my fresh dill heads in vinegar for a few hours thinking this might make all the aphids die and let go.  It worked!  (Yes, there were aphids on these ones too.)  But then I made the mistake of taking them out of the vinegar and waiting to use them the next day by which time they had developed a truly suspect odor.

In the end my last 14 quarts of pickles had no dill-heads.  Instead I used a quarter teaspoon of dill seeds and a quarter teaspoon of dried dill leaves.  I have no idea how they will turn out.

I am now done with my preserving season!  I am ready to concentrate on actual cooking, curtain making, and writing. 

*Possibly an overstatement.
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Big Kitchen Fail: around the farmhouse 8/31/10

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corn stack 2.jpgThe corn is good this year!  The corn is very very good and plentiful and not too expensive but I still choke at the thought of seven ears wasted!  However, the cobs, after giving up much of their flavor to a stock, made the chickens very happy.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been working on a corn chowder recipe.  One version had too much heat and too much cilantro in it but was otherwise PERFECT.  (I know this because right before adding one too many jalapenos and the entire bunch of cilantro I tasted it and it was so incredible I almost stopped right there.)

roux 2.jpgMy basic roux always has a little dash of cayenne in it- but for this project, the corn chowder, it made it too hot! 

So yesterday was my remake day and I was really excited.  Not just to make a new better batch which I suspected would then be ready to share with you, but because I was simultaneously experimenting with an olive oil roux in hopes of making a superb vegan version for my vegan friends.  I had already made some corn stock (more about that when I write the recipe) and the roux worked beautifully, the sauteed vegetables were added and then, then was the moment of truth: adding the corn.

This is the moment where everything went wrong.

I had cut all my corn off the husks and had it ready in a bowl.  7 ears' worth of it.  The only problem is that I'd had it prepped and ready to go for a day and a half.  All that time it was sitting on the counter.  I can't tell you now why I didn't put it into the fridge.  I have no explanation for my actions at all.  I smelled the corn (I have an excellent sense of smell) and it was sort of sour.  Not deeply sour.  But sour.  It wasn't moldy, it hadn't been hot (thank god!) and I had the most misguided thought in my entire cooking career: maybe it would be fine to use in the soup.  The cooking would kill anything dangerous and maybe the slight sourness would add a good flavor, the way soured cream does...people do intentionally rot fish in holes and call it a delicacy.  What's a little fermented corn?

What's a little fermented corn?!

Pretty unappetizing, as it turns out.  I followed through anyway.  Cooked it for about half an hour and in that time all the soured corn kernels turned brown in the soup and it didn't smell delicious.  I gave up.  It makes me so angry when I achieve such incredible waste in my own kitchen.  What's worse is that I didn't even compost it which would have saved it from being complete waste.  I have a very active compost going on in my yard and I don't throw much food in the garbage or down the garbage disposal. 

But sometimes I get overwhelmed by giant pots of soup that fail and I do weird things like panic about what to do with it and the thought of huge wet pots of soup getting slimy on the compost pile gives me palpitations.  So I tossed it in the rarely used garbage disposal. 

Today I'm feeling properly subdued about so much waste: 7 ears of corn, 4 home grown potatoes, two stalks of celery, some flour, a quart of home made stock, an onion, two jalapenos, and a can of evaporated milk (I was proceeding with the non-vegan version).

knock knock 2.jpgKnock knock?  Anyone home?  Can I come in?  Surely there's a grub or two you need cleaned up?

When these kind of things happen you just have to let it go.  Now that I've shared my calamity with you and come clean about not composting, I am letting it go.

In other farmhouse news: the hens are LOVING their free-ranging in the early evenings.  The big girls have become much mellower and follow us around in the garden and up to the porch where they hope to be included in all family activities such as family movie night.  Sadly, they must be put to bed before the movies start. 

The adolescents have no problem finding their way back to the coop when the sun sinks but our big girls gather up on the porch railing instead and we have to put them away each night by carrying them to the coop.  They are already in their middle age and this is the first time in their lives they've been allowed to roam around outside their run a couple of hours a day so they don't really know what to do.

They've been eating all the blackberries that I haven't wanted from the garden (the too sour ones and the overripe ones).  It's made for colorful messes on the patio.  While I am not loving all the messes, the benefit to my hens is obvious and I can tell that they are feeling much more fulfilled and happy.  Yes, you really can tell.  Birds may not be as smart as pigs but they are sentient beings and they do have some thoughts and emotions.  

Dot arrives inside 2.jpgHey Dot, whatcha peckin' at?  Thanks for dropping in the kitchen for a chat!

Dot even made it inside the kitchen once!  She didn't care for the slick texture of the floor but was much interested in joining me in the cooking... lest you think I am a completely dirty scary person who lets her farm animals make a manger of the farmhouse... I audiosed the bossy gorgeous Dot almost at once.

Though I secretly really do wish my chickens could follow me everywhere. 

For all you germaphobes out there, I promise you this floor has since been mopped well.

saffron from Sharon 2.jpg
My long time close friend Mrs. E brought me this amazing gift when she visited me a couple of weeks ago: Spanish saffron!  Look how many packets!  It's like gold!  I've never experimented with saffron because it's always been just a little too precious for me.  This gift is so treasured- thank you Mrs. E!  I can't wait to play with it!

Enjoying my hens running around has deepened my enjoyment of my old farmhouse and garden both of which have experienced serious neglect as we've  been struggling so hard to hold everything together.  As many of you know, we are going through a process with our bank that may take many months in order to try not to lose our house.  Not knowing if I'll get to stay here is stressful and could easily overwhelm me and prevent me from enjoying it while I am still in it.

The truth is, there is a curious little circle going on where the more I emotionally let go of my farmhouse and accept that at any time in the next year we may end up having to rent an apartment and give up our birds and our garden and the peach trees which have just begun giving us fruit, the more I find myself enjoying it in the moment, the more I enjoy it in the moment the more I realize I don't want to let it go.

I'm amazed at how I've managed not to let that drag me into a horrible pit of anxiousness.  I just keep coming back around to letting it go and deciding to enjoy it while I have it.  As long as I keep coming back to that I can't lose because even if I have to walk away in a few months, I'll know that I didn't waste all my time worrying about it and dreading it.

In an effort not to live in the past or the future I'm going to finally make winter curtains for this house and share the instructions for doing the same in your own if you need to make some for yourself.  In the past I wouldn't have done it knowing that I might not even be in this house by winter time.  But what if I am?  This will be our third winter here in the farmhouse and if we don't have to move it will be COLD because we don't turn the heat up past 58 and may go a little lower this year.  Keeping an old house warm is a challenge and one of the very best ways to keep heat in is to have lined winter curtains on all of your windows. 

I'm also planning to do a tutorial on making coasters.  They don't seem important until you can't find any around the house and the few pieces of good furniture you have are getting damaged by drink rings.  I haven't done sewing tutorials in a long time and that's one that almost anyone can do.

So, though there have been some epic failures around here, there is a lot of good going on and I'm really taking the time to enjoy those good things.  Every day we go outside for a little while to walk around with the birds and feed them blackberries and kitchen scraps and talk to them, which they like.  I've been cooking really good food and have been enjoying the process of recipe development which sometimes ends in a mess but nearly always evolves into something really delicious worth sharing with you.

I hope all of you are taking the time to enjoy what's good in your life right now too and with so many of my friends in such tough circumstances right now I just want to say that all of you are in my thoughts and when you navigate your own tough moments with grace I keep that with me as inspiration.

Farmhouse News


This is the market tote I'm making for my Etsy shop but will offer a tutorial on later so you can make your own.

Here at my farmhouse in town winter is really getting under way.  This morning we had our first hoar-frost with the temperature down to 22 degrees.  I know that in many areas across the country it has already gotten much colder and everyone is bundled up in their wool and mittens.

I am busy making market bags for my Etsy shop.  We have long since stopped using paper or plastic bags to put our groceries into and use cloth grocery/shopping bags.  Every time I leave the house I grab at least one of them because I can never be sure when it will come in handy, when I return home I hang it up on my bag hook.  We have many shopping bags because our kid can't go anywhere without an entire tote bag filled with snacks and things to amuse himself with.  He's an intensely picky eater and a grazer so he's always hungry when we're out and about but there is rarely anything "out there" for him to eat.  We always travel with a protein bar, some crackers, and filtered water.  He also has ADD and it has been a lifesaver to us since he was a toddler to always bring a collection of things/toys for him to play with while we're out.  He will panic if he doesn't have a bag of his things because his view of the world, depending on his mood, is that it's either insanely boring or very hostile.  In either case, we never travel light and so some of our market bags are always packed with his things.  Some are also always in the wash.  So we have three hooks in our kitchen dedicated to aprons and market bags.

It took me a long time to get into a good habit of always having a cloth bag with me, and even now I forget once in a while, but the real trick for me turned out to be having those bags near my kitchen door, which also serves as our front door.  So if you have trouble remembering to bring bags with you, try this out.  Also be sure you have an abundance of them.  If you only have one or two you will never have them handy.

The bag I made (in the picture above) is a simple tote with no pockets.  It's lined with muslin and has sturdy woven cotton handles that are long enough so that you can carry the bag on your shoulder.  This bag is currently in my Etsy shop and when I'm done with this post I am heading to my sewing machine to make several more in a couple of other patterns so if you would like to buy one please visit the Etsy shop.  If you want to make one of your own I have decided that this is one of those sewing projects that is ideal for beginners so I'm going to do a tutorial on how to draft this bag to your own sizes needs and how to make it.  But if you are already familiar with my timing you will understand that it may be a while before I pull it all together to present to you.

In a little garden news I want to share the surprise I found underneath my bean tee-pee: 4lbs of carrots!  I will probably do a separate post to talk about underplanting in the garden, but today is just a little post to share what's been going on around here.  The carrots were completely neglected and thrived- they are so sweet I've actually been snacking on them raw.  I don't often like snacking on carrots raw and plain but these are so sweet I am really enjoying them!  I absolutely love garden surprises whether they are volunteers shouting up at me from the ground (often the legacy of previous gardeners) or if I planted something and thought it died only to find it thriving later on.

It's time I got to my sewing room so until next time- happy homesteading!

Come visit the Stitch and Boots Etsy Shop!

Stitch and Boots Etsy Shop


Here on Stitch and Boots my main objective is to help people learn as many of the skills an urban homesteader might need to know that are within my realm of expertise to share.  I want to be a conduit to DIY success in cooking, sewing, fixing, cleaning, and growing.  Sometimes with the help of much-loved and respected friends, often on my own.


In my former life I have been many things including: fast food cashier, electronics salesperson, shipping manager for Weston Wear in San Francisco, custom costume designer, needlewoman, assistant designer at Mulberry Neckwear, color swatcher at Mulberry Neckwear, coffee jerk (several times), technical writer, unpaid novelist, retail store owner, product designer and manufacturer for my own retail store, metal grinder (very briefly wonderfully satisfying), housewife, stay at home mom, and currently I am a headline editor for an online ad network.


I shut down my Etsy shop that followed my retail brick and mortar store because I wanted to be done with sewing for commerce.  I have a good job and not a ton of time.  Having a good job at this time must be counted as one heck of a blessing and I couldn't be more thankful that I have one.  However, in spite of both my husband and myself being employed, like so many people we know we make very little money together and we are facing the tough prospect of a winter with no extra room in our budget for things like heating our house*.

I have some wonderful back-stock from my retail store that I made myself and I have decided to reopen my Etsy shop to sell what I have and to make some new things for it as well.

I have thought a lot about what my purpose is, what my usefulness to people is, and I believe that the real service I can offer to people is to help them learn to do things for themselves.  Trying to sell people ready-made things isn't my main goal nor my ultimate gift.  The service of helping to teach others to do for themselves needs to be free.  I need to offer this as a real service.  A thing I do not for commerce but for sheer joy and personal fulfillment.  Money, just to have lots of it, is not an end goal I have, though I admit that like most people I don't despise the dream of being  comfortable.

Most of the things I am listing in my Etsy shop are things I'd like to do as tutorials  here so that everyone can, if they want to, make them for themselves.  What I would ultimately like to do is to offer tutorials on how to make all these projects for yourself and then offer patterns only for sale at some point.

One pattern I will be working on this coming week is a little pattern for the mushroom applique I designed for the men's shirt smock project.

I hope that all of you will visit my shop if only to say hello and see what's going on there.  I know that so many people are in the same situation that I am financially and aren't in a position to be shopping.   I am going to include links to my Etsy shop in any post where it seems appropriate but I ask you not to feel importuned in the least nor pressured to buy.  If I have something for sale that is exactly what you need or want then I will be delighted to provide it to you, but what I really want is for you all to continue visiting to see what new recipes, projects, and plant profiles are being added to this urban homesteading database.  I want all of you to continue to feel empowered to do things for yourselves.

Here is a link to my newly minted Etsy shop:

Stitch and Boots on Etsy

I have some new recipes to post in the next few days so come back soon!  Thank you all so much for spending time reading Stitch and Boots, this is one of my greatest achievements in progress!



*I'm not kidding.  The interior of our house has been between 53 degrees and 56 degrees all day.  We've always been known to keep our house at a fairly crisp cool temperature but this is ten degrees lower than we usually go.

Urban Homesteading: Doing What You Can

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lettuce seeds 2

For the past ten years my summers have been punctuated by preserving projects.  Every summer I make jam, pickles, dry tomatoes, dry herbs, make relishes, and put up dilled beans.  This is the first summer in a decade when I have not had the time or the energy to do my usual preserving projects.  It was my plan to do at least a few of my usual projects and photograph them for tutorials to share with all of you here.  I want you to be able to come here and find all of the basic canning projects you might want to do and feel confident that you can do them with really clear instructions.  I was putting off posting much because I didn't want to post unless I had a tutorial of use or an informative article.

But then I realized something; I realized that many of you out there are in the same boat as I am in myself: you're working many hours a week to pay your bills and are scrambling to find the time to do the homesteading projects that you love doing.  I have been lucky to have been able to have stayed home and not worked outside the home for most of the past decade.  I am equally lucky that when the time came that I had to get paid work in order to keep our house and our son clothed, I landed an excellent job.  So I'm not complaining about having to work, but trying to figure out how I can work 30 hours a week and still find time to make my own lip balm, can tomatoes, and sew curtains for my old house.

What I have been telling other people for years is that urban homesteading is about doing things for yourself within a modern and urban context.  It isn't a contest in self sufficiency.  It's an exercise in learning to make things that are higher in quality than you can buy.  It's about empowering yourself with the know how most of our grandparents had because there is something deeply satisfying in being capable of taking flour, water, salt, and yeast and producing a loaf of bread that is as good or (often) better than you can purchase in the store.  When the bread shelves in the grocery store are empty you won't be afraid, you can make your own.  It's the spirit of doing things for yourself even though it will take longer than it would to pay someone else to do it.  I have begged people not to feel left out if they live in small apartments in a big city because the spirit of urban homesteading can exist and be satisfying  on all scales.  In a small apartment you may not have room to store a year's worth of tomato sauce and jam but you can do small batches that will still give you a profound enjoyment and satisfaction.  You can still make your own dinner napkins and you can do all kinds of repurposing projects.

What I realized this week is that no one is reminding me of these things.  No one is telling me to stop worrying about the fact that I am quite possibly not going to have the time or energy to can at all this year and instead just make spectacular use of the seasonal produce we have right now.  I might not be able to make tomato sauce to last me all winter (I usually can about 500 pounds of tomatoes) but I sure as hell can make some tomato sauce from scratch right now while the tomatoes are flavorful, local, fresh, and properly ripe.  It's so easy to forget that the most natural thing any of us can do is to eat seasonally.  Soon enough I won't be buying any tomatoes at all because their season will end.  So why waste time fretting over what I can't do and simply enjoy what's fresh now?   So this post is to remind myself, and anyone else in my position, to not get overwhelmed by what we don't have time to do and instead make the very best out of what we do have time for.

I believe that if I prepare better this fall and winter around my house and garden I might be able to make more time next summer for the kinds of projects that I look forward to each year.  If I find good ways to fit more homesteading into my schedule I'm sure you'd all like to hear about it so I promise to share details.

In the meantime I will start posting more often.  It won't be the preserving tutorials but there are smaller projects I have going on around here like saving carrot seeds from the garden, cooking (more recipes for making the best of seasonal produce) and I realized that it isn't particularly time consuming for me to write plant profiles.  I want to have a ton of those for people to reference so that you can come here and access a comprehensive volume of information on all the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that an urban homesteader might find useful to grow.

So this post is to remind you and me to go easy on ourselves.  If you are working full time and don't have a ton of time for homesteading activities, don't let yourself become mired in frustration.  Rejoice in the things you can do with the time you do have.  It's the spirit of urban homesteading that feeds our spirits and builds our confidence- it isn't about doing everything.

On this happy note I'm going to go clean my kitchen and then do an experiment with substituting lemon juice for citric acid for curdling milk.  The question has been asked how this substitution might be achieved and I'd like to discover and share the answer to it which I can do today since I have the milk for making ricotta and plan to make a casserole of grilled vegetables in ricotta. 

Happy homesteading!
Headmistress Mrs. Williamson (Stitchy)

 Homemade Ricotta (A tutorial on making your own ricotta)

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