Sunday, May 27, 2012

Simple Homemade Ranch Dressing or Veggie Dip

It's sad that it took me so long, but I've finally conquered making another household staple from scratch! I scoured the internet looking for decent ranch dressing recipes, and after a couple of memorable failures, I stumbled upon this one. I like it, the kids like it, and it's easy to make. Definitely a winner I'll be making again and again (especially as the fresh veggies start coming in!)

Ranch Dressing or Veggie Dip
¼ cup milk or buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
¼ tsp chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp dry dill)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tsp dry)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives (or 1 tsp onion powder)
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
Mix together well.  If it’s too thick for salad dressing, add a little milk.  If it’s too thin for a ranch veggie dip, add a little sour cream (and more herbs/spices as needed.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Book: The Good Food Revolution

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities by Will Allen with Charles Wilson

I was so excited when a friend let me borrow this book, I read it from cover to cover in three days! I've been a fan of Will Allen ever since I first heard about his Growing Power project in Milwaukee (which just happens to be where my Mom was born and raised, and where I went to college - so I can picture just where he's writing about).

This book is meant to be a biography of Allen and his project, primarily explaining why they're doing what they're doing, and to inspire others to follow his example. His main goal is to find new ways to bring good food to people who may not be able to get it (specifically African Americans and other minorities in poor inner city neighborhoods).

So, much of the book wasn't exactly aimed at a white woman living in very rural northern Wisconsin, but I am excited about some of his practical ideas for raising food in a small amount of space. I'm very intrigued, for example, by his aquaculture set-up (he raises talapia in a long, thin tank down the center of one of his greenhouses, then filters the water the fish have (*ahem*) fertilized through a bed of tomato plants, after which the cleaned water is cycled back to the fish in a completely closed system (I'm sure I didn't get that exactly right, but you can look at the Growing Power website for more information).

Another idea I found interesting was his use of hoophouses, specifically his success raising chickens and winter spinach in the same hoophouse (the chickens keep the air warm enough so that the greens don't freeze; if you make sure there is enough carbon material (Joel Salatin's "Carbonacious Diaper") to balance the "clucker muck" (that's my term for chicken poop), the ammonia won't build up enough to damage the plants.) I would really love to try this idea this winter! I'm thinking of a setup where half of the hoophouse would be chicken coop, and the other side cold frames filled with vegetables (as detailed in Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook). The second year, I would simply reverse what goes where, so that the vegetables would benefit from the well-rotted chicken fertilizer, and the chickens can clean up the old garden beds. When the chickens move out onto their summer pasture, I can raise tomato transplants in the sheltered hoophouse.

Allen is also a big proponent of vermicomposting - using worms to break down food waste and turn it into valuable fertilizer. I would like to combine his ideas with those in Harvey Ussery's book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock and have a combination fertilizer/chicken feed bin incorporated into the floor of my winter hoophouse.

There are so many interesting ideas in this book (although I should caution that it's not a how-to book; there are no specific plans for his hoophouses or aquaculture systems). I found it so inspirational - I can't wait to start growing more food for our family (and hopefully someday for others as well).
Note: I was not payed to review this book, I just really love it! But if you click on the link above and buy the book at, I will receive a small commission from the sale. Thank you for your support!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild Winter Chicken Feed

I almost forgot - there's one more unlikely wild food we've been harvesting lately: Dandelion seeds!

I have about a dozen family-size spaghetti sauce jars full of them. The kids think this is great fun!

So why, you ask, am I harvesting dandelion seeds?

I have this crazy plan to save all of this free seed, store it until snow falls, and then sprout it and feed it to my chickens as winter greens. For the last two winters, I've been sprouting purchased wheat berries for my hens; I realized finally that I could save that seed money and simply save what grows free as a nuisance in my yard!

Of course, before I saved jars and jars of the stuff I tested a little bit to see if it would sprout indoors  - it worked wonderfully!
Of course this wouldn't work on a large chicken operation; there's no mechanical way I know of to harvest dandelion fluff. And that's probably why it isn't recommended in all of the chicken farming books. But for our small-scale, pancake-powered child labor force, it's perfect!

This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop

Well, it sounded good anyway. When I went to sprout the seeds in the winter, I couldn't get them to germinate. Add to that the fact that half of the jars had gotten slightly moldy, and this experiment was a bust! Back to the drawing board . . .

Feeling a Little Wild

I haven't been harvesting much other than spinach and rhubarb from my garden yet, but I've been gathering quite a bit of wild plants already.

Our lettuce (which sowed itself last fall) isn't quite big enough for picking yet, so for our early spring tacos, we've been harvesting plantain out of the yard (which hasn't been sprayed with anything in the 6 years we've been here, so I'm fairly sure it's safe).

We also discovered two small patches of nettles, so I harvested those and dehydrated them (wearing gloves and long sleeves, of course!) I was a little worried that dehydrating without blanching wouldn't deactivate the stingers, but I tried it anyway, and unloaded the dehydrator bare handed without any trouble. Apparently, you can use them just like spinach, and I plan to add them to our spaghetti and pizza sauce this winter, for a nice vitamin boost.

Earlier this week, my oldest daughter seemed to have an eye infection (the lids were swollen, and the eyeball itself was a little red). After a quick check in The Handbook of Vintage Remedies, I found that raspberry or blackberry leaf tea was an effective remedy, so we ran out and picked some leaves from the blackberries that grow wild on the edge of our property. By the next day, her eye was back to normal, so I decided to pick more leaves and dehydrate those for wintertime teas.

Needless to say, I am so grateful for my Excalibur dehydrator! I'm certainly getting a lot of use out of it this spring!

Next up: wild strawberries! Our yard is full of these tiny little beauties every summer. Right now they're in bloom, promising a great harvest in a month or so!