Those of you who follow my writing career (All of you, right? RIGHT?!) know that I’ve written quite a bit on the topic of urban homesteading. And if you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you know that a big part of urban homesteading is creative food-growing.
But let’s be real for a moment.
It’s time to face facts. For most of us in this fine country, the garden is loooong gone (::weeping sounds::). But homesteading isn’t just about growing. It’s about self-sufficiency. In some circles, it’s about returning to the “old ways” of doing things. It includes making many of your own goods, cooking and preserving a bit more from scratch than just about anyone you know, and making do with whatever you can re-purpose. And truth be told, there’s still plenty you can do to keep the misfitty mojo flowing.
And it is extremely essential to keep the misfitty mojo flowing. You know how you keep the water tap dripping ever so slightly in some parts of the country (MINE!) to keep the pipes from freezing up and becoming useless? Yeah, it’s kinda like that. This has been a public service announcement from your Bad Mama Genny.
Here are some of the things I’m working on. Why not try a few yourself?
1. Prepare the garden beds and containers for next year. So all the dead plants have been pulled and you spend entire mornings looking at those barren containers/patches of earth and sobbing your little heart out (No? You don’t? Uh, me either!…). Let’s get it started for next year! Why not try your hand at lasagna gardening? You’ll be layering moistened “brown” and “green” layers of compostable materials and topping the whole thing with finished compost or rich soil. Then you just keep the whole thing moist and let nature do its work. Come springtime–voila–beautiful, black gold ideal for planting.
2. Make some countertop kefir! Get started with this lady –she REALLY knows her stuff.
3. Why not grow mushrooms in a cool, dark corner of your little homestead? This winter I’ll be growing shiitakes and oyster mushrooms! Then I’ll be trying this OMG recipe for Creamy, Buttery, Chive-y Caviar-Like Mushrooms or, heck, even this Mushroom, Jalapeño, and Cilantro Salsa.
4. Make some homebrew, dudes! Right now The Boy’s got Bourbon Pecan Pie Ale and Gingerbread Pumpkin Pie Ale on tap in the old refrigerator he converted to a kegerator. Now or soon-to-be bubbling away in our fermentation room: Hard Apple Cider, Whiskey-Spiked Christmas Porter, and Ye Olde English Bitter. We’re also considering putting up some mead made with local, raw honey. (Have you ever eaten raw honey? Ohmygoodnessgracious, you haven’t?! GO. DO.)
5. Cure some meat! Why not try your hand at duck breast prosciutto or even–gasp!–an entire ham?
6. Churn your own butter! Simply leave some heavy cream on the counter for 12 hours to sour, pour it into a jar that’s big enough to still be 2/3 empty, and shake! It’ll get super thick and heavy and then…BAM! A hunk of butter sitting in a pool of buttermilk! Press the resulting butter with a wet wooden spoon to squeeze out all the buttermilk, wash it under cold water ’til it runs clear, press it again, and then mix with a bit of fine-grain salt. The Boy, The Brother, and I did this one recent Saturday night (shut up) and the fun was off the hook. I think The Guys really liked flexing their muscles, and we all liked spoiling our appetites with fresh-baked bread slathered with soft, just-churned butter. Not sure what to do with the leftover buttermilk? I’m judging you right now, because if you don’t think of biscuits and pancakes immediately upon acquiring buttermilk, you must not be “ONE OF US”…
–Alright, so that was unsettling and I promise not to do it again. For at least a few days. Or more like, 12 hours. 6 hours. 3? ::heavy breathing:: Okay, well, guess you’ll have to take the BMG just as I am.
What was I saying?
Oh, yes, you can freeze buttermilk. Just do it in small increments (1/2 or 1 cup) so you can take out just what you need for your recipe.
7. Make cheese! You may remember my ricotta recipe , but you can also experiment with mozzarella, farmer’s cheese, kefir cheese, or even some homemade cheddar!
8. Ferment some sauerkraut, the natural way.
9. Got a bin of green tomatoes on hand? Use them for making relish, or let them turn red and cook up a batch of this Sweet & Savory Tomato Jam. (The tomato jam is delicious, but I prefer mine a little less sweet. If you do, too, and you’re not planning on canning it, I’d halve the sugar.)
10. Tell me you went apple picking. I go every year–just wouldn’t be fall without it. And it just so happens to be the way you and I got to know each other. Did you know that pectin, that stuff that sets jams, jellies, and preserves, occurs naturally in the peels, stems, cores, and seeds of apples? Recently I froze my harvest with a dry-pack method and SAVED THE PEELS AND CORES to make a beautiful pink apple jelly! Everything else went into my sugar-free pink applesauce.
11. Scoop up the last of the tomatillos from the market and make some salsa verde to freeze.
12. Roast some winter squash and freeze it in 1 cup increments for pies and muffins! I seem to be doing this weekly, as I just haven’t met a punkin I didn’t like. So you probably know the typical method for roasting pumpkins: chop ’em in half, scoop out the seeds, roast in a 425 oven face-down until they’re super soft, food-process the pulp. But how about putting that slow-cooker to work? Put the halves (or quarters, or eighths…you may have to cut them down to fit) into the stoneware, add a splash of water, cover, and slow cook on high until tender. Save the seeds…
13. And then roast those seeds! Rinse ’em off, toss them with a bit of olive oil and sea salt, and roast at 375 until they’re toasty and crunchy, stirring occasionally. When they’re done, eat ’em as they are, sprinkle a handful outside for the squirrels to enjoy (yes, I AM that much of a softie, but only when they’ve STAYED THE EFF AWAY from my garden), or turn them into brittle candy!
14. Eat your greens. At this point, your fresh produce consumption has already dropped, and you need to compensate by boosting your diet with nutrient-rich food. Enter kale, chard, and the multitude of other cold-weather greens that are now sweeter and more tender thanks to a little frosty weather! Try this raw kale salad–I actually like it better without the bread crumbs–or make this delicious Chorizo, Chickpea, & Sweet Potato Soup (I added kale).
15. Try your hand at homemade laundry detergent. You’ll feel like a frugalista. Did I just say “frugalista”? Excuse me while I go kill myself.
16. Knit something! The 6-Hour Afghan (free pattern at Lion Brand’s website; you’ll just have to register as a member. Search “6 hour afghan”.) makes an awesome gift (for someone who will appreciate it! Remember, non-knitters have a limited capacity to understand all the time, money, and effort that goes into knitted projects!). It’s also easy enough for a beginner to tackle, and comes together so satisfyingly fast, you probably won’t even abandon it halfway through! Not that anybody I know regularly abandons knitting projects halfway through…
Anyhoo, when I was new to knitting, I churned out two of these babies–shades of purple for Mom, shades of pink for Aunt Pat–and true to the claims, each took less than 6 hours.
17. Research some breeds of miniature livestock and plan for the day when your urban homestead has a wee bit of land to play with. Don’t you just LOVE the idea of a miniature jersey cow wandering around your backyard, grazing on your lawn, mooing every now and then for a milking? I bet your neighbors would think you’re just the bee’s knees!*
*Your neighbors will probably not think you are the bee’s knees, they will probably try to gas you in your sleep, and also, I just said “the bee’s knees.” The bee’s knees. There, did it again.*
18. Check out some chicken coop building plans if you fancy a d.i.y project, or consider asking for one of these for Christmas! Then plan your flock on this fantastic site.
19. Review your garden notes from this year (you did make those, right?) or sit down to pen your observations, hopes, and plans for next year’s plot while it’s all still fresh in your mind. Nothing like dreamin’ bout Heirloom Tomatoes (you must read this book!) to get you through those cold, lonely nights. Also, The Boy is good for that but you can’t have him ’cause he’s mine and stuff. Get your own The Boy.
20. Start a countertop sprout farm! No soil, light, or hard labor necessary! Of course, you do run the risk of pining after some seriously kiff sprouting equipment.
Those are just a few of the projects we’re involved with this year–what are you up to? Will you be trying any of these? Have any suggestions of your own?
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