Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Homemade Ice Cream

Homemade vanilla ice cream with cinnamon, corriander, and some local honey

I have a variety of vices and low-level addictions, chief among them beer and ice cream. My brother Rob has periodically brewed his own beer, and does a pretty good job. It's something I'd like to try at some point, but I don't have any of the equipment right now. Besides, there are lots of great local and regional microbrews at the grocery and liquor store.

Ice cream is a different story. There are some great places in St.Louis to go get good, hand-made ice cream; Ted Drewes, Serendipity, and Frostbite. At the store, however, I'm pretty much stuck with mass-produced "frozen dairy dessert" made with various conditioners, emulsifiers, preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, and let's not forget high fructose corn syrup. I ate it, because, well, I love ice cream.

A couple of weeks ago, while rummaging through the basement, I came across an ice cream maker that my parents had left here. Since I have a penchant for doing things the hard way, I immediately swore off store bought ice cream and vowed to make it myself. The churn had a recipe book with it, so I tried the "Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream". Wow. I remember having home made ice cream a few times as a kid, but this stuff was dynamite! My wife and kids loved it too. Better still, based on the quantity that you get, it's cheaper than the premium ice cream at the grocery store. It's safe to say that this is the only ice cream that we're going to have around our house anymore.

Here's the recipe, give it a try!

Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream
This recipe makes 5 quarts of ice cream. Keep in mind that the average carton of ice cream at the store is only 1.5 quarts, so make sure you have enough containers to keep it in.

Sugar 3 cups
Flour 1/2 cup
Salt 1/4 teaspoon
Milk 6 1/4 cups
Eggs 5
Cream 5 cups
Extract 2 1/2 Tablespoons

Combine the sugar, flour. and salt in a large saucepan. Stir in the milk. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring constantly.
Whip the eggs in a bowl. After the milk mixture is cooked, mix 1 - 2 cups of it into the beaten eggs. Pour the eggs back in with the milk and stir thoroughly.
Put the mixture into the freezer for 45-60 minutes to cool off. Stir occasionally. Once it is cool, pour the whipping cream and vanilla extract into a bowl and mix. Add in the milk mixture, and stir with a wire whisk. (At this point, you should add any spices or liquid flavorings you are using.)
Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and churn for around 45 minutes. When the churning is done, pour it into whatever container(s) that you will be freezing it in. At this point, it is the consistency of a thick milkshake, so it's perfect for adding fruit pieces, candy, or brownie bits. Put is in the freezer for a couple of hours to get solid. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 2011 Update

July is nearly over, I need to finish my art supply orders, and next week I have faculty meetings…school is right around the corner. Gak! Where did summer go? I’m about a month past due for a mid-year check up on my goals for the ‘Burbstead, so let’s see how things are progressing.

1. Egg Patch: The turnips failed to germinate. The carrots, while producing lovely tops, have only managed to make roots the size of my pinky finger (and they’re supposed to be 6-8” long). They taste good, but they aren’t going to feed many chickens. The okra is up and doing nicely, so I should wind up with a good bit if seed. I planted Bloody Butcher and Hopi Blue field corn. The Blue is for seed, since I only had a small handful to begin with. Any of the Bloody Butcher that produces ears will go to the chooks. This fall, I’m going to have another go at turnips and beets. I’m also going to try growing the Dinosaur kale that Autonomy Acres recommended. I may have had some bad luck early in the Spring, but I need to do better. Grade: C-

2. Season Extension: The peas, lettuce, and radishes that were planted under cover came in really well and way ahead of last year. I transplanted a bunch of Silvery Fir Tree and Amish paste tomatoes under a tunnel in April. The SFT’s are going strong, and they’re a couple weeks ahead of last year as well. As for the hoop house, I knocked together the base back in the Spring, and I found another trampoline frame. I have the hardware sitting in my car, and I dug up some lumber that will work for runners. I need to assemble the frame here in the next couple of weeks before school and football really get into full swing. Grade: A-

3. Growing more herbs: I wound up deciding against putting an herb spiral into the garden, but I used some pots that were laying around to make an impromptu herb garden on a patio table. I planted Sage, Thyme, Basil, Cilantro, and Mint. It was looking pretty good…until we went to Branson for 5 days. The temperatures were in the mid – upper 90’s the whole time we were gone with no rain. When we got back, most of the plants were fried to a crisp. I should have gotten some of those little water globe things they advertise on tv. The Sage is still good, some of the Thyme is straggling by, and one of the Basil plants is still green-ish. Hopefully they will bounce back with plenty of H2O. I also have dill and cilantro sprinkled throughout the garden. That’s doing good. Grade: B

Herbs before

Herbs after

4. Documenting my harvest: In the past I’ve done a fair job keeping track of planting and harvest times and other garden notes. I wanted to do that, plus keep more specific track of how much food I was actually growing. Then, sometime in early May, I lost my garden notebook. Rather than making a new one, I just stopped doing it all together. Shame on me for being a lazy bastard. Grade: F

5. Front yard gardening: My efforts in the front yard this year have been largely experimental, but I think they’ll set the stage for more robust planting in the future. I planted a couple of rows of kidney beans along the front of our side yard fence. Next to the driveway, I planted corn, amaranth, lettuce, herbs, and flowers. It’s interesting to see how slight variations in the amount of daylight can affect the growth of the plants. Also, the wabbits have pretty much left the plants alone. Next year, I want to have a more substantial front yard garden, but so far, I’m happy with what I’ve gotten. Grade: A-

Front yard beans

Front yard corn and amaranth

6. Rain Catchment: Oh right, that…errr… Grade: F-

7. Clean the chimney: So I borrowed my Uncle Randy’s chimney sweeping tools, and spent a Saturday afternoon on the roof and in the fireplace cleaning a few years worth of squirrel nest out of the chimney. I got it to the point where I could see clear out the top. I lit a fire, and there was still a lot of smoke coming into the living. This fall I may have to call on the services of someone who is better trained than I am. Grade: B

8. Ramp up / organize food storage: I’ve just started my food preservation efforts for the year, and I’ve already put away a bit more pickles than I did last year (including my first go at Bread and Butter pickles). I have enough tomatoes now that I can start making some sauces and salsas and preserves. I need to hit up the farmer’s market for some more food, because I have yet to press my dehydrator into service. This year, I would like to try drying some strawberries and peppers, making peach jam, and freezing more squash and okra. I need to make sure I don’t get lazy on this. Grade: B+

Pickles July 2011

9. Solar drying / cooking: Ok, I haven’t done any solar drying or cooking this year, even though this summer has been pretty much perfect for it (perhaps a bit humid, but still hotter than blazes). However, I have managed to take advantage of the sun’s energy in a different way. When June got here, I finally broke down and turned on the AC. In an effort to offset the increased electric bill a little bit, I strung some clothesline up on the kids’ jungle gym in the back yard. It won’t completely negate the cost off running the AC, but the dryer is the next biggest electricity hog, so minimizing its usage can’t hurt. Grade: B

Swing set-clothesline

10. Meat chickens: Well, we didn’t get a bunch of meat chickens, but we did manage to increase the size of our layer flock. At one point, we had 13 chickens. The white hen Cookie succumbed to the heat (I think), and I took 5 of the new chickens to my parents’ when it became obvious that they were roosters. That puts us at 7 chickens. However, upon further review, one of the remaining pullets turned out to be a roo. At this point, he’s not very good at crowing, so I think I’m going keep him a little while longer until he’s big enough to butcher here. That will mean that I raised a meat chicken on the ‘Burbstead. Here’s to meeting the most unlikely of goals, even if it is by a technicality. Grade: A

My final "GPA" winds up being a 2.65 (C+). The two F's really hurt, but there's room improvement pretty much everywhere. By the end of the year, I'd like to be up to a B or better.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Old habits die hard...but new ones are easy to kill

When you do something on a regular basis - be it blogging, working out, keeping a journal, or whatever - it's pretty easy to stay in the habit as long as you don't get lazy with it. Once you let yourself slip, however, it can be hard to get back in the groove. And the longer you let yourself go, the harder it gets. Case in point: it's been 5 weeks since I put anything up on here. My goal would be to post something every week or so, but I've let is slide for over a month. So here I am forcing myself to get back at it. For right now, some miscellaneous jabbering. In a couple of days, a full blown, mid-year 'Burbstead report.

Most people assume that Summer is all rest and relaxation for teachers. That's not the case if you teach Summer School, which I did all June. I'm now looking at 3 1/2 weeks before faculty meetings, football practice, and Student Council events signal that Summer is over. Yeesh! This Summer has at least afforded me the opportunity to go visit some good friends that I haven't seen for a long time. Renee and I were up in Omaha, Nebraska for a college friend's wedding this past weekend. On the way up, we swung through Seward where we stayed with Tim and Kari Huntington. I met both of them our freshman year of college, but since graduating 8 years ago, we've only been back to S-town once (and that was in 2004!). Emailing is no substitute for catching up in person, and hopefully it will be much less than 7 years before we get to see them again.
Tim and I in search of Eskimo women, circa 1998

Tim and I, both much better looking 13 years later
I'm constantly digging things out of the trash to use around the garden. Access to a waste stream full of useful stuff is one of the few things I like about living in the city. Last week, however, I found something in my school's dumpster that wasn't really 'Burbstead related, but awesome none the less. As I was getting ready to dump a load of trash, I spotted what looked like 4x12 speaker cabinet for a guitar amp. I pulled it out, expecting the speakers to be destroyed or missing, but they weren't! Aside from some tears in the cloth grill and a lack of Tolex covering on the sides, it was in fine shape. I took it home, plugged it into my bass amp, and it worked great. I may need to replace one speaker at some point, but for now I'm still able to play my guitar painfully loud. After hearing me tinker with it, the kids wanted to come down and play music too. I slapped together a drum set from some buckets for Erik, let Alex play the keyboard, and plugged a microphone in for Taylor to sing. A raucous good time was had by all.
A couple shots of the music/art cave in my basement

Lastly, I came across this website tonight via The Survival Podcast. It's a group of people doing some heavy duty urban homesteading in Kansas City. Holy Cow! I've just started going through their site, but it looks awesome. I want to live out in the country, but if I'm going to have to live in the city, this is how I want to do it. Amazing stuff.