Out here in Oregon, I enjoy the rough-hewn life of a modern homesteader and mountain woman, weaving outdoor adventures into the fabric of everyday living. Whether tending this McKenzie River homestead hearth or a campfire up in the mountains, I find great enjoyment in the work of a self-sufficient life. Gather around as I share my tales of camping, cooking, hiking, handcrafting, wildcrafting, canning, growing food, keeping chickens, and raising twin children. It is my hope to share some ideas and inspiration with other folks, to strengthen our connections with the land and wild places.
When we went out to do a little work in the garden this weekend, we found quite a surprise hiding under the pumpkin vines and nasturtiums. Not only were the pumpkins ripe early, there were a lot more of them than we were expecting! The Magic Lantern, Goosebumps, Cinderella and Small Sugar pumpkins we sowed in the spring had become such a jungle that we weren't really sure what was going on in there. We went in there to dig sweet potatoes, which turned out to be a total bust, but we didn't care when we found these instead.
Not only were there carving and eating pumpkins, but there were Autumn Wings gourds, Jack Be Little pumpkins, and Baby Boo decorative pumpkins in the mix. They sure are some colorful characters.
There are still plenty more gourds to come, growing strong around our garden fence. Although I would love to take credit for this great idea, it was not on purpose. They just grew so vigorously that they had nowhere else to go. This gave me ideas, however, for how to plant my gourds next year using the fence as a trellis.
The gourds weren't the only ones who decided the fence was the cool place to grow. This Fairy Squash caught on and put itself on display right along the top.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is being greeted by cheery orange pumpkins and gourds when I walk up the front steps. It balances out the fact that the days are getting shorter and the rain is setting in. Plus, it's a reminder that Halloween is just around the corner. This holiday is a big deal in our house, and every year we seem to come up with new, crazy jack-o-lantern ideas.
Health is one of the most valuable things we have, and taking good care of it is something many of us strive for. Things like a eating a healthy diet, buying organic, avoiding processed foods and getting regular exercise all make a big difference, but still, none of us are perfect all the time, and we are constantly exposed to things in our environment we can't control. In spite of all our healthy choices, toxins can still build up in our bodies over time, until we reach a point of feeling less than healthy. Many of us have probably experienced that icky, funky feeling at one time or another, and I know a lot of people who swear by cleanses and detox diets but this approach is just not for everyone. I find myself less likely to incorporate something extreme out of my usual routine, and have more success including detoxing in daily life. By making a habit of a handful of simple things, we can be detoxing without even really having to think about it, and reach that point of feeling funky less frequently.
I found out about this #DetoxYourLife project from Oscar Health Insurance Company and was inspired to contribute a blog post to the conversation. Oscar is a new health insurance company in New York offering health care with a more intuitive and
human approach for its members. I appreciate the way they value simple and natural ways people can live a healthy life, and I am happy to share a few of my own from the homestead.
Drink. More. Water.
This is the most simple way to detox and flush out our bodies, yet many of us don't do it on a regular basis. I have found that carrying around a water bottle or quart mason jar filled with fresh drinking water throughout the day, or just putting it in my car in the morning ensures that I will drink it throughout the day. Substituting water whenever you would otherwise drink a soda or other beverage is another way to make this habit a part of daily life. Tea counts too! Mugs of hot herbal tea on chilly days are a great accompaniment to whatever work you are doing. Along those lines, a good way to achieve a more serious detox is taking a break from soda, alcohol, or caffeinated beverages for a period of time and drinking only water and herbal tea until you are feeling back to your usual, healthy self.
Use Cilantro as a Green, not a Garnish.
Cilantro is my go-to detox ingredient. Heavy metals are an unfortunate reality in our environment and food chain, and cilantro does an outstanding job of removing heavy metal accumulation from our bodies. It helps mobilize mercury in your body's tissues, so they are able to flush out. I read some articles recently about research using cilantro to purify water, and the results were pretty impressive. Often, we encounter cilantro as a garnish or topping, but in the interest of detoxing, use that stuff liberally! I like to get a bunch of cilantro every week when it isn't growing in the garden, and put a small handful of chopped cilantro on top of soups, salads, and other dishes. I recently discovered this delicious cilantro cream sauce recipe that calls for an entire bunch, and I have been putting it on everything: Amy's Cilantro Cream Sauce
Have Fun with Fermentation.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles contain live enzymes, lactic acid and beneficial bacteria that all aid in your body's ability to detox. They help draw out and flush heavy metals and toxins from our bodies and actually re-builds our digestive flora so that it can do a more efficient job. I am starting to see more live culture sauerkraut in the refrigerated foods section of the grocery store, but it is also very easy to make your own fermented vegetables. You can get a started culture at the store or on the Internet, and they come with detailed instructions. I like the simple recipes that ferment small batches in the jar, but if you really want to go for it, many kitchen stores carry different sizes of crocks to accommodate larger quantities. I have also discovered some great books out there like Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon with detailed instructions and all kinds of recipes for fermented foods. Nourishing Traditions explores the world of lacto-fermentation, and I wrote about my experiences with it in my post: Where There's a Will, There's a Whey: Adventures With Nourishing Traditions.
Cranberries: Not Just for Thanksgiving Dinner.
Cranberries are another amazing food that flush toxins from your kidneys, lymphatic system and intestines. There is a popular cranberry juice cleanse out there involving raw cranberry juice, which is very effective but also not very palatable. Plus, raw cranberry juice is not cheap. I like to buy raw cranberries from the store and throw a handful in savory dishes like stews and salads, or in the pan with a roast. Dried cranberries are also good in salads, but it is important to note that many of them have a lot of added sugar and un-sweetened are a little harder to come by. My favorite way to eat fresh cranberries is in a cold weather recipe I made up called: Hearty Winter Rice.
Last, but not least, kombucha is a pro-biotic fermented beverage made from a sweetened tea fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria or S.C.O.B.Y. Not only is it naturally sparkly and an excellent alternative to soda, it is rich in many of the natural enzymes and bacterial acids the body produces to detox your system. Kombucha doesn't just flush out toxins, it improves your ability to flush them out yourself. There are many commercial kombuchas available out there, and even some on tap at restaurants and growler fill stations, but making your own is always an inexpensive alternative. You will need to ask around to find a friend with a spare S.C.O.B.Y. or order one online, but it's pretty simple from there. I outlined the instructions in this post:
By incorporating foods in your regular diet that help your body detox, you don't have to wait until things gets so bad that you need to do an extreme diet or unpleasant cleanse. Not that there isn't a place for those, but it's nice to save them for more rare occasions. Simply having these foods on hand and using them in your daily meals is a good way to ensure good health. Here's a simple recipe I put together combining all detoxing ingredients.
A Mountain Hearth Detox Soup
one bunch chopped wild nettles or spinach
6 cloves of garlic fresh ginger root
one fresh burdock root or several dandelion roots (dried from the bulk section is fine too)
1/2 cup onion
1 cup wild chanterelle or shittake mushrooms
sea salt and pepper
Finely chop onion and saute in a soup pot until translucent. Dice and add garlic and burdock or dandelion root, then the mushrooms. Add desired amount of water and miso paste according to directions on container. Simmer for about 20 minutes, add chopped nettles or spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer another 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in a handful of chopped cilantro or serve on top.
I would like to introduce the newest addition to our flock, Fancy the rooster. He's a Silver Crested Polish that we adopted from an elderly woman who lived in the city and hoped he would turn out to be a hen, thus naming him Fancy. Once he started crowing, she put up a flier at the feed store looking for a good home. We have a history with special Crested Polish roosters, and once I told her our story, she was happy to send him home with us.
It all began with my son's special pet and best friend in Kindergarten, Squeaky. My kids would sit out in the garage and teach Squeaky and the other chicks about environmental consciousness and ways to not pollute. Then, when the chicks got a little older and were outside, he would go out there and talk with Squeaky after school every day. They were best buddies. Unfortunately, we were not supposed to have a rooster at our house in the city limits, so we had to give him away to a suburban farm where they were more than happy to let us come back and visit. We took them up on that offer many times.
As we were getting ready to move out to the Elmira homestead, we got a batch of chicks and Squeaky was followed by Squeaky II, another White Crested Black Polish rooster.
And Tom Bombadil, a Silver Crested Polish rooster.
Those two roosters ruled the roost for quite a while, but no rooster lives forever, and we ended up with one of Tom Bombadil's offspring on our McKenzie River homestead. Tom Kaleidoscope, a Silver Crested Polish and Araucana mix, was an excellent rooster until he passed away this month.
As you can tell, we like our fancy chickens around this homestead. I think Fancy is going to have a grand life free ranging around our place and keeping the hens out of trouble.
"Love is the bridge between you and everything."
I have come to love and appreciate the Goodpasture Bridge as a local landmark and still-standing part of McKenzie River history. Built in 1938, the bridge is named for a local pioneer, Benjamin Franklin Goodpasture, who purchased the land to plant the hazelnut orchards that are still being farmed here today. The parcel included a ferry crossing, which he donated to the county for the construction of the bridge. This is the second longest covered bridge in Oregon, and nothing short of beautifully built. It's a good feeling when we come to really love the place we live, and the landscape and landmarks become familiar parts of home. Every time I drive past the Goodpasture Bridge, I am reminded that I have arrived in exactly the right place.
Fresh fruit is a real treat with breakfast, but on cold winter mornings when there is no fresh fruit to be had, home canned fruit is the next best thing. These honey spiced pears have been a canning staple of mine for a few years now, and I always look forward to those weekend mornings when we get a jar of them out of the cellar.
I have always used foraged fruit for this recipe and even with some imperfections, they still turn out great. I imagine if one were to use nice pears from a well-tended tree they would be lovely. Our pear tree is only a year old and won't be producing fruit for a while, but I've got a couple abandoned pear trees that I've been picking from around town and they had a decent amount of fruit on them this year.
My favorite thing about this recipe is the longer the jars sit, the more the spice flavors soak in. If you eat a jar later in the spring, be prepared for some serious cinnamon!
Now for my recipe:
Mountain Hearth Honey Spiced Pears
(makes 6 quarts)
10 Lbs pears
12 cups water
3 cups honey
6 cinnamon sticks
12 star anise
6 tsp whole cloves
6 tsp whole allspice
Follow basic canning preparation directions outlined in a canning guide. I prefer the Ball Blue Book of Preserving because it's inexpensive and covers all the basics.
Core pears and cut into quarters. Peeling is optional. Create a simple syrup combining the honey and water. Once boiling, add 1/4 of the pears and boil for three minutes. Pack pears, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 star anise and 1 tsp each of the cloves and allspice to each clean, hot quart jar and ladle syrup over leaving 1/2 inch head space. Repeat with the rest of the pears.
Put caps and rings on jars and process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.