Friday, October 11, 2013

Fun Little Homesteading Book

Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade LifeMade from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life by Jenna Woginrich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Made from Scratch” is a charming memoir of the author’s journey toward self-sufficiency. Jenna Woginrich reminds me a lot of myself. She is constantly trying to learn new skills and pick up new hobbies. Though I have no interest in sled dogs or sheep keeping, I found that her book had some wonderful stories full of warmth and discovery, and some excellent project suggestions and references.

This is a great primer for those who are just starting to think about getting some country skills. It is a fun and inspirational read, and it offers a lot of resources for people looking to get started. From baking your own bread or playing your own music, to raising fiber animals and back yard chickens, “Made from Scratch” has it covered. You will learn both from Woginrich’s victories and from her mistakes. Even if you don’t ever plan to do most of what is discussed in the book, the writing is so engaging that it is a pleasure to read.

I enjoyed this book and plan to pick up Woginrich’s other book, “Barnheart” as well.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Twinkie Deconstructed

Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America EatsTwinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Twinkie, Deconstructed” is a book with one, horrifying central theme: all the ingredients in a Twinkie have a single source – petroleum. The book became painfully repetitive as it described how once again, the ingredient was made from fossil fuels. Over and over again this book describes processes of heat and extraction that result in the production of the chemically-laden “food” that makes a Twinkie.

I had expected the ingredients in Twinkies to be a chemical horror, but what really brings this book home is how Ettlinger breaks down the ingredients and shows the reader how some of these ingredients are used in the home. Ever use baking powder or bleached all-purpose flour? Then you too have a cupboard full of highly processed foods. The process for imitation vanilla is amazing.

Though I have not had a Twinkie in thirty years, this book made me think about all of the other foods that I eat that have similar ingredient lists. These petroleum-based ingredients can be found in practically any processed food you might encounter – everything from pasta sauces to lunch meats.

I gave this book thee stars because I did find the format repetitive, though that is not entirely the fault of the author. And the repetition did serve to drive home what is really in our food. I also had just finished the book “Salt, Sugar, Fat” which does a better job of writing about a similar thing. I felt that Ettlinger did not press his sources enough regarding the health and safety of the ingredients he was researching. That being said, “Twinkie, Deconstructed” was a real eye-opener. If you are interested in the chemistry of food, or food origins, this will be a great read for you.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked UsSalt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Salt Sugar Fat” has ruined grocery shopping for me. I’ve never been a fan of highly processed foods. I am not one to throw Kraft Cheesy Skillets, or Lunchables into my grocery cart. I know that processed foods are bad for you and full of empty calories. But this book took that point of view and radically expanded it.

So much of what we think of as “food” contains little to no actual food! And it is a worse problem than just obesity. These “foods” contribute to high blood pressure, organ failure, heart failure, altered taste buds, and even cancer! Manufacturers of these products know their dangers and don’t eat them. I wouldn’t eat a meal at a fancy restaurant that the chef wouldn’t touch, so why would I eat a meal in a box that the CEO of Kraft wouldn’t touch?

“Salt Sugar Fat” is broken up into three sections that address each ingredient’s role in processed foods. First is Sugar, and this section is a real eye opener. We all know about the sugars involved in sodas, but what was really frightening to me was the secret sugars that are added into all manner of foods in order to mask other chemical “off” flavors. This is the section that first introduces the concept of the “Bliss Point”. According to Moss’ research, people’s bliss points for sugar are higher and higher due to early exposure to high sugar foods in infancy. If you grew up drinking soda and other sweet drinks, you are doomed to crave higher and higher sugar contents in your foods for the rest of your life.

The Salt section has similar information to the sugar section. People are developing higher and higher tolerances to salts in their foods. Even children, who normally don’t like a lot of salt, are being trained by processed foods to crave it. Again, salt is added to EVERYTHING. It provides better mouth feel for a lot of products, preserves products, and masks metallic and other off flavors.

I was ready to be hit hard by the fat section, and I was not let down. Fats are not going away from processed foods. Fat is essential to their success. Moss’ research shows that when salt and sugar are combined with fats, our brains/bodies do not identify how much fat we are ingesting. Basically, the key components of processed foods work together to turn off our natural satiety. That’s terrible news for the consumer, but great news for processed food manufacturers.

Don’t read this book if you aren’t prepared to go to the grocery store armed with your new found information on processed food. You will be checking the labels on everything and evaluating and translating the information therein. Nothing is as it first appears. “Low Fat” or “Diet” varieties often harbor secret stashes of extra salt or sugar that keep the calories ridiculously high. But if you are ready for some hard truths that might just save your life, get this book today.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Organic Gardening in Florida Poses Unique Challenges

Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in FloridaOrganic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida by Ginny Stibolt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Florida offers gardeners unique challenges and benefits that are not generally addressed in most gardening publications. I find myself always doing a little mental math when I read about when and how to start seeds. I live in North Florida (zone 9B), and I pretty much have to plant spring crops (like English Peas) in the winter. It’s April right now, and our high temp today is 91 degrees Fahrenheit. All of my greens began bolting in February, and my window for growing cool/cold weather crops is almost too small to get anything grown to maturity. And this is in North Florida! My friends in South Florida can forget about growing a lot of common crops entirely!

I’ve been gardening for about 4 years now, and I really wish that I had discovered this book when I first started. It would have given me a great start; instead I had to learn things the hard way. Four years into it, I’ve figured a lot of the info in this book out already. It has some great information on different organic gardening methods, composting, and bed building. However, I’ve read more detailed information on these topics in other books dedicated to them.

What “Organic Methods for Vegetable Gardening in Florida” gets right is its focus on Florida specific gardening challenges. The book recognizes that Florida is unique in that there are many different growing zones in the state, and what works in North Florida will not necessarily work in Central or South Florida. It also addresses Florida’s poor soils and what can be done to amend them.

There is a large section of the book that describes Florida tolerant crops and where they grow best in the state. This section is worth the total price of the book. It is a fantastic reference for anyone gardening in the state. I can look up parsnips or peas and find out how well they grow in each section of the state, when to plant them, and how to care for them.

Though I had already read or experienced a lot of the information provided in this book, the vegetable references have earned it a place in my personal library. If you garden in Florida, this book will have valuable information for you, even if you are a skilled and experienced gardener.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Fungus Among Us! Part 1– Medicinal Mushrooms

This is a second post based on classes I took at the Organic Growers School (OGS) Conference in March of this year. Two of the best classes I attended this year were Medicinal Mushrooms  and Shroomin’ Off The Grid, both taught by mushroom evangelist, Tradd Cotter. Cotter owns and operates Mushroom Mountain in South Carolina, and has made a name for himself with his work on mycoremediation and spore cultivation. If you have questions about mushrooms, this is the guy to ask!

So first I’d like to address medicinal mushrooms. Cotter’s lecture on this subject was fast and furious. He probably condensed a 3 hour lecture into an hour. There was more information than I could even absorb.

According to Cotter, many mushrooms contain antibiotic, anti-pathogenic, and some even seem to protect against cancers! For instance*:

Chanterelles – contain a cancer-fighting enzyme, are high in beta carotene and vitamin D if grown exposed to light for a couple of hours a day.




Cordyceps mushrooms – are an immune system stimulant that is frequently given to people undergoing surgery.These mushrooms are also carnivorous! They attack and eat insect pupae and the mushrooms frequently sprout out of the back of the pupae’s head. Gnarly! Some of these mushrooms can be used to kill fire ants, squash bugs, aphids, etc. Think of the gardener’s who could use this fungus! Cordyceps Ophioglossoides has been shown to stimulate adult brain cells to grow. It is being researched on its ability to reverse brain diseases like Alzheimer's.

Lion’s Mane (Hericium Erinaceus) – cook this mushroom to release a nerve tonic




Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms) – are currently being studied at Johns Hopkins as a treatment for addiction and PTSD. Preliminary studies has shown great promise with just one dose!



Maitake – Makes a great tea and has anti-cancer properties.





Chicken of the Woods – kills e-coli bacteria and is a great treatment for fungal infections.






Wood Ear – (commonly used in hot and sour soups) These mushrooms dehydrate down to a fraction of their original size, but rehydrate almost completely. These mushrooms store well and are high in anti-coagulants.


Enoki (Velvet Foot) – is very high in anti-cancer properties.






Almond Portobello – tastes like toasted almonds when cooked and is high in anti-cancer properties.







Pleurotus (Oyster) – has twice the protein of eggs, is high in psyllium, is anti-viral and anti-parasite.




Corn Smut – a corn fungal pathogen that tends to grow on Silver Queen and other heirloom varietals. This fungus tastes like a corny guacamole and can help with uterine contraction.



Turkey Tail – dried and powdered has been studied in its use to fight breast cancer. Seems to work as a preventative as well.



Reishi (Ling Chi) – is known as the Mushroom of Immortality. If this mushroom is grown in light, it is more medicinal. This amazing mushroom is adaptogenic, immune enhancing/modulating, and has ganoderic acid (for diabetics). Cotter made us some reishi mushroom tea to try and it had a pleasant earthy/chocolate flavor. This medicinal can be dried and powered or extracted.

Cotter recommends reading The Fungal Pharmacy by Robert Rogers for more information on medicinal mushrooms. If you are interested in growing your own medicinal mushrooms, check out my next posting on Shroomin’  Off The Grid!

* This information is not intended as medical advice. Do not ingest any mushrooms without assurance from a mycologist that they are safe to eat.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Lasagna Gardening

Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found Patricia Lanza’s “Lasagna Gardening” to be highly inspirational. This is a gardening method that anyone can try. It is basically sheet composting inside of a garden bed, but instead of waiting for the compost to be fully processed, you can plant inside a lasagna garden as soon as it is built.

One of the keys to lasagna gardening is using the organic materials that you have on hand. I have a lot of oak leaves, grass clippings and garden waste on hand, so that is what I will be using to build my lasagna beds. Though the oak leaves can make the soil highly acidic, I’ll temper that with a dusting of wood ash that I saved from my winter fires.

There are only two things that I found as drawbacks to this book. The first is Lanza’s dependence on using large quantities of Sphagnum moss. This is a product that takes hundreds of years to grow back, so it is practically unsustainable. I do not want to use Sphagnum in my gardens at all. I am going to find an alternative to the moss that is a renewable resource. I am considering using a combination of Spanish moss (which I have tons of in my yard) and coconut coir. I’ve used the coir in the past as part of a potting mix. It holds water similarly to the Sphagnum moss and it is highly renewable, so I think that’s a good alternative.

The second is her recommendation of hybrid plants. I don’t have a moral argument against using hybrids, but you can’t save seed from hybrid plants, so you can’t build a series of garden plants that are adapted perfectly to your garden if you are using hybrids. It’s a small complaint, but I would have appreciated more recommendations of heirloom varieties.

Other than that, this book is very thorough. Whether you want to grow vegetables, herbs, flowers, or even start a container garden, Lanza has you covered in this book. She lays out the simple steps to building a lasagna garden bed, and then goes into how to care for different kinds of plants in the new bed(s). The method is so simple and low-cost, you will want to start a new bed right away. Regardless of which zone you live in, or what you want to grow, get Patricia Lanza’s “Lasagna Gardening” book. It will educate and inspire you.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Composting: Not Just For Kitchen Scraps!

The Complete Compost Gardening GuideThe Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the only book on composting you will ever need. It discusses many different composting methods, style, and tools, and it ends on uses, cover crops, and green mulching. It uses the real, personal experiences of the authors, fantastic step-by-step photos and diagrams, and some great recipes and info graphics.

I got a lot of new ideas and plans from this book, and I can't wait to get started on my new composting projects. I checked this book out of the library, but it is such a fantastic resource, that I will soon be purchasing my own copy.

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