Drying hyssop

hyssop

We don’t often find fresh hyssop in stores, so when we came across it we grabbed a bunch and I decided to take advantage of the dry, windy weather we’ve been having to dry it up.

Dry windy spells in winter are a pain. They make being outside unpleasant, they cause one’s hands to dry out and crack, and what’s more serious, they dramatically increase the risk of wildfires (by the way, thanks so much to those who have expressed concern for our family – we are thankful to say we are in no immediate danger of fire, but are keeping alert and hoping for rain). But these winds are perfect for drying herbs.

Drying hyssop – or any herbs, really – is very simple. All you have to do is take a good-sized bunch, tie it by the stems and hang it outside – or, if the wind is really violent like it was this time, put it in a mesh bag to prevent the leaves from scattering.

Of course, a food dehydrator or a simple oven can work just as well. Or you can hang the herbs inside. They will dry up eventually, only it will take longer. On the upside, they will make the room smell nice.

Once the hyssop is properly dry, remove and crush the leaves and discard the stems. The crushed leaves can be used as a seasoning in various dishes or, as is more common in Israel, mixed with olive oil, salt and sesame seeds to make za’atar, a popular local dip eaten with pita bread and/or cream cheese.

New addition to our poultry yard

guinea

My husband found this lone guinea languishing in a tiny little cage in a pet store and decided to rescue it and bring it home. I was never particularly interested in guineas and don’t know much about them (can’t even tell for sure if the one we have is a male or a female), but I was taken with this bird’s quirky appearance and how easygoing it is around the chickens – to be honest I expected something like a blood feud in the coop, but to my surprise the guinea fitted right in, eating and drinking with the flock and squeezing in between the chickens when the time comes to roost for the night.

Now I’m hooked and would like to get a couple more of these funny birds as soon as we have the chance. As a bonus, I found out that guineas are actually kosher and there is a tradition of eating them in some Jewish communities (we don’t bother raising birds for meat, but we might eat the eggs).

The only downside is the racket it tends to make, but on the other hand it helped us spot a sneaky fox a couple of days ago! Luckily, we don’t have neighbors near enough to be bothered.

Your Own Hands Release and Giveaway

I’m very happy to tell that Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living is now available on my Amazon page.

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The book is also available at my Payhip store in PDF format – with a special 30% discount for blog readers who choose to download it from there. Coupon code is 0HBO2YU1XO and it will be active until the end of November.

I am also excited to tell that I’m giving away three review e-copies of the book. Entering the giveaway is really simple: just drop me a line through my blog’s contact form. Winners, who will be chosen randomly one week from now, will make me really happy if they opt to review the book on Amazon or their social media or blogs (though it is entirely a matter of goodwill). You are also welcome, of course, to spread word about this giveaway on social media so more people can enter.

Thank you for your support!

Sourdough Simplicity: book review

low-res-sourdough

For a while now I’ve been meaning to review a very useful little book by my friend Rose Godfrey, Sourdough Simplicity. It’s really a very handy, practical instruction manual for those just striking out in the world of sourdough starter. Personally I’ve been wanting to try sourdough for a while, and was only stopped by my husband’s “eek!” factor. Now I’m more inspired than ever to give it a shot.

I’ll be honest: despite Rose’s just warnings about whole-grain sourdough bread coming out dense, if I do make the effort at sourdough, it will only be with whole grain flour (either wheat, rye or spelt). I just don’t see much point in making a starter, keeping it going, investing in a long rise process, making the gamble of an unpredictable product, and all this to get what essentially is still white bread from refined, nutrient-stripped flour (though undoubtedly superior in taste to the usual quick-rise bread).

Yes, traditionally fermented bread is in many cases better tolerated by those with grain allergies, as opposed to quick-rise bread made with baker’s yeast. But still, from a nutritional standpoint, it isn’t much. It might not give you an allergic reaction, but it won’t give you much of anything else, either.

Either way, Sourdough Simplicity is a great way to get going in that confusing new world of sourdough starter. It also provides many great recipes, creative ways of utilizing leftovers, and troubleshooting tips.

“I needed a method that was pure simplicity and a recipe that tasted great. In the end, I found that sourdough baking did not have to be complicated, and it could fit all my objectives. I started with a wonky oven that had 4 distinct heat zones and still managed to bake delicious breads. My loaves are not always Pinterest-perfect, but they are tasty, nutritious, and easy to make. There is always some minor variation from loaf to loaf, and we are OK with that.”

Book update

I’m quite excited to tell you that I’ve made a lot of progress with Your Own Hands. I’m still open to receiving more stories and testimonies from homesteaders and simple living enthusiasts, but overall the first draft is pretty much put together and will soon be proofread, formatted and sent out to the people who had been interviewed so everyone can review their own part before release. Once I get the OK from everyone, it won’t be long before the book is out. I was fortunate enough to have the participation of people who contributed some awesome stories and gorgeous photographs and am really happy with how it’s all coming together.

For more updates, visit my Facebook page.

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Above: one of the possible cover versions (I’m still tinkering with it).

Little homes, creative solutions

Lately I’ve been greatly enjoying Teri’s blog, Homestead Honey. Teri and her husband live in a charming tiny cabin of 350 square feet (just over 32 square meters) that they had built themselves. They have two children, whom they homeschool.
How do four people fit into 350 square feet? On her blog, Teri talks about some creative solutions that have enabled them to live in their small space. They have, for instance, an outdoor kitchen and an outdoor shower. And, of course, despite having a storage shed they need to be very selective about which possessions they keep.

We live in a house of about a 100 square meters, or 1070 square feet. In addition, we have a storage shed of about 15 square meters (about 160 square feet). Our house is by no means huge, but I confess we do have a lot of poorly utilized space. First, our storage shed is filled to bursting with stuff we hardly use. We also have an office and a guest bedroom that are seldom used for their direct purpose, and a lot more for accumulating junk. In addition, we have three bathrooms in our house, out of which one is used very, very rarely, and its shower not at all – I consider it completely superfluous.

So, while it’s certainly nice to have a roomy house and lots of space to put our stuff, it’s an undeniable fact that a family like ours can downsize and live in a smaller house that is easier and cheaper to heat (or cool), clean and maintain. Also, in Israel, the smaller your house is, the lower the occupation tax you pay.

Of course, you wouldn’t pay occupation tax for an outdoor kitchen, an outdoor shower, a storage shed or a covered front porch/deck/pergola that would enable you to place garden furniture, benches, swings, hammocks, and spend many pleasant hours outside! The only hitch I see in this arrangement are the days when you are confined to the interior of your house – when it’s too rainy, windy, stormy, cold or, as more often happens in Israel, too hot.

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Above: deck at our new cabin

I do have to be fair and acknowledge that all these wonderful outdoor extensions are only possible if you are living on the land. In city apartments, you just make do with your space (though I’ve seen some very neat space-utilization practices done in apartments too). But if you have some land, however little, you can work wonders.

We have been married close to nine years now, and we are on our fourth house, so far. Despite my desire to get settled in a permanent home (as much as anything can be permanent in this world) straight away, I think it was a blessing in its way, because it did force us to go through our possessions from time to time and decide what we can’t do without. When you must pay to have your stuff moved, you’ll probably let go of that old broken-down washer than has been sitting in your back yard for years, waiting to be turned into a potter’s wheel or some other marvelous engine (talking from experience here). Still, we tend to accumulate possessions at an alarming rate.

At this time, we are facing the prospect of moving to a smaller house. When it first began to dawn upon me this is a serious possibility, it was daunting. How would I sort through all our things? Obviously we wouldn’t be able to keep everything. We’d have to get rid of stuff, possibly a lot of stuff. How would we fit into a smaller space? But now that I’ve found Teri’s blog, and the testimonies of other people who have downsized and are happier for it, I’m not nervous anymore, but rather looking forward to this as a challenge. In the future I hope to post updates of our progress.

Easy Coconut Cream

Every time I’m whipping up a dessert, my husband hopefully asks, “is it parve“? Parve essentially means a dish that contains neither meat nor dairy. Since Orthodox Jews must wait six hours after consuming meat or chicken before they can eat dairy, it’s no wonder most people try to make their desserts parve. Unless they are vegetarians, in which case it doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, in many cases this leads people to use unhealthy ingredients such as margarine or fake cream with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the desserts they make – and a whole lot of sugar to make the entire thing more palatable. For me, parve dessert has usually meant fruit salad or, in season, chilled melon or watermelon… that is, until recently I discovered the wonders of coconut cream.

Coconut cream contains natural, stable, healthy fat (in particular containing large amounts of lauric acid, which is renowned for its antibacterial, antiviral properties) and, when chilled, has the perfect consistency for whipping – in fact, it acts almost exactly like normal cream.

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Whipped coconut cream. Doesn’t it look just like the real thing?

So here’s how you do it: pick  a can of coconut cream containing at least 17%-18% fat and chill overnight. A hard fatty layer will form on top; skim it off carefully with a spoon and add a little of the liquid at the bottom (use the rest of the liquid in baking or smoothies). The cream can be whipped and combined with all sorts of flavorings to create a variety of desserts. Yesterday I made delicious halva mousse by whipping up the coconut cream with raw tahini and some honey. I imagine it would go equally nice with chocolate… yum! I imagine it can also be frozen to make natural, dairy-free ice cream.

Personally, I love coconut, but the taste of it is very mild in the cream, so even those who aren’t coconut-crazy can enjoy this.

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I also wanted to let everybody know that the work on Your Own Hands, the new simple living book, is going well and at this point I have most of the first draft complete. I also put some improvements and formatting changes into The Practical Homemaker’s Companion, which is now 122 pages long. I left the Payhip price at 4$, less than the print and Kindle version, as I really prefer people to download from Payhip because it only takes a small commission compared to Amazon and payments are instantly transferred to our Paypal.