Thursday, July 29, 2010

an update and an article

I apologize for the rather thin posting here lately. The truth is, I've been working on a project. A new website is under construction! I'm working on a new site devoted to all aspects of good homestead management. We'll discuss cooking, budgeting, DIY repairs, basic skills, gardening, animal husbandry - basically all the things that people should know, but don't anymore. The goal is to make a well-managed household that can provide at least partly for itself seem less intimidating. I plan to show that you don't need rural acreage, endless free time or lots of money - just know-how. I'm only just getting started, so it won't be up and running for a bit, but I'm ready to take the next step and make my stories and antics helpful to others.

I will begin posting sample articles from the new site here on this blog, starting today. In addition to articles, the new site will also offer demo videos, photos and resources, so these sample articles will be a bit more stripped-down here than they will be on the new site. I would LOVE feedback. Please let me know how you like the articles, if there are topics you'd like to see covered, etc. I want these things to feel feasible for the average person. Thanks for sticking with me, and enjoy the first article!

*This article will be part of a series on useful tools (not limited to the kitchen).

REAL Labor Savers: A Good Knife

The most important, most indispensable and most versatile tool in any well-equipped kitchen is a good knife. In fact, with one properly sharpened knife, you don't need much else. It will do almost anything you need it to do, and with a bit of care, should last a lifetime. Now, I'm not talking about the 100-piece knife set here, nor does your choice have to be expensive. You're better off picking out a small selection of knives you'll use most, rather than being stuck with a bunch you don't need, and very serviceable knives can be found at restaurant supply shops for reasonable prices. Certain types, such as paring, carving or fillet knives, are nice to have, and serve specific purposes. By all means, invest in them if you'll be performing these tasks. I also feel that every kitchen should have a long, serrated bread knife - there's simply no good substitute for those. If, however, you buy only one knife (or only one for now), the one you want is a chef's knife. It's your workhorse.

A chef's knife is a fairly large knife with a wide blade. They come in varying lengths, but a standard 8-inch length will be most useful for most people. When shopping for a chef's knife, don't get hung up too much on brand. Many high end brands are quite respectable, but lower-priced models can often do the job just as well. The important characteristics to look for are:

  • Comfort - Handle as many knives as you can. The right one should feel comfortable to you. It should be weighty but not cumbersome, it should have good balance overall and the shape and material of the grip should feel good in your hand.
  • Craftsmanship - A quality knife should last a long time with proper care. Spring for the best you can afford. Your knife shouldn't feel light, flimsy or prone to breaking - remember, you're going to put it through a lot. Look for knives with a full tang and a solid handle with no crevices that food particles could get stuck in. It should be easy to clean and maintain.
  • Edge - Your knife should be SHARP. If possible, ask to test it on a sheet of paper, or better yet, food. It should pass easily through the material being cut without crushing or tearing it. You'll want a knife that takes an edge well, since YOU WILL BE SHARPENING IT. And no serrated edge, please - this simply isn't the best choice for most of your cutting needs (except for bread!). A knife that's kept properly sharp won't need teeth.

Once you've chosen a chef's knife you feel comfortable with, take the time to care for it properly. Invest in a sharpening stone and sharpen your knife when needed, keep it in a safe place where it won't be knocking around with other utensils (this will dull the edge) and avoid putting it in the dishwasher.

You may be wondering how a knife qualifies as a labor saver, when you'll be doing all of your chopping by hand. I can assure you that with a bit of practice, you can chop, mince, dice, fillet, carve and julienne just as easily with a good knife as with any specialty tool. It can (and should) be kept within easy reach - not on a high shelf somewhere. And you won't have to bother with all the setup and cleanup of gadgets such as food processors. Your knife will work hard for you every single day, and all it needs is a quick hand washing. It will be ready to go whenever you need it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

we get some press

Thanks and props to our friend Steve Watkins for this fun write up of us!

See the story of our move to the country here.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

self sufficient in good cheer

A few months ago we found Mustang grapes on our property. This wasn't a big surprise, since they grow wild all over Texas and the surrounding states, but it was quite exciting for us. If you could see our annual wine bill, you'd understand why (I'll never tell). We went to check on their progress yesterday and found them just beginning to ripen. A few were turning color, but most were still green. As we walked in a big loop across the south pasture, however, our spirits lifted - we found a second area of grapevine that we didn't know about, and these were overflowing with dark, nearly black ripe grapes! Never mind that it was midday in July, and hot as Hades - it was time to gear up.

We set to work harvesting everything within our reach. These vines are wild and untended, and over the years have grown high into the trees, so a good portion of them are simply unavailable to us, I'm afraid. Even so, we filled a five gallon bucket about three quarters of the way full. We took our haul back to the house - tired, baked, and pouring with sweat. Due to some confusion over whether or not we could freeze them for later use, as well as some legitimate concern that they wouldn't fit in our freezer (it's packed right now), we concluded that we'd have to start our first batch of wine immediately. Did I mention we've never made wine before? We quickly scoured the internet for a brewing shop that was still open, and hauled butt into town for equipment.

I'd like to give a shout out to Foreman's General Store. This really might be the best place ever. They sell gardening supplies, service lawnmowers and sell home brewing and wine making supplies, among countless other things. It's like a brew shop, hardware store and feed store all in one. The proprietor was extremely helpful and was kind enough to shepherd us into our first foray in brewing. We came home with loads of equipment, ingredients, instructions and a sense of adventure.

Late into the night we sat together on the sofa, stemming and sorting the grapes while watching The Godfather (seemed fitting, no?). When we finally had a bucket full of nothing but good fruit, we washed, bagged and did, in fact fit them in the freezer. The wine will wait until we're able to harvest the rest of the fruit, but we'll be ready. Cheers!

Friday, July 9, 2010

they came back!

Last June, I posted about a brief but fascinating visit by a pair of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks. They decided to stop at our place for just a short time one morning - a rest stop, I suppose, on their journey to...wherever they go. I thought it somewhat funny that they chose to fraternize with our domestic ducks that day. This year, on the morning of July 4th, they were here again! Again, it was a pair (the same ones?) and again, they hung out with our barnyard ducks in the yard for just a little while before moving on. I came inside for the camera, but by the time I made it back out to the yard, they had left. It was a year and one month since we had last seen them.

Are these two regular travelers through these parts, and have they decided that this is a nice place to stop? Is it even the same two? Or perhaps they live around here, and are simply making the rounds. I will be watching for them next summer.