Friday, February 28, 2014

Pizza night!

My husband and I started making pizza from the time we were married, but there is a big difference between our pizza then and now! We used to buy the box of pizza mix, but after we started baking our own bread from scratch when our first child was still a baby, we realized that we could easily make our pizzas from scratch. As our children grew up, they gradually took over more and more of the pizza-making responsibilities until they were solely responsible for it as teenagers. As early as age five or six, however, they were using a butter knife to slice fresh mushrooms for the pizza.

Our pizza dough recipe is below. Depending upon the toppings you choose, you can make your pizza as healthy or as decadent as you like!

Pizza Dough Recipe
Makes 2 pizzas

1 1/2 c. water
1 T. yeast
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
2 T. olive oil
4 to 5 c. flour

Mix all of the above ingredient in a bowl until it forms a ball and doesn't stick to the sides of your mixing bowl. I usually use a stand mixer with a dough hook, but for years, we did this by hand.

Letting it rise is optional, but doing so for 30 to 60 minutes will make the dough easier to work with.

Divide the dough in half. Stretch and roll our each ball of dough on your pizza pan. For years, my favorite pizza pan was a stone, but a few years ago I bought a cast iron pizza pan, and it totally stole my heart as it makes an even crispier crust.

Cover your dough with the sauce and toppings of your choice. Whether you use a jar of all natural pasta sauce or your own canned pizza sauce made with homegrown tomatoes and vegetables, this is so much better for you -- and less expensive -- than take-out pizza. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.

*Note: These Nutrition Facts reflect a single serving of crust, assuming you cut each pizza into eight slices. The toppings you include will make a difference both as to calories and nutrients. 

This post shared on the Old-Fashioned Friday blog hop

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The scoop on flour

Whenever I teach a class and mention flour, a hand immediately goes up, and someone asks, "What kind of flour?" Good question! Sometimes it matters, but sometimes it doesn't. However, the reason the question is asked is because most people don't know what makes one flour different from another. Once you have the scoop on flour, you won't be tied to using what the recipe suggests. Because the vast majority of recipes call for a type of wheat flour, we'll limit the discussion in this post to the many varieties of flour made from wheat.

All-purpose flour -- This flour is usually bleached. It is really a marketing phrase, rather than a type of flour, which means that you need to read more of the label to decide if you really want to buy it. It is called all-purpose because the manufacturer is suggesting that you can use it for cakes, breads, pie crusts, or pretty much anything that calls for flour. There are also gluten-free flours that contain no wheat, but again, you have to read the label more carefully to determine that.

Bleached flour -- Wheat flour is not naturally snow white, and I don't really understand why anyone ever decided that it needed to be. I quit using bleached flour more than 20 years ago when I actually thought about what the label said -- BLEACHED! Do you want to eat food that has been bleached? The other thing about bleached flour is that it has also been stripped of the wheat germ and the bran, making it completely nutritionally void of anything, which is why it is then fortified with vitamins and minerals.

Unbleached flour -- This simply means that the flour has not been bleached, so it maintains its natural color. It also means there is no risk of residual bleaching chemicals. In many cases, it also means that there is no bran or germ left; however, King Arthur has a white whole wheat that they label as "unbleached" to avoid confusing consumers about the "white" wheat. (More on that in a minute!)

Whole wheat flour (pictured above, left) -- This type of flour has not been bleached, and it is legally supposed to have its germ and bran. In most cases, it comes from the red wheat plant, which means it is darker in color and has a nutty flavor. When used in baking, it won't rise as high as flour that has no germ or bran. It makes a very heavy loaf of bread, so some people prefer to use only 50% whole wheat and 50% unbleached for a lighter loaf. I prefer to use 100% red whole wheat for any cake, crisp, or bread that includes cinnamon because the spice really complements the nutty flavor of the wheat.

White whole wheat flour (pictured above, right) -- There is red wheat, and there is white wheat, and they make very different flours. If you have family members who don't like "whole wheat," try white whole wheat. It is lighter in color and lighter weight, which means it rises better than the red wheat flour. It also has a milder flavor than the traditional red whole wheat. We use this type of flour to make tortillas, bread, cakes, and almost everything, making it our family's "all-purpose flour." This is sometimes labeled as pastry flour because it is traditionally used for cakes, muffins, cookies, and other yeast-free delicacies, but we use it for yeast breads and love it!

Bread flour -- Can be bleached or unbleached and generally has more protein (gluten) so that it creates a lighter, airier loaf of yeast bread.

Rye, oat, soy, and other flours -- For centuries, most baking has been done with wheat flours because it has gluten, which gives a light and airy feel to the breads, cakes, and other foods that are made with it. You can usually substitute one-third to two-thirds of another type of flour in most recipes if you want to try something a little different, or if you happen to run short of your wheat flour when you are in the midst of mixing up a recipe. Using one-third rye or oat flour in a bread recipe is especially delicious. Keep in mind that if you substitute a gluten-free flour such as soy flour for a wheat flour, anything with leavening won't rise as much as if you had used all flours that contain gluten.

Corn meal, almond meal, and other meals -- Meal is not the same thing as flour and cannot usually be subbed in recipes. Meals are ground far more coarsely than flours and the finished food product will be quite grainy and crumbly when you substitute a meal for a flour.

If you or a loved one is gluten intolerant, that's an entirely different topic. Stay tuned, and we'll be discussing gluten-free options soon!

This post shared on the Backyard Farming blog hop

Monday, February 24, 2014

What's the most ecothrifty razor?

In my quest to find an ecothrifty shaving alternative for my husband, I began looking for a non-disposable razor online. First I searched for straight razors, which can be sharpened and honed and with good care will outlive the owner. Aficionados of straight razors swear a good one will provide a closer shave than any disposable razor on the market because they can be angled to glide smoothly across the face. Because of the safety shield, a disposable razor can be held against the skin at only one angle.

Although a straight razor is definitely an earth-friendly choice because it will not  contribute to the two billion disposable razors that go to the landfill every year, it didn’t seem to be a frugal choice. The best ones cost a few hundred dollars. When I asked men about the quality of the less expensive ones, they said they did not last and didn’t provide a close shave. When you actually do the math, however, the straight razor does pay for itself over time.

Coming in at second place for an ecothrifty shaving option is a non-disposable safety razor. I had no idea these were still around, but like the straight razors, they have an enthusiastic following, and they are not difficult to find online. The razor handle and the part that holds the blade are made of metal and will last for years. Only the double-sided metal blade is disposable, but it is very thin and can be purchased in packages of ten, reducing the amount of packaging that goes into a landfill. The razors generally cost $30 to $100, depending on brand, and the replacement blades can be purchased online for 50 to 75 cents each.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Secrets of cooking with beans

Beans are a misunderstood and maligned food. They are perfectly wonderful once you know how to cook with them. Although they take a long time to cook, they require very little attention, which means they actually take very little of your time. The variety of dried beans is astonishing with dozens from which to choose. Some are strongly associated with various ethnic cuisines, such as pinto and black beans with Mexican food and lentils and garbanzo beans with Indian cuisine. Many can simply be cooked with a few spices and a little salt for a very easy dinner. Others can be added to soups, such as chili and minestrone. Beans can be used for lunches or dinners, as a side dish, main dish, or snack.

Although a can of beans seems to be cheap enough, usually costing a dollar or less, you can save about 75 percent if you cook dried beans. To make life even more convenient, cook large amounts of beans and then freeze them for quick meals later. And cooking beans is an easy process:
  1. Pour the desired amount (based on the recipe or how you plan to use them) onto a flat surface and sort through the beans to make sure there are no little dirt clods or stones that passed through the harvesting equipment.

  2. Rinse the beans in a colander. Put them in a pot.

  3. Cover the beans with water and add the same amount of water so that if the beans are two inches deep in the pot, you’ll have four inches of water in the pot. To save time and money, buy beans in bulk and cook as many as you can at one time. Using your largest pot, fill it one-third full of beans, then two-thirds full of water.

  4. Soak the beans as needed. While the larger beans, such as kidney and garbanzo beans, need to be soaked overnight to shorten the cooking time, smaller legumes, such as split peas and lentils, can be cooked in less than an hour without soaking. If the beans require soaking, you can soak them overnight, or if you need them sooner, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the beans sit in the hot water for two or three hours.

  5. Cook the beans in enough water to cover them by two inches. You may need to add water if the level has dropped during soaking. Cook covered over a low heat until done. If your stove burner cannot be turned down low enough to keep the pot from boiling over, you may need to tip the lid to let steam escape. Cooking times for beans will depend on a few factors. The larger the bean, the longer it takes to cook. Smaller beans, such as pintos or black beans, will only take one or two hours to cook. Larger beans, like kidneys and garbanzos, may take closer to three hours. The older the beans, the more they have dried out and the longer they will take to cook. Beans will also take more time to cook in hard water or when salt or tomato sauce is added to the pot before the beans are cooked.

Cook beans in large quantities and store them in the freezer in various sized containers, based upon their intended use. For example, I store pinto beans, which will be used in burritos or my Tamale Pie recipe, in four-cup containers. I store cooked white and red beans for making spreads in two-cup containers. When I’m planning to use black beans in a Mexican bean casserole, I store them in a seven-cup container.

This is a excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The London Dispatches: Meeting Your Meat

By Cadence Woodland

I’m an unrepentant omnivore. I try to have a mostly plant based diet, but I do eat meat. And yes, I enjoy a good steak or roast on occasion. But most of all I enjoy my family’s holiday tradition of a beef roast on Christmas Eve, so when it came time to shop for it I knew where to head.

I’ve written about the wonders of Borough Market before, so suffice it to say off we went!

Borough Market always has meat on display, but the holiday season spread is quite impressive. In addition to the typical beef, chicken, and mutton, there is also rabbit, boar, venison, and fowl of every description filling the stalls. It’s very British, and oddly extremely festive!

Stick with me, these Christmas delicacies are about to become significant.
While my husband and I were wandering the butchers' stalls looking for the perfect cut of meat, we bumped into a pair of American tourists who were cringing away from a brace of pheasants and a display of chickens which had been plucked, but whose feet had not yet been removed. “I mean,” one of the girls said to the other, “Nobody needs to see dead animals like that! It’s just gross!”

The reason this struck me as odd was because the girl in question was holding a fast food wrapper and was clearly eating what passes for meat from that particular company. I thought it strange for these individuals to be chowing down on a handful of highly processed product that a lot of people would hesitate to even classify as food (I’m trying to be at least semi-impartial here, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I avoid fast food franchises like the plague), while recoiling from the actual source of their food right in front of them.

They wandered off opining loudly on the “weirdness” of the stalls around them. And I got thinking. This girl cringing away from dead birds…where exactly did she think the item in her hand came from originally?

Not exactly a burger.
Urban and suburban living has spent a century catapulting itself away from food production areas. The more I thought about this girl’s reaction, the more I realized that it was entirely possible that she had never seen a dead animal in her life. Our consumer culture has hidden much of our food production from our sight. We literally don’t get to see how the sausage gets made, but I don’t think we are removed from any food processing so much as we are from meat. Just think about how many steps it takes to turn a living creature into a neat parcel of ground tissue wrapped in plastic! Instead of farming, rearing, and butchering their food, all the average consumer has to do is pluck it from a shelf.

I had thought about this issue before, but largely as an intellectual exercise, in the way that a lot of young 21st century armchair philosophers do. This was really a first experience in witnessing the behavior I’ve shaken my head over while listening to public broadcasting or reading in slightly snobby articles. It made a deep impression on me, as I’m still clearly thinking about it nearly two months later.

Carrying home our prize piece of beef from the market, my husband and I were discussing the tourist’s disgust and what it meant. We both try very hard to be thoughtful people, to make informed choices that keep us, the society in which we live, and as much, the planet healthy. But the truth is we have been pretty casual about meat. We try to buy ethically but there have been times (first as starving students and then as starving newlyweds) where affording organically sourced meat was utterly beyond our financial scope. And even now, living just a short walk away from one of the most famous markets in the world, I have often gone for the convenience of a supermarket that’s a shorter walk away instead.

The actual ribs making up a rack of...ribs.
But this brief interaction with a tourist has really made me reconsider my relationship with meat. Her visceral reaction to something that she ingests regularly bothered me. I’m not giving it up (like I said, unrepentant omnivore), but I decided to become more purposeful about where I source my meat from. I never want to turn into a person who looks at a laden butcher’s block and feels surprised, shocked, or uncomfortable to see a recognizable creature there.

Because ultimately, that is where my food comes from. It did not fall from the sky, packaged and processed into aesthetic bits that obscure the fact that it was once living tissue. And I have a responsibility to understand the amount of work rearing an animal takes, the messiness of harvesting and butchering it, the cost of purchasing it (another thing that our plastic wrapped culture hides…quality meat simply costs more), and so on. Which means I have a responsibility to look what I eat in the eye better than I have done heretofore.

Recently alive. A fact we need to appreciate if we're going to eat it.
I’ve decided to reduce my consumption of meat, to pay more for better quality meat that has been ethically sourced, and to buy it solely (to the absolute and very best of my ability) from the people who can show me where it comes from – namely, the professional butchers. From now on as long as I live in London, I will be buying my meat from the market stalls instead of the supermarket aisles.

Because I’ve seen the alternative. And it wasn’t just embarrassing to watch two loudmouth tourists go off rudely in someone else’s workspace, it was a bit scary to consider the implications of their outburst.

Cadence Woodland is a freelance author's assistant and writer. Her journalism has contributed to the New York Times, the National Wildlife Federation, and other venues, but she can be found most often at her blog where she writes about her adventures across the Pond in London.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Alternatives to disposable feminine products?

by Alison Jones

Did you know there are reusable alternatives to disposable feminine products? They are ecofriendly and in the long run will save you money. Instead of using disposable menstrual items such as pads and tampons, there are reusable pads, sponges, and cups! There are many different brands on the market, and you can even find patterns online to make your own cloth pads. Pads work just like disposable ones except that you wash the pad instead of throwing it away. If you're wondering how this works when you are away from home, there are carriers that can help with that. There are also sponges that can replace tampons, and there are carriers that make the sponges easy to travel with as well. Another ecothrifty menstrual product is the cup. They are made of either natural rubber or medical grade silicone, and you only need one.

Thanks to for the use of their photo.

Friday, February 14, 2014

11+ healthy homemade breakfasts

For being the most important meal of the day, breakfast has sure gotten tricky over the years! The options we're supposedly given have become a lot less healthy for us, and pretty bad for society in general. We're told we can buy cheap but processed "food" on the go, we can eat cereals and other products marketed for breakfast that are full of sugar and empty calories, or we have to skip it altogether because we're too busy.

Not so! It is possible to make a healthier, tastier, homemade breakfast than any of these so called options. I was thinking about this lately and realized there have been a lot of posts about individual breakfast recipes, but never compiled here on the The Thrifty Homesteader. If you're struggling with coming up with good and good for you breakfast ideas, here are some of the very best I've found:

Oatmeal and grits get a bad rap for being dull, but there are a lot of ways to liven them up!

Buttermilk pancakes are classics for a reason, and you can make your own easily instead of relying on store bought mixes.

Feeling fancy? Eggs Benedict is a surprisingly easy (and delicious!) breakfast indulgence to whip up.

French toast is an almost universal favorite.

Some popular shop chains and brands produce muffins that can equal nearly half a day's recommended calorie intake in a single pastry! Homemade muffins, on the other hand can be wonderfully delicious and nutritious breakfast foods that treat without breaking the calorie bank. Our favorites are Apple Cinnamon Muffins, and of course the famous Antiquity Oaks Chocolate Chip Muffins!

Traditional biscuits are a great breakfast staple! Top them with homemade gravy for a hearty meal, or serve them alongside eggs and other proteins and fruit for a wonderfully balanced one. (And if you want to vary up the flavors, it's easy to customize them)

Hash browns are often considered comfort food, but potatoes contain a lot of good things to start your day with, and making and seasoning your own will be much healthier than the oil drenched spuds we're often served in restaurants.

And because many of us are busy and honestly do need to eat on the go from time to time, smoothies can be an excellent way to make a quick, cheap, and still healthy breakfast when you need to get out the door quickly. Green smoothies also can be a great way to sneak in some extra vegetable goodness into your morning meal.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is your soap really soap?

Most of the bars of “soap” in the store are not really soap. They are actually detergents, and in fact, advertising campaigns have even focused on the difference, claiming that soap leaves a film on your skin that the advertised product does not. The message in the advertisement is that a soap film on the skin is a bad thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. When soap is superfatted with oils, it leaves the extra oil on your skin, which keeps skin from drying out. Before I started making my own soap, I had a bottle of liquid soap next to the sink, as well as a bottle of lotion. I needed to use lotion after washing my hands through the day because the commercial soaps dried out my skin so badly. Provided it is made with excess oil, natural soap doesn’t do that. After switching to naturally made soap, many people have found that they are able to eliminate their use of lotion. Homemade soap can be specifically formulated for hand washing, for bathing and showering and for washing your face, and, of course, problematic ingredients for those with allergies can be left out. In spite of having allergic reactions to many commercial soaps, I’m able to use a variety of essential oils in my soaps without any problems.

This is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life. Complete instructions for making soap can be found in Deborah's books, Homegrown and Handmade and Raising Goats Naturally. If you'd rather just buy natural goat milk soap, click here to visit the Antiquity Oaks farm store.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Growing your own sprouts

Kitchen-grown mung bean sprouts

Whether it's the middle of winter or you simply have no yard, a lack of outdoor space is not a barrier to growing some food. You can grow sprouts in a jar in your kitchen for a fraction of the cost of buying them in the store. Sprouting seeds are sold at health food stores and through online vendors.

To grow alfalfa sprouts, put two tablespoons of seeds in a quart jar, add a couple of ounces of water, and close the jar with a sprouting lid or tie a piece cheesecloth over the opening. (To grow bean sprouts, pictured above, you can use up to 1/4 cup of seeds in a quart jar.) After soaking overnight or for ten to twelve hours, pour off the water. Two or three times a day rinse the sprouts. You don’t want to leave them standing in water between rinsing, but you also don’t want them to dry out completely.

Sprouts that haven’t been rinsed for a couple of days will probably need to be tossed into the compost. The seeds sitting in water in the bottom of the jar will have started to rot, and if they have started to sprout, the seeds on top will have dried out completely and died. I leave my sprouting jar on the kitchen counter next to the sink so I am unlikely to forget about it.

This post is an excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier, Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Plan your garden for food preservation

by Melissa K. Norris

One of my favorite things about growing a vegetable garden is being able to enjoy its fruits long after the first frost. While cold frames and a greenhouse can help in these areas, they’re not what I’m referring to.

I’m talking about eating our vegetable and fruit crops all year long due to home preservation. We canned over 200 jars of food from our garden this year. I froze pumpkin and grated zucchini for breads and sauces. More zucchini was dehydrated to toss into casseroles and soups. We dried beans for seed and eating. I have two large burlap sacks full of heirloom potatoes, onions, and four braids of garlic hanging in my kitchen.

Does this sound like something you’d like to do? Perfect, because you can. We plant a garden with preservation in mind and now is the best time to get started.

A preserver’s garden is full of vegetables that lend well to preservation. Some foods I prefer canned, others frozen, some dehydrated, and still others are excellent root cellar type crops, meaning they don’t require anything other than a cool dry place.

If you don’t already seed save, you’ll want to get your order in for heirloom seed soon. One of our favorite places with a large selection is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at

Why heirloom seeds? Because you can save the seed every year, they’re not GMO or hybridized, and there’s more variety. Click here for more on why we do an all heirloom garden or to learn more about seed saving.

Here’s our personal favorite lists for which vegetables to plant for preserving by method. You’ll see some vegetables in more than one list, so your preservation method will be based on personal preference and how much freezer space you have.

Vegetables for canning:

  1. Green beans
  2. Tomatoes
  3. Asparagus
  4. Beets
  5. Corn
  6. Carrots
  7. Peas

Vegetables for freezing:

  1. Butternut squash
  2. Zucchini and other summer squash
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Spinach
  6. Pumpkin-puree form
  7. Peppers
  8. Peas
  9. Corn

Vegetables for root cellaring:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Onion
  3. Pumpkin
  4. Garlic
  5. Butternut squash
  6. Acorn squash
  7. Most varieties of winter squash
  8. Apples (one of the few fruits that do well and have a long shelf life)

Vegetables for dehydrating:

  1. Onions for garlic powder
  2. Garlic for garlic powder
  3. Zucchini
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Peas
  6. Peppers
  7. Mushroom
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Carrots
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Herbs (Dehydrated herbs are excellent for cooking and teas, but it’s impossible to grow them all. Napiers has a great selection of medicinal herbs like echinacea, herbal teas, and tinctures.)

The most important aspect of planning what to plant in your garden with preserving in mind is to identify which foods you and your family eat on a consistent basis. If you don’t like beets, then don’t plant a third of your garden in them and waste the time preserving them.

I use these three points to decide if I should plant a vegetable:

  1. Can it be easily preserved?
  2. Can I purchase it cheaply in season and in large quantities?
  3. Do we eat a fair amount of it?

For more on using a pressure canner and preserving vegetables here’s an easy Pressure Canning 101 Tutorial.

What plants are you putting in this year? Do you already preserve your harvest? Which preserving methods do you use?

Melissa K. Norris is an author, speaker, and radio host helping readers implement the best of the pioneer lifestyle into their modern ones. She loves getting her hands dirty while heirloom gardening, preserving the harvest, and chasing after her critters, two and four legged alike, on her family's small ranch in the foothills of the North Cascade mountain range. The article aims to advise and guide readers but do necessarily reflect the opinions of the Thrifty Homesteader. The affiliate links contained within the article are not necessarily endorsed by Thrifty Homesteader.

Monday, February 3, 2014

How smart are chickens?

Chickens are social animals with unique personalities: Chickens are very social creatures, having the ability to distinguish between more than 100 faces of their species. They also have a distinct “pecking order” that is maintained and hardly challenged, which usually correlates with their personality. And despite their small size, they have the mental capacity to complete various different mental tasks such as learning from each other and passing down cultural knowledge.

In one study, Bristol University researchers found that hens would often teach their offspring prior learned knowledge. The study involved feeding the hens a mixture of yellow and blue kernels. The yellow kernels were normal and unchanged, while the blue were coated with a chemical that made the chickens feel sick. Hens very quickly learned to stay away from the blue kernels. After hatching their own chicks, the mother hens would steer the chicks away from the blue kernels, always pushing them towards the yellow.
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