Monday, November 3, 2008

Beautiful Sweet Potatoes

Picked up our One Straw Farm CSA share from the Woodberry Kitchen tonight. At the grocery store, all the sweet potatoes are roughly the same size, about the size of my hand. From the CSA last week we got a bag of teeny tiny sweet potatoes, finger sized. This week, they were football sized!

Take a look at the difference! Wow.

Edit to add: The big one weighs in at 4.2 pounds.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Yogurt and Cheese-making Demo and Discussion

I am thrilled with all the interest people have shown in Baltimore Food Makers. So, instead of starting up our potluck dinners in March, we will have our first meeting (potluck, demo, and discussion) on Saturday, December 6th from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. Our main topic will be yogurt and cheese-making. If any of you are particularly skilled in either area, email me. We will only have a planned discussion for a short portion of the evening, so come even if you aren't into yogurt and cheese. Come to meet other Food Makers.

Visit or our Food Makers google group to find out more.

Email me johanna (at) food make (dot) org to RSVP.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Michael Pollan's Open Letter to the Next President

Farmer in Chief by Michael Pollan, NY Times, October 9, 2008

There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt, but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table.

Now go read the rest of the article.

And join me at

Food Makers of Baltimore

I have a 1/2 bushel of apples sitting in a cooler on the porch waiting to be peeled, cored, cooked, and canned.

Last year a friend of mine was bold enough to ask to pick apples from an untended orchard (well, several), and she was given permission. Sadly for her (or happily for me), she was not able to can all that she had picked and had 90 pounds waiting for someone to do something with them. Hallelujah! She sent me a note, and I picked them up. Two friends of mine were kind enough to help me can them. Ten hours later, my fingers had blisters, and my counter held two dozen quarts of applesauce. It lasted my family through April.

This year, circumstances have kept me from doing much canning yet. Just some hot sauce to use the 100 super hot peppers my tiny apartment garden produced and a few jars of pizza sauce. Tomorrow I plan to can the 1/2 bushel of apples. Thankfully I have a good friend with an apple peeler. I have never used one before, so I am excited to see if I can get through them without blisters this time.

My reason for sharing all this is to introduce a new group called Baltimore Food Makers. I have met so many people in the few years I've lived here who share my passion for home made food: home grown, home preserved, and home prepared. I have met community garden organizers, container gardeners, kombucha, beer, wine, and cider brewers, bread bakers, yogurt makers, cheese makers, and so on. I want to meet more of you. I want to learn from you. I want to show the people of Baltimore that growing, processing, and preparing food from scratch (or seed) is not just for our grandmothers or farmers hundreds of miles away. We need to reclaim these skills for our generation.

We need a place to start meeting one another, a place to share our resources. I have put together a website and a Google group to do just this.

Collectively we have so many useful skills. We don't need experts to sit us down and teach us how to do these age-old kitchen procedures. I just need you to come to my kitchen so I can watch you do it once. You need me to show you the basics of sourdough baking and give you some starter. Someone else needs to borrow some piece of kitchen equipment that you have sitting in your closet and only use a couple times each year.

I am calling all of you to come together and speak up. Tell us what you know. Tell us what you have to offer our community. And come here to learn. Come here with your questions, with what you wish you learned if only you found someone to show you, with what equipment you would love to try out but wouldn't want to buy for yourself.

Food Makers of Baltimore, unite!

visit: and join our conversation at the Food Makers Google group.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Freefall Baltimore for Young Children

I am excited that Freefall Baltimore is coming up. It is a chance to try out a variety of cultural events in the Baltimore community in October, all for free.

Although they use an icon to identify Kid-Friendly events on their website, not all of those looked interesting for young children. So, after sorting through them, here are the events I thought looked interesting for kids under 5. (Sadly, no dance performances.) This is just my summary of it; go to Freefall Baltimore for all of the details on the events, the locations, and how to obtain free passes when necessary, in addition to all of the other events.

I added most of these into the Event Calendar above, so check back here when October rolls around to see if any fit into your schedule.

Wed Oct 1 10am – 4:30pm

MARYLAND SCIENCE CENTER - Friday After Five For Free
Fri Oct 3 & 31 5 – 8pm

THE LYRIC OPERA HOUSE - Meet the Beat in Your Feet
Sat Oct 4 10am

Sat Oct 4 10am – 2pm rain or shine

All Sat & Sun in Oct Noon – 5pm

Sun Oct 5 1 – 4pm

PRESTON MITCHUM, JR. FOUNDATION - Story Book Reading for Children
Sun Oct 12 3 – 5pm

Sun Oct 12, 19 & 26 1pm & 3pm

CREATIVE ALLIANCE - Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Workshops
Sun Oct 12 & 19 10am, 12:30pm & 3pm
Sat Oct 25 7:30pm The Great Halloween Lantern Parade

Wed Oct 22 6pm – 9pm (entry from 6pm – 8pm)

BALTIMORE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA - Marvelous Music with a Science Slant
Fri Oct 24 6:30pm

Monday, August 11, 2008

Urban Farms Bike Tour

On Saturday morning we rode on a bike tour led by Roy Skeen and Gregory Strella of five different community gardens and urban farms in Baltimore City. It started at the Rawlings Conservatory in Druid Hill Park. Unfortunately, between Adam and the kids' trailer, we got two very flat tires within a mile, about a quarter of the way into the ride, so we packed up and drove the rest of the route in the car. It was definitely worth the effort.


The gardens were amazing. Huge plots in the alleys of these neighborhoods, places where any green was in stunning contrast to the continuous gray of concrete. One of the gardens we visited was one of the "city farms" where people have the 10' x 15' leased plots. The rest were just huge hidden gardens where neighborhood volunteers coaxed the earth to produce tons of food.

One of them extended more than a whole city block in length, back in an alley where garages had been torn down. In the middle of boarded up houses, old men playing cards in the alleys, trash everywhere, there was this enormous growing sanctuary. It had huge fruit trees, huge berry bushes, vegetables, herbs, corn, with a shady path up the middle with picnic benches and tables. Harvested vegetables were laying in big piles to be eaten by anyone. Here was life.

Very inspiring. Also inspiring were the people we met: the people on the ride and the gardeners we met at each spot.

Doug Retzler of GreenCityBaltimore rode along recording the gardens in photos.

I found this website about community gardens through one of the folks we met. He recently started a half-acre organic farm somewhere in the county, while still living in the city.

Several of the folks we rode with had completed the Master Gardener program through the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. From listening to them talk about it, it seems as though it is a fast overview of a wide variety of gardening topics, not particularly addressing any in depth, but it provides a fantastic opportunity to connect with other gardeners in the area and learn about what is happening in Baltimore's gardening community. That is just what I would like to do.

As a bonus, at each site we visited, we got to eat something that grew there. In several cases it was a edible native perennial weed. We tried sorrel, lambsquarter, tiger lily, and purslane. I would like to learn more about edible weeds. Sounds like a good topic for a guerrilla gardening night.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Who Wants All This Stuff??

We have hosted several "Stuff Swap" nights (often in combination with a Frozen Meal Swap). The idea is that everyone brings any material possessions they wish to give away. Then each person gets a turn to convince the group to take their items. Everyone goes home happy, having rid their house of unwanted stuff and having acquired a few new cool things.

Then after you try to pawn off all your old junk on your friends and family, what do you do with what's left??

Baltimore has some great organizations who put our unwanted material possessions to good use. Here are a few I know about. Add to the list if you know of others.

1. Baltimore Free Store accepts all usable items that are in good working condition. They collect these things in their warehouse at 31 N. Haven Street on specific days, and then make them available free of charge to anyone who wants them at Free Markets they set up around town. A non-profit organization. They have an interesting couple paragraphs about why to donate to them instead of to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or Planet Aid.

2. The Book Thing of Baltimore's mission is to put unwanted books into the hands of those who want them. They accept books and magazines regardless of age or subject matter and give them away free to anyone. Go to the Book Thing any Saturday or Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and donate (or pick up) as many books as you wish.

3. Velocipede Bike Project collects donated, second-hand, and landfill-bound bikes, and teaches people how to repair and build their own bicycles. They sell very affordable safe, refurbished bikes. They accept donations of bicycles in any condition, bike parts, and bike tools.

4. Baltimore Freecycle is a local Yahoo Group where you can give away any variety of stuff to other Freecyclers in Baltimore. There are over 4000 chapters all over the world. Membership is free. It is very easy to use. We have given and received many, many things through Freecycle.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Homemade Cloth Bags

Re-purpose old sturdy fabric to make cloth bags.

A friend of mine gave me a whole slew of cloth napkins and place mats a while back. And I, being unable to turn away any potentially useful fabric, took them without a real idea of what I would use them for since we already have a dozen cloth napkins and never use place mats.

Looking through my scrap fabric bin for canvas or some heavy woven cotton fabric to make cloth bags out of, I ran across the napkins and place mats. They are the perfect size for grocery bags. Just sew around three sides with sturdy thread, add some 1-inch wide cotton or nylon webbing for handles, and since the edges of the napkins (or place mats) are already finished, there are no hems to sew. Easy. Excellent reuse of sturdy decorative fabric. One more way to ditch plastic bags for good.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Potential Plastic Grocery Bag Ban

Baltimore City Council is advancing a bill which would force big grocery stores to use only recyclable paper bags rather than the ubiquitous plastic grocery bag by January 2010. (Thanks, Kris, for pointing me to this.)

One quoted store owner is concerned that adding a surcharge for the more expensive paper bags would be a turn-off to customers, saying he would not want to be the first store to do so.

But he wouldn't be the first. I first encountered a bag surcharge at IKEA when they stopped using free plastic bags at least a year ago. Also Whole Foods doesn't use plastic anymore.

This is so important, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Many cities (and countries) around the world have already banned free plastic bags: cities in India, all of China, Paris, and the UK, among others. Baltimore would be the second city in the US to take this step. San Francisco is the first.

Related: fears that the blue crab industry in the Chesapeake Bay is dying (or dead). Pollution and economy sited as causes.

Remotely related: I'm currently reading An Island Out of Time: A Memoir of Smith Island by Tom Horton. "A small island home to five hundred watermen and their families, Smith Island is the subject of an elegant study about a community that has stayed true to its past while witnessing the decline of the natural wonders surrounding it in Chesapeake Bay." Reading this is making personal the importance of protecting this local resource.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

City Paper Article on Homebirthing in Baltimore

Home Made: Inside Baltimore's Home-Birth Underground by Michelle Gienow

It is not an article that will convince the anti-home-birth crowd, but then it was not meant to be. And sadly it ended with a quote about the necessity of extreme labor pain. That was not my experience in both labors and births, and I believe that part of what allowed that was laboring and birthing in my own space and time. It is a great article though, and hopefully it will open some eyes and cause some folks to see home-birth in a light that is not typical of mainstream media.

Related: Although I have not yet seen it, I have heard great things about The Business of Being Born, a movie that came out in January of this year that looks at women's choice between home-birth and hospital birth. Most women do not even know that 95% of them have this choice, or if they do know about home-birth, that it is worth researching and making an informed decision about. It demonstrates how big business and the flow of $$$ affects the care and options given to women and their babies during prenatal care, labor, and delivery.

Three cheers for unhindered natural processes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Apartment Garden

Our landlord does not seem to mind that I have dug up a 3'x12' section of his yard to put in an herb and vegetable garden (expanded from last year's 3'x6' garden bed). The borders around the house and yard are packed with gorgeous rose bushes, hydrangeas, peonies, tiger lilies, wild strawberries, tulips, and daffodils with lots of pachysandra in between.

But there was this one section left that was just full of weeds. I fixed that. Actually Adam did the major digging as a gift to my then aching back. Now in mid-June the growing green there is cherry tomatoes, collard greens, romaine lettuce, snap peas, cayenne peppers, jalapeƱos, bird peppers, Trinidad peppers, cilantro, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and chamomile.


After planting (mid-May)

After the first good rain (early June)

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Make Your Own Yogurt

My kids and I go through a ton of yogurt each week. In general we eat it plain or with fruit, applesauce, or jam. I use it in muffin recipes. We drink it in smoothies. E likes to paint the high chair with it.

I used to have a yogurt-maker, but spooning yogurt in and out of eight little single-cup jars, washing the jars and lids, and not losing any of the eight jars or lids before the next go round just was not worth the satisfaction of doing it myself or the cost savings of making homemade yogurt. So I gave the yogurt maker to a friend and learned a newer, easier, more efficient method. I learned it from David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and Chemistry. He is my best dairy friend; sadly we've never met. If you have any inkling of wanting to make your own yogurt or cheese, you MUST visit his website. He approaches food-making like a science. He uses simple but very detailed instructions with great photos and a few videos. And he shares his mistakes, which quite often are mistakes I've made too. It is very helpful to know when one is making a mistake and how to remedy it. So, I will briefly share my efficient yogurt-making techniques and then you need to go visit Dr. Fankhauser.

One of the keys to this method is knowing that yogurt stays good in the refrigerator for a long time (2 weeks to 2 months, depending on who you ask -- in my experience, it's still good at a month and a half if it is kept perfectly sealed). So, instead of making eight one-cup jars, I make five one-quart jars at a time.

Steps for Efficient Homemade Yogurt:

1. Heat a gallon of milk (at least 1% fat) in a heavy pot until it starts to steam. Do not let it boil. Turn down the heat to very low and keep the milk at the barely steaming point for 10 minutes or so.
2. Turn off the heat. Cover the pot. Let the milk cool to 110 - 115F. If you don't have a thermometer, it is cool enough when you can stick your clean little finger in the milk for 10 seconds without it hurting.

3. Thoroughly mix 1 cup of the starter (commercial or homemade) yogurt into 1 cup of the warm milk. Then mix the yogurt mixture in with the rest of the warm milk. (NOTE: Make sure your starter yogurt does not contain gelatin, pectin, sugars, or anything else except milk and cultures. If it does, your homemade yogurt will not set properly.)
4. Pour the yogurt-milk into clean quart jars. Put the lids on tightly.
5. Put the jars into a cooler. Fill the cooler with hot water until the jars are mostly covered. Put the cooler in a spot where it will not be touched for 10 - 20 hours.

6. Very carefully transfer the jars to the refrigerator after 12 hours. If the yogurt still isn't firm-ish after cooling in the fridge, put the jars back in the cooler with more hot water and let them sit another 8 hours or so.

For greater detail on the process, go visit Dr. Fankhauser. Also take a look through the National Center for Home Food Processing's yogurt page.

Oh, and remember that even if you mess up and end up with runny yogurt/milk when you are finished (you probably had the milk too hot when you added the yogurt), don't throw it out. Just use it for cooking or smoothies. It's not bad unless it got contaminated somehow.

I'd love to hear your yogurt-making joys and woes, so please share!

Chunky Crunchy Homemade Granola

This stuff is fantastic. I make a double batch every week or so. It gets eaten as breakfasts or snacks everyday by every member of the family. Every other granola recipe that I have tried is not quite as chunky or crunchy. It's always more like sweet oats: tasty, but not as fun as store-bought granola. This recipe is even better than store-bought because it is crunchy without the crisp rice addition that most store-bought versions contain.
The recipe is my variation on one from the Simply in Season cookbook. This book is perfect for me as a new-to-eating-in-season cook. This is our second summer of subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture), and sometimes I need a little help getting out of the mindset of eating the same things year-round to really get through the many pounds of in-season veggies. One example of this from the book is common vegetable combination of peas and carrots. When a person eats only what is fresh in the season, that vegetable combination never happens. Carrots and peas aren't harvested simultaneously. But other delightful things do happen, like spinach and strawberry salads.

So here's the recipe for the chunky crunchy homemade granola.

3 cups / 750 ml rolled oats
1 cup / 250 ml whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix together in large bowl. Make a well in the center.

1/4 cup / 60 ml oil
1/4 cup / 60 ml honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup / 60 ml milk

Pour into the well. Mix thoroughly, making sure all loose flour has been incorporated (add another tablespoon of milk if necessary).

1 1/2 cups / 375 ml raisins, nuts, seeds or other dried fruit (optional)
If using nuts and/or seeds, add them now and mix in. (Add dried fruit after mixture has baked and partially cooled.) Spread in a 9 x 13-inch / 3.5-L pan and bake in preheated oven at 300F / 150C, stirring every 10 minutes, until light brown, 50 - 60 minutes. Store in airtight container up to a week; also freezes well.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Homemade Laundry Soap Continued

A reader asked for some clarification of an earlier post regarding making laundry soap. So I'm going to add a bit more detail here.

Washing soda is a relatively strong base. It is a white powder. In homes people use it for "boosting" laundry detergent -- it softens the water -- and for raising the pH in swimming pools. Arm and Hammer sells it in a big yellow box that looks a lot like baking soda boxes. You can't substitute one for the other though. Baking soda has a pH around 8 and washing soda is around 11 -- so it's a much stronger base. (So strong you might use gloves when handling it.)

I found it in the laundry detergent section of a grocery store. It's inexpensive and lasts a long time. I've also heard of people finding it in swimming pool supply stores, but there it is called sodium carbonate instead of "washing soda".

I've considered using liquid castille soap in the laundry soap. I'm hesitant since it would take some experimenting to work out the proportions. Perhaps there's website out there where someone else has worked that out for us, but I've looked briefly and not found anything. I have used Dr. Bronners castille bar soap, grated, and it worked great. It was even peppermint scented. I was hoping we'd all smell like candy canes in our fresh washed clothes, but alas, the scent was so subtle no one noticed.

Another idea is to use the same proportions for soap, washing soda, and borax that I listed, only don't add water. Just use it dry and let it dissolve in the wash. I've never tried that, but I hear it works well.

I hope you give it a shot. Making my own laundry soap has saved us lots of money and cuts down on what chemicals we use in our home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New: Calendar of Local Free Events

At the top of the list of posts now, you should be seeing a calendar of events that I have put together. They are events that interest me and my family -- we like doing free things, locally. So, there you have it. We won't be at everything, but basically it's a way for me to keep track of all the interesting things that folks tell me about so if I find myself twiddling my thumbs and saying, "Boy, I'd like to go do something that's not biking to the park, going to the library, or grocery shopping", I can just look at my handy dandy calendar and see what's happening.

If you have any free local events that I ought to add to it, send on some info!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

No more plastic wrap

As I try to reduce our disposable habits, I never found a good alternative to plastic wrap. I use it a lot for covering dough when it's rising or food in the fridge. There are good non-airtight solutions like throwing a damp towel over dough or using a lid or plate to cover a bowl in the fridge. But I always go back to plastic wrap when I really want something airtight and don't have a fitting lid. Airtight-ness is ever more on my mind now that it's warm and bugs like to crawl, eat, and vomit on my food.
Solution: reuse plastic bags! Particularly useful are the big ones from the produce section of the grocery store. They are big enough to cover even my next-to-biggest mixing bowl or a couple proofing loaves of bread. I know, I know, it's still plastic, but at least they can be rinsed and reused more easily than plastic wrap. Have you ever tried to wash and dry plastic wrap? Yikes. I am a seasoned ziplock bag washer and drier, so I'm going to try and do the same with produce bags.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sourdough Bread Baking

I love baking bread. It is therapy for my mind. I get strong urges to make bread. I look forward to it. I am sad when I have baked so much that I have no excuse to make it for a few days. When I have a bad baking experience, and I take a few days off of it, I miss it and day dream about it.

It is a beautiful process, making bread: taking three ingredients and skill and time and care and forming something that nourishes and sustains my family and gives them joy. After making bread for several years, I have delved into the world of sourdough and, after a few false starts, love it. To make good sourdough bread, you need a healthy sourdough starter and some good instruction.

In search for fresh yeast one day, I spoke with the baker Nick at Atwater's Bakery in Belvedere Square. He had no fresh yeast (they use active dry yeast), but he did offer me some of their sourdough starter. At that point I was no longer feeling the burn from my past poor attempts at sourdough, so I happily accepted, and he gave me a quart of the gooey pungent stuff FREE! I was delighted and immediately went home to figure out what to do with it. The Towson Library has several excellent books on artisan baking that got me on the right path. (See the resource list at the bottom of this post). Then Adam's parents gave me my favorite of all, Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers by Peter Reinhart. Just that title makes me stand up a little taller.

So, I have settled into a rhythm with this starter. It is still alive and well after six months of baking with it. I feed it regularly with 3 oz. water and 3 oz. organic, unbleached all purpose flour.

If you want to give sourdough a try and don't yet have a good basic recipe yet, here's what I recommend. Go to Crust and Crumb on Google Books and look for the Basic and Country Levain on pages 81 - 83. You can go through the recipe there. But here are the basics.

Basic Sourdough Loaves

Firm starter:
5 ounces unbleached bread flour
3 ounces room-temperature water
3 ounces sourdough starter (assuming it is built 50/50 water/flour by weight)
(This is slightly different than the formula on pg 82, but that is because of the difference between my mother starter has a different hydration than his "mild starter").

5 1/4 cups (24 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 cups cool water (65 - 70 degrees)
Firm starter from above - use all of it
2 1/2 teaspoons (0.66 ounces) salt

1 - Make the firm starter the night before. Stir it up, let it double, cover and refrigerate.
2 - The next morning, pull the starter out of the fridge, let it warm up to room temperature. Break it up into small pieces, and dissolve it in the cool water.
3 - Add all the other ingredients, mix and knead for 10 - 15 minutes or until it passes the windowpane test.
4 - Let it rise for 3 hours.
5 - Divide it into two equal pieces and shape them as you wish. Spritz with oil and cover with plastic or a damp towel.
6 - Let it proof for about 4 hours.
7 - Bake it now or refrigerate to bake the next day for a more sour flavor.
8 - Bake it at 450 F for about 30 minutes on a well-preheated baking stone. Add moisture to the oven while baking for a better crust by placing a pan in the oven before preheating and pouring 2 cups of water in when you put the bread in. Also, you can spritz the oven walls a few times during the first 5 minutes of baking.

I have found baking books and YouTube videos about baking to be essential to developing the quality of my bread and my skills in learning what well-kneaded dough looks like, how to handle the dough during shaping, and some techniques for baking it with a thinner, chewier, crispier crust.
Using an accurate kitchen scale has been essential to me in properly hydrating dough. I've learned that it is a common mistake among novice bread bakers to add too much flour to the dough when kneading. This leads to a very dense, un-fluffy bread crumb.

Bread baking books that have helped me:
Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer - (Thank you to Artisan Books for sending me a free copy of In the Sweet Kitchen for free when I wrote them about missing pages from my copy of Artisan Baking - in addition to copies of the missing pages.)
Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart -- My favorite so far. I hope to acquire a copy of his Whole Grain book -- perhaps that will become my favorite. We shall see.
The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

Where to buy flour:
Union Mills - a historical mill, now in operation again -- great freshly milled whole wheat bread flour for a buck a pound. They also mill a variety of other grains (buckwheat, corn, oats, and more). THE closest working mill to Baltimore. The website says nothing about the mill selling flour, but call ahead of coming if you want more than 2# bags and the miller will have it ready for you.
Whole Foods and Safeway have organic house brands of flour.
Shoppers on Joppa near Home Depot has a ton of Bob's Red Mill flours.
The Heath Concern in Towson has bulk organic whole wheat, but in my experience it isn't always very fresh. Perhaps your experience will be better. I love that store for a variety of other products.
Fowler's Mill in Ohio -- my generous mother-in-law has given me flour from there several times, and it makes the best bread I've ever made

And if you have your own mill: Rick Hood of Summercreek Farm will sell you organic whole grain wheat berries (uncleaned -- you have to sift off the chaff and whatnot yourself) for a very decent price.
Mail Address: 15209 Mud College Road, Thurmont, Maryland 21788
Phone: (301) 271 9399

Cooperation makes things happen:
This is the only local organic source I have found. If you find others, let me know. Those who I talked with say that wheat and oats are hard to do on a small scale because they require the costly combine to harvest them. We should start up a Baltimore grain co-op or CSA to support local farmers who desire to have a go at small time grain farming.
There are local organic sources for vegetables, dairy, meat, some fruits, but grains and legumes are much harder to come by unless you are willing to drive over an hour for them. Again, maybe setting up a co-op would help with that problem. Any interest?
And while I'm at it, anyone have a mill they'd be willing to let me use on a barter/trade basis?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hanging to Dry

We have no clothes dryer. We don't really have a yard to speak of. But we do have this little patio with an overhang under which I strung up some rope. This is where I hang our shirts, pants, sheets and towels. It holds about 20 t-shirts. There is plenty of breeze through there, so the clothes dry very quickly during the spring, summer, and fall. Diapers come out smelling fresh. Some people are disappointed by the crispness of hung-to-dry clothes, but we have come to love it. Adam says (half-jokingly) that soft clothes almost feel dirty. If it's crisp, you know it's clean.
And of course it softens up after wearing for a few minutes.I read at Project Laundry List that the electric clothes dryer accounts for 5 to 10% of residential electricity usage. Dryers also wear out clothes much faster than hanging to dry. Guess where lint comes from? Another reason I hang laundry is the chance to slow down and be outside for a few minutes. I have had many conversations and friendly nods and waves with neighbors and passersby while hanging clothes.

We have a rope strung across a room in the house. That is where I hang socks. Since they are short, they don't cut the view of the room too much and are easy to duck under.Everything else gets hung on our giant wooden drying rack. It holds a big basket-ful of underwear, rags, and kid clothes.

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Homemade Laundry Soap

I have been making my own for a while now and really like it. I just calculated the cost, and it's about $2 or 3 for 160 loads! All our laundry comes out clean and smelling good, including diapers.

The recipe is:

1/2 cup borax
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 of a big bar of castille (or other all vegetable oil) soap

Grate the soap and dissolve by pouring a quart or two of boiling water over it and stirring for a while.
Add the other two ingredients and stir to dissolve.
Put it altogether in a bucket (at least 5 quarts -- up to 5 gallons) and fill the bucket up with water.
Stir it really well and let it sit for a day. It will gel up. You can either use it gelled up or stir it so it's more like an egg drop soup consistency

I use a 5 quart ice cream bucket, and since I have a smaller than average washer, I use 2 Tbsps per load. If you have a regular sized washer, just figure on 1/80th of the total volume per load -- so, a 1/4 cup for a 5 quart bucket, or if you used a 5 gallon bucket -- a whole cup per load. I'm contemplating moving into a bigger bucket, just so it's more dissolved before I put it in the washer, however, with two active little children, I can just imagine the problems that might arise with having a whole 5 gallon bucket of liquid laundry soap.

I recently found Borax at Shoppers, and I think I've seen Washing Soda at the Giant. You can get a (big) box of both for around $6 total.

Edit: Homemade Laundry Soap Continued

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Share Network

Another fledgling idea:

The Baltimore Share Network is a means toward the goal of connecting with the people we live near by facilitating the sharing of our personal resources with one another. We desire to decrease our duplication of material resources and increase the reach of our non-material resources.

If you have material goods (i.e. appliances, hobby equipment) that you would like to lend to others (or barter / trade for the use of), or if you have special skills or knowledge that you would enjoy sharing or teaching to others, please join us.

This website will be a place to make your resources available to others. The group will grow by word of mouth (or personal emails) only in order to facilitate some necessary level of trust between sharers and sharees.

Our collective resources do a lot of sitting around in literal (or mental) closets. Let's dust them off and share them with our neighbors!

How does it work? (via an internet message board or email group)
* You may post OFFERs (resources you are offering to share) or SEEKINGs (resources you are seeking to make use of).
* Resources may include our skills, knowledge, or material goods.
* Sharing may include giving freely forever, lending for a limited period, or trading for other resources (not money -- this isn't an ordinary classifieds site).
* The discussions of how to arrange the sharing logistics (including determining trust, exchange of goods, skills, or knowledge, and arranging the return of goods) with the other person will be through personal emails, phone conversations, or in person. The more you have to talk to someone, the more you learn about them, the greater the potential for meaningful relationships, the more fulfilling community we might create. You are valuable to our community.

A Kitchen Cooperative

Not for profit, but for enrichment of the community.

I imagine a commercial, inspected kitchen. It has things like huge counters, multiple ovens and canning processors. It is a rented empty restaurant or bakery or a rowhouse with remodeled kitchen, up to state requirements.

Use it for community meals, clubs, classes, bulk cooking sessions for individuals, start up businesses, local farmers or gardeners who need a place to do some basic processing before selling, special holiday cooking for a big family parties, small time caterers, special orders, food coop pickups, with a small retail front to sell what people cook, an area with bench tables for communal meals, has a food book library, has weekly open meals, potlucks, community event bulletins, resources for how to eat locally, nutrition classes, food pantry, soup kitchen, workshops, meetings, food tastings.

It could be primarily to support community enriching events, small and large, but have a few steady tenants who would rent the space for their own business use to provide a reliable income.
A combined educational facility, community center, small business incubator, food co-op.
We could own the facility (or find another organization who has similar goals and has the space already), offer the space for rent/use, publicize, manage scheduling of the space, maintain equipment, meet regulatory requirements, handle bills, build community support.
And we could govern it by some sort of collective, and even own it collectively.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wonder Wash

A few years ago we bought the Wonder Wash to wash clothes and diapers without spending too much money.

The Wonder Wash is called a compact pressure washer. It is hand-powered by a plastic crank and can hold up to 5 lbs. of laundry at a time. The lid seals on a rubber gasket and is closed by a knob that screws down the lid quite tightly.

I used ours to do all our family's (then 2 adults, one baby) laundry, including cloth diapers. It did a fine job. The hardest part was wringing the laundry out sufficiently by hand afterwards. I did laundry just about every day, and it took about an hour start to finish. Definitely a good workout. The instructions say to do it on a counter at the edge of a sink so that you can drain the gray water into the sink. I didn't have any such counter, so I just put it in the bathtub and knelt on a towel just outside the tub to do the cranking. I found the drain pipe to be inefficient so I just took the lid off after a cycle and dumped the water out.

It seems that people acquire these little contraptions second-hand quite often. And usually they are missing the instructions. We no longer have our Wonder Wash, but I did type the instructions a while back. Here they are for anyone who needs them:

Simple and Easy-to-Use Wonder Wash Washing Instructions:

1. Sort the washing into loads according to material type and/or colors. Note: There are 5 basic load types:
A. White cottons and linens
B. Colorfast cottons and linens
C. White synthetics and cotton blends
D. Nylons and colored synthetics
E. Delicates

2. Place the machine on the edge of the sink.

3. Add the required water (at the correct temperature) and soap according to the washing chart below.

4. Add the washing.

5. Fit the pressure lid and tighten completely.

6. Attach the handle and turn the machine at abut one turn per second for the recommended time.

7. After washing, unscrew the pressure lid by turning the pressure knob slowly to release the pressure.

8. Remove pressure lid by turning anti-clockwise to release.

9. To drain, tilt machine to allow water to run into sink OR, if fitted with water release valve, insert Pipe into Valve and turn a quarter turn clockwise, until it clicks into position.

1. By Hand
Fill sink or basin with clean water and empty wash into sink and agitate by hand.

2. By Machine
After draining away the dirty water, leave the washing in the machine and fill with clean cold water. Replace the pressure lid and tighten and turn the machine for about 30 seconds. Drain and wring dry. Repeat if necessary.


.5 kg ---- 1.5 L -----1 Tbsp/15 g --- 1 min
1 kg ----- 3 L ------ 2 Tbsp/30 g -- 1.25 min
1.5 kg --- 4.5 L ---- 3 Tbsp/45 g -- 1.5 min
2.2 kg --- 6 L ------ 4 Tbsp/60 g -- 2 min

Note: Very absorbent materials will require more water, but DO NOT exceed the amounts listed above. If necessary reduce the size of the load.


A ------------ 90 deg C - very hot
B ------------ 60 deg C - hot
C ------------ 50 deg C - hand hot
D ------------ 40 deg C - warm
E ------------ 30 deg C - lukewarm


1. DO NOT use boiling water
2. DO NOT leave pressure lid on the machine after washing if the machine is still hot as a vacuum can form when machine cools down.
3. DO NOT store machine with pressure knob turned tight.
4. DO NOT overload. Do smaller loads as it will be easier and the machine will was better and quicker.
5. DO NOT TIGHTEN the pressure lid onto the machine when storing. Put on loosely!

1. We recommend the use of LOW FOAM DETERGENTS (i.e. automatic washing machine powders.)
2. Low foam detergents will make rinsing easier.
3. If wash does not come clean the washing combination is wrong. Use the correct amount of water, soap, and time.
4. Wash clothes at highest temperature garment will allow, but DO NOT exceed recommended temperatures.
5. The use of washing additives, e.g. a little bleach and/or fabric softener is acceptable.
6. Assist the cleaning of very dirty cuffs and collars by using recommended additives designed for cuffs and collars; or Wet the cuff or collar first and rub soap powder into fabric.
7. DO NOT scrub cuffs and collars, as this only damages the fabric.

NOTE: These instructions have been typed from the instructions that came packaged with a Wonder Wash unit. They are not the complete instructions, as they do not include the guarantee info, 5-min dying info, pressure lid fitting instructions, assembly instructions, or full water release valve instructions. There also might be typos, sorry.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

In Memory of Warm Weather

On this bitter cold day, I am dreaming of spring. I have hit the winter blues; missing warm days of walks without coats, open window breezes, and digging in the dirt.

I have been taking notes on how fast our canned food is going so I know how much more or less to preserve for next year. And I took notes during the gardening season of 2007 to help me plan for 2008. Here is my summary:

Applesauce - 18 qts - same as this year -- going well
Tomato Sauce - 18 pts - half again more than this year
Diced/Whole Tomatoes - 48 pts - half again more
Ketchup - 2 pts - never got around to it this year
Peaches - 12 pts - twice as much as this year
Jam/Preserves - 6 pts - same
Berries (freeze) - 18 pounds - or as much as budget allows - such a winter treat
Corn - 18 pounds
Peas - 18 pounds
Basil - 2 cups
Oregano - 2 cups
Thyme - 2 cups
Cilantro - 2 cups

And then there is the decision of what to plant in order of priority since space will get tight. We live in an apartment. Last summer I decided to dig up a big patch of weeds near the house on the sunniest side I have access to (facing the west) as my first garden, without asking the landlord first. He never said anything about it, so I going for it again this year, maybe pushing my borders out a bit to add some other vegetables. I would really like to just dig up the whole front yard since it's not suitable for our children to romp around in, but I am guessing even if our landlord did not have an issue with it, and I am sure he would, few of our neighbors would respect it. This last summer my pepper plants became their ashtray.

So here is what I hope to plant: 4 cherry tomatoes, a habenero, a cayenne, two of basil, an oregano, a thyme, a cilantro, several of lettuce with room for planting a few sessions of it, some kale, and, if there's room, zucchini, butternut squash, cantaloupe, and peas.

My plan is that what we grow we eat fresh. I will preserve any excess, such as in the case of the herbs, but in general what I preserve will come from local farms.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


In the past I have resisted schedules at home. Partially because young children's needs are so unpredictable that it seemed that whatever I attempted to plan was put aside when higher priorities took over.
Recently I was inspired while reading a blog post about organizing household chores around the days of the week. This is something that might work for me. I've already gotten the hang of planning a week's worth of meals on Sunday (or Monday morning) and then doing the full week's grocery shopping on Monday morning. I have been having such trouble getting laundry done without it piling in multiple mountains. This method leads to someone not being able to find clean undershirts (sorry, Adam) or matching socks (sorry, kids) and a fair amount of foul stench as the dirty stuff rots and the clean stuff mildews.
I need some help getting it done. And the answer isn't a bigger washer or an electric dryer. While those two purchases would help the speed, they wouldn't help my bad habits. I believe the root of the habits is the organization style of survival. Do what must be done now. Fix what squeaks the loudest. And hope (or worry) that everything else will get done in time.

It's time to move beyond this. So here are some of my new tools for accomplishing all that I want and not get overwhelmed by trying to do it all at once.

1. Keep the kitchen clean. Food is the center of our physical lives. And food is messy. Wash dishes periodically throughout the day. Sweep the floor at least once during the day. And wash dishes and counters at the end of the day so that we wake to a clean kitchen that inspires a good breakfast.

2. Swish the toilet each day with the toilet brush without any cleanser. This means no need to break out the bleach once a month to kill the major buildup that has grown thick. It won't build up. And I will be comfortable having friends over anytime.

3. Pick up trash, clothes, books and toys every evening. Good maintenance habit for me and the kids. The benefit of waking to a clean house inspires doing interesting productive things.

4. Follow a weekly schedule for chores. My current one looks like this:
(This includes all of the bread-making prep, since it's something that needs to be planned in advance.)

Monday - grocery shop and bake two loaves of sourdough bread

Tuesday - wash and hang laundry (diapers and clothes) and refresh sourdough starter

Wednesday - fold and put away laundry, wash and hang more if needed, put out trash, make biga and firm sourdough starter

Thursday - fold and put away more laundry, bake two loaves of sourdough, two loaves of sandwich bread, a batch of muffins and a batch of cookies, and make a poolish for tomorrow's pizza

Friday - clean the bathroom

Saturday - change and wash sheets and towels, vacuum all rooms

Sunday - fold and put away sheets and towels, refresh sourdough starter, make firm starter, and put out recycling

In my first two attempts at following this schedule, I have been pleased with how well it works. I have less to worry about each day, since if I follow the schedule everything will get done in good time; but more gets done, since I have a task of the day, I'm less likely to putz around on something unproductive.
A couple of times I have traded activities of the day with the next day if, for instance, I didn't have access to the car on shopping day. But in the end it all got done without any one day being too busy or so task-filled that there wasn't room for the unpredictable needs of the little people in my care.
It's an experiment anyway. It may not last forever, and since I am my own boss, I don't feel worried that if I don't follow the schedule, there's a need to feel guilty or feel like a failure. It's just a tool, and perhaps it will help.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Cooperative Living

Cooperative living is something I think a lot about. It is a generic term I'm using for a few ways we are attempting to live (or thinking about living) less enslaved to the idea of ownership (and entitlement) to material things and things like personal space and privacy, living with the people around us rather than just next to them. Not that any of those things are evil in and of themselves, it's just that we tend to abuse them and get self-centered with them, rather than allowing them to be used to move forward our real goals (glorifying God and serving people). A paraphrase of something by Doris Longacre (I think) from one of the More with Less books -- Simple living is not a goal in itself, but it is a means to free ourselves and our resources to serve those around us in a world sorely in need of help.

So, examples...
Spiritually, emotionally -- Openness to express hurt and need and depravity -- meeting regularly for scripture or prayer journaling. Accountability.

Materially -- finding ways to be a part of other people's lives and let other people into our lives by sharing our stuff, bartering, helping each other with tedious tasks -- we are interested in the idea of co-housing, that we don't require x sq.ft. of space to live in or our own kitchen or our own appliances or car, that there are many ways that we could ditch the idea that independent is best. We find it very easy to be isolated from everyone. Even our friends.
I've been trading homemade food products with some folks -- I make lots of bread, they make other stuff, we trade regularly, it forces us to talk to each other, be interested in each other's lives. We found a place that reaches out to people in financial need in our area. We made bag lunches weekly for them to hand out. I organized a bunch of Swap nights for several families, where we would bring as much stuff as we could find that we didn't use anymore to offer for free for anyone else to take, and we would make bulk meals to share with each other. That led to finding out about several other shared interests and related activities.

Meals -- When we lived in California, there was a family who invited us and a bunch of their kids' friends over each week on Wednesdays for supper. It was very meaningful to us. So we are trying something like that out of our home. So we are inviting a whole bunch of families to come eat and visit on one night a week every week, not expecting everyone to come every week, making a simple supper, and eating with and talking to whoever comes. It's a very sustainable, real, good activity. We can keep doing it for years. It's really at the core of knowing people is inviting them - serving them - eating with them - talking to them, over and over, doing the activities of normal life with them.

Cooperative living is sort of code words for the type of interactions with other people that come out of what we believe is our purpose in life -- worship, fellowship, accountability, caring for people in their needs, helping our neighbor in his daily life, building one another up, humility.
And it goes against the disconnectedness we have felt in traditional churches from applying those ideas to our real lives, or at least seeking out our own means for carrying them out in life apart from church-y activities, and our disconnectedness from people even within the church.