A new start in a new year

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? My husband and I caught colds on a trip to Cambria before Christmas and I am just now getting around to my list of resolutions. It is pretty much the same list every year. You know: lose weight, eat healthier, exercise more, keep the garden tended, conserve natural resources, live a green life, etc. This year, I am taking a short-cut and just making a simple resolution. “Do Better.”

Naturally, I have subheadings under that. For one, I plan to be a better follower of the Slow Food movement. That means choosing local foods as much as possible and cooking things from scratch. It also means learning about and promoting endangered local foods on the Ark of Taste. To that end, I renewed my membership in Slow Food, USA. You can join at slowfoodusa.org.

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I have vowed that I going to eat locally grown foods and also try to have something from my garden every day, as much as possible. That includes homegrown eggs from my tiny flock of four hens. Princess Aurora, my 7-month-old Black Sex-linked hen, began laying the last week of December. Right now, she is my only laying hen. Princess Ariel, the white Ameraucuna, is still a pullet and not laying yet. But her comb and wattles finally seem to be growing and turning red, so I am hoping that she will come “online” sometime this month. Din0-peep, our nasty-tempered Barred Rock, is still molting. Chickens don’t lay when they molt. It will probably be February or even March  before she lays again. Old Chicken Little, a Black Sex-linked hen, is an elderly bird at this point. If we get any eggs at all from her this spring, I will be happy. She is enjoying her retirement.

With two brand new hens and two older birds, I expect production to top 500 eggs this year, possibly as many as 700. A chicken of these breeds in their first laying year should be able to produce 300-350 for Aurora and maybe 250-300 for Ariel. I would think that Dino-peep is capable of producing 200 eggs, with maybe a couple of dozen from Chicken Little. Time will tell.

One area of my life in which I would like to do better is logging in my produce harvests. I do an excellent job of record-keeping in terms of weighing the harvests and writing them down in a weekly engagement calendar. But I do a horrible job of transferring that data to Excel and then putting the totals on the sidebar to this blog. You will see that I did NO harvest updates in 2016. There is a lot of room for improvement in this area.

As far as green living goes, my rain barrels are full and my compost bin is well managed. By composting, I am able to keep a LOT of kitchen waste out of the sewer and about 10 big trash bags of leaves a year out of the landfill. The chickens are able to dispose of some of my kitchen and garden waste. They like peelings. So to myself I say, “Keep up the good work.”

After my surgery in early May for endometrial cancer, I decided to retire from my teaching job at the Orange County Conservation Corps. But we all need something meaningful to do to be happy. I have decided that my new “job” will be to cook more from scratch. This year is only 5 days old, but I already have made rye bread and bagels from scratch.

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This delicious ham sandwich was made with homemade rye bread, red oak leaf lettuce from our garden, and leftover Christmas ham.

After we had made all of the ham sandwiches that we could from our Christmas ham, the hambone went into soup. I made the bean soup in the crockpot using an heirloom bean mix (Tom’s Mix of 14 heirloom bean varieties) that I bought from Native Seed Search on our trip to Arizona last summer. This mix contains at least 14 of the following 23 bean varieties:

Anasazi

Aztec black (aka black turtle)

scarlet runner

Aztec white runner

Maicoba

Rio Zape (aka Hopi purple string)

moon bean (soldier)

yellow-eye (butterscotch calypso)

Four Corners gold (Zuni gold)

bolita

Colorado River (cut-short bean)

cranberry bean

yellow Indian woman

appaloosa

flor de mayo

Hopi traditional lima

cannelini

ojo de cabra

Christmas lima

pebble bean

Tohono O’odam pink

purple calypso

Dos Mesas

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I soaked the beans overnight in the crockpot and rinsed them well the next day.

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The result was a great soup, enough for four days.

The package came with several recipes. I modified the one called Southwest Heritage Bean Soup. Here is what I did.

1 C dry beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained.

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 stalks of celery, finely sliced

4 carrots, sliced

2 potatoes, diced

1 hambone

1 C cubed ham

1 T chile powder, optional (I left it out)

2 bay leaves

1 qt water or chicken broth (I used water, but chicken broth would have added more flavor)

1 can diced tomatoes

Put all ingredients into the crockpot in the order given and cook for about 8-10 hours on high. (At the end, you can add a tsp of salt if you want. Don’t add the salt in the beginning or it will toughen the beans.) Serve with cornbread. I like to put a cup of cranberries into my winter cornbread, either fresh, frozen or dried. This soup really stretches out the meat.

Nothing in my bean soup was homegrown, but we gathered the bay leaves from the wild on a recent trip to Cambria, CA. The carrots and celery were organic.

By making this delicious soup, I also helping to support dry land farmers of the Southwest. And by posting this recipe, I am promoting the use of heirloom varieties of beans, some of which are disappearing from grocery store shelves. If you don’t happen to be driving through Tucson where Native Seed Search is located, you can buy these beans via the internet at nativeseedsearch.org or flordemayoarts.org. They suggest saving some of the beans to plant in your own garden, but I just don’t have the room.

Today I am making a modified pork pibil in the crockpot using homegrown orange and lime juice. I have plans for making a homemade apple pie this afternoon, using the last of the apples from my tiny orchard. But that is another post.

Eat local. Grow your own. Keep yourself and the environment healthy. Happy 2017.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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4 Responses to A new start in a new year

  1. Wishing you all the best in the new year Lou! That ham sandwich on homemade rye looks delicious. After baking our own bread for a long time now, it would be hard to go back to the store bought version, unless it came from a good bakery. And I bet that bean soup was quite tasty too! I get a lot of my cooking beans from Native Seeds Search.

  2. Michelle says:

    Hi Lou, No resolutions for me, I gave that up years ago. I did decide to cut out all added sugars from my diet for the month of January since I had found myself to be overindulging in treats the past few months. I think you are right when it comes to doing a lot of cooking from scratch, it is a job! But as with anything, the more you practice the easier it gets. And it sure helps if you like to eat leftovers. 🙂

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