Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Dear Eco Friend

A while back, I wrote this article about a friend. A project I am going to post later involves her, so until have that project finished, you can get to know her a little bit.

Mother Natures Daughter: Joanna Castro
By Paula Cochran

Everything she owns fit in a backpack: Three pants, five shirts, two jackets, two pair of socks, two pair of shoes, enough underwear for a week and a hat. When night falls she can be found sleeping on the Earth under the cover of a hand-made shelter.
Yet her tale is not one of woe. She has not lost all she owns to a natural or manmade disaster. Limiting her belongings to what fits in a backpack and sleeping upon the Earth is a conscious choice, one that intimately connects her to the ecology of whatever location she is in.
There was a time when Joanna Castro lived the American Dream: a master’s degree, a good job, a choice property and a dog.
Despite the influence of growing up in a “back to the land” household and her desire to live an eco-friendly life, she felt “like a parasite on the Earth, always taking and taking.” Ms. Castro said, “I was surrounded by the influence of American culture,” a culture too often consumed with work, money, consumption and waste.
In her search for something more she left her home in Beaver Springs to embark on a trip around the world to explore other ways of approaching life.
Funded by her savings, the trip has taken her to Hawaii, England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Dominican and Guatemala. In each location she worked on an organic farm or sustainable community in exchange for room and board and immersed herself in the local cultural and ecological community.
All of the locations offered experience and education in eco-friendly living, peaceful resolution and “each destination has been a unique experience and I have gained something different from each of them.” Ms. Castro said.
Her original goals for the trip were “to free myself from the cultural conditioning about what I can and cannot do with my life, to give people of these cultures experience with a US citizen who believes in equanimity and peace, and to learn about a diversity of approaches to social and practical applications to sustainability,” Ms. Castro said.
In the end she found “that there is another reality from the work-a-day-plan-for-retirement-prove-your-worth reality that I have been socialized to believe.”
Each location offered Ms. Castro a personal lesson. “In Hawaii I found that I could grow by being very clear to my heart about what I wanted to learn. In New Zealand I learned that community is an excellent place to get immediate feedback about my behavior and how it affects others. In Australia I remembered that I am but a part of all of nature and that living apart from it takes me out of harmony with it.”
As she continues her journey she “envisions deepening my relationship with my environment and living more harmoniously with my ecology.” That journey will continue here in the United States.
This time Ms. Castro will not be traveling alone. She will be joined by Paul Blake, an eco partner she met in New Zealand. Together they will visit the Carolinas, Tennessee, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Along the way they will be sustained by eating only local organic raw food in season and drinking from the purest water sources they can find. They plan to walk barefoot on the land, and sleep in primitive structures the two will build for shelter and then tear down, returning them to the Earth.
The trip is continuing as a “sabbatical to connecting with ecology and immerse ourselves in our natural surroundings,” Ms. Castro said.
Ms. Castro sums up her newly-found discoveries: “This way of living allows me to establish a more symbiotic relationship with people, animals, plants and the Earth.”
Ms. Castro has been willing to give up a lot. She sold her final 2 possessions, a laptop computer and digital camera. She feels guilty owning devices which in their creation and use harm the Earth. The sale of them causes more guilt: “I have accepted that by selling them I will reduce the production of two more electronic devices,” Ms. Castro said.
Therefore, the photos accompanying this article are the final photos of Ms. Castro and her travels as she is now living “photo free.”
After their trip across the US, Ms. Castro and Mr. Blake plan to return to the tropics and continue their travels by sailboat, “a more Earth-friendly way of travel than a car or plane,” Ms. Castro added.
She no longer feels like a parasite on the Earth. She has learned that following her heart and being aware of her relationship to the Earth makes her happy, “and when we’re happy, we spread happiness,” Ms. Castro said. “I have found that, for me, the only way to create sustainability with personal integrity is to reduce my impact on the Earth.”

For more information, read Ms. Castro’s eco-travel blog.

Solar Shower

Along with many spring projects, building an outdoor solar shower is on the short list.

Having found this plan, that appears to be both simple and cheap, it'll be a good practice trial for a -hopefully bigger project (like indoor solar water).

We already have an outbuilding, a section of which is a outhouse. It seems only appropriate to use another section of that building for the solar shower project -or somewhere close to the outdoor pot, anyway. Though I doubt I'll take my daily shower in the backyard, it might be handy for washing dogs, rinsing dirty feet and rinsing off after creek play (well water via the hose is quite cold, I assure you).

We'll need a water tank, some plumbing hose, some copper pipe, and a silver sheet of metal to put the piping on. I think we can mount the syatem on the shed roof, with water source inside the building. I'll update when we get started, and let you know the final result. Sounds fun, though, doesn't it?

This plan is from

Easter Cake

Every year at Easter I buy gummy eggs. Though I am not much of a candy eater, I think these little eggs are the cutest candy ever. This year I decided to incorporate them into a coconut cake. Though they looked pretty cute, I stole some candy filled plastic carrots from my nephews Easter baskets (they can have them back at dessert) and added them to the cake. One part of me says this cake is tacky as hell, the other part says, oh, no, too cute! If you can't be cute (and tacky) at Easter, when can you be?

Eggshells and Fishheads

I have a canning jar on my kitchen counter to put eggs shells in. Though I origionally put the seal on the jar, I changed my mind and decided on a paper towel, hoping that with some air flow the shells would dry up -as opposed to mold.
The reason I am saving egg shells is to plant them with my tomatoes. Tomatoes need calcium -and egg shells have that. I also read that planting a fish head with the shells will do wonders for the plants. I am not quite sure where I will get 24 fish heads from as I don't fsh (though I have always had a desire to learn to fly fish. It looks SO relaxing). I have a neighbor who is an avid fisherman, so am hoping he;ll be kind enough to pass some on to me -I assume fish gut would offer the same nutrition (???).
Last year we grew 18 tomatoes plants and used them to make sauce, salsa and other red treats. This year we're planting 24 plants, and hope for an even larger harvest w/ the help of egg shells and fish heads.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Handrolled Pasta

In my search for a pasta machine I found a lot of imformation on handrolling paste (smacking myself in the forehead, duh, you can make it by hand). These simple instructions, from
are easy enough. To learn how to make colored, herbed and leaf printed pasta visit the site.

Basic Pasta Recipe

3 1/2 cups fine white flour
4 eggs
Large pinch of salt

Make mound with the flour on your work surface and scoop out a well in the middle. Pour the eggs into the hole, add the salt, and work the eggs and the flour together till you have a smooth dough, adding just a drop of water if necessary, and no more. Knead the dough for ten to fifteen minutes, until it is smooth, firm, and quite elastic. Don't skimp on the kneading or the dough will tear while you're rolling it out.
You are now ready for the hard part: separate the dough into two pieces. Flour your work surface (the marble counter tops in Italian kitchens are ideal for this, though wood or Formica work as well -- a pastry cloth gets in the way) and start to roll out the dough, rolling from the middle, flipping it occasionally, and flouring it as necessary to keep it from sticking. To keep the sheet from breaking, once it has reached a certain size, roll it up around the rolling pin and then invert the rolling pin; you can, as you are unrolling the sheet, gently stretch it by holding the unrolled part firm and pulling gently away with the rolling pin. Keep on flipping and rolling till you have a sheet that's almost transparent -- as thin as a dime, or thinner, if you can manage it (the pasta will almost double in thickness while cooking). The Emilians, acknowledged masters of home-made pasta, say your backside should work up a sweat as you're rolling out the sheet.
Once you've rolled out the sheet, either use it to make stuffed pasta such as ravioli or tortellini, for lasagna, or cut it into strips. If you choose the latter course the easiest thing to do is roll the sheet of dough up into a tube, then slice the tube into rounds of the desired width and shake the skeet out with your hands to free the strands; set them to dry on a rack or between two chair backs, supported by a towel (you often see this in the country). Roll out the second piece and cut it as you did the first.
Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water. Since it's fresh, it will cook in three to five minutes. Do not let it overcook! Soft wheat flour has much less gluten than the durum wheat used in commercially prepared dry pastas, and will consequently become flabby if it overcooks.

Homemade Fire Starter

I get the newspaper each day, mainly because I write for the newspaper and want a print copy of my articles.
I could donate them to a local farm that would chop them up and use them for bedding, but we heat with wood and coal, so I have found they make an excellent fire starter.
Sometimes I just tear them up and mix them in with some sticks. But for a better fire starter, I make my own logs.
I soap a 2-4 piece section of newspaper (not the glossy ad parts) and lay the wet papers out flat. Inside I add twigs and sticks (already dead and fallen ones) and roll them into logs. I let the wet paper dry before bringing them in -less messy and the paper, when dry, sticks to itself and holds the whole thing together, making for easy stacking in a basket or bin.
These are much more Earth friendly than the prepaged kind that come by the case at stores. Cheaper, too. Even if you don't get the newspaper, my bet is some neighbor, friend or relative does, and would be glad to give them to you for free.

Consumer Waste

Consumer Waste

The market is filled with giant boxes packaged with, let’s face it, very small amounts of food in them –food generally packaged inside a plastic bag, and often including a second plastic or foil flavoring packet.

Buying bulk not only gives you more bang for your bucks, but assures you’re using as little packaging as possible. I store my bulk dry goods in reusable glass canning jars. The food stays fresh and seeing what’s in the pantry is very easy.

The only problem is what to do with the plastic bags and twist ties bulk food comes in?

The only answer I have come up with is to start making my own pasta, which I hope to do soon. I’ll be scouring ebay before I buy full price. Until I find what I am looking for –and the money needed to buy it, I will share this machine free, easy to make noodle recipe.

The shells can be rolled with whatever you like: cheeses, meats, vegetables –spinach is especially good in manicotti. Put in a baking dish drizzled with olive oil, cover with a layer of sauce, back at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Homemade Manicotti Shells
· 3 eggs
· ¾ cup water
· ½ teaspoon salt
· 2½ tablespoons oil
· ¾ cup flour
Beat all ingredients together with an electric mixer until as smooth as pancake batter. Season an 8-inch non-stick skillet with oil. Use a ¼ cup measuring scoop and fill it ¾ full. Pour that amount into center of skillet and tip skillet around to form a thin pancake that fills the bottom of the pan. Cook over moderate to low heat until bubbles appear. Quickly flip it over, making certain that batter does not brown like a pancake. Remove from skillet and stack on a plate until ready to fill.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mint Tea & Recipe

The mint tea is finally peeking through. Before long we'll have a large mint garden with a variety of mints- spearmint, chocolate mint.
We enjoy tea free all summer (and all winter, until our dried tea leaves run out).
Though I am offering a simple basic recipe for homebrewed mint tea, we like to spice things up a bit. Replace the black tea with a favorite, use fresh garden grown stevia instead of sugar and lemon balm adds a nice lemony flavor without having to buy lemons! Feel free to change the recipe below to suite your taste.

7 cups water in pot
4 regular black tea bags
1 cup fresh mint leaves (I wrap them in a coffee filter w/ rubberband)
Bring tea to a boil, turn off burner & steep for 3-5 minutes.
Remove tea bags and add sugar (if you're using frsh Stevia, add that befoe boiling).
Pour into one gallon conatiner. Add cold water.
For added fun, put mint tea leaves in an empty ice cube tray, add water & freeze. Serve with homebrewed tea. Add lemon wedge to side of glass. Looks lovely.

On Penns Creek

Photo: Penns Creek, New Berlin, PA

Part of our plan to live life more fully included downsizing to a smaller house. Our bungalow is just the right size for three and sits right on the water. I have long been attracted to water and find I need to be near it. It offers me a sence of peace -for whatever reason.

The wrap around deck and front porch have several gliding and rocking seating pieces to sit upon and watch the water from. Staring at moving water, much like watching a fire burn, puts you in an almost transelike state; totally relaxed.

The bank beavers and muskrats will soon be bearing their young. Geese are nesting on the banks. The fish crane relaxes in the shallows. Birds of every variety are returning from their summer homes.

Though we spend much time playing in the water -as do our three dogs, this year we hope to enjoy more time on the water.

Our 2 new kayaks sit in the garage. Paddles have been ordered online. As soon as the weather warms, we will set out exploring the waterway that leads to the Susquehanna River (though I think we'll save river kayaking until we are a bit more advanced).

Compost makes the Garden

Keeping your garden healthy is the number one thing you can do to have a successful harvest.
We're lucky enough to live near a livestock auction that has a heaping pile of manure and bedding out back -and free for the taking. The compost in the middle of the pile has seasoned through the winter, making it a great addition to the garden (unseasoned compost can burn plants).
We put 3 pickup truck loads of seasoned compost on our plot this year (2 last year). Then our son-in-law came over with his dads rototiller and did a mix job on the garden. As you can see, we have fresh, dark, moist (but not wet) soil ripe for seeds.
We have another 2-4 weeks before we can plant in our zone.
In the meantime, I have purchased seeds and made some starter plants in little pots.


Chives were the first thing to start in the herb garden. Though I have established plants, I added a seed packet of chives a few weeks ago to assure a healthy harvest.
Cives has a very mild oniony flavor and can be used fresh or dried.
When July and August come and the tomato vines are full, we use fresh chives in our homemade pasta sauces.
The lambs ear is just poking through a fresh layer of well seasoned compost, as is the mint tea bed.

Mixed Lettuce

The spring lettuce mix is coming up nicely. Soon, it will cover the raised bed it's planted in like carpet, assuring not a single weed can plant itself among the tender roots.
I am not sure what the seed packages say about recommended seed width, but I always chose a mixed variety and sprinkle it about and it sorts itself out just fine. Being planted in such a tight patch, not only do the weeds stay out, but it doesn't seem to get dirty during rains either. If there is space in between the leaves (like with Romaine) when we have summer downpours the lettuce gets coated with mud sprinkles. This tight planting keeps the lettuce nice and clean all season.
When the lettuce matures, I just snip what I need with scissors and a few days later, new lettuce appears. It's almost magic.

Easy to Grow Garlic

Garlic is very easy to grow.
In the fall, take the seperate the outer cloves of garlic (see left) and plant in loose soil, rootside down. Garlic is a very friendly plant and grows well planted with other flowers and vegetables. We have ours planted to a lettuce bed. It's also one of the first things in the garden to sprout. Ours have been "out" for about 2 weeks. As garlic reaches maturity, the leaves will brown then die away. It's time to harvest your garlic crop (if you harvest too early the cloves will be very small, too late and the bulb will have split). It's essential that garlic is dried properly, otherwise it will rot. The bulbs are often hung up in a cool, dry place. After a week or so, take them down and brush the dirt off gently - don't wash the bulbs at this stage. Wash each bulb (or several cloves) as you need them.