Category Archives: art of hospitality

Garden Version 2.0, or Sometimes Jesus Isn’t All That Cryptic

If you’ve ever been to church or Sunday school for any length of time, you’ve probably heard someone teach on this parable of Jesus, the Parable of the Sower:

“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” – Matthew 13:3-9

As I headed outside this morning to work on (read: completely re-do) our garden, I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought of it. As many times as I’ve heard this story in my life, I have always looked at it in terms of its metaphorical value, trying to understand what Jesus was telling us about God the Father through this agricultural analogy. Never once did I stop and soak in what the parable is literally saying, what all of Jesus’ listeners would have looked at me and said “duh!” about because they were all farmers and dealt with these scenarios all the time.

RIP zucchini and squash plants. 3/11-6/11

So when all the vegetable plants in my front garden plot sprang up quicker than everything planted in the side beds, I didn’t bat an eye. Good for you, little guys, I thought to myself. Getting a head start. When my zucchini plants, so giant that they looked like something out of the Cretaceous period, began to take on a yellowish hue, I wasn’t sure what was going on. It wasn’t until the squash plants committed seppuku by falling over by their own weight and uprooting themselves that I realized that something had gone terribly awry. At some point while I was picking up the dried plants and tossing them into the compost, I was reminded of this part of the parable: “[Some] sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”

It’s so crazy how hard those of us who grew up in suburban or urban environments without having any connection to where our food comes from have to work to “re-learn” the fundamental principles that thousands of generations of people before us knew by heart and didn’t give a second thought to. Now I know how my grandparents felt when we tried to teach them how to program the VCR.

Tomato plants in the side raised bed, still going strong.

Thankfully, we got one good crop from the snow peas before they gave up the ghost, and this bowl of lovelies from the garden bean plants, although I suspect they’ll dry up too before I can get another:

This morning I weeded and tilled the open spots in the front bed, and tonight when Marc gets home we’re going to plant a few more things to give it one more try–swiss chard, spinach, and onions. They all say “full sun” on the seed packets, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. That’s one thing that I love about starting plants from seeds. At $2 per packet, they’re cheap enough to gamble with. I just never though I’d have to worry about the plants getting TOO much sun; I expected the opposite problem. Any other gardeners want to suggest some edible plants that would be hearty enough to survive the face of the sun, i.e. my front plot?

In conclusion, the parable thing still cracks me up. I know that the point of Jesus telling that story was to communicate something spiritual to his followers, but I can’t help thinking that in His omniscience He may have also been projecting some practical gardening advice a couple thousand years into the future to His clueless daughter, if only she had “ears to hear.” =)

Amusingly yours,

Nikki

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DIY Decor: Upcycling My Bathroom Wall Art

I guess this project doesn’t necessarily fit the true definition of “upcycling“, since the wall plaques that I started with weren’t waste materials and functioned perfectly fine. I was just reeeeeeally tired of them. No offense to the lovely Sara who left them with me after she moved, but I’ve done the beach bum theme in that bathroom long enough. It was time for a change.

This was one of the two wooden wall plaques that I started with.

I also had a bunch of these awesome ephemera images that came from my housemate Tracey. They are some of the most interesting and bizarre drawings I’ve ever seen, and they’ve made their way into almost every craft project I’ve done since I discovered them in her living room. If you’re interested, they came out of a book very similar to this one: Victorian Goods and Merchandise. This book series compiles thousands of copyright-free images, categorizes them, and publishes them in books that are easy to scan. It’s a crafter’s (and tattoo artist’s) dream come true.

Anyway, so back to the project. I wanted to start with a blank surface, so I decided to spray paint both the plaques a bright yellow.

By the way, I am the world’s worst spray-painter. Marc will attest to this. I always end up doing the painter’s equivalent to over-correcting when a car almost hits you on the highway. I start spraying, almost immediately lay it on uneven, and in my panic over the unevenness keep going back over that spot hoping to fix it, but of course just end up making it worse. You can’t tell in this picture, but there’s some definite Nikki handiwork on those things.

Voila! To finish, I just cut out the images I wanted and mod-podged them onto the dry painted wood. Ridiculously easy, and the whole thing only took me about a half an hour, not including drying time on the spray paint. Here’s how they look hung back up in their spots in the bathroom:

Marc said I should have ink stamped some kind of border on the one with the single picture, but I kind of liked keeping it simple. One small, satisfying step towards my dream Victorian bathroom. Next stop, one of those fancy freestanding toilet paper roll holders…in brass!!

<3

Nikki

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First Harvest and a Cleanse Update

A thing of beauty, these guys. A few weeks ago Tracey called me out on the porch to try a taste of our snow peas, freshly picked off the vine–the first harvest from our spring vegetable garden. I’ve heard lots of big talk from people about how much better garden vegetables taste, but I was surprised to find out how little they were exaggerating. These snow peas were sweeter than anything Green Giant has ever come up with. The next day, I decided what dish I wanted to use my first batch of snow peas in: thai curry.

With its no dairy restriction, one of these things I find myself missing on the Clean diet is creamy foods. The loophole with that is coconut milk, and so Thai food fits in perfectly as something that satisfies my craving for something rich and also gives us an easy restaurant option if we’re eating out. I must say, though, that although the snow peas in this homemade curry were delish, I was unsatisfied with how the curry sauce came out. Like, tragically unsatisfied. There was weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is my third attempt at a homemade Thai curry and, against all mathematical odds, they seem to be getting worse rather than better. And even the best was a laughable way off from the flavor I’m used to getting at my favorite Thai restaurant. Are there any veteran DIY Thai chefs out there that have a good recipe for me? Or someone who wants to go undercover for me at Sukho Thai and steal all their Asian cookery secrets? Your reward will be a basket of snow peas and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Speaking of the Cleanse, I’m happy to say that after a little trouble getting back on the wagon after my Nashville trip last weekend, I’ve been back on the program since Sunday and feeling pretty awesome. My sugar and carb cravings are about 20% as strong as they used to be, and I’m finally establishing good, common sense eating habits in my life like drinking lots of water between meals and learning to stop eating when I’m full, even if there’s lots of food left on the plate. (That’s what tupperware is for Nikki, duh!) Stepping on the scale to find I’ve lost a total of 5 lbs in the past three weeks is a pretty good feeling, too.

Off to cook some yummy fish and veggies (never thought I’d be so excited about either of those things),

Nikki

P.S. This week I’m excited to be working on a guest post for The Debt Free Family. If you haven’t read their blog yet, check it out! There’s tons of motivation to whip your finances into shape and ideas for how to make any budget stretch.

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One Bird, Three Meals

In my quest to expand my cooking skills while also reducing the amount of waste in our home, I discovered a pretty interesting way to approach cooking a whole chicken that ends up yielding three separate meals while also helping you get rid of those random leftover veggies in your fridge that you’re not sure what to do with. Here’s what I did:

First!

Buy a whole chicken. At first I was just doing this as a culinary challenge to myself, but I realized along the way buying a whole bird makes a whole lot of sense. First, it’s less “convenient”, so the meat is much, much cheaper per pound. I think I paid $4 for the chicken I bought, as opposed to paying nearly double for a much smaller package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I’m allergic to math, so I don’t know what percent mark-up that is, but I imagine it must be in the realm of absurdity. The second reason buying a whole chicken is a good idea is because all those “inconvenient” bones and skin and giblets that the nice butcher gets rid of for you? Those things are incredibly useful! (As you’ll soon see…)

Meal #1: Roast Chicken and Random Vegetables

I say “random,” because the beauty of this recipe is that it can work with almost any combination of leftover vegetables that you have in your refrigerator. I made it up as I went, didn’t measure a single thing, and it came out beautifully. This is a brief summary of what I tossed in the baking pan:

- whole chicken, cleaned out and rubbed all over with butter and spices (rosemary, salt, pepper, cayenne)

- celery, carrots, onion, garlic, and kale, chopped and stuffed inside the chicken, with the excess sprinkled around the sides of the pan

- baby portobello mushrooms and potatoes, chopped and rubbed with spices, sprinkled around the sides of the pan

I set the oven on 325 degrees and baked the chicken, covered, for about 2.5 hours, basting it with its own juices every hours or so. As long as you remember to cover the chicken and coat it with enough butter, it is extremely hard to mess this up. Trust me, I’m good at messing recipes up. Did I mentioned I accidentally made 7 sweet potato pies last week??

Voila! Thanksgiving dinner, only smaller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meal #2: Chicken and Random Vegetable Soup

After you eat your fill of the first meal, you should be left with a baking pan that looks more or less like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is where those actually-extremely-convenient bones come into play. Using a bone stock recipe like the one I borrowed from my housemate Tracey, you can gather up all those leftover chicken bones and use them to make a low-sodium, calcium-rich, homemade chicken stock that will serve for the base of your soup.

Once you’ve boiled the stock for at least 45 minutes and have strained out the bones and debris, return the stock to the pot and keep boiling it, adding in any other random vegetables you want to use and all the leftover veggies from the first recipe. Boil just long enough for all the veggies to get tender, and the finished product should be delectable.

Soup for the soul...and taste buds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meal #3: Chicken Salad Sammich

Hopefully you set aside all the remaining chicken that you came up with when you gathered up the chicken bones, because that’s what you’re using to make this last meal. Put all the leftover chicken in a mixing bowl and shred it with your fingers. Chicken salad seems to be one of those things that everyone makes a different way, but here’s what I put in mine:

- Miracle Whip and yellow mustard, about a 70/30 ratio

- chopped celery and green onions

- chopped almonds and halved green grapes

Wrap it, sandwich it, or eat it with crackers. (Just not Triscuits...those are gross)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it–my chicken magic trick. One bird goes in, three meals come out. And the bird vanishes before your eyes! The main idea here is that you will have very little wasted food–veggies or meat–when you’re done. But if you do, just start a compost bin and you’ll be good to go. =)

Got any other waste-reducing cooking tips? Uses for food items that we often discard? Comment and let me hear them!

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A New Kind of Pioneer – Women and the Homestead Movement

"The Prairie is my Garden" by Harvey Dunn

It should come as no surprise to anyone by now that I fantasize about being a pierced, tattooed manifestation of a Steinbeck novel, only with less Greek tragedy and droughts. In short, I’ve attempted to start down a path that I’m hoping will lead to me looking very much like the mother in this painting–a nurturing, self-sufficient, knowledgable woman with a wicked paring knife. The daydreams I acted out in my backyard when I was a kid of “living in the wilderness” have grown into full-fledged adult ambition, with my aim growing more and more appealing every time the economy plummets to a new low.

What has been surprising to me, on the other hand, is how many other people are beginning to feel the same way. I can’t tell you how many of my friends are at this very moment starting gardens, tending chicken coops, and/or rigging solar panels to their roof, and time and again the word “homesteading” comes up to describe this shift towards self-sufficiency. I hope…actually, I pray that it isn’t just a fad. I hope that my generation is the one to finally call time-out on the relentless industrialization of our world and start to actually assess the value of working with our hands and providing, as much as possible, for our own needs.

Specifically, I’ve noticed many of my female friends becoming very passionate about homesteading. Many, but not all, are Christians, and I believe there is a strong spiritual component to them embracing these values. I also think there’s a reactive quality involved, a sort of “land on your feet” response of these strong, smart women to the sometimes appalling roadblocks that stand in the way of them and provision for their families, i.e. $6 for a gallon of milk when you make minimum wage. And last but not least, I think many of these urban frontierswomen would agree with me that so much of homesteading speaks directly to our sense of femininity. Through gardening and farming, we are able to nurture plants and help them grow. Through maintaining a home, we are able to “nest” and create a hospitable, enjoyable environment for the people we love. Through having a limited amount of space and resources, we are able to foster our creativity and ingenuity. And multi-task? Don’t even get me started.

But enough from me–since this new homesteading movement is still in its infancy, I was interested to see how other people define the word and what it means to them. I asked two eloquent homesteading mamas that I know to answer the question “What does homesteading mean to you?”, and this is what they said:

 

“To me, homesteading is reconnecting with the earth, each other and with Yahweh God in practical ways, such as:

Working with our hands and get the tactile, cathartic experience of touching creation. Kneading bread, digging in a garden, hand-washing, hand-crafting, hand-making.

Build a home with local and common materials, thus stewarding our resources well.

Feeding and clothing our kids with things we’ve grown and made, thus enriching our bodies and souls and empowering our families to look within to what we can do, rather than asking others to meet our needs.

Trusting our instincts, the wisdom of past generations, and the natural cycles and resources of the earth to often have greater, simpler and healthier answers than those found in western medicine and science.

Trusting our bodies when it comes to birth and child bearing and healing.

Trusting each other enough to build a greater future together, one where we live and learn in a connected and whole hearted ways, as vital members of our community.

Trusting God’s promises and seasons to bear fruit in our lives as we live simply, steward the earth well, and learn to love each other.” - Haley

 

“Homesteading, to me, means reclaiming the knowledge of past generations. It is a movement towards living simply. Becoming self-sustainable. Cultivating gardens. Raising thoughtful children.

This leap into becoming an urban homesteader, however, does not occur overnight. It creeps upon you, and my hope is to be swallowed, consumed if you will, into realizing all the glories of being a woman in the 21st century. And that is daunting!

The glorious reality is that it’s within all of us to create & explore the gifts, talents, and arts of building our homes & incorporating all this into a lifestyle that becomes seamless. We can knit sweaters, raise bees, churn butter, bake artisan breads, sew, make music, hang our clothes on lines to dry, make yogurt, breastfeed, cloth diaper, preserve the fruits of our gardens. The best part is in the sharing with one another.

Homesteading is building a community to trade secrets & barter goods. To build one another up & encourage everyone along the way. It’s also a means to laugh, weep, sing & dance together! And that, ladies, is something to rejoice in!” - Tracey

So, to turn the question on the questioner, what exactly does homesteading mean to me? I’ve already slipped a good amount of my two cents in, but to try to sum it up I’ll say that homesteading means to actively participate in the essentials of your own existence, and by doing so, maintain your connection to and appreciation of the dirt beneath our feet that we call Earth. It means to live as simply and independently as possible. To waste nothing and share everything. To reject the American Dream in favor of a better reality.

What about you?

 

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Guest Blog: Karrie’s DIY Kitchen Pharmacy

My very first guest blog! My friend Karrie was gracious enough to try out my little experiment, and I have many more in the works. You know, I never realized just how surrounded I am with fascinating, smart, and talented friends until I started trying to pillage their knowledge for my own personal interests.

Karrie has been independently studying herbology for, oh, probably as long as she can remember. From what I gather, it’s somewhat of a family passion, as her mom worked for many years as a gardener for the Audubon Zoo and passed that love of plants down to her daughters. Karrie now works at Whole Foods, where she hangs out in the Whole Body section every chance she gets. In her spare time, she enjoys perfecting her zombie makeup techniques, playing tabletop roleplaying games, and smoking marshmallow out of cool-looking pipes. She is one of my favorite people ever. Take it away, Karrie!

one of my favorite pictures of Karrie, only in part because I took it.

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So Nikki came to me, asking to write an article about herbal remedies. You know, strange concoctions that will help boost your immune system or aid you in fighting off that cold. Well, I thought I’d make it a bit more simple than that. You do not need a large cabinet or pantry filled with just herbs to help support your health. So I decided to make this article about every day herb, the ones you find in your kitchen.

When getting into herbs as medicinals, best to start off small. Get familiar with 3-5 herbs before trying something new. Before you go and buy that random herb from that occult shop or health food store, make sure you know what you are working with. You don’t want to buy a small bag of boneset and not have anything to use it for. Besides, you’d be surprise how many foodstuffs in your kitchen can be used for medicinal purposes.

Garlic.

Hospitals in WWI used garlic as an antiseptic. You don’t need to go to excessive amounts of garlic to get its benefits. Just use it in your cooking. Cooking garlic will reduce the burning that garlic tends to have, not to mention reduces some of the toxicity. Garlic has properties that are antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal, which is why it is great when you are sick. You don’t have to do any special preparations for, just use it in your cooking. Another great thing about garlic–plant it next to your veggies in your garden for a natural pest control option.

Peppermint.

Peppermint is a great decongestant. Put a few drops of peppermint oil into a bathtub and soak in the warm water. The vapors from the peppermint oil will help open up your sinuses. Use peppermint oil on your forehead to help with headaches. Peppermint tea is great for upset stomachs. It also has muscle relaxing properties, which is why it is great as a tea, not to mention helps with bad breath.

Cayenne pepper.

I could go on and on about the benefits of cayenne. It helps lowers bad cholesterol, stimulates the appetite, relieves headaches, and a slew of other properties. During summer, on those hot, hot days, eat food that has a bit of spice to it. Spicy foods act as an equalizer, because your body is warmer the outside around you feels cooler. Taken together with slippery elm and honey, it can help with colds.

Cinnamon.

Cinnamon is another great bad cholesterol reducer. It aids digestion, helps fight off colds, helps with toothaches and bad breath. Use it in place of salt to help reduce the risk of high blood presser. Great alternative to sugar as well, to help maintain your weight.

Ginger.

Certain cultures believe it can help prevent the flu. Ginger helps upset stomachs. Great for easing morning sickness. Helps against diarrhea. Good for sore throats as well.

The wonderful thing about the 5 herbs I listed is that they are cheap, everyday items. Add them to meals, spice up a dish…it is really easy to incorporate these herbs into your life if you are not already doing so.

For people interested in natural medicine, I recommend getting to know what you cook with first before jumping into some deeper stuff. Once you consider yourself comfortable and strong with an herb, move to another one. It is better to build a deep, intimate knowledge of a few herbs at a time then a small bit of information on a variety. Do the research. There are some fantastic books out there. Get together with others and share your knowledge!

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In Which Nikki Will Clean All The Things.

Part of my New Year’s resolution to wrangle my home into Total Organizational Submission. Not that it’s a train wreck; by most people’s standards I’d say it’s pretty neat and tidy. But I’ve grown tired of my normal approach to housework, which is usually to do only the bare essentials for several days, and then spend the majority of one of my off days deep-cleaning every square foot of the place. Although a part of me does love the anal retentive nirvana that I attain when I know that all parts of the house are as clean as they can be all at the same time, I think that in general it’s a bad system that eats up too much of my free time and leaves me with a constant feeling that *something* needs to be done at the moment, even if I have no idea what that *something* might be.

So I’m trying out this chore chart deal. So far, I’m loving it way more than I expected to, mostly because at work I hate “down time lists” and would much rather operate on the “when you see something that needs to be done, do it” system, even though I know that’s not practical for a workplace. At home though, I like the chart a lot better because I designed it based on how I think things will work best for my week, and I can work on the tasks uninterrupted and any time of the day I want.

It’s also helpful for Marc, who wants to help me with housework when I’m at work but is usually not sure what to prioritize or when’s the last time something was done. So with the chart taped to our dresser mirror, he can look at the list on any given day of the week and know what he can help me with.

So far, instead of spending 4-5 hours one day a week on cleaning, I’m spending about 20-30 minutes a day, six days out of the week. A pretty good trade, in my opinion.

Fellow organizing freaks: what systems have helped you out, and why do you think they work well for you? Comment and let me know!

Nikki

P.S. In case you’re not an avid webcomic reader, my title is a reference to THIS hilarious blog by Allie of Hyperbole and a Half. If you’ve never heard of her, do yourself a solid and check her out. Hilarious writing and MS Paint comics will make anyone’s day brighter.

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