Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Urban Homesteading Update

I keep looking through photos today and wishing that I could step outside and see these gorgeous flowers in my yard, not just staring back at me on my computer. I am ready for spring. I am ready to get my hands in the dirt. I have been trying to keep myself busy around the house getting ready for spring by doing a lot of homesteading preparations as well as trying new recipes and doing a lot of baking and yogurt making. In the middle of January I noticed that I only had two quarts out of 46 of my canned vegetable broth left that were canned back in Aug./Sept. I decided I better take care of that and can some more since we use at least one quart a week. I ended up canning 20 more and I hope that will get me through until the weather breaks and I can go down to the market and get local veggies to make some more. I am thinking that this summer I better put away 70-80 quarts and that should be plenty to get us through the fall and winter.

I have started making my own yogurt with local milk which tastes great, costs less and is so easy. I can't believe how easy this is and I don't think I can go back to buying yogurt. We go through a lot of yogurt in our house, we all love it plain or with just a hint of maple syrup, flax seed oil, toasted wheat germ and some fresh fruit. So when my sister-in-law started making this I decided to give it a try as well.

For those who are interested you can get starting cultures at a local health food store or Whole Foods, or you can use a couple of tablespoons of store-bought yogurt if you can't find cultures. Once you start making it you can then just save a couple of tablespoons of your yogurt to make your next batch. I find that it is easier for me to do a 1/2 gallon at a time since we use it so fast. So I have been making it in the evenings or early mornings and letting it "set up" for at least 8 hours before I strain the liquid off of it and put it in the fridge. We love thick, greek style so I continue to strain it in the fridge for a couple of hours to thicken it up. It is good for at least 10 days, usually will keep for 14 days.

Now that I got this down I think I am going to order some cheese cultures and try making my own cheese again; I tried last summer to make fresh mozzarella and I think my thermometer was way off and it was quite a messy experiment. But now I have a nice candy thermometer and I think I am ready to give it another try.

I have also been making a lot of homemade artisan breads. We LOVE fresh bread in our house and we love supporting the local organic bakery (Avalon), but paying $6 dollars or more for a loaf of bread that I can make for a fraction of the cost just seems a little crazy to me these days. So with the help of the wonderful book Artisan Bread In Five Minutes a Day I have almost mastered the wonderful art of baking a gorgeous loaf of bread. I highly recommend this book if you love a good loaf of bread and you don't have the time to do all of the kneading/rising. So far I have only tried three types of many in the book, and every one has been divine; especially the brioche (one recipe makes about 6 loafs which can be frozen)! Check out the link to their website, if you search around enough, you can get some of the recipes on the site. This is how I do my dough, in a tupperware container that has a lid and it will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

Here is another recipe for a good no-knead bread that I also make a lot. I mix the dough right before I go to bed and let it rest and rise overnight and finish it the next afternoon.

No Knead, Dutch Oven Bread

1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

1 1/2 c. warm water

3 c. all purpose flour, plus more for dusting. You can use white, wheat or a combination of both or any other flour combination that you might like. The less white flour that you use will result in less of a crackled top.

1 1/2 tsp. salt

Wheatbran or cornmeal for dusting

  • Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix in the flour and salt until blended. The dough will be sticky.

  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 8 hours, preferably 12-18 hours at room temperature (about 70 degrees). The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

  • Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Fold over on itself a couple of times, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

  • Liberally dust a clean dish towel with flour or cornmeal. Put the seam side down on towel, dust again. Cover with another towel and let rest 1-2 more hours or until the dough has doubled in size.

  • At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat oven to 475 degrees and put a 6-8 quart covered pot (dutch oven, Pyrex, cast iron pot) in the oven as it heats. I use my retro dutch oven and it works like a charm.

  • When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven, lift the lid. Slide the bread off the towel and turn it over into the pot. Give the pot a firm shake to settle the dough.

  • Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake 15 minutes more until the loaf is browned. I always check the bottom of my loaf after the lid has been removed and cooked for 10 minutes so that the bottom doesn't burn; sometimes the bread is done at this point.

  • Remove the bread from the dutch oven and cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.

  • ENJOY!!

These last couple of weeks I also have been cleaning out the nook built under the basement steps that I am pretty sure was built as a root cellar (house was built in 1931) and that is what I intend to start using it for this fall. I am planting four types of potatoes, tons of onions, beets, carrots, squash, and pumpkins, so I definitely will need a place to store all of this produce for the fall and winter. Last year I managed having it in different places around the house, but it would be easier having it all in one place; not to mention out of my way in my tiny kitchen and nook. I wanted to post a picture, but we are having camera issues so once we get it straightened out I will post a picture for you all to see what I talking about.

I also have ordered all of my seeds for this year, most of them I bought from Fedco a wonderful seed co-op out of Maine. I also bought some from Territorial Seeds and the rest I will be getting from the Garden Resource Program. And it appears that I lied last year when I said that I wasn't going to be adding any more garden beds in the next two years. I can't help myself...looking through seed catalogs for me is like a kid in a candy store...I want one of everything! My garden right now consists of 6- 5x5 beds and 6- 4x10 beds as well as 2 old wood ladders that I use for all of my herbs and 2 whiskey barrels that I shove edible flowers and greens in. I also have a massive garden bed that was established before we bought the house and was the previous owner's flower/vegetable garden. Up until last year I used that bed for flowers, now it is a mix of flowers, veggies and herbs as well as my new fig tree that I planted last spring. So after ordering 7.5 lbs. of potatoes, 100 onion plants and somewhere around 23 types of seeds to go with the other 30 types that I already have not to mention all of the seeds and transplants I will be getting from GRP I think I just might need some more space! In the middle of the flower/veggie/herb/fig bed is a massive rose bush that we were told was planted when the house was built, but I am thinking it might be pulled this spring. I am not big on roses anyway; anyone want to come get a rose bush? I will keep you posted on how I plan to remedy this situation.

The sun is shining today and I am contemplating starting my seeds...but I think I might sit in the rocker and read in the sun. Spring is not too far away.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Detroit, Detroit

Where do I begin when it comes to Detroit?


Basically that might be the easiest way to say it without going into some large explanation of why Detroit is what it is. I could talk about the racial riots of 1967 being a key factor in the problems here. I could talk about all of the racial tensions that exist in metro-Detroit. I could talk about our former mayor who is a criminal and served time in jail and now lives in Texas and about the election we have to have next month to replace him until the "real" election in November, because the city can afford THAT! I could talk about the fact that the school system is beyond broken and the school board is so embedded with corruption that it is millions of dollars in dept and the schools have very little if any necessities such as toilet paper. Or I could talk about the city council and what an embarassment they are and the fact that a sixth grader knows more about being responsible for your actions than members of council...or you can just watch it on Youtube, search Monica Conyers debates 8th graders! Or I could talk about the crime and the fear that consumes me at times about the amount of robberies, assaults and such that continue to escalate as the economy plummets. Which then could prompt me to talk about the city's dependency on the American auto industry, but we all know about that (most of us personally).

So yes, I could talk about all of this and if you want more to read on such issues, here is the link to Ruminations of Rimka, a blog written by a very articulate womyn (who was born and raised in Detroit) whose entries are always stimulating and interesting. Her particular entry about Detroit will definitely stir some emotions in you, whether you may agree with her or not. And you can look at the spread that was done recently in Time magazine.

Instead I want to tell you about my story. I want to talk a little more intimately about why I have a love/hate relationship with Detroit. Why it fills my heart with warm fuzzies one minute and the next makes me want to throw my whole set of Caphelon through my kitchen window. Why in the winter I despise it and in the summer I could never imagine living anywhere else. Why I dream of a "new" Detroit and at the same time dream of getting the hell out! I moved from the suburbs to the city of Detroit. It was almost seven years ago that we instantly fell in love with the house that we now occupy. It was an innocent trip to the city to visit my soon to be sister-in-law a mere six months before our wedding. During that visit we drove through the neighborhood, stumbled upon a house we fell in love with and within months we were living around the corner from family.

Prior to moving we had talked about it on numerous occasions and the interest we had to be a part of the rejuvenation of Detroit. We both consider ourselves city people and even though Detroit wasn't and still isn't much of a city, we had hope that one day....if people like us continue to move back, then maybe it has a chance. We were optimistic and young and maybe even naive, but we were hopeful. And there are days that we still shine with optimism and hope, although not as often since the dire conditions in Detroit seem only to be getting worse by the day.

I often wonder why the hell do we stay? Why do we pay thousands of dollars in city taxes for no city services? Why do we live in an area that offers little of what is truly important to us: recycling, descent funded public schools, public transportation, thriving local commerce? Why do we live in a city that is so corrupt, so mismanaged, so broken? Why do we live in a city that continues to be proud of being the underdog? If I hear one more politician or reporter say, "The great city of Detroit..." I might actually put a pan through one of my beautiful windows. This city is not great. This city is okay, maybe even good on days, but far from great. Some may disagree with me but go to Detroit and then go to any other metropolitan city and it will be quite obvious that we are FAR from greatness. Yeah, we have made some major strides in improving this city, there have been numerous investments and businesses over the last couple of years, but drive down 6 or 7 Mile between the Southfield and Woodward and you will get a clear understanding of Detroit. You will see so much of it as it appears to be; a third world country. You will see that even though so much development has been done in midtown and downtown, so many neighborhoods are still forgotten about and neglected. So many people shoved to the side and so much despair, poverty and blight.

And then I stop myself... and on good days I can do this and I force myself to look at what Detroit has to offer me. I look at my beautiful home that I know we could NEVER afford if it were in the suburbs. I look at my yard and gardens that continually expand over the double lot and offer a prayer of thanks for the bounty and rich soil that I have settled upon. And then I look at my neighbors... to the left, to the right, down the street and I cherish the fact that I KNOW them. Not just their names and faces, but who they are and what is important to them. They welcomed us with open arms full of pizza and Krispy Kremes when we moved in. They cherish my children as if they are their own family and some have answered calls in emergency situations and dropped everything to offer us their help. I look at the neighborhood in which I live and I am constantly in awe of the community that exists within it's rough, city surroundings. A community that is diverse, family oriented and tightly-knit. People watch out for each other here. The suburbs did not offer us that and I don't know any friends in the burbs who live in the same type of community. And I look at all of the grassroots movements that are taking place here revolving around urban agriculture and art and it is promising and gives me much hope.

I also think of everything I love about this city.

Saturdays at Eastern Market. Urban Farming and Homesteading with the Detroit Agricultural Network. The DIA. Yummy breads and baked goods at Avalon. The walnut lentil burgers at Cass Cafe. The beer and gourmet pizzas at Motor City Brewing Works. Food, music and bowling at The Majestic. Free concerts in the summer that always have amazing lineups such as Concert of Colors and Festival of the Arts. Rafael Spice. Seeing shows at The Fisher Theater, Fox Theater, and St. Andrews. The memories of our wedding at Sweetest Heart of Mary. Buying gifts and tent sales at The Pewabic House. Taking walks in the summer on The Riverfront and enjoying it's beautiful Carousel with the kids. The Book-Cadillac restoration. The amazing music scene. The Motown Museum. BBQ and Caesar salads at Slows Bar BBQ. Food at it best as far as I am concerned when you eat at Traffic Jam; did I mention homemade cheese and ice cream? Garden parties at The Whitney. Hours searching shelves at the 5 story book warehouse: John King Books. Buying unique gifts at Bureau of Urban Living, Flo, and The Spiral Collective. Stopping in for a reminder of Paris and Montreal at Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes; my mouth is watering right now just thinking of their crepes!

And the list continues to grow.

There are a lot of good things about Detroit, and I hope and pray that it continues to make great strides for the sake of the good, honest people who live here in the city. The people who have committed themselves to staying around and raising their families here because they hope and believe in all that it could offer. I would like to say that we are those people, but I would be lying. We do love Detroit and we will always be committed to helping this city reach it's potential, but I would be lying if I told you that we are going to stick it out no matter what. That is just not possible for us at this point in our lives. But for now 3-1-3 BABY!!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy V- Day

I am not one who really celebrates Valentine's Day; I never really have. It is not because I am anti-Valentine's day or anti-love and romance. Quite the contrary, I love romance and I love showing the people in my life that I adore just how much I truly love them. I believe that it is important to so more than just one day of the year. I try my best to make that intimate connection each and every time that I talk to them. I also have felt at many times in my adult life that this holiday has become a superficial day for businesses to convince us that we need MORE stuff. That is bothersome to me. Because that is not what it is about, nor what it should be about. It saddens me that we can't have a single holiday that is not consumer driven.

The origins of Valentine's Day are quite intriguing. How many people really know the history and traditions of where and how Valentine's Day came into existence? I would have to guess not too many. Some may know tidbits of information about St. Valentine, but I doubt that many know that before the day was named after a Christian martyr, it was a pagan festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was celebrated in ancient Rome from February 13-15, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) abolished Lupercalia. If you want to learn more on Lupercalia check out this link for some interesting information.

Another interesting fact that I found on Wikopedia is that during the Medieval period and the English Renaissance that a "High Court of Love" was established in Paris on Valentine's Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against womyn. And the judges were selected by womyn on the basis of a poetry reading.

It is interesting to me that this holiday started as a celebration fertility and new life. A celebration of the uterus and the vagina; a celebration of womyn. Now, I know I may be stretching this a bit, but I do so because this is what I have spent the last eight years celebrating during the week of Valentine Day. I celebrate vaginas. I celebrate The Vagina Monologues. I celebrate womyn's lives. I celebrate V-Day.

The Vagina Monologues, are a series of monologues based on interviews with more than 200 womyn written by an amazing womyn named Eve Ensler. In the monologues the female voice is used to explore issues related to the female body and sexuality. Using humor, anger, and pain, the monologues deal with a variety of issues pertaining to womyn's experiences with their vaginas.

In response to an overwhelming amount of support and interest in The Vagina Monologues Ensler birthed the V-Day Movement in 1998. With the help of activists from, Ensler started this non-profit organization with the mission to end violence against womyn by increasing awareness and raising funds to support organizations working to ensure womyn's safety. In 1999 V-Day established a college initiative, which gave universities and colleges permission to perform the production and use the proceeds in their communities. In ten years they have raised over $60 million to support their cause.

In 2002 I had the opportunity to do a vagina workshop with Ms. Ensler and then lead a group of womyn on my college campus in participating in the V-Day movement by doing our own performance of the Vagina Monologues. Being involved in such an event impacted my life on numerous levels. Personally, it helped me deal with and start to recover from an abusive relationship from my past. It also empowered me to be able to discuss taboo topics surrounding female sexuality and vaginas (there is a reason why I performed the monologue "CUNT"). And it helped me connect with a larger community of womyn who were also concerned about vaginas. Not only about the violence towards them, but also the lack of love; the lack of education and the lack of respect that vaginas endure. Along with this connection came a commitment to the womyn of our campus, of our community and of our world to do all we could to stop the violence against our fellow sisters.

A commitment that more of us need to make in our lives; myself included. I look at my daughter and daily remind myself that I must make this world a safer place for her along with all of the other young girls, sisters, cousins, moms, aunts and grandmothers who walk this earth. I encourage you to do the same, in whatever way you can. Educate, volunteer at a domestic violence shelter or a girl empowerment organization, donate money to a worthy cause, love a vagina. Even if you don't have a vagina, you are still intimately connected with one, whether it be a mother, sister, lover or daughter, there is much you can also do to support womyn and end the violence. For starters educate yourself and others and join the white ribbon campaign.

On a day where we focus and meditate on the people that we love, I do so as well as meditate on vaginas. I manifest for all vaginas everywhere that they are safe, happy, and full of life and love. So on this day dedicated to love, fertility and health I say to you: Happy V-Day...Happy Vagina Day!

*For more information on V-Day or to locate a local performance of The Vagina Monologues please visit the websight at

*For those of you who are in SE Michigan, The Oakland University's performances are on March 7th at 8 p.m. and March 8th at 2 p.m. You can get more information at

Friday, February 13, 2009

True Love = Pizza?

It is that time of year again where every type of business imaginable is trying to sell you something to show your significant other how much you LOVE them. I am always amazed by the commercials on the radio of what we absolutely need to give to those we love: jewelry, flowers, chocolate, lingerie, toys and the such to spark romance and the "love pizza." Yes that is right, to celebrate Valentines Day, this weekend only Papa Romano's has created a speciality love pizza. You can purchase a pizza in the shape of a heart for only $5.99. So, if you are having trouble finding that perfect gift for your special squeeze nothing says love like pizza!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Give me a red tent!

I want a red tent. I want a special place to retreat to every month that is a space full of sisterhood, music, art, dance, rest, wine and rituals surrounding the sacred place that we as womyn hold in this world. I want a place that I can go for four days and nights and not have to clean, cook, take care of the house, the kids or anything else except myself. I want a place where I don't hear a phone, see a t.v. or computer, and can actually be alone in my thoughts or share them if I choose to do so. I want a place where those who also enter understand why I can bitch, cry, smile and laugh all within a moment. I want a place where I can sleep all day or sing and eat and dance; a place where I choose what I spend my time doing. I want to be with other womyn who follow the moon and understand that we have the power to regulate our cycles with the lunar cycles which are also 28 days. I want a place that upholds the feminine and that all who enter are there for one reason.

So call me crazy... call me mad...but this is what I want. I am curious where the sacredness of new blood and new life was lost among womyn? When was it that we decided to let men tell us that we are dirty because we bleed; that we are less than them because we bleed. When did we start believing all of this? Maybe we always have, I am not sure. What I am sure of is that when most young womyn get their first period it is not something that is celebrated, instead it is something that brings shame. I know for me I was terrified and embarrassed. I was one of the first in my group of friends; I was eleven. The family was on vacation staying with friends in Florida. I was so scared to tell my mom that I got my period I stole maxi-pads from the bathroom closet for almost five straight days. I told her when I absolutely had to, which was on the car ride home to Michigan. I received no congratulations. I received nothing to mark this entrance to womunhood except a look of pity. A look that set the tone for how I have viewed womunhood for most of my life.

Now don't get me wrong I am not excited to be menstruating every month. I don't look forward to my monthly "visitor" even though I count the days until it appears. I do so because I have always had horrible cycles that are extremely painful and full of pill popping or chugging red wine to get me through. It is just not painful cramps for me each month when the "curse of Eve" arrives, but also puking until I have dry heaves, migraines, hot and cold flashes, passing out and the such. And so I count the days down to prepare myself and my family for that dreaded first day of my cycle. And in doing so every month I fantasize over having this time in my life to myself to rest, to enjoy female fellowship and to

In college I had the opportunity to see an amazing young author talk about such topics. It was a moment that changed my life. Her name is Inga Muscio and the name of her book is Cunt. Yes that is what I said...Cunt. Now, I know for many people this word is very offensive and I can understand why you think so. But did you know that cunt is just one of many words such as bitch, hag and whore that were all titles of respect at one point in history? Just like at one point in history midwives were revered, goddesses were worshipped and the initiation of womunhood was celebrated. Due to numerous events in history, one being the Inquisition, many of these words took on new meaning and respect for goddess worship and women-centered rituals were lost and forbidden. So if this offends you, you have two choices you can make at this point of my entry: go do some research on the evolution of language pertaining to these words or stop reading right now and find something else to read, because this entry is not for you!

On with the book...

Cunt happens to be one of my favorite books for many reasons, one being that the name of the book. Any book that can make such a bold statement with the title has me hooked, even if I don't necessarily agree with everything that is between the covers. Since my early days in college when I found women studies and feminism I have been impassioned for reclaiming everything that has been stolen from womyn; language in particular. I believe that language has crippled many of us throughout our lives from reaching our potential. Negative language has been used as a means to keep us down or "put us in our place" not only by men but we as womyn can be just as harmful with the language we use towards each other. If we as womyn take ownership of these words and restore them to their original meanings, these words could take on a whole new power, a new energy that could uplift and transform womyn. One that could change how we are viewed in this world by each other as well as by men. Unfortunately, I think we are light years away from this being possible. Once womyn can openly talk about their cunts, vaginas, and sex and stop the negative acrimony that exists between us then we can start this journey.

Anyway, one of the many cunt related issues Muscio discusses is self-love; really loving your cunt, your whole body and appreciating your cycle and the power it holds. After reading this book I began to wonder if some of the pain that I suffered was self-induced because of all of the years that I felt so dirty, messy, and full of embarrassment and shame because I was a woman. I began to do my own experiments like Inga had done to see if it made any difference. I set up rituals to follow every day during my cycle. I bought a lunar calendar and followed the moon every night to regulate myself with it. I started keeping a special journal that was only for that time of month and I used a red ink pen. I began to see it as a time for purging and cleansing. I bought a Keeper and began using that along with luna pads. I made these four days every month a time for rest and did a lot of sleeping and reading of my favorite feminist and womyn-centered literature. And over time it worked. My periods were easier to deal with, I didn't puke or pass out and I felt much more in tune with my body and with the earth.

Those were the good ol' days. Now I have two children under 4 and many other things that fill my days and nights with much to do. I cannot take the time that I use to devote to these rituals nor do I have the money to be able to devote to helping my uterus feel better during every cycle of every month and this makes me sad and sometimes even a little angry. I hate feeling that dreaded feeling of the approach of the period and the countdown to cramps every month. I hate that I hate it. I have found that a lot of other womyn around me feel the same way about this issue. They despise and dread it because they also don't have the time or money to be able to focus on themselves for four straight days. They want to have time for such rituals in their lives, time for themselves to actually rest, restore themselves and reflect on being a womyn. Every womyn I know craves this and most of us need this break right around the same date every month. Which I find amazing that womyn who spend a lot of time together (live together, talk often, play on teams together...) all also bleed together. That our bodies regulate to each others as well as the moon. Hence, my yearning for the red tent. How wonderful it would be to have a place for all of us righteous bleeding babes to hang out together for four days a month?

Just a thought. But if you happen to see some make-shift red tent sitting in the middle of my yard...please feel free to come and join me.

By the way if you want some wonderful womyn-centered literature to read on such issues:

Cunt: Inga Muscio

The Red Tent: Ann Diamant

The Vagina Monologues: Eve Ensler