Book and a Cuppa Swap!!

WOW    Look at this!
book and a Cuppa Swap
This sounds so exciting to me!  I have never participated in a blogger swap before,

so here I go…

These are some of my favorite books!

These are some of my favorite books!

The swap is being hosted by the Chaotic Goddesses.  Each participant will be paired with another blogger and will then send each other a book, a mug and some related items such as tea bags, bookmarks, book lights, etc., to equal a value of  $15-$30.

 Then, once your package arrives in your mailbox, you need to take a picture of the contents and blog about it.  That’s it!  Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Sounds like a good way to make a new friend, also!
There is still time to sign up, but hurry because sign ups end on January 11th.  For more information go to Chaotic Goddess Swaps.
Fun, fun, fun!


Rendering Lard – Two Ways

Wendy, my daughter-in-law, has a dear friend, Spring, who is developing a sustainable farm that includes goats, chickens and pigs.  Spring is an RN who is interested in naturopathic remedies, especially essential oils, and is also busy with her four children.  She recently had her two hogs butchered and saved the fat.  When my daughter-in-law mentioned that I was rendering tallow to make soap, Spring wondered if I would like to have the pig fat to render into lard.  Yes Please!  🙂  Thanks, Spring!

When I got the hog fat, it was separated into two different bags, each hog’s fat in it’s own bag. Spring was nice enough to have it frozen for me, so all I had to do was pop it into my ice chest and take it home, where I could thaw it in our outside refrigerator just in case it got stinky. 😉  Then, just like when I rendered some beef fat into tallow, I did quite a bit of research on the internet to see how other people render their hog fat into lard and found quite a few different ways to do it!  I decided to try rendering the lard two different ways and see which method I liked to render lard

The first method involved using my crock pot.  Since the crock pot delivers an even but low heat, it was recommended that the fat be ground up first.  I took out my handy-dandy Kitchen Aid, and with the grinder attachment and began grinding hog fat pieces.  Almost   immediately the machine bogged down and balked, and I barely had a cup of the fat ground up when I had to turn the machine off so that it wouldn’t overheat!  Then I cleaned out the cutting plate and realized that the fat still had quite a bit of skin left on (not always easy to see), and this was clogging the machine.  I continued to grind the hog fat after cutting off the skin.  But the machine still balked, so I ended dicing up the last of the fat.

rendering lardBefore the ground up fat was placed in the crockpot, about 1/2 cup of water was put in first (this prevents scorching of the fat, but evaporates off as the lard is rendered) and the crockpot was allowed to heat up on the lowest setting.  After the water in the crockpot was hot, I poured the pig fat in, placed the lid on and left it for about 1/2 hour.  I then gave it a good stir, and left the fat to render another 1/2 hour.  After a hour, I could see that there was 1/2 liquid fat and 1/2 still clear white solid fat, so I let it go for another hour, checking on it and stirring about every 10-15 minutes.

Once the solid pieces began to turn just a slight shade of beige-orange, I knew the lard had been rendered enough and it was time to separate the liquid lard from the solids. Apparently if you let the little solid pieces brown with the fat, the lard will be darker and take on a “piggy” to render lard in a crockpot  Since I eventually want to make soap and pastries with the lard, this would not be acceptable. Again, after roaming around on Google, I found that there are quite a few ways to strain the impurities out, and I decided to use the coffee filter method for this batch.  As you can see from the picture (click on any picture to make it bigger), I laid an unbleached coffee filter in a large strainer, and placed that over a funnel in a canning jar. The fat strained easily through the filter and was crystal clear with a light yellow tinge to it in the jar!  I ended up with  about 1-1/2 pints of lard from that batch.  Once the lard had cooled in the refrigerator, it was as white as snow!rendering lard

The second method was much quicker.  The fat was diced into fairly small pieces, placed into a pot with about 1/2 cup of water, then set over a medium low flame.  I could hear the fat start to crackle almost immediately, and I realized this method was going to involve a bit rendering lard how to more tending to than the crock pot method required, with constant stirring to prevent scorching.  With this method, the fat was rendered to about the same stage as the crock pot method in just 20-ish minutes! In fact, it happened so fast I forgot to look at the clock! One thing that I forgot to mention is the salt.  I read in a few books and a couple of blogs that it’s important to add some salt while the rendering is taking place, so that the resulting lard will be more solid and make harder soaps.  Therefore, I added one teaspoon of sea salt to each batch before I started to render lard in a crockpot I brought the rendering pot inside to separate the fat from the impurities, and decided to use the hot water method for this batch.  With the hot water method, a strainer is placed over a bowl of almost boiling hot water, and the rendered fat is poured into the strainer.  The impurities in the fat that go through the strainer simply fall down into the water while the clean fat floats on top. After a night in the refrigerator, the lard had solidified into a solid white disc, which I froze for future use.crockpot rendering


First:  It stinks.  Seriously.  Don’t render fat in your house if you can help it.  If you do render in the house, use your exhaust fan on high.

Second:  Rendered fat is hot.  Boiling hot!  Be careful around children, dogs, bare legs and feet!

Third:  DON”T clean your pots and pans in the sink without wiping them out first! Lard and/or tallow will clog your pipes!

Fourth:  It’s fun and you will get hooked.  Your friends and family will look at you strangely when you ask them to save all their beef or hog fat for you.

freshly rendered lard strained through an unbleached coffee filter - light pale yellow yet clear!

Freshly rendered lard strained through an unbleached coffee filter.  It starts out light pale yellow, yet clear, then cools to snow white creamy lard!

My verdict?  I prefer the quick method of rendering.  It just took too long to grind the fat and the clean-up was much more involved!  It was simple enough to just dice the cold fat up (skin and all), throw it into the pot and render on medium low heat for 20-30 minutes.  I may try dicing up the fat like I did for the pot, yet rendering it in the crockpot.  We’ll see.

My choice for getting the impurities out of the fat was the method using the coffee filter and strainer.  It just seemed a lot easier because the filtered fat went straight into jars, ready for the fridge, without much trouble.  The other method of pouring the fat through hot water took more time and effort because it was necessary for the fat to form a solid disc before it could be taken out of the bowl with the water.  Also, there was still a thin layer of those “impurities” that stuck to the underside of the fat disc and I had to scrape them off.

how to render lardWhat will I do with the lard?  First, I would like to make soap.  I have sensitive skin and get “the itchies” quite often after a bath or shower if I don’t get every trace of chemical off my body.  Chemical?  Yes.  Most soaps purchased in retail stores include substances such as  polyquaternium-6, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, pentasolium pentetate…., well, just look at the label in the picture above!  Now, go ahead and read what’s in yours.  You will probably be shocked. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather use soap made with just four or five ingredients:  lard (or tallow), olive oil, sodium hydroxide, and essential oils! Since I am trying (really hard) to be a locavore, I prefer not to use coconut or palm kernel oil.  Though those are wonderful, silky, lather producing oils, they are not produced locally, which raises their carbon footprint which renders them non-sustainable.

The other use for lard is, of course, in cooking.  I am going to make a pie crust for my first cooking experiment with the lard. I must admit that I have never cooked with lard before because I was afraid of it.  Cholesterol!  Hardening of the arteries!  Triglycerides!  All that stuff.  Now we find out that the alternatives (margarine, canola oil and partially hydrogenated anything) are worse than the good old fashioned lard!  It’s time to get back to basics, folks, and eat real food.

Besides, I hear lard makes a delectable, flaky, golden brown crust, and when it comes to pie, I’m all about the crust!


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Dear Friends, We Aren’t Crazy!

Some people think we are as crazy as the Mad Hatter!

Some people think we are as crazy as the Mad Hatter!

Dear family and friends,

Some of you may not understand why we plan to grow our own wheat, or why I developed my 1-2-3 flour instead of just going to the store and buying flour. Others think we are crazy for wanting to raise our own chickens. The idea of aquaponics and growing our own trout may sound like sheer lunacy.  Building a concrete house with “earth tubes” and being “off-grid” seems like a fad to you. Organic gardening and preserving our harvest may be thought of as a waste of time.

broccoli and chicken ravioli

1-2-3 Flour
1 part acorn flour  (we have lots of oaks on our land)
2 parts almond flour (we have planted several nut trees on our land)
3 parts wheat flour (apparently growing wheat isn’t all that hard to do! )

Let me explain ourselves.

We don’t want to hurt the earth anymore. We want our grandchildren and their grandchildren to enjoy nature and good food and excellent health.  We don’t want to worry about chemicals in our vegetables, hormones in our meat, or corn DNA in our blood.

The beautiful spring-fed pond

Raising trout in a small pond is one of our dreams

Our plan to build a concrete house with a metal roof on five acres in the forest comes from our want need to be more self-reliant.  Once the homestead is up and running, we won’t have a mortgage, we won’t be buying electricity and we won’t be purchasing fruits or vegetables, chicken or eggs, honey or wheat.  We will grow/raise our own and preserve our harvest for the winter.  This is our retirement plan.

The last of the beets and carrots

A beautiful bounty from our garden. Next year’s garden will be bigger and better!

With this plan, it will free up our pension money and savings to enjoy our golden years. Without a mortgage or a large utility bill, we should have extra money for entertainment, goods and services. Seeing Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon and the Canadian Rockies is on our bucket list. We enjoy going to the theater (both movies and live plays) and attending  local festivals, such as the garlic festival in Gilroy and the asparagus festival in Stockton.

We don’t count on Social Security to last much longer (do you?) and under-funded pension plans are constantly in the news.  So, by meeting our own basic needs (food, shelter, water, warmth), we won’t be severely inconvenienced if Social Security or our pension system collapses.  You see, we are building our own form of social security!

We will buy or barter for grass fed beef and pork from someone else because raising large livestock is something we don’t chose to do. But, in the same breath, we also eat less beef and pork for our own health and the health of the planet.  And for those nay-sayers who claim that we can never be truly self-sufficient, I say We Agree! Absolute self-sufficiency is not our goal. We certainly don’t want to cobble our own shoes, weave our own fabric or forge metal to make our own car.  Our economy would collapse if there were no consumers of goods and services and that certainly isn’t our intent

We love camping in our travel trailer and can't wait to see Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Atlantic Ocean.

We love camping in our travel trailer and can’t wait to see Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Atlantic Ocean.

Are we “Preppers”?  Not really.  But we do want to be prepared for an uncertain future.

So, this will be our retirement: gardening, taking care of chickens, trout and bees, camping in Yosemite and Yellowstone, going to the theaters, and of course visiting with friends and family.  Is that so strange?



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Spring at the Future Homestead

” Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘Let’s Party!’ ”  ~ Robin Williams

Spring has sprung at the future homestead.  I thought I would share a few pictures with you I took on our recent trip up there. We can’t wait until this is our permanent home!

The fruit and nut trees are blooming and the bees are buzzing.

Cherry blossoms

The cherries are blooming! This is a Utah Giant. It had just a few blossoms last year, but no fruit. We hope to get some fruit this year.

We are lucky enough to have some natural pollinators up on the future homestead including mason orchard bees and bumble bees, among others.  We hope to get a few honey bee hives soon – one for the orchard and one for the vegetable garden.

All-In-One Almond Tree

We planted this almond tree last year, so this will be it’s second summer. This is an All-In-One almond. Can you see the little baby almond??!!

We have purchased all of our fruit and nut trees from a wonderful nursery in Nevada City, Ca, called Peaceful Valley.  If you are anywhere near Nevada City, it’s certainly worth a visit.  Of course, they have quite a selection on line and you can visit them here:  Peaceful Valley Grow Organic

The Ambassador Walnut tree seems to be quite happy!  Look at all those catkins!  She is such a young tree, but her enthusiasm tells me we might get a walnut or two this year!

The Ambassador Walnut tree seems to be quite happy! Look at all those catkins! She is such a young tree, but her enthusiasm tells me we might get a walnut or two this year!

We also planted a few artichokes last year and I mulched them heavily over the winter.  Imagine my surprise when I saw them poking out of the mulch, a day after the most recent snow had melted!

mulched artichoke plants

Globe artichokes peaking up through the mulch. I didn’t expect to see them so early in the spring!

Of course, along with the bursting forth of new growth on the plants comes the plant eaters!

Banana slug in Sierra Nevada Mountains

This is the third banana slug we have found on our future homestead. We saw it’s silvery trail and found the slug just chillin’. My middle finger is 3-1/4 inches long, so you can see Mr. Slugo is about 4 inches long – and fat! I’m sure he could devastate our vegetable garden overnight!

And then the bug eaters –

Western Skink

This is a skink. They have a very long body and tail and look like a slithering snake when they are moving quickly across the ground. Skinks are great bug catchers. Hmmmm. I wonder if they eat banana slugs?

The evenings are still pretty cool, so a warm campfire is always fun.


We have a lot of sticks, twigs and punk wood that we burn in the campfire. This year I want to cook with a dutch oven in the firepit more often. Yum! Marshmallows anyone?

We also set up the “living room”…..

future homestead

This is where we sit for a well deserved rest after working on our future homestead. We haven’t put up the screens yet but those will be necessary soon. Come join me for a cup of coffee – or later this afternoon for a glass of tea!

So, we are ready for another year of preparations to make this our permanent home.  This year we plan to finish our back road, clear an area for a metal shipping container box that we plan to use for storage, clear a patch for our raised bed vegetable garden, and finalize the plans for our new home.  Do you need some exercise?  Come join us!!!!


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