Next week, I, along with my 1-year-old Julian; husband and Mother Earth News Fair Programming Director, James; and about 30 other members of our staff here at Ogden Publications will be heading east to our fourth annual Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania. If you’ve never heard of the Mother Earth News Fair, you’re missing out. As I mentioned, my husband, James Duft, is the programming director, and with such a close view of this event, I can tell you how much care, conscientiousness and planning goes into it every year.
Each year, more than 10,000 enthusiastic people descend on Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a gorgeous spot in the mountains of Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half from the Pittsburgh airport. More than 150 speakers and presenters (myself included) present on a range of topics focused on self-sufficiency and sustainability. You can see the full program guide here. This year some of the highlights for me include the always entertaining and informative Joel Salatin presenting “Don’t Be Scared, Be Strange”; a legend in the herb world, Rosemary Gladstar, presenting on Herbs for Family Health; the excellent author Lisa Kivirist presenting on “Organic Eating on a Dime”; and, because cheese is just one of the greatest foods, a workshop on making cultured raw milk mozzarella—yum!
Mother Earth Living has its own stage with its own lineup of presenters, covering such topics as herbal remedies, DIY home necessities and more. Plus there is tons of fun for the whole family outside the presenters—dozens of animals are on display including alpacas, llamas, pigs, chickens and sheepdogs. There is delicious food, ongoing presentations of old-fashioned skills such as weaving, plus a marketplace of more than 200 vendors. Plus, everyone stays together at the resort, so breakfast might find you comingling with actor Ed Begley Jr. and our publisher, Bryan Welch. If you love living simply and living well, I would highly encourage you to join us at one of the upcoming Fairs. We are adding a Midwest location this year in Lawrence, Kansas, (where many of us live) on October 12 and 13. West Coast residents can visit the Puyallup, Washington, Fair every June, and anyone in the Southern regions can look forward to our first-ever Asheville, North Carolina, event this coming April of 2014.
Here is an overview of last year's Pennsylvania Fair
You're coming, right??
Weleda Calendula Baby Face Cream: This wonder cream is my go-to for any skin problems my baby is having. Whether it’s a raw chin from teething drool or a mild rash outbreak, this miracle cream makes it disappear. Incredibly effective yet gentle and free of harmful chemicals, this cream is a must-have for sensitive baby skin. 1.6 ounces: $13
Pura Bottles: I’m in love with my Pura baby bottles. I didn’t want to use plastic bottles, and glass is great but it can crack or chip. Hence, the stainless steel solution. Pura makes excellent bottles with a wide range of nipple styles. The other amazing thing they’ve thought of? The steel rim also comes with a silicone sealing disk, so as baby gets older, you can use it as a container for snacks or whatever else you’re toting. I love them! Pura Kiki 11-ounce infant bottle: $16
Earth’s Best Organic foods: Although there are a few companies making high-quality organic baby foods, Earth’s Best Organic is the only full line, including cereals, purees, snacks and more for infants, toddlers and kids. Every ingredient is organic, the company tests its ingredients for pesticide contamination, and the foods are sourced from American farms. Plus they make lots of interesting flavor combinations such as Apple Butternut Squash, Chicken Mango Risotto and Summer Vegetable Dinner (zucchini, corn, green beans, brown rice, carrots and garbanzo beans). 4-ounce jars: $1
Ubbi diaper pail: Made of durable stainless steel, Ubbi diaper pails don’t absorb odors like plastic cans often do. They have a tight seal you close at the top, which helps hold in odors, and they use standard garbage bag sizes, unlike some that require custom bags you have to keep buying. And, unlike some of the plastic options, Ubbi pails have a modern design. It’s a great product. Ubbi diaper pail: $80
Honest Diapers: I have been totally satisfied with the service from Honest Diapers. Figuring out what kind of diapers to use was one of my hardest decisions when pregnant. Although I love the idea of cloth, working full time made it sound unappealing to spend so much of my precious baby time doing laundry. But I definitely didn’t want to use chemical-laden and landfill-clogging conventional diapers. Enter Honest Diapers. Chemical-free and biodegradable, these disposable diapers arrive at your doorstep each month, along with saline diaper wipes. The quantity is perfect: I’ve never run out of diapers, yet I have very few left when the next batch arrives. They come in a variety of adorable patterns, including seasonal and holiday patterns, all of which are updated periodically. It’s fun, easy and better for the environment than conventional. Another advantage: I never have to think about buying diapers. Honest Diapers and wipes, monthly subscription: $80
My husband, James Duft, is the programming director for our Mother Earth News Fairs, a series of hands-on celebrations of sustainable living. This year will be the first one we’ve had in Lawrence, Kansas, where we live. A couple months ago, we met for coffee and breakfast with a few of our city leaders as he started developing content plans for the Fair. It was a fortuitous meeting, because we met Ian Spomer, sales director for Cromwell Solar, which is now leasing solar panels in Lawrence. As an editor for Natural Home & Garden (now transitioned into Mother Earth Living), I had talked to and featured many people who had financed solar panels, most notably Matthew Grocoff, the host of GreenovationTV, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He made the good point that “most people can walk into a car dealership and walk out with a $25,000 car and financing. Yet navigating solar rebates, tax credits, incentives and financing requires an advanced degree. Investing in solar should be as easy as buying a car.” (Read about Matt's net-zero Michigan home.)
In California and many other places in the U.S., solar leasing has made investing in solar just about as easy as buying a car. Major companies such as SunRun and Sungevity have been making this opportunity available for years. But solar leasing didn’t exist in Kansas—until now. Using a solar lease, the bank owns your solar panels and leases them to you for a period of 15 years. The first step is applying for the loan. Then the company determines how much solar you’ll need by pulling your electricity bills for the past year. In our case, our south-facing roof and smallish house meant that our solar array will be able to provide 98 percent of our energy needs. If we can cut back on energy use at all, we should be able to achieve 100 percent solar.
We will make payments to the bank, which is financing the panels, which will cost less than our current electric payments. The payments go up with inflation over the years of the lease, but less than the expected cost of electricity increases. At the end of the 15-year lease period, we buy out the remaining cost of the panels—contractually not more than $1,000. Then we own them and they continue producing free energy on our roof. The panels are under warranty for 25 years.
None of this requires a down payment. The bank gets big tax credits for financing the alternative energy; we get an expensive alternative energy system with bite-size payments we can afford. Of course, you may also be in the position to take out a loan and take advantage of tax credits on your own, but for us, this was a workable solution.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to come home to solar panels covering our roof! They’re not turned on yet—we’re awaiting a final inspection by the energy company. I am so excited for the day we start producing solar power!
Tomato season has hit Kansas, and our tomato plants are in full production mode—meaning tons of delicious garden-fresh tomatoes in just about everything we eat. But even so, we simply have too many to eat them all right now, and I want to save some of this summer deliciousness for later in the year.
Luckily, we have a food-freezing guide in our July/August issue, so I was ready to preserve some of our ripe fruit. Last year was the first year we had tons of tomatoes and I planned to try my hand at canning, but having a baby in the middle of August squashed those plans. So this is my first year of experimenting with preservation methods. I decided to try the very easy instructions for stewing tomatoes Barbara Pleasant recommended in our Guide to Freezing Food (instructions below).
I thought the peeling part would be a task, but it was actually incredibly easy. After being dunked into a big pot of boiling water, the skins peeled off easily. Then I dumped out the water and put the quartered tomatoes back into my stockpot over medium heat. 20 minutes of cooking and voila—supersimple stewed tomatoes bursting with flavor. I started with probably 30 tomatoes and got six 8-ounce jars of stewed tomatoes. I put them in the freezer this time because I was in a rush. Next time I’m going to try water-bath canning so I don’t have to worry about defrosting before using.
3-Step Stewed Tomatoes
1. Put fresh tomatoes in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Let cool briefly and peel loosened skins.
2. Cut into quarters, put into a large pot over medium heat and add about a cup of water.
3. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn off heat. Let cool, transfer to jars and either freeze or can.
Last June after the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington, my husband, James, baby, Julian, and I traveled down to Portland. I was going to the home of Cara and Jason Hibbs of Oh, Little Rabbit to photograph them and their home for a feature next spring. We’d booked a place to stay via Airbnb, but we didn’t know the homeowners had a cat and James is allergic, so we had to make last-minute plans. Lucky for us, we were very near The Kennedy School, one of 65 properties in the McMenamins chain of brewpubs, microbreweries, music venues, historic hotels and theaters.
For those of you on the West Coast, this is probably old news, but many people around the rest of the country may not have heard of the chain—which is based mainly in Portland but also has locations around Oregon and Washington. The Kennedy School is an old elementary school that’s been converted to a hotel, replete with a movie theater (free to hotel guests but also open to the public), a wonderful restaurant with a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, a heated outdoor soaking pool, a variety of bars including a cigar lounge and more. Each room is decorated with vintage décor with dim lighting via antique chandeliers and heavy wooden headboards (ours was painted with an owl).
We had such a great time we were sad to have to check out after two nights because they were all booked up. But, luckily for us, there are many more McMenamins locations, so we simply transferred our stuff to Edgefield. In Troutdale (about 20 minutes from Portland), Edgefield was build in 1911 as the county poor farm. It has a vineyard, huge organic gardens, a golf course, and a variety of restored historic buildings. The food—available from four different restaurants on site—is spectacular, the grounds are gorgeous. The rooms don’t include any televisions or phones, but you won’t miss them. Instead, visit the on-site spa and outdoor pool or watch live music at the outdoor pub. You can also watch on onsite glass-blower and potter at work or take in a movie at the on-site theater (family-friendly, the hotel offers a “Mommy Matinee” where kids can come and no one minds a little fussing).
I’m a huge fan of the restoration of old buildings (my book, Housing Reclaimed, is all about homes built from reclaimed materials), so the McMenamins properties were so up my alley. They truly defined our trip to the Portland area and we had so much fun. I highly recommend anyone visiting Portland consider staying at one of these excellent historic properties!
All photos courtesy McMenamins
With my herb garden’s bounty in end-of-summer explosion mode, I’ve been experimenting with ways to preserve my herbs. One delicious mode of experimentation I dove into further last weekend—with excellent results—was freezing herbs by way of popsicle. I encourage you to experiment. You have nothing to lose but maybe some less-than-stellar popsicles as the result of your experimentations (even the ones that come out bad are pretty good). I bought a bunch of fruits, picked a bunch of herbs and had a few kinds of organic yogurt on hand. Here are three of our best combinations (did I mention, these are wholeheartedly kid-approved!).
Mix about one cup of frozen strawberries with about 1/4 cup white sugar or honey and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Mash the mixture up a little bit and let it sit for 10 to 30 minutes. Add a couple large spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt and about 20 basil leaves and mix with a hand blender (or in the blender). Pour into popsicle molds, let freeze for 4 hours and enjoy.
First, de-stem and pit about one cup of dark bing cherries. Combine with vanilla yogurt and about 15 mint leaves. We used spearmint, but you could use any. Blend with a hand blender or in the blender. Pour into popsicle molds, let freeze for 4 hours and enjoy.
Basil Lemonade Popsicles
Squeeze the juice from two whole lemons into a blender or the container of a hand blender. Add about 20 basil leaves and a couple heaping spoonfuls of plain Greek yogurt. Add about 1/4 cup sugar, then keep adding to taste. Once you’ve achieved the sweetness you want, pour into popsicle molds, freeze for four hours and enjoy.
If your garden is anything like mine, you are dealing with a basil explosion right about now. Basil is one of my favorite herbs, but no matter how much Caprese salad or pesto I make, it seems there is always more than I know what to do with. So I’ve been looking into good ways to use and preserve my supply. Here are a few favorites:
1. Basil Popsicles
To me, basil screams summer. And what goes better with summer than popsicles?? Search the internet, and you’ll find a huge variety of yummy-sounding recipes. This one from the blog Deliciously Organic yields a fresh and tasty treat that includes fresh basil, raw honey and organic yogurt.
Get the recipe to make these delicious treats from the blog Deliciously Organic!
2. Basil Beverages
For my friend’s strawberries-and-cream-themed bachelorette party early this summer, we made these delicious strawberry-basil-champagne cocktails that were a huge hit. Ever since, I’ve been obsessed with basil beverages. They come in many varieties, are amazingly refreshing, and seem fancier and more complicated than they really are.
This recipe for basil limeade is perfect for summer.
3. Frozen Basil
When I’ve made all the basil recipes I can think of, I turn to preserving this summertime treat to enjoy all year. Last year, I exclusively froze basil as pesto—delicious, but somewhat more labor-intensive than I’d like for a superquick preservation job. This year I’ve made some pesto to freeze, but more frequently I’ve been taking the easy route: Chop some fresh basil, mix it with some olive oil, blend briefly with the hand-mixer and pour into ice-cube trays. If I’m feeling extra lazy, I will just chop the fresh herb, put it in ice-cube trays, cover with a bit of water and freeze. This winter, I will just pop the herb cubes into sauces, soups or casseroles for some summer flavor.