Archive for the ‘Good businesses’ Category

Good Salt

During the winter I have time  to explore ideas and products that might not necessarily catch my attention during the heady rush of the gardening season. I love salt, and this winter I became interested in the process of artisanal salt making.  For once, I am not especially interested in doing it myself, but I am interested in supporting people who do it well.

There are a lot of ways to make salt, and some interesting books about how it is done, but in the course of buying samples of all kinds of salt I discovered that many are based on a large, squarish, heavy crystal that, to me, is a very uninteresting manifestation of salt. It doesn’t look good in the salt bowl and it’s nasty to bite into. I like the  delicately crunchy flakes that come from using the fleur de sel process. I also seriously object to the use of artificial flavors, especially “smoked salt” made with a heavy dose of liquid smoke seasoning. They reek, and they don’t do food any good.

The salt that I have ended up loving and using as my “house salt” is one made from ocean water  in Sitka, Alaska by the Alaska Pure Sea Salt Company. The owners, for whom this is a considerable labor of love, make wonderful salts with natural flavorings and sell them at a fair price. You can read on their website all about how it is done. What I will say is that the texture and flavor are excellent. I particularly like their alder smoked salt, which has a natural and delicately smoky flavor.  A flourish of it on top of low-carb chocolate ice cream elevates an ordinary treat to food of the gods.  I borrowed the photo of the controlled, elegant spoonful shown  above, because I myself am more inclined to eat a bowlful and was embarrassed to post a picture of my own dessert.

Addendum: Since publishing this post, I have learned from the owners that their vanilla bean salt will join the permanent line-up. It’s wonderful. I have sprinkled it on desserts, but the saltmakers recently enjoyed it on Alaskan king crab, which sounds almost too good to be true. Try it.

You can find their products at the link below. I haven’t tried all their flavored salts, but all the ones that I’ve tried have been good.


Grass-fed beef

I love beef, and I want beef that is produced with respect for the animals and the environment and is healthy for me to eat. I choose only to eat grass fed beef.  In the spring and summer I am able to get a wonderful grade of grass-fed beef at my local farmers market, but this winter I begin to think about the problems of people who don’t have this available but still want to eat as healthily as possible. If you’re a ketogenic eater  you tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the quality of the protein in your diet, but really it would be wise for everybody to think about that.  After doing some research on various possibilities, I began buying through Crowd Cow.

Crowd Cow  is a service that brings beef from small, well run farms directly to consumers. They represent both grass finished and grain finished beef, and the farms are listed as one or the other so that you can select only the kind that you want. They allow you to buy individual cuts or small packages, so that you don’t have to buy a new freezer to eat good beef, and the shipping  is an incredibly reasonable $12.99 per package, no matter how much you buy.  I placed three orders this winter, and always had everything arrive solidly frozen, with no partial thaw problems.

The meat has been high-quality and delicious. The steaks are superb, but I try to concentrate on less lavish and expensive cuts, and those have been great too.  They also offer pastured chicken, but the problem is that when a chicken sale starts in the morning, the cuts that I want are usually sold out by lunchtime when I have time to look at the website, so I have only gotten one order of chicken. It was very delicious, though, and produced in much the same way that I raise my own meat chickens when I do that.

The link below will take you to Crowd Cow and, if you order, earn a $25 credit both for you and for me.  But it will be the first bonus I ever received from them.  I don’t accept any “free samples“ of services from anybody, and I do not write about something until I have paid exactly the price that you were likely to pay and determined in my own mind whether a good cost/benefit ratio exists. In this case, I really think it does, and gives people a chance to buy high-quality beef and to support the sort of farms that produce such beef.

Raw Grass- fed Milk from De Smet Dairy

If you are a fan of raw milk, or would like to become a fan of it, we are finally in luck in central New Mexico. De Smet Dairy in Bosque Farms is producing certified raw milk from mostly Jersey and Jersey cross cows, and it is truly delicious. Even better, their cows are 100% grass fed, making their milk a nutritional powerhouse on a level that is very difficult to find elsewhere.  Way back when I had a Jersey cow of my own I had milk that tasted like this, but never since then.   They also sell cream top yogurt made from their milk, and eggs from pastured chickens. There is a tiny little farm shop down at the farm itself, or in Albuquerque and Santa Fe you can buy the milk at La Montanita Co-op or at Moses Kountry.

I have to  add that if you drain the yogurt overnight in a double layer of cheese cloth until it is reduced to about half its previous volume, it is so creamy and rich and delicious that you can hardly stand it.

I borrowed these pictures off their Facebook page, and you can connect with them on Facebook if you want to.

Energy and Us


Project manager Daniel and our solar array.

Many of the projects that I undertake require a little thought but are nonetheless very easy to initiate. Trying a new kind of broccoli, or even a new apple tree, is as simple as remembering to order the seed or plant at the right time, taking care of it, and waiting patiently.

One of the biggest and most worthwhile projects that I have undertaken required a lot more forethought, and Lord knows it required a lot more money,  but it created a whole new dimension to my little urban homestead.  The decision to take our house solar was one that my husband and I talked about and read about for a long time before we committed. It was going to be very expensive, because due to some quirks of its construction and siting our house uses a lot of power in the summer.  It was going to be difficult to plan, because I did not want solar panels put on our older roof  and wasn’t prepared to sacrifice any yard space to the panels.  But I wasn’t prepared to give up the idea of going solar either. After studying many aspects of the question, I sincerely believe that solar energy is a big part of the future  and will help us live  on our beautiful planet in a healthier way.

Ultimately we decided that the driveway was the biggest piece of real estate really going begging around our place. There was room enough there to power the house and then some, but because of trees that I refused to consider having damaged, posts could only be put on one side, making it a rather interesting piece of engineering.   No problem; Osceola Energy came to the rescue.  This New Mexico solar firm responded immediately to our idea and took care of everything, including the engineering consultations. Owners Galina Kofchock and Adam Harper, account manager Victoria, and project manager Daniel  made it happen.  They kept us informed every step of the way, dealt with all the necessary inspections and permits,  and  cheerfully accommodated sudden homeowner impulses, such as the snakes that you see ornamenting one of the beams.  When it was finished they provided us with an app that allows me to watch my panel making energy, if I feel so inclined.

It matters enormously  what solar company you choose. By the time my solar structure was built, I had heard enough horror or disappointment stories from friends and acquaintances to know how badly it can go if you get the wrong company.  So ask around and check references before you commit. But I can honestly say that, if you are in New Mexico,  I can recommend this company strongly and without reservation.  Since the solar array was finished, we have used them for electrical jobs large and small and have been pleased with their reliability, communication, and workmanship every single time.  They take the small jobs as seriously as the large jobs.

I am a firm believer in living on Earth in as healthy a way as possible. There is a moral as well as a practical dimension to producing your own food and your own energy.  Being able to power your own house is part of a general picture of resilience, and resilience is good for your daily mental health.  There was a community element as well, since many people walking past the house stopped off if they saw me in the front yard, to ask about the solar array and our experience with it.  I met some neighbors that I would not have met otherwise, and it has been fun.



Pause for a Cause

I don’t do any winter gardening because I like to have some time free to write, paint, and think before it all starts over again in early spring. Every year I post something about small, special local charities, and since lately I find myself painting wolf totems, this is a good time to put in a plug for Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary. The wonderful people at Wild Spirit provide a refuge for wolves and wolf-dogs who are abused or abandoned (a common occurrence when people are fool enough to buy or breed wild animals as pets.)They do a lot of education at schools and public events about these magnificent animals, usually bringing a wolf with them. Now here’s the hard part of their mission; it’s very expensive to provide for wolves. They are always seeking sponsors for their wolves, and at $120 per sponsorship they need about a dozen annual sponsors per wolf to stay afloat. So please consider sponsoring a wolf, and please also send them a word of encouragement with your donation. Their black wolf mascot Raven (who died of old age a few years ago after many years of educating the public) made a lot of friends for their organization, and my own memories of Raven inspired the black wolf totem below. Please let them know that Heather from My Urban Homestead sent you! In hard economic times animal-related charities are the first to suffer, and I’d like them to know that their friends are trying to assure that the wolves aren’t forgotten.

The Pollo Real Chicken: A real chicken, indeed

As you may know if you’ve seen my post on The Meaty Issue, I started raising my own meat chickens this summer. The results have been thrilling, but I have been hesitant to write about my kitchen experiments with them because most readers don’t grow their own and wouldn’t have access to this kind of chicken. This problem has now been solved because our local growers of pastured chickens, Pollo Real, have returned to the local farmers’ markets. Their French Label Rouge chickens are absolutely the best that I know of besides my own, and the pasture-raising is humane, environmentally friendly, and results in higher omega-3 content and a better taste. There is no such thing as a completely grass-fed chicken- they just aren’t able to survive on pasture alone- but these chickens have access to all the things that chickens naturally eat. Look for the Pollo Real booth at the Albuquerque downtown market on Saturday mornings and at the Corrales market on Sunday mornings. Ask them about their CSA, and please be sure to tell them that Heather at My Urban Homestead sent you. I want our local ethical growers to know that I’m recommending them.

The first time you get hold of a really good chicken, roast it fairly plainly and enjoy the meaty, nonmushy texture and the full flavor. My favorite method is this:
24 hours before you plan to roast the chicken, salt it generously inside and out or (my preference) put it in a large plastic bag with a brine made from half a gallon of water and half a cup of salt. If just salted, leave it in the refrigerator until ready to cook. If brined, leave it in the bag of brine in the refrigerator overnight, and in the morning pour the brine down the drain. Return the chicken to the bag and put it back in the refrigerator until ready to cook. This lets the added salt and liquid distribute themselves more evenly throughout the flesh.

When ready to make dinner, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Smash two cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle or chop them finely, add a tablespoon or two of white wine, a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, and two tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon or one tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme. Rub the paste over the chicken inside and out, cut a lemon in half and stick it in the cavity, truss the chicken, and put it breast down in a baking pan. Pour about half a cup of good white wine in the baking pan and set in the hot oven. Roast for half an hour, and meanwhile cut some cleaned potatoes into chunks about an inch on a side. After half an hour take the pan out, turn the chicken breast side up, rub all visible skin well with good butter, and add a little more water if needed to keep the bottom of the pan lightly filmed with liquid. Roast until done, basting with more butter every 15 minutes. When the chicken is done, remove to a platter to rest for 15 minutes and, if the potatoes aren’t done, return them to the oven until they are. Pile them around the chicken and carve the chicken at the table. Pass the pan juices in a gravy boat. A salad and a good bottle of wine are all that you need to complete the meal.

What does “roast until done” mean? Well, it all depends on the size of your chicken. An oven thermometer is an absolute necessity, and oven heat can still vary depending on how often you open the oven. I have been cooking chickens for 30+ years and I roast them until the drumstick wiggles just right in its socket, but this isn’t something that can be conveyed in writing. so it’s safest to use a good meat thermometer and roast until it reads 170 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh. Even so, prick the thigh and check for any pink juices running onto the platter. If pink shows, return it to the oven until the juices run clear. Roasting a chicken well is a skill worth mastering. I aspire to roast a chicken on a spit next to a hot wood fire, but I haven’t tried it yet. If you have, leave a comment to let me know how it worked out. For that matter, every enthusiastic cook has a favorite way of roasting a chicken, so feel free to leave yours in the comments. And please, support our great local growers and farmers!

Good Businesses: The Urban Store

Although my readers come from all over (even Kuwait, if you can believe it,) I try to keep an eye out for businesses and services that are of interest to my local readers here in Albuquerque. One of my most interesting findings so far is The Urban Store, at 3209 Silver Ave SE. Kathy and Chuck promote all things having to do with sustainability. Their mantra is “Grow, Eat, Return.” Grow good healthy local food, eat it, and return whatever’s left to the soil in a clean and usable form to grow more food and keep the cycle going.
When I first looked around the shop, I said to Kathy “You have all the stuff that really works.” After tiresome (and expensive) experimenting, I’ve found a lot of “green gadgets” that work and a lot of others that don’t. At the Urban Store the experimenting has been done for you, which will save you considerable time and money in the long run. They carry the Naturemill Composter, as well as a great variety of less high-tech composting systems. They have the books written by experienced people who actually know their stuff, and they don’t have the glossy but inaccurate ones thrown together to capitalize on the current fads. They have dehydrators and yogurt makers and cheesemaking supplies and kits to make organic wine and beer. They have an assortment of really well-crafted gardening tools, and shelves of bulk seeds, vermicomposting setups and solar ovens and lots more.
Now here’s the stuff that fascinates me: they work cooperatively with Desert Plastics, a local firm, to make rainbarrels and a wonderful micro-vegetable garden called the Urban Garden. This device, shown below, enables anyone to grow vegetables anywhere. It is cast from resin with UV inhibitors, and comes in 21 colors. It has its own drip system and drainage, and comes with 2 covers for protection from cold or blistering sun. The components are 100% recyclable. It is lighter and more durable than wood (which they also sell.) You can buy just the garden for $295, or for $400 they will deliver it to your site, fill it with organic soil, plant it with seeds for the veggies that you prefer, and give you some organic bug treatments and lots of training in how to micro-garden. The Urban Grower can make a garden out of a patio, balcony, or hard piece of ground that would be too much trouble to dig. They also carry rainbarrels, both stock and custom, and at next week’s Coop Tour they will be debuting a cast resin chicken coop. I’ll be there to take a look, because a chicken coop that’s easy to clean would hold a lot of appeal for me.

This store places a lot of emphasis on teaching, and in fact they will come to your site to consult on how to do whatever sustainable project you want to do.
I won’t use the term “green business,” because that has become a tired and overused marketing phrase with little meaning. Instead, I refer to “good businesses,” the sort that enrich our community and allow us to live better than we could without them. This is a good, even a great, business. You can visit them online, but it will be more fun to stop in and talk with them about how you’d like to make your life a little more sustainable. Whatever you have in mind, odds are that they already know a lot about it and can help you. And have fun! Ultimately, all this is not about giving-up in a grimly austere spirit. It’s about pleasure, and about how much you can have, and how good you can feel about what you do.