Oddball hobbies: Shaving Edition


What the heck is she up to, now? Shaving. That’s right; there are actually more options for shaving than four blades, or seven blades, or more blades than fingers on your hand. And there are shaving creams and soaps that don’t smell like a chemical concoction and last a lot longer than that canned foam.

So, what exactly does one use is one doesn’t use a cartridge razor? Well, what did they use before disposable razors?

Reintroducing: Double Edge Razors! They also come in single edge format, they have a handle and a head that comes in either one or two parts that open like a door, or pull apart and secure to the handle respectively. You pop a razor blade into the head and away you go!

The major difference between this one blade and the cartridges? $$$. They range from about 12¢ to the pricey 60¢ blades. Considering I was paying $20-25 bucks for 8 blades ($2.50 at it’s cheapest), even if I changed the blade every time I shaved my legs and underarms, that’s a considerable difference.

Another great reason I wanted to dip my feet into the vintage shaving pond was the skin benefits. No more razor burn, bumps, or redness. Even my first time with this incredibly sharp razor I only just nicked myself, which compared to when I’ve shaved off part of my ankle when I was learning as a teenager, I’ll take the little baby cut anyday. I’ve shaved with my kit three or four times now and it is, simply put, better. It’s ritualistic and relaxing; it’s not the fastest way to remove unwanted hair, but it’s certainly more pleasant. It’s like a spa treatment every time I shave.

On top of the price and the feeling and the pampering that comes with double edge (DE) shaving, it’s less wasteful. The only thing that gets a toss is a blade after every few shaves.  I’m hoping to find a decent way on recycling them since they are made of metal, usually stainless steel. Plus, since I can change the blade without feeling like I’m wasting money or throwing something else away, I can get a closer shave.

On to my goodies!  I first found out about this kind of shaving (and straight razor shaving) from Reddit. I stumbled upon Wicked_Edge, an amazing community of shavers, and tried to find a kit I could afford.  Their FAQ has a great list of kits for any price range.  I decided on a very highly spoken website, with superstar customer service: Maggard’s Razors.  There I found a women’s starter kit where I could customize everything I wanted and ended up with this:


The whole kit cost under $60:


This is the Maggard Razor MR9 $16.



A sample pack of razors $5.25 or 21¢ per blade. And what surprised me was there is no “one amazing razor blade that everyone loves”.  It’s totally personal.  Everyone has a favorite that works amazing for them and works horribly for someone else.  It’s nice to know there isn’t one .  Each razor comes in a box of 5 and each blade is individually wrapped in paper.  They also have these little numbers to help you remember how many shaves you’ve had on each one; you can see the 3 and 4 on the Derby Extra blade shown standing up in the head of my new razor.


I chose a cream brand, called Taylor of Old Bond Street, that I had heard good things about in coconut for $14.  I chose a cream as opposed to a hard soap because they tend to be easier to learn with.  Instead of pushing a button on a can, you use the cream/soaps, brush, and some elbow grease to generate a absolutely luscious lather, which is essential for not cutting yourself.


An Omega (10098) boar bristle brush $14. The main choices for brushes are animal or synthetic. Animal being mainly boar or badger (but can include horse among others).  I chose the cheaper boar, which some shavers actually prefer.  It has to soak before lathering and allegedly takes more to get a good lather, but I haven’t had any issues.


And an Alum Block $4. Alum acts as an antiseptic and an astringent agent to help the skin after shaving.  It also helps close little nicks and cuts.


And not included in the kit, but a must have: bowls.  I had a cappuccino mug and a camping bowl that both work nicely for making lather.


Here’s my kit in it’s new home!  I got a cheap stand ($8) on amazon, and after realizing my brush was too tall I flipped the sucker over and figured out I could hang it from my shower shelves!  My mug, cream, razor, and alum are right below my brush and nestled between my conditioner (apple cider vinegar) and shampoo (baking soda)–but that is an experiment in progress.

Now, how the heck do you shave with this kit! Well, in short: prep, lather, shave, aftershave.

1. Prep.  I take a shower, which helps soften the hair and relax the skin.  At the beginning, I empty my mug/bowl and start soaking my brush in warm water.  I do my shower thing.  You may have noticed I have a lot of soaps, but I actually use Dr. Bronners for cleaning my legs and underarms before shaving. It gets them a little cleaner, and I’ve read it’s suggested to use that or a glycerin based soap to prep.

2.  Lather.  Making a good lather is an art.  I think I got a decent lather 3/4 times.  I watched several YouTube tutorials on how to lather, and it comes down to experimentation.  Each cream is different, and the same with soaps, so it takes practice to get it right.  Here’s my videoed attempt.  I start by soaking the brush, then removing excess water.  I then grab an almond size (depending on how much lather you need), and working it in circles in the bowl.  I’m making both clockwise and counter-clockwise circles and every once and a while, I “pump” the brush to help move the cream around.  It’s mostly a “feeling it out” game for me.  Much like a latte, big bubbles are bad; you want really tiny bubbles/foam. It should coat the bowl like you see near the end. And when you but it on it should leave a coating.  If it dissipates during then you’ve gone to “wet” or added too much water, and a dry foam will be too creamy.  In fact, his batch probably could have used a little more water and would have given me a little more.  PS–my hand smells so good right now.  PPS–You know you love the avocado colored sink.

You can also build lather on the face/leg/area you’re shaving or hand, but I prefer a bowl since I tend to be using a lot (two almond sized portions) to cover two coats for both legs and underarms.

3. Shave.  There are lots of things important in this step, so one really should watch some videos of more experienced shavers.  The main points being to not add any pressure and let the blade do the work, angle, and direction of hair growth.  Pressure isn’t necessary with a sharp blade, and it can lead to razer bums, ingrown hairs, etc.  Angle is a bit trickier with curves.  You have to learn the right angle and how to adjust to get the cut just right.  And as for hair growth, with a single blade, you have to take multiple passes but you get a superior shave.  The first pass is usually with the grain, then cross grain, then against for the best shave, but I tend to do one major pass on my legs with the grain, then maybe a touch up pass going against the grain.

4. After shave.  Anything after the shave is considered “aftershave” so, I use that alum block.  You rub the wetted block on wet just shaved skin to help it seal any minor cuts and clean the skin.  It leaves behind the alum then after 15 or so seconds you wash it off. I finish with my lotion and that’s that!

It’s not something I have to do every time I want to shave, because cartridges are simply faster and easier, but damn do my legs feel like two sticks of buttah when I do.


Fancy Pants and So Can You!


I’ll admit, I have quite a few pet peeves:  global warming, income inequality, lazy cooking, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, I too come home late from work, or I can’t bring myself to clean up the dishes from the meal before, or maybe I just want a bowl from Chipotle.  But none of those would qualify someone as a lazy cook.  I’m talking about the people who take the time to set the table, bust out some candles, scrub themselves clean and plop down in front of a plate of store bought sauce atop box pasta with some mushy thawed frozen vegetables. NO!  Put some freakin effort into your food!  It doesn’t mean more time, or even more money (though the results are usually correlated to those points).  It means taking time to learn basic cooking skills, choosing a kick ass recipe, and busting out a five star meal.

Even taking little steps in your old go-tos can take them to a whole nother delicious level!  Spices, marinades, and changing up the cooking method can add some fancy pants to your meal.

Perhaps I should start by writing a little about my cooking background, and those-I-mooch-off-of’s cooking background. My parents were not fancy eaters (not a bad thing), so I grew up on basics, boxes, and simple vegetables from a can.  All of which I loved and rarely did I turn down seconds. But that usually meant the extent of cooking (not including holidays and special occasions) was boiling water, pan frying meat, and the microwave.  All of which I was masterful at by an early age.

So, naturally since I loved food and I loved television, out came the Food Network, where I learned the rest of the skills to make almost any recipe I find.  I soaked it all those shows in like a sponge.  My favorites were always the more explanatory chefs.  Alton Brown was the best.  He goes through everything about the food he is cooking that show; giving you not only a recipe, but skills you can use throughout any recipe and the science behind it.

Alton Brown GOOD EATS

Ben, on the other hand, is a special little snowflake who had a dad who sent him to school with hand-rolled sushi.  He then had a stint in a butcher shop and some time in culinary school as I’ve mentioned before in my steak post.  He was born with a wooden spoon in his hand.

Which brings me to one of the elements you need to make those fancy pants recipes you see me posting all the time on my Instagram:

Ribeye with mixed mushrooms, spiced roasted broccoli, and garden salad with strawberry dressing.

Balsamic braised short ribs over garam masala rice with that same roasted broccoli.

Almond crusted trout on a bed of balsamic greens.

None of these recipes are difficult.  None took more than a half hour for all the prep and serving, which may seem like a long time, but it’s not intense by any means (including some TV and conversations). They all were taken from the internet, and they all tasted scrumtrulescent.  But they all required basic cooking skills.  Starting with knife skills.

Knife skills is seriously the number one thing anyone who wants to make a good meals should learn.  Learn how to buy a good knife set, or even just one or two good ones for those not looking to invest an arm, leg, and child of their choosing.  One should go to a kitchen store (yes, even Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Crate & Barrel) and give them a test run to see what feels good in your hands or even online with Amazon if you are desperate or hate social interactions.  Ben has a gorgeous set of Wusthof knives including a honing steel, which this dude can tell you all about.  Seriously, a sharp knife is everyone’s best friend.

Then you need to learn how to wield it!

The main take-aways are how to hold the knife, how to protect your hands, and how to cut properly.  Like he said, if it take a while to cut something the first couple times it’s ok! Better to learn good technique then risk losing a finger, or worse ruining that beautiful knife you just bought!

Now you have a knife, you know how to sharpen it, you know how to use it.  Now what the hell is a julliened carrot?  Recipes usually call for things chopped, diced, minced, julliened, or in rare cases something fancy that I google, but mostly the former ones.  All these things really do mean something specific and can alter a recipe if you screw it up too much (too small and you get an overcooked carrot, too big and you get crunchy mashed potatoes).  And truely, different vegetables will look different with the “same” cut.  Chopped potatoes tend to be a little bigger than chopped carrots, just because of the shape of them.

Here is a handy chart:

Now. FINALLY. To the good part: the food.  The recipe.  How the heck do you find a good recipe.  They easy way is to go into a book store, or online and find a book with pictures that make you drool.  Follow those instructions and blamo, you have something tasty.  The other option, which is what Ben and myself tend toward is using the power of the internet to get good recipes.

“But Emma! There are literally millions of recipes for mashed potatoes out there! How will I be able to pick out a good one?” you may ask.  Welp, there are options in how to pick a good one.  You could literally go to google, put in the title of something you want to make “Mashed potato recipe” and maybe add a desired adjective (“Chunky mashed potatoes”, “red skin mashed potatoes”, “garlic mashed potatoes”, “Twice baked potatoes”, etc.etc.etc.) and pick the first one that pops up.  There also tends to be comments or ratings of recipes if you have a second to comb through them.  Pick ones with 4 or 5 stars, or lots of positive comments from people who actually cooked it, not people who “totally will make that tomorrow”–they get no say in your dinner tonight.

And don’t be afraid of big words.  Those “braised” short ribs? They were made in a crock pot.  Don’t know what “tender” really means?  Look it up!  There are plenty of good sources on the internets for cooks.  Or ask ya mama, you need to call her anyway.

You could also take a look at what you have in your fridge, or what you wish you had and go from there.  For example, right now I have sage sausage and a  butternut squash, so I could google something like “sage sausage butternut squash recipe” which gives me this.

You could even go to the produce or meat counter of your grocery store and try something that scares you! What the heck do you do with a parsnip? Ya know what? They make a pretty tasty mash.  Or better yet, head to your local farmers market and pick something up and ask the person behind the table, “Hey, what’s this? How would you cook it?”  I’ve never gotten so much as a strange look from these questions.  Even if it’s something you’ve cooked a million times, maybe they have a fresh new idea for those tomatoes.

Ben is also partial to this site: GoonsWithSpoons.com. They have recipes by categories, ingredient, course, etc.  They also have lots of pictures, and they are pretty easy to follow along with.

You got knife skills out the wazzo, you can find (and presumably read) recipes, you have Youtube and Google, so seriously now, stop posting pictures of sad pasta and wilted salads.  No excuses.

Jar All the Things!


Ball, Mason, Knorr.  I don’t discriminate, but Ball Jars are my favorite.  They are cheap at less than a buck a piece, reusable, sanitizable, and simply awesome.  I think they blow plastic tupperware out of the water for their durability, and cleanliness, plus they aren’t plastic which can leach bad things into your food.

They sell them everywhere from the grocery store (I’ve personally seen them at Mars, Giant, and Wegmans), Target, Walmart, and for a little more on Amazon.  They even have labels that stick for months, and come off with water.

If you’re a little low on money, you can literally just buy the jars and they are great for loads of things without investing in a pressure canner, or other canning tools.

Pantry Storage:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.16.27 PM

They are airtight and easy to organize.

Preparing meals for the week:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.13.19 PMThis is my breakfast in a jar.  I prepare mushrooms, peppers, and onions and throw them in the fridge.  This way everything is ready for me to throw in a pan with some fresh eggs and some sautéed spinach.

My new favorite before breakfast boost is chia seeds.  As in Cha-cha-chia pets!  But for your belly.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.13.59 PMIt is coconut water, a splash of juice (in this case some blueberry cranberry juice) and a tablespoon or so of chia seeds.  They sit in the jar at least for a couple hours, but the longer the better so they form their gel-like texture.  Chia seeds are high in fiber, a complete protein, and just all around good for you, so they keep me satisfied until breakfast.

Packing lunch:

I use the little ones for my lunch.  I buy my applesauce in big containers, and some fresh or frozen fruit and divid them into the perfect 4oz portions.  I also use the 8oz ones for portions of plantain chips (seriously the tastiest thing ever from Trader Joe’s); keeps me from eating the whole bag.


Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.15.10 PMIf I know I’m gonna eat my leftovers soon, I’ll just throw them in a jar.

Or the freezer if they are gonna be in there longer:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.13.43 PMRight now there is chicken stock, coconut milk, tomato paste, tomato sauce, bacon fat, and frozen fruit in ball jars.  Ben makes a crap-ton (metric) of something and we can just can or freeze the rest.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.15.27 PM

The jars don’t specifically say they are for the freezer, but I’ve been using them without any troubles for months now.  Then, when I need some stock I can just take a jar out of the freezer, take off the metal lid, and toss it in the microwave, or in a pot of hot water if you don’t like the microwave.

They are also quite handy for non food related things and storage.


Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.14.18 PM

Since the glass is made to be heated, they are great for candles.  And they have a handy watertight lid if you want to make a bunch in case of a power outage.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.13.05 PMThis one was cinnamon.

Or you could use them as a planter:

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 1.14.37 PMI added stones at the bottom for drainage, and picked up an African violet at the Home Depot for pretty cheap.

There are tons of other projects with them I’ve seen with them: holders for nails and other tools, vases, pencil/crayon/crafts holders, soap dispensers, light fixtures, salad-in-a-jar, pretty blue ones for decoration, and of course using them for their intended purpose of canning, but that is for my next post.

The Perfect (Pan Seared) Steak


It all starts with the farm.


This is Springfield Farm. A fine family farm that offers a variety of meats, dairy, and eggs.

Then, comes the cow.


Nope… That’s a goose.


Those are turkeys…


There we go!  Cows! Now, these aren’t just cows. They are happy cows! Springfield cows are grass-fed (and hay, dried grass, in the winters).  They also have acres to roam on the farm.

This not only means that they are eating what they are meant to eat, and getting in their daily exercise, but it also increases the health benefits of their meat.  When cows are grass-fed they actually have better fat ratios.  Omega-3 fats are the good kinds, and omega-6 fatty acids are the not as good kind, and the ratio of 6:3 is important.  The thing to keep in mind is that the fat ratios in grass-fed beef are much better than grain fed.  Grass-fed is also higher in vitamins, and anti-oxidants.  Aside from the health benefits, there are taste benefits.  I swear the meat is more tender, and the fat tastes silky, almost like bacon fat.

Of course, if you don’t live near any farms you could stop by a local farmers market.  My favorites in Baltimore are the Baltimore Farmer’s Market & Bazaar and Waverly Farmer’s Market.  Some farmer’s markets will have meats, so you can always ask about their cows.  Grass-fed and grain-finished are more popular at the markets, but even grain-fed cows that have ample pasture are better than those factory farmed cows at the normal grocery store.

That being said, there are grocery store options.  Big name stores like, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and organic grocers like Mom’s Organic have organic and grass-fed meat.

They will be expensive, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  One, it allows you to cast your “vote” for what kind of animals you want to be eating and purchasing.  If you want happy cows, or put simply, you DON’T want tortured, or tormented cows that are packaged by the thousands, then stand up for the extra-mile farmers who are delivering quality food.  Two, it also allows you to eat less meat.  With less meat on your plate, it makes room for other things. Green leafy things.  Three, since grass-fed is not the norm, most places you can get it will know exactly where it came from.  You could visit your food.  I’ve mentioned before that I was a vegetarian for a long time, and knowing my food is important.  I can be thankful that the steak I’m eating was made from a happy cow, that lived a nice life.

Next up, the part of the cow worth searing.


In a previous life, Ben worked at a butcher shop, so here are his recommendations for good steak cuts:

“The Steak Continuum is labeled as Tender on one end and Tasty on the other end. Of the common grilling or searing steaks, the ribeye and the strip steak fall near the middle of this continuum, which is where you want to be if you’re not doing something special. I don’t believe in tenderloins (filet), because they’re as far to the tender side of the spectrum as you can get. They’re all texture and little flavor. If you insist on getting a tenderloin, buy a porterhouse instead. The porterhouse includes the t-bone steak, a fine grilling steak, on one side of the bone with the tenderloin on the smaller side, and is significantly cheaper.”

So now you have the farm, the cow, and the cut.  What next?  The cooking.

Before you cook any meat, you should let your cut come to room temperature.


This is our steak for dinner.  It is a ribeye with a big chunk of fat in the middle (normally, not desirable, but we didn’t mind it) and is more than enough for the two of us.  We put it on a plate, seasoned it with salt AND ONLY SALT (pepper will burn), and let it come to room temperature for about 30-45 minutes.  We also lightly sprayed it with olive oil to give it a better sear.

The pan.


(You’ll have to excuse the mess; it is only indicative of use.)

The pan is cast iron.  They are relatively cheap, pre-seasoned (and only get better when you cook bacon), and are stove top/oven safe.

The pan for this recipe has been sitting in an oven, which has been pre-heating at 500 degrees F.  The burner is also turned to high to maintain the heat of the pan.  Keep in mind, every second the pan is out of the oven it is loosing heat, so be sure to be purposeful when the pan isn’t in the oven.


Place the steak in the pan and do not touch it for 30 seconds. Don’t press on it, don’t shift it, don’t try to unstick it. It will smoke quite a bit.


Flip it and, again, don’t touch it for 30 seconds.


Make sure to sear the edges of the steak, especially if there are strips of delicious fat.


Place the whole pan in the oven after lying the steak back down on one side. For a medium rare steak, also known as the only proper steak you can make, that is one inch thick, flip the steak in the oven after 2 minutes and remove it after another 2 minutes. For a steak that is 2 inches thick, each side should get 3 and a half minutes. Thinner steaks might not even have to go into the oven.


Look at that freakin’ steak.

This timing will get you to about rare/medium rare.  I have cooked a lot of steaks and know what they feel like at different done-ness intervals.  There is a method I call the hand method that has turned out well for me.

One note on doneness.  Honestly, if you are going to spend a good amount of money (or any money, really) on a steak, you should enjoy it. Any preparation above medium is too done.  A chef once told Ben that if someone came into his restaurant and ordered a steak well done, they would give them the crappiest cut they had; the simple fact is that the longer you cook a steak, the more they are going to taste and take on the texture of shoe leather. You will not be able to tell that the steak was poor.  The cow is already dead, it isn’t gonna be any less a cow if you cook it until it’s gray.


Let it rest on a plate under foil for 2-3 minutes to let it rest again, to let the juices redistribute.

If when you take the cover off and try your hand at the hand test (pun intended) and discover it isn’t done enough, you can put it back in the oven for about 2 minutes or more if it’s feeling raw.  Be sure to let it rest again before cutting.


Enjoy dinner.

We paired the steak with sauteed mushrooms in butter on top of the steak, roasted broccoli, and mashed sweet potatoes, along with a dry Merlot. Don’t be afraid to eat the fat on this steak. Grass-fed fat melts in your mouth.



Get to steakin’!

Ben Rants: Herbin in my Suburban Garden


About three weeks ago, right around Christmas, I made a post on facebook offering anyone I know the gift of assistance setting up anything garden / food related. It covered conventional gardens, raised beds, greenhouses, aquaponics, fruit trees & bushes, small livestock like chickens or bees, or even just a container garden on a porch. I believe that the ability to raise or grow even a small part of your own food is an important life skill, even if you never truly need to know how to do it. Food, taken as a whole, is one of the most important parts of every single culture in the world. A willingness to grow, prepare, and share food is, in my mind, a sign of healthy society. For a majority of people without any history of producing any food, a small garden is a logical launching point.

As you might have guessed based on the image above, which is a large mix of broadcasted spring greens with no further organization, I am not a fan of the conventional vegetable garden layout of rows planted directly in tilled earth. It is a system set up for large fields, not smaller spaces. You can do so much more in a small space by utilizing height, vegetation, light requirements, and rooting differences between plants. As an example, here is how someone might plant a traditional, non-intensively managed, row-based garden in one 4×4 foot area.

Silly Garden

Ok, great. You’ve got 1 tomato plant, 1 pepper plant, and 7 lettuces.

No. This is silly. Don’t work for this little yield in this much space. First of all, the ‘row’ spacing requirement on seed packets is mostly meaningless for small gardens. The row spacing is determined by how large the plant gets plus how much room a human needs to be able to walk down a row. The plant spacing, which is usually significantly smaller than the row spacing, is the only important number. As long as your planting area is less than four or five feet across, depending on the length of your arms, you won’t be planting rows. You can easily reach to the middle of that space from either side. So, what happens if I stop paying attention to the row requirements of these plants?

Improved Garden

By simply ignoring the row requirements, and just spacing by plant spacing within a row, I’ve increased the lettuce number by 2, and also added in 16 carrots. This is becoming a little more worthwhile! It is also less work than the first example, because there’s less overall space for weeds to grow, or for water to evaporate. If you’re worried about the plants competing for nutrients at this density, then simply build a raised bed and fill it with a mix of compost and soil; which you really should do anyway, because it also reduces weeding and water loss.

You can expand on this simple concept even further by taking into account plant growth habits, the time of year for each plant, and the rooting characteristics to get this:


I now have 1 tomato, 1 pepper, up to 27 lettuce, 8 peas, 8 beans, 4 corn, 1 squash, 16 carrots, and 16 green onions. This is a lot of production for a tiny space, and requires little additional maintenance over the previous example.

– The peas on the north side will grow from early spring into early summer on a vertical trellis. They won’t take up more than a couple inches of room along the edge of the bed and will be out of the way by the time the corn and tomato really get going.

– The lettuce that you see on top of both the tomato and the pepper will be planted much earlier than these summer crops, and can be replanted after initial picking underneath of the nightshades because the larger plants will provide them much needed shade from the summer heat. The lettuce acts as a living mulch to suppress weeds while the tomatoes and peppers grow and produce.

– The upper right quadrant is a classic ‘Three Sisters’ block. The corn acts as a trellis for the pole beans, the pole beans fix nitrogen into the soil for the hungry corn, and the squash shades out the soil to suppress weeds and hold in moisture.

– The carrots and green onions are an example of soil space and light sharing. Neither of these plants cast much shade, so they will not interfere with their light requirements. Additionally, green onions are relatively shallow rooted when compared to carrots, so they won’t compete for nutrients in a harmful way.

None of these suggestions are set in stone. You could replace the squash with a melon, for instance. Experience, knowledge, and some guess work all contribute to design. As the garden grows from 4×4 to, say, three 8×4 beds, you simply expand the concepts above to take up more space. It’s all highly modular, and your production rates can rise exponentially with more space compared to how little extra work it requires.

This is an image of my current plan for the 2014 garden. It isn’t complete, and may still change. I also have not designated all of the less important under-crops or space sharing items due to it’s sized. In three 4×10 foot beds, I’m planting about 50 different types of vegetables and fruit, not including some different varieties of each. The yields for this amount of space can be impressive, and completely worth the effort.

Anyone with a lawn could spare some space for practical food production. Historically, lawns were a sign of wealth used to signify a lack of concern for growing food. The fact that we’ve turned millions of square miles of suburban America into closely-cropped prairie or old-field mosaic is a disturbing given how much food could be produced on even small pieces of land.

Quarter Acre Homestead

This is an example of what I want to work towards, and what I want to encourage other people to appreciate. That is one quarter of an acre of land that could potentially produce over 3000 lbs of mixed food. It would require a notable amount of time, but not much more than someone who cares about their grass yard and ornamental gardens would be spending every week.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m willing to help anyone who contacts me about getting started or continuing projects related to this. It allows me to share what I know, see what ideas others have, and learn more along the way. A couple of people have requested help already, and I’m sure there are more of you who would love to pick something out of your yard and immediately take a bite of it. There’s not much better when it comes to food.

Wabbit Season


A choice a little less obvious for working pets than chickens is rabbits.  Before ya’ll get all squeamish about the idea of eating a pet’s babies, hear me out.  I swear as a former vegetarian it’s more good news than bad.

Before Ben first suggested getting breeding rabbits, we were looking (as always) for new and exciting recipes.  We tried our hand at rabbit cacciatore.


It was delicious; and the seed was planted.

Ben sat on the idea for months.  Doing his research on their needs, their maintenance, and where to get them.  Turns out they are about as much work as indoor cats.  Our rabbits eat a combination of hay and grass pellets.  They each have their own homes called hutches, and we are currently waiting until the snow melts on the ground before we can make them something like the chicken run, so they can run around on their own.

After weeks of research, one fine evening I came home to, “I got rabbits.”  Turns out there is a breeder in Annapolis that had a good line of American blue rabbits.  So, we started a new project: The Rabbit Hutch.  About an hour of “planning” (which was out the window once we started), two or three late nights, and three trips to Home Depot later…


Then, while I was away at work, Ben went to Annapolis and picked up two grey buns.  He picked up two not so little girls.  These rabbits would be our pets.  We wouldn’t eat them, and could love and care for them like the cats.


To the left is Rosemary, and the right is Tore, as in cacciatore.

Tore was the first to be held.  She’s such a cutie-pie with her fuzzy feets.

Craigslist to the rescue again for two more rabbit hutches, and our [temporary] rabbit village is complete!


There were things we kept in mind with each hutch.  First, that it was made from wood and metal and not plastic, and that there was a fully enclosed space in each hutch.  The enclosed part will protect them against the elements when it gets below freezing, and the open area would allow them to cool down in the summer heat.  Though, the heat is more of a problem for these rabbits, which were breed to withstand cold temps (hence the features like the fuzzy feet). Cleanability was another consideration.  Tore’s hutch has two doors, Rosey’s has three doors and a top that hinges, and the third hutch we got has a tray on the bottom as well as a hinged door on the top.

After a new litter was born at the Crabtown Rabbitry, we got to go pick up Stew!


Stew is our buck and will have Tore and Rosey as his lady friends (what a lucky fella).  He is the cuddliest of the three and actually likes being held and petted.

Soon, we will be able to put them together and breed some rabbits!

Now onto the Why:

Why rabbits?

Well, rabbit is delicious for one.  We wouldn’t go through the trouble if we didn’t like eating rabbit.  For another reason, rabbit is actually a very healthy meat as they go.  It is a lean meat with a good amino acid score and errs on the side of anti-inflammatory.

Also, rabbit is pretty darn sustainable.  When I was a vegetarian, I was in it for environmental reasons.  I loved animals but it turns out, I loved my health more, and found my way back to meat and away from grains, but I digress.  Rabbits reproduce, like, well… rabbits.  They need relatively cheap feed to produce a high quality meat in large quantity.   With the two does, assuming they will have one month pregnant, one month nursing, and one month off (which we have seen in other rabbitries and both agree that the rabbits were healthy and happy at that rate) we will get around 8 litters with about 8 babies at about 5 1/2 pounds each when grown, will yield about 350 pounds of meat a year.

What’s even better about this meat is there is no transportation (besides getting their yearly supply of hay and monthly-ish supply of pellets), no hormones or additives, and I know exactly how each and every rabbit is treated.  Even small rabbit farms or meat farms in general can’t be sure every animal gets their daily cuddling, but I can.  And furthermore, I can promise to try and find a good use for every bit the rabbits give us!  Once we get the rabbit run built in the spring, the rabbits will even get their share of running around outside; right now they get to run around the basement every so often.

Plus, the kittehs will get a special treat every once and a while, and I’ll have to try organ meats at least once.

All and all, I’m super excited to have some new pets to play with, let Stewbie do his thing with his lady friends, and most importantly have me some more rabbit cacciatore!

Backyard Chickens


When I first met Ben, his profile picture featured him with a big smile on his face and a chicken on his shoulder.  I mean, I wasn’t a huge fan of birds, but didn’t think too much on it.  We went on our first date at a sushi restaurant, and I asked about his pets: eight chickens and two cats.  I asked the standard questions that I now field all the time like, “Do you eat them?” and, “Do they lay eggs?” To which the answers are no, and yes respectively.

Ben and one of his favorite chickens, Dagda.

Ben and one of his favorite chickens, Dagda.

About another month into our relationship, two of the chickens got sick. We believe they were egg bound (when an egg gets stuck in the chicken’s reproductive tract), and both died shortly after. I was surprised because I found myself upset, and I never would have guessed I’d have felt that way about a bird. Shortly after, a fox got into the chicken run and killed the remaining six chickens. It was a sad way to start a new flock, but such is life. It was a chance to start over.

Since it was early enough in the year, Ben decided to take a trip to a farm halfway between York and Hanover, PA. We got six chicks. One buff Orpington named Waffles, one blue laced Wyandotte named Herbert, two copper Marans named Roostroyer and Tilapia, and a black Silkie aptly named Fluffybutt.

The new baby chickens first time outside.

The new baby chickens first time outside.

I named Herbert first; he may have been my favorite.

He was so little he fit in my pocket.

He was so little he fit in my pocket.

They were housed in a giant storage bin with a heat lamp, food, and water with wood chips on the bottom. The bin was in the bathroom for about 3 or 4 weeks, and peeps could be heard round the clock. Those were both the cutest and most annoying weeks of my life.

Since Ben lives near his neighbors, he can’t keep roosters because of the noise they make.  So, when the chicks grew into chickens and those chickens started crowing like roosters, we had to find them a new home.  First Roostroyer started crowing, then Herbert.  We found a kind fellow from Ben’s father’s work to take Roostroyer, and a woman with a sizable collection of chickens for Herbert.  I know in my heart they are happy and getting all the tail-feather they could want.

Here is part of the chicken coop and run.  The chickens are enjoying some time outside in the open.

Here is part of the chicken coop and run. The chickens are enjoying some time outside in the open.

With only three and a half chickens (since Fluffybutt is a silkie, she lays half-sized eggs), we needed more!  Craigslist is the best bet for pullets (young chickens), which is where we found Kevin, an Ameraucana.

Kevin comes home!

Kevin comes home!

And two more! One Leghorn named Fog[horn], and one Barred Rocks that doesn’t have a name just yet.



Tilapia, the alpha hen, and Waffles, the giant, fluffy one, have started laying eggs.  I can’t wait until Fluffybutt lays little bitty eggs and Kevin, the jerk, lays her green or blue eggs.

They have become my babies, my pets, and my breakfast makers!