Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review: The Hands-On Home by Erica Strauss

Before I get to the book review, let me just say: it's been a tough summer in the garden. In May, my garden appeared to be thriving, and then seemingly out of nowhere, it was hit with (what I assume is) fusarium wilt. At first, I thought it was only half the garden, but soon, I realized it was the whole thing. The cure? Rip everything out and solarize it. For weeks, I was looking at ugly plastic, doubting my gardening abilities. How had I let this happen? Even worse, the project dragged out a lot longer than expected. (I had various work trips that made it hard to get things done.) The longer things went on, the more doubts grew.

I tried to occupy myself with other things. A new book came out that I had been looking forward to: The Permaculture City by Toby Hemingway of Gaia's Garden fame. I thought this book would be perfect for me. It was a permaculture book geared toward people living in cities and suburbs. Instead, I felt like it was one big guilt trip. Do you shop at Costco? How embarrassing! (Actually, I like how they treat their employees, thank you.) If I was a good permaculturist, I would be swapping fruits and vegis with my neighbors. (Nice idea, but none of them grow enough produce to trade. Me neither for that matter.) Yuck. This didn't make me feel any better. It just made me mad. I was trying every day to make a difference, but according to this book, it wasn't anywhere near good enough.

As fall came closer, I tried to buck up and start anew. I decided that I would start all my fall plants from seed inside under grow lights. I would pick the perfect variety for my area! They would be disease resistant! It would be great! Even better, I would use this great technique from Pinterest that enables you to Turn a Soda Bottle into a Worry Free Self-Watering Planter. Uh, guess what? Even here in Arizona, the most arid place on earth, those self-watering planters turned into mold-growing messes. Ug.

I don't know what went wrong. The internet is usually so reliable. 

Then, a few days ago, I came home from yet another work trip. I knew I wanted to take some time to plant my fall garden, but quite frankly, I was starting to doubt my abilities. Would it just be another disaster? Was it even worth the time? Maybe I should just save myself some time and money and watch some Netflix instead. Lucky for me, Erica Strauss's new book, The Hands-On Home, A Seasonal Guide to Cooking, Preserving & Natural Homekeeping had arrived while I was away.

Yeah, baby!

For those of you who don't know, Erica Strauss is a super awesome blogger at Northwest Edible Life. She's got about 5 gazillion readers, and for good reason. Erica knows her stuff. She's an urban homesteading diva who approaches life with humility, zest, and humor. And she's brought all of that to this book.

What can I say? It's a great book. Erica will teach you to make basics around the kitchen, like mayonnaise, tortillas, and yogurt. She'll show you how to cook delicacies like roasted salmon with yogurt-herb crust. She'll guide the way while you make your own honey-rosemary hair wash, peppermint tooth powder, or oil-based moisturizer. She'll even have you considering DIY laundry detergent and oven cleaner. But the recipes, however useful, are not what I love best.

What I love about Erica's blog, and now her book, is that she's so darn encouraging. Sure she's an urban homesteading diva now, but she used to buy chemical cleaners by the truckload. How did she think to create an eco-friendly DIY carpet freshner? Her three year old son "inspired" her one day by grinding a whole bulk container of cinnamon into the rug when she wasn't looking. Has she always canned local fruits? Heck no! Her first canning experience involved a non-organic Costco pineapple and a lot of clean-up from the burning. In other words, she's learning as she goes, just like the rest of us. No judgment here.

When you read Erica's book, you benefit from her years of experimenting. She's been through the wringer and has lived to tell. So you can follow her recipes and tips if you want, and just benefit from her experience. Or, if you're feeling really brave, you can follow her example and do some experimenting of your own. She's got lots of great information in there that you can use if you're feeling feisty and want to splash out and do something new. Why not?

And with that in mind, I think I'll dust myself off from a hard summer, and try again. If Erica can do it, so can I. 


Just Nick said...

Thanks for the review, glad you enjoyed the book!

We've all had those years, those days, I think where something tanks and the effort to feel better just backfires and makes it even worse. That's one reason there are so many cocktail posts on the blog, I think.

claudette said...

Ha ha ha! Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong. I haven't tried the cocktail recipes yet. They look divine!

Just Nick said...

Honestly, most permaculture books bug me in that is like "if you aren't doing everything, living every aspect of your life 100% in alignment with permaculture's values, then nothing you do is worthwhile." Meanwhile I'm thinking " an engineer I like the whole-systems-approach to gardening...can you please let me get to the part about water management without having to swallow 100 pages of philosophy?"

Have you read "Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist"? It is one of the few I've not found irritating in that way. Also Mollison's "Permaculture, A Designers Manual" because it is so far out there that it doesn't feel judging either (though good luck finding a copy for under a hundred bucks or making any sense of it if you do...perhaps that's why I don't find it judging: I don't really have any idea what it is saying.).

claudette said...

I really Like the core idea in permaculture that all aspects of the garden interact and impact each other--it really makes sense to me. But yeah, the books sure do get preachy, don't they? You're right that "Edible Landscaping with a Petmaculture Twist" is a rarity. It makes the whole permaculture thing seem fun and easy. (Glory hallelujah!) I haven't read any of any Mollison's books, although I have heard of him. I'll have to see if I can find his book at the library.

For Southwest gardeners, "Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land" is good too. It's not upbeat like "Permaculture Twist," but it has a lot of really good techniques for arid climates. That's not an issue for you, obviously, but I learned a lot from it that I didn't get from "generic" permaculture books.