Friday, December 25, 2009

Something Special for Ma and Pa

A) This episode makes me just a teeny bit weepy.

B) I so totally want Ma's red bonnet.

C) There was a time when I didn't need a saddle to ride a horse either. That was a long time ago though and it doesn't really have anything to do with anything, except that watching this clip reminded me that I used to ride horses a lot, sometimes without a saddle.

D) I so totally want to make Mary's winter bonnet/scarf for myself.

E) I wrap all my presents in brown paper, string and cloth too! Can I get a pioneer's fist bump yo?

F) I think Pa is handsome.

G) What are the chances that bonnets will come back into style? How weird would it be if I started wearing them regardless?

and finally,

H) I hope you all receive something special today.

Wishing you simple blessings, small gifts and boundless love.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Homestead for the Holidays

I left my home early yesterday morning to visit family for the holidays, but here are some pics that I've taken over the last week or so that reflect a little of my day to day at this time of year.
Decanting herbal tinctures, some of which will be gifted to family members. (I got the potato ricer you can see, at a thrift shop last week, but I won't be using it to rice potatoes. I'm repurposing it as an herb press. It works wonderfully for pressing out oil and alcohol macerations. This was an awesome thrift find!)

My coffee table with some Christmas crafts. Chopsticks in crochet holders will go to some sushi loving folk so they don't have to use the disposable, wooden chopstick at restaurants.

My cozy crochet corner with found lamp and chair.

There's always laundry to be done.

My Omas with flower and seasonal deco.

A Blue Christmas Kitchen

Silver and Gold

Red and Green

Frosty with plum infused brandy and basil vinegar.

My Tante M. made this ceramic shoe for me when I was seven. It's for Sankt Nikolaus Tag.

May you all enjoy a wonderful holiday!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Say Yogurt Cheese!

Jessica asked about my homemade herbed yogurt cheese, so today I'm going to provide you with the best resources I have found to make both yogurt and yogurt cheese. Making yogurt and yogurt cheese is really easy and so rewarding. I hope you try it!

I discovered this ingenuous method of making yogurt last year and have used it successfully many times since. (I don't own a microwave so I heat my milk on the stove top. I don't have a food thermometer either, so I use the 'stick a finger in it' method the author describes.) I have a two cup, widemouthed soup thermos that I picked up second hand a while ago and it works perfectly for making just the right amount of yogurt for one. I have used larger thermoses that have a more narrow opening, but they can be a bit tricky to clean. They still work, but if you can find a thermos with a wide opening, the clean up is much easier.

For anyone out there who hasn't made yogurt because they think they need special equipment, this method is for you!

Once you have your yogurt, homemade or store bought, you're ready to make yogurt cheese. (If you are going to use store bought yogurt, use the unsweetened kind with no gelatin or other additives. If you live in the NCR, I highly recommend Pine Hedge yogurt. It's local, organic and you can buy it in returnable glass jars. Most importantly, it tastes heavenly!)

Rhonda-Jean has a great post on making yogurt cheese.

And here is a good video to check out as well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Independence Days Week #30

30 weeks. Seven and half months. 210 days.

In the last 210 days I have planted and tended to a garden. I ate and preserved the harvest and shared some with friends. I connected with other gardeners who freely shared their bounty with me.

I learned that many of the plants that people call weeds are wonderful sources of free and nutritious food. Many of these plants and more are medicine. I now make my own medicine. Significant sections of my home have the look of an herbwyfe's apothecary. This gladdens my heart.

I make friends with anaerobic beasties, invite them into my home and ask them to stay awhile. They get real intimate with milk, cabbage and cukes and the resulting transformation is nothing short of alchemy.

I collect all manner of glass jars. Mason, pint, quart, corked, brown, blue, tall and short. I have a thing for cool stone crocks, simple hand tools and aprons.

I have a well stocked pantry, medicine chest, water supplies. My cupboards are filled with local goodies, homemade jams, pickled beets, dried beans. Squashes lurk amongst fruit butters and piles of books.

I have neatly stacked linens and cloth. Napkins, lacy handkerchiefs, scarves for gift wrapping. Wool blankets, cozy throws. Rags, pee wipes.

My craft section has grown. I have baskets of thrifted yarn, crochet cotton, my great grandmother's crochet hooks, embroidery hoops, ribbons, buttons, baubles and beads.

I look around and see that so much of the stuff of my life has been handed down, salvaged from the trash or purchased from yard sales, thrift shops, community stores and church bazaars. My place is small but if you came to visit me I could take you on a tour that would last for hours as I recounted the story that comes with many of the pieces that make up my home. Nearly everything has a history and tale to tell, much longer than your average trip from the foreign factory to cargo ship to big box store to trunk of car and the ride home.

All together it makes for a rather mismatched and quirky sort of place. My tastes run eclectic and my sense of aesthetics and lifestyle habits certainly aren't for everyone. But that's ok, because I'm doing much of this for me out of sheer pleasure and soul biggering joy and that suits me just fine. And when I come home, I enter into a cozy world, a haven well used and much loved and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Here is my last Independence Days update for this season.

Plant something:
- sprouts

Harvest something:
- dandelions

Preserve something:
- dandelion root tincture
- sauerkraut
- made and froze grape juice
- drying rosemary and thyme

Waste not:

- fair trade coffee in travel mug
- Indian takeout in reusable containers from the small family owned biryani restaurant in my neighbourhood

Want not:
- borrowed movies from the library
- gifts and things from church bazaar

Preparation and storage:
- final clean up of the kitchen and allotment gardens
- added popping corn, olive oil and 8l water to supplies
- storing local cabbage and squash
- added sterile gauze pads to medicine chest
- purchased hot water bottle
Exercise: yoga three times, biked to library and back, walked to farmer's market and half way back

Build community food systems:

- local food from farmer's market
- attended fundraiser for the Otesha Project (educating youth on the value of supporting local growers and buying local food being one of the many awesome things they do)

Eat the food:

- used some pumpkin puree in a soup
- currant jam is lovely on oats with walnuts and raisins

Take the medicine:

- elderberry syrup
- yarrow tincture
- nettle and dandelion vinegars
- sage honey
- plantain tincture
- daisy tincture
- cultivated American ginseng root

Monday, November 16, 2009

Independence Days Week #29

A thorough cleaning and organising fit on Friday. A full day at my herb course on Saturday and a birthday party for a friend later that night. Cake, dancing, singing. A sleep-in morning on Sunday followed by a bike ride to the farmer's market. Returning home laden with squash, cabbage, kale, chard, grapes and herbs. Heading right back out again on the bike, to the allotments. A light drizzle. Grey sky. So mild I don't need gloves. Digging in the dirt for dandelion leaves and roots. Nothing but the sound of the Alta Vista crows caw cawing overhead.
My garden gloves thick with wet, loamy dirt. Rhythmically banging clods and roots on the ground. Stuffing leaves in my sac. Rain falls harder. Time to go. Back home again at dusk. Boil and strain the grapes for juice. Scrub the roots. Wash the leaves. Make dinner for the ADGMD and I. Homemade mac 'n cheese with pumpkin and sage. Comfort food. So good. Curl up on the couch. Dozing to the sound of the ADGMD doing dishes. Work left to be done. It can wait. I am content. I am at peace. Savour this moment while it lasts. I am at peace.

Plant something:
- nope

Harvest something:
- dandelion leaves and roots

Preserve something:
- comfrey root liniment and oil
- dandelion root tincture
- dandelion leaf vinegar
- parsley leaf vinegar
- made grape juice

Waste not:

- mended a pair of stockings
- wrapped a birthday gift (second hand book) in a cloth scarf

Want not:
- salvaged window screen, to use for drying herbs
- herbal tea from a fellow herbal student who was cleaning out her cupboards and giving the teas away

Preparation and Storage:
- added more local squash to my squash basket (My plan is to store one squash per week for the winter months.)
- crocheting xmas gifts
Exercise: yoga 3 times, 2hr bike ride around the city, bike to farmer's market and garden

Build community food systems:
- local food from the farmer's market

Eat the food:
- currant jam
- J 'chokes and mung bean sprouts
- pumpkin and sage mac & cheese

Take the medicine:
- nettle, dandelion vinegars
- parsley infusion
- yarrow tincture
- plantain syrup
- rosemary tea

Monday, November 9, 2009

Independence Days Week #28

I went to two Church bazaars this weekend. I arrived early at the first one. Already a small line had formed up the stairs leading into the basement, so I took my place and waited with the others, on the landing. An elderly lady arrived with a walker. Someone held the door so she could come in, another person carried her walker to the bottom of the stairs. There was general agreement that she be allowed in early so she didn`t have to stand and wait. A gentleman offered his arm and with his support and the railing she navigated the stairs safely and entered the church basement. A few minutes later a volunteer opened the door and welcomed us with a warm smile. We slowly shuffled into the large room to check out the attic treasures, preserves, baked goods, silent auction and handcrafts. There was lots of friendly chatter and laughter. Children beelined excitedly to the toy area and secret, kids only shopping area. I spent just under $30, came away with 12 different gifts and a few items for me. On my way out, unlocking my bike with my baskets full, I stopped to chat with a man with Down`s Syndrome who proudly showed me the VHS movies he got.

Remember the Wal-mart worker who got trampled to death last year? That was such a sad and tragic story of a completely unnecessary death of another human being, caused by people desperate to go shopping.

I think a lot about the kind of world I want to live in, the kind of world that I have a part in creating. When I reflect on the death of that Wal-mart worker and my church bazaar experience, it is so clear to me that I want to do what I can to bring into being a world where a gentleman offers his arm to an elderly lady and helps her down the stairs, a world where someone opens the door with a welcoming smile and where the acquisition of a few second-hand movies is worth stopping and talking proudly about, with a stranger.

At the risk of getting up on my soapbox here I would ask that, this season, as you look for gifts for your loved ones, perhaps you can stop for a moment and ask yourself what kind of world are you bringing into being by getting and giving those gifts?

(The above text is cross-posted here.)

Plant something:

- started a new batch of mung bean sprouts
- the ADGMD planted a few garlic cloves our garden neighbour gave us

Harvest something:

- dandelion leaves and flowers!
- comfrey root (for sore muscle liniment)

Preserve something:
- froze the last of the plum butter, since there wasn't enough to make it worthwhile to set up the canner

Waste not:
- avoided a lot of packaging waste and resource use by buying gifts and other items at church bazaars

Want not:
- got many second hand and hand crafted gifts at the bazaars, plus a number of household items for myself! (15 gifts for others, 10 'gifts' for me, for just under $40.)
- scored an awesome, arc floor lamp put out to the curb, just down the street from my place (I meant to take and post a picture of it but forgot to, so please take a moment to visualise lighting awesomeness!)
- borrowed caulking gun from a friend in a nearby neighbourhood

Preparation and storage:

- caulked around 3 of my drafty basement windows
- exercise: yoga 4 times, took the long way to and from work a couple of times, biked to farmer's market and garden

Build community food systems:
- local food from farmer's market

Eat the food:
- plum butter on oats
- dandelion flowers in pancakes, with plum butter
- roasted Jerusalem artichokes
- stir fried chard
- dandelion leaves and flowers in soup

Take the medicine:

- sage and rosemary tea
- violet flower syrup
- wild carrot tincture
- plantain tincture
- elderberry syrup

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Chemical Free Urban Homestead

I got an email from the Environmental Working Group about the hazards of conventional cleaners used in schools and safe cleaning tips for the home to keep your family safe.

I haven't used conventional cleaners for a long time now. I use environmentally friendly dish and laundry soap in bottles that I refill at my local enviro-store. For everything else I use vinegar, baking soda and sometimes salt and earlier this spring I wrote a post in praise of the best cleaning product of all, water.

Which is why I take issue with the first few tips the EWG offers. They recommend diluting conventional cleaning products, using small amounts, opening windows, using protective gloves and keeping kids away from chemicals. (How are you supposed to put the little buggers to work, if you have to keep them away from their cleaning chores? ;) )

Well, how about not using the products in the first place? Really. It isn't until step 8 that they encourage people to 'experiment' with vinegar and baking soda. News flash: baking soda and vinegar is a time-tested, tried and true way to clean your home. Honestly people. You don't need chemical cleaners. You don't. You really, really don't.

Here's a story: My upstairs neighbours were hosting a lot of people for a dinner and were cooking two lambs. One lamb went into their oven and they borrowed my oven for the other. We both ended up with a really thick and blackened layer of lamb juice baked onto the bottom of our ovens. My upstairs neighbour used a conventional oven cleaner. The whole house, their place and mine, reeked of harsh, toxic, chemical nastiness that burned my eyes and made my lungs hurt. All the windows were opened, in the middle of winter and we froze. The damn cleaner didn't even do that great of a job and apparently it was a real bitch to clean.

I opened my oven, dumped baking soda onto the mess, poured vinegar over that, watched it fizz for a bit and then closed the door and walked away from the whole thing, not quite ready to deal with it yet. I came back to it the next day and took a spatula to the baking soda covered, petrified lamb juice and resigned myself to a difficult chore. Lo! Everything lifted off as easily as can be, I piled the scrapings onto a couple of sheets of newspaper and wiped the oven down with a damp cloth. My oven sparkled and the remains of my cleaning job went into the compost. True story.

We don't need nasty, chemical cleaners in our lives, in our bodies, in our environment and in our water. Heck, for most things we don't even need fancy, expensive, 'green' products either.

Look, I don't mean to be a Prescriptive Polly here, but getting rid of chemical cleaners is one of the easiest things a person can do. It's better for the environment, it's better for everyone's health and it saves a lot money. It's kind of a no brainer don't you think?

So what about you? Am I just preaching to the converted here or do you still use conventional cleaners for some things? Most things? I'll tell you what, if you promise to stop, I'll come and clean your house for you!

Chemical free resources:
Baking soda
Get the kids involved
A little rusty?
Give the gift of greener clean.
More green clean
Still more and and more green cleaning

Monday, November 2, 2009

Independence Days Week #27

For the last few weeks I kept thinking that this week will be my last Independence Days update until the spring, because as the fall progresses, frosty nights become the rule rather than the exception and the sun sets earlier each day, surely there must be little productivity left in the land and not much to do or tell.

Yet I am continually surprised at what I manage to accomplish (through no particular talents or gifts of my own, besides determination and perhaps not knowing any better) and now after having 3 seasons of gardening under my belt, I'm glad to let go of the illusion that growing, harvesting and eating only happens between Victoria and Labour day.

I didn't plant anything this week, but I was able to:

Harvest something:
- a wee bit of chard that have survived the frosts
- my last, not quite fully formed cabbage, but it'll do
- a handful of Jerusalem artichokes

Preserve something:
- plum butter

Waste not:

- returned egg cartons and milk bottles to organic market
- dish and laundry soap refills
- making another batch of egg shells in vinegar for a calcium supplement
- made bread

Want not:

- movies from the library (Old Joy and Short Cuts) and the Transition Handbook
- second hand hallowe'en costume
- salvaged a plastic sword and scythe left behind at the hallowe'en party- nice editions to my tickle trunk!
- took a lamp a neighbour was giving away

Preparation and storage:

- added some masks to medical supplies
- added canned veg. chili and sunflower seed butter to food storage pantry
- decanted and stored oils, tinctures and dried sage
- exercise: yoga 4 times, biked to market and garden

Build community food systems:
- local food from farmer's market
- gave away some plum butter to neighbours

Eat the food:

- pear butter
- used pesto and peas from the freezer in pasta

Take the medicine:

- plantain tincture
- wild carrot tincture
- violet flower syrup
- nettle and egg shell oxymel
- rosemary tea

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tck Tck Tck!

I left the Unstuffed Homestead on Saturday and headed to the Hill for the 350 International Day of Climate Action.
Here are some pics I took.

The rain didn't stop tons of people from filling the hill.

The Power Shift youth performed a really fun choreographed chant. "Oooh, it's getting hot in here. There's too much carbon in the atmosphere! Take action, take action and get some satisfaction!"

Hearing Paul Hogarth speaking about cycling across Canada with his family to raise awareness for climate change was really inspirational.

There's lots more pics here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Independence Days Week #26

I've had half a bottle of VQA wine tonight, just 'cause. I've been drinking a fair bit of wine lately. Oh it's much less than I used to before I went all certified yogini, now just a glass or two (or half a bottle) here and there, but certainly more than I'm used to these days. This whole herbal obsession has got me thinking it's medicinal so I'll mull it over and add a splash of elderberry syrup and call it flu prevention. Still, it's an expensive habit and has a high water footprint.

Why am I telling you this? Possibly because I am tipsy and my self-censoring is low or maybe I feel the need to air my dirty laundry, confess my little peccadilloes and own up to my faux pas, if only to show how totally not even remotely close to perfect I am and yet I carry on, try my damnedest to do better and still have the nerve to identify myself as a passionate and devoted environmentalist/homesteader/simple living/frugalish type person.

Dear God, let these things and the occasional glass of wine be not mutually exclusive.

Last week the ADGMD and I went out to dinner to make our lives easier so we could get to an important talk on how to address peak oil and climate change. We didn't think ahead, and as usual ordered more food than we could eat and ended up with a whack load of styrofoam and plastic to take home. I made him hide the evidence in his bag before we showed up to the talk.

We went to the movies on Friday night (a live scored viewing of F.W. Murnau's Faust which was most awesome) and the ADGMD remembered to bring a container for his popcorn, so that's something.

And so now with a slightly guilty, mostly pleasurable buzz at 10pm on a Monday night I share with you...

Plant something:

- red clover sprouts
- horseradish (The damn squirrels dug up my evening primrose and mint that I planted last week. They tried again this week with the horseradish. One small root crown lay on top of the dirt. Thank goodness for pungency, even if it did make me think I might never be able to open my eyes again last week while grating the horseradish.)

Harvest something:
- rosemary
- sprouts

Preserve something:

- pear butter
- drying rosemary and sage
- sage honey

Waste not:

- made bread

Want not:

- medium size pyrex bowl, plate that fits my stone crock and an abridged copy of The Golden Bough from St. Vincent de Paul
- two dresses, one top, face cloths, bowl with a spout and utensils from Value Village

Preparation and storage:
- decanted infused oils, vinegars and tinctures started in the summer
- yoga three times, biking, walked to movies and back

Build community food systems:

- farmer's markets
- donated local delicata squash to food bank

Eat the food:
- ate some pickled beets and the last of my fermented pickles straight out of the jar, at the counter, for dinner one night. Good! (Note to self: Plant way more cucumbers next year. Make waaaaay more fermented pickles with said cukes.)
- beet greens and chard with pasta
- apple mint honey over oats, raisins and yogurt

Take the medicine:
- creeping charlie vinegar
- nettle vinegar
- wild carrot tincture
- sage tea
- elderberry syrup

Monday, October 19, 2009

Independence Days Week #25

Plant something:
- Evening Primrose, mint, Solomon's Seal
- sprouted red clover

Harvest something:
- 2lb 4oz cabbage
- 7oz beet greens
- 5oz chard
- horseradish

Preserve something:

- started new batch of sauerkraut
- made and froze pumpkin puree
- froze fresh, local cranberries
- drying rosemary and sage
- made horseradish honey, vinegar, brandy tincture
- rosemary vinegar

Waste not:
- bought natural soap with no packaging
- made bread
- roasted pumpkin seeds
- reused bags for food storage
- cooked lentils in sun oven

Want not:

- arranged to trade tinctures with a fellow herb student (I'm getting daisy in exchange for lemon balm and motherwort!)

Preparation and storage:
- added canned fruit and bulk raisins to pantry
Physical exercise: yoga three times, walked to library, got lots of biking in

Build community food systems:
- farmer's market

Eat the food:
- beet greens and chard in soup
- pickles and sprouts on a cheese sandwhich

Take the medicine:
- garlic honey
- eggshell vinegar and nettle honey oxymel as mineral supplement
- catnip tea and tincture for gut pain
- plantain tea for chest congestion
- violet leaf salve externally
- comfrey oil externally

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Urban Homestead Series: The History of a Tool

"Have thy tools ready. God will find thee work."
~Charles Kingsley

Take a look at this beauty. Check out those smooth curves and that solid bottom. I think I'm in love.

This, my friends, is the beginning of something special. After only the first time I can tell already. Oh yeah, I'm in it for the long haul. This is a relationship that is going to last. It already started more than a generation ago. There's history here, history that will carry on and grow over the years, gradually worn smooth by time and use, until we are both old. I will grow old with this object of my affection, and the thought of that makes me ridiculously happy.

You just can't say that about an iPhone.

Years ago, my Oma asked my Opa for a favour. She needed a good, sturdy sauerkraut pounder (Yes, such a thing really does exist). It needed to be heavy enough to bruise the shredded cabbage to release the juices, but not so heavy that it was difficult to wield. It needed to be long enough that she wouldn't hit her wrists on the crock. And it needed to be sturdy to hold up to my Oma's strong, capable hands and arms.

My Opa, a woodworker by trade, from a long line of furniture makers back in Germany, had a workshop set up in the garage where all his tools were kept neat, tidy and in order. He chose his wood. Two pieces were needed to achieve the length my Oma asked for, though you have to look oh so closely at the pounder to tell where they were joined. With a few simple turns of his lathe, the magic of joinery and some sanding, Opa presented the sauerkraut pounder to my Oma. It was exactly what she wanted.

When my Oma learned that I had started to make my own sauerkraut, she searched the house, and like an archaeologist, pulled forth from the past, the long unused pounder. She sent it home with my mother one day, and last weekend I finally held the pounder in my hands. I caressed the handle, feeling the grain of the wood, the curves and grooves my Opa had crafted with skill, attention and love. More so than a piece of jewelery or some other family trinket, this piece, this practical, utilitarian tool represents a part of my heritage and creates a familial bond that is inexpressible in words. I can't even begin to tell you what this object means to me.

My Opa hasn't worked with wood in years. I don't know the last time he went out to his tool shed. He kidneys have been in slow failure for a long time now. He refused dialysis years ago, and it's long past the point where he could make use of it, even if he wanted to.

My Oma has had two hip replacements. She stills feel a lot of pain and has lost quite a bit of mobility. Much of her days revolve around looking after my Opa and keeping their small house. She still bakes and makes jam, but the days of the sauerkraut crock in the basement are over.

My heart feels full when I think of this handcrafted tool that has been passed down to me. And a tool it is. This is no museum piece to be set on display or worse, packed away and forgotten as the trapping of an irrelevant era. This tool was made to do a job and you can bet your life that I will put it to work. In fact I used it yesterday. I finally got around to making kraut out of the cabbage that I harvested weeks ago.

My god, what a difference the right tool makes. A while back, I had picked up one of those wooden meat tenderizer thingies at thrift store. Though second hand, it had never been used, and I figured it would do for pounding cabbage. Well, it worked ok, but the handle wasn't long enough, so I had to be careful or else I would bang my wrist on the crock. And the base wasn't very heavy, so I had to work really hard to bruise the cabbage, and even then it was difficult to get the juice out, meaning I often had to add salted water to the crock.

With my Oma's pounder I can easily bruise the cabbage and get the juices flowing almost immediately. This thing practically pounds itself. I love the handle and so do my wrists! I pounded away merrily with a big grin on my face, falling into a simple, meditative rhythm. I was done in no time. I was almost sad that I didn't have more cabbage to pound! But then I realised, me and my sauerkraut pounder have the whole rest of our lives to work together, in tandem, connected by history, united by love. Yep, this relationship is solid. It's got roots. It's going to last.

And you just can't say that about an iPhone.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Independence Days Week #24

Plant something:
- started new batch of sprouts

- sprouts
- elderberries (A fellow Transition Ottawa member knew of my interest in herbal medicine and of my elderberry preparations. He let me know that the cohousing community he lives in had an elder tree in the backyard that no one was harvesting. He offered the berries to me and I was only too happy and grateful to take him up on the offer!)
- Another wonderful gift, my mom harvested some Solomon's seal for me
- basil, parsley and sage
- carrots, beets, chard and more sage from my mom's garden

Preserve something:

- delicious elderberry syrup!
- tinctured basil, sage and Solomon's seal
- put parsley into vinegar

Waste not:
- I store my emergency water supplies by reusing the plastic jugs my white vinegar comes in (and other 2 and 4L jugs I find). Because I don't want to store water long term in plastic I change the water every 4-6 months. I did that last week, but of course I didn't waste the old water by pouring it down the drain. It went into the washing machine for a load of laundry.
- traveled by bus to mom's place for Thanksgiving weekend
- used carrot top and beet greens

Want not:

- the ADGMD was kind enough to pick up two second hand yoga blocks for me, from a seller on UsedOttawa
- my Oma handed down to me her kraut pounder that my Opa made for her many years ago (In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, I will be gushing about this heirloom in an upcoming post.)

Preparation and Storage:
- refilled my emerg. water supplies and added 6L to it
- Physical exercise: I only did yoga once last week. Yikes! Normally I do yoga at least 3 times a week, often 5. However I did a fair amount of biking and walking. Still, I definitely need to spend more time on the mat.

Build Community Food Systems:
- this week the local food came from the Barrie Farmer's market where my mom, the ADGMD and I picked up some yummy local treats for Thanksgiving

Eat the food:
- sprout and sauerkraut salad
- shredded carrot and beet salad
- sautéed chard, carrot top and beet greens
- honey and butter glazed carrots

Use the Medicine:

- I was definitely fighting something off last week, because by Wednesday I was feeling very rundown, achy and had no energy. I got home from work that day, made a beeline for the couch and dozed off almost immediately. I pretty much stayed there for the rest of the evening. I used my elderflower tincture, elderberry syrup, mallow flower syrup, made a hot drink with my garlic infused honey and cayenne pepper, got lots of fluids into me and called it an early night. Thankfully whatever was going on never developed into a full blown illness and I was able to enjoy the weekend feeling healthy and well.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Independence Days Week #23

The weather was cold and rainy all week long. The forecast for the weekend called for more of the same and that's certainly how Saturday dawned, but by the time I got to the farmer's market around mid-morning, it was quite mild and the sun was making a strong effort to push through the clouds. As soon as I got home and dropped off my purchases I headed right back out again to the garden.

Biking along my usual route, noticing the fall colours, the sky, the sun and shadow, I felt touched by grace and filled with joy. It was a real gift of a day. I hadn't realised that my long absence from the garden because of the weather had left me somewhat aimless and wanting. Until that moment I hadn't realised how much meaning and purpose I derive from my small and humble efforts to work with the earth. I was struck by a deep sense of privilege to be able to do so and wished for everyone a similar experience. We should all have the honour to be more connected and responsible for the source of our food. And for all the people in the world who are burdened and toiling under back breaking effort to produce food, may my meager actions go some small way toward creating a more balanced and just world.

Plant something:
- mung bean sprouts
- garlic (My plan was to plant garlic later this month, but it worked out that I had the opportunity to plant some on the weekend. I hope to plant more in a few weeks.)

Harvest something:
- mung bean sprouts (Growing sprouts is so rewarding. You can 'plant' and 'harvest' them in mere days!)
- 5lbs of foraged acorns (The ADGMD found these acorns for me and spent about a half an hour collecting them. He's such an awesome dude! Sadly, I'm afraid I won't be able to use them. They were collected from a traffic island, surrounded by very busy roads- no doubt why there were so many as no sane squirrel would cross that death trap. The island itself is below street level and I can imagine all the years of pollutants and heavy metals washing into the green space, being taken up by the trees and into the acorns. I'm sad. I really wanted to make acorn flour.)
- 7oz of chard
- dandelions

Preserve something:
- wanted to start another batch of sauerkraut, but it'll have to wait 'till this week

Waste not:
- made flax bread from scratch
- drying corn silk
- returned milk bottles and egg cartons for reuse

Want not:

- movies and book from the library
- 2nd hand canning jars, pot holders, sweater, ointment/salve pots
- salvaged vase from the ADGMD

Preparation and Storage:

- replenished bulk rice, mung beans, popcorn
- reading The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook
- did yoga 3 times last week (I'm going to start including a health and well being component to the prep and store category from now on. I think taking responsibility for one's health and wellness is an essential aspect of preparing for a post-peak oil, climate changed, financially unstable world. Also, I've been slacking off on my yoga practice lately and am slightly less active as I slow down for fall and winter and I'm hoping that this will help keep me on track.)

Build community food systems:
- the usual local food from the farmer's market

Eat the food:
- mung bean sprout and cucumber salad with oil and cilantro vinegar
- tatsoi sauteed with garlic and onions
- pickles and tomato garnish for local veg burgers
- pasta with tatsoi and chard, tomato sauce

I'm adding a sub-category here: Use the medicine
- I was feeling a little under the weather last week with a thick feeling in my throat and a heaviness in my chest so I made myself a cup of hot red wine with two tablespoons of my my elderberry in brandy tincture and a tablespoon of my mallow flower honey. I curled up under a wool blanket on the couch. Within minutes I was toasty warm from head to toe and feeling rather pleasant. The next morning all symptoms were gone, but for good measure I repeated the treatment again the next night. I took a few tablespoons of my mallow flower syrup as well. When medicine tastes and feels so good, it only makes sense!

(Follow all the other people doing the challenge over at Casaubon's Book.)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Urban Homestead Series: Forager's Alchemy

I decanted my sumac tincture the other day and though I'm happy to have this wonderful medicine with it's many uses, I realised that I have a lot more tincture than I will probably go through until sumac season comes around again next year.

Since I enjoy making and drinking sumac lemonade, (or sumacade as I like to call it) and I'm experimenting with herbal liqueurs and had some simple syrup left over from making basilcello, I thought I'd try making a hard sumacade.

I poured off the amount I wanted to keep for tincture and the rest I slowly mixed with the simple syrup until I felt I had the right balance of sweet and sour. I imagine this will be sipping liqueur, or a refreshing cocktail with soda water, to enjoy in small amounts. I won't really know how the whole thing turns out until the infused alcohol and syrup mingles for a month or so, but preliminary sips leave me very hopeful that this will be a tasty combination. At the very least, it sure looks pretty.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Independence Days Week #22

Plant something:
My planting for this year is done until the garlic goes in sometime late next month. However I have started sprouting seeds again, and though it's technically not exactly planting something, I think it's an important element to a more local, nutritious diet, especially for those of us in the northern hemisphere, so I'm going to include my sprouting here. This week I sprouted mung beans.

Harvest something:
- 3lbs tomatoes
- 3lb head of cabbage
- tatsoi
- chard
- pole beans
- chamomile
- cucumbers
- nettle
- mallow flowers

Preserve something:
- elderberry elixir with fresh berries from the farmer's market
- froze tomatoes
- started small batch of fermented pickles
- mallow flower syrup
- shelled and put up pole beans
- pickled beets

Waste not:
- enviro-laundry and dish soap refills
- baked bread, roasted carrots, beets, squash, cooked rice in sun oven (On Friday I managed a two dish sun oven day! The squash was done when I got home from work and there was plenty of sun left to cook some rice. The squash and carrots ended up as a delicious soup.)

Preparation and storage:
- added iodine to medicine chest
- found tinctures on sale and since tinctures last for ages I promptly picked up a few useful remedies to also add to the medicine chest
- the ADGMD picked up some candle lanterns to add to the emergency preparedness supplies

Build community food systems:
- the usual local food from the farmer's markets

Eat the food:
- tomato and basil pizza with cheese
- tatsoi, chard and nettle stir fry with rice
- cream of nettle soup
- mung bean salad
- stuffed poached egg tomatoes drizzled with basil infused oil

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Independence Days Weeks #20 and #21

I missed the update last week, so this update represents two weeks worth of activities. Really, I ought to also include a 'Dependence Days' category and confess some of the high impact, wasteful things I've done.

For instance I drank bottled water in the back of stretch limo! Oh gods of depleting resources have mercy upon me. I was at a friend's wedding and the limo was a complimentary shuttle taking guests from the reception back to the hotel. The bottled water was complimentary as well, and well, I had a bit too much wine at the reception, and really needed some water. I've never been in a limo before, and I never need to be another one again, but I have to say, it was a fun indulgence!

I drank non-fair trade coffee, including some that came in a single use, plastic package that comes with the hotel room, and even though I did reduce some waste by bringing my own travel mug, utensils, napkin and reusable containers and used them whenever I could, there was still some more single use item waste.

Sadly, I didn't plan ahead and bring my own recycled wrapping paper and homemade card, so the ADGMD went out and bought tissue paper, bags and cards. (Yes, plural. He wasn't sure what was appropriate, so bought a few items to choose from. Well, I guess now I've got gift wrap supplies for a few more occasions!)

On the food waste front, I had to compost some cucumbers yesterday because I left them a day or two too long before I turned them into pickles and they went mouldy. I managed to salvage enough for a small batch of pickles, so it wasn't a total loss, but I was disappointed no less. I hate to waste food.

It all just goes to show how easy it is to be more wasteful and impactful when you're out of your usual routine, unprepared or pressed for time. I'm chalking it up as lessons learned and am resolved to do better in similar future situations.

So, onto what I did do for the challenge.

Harvest something:
- 1.5lbs cucumbers, 5lbs tomatoes, 1.5lbs pole beans, chard, purslane, chamomile, thyme, oregano

Preserve something:

- canned plums
- drying herbs
- blanched and froze dandelion, tomatoes
- shelled dry beans

Waste not:

- gave consignment store gift to a 4yr old boy, (grocery store attachment for his wooden train set) wrapped in a silk scarf that had stars and planets on it (will reuse the scarf)
- carpooled to out of town wedding with friends
- brought own food for car trip to avoid having to buy processed, packaged, fast food
- tired to reduce single use item waste as much as possible by bringing own cutlery, containers, travel mug etc. on trip
- rehung towels for reuse in the hotel room

Want not:
- wore second hand dress (gorgeous, $8 dress that got compliments!) and shoes to wedding
- garden neighbour gave me a big bunch of Lebanese dandelion
- another garden neighbour gave me two and half pounds of potatoes
- my herbal teacher gave me a pizza tray
- I picked up a fancy glass jar at a consignment store that I'll use for an herbal vinegar gift
- I bought new underwear! I've been making do with the underwear I've had since, oh geez, before my nothing new year started. Most things held up considerably well, but enough unmentionables were getting ratty enough that it was time to break down and make the new purchase. I found a reasonably priced, good quality, made in Canada brand that carries a line of gitch made from bamboo. I bought two pairs of nickers and a bra. Woo hoo!

Preparation and storage:

- bought beets for pickling and I'll be doing that this week

Build community food systems:
- the usual local food from the farmer's markets

Eat the food:

- cucumber salad
- salsa
- roasted potatoes
- roasted tomatoes
- chard

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Crafty Urban Homestead

The weather has changed. The run on September sun ended the other day. The temperature regularly dips into the single digits at night and I've taken to throwing a light scarf around my neck for my bike to work in the morning. My tires crunch through yellowed leaves on the street.

There is still harvesting and work to be done in the garden and soon I will go wildcrafting for medicinal roots, but the hectic, almost frantic days of bolting home from work, to the garden and working hard outside until sunset are waning. I can feel the rhythm of my days and the nature of my homestead work changing with the season and I welcome it with a deep sigh of contentment. Ah fall.

I love this season and one sure sign of its arrival for me, is the urge to make myself comfortable on the couch, pick up a hook and some yarn, and crochet the lengthening evenings away.

For the last two night that's exactly what I've done, and it was pure bliss.

I started with a fun and easy project that I've made before and really enjoy. I've saved some mesh onion bags and by crocheting handles onto them, I can reuse them as produce bags, avoiding the need for disposable plastic. I can finish one in a few hours so it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment. (You can see the purple one I completed the first night, in the photo, holding potatoes for demonstration. Yep, these bags are sturdy.)

I like that I'm repurposing something that most people throw away and I'm also using scrap, thrifted yarn, reducing waste in the creation and the use of the bags. Awesome. Plus, (I like to think) they make nice gifts. (Oh and I really got a kick out of the fact that I actually had matching yarn for the purple and orange bags!)

I made a few of these last winter and posted a step by step tutorial on the blog. You can find it here.

Does the rhythm of your days change with the seasons? What are your favourite fall activities?

Monday, September 14, 2009

When things are quiet on the blog...

...I'm busy on the Unstuffed Homestead. But I'll be back soon. Promise.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Independence Days Week #19

I have four full jars of plums and honey sitting on my counter above which, two big bunches of fennel leaves and mint are drying. The herbs were a gift from a garden neighbour. She's unbelievably generous with her produce. I've also received arm loads of chard and dandelion from her.

I used a bit of fennel to flavour deviled eggs (local, free range and organic of course!) Some of the fresh mint went into the stuffed grape leaves I made using this recipe. The tomatoes, grape leaves and oregano came from my garden. The rice cooked in the sun oven.

I served these dishes to friends I had invited to a harvest garden party at my plot. I also served a fresh tomato and basil salad. The guests picked the tomatoes and basil themselves. We snacked on fermented pickles while eying the cucumber plants they came from. We drank iced tea that had infused in the sun. For desert we savoured an apple cheese cake from the farmer's market and hunks of crusty bread with butter and home canned jam. Light jazz and classical music played quietly from the wind up radio. Some people met for the first time. By the end of the party they were friends exchanging contact information.

After the last guests left, the ADGMD and I lay under the cherry tree soaking up the late afternoon sun before washing up the dishes, gathering the cloth napkins and composting some cardboard and food scraps. There was very little waste. We packed up everything else on our bikes. For the ride home I tuned in to the oldies radio station and strapped the radio securely to the front basket. We held hands and sang along as we biked down the tree lined streets, green and golden in the falling light.

These rich days of early autumn are fulsome. I am surrounded by abundance. Each moment is filled with countless gifts. I am provided for. A basket and wooden rolling pin for a quarter at a garage sale. Free curbside finds including a hallow e'en mask to hang up in the pole beans to try and deter birds and thieves, a hose attachment that now lets me water my kohl rabi patch with ease, a picture frame and a cooler bag that fits perfectly into my front basket. With a couple of freezer packs, the cooler bag kept my food fresh for the party. From now on, I'll use it this way for my harvests. Friends gift me with their saved jars and bottles. One friend passed on empty jars for salves, lotions and balms. What a treasure!

The best gift of all: worm poo. A friend who lives in an apartment has a vermicomposter, but with no garden and not sure what to do with the compost, she asked me for advice. "I'll take it!", I said. She scooped up the poop into plastic tubs and brought it to the garden. Forget fancy bling and bric-a-brac, compost is this girl's best friend, and I couldn't be more touched by my friend's thoughtfulness and effort.

There have been losses too. Life's not perfect after all. Sadly, many gardeners, friends and neighbours included, have been victims of theft and vandalism. Whole crops of garlic, beans and tomatoes disappeared. Sun shades slashed. I saw a row of sunflowers lopped off at their stalks or ripped right out of the ground. Two rows of storage sheds burnt to cinder and ashes. My shed was damaged by the fire but left standing. We lost a blanket and my sun hat. My baskets and the handles of our tools are charred, tempered by the flames, and I like to think they are stronger now for it.

These things add bitter to the sweet. It's discouraging but not defeating. If anything it only serves to firm my resolve to live this way and make these choices. Now I talk to every gardener I pass. I share information, spread the advice given to us by the community police officer. I introduce myself and make the effort to meet others, to create community and raise awareness. I take nothing for granted and I am grateful for everything. I am especially grateful for the people in my life, those not so well known and those as familiar as family. Thank you for you and thank you for letting me share this with you.

Harvest something:
- violets, nettle, grape leaves, cucumbers, tomatoes, chard, chamomile, basil, chard, oregano, parsley

Preserve something:
- plums in brandy, currant jelly
- egg shells in ACV, nettles in ACV
- nettles, pineapple sage and apple mint infusing in honey
- another batch of fermented pickles
- froze another jar of tomato sauce
- drying herbs

Waste not:

- used sun oven for rice, eggplant, black beans
- made sun tea
- lots of biking

Want not:
- received chard, fennel, canning jars, containers for balms, salves etc.
- worm poop!!
- salvaged picture frame, hose, cooler bag, anti bird and garden thieves hallow e'en mask to hang up in the pole beans
- garage sale harvest basket and rolling pin

Preparation and Storage:
- ADGMD added dehydrated food to emergency pantry

Build community food systems:
- attended garden meeting to address theft and vandalism at the allotments
- local food from farmer's market
- attended Transition Ottawa meeting
- hosted harvest garden party

Eat the food:
- stuffed grape leaves
- pickles
- bread with jam
- tomato, basil salad
- cucumber salad
- sun tea
- pasta with tomato sauce
- chard stir fry

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Urban Homestead Series: Because I Can

(Yes that is a bottle of wine on the counter. No I don't recommend drinking and canning. However, recipes that call for booze are fun and I do encourage pouring yourself a mild libation after all your hard canning work!)

Putting food by is essential to any homestead, urban or otherwise. There are lots of ways to preserve the harvest. You can freeze, dry and ferment food. And you can can. Can you do the can can? (Sorry. Just had to do that.)

Anyhoo, all last year I read many bloggers who preserved and stockpiled food by canning. This year I was determined to join their ranks. I purchased a second hand canning pot and rack in the spring, started collecting jars and picked up some other essential tools this summer. I scored a free book on canning and patiently waited for harvest season to come around.

This weekend I finally took the plunge into water bath canning! Wanting to start with something relatively easy and foolproof and using ingredients available to me, I decided on two different jams: crab apple and plum jam, using crab apples that a neighbour gave to me and fresh plums from the Niagara region and currant jam with the currants I harvested from my garden plot earlier in the summer.

I won't go into any detail here about how to can, safety issues and such. There are far more experienced canners out there as well as other online resources, which I'll list at the end of the post for reference.

What I will do is share a few thoughts on the process and my experience as a beginner.

First of all, I had to get educated on and over the fear of botulism poisoning. Since I planned to stick to high acid foods and recipes that are suitable for the water bath method, botulism is not really too much of a worry, but still I was nervous at first. Once I was reasonably convinced I wasn't going to poison myself or anyone else I chose my recipes and gathered my ingredients.

Canning is a great way to preserve and have access to local foods through the winter, however I noticed that many recipes call for a number of non-local ingredients like lemon juice, sugar and salt. Not only that, but recipes for things like jam, call for shockingly large amounts of sugar. Normally, I don't buy sugar. Ever. I'm a raw, local honey girl through and through, with some maple syrup thrown in here and there as a treat. I just about went hypoglycemic when I read how much sugar I would need for my two jam recipes. Also, if you end up buying fair trade, organic sugar like I did, the cost can be quite high. Finally, some recipes call for fancy ingredients like specialty alcohols. The crab apple plum jam called for wine, and the currant jam called for a currant liquor. Of course, not all recipes will have booze in them, but if they do, this too is an added expense. (Currant liquor or Cassis, by the way, is absolutely divine and I plan on making my own next year!)

With all my ingredients and equipment at the ready, recipe and instruction book open, I got down to business. I brought the water in the canner to a boil to sterilize my jars and started processing the apples and plums for cooking. Everything took about twice as long the first time because I was checking and double checking the recipe and canning instructions to make sure I was doing everything properly. Timing is everything when it comes to canning and each step is important. I wanted to make sure that I didn't miss anything.

I noticed I used a lot more water than I normally do when working in the kitchen and I had the stove going at high temperatures for much longer than normal. Canning is energy and resource intense. What with all the water and boiling, non local sugar and lemons, I could feel my carbon footprint getting bigger and bigger. Not to mention, all that steamy water was really heating up my kitchen, which would be great on a crisp, fall day, but definitely not something I would willingly do in the humid heat of high summer.

In the end it took me two days to do up both recipes and I ended up with 12 jars of jam, two of which didn't seal properly, so need to be eaten right away or frozen for later use.

All in all, I'm pleased with the results and I'm very happy to have taken on learning this new skill, which, once learned is actually quite easy, though fairly labour intensive from start to finish (especially since I was working within the confines of a small kitchen and had to do a lot of shuffling of things back and forth to make room for other things.)

I can definitely see the benefits of putting up food for storage that doesn't need to be frozen and I will be oh so grateful for the taste of summer fruit on my tongue in mid winter, but honestly, of all the homesteady things I've been learning about and doing in the last year, I don't think I love canning the way that I love say, crocheting, or working with herbs.

Frankly, while the weather is still lovely I'd rather be outside in the garden or foraging and wildcrafting. Instead of slaving over a hot stove, I'd rather start a batch of pickles or cabbage fermenting (it's much easier, with less cleanup, there's no risk of dangerous spoilage, it retains more nutrients and you don't need electricity to do it). Instead of slicing, dicing, peeling, coring, juicing and pressing, I'd rather decant herbals tinctures or gently pluck the dried leaves of my herbs from their stems to put into jars.

I haven't yet tried any of the more savoury recipes like salsa, which I still plan to do, as well as pickled beets, but on the whole I don't see myself as a hard core canner. I just get much more pleasure from making medicine and fermenting foods. (I am however, attracted to the possibilities of drying food and I think a dehydrator might just end up on my wish list in the near future.) So while I will can when I can, I imagine I'll spend more time and effort on the things that give me real joy. And hopefully there will be some hardcore canners out there willing to barter some food for medicine in the future...

What about you? What homesteading activities do you absolutely love and which ones are you just kinda sorta 'meh' about?

Oh and here are those resources I promised:

For inspiration read this lovely article by Jenna from Cold Antler Farm.

For 'how to's' Rhonda Jean's got you covered here, here and here.

I also referenced this site.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Independence Days Week #18

Harvest something:
- 9oz of chard
- 13oz pole beans
- 1lb cukes
- 7.5lbs tomatoes
- purslane, dandelion, horseradish leaves, grape leaves, mint, nettle, goldenrod flowers, mallow flowers, chamomile, oregano, thyme, basil

Preserve something:
- made and froze tomato sauce
- drying herbs
- infusing mallow flowers into honey
- tincturing American ginseng (My favourite seed suppliers also cultivate their own American ginseng. Happy day!)
- infusing goldenrod, some into oil, some into rubbing alcohol- For External Use Only! (My first liniment! I just really like the word liniment. Liniment. Say it with me now: liniment. Mmmmm...)
- started second step of basilcello
- started another batch of sauerkraut (Hopefully with cooler temperatures and the right amount of salt, I won't lose this batch.)
- crab apple and plum jam (Yep, I finally did it. I got the water bath canner out and put up some food. Phew. More on this later...)

Waste not:
- made Everything But the Kitchen Sink soup with all the veggie bits that needed to be used up
- made rice in the sun oven
- returned paper egg cartons to my local egg guy
- bused, walked and biked to run all my errands this weekend, and oh boy were there ever a lot of errands!
- attempting to make apple cider vinegar from canning leftovers with the help of Chile and Kate

Want not:
- salvaged very sturdy bucket and garden tools from the curb
- thrifted stainless steel travel mug (to replace the one I left in my dad's car while I was visiting on holidays), measuring spoons, baster, canning jars

Preparation and Storage:
- purchased canning lids, pickling salt, sugar, beeswax (to make salve from my infused oils), thermometer, timer
- cleaned out ancient condiments from fridge, composted contents, washed all the jars for reuse (Wow, did it ever feel good to get that job checked off my 'to do' list!)

Build community food systems:
- local food from farmer's markets
- gave away tomatoes from garden to neighbours
- received jar of crab apple preserves

Eat the food:
- enjoyed soup for a few meals
- stir fried chard, purslane and dandelion
- tomato, basil and bocconcini salad
- cucumber salad
- green beans with rice
- jam on toast