Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Horseradish was the herb of the year for 2011, and I can't think of an easier, quicker or hotter gift to make for the holidays than homemade horseradish sauce. Though by no means limited to the following, it would be a great gift for the menfolk and carnivores on your list. My mother's partner and my brother are both getting some this year, made from a freshly dug root out of my garden!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Victorian Farm Christmas

I spent the better part of last winter deep in hibernation mode watching the wonderful and delightful series Edwardian Farm, Victorian Farm and Victorian Pharmacy (all available on youtbe). I escaped into the daily lives of Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn and Ruth Goodman, and it was good. So good.

So you might be able to imagine how over-the-moon happy I am to discover that there are three whole episodes of the Victorian Farm that I haven't seen! Folks, there is a Victorian Farm Christmas series and you can watch it right now on TVO. Right now!! Happy days!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Must Be Jelly 'Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That!

An obvious gift project for the radical homemaking, gardening, foraging, food preserving, DIYer is jams, jellies and syrups. I spent last weekend on just such an endeavour and the result is many sweet gifts for the holidays.I made jelly for the first time ever and I'm thrilled that it turned out. I used Pomona's Universal Pectin, so was able to use a fraction of the sugar most recipes call for. The instructions were very easy to follow and the process was fairly quick. I think I'm a jelly convert!

I made two kinds from fruit that I harvested from the garden or foraged for and froze.

I also made a lot of elderberry syrup. This can be used as medicine for colds and flus, or simply as a delicious treat drizzled over ice cream or yogurt, added to soda water or hot cocoa.

I'm really beginning to appreciate how, as I move along on this adventure of mine, the ability to pull off projects like this gets easier and easier. It doesn't just stem from the familiarity of doing things multiple times. It comes from a shifting mindset. When you start gathering and growing food in its season, by necessity you begin to store and preserve it properly. Soon you have a larder stocked full, which needs to be managed and maintained. You develop the ability to plan ahead and recognise future uses for things that might not seem immediately obvious. Waste is a tragedy, creativity an imperative.

In making these gifts, the only thing I had to go out to the store for, was the lemon juice. All the other items I needed were already on hand. Some of the elements like the jars have been around for a couple of years and are constantly being rotated through a myriad of uses. Some elements were plucked off the bush and vine under warm sunshine in a season now past. The canning pot is a permanent fixture that spends most of its time on the pantry shelf patiently waiting for when its needed.

You know, I've spent a fair amount of energy over the last few years on emergency preparedness. I have water, food, light and fuel stored to get me through a month, maybe two of some kind of calamitous event and I definitely feel a sense of security from that. But I feel a great deal of gratitude in knowing that, if my income was suddenly cut off, or a large scale power outage closed most of the ATMs and stores for days, or a heavy storm made getting out and about difficult, I have the materials, knowledge and resources on hand to create small gifts to share with others. Gifts that were deeply pleasurable to work on and made with love!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fast and Easy Crochet Project

My most popular post by far, is my tutorial on how to crochet your own reusable mesh produce bag. Nearly three years later, I'm still making and using these bags and I can tell you they are very durable and hold up well. I love them for bringing home produce from the farmer's market and my own garden. I also think they make lovely gifts. So I'm making a whole bunch this year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Kiddie Crack

The countdown is on and I'm in full on gift making mode! Over the next few days, I'll post about some of the projects I'm working on.

This year, all the children in my life will be getting homemade fruit roll ups. Now I know that might sound a little lame, kinda like giving out raisins at Halloween, but trust me, this stuff is hardcore kiddie crack. The little ankle biters go nuts for it. My neighbours upstairs have two young children who love my fruit roll ups. The boy especially. Whenever he comes down to my place I see him look over at the pantry shelves, then at me, back to the pantry shelves and then to me again, before he finally asks, "Do you have any of dos fwoot wollups?" And if I do, his eyes get saucer big as I take the jar off the shelf and pass him a few pieces.

If you have a dehydrator, the stuff is a cinch to make. All you need is fruit. I buy a lot of fruit when it's in season and freeze it. But here's a tip that I also make use of a lot. The grocery store near my house has a sale rack for expired, bruised or just starting to go off fruits and veg, that will get thrown out if someone doesn't take them home. It's super cheap and the produce is usually in perfectly good shape for my purposes. Last week I got two bags of mangoes and organic pears for $2 each.

You don't have to cook the fruit. You can whir it through a blender as is if you like, but I like to cook my fruit down a bit. I find the final flavour and texture to be much nicer that way. If the fruit is really tart, I'll add some honey to sweeten it, but most of the time it's sweet enough on it's own. You can add spices and flavours to the fruit too if you like. Vanilla, cinnamon, ginger etc. (Pumpkin pie roll ups with pumpkins or butternut squash, with all the spices is delicious!) Just go easy. The flavours really concentrate in the dehydrating process. I tend to keep things simple for the kids though and don't usually add much extra flavouring.

Once the fruit is soft enough, I puree it with my hand blender. This is peach, apple and mango.

Next I spread the puree out about 1/4 inch thick, onto special sheets on the tray and into the dehydrator they go!
12-18 hours later, it looks like this.

All rolled up.
I cut the roll ups into bite size pieces.
Jarred. You can certainly use other containers, especially if you don't want to give glass to children (for the younger children I will use a safer material), but the roll ups do keep best in an airtight glass jar. Of course they probably won't last long enough to spoil, so feel free to be creative with your containers.
Wrapped and ready to gift.
If you have a dehydrator, this is an easy, affordable gift that is quick to make and your recipients are guaranteed to love it. It's a sweet but healthy treat that makes for a nice alternative to all the candy and sugary things at this time of year.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Tis the Season

I was sick with a bad flu the last two weeks of November. I came down with it immediately after giving a workshop on kitchen cabinet medicine, talking about which common herbs and spices we can use for illness and first aid. Over the last couple of weeks I put to use everything I talked about in that workshop and then some! I drank dozens of pots of tea. Tea for my fever and chills, tea for my chest congestion, tea for my aches and pains, tea to help me sleep, tea to keep my hydrated and nourished when I couldn't eat. I made herbal steams. I flushed my sinuses with my neti pot and I used garlic oil in my ears when the infection moved in there.

I must confess that I resorted to NSAIDs twice during the worst of it, on the insistence of a naturopathic doctor friend. I was too sick to argue with her. But it was the resting and herbs that pulled me through and help me mend.

I watched a ton of movies and got a few hundred pages into book 5 of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Now I'm well again and my energy is returning. With a few short weeks before Christmas its time to get busy with crafting gifts. This year I plan to make elderberry syrup, a few jams, some herbal salves and lotions and a crochet project for friends and loved ones. To help get me in the spirit of the season I started with a little decorating.

This little Christmas tree keeps company with a basil plant, a remnant of summer.
All of my decorations are hand-me-downs from family. I don't buy anything new. Some things are newer than others. But many decorations have been in the family for years.

I love this sweet, sleeping Santa in a shoe. My aunt made it for me when I was a little girl and our family celebrated Sankt Nikolaus Tag. It was so exciting waking up in the morning and seeing the shoe filled with oranges, chocolate and marzipan in the shape of animals. I am just as enchanted with it now as I was when I was five, even though it is no longer filled with candy.

Since it's just me on my urban homestead and I travel over the holidays, I don't put up a Christmas tree. But I have a little collection of trees on display.

My mom passed on these ceramic carolers to me last year. I was happy to give them a home.

Here's Santa hanging out in the Garden of Earthly Delights!

This advent ring has been in my family for many, many years. The star is missing a couple of 'star beams', and the whole thing is rather wobbly, but I love this piece of my family history and all the memories associated with it. With special care, I hope to have it for decades more.

I'm really enjoying my cozy evenings, doing a little crafting, surrounded by these decorations that are filled with personal history and warm memories. They remind me that the things that matter most can't be purchased in a store. My hope for this holiday season is to keep things simple, to not rush anywhere and to be truly present to everyone I spend time with.

Whatever your traditions, however you celebrate, I wish the same for all of you!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Radical Homemaker in the Museum of Science and Tech

There is a new exhibit on energy at the Museum of Science and Technology, here in Ottawa.

I actually had an interesting opportunity to participate in the exhibit, in a small way. A close friend of mine was on the team responsible for the project and back in September 2009, he asked if I would be willing to sit in on a brainstorming session to talk about ideas for an area of the exhibit that would engage visitors and get them thinking about their personal consumption of energy.

It was a fascinating conversation with the museum folks, industry people and sustainability organisations. I felt pretty small fry really, with my ideas for simple living on the homefront, silently wondering what the heck I was doing there, while a strong 'technology will save us' current ran through the room. I don't know if I contributed much of value, but my participating got me an invite to the launch this September, and I was happy to wander around the exhibit and learn more about how energy is produced and consumed, from hydro, to oil sands, nuclear, wind, solar, natural gas....they cover it all, well, except for any mention peak oil.

I did spend most of my time in the area that looked at personal energy consumption. It was fascinating.

(Clicking on all the pictures will make them bigger and easier to see!)

I really appreciated how well this display illustrated just how much every single aspect of our consumer lives is underpinned by oil.

Did you know that when electricity finally began to make it into most people's homes, it was only ever used at night? Families used electricity to replace candles and oil and gas lamps, so they didn't need it during the day when the sun lit their homes. The electric companies, not happy with such a small profit from little demand, remedied the problem by inventing the first electric appliances like toasters, irons, fans and electric heaters. Daytime consumption of electricity shot up and hasn't really ever stopped since then.

This stat, blew my little, clothes-hanging mind.

Then there were these interactive trivia touch screens that I found very enlightening.

A number of quotes on various aspects of energy use lined the walls in this section.

About a year ago, my friend asked if I could provide a quote to go up on the wall. They wanted the voice of Jane Public I guess. I had no idea what to say, or how to encapsulate my thoughts into something pithy and coherent, but I said I would give it a shot. I ended up next to an environmentalist named Bob Oliver and Thomas Edison.

Looking at the quote a year later, I'm still happy with the essential idea, however, if I could change it, I'd probably play around with the words a bit more. I might use something like 'lifestyle transformation' instead of 'personal behaviour changes', for instance, to better convey the fact that only swapping out lightbulbs and switching to reusable bags ain't gonna cut it.

I might even make it more personal too, saying something like, "Since transforming my lifestyle into something much simpler, that uses a fraction of the energy I used to, I have never been happier or more fulfilled. I am debt free. I work less hours than ever, but my bank account keeps growing. I have time to pursue my passions and be with the people I love."

Well, the absolute best part about going up on the wall was being able to give a nod to Shannon Hayes' Radical Homemakers! If even one visitor looks that up after the exhibit, and digs a little deeper, that would be awesome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Lifetime of Quiet Adventure

Well it's official. I completed my permaculture design course! It was such a rich, full course with fantastic instructors and a great group of fellow participants. My brain has a lot to digest over the coming months and years. I recently heard permaculturist and author of Edible Forest Gardens Dave Jacke say in relation to the practice of permaculture that, "we have a lifetime of quiet adventure ahead of us." How lovely is that? A lifetime of quiet adventure. Yes! Bring it on.

Now that the course is finished I finally have time to do all my fall gardening, foraging and harvesting. Everything's getting done in much smaller chunks now that the days are rapidly shortening, but I like the pace. It means I'm home with plenty of time to make dinner and can also spend some time catching up on chores inside the house. Things tend to descend into a state of organised chaos during the summer months when most of my free time is spent outside, but come fall I like to fluff up the nest and give it a thorough cleaning in preparation for hibernating.

I'm planting garlic right now and I'm so grateful for the mild weather we're having. We'd like to double our garlic harvest next year, so the 140 bulbs or so are going in 20 or 30 bulbs at a time in various patches throughout our four plots. In true permaculture fashion I'm stacking functions by harvesting dandelion roots at the same time.

Yes folks, it's dandelion season! I harvest roots in the early spring too, but I find the fall roots have a richer flavour. It's a good time to harvest leaves as well, as the frosts will have taken some of the bitterness out and sweetened them up a bit. For me though, I'm all about the roots. I love roasted dandelion root coffee, and this year I want to harvest enough to last me all winter.

My method is pretty simple. If I see a dandelion growing in my garden beds, I welcome it with open arms and give it room to grow. I'll harvest flowers and leaves and if it starts taking up a bit too much space, I might cut it back once or twice. I make sure to let some flowers go to seed, ensuring a continual crop. Some dandelions I leave for a season to get nice and big. But when it's time to work and plant a bed (like I'm doing now with garlic) I harvest any dandelion roots in the bed by gently loosening the soil around the roots with a garden fork and pulling them out of the ground.

Yes, washing, chopping, drying and roasting is lengthy and labour intensive, but I find it enjoyable work and I know the rewards will be great. Amazing even. It's that good. Here's a nice description of the process.
And some more sources on the awesomeness of dandelion:
Steve Brill on Dandelion

Dandelion: Unsung Heros of the Plant World

Mother Earth News

Speaking of quiet adventure, I borrowed a friend's van and the ADG and I went out last night and liberated about 40 bags of "yard waste" from the neighbourhood and brought them to our plots where we'll use them to mulch beds and create leaf mold. Hopefully, one day I won't need fossil fuels for the job, because the food forest that is in my future will generate its own!

I hope you all are having many wonderful, quiet adventures!

Thursday, November 3, 2011


"And lavender, whose spikes of azure bloom
shall be, ere-while, in arid bundles bound
to lurk amidst the labours of her loom,
and crown her kerchiefs with mickle rare perfume."

~William Shenstone, The School Mistress 1742