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!