Friday, 30 September 2011

All Is Good

I awoke to this gorgeous start to the day..... and the best part???
See that truck in the right hand bottom corner?  

He's home *sigh*

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Kitchen Day With Power Tools!

After several days with too much time away from home, the list of kitchen jobs waiting for me was a mile long!   Kelly is coming home tomorrow after 24 days of out of town work, so I really wanted to get it all done before he gets home so we can relax and enjoy the weekend together.

The apples needed processing, so we set up an assembly line (washing, pressure cooking, milling, simmering, jarring, pressure canning).  I mixed crabapples with the freecycle apples that I received over the weekend to create a basic but tasty applesauce.  I have no time for pie making, as I'm stretched too thin at the moment, so applesauce it is!  I can use it in baking as well as a topping for oatmeal and ice cream.

 Into the pressure cooker with a bit of water & process for 15 minutes. Let cool naturally.

Dump cooked whole apples into the hopper of my Bosch grinder attachment which leads to the berry press (basically, a food mill).

Out comes the skins, seeds and stems into the bowl but....

 underneath, the pulp and juice is collected!  How easy is THAT?  No prep time, no cutting chopping and peeling, no stemming...  I am very thankful for my Bosch Kitchen Machine and it's attachments as I use them all the time.  Tools like this machine and my pressure cookers are what I consider to be worthwhile investments.  I use them constantly!

After simmering on the stovetop for a while with some cinnamon and bit of sugar, the applesauce was ladled into jars and pressure cooked.  

17 jars of organic applesauce are cooling on my counter as I type and it feels so good to get that done.

On to tomatoes...  those 100 lbs that I harvested?  Well, they are starting to ripen with a vengeance :) 

As they ripen, I quarter them, coat in olive oil, sprinkle seasonings and roast until just turning brown on top.  After a quick trip through the food processor, it all simmers while I add more seasonings and spices to taste.

 Instead of canning this sauce, I made a big pot of chili today which was delicious and SO flavourful!  There is enough for tomorrow night's supper, too.

I also made 4 loaves of wholewheat bread and some cookies.  No pictures of that - I was really hopping today and wasn't taking pictures of everything I did - we were juggling some schoolwork in between batches :)  It all worked out - as the pressure cookers were processing, I could read to the kids or work on math with them...  we got it all done somehow without rushing - just steady progress all day.

In spite of being a long day full of kitchen work, it feels really good to get it all done.  A whole day's mess, yes, but if I'm in the kitchen anyways (to monitor my pressure cookers), I might as well be making something else ~ and if the oven is warm from roasting tomatoes, I might as well be baking something in it after they come out...

I have to admit though, that I'm really feeling tired of canning...  I'm grateful for the food, but I'm more than ready for some winter work :)  The slower pace and the shorter days with more time to rest and read will be a welcome change of pace...

Ahhhh... soon!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Freecycle Food

I love Freecycle...  it's such a fantastic way to get rid of useful things that you no longer need.  Our Freecycle network has become like a friendly neighbourhood here which I absolutely love.  The vibe is great!  The giving and receiving is a constant daily ebb and flow...

On Sunday, I responded to a post about free apples.  A family had picked and stored all that they could possibly consume, so they posted for someone to take the rest.  Um....  I'll take them!   Our trees produced well but because they are still young, we didn't get near as many as we need.  Our neighbours kindly gave us a lot of apples too, but I need more and was planning to buy them very soon.

I received a reply to my request for the apples within minutes and I arranged to pick them up on my way through town at mid-day - no extra trip into town required!

This picture shows only half of what I received - there were 4 large bags of picked apples.  My sinks are very deep so the picture doesn't really do them justice :)   I don't know the variety, but they are mild, sweet eating apple.  Combined with the tart cooking apples that I received from our neighbours, they will produce delicious apple pies, crisps and applesauce.

Yesterday and today, we have been busy washing, separating and cooking.  Any apples that are too bruised are given to the chickens (and are promptly devoured!).  Apples that are only mildly bruised or marked are cooked down into applesauce my pressure cooker for 15 minutes.  The apples that were in perfect condition were heaped into a bowl for fresh eating or refrigerated.

I'm also testing to see if vacuum sealing them will keep them fresh in the fridge for longer.  I'll let you know how that goes!  I don't throw the vacuum bags out unless they have had raw meat stored in them, so that saves buying new bags which are costly.

I noticed that when I posted a "excess fruit wanted" ad on Freecycle mid-summer, not only did I receive replies (and fruit), but also, many other people decided to post to have someone take their excess produce.  It created a mini-wave of food sharing during the harvest season which was awesome to see.  This year alone, I received free crabapples, raspberries and apples :) 

Have you ever received food through your freecycle network?

Sunday, 25 September 2011


Hard frosts are just around the corner.  It's hard to believe with the hot sunny weather we've enjoyed all week, but I know all to well that this is the "calm before the storm".  Soon, my breath will be a cloud of white as I crunch across frozen ground to feed the chickens.  Soon... but not yet....

I had the kids pull our onions and bring them all up to the deck to cure in the sun for a few days.  I'm told this helps them keep better.   Is that so?  I've never had enough onions to actually store any...

I plan to hang the onions in braids so I can just cut off a few as I need them.  Have any of you done this?  Do you have any tried and true tips for keeping onions?

Do share!

Freezer Work

The freezers are looking a bit more organized and spacious because I've been busy making stock.  I defrosted 3 chicken carcasses and 7 big bags of beef bones to make room for the coming lamb and pork order.

Pressure cooking is the fastest and most effective way to make a lot of stock, so that's what I've been up to these past few days...

Here's the chicken carcasses (left over from roast chicken dinners) covered in onions and herbs from the garden.  An hour is plenty of time in the pressure cooker to make a rich chicken stock - shocking, but true :)   I did the same for the beef bones, but I roasted them in the oven first to give them a nice colour and rich flavour.  I pressure cook beef bones for a little longer as they are bigger and much more meaty - say 1.5 - 2 hours.  

This is what I'm left with - broth, scraps, and meat.  Because of pressure cooking, the meat isn't all rubbery and tasteless, so I do pick it off the bones and use it (or freeze for future use).  I popped the stock into the fridge overnight so that the fat would solidify on top for easier removal.

See how gelatinous the refrigerated broth is?  I stood this spatula up in it!  This is a sign that all the nutrition has been pulled from the bones during cooking (which is the benefit of eating broth/stock from healthy pastured animals).

This was my first attempt at pressure cooking stock for pantry storage.  I'm desperate to free up freezer space!  It seems to have been successful, and in total, I have 6 jars of beef stock and 4 jars of chicken stock.  I love how rich the colour is - all from roasting the bones and pressure cooking.  The flavours are full bodied and delicious.

I'm really looking forward to the ease of use - open and pour.  Slow food made fast! :)

Friday, 23 September 2011


My "work" is shifting as autumn rolls in... from digging, weeding and planting to picking, chopping and canning.  Clearly, I've traded gardening gloves and an aching back for a stained apron and aching feet.   I'm constantly humbled by the fact that this life we are purposing to live is not one of quick work.  It's a life of slow work and long days.  If it feels like I'm working for every bite we eat, it's because I am...   from seed to table, I dare not calculate how much of me is in each bite...

In spite of all that work and time, it feels so good.  Good homegrown food is the direct result of hard work which satisfies a need deep inside... a need long buried under years of weekly trips to the store.  I've traded grocery lists, muzak and wobbly carts squeaking under fluorescent lights for garden chores, seeds, spades, chirping birds and light breezes under bright blue skies.

I'll take the latter thank you very much. 

The reality is that we work for our food.  We either pay with money or we pay with dirty hands, an aching back and a stained apron :)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


With autumn officially here, we crave comforting warm meals ~ a welcome change from the cold suppers of summer.  My neighbours gave us a HUGE zucchini and as my children aren't crazy for that vegetable, I decided to "doctor it up" a little :)

My version of stuffed zucchini started with cutting it up into 4 large "boats".  I removed the bottom of each "boat" so that each piece (when stuffed) would sit nicely in the pan and not tip over.  Because the zucchini was large and a bit overgrown, I chose to pre-boil the "boats" to soften and pre-cook them a bit.  2 mins in boiling salted water was all that was needed.  Then I placed them into a greased pan.  

While the zucchini was blanching, I tore up lots of whole wheat bread crumbs into a bowl (about half a loaf) to which I added loads of garden herbs (oregano, basil, thyme, parsley), garden tomatoes, chopped onion, sea salt, pepper, grated cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese and melted butter.  No specific quantities - add variations of this list/what's in your garden and mix well until it's moist and thoroughly combined.  It should look roughly like the picture below.

Distribute the stuffing into the "boats" and then pour a little bit of tomato sauce on top.  Sprinkle a bit more cheese on top of that - I used cheddar.

Bake at 350F for about 30-45 minutes - or until it looks like this and the zucchini (when tested with a fork) is tender and yields to the slightest pressure.  

Sit back and watch it disappear faster than cookies :)

* Freezer organization is halfway done... yeah!  

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Freezer Organization

I kept tossing things into the freezer willy nilly all summer as I was so busy gardening and harvesting that I couldn't justify spending any time getting it sorted out.  Boy, I'm paying the price for that now - things have tumbled over and are mixed up (also because the kids have "helped" to take things down to the freezers).  Everything is everywhere!  I can't at a moment's glance see how many packets of anything I have so it's time for an overhaul BEFORE my pork and lamb order arrives in early October.  My freezers are both nearly full NOW so it's time to defrost a few things that need using up and make some room.  Also, because the food isn't stacked neatly, I suspect that there is a lot of wasted space that could be reclaimed.  I've got 2 weeks before the meat is ready for pickup, so that should be enough time to make a dent in things.

Here's the before shots (hiding head in shame!):

 Freezer 1 - under the bread and veggies is meat!

 Freezer 2 - all organic grass fed meat - beef, chicken and turkeys.

The freezer above the basement fridge.  A few chickens, lots of veggies, berries and frozen tomato sauce in ziplocks.  I never did take a picture of the upstairs fridge freezer.  Trust me, it looks pretty messy, too!

I started with defrosting a large chuck roast yesterday.  I pressure cooked it into yummy goodness and we ate it for supper last night.  It's a start!   If I don't post back here in a couple of days with the AFTER pictures, can you all please hound me until I get the job done?

Wish me luck!

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Table

Oh my...  the table.  Our kitchen table is "work central" for close to 16 hours/day.  We share meals there naturally, but also, we complete school lessons at it, we do art projects there, we prep food on it, fold clean laundry, share conversation, sip tea...  you get the idea.  It's basically full of "stuff" from dawn to dusk.  

Therin lies the problem...

This is a picture taken when the kids dashed outside suddenly to chase a fox away from the yard.  Just keepin' it real, folks...  this is NOT staged (who would stage THIS!?).

Clockwise from the top:

1) a math game (school with the 2 younger kids)
2) remnants of a snack (eaten while I read aloud to them)
3) a part of a balloon animal (the rest got popped by the cat)
4) papers for schooling
5) label maker for organizing supplies
6) sketching pencils in case from our nature study (we were sketching the Blotched Tiger Salamander that we found in back of our house that morning )

7) binoculars to keep an eye out across the road for wildlife - we see animals every day!
8) a coloured rainbow picture done just for me by sweet as pie 8 year old
9) liquid paper because she slipped and wanted to cover up a little mistake
10) school books
11) pea pods - we were shelling peas and eating them raw while working on school :)
12) our beloved Emma Bridgewater Speckled Hen plate - snack eaten
13) water cup
14) said peas
15) and dead centre - candles from last night's supper (what a lovely touch, don't you think, lol)

So - the table pretty much looks like that (or variations of it) all day long.  We clear it, it gets full.  We clear it again and it fills up.  I have nothing against that really, it's all good stuff that goes on there - learning, eating, conversation, art, fun and lots of laughter...  It's just that when the table is constantly full of stuff, my mind feels so cluttered and I feel stressed and unorganized.  Serving meals becomes hard...  rallying everyone to clear it and set it for supper...

I did a little experiment today :)  I figured that if I instigated a little bit of seasonal table decorating, the kids would be more likely to put things away immediately when finished.  I also bet that "I" would be motivated to do the same :)  So, I started to work on putting the fall display together for the table this morning and the kids excitedly joined in. Crabapples are a favourite fall snack, the wee pumpkins are from our garden and the darling pinecone candles were bought in new condition months ago for pennies at the thrift store.  I had them squirrelled away until today!  We all (inspired) cleared the table, put everything away and wiped it down well.

Wow!  Great reaction from the kids...  "Hey, Mom" they said "let's keep the table like this - it looks really good without all the stuff on it", to which I replied (ever so calmly) "what great idea!".

If they only knew....  :)

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Frugal Comfort Food

We needed a hearty breakfast this morning as the children had swimming lessons
 to attend first thing.  Let's see.... what's fast, nutritious, filling and NOT sugary?  Fried garden potatoes and onions topped with eggs from our hens and a side of applesauce (made recently from our own apples!).  In my thoughts, if you have a garden, potatoes should be at least half of the total square footage - they are so versatile and delicious and they store easily for many months.

We took sandwiches for the 2 youngest kids for lunch as they are always STARVING when they get out of the pool and I knew they wouldn't be able to wait until we got home.  Taking some snacks or a lunch prevents the urgent clambering for a fast food meal and helps keep the budget in check.

Late this afternoon, I decided to make a hearty chicken stew for supper.  I've been fighting a cold, and I had a few chicken carcasses in the freezer to use up, so today seemed the perfect day to do it.  I popped the partially defrosted carcasses into my pressure cooker and then added water, a few onions, some seasoning and springs of herbs from the garden.  Because they were not defrosted all the way, I cooked them a little longer than the usual hour and during that time, I prepped some veggies for the stew (garden carrots & peas, more onions and some corn from the pantry).

After natural pressure release, I strained the broth and let the bones and meat cool while I added the uncooked veggies to the broth.  A short return to high pressure (6 mins) was plenty to fully cook the carrots and onions, then I added the peas and corn.  While that simmered, I picked off the meat from the bones to add to the stew.  I don't like to use the meat from the bones if it has been cooked in a slow cooker all day as it's rubbery and tasteless, but when broth is made in a pressure cooker, the texture and flavour of the meat is much better, so I use it.  I also added the leftover fried potatoes and onions from breakfast (we are trying not to let leftovers go to waste) which gave the stew some bulk and great flavour.  A bit of flour mixed with water was used to thicken the stew, and I adjusted the herbs and seasonings to our taste.

This stew is delicious and flavourful! It's a great frugal meal that's tremendously healthy and easy to make.  I LOVE my pressure cookers for this task as it cuts down dramatically on the time needed to cook meals that traditionally need a whole day of simmering.  There's even enough left for another meal which will make my life SO much easier tomorrow.  Cooking once to eat twice is aces in my book!


Thanks for the input about the tomatoes!  I did go ahead and pick yesterday but we chose to leave leave just a few on the vines to see what happens (good idea, Andrea).  I'm guessing (forgot to weigh) that we picked about 100lbs.  Could easily be more, but 100lbs "feels" about right... 5 large baskets and boxes, each weighing the same (some more) than a 20lb sack potatoes.  How's that for scientific accuracy?  lol

We've put some tomatoes on the windowsill and counter to ripen for immediate use and the rest went down into the cool basement storage pantry all laid out on newspaper and cardboard.  I have ripened tomatoes this way before and it worked very well.  As long as you check them frequently, and discard any that are rotting/mottled, the rest will slowly ripen on their own.   I'll be using them in our daily cooking but I'll also be making more tomato sauce if I end up with enough ripening at the same time.  I've got the jars ready to go, so I can easily do that as needed.

I picked another large bin of peas yesterday and we blanched them for the freezer.  These plants grew from seeds that I sowed after I pulled out my failed corn crop in mid-summer (making lemons from lemonade so to speak).  I should get another few good pickings off the plants - they have just stopped flowering, but have a decent amount of pods remaining and all of them are filling out nicely.

I received a reply to my freecycle post asking for unwanted fruit, so I'm going crabapple picking this morning!  I LOVE crabapple jelly and the kids like to eat them, not minding the sour"ish" taste.  Does anyone have a yummy crabapple recipe to share?

There are MORE beans to pick today (ack!), but I'll have to can them from here on out because my freezers are getting too full and I'm worried about not having enough room for our pork order which will be ready in early October.

What a wonderful problem to have - full freezers :)  All the hard work of growing and sourcing local food is paying off - it will be so nice to shop from our basement all winter - what a great feeling to be stocked up!

I'll leave you with his hilarious picture that my daughter took.  I picked some carrots yesterday, and because I didn't thin them very well this year, there are a few mis-shapen ones.  One of them looks like it's got arms and they were wrapped around 2 other carrots in a loving embrace when I pulled it out of the ground, lol.  Megan added faces and staged a picture...

Thursday, 15 September 2011

To Pick or Not To Pick

Ack - such turmoil and conflict in my head!

My tomatoes (hundreds of them) are JUST NOW starting to ripen on the vine but our weather has cooled to fall temperatures.  Night time lows are around/just below zero and daytime highs are between 10C and 20C.   The extended forecast looks pretty stable with much of the same temperatures as we have now.

Do I pick them all green now and have them slowly ripen indoors or leave them another week and continue covering them with plastic each night?  Will that make much of a difference in the flavour and taste?   I am terrified of losing them to hard frost so I am much more vigilant about covering them fully.

What say you experienced northern gardeners???  Do I pick or leave them another week?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Shire Named Romeo

We had a busy day planned yesterday, with little time for margin, but we bent with the wind when we received a spontaneous invitation from our farming friends to come and ride their new Shire, Romeo.  Out the door we went (leaving schoolbooks where they sat) to head to the farm.

Romeo is still a young horse and at not quite 2, he still has a ways to grow.  He's gentle, kind and very peaceful - an absolutely beautiful horse with a tremendously calm disposition.  My friend is over the moon with her new love (aptly named Romeo).

We had a wonderful time and the kids LOVED every minute of it!  We even had an impromptu history lesson as we were able to learn a bit about Shire horses.  Did you know that Shires were used by knights in battle because they could easily carry 500lbs of soldier, sword and armour?  A force to be reckoned with as it was said that no one stood a chance if a charge of Shires were coming at you in battle.  Apparently, the ground literally shook like an earthquake when these large horses fully loaded for battle were charging at you.  Makes me glad to live in this century!

All in all a busy day filled with school lessons, ballroom dance, gardening, horse and farm, classical ballet, laundry, piano practice and bread baking.

Oh, yes, and a little bit of caffeine to get me through!    :)

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Northern September Garden

The garden is a little rough around the edges as I've not had much time for prettying it up. Essential services, I'm afraid, folks!  Picking, freezing and canning is about all I can muster at the moment with hubby away and schooling to tend to :)

The garden is nearing the end of production.  I'm happy and sad all at once!  I'm tired, and I've logged a lot of hours in this garden over the past few months, so a change is starting to look good to me.  We've had night time frost more than a few times but thankfully, warm sunny days still.  Not for long though, as by late October, we usually get snow!

 On the far left toward to back, are the last of the fava beans, next is 4 LONG rows of carrots, then a row of 1/2 brassicas (under the white cover) with beets in front and on to potatoes which we are slowly digging up as needed, then another row of brassica seedlings under the cover (hoping to squeeze another harvest out before snowfall), then onions at the back on the right.

 The tomatoes are just starting to ripen and I've had to cover them with plastic nearly every night to keep them from freezing.  Trying to buy them another week of sun is no small feat!
 Brandywines - I've planted pink and purple...  can't wait to taste them!

 Second crop of peas - these ones are Lincoln Homesteaders and are just ripening now :)

 The cucumbers are NOT liking the cold nights!  I doubt we'll get any more fruit off them...

 These are dry beans for winter storage - can't find the tag as the plants are so overgrown and mixed in with the corn!  I planted Portugese Dry and another variety that I can't recall now...

 Here's the corn patch with the dry beans growing with it.

 to the left of the corn is my greens patch plus another sowing of peas where the wobbly looking wire fencing is.  Doubt I'll get to harvest them before heavy frost, but you never know.
 The pole beans are STILL producing!  I am DROWNING in beans and my family is talking about a bean strike!  I think I'll have to freeze all the rest that I pick, lol.

 Today's picking of peas and beans with tomatoes (Taxi Yellow, Tiger Stripe and ? ).

 and some corn with the hens' eggs :)  So pretty - what a good feeling to have grown or produced all of this food on our land :)

and ONE of many nice big pumpkins!  The leaves are damaged from frost, but the pumpkins are fine :)   I didn't take a picture of this "second garden".  It's about 30'x20' and is strictly potatoes, corn and squash/pumpkins.  

We have a lot of digging to do to unearth the potatoes and carrots for winter storage.  We try to leave them in the ground as long as possible as they are best stored there than anywhere else.  After we dig the spuds, they will get put into boxes, which will be set on boards for air circulation, then slid into a dark cool corner of our garage.  The carrots will be washed and bagged for the basement fridge, and some will be stored in sand in the garage as an experiment.   The onions will hang in the garage.

Once everything is harvested, we'll set the hens loose each day in the garden to eat bugs and weeds for as long as they can stand the cold temps.  We'll clean out the coop once more before winter sets in and spread all the straw and manure over the garden.  Then we add BAGS and BAGS of dry leaves (collected from friends in the city) right before the snow starts to fall.  All winter this mulch decomposes under the snow and creates lovely soil.

I promise, that on the day of the first real snowfall, I'm going to just SIT and be thankful for the rest :)