Thursday, 30 June 2011

Can You Guess What These Are For?

These are so handy!  My Mom crocheted them for us, and we use them at breakfast :)  Any guesses????





They are finger mitts to keep your finger and thumb from burning when you hold your soft boiled egg to slice the top off it :)

Aren't they great?  I don't crochet, but I included a close up for those of you who do and want to copy them.  She doesn't use a pattern, she just "wings it" :)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Strawberry Bliss!

Here they are in all their glory - the first juicy red berries, with (hopefully) many more to come!   I started out with just a few plants 18 months ago, and they've settled in well.  The suckers are filling out the planting area quite nicely, so hopefully, we'll have more fruit each year.

Yesterday, I mulched the strawberry bed with straw to prevent the ripening berries from rotting on the soil.  It's so disappointing when you pick a DELICIOUS looking ripe juicy berry only to discover that the entire back half of it is rotten from resting on the ground.  So sad and very wasteful!  The straw will hopefully take care of that problem and will provide a clean dry place for these little gems to bask in the sunshine and ripen to ruby perfection!

I've planted my strawberries in a sheltered spot against a garden shed, so they tend to ripen a little sooner than others in the area.   Our local U-Pick Farm won't have ripe strawberries for another 2 weeks due to our late arriving summer weather.  We have a date with friends to go berry picking in a few weeks and then we'll be busy working hard to preserve heaps of berries in every way imaginable!  Jam, pie, syrup, and simply frozen and dried.   For now though, I'll be more than content with eating what comes my way from our garden.

If you have some berries, take a few minutes to make this - I PROMISE you, you won't regret it!!!!!

Incredibly Good Strawberry Shortcake That You Can't Have Just One Slice Of!

1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 3/4 cup flour
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place milk and butter in a pot on medium/high heat to scald (heat until boiling and butter is melted).  Do not let it boil over, turn off immediately.  Set aside.  Blend sugar, vanilla and egg until well beaten.  Add remaining ingredients and beat for one minute.  Add hot milk and butter mixture and beat again until velvety and smooth.

Place in greased and floured 9x13 pan or 2 round cake pans.  Bake approximately 25-35 minutes depending on the pans used.  Done when toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool in pans.

Serve slathered with slightly sweetened whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries with a steaming hot cup of strong tea.  Bliss!

Art Show

This post is mainly for the benefit of our family living in BC, so kindly bear with me :)

Our three youngest children took art classes from a fellow homeschooling parent who has a teaching degree with a minor in Art.  She herself is an talented artist and she did a fantastic job teaching the kids various techniques.  It was a challenge for her as the class had students from 6-14, so the ability (and patience) levels were all over the map, but she pulled it off!  The kids created a massive array of artwork in 6 months - this is only a little bit of what they produced.  Sparkling apple juice (in champagne flutes!) and a cheese platter with fruit made it all seem very "artsy" as we walked around appreciating their semester's work.  The kids loved it!

 This computer mouse was turned into a "mouse" with a tail in the sculpture lesson.

The kids were taught some photography skills and they took great pictures!

All in all a great experience for the kids from the first lesson to the Art Show.  Thank you Dana!  XO

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cold Summer Meals

The LAST thing my family wants to eat for supper at the end of a sweltering summer day is a hot meal.   Kelly and both our oldest boys are working in construction which means a long day in the searing hot sun. Coming home to a tasty cold supper when you are overheated and exhausted is a comfort rather like coming to hot stew on a cold winter's day :)

Today turned out to be hot and humid so that signalled me to make the first cold supper of the year!  I cooked some pasta after lunch that became the base for a hearty, nutritious cold pasta salad.  Served with a fresh green salad it's a very satisfying and refreshing meal on a hot day.  Because I started it early, I had time to chill it before my family will be home for supper.

I particularly like to make pasta salad because it is a great way to use up bits of this and that from the fridge.  Today's pasta salad included red, green and yellow peppers, leftover bacon, leftover cured farmer's sausage (cubed), diced fresh asparagus, leftover bits of cheese from the fridge (grated and cubed), parmesan cheese and oodles of fresh basil, parley and oregano from the garden. 

Some other ideas for cold summer dishes are:

* potato salad
* cold cooked chicken
* lettuce wraps
* sandwich pitas or tortillas
* egg salad sandwiches
* a mixed platter of snacks (cold sliced meats or garlic sausage, cheeses, veggies and crackers)
* fruit salad with yogurt and granola
* hummus with fresh pitas and veggies
* tortilla chips with fresh salsa and guacamole
* chefs salad (loaded with grilled meat or leftover cold meat from the fridge)

The other benefit to having cold suppers in summer is that many of them can prepared very early in the day and put in the fridge to keep until suppertime.  It's is a wonderful feeling to have supper totally ready in the morning so that you can relax and enjoy the rest of your day without clock watching.  It never fails, I'm usually up to my eyeballs on a project or in the garden when it's time to come in and make supper :)

The possibilities for cold suppers are endless, and I'd love some suggestions - do share your ideas for cold meals on hot days!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Bartering and Trading

Recently, I've traded eggs and jam for canning jars, seed potatoes, homemade cheese and chili pepper plants.  For 6 months, I traded business coaching services and childcare for the weekly Art Classes that my children took.  I've also swapped clothing that my kids outgrew for new food grade plastic buckets to store grain in.

I love to trade!  It's an awesome way to "buy" what you need without any money changing hands.  Think about what you have or make that has value to others and offer to exchange :)  Produce, fruit off your trees, plants, eggs, preserved food, handwork, baking, soaps and salves, childcare, cleaning services, etc.  You could even teach someone a skill that you know in exchange for goods.  

Ask your family, your neighbours, your friends and your co-workers - opportunities to swap are everywhere.  I'd love to hear about your swapping transactions... new ideas are always welcome!

Saturday, 25 June 2011


A snap to grow, harvest and cook.  Delicious when sauteed in butter with a little salt and pepper.  Paired with anything from meat to eggs, it's a delicious way to get your greens!

We enjoyed this colourful selection last night with garden potatoes (from the neighbour's harvest last year) and pastured pork grilled on the BBQ.  Yummy summer meals...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Listening To Your Garden

The disappointment that food gardeners can face is sometimes harsh and painful.  We give energy and effort in boundless quantities, with lofty dreams and big plans for bountiful harvests and yet, in spite of that effort, sometimes things go wrong.  I'm learning to hold my plans loosely, hoping for the best, but braced for the worst as the variables affecting harvest are astoundingly numerous and often out of my control.  Weather, moisture, soil condition, pests, seed viability, competition from weeds, animals...  the list goes on.  In the face of gut wrenching disappointment, we stalwart gardeners bravely pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and try, try again.  Oh, how hope does spring eternal in the gardener's heart!

I'm finally learning to listen to my garden.  Oh yes, gardens really do speak to us.  They whisper little messages, often subtle, that warn us of problems and impending trouble.  Slow growth, yellowed leaves, pest damage, poor germination...  many signs are often present, prodding us to investigate.  We can live for a few days comfortably busy in the "Land of Denial", but soon, the obvious hits us smack in the face.  There's a problem.  And it's big. 

In late May, I planted 2 varieties of heritage corn and sadly only one of the varieties has sprouted and taken off (Bi Color).  I've since read that "Country Gentleman" is not the best germinator, so that explains why nothing is happening with that seed (should have done a little more research beforehand, I guess...)  It's sad and frustrating, but I need to move on and plant something else.   The plot is a tad shadier than I expected (my short hoop house blocks more sun than I thought), so I think I peas are in order.  My garden tells me so :)

Yesterday, I prepped the area by turning over the top few inches of soil (the weeds were so bad, I am now calling them a cover crop - wink).  The digging was a chance to think.   I should have dealt with the problem sooner, but I chose to ignore it thinking that "things" would surely be happening soon...  Yesterday, it was blatantly obvious (after some quick calculating of days in my head) that there was NO way that corn (even if it did germinate) would be harvest ready before the first frost.  So...  the decision was made to "cull" what few little plants were growing and move on.   The Lincoln Homesteader peas have been soaking overnight, and they'll be planted ceremoniously today marking a fresh start for the garden and for me.

Slow down today, and "listen" to your garden.. is it quietly telling you that something is amiss?


Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Frugal, Nutritious Supper

I was rummaging around in the freezer looking for something to serve for supper tonight, and I came across 3 individual bags of bones leftover from 3 different meals.  Eureka!  The ingredients for a hearty and nutritious chowder were at my fingertips, so here's what I did:

First, I popped the bags of bones and meat scraps into my pressure cooker with enough water to just about cover them.  I covered it tightly and put it on high heat.  Once it reached high pressure, I cooked it at that steady heat for one hour.  Believe it or not, with a pressure cooker, that's enough time to fully extract the gelatine and all the nutrition from the bones and have the meat literally falling off the bones.  I love my pressure cookers as they make such fast work of creating incredible stock!

Once it cooled a bit, I strained the contents of the pot, and left all the bones and meat scraps to cool in the strainer.  I returned the stock to the pot and added lots of chopped onion, some celery and carrots and diced potatoes.   Back went the lid, and I returned the pressure cooker to high pressure for about 12 minutes.  I turned off the heat and allowed it to release pressure on it's own as it cooled, while I worked at pulling the slightly cooled meat off the bones.  I was left with just a few larger bones (which were discarded) but everything else went to good use.

The bits that I didn't want in the soup went into the chicken scrap bucket for our hens (food producing animals get priority for scraps at our house).   This bowl full of meat (mostly ham) was destined for the chowder.

Next step was to thicken the stock and turn it into a chowder by adding a litre of whipping cream and about 1/2 cup flour (mixed thoroughly with some water first to form a batter consistency).    I let this simmer for a while and it thickened into a gorgeous creamy chowder in just a few minutes.  I then added some frozen peas for color and to use up what I had left in the freezer.  They cooked up quickly and then I added the bowl of tender flavourful meat that I had set aside.

In about an hour and half (very little of that was hands on time), I had a fantastically tasty chowder on the table.  Served with some home made bread, it was very satisfying and as a bonus - packed with nutrition.

If you don't own a pressure cooker, I'd recommend looking into getting one.  They are a very worthwhile investment!

1) saving money (you can cook less expensive meats fork tender in them)
2) saving time (cooking stock, whole grains, beans and legumes is much faster!)
3) boosting nutrition (getting all the minerals out of the bones making your stock very gelatinous)

We'll get 2 meals out of this large pot of chowder, and for a cost of about $7.00CAD, that's a very frugal way to feed 7 people for 2 suppers!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Vintage Finds

Loving these three vintage glass insulators on my kitchen windowsill... they glow beautifully in the morning light.

and this lovely pillow case, hand embroidered *and* with a crocheted edging.  It needs a good ironing, but I couldn't wait to show you :)


I kid you not it has been raining for well over a week!  We've had VERY brief pockets of dry skies, but the rain always returns a few hours (or minutes!) later.  The ground is absolutely saturated and is now puddling everywhere (including the garden).  I'm very worried that my potatoes will rot and I'd hate to have to replant them at this late date.

 carrot seedlings (in need of another weeding) literally swimming....

 peas are underwater (along with their neighbouring weeds)

The new garden (most recently planted) is horribly flooded.  These potatoes are the ones I'm worried about most.

We had to put a bale of straw down in front of the coop in the hen run because the poor girls were having to negotiate a very gooey quagmire of squelchy mud to get into the coop.  Poor girls had mud all over their feet which meant that the eggs were absolutely filthy!

I managed to get 2 rows of beans weeded yesterday in-between showers, but that took some doing!  It was soggy and the soil was like gumbo - sticking to my garden clogs like glue.  I gave up after those 2 rows, it was such a difficult task to walk with what felt like concrete blocks on my feet.  My wonderful husband pulled up the row cover over the brassicas on Saturday during a dry spell and weeded the entire double row (you see half of it below) which was a HUGE help for me.  Thanks, babe.

One bright spot to the heavy rainfall - we don't have to fill the pool!   10 days ago, Kelly set up the above ground pool that we got off my my brother.   We had to have some water trucked in to fill it 2/3 full as our well can't handle filling a pool of this size.  We were planning to fill the rest slowly over the course of a week, but the long rain spell has meant that it's now nearly full of lovely soft rain water :)

We created our own happiness indoors today - much more colourful than what's outside right now :)

A Day For Dads

Happy 19th Father's Day to the man I married nearly 21 years ago.   The father of our 5 amazing children deserves to be celebrated!  You are my rock, my Mr. Steady, my honey, my love...

Today, Daddy-O, we pamper and spoil you, letting you rest and relax, to enjoy whatever YOU want to!  It's YOUR day!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Rain.... Rain and More Rain....

Rainy day naps and snuggle time...

It's WET!  We've had days and days of rain, with many more to come.  The garden was DRY and needed the boost of a sustained rainfall, and of course our local farmers needed the rain to germinate their crops.   There's nothing quite like a long rain to perk up a garden.   Tap water doesn't seem to have nearly the same effect, does it?   I am stunned at the growth in the garden as a result - plants are growing daily with visible progress.  Once the sun comes out and the heat of summer truly kicks in, the garden will grow like gangbusters and take off.  I am always astounded at how quickly plants grow here when conditions are right - you can sit and *almost* watch it happen right before your eyes.  In spite of the fact that we have such a short growing season, we manage to produce a lot of food in that very short time frame and for that I am thankful.

Because of the wet weather, we've been stalled out on outdoor projects, and instead, have been busy indoors.  The kids rooms got switched around, making more room for a larger bed for Megan.  She's growing so fast, she doesn't fit a twin bed anymore!  Kelly made some sturdy shelves and mounted them above our freezers in the mechanical room.  These will effectively free up more space in the basement storage room/pantry for our "soon to come" preserved garden harvest.  Better to deal with that now BEFORE we have hundreds of jars of preserved food to store away and nowhere to put them :)

Kelly was fortunate to be able to buy some leftover steel shelving from work which will hold thousands of pounds, so I won't have to worry about overloading the shelves with heavy quart jars.  What a treat!   I've been busy moving things around to make room for him to work, sorting and organizing and generally supporting the job in whatever way I can.  We're at the "things get worse before they get better stage" though, and everything is everywhere, lol.  Pics will follow in another post when we're done so check back in a few days for the "reveal".

In between helping Kelly, I managed to get my ironing basket emptied and all the mending done!  Those are excellent rainy day tasks, as I certainly won't be found doing those jobs on a nice day.  Around here, when you get a good day to be outdoors, you get busy outside!  We get enough inside time 6 months of the year when the snow flies and that memory of being housebound this past winter is still fresh in my mind - after all, I JUST packed away the winter coats and mitts a few weeks ago!  Gotta love prairie life...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Kale Yumminess

Our cold frame, spring seeded Kale was ready to harvest, so a few days ago, in the dewy early morning hours, it got picked and brought in for a good washing.

My children turned up their noses at the idea of eating Kale (after all it did smell a bit like stinky rotten cabbage according to the younger set), so I decided to introduce it in the best possible light - with cheese sauce (and a few bits of leftover cooked veg from the fridge)!

Score:  1 Mom
           0 Picky Veggie Eaters

To make a fast and easy kid friendly cheese sauce that guarantees plates to be scraped clean of any vegetable:

1. melt a few Tbsp of butter in a pan or large microwaveable pyrex measuring cup
2. to that, add roughly a few TBSP of flour and about 1/2 cup milk
3. stir with a whisk and return to heat to thicken (add more milk if it is too thick - you want a creamy saucy texture)
4. add grated cheese (we use cheddar but you could use anything you like)
5. return to heat to melt and heat through, stirring frequently (it will thicken more as the cheese melts
6. season with pepper, salt if it needs it (cheese can be salty so you may not need any) and always a dash of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

The entire family gobbled up the Cheesy Kale and and asked for more!  Now that they all think Kale is absolutely delicious, I'll be serving it up in different ways that are a little more budget friendly than in a rich cheese sauce...  :)   Recipes, anyone?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Learning Through Play

I'm amazed at how much learning takes place through imaginative free play.  I have evolved tremendously as a home school parent in 6 years and that's a very good thing. My kids have learned more and most importantly, retained more as a result.   I've learned that my most important jobs are to keep media use way down, provide a houseful of books on varied topics, have some interesting resources on hand (the best ones are always free!), ask thought provoking questions and LISTEN.  When I allow the kids to go to town on an idea of theirs and stay out the way (but within earshot), SO much learning takes place.  Learning that is permanently etched into the brain.  So much more meaningful than worksheets and assignments!  The key for me is to make myself available for help when questions come up.  Very often, I know that what they are trying to do won't work, but I keep my mouth closed about it and let them try.  When it doesn't work, they discover WHY and are (in their words) "back to square one" to do it again differently.  Learning is so much more experiential that way and their brains get an excellent workout in creative thinking/problem solving.  They don't look to me for direction as to what to do next - they brainstorm a few solutions, pick the best one and try it.  I love that they are free thinkers and creative problem solvers!  If you haven't read or listened to any of Sir Ken Robinson's work, I encourage you to do so. He is an idol of sorts to me in the field of education...

We have had a collection of boxes kicking around recently and since the kids have discovered the pile, the imaginative power and value of those boxes has skyrocketed!  They have been in use for many different purposes of late - most notably, an apartment, a fort and a reading nook.  Yesterday, the kids had an idea to make a restaurant on the front deck with them.  Excellent!  Math, reading and writing all in one game :)  Menu and order writing, math to add up the bill and make change plus plenty of logic in terms of sequencing/timing events.    Paige wondered how to make a sink out of cardboard for the restaurant.  A very animated discussion ensued about the permeability of various materials.  Ideas flew.  Methods were tried, altered and retried.  Failures continued.  A lot of tape, effort and determination were used and ultimately, a usable sink was created.  Success!!  Experiments continued and questions arose about how long it would hold water.  The decision to hold that experiment over the bathtub was very wise, indeed...  The answer?  Long enough to do one load of "restaurant" dishes but not long enough to do a second load...

At this age, kids are entrenched in imaginative play.   It's wonderful to afford them the chance to be kids and get deeply involved in one of their games.  Often times, the questions that come up are so insightful and intelligent.  MANY times, I don't know the answer and off we go to look it up either in an encyclopedia, in a book or on the computer.  That's why it's important for me to be nearby so I can capture those learning moments and steer them to an appropriate resource.  When we look topics up "in the heat of the moment", the information is relevant and timely, having valuable purpose in that moment, which so powerfully seals it into their brains.  True RETENTION is perfectly demonstrated when the kids recall (on their own) and utilize or implement previously learned information in context, appropriately and spontaneously.  True confirmation of retention!  Those are the sweet rewards of Home Education :) 

Version one of the sink....

Taking orders from a customer (lucky me!).

The functioning sink (version 4, I believe).

All in all, creative learning involving math, science, logic, problem solving, writing and all for free!