Sunday, 31 July 2011

Apricot Jam

A little wee touch of blackberry liqueur brought some nice complex flavour to this batch of jam.  The short jars on the right are my favourites (from the huge lot that I discovered at our local thrift shop a while back).   I LOVE the old fashioned shape and the lettering in gorgeous script (Dominion Gem and Improved Gem).  It'll be hard to give them away :)

I've got a batch of strawberry syrup simmering on the stove, but I'm not happy with it.  It's too pulpy for my liking, so I might have to strain it.  Harumph!  Will update when I come out from under the steam!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Full Days

 This single dragonfly is one of THOUSANDS that are thriving in and around our garden right now.  Dragonflies eat mosquitoes, and boy have we had mosquitoes this year!   I am astounded at how much nicer it is to work in the garden without having to constantly cover up and slather oneself in citronella.

What a beautiful rainbow we saw in front of our house yesterday.  So incredibly clear and bright - a rare treat to see...

These lovely FREE berries that I picked on Friday morning...

                  were transformed into ANOTHER batch of raspberry jam by afternoon...

and these strawberries bought spontaneously at rock bottom pricing on Friday afternoon....

                                 were turned into these Saturday morning.

Late Friday evening, I took delivery of 50lbs of organic cherries and 25lbs of organic apricots direct from the Okanagan.  They are absolutely BY FAR the most delicious fruits I've ever tasted!  I'm dreaming of apricot jam, cherry pies and a little more cherry blueberry jam...

The clock is really ticking because I've got green beans just about ready to pick.  Next week will be full steam ahead to can beans, and given the number of plants that I have, I'll be doing it for two weeks straight, lol!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Excuse Me... Pardon Me... I Beg Your Pardon... I'm So Sorry....

That's what I feel like saying to my plants every time I am in the garden now.  It's beginning to look like a jungle out there and I've come to the rather embarrassing conclusion that I planted everything WAY too close together.  What was I thinking?  Oh yes, I remember...  that early Spring desire to "get as much food out of every square inch of garden space as I could syndrome".  Gack!  I have no idea how I'll actually harvest anything - there's no room to walk anywhere in my garden!   When will I learn?

Once again, it's been raining for most of the week, so I've hardly set foot in the garden other than to let the chickens in and out, dig a few potatoes from the boggy ground and pick a few peas, so the growth is really astounding to me.  Lush and tropical are words that come to mind as the corn plants reach my chest today.  Do you see what I see?  The corn is flowering!

The bush beans have been in flower for a while now and they are forming nicely.  They're still too small to pick however, but they will be ready soon if we could just get a little sun!  These pole beans are fast climbing up the corn, and both plants seem in total agreement with the arrangement.

I desperately need to thin my carrots (and should have done that ages ago), but it just didn't happen with the torrential rains and constantly squelchy soil.  And if you all could tell me HOW I'm going to harvest my bush beans (in the centre of the picture)?  They are totally surrounded by carrots and potatoes with nary an inch to walk on.  ROFLOL.

Oh - yes, and because we spent the morning at the U-Pick, I've got a "few" raspberries to put up tonight before my cherries and apricots arrive tomorrow!

Looks like I'm going be just a little bit busy....  *ahem*  Right then, back to work!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Inspiration For Meals In The Garden

It feels like September.  It was rainy and cold again yesterday, so on went the oven to roast more beef bones.  The heady aroma of slow roasted meat plus the offerings of potatoes and peas from the garden inspired a delicious Beef Stew.  It seems crazy to be eating Stew in July but I'm loving letting the garden and the weather dictate what we eat.

I am in LOVE with the color of these purple potatoes!  I can't get enough of them and I wish I knew what variety they are.  Anyone know?  The seed was from our neighbour (who gifted me all my potato seed this year) and he just calls them "Purple Potatoes" :)

Don't you just adore the perfection of a plump pod of peas just picked?  Mind the dirty fingers, I JUST stepped in from the garden.

Today was sunny so the beds got stripped first thing and the sheets were washed and hung out to dry before we left to hit the local water spray park.  Such fun to get out and about after so many days of thunderstorms and rain... 

My mind is busy thinking ahead to Friday.  I've got a large organic fruit order arriving from the Okanagan, so I'll be very busy putting up apricots and cherries this weekend. More jam and a few pies for the freezer, I think.  Have you got any yummy recipes for apricots or cherries to share?  Pretty please?

Monday, 25 July 2011


Over the last few days, I've noticed a sharp increase in the numbers of cabbage moth fluttering around the garden.  I thought I had better take a look under the row cover to check my broccoli and cauliflower plants.  It's a very good thing that I did because it was like a cabbage moth convention under there!  Because the plants have grown to epic sizes, the cover was no longer wide enough to fully cover the plants in some areas, leaving small gaps near the soil for the little moths to sneak under.... and sneak under they did!!!  

What this means for me is that the Spring planting of brassicas is now finished.  Because I caught this infestation BEFORE any eggs hatched, were no larvae eating the plants.  WHEW!  I harvested every single head of broccoli and cauliflower today, pulled the plants right out and threw them to the chickens.  I managed to get 2 large baskets full (I'm guessing at 15lbs) and the whole harvest is now soaking in salt water to eradicate any critters.  I am VERY lucky that I didn't lose everything because I've seen that happen too many times to count.

I left the cabbage plants in the ground to see what happens, although I'm sure than in a day or two they will be showing signs of trouble (after all, the name of the moth IS Cabbage Moth!). 

While I was out in the garden, I dug up some spectacular potatoes for supper!  Don't those purple potatoes look incredible?  The flesh is super white and oh so tender.  I'm making a cold potato salad and a garden salad with quinoa for supper because my guys won't want to come home to a hot meal today - it's too warm and humid for that!

All in all, I was pretty fortunate today.  My plants were nearing the end of their production as it was, so things could have been much worse.  I've got a flat of seedlings growing happily in the hoop house to replace those plants that I pulled today.
  They will be producing for me in early Fall, hopefully after the moths are down laying their eggs.  With a little luck, we'll have a second flush of brassicas to enjoy!

Cherry Blueberry Jam and a Long Put Off Chore

This weekend, I whipped up a batch of the yummiest jam I've ever made.  I've never made Cherry Blueberry Jam before but oh MY, it's DELICIOUS!  It tastes a lot like blackberry jam which I used to make every summer "back home" on the West Coast.  It's my new favourite jam of all time :)

This jam looked really runny when it was time to pour and I thought for sure it wouldn't set, but set it did.  WHEW!  I'm making a point of filling some of those tiny jars with each type of jam I make so that I will have a varied selection of jars to tuck into Christmas gift baskets.  

We finally had a warm dry day in which to remove all the hardware off the back door to give it a coat of paint inside and out.  Last summer, we replaced all our steel exterior doors with fibreglass doors.  They are better insulated to keep our energy bill down and cut down on the ice buildup inside the door in winter.  Yes, believe it or not, we had ICE on the inside of our doors in the wintertime!  The steel conducted the cold and when it met the warm moist air inside, ice would form.  Not good.  Anyways, we painted the new door last summer, but unfortunately, the door had a flaw and needed to be replaced over the winter, so I was back to square one needing to paint the replacement door.  With the heavy and constant rain we have had, finding a dry day when we weren't already busy with something else, was not easy!

 Here's the outside of the door all painted.  We chose a grey colour for our doors because it hides greasy, muddy fingerprints like a charm!  Lest you think I'm kidding, I actually chose my carpet colour based on the colour of coffee and tea with cream and the colour of my dog's hair (all of which sadly make contact with our carpet on a fairly regular basis).

This door is really neat in that it's got a huge pane of glass to let in more light.  Along with the light comes the hot sun beating through in the afternoon.  To solve this, we chose a glass pane insert with mini blinds between the 2 panes of glass.  They can tilt in either direction and also be completely pulled up out of view.  No dust or maintenance and they don't clatter when the door is opened and shut a bajillion times/day (which it is).  This is an excellent solution and it really keeps the house cool, but lets in a ton of light when we need it.

Kelly was busy with his tractor for the better part of the weekend, dealing with some grading issues at the back of our land.  That bucket attachment that he bought a few weeks ago has already paid for itself with the amount of work it's done.

As far as the garden, it's really kicking up.  I've been busy out there and we've been eating from it each day.  The beans are just about ready and the peas are now plumping out beautifully.  Nothing tastes as good as the first peas eaten out in the garden!  Pics to follow soon :)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Stock From Scratch In A Pressure Cooker

Learning to make stock from scratch is a vital step toward producing delicious, nutritious meals.  It took me a LOT of years of cooking to figure that fact out!  I was used to using packaged or bottled concentrate to flavour my dishes and was totally unaware of the taste and nutritional/health benefits of using homemade stock.

On Friday, there was an excellent post on Chiot's Run about the making of stock.  Rather than duplicate all that great wisdom, go have a look!

Because the weather was cool and rainy today, I decided to use up some uncooked beef bones from the freezer by making stock.  You may remember that we bought a side of pastured, grass fed beef recently, so we have quite a few bags of beef bones in the freezer.

Here's how I make stock in a pressure cooker using uncooked bones.  If you are using bones that have already been roasted with meat for a meal, then obviously, you'll be skipping a few of the steps below.

1)  Spread out uncooked bones on cookie sheets and roast them in the oven until nice and brown.  This will give your stock a nice brown colour and give it deep, rich flavour.  If I'm going to turn on my oven, I like to fill it up, so I always do three racks full to make a fairly large pot of stock.

2)  Place the roasted bones in the pressure cooker and pour any melted fat and cooking juice from the roasting pans into the pot.

3)  Pour boiling water into the cookie pans and let them sit for about 30 minutes to "mock deglaze" the pans.  I don't want to leave those crusty brown bits on the pans because that is what will flavour the stock!  After about 30 minutes, everything is soft and ready to be scraped and poured into the pot with the bones.

4)  Add a quartered onion or two, some seasoning of your liking, a few bay leaves, and some fresh herbs if you have them.

5)  Pour water into the pot making sure not to overfill the pressure cooker.  With a pressure cooker you don't need to cover the bones with liquid like you do in a stock pot.   The bones will steam cook beautifully with even just a few inches of water!  I usually add about 6 - 8 cups of water depending on how many bones I am using and the size of the pressure cooker.

6)  Put on lid securely and bring cooker up to high pressure.  Cook at high pressure for about an hour.   Turn off cooker and allow it to slowly cool on it's own and release pressure naturally.

7)  Once cooled and released of all pressure, remove lid (always lift the lid so that the underside faces away from you thereby directing steam away from your face) and allow to cool a bit for easier handling.

I have so many bones in the pot and many of them are large.  I realize now that I should have cooked this batch for an extra 30 minutes or so.  When I pressure cook a chicken carcass, an hour is plenty and the bones are usually close to disintegration at that point meaning that all the nutrition has been fully extracted from the bones.   It was getting late and I wanted to get the broth cooled off enough to put in the fridge so I left it at that, but you could easily bring your cooker back up to pressure for extra cook time if you don't think they are cooked down enough.  I have tucked aside some of the larger femur bone pieces for the dog as they have some marrow and meat still attached - he'll be so happy!

8)  Strain stock by pouring through a sieve.  Don't forget to put a large pot or bowl under the sieve to catch the stock (don't ask how I know this, lol!).  I usually pick the meat off the bones and put it into the soup (if I am making soup with the stock), or freeze it for another dish.  Either that or the chickens get a nice treat if there's not enough meat to bother with freezing it.

9)  Now you have an incredibly flavourful, nutritious stock ready for use in soups or general cooking.  I taste it at this point and add a little sea salt if needed.  We are trying to reduce our sodium intake, but a little salt does bring out the natural flavour of the stock.  Remember to add salt in small increments and stir it very well before you taste it again so that you don't end up with over salted broth.  You can further reduce your stock (make it more concentrated) by simmering it uncovered for a couple of hours if you wish.

If you aren't using your stock right away, cool it a bit and then refrigerate it overnight before freezing.  Overnight refrigeration allows the fat to harden at the surface if you wish to remove it.  This is much easier than trying to skim it off the top when in liquid form.  Personally, we leave some of the fat in, as we believe that the fat from a lean, healthy grass fed pastured animal is of benefit to our health.  It's your choice, though :)

When you make homemade stock, the resultant broth is jelly like and thick when cooled, not pourable like store bought broth.   It means that there is more gelatin in your broth which is excellent for your health.

I freeze leftover stock in quantities of 1 or 2 cups which works well for me but if you are a small family, you may want to freeze in smaller quantities (even ice cube trays!)

You can also make stock from chicken carcasses as the process is exactly the same.  I always prefer making stock from bones that have been roasted because I prefer the taste to boiled raw bones but try it both ways and decide for yourself.

My instructions are for a pressure cooker, but if you don't own a pressure cooker, do check at Chiot's Run for her instructions.  I hope that if you haven't made stock before, you'll give it a try.  Let me know how it turns out!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Mango Jam and Lavender Soap

I was given a free case of mangos last week and they ripened all at once :)  We ate a few fresh, but I put up the rest into this really tasty jam.  I found a few recipes on the web that sounded interesting so I combined the elements I liked from each of them and added my own twist.  Aren't those tiny little jars cute?  They don't hold more than 1/2 cup!  So sweet, and great to tuck in a gift basket of goodies at Christmas.  I know that my Grandma would love to have such a tiny jar for "just a wee taste".

7"ish" cups chopped mangos
1 398ml tin crushed pineapple (or fresh if you have it)
approximately 1/2 cup lemon juice
4-5 cups sugar depending on sweetness and ripeness of fruit
3Tbsp pectin
3-4 tsp of cinnamon (to taste)
approximately 1 tsp of cloves (to taste)
1 Tbsp of butter to keep foaming down

Boil down for about 30 minutes until pulp is really well cooked and syrupy thick.  Stir well and often.  Pour into sterilized hot jars and water bath process for appropriate length of time for your elevation.  

....and here's the lavender soap that Megan made the other day.  It's smells SO good!  She used lavender blossoms and good quality french lavender essential oil which were stirred in at trace.  She cut them into hefty bars that are just how she likes them ~ rustic and oversized.  I am SO proud of her!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Day In The City Topped With Eggs Benedict!

Today was our daughter's orthodontist appointment in the city.  She goes every 5-6 weeks so that's when I plan to run all my errands in the city.  First, it saves gas but most importantly, it saves me time.  Time is proving to be one of my most valuable commodities when there is so much to do on our little homestead.

I sound like an old codger, but I really don't care for the traffic, the noise and the hectic pace of the city.  The lineups, the crowds, the people rushing around pushing and jostling all make me count down the stops until I can hit the highway and head home.  

We completed all of our errands (which included a trip to Costco), and made it home in 4 hours.  We had time to unload everything, have a nice hot cup of tea and relax for a bit before tending to some chores.

Megan decided that she was craving Eggs Benedict, so she looked up a Hollandaise Sauce recipe on and got busy.  I was busy making bread for the next day's sandwiches, so she decided to grab the bull by the horns and finish supper.  She did a fantastic job and I hardly helped at all.

First, make the sauce.  This recipe is a blender recipe and was very easy and super quick.

Then poach the eggs (we use a large cast iron fry pan).  Boil some water to a gentle simmer, add about 1/4 cup vinegar, then gently crack your eggs into the simmering water.  Use a spoon to gently bathe the eggs by putting a little water over them occasionally.  Allow to simmer gently while you toast english muffins.  Top them with butter and fried ham or back bacon.

When the eggs are cooked (but with runny yolks) gently scoop them out with a large slotted spoon and place onto ham topped english muffins.

Then top with warm hollandaise sauce and fresh pepper.  I know - the sauce looks fake :)  Our chickens lay eggs with bright orange yolks and because this sauce is made with the yolks, it's especially bright.  It was SO delicious!

Thanks for a fabulous supper, Megan!  Good job XO

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A Good Day's Work

I ventured off to E.L.K.S. U-pick this morning on a whim.  I had hoped to go yesterday, but they were closed for a day to allow the berries to ripen.   As always, I hold my plans loosely!  My day was turned upside down today (in a good way) when a friend offered to take our 2 younger kids this morning for a playdate.  Because I have to go into the city tomorrow, and Friday likely won't work out to go pick, I figured I had better get myself there today.

This U-pick farm is only 5 minutes from my house!  It's a family run farm that's been in existence for well over 100 years.  It's situated on a lovely plot of land, with stunning gardens and the people are SO friendly!  The berries were just what I wanted.  I don't much care for the commercially grown berries as they are always hollow and dry with little flavour or taste.  These berries are like what you'd grow in your garden at home.  Sweet, juicy and flavourful!

I got busy prepping them for jam as soon as I got home and I'm happy to report that after an afternoon of work we've got another 20 jars of jam for the pantry!  Although it takes time to pick, prepare and process the jam, it's pleasant work ~ both out in the fresh air and in my kitchen looking out over the ever changing pasture and sky.  I don't mind this work.  It's meditative (as most repetitive tasks are), and you know ~ that's okay some days.  It's kind of nice to just let your thoughts wander as you hull berry after berry...

Getting food from farm to pantry in a day is intensely satisfying.  It's also exhausting in a big way.   After a long day of picking and canning, I always declare that I'm not going to do any the next day, but somehow, come morning, the eagerness to put up more is renewed :)

It's truly a major spirit lifter to pry open a jar of homemade jam on cold winter's morn.  When the snow is falling and the wind is howling, I'll remember the day I was hot and tired, back aching oh so sharply...  the wind blowing my hat off...  again.... 10 sticky fingers stained red with the juice of warm berries.  I'll also remember that I was happy that day :)

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


is a very cool process!  I've been itching to make some homemade soap for AGES, and I've had the ingredients for months just waiting for me to get up the gumption to try my hand at it.  I had read through Rhonda's instructions many times and had them printed off and placed with my supplies all ready for The Day.  This weekend was the time.  Enough procrastination!

I made the first batch alone as I didn't want to put anyone at risk for getting burned.  Once I finished the first batch my confidence level soared as I realized that making soap is really not as hard as I had thought it would be.  The more skills I learn, the more I find that sentiment to be absolutely true.  I spend more time fretting over trying something than actually doing it when I finally start!

* As an important note - it is critical that you wear protective gear in case you get splashed with caustic soda (lye).  Wear eye protection, a mask to protect your face and mouth, an apron, long sleeves and gloves.

Because I was very focussed on the steps, I didn't take many pictures of the actual process.  I will next time.  For now, I'll share what I do have on camera :)

My daughter helping to measure out the caustic soda on a scale.  Accuracy is essential!

 This is the first batch of soap after it cured for about 24 hours.

And here is the same batch all cut and ready to cure on a wire rack for 6 weeks.

This is a sign that I made up for the laundry room counter where the soap rests under a towel to slowly cool over 24 hours.  We have a busy house and if I don't do that, someone will surely plop something down on my towel and ruin my soap!

Here is the batch of lavender soap that we just finished this evening.  At trace, we added some lavender and some essential oil.  The soap has changed color (to this brown color) and has warmed up significantly during the hour it has sat under the towel.  It will change color again as it cools and will eventually be creamy white with little lavender bits in it (we hope!).

All in all we LOVE making soap and so far my favourite part is the smell.  I LOVE that I can smell fresh clean soap when the mixture is just starting to reach trace - it smells so nice and gentle but definitely like soap - natural, gentle, clean soap.  I can't wait to try it and I don't know HOW I'm going to wait 6 weeks to do so!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Coop De'Ville

My husband did a spectacular job of building the coop last Spring.  It is so solid, you could live in it quite comfortably!  We have very cold winters and plenty of predators (coyotes, fox and dogs) so Kelly wanted to ensure our hens' safety and comfort.  It is well insulated and sealed up tight, but with flexible ventilation in the form of a ceiling exhaust fan, a wall vent and an opening window.  We can choose just how much ventilation the girls need depending on the weather, humidity level, outside temperature and the time of year.  There's a variety of perches at different heights for lots of choices to roost at night and 5 cozy nesting boxes.  

Because our climate is so harsh, our chickens spend a great deal of time inside the coop in the winter.  The hen house needed to be big enough so as not to be overcrowded.   Also, to keep boredom at bay (seriously), Kelly hung some cd's from super strong nylon string and the girls peck at those all day long.  They also like to play with dangling string. Believe me when I tell you that they play with these things all winter long when they are "cooped up" inside.  :)  Lest you think we're a little crazy, it's important to keep the chickens happy and busy while they are indoors in winter as chickens can get "pecky" with each other if they are bored or overcrowded. 

The entire outside perimeter of the hen run is fenced securely with 6' high galvanized fencing.  I have temporary chicken wire fencing secured with removable rebar to divide the hen run and the garden.  I can easily move it anytime I need to let them in or out of the planting area for bug control or to clear an area before planting.  

We have some strips of leftover Tyvek suspended from strings that are run across the hen run.  This VERY effectively deters the hawks by interrupting their flight path.  They won't swoop down to grab a chicken if they perceive obstacles in their way of a clean getaway. 

Yesterday, we worked hard to thoroughly clean out the coop once again.  All of the soiled litter and nesting box straw was removed and the floor was scraped clean.  We used the new loader bucket on the tractor to haul all the manured straw away to our compost pile out back where it will decompose nicely for future use in the garden.  I chose to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth in the bottom of the nesting boxes and all around the coop before putting fresh straw out.   This will hopefully keep our hens free of mites. We have yet to have a problem, but prevention is always better than treatment!  I thoroughly scrubbed and bleached the waterer.  With the warmer weather, the waterer needs more frequent attention to keep it from going foul.

We also spread out a large fresh bale of straw outside the coop.  This keeps the area in front of the coop clean and dry.  We have had lots of rain and the ground is very wet and a little bit boggy.  The chickens go in and out of the coop many times/day so providing a clean, dry area to walk through keeps their feet cleaner which means that the eggs themselves are clean and not so muddy (and the nesting boxes stay cleaner, too).

See the large basket turned on it's side on the front porch of the coop?  I like to fill it with straw and it's so funny to watch the chickens hang out in there.  They love it...  it's like a little fort for them, lol.  Chickens are hilariously funny and full of personality!   Bossy, the brown chicken in the basket is nearly always in there when there's straw in the basket.  She cackles and prattles on all day long as the "ring leader" of the flock.  She incessantly "barks" orders and tells everyone what to do...  so funny.

As you can see our hens lay some spectacular eggs :)  Many of them are nearly the size of avocados!   I'm guessing that the combination of their spacious accommodation, large run, good quality grain and plenty of scraps contribute to their health and happiness.  Our chickens are a vital part of our food plan so it makes sense to treat them well.  Not only do they give us gorgeous, nutritious eggs, but also, they're excellent bug controllers and fantastic garden fertilizers!  

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Busy Blanching and Freezing

These were harvested Saturday morning then blanched and packaged up for the freezer in the afternoon.

Just like the last batch, I soaked all of it in salt water in the sink for a couple of hours to remove dirt and any bugs.  I'll take a huge sink full of broccoli and cauliflower over dirty dishes any day!

I steam blanched each batch for 2 minutes then packaged it all up in Ziplocks for the freezer.  Each packet weighs about 850g and is the perfect size for us as a side dish.

We love broccoli (especially homegrown).