Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Special Girls

Paige turned 10 this past weekend.  Double digits, OH MY!  It's tradition in our family for the birthday child to have a large pancake made especially for them with chocolate chips announcing their new age.  Slowly, over the past few years, we have moved toward removing white flour from our home and table.  That transition was not always easy, but boy do we all feel better for it :)  

Pretty Penny came to the party with her Mom and Dad - oh BOY, did she have fun watching all the comings and goings!  At 4 months, this little Miss is one busy little bee, preferring to be awake where the action is rather than napping or sitting back watching the world go by...  

Never mind baby toys when REAL life things are all around us....  she puts EVERYTHING in her mouth, so different textures are a big hit right now.  

Before you know it, we'll be celebrating Penny's first birthday in October!  Golly, time does fly...  

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Homemade pasta

I've been horribly lazy this winter...  well, maybe not intellectually lazy, but certainly lazy in the kitchen.  Normally, winter is the time of year when I delve a little deeper into making more foods from scratch, but with my studies, I've been a little distracted :)

A few days ago I decided that enough was enough so I ground up some organic durum

added fresh eggs

some olive oil and sea salt

and a bit of water to the consistency of this:

I hauled out the grinder attachment for my Bosch mixer and attached the pasta extruding fitting and die which took all of 5 minutes.   I don't know WHY I make these things out to be harder or more time consuming than they are...  

Paige assisted with the chopping while I fed the auger so that we didn't end up with 8' long noodles!  My noodles always come out sort of rough textured no matter the quantity of water or flour...  but perhaps that's because of using entire grain flour.  In any case, I probably need to experiment a bit more as I've only made pasta a handful of times (possibly 6?).

This gorgeous fresh pasta cooks in 2-3 minutes and when bathed in homemade sauce made from home grown tomatoes, it is a hearty, flavourful meal with staying power.  Nothing beats whole grains!

We made 2 batches so that one could be popped into the freezer for another day.  A word of caution - as the dough dries out quickly (and won't extrude well if too dry), keep it covered tightly while you are working on another batch.

Any tips for me about the crude state of my pasta? 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Carbonaceous Composting in the Chicken Coop

Living in a Northern climate, our chickens are kept indoors over the coldest months of winter.  Cleaning out the coop used to be a very difficult thing to do during winter, as we had to wait for a break in the weather so the chickens could safely be outside without suffering from frostbite while we shovelled out the coop (which was a nasty, smelly job that nobody looked forward to).  

In the past, we used wheat straw as bedding in the coop and we simply layered fresh straw on top of soiled straw when things got "nasty" in there.  Over time, those layers of straw got matted together from the chickens walking on it and of course the weight of the droppings.  That method created a thick, matted (smelly) anaerobic mess which was HARD to clean out.  There had to be a better way!

In my study of permaculture, I've been intrigued by the concept of grouping functions and elements together that can mutually benefit one another.   By creating a needs/yields analysis, we see that (among many other things):

Chickens NEED heat and clean bedding (carbon) in winter but GIVE nitrogen.  

Compost NEEDS nitrogen and lots of carbon also, but GIVES off heat.  

Looking at that, we see that both elements can logically reside together in a mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship providing that I can manage the carbon component more effectively.  I'm happy to say that this plan is working rather well and I've not had to plug in the chicken coop heat lamp ONCE all winter, saving electric energy use.


 I learned a lot about composting in the Organic Master Gardener course that I recently completed and one of the most helpful bits of information was that I was not using NEARLY enough carbon to compost correctly.  The ratio of carbon:nitrogen needs to be between 30:1 & 40:1.   I was clearly falling WAY short of that ratio for my carbon component.     I also needed to find a better carbon source if I was going to be composting in my coop, as the straw was prone to compaction.

Enter:  Wood shavings/chips! 

I LOVE using pine wood chips, because they smell SO fresh.   I actually LOOK FORWARD to adding more carbon to the coop as they're lightweight and easy to spread but best of all, the chickens do a FINE job of stirring them up for me saving me MORE work and time (which is another form of energy savings).  Simply by sprinkling some grain onto a fresh layer of chips, I can motivate and instruct my hens to scratch and peck to their heart's content as every chicken loves to do.   Within a day, the hens have fully aerated and stirred my "compost", all the while having a grand time with their "housekeeping" duties.   The hens stay clean, the coop smells great, the chickens get exercise, activity and stimulation, and I have reduced my workload by eliminating a few hours of smelly, sweaty work simply by arranging the correct elements elegantly together. 

Come Spring, when the hens are largely out of doors, we'll remove the "nearly finished" compost and let it sit and mature for a few months.   I'm not dreading that job because the wood chips have created a light, fluffy textured compost that is very easy to pick up with a snow shovel.  With hot manure in the mix though, I know that it will need to mellow before any garden application ~ by Fall it should be ready for use.

I want to bring up the topic of biological diversity....  In order to enhance the microbial diversity in my compost (and therefore improve the quality of my finished compost), it is important to vary the carbon feedstock.  While pine wood chips are the spine of my chicken coop compost feeding regime, I am careful to add other sources of organic carbon to round out the diversity.  I've added shredded paper (no glossy prints), shredded plain cardboard, a small amount of straw, brown leaves and anything else I can get my hands on.  The smaller the pieces, the faster they decompose (which is why you see a few larger pieces of paper in the above picture).  I'm always on the hunt for different sources of carbon but I want to mention that we will all will have different choices available to us depending on where we live, the natural vegetation around us and the industry near us. I can source pine wood chips reasonably cheaply very close to my home, but we hope to create some of our own this year.    Also, because we add other nitrogen sources to the coop compost in the form of kitchen scraps, we are also increasing biodiversity in that way as well.  The hens do eat most of what we bring in, but whatever they choose to leave, gets composted along with everything else.

I am in no way an expert and I humbly defer to those who have gone before me in this learning process, but I'm hoping that someone might be encouraged by this post, to give this method of composting a try.

Let me know how you make out if you try it!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Starting Anew...

I'm both IN and OUT of my element.  IN it, in that I've spent the better part of the last 6 months learning about organic land care, and OUT of it in that I'm embarking on a entirely new way of doing things (permaculture).

 I've begun (extreme emphasis) to create a design plan for our property according to permaculture ethics/design and it's safe to say that NOTHING will be the same as before.   We are starting with a fresh slate this year and I'm actually grateful that it's still winter as I'm nowhere NEAR ready to begin making changes (there's still SO much to learn).

 I DO know that this year, I'll be experimenting with cover crops to help me deal with soil compaction in some areas of our garden.  Here's my reasoning, taken from my soil management assignment submitted during my Organic Master Gardener Course:


1)   April seeding (contingent on snow melt) of climate appropriate green manure crops (small seed fava beans and buckwheat in my case) will be beneficial for the following reasons:

-       improving soil structure when the manure crop is cut down and is decomposed by the soil biology (creating humus).
-       loosening compaction as the roots reach down in search of nutrients, and as humus is created during decomposition.
-       improving the water holding capacity of my soil by protecting the exposed soil from water loss due to evaporation and drying winds, and again as water holding humus is created through the decomposition process.
-       optimizing fertility by providing plenty of food for the soil microbes when the cover crops are mulched on the garden in late Spring.  Additionally, fava beans are nitrogen fixing which is beneficial for feeding the summer crops that will follow.
-       Growing a green cover crop will also help my soil by suppressing “weeds” (physically and allopathically).

In late May (5-6 weeks post seeding per my research) the green manure crops will be cut and left to decompose on the soil for 2 weeks before planting, providing the soil microbes with food. [i]

2)   Immediately following the cutting of the green cover crop, watering in Effective Micronutrients (EM) and inoculating the soil with  Mycorrhizal Fungi will speed the decomposition of the green manure crop and eliminate the formation of toxic gasses.  [ii]  This decomposition will help to build humus, which will relieve compaction, improve soil structure and improve the water holding capacity of my soil, additionally, optimizing soil fertility.   The land where my garden now sits was likely sprayed with pesticides/fertilizers at some point in the past (the land was previously used for agriculture over 30 years ago).   Additionally, due to tilling, [iii]  and lack of oxygen because of compaction, the numbers of fungi and beneficial bacteria are likely greatly reduced.   Boosting the beneficial bacteria/microorganisms and fungi colonies by expanding the diversity of species, will be a helpful step in restoring the health and vigor of the soil ecology.[iv]

3)    Adding high quality compost in Spring to feed the EM enhanced soil biology will improve soil structure, optimize soil fertility, improve the water holding capacity of my soil and help to remedy compaction.  Amending the soil with compost supports the process of decomposition and consequently, the production of humus, which is vital for addressing the above problems in my soil. [v]

In theory, this "cut and dried" plan should work, but I'm eager to see what REAL life experience brings...  Mother Nature is a powerful (and often unforgiving) teacher.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Permaculture fosters community.  Generally speaking, our present western society doesn't.  I was raised (like the vast majority of my generation) to go it alone.  Alone not in the literal sense ~ alone, as in "build your empire, nose to the grindstone, make it happen on your own steam".   Work hard to build your own wealth and your own possessions (and your debt).  The rewards will follow!  The last 22 years of marriage (and our entire adult life for that matter) has been rather busy independently doing those very things.... growing everything but a sense a sense of community.

A sense of community.  Do we even know what that is anymore?

To belong. To matter.  To care.  To notice.  To share.  To help.  To nurture.  To teach.  To learn.  To nourish.  To give.  To receive.  To laugh and cry and connect through all the stages and phases of life.

Our sense of community is dying in many neighbourhoods, towns and cities across this country and indeed, perhaps this continent.  I've asked a great many people about it and the answers aren't encouraging me.  I'm not alone in my thinking ~ that we are in fact, alone and isolated on so many levels.  We socialize via screens and fingertips, we support by "tweeting" and "liking".  Are we destined to build community through friend requests?  Is there hope for old fashioned face to face community building?

Over the weekend (in my permaculture design course), I was forced out of that familiar "independent and alone" place.  Thrust (repeatedly) into different groups (all day!) to work on brief but intense collaborative assignments for short periods of time.  Independent thinking and personal agendas did NOT help that process ONE little bit (in fact, I think it's safe to say that it HINDERED the process, restricting the outcome).  My instinct was to "do it myself" so that I could do a "better job".   The group process was painful and stressful for me.  Little did I know then, that I NEEDED to learn WHY.

The most pivotal (and powerful) exercise came later as we created a connected web of classmates.  I cringed a little (inside) when we stood in a circle and each shared a skill that we posses by verbally offering it up to the group.  Awkward.  Super awkward!  No advance notice, no time to think.  Fast exercise.  Time limit.   Just what can I DO that anyone would care about let alone want to know about?!   I offered to teach people how to grind wheat and make bread from scratch.  Someone (thankfully) was eager to learn from me so I tossed the ball of wool to her across the circle.  Whew!  She offered up her knowledge on the subject of trees and immediately, her offer was taken up by a classmate who needed her assistance. The yarn continued it's random, criss cross journey while we all thought quickly on our feet, each of us forced to jettison inhibition and any sense of valuation or comparison.  It was down to basics.

What can I do and what do I need?

By the time we reached the end of the length of wool, we were all deeply entangled and connected to one another through a very broad spectrum of skills, knowledge and experience.  What a powerful exercise in community building!  It felt GOOD to have pushed through that uncomfortable beginning which resulted in the rewarding knowledge that I was in the presence of of group of people with completely different skills and talents from my own (from carpentry and welding to art and music and everything in between!).  I felt alert, connected and energized ~ like I was an integral part of the group with the unique skills that I possess.  We felt like a community!

Sadly, what came next illustrated exactly what is happening in society today.

The instructor let go of his connection points in the web of yarn.  The wool slackened and drooped limply.  So did our faces.  Our connections weakened (but not our resolve!). We all pulled tighter to keep our remaining connections intact and strong, ready to face the rest of the exercise, but... sadly, another person let go "removing" another set of skills from the collective.   The wool once again slackened ~ this time, touching the floor in some places.  It was pretty obvious that it was futile to try and repair the damage ~ we were no longer a community and nobody was interested in even trying to repair it.  The damage was too great.  I felt exposed and raw (did anyone else?).

In closing, we were challenged by our instructor to build community in our lives by harnessing the collective power, wisdom and experience of all of our community members.  Past permaculture design course grads have offered up the same wisdom with this phrase:

"The class is as much about the people as it is the material".

I read that a few months ago but I dismissed it...  Silly, stubborn me.  It seemed too "inclusive" and dependent for me as one who prefers to (you guessed it) "go it alone".  Such an unravelling this course has been for me!   That community building exercise has sat uneasily on my mind for 3 full days.  Coupled with another harsh realization over the weekend (completely unrelated to my course but directly connected to this theme), I've realized that what I need is community.  Here I sit in my home (alone just at this minute), tapping on a keyboard, but what I need to do is get out into my community to connect with people, share my skills and learn from others.

Imagine the power of building community.  

I'm challenging you to do it!

Monday, 11 February 2013

One mind (blown to smithereens)? Check.

My mind officially blew the safe confinement of my rock hard skull this weekend.   In a physically unremarkable, fluorescent-lit basement classroom on the south side of Edmonton, the (remarkable) installation of a new personal operating system began.

I haven't slept well all weekend for the information swirling in the vast chasm of emptiness that once held my brain.  I'm forgetting my children's names, putting milk in the cupboard and dishes in the fridge.  My writing is filled with transposed spelling and reversed sequence.

Oh my.  Those seem like pretty solid indications that what's left of my brain is busy forming new neural pathways with blatant disregard for the life and routine I once knew.
Ummm, yeah.  I get it now.  Taking a Permaculture Design Course really is life changing because your viewpoint is forever changed from "problem" to "solution".

I do declare ~ the world could certainly use a little bit more of that kind of thinking.  Yes indeed, it could.

Hold onto your hats, people.  This is going to be a wild ride :)

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Easy Homemade Whole Wheat Crackers

For the third time this week, I'm astounded at how easy it is to make something that I've always bought. These whole wheat beauties are surprisingly addictive and are ridiculously easy to make.  Heaven only knows why I thought they'd take hours and create a huge mess in the kitchen.  Not so, my dear readers :)

I used this recipe with the addition of 1 TBSP dehydrated onion granules.  The Hard Red Wheat from Gold Forest Grains was freshly ground this morning (you could use store bought wheat flour, but I highly recommend using freshly milled entire grain flour).  I topped the crackers with a liberal sprinkling of Himalayan pink salt before baking (we like the milder flavour of it over traditional sea salt).  The flavour possibilities are endless, but I wanted to taste the grain and have a simple unadorned cracker to top any way we like.

Oh MY these are good - REALLY good, in fact.  After years of procrastinating, I'm kicking myself for not trying them sooner!  I've already made 2 double batches today and I doubt that they'll last the weekend :)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Apple Cider Vinegar Treats Sore Throats

My love for this natural remedy is growing as the years go by...   not only is apple cider vinegar effective for treating tummy upsets, we've recently discovered that when taken every 30 minutes, it stops a sore throat dead in it's tracks!  I've used this method successfully over the past 6 months and find it to be much more reliable and effective than using oregano oil.  It's less expensive, also - so a win all around :)

As to dosage, I usually take approximately 2 TBSP in a half cup of water.  When taken at the first sign of a scratchy/sore throat, and repeated faithfully every 30 minutes, relief will usually be felt after just a few doses...   I don't like the taste of ACV, so I plug my nose and drink it down quickly.  The short term discomfort of the taste is preferred over getting sick, so I suffer through it :)

Sore throats are usually the first sign that a cold/influenza is on the way and I've noticed that people will spend a lot of money to try and ward illness off.  I'm encouraging you to give apple cider vinegar a try ~ it is highly effective and very inexpensive.

Let me know if it works for you!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Winter Pleasures

When I wake up to this watery mix of pastel colours peeking through our front door, it's hard to be anything but happy  :)   Can you imagine how awesome it is to open the door and see this first thing?

Yes, I'm tired of winter, and yes, I'm weary of the bleak white landscape, but sunrises like this make up for the general lack of colour.

While we're spending more time indoors over winter, I'm trying out a few new recipes/adventures in the kitchen.  I've never made tortillas, thinking they would be really fiddly and time consuming to make.  NOT SO!

We served them with a bean, cheese and sauteed veggie filling which was delicious.  They were equally good the next day as sandwich wraps and I'm guessing that they'd score top marks as a breakfast burrito as well (filled with scrambled eggs, cheese and salsa).  I opted to make whole wheat which gave a nutritional boost and added fibre.  The kids have all been asking when I'm making them again.  Good sign :)


This morning found me bravely trying a recipe for english muffins (for the first time).  It was dark when I started, and by the time I was done, it was full daylight.  They took some time, but the result was very tasty.  

The texture was very tender - not at all like store-bought english muffins.  I went with half whole wheat and am confident that I could up that ratio next time.  We're aiming for whole grains as much as possible & switching out the white flour sometimes takes a little bit of experimenting to get the texture right.   I'm going to try a few different recipes as well...  having never made them before, it's hard to compare them to anything other than store bought (which always taste of of chemicals and feel like sawdust in the mouth).   The family enjoyed them and gave them a unanimous double thumbs up, so it was worth the effort (as most home-made things are).

5 more days until my PDC course starts...  I'm so excited :)