30 September 2009


I am hopelessly addicted to fishing.

This is entirely my husband’s fault.

He grew up in Saskatchewan, where there are lakes everywhere and lots and lots of fish. He’s been fishing for as long as he can remember. This summer, he taught me how to cast and … that was it.

Fishing is whole-body-mediation. You get ready to cast … you check that the space around you is clear, and you get into position. You put all your will into sending the lure out in a beautiful arc over the water, as far as it can reach. You hold the rod out in front of you, pointing at the spot you hope to hit and wait for the splash, then start to reel in the line - not too fast, not too slow - watching and waiting for a tug on the line.

Most of the time, that tug just means you snagged on some weeds. Reel in the line, shake the vegetables off the hook, and try again.

(I am an excellent vegetable fisherperson. I’ve done my share of cleaning out weeds from the lakes I’ve fished, believe me!)

Once in awhile, though, that tug is a fish, and then the excitement begins!

Now see, I even understand how this works. I do have a psychology degree after all, and I know that intermittent reinforcement (where the reward comes at random intervals, rather than every single time you do the ‘trick’) creates behavioural patterns that are extremely difficult to extinguish. Each time, you think “well, maybe this time is it!” so you keep going.

Yep, that’s how fishing works.

I’m okay with that.

You know, there are worse ways to spend your time. :)

20 September 2009

Harvest & the Garden Cleanup Crew

Today was the day to harvest the remaining things out in the garden – the rest of the potatoes, beets, the squash, and the few stray onions that were left behind in earlier diggings. Oh, and the wheat and sunflowers.

The veggies were piled on a tarp (tarps are easy to load and drag around): a generous pile of potatoes, then the beets and onions, then the spaghetti squash. We only grew a little wheat this year, as an experiment, so it was harvested with scissors, one head at a time – the heads plunked into a bucket, and the straw left on the ground. The sunflowers were broken off at the stems and taken to the shed to dry out.

Once the harvest was complete, the strawberry bed was covered with boards and the sheep were let in to graze all the leftovers. There’s a lot of grass in the garden area (not all of the fenced off area was planted this year, so it really got to be quite a jungle), plus all the leftover beet tops, squash leaves, sunflower stems, and assorted weeds. The pastures are dry and overgrazed, the sheep are hungry, and I don’t want to spend two days hacking my way through all that vegetation … they might as well eat it!

So the cleanup crew is on duty in the garden, and I’ve started the preservation tasks indoors: potatoes were washed, sliced, and boiled briefly then bagged and sealed with the vacuum sealer. The boil-in-bag packages are in the freezer, where they’ll be very convenient come winter time.

Next will be the beets, but I think I’ve done enough for one day. :)

17 September 2009

Spreading the joy of ‘good work’

I enjoy the satisfaction of ‘making stuff’. I really like seeing the juice from the apples in the pantry, the fruit leather packed in kids’ lunches, the dried onions on the counter. It’s the feeling of having done good work.

Of course, I talk about this kind of stuff with my coworkers, who quite often look at me as though I’m a wee bit daft for having spent part of my weekend processing apple syrup, but still, they bring me their windfall apples and save assorted leftover bits for the chickens. :)

This week, one of the coworkers-with-the-apple-trees told me he had made applesauce from his apples, just the way I’d described it. It was a fair bit of work, he said, but I reassured him that it gets simpler with a bit of practice, and besides, the apples are free and they might as well be put to good use!

He wanted to know what to do with all the sauce he’d made (I suggested freezing it, in addition to baking with it – he brought in a batch of absolutely fabulous apple cinnamon muffins) and then I showed him some dehydrators online (I’d brought in some fruit leather earlier in the week). His next question was how to extract juice from the cooked apples, as cheesecloth wasn’t working.

I explained that the cheesecloth that you buy at the store is way too porous to use for draining fruits, especially cooked and mushed apples. An ancient tea towel that’s been around since the seventies would be about right, or an old well washed t-shirt. Laid in a colander over a bowl, you don’t even have to rig up the whole ‘sugar bag from a broomstick’ deal (yes, I am actually old enough to remember jelly juice being extracted that way).

Regardless, sure feels good to share the joy of ‘good work’ with someone else. It was cool to see the big grin on his face as he told me about what he’d done on the weekend.

He is darn proud of himself, and rightly so. :)

The Nova Scotia Hat

A friend of mine who also likes yarn and knitting and such went to Nova Scotia this summer on a holiday. Before she left, I gave her $20 and said “find me some cool yarn and send it back!”

Now see, that gave her a totally valid reason to drag her significant other into all the yarn shops along the way, so it was a win-win kind of deal. :)

The yarn that came home was a lovely Cotswold/mohair mix, hand dyed in beautiful jewel tones. At first, I thought maybe it wanted to be a scarf, but there just wasn’t quite enough of it to make a worthwhile scarf, and well, it just didn’t seem right. So, yarn being the wonderfully reusable stuff that it is, I pulled it back and made a hat instead.

Voila: the Nova Scotia Hat.

Any knitters out there interested in the pattern? If so, leave a comment and I’ll write it up. It was pretty easy knitting, overall, even those cool crossed over long stitches aren’t hard, and there’s only 2 rounds of them.

11 September 2009

Independence Days Update

Ohh, it’s been awhile. Let’s see what we’ve done!

Planted: Not a thing. It’s not quite planting time here … although I do have some garlic cloves to go in, once I finish clearing out the garden. It’s just not quite time yet.

Harvested: Lots in this category! All the carrots, most of the beets, a few squash (which are sitting in the coolest room in the house to ‘age’), the last of the bolted spinach and lettuce (which was fed to the sheep), and all the onions. Oh, and all the peas. And some potatoes.

The Boy went and gathered rose hips for me, and raspberry leaves.

We also had several sheep go to the butcher, which probably counts as harvesting, and as always, gathered lots and lots of eggs.

Preserved: The aforementioned carrots were washed, cut, cooked and vacuum sealed in boil-in-bag vacuum bags which were then plunked into the freezer. Apples (generously donated by friends from work) were cooked into juice, which was sweetened and thickened into syrup and bottled, and mushed into sauce, which was then dried into fruit leather. Two batches of onions were sliced and dehydrated (OUTSIDE!), peas were done in another batch in the dehydrator, and other onions were hung up to dry and put in a mesh bag for storage.  Raspberry leaves have been dried for tea.

Waste Not: The donated apples would’ve been tossed in the garbage, but my coworkers know that I’m likely to make use of this sort of thing and offered them to me if I could use them. I love their generosity! The pulp from the apple cooking was fed to the sheep, who gobbled it up like it was candy. We had the butcher give us all the trim and bones back from our sheep, and the dogs have been eating well with the fresh meat. A bunch of the trim was cooked down and the fat rendered, as soon as I can find a source of lye, I’ll make up some soap. Lamb cuts from last year that were becoming frostbitten in the bottom of the freezer are gradually being fed to the dogs, who aren’t particular about such things. (They eat roadkill. Clearly they aren’t particular.)

Want Not (Preparations): Well, we did a bit more infrastructure work – TRF is most of the way through repairing the wind generator, and the fenceline feeder is in place for winter. Some friends of my parents’ had several panels made for goats that they weren’t using anymore, and we inherited those … they are very sturdy and one had a feeder already attached to it, which makes an excellent mineral dispenser. 

Community Food Systems: Have had a few orders for lamb already, and shared some of the lamb garlic sausage with coworkers (who were uniformly impressed with it’s non-lamby-and-wonderfully-spicy flavour). Continue to sell eggs to regular customers, and sold some of the organ meats to a friend who feeds raw meat to her dog. 

Eat the Food: We’ve had lots of lamb, eggs, and potatoes lately, and have been noshing on fruit leather for snacks.

05 September 2009

Things to do with apples

The people I work with have gotten used to the idea that I’m the person who is likely to make use of leftovers of one form or another.

“Will any of your critters eat these stale carrot muffins?”

“We’re going on vacation and had two tomatoes and three peppers left in the fridge … would you like them?”

and now …

“We have a lot of apples off our tree this year, would you be able to make use of them? They’re kinda banged up…”

You betcha!

The chickens love carrot muffins, and we are not at all embarrassed to make good use of surplus food, no matter how it came to be surplus. And apples … oh my, there are so many uses for apples!

Some of the sheep like to eat them, right out of your hand. The small ones (which they can get into their mouths to chew) are great treats.

Really damaged apples make great juice: just cook them with some water until they soften, then hang them in the juice bag over night. The juice, cooked with a lot of sugar and a bit of pectin, makes a marvelous apple syrup, which is delicious mixed with oatmeal and hot water for breakfast (my usual morning fare, eaten once I get to the office).

Apples in any sort of in-between state make good apple sauce, which in turn makes good fruit leather. I just dump the apples into the big cauldron (stock pot), add a bit of water, and cook until they turn to mush, assisting as needed with the potato masher. The resulting pulp is scooped into a colander resting on a large bowl, and squished so that the soft, smooth paste goes through the colander mesh and the larger seeds, skins and chunky bits remain in the colander. The leftovers are fed to the chickens or sheep, and the pulp is poured into jars. I could hot process the jars and keep apple sauce for winter, but at the moment I’m on a fruit leather kick – our kids all love it, and the home made stuff is so much better than the store kind … no preservatives, no packaging, and only as much sugar as is needed to sweeten up the apples. I have trays for the dehydrator that are specifically for making fruit leather, so all I have to do is pour the apple sauce onto the trays and plug it in overnight. Voila – fruit leather!

I’ve also done some apples as dried apple chunks, for winter baking, although that takes more work and is best suited to big apples that are worth the effort of peeling. :)

It really doesn’t require a whole lot of effort, and it’s such a good feeling to have healthy, home made food to put in the pantry. Even if it was just “leftovers” to start with!

03 September 2009

Dehydrating the bounty

I do love my little American Harvest dehydrator.

It takes very little time to slice up some veggies or fruit to put on the trays, then it gets plugged in overnight, and in the morning, you have dehydrated food ready to go into jars for storage! Everything shrinks during dehydration, so six or seven trays full of sliced veggies will usually fit into a peanut butter jar once they’ve been dried out. With our small pantry, this is a definite bonus.

The big advantage of the dehydrator is that you can work with small quantities as they come available – you don’t need to clear the kitchen and “do the canning”, you can just chop up whatever’s on hand.

During the summer, the excess spinach from the garden got dried: it makes a wonderful addition to omelettes, crumbled and sprinkled over top while it’s cooking.

Now that the onions have been harvested, the big ones have been braided together and hung up to dry, but the smaller ones, or those bruised or otherwise unlikely to survive very long  have been chopped up and dehydrated (with the machine set outside overnight … that’s an odour you do not want filling your house!).

It’s a good feeling to make use of things that would otherwise go to waste.

01 September 2009

TRF’s cooking

The Reluctant Farmer does almost all the cooking around here, since he works from home, and I do the commute.

He’s gotten to be an amazing cook … which is really a significant accomplishment.

For example, way back when he was first experimenting with this whole cooking and baking thing, he baked a birthday cake for Dinosaur Boy … and didn’t have any idea that you are only supposed to fill cake pans halfway full, since the cake rises. After cake baking, he learned oven cleaning!

Since then, he’s come a long way. Dinner is always ready when I get home, and pretty much always delicious – very few of his experiments turn out to be something nobody likes.

Today’s wonderful crock pot supper consisted of lamb garlic sausage (oh boy is it good, the butcher did a fabulous job) in tomato sauce with potatoes and one clove of garlic.

However …

TRF didn’t realize that one clove of garlic is not the same as one whole garlic bulb. :)

Believe me, there will be no vampires in our house tonight, but boy, was it good!