First Coffee of the New Year and Other Wonderful Things

Happy New Year everyone!!!

The morning of January 1st, 2015 started like any other morning, with an amazing cup of coffee. Silvia never fails to deliver on this, but the first cup of the year is extra delicious in the quiet of the morning. Sink into a comfy chair, take a sip, and the new year seems filled with possibilities.

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Last year Becky came across this great idea. I don’t know if it has an official name, but I like to call it a “Feel Good Jar”. This is the picture which she sent to me last year along with the suggestion that we start our own.

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The way it works is that every time something good happens, you write a small note, fold it up and drop it in the jar. Then on New Years Eve or on New Years day you open the jar and read out all of the amazing things which happened to you over the year. Big things and small things.

It’s unfortunate how we tend to forget the small everyday events which light us up, warm our hearts and feed our soul. Kind words from a friend or client at work might be remembered for a few days or a week, but 6 months later you might not remember. I know I won’t. I will definitely never remember the feelings surrounding the words. So when I write it down, I like to add my thoughts and feelings. It helps to bring back all the warm and fuzzy memories with it. Any great moment is worthy of adding to the jar. Becky and I have both been adding to it.

What a way to spend some time on New Years day. Ok, we haven’t actually opening our Feel Good Jar, but one doesn’t want to rush such things. It should be fun and relaxing so why stick to an exact date. It will happen when it happens and not a minute sooner.

I hope you all find a bit of time to look back over some of your fond memories of the past year…and think about all the possibilities of the coming year.

May your jar get filled to the brim!

Stan (and Becky)

PS – I forgot to mention who Silvia is. She’s a model…..well, let me rephrase that……Silvia is the model of espresso maker we have. Made by Rancilio. Those Italians!

The Missing Kimchi Recipe and My Search for a 12 Step Program…

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I am looking for a 12 step program for my new Kimchi addiction! I’ve been eating it with absolutely everything. The first step is admitting you have a problem…

Here is the recipe for Becky’s Killer Kimchi.

Makes about 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of Kimchi

Ingredients

For salting cabbage:
6 pounds napa cabbage (3 to 4 heads of medium napa cabbage)
1/2 cup Kosher salt

For making porridge:
2 cups water
2 tablespoons sweet rice flour (glutinous rice flour) regular flour is fine too
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (brown or white sugar)

Vegetables:
2 cups radish matchsticks
1 cup carrot matchsticks
7 to 8 green onions, chopped
1 cup chopped Asian chives (buchu), optional (substitute with 3 green onions, chopped)
1 cup water dropwort (minari), optional (Becky didn’t use this)

Seasonings and spices:
1/2 cup garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup fermented salted shrimp (saeujeot) with the salty brine, chopped ( Becky didn’t use this)
2 cups hot pepper flakes (gochugaru) ( This is Korean red pepper powder)

Directions:
Chop cabbage into small pieces, rinse in a large basin of water, and sprinkle with salt:

Let the cabbages rest for 2 hours. Turn over every 30 minutes, so they get well salted. From time to time you can ladle some of the salty water from the bottom of the basin over top of the cabbages if you want to.
After 2 hours, wash the cabbage a few times under cold running water. Giving them a good washing, to remove the salt and any dirt. Place in a strainer over a basin so they can drain well.
While the cabbage is salting for 2 hours, and in between the times you’re turning it over, you can make the porridge:

Porridge making:
Combine the water and the sweet rice flour in a small pot. Mix well with a wooden spoon and let it cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until it starts to bubble. Add the sugar and cook 1 more minute, stirring. Remove from the heat and let it cool off completely.
Place garlic, ginger, and onion in a large mixing bowl. Add fish sauce, fermented salted shrimp, and hot pepper powder. Mix well with the wooden spoon until the mixture turns into a thin paste.
Add the radish, carrot, and green onion, plus the Asian chives (or more green onions) and the water dropwort if you’re using them. Mix well. Add cooled off porridge and mix well.

Make kimchi:
Spread kimchi paste on the cabbage so that it’s evenly distributed. When it is all covered with paste put into your jar or plastic container.
Eat right away, or let it sit at room temperature for a few days to ferment.

On fermentation:
The kimchi will start fermenting a day or two at room temperature, depending on the temperature and humidity of your room. The warmer and more humid it is, the faster the kimchi will ferment. Once it starts to ferment it will smell and taste sour, and pressing on the top of the kimchi with a spoon will release bubbles from beneath.
Once it starts to ferment, store in the refrigerator to use as needed. Storing in the fridge slows down the fermentation process, which will make the kimchi more and more sour as time goes on.

Enjoy!
Stan (and Becky!)

More things to ferment and brew…Kombucha!!

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After our adventures in Kefir making, Becky thought it would be a good idea to start making Kombucha. I have to say that I had no idea what it was.… And so it began.

Kombucha is a sweet tea which is left to ferment with the SCOBY and within two weeks turns into a another drink entirely which is highly beneficial to your body. HEALTHY OR NOT, IT TASTES AMAZING!

After Becky managed to get a free SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) from a friend, we were off and brewing. We are currently brewing our fourth batch of kombucha.

Our second batch caused some concern with the expected growth of a new SCOBY on the surface of the liquid. Each time a batch is brewed you end up with a new SCOBY. Becky’s approach is just to leave it alone and check it after two weeks, where as my approach is more of checking it four times a day to see what’s happening. My concern grew over what looked like abnormal SCOBY growth. Eventually I reached out to contact people wise in the ways of the SCOBY. They were both amazing and responded very quickly to the pictures I emailed to them.

As it turns out, the biggest thing that can ruin your batch is mold. But we did not have any, thankfully. After a minor relocation to a warmer part of the house things seemed to get back on track.

Here are the two resources who were so kind to help.

http://www.kombuchabrooklyn.com/

http://www.kombuchakamp.com

Oh how I love the scent of a fake Christmas tree!

Many years ago Becky and I bought our first Christmas tree. It was a good quality artificial tree which we have used up until last year. In the box, which we dragged home on public transit, was a natural pine oil scent kit and about a dozen real pinecones to put the oil on.

In our excitement (….and lack of any experience with scented oils) we used the entire bottle of oil. It was a tiny bottle! You can probably guess what happened next. Overwhelmed by the smell of pine, with tears actually in our eyes, we realized that the tiny bottle was probably a 10 year supply! We quickly collected the pinecones and put them in the trash. Not before they probably dripped all over the tree in the process.

It was a ‘fresh’ December day so we opened all the windows and put our jackets on to air out the room. It eventually became bearable again. At least our eyes didn’t sting too much anymore.

So that is the history of our existing tree. Every year for probably the past 10 years we have discussed buying a real tree, but in the end decide to stick with our fake. Until this year. Finally we got a real one!

Once we brought it inside I felt like it should be decorated very simply. Some white lights and Becky and I were inspired to string some popcorn for a garland. That’s it so far. Not sure if we should add any more to it.

Here’s what it looks like so far. The best part of having a real tree in the house…..the natural pine scent!! 🙂

So what do you have? Artificial or a real tree?

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All We Want For Christmas is…

Becky and I have a very short wish list for Christmas. It only had two items. We have both found ourselves in recent years not wanting more “stuff” in our lives.

For years now Becky has had a rule, and it goes something like this… “If we bring something new in the house, something has to leave the house.” Huh? But I don’t want anything to leave the house. I am by no means a packrat, but that seemed a little harsh. But catch me on the right day and you can get rid of whatever you want because we probably don’t need it. I tend to gravitate more towards the rule of – if you haven’t touched it in six months you can safely get rid of it. I’m sure Becky might say otherwise but in my mind I like to believe that that’s my way of thinking.

We decided this year to not exchange gifts, even with each other. Yes it’s fun to open things up on Christmas morning, but we’ve decided that we have enough in our lives right now that we don’t need more.

However, we do have two things on our Christmas wish list. To further our homesteading skills and abilities we have our eye on an Excalibur Dehydrator and an All American Pressure Canner. We’ve discovered after jarring several different food items that these two devices would serve us very well and enable us to expand what we preserve.

So here goes our shameless pitch to Santa….We’ve both been really, really, really good this year and are surely on the ‘nice’ list.
P.S. – We will even get rid of two items from the house once these arrive!

We hope you are all enjoying the wonders of the holidays.

Stan and Becky

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Fresh Baked Bread!

The taste of freshly baked bread is always amazing. Nothing beats the wonderful aromas of baking bread on a cold fall or winter’s day. At least that’s what Becky tells me. Although the smell of still warm from the oven chocolate chip cookies when she comes home from work is rated highly as well.

I can still remember the feeling of coming home from school and my mom having chocolate chip cookies on a plate for me. It’s creates such a warm feeling of home, coziness and love. That’s probably why I like to do it for Becky.

I’ve been baking cookies since I was around 10 years old, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that I eventually found myself working in a small bakery which sold only homemade cookies. Baking bread is something more recent for me. Probably beginning just a few years ago. In the past year we have only purchased bread from a store a few times (usually when I’m feeling lazy).

Bread making is said to be a very accurate science with no messing around with quantities. I would completely agree…..except for the recipe I’ve been using. The basic recipe is from the Joy of Cooking. It’s a white bread recipe which I began substituting whole wheat flour for white bread flour on my second batch. Everything else stayed the same with the exception of 1/4 teaspoon extra yeast.

Subsequent batches saw many things added and the recipe only being used as a quick reference. In the world of baking this usually turns into a disaster. However, after baking many loaves I have never had a failed batch. I’ve added whole wheat flour, dark rye flour, red fife flour, bran, wheat germ, quick oats, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax meal, spelt flakes, and maca powder. The results…..total awesomeness!!

Why bake your own bread? I do it for several reasons. Mainly because I like to bake, but after that other reasons include: knowing exactly what ingredients are being used; having no preservatives added; flexibility to make exactly what you want; and, some money savings when compared to buying an equal quality artisan store bought bread.

Most reluctance around baking ones own bread comes from a belief that it’s too difficult or time consuming. Not true. If you can follow a recipe, you can bake bread. As for it being time consuming, think about it like doing a load of laundry.

When you do laundry it doesn’t take 90 minutes (30 min wash and 60 min in the dryer). It really only takes a few minutes to load the washer, a few minutes to transfer everything to the dryer, and finally a few minutes to fold everything. Total working time on your part might be 10 minutes or less. The rest of the time you are doing other things. The same is true for bread.

Mix a few ingredients and let it sit while you do other stuff. Mix it again and put it in a loaf pan to sit some more. Go enjoy yourself. Put it in the oven. Set the timer and go do some fun stuff. Remove and enjoy! Simple!!

Here are a few pictures of my bread. The everyday bread which we use for toast, and a new recipe I tried recently for a rustic country loaf. I ate almost half the loaf with butter within a few minutes of coming out of the oven!

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Becky’s Killer Kimchi

There has been a lot of kimchi talk going on at the homestead for a long time. Becky finally did it! And it’s deeelicious!!!!!!
Recipe to follow.

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“If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m coming to your house!”

Whatever the nature of the apocalypse, we have a growing list of people who have announced they are coming to our house!

We have filled up our freezer and have shelves full of homemade canned food in the basement. Part of this was done out of enjoyment, and partly out of wanting to see how much money we could save, but most importantly it was to enjoy our homegrown food throughout the winter.

Regardless of the reason, the result has been that we have been eating in-season food from the freezer and shelves for weeks now. We have barely made a dent in the freezer. Our weekly shopping, more often than not, has turned into bi-weekly shopping. Our grocery bills are much smaller as we are really only buying eggs, fresh fruit and occasionally meat.

I have a plan to cut eggs from our shopping list, but it’s a covert plan which could get us into some hot water with city officials. Keeping chickens is against the city by-laws where we live. Ridiculous!!! Nobody is talking about keeping a rooster and waking up the neighborhood at the crack of dawn. Just 2 or 3, or 4, quiet hens. Egg laying machines. For now…..no can do.

Back to our winter storage items. Let me try to put together a list.
Delicious corn, bought in-season from a local farmer after my 40 plants slowly disappeared over the course of the summer. Until one day I watched a brave, bastard of a squirrel, run off with the last 2 foot long stalk in it’s mouth. Becky loves to take pictures of me fuming at these moments. I’m not so amused.

Back to the list. Beans, kale, collards, swiss chard, zucchini, peas, snow peas, vegetable stock, beets, carrots, onions, garlic, and more flavours of jam than a typical grocery store. Blueberries from a recent trip to PEI that were so cheap that we bought 15 pounds worth! Several types of pickles, and pickled carrots which may sound strange but are pure crunchy goodness. Tomato sauce, BBQ sauce, zucchini relish, sweet chili sauce, peaches, red pepper jelly……and the list goes on.

The following pictures may inspire you….or they may make you want to have your name added to the growing list!

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Finding a Kefir Dealer

You say Kah-Fear…..I say Kef-her…..or, is it Key-fer?
Adventures in Kefir making!

Normally going to a stranger’s house to pick up a small ziplock bag of anything would be out of the question. But that’s what we did. Becky arranged everything about the deal online. My only contribution was to say “There’s no way in hell that you are going to a stranger’s house by yourself… I’ll drive!”

A few minutes later, a token amount of cash exchanged for a plastic baggie, we head straight home. “Let me see it, let me see it”I say. “Why do they call it kefir ‘grains’?”

And so it began….

Jump forward a few batches, a bit of uncertainty, and we think we got it all sorted out.

Kefir is fermented milk which is full of beneficial bacteria and yeast. It tastes similar to yogurt, but usually more tangy. It’s probiotic nature helps to maintain a healthy immune system and well-functioning digestive system. Kefir contains a higher amount of beneficial bacteria and yeasts than most yogurts. It’s also much easier to make.

They call it ‘grains’ because of the way they look.

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It’s a SCOBY. This stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
When added to milk, kefir grains feed on the lactose in the milk. The lactose provides nourishment and allows the grains to grow and multiply.
Some people will give away their excess grains to strangers. Becky found several sources of free Kefir grains, but with an 8 week waiting period. Becky, not one who likes to wait, found another source for $5.

Here is where she found it.
http://www.torontoadvisors.com/suppliers?keywords=Toronto

How to Make Milk Kefir
Step 1 – use 1 tablespoon kefir grains for each glass of milk

Step 2 – place in a mason jar with a cloth over the opening, or if using the lid, don’t tighten it as the kefir needs to breath.

Step 3 – let ferment for approximately 24hours if your home temperature is 20 degrees Celsius or higher. It will depend on the temperature of your home, our house is cooler and we fermented the milk for 36 hours. This is where some of our initial uncertainty resulted in unsuccessful attempts.

Step 4 – strain the grains out of your milk and place in another jar with some fresh milk to keep it alive. Place in the fridge until you are ready to make your next batch. Start using your kefir milk.

NOTE:
Avoid using metal utensils. Try to purchase a plastic strainer (yes, our picture above is with a metal strainer, but it has since been replaced)

Let’s not cry over spilled apple scrap vinegar!

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Two weeks ago my partner-in-homesteading, Becky, made Apple Scrap Vinegar. As with many of the things we do, the idea came from me. Sometimes I call myself The Idea Guy. Now I’m not trying to take any real form of credit here, but it’s an ongoing joke between us. I’m The Idea Guy, and she is The Get It Done Gal.

I openly admit that I love dreaming up all manner of things, some of which can be a bit far flung. One of Becky’s famously used quotes for when I get into idea mode, when she knows I’m not going to get it done in a timely manner is from Elvis – “A little less conversation, a little more action please.” For example: Becky “I would love to have a food dehydrator.” Stan “I read recently about how to make a solar dehydrator. It’s pretty easy. I think it would make a good summer project.” That was in the spring and we’re in mid-November now. I may have mentioned it last summer as well.

There was one notable exception to this, the story of the found kitten and the new kitchen door. But that’s another story for another time. Someone please remind me about it in the future and I’ll be happy to share it with you. It demonstrates my complete ability to get things done quick….for the right project.

Back to our topic at hand, Apple Scrap Vinegar, and the spilling of said vinegar. The scene opens with Becky proudly announcing from the kitchen “the vinegar has a mother!” I’ll explain this later with the recipe. As Becky enters the living room she proceeds to show me the bottom of the mason jar where the vinegar has been fermenting. As she tips the jar out pours some of the vinegar. Oops…no lid. The mason jar was only covered with a cloth secured over the opening with a rubber band. Opah!!!

Normally I would react poorly to such events as they require unnecessary clean up, but not today. I am on my last day of 5 glorious days off. Glorious except for the fact that I’ve been sick for 4 of those days. Locked up in the house, restless, this now had great entertainment value for me! Not much vinegar was lost, but Becky forgetting there was no solid lid on the jar was priceless.

Making Apple Scrap Vinegar

Making it is easy. You would normally just toss these in your compost or garbage anyway so why not give it a try. Plan to do it when you are making an apple pie, or in our case an apple crumble.

What you will need:

-apple scraps

-1/4 cup honey

-1 liter warm water

-a large jar

-towel or cheesecloth (or a large basket disposable coffee filter)

-raw apple cider vinegar (with mother) – optional

If you have lots of apple scraps, just double or triple the recipe, ensuring the ratio of 1/4 honey for each liter.

Step 1 – collect all your apple cores, peel, seeds, etc (none of the good stuff) and set aside.

Step 2 – mix honey and warm water

Step 3 – fill your jar with the fruit scraps and pour in your honey-water solution.

step 4 – cover with towel or cheesecloth (this is just to keep unwanted things from falling in). Secure with an elastic band.

Step 5 – let ferment at room temperature. Stir once per day.Step 6 – the liquid will darken after approx 1 week. Strain out apple scraps and ferment the liquid for another 2 to 3 weeks. Stir ever other day. You will start to see a ‘mother’ form on top.

Step 6 – save your ‘mother’ for your next batch and enjoy.

‘Mother’ of vinegar
What is it?

Mirriam-Webster Dictionary definition:
“A slimy membrane composed of yeast and bacterial cells that develops on the surface of alcoholic liquids undergoing acetous fermentation and is added to wine or cider to produce vinegar.

Mother Earth News describes it simply as:
“The ‘mother’ is a gelatinous mass of vinegar-making organisms that forms naturally in vinegar.”

Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar describes it as:
“The ‘mother’ of vinegar is a dark, cloudy sediment. Only present in raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, it naturally occurs as connected strand-like chains of protein enzyme molecules. Many people believe it is the “mother” that is what provides so many health benefits.”

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