Blog Archives

Let there be soap! …Can I eat it?

Being able to live on the homestead without an outside income can be difficult. Many homesteaders often have home-based businesses to help with this, or a regular job. By far I think many of us would rather be able to generate that income from home allowing us to be more self-sufficient.

I mentioned in a previous post about our soap making efforts. Becky and I have been busy since late December making several batches of soap. I wanted to share some of our creations with you.

More than one person who recently purchased a few bars said “Smells amazing….I want to eat them! Can I eat them?” Well, that is about the best feedback you can hope for.

I’m definitely not a photographer….but here’s what we put together.

Citrus Bliss

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A wonderful blend of Lemon and Orange essential oils. Infused with very locally grown Lemon Verbena***. Lemon rejuvenates the mind and lifts the soul. Orange revitalizes and brings cheer and happiness to the mind. Colours: Annatto Seed powder and Turmeric powder.

Pure and Simple, unscented

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For those who want the most natural soap possible, with the least amount of ingredients and no fragrance.

Lavender and Rosemary

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Extra Lavender essential oil for the true Lavender Lovers out there, combined with a gentle infusion of very locally grown Rosemary***. Lavender contains wonderful relaxing qualities. Both Lavender and Rosemary are antiseptic and healing.

Lemon Verbena

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This has quickly become a big hit and our best seller. Infused with very locally grown Lemon Verbena***, with an added boost of Lemon essential oil to rejuvenate the mind and lift the soul.

Camomile & Sweetgrass

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A delightfully relaxing infusion of these two very locally grown herbs*** along with the addition of dried Camomile flowers. Camomile calms the skin and Sweetgrass is a sacred Native herb used for its healing properties. The combination is fantastic!

Purely Rosemary

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Made from a trio of Rosemary ingredients beginning with an infusion of very locally grown*** rosemary, with the addition of rosemary essential oil, and finally ground rosemary powder*** for colour. Rosemary is known for its strong antiseptic and antioxidant properties.

Mint & Lemon Balm

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These two work so well together. Smells absolutely amazing. Crafted with infusions of locally grown Mint and Lemon Balm***. Lemon and Mint Essential oils added for an extra boost!

Enjoy your day!

Stan (and Becky)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Snow, snow, and more snow! So we took advantage of our stay at home day and made: several meals to put in the freezer for weekday lunches; chopped fruit for the next few days; made a double batch of Becky’s Killer Kimchi; and some healthy homemade granola. Add in some other regular household chores and we are both done for the night!!!!

Ah, but what about dinner? I’ve got a great idea! I’ll whip up a quick batch of Chocolate Chip cookies.

We could call it an ‘appetizer’! But the way things are going….it could be dinner! It’s not like I didn’t plan for the future…..I froze the other two dozen cookies worth of dough for another day.

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Saving Money By Having Diverse Interests

I have wildly diverse interests. Typically this first reveals itself to the casual observer by the range of reading material I have around at any given time. Becky has grown accustomed to seeing me with a stack of books (ok, usually more than one stack!) on everything from woodworking, to baking artisanal breads, to fermenting, to understanding opera, to learning Italian, to jewelry making, to house building techniques, to Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep and Chickens (you just never know when this information will come in handy!). There might even be a seed catalogue (or 10) in the pile too!

On occasion I need to resort to audiobooks to save time because it’s just not possible for me to read that fast. Years ago I tried to learn speed reading to help in this area, but I just got bogged down in reading the how-to book.

Having a wide range of interests directly relates to your skill sets, and in turn, to saving money. The skills I have gathered over the years reflects in a large cost savings. It’s the idea of self-sufficiency that many of us pursue. I love being self-sufficient. Sometimes I surprise myself when switching from one project to the next in a short period of time. One day I’m building our new deck, and the next day I’m baking bread. On another day I find myself walking around a craft store buying supplies to make earrings as a Christmas present for Becky, then repairing a broken appliance. I love the diversity of my interests. And when I say ‘interests’, think ‘skills’.

Reading and watching homesteading blogs and videos, one thing that really stands out for me is the vast array of skills homesteaders have. I think it’s amazing. It’s something we all have in common.

I took some time recently to reflect back on how much money Becky and I have saved over the years by doing things ourselves. It’s definitely hard to come up with an accurate number, but it was fun to think back over some of the projects we have done and just how much we didn’t spend because we did it ourselves.

I’ve built decks, renovated our basement (although it took much longer than some of us at the homestead would have wished), installed dishwashers, worked on plumbing projects, put in new breaker switches into our main electrical panel, etc. etc. All of these things cost money if you have to pay someone else to do it, and often the quality of work is not always the best.

Just recently the door latch on our dishwasher (affectionately known as the Relationship Saver) broke. And it broke in the shut position. Ok, I thought to myself, if I can get it open then I can take it apart and see whats going on. I tried and tried but just couldn’t get it open. The next day before having to resort to calling a repair company I gave it one last…..whack…..jackpot!!!!

Google, Youtube, a quick visit to the manufacturers website, and a short time later I returned from the appliance parts store. New door latch assembly in hand. Another job done.

Labor costs can be the most expensive item when you build or fix something. Having a repair person come out to fix our dishwasher would have probably cost $100 in our area just for him to show up. I would guess the labor on our deck would have been around $1500-$2000. The labor on renovating our basement… Probably $5000.

So, overall, having a wide range of interests and an equally wide range of skills can be absolutely crucial in the homestead in order to save valuable money, and be self-sufficient.

This is what makes living on the homestead easier, and cheaper. It’s saved us a lot of money over the years.

Sure there have been offers to loan me out for an afternoon to build, repair, or bake, but Becky has not accepted any of those offers yet. Maybe the price just needs to go up and she’ll take some of those offers more seriously.

Stan

Our First Craft Fair

Back in November Becky and I attended our first craft fair. It was in support of the United Way so table rental fees and a donated raffle item went to charity.

Becky and I have been making earrings for about 2 years now. This started when I decided to make 3 pairs as part of Becky’s Christmas gift two years ago. One of the pairs was made from a large crystal which a family friend bequeathed to us when he lost his battle with cancer. I was able to remove two pieces small enough to create a pair of earrings for her to remember him.

Here is the full crystal….

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And it got turned into this…

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Since that time we have made and sold many pairs of earrings. During the craft fair one lovely woman who bought a pair of earrings was actually sending them to a relative in Germany. How cool!

In addition to earrings, we have also been making handcrafted soap and an amazing natural lip balm which we have been using, and decided to sell them as well. Being our first craft sale we didn’t know how people would respond to our handmade items. As it turned out the soap and lip balm disappeared very quickly with additional orders coming in after the fair. The earrings did well too, but we wish we had made more soap!

Here is what our table looked like…

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It’s interesting how things unfold. A Christmas gift of handcrafted earrings turns into selling them. The soap making also started as a gift. Last Christmas I bought Becky all the needed items to start making soap. I planned the sequence of the individual items she opened to maximize her confusion. Seemingly random items which had nothing to do with one another were slowly unwrapped. One item, which didn’t quite fit under our “stocking stuffers only” gift exchange rules, was a wooden soap mold which I made for her. It was added to the pile of strange items laid out before her until finally she unwrapped the instructions and it all made sense.

We always have lots of laughs on Christmas morning, which is the way Christmas should always begin, filled with laughter, smiles, kisses and hugs. This most recent Christmas we decided not to exchange gifts at all, and we still had a great morning filled with those same things.

That’s the long version of how we ended up making those particular items. That’s the way life is sometimes. It turns and twists, and before you know it you are at a craft fair selling things that you enjoy making and using yourself. We sure make one hell of a team!

Happy Homesteading!

Stan (and Becky)

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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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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