Blog Archives

Keep Calm and Plant Veggies

This morning I was reading about “the perfect day”. The post was written by somebody that I’ve been following on YouTube for a while now.

I find it interesting in life we often seek out these perfect days, sometimes very consciously, and other times they come to us by happenstance. But when they actually happen, we definitely take notice. We are happier and tend to have a more positive outlook on things. We feel warm and fuzzy in those moments and generally don’t want those days to end. It makes me think back to when we were in school and didn’t want summer vacation to come to an end.

Becky and I frequently voice our feelings of gratitude of a great day, weekend or moment. Completely thankful of what we have in our life together.
 
Our garden is mostly planted, except for our tomato seedlings and a few others, as this week we are expecting a cold snap for 2 or 3 nights. Time to sit back, relax, and enjoy looking at an empty veggie bed knowing that within a matter of weeks it will be filled to overflowing with every manner of homegrown veggie. Or, in Becky’s case, time to sit back and enjoy the rest of the day with a good book.
Every year we grow the majority of our vegetables from seed. There are always a few items which we purchase as seedlings from a greenhouse operation about an hour outside of town. It’s a long way to go but the prices are very good with a great section of….well everything. Stay focused. Follow the plan. Bring the list. Oh, look at that over there! Focus. Stick to the list. Back at home with a trunk load of great stuff and nowhere to plant it all. This usually leads to more grass being dug up and removed in favor of more useful items.
Most of all Becky and I simply enjoy going for a leisurely country drive. We have always had great chats in the car. This trip was no different. However, as we turned of the road into the parking lot we quickly noticed something was terribly wrong. Their once sprawling greenhouse were now in a state of being disassembled. What!? They shut down operations. No signs indicating  a  move to another location. Just shut down. Very sad. We have a backup place to buy from which is only 10 minutes from home so we came back and purchased from them.
Two years ago we planted potatoes for the first time. I always wanted to but we don’t really have the space for it. After reading many things in internet-land about growing potatoes in a box, in order to use vertical space, I thought I would give it a try. ……didn’t work. Dreams of pounds and pounds of potatoes spilling out turned out to only be about double what we planted. Not a very good return on our veggie investment.
While in Prince Edward Island (Canada’s potato capital) last year we spoke with the owners of the B&B where we were staying. They had a large size patch of potatoes growing behind their house. What’s the trick we asked. Just throw them in the ground and basically ignore them was the response. So this year we thought we would give it another go. In they went. Now I’m doing my best to ignore them. Little sprouts coming out of the ground….sorry potatoes, I am ignoring you right now.
We are both still trying to find our gardening legs. Meaning, we haven’t gotten to the point this season where we come in at the end of the day and aren’t completely sore, or where we don’t wake up with sore muscles from the previous days hard work.
Speaking of hard work, has anyone ever successfully gotten rid of Goutweed?
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We have a large patch of it which we have tried to battle for about 6 years now. So far nothing has worked. It’s terribly invasive. Becky once heard the best response so far – the only way to deal with it is to move! Any thoughts or suggestions?
On a completely different topic, I am having difficulty getting my blog posts to automatically show up on my Facebook account. I set it all up a while back and everything worked smoothly. Each post transferred over without a hitch. Then for some reason my last three posts didn’t transfer over. Just wondering if anyone has encountered this.
On yet another different note, I have been trying to post this all day. WordPress had been acting crazy on every device I’ve tried to use. Pictures disappearing, revisions not showing up after I’ve saved a draft, spacing between paragraphs disappeared. Very frustrating! So I will try to update now. Please excuse any errors on this post.
Hope you are all doing well.
Stan (and Becky)
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Cheese Making Weekend

It’s been a long time since my last post. I had several posts in various draft states but never quite finished any of them. Oh well….bad me. Many things have been going on so hopefully I will get those posts moved from drafts to actual posts. 

The first weekend of April was Easter of course, but it was also our cheese making weekend. I guess it’s the royal ‘we’ because Becky has been making it. I look on from the next room and try to stay out of her way. 

Cheese making time is when I wish we had a cow or a goat to milk. Unfortunately this is not possible in our urban homestead. I’ve tried to explain to Becky about my secret plan to have a dwarf nigerian goat in our back garden. From my point of view I believe it’s a solid plan. Her view is somewhat different, feeling that it’s highly flawed. For example, the part of my plan which counts on being able to convince my close to 90 year old neighbour that the goat is in fact a mid sized dog may be a problem. Feeling the need to hammer this point home, Becky says one word….chickens!

“Fine!” Is my only reply.

A couple of years ago we decided to test the waters a bit with our neighbour. His house has full view of our back garden where we have our veggie patch, so anything which goes against city by-laws would need to have him on board. We were growing potatoes in a large wooden box to save on space. He asked about it one day. “What the heck is that?” Becky responded by saying it’s part of our new chicken coop. Needless to say the old timer kind of freaked out a bit. No chickens.

I’m still sure the goat plan could work. Hmmm…..how to explain things when I have to milk the goat? All plans have obstacles. The plan needs more work.

Back to cheese making. First was Feta cheese. 

   

     
Chevre fail. Next up was Chevre. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with this one. The milk just never created curds and in the end we couldn’t salvage it. The supply company where Becky bought her cheesemaking items said it’s most likely over-pastuerized milk. Of course it’s not even a consideration that it might be the pre-made starter culture packet purchased from the supplier which might be at fault. It’s frustrating to see 4 liters of milk go down the drain.

Chivo Fresco with herbs. It was delicious! I looked for a picture but due to a technical glitch I can’t add it at the moment. Maybe later. Becky was amazed at how easily this one came together and it helped to boost her cheese making confidence. 

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Stan (and Becky)

Reading, Blogging, Being Positive, and Love….Oh My!

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Reading and Blogging
In the past few weeks I think I have spent more time reading (and enjoying) other blogs than I have spent thinking about what to write in my own. But hey, why stress about it. This is suppose to be fun, right? In some ways I think this mimics my own personality. Meaning that sometimes I just love to sit, listen and observe those around me. This can sometimes be misunderstood as a lack of interest. No, No, and No. That’s not it at all. When I have something to say, I say it. Many years ago someone once described it this way “Still waters run deep.”

Now, if Becky were here to give her 2 cents at this point she would probably say something like “Watch out, because once he decides it’s time to say something you might be there for a while.” Whaaat?

It’s amazing how after so many years together I can actually hear her response in my head without her being here to say it. And, she would probably respond by saying “Good, now it’s like I can be in two places at once which is a great way to multitask!”

Here are four blogs which I have been enjoying lately.

The Kitchens Garden
Fantastic pictures! Have a look at the recent guest posts from other farmers which have been very enjoyable and where I found Brat Like Me.

The Aran Artisan

One Man and His…

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Being Positive
It’s interesting how our internal dialogue can so easily turn negative at times. I have raised this topic with several people and it’s very interesting to note that a commonality is that, for many people, negativity is the default with their internal mind chatter. I’m not even referring to the potential for spoken negativity. Which, by the way, flows from the bad internal dialogue. Which brings me to my point, why is negativity the default for so many people? Why is it such a struggle to have a positive internal dialogue? Shouldn’t the default be to think good thoughts, and negativity should be a struggle?

Why does this even matter? Now I might lose some people here because this may sound “way out there”.
Your thoughts determine how you feel….and those feelings create what you experience. Negative thoughts bring negative feelings, resulting in negative experiences. Positive internal dialogue (thoughts) generate positive feelings and positive experiences! Wow…..that’s soooo deep.

If that was too heavy for a Friday…..I will bring it back down with some talk about Love. Sure, why not! It’s February, it’s freezing out and I can’t plant anything. I can’t figure out how to order every seed in the seed catalogue because we just don’t have the space for that kind of variety….so why not write about Love.

Love and Valentine’s Day
I once worked in a job which did considerable business on Valentine’s Day. I would see mostly men come into the shop absolutely desperate to buy something…anything. Becky and I never really bought into the idea of Valentine’s Day. A bit too commercial. I wanted to share a little secret with each of these guys when they came in. “Pssst. Hey buddy, want to know something? Do nice things for her at random times throughout the year and you won’t put so much pressure on yourself on this one day. The importance of this one day is diminished. It’s better for everyone.”

Many years ago Becky said to me “Why would I want this show of Love to be limited to a single day of the year? Spread it out. It’s about the small things you do throughout the year.”

Huh? What does this mean to my man-brain trained by advertisers to believe I must buy something on Valentine’s Day? Time to get quiet again and mull this over.

Emerging from the cave like a wise sage, I now understood.

Here are a few things which I do for Becky to surround her with Love. They are not extravagant things, but they don’t need to be. On a very cold day, while she is in the shower, I will warm up her towel in the dryer and then quietly put it within arms reach. Toasty warm! Another is to send her flowers on a completely random day…just because! Or, during the summer when our peonies are in bloom, I will cut one early in the morning and leave it on her nightstand while she is still asleep. Who wouldn’t like to wake up to the scent of a peony in the air.

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Becky says she’s a lucky woman. I’m a humble guy, so I won’t say anything about that. However, sometimes I joke with her and say “Don’t all guys do these things?”

Have a great weekend!
Stan (…and Becky)

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)

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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!

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

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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“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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