Monday, January 30, 2012

Cheese Challenge

Another Year Without Groceries has set up a cheese challenge for 2012, making home made cheese.

I'm not sure why, with all of the odd ball old fashioned stuff I do, why oh why, are cheese and soap making such difficult concepts for me.  It's like everybody's doing it, and I can't wrap my head around it.  Like it's just some difficult foreign process that requires more prep and and consideration than I'm willing to devote to it.

Well, that needs to change.

So, here I go, following her blog.  Sounds simple enough.  Is it too simple?  Is that the problem?  Am I just not willing to believe that something so good could be so simple?

I'm perusing a couple of books and a kit from amazon.   I've downloaded the complete book of cheese for kindle (free, public domain).

The January challenge- Nothing but Curdled Milk
Yogurt Cheese
Buttermilk Cheese
Queso Blanco

I did the Queso Blanco, cause it seemed the easiest.  I don't have a cheese press, so I just squeezed the excess whey out through the cheesecloth as best I could.
It actually turned out quite solid, which surprised me.  On it's own, with crackers, I found it quite salty.  I used about half of it to make a batch of cheese buns.  They tasted great, but you couldn't see the cheese in them like a cheddar cheese bun.  It just kind of melted into the dough, but there was still a faint cheesey flavour to them.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I guess I got a little lazy when we were buying all of that store bought bread.  Out of the habit of baking everyday, combined with everyone here wanting just one more slice, or one more sandwich, to enjoy this great bread, it shouldn't have come as any great shock that there was NO BREAD in the house yesterday morning to pack Husband's lunch for work.  Oops.  He left with a double serving of banana bread, some cheese and crackers.  Grumbling.

I rectified the situation with a triple batch yesterday.  This is Grandmother Bread, and absolutely delicious! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Washing with Lye

For a few years now I've been planning to make some lye soap.  When I first read about it in an old timer's book, it seemed like a fairly simple plan.  I just needed to build this contraption to catch the lye.

The plan was to build a large wooden box to dump the wood stove ashes into.  Then it would be connected to a drain board connected to a bucket.  Dump the ashes in all winter.  Let it snow, let it rain, water it down, collect the lye.

And then make soap.  But the whole process was sounding rather time consuming, smelly, and somewhat dangerous.  I left it to simmer in my head.  TShadn'tHTFyet so, no rush.

And then I watched Tales From The Green Valley, a British documentary of life on a 17th century farm.  And they got a might dirty over their year on that farm.  And they had to do laundry down at the creek.  And they made themselves a batch of lye to wash that laundry with.

And they didn't make soap.  They poured the lye directly over the laundry, then beat it clean.

Well, that's easy enough, isn't it?  I could do that.  Well, I'll let the washing machine do the 'beating', but I could make lye for laundry.

I started with two 4L ice cream buckets.  They stack, and the plastic ridges hold the inner bucket an inch or so higher than the outside bucket.  I poked holes through the bottom of the inside bucket to allow the lye water drain.  I put in a coffee filter, and wood ash.  Added about 4 inches of water and waited impatiently.

It took forever to drain.  In my second attempt I removed the coffee filter.  Very little ash leaks through and it drains faster.  It seems to work best if I leave it to drain overnight though.
The lye water seems more potent.  The first load of laundry I tried needed to be rewashed.  The second load was ok.  But laundry after leaving the lye to drain overnight turns out quite nice.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the smell- almost like that fresh air scent from line drying.  A pleasant surprise in the winter.

Further research reveals that pine ash is not recommended, and soft water is.  I have pine and poplar ash and hard water, which could be why my results aren't great.

I think I'll be sticking to store bought soap for town clothes, but the lye water will be fine for farm clothes.  Time will tell, too, I'm sure.  If things don't seem to be getting clean after a few washes, I'll reassess.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tomato Day

It's tomato day!  Last year I didn't start them until Feb 8th, and then suffered major losses in my rush to get them out to the greenhouse.  I ended up buying tomato plants.

In 2010 I started tomatoes on January 25th.  I had to transplant them 3 or 4 times, and they were huge when they finally went in the garden.  They were still mostly green when we were hit by frost.

So, even though 2012 is the Year of the Cuke!, I am looking forward to canning a ton of tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato soup and catsup.  It might be overzealous, but I want lots of big red juicy tomatoes along with the cucumbers.

Today I planted saved seed from last year.  I'm still waiting for this year's order to arrive. 
I started 8 jiffy discs with San Marzano tomatoes (2010 seed), 4 Starfire Improved (2009 seed), 4 Sweetie (cherry) tomatoes (2008 seed), and 12 with my saved seed from my 2011 tomatoes.  (I don't sort or separate my seeds.  All the tomatoes I saved seed from, from different plants, went in the same tub.)

Then, since I had everything out, and I have my pepper seeds (you know, the ones I said I didn't want to waste greenhouse space on this year?)  I started 4 California Wonder (2010 seed), 20 Salsa Pepper- Annaheim (new for 2012), and 8 Jalapeno (also 2012).

I don't usually start peppers quite this early, but I figured it couldn't hurt.  I haven't had a good pepper year yet.  Surprise, surprise, oh Canada!  lol.

Then husband asks, what's next?  Um...  Oh boy.  Where did I leave my garden journal from 2010?  I'm going to have to do some digging.  My notes from last year are all pretty much irrelevant, since I started everything in the greenhouse, and then restarted and restarted after various losses.  All I can remember from 2010 is that the sunroom was a jungle, and I started the pumpkins and cukes way too early (they were flowering in the house!)

But there you have it.  The 2012 gardening season has officially started in the great white north. :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Eggs and Baking

The chickens are down to about two eggs a day, although we're still occasionally picking up a turkey egg, which are about the size of a double yolker, and have a thicker shell, and tougher membrane than the chicken eggs. We also got one goose egg. Yeah! We know there's at least one female goose! Hopefully one of the others is male and she likes him! But I digress...

I used one of my batches of frozen eggs up during the christmas baking frenzy. I just pulled the second one out of the freezer to defrost yesterday.

They're still kind of slushy here, but you can see I just scoop out a yolk, and the white comes with it.  They don't last as long in the fridge as I had hoped they would, so I lost a few from the first batch.  I'll be baking up a storm in the next couple of days to try to use this batch up without any going bad.  Next year, smaller batches.

Blue cookies
My first attempts to bake with more of our free foraged fruit (raspberries and blueberries) were both wonderfully successful.  I made a batch of banana bread, but replaced half the sugar with raspberry sauce.  They devoured it in no time.  I've made both raspberry and blueberry bread before, but without the banana it comes out very dry.  Most blueberry cookie recipes don't work for me because they expect you to be using whole blueberries.  My blueberry sauce is more like a heavy syrop or a runny jam.   Somewhat similar to pumpkin puree.  Hmmm...  The pumpkin cookies were a hit, why not try it with blueberries?

I left out the cinnamon and nutmeg, and cut the sugar due to the blueberry sauce already being sweetened.  I debated the chocolate chips, but threw them in in the end.  Yum!
Before replacing my yeast I had started reading a bunch of web pages and recipes for sourdough bread.  One of them said to bake buns in muffin tins.  Who'd have thought that would make such a difference.  These aren't sour dough buns, but I tried the muffin tins, and I'm happy to say they did make a big difference in the shape!  They're a little narrow at the bottom, but still, the best batch of buns I've ever made.  I'll be keeping my eyes open for extra large muffin tins at the thrift stores.  I think they'll make some great kaiser size rolls!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Winter Food

After yapping about the garden and the harvest all year, I thought it might be interesting to write a little foodie post here in the great white north.

I haven't been out to a grocery store yet this year.  lol.  Not a huge accomplishment, we're only three weeks in.  However, I don't do a lot of grocery store shopping in the small towns at all, and I haven't been to the city since November.

I was buying a lot of bread!  Yes, bread, of all things.  Husband was picking it up on the way home from work, parents were picking it up for me, and I even bought a few loaves at our little store.  I was still baking lots of bread, but no one wanted to eat it, least of all me.  I tried a bunch of different recipes, but I was getting nowhere.  It was all so disgusting, heavy, and smelled like beer when sliced open.  I finally gave up, and asked my dad to pick me up some new yeast.  That was definitely the problem.  We're back to light, fluffy, yummy, fresh baked bread.  Now when I think about how much money I wasted on store bought bread while trying to convince myself that that jar of expensive yeast was fine...  Yeash.  Should definitely have replaced the yeast sooner.

Vegetation wise, my few trips to the store since fall have yielded a few stocks of celery, which for some reason are hard for me to resist in the winter.  Maybe it's the crunch?  Celery is one of my favourite snack foods.  I'm up to three bags of frozen corn, because you can only eat so much turkey before you go on a corn rampage apparently.  And of course, I never leave a store without a bunch of mushrooms.  Do they actually count as a veggie?  Packed with Vitamin D, mushrooms are one of my best friends throughout the winter.

Otherwise on the veggie front, we're getting low on carrots.  We had some spoilage this year, I think due to that lovely weather we had in the fall, keeping the cold room warmer than usual. Beans and beets are the everyday go to veggies, pretty much alternating every third day.  The bean supply is getting slimmer, but not done yet.  Broccoli is gone, gone, gone.  A few turnips left, and still two pumpkins.  Finished our first ten pound bag of onions.  Onions are starting to get soft and grow, so I'm not too sure how much longer the second bag will last.  I'm into my third (and last) 50 pound bag of potatoes.  I'll need to make a trip to the potato man soon to replenish my stock.  I nearly forgot about the tomatoes, so I've just started using them up.

In the meat department, eating a few turkeys certainly helps to clear out some freezer space!  I'm actually pleasantly surprised with the reception the turkey is still getting around here.  No complaints from the boys, despite turkey sandwiches and days of leftovers.  Lots of roast beef, a bit of corned beef, and a fair bit of steak is gone, but still over half remains.  I am starting to dig for pork, which is kind of funny, considering how I avoided it for so long.  We will definitely be ready for new piglets this year.  The bit of pork we're eating is now a rare treat.  The bear has hardly been touched, on account of it all being in the garage freezer.  I do have room now to start shuffling some things around and bringing more variety closer for convenience.  A warmer day would be encouraging to get my arse in motion.

Fruit is crazy.  I think the boys are losing their sweet teeth as well.  They've eaten 1 jar of pears, and a few jars of jam.  My fruit shelves are still packed.  The apple supply has dwindled significantly, and they devoured a big pot of applesauce after I did my midwinter apple sort, removing apples with bad spots from the boxes.  Perhaps it's just that the pumpkin treats have been sufficiently satisfying.  At any rate, I will be trying to stuff more fruit into baked treats for the rest of the winter.  Blueberry sauce cookies anyone?

Reasons to head out to the grocery store...  We are getting low on rice, dried beans and pasta.  Pasta sauce has also taken a hit, and baking supplies (powder, soda, chocolate chips, and sugar) are at an all time low.

All in all, I'm quite pleased with our harvest from last year, and looking forward to doing it all over again this year.  It's definitely been our most self sustained year yet!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seed Orders

 I started writing this a bit ago, before the computer crash...

Another blog posted this Online Canadian seed catalogue listing  the other day.  A little early, but I just can't help myself.  It is January, after all.  I'll be starting tomatoes soon!

My choices this year:
Boughen Nurseries, hardy plants for zones 1-3.  I ordered 3 Siberian pear trees, and 3 seedling plums.  If these do well for me, I'll be buying many more fruit trees from them in the future!

OSC Seeds gets the majority of my order, due to their stock of forage seeds for the pasture, and lower prices on vegetable seeds.

Prairie Garden Seeds, with their selection of grains and heritage seeds get the rest.

I spent more online for seeds than I ever have in the past.  A lot more.  However, I ordered EVERYTHING online this year, which I have never done before.  I usually shop online for some oddball stuff to try, seeds that are hard to find locally, and heritage plants that I'll be saving seeds from for the future.  Then I pick up a little of this here, and a little of that there, as long as the garden stores are open.  I can't honestly say how much I usually end up spending in total, but I am a bit shell shocked at what I just spent.

New to my garden this year will be eggplant, kale and kohlrabi.  Recipes welcome.  I've never eaten any of them.

And Today...

My first order has arrived from OSC!  I am getting the itch!

Need tomatoes...  They're coming from Prairie Garden Seeds.  Must be patient...

So not gonna happen...

The only thing that appears to work in any of them are the fans. Crap.  Most of the parts are not interchangeable due to planned obsolescence. Crap.

On a positive note, I can now, mostly, see what I'm typing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Computer Crash

My computer bit the bullet this week.  It's actually the third time my computer has died.  Husband has rebuilt it with pieces from other dead computers.  This time it doesn't look hopeful.  It looks like my hard drive is kaput. Over ten years of info on that thing.  And when was the last time I did a backup?  Hmmm.  The last time it died?  4 years ago ish.  Crap.

Posting this from the kids' computer.  Won't be doing much of that for awhile.  I can't figure out the settings on it.  My eyes are going squirrelly.  Husband's computer is worse.  He has it set to microscopic- and he likes it that way. 

So, no worries, I'm still alive and well.  Just very, very quiet.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick Maker...

Usually I am well prepared for temporary power outages.  But the other day, the power went out first thing in the morning.  We had just gotten up, lit the fires, and made a pot of coffee.  Two hours 'til daylight.  -32°C outside.  Brrr.  And that was it.  Lights out.

Normally I have an assortment of candles sitting out on the hutch in the living room, one in the bathroom, a couple in the kitchen, and one in my room.  I know where they are, easily accessible, not too much stumbling around in the dark. 

But...  The candle in my room disappeared somewhere in the pre christmas chaos.  The candle in the bathroom disappeared somewhere.  Haven't figured that one out yet.  One of the kitchen candles was burned down beyond use last time, and I hadn't replaced it.  And my hutch?  Well...  We set up the little tree this year, on account of a chewing puppy, and I cleared the hutch off to place the tree.  And in my pre holiday hum bug, where exactly did I dump all of that stuff?  Yeash.  Stumbling in the dark.

I love candles.  Always have.  Like moths to a flame.  I love the colours, the warmth, the wet wax pooling up and running away.  I told husband not long ago that I should learn how to make candles so that I could be 'the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker'.  lol.  And then, one of the blogs I follow posted about making new candles from old candle wax.  And then the power went out.

So, after I found the candles, while we sat at the kitchen table playing chess and battleship, warmed by the heat of the wood stoves, I watched the pools of wet wax grow and spread and harden.  I kept thinking to myself, I wish I had printed that blog post.  I got an empty jar and started collecting the used wax as it dripped away.  By the time the hydro came back on I had quite a bit of wax collected.  I also trimmed off the uneven tops of some large candles, and emptied the tiny bits at the bottom of some almost finished candles.  Then I went in search of that blog post.  And I could not find it.  I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but I'm at a loss.

Instead, I googled candle making and found a variety of different perspectives.  Most of them agreed that the wax should be melted in a double boiler.  I used an old pot full of water and inserted my collecting jar and a candle in a jar that had drowned itself long ago.  I heated it gently on low heat, the wax melted fine, no broken jars or explosions.
My wicks are just thick cotton string, twice dipped in the melted wax with a plastic fork, and then laid out to harden.  For one candle I reused the little metal bit from an old candle, the other I just held in place with a bit of wax, let that harden, then continued pouring.  I used a pencil to hold the wicks somewhat centered in the jars.  More wax was needed as the wax cooled and hardened and left a dip in the center.
Both candles burn fine and bright.  The thicker one doesn't melt evenly, so I'm now searching for thinner jars and glasses for future use.  They're self drowning candles in the jars, so I poured the wax off periodically into my collecting jar as well.  Then I thought, why not make new candles while the old candles burn?  I had a little shot glass, and enough wick trimmed off from the first jars to fill it.  I poured the wax off the melting candle directly into the shot glass around the wick, making a third candle.  With a few prepared wicks and enough empty jars I could keep myself supplied with candles for future power outages during power outages.

How cool is that?

Other notes on being prepared...

-Lots of board games, cards, books, etc.  Zero boredom, short term.
-Short on snow this year.  We didn't need to melt any for this short power outage, however we'd be hard pressed to find enough clean snow to last 2-3 days this year.  The creek is not frozen, nor the spring, but  hauling water from either requires better planning.  I need to look into collecting better large jugs, and a sturdy, lightweight sleigh to haul it with.
-Tea pot.  I have a lovely little cast iron kettle on the wood stove all the time, to add moisture to the air.  However, it's rusting on the inside.  Unappealing for tea.  Of course, any pot would technically work to heat water for tea, but I'd really like a large stainless steel kettle.
-Breakfast.  I haven't really considered wood stove breakfasts before.  Low on eggs and bread,breakfast was a couple of apples each.  I know I can cook any one pot meal I might need for supper on the wood stove (roast, stew, soup, etc), but I need to pay more attention to simple meals for breakfast and lunch, especially in the event of a long term power outage, or come up with some other cooking methods.  The sun room wood stove has a small surface area, allowing for only one pot or frying pan at a time.

It's good to have the power go out at odd hours.  Helps jog the brain for future preparedness.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Harvest 2011

Time to remove the little gidget in the side bar.  The year is over, this is what we harvested, foraged, and gleaned. 

  • Asparagus (spears) 22
  • Bear - doggie stew- 18
  • Bear - roasts - 3
  • Bear - Steaks - 3
  • Bear - Stew - 4
  • Beef - Corned - (meals) 7
  • Beef - doggie stew - 22
  • Beef - Ribs - (meals) 3
  • Beef - roast - 32
  • Beef - Steaks- 10 (meals) + 2
  • Beef - stew - 16
  • Beef - tenderloin- 2
  • Beef Stock- 50 cubes
  • Beef- tallow- 7 pints
  • Beets - Pickled - (quarts) 21
  • Broccoli (half side dish) 16 frozen + 3 fresh
  • Brussel Sprouts (stew servings) 5
  • Carrots 4 gallons
  • Cauliflower 5 heads
  • Chicken 3
  • Cucumber 3
  • Dandelion Greens (meals) 60
  • Eggs (approximate) 2490
  • Fish (meals) 5
  • Green Beans (meals) 48 frozen + 18 fresh
  • Green Pepper 3
  • Jam (pints) 23
  • Partridge - #2 - 1.5
  • Partridge - husband - 9.5
  • Partridge -me -17
  • Potatoes 5 lbs
  • Pumpkins/Squash - (chicken feed only) 12
  • Rabbits - 2
  • Rhubarb (bunch) 5
  • Swiss Chard (meals) 10
  • Tomatoes 17 gallons - 18 frozen meals
  • Turkeys 10
  • Turnip 2 gallons
2012 plans...


No plans to increase the size in 2012.  After finally getting it fenced in 2011, the goal is simply to keep the critters out, fertilize the soil with lots of good manure and compost, and keep the weeds manageable.  If the three lonely strawberries come up early enough in the spring, they'll be transplanted to the 'flower bed'.  Otherwise they'll be plowed under this year.  That'll add about another 8 feet of workable space inside the fenced in area.  Previous owner had a couple of feet of grass between the garden and the black currant bushes.  We fenced on the far side of the black currants.  This space, and the mostly empty strawberry patch have been sitting dormant. 

Asparagus- I will buy more crowns, and possibly more seed.  The existing asparagus patch is mostly between the garden fence and the rock wall now.  Plants I started from seed are in the 'flower bed', and this will be their third year, or their first harvest year.  The seed plants are very thin though.  I left the garden ones til year 4 to start harvesting.    I want to add some asparagus to the forest garden area.

More carrots, pumpkins, squash, and swiss chard.  No cauliflower (I's affeared of them worms, lol).  Corn.  In the greenhouse.  Hopefully. 

Cucumbers. 2012 will be the year of the cuke.  They're getting a whole greenhouse.

And with any luck, we'll see greenhouse three and four spring up.  Although, I am considering building them outside of the garden fence.  Maybe along the treeline, past the raspberry patch.


No more rabbits.  The boys used to like rabbit, but not so much anymore.  In 2010 we raised a couple of litters with little cost and little effort.  In 2011 I only bought three bucks, because that's what happened to be available at a price I was willing to pay at the time.  We lost 1 of them.  We put two bags of feed into the other two.  They were already butcher size when I bought them, but we never got around to it.   We don't over winter rabbits, so we'd be looking at buying new stock every year.  The rabbitry just isn't warm enough to keep them overwinter without adding hours of labour everyday just to keep them watered.  All in all, an expensive and unsustainable practice.  And then, when I cooked a rabbit a couple of weeks ago, the boys informed me they no longer particularly care for it.  Well, that's done then.  No more rabbits.

Beef.  Casper for the freezer.  Another bottle calf for either 2013 beef or bull.  The boys are working on leading Toothless, and so far it looks like he might turn out as gentle and cooperative as Nelly.  Which means we'd be able to keep him until he has breeding age daughters.  Researching, registering, buying ear tags.  If we get our three possible calves this spring, we'll be tagging for the first time, with the possibility of selling our beef in the future.  They're required to be tagged to leave the farm (sale or slaughter).

Turkeys and/or Chickens.  Debating with myself.  We have two toms and three hens.  They're all doing well.  We're pretty sure at least one of the hens is laying.  We find a large speckled egg about once a week.  Always on the floor.  One of the hens was accidentally left outside one night.  We found her in the morning, burrowed into the snow, no worse for wear, at -38°C.  Definitely hardier than chickens.  If they go broody in the spring and hatch some eggs, we'll have turkeys for the freezer in the fall.  If they don't go broody, then we'll have five for the freezer in the fall.  Assuming, of course, that the wildlife stays away.

The chickens, on the other hand, I have neglected the butchering for the second year in a row.  We've had a lot of losses to wild life.  Better in 2011, but still pretty bad.  My heart's not really in the butchering.  It's a lot of work for one or two meals, especially when it only takes a few minutes more to butcher a turkey, which is easily 4 meals or more. 

I ended up with 10 turkeys in the freezer.  Easily 40 meals.  I butchered 3 chickens.  Maybe 6 meals at best.  I spent about the same on feed for each.  So, I'm thinking I might not buy chicks this year.  I still have chickens to butcher, and they might hatch some chicks on their own.  But I'm thinking I might limit my chicken rearing to egg layers.

So I might buy more turkeys this spring after all.  The only real concern is that there is a minimum order of 25 birds.  Which would give me 30, plus any hatchlings.  Which is a lot of turkey. 

Pigs.  Hoping for a couple of weaners this spring.  Maybe another big pig.  We'll see what comes up at the auction.  I'm ready for pork again.


I want some.  Especially if we buy pigs.  I'll wait and see what happens with the girls, if we get calves.  We think Nelly would make an easy milker, but of course we haven't tried it yet.  I'm considering buying a jersey.  In my original milking plans, one friendly, hand milked, all purpose cow made sense.  I didn't want 4 gallons of milk twice a day.  I was having trouble figuring out what to do with all of the extra milk from the 2 gallons a day Dorie was giving us.  But at that time, I wasn't considering feeding excess milk to pigs and birds and dogs.  A jersey is sounding pretty sustainable these days. 

Happy New Year to you and yours!  May the year go well, whatever you're planning!