Sunday, November 27, 2011

Still Going...

Remember what I said about November in my last post? Well I take it all back. This November has been one for the record books- it's been sunny, mostly warm and pretty much the nicest November I can recall. Friday it hit 16 C (that's 60 F in American)and the overnight low was 11 - that's more like the beginning of October! All month we've had mainly highs in the double digits, a trend that continued this weekend although it's raining now. It cools down at night of course; we've had a couple of light frosts so far, but still no snow and even on the coldest nights we've barely hit freezing! Which is why I still have carrots, beets and a few herbs and flowers still outside, as well as brussel sprouts in the garden. If I'd known we were going get away with this kind of weather this long, I'd have planted more fall crops. And yes that's one foolhardy tomato plant in the bin with the beets. It, along with a handful of others, sprouted in Sept and I thought I'd yanked them all out but it appears I only took the top off this one and it kept growing. Now it's about 8 inches tall, it's got a thick sturdy stem and seems very healthy. I think it's a sign that I'm supposed to try to winter it over in the sunporch.

Inside the food preservation continues- I know I said I was pretty much done with canning this year and I am, all but the beets which are currently sitting in the fridge awaiting pickling. There's one more canning workshop to go as well- we'll be making pear mincemeat which is a first for me so I'l let you know how that turns out - I'm not fond of teaching stuff I've never made before but we've had some requests for it so I'm willing to give it a shot.

At home I'm onto the non cannable condiments now. I grated up a nice chunk of horseradish to make a pint of the extra strong stuff in vinegar- this stuff is guaranteed to clear your sinuses!

I've also soaked some mustard seeds and made a fiery mustard based on this recipe. I'm thinking of doing a horseradish version as well.

I got my hands a few last hot peppers and some local garlic to do another batch of chili garlic paste , since the one I made early this fall is all but gone already. All of these are small batches and stored in the refrigerator. When the chilly weather finally arrives, we'll be ready for it!

The science experiments, aka vinegars are almost wrapped up as well. The cider vinegar is the clear winner this year- literally! It's a gorgeous amber and still smells of apples. I used some of it in the mustard. The red wine vinegar is still murky and some mold was growing in the sides of the vessel, above the liquid so I decanted it into some clean jars and there's a new mother growing on the surface on couple so I think I'll leave them a little longer. Speaking of the mother, the chef (our friend who's temporarily couchsurfing with us), convinced me to add a mother from one of the vinegars to a jar of moisten red fife wheat flour to see what would happen. Well it's bubbling up a storm right now which means something's (likely yeast) growing in it but I have no idea what we plan to do with it next! It smells good tho so I'm guessing we've made a sourdough starter- guess I might have to take up baking.

Another advantage of having a chef for a housemate, besides the obvious, is having someone to talk with about food! The Russian being a typical meat and potatoes kinda guy couldn't care less about how to make vinegar or mustard from scratch. The chef on the other hand compares notes, offers up suggestions and brings home all kinds of treats and leftovers. We've both been scouring local thrift shops for old cookboks and are amassing quite a collection. Looks like I have some more projects ahead of me this winter!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Barnheart - a love story by Jenna Woginrich

Ah November, you are not the most beloved of months. Although we in Toronto have been blessed with unusually mild weather so far, there's no deny that winter is coming and soon! The brilliant colours of autumn have faded, the days are growing shorter and bleaker. It's dark when I wake in morning, and again by 5 pm. And let's not even mention that dreaded 's' word, which thankfully has yet to make an appearance! But November has some blessings just the same. Now that the gardens are done and local produce is all but gone, the frantic efforts to preserve everything is over for another year. Which means more time for indoor pursuits and there's nothing more inviting this time of year than curling up with a good book!

If you've ever secretly dreamed of owning a farm, then there no better book to curl up with than Jenna Woginrich' s latest offering Barnheart! Fans of her blog Cold Antler Farm will be familiar with Jenna's quest for a farm of her own but for the uninitiated Jenna is a determined young woman who has accomplished and lived more in 30 years than most of us do in a lifetime, and still finds time to write about it. Under most circumstances that would probably make me want to dislike her, but her frank yet often poetic portrayal of life as a start up (upstart?) farmer is a joy to read and gives me barnheart symptoms of my own.

Barnheart picks up Jenna's story where her previous book left off but unlike Made From Scratch which mixed practical homesteading advice with her adventures entwined, this one's a straight narrative. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot to learn from this book as well. Barnheart takes you from her arrival in Vermont to her current life as a farmer and shepherd in training in Washington County, NY and all the steps it took to get her there. Like all true loves, the path does not run smooth and straight. In Barnheart you'll read about digging gardens and build pens, and about the sheep that were the beginnings of her farm and the sheepdog that wasn't. Some days she'll makes you laugh, sometimes you'll want to weep, but you can't help but cheer for her, every step (and misstep) of the way.

Through out it all Jenna perseveres and this book is the story of her transition from dreaming about farming to actually becoming a farmer. She doesn't make farming look glamorous but she does make it look fulfilling, and that's the best cure for Barnheart.
Photo courtesy of Cold Antler Farm
Advanced copy of Barnheart provided by Thomas Allen and Son but I received no financial consideration for this review and it is entirely my own opinion!

Monday, November 14, 2011


I've been quiet here this month. Not because I've nothing to say (like that ever happens) but because there's some new opportunities brewing that I haven't quite sorted out yet. Some wonderful possibilities have been appearing in my life; all of them good but some will take me in different directions than others, and as much as I would like to, I cannot choose them all. Some of the options are not confirmed yet so I'm playing the waiting game before I make any decisions. I'm not so good at waiting but I believe that timing is everything and I'll know the right path when I see it. So many options, one way or another things will be changing and I'm excited for whatever comes.

In the meantime, Jenna at Cold Antler Farm threw out a challenge recently and the deadline is tomorrow. The idea was to come up with a way of insulating a canning jar (1 litre/quart jar) so that her coffee doesn't go cold when she drinks from it. I came up with my solution to her dilemma and I'm posting it here because I like it so much I've been using it myself ever since!

I'm not a super crafty person; I knit a little and can sew a basic seam but that's about where it ends. I wanted to create something that was so simple anyone can do it with a miminum amount of effort or skill. It had to be removable and washable. I also wanted it to be as inexpensive as possible. I think I succeeded on all counts.

I found an old angora wool sweater that had been shrunk so that the fabric was felted- I got this one at a clothing swap but second hand shops or church rummage sales would be a good place to pick one up for next to nothing. I cut the first sleeve off slightly longer that height of the jar and pulled it over the top so that the knitted cuff was just above the mouth of the jar.

I cut the second sleeve in a similar fashion but slightly shorter than the first so that it sits just above the shoulder of the jar but not up to the mouth.

Starting with the shorter sleeve, I placed it over the jar inside out. I then flipped the jar upside down and hand stitched the opening with a simple blanket stitch leaving the gap at either end open.

I trimmed the excess fabric on either side and folded it in towards the centre and stitched in place. Removed it from jar, turned it right side out. Repeating the above steps with the second sleeve, I made sure there was enough fabric to reach the lip of the jar.

When both sleeves were finished, I placed the shorter one on the jar first and then eased the second sleeve over the first, making sure that the seams were perpendicular to each other to allow the jar to sit flat. I think it turned out spectacular!

When not drinking, the outer sleeve can be pulled up over the edge of the lid; just fold the cuff down to have clear access for drinking!

All in all it took me less than an hour to make this and I love it! My new insulated jar is the perfect container for my new favourite fall beverage- spiced whisky and hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Welcome Baby Claudia!

While I was off enjoying the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair today, my newest niece made a very hasty appearance! Claudia Elizabeth Lynne waltzed into the world at 8 pm this evening; my sister barely made it to the hospital in time but mom and babe are doing well.

Grandma is delighted with her 15th grandchild; she is especially partial to girls and this makes granddaughter # 5
There are new posts to come, including a round up of the Royal, but for now there's a new baby to meet and I'm way overdue for a visit home!