Friday, January 29, 2016

2016

I've sat down at the computer multiple times over the past few trying to formulate this post.  It's hard for me to comprehend that a year has almost passed without me blogging.  To be honest, it's almost been a year since I've last picked up my camera.
A lot has changed over the past year, and yet, a lot has stayed the same.  I'm still enamoured with our little country home.  The yard and took on a transformation with the building of a large woodshed and fencing the backyard.  Its so nice now to be able to let Little Dog out the back door without having to worry about her escaping.  We also built a large privacy fence between us and our closest neighbour which in truth, was the best thing ever.  Summer are mainly spent outside and I can now be in my backyard without feeling like I'm on display to nosey neighbours.  It's also been a treat to be able to let our hens out to free range during the day.  The girls love to hunt bugs and dig up the garden and their eggs are so much better for it.  Late summer we purchased two new young hens, a large Easter Egger who should give us olive coloured eggs and a small silkie cross who will produce miniature eggs.  Neither hen had started laying when we acquired them and as the weather turned cold every hen but Fennel stopped laying all together.  Now that the days are getting longer, I'm looking forward to having a full egg basket again.
Last year's garden flopped which I attribute to the strange spring weather and the fact that being in my 1st trimester during seedling season left me with little desire or energy to plant anything.  In hindsight, it was probably a good thing as by the end of the work day I had no energy to tend to the garden or process a harvest.  I did have a lovely crop of potatoes and carrots last year but the hens ate most of my lettuce and brassicas.  We planted three small blueberry bushes (which the hens figured out grow delicious berries) and 2 raspberry canes. This year we plan on fencing off my garden area to keep the cheeky birds out.
 
Overdue and eager to meet darling daughter.
 

Last spring I took an intensive beekeeping course.  I had ultimately planned to get bees in the summer but hadn't thought it through when we decided to start a family.  I would be heavily pregnant during honey harvest and Adriel, who swears he's allergic to stings, wants nothing to do with the hives.  Mind you, he's made it quite clear that he will happily enjoy the honey.   Bees are on the agenda for this year and I've already purchased some equipment and lined up hive.  The bees should arrive late April, once the snow has fully melted.

The most significant event of the past year was the arrival of Farrah.  It was around October of the previous year that I had firmly decided I wanted to start a family.  It was about 3 months later that I finally convinced A.  We were lucky enough to secure a midwife for the pregnancy which gave me the option for a homebirth.  I remember watching a documentary about 15 years ago on water births, well before birthing pools were considered mainstream.  I was fascinated with the idea and knew that it was something I wanted to seriously consider for my births.  Again, it took a little coaxing to get A on board with the idea of our homebirth, especially since we live so far out of town, but eventually he agreed.  Ultimately he knew that I would be most comfortable at home, which would make him and baby comfortable too. 



I am now a huge advocate of birthing pools.  The comfort of the water made endless hours of back labour bearable.



We welcomed the arrival of Farrah November 21st at 6:46PM. 
 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Making Sauerkraut and 2 New Flock Members

As produce season nears, fermented foods have been on my mind more often.   This summer, I'd really like to preserve more of our harvest.   That being said, I really don't have any experience with water bath or pressure canning foods.  Fermenting foods allows you to store your harvest in a perfectly preserved state.   It also allows you to better digest the foods and increases vitamin level.   The best benefit of lacto fermented foods is that they are full of probiotics and help balance your gut flora.  To ease into this process I started with the most basic of fermented foods, sauerkraut.
 
 
To begin, you will need one or two heads of red or green cabbage.  I started with one medium sized head.  Cut into quarters, remove the core and slice into 1/4 inch strips.  Place the shredded cabbage into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with about 1.5 tablespoons of sea salt. 

 
You will have to pound the cabbage until it starts releasing its juices.  This juice mixed with the sea salt will the brine that you ferment it in.  I used the largest mixing bowl I own and a drink muddler work the cabbage.

 
Once you've produced enough liquid, transfer everything over to a large glass jar or ceramic crock.  You want enough brine so that all of the cabbage is submerged.  At this point you might want to lay some large cabbage leaves on the surface of the brine and then weight them down with a small plate or stone.  I used to glass top to an antique Perfect Seal canning jar.  Make sure all the cabbage is submerged or you will risk growing mold.  Lastly, cover the jar with a cotton cloth or coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.  You want the gases to escape but prevent dust from entering.  I placed my sauerkraut in the pantry for about a week and once tangy enough I moved it to the fridge.  If stored in a cool location, fermented sauerkraut can last for a long time.
 
In other news,  we have slowly been adding more member to our backyard coop.  Fennel was our second edition.  Concerned that Arnica was terrible lonely on her own, we made the long drive to pick her up a friend.  Fennel came from a small hobby farm that housed LOTS of free ranging chickens.  She is a point of lay Leghorn hen which means she hasn't started laying eggs yet but should be in the next few weeks.  Leghorns are known for being fantastic egg layers that eat little feed but pump out beautiful white eggs.  For this reason they are a popular commercial breed and tend to be flighty and don't like to be handled much.  It is said that with patience these birds can become social and snuggly.
 
When we bought her, Fennel had been bullied by the other hens.  Her tail feathers and backside had been pecked bare.  Since bringing her home her new pin feathers have been coming in nicely and she should be back to normal in a few weeks.  Unfortunately, other hens can't seem to resist bare skin or new feathers and she has become a target for Arnica.  Pin feathers have a blood vessel and if broken they tend to bleed for a long period of time.  The red blood causes a frenzy in the hens and they fixate on it.  We already had to pluck one of Fennel's tail feathers that Arnica broke.  Currently she is segregated in the coop while the other girls are locked out in the run.  At night, the hens are too tired to peck at each other and tend to roost nicely.  And so the trend will continue until Fennel's feathers grow back in.
 
Poor scrappy bum and short pin feathers growing in.
 
This weekend we drove out to the Shuswap again to pick up another lady.  The seller also had a small hobby farm and tons of chickens and turkeys running around free range.  She was certain that she had some spare hens that lay colored eggs but wasn't quite sure who she would be able to catch first.  Either way I was going home with a Cream Legbar which lays shades of blue eggs or an Isbar which lay mint green to olive eggs.  The seller had recently bought out a well known breeding company and I got a deal on my hen, plus I know she came from a great breeder.  As it turns out, the Isbar was nowhere to be found and this pretty little Legbar came home with us.  We couldn't be happier with another blue egger to add to the flock and our new hen is a feast for the eyes.  I am though, now obsessed with the idea of green eggs and determined to add an olive layer to my flock.  


 
We named our new lady Yarrow and she is settling in nicely to the coop.  Although she hasn't pecked at Fennel once she is still banished to the run with Arnica where they go about scratching in the grass and settling on the roosts. 

Arnica's back feathers are coming in well and already look much better than before.
(Check out that chicken butt fluff!)
 
I can see how keeping hens can be addicting and I've been dreaming about different coloured eggs for the past few weeks.  Currently we have 2 blue layers and a white layer. We have a brown egg layer on order for May (a breed I'm not familiar with) and there is a small farm animal swap coming up in a few weeks.  I am keeping my eyes open for an Isbar or olive laying hen and also for Black Copper Marans which lay a dark chocolate egg.  Dreaming is about all we can do for now as we have yet to get an egg from our two newest hens and Arnica has gone from giving us an egg a day to nil.  Apparently, the stress of a move can cause a bird to stop laying for up to six weeks.  Regardless, I know that in a month or so we should have a steady flow of beautifully coloured eggs coming our way.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

A New Lady In Our Life

The past couple of weeks have been really productive around here.  I managed to do a giant spring clean on the house, purging out our two attic spaces and reorganizing the basement pantry.  I plan to do a lot of canning and preserving this summer so extra shelving and storage space will be needed. 
Last weekend A and I were able to drive the jeep up into the meadow.  The road along the way was icy and snowy but the meadows themselves bask in the sunshine.  Little shoots of greenery were coming up and the buttercups were abundant.  Its really the only place that we feel comfortable letting Little Dog run off leash.  The wide open space makes it impossible for her to escape and allows us to easily spot predators.
 


This past Saturday I lined up a meeting to pick up a young laying hen for our coop.  The hen was located in a small community about an hour away from us.  She was far away, over priced, and in rough shape but she is an Ameraucana and that means she lays the most beautiful bright blue eggs. 
Its It has been almost two years since we had been out to that community so I was looking forward to the drive.  The skies were blue, the sun was warm and signs of spring were all around us.  Small areas of the roadside were paralleled with antique power lines.  The glass insulators shone blue, green, purple and brown in the sunlight. If I could have reached those insulators I would have taken some home.


 


When we finally got our new lady home the first thing she did was inspect her coop.  We have a small corner perch, ladder perch and a hanging chicken swing to amuse her.  She ignored all the perches and immediately tried out her swing.



A beautifully clean coop.
 

Notorious chicken butt fluff. 
 

Our new little hen has been pretty roughed up from the roosters she was housed with.  Her beautiful green and black feathers have been rubbed bare from too much love.  I'm excited to get her under a good diet and have her feather grow back in glossy and rich.


 
Hilarious dinosaur feet.
 
The first day we had her our little lady surprised us with the most perfect baby blue.   It feels so satisfying to finally have our vision come to fruition.  We have another 2-3 brown egg layers on order which will be here in a couple of month.  In the mean time I am actively looking for other interesting layers to add to our home.
 
Perfection.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Springtime is Around The Corner

I hate the cheesy commercialism of Valentines Day, the cartoon red and pink hearts, the overpriced chocolates, and the cheaply made stuffed toys.  A and I have never been big into celebrating the Hallmark holiday.  Instead, we often grab a reasonably priced bottle of wine from the liquor store and enjoy each other's company at home.  Each year A makes me an amazing vegetarian lasagna from scratch and this year we enjoyed it with a cold glass of homemade apple cider from October.  Afterwards,  we curled up in the loft and watch the mid season premier of The Walking Dead.  It was perfect.  
 
 

 
Mother Nature seems to have given up on winter and the last month or so has been extremely mild.  Most of the snow in the area has melted back the lilac and rosebushes are swelling with large buds.
The mild temperatures have given a head start on the work we want to do around the property.  This year we plan to build a large woodshed and fully fence out lot to keep little dog in and the aggressive neighbourhood dogs out.  It will also be nice to let our hens out to free range once in awhile.  

The weather has been so mild lately that I fear I have left it too late to cold sow my spring seedlings.  I spent the afternoon planting seeds into compostable peat pots and placing them into their mini greenhouses.   The idea is that the seeds will lay dormant until weather warms considerably.  The seeds will emerge from the soil as nature intended, reducing the need to harden them off.  Not completely convinced of the idea and afraid of losing my seedlings to late frost, I've planted only a modest amount of cold weather crops.  I suspect that in a few weeks time I'll be planting seedlings in the traditional method but this has given me an opportunity to get my hands in some soil and perhaps a head start on some springtime veggies.

 

The mild weather is almost too warm for wool sweaters and mitts.
 
Our chicken coop is nearly completed at this point.   The heat lamp has been hung and the PVC pipe waterer and feeder have been installed.  Bedding has been laid and the enclosed run has been fitted with multiple perches and even includes a swing for the ladies.   At this point we are ready for hens.  We have been busy phoning around and putting out feelers for sellers.  Hopefully by next weekend we have some birds lined up.
 
DIY swing and ladder A made for our future girls.




A few weeks ago my sister surprised me with a small package in the mail.  Inside was set of chakra dream catchers she had made for me.  Included with the colourful chakra catcher was another small dream catcher made from wool, leather and fitted with a blue glass bead.  The chakra catchers were inspired from a Pinterest post I had showed to her ages ago and hers turned out lovelier than the originals. 
I'm waiting to find the perfect spot to hang these beauties so that I can admire them.
 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The New Year

Handmade gift for a friend's new baby boy.
 
Suddenly, as if without warning, January is almost over.   The seasonal holidays have come and gone in such a blur and I have had neither energy nor the creativity to write here.    The Christmas holidays crept up, as they usually do, and arrived before I knew it.  A and I were able to secure a few weeks off  work for a whirl wind trip to the coast to see family and friends.   Although I was much looking forward to our trip, the chaotic hustle of travel and environmental allergens of different homes and pets left me with a terrible sinus cold that I am still feeling the effects of to date.
 
 
 
Visiting the Marina where I wanted to purchase a locally made fisherman's sweater.
 

The holidays are always kept low-key. Gifts are generally tokens, hand made or consumable, allowing the emphasis to be placed on visiting rather than consumer goods.  We were able to spend a lot of time catching up, which is what the holidays are really all about.  when the rain broke, A and I were able to sneak away to one of my favourite places on the coast, a small salt marsh that houses one of the largest wild crab apple trees I have ever seen.  With the salmon run finished not too long ago, the area was covered in eagles feasting on the decaying fish.   The marsh is always a haven for wildlife and I'm never quite sure what I'm going to see when I venture there.  
 
 
A's childhood home, tucked inside a dense forest of cedars.
 

 
In Victoria, my family humoured me while I shopped for necessity items not found in our small city.  After the terrible hustle of the big box stores they took me to the various metaphysical shops in the area and we stopped in at a small gemstone store near my sister's condo. My only purchase was a palm sized piece of labradorite stone that glimmers with different colours when you hold it to the light.  A, who has always been fascinated with geodes, tolerated my indulgent buy.  
 

Back home we were greeted with a cold snap.  Our first morning back I awoke to -39 and a thick layer of ice on the inside of the windows.  The heated aquarium had evaporated quite a bit while we were gone and the moisture of which hung thich in the air.  It took a roaring woodstove and days to get the house warm again.
 
The remainder of the holidays was spent enjoying time off.   Afternoons were lazy, curled up in front of the wood stove with a book or wool in hand.   The new year always stirs a change in me and although I'm not one to put focus on resolutions, I do always adopt a theme for the upcoming year.  Last year's theme had me focused on creating - food from scratch, plants from the garden, clothing from wool.  This year's theme revolves around nurturing - whether that's tending to myself, my family, or the things around me.   I feel a shift coming and I am certain that I am ready for a new chapter in life.   I have opened myself up to the opportunity of new things to come my way.  
 
Salmon stream that runs through the marsh.  A startled eagle came off the riverbank, so close I could almost touch it.  He broke several branches off the trees before finally finding the open sky.
 

In my next life, this will be where my home is.
 



The boys, not interested in shopping, visited the local miniature exhibit.
 

What focus does the new year hold for you?

Back home with little dog almost fully recovered.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Making Soap - A Tutorial

It was only a few years ago that I first discovered how to make soap at home.  I don't think I've purchased store bought soap since.  The entire process is so quick that I can easily whip up batch or two that will last me for months.  Around the holidays I tend to make a few extra batches to include into gift baskets.   There's nothing quite like pure, homemade soap.

Essentially, there are two different way that you can make soap at home.  The cold process method and the hot process method.   The cold process produces a lovely, smooth bar of soap that is pleasing to the eye.  The downside to this method is that it can take weeks for your soap to cure before you can use it.   Because I am impatient I use the hot process method in which you cook your soap, speeding up the curing time.  This process produces a quick bar of soap that can be used immediately.  The hot process soaps tend to look a little more rustic - which is okay with me.

After trying many different recipes I have settled on this simple one from the Holy Hen House.  Her recipe uses easy to find oils and produces a fairly smooth, white bar of soap.  The recipe can be easily modified to include scents, essential oils, and any other goodies like coffee grinds or oatmeal.

To start off with, your going to need a few supplies.   The most important piece of equipment is an old slow cooker.  I picked up a sweet vintage one for a few bucks at the thrift store.  Your also going to need a tempered glass bowl, a scale, a heat resistant spatula or wooden spoon, and a loaf pan (not pictured).

 
Ingredients:
9.4 Ounces of Crisco
6 Ounces of Olive Oil
6 Ounces of Coconut Oil
8 Ounces of water (or tea, coffee, goat's milk....)
3 Ounces of Lye
Any other goodies you might want to add (Oatmeal, Herbs, Essential Oils)
 
 
 
 
Its important to remember that all your ingredients need to be measured by weight.  If you modify the ingredients be sure to enter it into a soap calculator to insure that the oils to lye ratio will work out.  Sometimes a like to add an ounce or two of castor oil to my soap, it makes a nice hard bar that lathers well.

Start out measuring out the oils and adding them to the slow cooker.  While the oils are melting measure out your water and lye and slowly ADD THE LYE TO THE WATER.   Be extremely careful while handling the lye, it is very caustic.  The chemical reaction causes the water to heat up extremely fast and produces harmful vapours.  Remember to put your glass bowl on a heat resistant surface and to open up the windows for ventilation.  It can be difficult to find lye in the stores, it's usually located in the drain cleaner area.  I bought mine from Home Hardware. 




Once the oils are melted and your lye solution has cooled down a bit, turn off the slow cooker and slowly add your lye solution into the oils.    At this point you want to stir the oils and lye solution together until it comes to trace.  Trace is achieved when your oil solution has reached the consistency of pudding.   It can be really handy to use an immersion blender to bring the oil solution to trace.   Once trace has been reached, turn the slow cooker back on to low and let your soap cook for about an hour of so.   The soap will puff up and start to look like mashed potatoes when its finished.  Turn off your slow cooker, let your soap cool somewhat and feel free to stir any extras like ground oatmeal or essential oils.  

You can let your soap firm up in any shaped container that you like.  I like to use a silicone loaf pan.  The silicone makes it easy to pop the soap out once it has hardened, plus it has a nice design on the bottom of the pan.  If you use a metal or glass loaf pan, its advisable to line your container with parchment paper so that the soap doesn't stick to the sides.  

Scoop your soap into your pan and try to smooth out the top as much as you can.  Let the soap harden over night.  In the morning you can pop out your loaf of soap and easily cut it up into bars.  At this point, you can use the soap right away but I like to let mine dry out on the cooling rack for a week or so.  



My latest batch of soap: Plain, unscented.
 
In other news, things have been pretty quiet around the house.  We finally got our peacock stained glass window hung.   I bought it at a garage sale in the summer along with a pretty stained glass lamp for a few a few bucks.  The panel was built into a strange light box so we disassembled the entire thing, framed the glass, and antiqued it. We hung it in the kitchen window to hide the underside of the roof that overhangs our front door.  Eventually we want to do a small kitchen renovation and take out this window but in the mean time it provides some coverage.


A few weeks ago Little Dog had some sort of accident while I was at work.   A was away, working out of town, and in the middle of the night I was awoken by her distressed whining.  The vet thinks she had pinched a nerve and she lost the motor function of her back legs.   They sent us home with an anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxers, and strict orders of bed rest.   Slowly she has been gaining the use of her legs, but it's a long process and A and I have to be careful to constantly keep an eye on her.   When she goes out to do her business we have to support her back end with a towel under her hips.  My doctors have been kind enough to have her come into the office for chiropractic adjustments.  It will a frustrating next couple of months but we love our fur babe and would do anything for her.


 
The dog's lack of mobility has kept us all pretty close to home.  Walks in the bush just don't seem the same without her quick, short pace beside me.  Instead, we have been enjoying the comforts of home, cozy evenings close to the woodstove, comfort foods and baking.  I have a few crochet crafts and sewing projects on go to keep my hands from being idle.  We have been sampling the local craft beers in the evening.  I'm not a huge drinker these days, but a dark, malty ale is hard to resist. 
I plan on making a large pot of vegan chili for dinner tonight.   A has proclaimed this recipe to be the best chili he has ever had.  What type of comforts are you enjoying to stay cozy this winter?