Sunday, November 09, 2014

First snow today - beautiful and fleeting

Thankfully this morning's beautiful dusting of snow has already melted.  We still have so much to do around here!  The barn/greenhouse reno needs to be closed up - the roof is on, the greenhouse glass is being put on today, one door is framed, a few others need to come...

But the yard and garden were beautiful none the less, and quite thrilling to our daughter, and maybe even the chickens who were not quite sure what to make of it.  Some of the herbs (like the mints, chives, parsley, dill, sage, thyme and savory) are still looking just fine for harvesting, and our cold frame still holds kale, chard, spinach, and fresh cilantro, and we have planted to covered grow beds with meslun and other greens for late winter eating.  I also found a few handfuls of the sweetest wild grapes still left clinging to the vines on the back porch.  However, it does feel like we are coming to the ending of this season.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Holiday baking begins! Gluten-free gingerbread cut-out cookies

Last night the house smelled so festive!  It was a cold evening, so baking cookies was the perfect after dinner project to warm up the house.  We made our first batch of gingerbread cookies and I tried a gluten-free recipe from this book called The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook..  The authors (a wife & husband team) also have a great website called Nourishing Meals: Healthy Meals for a Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen, which includes recipes and advice for eating a whole foods gluten-free organic healing diet.  Great suggestions for lacto-fermented vegetables, detoxification eating, and more.  I absolutely love both their cookbooks which have taken a prime spot on the main cookbook shelf in our kitchen!  They have a version of gingerbread cut-out cookies on their blog which looks delicious but is not actually the one from the cookbook - this version has hazelnut flour and an egg, whereas the book recipe I used had brown rice flour and ground flax seed (no egg, no nuts).

This gingerbread is so delicious - it is very likely the BEST gingerbread cookie recipe I have ever tasted.  The dough does get sticky, so chilling it is very important.  They advise rolling the dough between two sheets of parchment paper, and I don't think you could roll it out any other way without a lot of sticking.  Also the cookies definitely needed to be cooled before removing from the pan, as they were a little breakable when warm.  It was a fun project do with my 6 year old daughter, who loved helping mix the dough (especially shaking in ALL the spices we added).  We made a 4 x batch so it was a huge amount of cookies, many to give away to friends, and some of which my daughter hopes to sell at her own little booth during our Handmade Holiday sale on Nov 29.  Making them gluten-free and vegan should assure that almost everyone in the room can eat them.  The icing (still to come) is a cashew butter-coconut oil based mix, which pipes well out of an icing bag after it has chilled.  So not only do these cookies taste amazing, they were beautiful to roll out and cut into shapes (we used "woodland themed" cookie cutters - fir trees, gnomes, stars, reindeer, owl), but they are nutritious and healthful too.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Local Forest Schools!

We are absolutely thrilled that there are now not one, but two local options right here in KW for families who wish to send their kids to a "forest school" experience.  The Grand River Forest and Nature School offers one day a week for discovery & fun in the woods; and the KW Forest School also offers options for forest school sessions as well as shorter one-day sessions occasionally through the Transition KW(through the eco family activities subgroup).  We've been participating in the Grand River Forest & Nature School and just loving the experience.  The idea is to dress for the weather, no matter what, and spend the whole afternoon with a small group of kids and two super facilitators who guide the kids through hands-on learning in the forest.  There is a small shelter to store extra dry/warm clothes, and from there the kids have done hikes, salamander discoveries, journal writing, swamp explorations, snakes, frogs and toads, tree watching, bird watching, branch fort building, map making, story telling, singing, nature crafting projects, and more!

Greenhouse & Barn Reno

Fall is always busy, but this fall we are especially caught up in the project of completing the renovations to our barn/greenhouse.  This old "barn" as we love to call it was really a drive shed for the earliest owners of this property (lots of interesting old newspapers were found stuffed in the walls as insulation).  They would have kept a cart, possibly even a horse (!) and definitely chickens in here at one point.

We had already attached a passive solar greenhouse to the barn about 12 years ago when we were first getting settled on this property.  However, it was time to reorganize the space, expand the growing area, and fix up the building so it was weather and rodent proof.  It's been a huge, and exciting venture, much bigger than we thought when we started since trying to work with salvaging/reusing existing materials and keeping intact the structure of an old building can be tricky.  We hope to have this building set up by mid winter, for growing winter greens (lettuces, Asian greens, braising greens, chard, kale, spinach) through the cold months - inspired by ideas from Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook, among other books.  There will be space for spring seedlings, herbs, sprouting (peashoots, buckwheat, wheatgrass), and using it as a teaching space.  Let's hope the cold weather holds off just a little bit longer.  Note this is a work in progress, and window, doors, roof, wood siding and a porch are still coming ...

DIY Apple Cider Vinegar

It's been apple season for the past month and we've been so happy to stock up on local apples for drying, pressing into cider, pies and applesauce.  We have our own small apple trees, but since they don't produce enough yet we like to supplement our apple eating with wild harvest, go to pick our own at a local orchard, and buy them at the farmers market, but two other good local sources for organic apples are through these member-based food buying clubs Baileys Local Foods and Sustainable 360

We try not to waste any bit of the good organic apples we grow/purchase/find, so everything, including the peel, gets used.  Organic peel is perfect for keeping in a pie recipe or adding to applesauce to give it a pinker colour, but another perfect use of apple peels is to make apple cider vinegar.  Apple cider vinegar has so many uses - from healthful tonics, making herbal medicines and shrubs (aka. sipping vinegars), hair rinses (as a great hair conditioner use 1 cup warm water with 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar), adding into salad dressings, and more.  Here is a simple recipe for how to make it at home.

Simple DIY Apple Cider Vinegar
Note: this recipe takes 7 weeks to prepare

You will need:
- large glass mason jar with shoulders
- piece of muslin cheesecloth and rubber band
- organic apple peels
- water
- organic sugar

1) Wash apples.  Collect and save the apple peels as you are preparing your apple sauce, pies, etc.  Pack them into your glass mason jar tightly.  Choose a jar that you can fill right to the top with peels.

2) When your jar is filled prepare a simple syrup.  The ratio is approx. 1 litre water to 1/4 cup organic sugar.  Bring water to a boil, add sugar and dissolve by stirring.  When sugar is dissolved pour this syrup over the apple peels to cover completely.

3) Cover jar with a cheesecloth, secured with rubber band.  Let stand for 1 week on your kitchen counter.  Stir once a day (or as often as you think of it).

4) After 1 week, strain the syrup.  Compost the apple peels, and rebottle the syrup in your jar.  Cover again with cheesecloth.

5) Now let this syrup/juice stand on your kitchen counter for 6 weeks, in a cool location out of direct sunlight.  Try to stir it once a day or so. 

6) Taste as you go along, and when the flavour is to your liking then the syrup can be bottled in another jar with lid and stored in the cupboard.  Usually it is ready by about 6 weeks.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Come see us - at the Cranberry Market in Guelph, Nov 14

We'll be vending at the beautiful Cranberry Market held Fri, Nov 14 at the Trillium Waldorf School in Guelph.  Please drop by to see us, and tour this lovely school facility and support local artisans of natural and handmade goods.  We'll be there with our handmade soaps, herbal salves and other botanicals, plus new journals and eco notebooks we've been making. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thanksgiving walk in the woods

Our tradition is to have a family hike in the woods over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Since we are still under renovation here, we decided not to drive out too far for our hike but rather to stay close to home this year - enjoying a nearby neighbourhood park with it's wooded trails.  We found the last sweet wild raspberries to nibble on, gorgeous coloured leaves, the tiniest acorns, fungus and forest mushrooms, logs to balance on, a spider web glistening in the sun, leaf piles to jump and stomp around in, a shady place to stop for a snack.  Sometimes the most special places are the most simple and close at hand.  We just need the time to look and explore.