Tuesday, July 28, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Summer Birthday Cake and Urban Homesteading discussions

Today was our daughter's first birthday! We had a typical homesteading day full of projects (harvesting herbs, shelling peas, preparing for canning pickles, packaging soaps, working on our strawbale house in preparation for plaster work starting this weekend!), but we tried to make time for all her favourite activities - crawling in the grass looking for bugs, clover flowers and dandelions, picking raspberries to nibble, feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs, helping pull weeds, digging in the dirt and planting new seeds...and then taking time to decorate this 100-mile birthday cake. It was decorated with cream cheese-maple icing (no sugar), heart nuts grown in Niagara, and edible flowers and berries from our garden - and it was greatly enjoyed by all of us!

Today we also had a visit from a student in the distance education Food Security certificate program at Ryerson University. She was doing an interview with us for her final paper on urban agriculture. It was interesting to talk to her about the course, and for us to reflect on how and why our homestead has evolved, what obstacles we've encountered along the way, what kind of production we do here, and where we see ourselves going with future projects. This past weekend we had facilitated two workshops at the Hillside Festival on "urban homesteading: sustainable living in the city", which also both generated excellent conversation with participants and a huge turn-out (more than 50 people total!). We feel lucky to get to talk about the homesteading life, and continue to be encouraged by the ideas and suggestions of others who we meet.

Some homesteads/urban agriculture initiatives that have inspired us include:
- Path to Freedom (Pasadena, CA)
- Rhizome Collective (Austin, TX)
- Fairview Gardens Farm & Centre for Urban Agriculture (Santa Barbara)
- City Farmer (Vancouver, BC)
- urban agriculture in general in Portland, OR (especially city chickens and fruit harvest)
- Life Cycles (Victoria, BC)
- FoodShare (Toronto, ON)

100-Mile Desserts: Cherry & Oat Cookies

Here's another very simple cookie recipe, which can be adated to any fruit (apple slices, peaches, apricots, cherries, berries), jams or apple butter filling. They are based on the classic "thumbprint" cookie. We liked the cherry and oat combination....
Cherry & Oat Cookies

2 cups organic spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup large oats
12 cherries, pitted and sliced in halves

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Combine dry ingredients. In separate bowl combine wet ingredients.
3) Pour wet into dry and gently stir to combine.
4) The dough will be quite sticky. Drop small spoonfuls onto 2 oiled baking sheets.
5) Press thumb gently into centre of cookie leaving small indentation. Fill with half of a cherry or 1 tsp jam.
6) Bake 12 minutes, or until golden.

Makes aprox. 24 cookies.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Spelt Crepes

Well it's fresh fruit season, so let's make the most of it! Today's breakfast was delectable - crepes made of organic spelt flour, covered with fresh berries, edible flowers (johnny-jump-ups, and borage) and local organic whipped cream. Hardly our usual breakfast - which tends to be organic oatmeal with homemade applesauce and local maple syrup - but we had a fridge full of beautiful berries including ones picked from our own backyard (currants, gooseberries, raspberries) so these crepes were on the menu. They would make a lovely dessert as well.

Organic Spelt Crepes - serves 4

1 cup organic spelt flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk

1) Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and whisk well until lots of small bubbles form.
2) Preheat cast iron skillet and lightly coat with oil. It is helpful to oil pan before making each crepe so they don't stick.
3) Pour 2-3 Tbsp batter into the pan, and quickly rotate so batter covers entire skillet.
4) Bake 1-2 minutes for first side, then gently flip crepe and cook about 30 seconds more for second side.
5) Remove from skillet and roll up.
6) Either serve with an inside filling, or top with fresh fruit and whipped cream or yogurt.

Makes 10 medium sized crepes.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shelling peas, drying tea herbs, & other homesteading tasks

We've been busy - this time of year is not only full with planting, tending and harvesting the garden, but also preserving the produce for the coming winter months. Today's job, shelling a huge harvest of peas...

This week we also began harvesting and drying herbs for our herbal tea blends which we sell to a local buying club, to our "herb share" members, and on our website during the fall-winter, also freezing cherries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries for making jams, smoothies and fruit sauce in the winter, the first batch of pesto, and mint chutney.

For those readers who are particularly interested in the art of homesteading, check out Nikki McClure's artwork - she creates gorgeous cards, calendars and other artwork made by papercut - along the theme of garden, harvest, homesteading, family, motherhood, community, activism, nature, connection to the land, etc. Her calendars have graced our walls for several years now and we love her work!

End of July in the garden...

Here are a few photos of the life in our garden these days - everything is fruiting, flowering and ripening, dispite the cool weather. We hear August is going to be warm so that will help the eggplant, tomotoes and peppers along.

House renovations - porches continue

Still working on the straw bale house addition, amidst scattered showers we seem to be having every few days this summer. The porch posts have been set, the rafters are up, the today the metal fascia was finished. Plastering will hopefully be starting soon...

100-Mile Desserts: Fruity Herbal Iced Tea

Here is a very simple drink that is not really a dessert, but because it looks lovely garnished with fruit is can definitely be served as a special treat perfect for a hot summer's day. To make herbal iced tea, simply pick a handful of your favourite garden herb and steep as you would for making hot tea (either by solar infusion for 12 hours, or in a tea pot with boiling water 5-15 minutes). Mint, lemon balm, anise hyssop, fennel, red clover and red raspberry leaves are my favourites for iced tea blends. Then add honey or maple syrup to sweeten, ice cubes, slices of fresh berries or fruit, and a sprig of mint and - voila!

All About Fruit Trees Workshop

Today's workshop was so inspiring! Entitled "all about fruit trees" we really did cover a huge range of information about fruit (and nut) trees - including:
* planting (e.g. from seed, from bareroot, from root-burlap ball, from container, from graft, from rooting it ourselves, from cuttings);
* pruning (e.g. when, where, how, what tools to use, how to shape the tree - for example stone fruits like cherries or peach need a more open centre, whereas apple or pear trees have a central leading main branch);
* where to plant; when to plant;
* how to prepare the soil (e.g. adding good compost, planting a cover crop like clover the year before and tilling that in, adding rock dust or just covering the soil around the roots with rocks);
*organic pest & fungal control (e.g. planting lavender under the tree, spraying neem oil under the tree upto the drip line, or spraying the entire tree with kaolin clay).

I think what I was most excited about was the diversity of fruit trees that are possible in our zone - and the encouragement we were given to just experiment, even if it means growing indoors in pots or taking them in for the winter. With patience and care, we can grow many varieties of apricots, peaches, pears, asian pears, quince, apples, crab apples, fig, plum, cherry, also (indoors) persimmon, pomegranate, possibly citrus, many kinds of berries, and also chestnuts, hazelnuts, heartnuts, walnuts. Our facilitator had even grown enough tiny pineapple guava seedling for each participant to take one home. She stressed the importance of healthy soil over the quality of tree, and also emphasized finding hardy varieties for our zone. Resources she mentioned for finding heirloom varieties included Green Barn Farm in Quebec (, The 2009 Ethnobotanical Catalog of Seeds (, and Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa (also Seeds of Diversity in Canada). I'm ready to go start some more fruit trees!

Making Herbal Oils, Salves and Tinctures

We've had several workshops here at the farm over the past weeks. Last Saturday we had an herbal workshop, where participants learned about making herbal infused oils, salves and tinctures. As it's peak herb harvesting season (for flowers and leaves, not roots or bark) it was an ideal time to offer instruction on how to harvest, dry and store herbs, as well as how to preserve their healing qualities by infusing them in oils, adding beeswax to create healing salves, and tincturing them in alcohol/water or other menstruums.

We had fun preparing an "all purpose salve" that is good for cuts, burns and bruises, including common herbs like St. Johns Wort, calendula, marshmallow, lavender, and comfrey, that can either be wildcrafted or are easy to grow in your garden. We talked about ethical and sustainable wildharvesting techniques, such as not to overharvest, to properly identify the plants using a good botanical guide book, and harvesting from areas that are unsprayed! First an herbal oil is prepared, either by solar infusion (4-6 weeks steeping in the sun), or by stove top or crockpot method (low simmering the herbs in oil for several hours). This oil is then strained, and beeswax, cocoa butter, or other additives such as essential oils are added to make a rich solid salve. We also prepared a rosehip tincture, made of crushed wildcrafted rosehips steeped in grain alcohol at a ratio of about 5:1. This will be let to steep for 4-6 weeks, or longer, then strained and stored in dark glass bottles. Rosehip is high in vitamin C, so an excellent tincture for fighting off winter colds and flu. Participants took home a very special tincture made of violet blossoms, known as a grounding herb that calms, soothes, aids anxiety, helps insomnia, and wards of negative emotion. Sounds like a tincture we could all use in our herbal first aid kit.

A final note on what is called the "simplers" or traditional herbalists method - it is more valuable to learn a dozen herbs thoroughly and know many uses for them, rather than knowing many herbs but few uses. Work on building a relationship with these plants. Know them well! Seems especially insightful for city herb gardeners who may be limited in space in their herb garden patches.

Monday, July 13, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Edible Flowers

There are so many edible flowers in bloom right now, that a post needed to be written offering these as a creative solution to sprucing up your 100-Mile desserts. Edible flowers are beautiful when added as decoration to cakes and cupcakes, or other fancy desserts that need a special or elegant touch. Edible flowers can also be added to drinks such as glasses of herbal iced tea, lemonades, or sangria. I love to add them to green garden salads for nice colour, flavour and texture. The garden salad pictured above was from lunch today - garden greens (4 kinds of lettuce, green and purple lamb's quarters, red orach, spinach, mustard greens), fresh peas, radish, cherry tomato, green onion, dill, basil, plus edible violas, bergamot, and borage flowers.

Of course when picking your edible flowers, make sure you are propery identifying the plant. Many plants look quite similar, but may in fact not be edible at all (or even toxic to eat)! If you are not sure, ask someone who is more knowledgeable, or consult a professional plant ID book that shows pictures of stem, leaf and flower. We like to use the Peterson's Field Guide to Eastern and Central Medicinal/Edible Plants as it offers colour photography of each plant, and includes descriptions of the plants in different stages as well as their many uses. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, by Euell Gibbons is also a classic for wild food harvesting, and there is a more recent book called The Neighbourhood Forager, by Robert Henderson, which offers great ideas on plants to be found in urban areas.

Many of these edible flowers will be growing in your own garden or herb patch. Some garden vegetables have edible flowers (e.g. pea blossoms, squash blossoms, cilantro flowers, broccoli flowers). Also other common edible herbs and flowers include: roses, dandelion, chickweed, bergamot, lavender, calendula, marigold, borage, nasturtium, sage, basil flowers, and more.

100-Mile Desserts: Mulberry-Cherry Scones

Not only is mid July mulberry season, but also cherry season...

Cherries are such an adaptable fruit - excellent chopped into muffins, cakes, crisps, fresh on cereal or oatmeal, made into smoothies, added to icecream, yogurt or sorbets, or dried and used in cookies or eaten as a dried fruit snack. They also freeze well - last year we bought a cherry pitter, which made the pitting process so much quicker than cutting the flesh off the pit by hand. The pitter is handcrank, with a large funnel ontop where you drop the cherries, and then by cranking the pit is extracted and the freshly hulled cherry falls into a bowl below. Very simple. The pitter is available at Lee Valley, Berry Hill Farm, or from the local Home Hardware store. Worth the investment if you are making cherry jam, or dealing with cherries in large quantities for winter storage.

Here's a cherry-mulberry scone recipe we made for breakfast this morning. The scones only use a few ingredients and take less than 15 minutes to bake, so they are the perfect quick recipe for unexpected visitors, a simple breakfast, or even to make while camping (they could be baked over a fire in a frying pan with lid on). They are adapted from a recipe called "world's best whole-wheat biscuits". They are nice eaten plain, or served with butter (or even jam).

Mulberry-Cherry Scones

1 1/4 cups flour, plus a little more for rolling out dough
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup milk or cream
fruit of choice (we used a small handful each of cherries and mulberries)

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
2) In large bowl sift together dry ingredients.
3) Using a fork, gradually stir in syrup and milk until soft dough forms.
4) Add fruit pieces and then knead dough on floured surface about 10 times.
5) Pat into a circle or rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, and using a knife cut into rounds, squares or triangles. Make sure fruit is distributed fairly evenly between scones, or press a few extra fruit pieces into the scones. Dust with additional flour.
6) Bake about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Do not overbake.

Makes 12-14 scones.

100-Mile Desserts: Four Fruit Crisp

It's mulberry season! We've been out wild-harvesting the mulberries, and in this region they are not hard to find as these trees grow fairly abundantly, though often unnoticed and unpicked. They do take quite a bit of work to harvest as the berries are small and need nimble fingers to be plucked off the tree. Once ripened, they drop quickly and so it's often easiest to gather them from an undisturbed area on the ground. It's a juicy mess, including purple stained knees, shoes and fingers! But well worth the effort to have the berries for baking or smoothies later in the winter months. I also baked a few 100-mile desserts using the fresh's the recipe for a four fruit crisp, and in the next post the recipe for mulberry-cherry scones. The crisp can be made vegan if you leave out the butter and add extra oil. We just heard about a source for locally produced sunflower oil (from a farm near London) so now we have another source beyond always using local canola.

Four Fruit Crisp - adapted from Simply in Season

1 1/2 cups each of four kinds of fruit (we used apples, rhubarb, cherries and mulberries)
1 1/2 cups local organic flour
1 1/2 cups local organic oats
6 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp canola or sunflower oil
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey

1) Mix fruit together in a 10-inch deep baking or pie pan.
2) Mix the flour, oats, butter, oil and sweetener together in a large bowl. Blend until crumbly.
3) Evenly sprinkle topping over the fruit.
4) Bake in prepared oven at 375F until fruit bubbles and top is golden brown, about 30 min.

Serves 8.

Would be lovely served warm with locally made organic icecream, like Mapletons (does that count as 100-Mile??)

Monday, July 06, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Carrot Cake/Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Everyone says they have the perfect carrot cake recipe, but this is really one of the best sugar-free versions I've tasted. It could be vegan (if you weren't eating 100-mile and used non-dairy milk). It is adapted from the Candle Cafe Cookbook. It does not contain eggs, and is wheat-free. The cream cheese icing is very simple, and again sugar-free. I made the recipe into cupcakes instead of cake today, and sprinkled some 100-mile hazelnuts that we got last fall on half the cupcakes. They were more like moist muffins.

I wanted to make a small test batch of the icing recipe, so I just drizzled a little of the icing on the rest, but it could be made much thicker and swirled on in a more elaborate way. Garnished with edible flowers like calendula, borage or nasturtium, these cupcakes/cake would be gorgeous! As it's healthy, yet moist and decadent-tasting, I think this will be the celebration cake I make for our daughter's first birthday in a few weeks!

Carrot Cake/Cupcakes

2 cups organic spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup milk
1 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
2 cups coarsely shredded organic carrots
1/2 cup organic apple or pear sauce

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) In a large mixing bowl mix dry ingredients together.
3) In a separate bowl mix the wet ingredients together.
4) Pour wet into dry and stir gently just to combine.
5) Divide the batter into 2 lightly greased and floured cake pans (9-inch). OR for cupcakes divide the batter into 12 muffin tins (lined with paper, or lightly greased).
6) Bake for 30 minutes (for cupcakes) or 35 minutes (for cake) until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted in centre of cake/cupcakes.
7) Remove from oven and let cool completely before icing.

Cream Cheese Frosting
In a food process or blender beat together:
8 ounces local cream cheese, softened
with enough apple juice or cider to create a frosting consistency
and a little maple syrup or honey to sweeten (to taste)

Staking Tomatoes and Strawbale House Renos

There's been a lot of rain this summer already. One farmer friend who lives west of the city told me she had 4 inches of rain in one downpour, and her lettuce was drowning in large lakes that had formed on her hard, slow-draining clay soil. The way she predicts what the season will be like is to follow the first three days after the spring equinox, and that will give a general indication on what April, May and June will be like. Then the three days after the summer solstice give us indicators for July, August and September. She swears by this method, which she learned from a grandfather who also farmed.

We've also noticed the rainy weather, as we've been trying to get started on the exterior work of finishing up the strawbale house addition (there are many previous posts about our building project, which can be found in our 2008 blog pages). We've now prepared the post holes and had them inspected, begun the porches (there is a large wrap-around porch and new front deck/steps coming), and then of course the plaster. We've continuously had to watch the weather reports, and tarp up the straw walls at night in case of rain.

Also spent the day staking some of our tomatoes - we grew about 25 varieties this year, and kept between 2-5 plants of each kind, so we have around 60-70 tomato plants in our yard! It's hard to believe we found fairly sunny spots for all of them. No ripe tomatoes yet, but lots of blossoms and some green ones coming. Usually we have been eating the early red or cherry varieties by now, but the weather has not only been rainy, it has also been cool. Everything seems to be ripening a little slower than most years.

All the Tulsi Basil I seeded a few weeks ago in flats was planted out into garden beds today, and it's looking beautiful!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Blueberry-Lavender Muffins

Blueberries and lavender - who would have known this made such a nice combination? This is a very versatile fruit/berry muffin recipe, which makes a dozen beautiful moist muffins! Here is my 100-Mile version, and as the season varies you can substitute raspberries, cherries, peach slices, apples, etc. I used fresh lavender from our garden, and blueberries that I still had in our freezer from last year (organic blueberries picked at a farm near London).

This recipe is adapted from two of my favourite vegan cookbooks - Simple Treats, and ExtraVeganza. I usually make these muffins vegan (using rice milk) but now to adapt to the 100 Mile Diet there is dairy included instead. They are still egg-free.

Blueberry-Lavender Muffins

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple sugar (can be found at the farmer's market sometimes)
3 1/2 cups spelt flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups whole fresh (or frozen, unthawed) blueberries
1/4 cup fresh lavender flowers (or 1/8 cup dried lavender)

Note: if using frozen berries do not thaw before adding to the batter - unless you want completely blue muffin batter.

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Oil 12-cup muffin pan.
2) Mix oil, syrup, milk, vinegar in a small bowl.
3) In separate bowl place maple sugar, flour, baking soda & powder, and salt.
4) Whisk wet into dry ingredients. Do not overwork the batter or muffins will be dry.
5) Fold in 1/2 cups blueberries and lavender. Again do not overmix.
6) Finish mixing with spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl.
7) Spoon batter into the prepared pan. Place 2-3 whole berries on top of each muffin.
8) Bake 20 minutes, rotate pan, and bake 5 minutes longer. The knife inserted in centre of muffin should come out clean when they are done.
9) Let cool for 15 minutes then remove from pan.

Substitute other berries or fruit as it comes into season. Rhubarb, mulberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches, apples, pears, and so on...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

Along with our wood-fired pizza (see previous post) we also baked some dessert. A friend had made an apple crisp, and we made a batch of 100-mile peanut butter cookies. Finally, a local dessert recipe that is vegan-friendly (no eggs or dairy!). It's nice to use the heat of the oven while we have it. Here is the recipe - very quick and simple to make. Ours were wood-fired, but here is the household oven version:

Peanut Butter Cookies (adapted from Simple Treats)

3/4 cup rolled organic oats, ground to a powder
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup organic spelt flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
2) In separate bowl mix wet ingredients, stirring until smooth.
3) Pour wet into the dry ingredients and stir until everything is well incorporated.
4) Bake for about 15 minutes on well oiled baking sheets, until cookies are golden brown.
5) Let cool about 5 minutes before removing from baking sheets.

Makes 12 large cookies.

Wood-fired pizza & wine tasting

For our Canada Day (July 1) holiday we decided to have a few friends over for wood-fired pizza and a wine tasting in our backyard (6 varieties of handmade wine had just been completed). Pizza from the cob oven is so easy to make, and firing up the oven provides entertainment all on its own. The pizza tastes divine (we included local organic handmade crust, local vegetables and cheeses, and just-picked garden herbs for garnish - basil, oregano, chive flowers, mustard flowers, bergamot petals, cilantro flowers, borage, sage and dill) and of course, wine is pretty much the perfect accompaniment to any meal.