Monday, August 31, 2009

Peach jam...

We had a guest staying in our B&B who was interested in participating in all aspects of our homestead while she was here. She mentioned being interested in making jam, as she had done this only once, years ago, and had forgotten how to do it. She was interested in "job shadowing" me while I worked in the kitchen. We had a half bushel of peaches that were in prime condition for jam making, so we made two batches of jam today. One was a peach-pear jam, the other a peach-lavender jam (made by adding a half cup of lavender infused tea into the jam while it was boiling). Mmm, the kitchen smelled amazing, especially with the lavender tea steeping. The lavender seemed like an unusal addition at first, but imparted such a subtle flavour, it was really quite unique and added to the delicious "summer" taste. Making jam was a relaxing way to spend time with our guest as we had lots of time to chat while working!

Baking for barter dollars!

I've been slowly reviving my old baking business "Wildflour Bakery", and am now offering monthly selections of breads, cookies and squares to barter members. I email a list of baked items to the member list, and deliver the pre-ordered goods to the barter fair on the last Saturday of the month. The beauty of the barter system is that one can offer things that are hobbies, and develop new skills or fulfill creative outlets through this manner. Doing this baking satisfies by desire to run a bakery, which is not feasible in a larger way right now. We'd love to have a neighbourhood cafe or bakery from our location, but would need to do some reorganizing and rezoning of our property. Maybe possible in future? Certainly this is a walking/cycling neigbhourhood, where there would be a decent amount of pedestrian traffic, and it's a neighbourhood that would benefit from a cafe in it's midst. We've seen lovely examples in cities like Winnipeg (Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company, which is a thriving bakery out of a tiny one room space, and we always make a stop there for their famous cinnamon buns. This bakery started by families using a church kitchen in the neighbourhood to bake breads, and delivered them by little red wagon to households that had pre-ordered. Demand grew, support grew, and they eventually set up a bakery shop...).

Anyway, for now, I can prepare baked goods and trade them through the barter system (BarterWorks), test out my recipes and provide wholesome, mindfully prepared baking using organic local ingredients to members. I offer vegan and wheat-free options as well. This month the breads included: 4-Grain Sunflower & Flax; Cranberry-Pumpkin Seed Millet; Local Oats & Honey. I've been reading Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions, as well as thinking about sprouting for winter, and realize that I really need to invest in a solid heavy-duty grain mill. She write that most grains, nuts and seeds, and beans need to be soaked, sprouted and/or fermented, before eating. This helps to digest them, but also enhances their nutritional value. Foods that are processed quickly lose nutrition, nuts, seeds and grains go rancid. A grain mill allows us to grind jsut what we need, to sprout the grain before hand (or at least soak it overnight), and gain optimum nutrition in our baking. I suppose baking itself should be minimized, and this school of thought would promote sprouted breads or dehydrated foods that are only minimally heated (baking or heating also kills helpful enzymes needed for digestion)....more on Sally Fallon's book as I read on. We'll be offering a sprouting/living foods workshop here at Little City Farm in November, just in time for everyone to get started on their own indoor living food "gardens" for winter.

Homesteading fall tasks

This is my favourite season, and a busy one here at the homestead.

Last week's projects included:
- seed collecting and drying (coriander, calendula, lettuce varieties, tomato varieties, beans)
- garlic harvest and drying
- herb harvest for fall herb shares (ready for local members in a few weeks)
- building a better herb drying rack in our kitchen for easy access
- more canning and preserving of fruits for winter (Niagara pears, peaches, plums)
- planting fall crops
- adding compost to the garden beds
- regular bread baking
- cleaning chicken coop :)

Strawbale Documentation: Third coat of plaster

It's almost September...fall is in the air...we've been wearing extra layers, adding a quilt at night, and thinking more seriously about making a final decision on what woodstove to buy for our addition. The garden is nearing it's summer harvest end, and we've planted some fall crops like fresh greens and more kale. With all the rain lately we've been collecting an enormous amount in our 1200 litre tank (overflowing numerous times during some storms!), and I've been able to have fresh rainwater to use in all my soap batches! This makes a superior soap in my opinion.

We're also feeling the final push on the strawbale house addition - and the third coat of plaster is taking shape. We had a few groups of people come by to help, including local friends, and a few CRAFT interns from two nearby organic farms (Everdale and Ignatius Farm, both near Guelph). Thanks to everyone who has been so helpful on this project!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Canning & Preserving Workshop

On Saturday we had a busy afternoon, hosting a workshop on canning & preserving foods. In the course of three hours we made two kinds of salsa: a classic spicy tomato salsa, and a peach-mint salsa, both made with exclusively local ingredients (including salt from Goderich, apple cider vinegar from Pfilsingers, honey from Knechtels Apiaries in Wellesley, produce from local farms like Floralane, peaches from Niagara, and cilantro, mint & garlic from our garden)!

Participants paid a small fee, and we provided hand-outs, all the ingredients, jars and canning equipment, as well as samples of each salsa to take home. Participants in the workshop were largely people involved in the local 100-mile diet challenge, hoping to pick up new tips on how to preserve local foods for the winter season. While working at chopping the vegetables and preparing the salsa, waiting for the jars to steam in the canner, and touring the yard and garden during our break, participants had a good time swapping recipes and 100-mile diet ideas. It sounds like some future canning bees may come out of this event, as people got excited about the prospect of purchasing large bushels of vegetables in bulk and continuing the preserve foods together as a group. To see spin-off initiatives like this, which grow out of the workshops we host here, is one of the most rewarding aspects for me! Here are the recipes:

100-Mile Tomato Salsa

Yield: approximately 7 x 500 ml jars

12 jalapeno peppers, seeded & diced*

10 1/2 cups (about 30) roma tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped**

3 cups onions, coarsely chopped

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups peppers, coarsely chopped

¾ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cans tomato paste


* wear rubber gloves when working with jalapenos

** to peel tomatoes or peaches more easily set them into boiling water for

3-5 minutes, then plunge immediately into cold water

1) 30 minutes before canning will begin, fill canner with hot water and bring to a boil. Have kettle with hot water ready to top up the canner if necessary.

2) Prepare all ingredients as directed.

3) Place 7 pint (500 ml) jars in canner over high heat.

4) In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reaches desired consistency.

5) Bring water to a boil in small saucepan. Place snap lids into boiling water for 5 min to soften sealing compound.

6) Ladle salsa into hot jar within ½ inch (1 cm) of top rim. This is the head space. Remove any air bubbles by sliding rubber spatula between glass and food. Readjust head space to ½ inch. Wipe jar rim removing any stickiness.

7) Centre snap lid on jar, apply screw band just until finger tight. Place jar in canner. Repeat for remaining salsa.

8) Cover canner. Return water to a boil. Process 20 minutes (counting from when water returns to a boil). Remove jars and set apart on a heat-proof surface. Cool for 24 hours. Check jar seals. Sealed lids curve downward.

9) Wipe jars, label and store in a cool, dark place.

100-Mile Peach Mint Salsa

Yield: approximately 7 x 250 ml jars

6 cups peeled peaches, chopped (about 12 peaches)

¾ cup onion, finely chopped

¾ cup pepper, finely chopped

3 Tbsp jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

6 Tbsp honey

¾ tsp pickling salt (Sifto)

6 Tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped

1) Combine all ingredients except mint in a stainless steel pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Stir in mint and cook for 1 minute.

3) Follow canning instructions as described above.

4) Process 10 minutes for ½ pint (250 ml) jars.


Chadwick, Janet. The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food.

Greene, Janet, Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan. Putting Food By.

Topp, Ellie and Margaret Howard. Small-Batch Preserving.

100-Mile Desserts: Cherry Pie

mmmm, we just had fresh 100-mile cherry pie, made with a double lattice spelt crust and served with organic icecream from Mapleton's dairy.

Life is so busy - no time to post the recipe now, but it's a simple unsweetened cherry (or other berry) pie (thickened with a little flour), with a crust made of organic spelt flour, egg, butter and water.

Media - Little City Farm featured in K-W Record newspaper, Sat Aug 22

We were pleased to have Little City Farm featured in our local paper this past Saturday in a full page article with photos! The article focussed on our outdoor bake oven, jungle of gardens, and a little about the straw bale addition, as well as some background on what the urban homesteading "movement" is about. Although we have never before been called "inner city homesteaders" (we like to call ourselves urban homesteaders, and don't really consider ourselves to live in the inner city per say), most of the details were accurate and the tone of the article was true to our intent. Thanks to Barbara Aggerholm for writing about us.

For the full story go to:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Strawbale House Update - Volunteers Welcome for Plastering Work!

We've completed one coat of the plaster on all four walls of the strawbale house!! This is a huge accomplishment, given the plastering started in earnest on the hottest days of the year. We are grateful for this weather though, as the heavy rains of July have held us back. Now we just need to ensure that the plaster walls don't dry out too quickly, which is easy enough to do by misting them gently every few hours during a hot day. There are three more coats of plaster to do, the top being a very thin skim coat to finish off. The walls are still very rough at this point, but with each layer we even out the bumps and lumps from the strawbales underneath, and the walls take on their characteristic rounded earthy look. Beautiful!

We are hoping to organize some workbees - if anyone in town is reading this post and wants to learn about plastering, please contact us or drop by. You only need gloves, and it's done by hand. The trowels are used in the final coat to smooth things out, or create a more evenly textured finish.

What's going on at the homestead?

We've had hardly any free time to spend on the computer! Now that the weather has finally warmed, everything is ripening quickly in the garden and our more serious harvest has begun. Tomatoes, beans, basil, zucchini...

With harvest also comes preserving. We do a fair share of canning (salsa, jams, peaches, chutney), freezing (corn, zucchini, pesto), as well as drying in our dehydrator. The best canning books I'm using these days involve small batch preserving, so that I can make one canner load (7 jars) at a time - manageable with a toddler underfoot - and it doesn't have to become an all-day process. Books I've been referring to are "Small Batch Preserving", and "The Busy Person's Guide to Preserving Foods", as well as a tattered 30 year-old copy of "Putting Food By".

However, in midst of this heat, and considering energy use, I am growing much more interested in fermentation techniques for preserving foods. Fermentation (lactic acid ferment) not only preserves the flavour, but in fact enhances nutrition (whereas by canning you essentially boil off much of the nutrient value). It is simple, quick, does not require stove top energy or heating up the house. Fermentation is an age-old, global practice - well-known foods like miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, beer, sourdoughs, and so on, are all traditionally made with the fermenting process. All you need is a series of large glass jars or ceramic crocks, and you are set. This week I'll be making crock pickles as well as dilly beans. Here is the recipe for dilly beans, which we made back in January as part of the fermentation workshop here at Little City Farm (see earlier blog post). An essential fermentation book is by Sandor Katz, "Wild Fermentation".

Dilly Beans
3 cups organic beans
1 cup garlic scapes
dill blossoms
2 Tbsp whey

Add 2 Tbsp sea salt per litre of water, to filtered water, bring to a boil, and cook beans for 5-10 minutes. This denatures the toxic protein called phasin. Sterilize 1 litre jar, and put a dill blossom and a pinch of cayenne in the bottom. Pack in beans densely, with garlic scapes intermingles, then pour cooled cooking water to cover beans to 1 cm. Add 2 Tbsp whey, put on the lids, and leave at room temperature for 8-10 days. Store cool and in the dark.

Catering on the weekend...edible flowers

Did some simple catering for a baby shower last weekend. I so enjoy decorating with edible flowers and herbs. These photos don't do the cupcakes justice - flowers are violas and calendula.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Little City Farm in National Geographic Traveler Magazine

We are excited (and honoured) to be featured in a very small way in the September 2009 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, which highlights our B&B as a unique, eco-friendly and affordable place to stay. We're on page 41, under the heading "Stays under $150". Not sure this little article will be available online, but the website for the magazine is:

Here's what Lauren Carter wrote about us:
Handpicked flowers and organic homemade soaps and shampoos sweeten the air in a private suite in this hundred-year-old home in Kitchener, Ontario. Located on the second floor, the roomy guest quarters overlook a greenhouse and vegetable garden, where shiitake mushrooms grow on a log set in the shade, and tomatoes sprout from the soil. Breakfast features herb-sutffed omelets, spelt pancakes, preserved cherries, homemade yogurt, and bread made from locally milled flour. The farm, a short walk or bike ride from downtown Kitchener and Waterloo, hosts workshops on beekeeping, herbal crafts, and gardening.

Documenting strawbale - clay slip

A quick update on the strawbale house - we sprayed on the clay slip yesterday, and today the lime plaster is being mixed for the first exterior coat. The clay slip helps prepare the wall, aiding with adhesion when the first full plaster coat goes on. Lots of work still ahead...

Fresh cut flower bouquets go to market

"The earth laughs in flowers" - e.e. cummings

We've been selling some of our extra garden bounty through the Bailey's Local Foods buying club every Friday. This is part of the "producerism" mentality of our homestead, trying to find ways to make all aspects of our day-to-day life productive - a concept we define as either earning some income, sharing our excess, educating, or reducing our ecological impact. We've offered fresh herbs, wild grape leaves, dried herbal teas, and also cut flower bouqets to the buying club members. I love making the simple bouquets, using black eyed susan, echinacea, zinnias, sunflowers and daisies which are in full bloom right now. I try to keep fresh flowers around the house whenever I can, as well as enjoying them in the garden. We've also been collecting seed from the annuals in the fall (sunflowers, cosmos, nasturtium, borage, calendula, marigolds, etc) . An easy way to keep flowers fresh in a vase is to add 1 tsp sugar to the water. Changing the water daily also helps prolong the bloom life of cut flowers. Here are some photos as I was preparing the bouquets - we take them to the buying club car-free (by stroller), with my little one helping out.

100-Mile Desserts: Fresh heirloom watermelon

Fruit season is so special! Although we do grow a variety of berries and fruit on our property, I had not planted watermelon this year. The melons, pumpkins and squashes tend to crowd out the rest of our garden, so alas, I just can't fit everything in! I want to experiment with growing them vertically on sturdy trellises next season. However, we are very fortunate to have the Bailey's Local Foods buying club in town, offering us 100-mile organic fruit! This week I picked up two watermelons, one an heirloom yellow variety, grown on nearby farms. What a treat! These were served to our bed & breakfast guests for brunch this morning, but would also make a lovely simple healthful (and beautiful) dessert option.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

100-Mile Desserts: Peach & Blueberry Semifreddo

Here is a 100-mile dessert recipe using fresh peaches and blueberries that are in season right now. It's an Italian dessert, a frozen mousse, somewhere between rich creamy icecream and light fruity sorbet. It's a low-stress dessert as it can be made ahead of time and left in the freezer until you are ready to serve it. The recipe comes from the LCBO summer "food & drink" issue, and I've adapted it to be 100-mile (so no tropical coconut, mangoes or sugar as they suggest!)'s the locavore version:

Peach & Blueberry Semifreddo
4-5 ripe peaches (about 2 lbs/1 kg) chopped
1/3 cup honey
4 large egg yolks
1 cup organic local whipping cream
1 cup blueberries

1) Oil a 1.25 litre loaf pan and line with smooth layer of plastic wrap.
2) Place peaches in blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
3) Place 1 inch of water in bottom of double boiler or large pot, and bring to a simmer.
4) Combine honey and egg yolks in the top section oft he double boiler or a metal mixing bowl. Place over simmering water.
5) Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat honey and eggs until very thick and pale yellow, doubled in volume and hot but not boiling.
6) Remove egg mixture from heat, add pureed peaches and beat for 1 minute longer or until well combined and cool.
7) Place whiping cream in another mixing bowl and beat to soft peaks. Fold whipped cream into peach mixture. Then fold in blueberries.
8) Spoon peach mixture into loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days ahead of serving.
9) When ready to serve, dip base of pan into warm water to help loosen the semifreddo from the pan. Remove top layer of plastic wrap and pull on the plastic lining the sides of the pan to loosen. Invert semifreddo onto a serving plate and peel off any remaining plastic. Use a knife warmed in hot water to cut semifreddo into slices for serving.
10) Serve with a side of a small amount of berries or fruit salad.

Calendula harvest

I've been harvesting herbs - calendula is flowering in abundance, one of my favourite herbs! Also raspberry leaves, lemon balm, mints, catnip, yarrow, sage, echinacea, lavender, st. johns wort, bergamot, comfrey, nettle, and basil are all ready to be harvested. I have converted our grow light stand in the kitchen into a drying rack, by adding mesh screening across the frames. I can quickly dry large quantities of herbs, then move them into paper bags to be stored in a cool dark location for best quality. I also have a larger herb drying area in the barn, hanging them off the rafters in bundles. There is good air circulation and a cross-breeze in the barn loft which is key to quick drying.

Documenting strawbale - starting exterior plaster

Here are a few photos of the straw bale house again. The wrap-around porch is now nearly completed (roof still to be added, and deck boards to put down). All the protective paper has been removed from the walls, the soffit and fascia are on (ahhh, no more possibility for birds, squirrels or mice to get into the roof!). Despite all the rain lately, we've managed to keep the straw walls dry. Tomorrow we spray on the first clay slip on the walls - we are renting a texture sprayer for doing this - and then the first coat of plastering starts on the weekend! Exciting! Hope to organize a workbee soon, as plastering will take several weeks and is hands-on labour intensive work...there won't be much time to blog here for a few weeks, but I hope to keep up a photo journal.

Making compost tea - and rain water harvesting

This has been a summer of plentiful rain but few hot sunny days, and the garden produce has been slow to ripen. This week we finally tasted the first fresh tomatoes (subartic cherry and yellow plum were the first), and the long-standing flowers of the eggplant and hot pepper plants have nowbegun to shape into fruits. This abundant rain has meant that our new rainwater harvesting tank has been full continuously - in fact, on the heavy rains two days ago it filled up and over-flowed three times in one downpour! That means 3 x 1150 litres (or 3450 litres) of water collected in that one storm off our new very large steel roof on the straw bale addition plus the house roof.

To give an idea of how much water that is, consider these stats from's water conservation website:

How many litres of water does a garden hose use per hour?
1100 litres per hour

How much water is used in a shower?
A typical shower will use 160 litres. (8-10 minute)

How much water is used in a regular toilet per flush?
16 to 23 litres per flush

How much water would be lost by a leaking faucet or toilet?
A leaking toilet would lose 400 litres per day ($200 per year) and a faucet would lose 5000 litres per year.

However, all our other rain barrels and pond were also full from the storm, so we actually (disappointingly) didn't have a place to store the overflow and after that big storm the garden certainly didn't need more watering for at least another day or two! Maybe we've rigged up too many good eaves troughs, more than we actually need? The rain tank comes with a 3/4 horsepower pump which is used to pump the water through a hose into other parts of the yard (which saves us carrying it by watering can or bucket). We will have to set up further rainbarrels into which we can pump the overflow on storms like this.

During an earlier rain storm we also collected water for compost tea. We had filled a wheel barrow with compost mix from our composting bins, and when the water filled the wheel barrow we just let it sit for a week or so to steep. Voila! Compost tea! This tea we've now been pouring onto the garden beds and tomato containers for an extra nutrient boost. Comfrey or nettle leaves are also often added to the compost tea because they are rich in nutrients and make and excellent organic liquid fertilizer. So simple, yet so effective.