Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teas and more teas

This week has seen our kitchen and dining room turn into a loose-leaf tea production site.  We had harvested and dried about 20 kinds of medicinal herbs from our garden over the spring-summer-fall season, and now have packaged them into bags for sale.  We were surprised that we filled more than 150 bags (weighing in total aprox. 5 kg) worth of dried herbal loose-leaf blends that we had grown ourselves on our little plot of land designated to herb gardening!  And this was not even the full harvest potential, as there was plenty more of the mint, calendula, yarrow, anise hyssop, sage, raspberry leaves, tulsi, and nettle, among others, midway through the season when life got too busy and I wasn't able to keep up with the regular harvest as often as I could have.  As well, these numbers don't take into account the other medicinal herbs such as arnica, skullcap, feverfew, burdock, comfrey, etc that we are growing for tinctures and salves.  We did have to purchase some extra chamomile, red clover blossoms and lavender from a local organic source, so these are three herbs I'd love to make room for in some underused sunny patch in our yard (but where?  maybe the front yard?  or maybe a neighbouring yard?).  And, although we grow both nettle and rosehips, some of these herbs in our tea blends are wild harvested (carefully) around the city, again due to limitations in our backyard space. We used the greenhouse to dry much of the harvest, and will have to rig up more storage shelving and drying racks for next season.  For now, all in all, I am very much satisfied with the end result of this year's herb harvest! 

The teas, including Winter Flu Fighter, After Dinner, Less Stress, Sweet Dreams, Mama's Milk, Women's Blend, Strawberry-Rose, 6-Mint Medley, will be available from us, as well as through Bailey's Local Foods in Waterloo and in holiday gift baskets at Golden Hearth Baking Co. in downtown Kitchener.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

First snow at the urban farm...

First real snowfall came overnight!  Fortunately, the hens have had most of their feathers grown in by now (2 weeks of molting) but they are still huddling on our back patio in the warmest sheltered corner they can find.  This is actually good, not just because we want them to keep warm - we've also seen the neighbourhood hawk circling around our property the past week, and we'd prefer the hens to keep out of eyesight!  As some of you might recall from a much earlier post, we lost one hen (Neko) to the same hawk last fall.  This is the cycle of life though.  Now that winter is finally here, we have to make sure the hen's always have access to unfrozen water and extra food (as their foraging season is now over), and have insulated their coop with strawbales.  The heat lamp will be installed again soon.

Today's snowfall also gave us opportunity to play - and a little snow lady appeared.  She has a carrot nose, plucked from the garden of course; eyes made of little round black eyed susan seed heads, and long dried queen anne's lace hair - topped with a handknit hat she made a lovely attendant at our garden entrance. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sneak peek for upcoming craft sale - new artists pencil rolls, organic teethers and cuddle dolls

A few more items hot off the sewing machine - I'll be adding them, with the organic play quilts, to the usual line-up of soaps, herbals, vegan baking and loose-leaf teas at our Dec 11 craft sale...

....linen pencil rolls for young artists (also good for organizing knitting needles, crafting tools, sewing supplies, crayons, etc); simple all natural "teething carrots", and cuddle dolls made from the softest organic cotton, stufffed with wool (I'm finally using up that fleece I started carding more than a year ago!).  My two-year old helped me to stuff the cuddle dolls with wool and sat beside me at the sewing machine into the late hours last night to see the dolls materialize.  She gave them the snuggle approval, hugging each one as it was completed.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Free-spirit baby quilts, holiday craft sales, and Buy Nothing Day!

I have been taking a computer/internet hiatus, and putting any spare time aside for sewing and soap making. Generally this means late-nights given how busy life with a 2 year old is.  There are several holiday craft sales coming up which we'll be a part of, and there is a lot to prepare!  I finally took a few photos of the baby play quilts I've been making - they are made of the softest fabrics and quilted with all natural unbleached cotton batting, perfect for all manner of playing, sleeping, picnics, cuddling, snuggling, cozying in the stroller, etc.  They are made of reclaimed or organic fabric, each one completely unique.

Last week we had our first holiday vending opportunity at the local La Leche League's annual November garage sale.  There were several other vendors, including two friends who have recently opened their own home-based businesses, Sarah's Kitchen Gardens, and The Aurora Forest.  Coming up in early December, please visit us at the Stitch'n'Kitsch Sale on Sat, Dec 4 in uptown Waterloo, and then the A Little Bird Told Me Sale, here at Little City Farm on Sat, Dec 11.

Is this the time to mention Buy Nothing Day?  After all the above self-promotion, I should note that although I highly endorse supporting local crafters or fair trade goods when buying gifts, the best thing to do is to make something yourself, or consider not giving gifts at all.  There are many creative ways to celebrate the holidays with your loved ones, and obviously the giving of "stuff" doesn't need to factor into that.  Buy Nothing Day, which typically falls on the first Friday after American Thanksgiving, was organized as "a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption".  It is not so much about having one day where nothing is bought - rather, it is about radically changing our attitudes and lifestyles of consumption and waste.  It is a chance to critically examine how and what we purchase, and the impact these purchases have.  Check out the Buy Nothing campaign for some interesting alternate ideas, actions, carnivals, and other events taking place around the world (and even in your own city) on November 26.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vegan Baking Workshop

I was looking forward to leading this workshop all year!  On Saturday we had the first vegan baking workshop here at Little City Farm, something I've been meaning to teach ever since we started hosting workshops here three years ago.   I love baking!  I've been vegetarian for more than 20 years, and experimenting with healthful baking for nearly two decades....beginning with Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet back in the late 1980's (when it was nearly impossible to find ingredients like soy milk or tofu in the small town I was living in); then as I moved to a larger city where I worked with food co-ops and frequented vegan cafes, discovering Uprisings: The Wholegrain Baker's Book (which features best recipes from a huge range of worker co-op bakeries across North America!); then living on an organic farm where the diet was largely macrobiotic, learning about macrobiotic desserts through Michio Kushi's book; then living in K-W where I was baking vegan and wheat-free treats for several cafes and health food stores using influences from the slow food and local food movement, sourcing local organic whole grains and locally sourced ingredients as much as possible, and more recently trying out more gluten-free baking because of the large number of requests I get for wheat-free gluten-free custom baking...and by now my shelf of baking cookbooks, vegan and otherwise, is stacked high with well-worn copies and ear-marked favourite recipes.

As for most vegans or vegetarians (or foodies for that matter), we all have interesting food histories that shift as we discover new research and experiment with what works for our bodies, our ethics and of course our budgets!  During the vegan baking workshop I talked about how to stock a vegan pantry - the kinds of staple ingredients you might want to consider, and weighed the options based on how versatile they are and how much they cost.  A sweetener like agave nectar might lend a luscious light flavour to a vegan truffle, but maple syrup is a local, more cost effective replacement.  Organic sundried sour cherries are divine in a vegan shortbread cookie, but cranberries can make a nice substitute and are a fraction of the price.  Organic coconut oil creates a creamy buttery flavour and is a non-soy product, but often simple oils like sunflower and olive can work just as well...and the list goes one. 

Then we did our tasting portion of the workshop, which was focussing on holiday treats - I had made 11 different vegan treats (I admit it was just too difficult to narrow down the recipes), to demonstrate examples of egg, dairy, butter and wheat substitutions.  There were lemon bars using silken tofu as an egg replacer; almond thumbprint cookies using arrowroot as an egg replacer; a shortbread variation using tahini in place of butter; raw cacao truffles using agave and maple syrup; raw gingerbread people using pecan flour and flax "eggs"; "ultimate" brownies and blondies that used brown rice syrup to sweeten; and the most decadent offering, a cashew cheesecake where cashew "cheese" (made with soaked cashews, lemon and nutritional yeast) replaced cream cheese and xantham gum added to make a rich creamy filling. 

Great websites and resources for these recipes:
Flying Apron's Gluten Free and Vegan Baking book

Soapmaking Workshops in the new year

Who doesn't love a beautiful bar of handmade natural soap?  And to learn to make your own, well the possibilities are endless and soapmaking is definitely an addictive kind of craft.  I am constantly trying new batches with different essential oil combinations, clays, natural pigments, sea salts, herbal infusions, medicinal oil infusions, botanicals and more, because I just can't stick to a set of standard recipes.  It's more of an artform for me, with the benefit of a very functional, versatile, healthful and biodegradeable end product.  I get many requests to teach soapmaking classes, and will be offering several sessions again in the new year.  Little City Farm's updated schedule of 2011 "sustainable living" workshops will be posted on our website and this blog within the next few weeks, and soapmaking will definitely be on the list.  At this point, I'll be offering two small group sessions on introductory soapmaking - one in mid-January, and one in mid-November.  For those who can't make it to these soapmaking dates here at Little City Farm, there will be two other options:
* Get a group of 4-6 friends together, and I will lead a custom soapmaking course for you!
* Join me at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery on March 12, for an intro to soapmaking workshop!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Crafting - free spirited whimsical quilts

I've been steadily working away at some small play quilts and organic baby blankets, in preparation for the upcoming holiday handmade craft shows like the December 4 Stitch'n'Kitsch sale, and the Dec 11 A little bird told me craft sale.  I've never been very good at sticking to a sewing pattern, so I tend to look at books for ideas and then wing it.  My quilts are definitely not perfect, but they are honest and handmade.  They are non-linear and free-spirited, with bright whimsical beautiful organic fabrics and cozy backings, and natural fill like wool or unbleached cotton.  They will be perfect for snuggling, strollers, playtime, naptime, nursing, car rides, etc.  I've mostly been getting to the sewing late at night while our 2-year old sleeps, but  sometimes I try to sneak in some sewing early in the morning, before everyone else wakes up, just to finish off a project that is nearly done. Occasionally we work side-by-side, she sifting through my piles of fabric scraps lining them all up on the couch, choosing favourite buttons from the large button jar, unwinding spools of thread, or standing behind me on the chair to watch the sewing machine at work.   And sometimes, not much quilting gets done as we get distracted by other ideas that are not functional or necessary, but are just fun to try - like an applique dress, a special cozy for our hot water bottle, a felted scarf, a new pair of slippers, a fancy bandana for our dog, or today's miniature patchwork sleeping bags for favourite stuffed toys made of all my tiniest quilt  remnants...

Winter health elixirs

A friend recently emailed to ask what advice we might have for winter tonics, in preparation for coughs and colds that might be coming on during this season.  Of course, doing long term immune boosting ahead of time is always good, but here are some quicker solutions that we like to employ as well at the first sign of a scratchy throat when we feel a cold is coming on...

1) Miso soup - this is our vegetarian version of good old  homemade "chicken soup" - we make our miso soup with a strong broth of fresh ginger, garlic and cayenne peppers, plus apple cider vinegar, tamari, some kale, carrots, onion and tofu, and then the miso paste stirred in at the last minute (you generally don't want to boil miso or the health benefits are largely lost)
2) Fresh juices - made with organic carrots, ginger, garlic, parsley (and orange or lemon if you have it)
3) Hot lemon ginger tea - boiled with water on the stovetop, and honey or maple syrup added to sweeten
4) Tinctures - taken 3 tsp/day for acute situations - rosehip, astragalus, horehound, echinacea (all prepared in the fall and stocked in the cupboard for winter care)
5) Sage cough syrup and horehound cough candy - see recipe in my earlier post - this syrup and cough candy may not taste divine, but it works wonders to ease coughs and colds
6) Eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil in a hot bath - great for easing congestion
7) Sage steam - to ease congestion (pour boiling water into large stainless steel bowl, cover head with a towel and lean over to inhale the steam and heat as long as you can stand it - this works well for clearing a stuffy nose)

Many more great suggestions in Rosemary Gladstar's The Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health and Vitality.  Currently this amazing resource book is unfortunately out of print, but try looking for it at your local library or health food store.

Final garden clean up & winter gardening preparations!

Such sunny warm days this week - perfect for spending a few more lingering moments pondering over this past season's garden; harvesting the last seeds that have finally dried on the tulsi, marigold and calendula; digging carrots sweetened by last week's frosts; planting more garlic; tidying up the garden beds and preparing for winter.  We set up our cold frame, which is really a long grow tunnel created by pulling a large roll of plastic poly over the length of two of our raised beds and securing it over rebar-reinforced hoops (to hold up under the weight of snow!).  We've recently seeded the soil underneath with arugula, mixed salad greens, coriander, parsley, kale, spinach - some of which has already sprouted, and the rest which will germinate in late winter when the soil heats up under our mini greenhouse tunnel.  We have taken loads of advice from Eliot Coleman's Winter Harvest Handbook (full title "Winter Harvest Handbook:Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses") and Four Season Harvest, also planting up our greenhouse soil again, as well as transferring our hot peppers and rosemary indoors to extend their season...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Rag rugs workshop

Nothing says "home" like a warm, sturdy heirloom handmade rug.  Today's homesteading workshop focussed on creating a simple yet durable rug made from recycled fabric and clothing scraps.  There are several ways to make a rag rug - braided, woven (on a loom), or by crochet.  We all worked with crochet as this was the quickest method, and, depending on the crochet skill and speed of each person, 2 hours of work could result in something the size of a large hot pad to a small floor rug - all of which could easily be added onto and continued at a later time. We used stretchy cotton t-shirt fabric, cut into long strips 1-2 inches wide, rolled up into balls for ease in working, and crocheted in the round with a 6.5-7.0 crochet hook.  Denim, old sheets, yarn, or other fabrics can also be used, each creating their own unique texture and design.  Simple, beautiful, and highly satisfying projects.  We also set up our trusty vintage non-electric treadle Singer sewing machine, to add to the rustic nature of this craft project!