Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Winter crafting - Ice Candles

Since the weather has turned cold again we have been searching for wintery projects, both inside and out.  We have been reading about the history of ice candles.  There are many ways to make ice candles, and many northern countries have wonderful long-standing traditions and festivities using ice candles during the cold dark months.  This would be a great project to do with kids just before the winter solstice, but mid-February will do!  To make an ice candle you can simply freeze buckets or cartons filled with water which, when unmolded, become candle holders; or create more elaborate ice scuplted shapes as the water slowly freezes; or another variation is to add ice chunks or cubes to a candle mold, add a wick and pour hot wax over (the ice leaves designs in the candle).  We used a very easy method - freezing water in a round bundt pan - but first added sage, lavender, hops, cedar and thyme from the garden (and other bits from the yard) as decoration from our garden to add delicious scent as the ice melts and candle burns. 

Soil and seeds

We've filled an entire growing rack - mainly with sprouts that we plan to eat, but also with some seedlings for this season - a few herbs and flowers that need an extra long start to their growing season.  It's a nice ritual each morning, turning on all the lights (or having them come on by timer before we even get out of bed!), unwrapping the heavy plastic sheeting we have around the rack to keep heat in, checking the plants for moisture, having my 3 year old helper fill the spray bottles and mini watering can to give each tray the water they need for the day.  And in the evening, happily stoking the wood stove next to the rack to bring a little extra heat to the seedlings.

As our starter soil we use a certified organic grower's mix which is used by the professional organic farmers who we know.  It's the Pefferlaw brand, which is widely available in Ontario through various garden centres - here is a list of where you can find the soil.  We actually ordered directly from them, and got a skid delivered (45 bags x 85 L soil) and split this with another friend last year.  We still have a little soil left as this was a huge order for us!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Starting Seeds & Organic Gardening Primer - Upcoming Workshop!

This is the time of year that seeds are arriving in the mail, we are planning our garden layout and dreaming about new varieties and flavours, and reading back in our journal from last year to learn how we could improve what we did.  Coming up in a few weeks is our annual Seed Starting Workshop here at Little City Farm.  If you are a new gardener, or have experience but want to build on your knowledge, consider coming out to this great workshop.  We will have Angie, owner of Fertile Ground CSA here to lead the workshop, discussing how and when to start seeds, what soil to use, where to source seeds, germination issues, transplanting seedlings, etc.  She will also cover some key information about organic gardening, and knowing that she is a well-respected local organic farmer with years of experience (and a personal friend), we can vouch that this workshop will be well worth attending. The workshop is on Sat, March 10 from 1-3 pm.  Limited space so sign up soon.  Go here to register.

Winter Sprouts

It's so satisfying to grow sprouts in the winter.  They delicious, nutritious live foods, with a gorgeous fresh green colour and flavour that we crave in the cold months.  We are growing a variety of sprouts in trays of soil this year (in the months before our grow racks are needed to hold our seedlings) - pea shoots, cilantro greens, lettuces, arugula, sunflower shoots, chives...and cat grass that our 3 year old is tending patiently (aka. wheat grass, which grows so quickly that it's exciting for kids to care for).  Most sprouts only take about a week to grow (depending on how warm your house is), and some can be cut to grow again (cilantro, lettuces).  They prefer nice steady temperatures and watering, so we like to mist them every day and keep them under plastic lids in a grow rack wrapped with greenhouse grade plastic sheeting to keep out the drafts.  After they have germinated we turn on the lights so they can green up more quickly.  Our favourite source for sprouting seeds and other materials is Mumm's, in Saskatchewan.

Make your own live-cultured cream cheese

We've posted our workshop series for this season, and have several topics back by popular demand!  One of these is cheese making.  We are excited to be offering this workshop again, where we'll be making mozzerella, cream cheese, talking about other cheeses and also how to make yogurt.  Here at home we make our own mozzarella, cream cheese and yogurt on a regular basis, and I want to start making feta and soft goat cheese as well.  The winter is such a good time for these kinds of kitchen experiments. 

On the weekend we baked our own homemade bagels, made live-cultured cream cheese to go with them, and opened a precious jar of blueberry jam from our pantry!

Live Cultured Cream Cheese

You will need:
2 cups live cultured yogurt
several layers of cheesecloth and one elastic band
wooden stick (e.g. a chopstick)
large pitcher or measuring cup

1) Pour the yogurt through the cheesecloth, into the large pitcher/measuring cup.  Secure the cheesecloth with the elastic band to hold it in place while the whey from the yogurt continues to drip through. 
2) After about 2 hours (or when the yogurt stops dripping), wrap the cheesecloth tightly around the "ball" of yogurt and secure with elastic.  Hang this from the chopstick over top of the pitcher. 
3) After 24 hours you will have nice firm live cultured cream cheese that you can scrape out of the cheesecloth, plus about a cup of whey in your pitcher.  Use the whey in smoothies, baking, etc. 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The radical act of baking bread

"Creating something meaningful by hand using simple materials and tools is how we begin to re-skill ourselves and our communities.  We begin to see ourselves as active producers, rather than passive consumers.  We lessen our dependence on corporations, fossil fuels and unsustainable purchases.  Once we become empowered there is no end to what we can do."  This was how I introduced a "radical bread baking" workshop I led on the weekend. 

How can bread baking at home can be a radical act?
1. Moving us from being consumers to active "producers"
2. Choosing organic non GMO ingredients (a vote against corporations like Monsanto)
3. Supporting local farmers growing grains, and local mills that grind the flour
4. Realizing a connection to people of all cultures, all times, all walks of life
5. Having the ability to teach others how to bake bread
6. Sharing nourishing healthful food with others
7. Slowing down and taking time to be grateful for this food

Not to mention the satisfaction of making something yourself by hand, superior flavour and freshness, cost effectiveness, and artful elements of bread baking...

February thaw

This warm thaw saw us outside all weekend enjoying the mild weather, strange as it may be for February.   We started to organize the greenhouse, pruned some vines, planted new greens into the cold frames - all the while with our chicken companions happily following along behind.