Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Eco craft - egg candles

In celebration of the spring equinox tomorrow we thought we'd share a simple little eco craft idea with you!  We've had some fun making beeswax candles here lately.  We found a great idea in the book The Children's Year for making candles in the shape of eggs, by using eggshells that have been blown out.  They work perfectly - what a fun project for kids to make in celebration of spring, with help from an adult (when pouring the hot beeswax).  Here's how we did it:

You need:
- two large eggs and egg cups to hold them
- small artists paint brush
- olive oil
- newspaper
- old pot (reserved for candlemaking)
- old clean tin can
- pure beeswax
- candlewick
- small piece of plastecine

1) To blow out the eggs - poke a mid sized hole in top and small hole in bottom of the egg using a sharp knife.  Then blow through the smaller hole to push the egg insides out into a bowl.  Wash egg inside, and let dry out.  Then plug bottom hole with small piece of plastecine.

2) Oil the inside of the egg using paint brush.  Do this gently as the hollow eggshell is fragile!

3) Prepare workspace by covering with newspaper.  Then heat beeswax in tin can, set inside the old pot with about an inch of water.  Heat on low until beeswax melts.

4)  Pour small amount of melted wax into eggshell.  Then add wick, hold in place and pour melted wax to fill the eggshell.   Let harden by setting egg into an egg cup, and placing in the fridge.

5) When wax is completely hardened peel off the eggshell.  It should peel off easily.  If not, there was not enough oil inside.  Your candle is complete!  Happy spring!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Cheese Making!

We hosted one of our favourite workshops today - cheese making.  We have hosted several cheese making classes each year for quite a few years now, and still, each time the workshops fill up and new cheese makers are born.  During the workshop all participants get to make their own ball of fresh raw milk mozzarella from scratch, plus yogurt cheese, and we go over making live cultured yogurt, and all the great things to do with leftover whey.  Participants have gone on from here to make hard cheese, goat chevre, sheep mozzarella and more...this workshop is just the start to inspire confidence in the cheese making arts. 

Next on our personal cheese making to do list: try to make farmhouse cheddar and goat mozzarella.  The latest issue of Taproot Magazine also has some great recipes for making ghee, and kefir cream.  Yum!  We want to try it all.

This Moment

{This moment} - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Playful learning - alphabet book

We're making a homemade alphabet book with our daughter, using the idea from Playful Learning by Mariah Bruehl.  This book (and website) is filled with so many great project ideas!  Here are a few things around the house that our daughter chose to represent letters of the alphabet... we'll print the photos we took, and clip them together into a booklet for her to remember. 

Leftover Grain Muffins

This is a quick muffin recipe that we like because it's so versatile.  We make it with left over grains like quinoa, millet, oatmeal or rice - we mix up a batch of these muffins first thing in the morning using cold grain from last night's supper.  Depending on the grain used, the liquid in the recipe needs to be adjusted.   Our favourite grain to use is quinoa because of it's high nutritional value (quinoa is extremely rich in protein, fibre, iron - and is often called one of the "superfoods") and it's delicious slightly sweet-nutty flavour, which is really nice together with blueberries and toasted nuts.  Kids love to help make them, and these muffins are a good way to get a nutrition-packed breakfast into everyone for a healthy start to the day.  The muffins are ready in 20 minutes!

Leftover Grain Muffins
1 1/4 cups cooked quinoa (or other grain)
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup milk or milk substitute (may need more depending on grain used in recipe)
4 Tbsp brown sugar (or other sweetener)
2 Tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups spelt flour (or any other flour)
1/2 cup berries or fruit
nuts, optional (toasted slightly)

Mix wet ingredients in one bowl. Mix dry in another.  Combine wet with dry and stir to blend.  Do not overmix or muffins will be dry.  Scoop into 12 oiled or parchment lined muffins cups.  Bake in preheated oven at 400F for about 20 minutes.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Favourite maple-hemp granola

Surprise, surprise - we eat a whole lot of homemade granola around here.  We make it in huge batches, and love to eat it with homemade yogurt, or fresh berries, or warm applesauce.  We often serve it to our bed & breakfast guests, and our daughter is a great helper when it comes to granola making time.  There are lots of steps in the process where kids can be involved - measuring, mixing, stirring.

Here's our favourite recipe that we've perfected over the many many bowls that we've eaten.  We like using maple syrup and hemp seeds because they are locally produced, delicious and healthful.  Use organic ingredients where you can.  Use gluten-free oats to make this recipe gluten-free.

Maple-hemp granola

12 cups organic whole oats
3 cups total nuts & seeds (we include flax, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and hemp; sometimes chopped almonds)
1 cup maple syrup (or honey)
3/4 cup sunflower oil
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups raisins (add these AFTER baking)

1) Preheat oven to 350F.
2) Combine ingredients in large bowl and mix well. 
3) Spread evenly on two lightly oiled baking sheet and place in hot oven.
4) Bake for 15 minutes, then take out and stir granola on the baking sheet.
5) Bake another 5-10 minutes, until lightly browned. 
6) After baking add 1 1/2 cups raisins and mix.
7) Store in glass jars after the granola has cooled.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Do-it-yourself shampoo

I've had several people ask about sharing our homemade shampoo ideas.  We have been making our own shampoo for several years and won't go back to buying it from the store.  Even the best organic natural shampoo may contain ingredients we don't want to put on our skin, not to mention that it's expensive. 

There are a few do-it-yourself shampoo options using ingredients you have in your kitchen - and all of these shampoos do not need to be used more than once or twice a week (it's a misconception that we need to wash our hair more often than that).  Give your hair a week or so to adjust to these new methods, as the natural oils needs to rebalance, but you will be amazed by the great results and shiny clean hair you get from these simple recipes:

1) Baking soda - yes, it can be as simple as this.  1/4 cup baking soda, mixed with 1 cup water.  Pour over your hair, massage gently, then rinse well for 2 minutes with cold water.  Occasionally follow with an apple cider vinegar rinse as a conditioner (1/4 cup apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 cup water).

2) Herbal liquid shampoo - 1/4 cup strong herbal infusion (chamomile for light hair, rosemary or sage for dark hair); plus 1/4 cup castile soap, and 1/2 tsp light oil (sweet almond oil).  Optional, adding a few drops of pure essential oil for scent and healing properties.  Pour small amount into your hand, lather and apply to hair.  Rinse well.

3) Herbal shampoo soap bars - there are some great recipes for making your own shampoo soap bars such as this one from Mother Earth News.  These bars are more portable if you are traveling, make nice gifts, and lather well if they are made using jojoba or castor oil.  They are made the cold-process soap method so you will need to learn to make soap first.  You can add herbal infusions or pure essential oils for additional healing properties.  Making shampoo soap bars is labour intensive and involves the most ingredients, but once you have made a batch you will have shampoo soap for a long time.  These bars last, and you only need a small amount per use.  Lather in your hand as you would a bar of soap, apply this to your hair and massage gently.  Then rinse well.


We've started!  We are tapping trees in our yard this year - another one of those projects we've been meaning to try, and this year we are prepared just in time for the tapping season to start.  There is a short window of time, usually in March-April, when the nights are around -10C but days are around +10C, when the sap runs well.  We don't have sugar maples, but we do have other trees that are possible to tap.  Although less well-known, the birch, black walnut and Manitoba maple trees can also be tapped for a tasty light syrup.  We have 8 of these trees (which are mature enough) to tap in our yard (so that makes about 24 taps), and we're going for it.  We like to do things on a small budget, so though we did buy spiles (at $2.50 each), but since sap buckets cost $7 each we have rigged up our own buckets and lids using food grade plastic pails.  Once we've tapped for a week or so, we'll boil it all down over a long all-day outdoor fire - until the consistency seems like syrup. 

Here's a simple and quick summary for any of you urban homesteaders who want to try this yourself.  Of course, there are lots of great resources at the library and online that will give much more detail about the process (and we are still learning!), but we have heard and read stories of good success with these types of trees.  We are hopeful that all our efforts will be worthwhile.  More updates to come.

1. Once the daytime temps are around 10+ C but nights are still below 0 (around -10C)  you are ready to start.  Choose healthy mature trees, best if they have a good south facing exposure to the sun during the day.
2. Drill holes at a slight upward angle, using a 7/16 inch drill bit.  Make sure to get the woodchips out of the hole before tapping in your spile.  You can drill 2-3 hole per tree. 
3. Tap in spile using a hammer.  Hang your bucket or pail securely below, using a hook or nail, so that spout drips directly into container.  Add a tight lid to help keep out debris and squirrels!
4. Check your buckets every day, or even twice a day depending on how much the sap is flowing.  Empty into larger foodgrade pails or jugs and store in the cold until you are ready to boil.
5. To boil sap, build an outdoor fire or use a camping stove.  This will take at least 8 hours, which can be done in one day or over several (as long as sap is kept cold inbetween boilings). 
6. Using a stainless steel pan or pot bring sap to a temperature that is 7.5 degrees over the point of water boiling.  Keep it at this temperature, stirring and skimming off foam.
7. Once sap has boiled down significantly (the ratio is about 8 litres down to 1-2 cups) strain it through a filter (cheesecloth or other filter) and hot pack it into glass jars. 

Our March kitchen garden

We're happy to say our kitchen is starting to feel like a spring garden.  The window ledges are lined with jars of sprouts, the counter holds trays of baby lettuce and pea shoots, and the grow rack is filled with trays of baby seedlings that we're getting ready to plant outdoors in May.  We're also growing wheatgrass in trays for the first time - so easy to grow and chock full of health benefits such as detoxifying the body, aiding digestion, and improving the immune system.  We have thought about growing it in the past, but weren't sure how to process it.  Now that we have a good juicer that changes everything.  However, our daughter prefers to keep things simple and just nibble it, enjoying the sweet taste of the fresh shoots.   We happily keep it low on the rack so she can reach...

Friday, March 01, 2013

Winter days

We've tried our best to enjoy the snowy winter weather here the past weeks.  Snowshoeing, hiking, daily skating or sledding, snow fort building, and outdoor play in our twig house.  Yesterday our daughter discovered the toboggan can be used for hauling firewood, and much larger loads than can be carried by the armful.  We all love cozy fires in the evening, especially when we settle in for some board games like our latest favourite Bird Bingo (available from our awesome local independent bookstore Wordsworth Books), Wildcraft (how could I resist a board game that teaches players to use medicinal herbs), and lots of the classic Uno.

This Moment

{This moment} - This moment - an end of week ritual, no words, just a special photo to remember, savour, enjoy.