Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lessons Learned In An Urban Trench

I've learned a few things this past week. (Which is the whole point behind this experiment, to see what I can learn now, before we go up north) So far, the compost in a bucket is going well. It did reach a point where it started to smell, which I sort of expected because I hadn't gotten out to get any dry matter from the woods like I knew I should. So it stopped composting. There was no heat and a gag-worthy smell. No problem, I knew how to fix this. I know a place where someone dumped a bale of hay to rot and I know where there are corn stalks and leaves from last years harvest. So off we went with compost bucket (yes, it has a tight fitting lid) and shovel. We added fallen maple leaves from last year, corn leaves and stalks out of the corn field and a little of the soil too while we scraped and shoveled all that waste matter. I made sure the lid was snapped on securely and rolled it down the road, mixing while we walked. This morning's check revealed far less smell and heat inside the bucket again. It's wet and chilly outside today, so I know that heat in the bucket means the compost is fixing itself. One setback dealt with.

I also learned it's not wise to transplant tomato seedlings. They tend to die. At best, they get shocked and don't grow. Note to anyone trying to grow tomatoes indoors; soak your seed, then plant in whatever container you will be letting your plant spend it's life in. If you must use a smaller container first, I recommend small yoghurt or pudding cups that you can slit with a knife when the seedling has outgrown it. That way, when the seedling needs a bigger pot, you slit the cup open and plant that rootmass in it's new home with as little disturbance to the root hairs as possible. Little disturbance = happier plant. Remember this.

This week taught me that peas are the easiest thing to grow, hands down. Those peas up there to the left have been the most tolerant and forgiving of any seed I have started here. The tallest is 5" high, and obviously the oldest. All are a good shade of green, the leaves feel firm and the stalks are strong. The only thing more robust than the peas is the parsley and the basil. I will not be transplanting the peas. It was always my intention to let them live their lives in that container. See how tall they grow, see what kind of pods they'd produce, if any, and just generally see how they did. With any luck we'll get enough peas to eat, and maybe even some to put up.

Another lesson to note; it is possible to dehydrate pineapple slices in an electric dehydrator with holes in the trays. I cut pieces of wax paper and rested the pineapple slices on them. For this experiment, I used a can of pineapple slices. I'll explain why in a moment. I did not turn the slices when they began to dry, and so three or four stuck to the wax paper. They were a write-off. So, if you use wax paper under the pineapple, discard after the pineapple is no longer drippy. While I was on a dehydrating roll, I also sliced up two Fuji apples. I let the slices rest in the can of pineapple juice for about thirty seconds, to prevent the apple from going brown in the dehydrator. I took the apple slices out, let the juice drip back into the can and plopped them into the dehydrator as well. So far, they are doing well. Still soft, but they are progressing as the books say they should and aren't brown. So far, so good.

That's the update from our trenches, where I'm fighting to learn all I can now, before I get to our micro-farm up north. I know urban farming is possible, hundreds are doing it all over the world. But right here, right now, in our dark apartment; I'm still learning.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Apples Here, Apples There...

There is a great deal to be said for basic food. A loaf of bread, still warm from the oven, a hearty, steaming casserole, a crisp, crunchy apple....mmmm, I haven't had breakfast yet and already I'm hungry. Not long ago we got a pretty good deal on 8 pounds of Fuji Apples. For some reason, the boys aren't keen on just biting down on one like I am, so we make more apple desserts. For many years, the apples we were buying from the grocery store would make my throat close. So I tried washing the fruit better, we tried fruit washes, we tried different types from different countries. We bought organic, and then we found a local grower. At an outdoor market one morning, I was encouraged to try a bite of an apple wedge. Tentatively, I bit. And waited. Because the reaction would normally happen pretty quickly, I knew fairly soon that the apple was going to be fine. To say I was happy would be an understatement. Ever since then, we have been careful not to get apples from too far away, and my throat doesn't close after one bite. I can only guess that I was having a reaction to a pesticide. So, when the chance came to buy 8 pounds of apples to benefit a school, my question was "Where are these grown?"
I was relieved to find out they're local. So now we have a kazillion apples. They're good for us, with vitamin C, fiber, natural sugars....all kinds of crunchy goodness. The fuji was originally developed in Japan back in 1952 and brought to this side of the ocean in the '80's. Pretty cool!

But now, what to do with them?

This weekend, I want to dehydrate as many as I can. I'm also looking into making fruit leather (also known as fruit roll-ups), apple cobbler sounds yummy too. I would make pie if I could make a decent pie crust from scratch, but it's never been a skill of mine. Apple butter sounds yummy too, as does slow baked apple wedges.


3/4 cup of liquid honey
1/2 cup of water
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/8 ground nutmeg
8 large apple wedges, peeled and cut into wedges

1. Combine honey, water, lemon juice and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add apple wedges, stirring to coat well.

2. Spread apples in a 10" X 15" pan, pouring any remaining liquid over the top of the apples. Cover with foil and bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes or until apples are soft. Remove foil and bake again until apples are golden and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 75 minutes. Gently turn apples once or twice during baking.

3. Pack into clean jars or plastic containers, cover with tight fitting lids. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week or freeze for longer storage.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Do Not Go Quietly Into The Night

I have certain blogs I like to read every day, as I'm sure we all do. A lo of people are talking food shortage this week. Food shortage, the price of oil and extreme weather are all hot topics, and they're all related, and they could individually or collectively affect the price of your day. A loaf of bread, your daily two cups of coffee and bagel, dinner, the bag of cookies or that apple you have stashed.... all of it can be affected by a two cent jump in the price of crude oil and a bad weather event between the produce shipper and your favorite grocery store.
I'm not one of these "the world is over" types, but the writing is on the wall, we can't ignore it anymore. So what do we do? What do those of us in the city do if we have very little or no yard? We get creative. We get tough. We become survivors.
This is my call to action.
Start paying attention to competing grocery prices. Easier said than done, I know, I hate grocery shopping. Start saving those coupons, scour the sale papers, find them online for your local grocery stores. Buy dry goods differently. Buy a little more than you normally would if you can. Try and aim for one now, one to save. This applies to a great deal of your list. Can you get two loaves of bread this week? One for now, one to freeze. Instead of getting three apples, get five. Can you afford an extra tin of tuna? You get the idea.
Then, learn how to store these things wisely. Get a system together that will allow you to keep track of when you bought them and when they'll expire. I work in retail, so I'm keenly familiar with this system. Keep track of the things you buy for backup. Have a place you can store them so the kids won't run through your stash of animal crackers, let's say. (Mine love those packets of dried noodles and would happily eat 4 a day, per person if we let them. This calls for creative stashing)

Not everyone can afford to do this all the time. I certainly can't. We buy an extra jar of peanut butter here, an extra can of tuna there, an extra box of dog treats on pay week, and we store them in a large plastic tote bin. It might not look like we have much, but that stash has proven to be a small saving grace during weeks we hit a leaner-than-normal stretch. We do a little at a time, as we can.

Start teaching yourself what you need to know to make your own food. We've been saving a bit of money lately, and eating a little better by making more of our own bread. Not all the time. We still have lives and I still have a full time job. But instead of buying a loaf of bread six times a week, I'd say we're down to maybe three. We have a bread maker that's seeing a lot of action these days, and the bread we're eating is better for us than that white, over-processed stuff with ingredients I can't pronounce. The bread we make still has white flour in it, I'm outvoted there, but what we're making has whole wheat in it too, and less sugar and more honey, which is healthy in so many ways it needs it's own post. So we're buying less and eating healthier.

Get creative with dry goods food storage. I know of one person that has saved large pop bottles and stores their pasta, dried beans, dried soup powder, drink crystals and cereals in those bottles. Because they have next to no cupboard space, they store those bottles in a suitcase, under their bed! Now THAT'S creative!
I am lucky enough to have made a connection with a Tim Horton's coffee shop next to my store. They save me the buckets the frosting comes in and I have a variety of buckets in a range of shapes and sizes. Now we have a bucket for flour, one for sugar, a small, rolling compost bucket.... you get the idea.

As you may know, we're trying to grow our own veggies and herbs here in our apartment. We're teaching ourselves how to grow responsibly with our experiments in green manure crops, small scale composting and a soon to be attempted permanent indoor garden. It's not always successful, but we keep trying. Why?
Because I refuse to roll over and give up. I hear about the food shortage in Canada and it makes me angry. We shouldn't be short of food in a country that is supposed to be one of the world's greatest places to live. We have kids, so we can't just give up. We have brains and hands and we can still do something about it so that we do NOT go quietly into the night, hungry and weak.
I am not hungry and weak, I can still take even small steps to feed my family.
You can feed yours too.
Do not go quietly into the night.
Do something.
Stand up and fight for your next meal!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Got a Ketchup Lover?

Our youngest son, B, loves ketchup on almost everything. Eggs, Hamburger helper, fries, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, casseroles....the list is almost endless. In short, he loves his ketchup. Have you priced a quality bottle of ketchup large enough to last more than a week? I have, it's frightening! The worst part is that most kids these days don't know what GOOD ketchup tastes like. Want to try making your own? it's easy! Better yet, we'll only make enough so you and yours can decide if you like it. Come into the kitchen....
(This recipe assumes you know how to process jars in a hot-water bath)

(from the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving)

7 cups chopped peeled plum tomatoes (about 4lb/2kg) 1.75 L
1/2 cup chopped onion 125 ml
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper 125 ml
2/3 cup cider vinegar 150 ml
1/4 cup granulated sugar 50 ml
2 tsp. pickling salt 10 ml
1 cinnamon stick, 2" long (5 cm)
1/2 tsp each: whole allspice, whole cloves,peppercorns 2 ml
1 bayleaf

1. Combine tomatoes, onion, and red pepper in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Remove to a large, stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat and boil gently, uncovered for 30 minutes.

2. Add vinegar, sugar and salt. Tie cinnamon, allspice, cloves, peppercorns and bay leaf in cheesecloth and add to your saucepan. Return to a boil and boil gently uncovered, stirring frequently, until volume is reduced by half or until mixture rounds up on a spoon without separation, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove cheesecloth bag.

3. Remove hot jars from canner and ladle ketchup into jars to within 1/2 inch or 1 cm of rim. Process 15 minutes for half-pint (250ml) jars

Makes about 3 cups of ketchup

I welcome your comments, thoughts and critiques if you'd like to leave a thought! Got a better recipe? Know an easier way? I love hearing new ideas!

New Directions

The word "survival" brings different things to mind for different people. Some folks envision a compound with barbed wire, freeze dried food and hordes of unsociable people inside waiting for the end of the world. Some folks would envision a couple living off the land, picking berries, eating cat-tail roots and drinking rainwater. Survival for other folks means working two jobs so they stay out of debt. Survival for some means working two or sometimes three jobs just to pay the bills and put food on the table.
Survival can be all of these things.

During a conversation with my sister-in-spirit this morning, I was encouraged to tell my story in the most honest, grittiest way I know how. So that's what I intend to do. Not all at once, but I will share with you the circumstances we struggle with, and how we overcome them, how we not only survive, but how we achieve happiness and comfort in our challenging times. I'll share with you how we make our grocery money stretch, how we eat more nutritiously now than we did last year and how we eke out a garden while we live in an apartment facing north. I'll share our adventure as we try and make our way back to the land, the lessons we learn while we teach ourselves how to make compost, and the trials and tribulations of learning to save seed from plants we grew ourselves. There will be food too, because we love our food. Recipes, adventures in canning and baking, and all of this surrounded by family.
We all have our own set of challenges, but sometimes if we have company along the way, the path doesn't seem so dark and hopeless.
So come along with us while we travel in this new direction. Laugh with us, learn with us and enjoy the journey.