Tuesday, September 7, 2010

(Belated) Madcap Monday -- The giant puffball edition

Hungry anyone?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Not just a barn cat

On his examination report card from the veterinarian, his name was noted as "Barn cat."

On the invoice record when I paid for his euthanasia, he was simply known as "Stray Cat."

But he wasn't a stray and he was so much more than 'just' a barn cat. He was our Chris, my constant barnyard companion, and now he's gone.

We found him this afternoon about 10 feet away from the road. He was curled up and alert but his hind legs weren't working well and he was covering in slug goo. Fearing the worst but hoping for the best, I rushed him to the vet. Her face told me what I already knew before she gave me her prognosis: his back was broken. Some driver had hit him and failed to stop. And it's not like ours is a busy road.

As the vet talked about x-rays and neurologists and surgery and rehabilitation options, this massive surge of sadness opened up in me. Tears streamed down my face and dripped off my nose as I hung my head and said, "no."

"There's a third option," she said. I nodded.

During the time it took for the sedation to take effect before the final injection -- about 15 minutes -- I rubbed Chris and thanked him for all the great memories.

He was supposed to be an unsocialized barn cat, but he was never very good at that job.

He'd get locked in the hayloft, caught frogs instead of barn mice, got stuck in trees and was relentlessly bullied by the rooster. His meow was almost inaudible and he always needed a piggyback to the barn whenever it snowed, as he didn't like getting his feet wet.

But he was great at many things: snoozing on our deck, either underneath the hammock or on one of the kid's chairs, playing tag with the dog and befriending our other barn cat Gracie who before Chris, was too scared to leave the rafters. He napped under the bird feeders, paddled in the ponds and slept with the goats at night. The moment you stood still, he'd wind himself between your legs, arching his back, simply begging to be petted and loved. While his meow was but a squeak, his purr rivaled that of a lion.

He'd escort the kids to the school bus in the morning and pick them up at the end of the day. He was the first face I'd meet in the barn in the morning and as darkness fell, he'd wait at the front door of the house to walk back with me.

He was just a barn cat, but his absence leaves a huge hole at our farm.

He was just a barn cat, but already we miss him terribly.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Still here

Hi, folks. Sorry to be out of touch for so long. I started a new job last week and it's been crazy. I'm still working from home and it's part-time but as with all new jobs, it's taking up a lot of hours. Of course I'm still juggling kids home for summer vacation, farm animals, the garden, chores etc. and when faced with the choice between blogging and sleep, my bed wins every time!

But I so miss blogging and sharing and reading about everyone else's adventures, so I'll be back soon.

In the meantime, here's a snapshot of the view from my madcap life right now.

What, doesn't everyone have a treefrog crawling around their office window?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More strawberries!

Since Jack missed out on last week's picking adventure, we decided that for their first day of summer vacation the three of us would celebrate by going back to the strawberry farm. There is only a week of strawberry season left -- if that -- and the next few days are silly busy with Canada Day celebrations, a day trip to a friend's cottage and then a weekend of fishing with dad, his brother and the cousins.

And yes, I'm really looking forward to getting back to our slower pace of living next week.

What I love about trips like this is the opportunity to observe how different my kids are in the same situation and how their individual personalities and styles-of-being manifest.

Jack took a somewhat relaxed attitude towards picking, being completely at ease working close to the earth.

Ella, on the other hand, who's already done this picking thing before, decided that today would be a day of whirly-girly silliness. No armed picking? No problem. Goofy girl.

When placed in a new situation, Jack has always been my quiet observer; watching, assimilating information and then taking careful, purposeful action. I could see this today as he gently picked through the strawberry plants, looking for the "ruby red" berries, and asking several times, "Is this one okay, mum?"

Of course, it didn't take him long to get the hang of picking and he quickly filled his allotted basket with "nature's candy," as he called it.

Unfortunately, Ella's whirly-girly silliness quickly got a bit out of hand. Perhaps I'm a bit of a stickler here but a u-pick farm, in my humble opinion, is not a playground (or a race track or a hurdle course) and the picking area should be respected as a source of our food and of a farmer's livelihood. Ella didn't agree with my assessment and quickly deteriorated into a whiny, obstinate little creature.
Please tell me I'm not the only parent to ever order a time-out at a u-pick.

Thankfully, the sulkiness didn't last long and once again I had a crew of happy pickers.

It's a good thing too because we had a lot of strawberries to pick today!

Not a bad harvest -- just over 20 lbs.

Now all I need is an extra set of hands, or two, to help me make another three batches of jam. And then we need to prepare the berries for the freezer and the dehydrator and then we can make some fruit leather and...
What do you mean you're off duty? What do you think this is... summer vacation or something?
Oh, right.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Slim pickings

The house that I grew up in had a big picture window above the kitchen sink. I always knew I wanted the same when I found my "forever" home so I was thrilled to find our farmhouse had such an arrangement.

The backdrop to my window view is largely a mix of towering cedar and birch trees, with the bunkie off to the left and the vegetable garden off to the far right. Front and centre is a lovely mature raspberry bush.

Despite looking a bit bedraggled, we were still treated to some delicious berries last year. I wasn't sure what to expect this year as raspberries are biennial but I pruned the canes back in the spring, put down some more straw to keep down the weeds and hoped for the best.

After last year's raspberry escapade, the kids were pretty excited to finally go picking -- but they had a hard time finding more than a tiny handful of dark berries.

With spring coming three weeks early this year, I noticed fruit forming earlier than last year. Unfortunately, this coincided with the early arrival of my nemesis -- the Japanese Beetle, which decimated my roses, peonies and has been seen buzzing around my vegetable garden.

Looks like these beasties found the raspberries too. Can you see the skeletonized leaf? Nasty.

I'm not sure if the beetles are the only reason for our slim pickings this year. Perhaps the canes are too old or maybe the soil needs some TLC. There are still some immature berries on the bush that'll make a nice topping for some homemade yogurt but that's about it.

But this paltry harvest helped reinforce the connection between the growing of food and what shows up on your plate. It was like a mini lesson in crop failure without the hardship and empty bellies. It taught the kids to appreciate what they did pick and not take it for granted.

Together, we're going to do some research so we can figure out how to increase our yield for next year -- but only after we visit the strawberry farm again to get our fill of berries.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Garlic scapes

I love garlic. Not only is it so good for you and wonderful to cook with, but it's relatively easy to grow -- simply plant the cloves in the fall, tuck them in under a thick layer of mulch and come spring, celebrate their arrival as one of the first garden edibles to make an appearance.

While much attention is paid to what's underground -- the white papery bulbs -- there's an often overlooked delicacy: the garlic scape.

Scapes are the curly whirly flower stems that the garlic produces before the bulbs mature.

It's a good idea to harvest the scapes when they're still young and tender, shortly after they curl, to help direct the plant's energy towards making a bigger bulb.

Simply trim the base of the stem and the flower tips (though I understand some folks eat these parts too). I've read that it's better to harvest scapes in the afternoon so that the wound heals quickly.

Young and tender scapes can be eaten fresh but we found they still had too much of a burn for our palates.

However, steamed for five minutes and then tossed with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt and oh my, we had a delicious side dish that even the kids gobbled up.

Thanks to my friend at A Little Crafty Nest for teaching me about the delicious scape!

Friday, June 25, 2010

A forgotten harvest

I've got a confession to make: our first harvest wasn't radishes. It was actually lettuce.

I guess I got so excited that after all the digging and planting and weeding in the big garden we finally got to harvest the fruits (or in this case, the vegetables) of our labour, that I'd forgotten about our little patio garden that's been quietly growing just outside our kitchen door.

The Plan is to convert much of the existing house garden to a herb and butterfly garden, but that'll take time and I don't have much of that to spare right now. So besides the basil, parsley, oregano and thyme that I'd grown from seed and transplanted into the big garden to keep the tomatoes and peppers happy, we've got our cooking herbs growing in pots on the deck.

There's oregano, two kinds of basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, dill, chives, coriander, parsley and mint, each with their own delicious texture and aroma.

Besides the herbs, we decided to grow a few pots of lettuce for convenience but also to see how they grow compared to the lettuce growing in the big garden. Already I've come to appreciate one big advantage to pot-grown lettuce -- there are no slugs on the deck!

There's the Tennis Ball lettuce, an heirloom introduced in the 1850's, that produces loose heads measuring only 7" in diameter.

We're also growing a gourmet heirloom leaf lettuce mix, featuring a blend of Green Oak Leaf, Black Seeded Simpson, Australian Yellowleaf, among others.

I always knew there was an incredible range of lettuce varieties far beyond iceberg and romaine. Even the grocery store produce section now offers a hopeful selection of leaf shapes and varieties in pre-bagged mixes. Unfortunately, my experience of those mixes has often been one of disappointment, with the greens being bitter or tough or worse, tasteless.

Growing my own herbs and greens on this little deck garden is not only easy, it's helped heighten my wonder at the range of sensory experiences associated with eating and food. So often we eat just to fuel ourselves, but savouring something as simple as a just-picked herb or a lettuce leaf can introduce a world that stimulates not only the taste buds, but your sense of smell and touch too.

There's an immense sensory delight in gently rubbing herb leaves between your thumb and finger and releasing their rich fragrance. Then there's the intense flavouring that fresh herbs add to a meal -- who knew that parsley could tickle your tastebuds so much? And fresh-picked leaf lettuce has not only an exceptional taste but a gorgeous satiny texture.

Whenever I write about our life here on the farm, I'm always conscious of the fact that not everyone can, or even wants to, do what we're doing here. But the great news is, anyone can do this. It just takes some sun, seeds and soil, and a hunger for eating food that's good for you and the earth.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

10 simple things

Sara at Farmama inspired me to share a list of 10 simple things that made me happy this week.

While there were so many things that made me happy (what a great lesson in gratitude) these were this week's "top" 10:

1.) Ella skipping. Or more specifically, Ella skipping in her mismatched pyjamas and flip-flops.

2.) Hanging clothes on the line.

3.) Fresh baked yummy goodness.

4.) New blooms

5.) This super quick and easy sewing project.

6.) Collecting eggs from our own hens.

7.) Baseball and home runs!

8.) The joy and wonder of learning to growing our own food.

9.) My eldest child reading stories to my youngest.

10.) Barefoot gardening with kids who like to get dirty.

Oh, and one more... family movie night.

Speaking of family, I can't forget our Henry.

So much for 10 simple things! What made you happy this week?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Easiest strawberry jam recipe, ever!

I love good tasting preserves: jams, jellies, chutneys -- you name it. In fact, one of my earliest farm-to-kitchen connections lies within a sweet memory of strawberry freezer jam.

One of my best friends from grade school always had the yummiest jam sandwiches. The fruit was chunky and perfectly sweet, not the sugary, cavity-inducing smack I was used to in store-bought jam. When she told me it was homemade, I remember thinking, "You can do that?"

My mum was a creative cook, but not a preserver. So when my friend invited me over to share in her family's jam making day, it was an eye-opening and fascinating experience for me.

I don't have very clear memories of the actual process, beyond marvelling at the redness of the berries and the wonder of actually making your own jam. I do remember bringing home a few yogurt containers filled with berry goodness and carefully rationing them because I knew when the last container was empty, the jam was gone until next year.

While I didn't realize it at the time, it was my first life lesson of eating in season.

So when Ella and I brought home a flat (eight pints) plus four quarts of berries yesterday, I knew strawberry freezer jam was on the top of my "to make" list.

If you've ever wanted to make homemade jam but you think you can't or you're too busy or you don't have the canning supplies for cooked jam, then freezer jam is for you. It's easy and quick and little fingers can help along every step of the way because there's no cooking or boiling water involved.

To show just how easy it is, I've put together our step-by-step tutorial.

For each batch of jam, you need:

• 4 cups of crushed strawberries
• 1.5 cups of granulated sugar
• 1 45 g pouch of freezer/uncooked jam gelling powder

Yep, that's it.

Step 1: Sort the fruit to ensure there are no mouldy or rotten bits. I can't get her to clean her room but she'll do this without being asked.

Step 2: Wash and hull the berries. Feed the tops to the chickens. You'll be their favourite person Forever.

Step 3: Mash the berries but don't puree them. Wonder what your daughter means when she says, "Mama -- I love to smoosh things." Decide it's not worth investigating further.

Step 4: Measure four cups of mashed berries into a bowl. Ignore your daughter's comment that, "It looks like guts."

Step 5: Slowly add sugar to bowl of berries and gently stir. Agree with your daughter that yes, it does kind of look like quicksand. Resolve to ask your husband what kind of stories he's been reading to the children lately. Allow mixture to stand for 15 minutes.

Step 6: During those 15 minutes, chase strawberry-snatching son out of the kitchen and remind him that although he did just get home from school, it's only been an hour since last snack and he can't really be that hungry, can he?

Step 7: Slowly sprinkle gelling powder into mixture while stirring for 3 minutes. Reassure eldest child that 3 minutes isn't really that long and no, his arm won't fall off from the strain.

Step 8: Allow to stand for five minutes. Then gently stir for one minute more. The jam, not the eldest child.
Step 9: Give starving masses (aka the children) a taste test before they pop with anticipation.
Step 10: Enjoy the two minutes of happy munching sounds. Go back to step 9 - repeat three more times.

Step 11: Ladle into containers, leaving about an inch at the top for the jam to expand in the freezer.

Step 12: Repeat step 1 through 11 until you have enough jam to last until next June (we've got at least one more batch to go). Jam lasts six weeks in the refrigerator and one year in the freezer.

According to the gelling package, this entire process only takes 30 minutes but it took us significantly longer. Of course, we had to make time for some silliness.

Who knew quart containers could make so many things such as...
... hats,
... and beds,

... the Eiffel tower (apparently, lamby passed out due to oxygen deprivation that high up)

... and a super hero car.

What's your favourite super simple preserve?
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