Archive for the ‘Subsistence’ Category

The Not-So Normal Birthday Carrot Cake

My Dad had a big day a couple weeks ago.  He turned 65, retired and moved all in one day. Somehow, my sister, mother and I had failed to foresee this day coming and we had nothing planned in terms of celebration besides knowing that we’d go out for dinner.  So, I took the Friday afternoon off (from what you may ask? hah. I keep busy) and made a cake.  My sister requested “no funny business” and “just do something normal for once Kim”.  And so I truthfully set out to do just that, to make a normal, white flour and white sugar Birthday cake.  I don’t know what happened along the way, or how it ended up being sugar free…..and whole wheat…..with raw cashew icing.  My eco/health conscience is so strong I think I lose friends because of it sometimes…..tough go for my family, they can’t unfriend me.  hah.

I merged 2 recipes into one for this one and I’m quite proud of the esthetics of it all.  I don’t know where I got the idea for using dried mango to cut little carrot triangles out of, but it must have been a brilliant post somewhere.  I came across the little green christmas tree candies at the Bulk Barn and voila! Carrots.  The Bulk Barn apparently only sells candy corn (those awful candies that look like carrots) around Halloween, and I’m glad that’s the case because it forced me to get creative.  Why carrot cake?  I don’t really know.  I just know that we have killed my dad with Chocolate over the years, he doesn’t like things too sweet and I think he likes muffins. Solution: carrot cake, naturally.

I set out to find a winning carrot cake recipe, but in that search came across a winning recipe that happened to be sugar free and whole wheat.

http://sweetandnatural.wordpress.com/2008/12/31/yogurt-glazed-carrot-cake/

It uses a lot of agave nectar and I even threw in a handful of raisins, so I figured it would be sweet.  The yogurt glaze from the recipe wasn’t quite enough for me to decorate with, so I put it in the middle layer of the cake and then iced the top with a thick layer of raw cashew icing.

Check it out, home-grown carrots for this special man’s birthday cake! That odd shaped orange thing on the bottom left of the cutting board is a carrot that got super stumped by the clay-pack at the bottom of our raised beds so it grew a lil’ round.

And you mix it all together….. (I had a hard time believing that this would turn out to be a cake…it was very carrotty)

But, after 30 min in the oven: amazing, cake!  Icing with the cashew icing was awesome and easy.  It is the perfect consistency to stick around and be thick and yummy.

And tadaa!  Not bad for an amateur if you ask me!  The “Definitely past half way” is an inside joke, but look at those dried mango carrots! They were my favourite thing about the cake.

And even though they knew it was healthy, they all loved it.  To be honest, getting my father to eat some pure food and giving my diabetic-in-denial mother a treat without the sugar high is more important to me than buying their love with refined sugar and white flour.  And they ate it all!  Mission complete.

My First Canning Project – Ketchup!

Like many first-year gardeners, I have way too many tomatoes.  And not only that, but I even bought some more tomatoes from my friend John! Ridiculous, I know.  I must have had about 50-75lbs of tomatoes in the kitchen sorted into baskets and buckets and bowls according to their level of ripeness.  After 3 rounds of pasta sauce, 2 rounds of raw pasta sauce and many tomato sandwiches, I decided to tackle a real tomato project – KETCHUP!  I rarely eat the stuff, but when I roast potatoes or we have scrambled eggs, that sugar and sodium laced condiment just screams to land on my plate.  So now, I am happy to say that I have an all natural, mostly organic (save for the red wine vinegar, pepper and ginger) ketchup.  Thanks to Fig and Lime Cordial for the recipe! It was the best and easiest one I could find on the internet.  I love the roasted tomato flavour.

http://figjamandlimecordial.com/2010/11/03/roasted-omato-ketchup/

I made a few changes because I made A LOT more than this recipe.  To be exact, I made 5x the recipe.  Rather than weighing the tomatoes at the start, I just used as many as I could stand to work through and then measured the passata based on the size of my pot when I had pushed all the roasted tomatoes through the sieve.  I substituted a combination of red wine vinegar, balsamic and apple cider vinegar for the white wine vinegar just for a little fun and I read in another recipe that this make the flavour very robust.  Fancy schmancy.  Besides that, the only difference for me is that it took probably about 3 hours to boil it down to a thickness that I was satisfied with, it probably could have gone for another hour or 2.   I actually stuck the whole pot in the fridge once it was cooled because I wasn’t ready to can it until the next day when I had the jars and another big pot to process in.  Which I think is ok because I heated it up again to a boil before canning it.

Voila! And without even asking for victims to taste test, I came home from teaching a lovely yoga class to Dylan’s expression that my ketchup is amazing!  yay!

Rice, we’re over. Cavena Nuda Je t’aime.

I confess – we eat rice.

Rice straight from the Bulk Barn.  Not straight from the rice fields, but from the truck that travels thousands of miles from the port in the US where it met the tanker that had crossed the ocean after it met more trucks in the harbour where it came from.  Straight from unsustainably managed rice fields somewhere out there where a farmer is just trying to feed his family.  Even worse, we love white rice.  Sticky white basmati rice.  While I keep a supply of what is touted as a healthier choice, brown basmati, on hand also, neither are remotely local and if I want organic, I’m bound to buying some form of plastic packaging.

With (purchasing) power comes great responsibility.

For the most part, I’ve played the ignorant card when buying rice, justifying it because well, everyone else eats it and if I have things on hand that Dylan enjoys, such as rice, he’s less likely to say “Pita Pit?” when brainstorming dinner ideas.  But rice, you’ve been replaced (it may be more of a gradual phasing out, and I make no claim to perfection).  Welcome Cavena Nuda. Je t’aime.  I first found you in the bulk barn flyer, labelled “New! Rice of the Prairies” and the possibility of a rice from Canada made me have to try you!   A “hull-less” oat that cooks just like brown rice, cavena nuda is a nutty grain that cooks al dente and is amazing in many dishes because it holds up very well.  I may be late for the cavena nuda train because apparently it was on Dragon’s Den, but I bet there are many people out there who have yet to hear about it.  I can’t remember all the ways that I’ve used it, but the other night I added some garlic scape pesto, basil, steamed beans (all from the garden), and some canned Ontario tomatoes and wow!

Here’s another fresh spring meal that we had, pretty much simple rice (eek) pasta with a simple home-made sauce of garlic, onions and canned tomatoes, made so fresh with herbs from the garden!

And here are our watermelon radishes that have been great additions to potato salads, beet salads and sandwiches…

Having vegetables right in our backyard has been the highlight of my summer!  No more ethical dilemmas at the grocery store, no more debates at farmer’s markets and lots more fresh, local, organic veggies!

Garlic Scape Pesto

Desperate to cook with something from our garden, I decided I would make use of our only crop of a decent size at the moment – garlic scapes.  Since I just learned what scapes were last year, I can imagine there are some people out there who also don’t know (ahem *city folk* cough cough).  Well, they are the first shoot that comes from garlic that had been planted the previous fall.  Yes, you must plant garlic 3 whole seasons ahead of time before you can harvest the bulbs in the summer.  So, at least we get garlic scapes in June – that taste just like garlic and can be used kind of like green onions – otherwise I’m sure some of us would get anxious and pull up our garlic too early (I’m dying to know how big those bulbs are under the soil). It is also essential to cut the scapes before the flower blossoms, to keep the plant’s energy going into making your garlic bulb nice and plump.  I got the idea for pesto from Stacie at the Kimberley General Store (who is always full of great local food ideas).  One of our first garden recipes!

I started out processing just olive oil and scapes, a la pesto style, until I lifted the lid of the food processor and got hit by a wall of garlic.  In a desperate attempt to cut the overpowering and overstimulating effect of garlic, I added some parsley, basil, ginger, parmesan and honey.  I don’t know if you could taste any of these other flavours, but it didn’t matter because it was delish, and also because now all I can taste is garlic still.  I bet some lemon would be a great addition also.  Even though Dylan says he will taste it for days, it was sooo good while we were eating it.

(I couldn’t get this first photo to flip properly, so please turn your head to the right to view the beautiful garlic scapes).

All in the food processor…

Mixed up with some brown rice pasta (or pasta of your choice), some salt and pepper and voila!



My First Vegetable Garden

We did…..well…I did, what every body,

book, blog, article and website tells you not to do.

We went big.  A smart, caring and busy individual would be wise to start with a 4X10 plot, no bigger.  We doubled that, probably tripled it, and I’m sure we’ll pay the price.  Luckily, we are still in the honeymoon phase of vegetable gardening, where most things are growing, nothing has been attacked, the weeds are at bay and we’re dreaming of delicious, easy and fresh vegetables in the near future.  We are not dreaming of all the weeding that will need to take place, the bug patrolling, the rabbit visits, or the heartbreak.  I’m so naive it’s 9am on a Sunday morning and I haven’t even looked at the garden this weekend yet.  It could have been totally wiped out yesterday or today, but in my happy naive bubble, that just won’t happen to us.  It happens to everyone else in the books, blogs, website, and articles, but not us.  Like car accidents, deaths in the family and natural disasters.  You never think it will happen to you and you only partially prepare for it, if at all.  Luckily, we’re just talking about peas and bean here. 

Nonetheless, we have a 20X20 row garden and a 10X4 square foot garden and they are not all for us.  They are to test out some organic growing methods for our non profit Free Spirit Gardens and the produce will be shared with Free Spirit Tours staff, family and friends.  We are also growing all heirloom, organic varieties, so I think the yield per plant is going to be significantly lower than conventional hybrid plants, thus we’ve planted 12 tomato plants rather than 4.  hah.  With a shitty kitchen, a small fridge/freezer, no pantry or root cellar, this is going to be food overload.  Perfect, it’s what I’m hoping for.  Because, in all reality, there’s a chance that it will be slim pickings.  The season is late, and I was speaking to a very well seasoned farmer at the Flesherton Farmer’s Market yesterday who consoled me by saying that this season is a hard season for even experienced growers, nevermind beginners.  So if I get more food than I can handle, my self-proclaimed vegetable growing expertise will be validated.

Talk about a Flexible Platform: From Poulet Chalet to Greenhouse

In the fall we began to build a chicken coop.  I say “we”, but I assume that everyone knows that I mean: Dylan built a chicken coop and I complained that my fingers were numb as I held the measuring tape, took some photos and then ran inside to start a fire.

This is as far as “we” got before we learned that the chickens that someone was hoping to hand off to us had been handed off to another loving home.

So we hummed and hawed about buying some chickens but decided it would not be wise to try our hand at them just as the cold season was approaching.  So the chicken coop stood, just as you see it, through the winter, gathering enough snow to hide it from our sights and thoughts.  When spring arrived, we moved the chicken coop to behind the shed and I wondered how long it would remain an unfinished project.  I began growing seedlings for a new non-profit that I am “executive director” of and when I had run out of light space indoors, our “president” loosely joked that we should use the chicken coop as a temporary greenhouse.

A couple days later I bought some plastic from the hardware store and posed the idea to Dylan.  Thank goodness he’s a carpenter and came up with a much more sophisticated creation than my idea of velcro-ing a corner of the plastic for me to get in and out.  He used re-claimed windows and put them on hinges to open down so I can open the whole side of the coop for ventilation during the day.

It’s an awesome concept, except I got a bit excited about it and let the tomato plants get too much sun all at once and they all got sunburned.  So we put some lattice work up on the other side of the coop to provide some shade relief on really sunny days and every day I check the plants a couple of times praying for those white-ish spots of sunburn to disappear.

The Value Village/Dollarama Conundrum

Our new place is not entirely furnished and having led our Gypsy way of life these past few years, we own very little in the household department.  In need of some of the basics, we made a trip to Guelph with our friend Riley to hit the Value Village, Thrift Store, Winners and some antique stores (“Shopping for yourself at this time of year?” you ask?  Yes, keep your eyes peeled for a post on how we’ve managed to completely avoid the gift frenzy of Christmas this year).

When we are shopping, our ethics and values bring us to look for things that are:

1) Previously loved

2) Made in North America

3) Of high quality – long lifespan still

4) Made of renewable resources (ie. wool, untreated wood, glass etc.)

5) Healthy to have in our home

6) Functional for me, design pretty for Dylan

7) Amazing, one-time-in-your-life finds

8 ) Ridiculous

9) Recylcable, repurposable, re-giftable or biodegradable

So, in that order we set out and I remembered that I had offered to find a client 12 sets of office pen holders second hand and under budget (a personal challenge for myself and a way to bring sustainability to even the smallest of purchasing decisions in a small organization).  On the hunt, I came across some small glass jars at Value Village that were good for the job and looked at the price – $1.99.  Not terrible and if I could find 12 for that price I’d be successful.  However, curious to see where they had originally come from, I peeled back the Value Village price sticker to reveal that they were initially a product of Dollarama and thus, brand new, these things had only sold for $1.  I was to pay a 100% markup for a second hand piece of glass from China.

Saying my thoughts out loud, I said to Riley that I may as well go across the street because there’s a Dollarama there.  Thank goodness I have some very mindful friends and she wisely pointed out that then I would be voting for making low-quality, cheap goods in China, whereas buying it here, I am not bringing new material into the world, it already exists.  But paying 100% more.  And, now we get into the fact that Value Village is a for-profit organization owned by U.S. parent company Savers Inc.  Check out the comments in this blog post for a response from Value Village to the myth that they are owned by Wal Mart and a discussion on whether or not they benefit non-profits and charities.

So, I put the jar back down and opted for the copper container stamped by a blacksmith in Canada for $1.99 as well.  Nonetheless, there’s something pretty off about this system.