Saturday, October 30, 2010

Our Thanksgiving - And a better-late-than-never Bake of the Week!

Well, there you have it everyone: our 50th post! I feel like we should celebrate with a cake or something. No? How about with some zucchini-apple pie then:

It didn't last long at all!
I am sure I've mentioned it before, but this is my favourite time of year...

As you can tell, this is just one of the three posts I started, then never finished. This one was dedicated to the wonderful Thanksgiving we shared, and was also going to feature a new creation of ours; zucchini-apple pie. (I can only take partial credit for the pie; though I baked it, the whole idea was Chris'. I think I looked at him like he had two heads when he suggested using zucchini in an apple pie, but as always, he was right. It was delicious!)

Our Thanksgiving was amazing. Everything; from the food, to the conversation, to the warmth and love of being surrounded by our family and friend (you know who you are; and I use the term "friend" loosely; we consider you more family than friend!). Our house was packed; and at final count, ourselves included, there were 19 people present. It was a blast! I kept looking at the food, and beautiful new dishes (we didn't have nearly enough place settings and so I had to purchase more - and was very fortunate to find plates and bowls at $1 a piece, and the flatware was also on sale!), and couldn't believe how lucky we are. That with so many people going hungry in the world, with so much hurt and devastation, we were able to feed that many people a great meal, and not break the bank. Mind you, all the vegetables came from the garden (we had 6 different side dishes), and the desert and dinner rolls were home-made, but still. We are blessed.

And even though our kitchen was packed, it was not uncomfortably so. It kept the house warm, and our rooms were never without the sound of laughter. And then the next day, we went over to Chris' parents for another dinner - what a wonderful weekend! (My stomach is still recovering!)
But back to the pie...

I took the basic apple pie recipe I use, and just substitute peeled and cored zucchini slices for some of the apples. The ratio depends entirely on your own preference, and does nothing to the way it is cooked. In fact, I would go as far as to say it does nothing to the taste, either. It is preferable to use zucchinis that grew large (at least 1 1/2 feet in length) as the texture is then more like apples, but as far as taste goes, the zucchini just absorbs the spices, sugar, lemon, and apple flavour. None of our guest knew what was really in the pie until we told them (after it was consumed, mind you!), and even then, some didn't believe us!

Apple-Zucchini Pie

Take 6-8 cups of a combination of:
apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick and
zucchini, peeled, cored and sliced thinly

Mix fruit together in a large bowl with:
3/4 cups sugar
2-3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt

Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, or use the time to prepare your favourite dough recipe. You'll need enough to make a bottom and top crust for at least a 9 inch pie pan. Once you've filled the pan with the bottom crust, pour in the fruit mixture, and dot the top with 2 tbsp of butter. Cover with the top crust (don't forget to put vents in the top), place a baking sheet undernieth to catch any overflow, and bake at 425 F for half an hour. Then reduce the temperature to 350 F and bake for another 30-45 minutes, until the crust is golden and juices come bubbling out.

I like to serve the pie warm with vanilla ice cream, but it is still good at room temperature (and actually cuts better when it's cooler).

So yummy!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The curse of the 50th post

I have to apologise for the break in writing this month. I am not sure why I stopped, sure, with Hallowe'en costumes and Christmas presents being made we've been a little extra busy, but not so much as to keep from making even a couple of short posts.

I started writing three different topics, but just wasn't able to finish any of them! The first was a celebration for the 50th post; and then it just went downhill from there. But we did it! Here is the 50th post on the blog!

Perhaps to some it is not considered a huge achievement, but to me, it is the start of a long and wonderful journey towards sharing our family's experiences with the world. It may be of some interest to know that one of my main reasons for starting the blog is that I want to one day write a book chronicling our progress towards a more sustainable lifestyle. And by writing a blog, I can not only share our journey now, but go back at a later date and use these posts as the basis for that book.

Sure we've started small; just with friends and family following us here or on Facebook, but every time I see that someone new (and previously unknown to us) has liked our page or has chosen to follow the blog, I get so excited! Though I know that to keep people reading and interested, I have to maintain my posting!

So without any further interruptions, I am going to go finish the other posts I had started (including continuing the Bake of the Week again!), and I'll be back with some more interesting news soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

True Wealth

I once heard Chris remark that the only true material wealth is land. Not your house, or business, or the buildings on it. But the soil, the earth; the land itself.

For currencies can fail; stocks become worthless; even all the jewels and gold in the world are only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for them. But with enough land to feed and house you, you and your descendants will never be poor.

This idea was a driving force for us when we purchase our home, and we were lucky enough to not only find a house that was everything we could need and more, but one that came with a property large enough for us to begin farming it and make the land work for us. Yet lately that has had an even greater meaning for me.

Unfortunately, the health (both mental and physical) of my grandmother is failing. It is hard enough to watch as she becomes like a little child again; confused and angry when her body and mind let her down, or to hear of the effect this is having on my grandfather; who used her as such a point of strength and support. But now I learn that "The Farm" she owned will be up for sale, and most likely sooner than later.

I use the word farm loosely; though in the days my great-grandfather owned it it was a working cattle farm, right now it is 49 acres of pristine meadows, forest, and lake.

I remember as a child, going up for days at a time and just running free. Playing in the grasses, walking through the woods, having refreshing snacks under the great maple trees that shaded the patio. We were super-heroes there; pioneers; even Sailor Moon! And to hear my mother talk, she has similar memories, of visiting her own grandparents and playing in the fields, being as carefree as a child can be in such nature.

And now, as I think about The Farm leaving the family, I am filled with such a sense of mourning. Not just that it has been with the family now for two generations, but the fact now that even if anyone wanted to, there is no way any of our family could ever afford to purchase that kind and amount of land ever again. It must be worth a fortune.

But I honestly don't care about that. I am saddened that such a gift will be leaving the family. To me, something like that is to be cherished, passed from one generation to the next. I do not care who in our family owns it, as long as someone does.

I do not blame my grandparents; they must do what they feel is right, and I suppose it really is none of my business. What angers me is that it seems like no one realizes what a loss this will be. Everyone is so focused on the here and now, that they give no mind to what my generation's children, or their children's children could be doing with such land. As one of my relatives mentioned, "we've all enjoyed the farm over the years, and it's fair to say that that era is coming to an end." It is spoken as if it was just a place to have fun (which it was), but it boggles my mind that no one realizes the value of The Farm, and not just the monetary value of it.

I just wish I could do more. I know emotionally I can be there for them, offer my support, and I will always be there, no matter what happens. But I just wish I could do more.

I wish I had the funds to buy The Farm outright. It would be in the family, they could spend as much time as they wanted there (or any family members for that matter), but not have to worry about it being a money pit, or about having to keep paying the taxes etc. on a place they just can't live at (the winters can be hard there, the driveway alone is a chore to navigate once the snow arrives).

I wish a bunch of us in the family could go in together and buy it. There is so much that could be done! The Farm could be rented to a family to actually farm it. We could turn it into a CSA; have it available to the Scouts to use as a camp ground (which they used to, I remember as a child walking through the forest and seeing the tree forts they had built); or use it as a venue for re-enactors. It could be lent to a university or school to experiment with various environmentally-responsible gardening techniques.

Now part of me did know this day would eventually come. But I still feel so helpless. I know it's not my place, but I just wish I could do something! Once The Farm is gone, not in any of our lifetimes would we be able to acquire such a thing again. It's sad.

A few months ago, before my grandmother began to get so ill the boys and I went to visit her, and took some great photos. I am afraid they will be all I'll have left to remember such a place, and only hope I can get back again to see it at least one more time. It really is amazing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Garden Summary 2010: Part 2

As I look into our outside, I am reminded that Autumn has arrived in full regalia. Our backyard is a sea of vibrant orange-red; the maple leaves creating a stunning contrast to the bright green of the grass.

Each morning I expect to see frost now when I let the pups out, and our house has even hit 19 degrees C a couple times. At least we have made it to October this year before we had to use the furnace! (Last year it was September 27 and we had a cold snap, we were so dissappointed!)

One of the things I had meant to discuss in the first garden summary was our soil; I was supposed to include it under the heading of the garden beds. Alas, my mind betrayed me, and I forgot. So that will be the first thing I talk about!


Soil composition
The soil in the side yard where the majority of our gardens ended up was originally sand, with a lot of clay. Certainly not ideal for growing vegetables, but like I mentioned before, one of the beauties of raised beds is that you can compensate for poor soil by filling in the beds with any that you like. Because of it being the best of all worlds, we chose to fill ours with triple mix: the peat moss meant that the soil would not compact as much, and the high organic content would provide more nutrients right off the bat to our veggies.

The nutrient content was very important to us, particularly as we are not using any commercial or artificial fertalizers. We started the composters early this year, so hopefully by next spring we'll be able to empty the first, and use it to renew the beds for the next season!

I would like to talk more about the composters, but my knowlege in that area is far surpassed by Chris'. I've just asked him if he'll write a post on them, and he's agreed, so stay tuned!

Now, on to the fruits and veggies!

Green Beans
Originally, I started the green beans, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers in trays, with the idea that once they'd sprouted, I would transfer them to the beds. I thought this would give me a head start on the growing season (not that we needed it this year, it was early enough as it was!), but ended up having to replant most of them in the beds anyways. Of the 16 or so seeds I planted in pots, only about 7 came up. I had issues getting the right amount of moisture in the little containers: either they were too wet, or too dry, and in the end I think I killed off many of the seeds that would have grown. It was much easier to maintain consistant moisture in the beds, so the next time I am not going to start any of the beans in trays but plant them directly in the garden.

At first we thought we were not going to get many beans from our plants. We ended up with 14 plants at maturity (in a bed 4 feet wide, we planted two rows of 7, with about 6 inches between the two rows), and got perhaps a dozen or so beans from each plant by about the middle of August. We couldn't really see any new flowers, but then around the end of August Chris looked at the tangle of vines (That's another thing we'll change; instead of having them grow up a ladder of twine, we're going to have them grow up poles, about three plants a pole. This was something we saw at a local historical site; they had the beans growing up straight branches that still had the bark on.) he saw several beans that were about 6 inches long, and many more smaller ones hiding. Once all those were picked, we still kept getting new flowers!

So next year we're going to plant twice as many beans, plant them closer together, but then train them to grow up poles.

Our zucchini grew amazingly well this year. I am not sure how many fruits we got, but I now it was much more than we had expected. We platnted two hills, 3 feet apart, and each hill had 4 plants. By the time the we had to cut down the plants, they had completely filled their section of the bed, went into the beans, and even into the walkways!

Most of the zucchini we picked at medium size, around 3-5 lbs, but about 6 or 7 we let grow until they were at least 1 1/2 feet. These had more of the consistancy of squash, and the seeds and skin were no longer edible. So I peeled and cored them, shredded half and sliced the other, and put them in the freezer. Because I put them in small bags, it's easy to grab just the amount I need and in fact, I am using some of the slices to make apple-zucchini pies. If they turn out, I'll post them as the Bake of the Week.

Next year, we're going to plant even more zucchini. They freeze so well, and there are so many things you can do with them, they're just an all-around useful fruit. We're going to move them next year though to around the back deck (which has high wood trellises all around), and train the tendrils to grow vertically. Hopefully they'll take, and if so, will be much easier to harvest than trying to navigate the webs of prickly vines!

This is long enough, so for part 3 I'll talk about our acorn squash, cucumbers, and swiss chard!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Giving Thanks

As this weekend is the Canadian Thanksgiving, I thought it would be appropriate to write a post of thanks myself. This is only made more befitting as we have just about finished our harvest season, and with good food, good friends, and good family about to be celebrated by us this Saturday (we are hosting dinner this year; 20 people are expected, and I am cooking a turkey for the first time - yes, I am terrified!), I would like to share my thanks on the Web, as well.

I am thankful for my amazing, hardworking, talented, and all-around wonderful partner. Without him I would not be as happy, healthy, and prosperous as I am with him. I would probably not have gone back to school, or pursue a career worthy of my talents, nor had our beautiful children. Not to mention the love he showers on me each day; I am so lucky to have him in my life.

I am thankful to my sons; each beautiful and marvelous in their own ways. We have been blessed with two healthy, inquisitive, creative, and intelligent boys, who will keep us running and busy for many years. I am filled with such awe and love whenever I look at them, and find it hard to believe that such perfect, smiling little beings came from me.

I am thankful for our extended family, and our friends who are family if all but in blood. We are blessed to be surrounded by such supportive and giving people; both in my family and in Chris'. There is so much love in our family, it is beyond compare.

I am thankful for our home. It was a long time coming - many years of sacrifice and doubt, but the culmination of our hard work has paid off - we have found our "forever home." A place where our sons will grow into men, and finally leave the nest. A place where we will continue to leave our mark on it, and slowly over the years make it work for us. I will not say we are making it our own, because it has felt like that almost from the day we moved in. I still cannot believe some days how great a house this is, yet it has always felt like ours.

I am thankful for our furry children, too. Though they all (four of them!) may drive me to distraction; they also bring such joy to our home, and warm bellies for feet on a cold night. They are teaching us patients, consistency, and the meaning of unconditional love. We are blessed.

I am thankful for our harvest. Our gardens gave us a (albeit small) taste of what it is like for the farmers who grow our food: the frustrations, successes, and finally the sense of accomplishment that comes with growing your own produce. The fact that we are teaching our sons that food is not something that magically appears on your table or the super-market, but something that takes a lot of time and effort to grow, will hopefully give them an appreciation for what they consume. And how it is so important to do this in a sustainable, healthy, way.

I could probably go into a thousand more things that I am thankful for, but I will end with this: I am thankful that I live in Canada. We may gripe and grown over our government, our taxes, our health-care system. But we have it good. It is all too easy to get caught up with the doom-sayers, and only dwell on the dwindling fresh-water supply, vanishing forests, or polluted earth. So today I am going to be thankful for what we do have. A great and beautiful country, were freedom of speech is not only allowed but encouraged, where freedom of religion and point of view is allowed and all the consequences that follow. That I can walk my son to the library at night and not fear for my life. That we have brothers and sisters who are willing to leave the safety and comfort of their homes to try and bring peace and stability to the lives of others less fortunate all around the world. I am thankful for our beautiful trees, our fresh air, and our clean waters.

I am very lucky, and very blessed. A huge thank you to everyone who checks here regularly to follow our family. Thank you for your patients when real life got in the way of posting, and thank you for your kindness and support in reading the post that do get posted.

Though this weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada, wherever you are, please take the time to thank those in your life who are important to you. Take the time to reflect on just how lucky you are; that in the chaos and misery of the world, we all have our little piece of heaven.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sunday Bake of the Week: Oatmeal Fruit Bars

This sunday I wanted to reinvent a recipe I've used many times.

For my birthday this year, my sister in law gave me the cookbook Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry's wife!), a great book that introduces different ways to include various fruit and vegetable purees into everyday food. This recipe originally called for blueberry preserve and spinache puree, but ideally you could use whatever jams/preserves you have at home. Bear in mind though, if you're going to use a strong tasting vegetable like spinach, that you use a strong tasting fruit like blueberries to hide the taste.

Oatmeal Fruit Bars

2 cups quick oats
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup butter
1 cup fruit jam/preserve (I used apple butter)
1/2 cup vegetable puree (I used apple sauce)

Preheat oven to 375 F and grease a medium sized baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the butter and vanilla, and combine with the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles small peas. It is okay if some of the butter is showing. Put most of the mixture into the greased pan, setting aside a little less than 1/4 for later. Using your fingers, press the oatmeal mixture firmly into the pan.

Bake until the crust is just lightly browned at the edges, about 13-15 minutes.

While it is baking, mix together the fruit preserve with the vegetable puree. One the crust edges are browned, spread the fruit/veggie mixture evenly over the top, and sprinkle what is left of the oatmeal mixture over that.

Bake for another 20-25 minutes. Let the bars cool almost completely in the pan before cutting, and enjoy!

Try as many different variations as you can think of! I've also made it with strawberry jam and squash puree, and next time want to make it with raspberry and yams!
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