Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why do we do, what we do? (Part Two)

Old timbre logs make a great cost 
effective raised bed.
In the previous post we introduced you to an article I've written and hope to publish. Below is part two of five...

Raise Beds, Raise Production

Other than the soil the type of garden bed you build is your most important consideration. If you have a lot of land the most common type of garden is the in-ground garden (where rows are separated in terms of feet, and walking paths occur between them). However, if you are limited in space, than raised beds become your garden of choice.

Building them is simple: you can use whatever materials you have at hand, or just build the soil into mounds without any walls. Anywhere between six inches to one foot is ideal, and the beds are usually no wider than a full arm’s length from either side. The main objective is to allow for sufficient water drainage and to avoid compacting the soil by standing in the beds.

We used an existing stone raised bed
for our bigger tomatoes.
Using raised beds also allows you to plant your fruits and vegetables closer together (again by not needing walking paths between the rows) which makes for a much more efficient use of space. You may wish to plant rows width or length wise or even try your hand at “square foot gardening.” And lastly, raised beds help decrease the sore back that seems to plague every gardener in existence!

Diversity is the best way to use the space you have efficiently, so in part three we examine how to incorporate container gardening around your raised beds!

Up next: Part 3: Think outside the box! [or garden bed] 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Why do we do, what we do?

The following is something I've been working on with the idea of submitting it for publishing in some form of print media. I will be breaking it up into five smaller posts to make it a little easier to read online, the whole of which is entitled: "Small Space, Big Yield - Making the most of your backyard garden." Enjoy!


When my husband and I bought our home four years ago, our decision to dig up the side yard must have been met with looks of bewilderment from our family and neighbours. It was an inconvenient place for a patio, too small to be used as a child’s play yard or pool, and an odd (and out of view) space for a flower garden. What were we doing?

Seventy years ago it would have been called a “victory garden,” though today such a term is not wildly used. However, the idea remains the same: a small-ish vegetable patch planted in an urban setting to either sufficiently feed, or at least supplement, the diet of an individual family. Nowadays another name has cropped up – the urban homestead. Yet as we live in a small town opposed to a big city, we have chosen the term “somewhat-urban homestead” to describe our home. 

For us, the decision to embark on a rather time intensive and physically exhausting way of living was a matter of sustainability, and the ability to show our three sons where food truly comes from. So shovels in hand we made the decision to be a little more self-sufficient, and after four summers we’ve proven it to be a success.

So how did we do it? We didn't have acres upon acres to use, and were also not willing to sacrifice the backyard that our sons and dogs love to play in. So with a little ingenuity and some sweat equity, we have discovered that anyone can turn even the smallest square feet of space into a successful urban garden.

Up next: Part 2: Raise beds, raise production 

The Lahaie Butter Tart 2.0

After my first attempt at making butter tarts and then visiting Midland's first Butter Tart Festival, I had the itch to continue improving upon the recipe I had until I made a butter tart reminiscent of (or better than!) my favourite bakery-bought one. 

My ultimate goal: enter at least one batch into the Festival next year!

So in this batch, I used the same pastry recipe and tried a filling from Canadian Living magazine (below). My only changes next time will be to omit the second egg (as it was not nearly runny enough) and make a double batch of pastry dough; this filling goes a long way.

Filling from Canadian Living:
3/4 cup (175 mL) packed brown sugar

1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup, (No. 1 medium grade)
1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, melted
2 eggs (I would add only one)
1 tbsp (15 mL) cider vinegar
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt

Once I've perfected the basic butter tart recipe I am really excited to try different variations, particular to think outside of general convention. One recipe I'm dying to try is a Chai Tea Butter Tart, simply adding the spices that give the tea it's wonderful warm flavour. 

Everyone seems to have their own idea as to what makes the "perfect" butter tart. I like mine firm and with nuts. Chris likes his somewhere between firm and runny, while loaded with raisins. My boys love any as long as they have nothing else in them. So what's your favourite? I would love any suggestions to flavours I could try when I start experimenting too!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bake of the Week: Beautiful Butter Tarts

It is said that the quintessential Canadian dessert is the butter tart; and I couldn't agree more. Not only did the recipe originate here (in fact the oldest known published recipe was written locally here in Barrie, and was circulated in the Royal Victoria Hospital's Woman's Auxiliary Cookbook circa 1900), but one of the main traditional ingredients is maple syrup. Can you get any more Canadian?

Alas, the majority of recipes I found online called for corn syrup, not maple! Even one recipe that supposedly won Ontario's Best did not use maple. I suppose cost had something to do with the reasoning; yet for myself I chose the more traditional route and below is a combination of two recipes that worked very well.

So in honor of the upcoming Butter Tart Festival I tried for the very first time my hand at making these delicious (and devilish!) sweets!

Maple Syrup Butter Tarts

1-1/2 cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60 mL) cold butter, cubed
1/4 cup (60 mL) lard or butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1 tsp (5 mL) vinegar
Ice water

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter, softened
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 tsp (5 mL) vinegar
1 pinch salt

In large bowl, whisk flour with salt. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter and lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger pieces.

In liquid measure, whisk egg yolk with vinegar; add enough ice water to make 1/3 cup (75 mL). Sprinkle over flour mixture, stirring briskly with fork until pastry holds together. Press into disc; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

In bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, egg, butter, vanilla, vinegar and salt until blended; set aside.

On lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thickness. Using 4-inch (10 cm) round cookie cutter (or empty 28 oz/796 mL can), cut out 12 circles, rerolling scraps once if necessary. Fit into 2-3/4- x 1-1/4-inch (7 x 3 cm) muffin cups. Spoon in filling until three-quarters full.

Bake in bottom third of 425 F (230 C) oven until filling is puffed and bubbly and pastry is golden, about 12 minutes. Let stand on rack for 1 minute. Run metal spatula around tarts to loosen; carefully slide spatula under tarts and transfer to rack to let cool.

You can add a handfull of pecans, walnuts or raisins to the cups before adding filling for a bit of variety.

Edit: this filling turned out much better, though you need double the pastry dough.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Storebought vs. homegrown

Today I cooked three of our chickens.

Now none of them had been slaughtered with the express purpose of cooking; they were however, the unhappy result of our puppy Norah's attempt to play "tag" with some of them last year (which quickly prompted a re-think of the locks of the chicken pen door).  All three have spent the last year in our big freezer, plucked and gutted, just waiting for when I had the time (and courage!) to cook them.

Now because they were killed by Norah, we will not be consuming them ourselves. They will make an excellent treat for our dogs though. But as I sit here watching them cook (and remembering the squirmy feeling I felt in my stomach as I prepared them in my stock pot), I started thinking about how if their end had been different and we had butchered them ourselves, that we would be eating them tonight instead of the pups. And that idea still weirded me out.

I know that I am just being silly. They look like chicken; they smell like chicken. And yet, because it did not come air chilled in a saran-wrapped package, the chicken I raised by hand; only grain-fed and free-ranged, is somehow inferior.

I am so upset at this way of thinking!

I, of all people, should by now appreciate how much better home-grown is. And for the most part, for our fruits and vegetables, I agree without question. However, there are still some things that I have yet to get used to.

Take our eggs, for example. The first few times we had them I had trouble eating them. I am not sure why; did I think them unclean? Unhealthy? When I know the opposite to be true: they are the freshest, most wonderful tasting eggs I have ever eaten. So why did it take me some time to get my head around eating them in the first place?

I suspect part of that has to do with the marketing employed by the food industry. We have been so well trained that we are skeptical of anything that is not one of the most common big brands. Even among store bought brands I find that my cart is usually filled with the bigger brand names, thanks to the wonderful PR campaigns I am sure. Even someone as logical as I (one would hope!) falls prey to the "ours is the best because we market the loudest!" way of thinking.

I could ramble more about the marketing tactics used by our food industry to convince us that bigger is better when it comes to where we buy our food, but that is a topic for another time. For today, from my own experience, my hypothesis is this: trying farm fresh food other than fruits and vegetables may seem foreign at first, even for someone who grows it. But try to eat out of your comfort zone. If you are worried about the cleanliness (and I cannot stress enough how unclean the "meat factories" our store-bought meat comes from!), then just do your research and find a reputable local producer. Go down almost any rural road in Ontario and you'll see at least one sign advertising fresh eggs or produce. Give it a try. I assure you once you start eating fresh (the longest our eggs stay in our fridge is a couple weeks, vs. the months it can take a store-bought egg to reach your table), you'll never look back.

Even for myself, all it takes is the courage to give that first bite. You'll be so glad you did!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

We are still here!

I seemed to me that it had been years since I posted last, and I hate to admit it, but when looking at my last post, I realized it had been! Going back to work after being on maternity leave with Marcus left me with little spare time for anything extracurricular, and I just slowly lost the drive and creativity to write.

Shame on me.

That however, is about to change. So much has happened in the last two years, and much more is about to. And I find I've been missing not only the writing process, but sharing our lives with the online community and reading the feeding and other similar stories. What can I say, I may be a bit of a diva.

As I said, much has happened these two years. Firstly, Christmas 2012 brought a surprise gift for me; a proposal! After almost 10 years and two wonderful children later, Chris and I had the opportunity to further cement our bond to one another in front of our friends and family, and were married October 20, 2012. Everything that could have gone right, did, and it was a beautifully wonderful and emotional day.

Following the engagement, I found out a week later at New Years that I was expecting again, yet lost the baby at 3 months. That was one of the most painful and difficult things I have ever experienced, and yet am now able to acknowledge it happened, and share the memories and what I learnt from it all.

They say (who they are I have yet to figure out!) that everything happens for a reason, and as I write this I am less than four weeks away from welcoming a new son into the family! As devastating as it was to loose my other child, this one (Alexander!) will have almost the same age difference between himself and Marcus as there is between Marcus and Lucien. And watching my elder two play and explore so well together, I cannot wait for our third son to bond as well!

So as one can imagine, home life is once again (was it ever truly not?) crazy. But the warm, well-loved kind of crazy that can only happen when my husband and boys are around. I love it. And as tomorrow officially starts my next maternity leave, I look forward to sharing our challenges, triumphs, and experiences on our somewhat-urban homestead with you once more!
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