Monday, February 3, 2014

Compromise, or cake?

One of the aims of this blog is to show other families that it is possible to live a more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable life, and yet not have to sacrifice every comfort and convenience. As much as I sometimes think I would love to live in a backwoods off-the-grid cabin, the reality is I love my toilet paper, my Kitchenaid stand mixer, and my internet.

Being sustainable does not always mean making one, drastic change in lifestyle. Often it is the smaller, everyday things you do that add up to the bigger difference.

And I will be the first to admit it, I can be lazy. I want to be as sustainable as possible, yet I also want to keep the conveniences I've become accustomed to.

I want my cake, and eat it too!

One such example is our Keurig. Now I know, that in itself is probably the furthest thing from sustainable I could have mentioned (short of saying I have three Hummers and a racing boat in my driveway).
Behind are the 16 cups that would have ended up
in a landfill. Instead, the components have been
separated and are ready for recycling and

Chris happens to be the only coffee drinker in the house. With the Keurig he can make himself a coffee whenever he wants and not have to brew a whole pot. This saves energy (either the gas of the stove or the electricity to run a coffee machine) and water; the only amount heated is the exact amount for his cup.

But what to do with all that waste? It is true that the used coffee cups are supposed to go into the garbage. That is ridiculous, when what you are left with is a giant mountain of plastic, metal, and organic matter in a just a few weeks.

To offset this we began to remove the lids and separate the different parts of the K-cups. The metal foil lids can either be recycled or thrown out, depending on your municipality. The paper coffee filters we put in our green bin, and the coffee grinds themselves are composted and used as fertilizer for our houseplants.

That just leaves the plastic cups themselves. I have discovered they have a myriad of uses: from crafting supplies, to seed starting cups, to toys (the boys like to stack them into castles); and once you are done reusing them they can be thrown in the recycling bin.

Now that may seem like too much work to be bothered with. But I've found that if you separate the k-cups as soon as your (or your husband's) coffee is done brewing it only takes a moment and is in my humble opinion completely worth the time. Not only are you avoiding unnecessary waste going to our landfills, but are reusing the items again, all while enjoying the luxury of a single cup brewer.

So go ahead, enjoy that slice of cake!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Urban Homestead: Backyard Chickens

I thought I had written about our girls at least once before, but upon further inspection I could find no mention in any of the posts. How could I!

So for anyone interested, here's the story of our backyard flock:

In May of 2012, we picked up a bakers' dozen of pullets; adolescent birds. We made the decision not to get chicks for two reasons. One, it is much harder to keep them alive, and as it was our first experience with keeping poultry we wanted to keep things as simple as possible. Secondly, most chicks are not guaranteed to be female (even though they have been sexed), and we didn't want to run the risk of obtaining a rooster just yet! And another bonus to purchasing older birds is that they are that much closer to egg-laying maturity.

Once we had decided to not purchase chicks, our next dilemma was what breed(s) to get. Our local supplier has a myriad of breeds to choose from: layers, roasters (ones preferable for eating), and hybrids, and it was our job to do the research to find our which ones fit best for us.

We eventually settled on two breeds: Rhode Island Red and Barred Plymouth Rock. The Reds are the quintessential chicken with bright reddish-brown plumage with touches of emerald green on the neck. Other than their white feathered cousins, they are probably one of the most recognizable breeds. The Rocks on the other hand have beautiful white and black barred feathers, with the softest underbelly feathers I have ever felt.
We selected them for a few reasons. They are productive layers, yet are both large enough breeds to eat; they are quite cold-hearty; and are quite even tempered and even pleasant to be around. (In fact when you walk near them they "squat" with their wings splayed out so you can pet them!) They are also both brown-egg layers, which didn't matter one iota to us but seem to go over well with our friends and family.
When they first arrived they were pretty ugly. They had just begun to molt, and ran around looking like awkward, naked, little dinosaurs. And not in a good way. We kept them penned in a small run made of wood strapping and chicken wire with an access to the main coop at night.
A note on the coop: Chris built a 10X10 shed in our back yard, and in the back half is where we put the coop. It was made as a simple box that was about 10X4 feet, and only 3 feet high. (We still have space at the front of the shed for storage as well as the alcove above the coop.) On the back side of the shed the bottom opens up into two large doors (one with a smaller chicken door on it) so cleaning the coop is as easy as opening the doors and raking the straw outside. There are two other smaller doors inside the shed that lead to the nesting boxes where we collect the eggs.
In July, we had the backyard fenced and placed another fence surrounding the shed where the chickens have their run. It is nicely shaded by two maple trees, and gives them ample space in the warmer weather to forage for roots, bugs and plants (though they usually have all green things removed and eaten in a matter of weeks!). They do not go outside in winter not because of the cold we've discovered, but because they do not like snow under their feet!
It was not until September when we started receiving our first eggs, and once they all started producing we picked up an egg for each of them everyday!
We were told they would decrease production in wintertime, but for that first year that was not the case. We continued to receive one egg per bird right through the winter months, so much that we started selling them. It wasn't until this past year that we've seen a decrease: this winter we only received one egg for every three birds a day.
Because of that, and because our birds have developed a case of cannibalism (they've started eating their own eggs), we will be replacing them with a new flock and culling the two-year-olds this autumn.
Overall, this has been a wholly enjoyable and informative experience. We did have some moments of sadness when we lost four birds to the dogs, but the boys have a chance to truly see where their eggs (and soon their meat) come from, and we haven't had to purchase eggs in almost two years. Not only that, but we've been eating the largest, most delicious and most orange eggs, more full of flavour than I thought was possible. We also know that there are no additives or hormones given to the chickens, and that they enjoy a healthy, active, lifestyle. I believe very strongly that if your animals are not just healthy but happy, also, than it translates to better tasting, and better-for-you, food.
I do not know that we've saved money by raising our own chickens. Between the initial cost of the coop, the feed, and supplies, we may be breaking even (unless of course you are paying over $5 a dozen for free-range, organic eggs. Then perhaps we're doing better!), but it is 100% worth it to know what it is we are eating, and the experience that goes along with it.
Chickens really are self-sufficient: once a day to bring them food and water and collect the eggs, and the rest of the time they are left to themselves. The coop is cleaned out every few weeks (less so in the summer when they spend most of the time outdoors), and kitchen scraps can be fed to them whenever you feel like it (they LOVE tomatoes!)
I would highly recommend doing the research to see if owning a backyard flock is right for you. There are so many ways to house the coop (think chicken tractor) that needs only a small space, and the rewards are definitely worth it!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Meal Planning, and thankful for the Internet

If you ask my husband, organization (and with it routine) are not always one of my strong suits. So any trick I can implement in my life that helps with this, I use.

That's a whole lot of meat!
One such trick (or tool) is the weekly meal plan. Besides the obvious of knowing what to make for dinner and lunch each day, it helps keep on budget (by going to the grocery store only once a week, and armed with a specific shopping list); allows me to plan meals around what we already have in the home; and prevents everyone else in the home from asking: "mom, what's for dinner?!?"

To achieve this is relatively simple: At the beginning of each month I visit our local Costco, and that is where I purchase our meat for the following four or five weeks. I will also pick up larger items such as our dog and cat food, and the club packs of apple juice (my boys can go through a package of six 2L jars in less than four weeks!), diapers, or wipes that we need. Then, on either the Saturday or Sunday (when I go food shopping), I plan out the meals for each week, taking into account what items we have on hand and any special requests Chris or the boys may have. I try to allow for one "treat" for each of them on the shopping list, be it a favourite cereal or snack etc.

Not only do I save money and become a little more organized, it forces me to become more creative and not always rely on the same, easy-to-prepare meals time after time (a la spaghetti and meatballs).

For instance, the dinners this week were:
Sunday:leftover beef roast sandwiches
Monday: Italian potato and sausage bake
Tuesday: Spanish rice and salad
Wednesday: pork tikka masala, rice and vegetables
Thursday: bulgogi (Korean shredded beef) and veggies
Friday: spaghetti and meatballs
Saturday: I'll decide after groceries!

Now things rarely go 100% according to plan. Our youngest had been suffering a teething fever since Monday, I was still under the weather with whatever chest infection decided it wanted to hang on, so Wednesday's pork curry lay abandoned in the crock pot as we opted for something purely for our taste buds, and I'm sorry to say we ate McDonald's instead. Yes, I know. Not very sustainable or healthy. And yes, about two hours later I truly regretted that sandwich.

That aside, I've now moved the meals back a day, so today (Thursday) we'll eat the pork tonight instead! I've realized that the meal planning works as long as you're willing to be flexible as well. Upsets to the plan happen, and if you can continue on despite it, meal planning will work just fine.

A note about Monday's meal: my mother-in-law Donna made this dish for us over a year ago, and it was so delicious! I wanted to recreate it, yet was unsure of all the ingredients. Google-ing "sausage and potato bake" yielded up the recipe quite quickly, and it was a huge success.

There are many staples in my kitchen; The Joy of Cooking that my mother gave me being one of them. I use it more than I do not, and, like the pancake recipe, I have used it so many times I now have it memorized. Yet I am eternally grateful for the Internet access in my kitchen. So many times I need to quickly look up a recipe or find inspiration, and I always find what I am looking for on either my iPhone or laptop. The convenience and ease at which I can find them cannot be understated, and I know my growth as a cook and baker has happened much faster because of it. (That and the willingness of  my family to act as guinea pigs!)

Having Internet access also allows me to follow other like minded individuals, and use their regular posts as inspiration too. Websites such as Food Matters and Well Preserved are continually checked for their recipes and information that have become invaluable.

So how about you? Do you utilize the Internet in your kitchen, and how so? Does it help ( eg. finding recipes etc.) or hinder (work as a distraction)?

Bake of the Week: Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pie, or Chicken Pot Pie as it is known in our household, has been a staple that I've made in winter months for Chris and I for as long as I can remember. It is one of our comfort foods, and is a great way to use up leftover chicken breast from a previous meal. I have always just put in the ingredients by taste, without any written recipe, but today decided I should actually record the ingredients for future use!
When I first started making this I used cream of mushroom soup as the cream base, but over the years I wanted a recipe that would not rely on pre-packaged ingredients. Not only does this cut down on the preservatives and other unwanted additives, but also the sodium.
The recipe below also makes a delicious stew: simply double the amount of stock, milk, and corn starch and serve with dumplings!
 The Lahaie's Chicken Pot Pie
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
5 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp. of your favourite poultry seasonings (any combination of thyme, sage, rosemary, etc.)
salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2 cups mixed frozen vegetables
5 tbsp. sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 heaping tbsp. corn starch
Enough pie or pastry dough for two 9" pie shells, top and bottom
In a large stir fry pan or pot, sauté onion and celery in olive oil on medium heat until transparent and the onions are just starting to caramelize. Add the chicken, and cook until chicken is no longer pink in the centre. Add the stock, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper.
Add the frozen vegetables, turn heat to a low simmer and cook covered until the vegetables are tender. Add the sour cream and combine. In a measuring cup, add the corn starch to milk and mix well, add to the pot and stir until the sauce thickens. Turn off heat.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fill two pie pans with crust (or do as I still often do and just by the froze, premade one - try as I might I do not have the patience to always make it from scratch!), fill with the chicken mixture, and cover with the remaining dough. Cut slits in the top to let steam escape, and place (on baking sheet) in the middle of the oven. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Remove and let the pie rest 5 minutes before serving. Bon apetit!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Seed catalogues and planning...

"There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is seed catalogues."

I am not sure where that quote originates from, but I came across it in our Farmer's Almanac Calendar. A good quote, considering we've just had our thaw, and I just finished ordering our seeds for the new year!

This is the third year we've ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I could not recommend them more highly. According to Wikipedia, an heirloom vegetable is an "old cultivar that is still maintained by gardeners and farmers particularly in isolated or ethnic communities." These varieties are ones that have not undergone any significant changes in the last 100 or so years, and are therefore free from any genetically modified variations. If they have, it is from the tried and true natural selection method (choosing those plants with the desired traits and then only replanting their seeds), and not in a lab using DNA from a foreign species.

They are most often no longer used in commercial agricultural production, and in many cases have become quite rare. Another benefit often not discussed is that they still all have the ability of their seeds to germinate. Many commercially sold fruit and vegetable seeds available today have either had the seeds removed, or have been modified such that the seeds produced will not germinate and produce plants. This ensures that the consumer/farmer relies solely on the seed company for renewing their crops each year.

Other than herbs (and that I assure you, was quite by accident. My dill and oregano just decided one year to take over the entire bed!), I have had no experimentation in seed collection and replanting. I hope to have that change some point in the future, but as I lack the proper place to store seeds at home, I've had to rely on the above company to keep us stocked.

If you want to purchase seeds from Baker Creek, it can be quite overwhelming at first. They carry so many varieties of each vegetable, fruit, flower, and herb you might have a hard time deciding which varieties are well suited for you and your garden. Yet if you take your time and do a little research, I promise it will be worth it. In our experience the seeds have been top quality and the service excellent. The shipping is quick, and relatively inexpensive considering they come from the United States. And yes, I know it would probably be better to purchase from a Canadian company. When I find one with the quality and quantity of seeds offered through Baker Creek, I'll make the switch.

Baker Creek also publishes many newsletters, recipe books and publications, all focused on sustainable, non-GMO plants and their uses. They have also begun a new campaign entitled "The Botanical Explorer" where they've teamed up with a food plant ecologist to bring new seeds and plants from all over the world. I have not yet tried any, as I'm not sure how they would do in our climate, but for the more adventurous gardener I would encourage you to try them out!

For the upcoming year, we will be planting the following:
Sugar Ann Snap Peas
Little Marvel Garden Pea
Early Wonder (beetroot)
Detroit Dark Red (beetroot)
Golden Wax Bush Bean
Blue Lake Bush (green bean)
Extra Dwarf Pak Choy (bok choy)
Berticum 2 (carrot)
Cosmic Purple Carrot (doesn't that just sound amazing? The skin is truly purple!)
Golden Bantam 12-row Corn (yes, I said corn. I do not expect much or a yield, if at all, but want to try out the "three sisters" method of planting)
Muncher Cucumber
Boston Pickling Cucumber
Ithaca Lettuce
Parris Island Cos (romaine lettuce)
Early Scarlet Globe (radish)
Black Beauty (zucchini)
New England Sugar Pie (sweet pumpkin for eating)
Table Queen Acorn (squash)
Fordhook Giant (swiss chard)
Bloomsdale Long Standing Spinach
Onions (usually of the cooking variety or multiplier; we get the bulbs from our local greenhouse and have not yet tried from seed)
Potatoes (we also just buy a bag of Yukon Gold from a local farm in Lafountaine, let a few sprout, and then plant those)

Last year I moved the herbs to the large cedar pots I have at the end of the garden, and plan to use them again this year. It worked well to keep the plants contained, and was near enough the front door to make it convenient for cooking. This year I will be increasing the varieties which will include basil ("Emily," a broad Italian leaf variety, and Thai Sweet), chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme.

I had such luck with growing and drying the herbs for myself last year that this year I would like to take it one step further and begin to make different meat rubs and herb combinations, possibly to sell. I suppose it all depends on the yield I get this year.

Normally we get our tomatoes and peppers from Chris' Uncle Ed but this year we are going to try them from seed ourselves. I have not yet ordered the seeds, but I've narrowed them down to 4 tomato varieties (Chadwick Cherry, Bonnie Best, Moneymaker, and Roma) and 3 peppers (California Wonder, Emerald Giant, (both red peppers) and an Anaheim variety).

Any of the above should do well in our zone (hardiness zone 5a) and if you have questions regarding growing, don't hesitate to ask! In a further post I will begin to go into growing and harvesting details regarding each plant, so keep a look out!

Update January 23, 2014:
I have gone ahead and ordered the seeds for the tomatoes and peppers! They should arrive in a few weeks; enough time to begin them indoors and have the plants well established before we have to transplant them to the garden. Here's to much fruit!

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Hi! It's me! Remember me? Well some days, I don't.

I get so caught up in the daily tasks and activities that the blog doesn't even pass my mind once. Or when it does, it's a feeling of guilt that I've left you all for so long, and promise myself I'll catch you up when I get the chance. Which doesn't seem to come. Or, I'll just force a post, at least twice a week. Well you see, that doesn't work, either. When I am tired, or simply pre-occupied in another frame of mind, I simply cannot force the creative spark. And If I start forcing myself to write, I'll no longer enjoy it. And then the real possibilities exist that I will stop altogether.

This is not a job, it is fun!

Okay; enough excuses. I do have some exciting things I want to share! One of the main reasons I've not had the time nor the energy is this little fellow:

Meet Alexander! No 10 month old has ever been more proud
of the fact he is now tall enough to get in to EVERTHING!
As a baby Alexander has been a delight, but he is still, a baby. And if I've learned anything about having three boys it is this: Boys are BUSY!

Busy, fun, loud, imaginative, silly, and BUSY! There is never a dull moment to be had and I would have it no other way. We are so lucky to have the wonderful sons we do, and I've often thought of my role as this:

I am a friend to dragons;
Tailor to Kings;
Sailor of pirate ships;
Preparer of feasts;
Doctor to war wounds;
Slayer of demons and

Comforter of broken spirits.
But above all, I am Wife to a King, and Mother to three handsome Princes!

(And I take that job VERY seriously.)

As you can imagine, last year was very exciting, and to be honest I am not sure where all the time went. As the Holidays are over and a new year is upon us, I am now looking towards the things yet to come: home renovations, the gardens to be planted, new chicks to grow (our current flock will be culled this Autumn so we will have to bring home their replacements this Spring) and of course, my impending return to "work." (Because, of course, I have not been working this past year!)

Things in our home seem to always be in a state of flux, and so now I will leave you and promise, promise to write back again soon!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...