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The workshop I gave at Hillside this summer was called “DIY in the WC”. Some great conversations were had about going plastic-free and homemade in the bathroom, but people were particularly excited to make toothpaste at the end of the workshop! It’s one of the simplest things you make at home if you’re interested in getting into urban homesteading type stuff. I usually just guesstimate the ingredients quantities, but here’s an approximation of what you need for a month or two of toothpaste:

  • 3 tbsp baking soda
  • 3 tbsp vegetable glycerin
  • 1/4 tsp peppermint oil/flavouring (foodgrade)
  • a few shakes/drops of stevia (optional)

Mix it all together in a reusable container (I like small glass jars) and keep it either with a spoon or just dip your toothbrush into it.


There are a lot of ups and downs these days. Mostly just to do with energy levels, though emotions play a part too. Somedays I come home from work absolutely exhausted and can’t even stand for 10 minutes to do dishes. Other days I get caught up in harvest season madness and I amaze myself at what I can accomplish. I think one reason why I haven’t been able to finish any blog posts recently is that I don’t have the energy to balance writing the how of urban homesteading, which might actually be useful to people, with the what – ie. just listing everything that happens in a day around the Digs. But just like how hearing my neighbours talk about how it’s getting cooler and it’s time to cut all the basil inspired me to get out in the garden today, hopefully even a short post like this will get wheels turning in some people’s heads.

Yesterday I attended the annual food swap at Little City Farm. I wish I had the energy to tell you all about it, but luckily Karin already published a post on it with fabulous photos, so I’ll just direct you there instead! Kudos to whoever can guess which four photos have my goods in them! Somehow after the food swap and a short gig with my band last night I still felt energized today to get through some parts of my fall to do list.

Today I picked almost all of the herbs that were left in the garden. I got four whole calendula blossoms (though I scattered a bunch of seeds so hopefully next year I’ll get more than two plants!), enough basil for two jars of pesto, and 6 bunches of mint – spearmint and chocolate – that are hanging to dry in the office. In between all that I also headed to a coffee shop to pick up some postpartum pads from a friend who makes them, made dinner, had a meet-up with our doula, saved some seeds from a super meaty tomato variety, and started the process of making a few loaves of bread. About an hour after my bed time I realized I could just put the dough in the fridge and wait until the morning to finish the second rise + baking, but I’ve been trying to blog for weeks so I am glad I am also getting a quick post written before bed. However, I haven’t been taking a lot of photos lately while doing homesteady tasks, so instead I will just share a few photos from our recent babymoon near Bancroft.


Today we have a guest post from one of the other Diggers! Enjoy!!  – E.

Cupcakes

Cupcakes prettily prepared for Baby Digger’s Shower

So, as someone who loves sweets and baked goods, going gluten free has been, a struggle. But since I started doing my own baking, with recipes, without recipes, it’s been easier. By now, I have learned some keys things when doing gluten free baking, and I’ll list some tips below.

Because I have many dairy-free/vegan friends, and because my roommate Emily is against sugar (cash crop, unhealthy, imported, “and they usually tear down rainforests to put in palm sugar plantations” says Emily), my baking is also increasingly dairy and sugar free. The answer, friends, is MAPLE SYRUP. Preferably Amber maple syrup from local producers.

This recipe below was something I made up, going off my new baking instincts.

Ingredients:
– 2 cups sorghum flour
-1/2 cup cocoa powder (make sure it’s a good one, without dairy and flour)
-1/4 cup dark chocolate chips 
-1 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp xanthum gum
-3 dashes salt (1/2 tsp)
-1/2 tsp cinnamon

-1 cup unsweetened rice milk (I used almond milk once and I think it was too heavy and made the cupcakes thicker)
-2 tsp white vinegar 
-1/4 cup canola oil (or sunflower oil, or vegetable oil)
-3/4 cup real maple syrup 
– ½ cup soda water (the bubbles help the batter rise)

Tools:
-measuring things
-electric hand blender (or egg beater)
-muffin tray (makes a dozen)

Steps:
1. Preheat oven at 375 degrees fahrenheit.
2. Brush muffin tray with canola oil.
3. Mix together wet ingredients (add soda water last)
4. Mix together dry ingredients
5. Mix all together. Use an electric hand blender if you have one. Or, beat the batter with haste, with an egg beater. Beat for 1-2 minutes.
6. Scoop batter into tray, about an inch high.
7. Bake for 15-25 minutes. The top of the cupcakes will crack, and if it still looks like chocolate lava inside, cook longer. You can poke a fork or toothpick into a fault line and if it comes out dry, it’s done.
8. Cool. Take out gently with a spoon.
9. Accessorize with mango slices and mint sprigs if you are going to a garden-themed baby shower.
10. Eat. 
TIPS

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Some gluten-free baking tips in general, and if you are turning a wheat flour recipe into a gluten free one.

– Most recipes call for baking soda. Not all call for vinegar. It’s grade 5 people. Together, they rise. Like lava. Add 2 tsp of vinegar per tsp of baking soda.
– Soda water. It’s bubbly and helps your batter rise. Substitute half of whatever liquid the recipe calls for with soda water.
– Electric hand beater! It aerates! It’s great.
– Taste the batter before you cook it. If the batter tastes gross, fix it. Unless you are using Bob’s all purpose gluten free flours, which use like fava bean flour which takes gross raw no matter what. But when it cooks the bitter taste goes away.
– I like sorghum flour and buckwheat flour the best in general. If you add a little bit (1/4 cup) of starch (corn starch, tapioca starch) it helps to stick. So does using xanthum gum or guar gum. 
– Don’t let batters sit after you mix them. Pour and cook them right away or all the bubblies escape.

Next, gluten free bread! Sometime.


Most of my preserving posts are likely not too helpful if any of my readers are just getting in to canning since I tend to just link to other peoples’ recipes and not talk too much about how I do it. But I thought I’d give you an idea of how I get things done, particularly when I don’t have all the supplies that might be necessary for making something such as jelly.

The first step in making grape jelly is acquiring grapes. I got mine through Palatine again, with 6L of these Muscat grapes and 6L of a seedless red grape. The Muscats are a bit sweeter but have seeds, which means they are a good candidate for jelly! The second step after you have acquired your grapes is to wash them, as can be seen here in photo 1.

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Photo 1. Wash the grapes.

Put all the grapes into a big pot and smash ’em up while bring ’em to a boil.

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Photo 2. Smash the grapes.

The next step in most recipes is to use a jelly strainer or cheesecloth. I have no jelly strainer, and didn’t know where to set up the cheesecloth… However, we do have a hanging basket over our sink, so I went with the set-up seen in Photo 3.

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Photo 3. Hemp cloth lines the hanging basket

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Photo 4. Strainer set-up from the top.

All of the boiled grapes went through the strainer – some recipes say not to press the grapes through, but because hemp is finer than cheesecloth I pushed as much juice through as I could.

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Photo 5. Final product. 9 cups of juice on the left, big pile of skins and seeds for the compost.

Concord grapes need to be left overnight to let the tartrates settle – Muscat grapes I think are sweeter, but as I started the process late in the evening, I let the juice settle overnight in the fridge. By the morning there was a substantial amount of sediment at the bottom of the measuring glass, and the 6L of grapes gave me just over 8 cups of juice.

The next morning I got my jars ready – washed, sterilized in the boiling canning pot and kept warm in the sink.

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Photo 6. All the jars. Empty!

I didn’t get a picture of the steps in between the empty jars and the full jars, but here’s what happened: I use Pomona’s Universal pectin, which is for low sugar recipes. If you like the idea of low-sugar jellies and jams, be sure to get some of this stuff. The recipe called for 4 cups of juice, some lemon or lime juice, and the required amount of pectin and calcium water, which comes with the package. I had double the amount of juice, so I doubled the rest of the ingredients, of course. And I used maple syrup instead of the sugar or honey that the recipe called for. The calcium water goes in the juice and the pectin goes in the syrup, and once the juice is boiling you add the pectin/sugar, stir for two minutes, return to a boil and then remove from the heat and fill up the jars! I forget how long the jars needed to be boiled for, but the package says! (In my pregnant state I’m in no mood to get up and check the package, hence why I’m being a bit vague with this set of instructions).

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Photo 7. All of the jars. Full!

My 6L of grapes gave me 8 half pints and 2 quarter pints for the canner, plus another half-full half pint for the fridge.

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Photo 8. Delicious jelly!

And that’s how you make jelly!


Today was a relaxation day after a busy week. I woke up to sore feet after the Open House we hosted yesterday for family and friends who hadn’t seem our home yet, and a tired brain from hosting a workshop on Thursday on the Plastic-Free Home at the Environmental Justice Convergence, and moderating a panel on Friday on Communicating Environmental Justice.

Despite relaxing for a large portion of the day, I still managed to get a few things accomplished!

I made my favourite breakfast for D. and I: a big pannekoek! It’s like making pancakes but way less time-consuming! Mix together all the ingredients, put it in a cast iron pan in the oven and 25 minutes later you have a scrumptious breakfast!

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Awhile after breakfast I went out to the fields to harvest our amaranth, since it was getting heavy with seed:

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I rubbed it between my hands, and then winnowed it similarly to how this woman did it. As I was nearing the end of the separation process, it seemed as though there were no more breezes to blow away the chaff, so I did what any urban homesteader would do: finished the last few passes in front of the giant fan in the kitchen. It barely made a mess, I swear! I ended up with an almost full 500g jar:

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I didn’t really read all that much about amaranth before planting/harvesting it, and seeing how that blog I just linked to left their grains out until after first frost I’m glad I didn’t end up chopping off the fruits just yet as I’ll likely be able to get more seed off the plants. You’ll just have to wait and see! It’s possible when that time comes I’ll be a little, uh… pre-occupied, so I’m glad I at least got some of the grain now. And FYI, I stored it in the freezer because there were still some bugs in it.

Next up, now that canning is almost done (just getting some grapes, pears and one more half bushel of tomatoes this week!) I want to get to my pre-baby sewing goals. First up I made Dingo a dog toy since his last one disappeared. Dog toys are good to try when you haven’t sewn in a long time because it doesn’t matter what they look like so long as they’re sturdy. I messed up the sewing machine part by using the wrong thread/tension or something like that, so I ended up reinforcing with hand sewing. Dingo loved it:

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Finally, I ended the day by cutting up some super-soft second hand cotton t-shirts to use as family cloth.

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I’m undecided as to whether or not I’ll add fleece to the other side or finish the edges or just leave them as is since I can’t sew straight lines. Regardless, I’m looking forward to taking a break from toilet paper! What are your thoughts on family cloth, dear readers?


tomatoes galore

19Aug12

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sore and tired, but feeling accomplished. 

Here’s what got done on Friday and Saturday!

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About 65 lbs of tomatoes skinned and chopped and poured into jars, according to the book I mentioned yesterday, Putting Food By. I was originally planning to make sauce and salsa but realized you can’t do much without a pressure canner so I kept it simple. However, I was really looking forward to doing something a bit more interesting than just putting tomatoes in a jar, so I took a look around Food In Jars and decided I couldn’t pass on Tomato Jam. I substituted the sugar for maple syrup of course, and it’s deliciously sweet and spicy at the same. But the recipe only made 3 pints, and we had a fridge full of produce so I decided to make a relish too! 

I didn’t even really count, but it was something like 7 cucumbers, 2 large zucchinis, 6 celery stalks, a green pepper, an onion, and a bulb of garlic, all thrown into the food processor and then into a pot. Then added mustard seed, maple syrup, salt, red pepper flakes and vinegar, and processed according to the easiest recipe I could find. I would have tried a different method but I was in a hurry to get to the bowling alley. It turned out fine though – I don’t even really like relish, but this stuff was quite tasty! 

Today’s plan was to get many things done, but instead I spent the afternoon in the kitchen sorting the spices. The spice rack is now in alphabetical order again, and rather than having several bags/containers of some spices, the secondary spice shelf is now much tidier as well. And then I used a bunch of those spices to make a very tasty curry with all of our garden’s green beans as the focal point. Delicious! 


cool mornings

18Aug12

It was odd this morning to wake up and put on a sweater and socks and still feel a bit chilly in the kitchen as I plugged in the kettle and turned on the canning pot to get it to a boil. It’ll heat up quickly I’m sure though as I have another 25 lbs of tomatoes to process this morning. Yes, another 25 lbs, since yesterday we got through the first 50.

This post, however, is about last weekend! The last two weeks I’ve driven out to Brookfront Farms in New Dundee to pick up the fruit they get from Palatine Fruit & Roses in Niagara Region. From 50 lbs of peaches (likely 40 by the time we got around to canning) and 25 lbs of plums, my mom and I managed to preserve:

12.5 quarts of canned peaches
3 large freezer bags of flash frozen peaches
16 1/4 pints of plum jam
6.5 quarts whole plums in syrup
2 quarts plum purée in ice cube blocks

My first reference when figuring out how to preserve something is the book Putting Food By, which my mom gave me. However, we don’t usually have much cane sugar in the house so I generally have to search the internet to find recipes that are more fitting. Luckily I found a delicious recipe for Maple-Vanilla Peaches, and was able to use the same syrup for canned plums as well. The plum jam was made with honey instead of sugar, following the instructions inside the Pomona’s Universal Pectin box.

Frozen PeachesPlum Jam in ProcessLabelled Frozen PeachesPlum Purée in ice cube trays