Monday, March 7, 2016

We're Such Saps

Spring is in the air!

We thought it would be a fun process for the kids to see all the steps involved in maple syrup. Our yearly visits to the sugar bush in Fenwick, NS has been a highlight of our spring each year and even though we see how sap becomes syrup, it's a learning experience for the kids to learn the steps and appreciate the lengthy process involved in sugaring.

While we may only have 2 maple trees on the property, it has been enough for a very small scale operation. It takes us a while to have enough sap to boil, so we freeze sap during the week and when we have enough, anything more than 5 gallons, we begin the boil. Since sap generally has a 40 to 1 ratio, 5 gallons boiled down amounted to 2 cups of syrup.

We started boiling on the fire pit to reduce the volume enough to fit the sap into one large pot before moving to the propane burner. This part of the experience was the most fun for the kids and we're currently working on a cinder block wood stove idea for our next boil as it's more efficient and will help use up some of the brush around the property.

For our first boil, once the volume was reduced enough, we moved the sap from the fire pit to the propane burner and basically babysat it for most of the day to ensure the wind wasn't blowing out the flame. When the temperature reached about 215 degrees, we moved it inside to watch it more carefully and once it reaches 219, the syrup is complete!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Use It Up - Weekly Roundup

Vegetable Stock
This week, we've paid more attention to what food is in our pantries and fridges and how we can use up that food before it's destined for the trash. One of our favourite ways to use up vegetable scraps is to throw it together in a stock. If I don't have enough vegetables for stock, I'll add what I have to a container and put it in the freezer for later. I add in a whole onion, skin on, for beautiful amber coloured broth, along with peppercorns and 2-3 bay leaves. Cover with water and simmer for 60 minutes and strain.

This beautiful broth was perfect for a hearty dinner of mushroom risotto for our Meatless Monday with enough broth leftover for the freezer.

Other dwindling food recycling in our week looked like this:

  • Expensive figs for a cheese platter went unused and shriveling in the back of the fridge. I diced them up, added onions, garlic, sage, thyme and a splash of balsamic vinegar. This was the sauce with panfried pork chops. 
  • Red pears were also purchased for the cheese platter and with the indulgence of New Years, I forgot all about them. Hidden in the crisper, I realized it was now or never. The overripe and tough skins were peeled and the pears were perfect in a pot of porridge. 
  • Our passion for grapefruit suddenly waned and I had at least 6 grapefruits close to rotting. One idea was to make a grapefruit curd - eggs, butter, sugar and grapefruit juice and zest - but I was out of unsalted butter. Instead, I juiced all the grapefruits and added that juice, some zest and some grated ginger to my green tea kombucha 
  • Broccoli two ways: the stalks I mulched in the food processor and added to a large pot of tomato sauce and the florets, I added to a fritatta. 
  • We bought feta cheese for a specific recipe and never gave it another thought. For a quick supper, we made a pepper, onion, broccoli and spinach frittata with feta. Fritattas are a fantastic way to be creative with vegetables and cheese and it cooks within minutes. Here are some great tips for the perfect frittata. 
Grapefruit and Ginger Kombucha

Have a great week!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Three years later...

Three years is a long time and yet for us, it's passed by in the blink of an eye. Honey Bear is just shy of 6.5, Baby Boy is 4 (I guess I should think of a new moniker for him...) and they are big siblings to their 2.5 year old twin sisters, Mouse and Bear. It's been an eventful three years, to say the least. We may have swayed from the locavore life when life was crazy, but our path has remained steady and our goals of increasing our dependence on local or homegrown food stay true. 

As our family grows, more and more time becomes available to return to our passion of gardening, homebrewing and preserving our harvest and we have some plans for the 2016 garden that I'll share in future posts. I'm excited to return to blogging!

One particular concern that affects us deeply and may be bothering you are the rising food costs and in most cases, these are rising but skyrocketing much faster than inflation and often without warning. One day, a head of cauliflower is a reasonable $3.49 and the next, $7.99. Celery jumped from $1.99 to $3.99. Sadly, the price of processed food has remained as cheap as ever and it's tempting to start filling the cart with more economical food. These cheap foods have long term consequences on our health and may have a place in our lives, but they shouldn't and they can't be it's epicenter. Trying to feed a family of six on a modest budget with allergies and intolerances on a modest budget is not easy, but it is possible.

I've been reading every article I can about why the food costs are rising (lousy Canadian dollar, 80% of Canadian produce being imported, geography and how far food has to travel, etc), along with articles about what we can do about it.  Here's the takeaway, along with some of my tips:

  1. Buy local. Perhaps not the sexiest of vegetables in the winter, parsnips, turnips, carrots, onions, winter squashes and potatoes are Maritime staples. Most local meat producers offer great deals on bulk purchases and even bigger savings the more you buy (share a side of beef with a neighbour, for instance). 
  2. Buy cheap cuts of meat. Braise, simmer, marinate or boil. These tough cuts of any meat take more work but the payoff is higher. 
  3. Eat less meat. We are working hard to reduce our meat consumption and move closer to a plant based diet. For us, that means 2-3 vegan suppers a week. When we do consume meat, we stretch it as far as possible. For instance, one night will be pork chops and whatever meat is leftover (including from the kids plates, especially if we're not serving guests) will be turned into fried rice the next night. Or, with a package of 4 locally produced sausages, 2 sausages will be put into a pot of spaghetti sauce and the other 2 will add the perfect savoury seasoning for a pot of white bean and kale soup. 
  4. Eat more pulses. The United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses and there's a good reason for it: Canada is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of pulses. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are inexpensive and nutritional powerhouses and Atlantic Canada grows a lot of beans. One of my favourites is Jacob's Cattle Beans that I use in a huge batch of refried beans, portioned and frozen for later use. Here is one idea of how I use refried beans:
  5. Shop the discount bins. This is a huge area of savings for us. I frequently buy discounted bread to put in the freezer, which comes in handy when I'm not on top of homemade bread. Most meats can either be cooked immediately or frozen for later. Cheese can be shredded and frozen. For the most part, anything bought at discount can be cooked, frozen, used up or repurposed. Once, I scored walnut pesto for $.12. I portioned it out into ice cube trays and froze it to top vegetable soups. In one of our local stores, the discount and overstock area is in the adjoining tobacco shop, so be sure to keep your eyes open for specific areas. 
  6. Reduce your waste. This is the most important point. Canadians waste almost $1000 a year and it's so easy for this to happen. I'm frequently throwing things out and realize how easy it is for items to die in the crisper or back of the fridge. Reducing your waste means surveying your fridge and pantry and planning your weekly menu accordingly. For one week, once a month, challenge yourself to eat only what you have in stock and plan around. If your pantry is so overloaded, make it more than a week to eat up what you have. I plan to blog more about this. 
  7. Repurpose Your Kitchen Scraps. If you are going to throw away produce you forgot about, try to repurpose it in a beneficial way. We vermicompost with a big blue bin in our basement. Specific kitchen scraps get eaten up by red wigglers and repurposed into valuable castings for our gardens. In the spring, we resume adding scraps to our garden composter. In the late fall, I often put scraps directly in the garden before I put a layer of semi-finished compost and leaves and by the spring, this has all reduced and turned into beautiful soil.


Monday, November 5, 2012

New Here?

Hello there.

Obviously, I'm not posting nearly as much and mostly it's because we're eating the same kinds of meals, over and over again. In fact, you can find these recipes you can find right here on the blog!

This blog represents a couple years worth of creativity and invention based around seasonality and availability and is rich in resources for those of you in New Brunswick or cooler climates that are looking for creative recipes utilizing your types of produce. I refer to it often and hope you'll do the same.

Hopefully soon, we'll be back at it and chronicling the wonderfully delicious and seasonal meals we're enjoying.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Garden Goodness: Use it Up!

Baked Risotto with Roasted Vegetables


It's been a while.

Baby boy is 9 months old and Honey Bear just turned 3. Life continues to hum and buzz and time promises to elude me.

Last year, we grassed in some of the gardens because we couldn't keep up with all the maintenance required. We relied on our fantastic CSA to help fill in the gaps missing from our garden harvest and we put in fruit bushes and have been enjoying wandering out and having a raspberry treat. This year we put in a couple of easy maintenance plants, like zucchini and pumpkins.

With every trip to the market, we come home with an overflowing basket of goodies and it's sometimes tricky to stay on top of all this fresh produce, but here's a twofer recipes on how to easily use up some of the garden goodness coming from your gardens.

The first recipe, Roasted Vegetables and Baked Risotto is from Epicurious and while risotto purists may cringe at the idea of a baked risotto, I rejoiced in the ease and freedom from standing and stirring over a hot stove. Plus, if you double up on your roasted vegetables, they can serve as a double duty side dish another night.

Another faithful favourite in our house is a frittata. Like a soup or quiche, a frittata is an easy way to eat up the food wasting away in the refrigerator. Here's my quick and easy recipe that has plenty of room for adaptation. I like my fritattas with less eggs and more filling, so adjust to suit.

Aged Cheddar and Broccoli Frittata
Aged Cheddar and Broccoli Frittata

6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated aged cheddar
1 bunch of broccoli
1/2 onion, diced
3 slices bacon/1 ham steak/diced pancetta
Salt and Pepper
Spices: I used some oregano and basil

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. In a frying pan over low-medium heat, sautee bacon or pancetta to render fat. Remove crispy bacon and in the fat, sautee your onions and add in broccoli near the end, to help it soften. If using ham, add a bit of oil and sautee onions and add in ham and broccoli near the end. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. While you're sauteeing, whisk eggs, add in milk and stir in grated cheese.
4. In a pie shell, add in sauteed vegetables and reserved ham/pancetta/bacon. Pour egg mixture over top.
5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the surface is to the touch and no pools of uncooked egg mixture remain. Enjoy hot or cold.




Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting There



Red Currant

Tackling the Strawberry Patch

After a long winter, it's exciting to see growth and change in the garden. We realized we didn't have the time or the capability to manage a garden full of vegetables and have scaled it back considerably. What space we had, we've devoted to fruit bushes like currants, gooseberries, haskaps, strawberries and raspberries. I admire urban homesteaders and wish I had the drive and energy to grow more. For now, we'll rely on our CSA and farmer's market to provide us with vegetables until life with two small kids becomes manageable again!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Can't Beet That!

Beets: Love 'em.

Pickled, roasted, boiled, raw and grated into a slaw and in a relish. What they often not used for is dessert. Given that this is Honey Bear's first real Valentine's Day, with a party to boot, I'm determined to really live it up and help her celebrate. I refuse to use red food colouring, since no one needs that in their systems, which is where beet puree comes in.

Beet Quinoa Pancakes
Valentine's Day Pancakes

I used the recipe for Beet and Quinoa Pancakes from the Smith Bites blog and it turned out great. You roast the beets to bring out the natural sweetness before pureeing them. While you're already roasting the beets for the pancakes, throw a couple more into the oven so you can make these beauties:

Beet Cupcakes with Beet Icing
Beet Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

The recipe for these beautiful beet cupcakes can be found here at Weelicious. The cupcakes baked up a beautiful shade of red and the cupcakes themselves used only honey for sweetener. A true locavore delight!

Or, give this recipe a whirl from my gal Alyson at Dates & Quinces: Chocolate Beet Cake.

Lots of ways to enjoy a healthy, local treat this Valentine's Day!


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