Category Archives: HOMESTEADING 101

This section includes information to help you skill up and become more independent on your own homestead; whether that means a small acreage or an apartment with no balcony. Every time we learn a new skill, practice producing instead of simply consuming, we are liberating ourselves from a culture of learned-helplessness. Even if you don’t do all of these things on a regular basis, just knowing that you CAN will help you live a more joyful, empowered life.

homemade mayo : purging the pantry of GMOs

homemade mayonnaise

Not the most glamourous picture, I admit. But it was my first batch, and I was proud.

I can’t believe I’ve never made mayo before.

Eggs from the garden, organic olive and canola oil, organic mustard, lemon juice and some sea salt. Nothing freaky-deaky. Barely more than two seconds in a mason jar with the immersion blender and La-DEE-Da. Mayo. Magic.

No matter that Hellman’s says they’re on a campaign for “Real Food”, I’m not buying it. Canola and soy are two common oils used by Hellman’s, and they’re also the two most common GMO crops out there. It’s not organic and it doesn’t bear a “GMO Free” label, so it’s time to go Hellman’s. Buh-bye.

Homemade mayo may seem a bit over the top to some, but to me, it’s one small and steady step towards food-freedom. A palaver? Maybe. Maybe the seeds of revolution spread between slices of bread. You choose.

Homemade Mayo Recipe

  • 1 egg yolk – fresh, pastured, organic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup organic olive oil
  • 1/2 cup organic canola oil
  • sea salt to taste
  1. Pour everything into a mason jar.
  2. Let it settle briefly.
  3. Put your immersion blender in the bottom of the jar and whir.
  4. As you see the mayo start to form, slowly move the blender up and down. It will be super thick and should take not much more than 30 seconds.

Yield : Just over one cup. Keep refrigerated. It will keep for about a week.

Feel free to use different oils. I personally like the rich flavour of olive oil but you might not. You can also use vinegar instead of lemon juice. Have fun, experiment. Add pureed chipotle peppers, garlic, herbs, whatever floats your boat.

a minor case of kombucha addiction

homemade kombucha

So it’s official. I have a kombucha addiction. Actually, not just me. My whole family!

Kombucha is a raw fermented tea full of probiotics. Just like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sour dough, sauerkraut and other fermented foods, kombucha is a living food that can help us replenish and maintain a healthy gut microflora.

Most of the food we eat in our modern diet is dead as a doornail, fitting our obsession with hygiene and hyper-vigilance when it comes to pasteurization. Although pasteurization has made a lot of our food safer to eat, it has also made it a heck of a lot less nutritious. Turns out being overly anal about having a sanitized environment can actually have the reverse effect we’re looking for. Our guts are paying for it and we’re seeing more allergies and other auto-immune diseases that might not be there if we recognized the importance of bacteria in our overall health and wellbeing.

Michael Pollan’s lastest book, Cooked, has a great section on fermentation and gets into some pretty amazing details regarding the latest research on the role of bacteria and fermented foods in the human body.

To me, the whole hygiene-hypothisis makes sense, but then even if it didn’t – I live on a farm with lots of poop, organic soil, animals and all that. I couldn’t keep my 2 year old “sanitized” if my life depended on it.

So anyway, I’d read about kombucha and have started seeing it more and more in the health food store, but frankly I figured anything that’s supposedly that good for you couldn’t possibly taste nice. I mean, seriously.

We went to Salt Spring Island recently, and lo and behold there was a gal selling homemade kombucha at the farmer’s market. She was giving out free samples. We tried it and . . . everyone loved it! It was tart and fizzy and completely refreshing. We bought a bottle to enjoy right there and then and I also got a mother (SCOBY : Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) off her so I could try to make some at home.

I admit, I was a bit freaked out to make it. The SCOBY was creepy looking, ok, not creepy – downright gross. Slimy and just – yuck. But I checked out The Kombucha Mama’s site, steeled my resolve, and jumped in.

It was easy! It takes next to no time to actually put it together; most of the time involved is just allowing it to loll about on your counter and being patient!

Kombucha Tea Recipe

Yield : One Gallon

You will need:

  • a one gallon container, preferably glass, do not use metal
  • a piece of cotton big enough to cover the opening of your container (I use a cotton tea towel. Don’t use cheesecloth; the fruit flies will get in.)
  • an elastic band or long length of string to secure your cloth tightly over the mouth of your container
  • a wooden spoon / ladle
  • a measuring cup
  • a funnel
  • bottles or mason jars – I like using my hubby’s grolsh beer bottles with the reusable flip-top cap

Ingredients for primary ferment

  • 4 to 6 teabags : Use black, green, white or oolong. Do not use decaf or herbal tea. (I use two black tea, two green)
  • a SCOBY + one cup of unflavoured finished kombucha (you can get these from a friend or order them online)
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar, preferably raw and organic. Honey is not recommended because of it’s antimicrobial properties.
  1. Brew your tea with the 4 cups boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in your sugar until it dissolves.
  3. Fill up container until it is 3/4 of the way full with cold, un-chlorinated water.
  4. When the brewed tea is cool, add your SCOBY and cup of finished kombucha.
  5. Cover the mouth of the container tightly with your cloth, and put it your brew someplace out of direct sunlight, but with good air circulation.
  6. Wait 5 to 7 days. At this time, slip a straw under your SCOBY and taste your brew. Too sweet? Let it go a little longer. Too tart? Next time shorten your fermentation time. It has been hot here lately, and I’m finding 5 to 7 days is plenty for a nice tart brew. It’s totally normal tho to take between 7 and 14 days.

Note: The tea should taste light, tart and have a vague apple-cider vinegar air to it. The SCOBY should not have any black spots, mold or smell “off”. If you’re not sure what it should look like, I strongly recommend visiting www.kombuchakamp.com. The Kombucha Mama is the online authority on all things kombucha and has some helpful photos of what a SCOBY should and shouldn’t look like. If in doubt THROW IT OUT.

Secondary Ferment

This for me is the fun part.

Once your kombucha is brewed, you can decant it into containers and flavour it if you like. This will make it fizzy and flavourful, and you can also use this as an opportunity to add therapeutic foods like ginger for example.

Now The Kombucha Mama suggests starting with as little as 1/4 teaspoon of flavouring per 16 oz bottle of brew. Personally, I’m finding that I prefer way more than that. I’ve been experimenting with fruit so far, and in one grolsh beer bottle find that 6 to 8 raspberries gives me a sweet / tart, vibrant pink kombucha that I can’t get enough of.

Method:

  1. With clean hands, remove your SCOBY from your main vessel and set it aside in a clean container with 1 cup of reserved tea.
  2. Line up your clean bottles and pop in whatever flavouring you like. (See ideas below.)
  3. Decant tea into bottles and seal.
  4. Leave on your counter for 24-48 hours, “burping” each day to make sure they don’t explode. (This hasn’t happened to me – yet – but I have had some VERY fizzy bottles.)
  5. Once your brew is to your desired level of fizziness, pop it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation.
  6. That’s it! Enjoy over ice, with juice, booze, whatever!

Kombucha Flavouring ideas

Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, strawberry / ginger, pureed mango, ginger, herbal tea, mint, lavender, sour cherries . . .

That’s what we’ve tried so far – what are your favourite flavours?

Some Common-Sense:

Kombucha is a raw, living food. I’m 6 months pregnant and am drinking it and feed it to my family, including my 2 year old son, but you should consult a health professional if you have any concerns or questions before consuming raw foods. I am not a doctor and don’t make any health claims regarding the health benefits of kombucha.

There is very little research out there to support the health claims made by proponents of kombucha, but there’s also very little money to be made by drug companies from foods that improve our health and well-being, so take from that what you will. It is believed that kombucha has been around for approximately 2000 years.

All I can tell you is both my hubby and I have both noticed markedly improved digestion almost immediately upon introducing kombucha to our diet. And it tastes nice!

scoop and nuke : a lesson from wee ones in the kitchen

This morning as usual, I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast – eggs, oatmeal or homemade granola and yogurt.

He answered “eggies”, then grabbed a big ladle and ran around the kitchen hollering

Scoop and Nuke! Scoop and Nuke! SCOOP! AND! NUKE!

Ah. Yikes.

Of course I burst out laughing. He’s never said “Scoop” or “Nuke” before . . . but clearly he’s been paying attention to his parents in the kitchen.

I do a ton of batch cooking and leftover nights in our house are universally known as Scoop and Nuke.

This morning’s hilarious outburst got me thinking about how things would be different if we had a different food culture in our house.

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thriftiness

This year in the Langford household, instead of resolutions for the year ahead, we’ve set a single value, notion, idea as our goal . . . The value of thriftiness.

We have a long way to go with this old homestead; rooms yet to paint, furniture to buy, a barn to be restored, draughty windows to address, a HUGE heating bill to manage, fences, animals, seeds, tools . . . not to mention a growing boy and always hungry husband.

Life is expensive.

See, the thing about striving for a self-sufficient life . . . It’s pretty much free of instant gratification.

Eventually our farm will be able to provide most, if not all, of our nutritional needs, our seeds, our entertainment, our exercise, our shelter, our heat, even some of our income.

EVENTUALLY is the operative word.

In the meantime . . .

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neighbourliness part two : things that make me want to dance

We have been on the farm for two full months now. Already I know my neighbours better than I did in the city.

Neighbourliness is changing my life.

It makes me want to sing from the roof of the barn. Hallelujah! AHHHHH!!

It has occurred to me very quickly living out here in the sticks:

Neighbourliness isn’t a choice. Neighbourliness is a necessity.

For the last five years or so I’ve struggled to be a homesteader in the city.

Wrestling to put by hundreds of pounds of tomatoes with only two hands, having to buy all our own equipment, working double-time to run the house while pregnant, chasing children, facing a mammoth to-do list come planting and harvest time, and on and on and on.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve realized since living here; this lifestyle isn’t conducive to the modern, isolated individual model of “community”. It just doesn’t work.

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harvest : life lessons

life lessons from the garden

It finally rained last night. The morning brought with it a bite of breeze off the ocean that can only mean one thing : summer is nearly gone.

That means rains on the horizon, cooler nights and frost to come. Time to get in the harvest. What little of it there is.

This year has been the saddest in the garden.

My beautiful, rich, hard-won soil has been mostly blanketed in sod in preparation for sale. Our usually bountiful tomato crop that would normally see every flat surface in the house rolling with heirlooms, is this year but a few lonely strays, huddling together on my windowsill.

It just doesn’t feel right. It has been a difficult summer.

Despite everything, out I went this morning into the dew in my flip-flops and jammies to harvest the herbs. Heap after heap piled onto the front stoop : rosemary . . . bay . . . thyme . . . sage. The bees are still busily working what is left of the oregano flowers. I left it to them. I’ll miss them when I go.

After coffee and banana bread the boy and I headed down the block to our blackberry spot, where, as usual, I was the only one foraging.

For the first half hour the boy ate them faster than I could pick them, poking my bottom and prodding Mooooore! whenever I went too slow. He finally collapsed in a snoring, sticky, purple heap and left me to pick in peace.

It gave me time to think about the lessons the harvest will teach him.

Make Hay

There really is a time for every purpose. No time underscores that more for me than harvest time.

Last night driving home from a family dinner I saw men in the blueberry fields at last light – a Sunday evening and there they were, bringing in the harvest.

The blackberries will only be on for so long, a few weeks more and the herbs will begin to wither and die. Whatever my son undertakes in his life, be it love or work, education or family, I hope he will remember to make hay while the sun shines.

You never know what tomorrow will bring.

blackberry picking in east vancouver wild blackberries

Don’t Rush

The Slow Movement doesn’t believe in everything at a snails pace, despite it’s name and logo. What it values is  Tempo Giusto . . . the right time.

Everything in life has it’s proper pace. We may have to work quickly to bring in the harvest, but we don’t always have to rush.

Today I picked blackberries while my son slept, worked slowly but methodically so as not to prick my fingers (too much) and listened to the bird song rise and fall over the traffic.

Opportunity often looks like work

Most people don’t recognize opportunity when it comes, because it’s usually dressed in overalls and looks a lot like work – Thomas Edison

My husband is a farm boy at heart.

He’s a businessman now, self-made, and he works his ass off for everything we have. Although I am of course grateful for the fact that he provides for our family, I am even more grateful for the values he models for our son.

Growing up on the farm taught him how to work hard and to understand that if he wants something, he’ll have to work for it.

He sees opportunity everywhere.

Work isn’t always hard

Our culture, and many others, seem to place value on a masochistic view of work. We have to be slaving away, chained to our desk to be working.

Work = toil.

That’s often the case, (God knows I hated my job) but not always.

Work can be pleasurable. It can even be a joy. In fact, the most rewarding, fulfilling work often doesn’t feel like work at all.

sleeping off the blackberries

Don’t begrudge the low-hanging fruit

The low-hanging fruit will fill your basket (and your belly) just as surely as the higher-hanging fruit will.

It’s important sometimes to gather what you can with the least amount of effort and risk. Just because it isn’t as hard to attain, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.

Take only what you need

Take what you need and leave the rest for the rest.

The birds and neighbours and wasps and other critters have just as much right to the berries as we do.

Greed is born out of fear and an ignorance of true need. Know your needs intimately, and you will be less afraid of not attaining your wants.

You won’t need them.

Be grateful

The fact that a tiny seed transforms into a plant that will nourish us is really nothing short of a miracle. That we can walk the sidewalks of urban East Van and glean beautiful, juicy blackberries for free is certainly something to be thankful for.

A spirit of gratitude keeps us humble.

Look

Nature / the universe / god / whatever you want to call it, surrounds us in abundance everyday, we just have to look for it.

I hope my boy will approach the world with open eyes that can always see the plenty that surrounds him.

eat better for less : part two

Here’s part two of how to eat well on a dime.

If you didn’t see it, here’s part one of how to eat better for less.

7. Join a CSA

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

In a CSA you pre-pay at the beginning of the season for a share of the harvest throughout the growing season. By paying ahead you provide the farmer with income at a time when she might have to otherwise borrow money. Any added security we can provide our farmer is good for us and good for the resiliency of our local foodshed.

Some CSA’s only run during the spring through early fall, but it’s increasingly possible to find winter CSA’s as well. Depending on the farm, you might enjoy a variety of fresh veggies and even eggs, cheese, milk, meat, honey and preserves.

There are lots of benefits of CSA’s – you get to support the farmer directly, which usually means more of your dollar ends up in her pocket. Always a good thing. I’ve even heard of farms offering discounts if you volunteer to lend a hand during busy times. You’ll eat great, save a ton of cash and learn some new skills while getting to know your food and your farmer.

Here in Vancouver, we even have a CSAs from urban farms! How cool is that? Urban Digs Farm is one example of creative, industrious folks building food security right here in the city.

If you’re  not already eating a ton of veggies, your CSA box will probably reveal some weird and wonderful new veggies. Nourished Kitchen has a great post on what to do with the strange veggies in your CSA box, if you’re ever stumped.

You can also find CSA’s for specific products – meat shares, milk shares, seafood, even wheat!

8. Join an organic grocery buying club

A grocery buying club is kind of like an online farmer’s market. You place your order and pick up your groceries at a neighbour’s, instead of the grocery store. They  make it easy to find local, sustainable products from small producers. One stop shop instead of driving all over town to different specialty shops and markets.

Kind of neat, hey?

NOW BC is our local co-operative and features all sorts of yummy goodies. Their subscription programs and bulk buying options are great opportunities to eat well without breaking the bank.

9. Shop farmer-direct

Buying directly from your farmer is one of the loveliest ways to get your groceries.

Our family purchases our organic pastured pork and beef from Big Bear Ranch in Horsefly, BC. They aren’t exactly in our backyard, but I don’t sweat it too much. They have outstanding farming practices and make it super easy to keep the freezer stocked with delicious, quality meat. We place our orders online and they make a number of stops here in the city where we can meet them to pick up our meat.

Big Bear offers specials on “family packs” of meat. You’ll get a selection of pork, for example, that will include a variety of cuts, bacon, sausages etc. You’re not guaranteed to get specific products, but you’ll get a certain percentage roast, chops, specialty items etc. We often split a pack with family – everyone enjoys the discount while still maintaining some spare room in the freezer!

10. Shop seasonally

Shopping seasonally is part of the locovore culture that gets poked fun at a lot. Critics tease that we think we’re saving the world by eating parsnips.

I duno about you, but it seems to me if everyone ate with a focus on seasonality, I think we’d all eat better, save money and walk lighter on the planet . . . That’s a debate for another day.

To talk in terms of economics, seasonality takes advantage of the rules of supply and demand. If you buy when supply is higher than demand, prices will be lower. Not exactly rocket science.

11. Shop in bulk

If you shop in season AND in bulk, you’ll really start to see some savings.

Even though I grow my own, I invariably get nervous that I haven’t put enough food by for the coming winter. There is nothing worse than running out of stewed tomatoes in February. It gives me the shakes just thinking about it!

So I go to my favourite local farm stand and load up. I mean LOAD UP. I once filled an entire shopping cart with local tomatoes. They were 69 cents a pound! I mean, come ON!

Before you go – make sure you’ll be ready to put the food by and that you’ve taken the time to . . .

12. Learn to can

For all you canning virgins out there let me tell you – You CAN can! It is not scary (ok maybe a little, the first time) and it is way easier than you think.

I did not grow up canning. Until I met my hubby, canning food at home was some magical, mysterious process that might kill me with strange bugs whose names I can’t pronounce. My mum didn’t can, neither did my grammas.

Canning has so many benefits and is key if you really want to save money on food. It also addresses the “I don’t have time to cook” whine I hear so often. Canning is hot work, and is much more enjoyable if done in the company of friends at an old school canning bee. If you’re more comfortable, take a class first, but give it a try, for heaven’s sakes!

Canning Bootcamp Part One explains the basics and The Joy of Canning covers all the benefits.

Personally, I think tomatoes are one of the easiest places to start. You can get the basics on canning tomatoes here. 

canning tomatoes

Once you master water-bath canning, I strongly recommend you try to get your hands on a pressure canner. It will take a larger investment (or you can be like me and ask for one for Christmas) but it is well worth it. With a pressure canner you can put by soups, spaghetti sauce, fish, meat, stocks and more. Pressure Canning 101 has basic instructions and my recipe for canning chicken stock.

13. Explore new foods

Sometimes, things that you wouldn’t think about as normal dinner fare can be both delicious and inexpensive.

Living here on the coast, we have access to lots of gorgeous seafood. Mussels are cheap as chips, quick and easy to cook and crazy tasty.

My hubby recently introduced me to heart. (It took a lot of convincing.) He lightly breaded it and pan fried it in a bit of butter. Oh. My. God. SOOOO good. You don’t always see these sorts of options in the grocery store, but if you’re buying direct from your farmer, you’ll have a lot more opportunity to try new flavours.

What’s cheap in your neck of the woods totally depends on where you are. Get to know your local foodshed and find out!

14. Don’t buy food in boxes

I’ve never understood why people buy boxed mixes for things like biscuits or pancakes. How hard is it to stir some flour? Really.

homemade whole wheat pancake recipe

homemade whole wheat pancakes recipe

15. Grow your own

I duno about you,  but I can’t afford $5 heirloom tomatoes at the farmer’s market. Or 3 bucks for a tiny handful of fresh herbs. Or $10 per pound for garlic.

Luckily, I don’t have to.

Growing food is easy and inexpensive and can happen year round. All it takes is a curious spirit and a willingness to get some dirt under your nails. Cold beer always seems to help, too. (See #16)

There are a few important things to remember if you’re just starting out to grow your own.

  • GROW WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT: For heaven sakes, if you don’t like brussel sprouts, don’t grow brussel sprouts! (Although, keep in mind everything, even brussel sprouts, taste better when you grow them yourself.)
  • GROW PLANTS SUITED TO YOUR SPACE: Take the time to get to know your yard / windowsill / community garden. Learn a bit about the needs of the plants you want to grow. Try to get them to match as best as possible. You can always provide encouragement by way of row covers, small greenhouses, and the like, but the best bet is to get it right the first time. (Especially if it’s YOUR first time.)
  • GROW THINGS THAT COST AN ARM & A LEG AT THE STORE: Garlic is stupid easy to grow. Stupid easy. You can learn how to grow garlic here. Tomatoes, herbs, peppers, berries and salad greens are also easy-peasy. This way, if you only have a tiny space, you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Bonus – most of these things will taste immeasurably better having been homegrown.

homebrew

16. Brew your own beer and wine

If you like a cold one at the end of a long day, you should try brewing your own. It is ridiculously easy and disgustingly cheap.

We got a full equipment kit at the grocery store for 50 bucks. I’m sure if you looked around you could find use equipment for way cheaper. Our local home brew store sells bulk ingredients so you can make your favourite brew at home.

We made a cream ale our first time and it blew our minds. 45 beer for 25 bucks. Golden.

If you like baking bread you’ll love brewing beer. Same kind of creative process – once you understand the basics, you can go bananas.

Added bonus : no empties to cart back to the liquor store. We bought a bunch of old bottles with resealable caps. We talked to one guy at the beer store who said he’s been using the same bottles for over 20 years. He’s only had to replace the rubber seals once. Talk about reduce and reuse!

And don’t think it’s too much work, either. My hubby did most of the work for our first batch with a five month old on his hip.

17. Bake your own bread

I have no idea why store-bought bread is so expensive these days. Who can afford $3-$5 per loaf?? That’s just crazy. And half the time it’s crap with an ingredient list as long as your arm.

Bread is one of those things that is too easy not to make. You can easily make bread with next to no tools, other than your muscles, but having a bread maker or a mixer with a dough hook will make it easier to fit homemade bread into your daily life.

If you’re at home during the day, the dough hook is a good bet. If you work, get a bread maker. You can fill it at night, set the timer and wake up to the smell of heaven. How easy is that?

homemade bread

Once you get going, you’ll find it addictive. Bread is an incredibly creative process, and its relaxing, to boot. A world of shapes, textures and flavours await you. Mark my words, get started and next thing you know you’ll be growing wild yeast on your countertop.

Homemade bread is also a gateway drug to homemade pasta.

18. Make your own pasta

Another one of those things that takes a bit of effort and equipment, but is well worth the time.

Personally, unless it’s a special occasion, I don’t make my own spaghetti or linguini, stuff like that. Good quality dried whole wheat pasta is easy enough to find for a good price.

Stuffed pasta? That’s a whole other story.

Especially if you have kids, this is worth your time for the sheer convenience factor later on. It takes me a couple of hours, but I love to make ravioli for the freezer.

Bang out a batch of pasta, cook up some filling, freeze it and you have a nutritious, ridiculously quick lunch or dinner waiting at a moment’s notice.

roasted squash and roasted garlic ravioli recipe

Roasted Squash Ravioli Recipe

19. Keep chickens

Children and backyard chickens

If you’re able, chickens are a wise choice to stretch your food budget. We kept enough hens to keep our own (very hungry) family in eggs and support my baking habit with enough left over to sell to ensure that our chickens and our eggs didn’t cost us a dime.

Unlimited organic, free-range eggs for free? Um, yes please.

20. Splurge smart

Make your splurges count!

We go bonkers from time to time – really good (really expensive) cheese, lobster, steak . . . You have to live a little! When you splurge, splurge on things you can’t do for yourself. Make it special. Savour it.

 

How do you eat better for less? Share you tips, tricks and recipes!