Sunday, September 28, 2008

For Matteo

This blanket was easy and fun to make. I used the yarn that was freecycled to me and this pattern from Project Linus. Project Linus is a not for profit organization that accepts donated handmade blankets for seriously ill children. I just found the website for Project Linus Canada so I'll be making a blanket for them in return for using their pattern.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I got the message

You know how you often have to hear a message quite a few times before you get it?

Well yesterday I got it.

I first heard the message from my Naturopath:

Naturopath: Rachel, your health is very good except your adrenals are really stressed. You need to eat more protein, drink more water and take these pills.

Rachel: water! protein! pills! Okthanksgotitbye!

Then I heard it from my boss:

Boss: Rachel. Take a breath. You need to compartmentalize. If you try to think about everything at once you'll go crazy.

Rachel: Ok! Compartmentalize! That's good! Compartmentalize. I can do that! I just have to do this thing, send this email and then I'll make a plan for doing that compartmentalize thing.

And then I read this post from Unstuffed, and I had the word 'mindful' stuck in my head all day

And THEN I found this post on Lehman's Country Life

And that's when it hit me.

While I've been rushing around like a freakin' chicken without a head trying to get the canning, housework, work, etc. done and not really managing to get anything at all done, other people have been getting it done and have been doing it mindfully, carefully, and peacefully.

When I read the above post it was just such a contrast to my canning efforts, which usually go like this:
-Ok, chopping food, this is cool, I love local food
-Oh man, I am so tired of chopping food
-Ugghh, my back hurts, why didn't I put shoes on? I'm too old to be standing in the kitchen for hours without shoes
-Dang it, I forgot to take those books back to the library again
-Tomorrow when I get to work I really have to make sure I send off those emails
-Shit! The water in the canner is boiling and the food isn't even ready. Damn it, that is such a waste of energy

...and on and on.....

I was just totally missing the point.

So last night I made peach butter (with the help of hubby) and really tried to focus on that one thing and keep all the other thoughts out. And this time in between dropping the peaches in boiling water and then cold water and carefully pulling off the peel, I took the time to be grateful for how easy they were to peel this year and that there were only a handful of bruises I had to cut off even though I bought them for cheap as "seconds". And I also took the time to admire how pretty the bowl full of peaches looked, all bright orange from their 30 seconds in the boiling water and still with a pink blush.

While the peach butter was cooking down I chose to do small jobs, one at a time that were easy to complete. And while I was doing them, I wasn't thinking about all the other things I needed to do. I was only thinking about the one thing I was doing in that moment.

And when it was all done, I didn't feel nearly as exhausted as I have after previous canning efforts. Even though it was midnight, and even though I only ended up with 1.5L of peach butter from 7L of peaches (that stuff cooks down!), and even though one jar didn't seal, I still felt grateful that I'd just learned how to make fruit butter. And on top of all that, I think I probably accomplished more than I would in my previous running around like a chicken way.

I feel kind of silly that its taken me this long to figure this all out.

But I think part of me thought that this whole mindful deliberateness would come automatically from living more lightly. I'd spent a year reading no impact man explain in wonderful detail how his life is so much richer and of all the time he spends with his daughter. I thought, ok, that sounds wonderful, so I'll just unplug my fridge and life will slow down! Cool!

But the whole zoom zoom lifestyle is more heavily ingrained in me than that. And I don't think that just 'getting it' is going to be enough. I'm going to have to be mindful about being mindful.

I think I'm going to make some tea and think about that for a while.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Damsons are tiny, quite sour plums. Raw they are, I would guess, inedible. But cooked they are gorgeous. They aren't terribly popular this side of the Altantic which means you can usually get them quite cheaply. I scored a 7 litre basket at the market today for $10.

With this I made:
-damson jam
-honeyed whole damsons
-damson juice
-a damson crisp for dessert
-and something that will remain a mystery for now as it will be in the christmas stockings of all my family members :-)

I used this recipe for the jam. It tastes heavenly but it didn't set very well. This is due to me not being very good at testing jam and has nothing to do with the recipe. The only changes I made to the recipe were to sterilize the jars in boiling water for 10 mins instead of in the oven, and I water bath processed the filled jars for 10 mins to seal.

For the honeyed damsons I made a syrup of 2.25 cups mild tasting honey and 4 cups water, then I pricked the damsons a few times each and dropped them into the boiling syrup. After a few mins I packed them into jars and processed in a water bath for 20 mins.

After packing the damsons into jars, I was left with a lot of extra syrup (which at this point was honeyed plum juice), so I canned that too for 20 mins.

For the damson crisp, I took the damsons which weren't perfect enough for canning, put them in a dish and sprinkled them with a generous amount of sugar and then a bit of flour. Then I covered them with a mix of rolled oats, oat bran, spelt flour, safflower oil, maple syrup and a bit of brown sugar. This turned out so well I took some down to our tenants (and got some carrot soup in return!).

Once the damsons were dealt with I moved on to my next task. Branston Pickle. I love this stuff. It is basically pickled veg with dates, and sugar and vinegar. Sounds weird but is great with cheese and is the classic accompaniment to a ploughman's lunch. The official recipe is no doubt copyrighted but I found this recipe online. The colour is not as dark as true Branston and I could have made it darker with colouring but it just didn't make sense to take a natural, local veg pickle and add chemicals to it. Besides its how it tastes that counts and it really does taste like Branston!

Here are the results of a long day in front of the stove:

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Here's the latest on our electricity usage:

Factoring in the slight blip in April when we got a new meter and our usage was recorded twice, you'll see that after a steady decline since we started the Riot, on our last bill our electricity use increased.

Aug-Oct 07: 7.6 KWh/day
Oct-Dec 07: 6.1 kWh/day
Dec-Feb 08: 5.8 kWh/day
Feb-Apr 08: 4.7 kWh/day
Apr-June 08: 4.1 kWh/day
June-Aug 08: 4.5 kWh/day

Time to step it up.

Things we started doing this week to save more energy:
  • Unplugging the tv, dvd, and all computer related stuff (modem, pc, printer etc.) when not in use. Yeah, I know, this is totally a no brainer. We were just lazy.

  • Unplugging the microwave when not in use. We were procrastinating on this because the plug is behind the fridge (I want that thing out of my kitchen but it doesn't fit through the door. Sigh). So, we put an extension cord behind the fridge and now it is easy to unplug the microwave.

Things we need to do:
  • Watch less tv. Am in negotiations with hubby.

Things we were already doing:
  • hang our clothes to dry year round

  • only run the dishwasher and washing machine when full

  • unplugged our fridge

  • keep our electric heat (only in our bedroom) at 55 degrees (12.8 Celsius)

  • get our electricity from Bullfrog Power (they only use low impact hydro and wind power - no nuclear or coal)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sandor Katz - aka Sandorkraut

Went to an awesome workshop last night put on by Just Food. The subject was fermentation and the instructor was none other than the fermentation guru himself - Sandor Katz (author of 'Wild Fermentation' and 'The Revolution will not be microwaved').

I've been wanting to make fermented veggies for a while but was a bit intimidated. Sandor totally demystified the whole process. It's so easy. Veggies, salt, container, done! You can even make fermented veggies in jars if you don't have a crock or want to make a large amount. All you have to do is release the pressure in the jars by taking the lid off every day (at least for the first 2 weeks). This is quite important or you might end up with exploded jars of grated veggies all over your kitchen.

Fermented food is great because it is full of vitamins, minerals and friendly bacteria (think probiotics). It's also great because fermented food does not have to be refrigerated.

But did I mention how easy it is?

Some things are so easy to make it's silly. Like apple cider vinegar for example. All you have to do is take some unpasteurized apple cider (local and organic if possible) and leave it out on the counter in a bottle with no lid (covered with a cheesecloth) for about 3 weeks. After about 3 days to one week you'll have a mildly alcoholic cider with varying degrees of sweetness. After a week it starts to turn into vinegar and by 3 weeks it is done. I'm really looking forward to giving this a try.

I also have a confession to make. While I haven't been as good as my friend Unstuffed about not buying anything new, I really haven't bought much other than essential stuff for the house and some sewing needles. But like Unstuffed, I couldn't resist a book sold by the author. So I treated myself to a signed copy of 'Wild Fermentation'. And now I can't wait to get started.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

How to not can tomatoes

If you want an unsuccessful batch of canned tomatoes, do what I did and follow all the directions to the letter and then don't put enough water in the canner because you think it is going to bubble over. This will ensure your jars don't seal properly and you will have spent all day canning for naught. Nice job.

I started out doing it all just as Ferdzy over at Seasonal Ontario Food said. I even got the bottled lemon juice (which I didn't want to do because of the plastic, but you HAVE to do as it's the only way to ensure you have an even acidity level). I peeled and chopped the tomatoes, sterilized jars, and boiled the tomato filled 1L jars for 45 min for each batch (I had 2 batches). But when I put them in the water I was reluctant to have the water right up to the rim of the canner so I probably ended up with only 3/4 of an inch of water over the jars instead of 1 inch. And by the end of the 45 mins there was probably only .2 of an inch over the jars.

And dang it if 4 of the 11 jars didn't seal (I put those 4L promptly in the freezer). AND on top of that, of the remaining sealed jars, most are questionable (I think). Here's what I'm worried about - see the one on the left? How its floating and the tomatoes are all sucked up to the top? That's what I think it should look like (all my salsa jars look like that). To me that really means they are sealed up properly. See the one on the right? It's floating but the tomatoes aren't all sucked up to the top. And see the one in the middle? It isn't floating at all.

Now technically all of them are sealed like I said. I even tested them by taking off the rings and lifting them by the flat lid part. And the lid stayed on.
So are they all ok to eat?

I might cry if the only one that is safe to eat is the on on the left because there is only one jar like that. Ok, I won't cry. But I will have learned a valuable lesson. The hard way.

If you are thinking of canning tomatoes, I'd recommend following Ferdzy's instructions and also check out the USDA's canning instructions. And definitely, DEFINITELY, fill that canner right to the top!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Re-shirt. A cool idea.

Thought I'd take a short break from the canning posts to highlight this company I just found:


They collect donated t-shirts, and the stories that go with them and then stamp the shirts with the re-shirt logo and post them for sale with the story.

In their words:

"Re-Shirts represent a unique world-wide economic experiment. At the center of it all are used T-shirts and a question: Do products last longer if you know their history?"

Love it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A tomato weekend

Well, this is one for the 'never again' file. Starting on Friday I processed over 60lbs of tomatoes. By myself.

This is what 50lbs of tomatoes looks like:

I got these from Peter at Fair Weather Farm (who v. kindly delivered them to me on his rounds to various restaurants in the city). I'm a bit disappointed about the plastic bags but I'll know for next time to ask for boxes.

The other 10lbs (of the 60) I got from Acorn Creek at the Thursday night farmers market at Lansdowne park.

What I have to show for it (other than an aching body) is:

3L of ketchup
3L of salsa
11L of chopped tomatoes (4 of those litres didn't seal. boo.)

I'm going to write more about the recipes I used and what I learned, but for now I'm going to put my feet up and eat some non-local chocolate.