Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Making yogurt

I've been feeling like we've been missing yogurt here in this little house of ours.  In one instance, I needed some for a salad dressing; in another, we were wilting under the latest heat wave and could have done with a fruit smoothie.  In both cases, I made some creative substitutions and vowed to get around to making some of our own.

We have made yogurt in the past, but we recently switched over to raw milk and I needed to do some research to learn about anything special that needs to be done with this creamy white gold.  And I was surprised to learn that making yogurt from raw milk is even easier than making it with pasteurized milk.  For one thing, yogurt made from raw milk only needs to be heated up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas pasteurized milk needs to be kept at a simmer for 5 minutes.  I've also learned a different technique to inoculate the milk.  This was such an exciting discovery that I just had to share!  Here's what we do:

1.  Gather the following gear:
  ~ clean pint sized jars and lids
  ~ pot large enough to hold the jars 
  ~ candy thermometer
  ~ jar tongs
  ~ slow cooker or crock
  ~ raw milk
  ~ yogurt starter, either yogurt from a previous batch (1 tbsp. for each pint) or starter grains.  We used Yogourmet for our first batch and yogurt for our second batch.

2.  Fill the jars with the milk.  Leave enough space for your yogurt starter.  Keep the lids off for now.

3.  Place the jars in the pot.  I used the same kind of pot as I use to blanch vegetables - the kind with the basket inside that can be pulled out the strain the water.  Fill the pot with water - only up to the same level as the milk.  Be careful not to drip water into the milk!

4.  Put the pot onto the stove and turn on to medium heat.  Place the candy thermometer into one of the jars.  Keep an eye on it, as you only want the milk to be heated to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  This will happen fairly quickly.

5.  Once the milk reaches its required temperature, pull the jars out and quickly add the starter.  If you are using leftover yogurt, use 1 tablespoon for each pint jar.  If you are using the powder starter, follow the directions on the package.  Mix the starter in, then place the lids on the jars.

6.  Transfer the jars to the slow cooker.  Then pour the water from the pot into the slow cooker, again only up to the level of the milk.  Cover with the lid.   I used pint jars because I could keep them standing upright in the slow cooker while the lid was on.  You could likely also use a quart jar and place it on its side in the slow cooker, but perhaps double-check that the lid is tight to ensure it doesn't leak.

7.  Cover the slow cooker with a bath towel for extra insulation.  There is no need to turn the slow cooker on - keeping it this way will ensure the heat is retained.

8.  Your yogurt will be ready to take out of the slow cooker in 8 to 12 hours.  It may look incredibly runny and your heart may sink that you did something wrong (I did this twice).  Don't fret just yet...put your yogurt in the fridge so it can firm up.

And that's it.  No more babysitting our milk as it cooks and having that rubbery cooked milk at the bottom of the pan.  No more needing to preheat the thermos.  No more pouring milk between several containers and spilling it all over the place.  Just tangy, thick yogurt.  And all housed in totally reusable, glass containers.  Perfect. 

So far, we've enjoyed the first batch of tzatziki that we've had in years, and "the best ever" peach smoothies (quote from all three children - I promise!).  Looking forward to many more weeks of yogurt.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The brighter side

Okay, I'm through the tired groaning of my last post.  While still busy, I've been able to shed the negative feelings that came along with all that tiredness and can now see the brighter side of the homemaking I do.  How can one not see the goodness being passed on to my little ones when shown their smiling, happy faces?

I have recalibrated things a bit too.  A trip to the playground after picking veggies.  A hike and some quiet art time.  Reading bedtime stories. 

I'm not going to bed earlier yet, but that will come soon.  The Earth is preparing for its rest after an abundant gardening season.  I can see and feel the subtle changes.  Despite the scorching days, the evenings are cool.  The trees are starting to change from a vibrant green to a mellow yellow.  They are starting to lose their leaves.  All too soon we will be enjoying the abundance we put up.

One of the most rewarding (and perhaps unexpected) things my eyes have been opened to is that the children have ample time for their own projects while I work in the garden and kitchen.  They have no worries of me whisking them off to the science centre, museum or library and they have all the space they need to get their hands and minds following their interests.  I am still available to them when they need guidance or advice.  And they are growing their talents and finding different avenues to practice new and old skills alike.  They are learning how to learn on their own.  They are creating.  They are in a safe place.  There is plenty of time and space for them to just be who they are in the present moment.  In recalibrating, I have increased my awareness of what is going on around me, and it is amazing.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


I'm coming off a week unprecedented for preserving in this house.  In fact, I don't think I've ever had so many jars of applesauce sitting in my basement before the end of August.  Yes, there has been drying, freezing, pickling, and canning of all types and stripes here.  The pace has been frenetic, the days long and the nights short. 

There were some high moments...the first sip of the first apple juice I've ever canned...having enough carrots for freezing and dehydrating...the surprise that I could make apple sauce and apple juice at the same time (thanks to the Mehu-Liisa juicer we discovered this winter)...knowing we have more than enough pickles for the pickle-monsters that live here. 

There were some low moments.  Moments where I found myself sucked into a bewilderment of why I was doing what I was doing.  Moments where I was left wondering if I would go from loving food to hating it passionately.  Moments of frustration as I considered the homesteading and pioneering families of the past who would knock off (I perceive) a zillion things more than me, and I tried to figure out what their secret was - what did they know that I didn't about doing this work quickly and well?  Moments when I wondered whether anyone living here cared about the work I was doing, as they complained about the marinara sauce I had made last year.

And maybe they have a point.  After all, it's not as though we need to grow and preserve our food for survival.  Grocery stores are plentiful in our beautiful neighbourhood.  Surely it would be easier on our time if we simply went grocery shopping for an hour or two a week.  I'm sure we could find a balance between conventionally grown and organically grown food that we could afford.  As my family reminded me over pasta with marinara sauce, does it really taste any better?  Lastly, I must admit that I don't feel I've seen as much of my kids.  That makes my heart feel sad.

I think what I'm confronted with is a week where we've been out of balance.  My thoughts have been focussed on the tasks that need to be done and the schedule limitations I'm faced with.  I've done my best to ensure that my children are out and about but I admit that I haven't been present, whether in body or in spirit.  Little rest has led to a tired and irritable mama.  I keep sensing that demonstrating the values I aspire to live can be powerful, and my actions of late have focused on treading lightly on the earth by growing and putting up our own food.  My family is involved either on the periphery or directly, such as when we pick apples together.  But that "fun" factor has been missing.

So, yet again, I turn to the calendar.  I'll do what I can to carve out time and space for us to enjoy one another's company, whether it be a walk in the park or a game of cards.  I'll patiently remind the little ones here that how we spend our sacred time together is a choice we make together...we all need to work together to spend our time the way our heart truly desires.  I'll be forgiving of myself if I can't do it all or do everything that I had so hoped to do.  I'll be thankful for the bounty that the Earth has provided for us and share what we cannot use ourselves.

Ahhh...that feels better.  


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version.

I was looking at the calendar last week, thinking that there wasn't too much time left before September, and that it had been awhile since our clubs had met.  My husband was going to be away this week, and I was looking at both the upside and the downside of having extra children running around the house. 

The upside? That the children would hang out with one another and enjoy one another's company.  That I would get a few more free moments to get Astrin fully moved into the room that she now shares with Jaelyn, sweep the mudroom floor and hang the laundry.  That I wouldn't stick the label of "bad mom" to my forehead as I worry about Nicholas' lack of desire to be with other children his age (as he tends to want to be alone or talk the ears off of the adults in the crowd).

The downside?  That the children would fight.  That someone would walk away angry or hurt or both.  That I would spend a lot of my energy smoothing over emotional crises. 

As you can see, the length of the reasons to have a meeting clearly outweighed the reasons to skip it for another week.  And so today there was a meeting.

We had a casual meeting - no agenda, no projects, no reviewing the Code of Conduct.  The "meeting" was just a guise to get everyone together.  And they boys did magnificent on their own.  They bantered about scorpions and insects, they compared ninjas and samauris, they did some drawing, and then did some informal drama out in the backyard.  I think they also played around with some Lego.

Which gets me to thinking about Birds of Prey Club in the fall.  The thing I loved about Birds of Prey Club last summer, and the thing I loved about it today, was that the boys had space and time to just be.  It brought out the best in them.  They imagined.  They shared factoids.  They disagreed about a lot of things, but they shared their opinions respectfully.  They followed their bodies own cues - they knew when they needed a bite to eat, when they needed to move, and when they needed to be quiet.  Could this crew of Clubbers be up for creating their own meetings, their own agendas, their own projects?  My fear is that in the dead of winter they will just want to blow off all the steam that has built up from being inside school for more than 6 hours straight.  That they will be a rowdy bunch of orangutans hanging from the light fixtures and chewing on the pillows (a bit of an exageration, perhaps).  But some ownership could bring about some pretty amazing stuff too.  Hmmm...something for my mind to work with over the next month or so. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

A picture for the week

Taken from where I've been spending a lot of time this week...

Thankful for the bees that are pollenating our garden, the sun that is giving the plants energy to grow and produce fruit, and the warm uplifting colours all around me.

Wishing you and yours a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Football season

My son has been wanting to play tackle football for several years now.  Last year we balked because we would be missing a significant chunk of the season due to vacation.  This year became the year he donned pads, helmet, cleats, and shiny tight pants for the first time.

The football season is a short one.  The schedule consists of 6 games.  That's right - 6 games.  But the time requested of the players to prepare for those 6 games is significant.  We were introduced to a typical training week when we returned from camping last week.  It consisted of two conditioning practices that lasted an hour and a half, and three practices that were two hours long.  That's 9 hours of practicing.

I knew going into the season that it would be a little intense - we knew when we registered that there would be three practices a week.  I just wasn't expecting how intense the practices themselves would be.  Lots of running, lots of agility, lots of drills to learn the skills of tackling safely, running routes, and how to catch a football.  I don't object to teaching a child the skills needed to play, nor do I object to strength and conditioning training.  I find myself, though, wondering about how much is too much - both physically and mentally - for a ten-year old child.  With news of a fit teen collapsing and dying at the hockey rink this week, I wonder how my active but not-exactly-extremely-fit son knows when to say "no, I need a break."  I wonder about the peer pressure to finish hard when it just doesn't feel good.  And I wonder whether the coaches know what to look for when it comes to overtraining. 

So I did some research of my own to help me understand the risks, including their likelihood, and what to look for.  I discovered some guidelines here, here and here that I'll be using to determine when I should step in:

  ~ The majority of child sports injuries are related to overuse, which can occur when a child specializes in a sport almost exclusively from an early age.  Think the child who plays hockey 8 months of the year or sports like soccer, tennis or gymnastics year round.
  ~ Injuries can occur near the ends of bones, where the growth plates are not fully mature.  This can cause pain in the muscles and tendons near the affected bone, as well as in the bone itself.
  ~ Another common problem is burnout - where all the training is just too much and the child doesn't want to participate anymore.  This can also be caused by too much focus on one sport, as well as pressure from others to excel at a high level - where the focus is on performance rather than for the simple joy and fun of the game.  Burnout can present itself as a child who chronically complains of non-specific muscle or joint problems, fatigue, personality changes, or lack of desire to compete.
  ~ A rule of thumb to follow is that the number of hours training per week, including games, should not exceed the number of years the child is old.  For Nicholas, who is 10, that would mean that the maximum amount of time spent playing football per week should not exceed 10 hours.

I find myself walking the fine line of staying neutral.  If Nicholas is motivated and wants to play sports more competitively, I support that.  I also hope that along the way, he is playing because he loves the sport, and I hope that the desire to play will still be strong when he is in his 30's.  And I also feel it my duty as a parent to ensure he participates safely.  Armed with the knowledge I now have about children in sport, I'll be working with Nicholas so he can tell the difference between discomfort that is safe to train through and pain that requires rest in order to heal.  General stiffness and soreness in muscles is normal and not threatening to his health.  Pain concentrated in a specific area, including around joints or pain in bones, needs to be addressed with time off of the sport.  Pain in one's side (side stitch) can be addressed through various techniques, but chest pain requires backing off of the training.  These are just a few examples, but I hope that by starting the discussion we can add more examples for Nicholas to use as a basis for understanding his body and the signals it's sending him.

I'll also be mindful of the verbal and non-verbal messages I'm sending Nicholas when I attend his practices and when I do my own training.  I'll be an advocate for my son if he feels the pressure from teammates, coaches or other parents is pushing him to go on when rest is really what is needed.  I'll remain diligent in watching for clues that indicate the pressure to perform and train is too much.  I'll ask open-ended curious questions to find out how the world is looking through his eyes.  And I'll be cheering for him from start to finish.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

The neglected blog

Oh, this poor blog of mine has been neglected of late.  Whether we were out of town on vacation and were wondering if the people in our household would squeeze in to the car, let alone the computer; or whether I've been working hard in the garden or the kitchen; or whether I've been deep in the  planning the "school" year that will be and looking for ways to include all those intentions I set for ourselves and our environment...I find myself always with something or someone who needs attention, even in the late hours of the evening.

Despite the tiring nature of such a lengthy to-do list, I can't help but feel good about what we've been up to.  I'm putting up food after it's freshly picked, rather than when it's on its last legs.  We've got a pretty good head start on all that food dehydrating for camping (that I discovered in June should have been done the summer and fall before camping season, not during it).  Yes, a little bit each day is how we're getting to it.  And while I haven't gotten to making kale chips yet, I do have some lovely pickled beets just waiting for an audience, as well as dried dill, beans and zucchini, and frozen beans and peas.  I did get around to cooking some beet greens rather than hoping to get to them later (read:  wound up in the compost bin).  I've been at the garden to harvest every couple of days, which I think is really helping the plants to remain productive.  I have a helper who is so eager to be of assistance, in his bid to prove that he is ready to move to a farm and take care of plants and animals.  We've been having a fabulous few weeks on the home front!

And we are going on field trips every now and then, to balance the work with the play.  A trip to pick up unconventional school supplies here, an afternoon visit with friends there, a long-awaited trip to the museum where Nicholas correctly identified at least 75% of the birds on display - seriously! 

I know that the pace isn't likely to slow down any time soon.  In fact, once more fruit starts arriving and fall activities start up (only 3 weeks of August left - yikes!) it will be as busy as ever.   And the last thing I want to do is neglect (in body or in spirit) these little ones I love so much.  I do consider the vibe I'm sending out into the world as I it a vibe that will encourage sharing the work or will it drive potential helpers away?  Balancing busy activity with times of peace and calm is at the front of my mind often. 

In the coming weeks, I'm looking forward to sharing glimpses into the lesson planner I've been writing in.  It's been quite the experience to massage our planned projects and activities with empty pockets of time for creativity to flourish or for individuals to take a break so their emotional buckets can be refilled.  Stay tuned! 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Returning home

Ahhh, the camping gear is slowly getting put away as we pile back into the house after a long weekend at one of the most beautiful beaches I know of in our province.  Soft, soft sand beneath our feet...clear, still waters to wade in...being wrapped in the woodsy hug of the birch trees that surrounded our campsite.  After the fervour of activity that was last week, it felt so, so good to take a long, extended exhale and relax.  To have nothing to do.  To have no place to be but just in the present moment.  To watch these sweet, sweet children of mine explore, get their hands dirty, and be in a world of their own...a world of pure bliss.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


With all of the fruit that has been making its way through my kitchen of late - strawberries, saskatoons, cherries, blueberries, and now the first tart apples of the season - I find that my mind is being pulled back to "pie" on a regular basis.  Surely this will be the year that I master the fine art of making pie.

Yes, it was last year when I took my first stab at making pie.  We had stumbled across some sour cherries growing in the city, that just happened to be in a yard where we were picking apples.  I read somewhere that sour cherries actually make a more delectable pie than their sweet relatives, so I decided to bake a sour cherry pie for my father's birthday.

That blessed man did an amazing job downing one piece of pie.  It wasn't very good.  Sour cherries, I discovered, start sour and finish sour.  We didn't discover any sweetness lurking remotely near those gorgeous red orbs.  And it was a soggy pie...there was a verifiable pink lake melting away the bottom pie crust.

This year, with the help of A Year of Pies, I started out small with hand pies.  Small, individual, no-need-for-a-pie-plate apple pies to be exact.  I had a box of small apples needing something done with them before the weekend, and it's surprising how many it takes to add up to two pounds.  The apples were so small that I didn't bother to peel them...I simply trimmed off any bruises, then cut quarter inch slices around the core. 

I was delighted with the result, all things considered (for I was simultaneously trying to freeze blueberries, make a crumble, whip up a teriyaki sauce, and do the pie all at the same time...or at least it felt that way).  The filling is tart, but not too tart - there is a hint of sweetness.  There was not copious amounts of liquid threatening to drown the crust.  I may have worked the crust a little too much or needed to roll it out a little thinner, but on the whole, I definitely think I'll be making more pie tomorrow!