Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bread-Making, Marion's Lazy Way

Just before dinner yesterday, Charles said, "Uh-oh; we're out of bread".  No problem.  A few minutes later, I put 2 cups of warm water in a large bowl, tossed in some yeast (about a tablespoon full, more or less) and the same amount of sugar, and covered the bowl.  Then I sat down to eat.

After dinner, I beat two cups of whole wheat flour and a teaspoonful of salt into the water, making it the consistency of pancake batter.  Then, I covered it and left it for an hour or two, when I stirred in a cup or so of white flour.  By then, it was a sticky dough, too thick to stir easily. 

Another hour later, I dumped it out onto a small pile of white flour, maybe another cupful. 

I kneaded it for three or four minutes, using lots of flour because it was so sticky.  Then I put it back into the bowl, moved the bowl into a cool spot near a window, and went to bed.  If you added the time I spent on it all together, it would total about ten minutes during the evening.

This morning, while I was waiting for my coffee to be ready, I formed the bread dough into a loaf and put it near the stove to rise.  By the time I had to go milk, it was nicely risen and the oven was hot.  I put it in the oven for a few minutes, then covered it loosely with tinfoil and went out to the barn.  When I came in, I took out our fresh, hot breakfast loaf.  Pretty lazy, huh?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Garden Planning 2011

The garden now
I mailed away my 2011 seed order a few days ago.  It''s a slightly smaller order than usual, because I'm not ordering any flower seeds this year.  I'm going to concentrate on changing my garden layout in hope of reducing my workload.

For as long as I can remember, I've been interested in things like permaculture and natural gardens.  I try to focus on plants that grow easily in our climate rather than struggling with the ones that need babying.  My garden has never experienced a power tool, there are lots of flowers mixed in with the veggies, and I encourage volunteers.  It's slightly chaotic and quite unlike the gardens of my neighbours.  I believe theirs are all more productive than mine, but I manage to grow nearly all the produce we eat and I'm enjoying myself while I do it, in a garden that suits my personality.

The biggest difficulty I have is the lack of running water.  I haul water from our pond in buckets to use for watering seeds if we have a dry spell, but after the seedlings are growing well, they have to make do with whatever water falls from the sky.  Mulching heavily between plants helps keep them moist.  I've also placed the garden where it's "sub-irrigated" by the natural water flow heading for the creek below our property.

I grow a wide variety of greens, some herbs, root crops, asparagus, and berries.  A small, unheated greenhouse shelters some cherry tomatoes to snack on, as well as a few tobacco plants.  My neighbours grow tons of beautiful potatoes, so I trade a lamb for my winter supply of these.  Add the meat, cheese, milk, and eggs that my animals produce, and some wild foods that I gather, and you have our basic diet.

In a pinch, we could live quite nicely on what we produce here on our land.  We don't, of course.  We buy grains and luxeries like coffee and spices.  Also, we usually travel a couple of hours south in the fall to pick our yearly supply of tomatoes, squash, and peppers.

Anyway, I've ordered the seeds I need.  Now there's nothing to do but dream and plan for a while, till the first seeds can be started in the house in early March.

Early spring garden

First spring flowers

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reading Buddies

Floyd just can't wait to go to school

Rural schools rely on community support.  Charles and I do our bit by volunteering in a program called "Reading Buddies" in our local elementary school.   In this program,children who aren't having a good time reading are put together one-on-one with adult volunteers who read with them and to them.  We go in once a week for a couple of months, and our goal is to help the kids realize that reading can be fun.  We usually have a pretty good time doing it, meeting some nice kids, and we think it's important.

"Isn't it time yet?"
Floyd has also been a Reading Buddy this year.  He's a very good school volunteer, making the kids feel loved and welcome, and being quiet and attentive during the reading.

On the way to class

Everyone's favourite Reading Buddy

Helping choose a book

Small schools all over the province are threatened with closure.  Ours was, back in 2004.  The whole community rallied and refused to let it close.  They fought, and in the end, they won.  Charles has documented this, and other B.C. school struggles, in his film, "School's Out?"  Part one of four is up on YouTube now and the other three parts will follow once a week.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

1993 First Breeding Experience

We borrowed a buck, a fat, donut-fed Nubian cross youngster named Bob, for our first breeding.  Bob stayed in the old goat-pen, while Sally and Lyla had the barn and barnyard.  We intended to breed Sally, but felt that at six months old, Lyla was too young.

Bob escaped one day.  I was standing right next to the does as he ran up and mounted Lyla, so I hauled him off -- he couldn't have been on top of her for more than a couple of seconds.  I dutifully recorded the date -- just in case -- but we really couldn't think that this had actually been a "breeding".  ( We had never had a buck at that point and had never seen goats breed before.)  Five months later, Lyla presented us with a single kid.  Sally, who had been bred the next day, produced twins, a lop-eared buck kid and a lovely cream-and-black doeling that we named Celeste.

It never fails to amaze me that farm-raised kids (the human kind, I mean) have unplanned pregnancies.  They must know how easily it happens!!!!

Saturday, February 19, 2011


the first stove
I love my cookstove.  One of the reasons I can't imagine moving back to the city is that I'd have to leave it behind.  That might break my heart.

Being a lazy person, I strongly approve of anything that accomplishes several objectives with one amount of work.  I chop wood once.  That same wood, via the stove, heats my house, fuels my cooking, dries my clothes, heats my water, makes my toast, dehydrates food for storage.  I can slow-cook a stew or a roast, or do my canning, with no extra energy.  How can you improve on that?

The first cookstove we had was one we bought for $75.  It was an old, worn-out Enterprise brand, with a warming oven.  We used it for several years when we first moved here.  I liked the way we could have so many things on the stovetop at once, and it served us well, but it was so "leaky" that the fire was always either going full-out or just going out. 
The firebox was so small that we had to cut the wood into tiny pieces and stoke it often, and it wouldn't hold a fire for even half the night.  The house was cold by morning and during the winter months we needed to keep a second stove burning in the basement.

We finally wore that stove out completely and bought another used one.  It was a much plainer model, with no warming oven.  Being in better shape, it was more easily controlled, but basically still had the same problems.  One advantage to having these two old stoves was that they taught me to judge my wood well.  I had to know which kinds of wood burned hot, or burned for a long time, because it took finesse to get the oven to the right temperature or keep the house warm for as long as possible while we were in town or asleep.

Our current stove is everything those first two were not.  It is an Amish-made model from Ontario.  We bought it brand-new four years ago, for about $1200.  It's that marvel of technology: an airtight cookstove.  It has a nice, big firebox and also a big oven.  The heat is easy to control.  It holds a fire ovenight with no problem at all.  Our house is always warm.  We still need a stove in the basement to keep things from freezing down there, only when the temperature drops below -20.  I'm looking forward to many happy years with this one.

our current stove

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Extreme Weather Mittens

 These mittens are quite time-consuming to make, but they are worth it if you live in a cold climate.

First, you knit your favorite mitts, but make them several sizes too big (including the thumb).  I like a pattern that has a fold-over flap so that I can use my fingers when I need to.  A two-colour pattern makes a denser knit, which adds to the warmth.

After they're complete, turn them inside out.  Starting just above the wrist, sew big loops of soft buffalo wool all over the inside of the mitt.  If you catch the inside of the knitting rather than sewing right through the fabric, it makes a nicer finish.  When the whole surface has been closely covered with the fluffy loops, turn the mitts right-side out and enjoy.

Mercury plunges
Wool warmly enfolding hands
Extreme weather mitts

When I was a child, I wore a completely different kind of extreme weather mitt that Lazy Marion could approve.  My mother would stack several layers of fabric together, using cloth of differing weights.  Then, she would have me put my hands on the stack and she'd trace around them.  She'd cut out two hand-shapes for each mitt, put the "hands" palms together, and sew them with the seams to the outside.  They aren't very pretty, but they are so warm that my mom ended up making them for all the neighbourhood kids.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

1992 Barn-Raising

We needed a barn before the first winter set in.  We'd got as far as putting in our foundation posts and framing the walls, when I got a phone call one morning.  At that time, Charles was attending the local church.  The pastor of the church was calling to tell me to expect a crew the next morning to put up our barn.

It turned out to be a good old-fashioned barn-raising, and it was something I'll never forget.  Twelve men showed up with their tools.  Their wives came with food at noon, and by the end of the day, the barn was complete up to the rafters.  The only things left for Charles and me to do were to put the tin on the roof, nail the siding on the walls, and hang doors.

Since that time, I've been involved in a couple of community building projects, but not nearly as many as I'd like.  It's a wonderful way to do things.  Most people are either too independent to want the help, or too dependent (so that no-one wants to help them again).  For a co-operative system to work, everyone has to do both giving and taking.  It sure makes for a strong community.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Amber flame flickers
A small luminous circle
Soft darkness beyond

We've used a few different light sources over the years.  At first, we stuck to kerosene lamps and candles; and, after I became accustomed to doing things in the limited light, I liked them.  The light that they give off is warm and appealing.  There are two drawbacks to them, though.  First, they give plenty of light close to the source but not enough to do any detail work even a few feet away.  Second, and even more important, the price of both oil and candles has increased until it costs an unreasonable amount.

We found a 12-volt lamp that worked fairly well, but it drained the battery 'way too fast.  Lately, we've started using a propane light.  The quality of the light isn't as nice as the lamplight, but it's not too bad, and the one lamp illuminates the whole room.  We still supplement it with the candles and oil lamps sometimes, but we're finding ourselves better lit at a quarter the cost using propane.

The propane tank is stored outside (because I'm paranoid about leaks), and the gas is piped in to the lamp.  One twenty-pound tank lasts about six weeks during the darkest part of winter.  In summer, we cook with it on hot days, and it still lasts about three months.

The propane light

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Yukon's Death

Yukon in the Snow
Yukon, the white horse, died this morning.  She had lived more than 30 years.  Her end was expected, it was fairly easy on her, and it happened at an appropriate age.  Still, it's hard.

We took her in two years ago when the rancher she'd been living with couldn't provide the special care she'd be needing in her final years.  He gave her to us, as we were looking for a companion for our horse, Bree.  So, Yukon had an extra two years, and I think they were happy ones for her.  She really didn't need much other than extra food in a separate area, and she was affectionate and frisky, a good friend to Bree.

Living on a farm has really taught me to understand the idea that life and death are two sides of the same coin, and that's comforting.  However, Bree is lonely now, and we're feeling sad.  Death is never easy.  Yukon may not have been human, but she was still a friend of ours, and we'll miss her.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saskatoon Wine

This afternoon, I bottled last year's saskatoon wine.  If I could make enough of it, saskatoon would satisfy my desire for red wine.  Unfortnately, last year's berry crop was poor, so there wasn't much to bottle.  In August, I picked 5 lb of berries and made 1 gallon of wine.  (The year before, i brewed 5 gallons in addition to canning about 50 quarts of berries.)  After tasting a bit each time the young wine was racked, i was left today with 4 1/2 bottles.  The 4 full bottles were properly corked, labelled, and moved downstairs to the wine cellar.

The half-bottle won't last out the day.  Our neighbour is coming over, and we'll share a glass with him.  He's 21 years old, and I take every opportunity to try to convince him that home brewing is an easy and enjoyable thing to do.  He might not get around to it just yet, but give him a few years.  One day, as he's shelling out twenty of his hard-earned bucks for a bottle, he'll remember . . .


   5 lb saskatoon berries
   2 1/2 lb sugar
   1 orange
   1 pkg champagne yeast

   Simmer berries in just enough water to keep them from burning. 
   Extract as much juice as possible.  Add warm water to make 1 gallon.
   Stir in sugar and the orange, cut into pieces.  Sprinkle in the yeast.
   Let ferment one week, then siphon into a secondary fermenter with an air lock.
   Let it brew, racking it off the sediment, until it stops working.  Bottle and cork.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Self-Sufficiency Brownies

In our quest to live without money, we're always trying to find alternatives to things that we can't grow here.  We can't grow wheat.  One day, in the grocery store, I came across a package of potato flour and noticed a recipe for sponge cake made with it.  That got me thinking about using potatoes -- something easily grown here -- as a substitute for wheat flour.  I looked for instructions on making potato flour, with no success.  The one procedure I found was obviously written by someone who had never tried it.  The potatoes turned black and disgusting.  I gave up.

Last night, I heard a forecast of the price of wheat flour, and it made me start thinking again about potatoes.  This morning, I tried something.  I just used mashed potatoes instead of flour in a brownie recipe.  The brownies turned out fine.  The potato taste doesn't come through at all.  I'm going to experiment some more.  In the meantime, here's the recipe I used:

    4 heaping tbsp cocoa
    1/2 lb butter
    1 1/2 cup sugar
    4 eggs
    1 cup mashed potatoes
    1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
    2 tbsp espresso powder (optional)

    Melt butter, stir in cocoa, stir in sugar.  Beat eggs, one at a time, into mixture.  Beat in potatoes
    and coffee.  Stir in nuts.  Bake 45 min. in oiled 9"x13" pan.  Cool in pan.

I'd still like to find out about making potato flour at home.