December 30, 2011

Bacon Jam

I shared this link on Facebook yesterday, but it would be such a good addition to any New Year's Eve party that I thought I'd share it here too.

I know I've spoken quite a bit about being at least a partial vegetarian (I was vegetarian/vegan for almost half of my life), but that has flown out the window in recent years, so when it came time to plan my husband's 40th birthday bash a few weeks ago, the menu was very meat-centered. It's a well-known fact that men love all things bacon (*wink*), so when I spotted this recipe for bacon jam in the winter edition of Edible Vancouver Magazine, I knew I had to give it a try.

This "jam" is a slow-cooked combination of bacon, caramelized onions, coffee, and maple syrup; it's not exactly your typical scone topping, but it's a fantastic addition to a holiday cheese board, and the very notion of a jam made with bacon turned out to be a great conversation starter.

I served it alongside a baguette and some freshly picked arugula. I think it would also be great with an aged cheddar, and can't wait to try it in a grilled cheese sandwich.

Wishing you and yours all the best in the new year!

December 09, 2011

The Running of the Birds

I hope everyone is having a nice December, and that you're enjoying your holiday preparations, whatever form they take.

I was heading out to the garden the other day to harvest some leeks, and took this video of the chickens along the way. Apparently they see me as the giver of all things good, because every time I venture outside (or even open the door), I'm immediately besieged by birds. They're so determined to be first in line, that I literally have to run to stay in front of them and to avoid stepping on little toes; I can only imagine what my neighbors must think when they see us all sprinting across the yard, en masse.


Our property is on a flight path, and I think the airplane/helicopter noise adds a little something to the video. We don't often get a plane and a helicopter going by at the same time, and they don't usually fly that low, so the girls were a bit startled and abandoned their chase by the end.

Next stop, Pamplona.

Happy weekend!

November 20, 2011

Winter Has Arrived

So glad I managed to get my spring bulbs and perennials planted when I did (last week!), it looks like winter might be here to stay:

October 25, 2011

Full Circle

I knew this day would come, and I knew that I wasn't going to be ready for it when it did. Realistically, when you have 42 chickens, it's pretty unlikely that they're all just going to pass away peacefully in their sleep, sparing my husband and me the unpleasantness of having to dispatch one of them, but that day came and went, and it was actually okay.

One of our Red Star hens (the one who suffered a prolapsed oviduct back in the spring, and actually recovered after 8 days of me poking it back in) hadn't been her usual perky self for a few days when she suddenly took on this strange upright posture:

Since she couldn't get herself up the ramp into the coop, and the other chickens were starting to bother her, we brought her into the house while we tried to figure out whether there was anything we could do for her. After several days of hoping that she would magically pull through, it became apparent that she was getting weaker and we'd probably have to step in (but we were still hoping beyond hope that she might just expire on her own). I moved her into a sunny spot for the afternoon while I did some gardening nearby, but after a while I noticed that she had started moaning.

Dang it, she wasn't going to let us off easy.

We decided to try using the killing cone method, and set one up on the wood shed (out of sight of the other chickens, of course). Not having an actual cone, we modified a milk jug for the job.

I was quite emotional in the moments leading up to it (I became a vegetarian, and stayed one for almost 20 years, as a result of my last chicken butchering experience). I held and comforted her (me) for several minutes, and made my husband promise that we could back out if she freaked when we put her into the cone, but being upside down made her surprisingly calm, and it was over in a matter of seconds.

I have to say that I'm amazed how easy it was (for me anyway, she'd probably disagree), and I'm starting to think that maybe we could actually do meat birds one day. Granted, I'm sure it's different killing a vibrant, healthy bird than one that's obviously suffering, but it's more of a possibility than it was before (you seasoned farmers can stop laughing any time now).

To satisfy our curiosity, we did a crude autopsy to see if we could find out what was wrong with her, and she appears to have been egg bound. Her ovary held an egg which, for all intents and purposes, was hard boiled. Don't even ask me to try and explain that one, but it confirmed for us that she likely never would have recovered.

Happy trails, my friend.

September 27, 2011

Winter Garden 2011

I spent some time in the garden this week (in between rain storms), cleaning up the last of the summer crops, harvesting potatoes and onions, and transplanting small starter plants from the nursery bed into their roomier winter beds.

 Thinning the carrot patch. Sweet babies!

I like to leave my carrots in place all winter until I need them. This works as long as the ground doesn't freeze solid, which (fingers crossed) shouldn't happen until January. And if we miss a few, it's not a big deal, it just means we have fresh carrots in the spring when the snow melts. 


 Dragon (purple carrot).

We've got lots of different greens out there, flourishing in the cool fall weather:

Lacinato Kale

 Red Russian Kale.

Red Ace beets (the tops are delicious in salads).

Arugula (my personal favourite).

 A variety of hardy lettuces.

Our summer was a little too cool for heat loving crops like squash, so our harvest will be smaller than usual, but they'll still make for some yummy soups, stews, and desserts (and maybe even a jack-o-lantern or two).

 "Lumina" pumpkin.

 Hubbard squash.

 "Sunshine" (kabocha squash).

 "Rouge vif D'etampes" (the original Cinderella pumpkin).

In addition to the usual turnips, celeriac, and assorted root crops, we've also got leeks...

...some herbs (although the basil is looking chilly)...

 Dill seed head.

...and a few heat-loving stragglers.

And, of course, what would the winter garden be without the brassica family? Is it a coincidence that they look so gorgeous in the rain? I don't think so.


 Ermosa cabbage.


Fall is also the time when the most revered crop goes in. I didn't end up with much of a garlic crop this year (one head actually), as the resident vermin dug it all up and ate it during an early spring foray into the garden (I warned them that I considered that pre-seasoning, but they didn't seem worried).

I buy locally grown garlic from the organic market here to use as seed, and it's excellent. This didn't look like quite enough to me, so I had to go back and get more after taking these photos.

After fortifying the bed with a little bunny fertilizer, I poked the individual cloves under the soil for their long winter sleep.

Now I plan to sit back and enjoy some cozy winter meals while dreaming about pulling armloads of garlic under the warm July sun.

August 30, 2011

Book Review: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

I was invited to participate in another virtual book tour being hosted by TLC earlier this summer, and having had so much fun with the previous one, I was eager to take part. This book is very different from the novel that I reviewed last summer, but the topic is one that I have pondered on my own many times over the years, especially as our family grows more of our own food, with livestock becoming a part of that move towards self sufficiency. 

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, by anthrozoologist Hal Herzog, is a fascinating look at the human relationship with animals. The author challenges some of our most deeply held thoughts and beliefs, exploring personal, religious and cultural biases. He plays devil's advocate while questioning why people believe what they do, without being condescending. For instance, why do many of us abhor the idea of cockfighting, yet will happily eat battery raised chicken? Herzog would argue that the fighting bird lives a much better life in its two years of "training" than a meat bird could ever dream of:

"Looked at objectively, it is hard to deny that there is less suffering caused by cockfighting than in our apparently insatiable demand for chicken flesh. It is likely that 10,000 or 20,000 chickens have their necks slashed in a mechanized processing plant for each gamecock that dies in a derby. And there is the inconvenient fact that the life of a fighting cock is fifteen times longer and infinitely more pleasurable than the life of a broiler chicken. Why then is it legal for us to kill 9 billion broiler chickens every year, but cockfighting can get you hard time in the federal penitentiary?"

Herzog is certainly not a proponent of cockfighting, he even goes to the trouble to buy humanely raised meat and free range chicken for his family, but he does a good job of holding a mirror up to our society's often distorted sense of morality. To his credit, he counts himself among the rest of us when pointing out the flaws in our collective thinking, acknowledging that "human attitudes toward other species are inevitably paradoxical and inconsistent".

He also speaks at length about vegetarianism and the attitudes behind it, as well as the phenomenon of ex-vegetarians (which outnumber their vegetarian counterparts 3 to 1 apparently, and of which I am one). It was a progression that I easily related to, and I thought he nailed the reasoning that leads to this lifestyle for many people. I was "reformed" from my vegetarianism when I realized that animals were going to die whether I ate them or not (I blame 70's Disney movies for my warped relationship with animals), and in the wild it's often a long, slow, painful death. If we give our meat animal of choice a humane life and a dignified death, that makes it okay to eat them, doesn't it? (Who am I kidding? I'm as likely to eat my chickens as I am to eat my cat, dog or rabbit).

These kinds of convenient rationalizations are the crux of Herzog's book, and while he doesn't provide us with clear answers as to why our moral relationship with animals is so murky, he lets us off the hook by acknowledging that "these sorts of contradictions are not anomalies or hypocrisies. Rather, they are inevitable. And they show we are human".

I thoroughly enjoyed Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. It's funny and thought provoking, and I've found myself talking about it on several occasions over the past few weeks. I highly recommend it for anyone who lives with, despises, or eats animals.

Hal Herzog's website:
His blog: Animals and Us

August 26, 2011

Spilling the Beans

Sorry, this isn't the confessional post that that title would suggest.

Having been vegetarians for so long, our family has always eaten a lot of beans. We do eat meat these days, but beans are still a delicious, protein packed staple in our house.

While canned beans are a quick and easy way to incorporate legumes into your diet, you end up paying dearly for that convenience (upwards of $3 a can if you buy organic). I've also found that I often end up using a partial can, leaving the rest to dry out and get lost in the depths of my fridge. Canned beans are an all around money waster.

Black  beans after a nice, long soak.

A better idea is to buy a big bag of dried beans and cook them yourself (and if you have a pressure cooker, this is a much faster process). Lately I've been soaking and cooking large batches of black beans and chick peas at the same time (to save myself some time). These are the two kinds of beans that I use most often, but it works with any kind of dried bean.

Once they're cooked and cooled, I spread them out on a baking sheet like I do with my berries, freeze them until solid, and then I scoop them into freezer bags for safe keeping.

When I need a handful of black beans to sprinkle on top of nachos, or chick peas for my tabouli salad, I just take what I need, thaw them out (a microwave does this handily), and Bob's your uncle. It's a cheap and convenient solution, and the texture of the beans doesn't seem to suffer from being frozen. It's win/win.

Boy does it feel good to get that off my chest!

August 17, 2011

Saltspring Island 2011

We returned from our annual pilgrimage to Saltspring Island last week, and I thought I'd share a few photos.

Misty morning at Ruckle Park.

We shared breakfast with a hungry sea otter:

(Well, he didn't actually share, but that was just fine with me).

Spent the mornings exploring the tide pools with Grandma:

The tide pools are teeming with life. The kids love tickling the sea anemones and catching hermit crabs:

I think we got the best camp site in the park this year!

Couldn't resist taking a couple (dozen) photos of the Arbutus trees:

My son relaxing during our walk to the old Ruckle family farm.

The nearby farm has a large flock of free ranging turkeys. I just love the sweet sound they make (and no, it's not "gobble gobble"!).

I heart this old farmhouse kitchen!

Just as we were about to leave the farm, my daughter noticed that a turkey poult had escaped from the shed where his family was being kept. After about 15 minutes of trying to catch the little guy, we finally reunited him with his frantic mother:

I never get tired of this place.

August 16, 2011

Book Review: Keeping Bees

I've just had a look at a new book called "Keeping Bees", by Pam Gregory and Claire Waring (the book is part of Flame Tree Publishing's Green Guides series). Claire Waring was a contributing writer to The Beekeeper's Bible, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed last summer.

At first glance, the book appears to be very simplistic, with lots of photos and the text broken down into easily readable snippits. But, while it is clearly aimed at the rookie beekeeper, the book is in-depth and comprehensive, covering a wide range of topics, and is the perfect resource for someone just starting out. The photos are beautiful as well as educational, and the simple format makes the wealth of information easy to digest. Especially helpful are the summaries at the end of each chapter which highlight the most important points.

What I liked most about Keeping Bees was the relaxed, supportive tone. The authors never seem to take the stance that there's only one way to do things, and they actually encourage us to get information from a wide range of sources. They even provide an extensive resource list for those wishing to do further research, which is very useful, because as the authors point out, "There is a wealth of information about beekeeping. Unfortunately it ranges from the bonkers to the old-fashioned with all shades of helpful between these extremes, and it is very hard for the new beekeeper to unravel what is useful".

Keeping Bees takes a somewhat intimidating subject matter and makes it very accessible to the novice beekeeper. I can see myself drawing from it heavily when we finally make the jump into "bee farming".

For more information on Flame Tree Publishing and their books (I see that they have a Keeping Chickens guide as well!), check them out on Facebook and Twitter (@flametreetweet).

August 03, 2011

Dust Bowl

We've had such a cool, wet summer around these parts that it's been branded the "bummer summer" by some. If we ever do finally get a nice, hot day (or heaven forbid, two in a row), it's almost sure to rain within 48 hours. Needless to say, there haven't been nearly enough beach days for our liking, and I'm starting to worry that we're not going to meet our quota for this year. The upside to this is that I haven't had to water my garden once this summer, and our grass is still nice and green.

Dark Brahma sisters enjoying a bath.

Thankfully (as far as these two are concerned) our soil is so devoid of organic matter that it dries out very quickly, making the conditions perfect for a dust bath. The hens routinely dig great pits in their attempts to get "clean", and I have had to fence off several of my beds in order to give the plants a fighting chance. Sometimes I wonder what the heck I was thinking when I decided to share my garden with these chicks, but they derive so much joy from this simple activity that I don't have the heart to deny them, and have surrendered several prime planting areas to their fowl ways.

The one busy shaking herself off is Pippin' (or "eagle bait" as she's fondly referred to around here). Not only did she survive being grabbed in the head by an eagle in April, but when he came back six weeks later and tried to pick her up by the back, she just shook it off and trotted back to the coop like nothing happened.

With a "pair" like that, I think the girl is entitled to a dust bath or two.

July 12, 2011

Wild Huckleberry Tarts

Red (highbush) huckleberries grow wild in our area, and we're lucky to have an abundance of these bushes on our property and in the neighbouring park.

My daughter went for a sleepover at a friend's house last week, and those crazy girls spent the evening terrorizing the neighbourhood, stripping the shrubs of every last huckleberry like a couple of teenage hooligans.

After a few catastrophic giggling fits that resulted in spilled berries, and some unwelcome sampling by a sneaky dad, the evening's work resulted in just over a cup of these tiny red jewels.

Like any good sleepover, this one extended well into the next day, when I got a call from the girls saying that they'd walked to town (if you can call our handful of shops a "town") and bought some tart shells, and could I please come get them so they could do some baking. Kids these days.

We did a quick Google search to look for a suitable recipe, and finally settled on this one. Since they had so few berries, we halved the filling recipe, adding an extra tablespoon or so of sugar as red huckleberries tend to be more tart than the blue, lowbush variety.

The resulting tarts were positively scrumptious, especially topped with a dollop of whipped cream, and were the perfect ending to that evening's dinner on the beach.

Sometimes I wish summer could go on forever.


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