Just like everywhere else it seems, we are in desperate need of some rain.  Over the last couple of weeks we have gotten two or three decent showers, but before that it hadn’t rained since sometime in May, and even then it wasn’t much.  Looking back at last year’s post on the same subject, I can only think about what a big, whiny baby I was about it all.  Seven weeks without rain?  Puh-leeze.  Try 2+ months, you sally.  Although the little bit of rain we have had has certainly helped things along, we are by no means out of the mess yet and the clock is ticking.  There was practically no hay crop this year, and already I have heard of one person in the area who has had to sell off their cows, and apparently many more across the province are doing the same.   This is beyond sad, kids.  This is bordering on the tragic.  As you may well know, I live in a community of small farms, many of which have been owned and worked by the same family for generations.  I care about these people, some of whom are like family to me, and as a result I’ve done a lot less complaining about the garden this year.  It is, after all, all about perspective.  We’ve got a 90% chance of showers tomorrow, though.  If you don’t mind could you keep your fingers crossed for us?  I know a couple of dairy farmers who would sure appreciate it.

As for the garden, things are plugging along as good as can be expected.  Not everything is a complete downer, but I’ll start off with the “kill it with fire” things first so I can end on a high note.  I like doing that.

This is my cabbage patch.  Seriously, it is.  My poor, poor cabbages.  They look like someone took the weed whacker to them.  This year’s kraut may have to be outsourced, I’m afraid.

And this is why.  Flea beetles.  Roughly 8 bazillion of them.  The flea beetle population in my garden seems to be growing every year, and all of the stressed out, thirsty plants don’t stand a chance.  They’ve done a number on anything in the cabbage and radish families and I hate them.  You suck, flea beetles.

These are my zukes, or to be more precise, what’s left of them.  Stupid squash vine borders, you suck too.  I had the same problem last year.  Seriously, who can’t get a decent crop of zucchini??  Apparently me.

This broccoli is sad.  This broccoli is covered in flea beetles.  Flea beetles make me want to smash things.

Not everything is so pathetic, though.  There are some good things going on too.

I’ve got lots and lots of romas in the works.  Oh romas, you never fail me.  Except for that year with the blight.  But we’ll just forget that even happened.

Amish paste tomatoes, one of a handful of new heirlooms I’m trying out this year.  I’m not sure what to think of them yet, but so far so good.  Huge paste tomatoes, though not a lot on each plant, at least compared to the romas.

These are deseronto potato beans, an heirloom dry bean from the Tyendinaga reserve here in Ontario.  I’ve had a really hard time finding info about these beans, but they apparently predate Europeans in this country and are very rare.  I have a friend working on digging up some information for me, so we’ll see what she gets. In the meantime, they are producing awesomely.

We may actually get corn after all this year.  It was looking pretty sketchy for a while there, but the plants managed to get about 5.5′ tall before tasseling and are now making cobs.  Rain right now would be awesomesauce.

This is my malting barley.  I’m growing malting barley because I want to make beer.  I like beer.  I have one every week, on Saturday.

This is my regular, just for eating barley.  That makes it sound like the frumpy sister or something.  I believe the variety is Phoenix.  If you haven’t guess yet, I am experimenting with grains this year.  I only planted a little bit this year, mostly to see how threshing goes and to increase my seed stock on the cheap.  Why did I plant barley?  Why not, barley is awesome.  And I love saying barley.  Barley.  Barley.  Barley.

Marquis wheat.  You can’t get much more Canadian than this right here.  Developed  around 1903 by fellow Canadian Charles Saunders, Marquis wheat made up 90% of the 6.9 million ha of wheat planted in Saskatchewan by 1920 and ushered prosperity and development to the prairies and helped build this country. Reading about Marquis wheat is like a history lesson, but way cooler than anything you had to endure in high school.  One because you can actually grow this stuff, and two because you don’t have to sit beside that kid with the weird B.O.

My oats.  These didn’t come with a variety name, just that they are the hull-less kind.  This supposedly makes them WAY easier the thresh, but we’ll see.

And finally, one last thing.  We has apples!!  One of the original homestead apple trees has had a serious case of internal rot going on for pretty much my entire life, and tried to end its own misery by throwing itself onto the road.  It only half succeeded, and the remaining half of tree is producing big beauties by the bushel.  The remaining half is hanging precariously low and close to the house though, so I may have to cull them sadly back.

So that’s it from here, I got a little photo happy there but I did have a bit of catching up to do.  Hope you are getting rain where ever you are and your gardens are happy.  And if you’re growing something new and interesting this year, tell me about it!  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s Saturday and about 8000 degrees here in the upstairs of my house.  If I can peel myself off this chair, I know where there’s a beer with my name on it. 🙂

Breaks and Big Brothers

Hey kids,

I thought maybe I should check in here on the blog since it may seem like I have disappeared off the face of the earth.  Rest assured I have not, but instead have been taking a rather long and unplanned break from the blog and any other kind of writing in general, really.  There have been a few developments around here to prompt this hiatus, most notable being that, back in May, my beloved Big Brother had a stroke. 

I am happy to report he is doing wonderfully and is home and on the mend, and I am very very proud of him for how hard he is working in his recovery and how well he is adapting to this massive crappy curveball life threw at him.  While he does have some physical weakness on his one side, Big Brother’s major hurdle is that the stroke affected his speech – he knows exactly what he wants to say but has a hard time spitting it out.  And while this in itself shows just how unbelievably lucky he was (it’s about perspective – it could have been so much worse), not being able to express himself as he normally would has required a great deal of adaptation on his part and an amount of patience that boggles me.  It would be so easy for him to give up and not even try to talk.  It would be so easy for him to withdraw and wonder why he got dealt this shitty hand in life.  But he doesn’t.  I’ve always idolized my Big Brother  – he’s been my hero since the day I was born – but now?  Now I want to tell the world that this, this right here, is what it is all about.  This is my strong, amazing Big Brother and I couldn’t be more proud of him. 🙂

I also want everyone to know that stroke can happen to anyone.  Big Brother is only 40 years old, and as best as the doctors can tell, his stroke was caused by his sleep apnea.  Please, if you have sleep apnea  WEAR YOUR BREATHING MACHINE.  Even if you are young and as strong as a bull moose,  just wear it.  Also, if you suspect something is not right with someone you love just call 911 or go to the emergency room.  It is not a waste of time.  Big Brother is most likely here today because my incredibly smart and astute sister-in-law Bex figured out what was going on and got him to the hospital instead of letting him to back to bed (his stroke happened while he was sleeping).  I’m still amazed that Bex put the pieces of the puzzle together and reacted so quickly – I can’t say that I would have.  Who would suspect a 40-year-old would be having a stroke?  We owe everything we have today to her, my wonderful sister-in-law.   And, please, learn the warning signs of stroke.  Medical treatment of stroke is time-sensitive with the best possible outcomes if help is received within 2-3 hours.  If you even think that your loved one might be having a stroke, just go and get help.  It’s worth it, no matter what.

Right now I am working on a more in-depth post about stroke because I think it’s important, and about Big Brother because he’s a pretty awesome guy and I want to introduce him to all of you, but I want to get it right and my writing mojo seems to have vanished for the time being.  I also didn’t want to write about everything that has been going on until I knew what I wanted to say, and writing about other things as if nothing had happened seemed dishonest and somehow disrespectful.   So I’m not sure if my hiatus is over yet or not, I guess time will tell.  We do have some fairly neat homesteading-type things going on around here that I want to share, I just don’t know when I’ll do that.  Maybe tomorrow, maybe not.  We’ll see.  Until then, I hope everything is well in your neck of the woods and that you’re all behaving yourselves.   I’ll be back soon.

Later, kids. 🙂

One of my resolutions for this year is to get more serious about saving my own seeds.  I’ll admit that I am a bit of a seed freak – there’s something about having a good stockpile of them that appeals to me in an almost primal way.  I like to get all romantic about it and think that it is the call of my farmer’s genetics and the inherited wisdom of my ancestors telling me to put by for next year, but I also get all romantic about things like old canning jars, arthritic tabby cats and ancient wallpaper so the genetics thing is probably bunk.   I just like seeds.  I like the promise of so much to come in such a little package (getting romantic again), in tidy little envelopes covered with precise information, all in a row in a neat little box.  I also like label makers, file folders and tiny little notebooks with subheadings and an index, but I digress.

With planting time just around the corner my garden daydreaming has turned to more serious planning, with heavy consideration being given to planting with the intention of saving seed for next year.  I think this is the next logical step for me – closing the loop on at least this small part of our set-up will allow us to be self-sufficient (at least in the veg department), save me more money than I care to admit, and as an added bonus help stick it to scumbums like Monsanto who want the world to rely on them to eat.  And I like sticking it to Monsanto, even if only in a teeny-tiny, quiet way.  Anyway, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on the subject, knowing that I would have to have the plan in place before the garden ever went in.  Mostly what I have found is that it is actually pretty simple to save seed from year to year – except when it’s not.  There is a fair amount of conflicting information out there, but hopefully I have sifted though it all enough to get by.

So, referring to my tiny little note-book with the subheadings and index, this is what I have distilled from the multitude of different sources I used. (And, yeah, I should have just bought a book on the subject.)  Of course it goes without saying that you need to use open-pollinated or OP varieties if you’re going to save seed.  It’s possible to save seed from hybrids, but you won’t end up with anything like what you started with.  And of course this is no means a comprehensive tutorial on the subject, just what I am going with and thought interesting enough to share.

The Self-Pollinators

In a nutshell, these are the plants that have both male and female parts in the same flower and produce viable seed without pollen from other flowers, no insects involved.

Lettuce – can be grown side by side with only a slight chance of cross-pollination, but for assured purity separate varieties by 20′.

Peas – pollination usually occurs before the flowers open, but cross-pollination by insects is still possible.  Separate varieties by 50′ for purity.

Tomatoes – There are two types to keep in mind: those with short styles and those with long styles. (check this out if you’re not sure what a style is.)  Most modern varieties have short styles and generally don’t cross as much.  If you want to be sure, separate them by at least 10′.  Heirloom varieties or potato-leafed varieties (think Brandywine) have long styles and do cross-pollinate.  These need to be separated by 100′ or so.  It’s also a good idea to plant something tall that will flower in between tomato varieties to intercept any bees or whatnot.

Beans – Pollination usually occurs before the flowers open, but a separation of 150′ between varieties will ensure purity.  Planting tall flowering plants in between helps here too.

Peppers – these are tricky.  Technically they self pollinate, but bees will also spread pollen around if given the chance.  Separation by 50′ and a tall flowering plant is the minimum, 500′ for purity.

The Cross Pollinators

These are the plants with their manly bits and lady bits in different locations, need pollen from other sources or need the help of wind or insects to produce viable seed.

Corn – this is pollinated by wind.  Corn pollen can travel great distances, so varieties need to be separated by at least a half mile, with a mile being preferable.  The bare minimum I found was 250′ as long as there was a building or something in between, but this is a gamble.  Corn is also prone to inbreeding, so at least 200 plants are needed for genetic diversity.  Of course, if you plant varieties with different maturity dates, they can be planted side by side – as long as they don’t have silk at the same time there’s no need to worry about cross-pollination.  Corn is also funny in that, if it does get cross pollinated, the current year’s corn is also effected.  This means if your sweet corn is pollinated by your dent corn, both are going to be no good to eat this year.

Cucumbers – these are pollinated by insects, so varieties need to be separated from each other by 1/4 to 1/2 mile.  The bare minimum number of plants to prevent inbreeding seems to be 6.

Radish – red radishes are annuals, whites (winter) are biennials.  Both are pollinated by insects and need to be separated by about a 1/2 mile.

Squash – reading about these made me want to beat my head against the wall.  So much conflicting information, but I think I’ve got it figured out.  There are four species that you need to be concerned about : C. maxima, C. mixta/C. argyosperma, C. moschata and C. pepo.  There is a lot of conflicting information about cross pollinating between these species, but the general consensus seems to be that they will not, so that’s what I am going with.  The squash species include:

C. maxima: bananas, buttercups, delicious, marblehead, hubbard, marrows, Hokkaido, giant pumpkins, sweet meat and turbans

C. mixta/C. argyosperma: cushaws

C. moschata: butternuts and cheese types

C. pepo: acorn, cocozelles, zucchini, ornamental gourds, most pumpkins, crooknecks, delicata, scallops, spaghetti and Lady Godiva pumpkins.

If you want to be safe, don’t plant more than one variety from the same species.  If you must, they need to be separated by at least half a mile since they are pollinated by insects.  Or let them cross-pollinate and grown giant pumpkizukes.  That would be kind of cool.

Spinach – this has male and female flowers on different plants and is pollinated by the wind.  Separation for purity is often listed in kilometers or miles, so it’s probably best to just grow one variety.

The Biennials

These are the plants that need two seasons to produce seed and need to be overwintered in the garden or your basement.

Beets & Chard – these are pollinated by the wind and will cross-pollinate with each other.  Separate them by a 1/2 mile.  Again, 6 plants seems to be the rule for genetic diversity.

The Brassicas – brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, collards and kohlrabi.  These are pollinated by bees and will all cross with each other, so separate them by 1 mile.  It’s also important to note that, if you want to save seed from them, do not pick the heads from broccoli and cauliflower the first year.

Carrots – these are pollinated by insects and varieties  need to be separated by 1000′.  Also important to note, carrots will cross-pollinate with Queen Anne’s Lace (the weed) so you will need a way of either removing all of it in the area or isolating your carrots.

Leeks & Onions – both are pollinated by insects and will not cross-pollinate with each other.  Isolate varieties by a minimum of 200 ft, but 1 mile is better.  50 leek plants are needed for good genetic diversity, and 100 onions, although those numbers seem rather outrageous to me.  They also do not cross with chives.

Celery – is pollinated by insects and will cross with celeriac, so separate these by 3 miles.

Parsnips – one of the easiest biennials to save seed from since they overwinter easily in the garden even in very cold climates.  I couldn’t find any information about isolation distances, but really, why grow more than one variety anyway?

So there you have it, kids, the information I’m basing the game plan on.  There is no way I am going to be able to save seed from all of these plants this year, given the amount of room it would take, but at least I have an idea where to start.  I’m thinking a plot out behind the barns for the pumpkins for next year, and I can’t imagine I will ever be able to save carrot seed given the amount of Queen Anne’s Lace around here.  I’m also going to go out today and rip out the one lonely brussels sprout I left in the garden, so it doesn’t contaminate my kale.

So tell me, do you save your own seed?  Do you have seed independence?  Do you care about genetic purity, and if so, what steps do you take to preserve it?  Tell me about it!

Versatile Blogger Award!

Hey kids,

Well, my week ended on a pretty awesome note.  After a rather trying work week, I settled down for my Friday night ritual of basking in the warm electronic glow of internet bloggy goodness to find that Simone from simplehealthyhomemade had given me the Versatile Blogger Award!  I am really touched (and quite frankly surprised!) since I hardly ever write on here, and to learn that there are actual people out there who are enjoying what I do write is a really good feeling.  She also said some very sweet things about me so, Simone – thank you.  You made my day. 🙂  And please, show her the love and check out her blog. Her recipes are just like her blog name says – simple, healthy and homemade, and they simply rock.  I’ve bookmarked many and imagine I will only be adding to the list. 🙂

So here are the rules for accepting the award, hopefully I do ok!

1.  Nominate 15 fellow bloggers for The Versatile Blogger Award.

2.  In the same post, add The Versatile Blogger Award.

3.  In the same post, thank the blogger that nominated you in a post with a link back to their blog.

4.  In the same post, share 7 completely random pieces of information about yourself.

5.  In the same post, include this set of rules.

6.  Inform each nominated blogger of their nomination by posting a comment on each of their blogs.

For my 15 nominated bloggers, I’ve decided to shake things up a bit.  I’ve been doing a bit more exploring and have come across some really awesome blogs that I just love to read.  This list is by no means all of them, it’s simply a matter of too many great blogs, too little space. 🙂

Northernhomesteader – homesteading in Alberta.  I love to read about how fellow Canadians are doing it, and look forward to reading about how their story unfolds.

I also live on a farm – a blog I love so much I’ve already added it to my blogroll.  Old ways, old farm and a pleasure to read.

A Year On The Farm – farming in Georgia and another pleasure to read.  I’ve requested that Julia post gratuitous cow pictures so I can get my cow fix through her vicariously. 🙂

soilentgreens – organic farming in Texas.  She hates Monsanto and makes me laugh, which are two easy ways to get into my good books.

Mr Poopers Day Out – Best blog name ever!!  Goats, knitting and on St. Patrick’s Day she posted pictures of goats wearing hats.  It’s love, kids.

Giantveggiegardener’s Blog – vegetable gardening in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  350 lb pumpkins!! 62 lb zucchini!!  An inspiration since every year I try to grow a giant pumpkin.

greenpioneerwoman – awesome food storage recipes.  I’ve mentioned them before, but her elderberry muffins are now legendary here.

mikethechickenvet – Yep, he’s an actual chicken vet!  A wealth of information and I appreciate his objectivity.

wuppenif OR what would happen if…? – homesteading near Ottawa, Ontario.  I like to read about like-minded people close to home.  Sort of like having a coffee with a neighbour.

animalfarm – a small farm in Ireland.  I daydream about going to Ireland, until then I have this charming blog.

domesticatedphysicist – another pleasure to read and a little bit of everything.  It cracks me up that she nicknamed her husband “Beard”.

thefarmingwife – cooking, food preservation and gardening on a farm in Nebraska

Just Another Day on the Farm – of course I’m going to nominate Farmgal, she’s my #1 go-to for inspiration and info.  Heck,  even the stuff I google takes me to her site.  Plus, she likes zombies. 🙂

The Milk Maid Marian – from Australia.  I have a serious soft spot for dairy farmers.

Letters From An Urban Trench – soon to be homesteading in Northern Ontario.  I look forward to reading what is to come.

And 7 completely random (but fascinating) bits of information about myself:

1.  I’ve never eaten a Big Mac.  It’s kind of sad that people are shocked when they hear this.

2.  I was once in the same room as Stephen King.  Not close enough to touch him, which is probably a good thing because there would have been touching.

3.  I cried like a baby watching Dante’s Peak.  You know, when the grandma jumps into the lake of acid to save her family….what?  It was sad.

4.  I secretly nickname everyone I know.  Mildly offensive names that pertain to personal hygiene are good (e.g. “Stinky”), while some are just offensive (e.g. “The Harpy”).  But that’s why they are secret.

5.  We once drove non-stop to Oklahoma so Mr. S compete in a world championship fishing tournament.  Saw a guy at a rest stop in Indiana in the middle of the night with clown makeup on.  Kinda blew my preconceptions of Indiana out of the water.

6.  John Corbett is my boyfriend, he just doesn’t know it yet.  Don’t worry, Mr. S is cool with it.

7.  I didn’t change my name when I got married, so technically Mr. Sandybanks has my name here on the blog.  I also chose Sandybanks as my blog alias because for some reason I think it sounds mildly dirty and this amuses me.

So there you have it.  Thank you again to Simone for nominating me, and happy reading kids!

Rainy Saturday

I had big plans for today, but it turns out ol’ Ma Nature did to.  Seems she picked today to give us some real spring weather, as opposed to the premature summery weirdness as of late.  Not that I’m complaining – March is supposed to be wet and cold and I would rather have normal than freakishly lovely.  I know that sounds strange, given the amount of complaining I do about winter, but I have found the recent run of unseasonably warm weather a bit unsettling.  Also unsettling was the thought that I would soon have to break out the shorts again and thus expose the world to the sight of my “winter” legs.   But as it turns out it’s cold and blustery outside today, with the kind of rain that stings when it hits you, so after a bit of poking around I retreated to the house, looking for things to do, and with my legs safely hidden from view.

I have been sorting through all of my seeds and planning the garden for this year.  I have also determined that I may have a seed hoarding problem.  Of course, what one person calls hoarding, another may call “zombie preparedness”.  I am that other person.

Sometimes you have to stop and take a look at what you have.  You know, actually open jars and stuff.  Here’s some parsnip seed I don’t remember saving, but yet there it is.  Neat.

"Thanks for getting this new and interesting thing out, I really need to take a whiz."

 Once the kitties started digging through the boxes, it was time to put them away.  And no, I couldn’t have just done it at a table.  That would be too logical.

No signs of life so far in the trays in the windows.  I look at them every night with a wee bit of excitement.  I’m sure some of you out there know exactly what I am talking about.

Out in the garden there are a bunch of things I left that made it through the super mild winter.  I’m so excited that the whole row of kale is growing again.  Because, you know, I can save the seeds…

The brussels sprouts are back too, which is pretty darn cool.  I’ve never had any overwinter so have no idea what to expect in terms of flowering and seed saving.  Plus, these were a hybrid so will be a future experiment if I do get any seeds.

And since we’re outside, I might as well show you what Mr. S was doing before it got raining in earnest….my future chicken coop!  This was the old pumphouse where they used to fill up the tractors.  After a lot of dilly-dallying about fixing the roof in the old milk house to use as a chicken palace, we decided to fix this up instead so I can at least get a few chickens in the meantime.  There’s going to be a fenced-off yard, and I figure I can stuff about eight or so in there.

And here’s the back side, because I find it so fascinating.

So that’s what I’ve been up to today – basically anything but cleaning my house.  What have you been doing?  🙂

Small Things…

…that make me smile.

The first of my seed orders arrived today, from Hope Seeds.

There’s a whole lot of summer waiting in those cute little bags. 🙂

Hey kids, I thought I should check in before anyone gets any crazy thoughts about me falling down abandoned wells or being carried off my marauding farm-pirates or something, and because organizing a search party would be pretty much useless since only a couple of you actually know where I live.  And while I suppose a province-wide search would be theoretically possible, Ontario is a really big place full of many hazards and I would hate to expose you all to that, and there would be the whole Toronto corridor to deal with and traffic would simply be a nightmare.

All joking aside, I have been in full hunker-down mode lately as I have not been feeling exactly 100%.  After a couple of weeks of trying to let an ear infection run it’s course I finally broke down and  got checked out and ended up on some sort of time-release antibiotics that, in some ways, were worse than the infection itself.   I won’t go into details, but it wasn’t pretty kids.  In the meantime I’ve had a good case of the doom and glooms going on, mostly because I’m sick of feeling like crap, and other than going to work I’ve been avoiding most human interaction.  I’m human and it happens, and luckily I have a wonderfully supportive husband who doesn’t take it personally when I get my grump on, and two furry little weirdos who I actually think prefer it when I do.  Me not feeling well means many more snuggle opportunities, although I am getting a little tired of being a travelling kitty warming station.  I love their furry little faces, but it is nice to, every now and then, stand up without disrupting someone’s beauty sleep.

Anyway, all of this has meant that I never did keep up with the $10/week food storage challenge, or at least reporting about it anyway.  I did complete the month doing my best to stay within the parameters of the challenge, though.  Am I glad it’s over?  Honestly, yes.  Was it easy?  It should have been, but it wasn’t.  The challenge itself should have been a breeze, but I’ll admit my heart just wasn’t into it, feeling like poo and all, although physically I was capable of getting everything done that needed to be.  I did keep going to work afterall, and despite my whining I really am not a sally and can rally with the best of them.  I did learn a few things, mainly I am not nearly as prepared as I had hoped I would be, and for that alone I am glad that I did the challenge.  Mostly though, I have been thinking about modern medicine and the luxury of being able to hang back when things get tough.  Great-Grandma sure couldn’t, and I surely could not either if I didn’t live in a time and place that made necessities like health care and food readily available.  I’ve got a whole separate post on this subject simmering on the back burner, but I’m going to let it stay there for a little while yet – it would be too easy right now to get a-rantin’ and that’s not what I want to do.  But I will say this: people who seem to want The Zombie Collapse of The World and Everything annoy the crap out of me and make me want to smack the pants right off them.  But like I said, I’ll get to that later.

So with all this curmudgeony kitty-snuggling going on, I really don’t have much in the way of new and interesting things to share as I’ve been more in maintenance mode than anything else.  I do however have one really awesome find to report on – Green Pioneer Woman’s elderberry muffins.  I made these during the challenge using sauce from our foraged apples and wild elderberries Big Brother found way back in the fall.  They got the official Dad Seal of Approval which is pretty high praise – when Dad says something is “great”, you can generally count that it is.  If you like elderberries, check them out.  They’re good stuff.

Meanwhile things are changing around here, though.  Already I can feel the shift, and it makes me glad. The killdeers and red-winged blackbirds are back, and as usual my heart lifts when I hear them singing. Their return marks the turning of a page  for me much more than any calender does. All this week I noticed how much more light was left in the sky after I got home from work, and with today’s spring ahead it will only get better from here on out.  Suddenly I am anxious for my seed orders to arrive, and to get planting and let the new year to begin in earnest.  Suddenly I want to shake off the stupor and get going.  Good stuff, indeed.

So what is it like in your neck of the woods?  Has spring found you or are you still waiting to get going?  What marks the turning of the seasons for you?  Tell me about it!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I announced I was going to try to only spend $10 a week on food for the month of February, so I figured it was high time to check in and give a report.  I was fully prepared to give a play-by-play account on the frugal grocery action of the past couple of weeks, but sitting down to the computer tonight I noticed something.  The desk is clean.  I mean, spotlessly, uncharacteristically clean.  Seems that my wonderful and well-meaning husband did some tidying and, since he lacks the ability to read my mind (although I’m working on that), threw away my grocery receipts.  It’s entirely my fault – I tend to sully this desk like a sailor on leave and while he knows not to throw out scribbled things that may be recipes, receipts are fair game.  Got to work on that mind reading thing.

Anyway, even without a detailed account  I have a couple thoughts on what I have been learning from this experiment.

1.  $10 a week is not enough.  I originally settled on that amount because I wanted to really focus on my stored food and learn where I need to improve, and $10 only allows me to buy our milk, eggs and one other discounted item a week.    What this has actually translated to is me blowing the budget every week when I find a hole in my storage for something I actually need.  This has certainly given me pause to stop and think about what it would be like if I couldn’t just go over budget and I really only had $10 in my pocket.  There are a great many people out there for whom this is a reality, and I am finding this aspect of the challenge a humbling one to say the very least.

2.  Convenience foods are awesome.  That may seem completely contradictory, but let me explain.  Last week I developed a lovely sinus/ear thing, and after a full day of work with a low grade fever (yeah, I’m one of those people – thank me when you get sick) I really, really don’t want to cook a meal from scratch.  And I’ll admit – I broke down and bought a frozen lasagna.  It was horrible and a waste, but so easy.  And in the spirit of full disclosure Kraft Dinner has also made an appearance, but we like Kraft Dinner so that was ok. 🙂  What I need to do is prepare more heat and go meals ahead of time and store them accordingly.  I already do this, but not consistently and not enough.

3.  I need to work on some skills.  Yeah, I bake my own bread, but have really only dabbled in sourdough.  I made bagels this weekend and they pretty much destroyed what was left of my yeast stash, so I am hoping I have enough bread in the freezer to get us to the end of the month.  Pressure canning would definitely help with the whole convenience food thing, but I’ve been chicken about learning how to do it.  And I need to expand my cooking repertoire a little – while digging for some hamburger in the freezer, what I thought was a burger cache ended up being a bunch of stewing beef and a big ol’ beef tongue.  The stew beef I can work with, but the tongue?  That’s going to take some reasearch.

So that’s where I stand as of now, kids.  I’ll try to be more diligent about hiding my receipts and posting for the rest of the month.  And if you have any suggestions or awesome easy recipes, pile them on!  I’d be happy to hear them.



As I write this,  it’s raining outside and melting the snow we got earlier this week.  Raining.  In February.  I don’t know what’s worse, the gloomy slop outside or the people in my Facebook feed who cheer every time it does actually snow.   And while I know there are those out there who do a little jig at the thought of pristine white landscapes and inches of fresh powder, especially given we have had so little of it this year,  do you know what I think?  Blaaah.  I’m so over it, kids.  Give me a hot rock to lay on like a lizard and I’ll leave winter to all the rest of the self-respecting Canadians out there who won’t wait for a warmer day.  Last I heard they’re all over in Crazy Town, ice fishing, and commenting on how brisk the horizontal snow is.

Actually, I am being a little dramatic.  This winter has been a remarkably mild one, and I suppose I should be thankful, but as you can tell you might as well stick a fork in me ’cause, baby I’m done.  I am not a fan of winter, and as always happens at this time of year I am stuck smack in the middle of the winter blahs.  It’s a predictable cycle which probably has to do with lack of sunshine and green growing things, and I know that sometime during February my last nerve is going to start humming like an over-taught piano wire and it’s time to take a break.  Last week I spent wallowing in the comforts of home, and I needed it.  I baked.  I napped.  I baked, took stuff to friends, then napped.  I flipped though seed catalogues and old pictures, hatched new plans and came out the other side feeling like something resembling a human being.

Part of my sloth-like wallows and plan-hatching involved some serious consideration about when and how I can get my butt back to Germany.  As some of my regular readers know, my very best bestie Frau Sperrmüllmöbelstück (seriously?  You realize what happens if I short form that, right? :)) lives there, along with her husband Heppy and daughter Rosebud.  Rosebud also happens to be my god-daughter, and in my completely objective and unbiased opinion is the smartest baby in the history of baby-making and will be Prime Minister of the world some day.  Just so you know.

The town of Linz am Rhein. We stopped here for coffee and cake. Best Monday ever.

All this Germanic day dreaming got me in the mood for some good German food, and what does a cooped-up Canadian gal on a (really) tight budget do?  Why, she makes spätzle, of course.  Spätzle is one of those things that, if you’re into it, people tend to have some very definite opinions about.  When I was looking around for some video for this post I came across post after post of people arguing about every teeny tiny aspect of the stuff.  How to make the spätzle.  How to eat the spätzle.  How to pronounce “the spätzle” with accompanying indignant videos.  I don’t know why anyone would get so uptight about a bunch of egg noodles, but it was pretty funny all the same.  And, no, I am not going to tell you how to pronounce it.  The last thing I need is a bunch of angry spätzlemeisters flaming me.

Anyway, take away all the mystique around it and spätzle is just a type of egg noodle, nothing more.  I thought it deserved a mention here on the blog for a number of reasons:

1.  It’s fairly economical to make, with simple, handy ingredients.  It is just a basic noodle that, as long as you have the eggs, can make a big meal out of very little.

2.  It’s really simple to make if you ignore all the hype.  Like I said, it’s just a basic egg noodle, but one you don’t have to roll out and all that jazz.  Spätzle is made with more of a batter than a dough and as such is a little more goof-proof and a lot less work.  I personally find making spätzle to be a lot faster and a lot less annoying than anything I have to roll out.

3.  It changes things up.  I don’t know about you, but I get food fatigue fairly easily.  I can only imagine what mid February would be like if we were living solely off our stores like Great Grandma did.  One can only eat so many potatoes after all.

So here is my spätzle recipe, given to me by Herr Heppy himself.  Forgive me if I’m giving out the secret family recipe here, Heppy, but the world needs more of this stuff.

Basic Spätzle

500 g flour (about 3 1/3 cups)

pinch of salt

4 – 5 eggs (depending on size, I use 4 large)

1/8 – 1/4 L water or milk (1/2 – 1 cup)

a bit of oil (couple of tablespoons, tops)

Mix all of the above ingredients in a bowl and beat with a hand mixer.  Make sure the batter is a bit runny so that it will pass though the holes of the spätzle maker smoothly.

Don’t have a spätzle maker?  Never fear, people have been making spätzle for hundreds of years and you don’t need specialized equipment.  Remember, you’re just making noodles not rocket boosters for deep space flight, so don’t sweat it.  All you need is something with holes in it to smoosh the batter through, so a grater with large holes will work or even a ricer would do.  Or you could do it the traditional way using only a board with a knife.  Check out this video showing how, it’s pretty cool.  Anyway, back to the recipe.

Fill a big pot full of water and bring it to a boil.  Fill the spätzle maker basket with the batter (mine in the picture is a bit lumpy), and holding it over the water pull the basket back and forth so the batter falls through the holes and into the boiling water. (Or smash it through your grater, or use your board – whatever works for you.)

The spätzle noodles are finished when they rise to the surface – it only takes a few seconds.  Fish them out and set them aside in a bowl while you finish up with the rest of the batter.

That’s it!  Now you’ve got yourself a big bowl of hot, homemade egg noodles for next to nothing.  Use them the same as you would for any other egg noodle.  Fry them in a pan with some butter and eat ’em just like that.  Add a whole bunch of cheese and some onion and make käsespätzle. Add them to your stew. I personally like them fried with lots of onion, bacon, mushrooms and a slug of sour cream.  Oh, heaven.

So there you have it, kids, easy-peasy spätzle deliciousness.  Give it a shot and see what you think.  And if you make spätzle, tell me about it!  Strangely, I like hearing spätzle stories – they usually end up being more about Grandmas and memories, and I like that sort of thing.

Oh, and Frau Sperrmüllmöbelstück?  Better tell the spätzlemeister to get his game face on – I’ve been looking at flights. 🙂

So, over at Just Another Day On The Farm the ever-resourceful Farmgal has thrown down the gauntlet and issued a challenge to her readers to eat from their storage for the month of February and only spend $10 a week on food.  Well, it actually wasn’t quite like that. There was very little gauntlet-throwing and she may have mentioned that anyone who wanted to join in with her could do so, but I thought the latter sounded much more dramatic.  Anyway, the challenge is to rely primarily on one’s food storage for the month while spending a set maximum amount each week at the grocery store.  The set amount of spending money is flexible depending on your needs, but it should be as low as you can go so the focus remains primarily on your stored food.  I signed myself up for $10 a week because a) I may have temporarily lost my mind since I have to buy all of my animal products and b) I likes me a good challenge.

Really though, I like the idea of challenging myself.  I think I am probably a little too comfortable with the system I have going on here (I have been known to use the phrase “bring it” when talking about zombies….you heard me say I have to buy all of my animal products, right?), and I think February is the perfect time to put that system to the test.  Nothing is growing right now.  I don’t have a back yard full of food.  Heck, I can’t even go pick dandelions.  It’s just us and what we’ve squirreled away, sort of what I picture it must have been like for Great Grandma, back in the day.  Not being able to rely on bopping to the store when I want or need something is going to show me where the weaknesses are in my system and in my resourcefulness.

Now with that being said, I do have a couple amendments for myself:

1.  I’m giving us a pass for Valentine’s Day.  It’s our once a year fancy dinner, put on by a chef Mr. S knows.  It’s great food, reasonably priced and I get to dress up like a girl and hang out across a candle-lit table from the good-looking dude that happens to be my husband.  We could always light some candles and sit at the kitchen table gazing into each others’ eyes, but I imagine we will be doing enough of that if the shiz ever hits the fan and we won’t smell near as good.  So, yeah, we’re going out.

2.  I’m going to allow myself some leeway for really awesome sales.  There are certain things like coffee and cheese I only buy when they are dirt cheap, and then I buy a ton of them.  This saves me a lot of money in the long run and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to stock up.

So how did I do this week?  Cue the drumroll, if you’re into that.



Actually, I knew I was going to be over this week.  Last Sunday I realised I was almost out of both all-purpose and bread flour so those needed to be purchased.  I would have even skipped the bread flour and experimented making bread in different ways, but I promised a neighbour I would make her some of the buns she likes, and I don’t want to feed her any experiments.  I also bought some lemon juice, which is out of the ordinary, because I am off work this week and am going to make some jam.  So, yeah, some oddities this week, but that’s how it goes.

Here’s what I bought:

Bread flour, 2.5 kg:  $6.29

All-purpose flour, 10 kg: $7.99 (you see why I want to figure out a good bread recipe with this stuff?)

Milk, 2L:  $3.85 (I usually buy 4L, but we have a backlog going on right now)

Eggs, 1 doz:  $2.65 (I can get eggs from a friend for $2, but her chickens aren’t laying)

Mushrooms, 2 packs: $1.76

Distilled water, 8L:  $1.98 (for the coffee maker – our water has a lot of minerals in it)

Lemon juice: $1.99 (for the jam)

It will be interesting to see how the week goes and how our habits will change knowing that we can’t just pick up something if we run out.  I’ve already noticed I am keeping a close eye on the milk – this afternoon I had an internal debate about whether scalloped potatoes with dinner would be worth the milk used, and wondering why Mr. S chose now to start eating the Raisin Bran that’s been sitting on the fridge for months.

Wish me luck, kids.  I’ll do a post next weekend to let y’all know how it goes.  I’m really not expecting any problems, but then again, I don’t know how Mr. S will feel if we are suddenly mysteriously out of cereal.