Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Category: Food, Cooking, and Processing (page 2 of 2)

A few garden photos – the harvest slowly begins

Dammit, Janet! I misplaced my good camera, the one I used to take the following photographs. Until I find it, I’m limited to grainy iPhone snaps, or the marginally better (or not) pictures I might take if I dig out my old Sony Ericsson CyberShot cell phone. That camera was good but became distorted through the kinds of mishaps that phones can get into.

And more bad news: the beautiful cucumbers that made up for the dismal start to my backyard garden? Most of them got cucumber wilt, a bacterial disease transmitted by cucumber beetles. I wrote a paper on them only a few months ago. The paper is dry, chunky, and a synthesis of a lot of information out there. It’s useful to the organic farmer planting a good couple of rows of cucurbits.

As the growing season soon will be over, I’m planning my garden changes so that next year is more productive – other gardens near me were lusher. This is what I want: a proper fence down the meridian of the front yard, and a rain barrel with a seeping hose so that I can better serve the water needs of my front garden. The back garden wants lots of compost enrichment this fall, soil testing in the spring, liming it, and getting things better prepared earlier in the season.

Here are photos of my garden two weeks ago, when the drought finally ended. You can see tiny watermelons (they didn’t make it – it’s a mystery what happened to them) and a new watermelon sprout with attendant tomatoes, basil, and a small pepper plant.

The chicken-wire barricade there is my rabbit fence – not like it stops them, it only slows them down. There’s tasty, tasty clover to be had…

And my first fruits of the garden – not counting a handful of curly yellow beans – are these delicious cherry tomatoes. The parent plant is very prolific. I am looking forward to having more of them this coming weekend, when I return to Montreal from my parents’ home in Ontario.

The cool weather has brought on more new growth. So at least there’s that.

If you want to follow along with my garden adventure, each of these blog posts has “Previous post – Next post” navigation buttons at the bottom. They take you through my writings in chronological order, but the previous post was A Few Garden Photos – The Harvest Slowly Begins, and the next post is:
The Garden Harvest, Pickling, And Homemade Sauerkraut

Cutting out corn sweeteners

Each year on the homestead, I’ve made at least one significant change in habit or consumer choice to lower my carbon footprint. It seems that businesses and governments don’t feel like believing science when it implies we have to reduce and change our consumption of resources. Nonetheless, we as citizens and consumers need to do this for the good of our health, wallets, and planet. One thing I’m working on this year is cutting out corn sweeteners.

The things I’ve done to lower my carbon footprint:

  • planted lots of vegetation for shade in summer and for producing food,
  • reduced my use of water  (which requires some energy at the water treatment plant), and
  • changed my grocery shopping habits, increasing my organic and Community Supported Agriculture purchases and reducing  packaged, processed food.

This means I do a little more cooking, I’ll be doing a garden this year, and I only buy processed things I don’t make myself (fake chick’n nuggets, for example – or a certain kind of tofu that’s great with barbecue sauce).

Corn fractions are the starches and sugars that come from corn. There’s a negative health effect from all the refined sugar we eat, and even more of an effect on the planet in farming it. When I think about how much sugar we consume in everything, and if we all consumed less (and a greater variety), it might help with the environmental footprint. I will read labels and try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and continue to buy food that is less processed.

Did you know? Corn syrup is made from the core of the cob, not from the kernels!

I’m also switching over my refined sugar needs. The world is a small place, and we in North America and Europe are at the top of the food chain. We can buy whatever we need; our ability to pay top dollar means other countries go for cheaper alternatives. So we buy cane sugar (some European countries use sugar beets), even though we can’t grow it, and these other countries buy cheaper corn sweeteners from us, and add to their health problems. I want them to have the cane sugar.

So what can I use instead of corn sweeteners and refined sugar? Take a look at this list, and you will realize just how easy it is. The biggest difficulty is remembering to opt for a substitute:

  • Honey for sweetening tea. Some people sweeten their tea with jam.
  • Barley malt (in the form of Ovaltine, or in the form from the brewer’s, or bulk store – the kind with bins and scoops!) for sweetening coffee and other hot drinks.
  • Red beets and, if I ever find them, sugar beets for cooking and baking. Cook them and mash them in. This is bonus for chocolate cake, as it produces a nice colour. 
  • Carrots and parsnips add sweetness to savoury dishes.
  • Dried fruits – raisins, apricots, dates, and figs – are all naturally sweet and add a nice touch to pies, crumbles, and stews.
  • The Great Canadian Maple Syrup.

I intend to recruit my Dad who has a knack for producing jumbo beets, and I will grow more of them myself (I love beet greens!). I’ll even try my hand at growing barley, though I don’t expect to malt it – it’ll likely feed the rabbits while it’s still green. Though, the Canada Malting refinery is in Griffintown.

Do you have any non-cane-sugar suggestions (other than stevia)? What would be your obstacle in making the switch?

Cooking with cast iron at the original homestead…

I’m in Bradford, Ontario now, visiting my parents for a few days. Tonight, they had some lovely Beretta Organic Farms’ tenderloin for dinner.

I’m almost 100% vegetarian, so I only had two bites. If everyone ate less meat — smaller portions, less frequently — fewer animals would be raised and killed to meet the slower market demand.

But my parents are lifelong omnivores, and meat, especially in ground and sausage form, is a convenience food for the masses and for the elderly. Their diet is definitely meat-based.

Knowing this, what says “Happy Birthday!” to a meat-eater like sending them on a scavenger hunt to a shed on a farm to find a box of organically farmed, grass-fed beef? That’s what my Dad got for his birthday.

Here’s how I cooked the roast:

I made a mix of black pepper, chili, paprika, salt, and brown sugar, and I coated the meat with it. I put it in an oiled cast iron skillet – the old-fashioned kind your grandmother likely used – under the broiler in the oven until it was brown on one side. Then, I turned it over to brown it all around.

Then I shut the oven off until the rest of the dinner was ready. Using the same cast iron skillet I broiled the meat in (without cleaning it first, of course!) I made a gravy out of oil, onions, and flour and water.

How’d I get to be such a good cook? My overly self-critical mother had a not-so-secret interest in cooking, and she could always find some fault with the meal she prepared – something to improve for next time. She made sure our family had a sit-down three square meals a day, no matter how aggravating the bickering got. There were six around the table. Someone was always fighting. Usually my brother. Then, me.

Cooking with cast iron is an essential tool and (easy) skill in the arsenal of a vegetarian chef, especially if it’s a set of three in small, medium, and large. Trace elements of iron make it into the food you make, and iron is a mineral we need for hemoglobin, the protein in blood that carries oxygen and carbon dioxide back and forth between our lungs and our tissues. Omnivores get iron from the meat they eat, but vegetarians can get it from dark green vegetables, supplements, and the cookware they use. There’s a company called Lucky Iron Fish that helps people and communities fighting anemia, by this principle.

Frying food on the stove top is a skillet’s expected utility. Typically, I also make chili or ratatouille with the skillet, usually on the stove with a lid on top. Here are others:

  • You can use one in a novel way by inverting it over a hot burner and heating tortillas on the underside (I don’t recommend making crepes this way, though).
  • In the oven, you can make delicious cake-like omelets, or roast vegetables or even frozen french fries – instead of ruining (eventually) a pizza pan or cookie sheet, which is meant for pizza or cookies or breads.
  • Sauces are another consistent endeavour, from vegetarian poutine sauce (miso, oil, flour, water, soya sauce, spice), to wine sauce (butter, shallots, wine, salt + pepper) to tomato sauces for pizza and pasta.
  • And remember, unless you’re hiking far, far away, you can take a skillet camping to cook over the campfire.

In short:

You don’t need a battery of cookware to cook a good meal. You just need a big soup pot, a medium “sauce” pan for boiling things, and a few of these skillets – especially if they, like mine, fit the lids from the other pots and pans.

I received my set of skillets from a friend who couldn’t keep the food from sticking. I coulda taught him how, but instead I took advantage of the offer.

You first need to ‘season’ the skillets by keeping them oiled and keeping them hot – such as leaving them in the oven every time you use the oven.

Clean them without letting them soak for long, and then dry them on a warm stove burner. Add a little oil once the water evaporates.

If food is still stuck after washing, heat the pan until it’s dry and flake the old food off by scraping, before washing them again.

If your pans ever lose their seasoned patina by burning them, leaving them dirty or unseasoned for months or years, or allowing them to rust — simply repeat the cycle of cleaning them, heating them, and oiling them.

Store your cast iron ware in your oven, or in the oven drawer.

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Rewilding is about converting your lawn to groundcover (bit by bit!) to native species. This fosters biodiversity. It also creates habitat for urban wildlife. Finally, you'll only trim it 2-3 times per season rather than every 7-10 days!

The green driveway gallery shows you how you can DIY a driveway conversation using my first model as an example. There are other ways to do it, and things I learned in the process and afterward. Please call me at 514-815-5163 for my landscaping service, or to discuss upgrading your driveway.

The work season is April 1st through June 30th, but I install bird strike prevention (to stop birds from crashing into windows and glass balconies) whenever the temperature is above 5ºC. Call the number above or email. It's important to do this earlier rather than later,  in time for bird migrations in late April to end of May, and late August to mid-October.


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