Saturday, November 26, 2011

Squash Time

It's squash season....and I'm learning a lot about squash these days.   I never realized there were so many varieties.    I used to shop for food at our local grocery store which is limited to variety.   Since I've become a member of our local CSA (community supported agriculture), I've been exposed to so many more !

This season have been cooking up Red Kuri, Acorn, Spagetti, Blue Hubbard, Pattypan, Carnival, Butternut, sweet dumpling and zucchini.  Squash is such a versatile vegetable, which can be incorporated into various dishes, such as curries, stews, and soups.   For instance spagetti squash makes a great replacement for pasta; butternut squash makes a fabulous soup; Acorn squash are great for stuffing and baking.   One of our favourite ways to cook squash is to simply bake it.   A basic cooking method:  Cut a squash in half the long way, scoop out seeds from center, and roast it, cut-side-down on a sheet pan, for 40 minutes at 400°F or until soft.   Add butter, salt and pepper to taste.

Loaded with beta carotene, winter squash is a good source of vitamin A. It's also a great source of fiber, vitamin C, thiamin, manganese, potassium and rich in niacin.

Red Kuri, Acorn, Spagetti Squash

Acorn, Red Kuri, Blue Hubbard

Simple Composting - All Year Round

Composting can be done by anyone, any time of the year, whether or not you have a garden.  Many towns/cities have kitchen scrap/leaf collecting programs, which helps divert a lot of garbage away from landfill.  

If you have a garden, you'll need fresh compost to renew your garden.   So why buy it when you can make your own?  As I have said in previous posts, nothing goes to waste in our house, not even the kitchen scraps we can't eat.   These scraps go into our small green bin that fits nicely under the kitchen sink and when full gets emptied into a larger compost bin outside.   We have four compost bins now in our yard, most of which we got for free on "large garbage days".  Large garbage days are special days where everyone can put out larger items for pickup - see my post on "large garbage days".    In the spring the bins get emptied into the gardens - rich compost helps put back the nutrients into the soil.   The bins slowly fill up again over the summer, fall and yes, even winter.   I keep a path to the outdoor bins shoveled from snow so they are easily accessible in the winter and I can keep adding kitchen scraps.   We saved several large bags of mulched up leaves from our big tree to layer the compost bins outside.  For every layer of kitchen scraps, a layer of leaves gets added.    I don't add any dairy, bones, meat, fish or anything with a lot of oil, or pet waste, as these items not only attract the racoons and other animals, but doesn't safely decompose.   Scraps that get added to our compost bins are: all vegetables, fruits, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, to name a few.   At the end of the growing season, when the perennials get cut back, and annuals and vegetable plants get dug up - they also get added to the compost bins.   

By spring time we have filled up our compost bins and have rich dark compost ready for use in the gardens.
Indoor compost bin

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch

Every fall there is annual ritual of raking up leaves and bagging them for recycling in our neighbourhood.

In our house, nothing goes to waste, even the leaves !   Did you know that autumn leaves are one of the best soil conditioners - and the best part .... they are free !    Tree leaves contain lots of nutrients that if used as mulch, are re-released back into the soil.   They also help insulate the soil in winter and add organic matter to your soil.

Once we've are all gathered up all our leaves we run the lawn mower over the pile to mulch them up.   I spread a thin layer of mulched up leaves over the garden and save a few bags of mulched up leaves to layer in our compost bin - for every layer of kitchen scraps, a layer of mulched leaves gets put on top.    Mulched up leaves help insulate the ground so that plants can remain dormant all winter long, which also protects the roots of your plants. 

mulched leaves
layer of mulched leaves on raised vegetable garden

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Knitting for Charity

Our Knitter's Guild's Christmas project this year is to support a local Ontario organization - called  Links2Care.  Links2Care is a community support organization which delivers a wide variety of programs to children, youth, adults and seniors.    
Our Guild is making up a large box of knitted and crocheted items, which will distributed amongst the many holiday hampers that the Links2Care organization sends out for their Holiday Hamper Program to families in financial difficulty this Christmas.   Holiday Hampers mean a lot to those families who receive them.  Often the hamper is the only Christmas present a family will receive.   The hampers are put together with a personal touch, as the organization knows the ages, sizes of the recipients and items most needed, including food items.
Items that our Guild will be sending to the program include anything knitted/crocheted such as;  sweaters, blankets, hats, mitts, dish cloths, baby items, toys, socks, etc. for all ages.   Here a couple of  items I made for our Guild's donation box. 
Winter hats
hand knitted dish cloths

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dehydrating Food

Preserving food by drying is old as mankind.  Laying meat and berries out in the open air served people well for thousands of years, and the technique still works.  The process can be as simple as hanging fish in the sun as the traditional Inuit people did or laying meat above a rack on a smoking fire.    While the basic concept of drying food has not changed, there are now helpful appliances available to help the process of dehydrating food.

Dehydration is an alternative to canning and freezing fruits and vegetables when you don't have the canning equipment of freezer space.   Dehydration is a low-cost way to preserve food.  Dried foods take up less storage space and no freezer to keep running. 

Some benefits of drying your own food are saving money, by drying your own food from your garden, taking advantage of vegetables/fruits in season when they are less expensive at the store. You can create your own food supply which, in a financial crisis or when a natural disaster strikes, can be like money in the bank.   When you dry your own food you know there are no chemical additives which are added to commercially dried foods, ie meat products such as jerky and some dried fruits to preserve the colour.  When food is dried correctly it still contains all of its enzymes as well as vitamins and minerals as there has been no damage done by heating.  

You can dry fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, herbs, flowers, and much more, including frozen and canned foods. In fact, you can dry almost anything that contains water-items you may never have considered, such as tofu.  See my post on Tofu Jerky !

dehydrated foods for  hiking trip
Dried foods are also very handy for those who go camping or hiking regularly as they are convenient, light and easily carried and stored.    A couple of years ago my daughter went on a long hiking trip.   I dehydrated food for her trip and was able to pack a month's worth of food into one large shoe box.   The food packed into the box was - tofu jerky, bananas, strawberries, kiwi, mango, apple, red/green cabbage, onions, carrots, various beans/legumes (chick, kidney, black, black-eye peas, lentils etc), garlic, turnip, various squash, pineapple, ginger, various mushrooms, red/green peppers, and cheese. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Time of Use – Electricity Charges

November 1 marked a change in “time of use” (TOU) electricity charges in Ontario, Canada for those with “smart meters”.  A smart meter is one that records the time of day that you use electricity and sends that info back to the hydro company – so that they can bill you for the time of day you used electricity.    From May to October – the peak time of use charges during the week ie Monday to Friday was in the afternoon, ending at 5:00 pm, the mid time of use charge was between 5-7 pm and the lowest charges between 7:00 pm to 7:00 am.   Depending on when you use electricity – will depend on what your rate is and electricity bill will be.    Weekend rates were the lowest – all weekend long.   

We were just getting used to the “summer” rate schedule and working our schedules around it to maximize on the lowest electricity rates and we were doing quite well at it and managed to reduce our electricity bill down by approx 40%  - which was well worth the effort in changing our schedules.      As of November 1st that has all changed again.  Peak time is now 7:00 am-noon.  Mid rate noon to 5:00 pm, peak rate – right at a time when most are trying to cook dinner  is now 5:00 – 7:00 pm.

So in order to keep our electricity bill at the lower costs we were enjoying, some changes needed to be made.   For instance, I try not to use energy hogging applicances between 5:00-7:00 pm at night.   If I do need to use the oven between 5-7pm I cook a couple of meals at a time, so that we have another one ready for re-heating another night.  I’ve dusted off the crock pot and cook  larger meals (enough for leftovers) during the day when the rate is lower.  I don’t use the washing machine during peak times and only use when the rate is at its lowest.   I’ve given up using the dryer and hang dry our clothes on our homemade indoor clothes line.  The dishwasher runs only after 7 pm and before 7 am . Most of my baking is done on the weekend when the rate is at it's lowest.   I keep the time of use chart handy to remind us of the TOU schedule in various spots in the house.

All this to say that you need to be flexible, learn to accept change, have a plan B, because life is always changing and we need to learn to adapt.      

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bread Making

I like making bread, however it does take time and it's hard to find the time to do when you work full time.   I really do like my bread maker and over the years it has got alot of use.   I am now on my second bread maker.  My first one finally gave out after too much use.  I guess bread makers are "out of fashion" and while out at garage sales one day I came across several bread makers for sale and got a practically new bread maker for $5.00. 

I regularly make bread and have tried various recipes and flours.   The bread maker also makes great dough for homemade pizzas, buns/rolls, focaccia and cinnamon buns.   When my kids were younger I used to make homemade buns, filled and baked with various fillings, similar to the pizza pockets.  Filling included pizza makings, chicken, pork, beef with vegetables or their favourite vegetarian filling.   These buns could be made ahead of time and frozen for later use, which made making school lunches a breeze. 

My garage sale find ... $5.00

fresh spelt bread from the bread maker

an afternoon of baking - homemade bread, zucchini muffins
 and red pepper jelly

The Simple Tree

We have one lone very large tree in our back yard.  It's  a Norway Maple which towers well over our house.  This one tree has given so much.  It keeps the back of the house cool in the summer with much needed shade from the hot sun and in the fall when it drops it leaves gives us the best garden mulch.     This one tree alone can fill over 30 large leaf bags.    It is used by many birds, a couple of racoons, squirrels and chipmunks.    Last weekend most of the leaves fell from the tree all at once and now we're gathering up the leaves to use as mulch, for the garden and for layering in the compost bins during the winter. 

 There is much to be learned from the tree.....

 Advice from a Tree

By Ilan Shamir
Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Simple Dried Flowers

The summer flowers I saved and dried on my indoor clothes line are now gracing my dining room table.   I saved enough flowers to make a couple of arrangements, including one for our kitchen table too.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Simple Stuffed Squash

Acorn Squash
Squash are in abundance this time of year.   There are many ways to cook squash, ie soups, baked, curries, etc. 

The winter squash group includes pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash.  Winter  squash, like other richly colored vegetables, provide an excellent source of carotenes.  Generally, the richer the color, the richer the concentration.  They also offer a very good source of vitamins B1 and C, folic acid, pantothenic acid, fiber, and potassium.  Winter squash are also a good source of vitamin B6 and niacin.   Research also suggests that winter squash gives antioxidant support, has anti-inflamatory benefits, potential blood sugar regulation benefits, promotes optimal health, high in vitamin A.

Stuffed Baked Squash Recipe
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 large clove crushed garlic
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1/2 tsp thyme
3-4 tbs butter
1/4 cup chopped nuts (ie walnuts, pecans) - optional
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 stalk chopped celery
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup raisins
1 peeled, cored, chopped apple
Acorn or butternut squash (sliced length wise down the middle, seeds removed)

Saute onions, garlic, celery, nuts and seeds in butter. Cover over low heat until onions are clear, nuts are browned, celery is tender.  Add remaining ingredients.  Cook stiring over low heat 5-8 minutes until everything is acquainted. Remove from heat and pack stuffing into squash cavities.  Bake, covered at 350 F for about 25 minutes.  Serve with your favourite chutney.

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