Friday, January 28, 2011

alberta ave. farmers market report and straw bale house

We finished up a very successful night at the farmers market last night. I thought that it was a very good experience overall and I am still impressed by this little market. The customers that came to speak with me were very much there to buy food and were delightful to visit with. I just enjoyed visiting with everybody so much. It was also great to meet some friends like Kevin Kossowan and some new friends like Amy who is a new customer to our little farm!

I get a lot of satisfaction meeting the people who are buying our food. It makes the countless lonely hours spent in the cab of a combine, dusty and tired, all worthwhile. We are really looking forward to welcoming our new friends to our farm when we can get it presentable!

I did have a few people asking to see pictures of the house and farm. I hope that you can all understand that it is like an artist who doesn't want anyone to see their work before it's finished! Our home is still an absolute mess inside and out. Closets shelves are ongoing along with door trimming and installation. In the meantime, boxes and household items sit on every horizontal surface available!

The kitchen is pretty much complete although a couple cabinet doors are missing that will be replaced next week. I tell you what...I will take pictures of the house piece by piece as we complete things, ok? I will start with the kitchen tonight and post house updates as we go.

On the topic of the house...we are very pleased with the overall performance and efficiency. With the mild daytime temperatures above freezing and some sunny afternoons, the furnace has not come on in four days and we have not had the woodstove going at all. At night, the house drops to around 19 degrees Celsius and with the morning breakfast cooking, it gets back up to room temperature fairly quick. The passive solar design is nothing short of amazing and around supper it is too hot and we open the kitchen window a crack. The straw bale house is everything we had hoped it would be.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

market day!

This morning we will start getting ready for the Alberta Ave. Market. The market opens at 5 so that gives us plenty of time to mill grain this morning and package it up this afternoon. Maybe shouldn't have left it to the last minute, but last night we were having a fun family night playing cards and looking up obscure 80's music videos on Youtube. The kids especially had a laugh when Cindy and I began demonstrating how we used to dance to these very same songs. There has got to be something extremely amusing about 40something people dancing around the kitchen to In A Big Country and Tarzan Boy because there was a lot of laughing going on.

The snow plow finally arrived mid afternoon yesterday. Our driveway is beautiful now...nice and wide. We called the water truck so they will likely be here sometime this morning. We are looking forward to getting our rain water harvest system up and running along with the pond being dug. I don't like relying on people to bring me water...that is not a comfortable feeling. Like our food, we will be doing a lot of work around the farm in the coming years to get as self-sufficient as we possibly can.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

snow low

In my recent posts I have been purposefully ignoring the problems that we are facing this winter with the sheer enormousness of snow that we have received so far. This winter's snow accumulation is nothing short of frustrating for me. The snow is stacked up so high in the fields that the fence which was once 4 feet high is now simply a step-over for the cows. I have had to raise the fence in spots with bamboo stakes to stop the cows from their regular raiding of the hay stack. Tonight, I think I finally have it figured out. The solar electric fencer is back operating at full power (now that I've dug it out of the snow bank) and I've parked the tractor in front of the favorite escape route. 

Our driveway has become a cow path of its own and I am now no longer able to keep it cleared wide enough with the tractor to allow the water delivery truck access. We had to call the county to come in with the grader so now I am at their mercy and timeliness to get our cistern filled. We are now on water saving mode more than usual. I hope that the grader can come tomorrow early enough to allow us to call the water delivery guy. 

On Sunday the wind was blowing so hard that there was a blizzard with clear sunny skies. The snow had completely enveloped the driveway. My neighbor saw me struggling in a futile effort to get out and he graciously started digging our driveway with his tractor from the road while I started from the house. Two tractors and 3 hours later and we have a driveway path cleared barely big enough to allow our vehicles through. 
A fun day of snow fort building!

On the positive of all this snow the kids are having fun....and we'll have lots of water around next summer to make up for our years of drought. I just wish that things could settle down into more normal patterns. It seems to me lately that there is far more extremes than ever before. More drought. More wind. More snowfall. More thunderstorms. More hail. Enough already!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

THE best donut recipe ever!

Came across this recipe while looking to make a treat on a windy wintery day and wow! I used our whole grain, regular flour made with hard red spring wheat. While the recipe called for all-purpose refined flour, the donuts turned out excellent with our flour. I ran out of milk so I used water and mixed in some yogurt to make "milk" substitute.

My digital camera is currently m.i.a. so you'll just have to take my word for it that these baked donuts made from whole grain, whole wheat, unsifted flour turned out light and fluffy and taste amazing. The pile that I made this afternoon is quickly disappearing as I type. Here is the recipe...I made sure to heed the warning about overcooking.

Friday, January 21, 2011

i miss combining

It is always at this time of year that my thoughts return to fall. There is a certain light, a smell, a feeling about fall that I have experienced almost my entire life. It is because the fall means combine time!

It is a stressful time, but an extremely satisfying time. It is a time full of hope and angst. Scratchy, itching collars. Swollen, bleeding knuckles. But soon after it is done I miss it greatly. After the excitement of Christmas my mind floats back to sun filled days of early October and the sounds and smells of harvest time. I am not quite sure why I look back more than I look forward. I guess I have just always appreciated harvest time more than any other time of year. It is simply my favorite.

alberta avenue farmers market

I was down at the market last night to check things out and to do a prisoner exchange with Avenue Homesteader...she had cash and I had flour. It was a perfect chance to see the market first hand. To see the vendors present and what kind of customers would come through the door. I have to say how impressed I was, especially at the customer base. It was a fairly steady stream of clients coming through the door and all of them had their recycled shopping bags with them, a sign of market pros. Everyone seemed to be leaving with their bags full and the vendors were busy. 

I was especially happy though to see The Queen of Tarts herself behind one of the tables. Linda, with her infectious smile, was happily plugging away at a consistent lineup at her table. Her breads were beautifully displayed and it was as if you were standing at the table of a market vendor somewhere in Europe. Gorgeous, dark Rye breads, crusty and light. Batons and Baguettes. 

The only thing better than looking at the table of royal breads was on the way home when I couldn't resist the smell any longer. The crunch of breaking open one of her Miches' and feeling the tender moist bread give way under my fingers. Then the taste. Pure bread Nirvana. If there is a place that good wheat goes when it dies, it is Queen of Tarts breads. I simply cannot wait for her bakery to open on 104th street.

Monday, January 17, 2011

more snow and flour deliveries

As I type it is snowing yet again. I do not know what the total accumulation has been so far this winter, but it is enough. Walking through the fields is nearly impossible and it is usual to sink up to my hips when I break through a crusted drift. The piles around the farm are over 6 feet tall from where the tractor has been pushing. The old snow blade is taking an absolute beating and has broken and bent several times and in several places. I need to spend an afternoon with the welder to get it back into shape.

The flour sales are going strong and we are getting calls daily...we thank all of you who are ordering flour very much for your support. We are still going through some growing pains for the delivery of the products. We recognize that we want to make it as easy as possible for people to purchase from us, but it is difficult to make special trips for one little bag of flour. We are working on a few solutions including a regular weekly drop-off spot in St. Albert. Of course for those of you who order larger amounts of around 60 pounds or more it is worthwhile for us to deliver in a more timely basis somewhere closer to home. 

Just please bear with us and we will establish a pattern for our customers that everyone can live with. We are in Stony Plain monthly at a minimum and St. Albert 3 times a week at a minimum. We are also in East Edmonton each Tuesday. We are in South Edmonton once a month. Of course, like I said earlier, if you have a larger order we can make special trips and include other farm business in our travels. 

Please make your order as early as possible to allow us the time to mill your flour and package and then have time to deliver it to your most convenient pick up spot. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

grain products available now!

For the first time we are offering home delivery and/or mail order grain products. Check out our Grain Products page for the details. The prices are basically retail, but include delivery within Edmonton on orders over 60lbs. Just get some friends and family together to order and it doesn't take much. Smaller orders can simply be mailed to you for the additional cost of postage or perhaps a meeting can occur in town when we are there on other business.

As I type this, there is a wonderful smell of fresh baked bread coming from the kitchen. Nothing bakes like freshly milled flour.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

blizzard '11

This past weekend we had one heck of a blizzard. It was the kind of storm that I remember happening all the time as a kid, but not in the past decade at least have we had something like this. We got about 30-40 cm of snow in 2 days and a howling wind. The drifts out in the middle of our field are hip-high and the overall average of snow is about knee-high. Walking is very difficult.Our hay bales are stacked in the middle of the field where I was worried the tractor would not be able to make it. We have an IH 766 and I left the duals on for added traction and weight. Still though, I have been stuck more than once in the past couple of days trying to dig ourselves out.

The driveway of course was drifted over and I spent 8 hours in 3 days just plowing snow to be able to function around the farm. Luckily, I was able to get the tractor to the bales and push some snow around enough to have the traction to feed the cows. I was pretty tense trying to imagine what I would do if I couldn't get the tractor out there. I suppose that is the downside of round bales...I am completely dependent on the tractor to be able to feed cows. With small squares, it wouldn't matter the weather.
Shouldn't be driving in this, but I had to. Going slow.

Anyways, we are finally dug out and now the temps are falling hard. Lows around minus 30 degrees tonight and the next few nights. Cows don't seem to mind though. See my old post from last year. Minus 30 is just ok to them!

One note about the straw bale house is that it is SO COMFORTABLE! I mean I simply cannot get over how efficient it is. We have the Heat Recovery Ventilator running fairly constant to keep the moisture down and still the little woodstove easily keeps up with the interior temperature. This morning, I got the stove going from last night's coals and within 10 minutes the entire house was closing in on 20 degrees. I shut the dampers down on the stove and it will simmer away all day keeping things toasty. It looks like it will be sunny today too, so the passive solar heat will add up quickly in the concrete floors. By later this afternoon, around supper, it is my guess that we'll have to crack a window to cool things down a bit. This is what we've done quite a few days now until we get accustomed to how to properly control the heat.

Monday, January 10, 2011

rye pancakes

I am the self-proclaimed King of Pancakes. I mean I adore pancakes and I make them all the time. Now that we are living in a house and are together again I will go back to my tradition of making pancakes or crepes at least once per weekend and usually twice. Sometimes we even have pancakes for supper mid-week. Over the years, I have perfected pancake recipes and cooking methods so that I get perfect hotcakes every time...light and fluffy golden brown.

This past week we milled a batch of rye flour for a customer and I had a bunch left over so I decided to try making rye pancakes and rye crepes. They turned out tremendous! Cindy said that they were the best pancakes she had ever eaten. We have never made pancakes out of rye before and I have never heard of them up until now. So, I present to you, in their world premiere...the Rye Pancake!

They taste different from a regular wheat pancake...a little nutty flavoured perhaps. Definitely more of rich, grain taste. They are not dark or heavily textured as Rye Bread is, on the contrary they are very light and fragile. Fully cooked, theysimply melt on the tongue drenched in buttery sweetness. You can see in the photo
 that the batter has a light colour, with little flecks of darkness that is purely rye.

The rye grain does not contain the protein and gluten of a wheat so the rye pancake does not fluff up as much as the wheat will. Still though they were light and fluffy enough and the complete opposite of chewy. Simply delightful.

My recipe is simple but I do it with feel instead of measuring cups and it doesn't need to be precise anyway.

1 cup of flour
1 tsp of baking powder
1 egg (very important...keep the egg count low for pancakes)
1-2 cups milk
pinch of salt
2 tbsp of sugar

I mix the dry ingredients together and then add the wet. The final pancake product is determined by the thickness of your batter. A thicker batter will puff up and have a great degree of volume while the opposite is true of a thin batter. It should be thicker than runny crepe batter, but thinner than muffin batter. You can see in the picture what a perfect pancake batter looks like.

Cooking a thick pancake batter is a little trickier than thin. The heat should be medium to medium-high. Too high and the outside will burn and the inside will still be runny. Keeping the heat lower is better than too high. Take your time making pancakes. True gourmet pancakes take time, like all great food. I mean these are not common, ordinary griddle cakes!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Merry Christmas all over again!

Today is Christmas day all over again! The Ukrainian Christmas celebration began last night at the sighting of the first star in the evening sky. This represents the trek of the Wisemen. I think that in itself is such a wonderful tradition.

The Christmas feast then begins with 12 meatless dishes that represent the 12 disciples. The first dish is Kutia (Kutya), a sweet pudding made with boiled wheat berries, honey and poppy seeds. We sell quite a bit of wheat prior to the holiday season for this purpose. It is very tasty, but as with most dishes, there is good Kutia and there is bad Kutia. Here's a good article on the dish There are myriad variations for preparing Kutia so I think it is one of those dishes that falls under the category of "add whatever you like" similar to the old English puddings.

I guess its worth mentioning that this Christmas date is not limited to Ukrainian culture, but anyone who traditionally follows the old Julian Calendar. Greece was the last country to adopt the modern Gregorian Calendar in 1924. The Julian calendar continues to fall behind the Gregorian by a full day approximately every 100 years. on Monday, March 15, 2100 the Julian calendar will be exactly 2 weeks behind at March 1.

Merry Christmas!