A while back while visiting Wayfayers’ Ale Society in Port Williams, Nova Scotia we were bestowed with a beer bread recipe from Colleen, one of the most personable, and delightful servers we have ever met. We came home that day with their Ruby Ale Irish Red (all of their beer is brewed on site), and the very best intentions to make her delicious bread.
But, we drank the beer, and misplaced the recipe.
Sometime during the onslaught of Nor’easters we received in March we revived the idea to make that bread. We headed out, and brought home enough beer to make the bread, and have some to spare.
When we got home we realized the recipe we had wasn’t where we thought we had left it, and we were in the middle of yet another fierce storm. We easily could have drunk all the beer again, but this time we were determined to make the bread.
So, we did what any good chef with a dinner plan and fresh mussels would do. We improvised. Well, we tried our best to remember the recipe. As luck would have it, or maybe Murphy, we found the recipe the day after our impromptu attempt. I’m happy to report that we were pretty close to the original ingredients (just a bit too much salt), and it was a total success. The best part about this recipe is that you can have fresh bread on the table in an hour; Start to finish, no kneading, no rising. You can, of course use any beer you like, and different kinds of beer will diversify the flavour.
(Colleen from Wayfayers’ original recipe)
While beer and bread may be the perfect combination of two of our favourite things, this hearty bread with its crispy, buttery crust is very well suited to be served alongside mussels. The mussels can easily be prepared while the bread is cooking in the oven.
3 lbs mussels
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion diced
3 clove garlic minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cup marinara
1 cup crushed tomato
1/4 cup fresh parsley minced
1 tsp dried oregano
lemon wedges to garnish
This proved to be a delicious meal on a wintry day, although it would be great anytime of year. We are gearing up for our growing season, and very excited for the months ahead. Some of our seeds are underway, and sometimes I feel like I’m just waiting for the snow to melt, but at least I know I’m not the only one.
“Tell me, what is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
This time last year I was in midst of facilitating a move across the country. Obsessively, I checked new real estate listings, made sure our favourites were still available while keeping a close eye on the market at home, looking for any clues about how the sale of our house would unfold.
Those winter months were a whirlwind… We had so much to do– So much to plan, that it was easy to forget about the piece of cheese at the end of the maze, one interspersed with appointments, packing, purging, and never-ending lists.
As gruelling as it was, I have a serious passion for planning. I have a keen appetite for taking big ideas and preparing them into bite-sized pieces. I’ve never been one to keep an agenda, but I live for lists! If you want to know what needs to be done, I’m your girl.
As a result of all this preparation I was missing out on my all time favourite annual planning spree. It’s usually signalled by the arrival of the first seed catalogue, and flipping through its pages is better than any fairytale. I take great joy in planning my garden, and it’s a pure delight caring for my precious, little plant babies.
It’s a task I love so much I almost went ahead and did it anyway so that people who were moving into our house could inherit our garden for the rest of the summer, but when I found out that they weren’t arriving for another few weeks after we left, I couldn’t just leave my plants to fend for themselves in the heat of July.
However, the heartache I felt in the absence of planning and caring for my own garden reassured my spirit that I was on the right path, and soon I’d have a farm to plan. There was so much to consider, and I struggled trying to prepare a plan for a place that we were still so far away from.
We arrived at our homestead on the last day of June. It was raining like crazy, and the fog was thick. After the real estate agent left we rushed outside to take a better look at our acreage. Kenny said in his most serious voice, “Sarah Macalpine, Land Owner…” I squealed with delight!
It was an astounding feeling to finally be here. We did it. We worked so hard to get here, and we definitely had arrived. Those first few moments were wondrous, filled with pride and elation, but as the fog fell and swelled around us so did my perception of the infinite road ahead of us.
So much planning had to be done. I wrote lists to make more lists. I planned in my sleep and I dreamt about the vast potential of abundance just below the ground’s surface. I fell in love with ideas, and some nights I would walk hand-in-hand with them into the sunset.
One idea that swept me off my feet was our farm stand. It was engaged to be an inviting structure, somewhere we would sell our bouquets, amongst other things, host workshops, and share the beauty of the farm with our community, tourists, and hopefully people with dogs…
I planned our days, and envisioned a schedule where we would harvest and nurture the flowers in the field at dawn. Around lunch time I’d open the farm stand and start making flower crowns for cute little girls with their puppies shortly thereafter.
I would find myself in the section of our yard where we decided we would build it, dreaming. When I took the garbage out I would stare longingly at the empty space as I walked by. When we approached our house while coming home I imagined what it would look like from the road, and what kind of impression it would give. I pretty much stood in that spot and got married to it. I loved everything about it, and all the possibilities it could give us.
Except, all of a sudden I didn’t. In the midst of winter planning, and spring preparation; the lists, charts, and planting agendas, I decided to drop everything and paint a huge chalkboard on the wall. The ideas needed to be somewhere I could really see them, and the page wasn’t cutting it anymore. With so much to orchestrate, my overture to the big picture had to be a chalkboard.
I realized two things, the first, I’m way more type A than I though I was, and two, I don’t want to build a farm stand. Gasp.
We’re we really breaking up? Not forever, just for now… It’s not the farm stand, it’s me.
Sometimes when my gut is talking I think it’s my fear, and sometimes when my fear is talking I think it’s my gut instincts. Both have my best interests in mind, however one is a little more genuine than the other. It took me a couple of days to sort out who was doing the talking. Were the permits, and paperwork taking the joy out of my beloved venture and just giving me cold feet? Was I scared of the commitment? Or did I finally just realize how many hours there are in a day, and how I should be spending them this first season?
Bingo. My heart, and my gut were telling me that this year I need to be in the field. Before I can manage the kind of farm stand that I want, I need to master my product. As fate would have it, Kenny was feeling the exact same way; It was just too much.
We ultimately came to that decision together in front of our chalkboard. An incredibly relieving resolution! We were so happy to be able to get back working on the foundation of our farm, and we both agreed that we still do want to build a farm stand, just not this year. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.
With a big portion of the slate wiped clean I was able to fully immerse myself into the seed catalouge and our farm plan. My attention has been unconditionally devoted to my first true love, planning my garden, starting seeds, growing flowers, and our own food.
I’m a lot less concerned with that empty space in the front. The farm stand will get there one day, but for now I’m going to shine the spotlight on the garden.
When I was a kid I hated getting up for the school bus. Especially in the winter. I would strategically set my alarm clock-radio ahead ten minutes, and allow for an excessive amount of snoozes. I’d begrudgingly get up at the last, possible moment when the red numbers began to climb to the end of the hour, precisely the time my bus would arrive.
As I whipped around my room, frantically searching for something to wear, trying to find my backpack, I’d pause to admire my kitty on the bed. Oh, to be a cat! He really had it all figured out, I thought. I would’ve traded places with him at that moment, or any other frigid morning for that matter.
Not much has changed since then. I mean, I haven’t been on a school bus in years, and I don’t wake up to an alarm clock anymore, but when I did, my morning ritual was pretty similar. Granted, as an adult, working full-time, my mornings were a lot less hectic, but getting out of bed at the last possible moment is just my thing, especially when it’s cold out. And, if offered, I would have given a reasonable amount of thought to being a cat instead of going to work.
Is it possible that because I spent most of my life wishing away the alarm clock, and my morning commitments that my wish came true? The funny thing about all this is that I generally get up earlier now than ever before; when I was a slave to the alarm clock.
The tune of my mornings has changed drastically. Shortly after arriving, we began the ritual of having tea and breakfast on the back deck while we planned the day’s tasks. Now that winter’s arrived my morning commute is across the snow-covered lawn to the chicken coop to say hello to the girls, get their eggs before they freeze, and of course, give everyone a treat.
In fact, my entire life has changed drastically. We’ve officially been in our new home for six months, it’s the darkest time of year, and there’s been plenty of opportunity for reflection. I did so much speculating about what our new life was going to be like when we got here, now that we’re all settled in, the journey we made sometimes feels surreal.
Daydreams of this life would come to me in flashes. When we started to make our musings a reality, I allowed those visions to cascade, and meander. During those stargazing moments I was engrossed in ordinary farm chores, and mulled over millions of details: Irrigation, garden planning, soil structure, farm equipment, plant spacing, marketing strategies… You get the idea of what was going on upstairs.
My dreams took place in May, June, July, August, September, and October. It’s not because I didn’t want to think about the winter, it’s just that I couldn’t help but focus on the growing season. I knew the seasons would change, and when they did I’d deal with it, and have more time to think about farming. Besides, I had so much to do, and so much to think about that I couldn’t allow myself to linger through the rest of the year.
When thoughts of winter did creep in, I became delighted for our first major snowfall, and inspired by the prospect of having the time to be creative; bake bread, sew, paint, plan my garden, and learn new things. I also thought about power outages, cabin fever, and the amount of time it takes for it to warm up in the spring, but I tried to keep those thoughts at bay.
These first few weeks of wintry days I’ve been making lists, pouring over seed catalogues, fussing over meals, a few loaves of bread, and squeezing in a creative project here or there. I’m encompassed by the beauty of the season, in awe of the stillness and silence. I’ve been going back to bed with my tea.
However, it doesn’t matter what you choose to do in life, there’s always going to be a downside. The trick is to find something that you love so much, that the downside is bearable. For instance, maybe you want to be a nurse, but the idea of working long hours, especially on weekends and holidays is problematic for you, or maybe you’d like to be in the circus, but you really hate travelling. Whoever you are, whatever you do there is a drawback that you have to deal with, but it’s up to you to weigh up the pile in front of you.
Mother nature is my boss, my co-worker, my workplace, and my product. Right now, she says it’s okay to stay in bed a little longer, but I better be prepared because in a few months I’ll be up before the sun, and have enough hard work to do for the entire year, in half the time. Early mornings, hauling rocks out of the field, and huge piles of manure are just a few of the things that await me. I may never have clean fingernails again. But, more importantly flowers, days spent outside, and being my own boss, kind of.
I am conscious of the fact that there are going to be failures. Not everything is going to grow, and no matter how hard I try, how many books I read, or amount of knowledge I gain, I’m still going to kill some plants and have short comings. Indeed, there are always lessons to learn. I’m hoping they are not too hard on me, and that I’m not too hard on me, so I’m getting inwardly prepared now, and when I do fail, I can honour the defeat, and move on.
I can’t help but feel like I should have accomplished so much more in the summer to be better prepared for this coming year. I could have got a head start on many bi-annuals, but for some reason I just couldn’t see past amending the soil, planting bulbs and root-stock. Certainly, there’s a myriad of other i’s I could have dotted, and t’s I could have crossed, but progress is still progress, even if it’s slower than I would like.
Likewise, I have to remind myself of all the small victories we have to celebrate. We’ve made our new home our own, and added plenty of improvements. We worked the soil, plotted several beds, and got a considerable amount of flowers and garlic in the ground, all this while up against some serious weeds, and rock challenges.
We’re homesteading! We canned through the fall, been making our own bread and soap, and our small flock of laying hens are providing our eggs. I dipped my toe into the realm of cold-climate gardening, and while our cold frame only provided a suitable environment until Christmas, it went really well. The plants I didn’t harvest are now inside, out-of-the-way on a couple of shelves, in front of a window, and thriving. I’m writing, painting, sewing, and creating; all those things I longed to do before I had the time.
So amidst the lists, our chores, and all the planning, Christmas came at the perfect time to take some time to unwind. We went to a small farm not far from here, and met the turkeys before we went back a few weeks later to collect one for our meal. Kenny made me sit on the stairwell while he smuggled my gifts into the house so he could wrap them (he was concerned I’d peek out the window if I went upstairs, and the five-year old in me just might have). I only had an opportunity to make his annual, homemade card when he nodded off on the couch on Christmas Eve. It’s really great spending so much time together, but sometimes we all need a little time!
We had a beautiful snowfall shortly before the holiday, then quite a bit of rain which washed it all away. On Christmas morning we woke up to a light dusting, by midday it delicately cloaked the trees. A few showers gave the freshly fallen snow a gleaming finish, and then the sun came out! It brought with it the most magnificent rainbow I have ever seen. It was so close I could see the trees through it, on the other side. I felt like I could reach out and touch it.
It was fleeting, but it sure did give us something to clink our glasses to! We really have so much to be grateful for, and this felt like Mother Nature saying, hey, you guys are alright, here you go.
It surely made our first Christmas here a memorable one. We had our obligatory champagne with breakfast, and as the day wore on I mixed up a handful of heavenly cocktails.
Pomegranate and Honey Gin Fizz with Rosemary
In your favourite tumbler muddle 2 tablespoons of pomegranate arils, 1 tablespoon of honey, juice from 1 lemon wedge, and a pinch of ground rosemary.
Fill glass with prefered amount of ice. Add desired amount of gin (I used 1.5 ounces), top with soda. Garnish with fresh lemon, and rosemary sprig. Stir and enjoy!
Pear and Ginger Gin and Tonic
Grate ginger, and slice pear lengthwise. I used a mandolin on the thinnest setting. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ginger, 1/4 of a pear, and juice from 1 lime wedge to each glass. Make sure you set aside a slice of pear per glass for the garnish.
Top up glass with ice, add gin, and tonic water. Stir the pears around to separate. Garnish with a fresh lime wedge, and reserved pear slice.
This crazy ride is only just beginning. Often I wonder what it would be like if I could go back in time and tap Kenny on the shoulder to tell him that one day we’ll be dancing in the kitchen of our old, Nova Scotia farmhouse. If I could tell myself to hurry-up, get out of bed, let that cat be a cat, and you be you because one day you’ll be so excited to get out of bed to go to work on your very own farm, and everything will always be okay. But, these things aren’t for us to know.
The first time I went to Kenny’s house I saw the Pasta Queen, an old-fashioned pasta roller with a hand crank. It sat neatly on the counter, arranged with several cookbooks behind it. I was just getting to know him, and I knew he loved food, but we hadn’t even scratched the surface on his talents in the kitchen. I was awestruck that my burly, six-foot-two, handsome, tattooed boyfriend, owned, and operated a pasta making machine.
Kenny’s love for cuisine was won honestly. He was a Scottish-immigrant-kid growing up in suburban Hamilton, Ontario. When his family came to Canada they had a whole new world of food to explore.
They arrived by boat to Montréal on The Empress of Canada in June, 1967. They had lunch at the train station, his dad ordered a clubhouse sandwich, but didn’t see the toothpicks holding the delicious wedges together. First bite, and the sharp-end of the toothpick lodged itself in the roof of his mouth. Canada, and it’s menu was off to a rocky start.
Kenny’s family had some relatives here, and they stayed with them briefly after they arrived. In the following summers they would vacation together. The Macalpines, along with aunt Agnus, and uncle Donald travelled to Sherkston Beach, a little, summer-get-away town on Lake Erie’s north shore.
No doubt, Scotland has some glorious beaches, but it just doesn’t get quite as hot, and sunny as it does in southern Ontario’s summer. Poor little Kenneth, and his pale Scottish skin didn’t fare so well in the hot sun. He had a tremendous sunburn. Later that evening they roasted marshmallows around the campfire, and because of his sunstroke he became very sick. To this day he will not go anywhere near a marshmallow, especially if it’s on a stick.
It wasn’t all bad though. Kenny happily discovered chocolate milk, and a regular supply of oranges. As a little guy, his favourite song was the jingle from the Frito Lays commercial, he still sings it sometimes, and now I do to. You can watch it here. But, you might be singing it now too.
Eventually his family settled in a nice house, in a great neighbourhood. They had German and Italian neighbours, with kids his age. This is when his love for food really started to flourish. The Italians, naturally, fed him often, and the Germans too! He became a regular in their kitchens, and couldn’t get enough of the wonderful ways they prepared their meals.
As he got older his appetite for cooking developed. He perfected the grilled cheese, and omelettes at an early age, but ravenously wanted to know more. The more he explored new dishes, the more he fell in love with new flavours. He even remembers where he was the first time he had pizza, how amazing he thought it was, it was love at first sight.
While we were dating we went out for dinner all the time. Sometimes we went to really nice places, and sometimes we went to holes-in-the-wall, down staircases to get to little restaurants that have been there forever. The food never disappointed. I was impressed by his astute discern, and navigation!
By the time we really started to cook for each other, we had already fallen in love. It was the icing on the cake that we both ended up with someone who loved to spend time in the kitchen. We set time aside to cook together, and some of our best memories from those years were in the kitchen.
I had never made pasta before, or even gave it a thought. I was always looking to the sauce, the ingredients, rather than the vehicle. If Kenny has taught me anything about cooking, it’s that simple is good. Take basic, quality ingredients, and work your way up from there to make a really terrific meal. My art teacher told me pretty much the same thing about oil painting, so I think it’s kind of a standard. No fuss, no muss.
He’s made his signature noodles a million different ways since those early years. Lasagna, spaghetti, fettuccine, tortellini, manicotti… I wish I could go back and thank his old, Italian neighbours!
Pasta is really easy to make. It takes a little bit of practice to get the hang of using the machine. You need to slowly feed the dough in, and guide it out while turning the handle. The good news is, if it rips or gets holes in it you can just reform it and roll it through again. The last time I was at a second hand store I saw two on the shelves, so if you’re not sure if homemade pasta is for you, but you’re willing to try, you should have a look there. Or, you could do it like they used to, and just roll it out and cut it. A bottle of wine and a pizza cutter would be perfect for this!
Kenny’s Pasta Recipe
2 cups semolina flour*
1/4 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp olive oil
*You can use all purpose, or whole wheat flour for the entire recipe, but may have to adjust the quantity. It’s important that the consistency is correct: The dough is not sticky when combined.
1 cup 35% cream
2 tbsp butter
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp pesto
1 lemon wedge
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated asiago
fresh ground pepper
A large pot of salted water
If you can master the art of homemade pasta, I promise you’ll never regret it. The options are endless, and it’s so much better than the store-bought stuff.
Before we packed up our life to come here I felt an intensity comparable to waiting in line for my very first rollercoaster ride. There I was, I had made up my mind that I was finally going to do it, but alas, I was 587th in line on the hottest day of the year. I was definitely tall enough to get on the ride, and had spent most of my life, since being tall enough, trying to avoid that very situation. After a handful of hopeless and horrifying ordeals on ordinary fair-spinny-rides I had written off all amusement rides indefinitely. Fear or not, something finally assembled itself within me and brought me to the back of that far-reaching line. Waiting. The heat amplified by the asphalt, rose up from my feet and sweltered around my overwrought brain.
I wanted to run, but I continued to shuffle along in lazy strides. I watched from my remote place in line and felt every loop the rollercoaster made in the profoundness of my presence. I scanned the faces in the crowd, did anyone feel like me? I desperately tried to read their expression after they touched back down. Deep breaths.
What had just resembled endlessness now felt abrupt. It was my turn. The sands of time had passed, and I realized the infinitude of comfort that was at hand while waiting. It was show time.
I could have been lounging effortlessly on an inflatable tube floating down the lazy river, but no, I got in line and hoped it would never come to an end. I allowed the surprisingly pleasant man to double-check my seatbelt, as I fantasized about my escape and interrupting service to his ride. Suddenly the cars jolted, the tracks squealed and we began to go up, backwards. I had carefully studied every movement in the course to anticipate its ensemble so I could be better prepared for curveballs. I shut my eyes tight, reeling inside with terror. I had survived the first loop with coinciding screams when I decided to open my eyes.
To my bewilderment I liked it. I shut my eyes again, then opened them feeling exhilarated. I let gravity control my arms on the down swings. I did it, I liked it, and when it was over I got back in line.
While coming here wasn’t nearly as dramatic as that sounds, it was a dizzying adventure. We poured all our energy into getting our home ready to sell, packing it up, and when all those loose ends finally got looked after we had nothing to do but wait. Hurry up and wait.
I wasn’t nearly as afraid for our new life as the rollercoaster ride, but uneasiness woke up inside me like a cat sleeping in a room with a mouse. I was managing pages long to-do lists while working full-time, swiftly everything stopped. All we had left to do was get here, and get to work, but that was still weeks away.
I felt powerless, unable to begin any tasks for our new place. I had an indisputable appetite to stay busy, but all I could do was wait, look up to the ride ahead of me and speculate.
The clouds of uncertainty faded. I soon became quite comfortable in the waiting game. Day drinking with friends, out for dinner every night, prolonging our goodbyes. My responsibilities had evaporated, and I was having the best time. All of the sudden I was at the front of the line and it was time to get on the ride.
I’ll never forget the moment we drove away from that house. I held my tears, and took a last fistful of lavender from the garden. We drove out of our neighbourhood, out of our town, and away from everything we knew.
The further we got away, the more excited I became. The day we finally got here I felt fearless. We did what we said we were going to do, and we made it here more alive than ever before.
It’s been nearly five months since that thrilling day, and we are almost in winters embrace. The summer and fall months were jam-packed with agendas, peppered with visitors. It’s starting to feel like waiting time again.
Waiting for our next round of guests, to prune the orchard, to start our seedlings, to build our farm stand, set-up our irrigation lines, the springtime list goes on and on. Certainly there are many projects we’ve saved for winter, but the real excitement doesn’t start again until the spring.
In an attempt not to shelf the short, overcast days of November we had a picnic. Although to some it might not be an ideal time of year to be chilling outside, there are many redeeming qualities found in the November picnic basket, and I’d be happy to name a few.
What you bring on your picnic is up to you, but I firmly believe a picnic should be impulsive and at ease. Small bites of whatever I have on hand is always my go-to. This time I happened to have a great selection of meats and cheeses, but sometimes my fridge is lacking in the pack-it-up-in-a-cinch department. Fruits, veggies, olives, boiled eggs, and nuts are all great additions, throw in a few slices of bread, and you’ll be ready to go.
Because we’re campers we came prepared with blankets, and something to sit on. You can make it as fancy or simple as you like. The point is to work with what you have for an easy, enjoyable afternoon, and remember to make yourself comfortable. You can go as far as you like, or stay close to home. Our November picnic was in our back field, somewhere we had yet to hang out.
We had a little kitty visitor for the festivities. Murray loves snacks! We had a beautiful bottle of rosé on hand, but also packed a thermos of rose hip tea which was a nice touch on a chilly day.
We enjoyed our fleeting little picnic outside, and it was wonderful to do something so simple, but at an unexpected time of year. One of the best parts about it was coming back inside and getting cosy by the fire.
If you find yourself reading this, and maybe feeling a little less than excited for the coming months ahead I urge you to take advantage of a November day to do something you love that fills your heart with joy.
I spend an abundance of my time looking up at the sky. At the end of each day is a collection of moments where I paused and admired the dynamic atmosphere above, and obliged to it’s grounding prophecy. The speed at which the harvest clouds travel across the sky, the way the sun says goodbye everyday, the bounty of constellations that scatter themselves ubiquitously, and everything in between. I am in awe.
It’s all so inspiring. To say my heart is full is a restraint on my passion. I have been seduced by the spectrum of nature; I want to paint it, photograph it, write it, tend to it, and nurture it. It’s an elating experience, but if I might say, a little overwhelming.
My horoscopes says, “You’re most likely to thrive if you weave together a variety of styles, and methods. The coming weeks will be a highly miscellaneous time, and you can’t afford to get stuck in any single persona or approach.” Leos, do you feel me?
So, I’m taking my cues from the stars and the sky; Embracing their diverse energy, and compelling charisma. I’m preparing the ground for planting, and filling it with bundles of spring flowers and garlic. I’m enrolled in horticultural studies, and engrossed with ideas and expertise about farming, and homesteading. I met an artist, and for the first time in a long time, I spoke about my art. I’m writing, and setting goals to broaden my horizons. I’m exploring my new surroundings, and taking in this glorious season. I’m shovelling manure, and picking rocks out of the field. I’m looking at the sky, and feeling the ground beneath my feet. Did I mention I’m making curtains for the living room, dining, room, and kitchen?
It’s an exciting time to be alive, and these may be the best years of my life, and only my belly can compete with the fullness of my heart. The wood stove is on, and it’s time for the savoury goodness that I have a penchant for after the first frost. Our leftover Thanksgiving turkey became soup, and also found its way into pies. As I write this our leftover apple pie sits on the counter, and we have the remains of a Shepherd’s pie in the fridge. It’s been a good week for eating.
Fall is Nova Scotia is a captivating time. The colours are so rich, and here in the Valley the trees are laden with heavenly apples.
In the spirit of the season and my husband’s undeniable love for pastry I made us our very first pie in our new house with the freshest, localest, apples. His favourite variety is Gravenstiens. They’re excellent eating, and baking apples that grow well in the Annapolis Valley microclimate. Firm, crisp, juicy, and slightly tart, they make a perfect pie.
I always follow the directions on the shortening box for the pie crust, but I make one exception. Whenever I’m making pastry and the recipe calls for water, I replace it with my good friend, vodka. I learnt this little trick from a pastry chef, and have never looked back. When you substitute vodka, it evaporates much more rigorously in the oven and leaves lots of little air pockets that reveal themselves in a melt-in-your-mouth, flakey crust.
5 or 6 good-sized apples, skin on, but sliced thinly
3/4 cup brown sugar, and a little more for sprinkling
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 pinch salt
2 tbsp butter, pea sized pieces
2 tbsp flour
pastry (9″ double crust)
Pre-heat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl combine all your ingredients, and coat well. Place contents in your prepared pie dish lined with pastry. Top pie with pastry and make holes for steam to escape, or follow along in the photos above to make a lattice crust. Cut pieces using a ruler to ensure uniformity. When pieces are in place to your satisfaction use a wet pastry brush to conceal any imperfections, but coat the entire surface. Sprinkle sugar lightly, but thoroughly on top. Place in oven and cook for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and cook for 50 minutes, or until crust is sufficiently browned.
Our pie was so good, and tasted just like the season. I took the apple cores (sans seeds), and little bits of left over, raw pastry and fed them to the chickens. Our newest, and very entertaining addition to our little homestead. Last week we brought home six laying hens that are about 18 weeks old. They are just beginning to lay eggs, and our first two eggs had double yolks!
So far, their favourite treats are grapes and earthworms, and I think they are settling in nicely. We moved the rabbit hutch into the chicken barn, otherwise known as the Tiltin’ Hilton, and Betty and Wilma have free range of the barn as well as the run outside, but somewhere to go if they want to be away from the hens. They’re loving it, and neither the birds or the bunnies seem to mind each other. They even share their grapes.
Kenny did a tremendous job getting the barn ready for the girls, and his talents will never cease to amaze me. He poured cement, repaired the roof, reinforced the structure, installed windows and an opening/closing chicken door, made and installed two doors, made the nesting boxes as well as their run and sleeping perch. All this, and introduced solar power! The Tiltin’ Hilton has never looked so good, and we haven’t even replaced the siding out the outside yet! Hopefully, that’ll happen soon, but we are just waiting on our lumber order to be able to get started.
We made another exciting addition to our family and adopted the sweetest kitty we call Murray, or Murray Purry, and sometimes, Murr the Purr. He spent five whole months at the shelter before we took him home, and I wish we had got to him sooner. He’s just the sweetest guy, and is getting along great with our other two cats, Jean-Luc and Sidney. He loves naps on the couch, going for walks with me in the field, and having canned pumpkin for breakfast. He was having some tummy troubles when he arrived at the SPCA and the staff their found that pumpkin helped him, and he loves it! He scarfs it down in the morning even faster than Kenny and I over a that apple pie. He’s truly an wonderful enhancement to our clan.
Our boys are never far behind, and love to take interest in our new endeavours. They’ve been very curious about the chickens, but of course, perfect gentlemen. They’re a welcome distraction when we’re working out in the field, and I’m so delighted that they like their new surroundings. I really can’t imagine life without them.
All these moments in our life come and go like well-formed clouds gleaming in the sky. I’m so glad to be able to take the time to savour, and become exhilarated by them.
Our little chicken barn is in rough shape. There’s a hole in the roof, the outside siding has seen better days, and the door may open and close one more time before it plummets off the hinges and crumbles. Before we moved in we concluded that we’d tear it down, and make use of the big barn for all of our farming needs. We weren’t going to need two barns anyway. It’s a bit of an eyesore.
Somewhere along the way of pricing lumber for the big barn and surrendering to the enchantment of our new homestead we evolved our little shipwreck into chicken Shangri-la. What if we fixed the roof, the door, and the windows? Put some more cement down to fix the cracks in the floors, and reinforced the structure. Oh, and re-clad the outside. “Sure, no problem,” we said slowly with egg-shaped stars in our eyes.
Work has officially commenced. We skipped the ribbon cutting and the groundbreaking ceremony until the first egg arrives, and while we were scraping ancient manure off the floor we fantasized about how we would prepare that first egg. Kenny says boiled, although I’d prefer poached. Hopefully there’s two that day.
We have since found a sheet of the exact metal roofing to replace the damaged panel. Not until we traversed to the lengths the province in search of it. It haunted us everywhere we trekked. We saw it on barns, sheds and garages but could not find a piece of it for ourselves new or used, until someone finally answered our Kijiji ad. The good news; It’s a perfect match, and free if we wanted to come get it. The bad news; It was two hours away, and really rusty. Beggars can’t be choosers, and replacing the entire roof is out of the question so we’re relieved that we finally have something to work with.
We are working from the ground up, and our concentration has been on repairing floor. It’s coming away at the back while it’s heaved up in the middle. Ideally, we’d back a cement truck up and recap the entire pad, but for this implement we settled on a dozen or so bags of ready mix. The cement has bolstered the skeleton of the barn, and all four walls are much sturdier already. Bring it on wind!
Phase one, the floor is officially complete, and we have acquired most of our supplies for phases two and three, the inside structure and the outside facade. On the crest of our agenda you’ll find that we need to address the lack of framing within the structure, and that needs to be done before Kenny gets up on the roof to replace that busted panel. From there on in we are constructing a new door, and finally going over those old shingles with new board and batten.
The best part about all this is the chickens! The girls will be here in about a month’s time, and when they arrive they’ll already be eight weeks old. We were indecisive about what kind of chickens we wanted, and where best to get them from, but after exploring all of our options we settled on sourcing them from our reputable farm store. There are many breeders here, and countless ads online, but given the season and our lack of experience we thought we’d go with chicks a little older and save the brand-new-baby, heritage breeds for the spring. Easter photo shoots here we come…The rabbits are going to be thrilled!
In the midst of all the planning and preparing for our flock, plus a myriad of other things to do around here, we found the time to pick up a free-range chicken from a farm around the corner. We roasted it in the oven on a drizzly day, and crusted it in herbs straight from the garden. We served it with butternut squash, and caesar salad with homemade dressing. It was the finest reward and incentive for the commission of our little chicken enterprise.
My love… He builds stuff, he fixes stuff, he get’s up early to feed the cats in the morning, and he makes the best pizza. This is his tried and true recipe, and like all good recipes these measurements are approximate, because he just knows what to do. This recipe is the equivalent of Kenny’s favourite fishing spot, it’s his go-to, and ultimate crowd pleaser. Much like his love for catching the finest fish, he’s happy to share and teach his secrets to anyone wanting to learn.
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup cornmeal (and more for the bottom)
1/2 tsp salt
1 package traditional yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
red peppers, sliced
boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced
Blend flour, semolina, corn starch, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. Stir yeast into water and let sit for ten minutes until it’s foamy, and then add sugar. Slowly add yeast mixture to flour, and blend. Continue adding gradually until dough forms. Use your hands to form a ball and knead for three to five minutes, adding more flour if required.
Coat a glass bowl generously with oil, and place dough inside. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place somewhere warm. Let dough rise for a minimum of four hours, or until it has doubled in size.
Carefully remove dough from bowl, and place on a floured surface. Form into desired shape and roll into a minimum of 1/2″. Structure a ridge around perimeter of dough.
Working on a large cutting board lift one half of the dough up and carefully fold over to one side. Generously coat underside with cornmeal, and repeat on opposite side. This will help your prepared pizza roll off onto your pizza stone in the hot oven.
Using your hands coat the crust of the pizza with olive oil.
Preheat oven to 500°F and place pizza stone on middle rack. In a frying pan cook chicken thoroughly. Add leeks, garlic, red pepper and sauté until desired consistency is achieved, set aside.
Spread pizza sauce directly onto dough working in the middle to the edge. Blend cheese together and evenly cover the sauce. Add sautéed ingredients, pepperettes, and top with more cheese.
Carefully place pizza directly onto pizza stone in hot oven. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling.
We’ve had several variations of this pie, but the sweetness of the sautéed peppers, with the liveliness of the fontina is an impeccable combination. All these flavours come together perfectly on this superb crust. So, put whatever you like on this pizza because there’s no wrong answer! We hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Cheers!
In celebration of the present moment, and the beautiful days of summer, here’s something that I could eat every single day, and tastes like summer in every bite.
2 limes, zest and juice
1/2 lemon, zest and juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tuna steaks (about 1/3 kg), diced
1 cup sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 avocado, pitted and diced
3/4 cup diced green onions
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
1 tbsp ginger
2 minced garlic cloves
pepper to taste
In a small bowl combine citrus juice and zest with soy sauce, and olive oil. Set aside.
Blend chopped tuna, tomatoes, green onions, avocado, cilantro, ginger, garlic, and desired amount of pepper in serving bowl. Mix and incorporate dressing.
Serve on cucumbers and rice crackers.
My new life happens in two week blocks. Every other Friday is garbage day, and the day I bottle my kombucha. On that day Kenny and I marvel at how the time has gone by since the last garbage day and reflect on all the progress we’ve made, and the progress that we wished we would have made in the past two weeks.
Naturally, this past Friday was no different. I made an extra tangy batch of kombucha, and Kenny is just starting to appreciate a taste for it. We reflected on our plans for the barns and gardens, and did some minor tweaking. We made some serious strides in our quest to tame the wild field, and are getting to know how to work our new tractor. It feels like it’s really starting to come together.
While reflecting on the previous two weeks, instinctively we look towards the future and set goals for things we would like to see weeded off our ever growing list. Nonetheless, Kenny and I made plans to get the greenhouse up and running, and I dreamed up a visit to Guy Frenchys; A chain of second hand clothing stores here that are well known for their incredible deals. I’ve heard ladies talk about some of the items they’ve discovered there the same way I’ve overheard people talking about the lottery. I’m a bit ashamed that I still haven’t been.
On Saturday morning our house was enclosed in a thick fog, and it rained all day. The wind swirled through the unshut kitchen windows and whistled its way through the house. My husband and I looked at each other as we started to glimpse a little further into the future, and beyond our little list. These are the last moments of summer, and inevitably winter is approaching. The signs were evident at the farmer’s market too, and we stockpiled August’s tremendous harvest so we could spend the rest of the day canning and listening to the season shift.
It is within all this looking forward and back that I became aware of how far we’ve really come. As the moon passed the between the course of the sun and the earth it crystallized within me, and I began to appreciate the moment, and feel so grateful.
If you were to tell me when I was nine years old that in 25 years I would own a house with a wood stove, and enjoy stacking wood, I would have rolled my eyes so far back in my head I’d be blind. I remember my parents pleading, yelling at my brother and I to get up off our asses and go attend to the pile of wood in the driveway and haul it up by the house. It was, without a question my least favourite chore. However, this week our first two bush cords of wood arrived, and I took immense satisfaction in the procurement of my wood pile. Maybe I just needed better scenery.
I spent most of my life not knowing what I wanted to do, and now that I’m finally here, I feel like I’ve known all along and would have realized sooner if I looked to the things I valued when I was younger, wood stacking aside, of course.
I love nature; Animals, plants, soil, even bugs. My favourite days are ones spent outside, and I’m fascinated by the quest a seed takes to become a beautiful sprout. Everyday I’m thinking about the spring, and the growing season next year. However, I’m also thinking about the colossal amount of work that needs to be done before that.
Day by day we are scratching something off the list, but it’s starting to feel like for everything we take off we accumulate much more. Today I felt like I was 2 millimetres tall in comparison to the current agenda.
The pressure has be building for a little while, but while I was watching the meteor shower I had a blatantly great idea. Sometimes the most obvious solution can be the simplest one. I decided we needed to buy a tractor, and it was such a relief!
Initially, we decided we didn’t need one because of the soil conservation methods we will practice in the future. If we were to buy a tractor it wouldn’t be much use to us for the style of farming we want to do, but we need to prepare the soil now, and that means our field needs to mowed and ploughed. Cue my brilliant idea! We needed something that could work in the future on our 30” wide rows, and do the job of preparing the field now. The answer is a small, two-wheel tractor. They are very popular in Europe, and I had read about them in a book by the Canadian market gardening guru, Jean-Martin Fortier. He swears by these tractors, particularly the Italian made, BCS. They have a Honda engine, and have a huge variety of attachments for different tasks.
I watched YouTube videos, I researched prices and became familiar with the implements. I found a dealer and Kenny was completely on board with the idea. Just to be sure I checked Kijiji, and found one for sale an hour away. I looked to compare prices on used models, and could not find another one for sale in Canada. It must be a sign, that tractor was meant for me!
It came with three attachments: a brush hog for mowing, a tiller, and a snowblower. We already have a snowblower, but this just means that this is another activity my husband and I can do together, because we are together all the time, everyday.
We brought our new baby home, and were feeling like pros about our savvy purchase, until we fired it up. My positive outlook soon became overcast. We had a brief lesson from the farmer we bought it from, and he was a really nice fellow who gave us all kinds of tips on farming. At home, we just didn’t have the same cadence with the machine. At first I told myself it’s just a learning curve, and truthfully it probably still is, but it was really frustrating. The mower doesn’t work how we need it to to tackle the current golden rod explosion on the field. We already have a snowblower, so did we just buy a crazy expensive rototiller?
My common form of economics works by either equating something to the time I could spend in Cuba for that price or the cost of pints of beer. I had to walk away from the tractor today with Cuba on my mind.
Kenny spent much more time with it, he serviced the engine, and got it to work a little better, but we’re still not sure that it’s going to do the job we initially bought it for. Hopefully, it will serve its purpose in the future, if not now.
In terms of field preparation I’m feeling a little defeated, but tomorrow’s a new day, and I’m grateful that Kenny’s feeling positive. We stood in the middle of the field tonight and said, one day we’ll look back on this and laugh… If for nothing else, this golden rod makes a really beautiful backdrop.
Every once in a while a simple moment takes me away to a former occasion where I savoured the remarkably familiar nuances of life. It just so happens these heart-stirring occurrences have been happening a little more frequently lately, and they’re rather fortuitous. There’s a good chance I’m walking around grinning like an idiot, but it’s true what they say about east coasters; Everybody is really nice here, and so far they’re all smiling back at me.
The air… It doesn’t matter where we go the air smells pure and clear. Kenny had a little laugh the other day, but I even commented on the freshness of the air at the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s the ocean, I’m sure. However my most beloved scent in the air is near the forest where I can smell the earth, the trees, the moss, the future growth, and all that has passed. This fragrance bridges time and swells my soul.
When these subtle moments come together they embody the perfect day, and I surrender in complete contentment. One of these instances was Saturday, and after having a nice morning at home, a stroll and lunch at the farmer’s market, we went blueberry picking. There’s a small farm just down the road and we spent a glorious hour indulging in the air, combining a favourite activity with a favourite food.
The very best way to eat blueberries, in my opinion is fresh. Straight off the vine, there’s nothing like it. I tried my best to fill my basket and not my mouth, but these were the best blueberries I’ve ever had. We managed to collect 8.5 pounds of berries, and Kenny won the competition collecting about three-quarters of a pound more than me. No idea how that could have happened, but who really is the winner here?
We took our bounty home, and combined with our farmer’s market haul we were feeling pretty proud of our farm-to-table goodies. Inspired by the season, and the local harvest happening all around us I sought out for a uniquely Nova Scotian recipe to showcase our blueberry yield.
The answer was immediately obvious, and something I have never heard of before. A lovely little dessert that combines blueberries and scones in one pretty dish, A Blueberry Grunt. Yep, that’s what it’s called. I’m not really sure why, but some say it the noise the berries make from underneath the biscuits. I don’t care what it’s called, it’s delicious!
4 cups blueberries
zest of one lemon
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 heaping tbsp lavender buds
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup warm milk
Preheat oven to 400′ F. In a 10″ cast iron skillet or favourite baking dish of your own combine blueberries, lemon juice and zest, sugar, nutmeg and half of the lavender. Mix well and place in oven. It’s a good idea to put an old cookie sheet on the rack below the skillet to ensure an easy clean up in case it spills over the sides. Bake for 20 minutes.
While the berries are cooking combine flour, baking powder, salt, and 3/4 tbsp lavender in food processor and blend well. Cut butter into 1″ cubes and pulse in food processor until pieces are roughly pea size. If you don’t have a food processor you can combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and cut in butter with pastry blender or a couple of butter knives.
In a measuring cup combine warm milk, egg, and honey. Mix well. Blend into the dry ingredients with the food processor on low, and just long enough to combine.
Remove berries from the oven. With your hands freely form biscuits, and place directly into dish on berries. I chose to make five, but you could do several smaller ones and adjust your baking time accordingly. Sprinkle reserved lavender buds on the biscuits and bake for 20 minutes.
Your kitchen will smell amazing for the next 20 minutes or so, and when it came out of my oven I placed it by an open window to snap a few pics and it felt like something out of a fairytale. You can serve this hot or cold, and it goes great with ice cream!
This recipe was adapted from Taste of Nova Scotia.
In 2009 in there were 38,000 acres of wild blueberries in production for about 1,000 farms province wide. At that time there was 74 growers of high bush blueberries, and many more slated for production. We have a handful of high bush blueberries operations within a short distance of the house, and several more throughout the valley. We chose Blueberry Land for its close proximity, but also because of the no spray and pesticide policy they adhere to. We’ve picked wild blueberries many times before, but this was the first time that we’ve picked high bush blueberries, and collecting them was much easier than we were accustomed to. It’s safe to say we’ll be back for lots more to keep in our freezer for a winters worth of berries!