Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Dessert!

For Thanksgiving dinner we decided to make a... you guessed it, a pumpkin ice cream.  I found the recipe from David Lebovitz Blog.  Now, if you like pumkin pie, you will L-O-V-E this recipe!  The only thing we did different was not straining the mixture prior to putting it in the ice cream maker.  I think this step was to eliminate any chunks that may have been in the pumpkin puree.  The texture ended up being a bit "loose"... I am not sure how else to explain it.  The flavour was fantastic but I think not straining the pumpkin puree was the cause of the different texture.  The texture was not a bad thing, just not creamy, though it was still smooth in your mouth.  
Churn baby churn!
We brought the IC over to my brothers for dinner with the family and served it with a ginger and cinnamon snap cookie.... DELICIOUS!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chickens New Home

I just realize that I haven't posted about my Chickens new home yet, so here it is:
They are now living at the Windsor, Essex Coop Cooperative.  They run around with 31 other birds and live in an old trailer for a coop... not too shabby!  It's about a 15 minute drive, at most, and we go at least twice a week.  I often stop by during the day when on my way into the city to give them a few treats and some love and cuddles.  I had been very nervous about my ladies getting along with the existing birds but it took no more than a few days and they were making friends.  My ladies stayed in the coop for the first few days only venturing out at odd times.  I had witnessed one of my ladies running out and getting picked on quite a bit from the other birds.  Although, this didn't last long.  Within a few days they were seen running around with the other birds and having no issues whatsoever.  There had been some Chanteclares introduced a few weeks prior to ours and they never left the coop until my ladies were there.  I think once they saw my ladies running around outside they decided they should head out as well.  Everyone seems very happy together.

The Cooperative plans on keeping the coop and chickens all winter long and so we will now be hiking out in the dead of winter for the birds.  I don't mind much, but hopefully there are no major issues with the cold and ice.  I am not sure what the plan is for the waterer... hopefully it doesn't freeze solid inside the coop.  They winterized the coop by covering it with plastic tarps to keep drafts and such out, but there are areas for venting.  I think we will all just take it one day at a time and concur the challenges as they arise.  That said, I was very glad to see where my birds had decided to roost.  They are on the highest shelf.  It is a wide shelf so they can tuck their entire feet and legs under their bodies without any hanging over an edge.  They also are enclosed a bit since there is an immediate top and sides around them so they can huddle together, as they do anyhow, and keep warm.  I remember when we brought our ladies there, some of the existing birds had definitely been roosting on that shelf; they definitely got the boot once my ladies got there.  Now, I have read that the highest rooster are the "boss" but I am not sure if that is fact but I know one of my girls, I like to call her Sophia, is definitely a bossy bird.  I have seen her out in the run putting others in their place when I throw some scraps... its nice to know I raised a natural leader.  

Day one.  We had them in their own small area for the first few hours.
Checking out their new digs.

Crazy Chanteclares.
Pretty Girls!
Too many production birds in one nesting basket.  LOL
3 peas in a pod... or, 3 chickens in a basket.
I do miss seeing them in the yard and having the kids watch them and throw them some snacks but overall, I am happy about where our ladies have ended up (but will still bring them with us if we move).  We have gotten to know some great people with values similar to ours and are part of the local CSA as well as the Coop Cooperative.  I think the sense of community we will get from this group will be a major benefit.  It will help us learn as well as teach the kids about community, food and agriculture.  Regardless of where we live, be it farm or subdivision, we will remain a part of the CSA and Coop Cooperative.   Bylaw and neighbourhood drama can't change the fact that this has been an overall positive experience and I would not change any of our past or present decisions.  We have benefited from each stage of our "chicken journey" and plan to keep doing what we believe is best for our family, the environment and the world as a whole!

Water Kefir: First Results

After 48hrs of fermenting (grains were asleep when we got them so they needed some time to get going again) our kefir water was ready for straining.
Kefir water after 48hrs of fermenting, prior to straining.
Straining water kefir in our tuna strainer (was unable to find a plasric sieve).
Strained kefir grains and egg shell.
Egg shell on left was fermented with the grains, right egg shell is fresh. Fascinating!
The flavour of the sucanat was still very overpowering so I decided to add some lemon juice and strawberry puree. I didn't add it to the entire batch, just about 1/3. This was very tasty! I also made a batch of lemonade and added 1/2 kefir water and 1/2 lemonade and drank that... which was also very tasty.
Kefir water, lemon juice and strawberry puree.
I went ahead and started 2 more batches of water kefir. I decided to experiment with the types of surgar I used. I ended up with about 7 tbsp. of grains after our first batch so was able to make a 4 cup and a 3 cup batch. The 4 cup batch I added 2 tbsp. of cane sugar and 1 tbsp. of palm sugar and egg shell and 1 dried prune. The 4 cup batch I added 2 tbsp. of cane sugar, 1 tbsp. of each of palm sugar and sucanat and 2 dried prunes. After 24 hrs of fermentation, they were both ready... grains were working fully.
Fruit started on the bottom but floated to the top during fermentation.
Both batches ready to go!
Both of these batches were quite tasty. They are a bit sweet but have a bit of a zing to them as well. They are not very fizzy, but to achieve a fizzy drink I believe you have to seal the lid and keep it in the fridge for a few days after straining the grains.
Here is another great link all about water kefir:
I decided to use about 1/2 of each batch and flavour them. I strained the grains and then added some mashed strawberries to one and blueberries to the other. I put lids on (loosely) and sat them back on the counter for another 24 hrs.... tomorrow we will taste!
Blueberry and Strawberry... yummo!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Water Kefir Grains

I had recently been doing some reading about healthy eating and such things.  I came across a grain I had heard of before but not anything past the yogurt style.  We used to purchase Liberte Kefir from the grocery store as opposed to yogurt.  It is similar in texture but kefir is far more tangy tasting.  It wasn't until recently that I discoved the many uses of these wonderful Water Kefir Grains!  (also known as Tibicos, tibi, sugar kefir grains, japanese water chrystals and California Bees)

Kefir Grains are cultures of healthy strains of bacteria and yeast.  They feed on sugar and produce lactic acid, alcohol(usually less than 1%) and carbon dioxide thus making a unique tasting carbonated beverage.  Drinking water kefir will supply your body with natural probiotics which aid in digestive health.  Kefir also contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid, B vitamins and magnesium, known for protecting the nervous system, also producing a calming effect.   There are many more benefits of this wonderful grain and they can be found all over the place on the wonderful web.

There a many links with information and recipes out there about water kefir grains but I have discovered a few that have been very helpful and informative:

Aaron and I also found a local group of Kefir grains on facebook and have joined their group and managed to get some water kefir grains for free.  The grains multiply each time you use them so you end up with an abundance and its very easy to share with others, which we also plan on doing.  We decided to start a batch and just do a basic formula.

The basic formula is for every 1 cup of water (filtered) you add 1 tbsp. sugar and 1 tbsp. of grains.  You can also add dried fruit (unsweetened, unsulfered) and some lemon wedges (organic) and a piece of a free range egg shell.  You ferment for approx. 24hrs and then strain and enjoy!  You don't want to use any fruit that may contain any chemicals or any metal utensils as this will harm and even kill your grains.

We simply added 4 cups water, 4 tbsp. sucanat ( raw sugar), 4 tbsp. kefir grains and a piece of free range egg shell for added nutrients.  After 24 hours we weren't sure if  it was working or if the grains were alive.  There was a fermentation type smell so we thought it was doing something.  We decided to let it ferment for another 24hrs, assuming the grains had been asleep.  After about 36 hours there were some bubbles on the top and I knew it was well on its way.  I tasted it at the 36 hour mark and it was a tad fizzy but not overly.  It tasted much like... well, sucanat.  I think once it is done fermenting, 48 hrs, we will each give it a try and then possibly add some pureed fruit or something for a boost of flavour.

Many people will add dried fruit and even a citrus wedge at the beginning for added nutrients for the grains as well as it adds a bit of flavour.  To have flavoured water kefir people usually add some flavour (fresh fruit, purees, flavouring such as vanilla) after 24hrs of fermentation.  They strain the grains and then add fresh fruit and allow it to sit and ferment (grains removed) for another 24 hrs.  We didn't want to mess with our first batch so we did the simplest method.  From reading I have noticed that many people just experiment with the grains and adding flavours.  Since the water kefir grains multiply rapidly (almost double) each time they are used, it is something you can simply play around with.  If you have a batch that doesn't turn out... simply toss and start again... nothing lost but a bit of sugar and possibly a few pieces of fruit.

Our first batch of water kefir!
Water Kefir Grains at work.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Household Toxins

It amazes me that most all of us use chemicals that can potentially kill us in our everyday routines.   Household cleaners with clearly marked labels stating flammable, toxic, corrosive, etc... to CLEAN our homes.  If we think about this... what exactly are we trying to clean?  Are we cleaning poison off of our counters and bathtubs?  NO, we are using poisons to "clean" common germs and dirt.   We are so concerned about not getting something like the common cold, that may be somewhat of an inconvenience on our lives, yet we don't think twice about spraying chemicals all over our homes since we can't see any immediate effects.   What ever happened to cleaning the house with vinegar and water?  What about corn starch, baking soda or lemon juice?  A great link with recipes for homemade organic cleaning products is at Earthnotes.

Lets think abut what chemicals are in our homes that maybe we are unaware of.  Here is a list of 7 other common household dangers we may be unaware of (from

1.  Antibacterial soap which contains a chemical triclosan... also used in some toothepastes, is believed to disrupt thyroid function and hormone levels in people; when it mixes into wastewater, it can cause sex changes in aquatic life. And health experts believe that overuse of this and other antibacterial chemicals is promoting the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial treatment.

Alternative: Good old-fashioned soap and warm water will kill just as many germs, studies have shown. If you must use a hand sanitizer, pick one that’s alcohol based and doesn’t list triclosan, triclocarban (another related antibacterial chemical) or other chemicals described as "antimicrobial" or "antibacterial" on the label.

2.  Synthetic Fragrances may be the most common type of chemical in your house. Used in laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, cleaning supplies, disinfectants, air fresheners, deodorizers, shampoos, hair sprays, gels, lotions, sunscreens, soaps, perfumes, powders, and scented candles—and dozens of other products you may not know about—fragrances are a class of chemicals that are well worth the time and effort to avoid. The term “fragrance” or “perfume” on personal-care-product labels can be a cover for hundreds of harmful chemicals known to be carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and reproductive toxicants, even at low levels.

Alternative: Go the unscented route whenever possible, especially with soaps and detergents. Avoid any kind of air freshener or deodorizer, including sprays, gels, solid disks, and oils, suggests Anne Steinemann, PhD, a University of Washington researcher who focuses on fragrances in consumer products. “These products do not clean or disinfect the air, but they do add hazardous chemicals to the air we breathe,” she says. “Instead of chemical air fresheners, freshen the air with better ventilation and by setting out some baking soda,” she suggests. You also can place a bowl of white vinegar in a room to dispel a funky smell.

3.  Roundup Ready Food.  Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the country, is sprayed on everything from cotton to canola, lawns to golf courses. So it stands to reason that the stuff winds up in our air and water. But when you're eating "Roundup Ready" food, as in, food that's been genetically modified to withstand all those dosings of Roundup, you're eating it too, according to plant pathologist Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University. That's problematic because scientists are learning that Roundup affects defensive enzymes our bodies use to keep us healthy. Roundup also reduces a plant's ability to take up vital micro nutrients that humans require for survival.

Alternative: Corn, soy, and canola are common crops that have been genetically engineered to withstand heavy dousings of Roundup (or other glyphosate-containing chemicals), and foods containing these ingredients tend to contain higher levels of Roundup than other crops do. To avoid genetically engineered (GE) foods and Roundup in your food, buy organic.

4.  Canned Food.  Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to male infertility, diabetes, heart disease, aggressive behavior in children, and other ills. The chemical is used in some No. 7 plastic bottles and most canned-food containers, and although some manufacturers are phasing the chemical out of their cans, it's not clear that the replacements are totally safe either. In 2010, scientists discovered that we absorb BPA from cash-register receipts through our skin. 

Alternative: Opt for fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, and bypass cans as often as possible. Don't store food or beverages in plastic containers. And say no thanks to receipts for minor purchases like gas and coffee, and at the ATM.

5.  Vinyl.  Some environmental health groups have dubbed vinyl the "poison plastic," due to its harmful production process and its effects on humans. Vinyl is laced with phthalates, chemical plastic softeners linked to hormone disruption, stunted growth, obesity, and other health problems, as well as low IQs.

Alternative: When it's time to replace flooring in your home, opt for wood, bamboo, or cork that's Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified or for real linoleum, instead of vinyl. Avoid plastic shower-curtain liners, as well as fake leather furniture, clothing, and accessories, to cut down on phthalate exposure. (Try hemp or organic cotton shower curtains.) Phthalates also lurk in anything with an artificial fragrance, including candles and many personal-care products.

6.  VOCs.  Nasty indoor air-polluting culprits, volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, could be trashing your indoor air, especially in the kitchen, the basement, or even the laundry room. (Scented, petroleum-based laundry detergents contain high levels of VOC's.) These hazardous chemicals are linked to asthma and, in some instances, even cancer, and they add to indoor air pollution.  Pressed wood and particleboard cabinets and other furniture are big emitters of the VOC (and carcinogen) formaldehyde in the home, too.

Alternative: Choose unscented, plant-based detergents, or go old-school and use castile soap or washing soda and borax to clean your clothing. For new paint projects, choose readily available no-VOC paint, and avoid storing paint in your garage or basement—fumes can escape even tightly closed lids and enter your home. If you have leftover paint, take it to a waste-collection facility for recycling, or donate it to neighbors or a charity. Avoid plywood and particleboard when buying new household furnishings, and keep VOCs contained by sealing any plywood or particleboard furniture with a product like AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

7.  Nonstick Cookware and Bakeware.  When you're cooking with nonstick pots and pans, you're essentially baking on plastic. That slick, shiny, enticingly nonstick surface is made from a synthetic material known as perfluoroalkyl acid, a class of chemicals that have been linked to ADHD, high cholesterol, and thyroid disease. They're also potent sperm killers and are suspected of contributing to female infertility.
Alternative: Opt for safer cookware like made-in-America cast iron, glass or stainless steel. If you already cook with nonstick pots and pans, replace them with safer choices when you start seeing scratches and chips in the finish. 

When it comes to our shopping habits one must think about what choices we make.  Each time we purchase from a store we are casting a vote.  We vote on organic vs. non-organic.  Organic is typically prices higher than the non-organic.  For most people who live on a budget this means that we must read labels and see what non-organic products are safe (not all non-organic is bad).  Understanding labels and what is in our food and household products is the first step to healthier living.  Here is a link to another blog which has a list of likely Genetically Modified ingredients to avoid.  

Cheers!  To happy, healthy shopping.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another Baby Blanket Success.

I finally finished my nephews baby blanket.  I started the blanket months before the baby was born and he is almost 3 months now and I juts finished it.  I kept telling myself, as long as it gets done before the winter sets in, I am golden.... which I did!  It turned out very nice.  I chose a wave pattern with 3 alternating colours.  I am very happy with the way it turned out.  I still have loads of yarn left since I bought 3 large balls of yarn, but I think I will save it for yet another blanket or garment in the future.  

Blanket Stitch from: The Complete Photo Guide To Crochet:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Birdie Updates.

Oh My Gosh!  The Chickens are digging!  They have started to dig a hole that goes under the fence.  It is definitely the chickens since the hole is massive from the inside of the fence.  They got it big enough within the yard that they can back up their bums against the fence and scratch back and throw feathers and dirt out from under the fence.  We stuck a brick in the hole to keep them from digging any further.  My guess is they found an ant farm or potato bug village!  Yesterday I didn't see them doing this, but then this am I saw them doing it in the whole within the yard but unable to get against the fence to kick out.  These 4 birds are very clever!  People always say chickens are the lest intelligent animals, but if they were to spend any amount of time around them... in their natural settings (battery cages are not natural nor in 500 hens stuffed into a small barn) they would see how intelligent these birds actually are!

In other news, we have decided to move our birds from our yard.  BUT WAIT, it is for a good and exciting reason!  We believe we will be getting an offer on our house early next week.  We think it will be a house to sell offer, but an offer none the less.  This being said, we want to have the chickens and their things out of the side yard so we can clean it up for the perspective new owners.  We have not been asked to do this, we just feel it is the right thing to do.  We don't want to leave a muddy mess for anyone once the blocks and coop are removed.  It will also allow our wonderful neighbours (cough, cough) to feel they have been victorious!  Not that I want them to feel as though we have given into their bullying, but at the same time... I WILL NOT change my behaviours because of them.  If the complaint had not been made and everyone loved our chickens, we would still want to move them to clean up for the potential new residents.  Leaving the chickens there up until the day we move would only be out of spite and not wanting the neighbours to feel as though they have won; this is not fair to the new owners and I refuse to jeopardize my personal integrity and beliefs.   Plus, as I am seeing it... WE WIN!  We will not only get the home and property of our dreams, but we will be healthier, happier, and far more self sufficient!

Now, our ladies will not be far from us and we will be able to go visit whenever we wish and even collect eggs.  We are now part of the Windsor Coop and the Community supported agriculture.  They have a coop with 25 or so hens that we will have our birds added to for the time being.  Once/if we get our new place we will build a large new coop for our birds and bring them home where they belong.  We would also remain a part of the Windsor Coop and CSA for the community aspect as well as learning and sharing ideas.   Being part of a CSA is a great way to teach children and yourself about community and agriculture.

I am becoming more hopeful that everything will work out in our favour.  Country Living... here we come!

Green Acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out, so far and wide
Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Having Urban Chickens will Attract predators.... HOGWASH!

After coming home from our vacation, I went to speak to our neighbours (chicken complainant).  They had threatened my Mom in front of my kids about our dog barking while walking by their house.  I decided that was enough of all this insanity.  The gentleman began telling me about how my birds feed is attracting fox, snakes and rats into the neighbourhood.  Funny thing is that he had told us in June, prior to us getting chickens, that he saw a fox running down the road!  This was back when he was petitioning against a feral cat cage going up at our local park.  (I will say, I signed that petition due to the fact that there is no evidence of the effects a feral cat cage would have on the neighbourhood and it was very unclear what the future plans were for upkeep of this cat cage.)  Seems to me like the neighbour likes to use some good old fashioned fear mongering to achieve his own agenda.  While discussing this issue with him I was very polite and just said "I will look into that and talk to Aaron about it tonight."  He has also been spreading his beliefs throughout the neighbourhood and gaining support.

What is astonishing to me is that people will take one mans word as factual evidence.  They listen to what he has to say and go off half cocked and complain about the birds.  Not to mention the fact that they are accusing me of endangering the children of this neighbourhood as well as my own which is something I find highly offensive.  The FACT of the matter is URBAN chickens nor their feed attract predators or vermin any more than a bird feeder hanging in ones tree, a trash can at the side of the house or a yorkshire terrier in ones yard. (We did plenty of research prior to getting our birds.)  I am not keeping 200 chickens in my yard.  We have 4 urban hens who attract no more predators or vermin than small dog breeds, cats, local rabbits, local birds and our trash cans.  I believe I gave many of my neighbours far too much credit.  I assumed that they would, at minimum, spend a few minutes researching urban chickens online prior to making complains or believing one mans opinion.  With the wealth of knowledge that the internet provides us there is no excuse for people not to take the time to educate themselves on an issue prior to jumping in head first.  I know they have not done any research because they will be hard pressed to find any research or evidence to support their claims.  I do understand their fears but that does not make them rational... like most fears, they tend to be anything but rational!  I, on the other hand, have done my research and can provide many links supporting my statement that:
"Urban Chickens do not attract predators!"  

Support of this statement can be found here:
and here:
and here:
and here:
and here:

"ME? Attract Predators?  WHY I NEVER!"

... now, I could continue, but I think most readers will get my point. I can't leave out the fact that we do have many supporters in the neighbourhood.  When told about the claim that my chickens were attracting predators, many people did get a good laugh.  The most common response is "Do they not see where we live (as they point to the big open field), the predators have always been here!"

I am not denying that there may be an increase in predators and vermin in the area; this I am not arguing.  The thing here is, it is fall and locally we have had a record amount of rain!  RAIN!  YES RAIN!  A far more likely culprit for the increase in unwanted wildlife.  Rain causes the ground to get... WET and where do the vermin and predators go when the ground and bush are soaked???.... out of the bush and into residential areas!  UREKA!  We have a reasonable and rational cause!  Blaming my chickens for this is giving them far too much credit.  Plus, lets not forget the increase in local housing construction which is taking up plenty of the field area in which many vermin have their residence.   

Now, how do I go about informing my neighbours about their ignorance?  (I use the word "ignorance" lightly as it is defined as a state of being uninformed.  People often see it as something far more offensive.)  I do not have the time to stand at the end of my driveway and spout off to every person who happens to walk by.  I thought about hanging a flyer on the mailbox to help inform people but assume it would be ripped down... since people are so willing to listen to reason (sarcasm).  At this point, I think I will just leave things as they are and allow the neighbours to be ill informed and ignorant of the real issues.  I can only be bothered with educating my children and close friends and family... my neighbours can go on thinking whatever the heck they want; until they come to me with EVIDENCE of their claims, I have nothing else to say.... unless they bring it up of course.