Thursday, June 21, 2012

Discouraging Days, Encouraging Ways (of Looking at Things)

It's funny how one minute I can feel like I can tackle all manner of projects, and then one little thing happens to cause my enthusiasm and confidence to collapse around me and leave me feeling completely at a loss, without any real energy to dust myself off and charge forward once again.  And I do mean a little thing.  This evening, it was a batch of yogurt that flopped.  Once I saw that, it seemed like nothing was going right in my entire homesteading world, and I got a little discouraged.  My mind is not always rational and can be a little dramatic so my thought process went a little like this (warning: this is not for the faint of heart, or the overly judgemental.  You might not like me so much at the end of this!):

1.  Oh no!  My yogurt didn't turn out.  It must be because I tried adding honey and vanilla so that we would actually really enjoy it.  Vanilla contains alcohol and honey has natural antibacterial qualities and what was I thinking?  I killed my poor darling little microbes before they had a chance to work wonders with that 2L carton of 2% milk that I just wasted.  Or maybe I added the yogurt when the milk was too hot.  I was in a rush, and it did feel a little hot.  I don't know, but I did something wrong.  (Cue melodramatic, Italian-inspired sigh.)

2.  (I unwrap the garlic that I put in the oven to roast with the potatoes, and then left in there too long.)  Oh no!  I left the garlic in the oven way too long and it did not turn into sweet, nutty deliciousness but rather into a bitter, burnt-tasting paste!  What a waste of a whole bulb!  Blah! (I throw it into the compost bin with a solid dose of self-pity and grumpiness.)

3.  Our house looks like a tornado went through it!  Why do I have to constantly step on upside down excavators and chunks of semi-solidified oatmeal blobs that were thrown to the floor in a moment of tantalizingly gleeful toddler behaviour?  Why didn't I set aside time to clean it up properly this week?  I knew I shouldn't have sat down to read a couple of chapters of Game of Thrones the other evening, I could have been efficiently decluttering my home and making it a much more restful place.  I may as well give up because it won't be done tonight.  (Sniff.)

4.  My yellow bean seeds never germinated, how does that happen?  They give beans to kindergarten students to plant because they are so reliable.    I haven't watered my community garden plot in 3 days, and it's been hot, sunny, and windy.  The poor plants over there have probably withered.  I also have a lot of work to do on the food pantry plots.  Those plots need to get planted!  I am falling behind everywhere. Oh no!  My poor container plants.  I imagine that they have completely dessicated and are standing plant skeletons, waiting to explode into dust particles at the first puff of wind.  (Wracking sob.  OK, well, not really.)

I could go on, but you get the picture.  I am not prone to throwing myself pity parties, as a rule, but tonight I just let myself get a wee bit carried away.  Before I told my self to shush it and stop being such a baby.  And I asked myself, why are things not exactly where you want them to be?  And I came upon a few answers:

1.  I've been sick for the last four days.  I've also just started a new job, that is awesome and only part-time, but those part-time hours are in the evenings and I haven't yet worked out the kinks of not being home during the time of day when I usually get housework done.  I also haven't felt like doing housework, and that is ok.  And, in fact, I did clean up on Tuesday afternoon, but we have little children, who are busy, and, well, you know how it is.  And the house actually isn't that bad.

2.  I really shouldn't let myself care too much about the failed yogurt and the burnt garlic.  I know how to do both of these things and all I wasted was a bulb of garlic and one 2L carton of milk.  And in fact, while trying to strain it out in the fridge just on the off-chance that I get some yogurt from it (because it did thicken a little bit), I am getting loads of whey to make buttermilk pancakes and other yummy baked treats.  So it isn't really wasted after all.  And I might be able to scrape out a half cup of yogurt, which does taste nice, that the kids could eat for a snack.  Not so bad after all!

3.  The garden is actually looking pretty good, the last time I went, and I think the bean seeds didn't germinate because they disappeared from the garden (the birds are looking pretty good to me right now as the culprits).  And, I had fun replanting the whole patch with James.  It's all good, this is the year to learn about vegetable gardening, and make mistakes, and figure out how to do things better, right?  And I am going to get out to the community garden this weekend when things slow down, and I will get those food pantry beds raked and prepared and planted and it will be fine.

4.  What is up with my Negative Nelly-ness, anyway?  I'm a little overtired, and still a little bit sick, and yes, a little overwhelmed, for the moment, anyhow, but really?  I haven't been reading my Bible or praying much lately.  I pray for a few moments in the evening, but I haven't really been committing myself to a thoughtful, meaningful conversation daily.  And so how am I supposed to know how to live my life and do and make and say what the Lord wants?  AND why am I not noticing all the blessings He has poured onto me lately?  Goodness!

This child, who delights me with her wild and crazy ways and her almost aggressive love for me, is about the sweetest thing I can imagine, especially during the only moments she's peaceful and quiet, in her sleep.

My sensitive, smart, funny, and incredibly loving little boy, who lives to help and just wants to spend time with me, does not care about the state of our house.  He just loves having us all together and spending time as a family.

Forget the messy porch in the background!  How can I not smile when I see my little monkey, dressed in a fleece sleeper in summer, trying to wear my shoes because she loves the bows, holding a dirty yellow golf ball just because, and teetering on the edge of tipping into my arms?  I love you, my silly girl.

This is one of the Sweet Millions plants that looked like it was not long for this world.  But the new leaves look a lot healthier, and it is starting to flower.  This is a blessing.

My very first strawberry plants, given to me by a friend and planted with the help of my precious son, are forming strawberries.  Just a few this year, because I only let a few blossoms stick around--I wanted the plants to get good and strong for next year.  But James and Susannah will both be able to pluck a few red berries from their own plants.  That is a gardening success in my mind!

It is taking me a while to get my chickens.  But I have a friend who offered to build me the coop for free, and the grass that we planted in the shady, dusty dirt area (where their run will be) is actually growing and looks like it might even be lush by the time they arrive!  That is a blessing in and of itself.

The oregano that wilted horribly after being dug out of a friend's garden and taken to a new home has come back and is doing really well.  I know that it might take over my garden and I may be overheard cursing it in a couple of years.  But right now, I am pretty darn excited about it.
Those are just a few of the blessings I happened to take photos of this week. I have so many more!  A wonderful family, a hilarious and supportive group of good friends, a husband who loves me and helps me and makes me laugh and is extremely good-looking, if I do say so myself, a home that while not perfect, and not overly clean at the moment, shelters us and is full of happy memories and loads of love, an island to live on, that as one new co-worker puts it, should be known as "Perfect Existence Island" instead of Prince Edward Island.  Yes, I think things are actually pretty wonderful in this little corner of the world right now, and I'll be sure to thank the One responsible tonight in a proper little chat.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Spanish Frittata - An Easy Recipe on a Budget

Not too long ago, I put out a request on Facebook for favourite vegetarian and vegan meal ideas.  We're hoping that by eating more vegetable-based meals, we'll cut down on our ecological footprint, eat more healthfully, and save money on groceries.  I got lots of responses, and many of them pointed me to blogs and websites that I need to take a few minutes to peruse some time, and I look forward to it.  But what I was really hoping for was for a few specific recipes that friends and family make on a regular basis and really like.  This recipe was just one such meal idea, given to me by my friend Joanne (thank you Joanne!) and it was easy, fast, inexpensive, filling, tasty, and, now, a keeper for our family.  It also gave me a chance to try out my new cast iron frying pan that my parents brought back to me from their spring trip in Florida.  I love that pan (ok the idea of that pan!), but haven't really tried using it very much just yet--I'm a little scared of it, to be honest.  But it worked beautifully for this recipe and gave me a lot more confidence to try other recipes in it!

Spanish Frittata

2 cups peeled, cubed potatoes (I didn't quite have two cups, as I just had two potatoes left!)
1 onion, diced
5-6 farm fresh eggs
2 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste
grated Cheddar (or your favourite) cheese

Cook the potatoes and onions in olive oil in an oven-proof skillet on medium heat until potatoes are fork tender and lightly browned.  In a large glass measuring cup, beat eggs and water with a fork; add salt and pepper to taste.  When potatoes and onions are ready, pour egg mixture evenly into skillet.  Turn heat down to medium-low and cover, cooking until eggs are set.  When eggs are ready, place two or three spoonfuls of salsa on top and spread evenly over surface of eggs to create a thin layer.  Sprinkle with grated cheese.  Place pan under broiler in oven and broil, watching carefully, until the cheese reaches your desired level of meltiness-brown-deliciousness.  Take out (carefully with oven mitts!) and allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then slice into wedges like pizza and serve.

I spooned sour cream onto mine, topped it with snipped fresh chives, and served with whole wheat rolls, tomato slices, and steamed swiss chard.  And yes, I realize that swiss chard isn't really the most appropriate side (perhaps sliced avocado may have belonged a little more on that plate?) but I had picked it fresh from my garden this afternoon, I was excited about it, and I wanted to eat it. :)  Joanne suggested serving it with a salad, and the next time I have enough greens on hand to make a salad, I'll give it a try.

This is super easy and really tasty.  You can make it with local ingredients picked up at the farmers market, and it is easy on the budget.  Give it a try soon!

Potatoes and onion--mostly  just showing off my super new frying pan!

I used six eggs, and they were pretty big.  We had loads to feed our small family.

I really have a penchant for the action shots.  In goes the egg mixture!

The eggs are set now, after cooking, covered, for about 10 minutes or so.  If you're not sure, jiggle the pan.  The eggs should stay put!  Then, if you're really not sure, touch it in the middle.  It should feel firm.

I spread about 3 spoonfuls of fresh salsa (not homemade, I admit) over the top of the frittata.

A good sprinkle of cheddar makes it super yummy!
Here it is, fresh out of the oven.

Topped with sour cream, chives from the garden, locally hothouse grown tomato, and my very first harvest of swiss chard.  And... it didn't stick to the pan!  Woohoo!  It came out beautifully. :)

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hop #66 at Homestead Revival.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Samuel's Coffee House

I'm blogging over at Cradled in the Waves today, a group blog (loosely) about PEI, that I share with three other lovely ladies.  I'm supposed to post on Tuesdays, but due to some technical ridiculousness this week, I'm a few days late.  One of the topics we have at that blog is suggesting places to visit and things to do while on PEI, whether you're a resident of our fair isle or one of our many visitors.  So I shared about the coffee place that I go to every Friday with my friends, and that I just started working in as a cook.  Check out the post here, and I'll be back to the Hopeful Homesteader soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Composting Along

You may have already seen my post from a number of weeks ago about starting a compost pile with "a little help from a James-y". (That is what he says when he wants to help.  "Mummy, do you need a little help from a James-y?"  In a sing-song voice.  I love it.)  Well, it's still going and I think it is composting for sure, albeit rather slowly.  It is a large pile though, and I think I had been leaving it between turnings a little too long, and watering a little too infrequently.  But I am learning how to compost properly, as a result of this super fun initiative started up by Deanna of Little House in the Suburbs, called a "Compost-Along".  It is a bit like a knit-along, where a bunch of people do the same pattern and check in with each other's progress, but in this case, we're building compost piles and progressing through the decomposition process.  Sounds exciting?  Well, it is to me!

So week by week, we check in to Deanna's blog where she writes up instructions for where we should be in the process and tips to help us along.  I have a feeling I'll have a lot more success doing it this way, and I have a feeling I really need it.  To illustrate, follow me as I work through this week's composting homework.  She shared how to build your compost pile, but mine is already built.  So I went outside to turn it and moisten the material (if needed, I figured that with all that miserable welcome rain that we had over the weekend, it would be drenched):

Heading out to the compost pile, so I bring my trusty kitchen composter to empty, while I am thinking of it.

Ewwwww.  Well, as you can see, we've been eating a lot of fruit. :)

A riveting action shot of me sticking the pitchfork into the pile and attempting to turn it.  Not as easy as it looks.  And how is it possible that the grass clippings are entirely dry?!!

OK, so I am pretty much convinced that plant clippings from the middle of the pile (where it is dark and supposedly warm, if not hot) are still actually photosynthesizing.  What?  I even dug out a few forget-me-nots that had flowers of a quality that I could have given them to somebody!

Wondering if this pile is a little too big.  I wondered about taking a photo with a frame of reference, but I didn't know what to use and didn't want to drag James out of bed.

Attempting to soak the life out of (or into, as it were) this ridiculous Sahara of a compost pile.

I wasn't sure that a gentle shower was as effective as it could be so I decided to bring out the big guns.
Are you a veteran composter?  Can you help me?  Or are you a newbie like me, have already started a pile (or could collect the necessary materials this week) and feeling like joining in, even if a little late?  Composting together is fun!  This is why they invented the internet.  Stay tuned for a fascinating look next week at the microbial action in my backyard.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Planting My Plot at Helping Hands

Yesterday was our big kick-off, advertised for fun, snacks, games and gardening at 3 pm.  All week the weather forecast for Saturday had a high of about 18 and sunny.  Then, two days before the big day, the weather was 18, sunny, with cloudy periods.  The night before, cloudy, with a slight chance of showers in the afternoon.  Yesterday morning, I got up, and the forecast was still iffy on the showers, probably scattered and light, but the forecast for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was rain all around and I knew we wouldn't be that lucky to escape it.

Needless to say, it rained and rained and rained all afternoon.  And there was definitely no large, enthusiastic crowd at Helping Hands for our big opening day.  But a few of us hardy souls showed up and made the most of it!  (One even made an extremely brief appearance with her family to drop off fresh-from-the-oven banana chocolate chip muffins.  Thanks Andrea!)  I used the opportunity to plant the rest of my family's plot.  Friday night, after a day of small child stubbornness and blessed but tiring parenting, I got about 45 glorious minutes of planting to start my plot, all by myself, in the evening calm.  I got 32 square feet of 100 square feet planted with spinach, swiss chard, carrots, broccoli, parsley, dill, and summer savoury.  For the kick-off I went back and did almost the rest of it--I forgot the pea seeds, and I am waiting to root a few basil cuttings rather than growing them from seed.

The photos are pretty terrible, because it was pouring rain and I was soaked, muddy, cold, hungry, and in a rush.  I promise I'll post some artfully-taken ones as things develop through the season, but I'm so excited to have my long-awaited vegetable garden that I am posting them anyway!

I'll start with my planting plan (which I have almost perfectly stuck to):

The whole, obsessively planned and drawn, planting plan.

So there's a little overlap here, but you can get the gist of it.  I left out the cilantro, mostly because I accidentally planted summer savoury seeds in the cilantro holes, then felt absolutely fine with it because I don't like cilantro anyway.  Also, my much-loved San Marzano seedlings ended up not doing so well, so I left them out.  Sniff.
A blurry shot of red peppers, eggplant (hugged by marigolds), and bush pickle cucumber.

From left to right: Roma, Beefsteak, Lemon Boy, and Better Boy.  I SO hope these do well!  I know I could do better than tomato cages but they were 60 cents each and easy to install in the rain.  We'll see how it goes, and I'll modify next year likely.

Difficult to decipher photo of butternut squash, pumpkin, and sugar baby watermelon planted around teepee trellises.  Again, this is my first time growing squash/melon vertically, and we'll see what happens.  I used 8' 2"x2" pieces of untreated wood, lashed together at the top by zip ties, and buried between about 1- 1 1/2 feet.


My darling, pride-of-my-summer community garden bed.

 One highlight: the Journal Pioneer showed up with a camera to document us, covered in mud and soaked to the bone, but happy, planting pumpkins, raking, and digging in the bed.  I think he even got my Jamers in the photo.  Keep your eyes peeled this week for our photo!

Shared with Homestead Barn Hop #65

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Little Work Around the House

I feel so much more settled knowing that we are going to be living in this house for another three years.  For the last two or three, we'd look periodically, and semi-seriously, through the real estate ads in our community and in and around Charlottetown.  We'd decide we really wanted a different house, and we'd be ready to make an offer.  We'd think about what we'd have to get done if we decided on the spur of the moment to put our house up for sale and move elsewhere.  And then the next morning, or the next time we went to see the house, we'd think, "No, that's not for us."  So for someone like me, who likes planning and security, it wasn't really the ideal way to live.  We didn't really invest ourselves and our desires and our personalities in our property because we were never sure how long it was going to be ours.

But now we know that we'll be staying here.  And it is a little squished, sometimes, and a little more space in the bathroom would be nice, and a little more sun in the backyard would mean better growing conditions.  But this home is ours, and we're staying for three more years, and we like it here.  This is the first house that we moved into together shortly after we were married, the home that we brought our two beautiful babies home to, the property that gave me a tough lesson in perennial gardening, the house that is about a seven-minute walk from my parents.

So little by little, over the last few weeks, we've been cultivating our pride in our property and we've been opening our hearts a little to it.  We've been accepting it for what it is and enhancing it in ways that we can manage, that serve our needs right now, and that will make it more attractive.  We've been ruthless in tearing out perennials in favour of native shrubs and (gasp!) more grass (and dandelions, and forget-me-nots, and stitchwort, and whatever else is growing in our lawn).  It was sad to see the poppies and coreopsis and pinks and especially the blanketflower go, but it feels so much better to know that our untended, wild, massive perennial beds will no longer be the shame of the street!  So to show you a few of the touches we've been making to our property as we progress through spring and as we find a few minutes here and there, here are some photos.

Those chives were in a container on my deck last year, and came back thicker than ever.  The oregano was divided from a friend's garden.  (Thanks Pam!)

Lovely Pam also gave me seven strawberry plants.

Here I planted a bunch of yellow bush beans.  The soil looks dark because of the compost I mixed in.

Freshly applied wood chips. :)

I raked up the old mulch that was here when there were shrubs in this bed to make a little path to stand on so I don't compress the soil every time I look at my little plant friends.

Overkill?  Maybe, but I love those happy marigolds (I have since moved them away from the beans, those of you who know that beans don't like marigolds--I didn't know that until later).

Sweet millions tomatoes on our deck.  They aren't looking as happy lately, though, so I hope they're ok.

I want to plant some sort of squash or melon here.  Cucumber? Loofah? Canteloupe?  More pumpkin?  We'll see what hasn't drowned in the seed starting tray left out in the rain. :S
I think everything looks better in the rain, at least when you get up close.

Hello, beautiful.

We bought this five years ago and never bothered with it.  This week, out of the blue, Craig started working on getting it set up for me.  He did a beautiful job and I think I fell just a little more in love with him.

Container-planted Swiss chard.  I love those red veins.

I've been randomly sneaking leaves here and there just to snack on when working in the yard, and I honestly think that this is the best spinach I've ever tasted.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Helping Hands Starts to Get Its Hands Dirty

I've been feeling pretty badly that this past month has been such a sparse one for blog posts.  I really enjoy blogging, and I like that I have a few followers.  I don't want to lose them!  I'm going to really have to make an effort to figure out a schedule that allows me to do all of the things that I want to get done around our home, yard/garden, kitchen, and with our children, (leaving, of course, time for my darling husband as well!), but that still has me sitting down in front of the computer about three times a week to share some of my thoughts, successes, failures, learning experiences, etc. here on the Hopeful Homesteader.

One of my commitments that has been taking up quite a bit of time lately is Helping Hands Community Garden.  Over the course of the last few weeks, we have had it tilled, shovelled a truckload of partially decomposed horse manure throughout the beds, tilled it a little more, put up a decorative fence at one end (thanks Caleb!), planted sunflowers (this evening), had a garden committee meeting, finalized our garden rules and gardener agreement, written a donation request letter for local garden centres, communicated with interested gardeners, planned our garden kick-off (this Saturday at 3 pm!  Please come!) and updated our Facebook page.  I think I may be leaving things out.  I honestly haven't even started gardening yet.  Well, not really.  I raked some of the larger bits of sod out of our family's plot and spread two bags of compost in it this evening.  But I haven't planted anything yet and haven't even started on the food bank gardens.  Eek!

The process, while busy, has been immensely easy, and so far the only money we have spent was to buy a roll of string to mark off the beds for the man who tilled it for us.  Considering sample budgets that we found for community gardens, a grand total of about $6.00 to have the garden actually a functioning, established area is pretty amazing.  It just seems that it is meant to be.  Our city has been incredibly supportive and helpful.  They allowed us to use the parkland as a community garden without any kind of lease, they paid to have the beds tilled, they installed an outdoor tap on the little washroom building in the park so that we would be able to access water for the beds, they lent us the use of a city truck (and a couple of employees) to help me go collect the horse manure for the beds, they will provide us with one or two picnic tables for the garden, and all along they have been so enthusiastic and happy to help.  And I heard back from a representative of the soup kitchen and food bank today, telling us that they would love to have donations of fresh produce.  I know that there have been friends of mine encouraging us and praying for the success of this garden, and it shows.  I feel so blessed to be involved!

So I wanted to share a few photos of the initial phases of the garden establishment, and I'll update throughout the season with photos as the plants come up, as we begin getting busy, as we gather the harvest, and share it with those who may not normally be able to afford organic vegetables.

For those of you living in Summerside and wondering about getting a garden plot, there are still two or three left and in order to get your hands in one, just email me at or send one of the admin a note through our Facebook page.

Tying strings and very excited to get started!

It was such a huge help to have Caleb measuring the plots and pounding in the stakes.

Katie finishing up the beds.

The beds are being tilled!  Exciting!

Happy to have these beds done and almost ready to go!