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Month: February 2012

Snow Fun

Snow Fun

An unexpected chance for a visit from friends turned our afternoon from regular to fun!  We got outside into the glorious sunshine, wrapped up against the chill wind and basked in the beauty of it all.  From small and inquisitive to large and fluffy, we all found reason to rejoice in the crisp white world around us.

The snow was fluffy, the wind sharp and the sun bright.  We could have stayed out for twice as long but I think my toes would have succumbed to frostbite; almost worth it to watch the kids revel in the fun of the snow with their friends.  We came inside refreshed, cleaned out and satisfied.  Tomorrow we are set for a snowy afternoon, perhaps the last big fall of the season?  Who knows.  But we enjoyed our freedom while we could and look forward to more of the same another day.

Daddy Mornings

Daddy Mornings

Mornings around here rest pretty much on the broad and capable shoulders of Daddy.   While Mummy is attempting to make herself human, or at the very least unsmelly, Daddy tackles the chores of the house and gets things moving with breakfast.  He tackles the fire, the dogs, socks, missing slippers, variable breakfast selections (and re-selections) and all before he has had so much as a cup of tea himself.  That hour before he heads off for his day of work is very precious to all of us.

The days (and sometimes nights) may the province of Mama, but the mornings…the mornings are all about Daddy.

Vicky Pollard And My Dark Secret

Vicky Pollard And My Dark Secret

I have a dark secret. It’s something that I’ve kept locked away from the world for quite some time but it’s fighting to come out. So, like a tearful teenage mum confessing on daytime TV about how she shagged their Susan’s boyfriend’s brother’s half-cousin Wayne while Billy her husband was working his third job frying burgers to keep little Dwight in diapers and Red Bull, I feel an overwhelming urge to reveal the whole sordid truth (just without the Kapper tracksuit).

I don’t like working on machines.

There, I’ve said it. Yes, I might have a first class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering, but honestly, I just really liked the maths and physics and Electrical Engineering was off the table because I tend to electrocute myself when left alone with plugs. Plus, anyone that witnessed my Expandable, Foldable, Portable Dog Basket will understand why I was counselled away from Civil Engineering. Let’s just say it would be a curious and unnerving world if I got to design and build the bridges.

Don’t get me wrong, I love engineering mechanics and can phwoar about a well crafted machine as well as any man, but getting hands-on and intimate with bits of engines bores me. I know as a would-be farmer and a blokey-bloke I should like tinkering with my solenoid and get all charged up by alternators, but, well, the truth is they’re just frickin dull. I’ve struggled with the belief that I should like working on cars and engines and machinery, that I just need to focus some time and I’ll begin to understand the magic. After all, my brother was a mechanic and my Dad used to tinker with his car when we were kids. It’s practically genetic.

Then this weekend I had a moment inspired by George The Tractor. I’ve neglected him. After being left alone in his green garage for a month in the cold, he’s not a happy tractor and it’s all my fault. I know diesel’s don’t like the cold. I drive a Jetta TDI and that grumbles more than Emma putting socks away when the temperature hits zero. So it was no surprise that as the snow lay piled and I cranked his engine to start to shift it, he remained cold and lifeless. As unresponsive as a Frenchman to a day of hard labour, Big George displayed no visible signs of life. There could be only one explanation: the battery was frozen and drained. I managed to get my battery charger on it but even 90mg of ER-grade Melahiladrillabone stat couldn’t bring that battery back from whence it had gone. Then I had the idea of taking it inside to warm up. Who’d have thought I had to disassemble both headlamps only to discover that short of a handy fifth dimension in which size is optional, there doesn’t appear to be any way to get the damn thing out?

So, after failing to stimulate any life in my tractor and utterly frustrated by my lack of mechanical skills, I hand-ploughed the 100′ x 20′ driveway clear of eight inches of wet snow which led to two important revelations. Actually that’s not true. I had three, but the first was I should have built the house closer to the bloody road which is superfluous to the story here. So ignoring that, I realized that first of all, I’m not a winter person. I like the sun and could quite happily do without the snow. Give me a nice hard frost any day or at the very least, a son old enough to handle a snow-blower without mincing up the cat, his own feet or the cat and his own feet and I’d be a happy chap.

Second, it’s impossible to be excited and interested in everything. Could I learn to be a good tractor mechanic? Sure, with enough time and if I’d exhausted all other possibilities including:

  • learning how to speak French without sounding like the neglected love-child of a Pakistani Jamaican with a mouthful of peanut butter
  • discovering how to complete a Rubik’s cube before being overcome by the urge to hurl it into a low-earth orbit
  • understanding how to wire a plug without bringing down the national grid and
  • getting a reasonable explanation for why Canadian electricity companies get away with charging more for delivery than the actual energy itself (especially since I was forced to pay several thousand dollars for my own damn pole)

Sorry, digressing again. My basic thinking is that if Cooter can do it for the Dukes of Hazard, then I’m confident learning the basics of vehicle mechanics isn’t beyond me. Should I flagellate myself like a catholic priest caught with his hand down the wrong cassock because I don’t want to? No, of course not. Like any decently ruthless Swiss banker will tell you, there are times when you’ve just got to buy your way out of an uncomfortable situation, act like you’ve done nothing wrong and then see if you get away with it.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing. Shaun The Hunter is coming to give me a hand getting the old battery out and I’ll be dropping in a new one this week. Then I’ll make sure Big George doesn’t get neglected again and is made to work for his keep. The lesson here? That a tractor’s for life, not just for ploughing. Oh, and keeping a hobby-farm running isn’t something that will wait until the weather warms up.

Snippets

Snippets

Our day so far…

– One boy and his welding glasses, a match made in heaven.

– Huwyl’s history project, a diorama based on the history story we read this morning.  A million dollars to the person who can guess which story it was!  Hint – it does NOT include a ‘magical chest’, pirates on horse back or a glittery staff recharger.  Love, love, love how he sees the world.

– Morning smoothie got me off to a healthy (and grain free) start today.

– Winnie the Snow Dog is certainly enjoying the recent drop of snow, but then she has a cosy coat to keep her warm.

– What are described as ‘flurries’, a scene we’ll be very used to by the end of the week if the weather reports are correct.

The weather has turned cold again, as Huwyl says King Winter is sure putting up a fight.  Looks like spring isn’t round the corner after all.  But we can enjoy the chance to cosy up by the fire and enjoy an afternoon movie, many stories and (apparently) the creation of a pipe cleaner forest.

A good start to the week.  How is your day going?

Getting Our Art On

Getting Our Art On

I’ve been a bit absent from the old blog this week due to having a small piece of wood in my eye.  I quite literally poked myself in the eye with a stick.  Well a piece of kindling actually but the upshot was the same.  Ouch.

Despite me doing a thoroughly convincing impression of a pirate for a couple of days we have rediscovered our arty mojo here at Chez Jhompson and the boys have been arting up a storm over the last couple of days.

We indulged in a bit of wet-on-wet watercolour painting, exploring spring colours of differing yellows and greens.  I love how gentle this kind of art is, allowing for free interpretation.  Huwyl’s sense of focus and purpose with his art has definitely changed over recent months.   He has a clearer idea of what his goal is and is willing to spend more time and care in order to achieve it, it is lovely to see him so immersed.  Neirin is, of course, not able to stay on task for as long but he definitely enjoys all of our art experiences and still finds time for a little dress up.

Of course he enjoys it all the more when it is messy…

Neirin is in a much more sensorial developmental stage, he is experiencing things much more through his body and senses than his eyes, it is really fun to watch him dive in, uninhibited to a box of  art tools and some paint.   He also really enjoyed scattering rice on his watercolour painting, though there was a bit more dumping and spreading than I had anticipated.  Note to self, never leave the room when there is a tub of rice on the table.  Never.  

I’ve been using my Pinterest Art Board to log ideas for art projects (and everything else), I find it such a wonderful resource for ideas.  Even if we only use it as a jumping off point it is great encouragement to try new things, to experiment and see what happens.

So what was it that inspired all of this creativity?  What triggered this attack of arty mojo?

Tada!  The most fantabulous set of shelves in the entire world!*  Yes indeedykins these puppies have literally changed my life.  No more art supplies scattered everywhere, toys with no home, games forgotten and out of sight.  Now it is all front and centre, triggering my creative thoughts as I see the supplies available and think hmmmm, what could we do with that? As well as having a tidier house, I feel much more able to create interesting projects at a moment’s notice and I know that the boys will actually be able to use their toys as I present them with different baskets of nicely grouped items for their creative fun.  Adore.

Stephen knocked these up for me as phase once of my Organise My Stuff plan.  Ok, the title could use some work but the idea is sound.  Apparently this was his first router project, when he told me this I nodded as though that meant something to me but quickly moved on to the topic that really interested me, baskets. I got these onces from ikea and they work perfectly.  The smaller ones are great for storing art supplies, toys, activities…you name it these baskets can handle it.  The larger ones on the bottom currently store playmobil (there is a LOT of it) and another holds the school laptop.  Life is good.

Though my long term plans involve wall to wall ceiling height shelving and a purpose built art bench (ambition is good you know) I am more than happy with things as they are right now.  I’m already planning a reorganisation of our homeschool materials and have some plans for seasonal baskets, science baskets and fun collection baskets that will hopefully materialise some time in the future.  But for now I am content.

Unless Stephen fancies knocking up an art bench, in which case I will not say no.

*This claim has not been verified by any external sources but is, however, true as this is Emmalina Land of which Emmalina is Queen and therefore the Boss of Everything.  

Making a Weekend

Making a Weekend

As I look over the pictures I’ve snapped these last three days I’ve noticed how much making there is going on.   That spring tingle is beginning beneath our feet and with it comes the motivation to get the house sorted before the farm work begins.  Of course there is a little farm productivity going on already in the form of our three laying hens.

I began the weekend with a breakfast of fresh eggs (just collected by Stephen) and some toast made from fresh baked bread.  Is there a better way to start the day than that?  If there is I haven’t found it.  We’ve been out and about a lot the last couple of days, a birthday party, drama class, shopping for baskets and meeting a farmer friend to talk about buying some of his pigs.  It’s been happily full.

Today is a holiday in Ontario, aptly called Family Day.  It’s given us that bit extra time together, 2 adults on deck makes such a difference.  I’ve been doing some cooking, the no stress kind that rises or stews over hours, requiring little input but creating something delicious in return.

Dough becomes bread, roasted bones yield creamy fat that is perfect to cook with and then go with veggies to make the healthiest of broths.  Dried beans rehydrate slowly, waiting to be cooked and added to a chilli, intended to fill our tummies at lunch time this week.  All of this easily slots in around our day, bubbling or rising or soaking while we go about our business.

It’s a good job too because Stephen has been busy with some making of his own,

My clever chap has built me a custom designed set of shelves to accomodate many, many baskets (I do love my baskets) and hopefully creating a more orderly environment for all of us.  I promise more pictures once I’ve organised it all to my great satisfaction!  I’m very lucky to have such a handy man about the place,  I’m taking advantage before the farm work totally takes over our free time.

In between all this business we are trying to make some time for each other, some moments of closeness that will see us through the days of separation as Stephen heads out to work for 10 hours each day.  The week seems to go so much better when we have good memories to draw on, good thoughts to sustain our hearts.  So we are making some smiles, some outside time, some hugs and laughter.  Hopefully we are making our family a little stronger, a little closer, because it doesn’t just happen, it takes work and effort each day.

This family is certainly the best thing I ever made and more than worth taking a day to enjoy it.  Wishing everyone else an equally happy one.

Armchair Farming

Armchair Farming

This is it. No more lame excuses that we don’t have the space to plant anything bigger than a couple of marigolds. There isn’t anywhere to hide when you have 100 acres, a tractor and a stack of farming books big enough that if artfully arranged could spell out the words “armchair farmer”. The time for saying “just think, when we have a farm we’ll be able to…” is over because that day is now. Scarier than Russell Crowe in tights.

For the past month, I’ve been thinking about where we start with it all. When I left Accenture to move to Canada I made up the story that I was leaving to become a pig farmer. Most people believed me, which either is a testament to my ability to believably blag, or a sad reflection on the IQ of your average Management Consultant. Perhaps both.

But what started as a joke is turning into an obsession. I really do want some porkers so maybe I should go all in with pigs. They fetch a good price and would work the land nicely which I certainly need done. But, for now, I know I have to be sensible and becoming the Dark Hog Lord is not the path of wisdom. Truth is I haven’t even reared a single pig yet, so planning a big pork venture isn’t very smart. Undoubtedly I’d fall foul of some rule that crushed my tender young dreams and sent us scurrying back to the comfort and high speed internet connections of suburban Ottawa. So, what we’ve decided to do is get all Belgian and decline to take decisive action this year. We’re implementing what I am calling the Continental Approach and have chosen to experiment a bit.

That doesn’t mean getting crazy with bunsen burners and doing unpleasant things in test tubes, as amusing as that might be. Instead we’re going to adopt a measured, almost scientific analysis of what works on our land and what doesn’t.

As a starting point I took our own consumption of food as a guide for what we need to grow. After all, what we eat is probably a reasonable indicator of what we could hope to sell in coming years. Granted, there are lots of things like tea, sugar and chocolate hobnobs that I’m going to struggle to grow but I think we can do a fair job of replacing a huge proportion of our food with farm-grown produce.

Obviously, I’ve been hitting the mags hard of an evening too. So hard in fact that they’re a bit sticky and definitely worn. The glossy images are a bit grubby where I’ve pored over my favourites. Finally I’ve settled on a company that can deliver, provide exotics, keep it natural and have some magnificent bushes for sale.

I’m talking high grade seeds of course: the centre-point for any Continental Approach. My initial selection was piled higher than an American trucker’s plate at an all you can eat burger bar but, after being floored by the cost, I trimmed it down to a modest $600. Now that might still sound like a lot to spend on seeds but it’s a matter of perspective. Having two growing boys and a long-established commitment to organic, fresh food we easily spend $300 each week on groceries. I am hoping we can slash that to $150 a week. So, after just 4 weeks of produce we could have broken even. By the end of 10 weeks we could be nearly a thousand dollars up. Of course it often doesn’t really work out as neat as all that, but I figure that if we can find a way to store the surplus produce I will be growing, then it might just take us through most of the year. In that context, $600 on seeds is a bargain.

I’m not just thinking of the seeds as an investment either. Back in the late 80s, my Mam had a little red Ford Fiesta. It had a tiny 950cc engine, which was the smallest size possible without it being reclassified as a go-kart. I drove that car for a year or so until my brother got hold of it and fitted it with a XR2 bodykit, Recarro bucket-seats, sports headlamps, extra wide alloy wheels, spoiler and insane sound system. It got stolen more frequently than a Star Wars pencil case but being all mouth and no trousers, the thieves subsequently abandoned it each time. So while, I fully expect the farm to become a fecund Eden-like wonderland of agricultural delights on which to feast my eyes (snakes welcome), I don’t want it to become the farming equivalent of that Ford Fiesta. I want it to be able to deliver something substantial, to have some real grunt as it were. After all, imagine how embarrassing it would be to have 100 acres and only an urban sized vegetable plot? How could I ever look the farming neighbours in the eye? It’d be like pulling up to the traffic lights in that Fiesta and finding yourself up against a V8 super truck blasting out country music driven by a cowboy with a big dick. The best you can do is smile and pretend you don’t like racing but either way, you’re still going to look like a loser.

Sorry, I’m digressing. The point is the farm needs to deliver substantially to make it worth our while and keep my ego intact. Hence the $600 spend on experimental seeds. This spring is also the start of our multi-year masterplan to combine market-garden farming, forest agriculture and permaculture with a side-order of animal husbandry. I’m going to begin with the area around the house, Zone 1 in permaculture speak. I am also planning to start some maple trees in the “dead zone” between the road and our main fields. There is about 2 or 3 acres in a long narrowish (100′) strip that I think would be perfect for a forest garden. We’re going to see Big George (the man, not the tractor) to have a chat about Long Blacks and contract hay farming and Emma has been in touch with the Bee Man to order a couple of hives.

Not satisfied with all of that, we’ll be getting into birds with guns and upping the number of chickens we keep, going from the Fiesta-like five we currently pamper to two gangs of 50 meat birds (the official term) and a laying flock of 25 to 30.

I’m also going to build a 33′ long polytunnel out of rebar and rip ties to house a veritable jungle of tomatoes and will be trying my hand at a half-acre of wheat with a side plot of barley for some home-brew beer.

By October Emma and I will possibly be wishing for the relatively relaxing year just gone building our house, but one thing is for sure: the food we’ll be eating will not have travelled half way around the world in the back of a truck, plane or canoe and it won’t cost me a small fortune to keep my kids well fed.

Oh, for anyone interested, this is what we’ve decided on for seeds:

Fruit:
Captivator Gooseberry, Canada Red Rhubarb, an All Season Strawberry Collection and Balsors Hardy Blackberry plants.

Roots:
Russet Burbank Potatoes, Irish Cobbler Potatoes and Yukon Gem Organic Potatoes.
York Turnip, Napoli Carrot, Bolero Organic Carrot, Bolero Carrot and Albion Parsnip

Alliums
Spring Garlic Sets, Ambition Shallot, Long White Tokyo Onion, Talon Onion, Norstar Onion and Red Zeppelin Onion, Lancelot Leek

Herbs:
Wild Creeping Thyme (for the slopes near the house), Sage, Oregano, Mint, Sweet Marjoram, Lemon Balm, Catnip, German Chamomile, Panorama Bee Balm, Sweet Basil and Emma will be ordering some medicinal herbs too.

Tomatoes
Kastalia Tomato, Classica Tomato, Duchess Tomato, Big Beef Tomato, Red Alert Tomato and Bobcat Tomato.

Market Veg / Salads
Kaleidoscope Swiss Chard, Viceroy Spinach, Tyee Organic Spinach, Sardinia Spinach, Cherry Belle Organic Radish, Sweet Pepper Collection, Brazen Braising Mix, Mild Mesclun Mix, Baby Leaf Blend, Freckles Lettuce, Rome 59 Lettuce, Orion Fennel, Tango Celery

Squashes, Pumpkin and Marrows etc:
Celebration Squash, Waltham Butternut Organic Squash, Cocozelle Squash, Elegance Zucchini and Warlock Pumpkin, Vista Watermelon, Goddess Melon

Legumes:
Frosty Peas, Oregon Dwarf Sugar Pod II Peas, Green Arrow Peas,, Stringless Blue Lake Bean, Hickok Bean, Provider Bean

Leafy Greens
Reaction Cabbage, Winterbor Kale, Win Win Choi, Wirosa Cabbage, Gypsy Broccoli, Arcadia Broccoli

I’m shopping for a roto-tiller to pull behind my tractor and have my eyes on a rotary seeder which should take a lot of the effort out of planting. I need the tiller by March so more on those in a future post. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the last month or so of being an Armchair Farmer.

Rock and Bowl

Rock and Bowl

One of the things I love most about ‘home’ schooling is that we get to be out and about doing fun things in the middle of the day when no one else is around.  Today we had a bowling alley to ourselves (a good job really as bowling with mini balls really didn’t suit me) and had a mucho splendido time practicing our sporty skills.

Bowling is a sport right?  Of course it is.  So today we filled our sport quota for the week, we also did a bit of socialising…is that the same as socialisation I wonder?  Well we had a great time anyway.  I tried not to despair over the fact that the only person who got a lower score than me hasn’t even reached his third birthday yet and thought that the point of the game was to get the ball in the gully.   I was also able to model my losing gracefully face while my friend Steph (the other Mama) demonstrated her super human bowling abilities to the kids.  Seriously I think she might have a robotic arm or something.

So while the kids learned all about velocity, mass and….spheres and stuff, I snapped a few shots on my iphone and internally high fived myself for providing them with such great learning opportunities.

Oh and this my friends…

This is Maths.  Who knew that bowling could be so educational!

Love

Love

I hate Valentine’s day.  There, I’m in the ‘hate’ camp.  Well more accurately I am in the ‘don’t really notice’ camp and occasionally the ‘mild irritation’ camp.  Not because I have no beloved (I have the best!) or because he forgets (it was me who said ‘let’s not bother’) but for other reasons entirely.

I used to think Valentine’s was important, I was envious of friends who received cards and bunches of flowers, it was all so romantic.  The first Valentine’s I celebrated with Stephen was a few days after we met.  He made me a mix tape, I still have it.  But over the years it started to irritate me, our anniversary is just before Valentine’s Day so we can never get a table at a restaurant or celebrate without feeling it is contaminated by the shiny heart fest that is Fake Made Up Buy A Card Or Chocolates Or Ugly Teddy Bear Day.

So now you know.  I’m a Valentine’s grinch.

But.

When you have small people in your life you become aware of these days again, having successfully ignored it for many a long time.  And who doesn’t love seeing their favourite little people get a card from a friend, or a heart shaped sweet with a hand written and badly spelled note attached to it?  It reminds us of how easily children love, how freely they share their hearts with one another.  Despite the hideousness of some cheaply manufactured cartoon cash-in mini card, the sight of my child’s name in wonky writing never fails to melt my icy heart.  If the card is handmade I will pretty much give that child money.

Yesterday, as we sat making some little collage cards out of pink card and heart covered scrap book paper, I felt very far away from feelings of love and contentment however.  Neirin was screaming, wailing, complaining, ripping and generally doing everything he could to turn a pleasing card making session into the most frustrating experience possible.  And that was the high point of the day.  By six pm I was officially out of patience and when he spat out home made cough mixture over me I was done.  I got cross, I shouted, I LOST MY PATIENCE.

I felt crap.  Where was the love?

But then, after a brief interlude of peace when both boys were settled in bed, the cries began again.  This time it was different, a fever had risen in his body and his cries came from a far away place of confusion and misery.  Having never been sick he was totally confused, unable to fully wake or fully sleep he tossed and turned; his cheeks burned red, his body radiated heat.  Despite my best efforts he wouldn’t accept any medicine, eventually I managed to get some homeopathics into him by melting them in water.  He wouldn’t even allow a cool, lavender soaked cloth.  Stephen and I hovered over him, hurting in our hearts as he wailed in discomfort and confusion.

Guilt raged in me, I had been angry with him just a couple of hours before, so angry I couldn’t even think straight.  I was tired from disturbed nights,  I was tired from a day of being wailed at, I’d reached my limit of screaming and complaining and refusing to do even the simplest things like eat, or drink, or take medicine to stop the painful coughing.  My shame was burning as bright as his fever.

Then I had an idea, I picked him up, put him on my lap and snuggled him into my breast, close and warm as he has been since he was born.  Perhaps he could even hear the strong beat of my heart as he lay his face against my skin, but I don’t think so because he fell asleep in moments.  For the first time all night he was peaceful.  All night he snuggled in next to me, his body like a hot water bottle; I gave him the only healing I could, my devotion.  He wouldn’t take medicine, but he would accept comfort, his arms around my neck, his face pressed to mine.

Love.

It is a complicated thing.  I find myself angry with my little boy because he won’t take something to heal himself, I love him so much his pain makes me hurt too.  But sometimes all we can offer them is love, all we can give is our unconditional willingness to spend the night tangled up together, wakeful and aware, tending and supporting.  Even the worst moments can be motivated by love and the mistakes we make can be healed by love too.

I am beginning to see why this festival, this day of red foil balloons and terrifying stuffed animals, might actually be appropriate after all.  February is a tough month, a time of cold, a time of being cooped up, of longing for the freedoms of summer months.  It is a time when we get sick, when our reserves are low and when our patience with one another can wear very, very thin.   But of course this is when we need love the most.

So I’m converted.  I may not buy into the ‘romance’ of the day; I think romance is a cup of tea at the end of a busy day, a laugh shared in a tough moment, a big hug when it is most needed, or even when it isn’t.  But I can see a reason to celebrate our family, our love for each other, our willingness to spend each day together through the ups and downs.  Our willingness to forgive each other, to tend and support each other, to keep vigil in the night and organise a day around a still poorly little boy.

I remember when I was little there was a cartoon that said Love Is…never having to say you’re sorry.  I disagree, I think love means saying you are sorry a lot, but it is also shared laughter, home made cards, ginger cookies cut out on the counter by a boy who says over and over again “Because I am poorly!”.  It is one day, it is everyday.  It is worth celebrating.

Food Handmade

Food Handmade

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about food.  This isn’t massively unusual, thinking about eating, cooking, shopping for food (as well as actually doing all of these things) takes up a goodly portion of my time and energy.  And this time is only going to increase as I commit to making more and more food from scratch.  My goal is to use nothing pre processed by the end of the year.  Now I will still be buying cheese, milk and flour, all of which are to some degree ‘processed’ but I won’t be buying crackers, yoghurt, dips…you get the idea.  I would like to reach the point where my cupboards contain only ingredients and the yummy homemade results of those ingredients.

I’m making a good start and trying to simply add in extra things each week.  I already cook our meals from scratch (except for soup, I buy that in tins) but that doesn’t mean that each meal is exceptionally inspiring; that is something I’m working on too.   But there are other elements that I’ve noticed can push up the food bill beyond raw ingredients.  I know I’m not the only person to get the checkout and have a minor coronary as the number on the digital display just keeps going up. And up.  I mean $5 and upwards for Hummus.  Hummus!  My boys can go through a pot of that stuff in a lunchtime.  Can I really be spending over $10 a week on mushed up chickpeas?  And yoghurt, don’t even get me started.  Even a non organic yoghurt can easily run to $4-5 a pot and I have been finding myself buying up to 4 pots a week in order to keep my probiotic loving children supplied with their favourite runny snack.  $20 a week.  $100 a month on sour milk.

Well no more.  I am striving to rob the supermarket/whole food store of some of their profits as I produce at least some of our own favourite foods.  My kitchen is starting to feel like a little unit of production, though it is all slotted in over the course of hours and days around the house.  This week I’ve produced

– Chicken stock (2 batches from 1 carcass!) which made about 3 litres of concentrate

– 2 batches of Hummus (I’ve been using dried beans that I soak overnight then cook which makes the whole thing much cheaper)

– 6 loaves of wholewheat bread (using organic flour and coconut oil)

– 1 batch of choc chip oat cookies (the equivalent of 2 and a bit store bought boxes and without the very long list of ingredients)

– 2 batches of apple sauce

-2 litres of yoghurt (using organic milk so producing nearly 3 pots worth for less than the price of a pot of organic yoghurt)

home made lara bar (a tray that will last us a good few days for the same price as about 2 store bought ones and with lots of added extras like chia seeds and coconut oil)

That is roughly $84 worth of food there, perhaps more if you account for the bread being organic and all natural rather than just the price of a standard loaf.  I’m not sure what all my ingredients cost but it wasn’t $84!  And that is not even including the many fruit smoothies that we have for breakfasts and snacks but without the polystyrene cups and hefty price tags.  What I’m losing out of the budget is the cost of paying someone else to make my food for me.  I’m also ridding myself of all the plastic packaging these items come in, no yoghurt pots, plastic boxes or aluminium lined cardboard to get rid of.  I can reuse glass storage containers and mason jars and can even find uses for some of the bulk bags my flours came in.

I still have food costs of course, ingredients cost money.  But I am able to buy better quality ingredients and be much more in control of what I use.  I know exactly what we are eating because I made it!  I am slowly moving our kitchen away from being a unit of consumption to a unit of production and it feels good to see the fruits of my labours being happily consumed by my family.  This work that I do has a direct impact upon our quality of life, our health and our budget and generally the time it takes to make these things can be slotted in around our regular day.  As I do each task more and more the process becomes easier taking less time and effort.

This week I’ll be looking for some new challenges; as well as making some of the staples listed above I’ll be making some beef stock and rendered fat, some oat snack bars and getting creative with meals using recipes from the e-course I’m taking at  Whole Food Kitchen.  It’s a course teaching how to approach a whole food diet with tons of advice and recipes as well as a great online forum.  I’ve made one of the meals so far and it one exceptionally tasty and took about 10-15 minutes to prepare.  Couldn’t be better!

It may seem like a small thing, to produce food at home that we used to have to buy, but to me it feels important.  I feel that I am taking control of my home, making active choices rather than blinding walking the aisles and buying whatever a supermarket has to offer that week.  By making so much myself, by meal planning and buying only the ingredients that I need, I avoid making rash purchases of pre made foods that cost way more and are full I things I can’t pronounce.  I am seeing myself as a producer, someone who is empowered, rather than a consumer.  It gives me a sense of purpose, a connection to a vision of how our family should work.  Each time I turn on the oven or reach for my food processor I am taking a step closer to a feeling of independence and, more importantly, competence.

As the saying goes, you are what you eat.  In that case our family is home made and pretty darn tasty.