Posts Tagged ‘body’

“Are all farmers xenophobic serial killers?” by John

I’ve spent the last two days on the farm going on a mass killing spree, and it’s really been starting to get me down. Between weeding the strawberries, rototilling the raspberry beds, mowing the lawn, weed-whacking everything I can find, tilling the lower field and drowning every slug I come across, I’ve inflicted a whole lot of death and destruction in what is supposed to be “our growing adventure”. Not to mention the fact that a lot of it was done on or with one of the various fossil fuel guzzling noise polluters that are essential to our farming life.


A farmer friend of ours once told us that farming is more about killing the things you don’t want than anything else – and after this week I certainly have to agree.

All this hasn’t been great on my body either. Sore back from bending down, stiff shoulders from controlling heavy machinery, and those who know me well will understand the meaning of one word … allergies! (I swear, sometimes I think I should be a developer and try to pave everything instead of an environmentalist – given how much my body seems to love nature)

Today though, today was different. Today we went to see our friend Christy at her retreat located at Peace of Paradise Farm – and boy was it! I treated Cindy (and myself) to a late birthday present – a full body massage – and while Cindy was getting her massage I explored the grounds, design and maintained according to permaculture principles by Jay, and started reading “Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” Between the setting and the promise of a massage to come, I found the first chapter of the book highly inspirational and motivating.

So, today, with body relaxed and spirits high, I planted something. Just carrots and parsnips, and just a third of a row, but it was something. I also watered the site of what will hopefully be a soccer pitch again someday, and I tried to take some time to enjoy the space that I’m living in. Of course I also fired up the Mantis and the weed whacker and did some work with those, but with the addition of starting life into my day, I didn’t feel so bad taking some back. After all, the grass clippings serve as mulch and the whacked weeds break down into organic matter to feed the soil to help grow other plants, so it’s all just part of a cycle.

Thanks for reading.

“Adventures in Baking” by Cindy

I am so lucky – I live in a house full of people who love to cook. Until last night, I hadn’t cooked dinner in months. I usually get home the latest, so by the time I get here, there is already a team busily chopping, mixing, spicing, and sometimes dancing. I get to come home to a warm cooking smell most nights, and I like it.

I used to make up for my cooking slackerness by washing lots of dishes, but Joan is a mad dishwasher, so my kitchen duties have been greatly reduced. I’m not complaining, that’s for sure, but sometimes I do feel a little guilty about enjoying all this delicious food that I did not participate in making. Thus, when I can muster up some extra energy, I bake.

Normally, baking is something I enjoy – especially as the laws of quality control mean I get to eat as many of the treats as I want (I am confident that the waistband laws are negated when you do the baking yourself). Lately, however, my forays into the oven have been complicated by some dietary needs. Specifically, I have had to start baking both vegan and gluten-free. At the same time. Now, either of these diets can be dealt with quite easily in regular baking, but putting them together complicates the process a great deal. I can make some pretty decent gluten-free brownies and cookies because the eggs hold them together and are delicious. On the vegan side – wacky cake is always a crowd pleaser, but the wheat makes it good.

Why this sudden need for super expensive flours? John is on a three-month, egg-free, dairy-free and wheat-free diet because he tested highly-reactive to these foods, and the naturopath believes that this may be affecting his breathing. We are hoping the diet will either “reset” his system or eliminate diet as the reason for his breathing difficulties.

Anyway, a hungry John is an unhappy John, so I set about trying to find ways to make some treats to appease his grumbly belly and hopefully make this whole diet thing less of a hardship. Thank goodness sugar is still allowed! It’s also nice to be able to make some treats that Joan can eat, as she’s allergic to gluten. Aside from the interesting “Soil Block Brownies” experiment of last year, I hadn’t done much work with gluten-free flours. In that recipe, I used coconut flour, which created an interesting moist texture, and worked well with the brownies, but I was allowed to use eggs for that one.

As a side note – John attempted to do a one-for-one substitution of coconut flour for wheat flour in his cornmeal muffin recipe, and the result was… interesting. Coconut flour should not be substituted one-for-one. Some websites even suggest going as low as 1/4 cup of coconut flour for 1 cup of wheat flour. Everyone else liked the coconutty cornmeal muffins, but I thought they tasted undercooked. We’ll call that Experiment 2.

Experiment 3 involved oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I had researched some flour mixes online (great information at these sites: gluten free girl, gluten free mommy , gluten free goddess. From one of these sites (I think the Mommy one), I made a list of the flours I would need to make palatable treats. John picked them up when he was in Victoria, and a hundred dollars later, I was ready to go (brown rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, sweet rice flour, xanthum gum, and egg replacer). I had learned from my research that the most commonly available gluten-free flour mix (Bob’s) is very beany, which does not give a great flavour or texture to most baking (poor Yan did not learn this before he attempted his gluten-free pizza crust – so we’ll call that Experiment 4), so I opted to try having all the recommended flours on hand and mixing them as required for various recipes.

So, oatmeal choco chip cookies were on their way. I found a simple recipe that only called for two eggs (I decided that it would be terrible folly to try and use egg replacer for more than two eggs – also based on some highly technical internet research), and decided to use gluten-free goddess’ Blend 1 (because who can argue with a goddess – even a self-identified one?). Her blend is:
1 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup millet, almond or buckwheat flour
1 cup tapioca, potato starch or corn starch (not potato flour!)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum

Of course, I didn’t have millet, almond or buckwheat flour, so I just went ahead and used brown rice flour instead. The resulting cookies were quite good. I thought they had a bit of an aftertaste, and John thought that they somehow tasted a bit too healthy for cookies (next time, more margarine!), but they were edible. We also learned that while oats themselves are gluten-free, they are usually processed on the same equipment as wheat, so you have to buy oats that are labeled gluten-free. Otherwise, your poor unsuspecting roommate might have a reaction to the gluten from the oatmeal, and you will feel so bad you’ll feel compelled to make her a whole batch of truly gluten-free chocolate chip cookies to make it up to her.

We’ll call that Experiment 3.5 because I used butter and eggs for that one and the same flour mix. It turns out that gluten-free flour mixes really behave differently from your regular wheat mixes. This means that the cookies pretty much melted into one big cookie blanket. I cut them apart, and they were floppy and delicious, but I would consider reducing the amount of butter in that one and adding in a heartier flour to the mix. I just followed a regular choco chip cookie recipe from the Joy of Cooking.

Experiment 5 involved making biscuits to go along with the soup I was making for dinner last night. Both the soup recipe and the biscuit recipe came from “ExtraVEGANza”, a cookbook that Yan and Jess got us for Wedding Part 1, and that has become a favourite around here. The soup was potato parsnip, and quite good. The biscuit recipe was not gluten-free, but feeling emboldened by my previous successes, such as they were, I just went ahead and threw together a mix out of the leftover Bob’s blend, the leftover mix from the cookie baking, and some added brown rice flour.

I had read somewhere that gluten-free batters tend to behave like doughs and doughs like flours, so I shouldn’t have been surprised at my inability to stir the mix into a rollable dough. Even Yan’s power-stirring wouldn’t bind the mix together. I finally remembered that I probably needed to add some xanthum gum to compensate for the added brown rice flour, and that helped a little, but in the end I gave up and dropped the batter-like dough onto the cookie sheet like cookies. The resulting biscuits looked a little funny, like budding sea anenomes, and were a bit heavy for biscuits, but they tasted pretty good. Joan still found them a bit beany from the Bob’s mix, but I didn’t mind it so much in this context.

You may be wondering why I have been choosing to try and adapt regular recipes instead of finding ones that have already been adapted from any of the above-mentioned sites. In my searching, I found their recipes didn’t really match my palate (I’m not making any disgusting pumpkin treats, no matter how much John might like them – I can’t quality control what I won’t eat!), or they called for too many eggs. There was also the problem of John’s aversion to bananas. It’s a bit sad because bananas are great in baking, but if a banana has so much as been waved in the general direction of a baked good, John won’t eat it. Then, when I searched for gluten-free vegan, most of the recipes also strove to be sugar-free, and I’m not really interested in that at the moment. I still want dessert to taste like dessert.

Anyway, the cookies are almost gone, and we are going to a potluck tomorrow, so it looks like the next experiment will be back to brownies. They are usually pretty safe because you can mask weird tastes with extra chocolate. Yay for chocolate!

“Strawberry Picking” by John

Mark it in your calendars.  On Wednesday, June 23rd at approximately 9:07 am I officially became a farmer.

Well, maybe a farm worker is a better term, though I didn’t get paid (still not sure how we’re going to settle things at the end of our “apprenticeship” maybe money, maybe food, maybe just knowledge, but whatever will be good) so maybe a farm volunteer is a better term, in which case maybe Growing Opportunities was when I went official.  Though come to think of it I once WWOOFed at Plan B Farm, so maybe that was official.  Then again my grandparents had a farm just outside of Teeswater, ON when I was quite young and I remember riding the tractor and feeding the animals there so …

Anyway, suffice it to say that last Wednesday was my first experience picking strawberries at our soon-to-be-home and it made me feel like things were a bit more official and real than they had felt before.

It was a beautiful sunny day and I had my new hat on (thanks Cindy!) so I didn’t get burnt and I picked 3 or 4 boxes of berries in the 2.5 hours we were there, which probably equals just over two flats.  So, definitely not the fastest picker out there, but not too shabby for my first time out I think, especially considering that I stopped to go visit the chickens, tour the farm with the Canada World Youth leader who might come to stay with us for a bit, and put together and pack flats as I went.  I also got to deliver two flats to the Community Farm Store with an invoice and one to a private customer so making the sales made it feel more official too.

How was it?  Honestly, I don’t know how to answer that.  I was told it would be painful on my back and legs but I didn’t feel like it was too hard.  Odd muscle use for sure, but I think all of the cycling, plus the chiro and massage for my back helped to make it not too terrible.  I can still feel it in my legs a bit now if I try to hold myself in a strange position, but it hasn’t slowed me down at all.  I loved being out in the sun and the fresh air so that was great, and going back to work for the afternoon was definitely hard.  So, physically, all was and is well.  Mentally though I found I was a bit stressed out by it all.  I know, how stressful can it be to sit in a field and pick berries right?  I think my issue was the same that I have with so many other things – I just wasn’t sure I was doing it “right”.  Searching through the foliage with my hands trying to pierce the darkness under the leaves with tired eyes to identify the bright deep red that indicated a perfectly ripe berry.  Trying to leave behind all those with just a tinge or white, or that are perhaps a slightly less deep shade and need a few more days to fully ripen.  Worrying what the customers in the store or at the box distribution will think when they see my berries in the harsh light of florescent tubes.  Will there be too many small ones?  Too many that aren’t perfectly ripe?  Will they want my berries?  Did I pick the right ones?

And through it all I felt this need for speed.  The necessity to pick the berries right now before … what?  Before they went rotten, before the birds got them, before the frosts came?  Or, harkening back to my childhood, before it was time to leave the U-pick, not to return for another year.

Cindy and I were talking about it afterwards and I realized that the same patch of berries was picked two days before I got there and will be picked two days after and again and again and again till the plants are done producing.  So really, there was no need to pick berries like there was no tomorrow because, well, there is (or at least a day after tomorrow).  With that in mind it really makes sense to pick only the best of the best and leave anything that needs another day because then it will be the best of the best next time you pick.

So, there you go, John overanalyzing things again (like that comes as a surprise to those of you who know me).  I think it’s the type of thing that, with practice, will become less stressful.  It was pleasantly meditative working my way down the road, feeling growing things under my hands, moving from plant to box and back to plant.  If I can become confidant in my ability to make a good end product then I think I’ll really enjoy it.  And the other pickers and eventually Graham saw the overall haul and no one told me it was terrible so I guess even if I was bad, at least it was hidden by the hard work of others.

In purely happy news, a young couple and child came to look at our apartment today and appear to be just as in love with it as we are so we shouldn’t have to worry about getting out of our lease.  Yay!

And now (after Cindy reads my post … please, be gentle) we go to pick-up beer bottling supplies.  Sweet!  Soon I’ll actually have to brew some beer … soon.