..the secret life of daydreams..

a blog of the everyday beautiful

homesteading – growing our own bread

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Last fall I had a crazy idea. Let’s plant rye and grow our own grain.

Why? I haven’t the faintest idea…

Perhaps it began with the idea that I wanted to learn how to make Finnish himmelis (Christmas ornament made from rye straw), and I didn’t know where I would be able to find any straw here in Canada. I then happened upon some whole, locally grown rye grain at a local charity fundraiser sale, and I bought some on a whim after asking if it could be planted. The lady in the booth said yes, which is more or less how I ended up with this:

rye field

Amazing.

It was an eye-opening experience, and I may or may not have felt like a pioneer woman more than once. Since we were growing the rye for the straw, it seemed logical to also harvest the grain for flour. It gave me a new appreciation for the fact that bread does not simply appear on grocery shelves magically; and while I know that modern grain is grown and harvested with the use of machinery and big combines, a sudden sense of the millennia of labour that mankind has put into the growth and cultivation of crops was inspiring.

After some time with google researching small scale farming methods for grain, I got to work. My father-in-law gave me a hand with the roto-tiller one lovely September afternoon and we cleared and tilled a 10×20′ patch in the back lawn. After sowing the grain, we mulched grass clippings on top. I read that this helped keep the temperature a little more stable for germination as the cooler fall nights approached and it prevented the grain from washing away or pooling together during any potential heavy rain.

By mid to late November, the rye grass was about six inches tall and it remained at that height through its dormant winter months. The onset of warmer spring months saw a new flush of growth occur. I’m not really sure when it happened, but one day I walked to the back, as I often did, and came to the realization that it was as tall, if not taller, than I was. Full and weighty grain heads had emerged and started to droop over under their own weight, and the bottoms of the straw had started to develop a distinct, wheaty-golden color. It was definitely summer!

rye grain

Over the next many weeks, we checked on the ripeness of the grain by testing it’s hardness between our teeth. It is hardly scientific, but we had read that it should be difficult to crack between your teeth. There is of course an ideal moisture level for a prime harvest, but we didn’t have the equipment for that. We decided to try two different harvests, one while the straw was still slightly green, letting it dry in stacks; and another once it had dried in the ground. There seemed to be no difference in the grain so I can’t say one way was better than the other.

The process of cutting down and bundling/stacking was the most tedious part. Without a scythe or grain cradle (seen here), which neatly cuts the grain into tidy rows, it was a little more time consuming to organize the grain into bundles. We simply used large shears to cut the straw at the bottom, and carried the resulting messy bundles to the side to be tidied up and tied properly into sheaves.

cutting rye

rye sheaves Eventually, after it was all cut and dried, we cut off the grain heads in order to start the process of threshing.

rye heads

So how on earth do you thresh this stuff? After more time on google (what would we do without it?), I discovered that an easy way is to stuff hand-fulls of the grain heads into pillowcases and beat it. The original tutorial suggested hitting the pillowcases with a shoe, but I very quickly discovered it was a lot more efficient to simply swing the pillowcase around onto a hard concrete surface (a grainy and short video of Justin’s whole family trying out the method has been posted for your viewing pleasure here). As the saying goes, many hands makes for light work, and it was never truer. We had help from family both close and far, with Justin’s cousin coming over with her kids to experience an old-fashioned threshing floor.

This process removed the grain from the heads, and the large, and now light, chaff was easily separated by hand from the more weighty grains at the bottom of the pillowcase. The rest was dumped into bins and winnowed in front of a fan (more video here for your viewing interests). That video shows the third pass on separating, so you can see a little bit of the chaff blowing away still, but the majority was already done. It took about five passes to get the grain clean.

The end result was about twenty-three pounds of rye grain, approximately a fifteen-fold increase from what I had sown!

rye grain

This is being stored in a large bin as whole grain, and I am milling it in small batches as I need it. The flour does not hold nearly as well as the whole grain, so for storage purposes this made the most sense. For milling, I used the dry blender attachment for a Vitamix. Maybe one day I will invest in a stone grinder, but for now this does the job.

So I know you are now wondering, have I made bread? I just pulled a fresh loaf from the oven, and I have to say it is quite good. I haven’t fully settled on the best recipe, but it is satisfying knowing that I have made this bread from literally start to finish. Many people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell people we have done this. I don’t blame them. It’s not your average backyard garden staple like tomatoes or peas, and is somewhat ambitious and time-consuming. Yet, it is a straightforward process and highly educational, so I don’t regret the time spent. In fact, I might be hooked… summer wheat anyone?

rye bread

rye flour

rye bread

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kostelyk family photo shoot

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For whatever reason, fall always brings an increase in demand for family photos. I suspect it has something to do with the approach of Christmas and the need for updated photos to send out with Christmas cards (does anyone actually send cards anymore?…). Maybe I’m wrong about that.

Other times the photos are simply long overdue, and as schedules fall into routine again with the passing of summer vacations, this season is a great time to get family together for some photos, especially when there are new grandchildren involved.

This family was no exception, and the kids decided to organize a session for their mother, who has been dreaming about getting family photos done for some time. I was more than happy to help.

These were shot at Bateman Park, and Willband Creek Park, in Abbotsford, BC.

kostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk familykostelyk family

 

 

DIY reclaimed barnwood dining table

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A few years ago, I had a crazy idea that involved searching out an old barn that was being torn down, getting some old boards, and building a table out of them.

diy reclaimed barnwood table and benches

Thankfully, my husband is always up for these challenges and typically doesn’t blink an eye when I ask him for something outrageous. He might sigh inwardly at all the work involved but he’s a champ and makes it happen.

So that same summer we happened to stumble across an old barn that was being demolished, and we promptly knocked on the front door of the farmhouse to ask if we could take any wood. The woman who answered the door was very skeptical at first, and thought we were maybe “crafters” who would sell tables for many thousands of dollars, in which case she wanted a percentage of what we would sell them for. When we insisted we were simply building ourselves a personal table, she said take what you want, for a dollar per foot of lumber.

So we went back with the truck, and some extra hands, and picked out some wood. It was old. And weathered. And full of nails. Perfect.

raw boardsraw boardsMaybe not quite perfect. I loved how weathered it was, but my poor dear husband had to battle those rusty nails to get them out of the wood so that he could plane it down. The boards pictured above are massive 10 inch fir wood planks. We trimmed them down down to 7 inches, with a total of 6 boards side by side to make the table top. Justin fit them together with a tongue and groove joint, and two additional boards were placed as caps on the ends.

Below is Justin getting a guiding hand from our friend Alan, one of Justin’s former co-workers at Trinity Western. The woodshop belongs to one Adrian Goyer; and full credit must be given to him for allowing Justin to use his woodshop and all his tools as a trade for a couple of Justin’s man hours to insulate the shop. I can’t say it was by any means a fair trade with the amount of time Justin spent there, so he was very generous.
Alan was the mutual friend between the two who made it all happen for us. Without these tools, none of this could have happened.

I apologize for any grainy pictures. Most of these were just taken with our cellphones.

working

2013-02-11 16.52.47tongue and groovesandingWe (and by that I mean Justin), got the table to this point, and let it sit for many months waiting for time to finish it. During those months, one of the boards developed a significant crack in it. Bummer. We figure the boards were slightly twisted, and the torque of forcing them together in the tongue and groove joins caused the board to split at an already weak point. After evaluating our options, we decided first to set the crack into place using a butterfly key method (credit goes to a local woodcarver, who Justin knew through his work, for that idea. He keeps a great blog found here). Part two involved filling the crack with black epoxy. It was messy business with the epoxy but it turned out beautifully in the end.

butterfliesbutterfly keysepoxy crack filled with epoxyThen it was more sanding to clean up the table top, and staining.

more sanding

stainingI used two different stains to achieve a more weathered look, and it actually made the wood grain really pop out, which was great. The base coat, shown above, is a liquid pecan stain. For the top coat, I opted for a gel stain, this time in dark walnut. A gentle application of the walnut with a cotton sock gave me the control I wanted over the color and texture.

Justin also built the legs for the table, based on a look that I wanted. We actually went to a furniture store with some measuring tape and found the same legs I was imagining. We took some notes and then Justin went to work with a band saw. I don’t have any pictures of the legs in progress so you’ll just have to wait for the reveal pictures at the end of this post.

The final steps included painting the legs and skirting white (I used CeCe Caldwell’s chalk paint that I picked up at the wonderful Spruce Collective in Abbotsford), and sealing it up with a semi-gloss verathane.

sealingAfter all that, I decided I also wanted some benches to go along with the table. I had been admiring these Pottery Barn benches for a while, and we decided to make a similar design from the pictures.

I sketched out what I wanted, and Justin made it happen.

bench designbench design 2benchesbenchPretty awesome if you ask me.

Put it all together and we have a winner of a table. I think we’ll be keeping this set for a long time to come, and I can’t thank my husband enough for going along with all my crazy schemes! He definitely put in many hours of labour into these beauties.

diy reclaimed barnboard benchestable legs

 

tabletopcrack

table reveal

 

outdoor movie night – pirates of the caribbean

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It’s that time again. Summer means movie nights out under the stars and this weekend we hosted our third annual event. After last year’s themed Alice in Wonderland night was such a big hit, we decided to keep up the tradition, which resulted in a pirate ship being built in our backyard. Ambitious? Maybe.. but certainly fun.

Piracy was the name of the game and while not everyone dressed up, those who did certainly did a great job! I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but it was a great night, even if it did get a little on the chilly side.

but the rumbarrelsbottlespiratetreasurecandypirate goldpirate ship.ArrrrWill Turner? ..jack sparrow.

 

festive snowball lanterns

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The first snow of winter always brings back fond memories of shoveling, snow forts, snowmen, snow angels, and staying out until I could barely see because the early winter sun had set. My mom would have to call me inside for dinner and I would trundle into the house from a winter wonderland that more often than not had already started to melt. These events were, and are, rare and special in this wet and mild coast we live on, so I still get excited when I see snowflakes; however, I don’t like that I have to commute in it these days… but that’s another story. That said, last weeks snowfall reminded me of another childhood memory: Finnish snowball lanterns. These are especially fun to make during the holidays as some outdoor cheer, but unfortunately here, the snow melted before Christmas actually came. That’s ok, it still felt festive!

snowball lanternThey are pretty simple to make.

Pre-make a big pile of snowballs and then lay them in stacking rings, one on top of the other. Don’t worry about it being perfect, that’s part of the charm! The layers will naturally start to come together as the rings get smaller and smaller at the top. Before you lay the last couple layers, put a tealight at the bottom (make sure you compress the snow underneath, otherwise the tealight will melt the snow and sink, flooding it) and light it. Then go ahead and close it up! If it is below freezing outside, the tealights should last few a couple hours.

And for those of you who live in areas where snow is in abundance at this time of year, these would make some great outdoor decorations lining the driveway or walkway to your house for guests coming over for Christmas or New Year’s parties! If you want to ensure that the candles remain lit for many hours, you could also put in battery operated pillar candles into each lantern (just be sure to put the candle on a plate first so it stays dry on the bottom). It won’t glow in quite the same way but also won’t burn out before your guests leave.

festive snowball lantern

advent calendar diy

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It’s again been a while between posts, but the Christmas season is approaching and I’m getting inspired to craft and create again. I figured it was time to share this diy project I did a few years ago!

When Justin and I were still dating, I made him an advent calendar that he kept in his room. I filled it with little treats and notes that let him know how much I cared about him. Ultra cheesy right? Well, regardless of that, and the fact that he did marry me in the end, I think it is an adorable calendar and I can’t wait to give it to our kids and let them have the joy of waking up early and sneaking out of bed to get the next days pocket open.

The whole thing is actually made out of scrap fabric that my mom had sitting around from the days when she used to sew all my clothes. So yes, all of these are made out of pieces of old childhood dresses, pajamas, etc., that I had. That alone holds a lot of sentimental value for me. The stick at the top is an old walking stick I had whittled as a kid, and I re-purposed here; it was definitely a fun project, and with some help from my mom (her sewing machine would misbehave regularly so I didn’t want to try wrestling with it), I put this together. Here are the basic steps of how I accomplished it.

  1. I decided how big I wanted the whole thing to be. This one is 2ft. wide by 3ft. tall in total, but the main fabric backdrop is 2′ by 2’8″. The tabs at the top are then by default 4″ long.
  2. The backdrop is actually two layers of fabric (so that you couldn’t see stitching on the backside), so I cut out two pieces the same size. Because you need a half inch seam allowance all the way around, it ended up being 2’1″ by 2’9″.
  3. Once that was done, I took paper and used it to create a template for all my pockets. Basically I cut rectangles and squares out of the paper, numbered them 1 through 25, and laid them onto the backdrop; arranging and cutting until I was happy with how it looked.
  4. The prospects of actually making pockets and sewing them onto the backdrop seemed bulky and ineffective, so I cheated. It’s actually just the front square sewn on top of another patch of fabric that acts as the pocket flap. So basically when you open the pocket, you see the green of the backdrop. This made it far less cumbersome to sew and made it look less thick and bulky.advent pocket
  5. Before putting it all together, the button holes were sown into the flaps, and the numbers hand stitched onto the pocket fronts.
  6. Then it was just a matter of assembly and getting all those pieces put together, and adding all the buttons.
  7. Finally the back panel was sown onto the calendar, and the tabs inserted like you would with curtains.
  8. For good measure I stitched the date onto the back so we would remember when I made it! And that is that.

It was a great little project and we still hang it up every year for advent. I hope this inspires you to make your own advent calendar this year!

advent calendar diy

cozy up – velvety butternut squash soup

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Today is one of those classic fall Vancouver days: gray and damp, with abundant amounts of precipitation, and we get to look forward to a whole weekends’ worth of similar conditions. I have to admit I don’t wholly hate it, at least not yet. There is something about getting cozy with knit sweaters, blankets, and chai tea lattes that warms the soul as days get shorter and increasingly soggy.

But today there was only one thing I was craving when I got home from work after driving through the rain and that was a bowl of warm, velvety butternut squash soup fresh from our fall squash harvest in the garden.

butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup

– 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
– 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 2 yellow onions (chopped)
– 2 cloves garlic (minced)
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
– 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
– 1 large butternut squash cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 6 cups)
– 4 cups vegetable broth

Heat the oil and butter in a large pot (I like using a big dutch oven). Saute the onions until softened (about five minutes). Add garlic, salt, pepper, and garam masala and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the squash and cook for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the broth into the pot and bring to a boil, add turmeric and lower to a simmer. Cook until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree the squash and liquid in a blender in batches. Pour back into pot, gently heat, season with salt, and serve with a little sprinkle of nutmeg for garnish.

Enjoy! And if the garam masala really isn’t your thing, you can replace it with a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg and two sprigs of fresh thyme (removing the thyme before the pureeing step). Delicious!

butternut squash soupbutternut squash soup