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October 31, 2006

Pumpkin Seeds

Halloween has always been one of my favorite days of the year, and that might be at least in part because Halloween means pumpkin seeds. They make all the work of carving those jack-o-lanterns worth the effort.

Tossed with a little oil and sea salt, and then roasted in a low oven (about 300 degrees for a half an hour or so), they never last for more than a few minutes around here. The plus side is that they're incredibly nutritious.
Maybe they'll make up for some of those mini candy bars!

October 30, 2006

Tiramisu

I had a love affair with tiramisu years before I'd ever been to Italy. What's not to love about this rich, creamy, coffee-infused delight? Once I was actually on Italian soil, it was game over, I sampled tiramisu all the way across the country. The best I ever had was in a restaurant in Vernazza, a tiny town on the Ligurian coast (part of a group of five coastal towns known as Cinque Terra). Maybe it was the dessert, or maybe it was the gorgeous surroundings, but we seriously considered staying there to raise our family (I was 5 months pregnant with our daughter at the time).

Even though I love it, I haven't actually made tiramisu very many times, but when friends invited us over for risotto on Sunday night, I thought it would be a fitting accompaniment.
I searched the internet for a recipe that sounded good and finally settled on this one. It doesn't call for the raw eggs that most recipes do (something I wanted to avoid because the kids would be eating it), and it was quick and easy to put together. (Edited to add: I dipped the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture individually rather than sprinkling it over top of them to ensure that they would be uniformly moist).
It wasn't quite as fabulous as the one I had in Vernazza (I think everything probably tastes better there), but I will definitely be making this one again.

Frost!

We woke up this morning to find that our yard had been covered with a dusting of frost while we slept. It's not often that it gets frosty around here, and if we do it's usually only for a few days in January, so it was completely unexpected. Today, everything in the garden is crispy, and the Juliet tomatoes that I'd been leaving to ripen are frozen solid. I almost picked them all yesterday to bring inside, but didn't. Oops.






I have to admit, it does look awfully pretty. The ice crystals in the bird bath are especially beautiful.

I guess I've got a big job ahead of me pulling out all the dead stuff. The last of my blooms (the nasturtiums, cosmos, mallow and some dahlias were still going strong) are now officially done.

October 29, 2006

Aebleskiver

I've mentioned before that I have a real desire to make a connection with my family roots, particularly with the women and the culinary traditions they would have passed down to their daughters through the generations. Many of these were lost when my great grandparents moved to Canada many years ago, so I'm attempting to revive some of them with my children before they're lost entirely.

I was doing some research on wood stoves recently (I refuse to use our hopelessly inefficient 35 year old gas furnace and would love to get a wood stove to replace the space heaters we're currently using), and spotted this old aebleskiver pan on Ebay for next to nothing. It's made by Jotul, a Norwegian maker of beautiful cast iron wood stoves. After a good cleaning and reseasoning, it looked as good as new.

Aebleskiver are puffy Scandinavian pancakes that are often filled with jam or pieces of apple. The bottom of the cups are rounded, so when you flip the pancakes, you end up with little round "puff balls".

The recipe that I used (find it here) seems like a good one. I altered it by using 3 eggs instead of 2, and I substituted half yogurt/half milk for the buttermilk. Their taste and texture are similar to Yorkshire Pudding (eggy and soft) only slightly sweeter.

I filled some of them with Peach Melba (peach/raspberry) jam while they were cooking, and left some plain so the kids could fill them with whatever they wanted. We tried maple syrup, honey, pear butter, and peach jam, all of which were delicious. They'd be amazing with whipped cream and raspberry jam (maybe Christmas morning!).

Aebleskiver make a yummy weekend breakfast, and are sure to be a hit no matter what your family's background!

October 27, 2006

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

I've been dying to try this recipe for Cranberry Pumpkin muffins from the moment I first spotted it (it's from my newly acquired copy of The Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis). I was not disappointed, they were a delicious way to start our day.

The muffins are tender and fluffy, and are a delightful golden colour (it doesn't really register in the photo). They're not too sweet, and the cranberries give them a slightly tangy flavour. I think they'll quickly become a family favorite.

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour (I used half whole wheat pastry flour with good results)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (use slightly more if using ground)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12 cup muffin tin well.

Mix dry ingredients together; set aside. Whisk oil, eggs, pumpkin and milk together in a medium sized bowl. Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir just until combined. Fold in the walnuts and cranberries. Do not overmix. Fill prepared muffin cups 2/3 full (mine were totally full, but they didn't overflow at all).

Bake until muffins are puffed and golden and spring back when touched, 20 - 25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes, as overbaking will result in dry muffins. Let the muffins cool for at least 5 minutes before releasing them from the pan.

Makes 12 muffins.

October 25, 2006

Skunks and Green Tomato Mincemeat

Don't worry, I haven't just invented the world's worst holiday pie.

At about 2:00 this morning, I was awakened by the sound of something squealing and squawking for dear life under my bedroom window, and then the burning stench of hell itself filled the house. I don't know who was on the receiving end of that nasty blast, but thankfully it wasn't any of our animals. I was worried that the skunk was hit by a car and hid in our crawl space to die, but that doesn't seem to be the case. The ungodly smell is still lingering in the house, though.


Lu recently asked if I would share my mom's recipe for mincemeat, so I thought I'd post it here in case there's anyone else out there with a pile of unripe tomatoes.

Green Tomato Mincemeat:
  • 2 quarts chopped green tomatoes

  • 1 quart chopped apples (peeled)

  • 1/4 pound of butter (1/2 cup)

  • 6 1/2 cups brown sugar

  • 1 pound of raisins

  • 1/2 cup mixed peel

  • 1 cup white vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

  • 2 teaspoons ground cloves

  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg (use about half that if grating fresh)

Combine everything in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and simmer gently over low heat until thickened (about an hour). Stir often.

If canning, ladle into sterile jars and process. The recipe says that you should end up with 3 quarts, but I only got 2.

Enjoy!

October 24, 2006

Thrifting

I mentioned in a post recently that I love the thrill of the hunt when it comes to saving money; I get a real charge out of finding something we need for a great price. I'm like a kid in a candy store whenever I pass through the doors of a second-hand store. My husband gets overwhelmed by it - he hates having to search through racks and stacks of things he doesn't want in order to find those few things that he needs. But for me it's more like a treasure hunt, with that perfect thing I've been looking for just waiting for me to find it. I'm fortunate to live in a city that has so many wonderful thrift/consignment stores.
Not only is thrifting a great way to stretch a dollar, but it's also a fabulous way to recycle (there's that frugality/sustainability connection again). By purchasing something used, you're saving the packaging that would have been involved with buying something new, as well as the resources required to make a second thing exactly the same as one sitting unused on a shelf somewhere. That's not even taking into account the oil saved by not having to ship a shiny new item from halfway across the country (or across the world).
With halloween rapidly approaching, we headed off to the local thrift shop to find some of the things we needed for the kids' costumes (they're going as Harry Potter and Hermione). We managed to find white collared shirts for both of them, and a cute kilt for Bee (all of which will become part of their regular wardrobes after the big night). I may have to do some quick sewing of robes to complete the ensembles though, as we didn't find anything like that where we were, and there's no way I'm going to pay $30 each for the cheap nylon ones we've seen in the stores (you know, the ones that turn to shrink-wrap if you stand to close to a heat source).

This is one of the things I was most excited to find. Susan Herrmann Loomis is the author of one of the best memoirs/cookbooks I've ever read, On Rue Tatin, which is an account of her family's adventures buying and renovating a house in France. is a collection of recipes and anecdotes gathered from farmers all across the US. She discusses the various methods of farming, as well as why it's important to buy local and in season. The recipes themselves look tantalizing and homey - I may have to do a cookbook spotlight on it after I've had time to read it thoroughly.
This next find was one for the kids. They love the Horrible Histories set of books, so we were thrilled to find one from the science series. They're just disgusting enough to keep them coming back for more.
Bee found a nice pair of jeans with a gorgeous flower design embroidered up the pant legs, as well as a cute shirt to match. Jay got a new pair of swim trunks that still had the tags on them. Dad even found a great baseball style shirt that looks like it's hardly been worn. Throw in a glass storage container for the pantry and you've got a pretty successful shopping trip, all for less than we would have paid for Bee's jeans had we bought them new!

October 23, 2006

Apples, Tomatoes and Pears - Oh My!

The mother-in-law of one of the moms in my homeschool group grows organic apples in the Okanagan, and last week she apparently had a bunch that were not in good enough shape to send to market and asked my friend if she knew anyone who would want them. I was the lucky benefactor of these gorgeous apples (25 pounds of them) and there was absolutely nothing wrong with them that I could see!

Armed with my trusty apple peeler (which peels, cores, and slices all in one fell swoop)...

...I turned most of them into apple sauce. I used Tammie's idea of flavoured sauces, adding fruit and spices to make three different batches.

The end result was 5 pints each of Strawberry, Blueberry, and Spiced Apple sauce. The kids gave them a big thumbs up. They're a bit more rustic than some sauces, as I didn't remove the berry seeds and stray bits of peel with a food mill. Instead I used my immersion blender to incorporate them into the sauce (I kind of like that little bit of texture).

I also froze a bunch of the apples, unpeeled but cored and sliced, and sealed them in pairs with my Foodsaver (I scored a huge box of generic vacuum sealer bags on Freecycle yesterday!). Each apple is approximately 2 cups, which is just the right amount for my favorite apple muffin recipe.

I ended up with a mountain of apple skins and cores after all this. Hating to throw them all in the compost, I started a batch of the apple wine that Tammie talked about recently (she seems to be my apple idea connection!). It turns out she had the same thought and is making a similar batch. I'm hoping that the seeds don't impart a bad flavour to the final product - we should know in about a month.

On Friday I got another few pounds of pears from my friend with the pear tree, so on top of everything else I made a batch of Pear Frangelico jam (a recipe from Well Preserved that I've been dying to try). With its nice hazelnut flavour, I bet it will taste wonderful on crepes.
And just because I'm a sucker for punishment, I also canned four quarts of tomatoes (this was all at the same time that I was making the green tomato relish yesterday). I decided to go on a final canning blitz yesteday so that everything would finally be done.
After 7 or 8 hours spent standing over the stove, my cupboards are full, the canner has been put away, and I'm feeling very content.

October 22, 2006

Green Tomatoes

Just when I've totally given up on my tomatoes, the weather turns nice again! I made a batch of Green Tomato Mincemeat a month or so ago thinking that there was no way they'd ripen any more than they already had, but our weather has been incredibly sunny this fall, and it has really extended the harvest. While out in the garden this morning to gather more green tomatoes, I noticed that many of the plants are actually still flowering and producing new fruit (especially the Juliets). I picked everything that didn't have a red tinge to it yet, but I left the Juliets to their own devices, because they seem to ripen so quickly.

On the agenda for today was a batch of Farmgirl Susan's Green Tomato Relish. It's much like a tangy salsa, flavoured with cumin and cilantro, which are two of my very favorite things. In addition to using up the last of my tomatoes, it also made use of some of the 25 pounds of apples that arrived a few days ago (more on that tomorrow) as well as the last of my Walla Walla onions. It looked so pretty in the pot:

The only change I made to the recipe was to replace the jalapeno peppers with Frank's Red Hot sauce (about 1/3 of a cup). The kids like a little heat in their condiments, but not as much 4 jalapeno peppers would have added. It turned out just right.
My previous green tomato project (the mincemeat, above right) turned out wonderfully as well. I used the recipe that my mom always made when I was growing up, so it is sure to add a bit of nostalgia to our holiday festivities.


Here Comes the Sun

Today we woke up to a crisp, foggy morning. This was the view from our living room window:

The sun slowly started to make an appearance...

...and then suddenly the neighborhood was bathed in light. The dew made everything shimmer.

I don't think I've shown the front yard a lot so far (if at all). We just put the gate in last spring (it was a gift from my grandfather - my dad has the same one). I'm going to move my Arctic Beauty Kiwi vines onto the arbor. They have beautiful variagated (green, white and pink) leaves, and produce small, hairless (and delicious) kiwis.
The diminutive hedge in the front is Grappenhall Lavender, which will grow to between 2 and 3 feet high and wide. On the right hand side, we put in California Lilac. They should both fill in within the next year or two.

They're a little difficult to make out, but the arbor and gate are covered in misty spiderwebs that blow in and out on the breeze (they were totally invisible before the fog settled on them). It's appropriately spooky for Halloween!

October 21, 2006

What the...?

Can someone please tell me how this little fellow found his way to my nice clean towel that was hanging on the clothesline? It was hanging a good 10 - 15 feet above the ground!

I can only assume that he spied the towel from the ground, decided that it looked like a good place for a nap, and then proceeded to tight-rope-walk his way the 15 or so feet that it was hanging from either end of the line (not to mention the climb he would have had to get up to the line). Either that, or we've got incredible jumping snails, which would explain a lot of the damage they wreak on my garden.

After pondering this mystery for awhile, I collected a few plants from the garden to dry for winter use. Above is a bundle of stevia, which has very sweet tasting leaves (it can be up to 30 times sweeter than sugar). I'm going to dry it, pulverize the leaves and then add it to my tea, as it has no calories and does'nt cause tooth decay.
Wrapping the stalks with an elastic band works well when drying herbs in this manner, as it contracts to fit, ensuring that you don't lose your precious bunch to the floor once they've dried and shrunk a bit.

I also collected a big bunch of citronella to dry; I'm not sure what I'll use it for (any ideas?), but it should be a good insect repellent, not to mention a good air freshener. My house smells very clean with it hanging in the kitchen!


October 20, 2006

Local Lovelies - Wine

I'm not exactly what one would call a wine connoisseur, but I do know what I like. I was introduced to this wine (Ehrenfelser) by my good friend Carla, who showed up on my doorstep with a bottle in hand one day, and it's been one of my absolute favorites ever since. It's fruity and flavourful without being sweet.

When my brother got married several years ago, they took the family to the Okanagan (a part of BC several hours from Vancouver where most of our fruit is grown) for a tour of the local wineries. I was thrilled to find out that Summerhill, the maker of this wine, was on the agenda. You can read more on the link, but they are Canada's largest certified organic winery, and they have a large pyramid that they age their wine in. I don't know a lot about pyramids and their effect on wine, but I can tell you that they're doing something right, because they make the best wine I've ever tasted. They also have an incredible restaurant. If you're ever in Kelowna, I would definitely recommend that you stop in.
My other favorite wine is their Baco Noir. It's so delicious that it's almost impossible to get your hands on, because it's always sold out.
I hear that this year's wines will be especially good, because of all the hot dry weather we had this summer.
Mmm...I can't wait!

October 18, 2006

Stocking Up

I think the planets must have been in alignment today. On our way home from the kids' gymnastics class, we popped into a store to pick up a few things, and wouldn't you know it, almost everything I needed was on sale!

A few of today's finds.

I love it when I find a great deal; even though it's a necessary part of life, being frugal has become like a game for me. I think it helped that we were students before becoming parents, because we were used to living on the cheap. Despite living on a modest income, we've managed to maintain a decent standard of living because we do a lot of things ourselves rather than paying others to do it.

It's always been very important to me to buy as much of our food organic as we can, even more so after having children. When people argue that buying organic is too expensive, I would counter that it's not worth saving a few cents a day if it means giving my child minute (and sometimes not so minute) doses of who knows what. Cut corners somewhere else.

In order to afford organic options, I started making a lot of them myself. I've made my own bread for years (I love the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, as well as the Tassajara Bread Book), including english muffins, pitas and tortillas. Organic milk and cream are much cheaper to buy than organic yogurt and butter, so why not make the yogurt and butter yourself? Or start making your own homemade soymilk. Not eating meat cuts those grocery bills down, as well as using dried beans instead of canned (a pressure cooker makes this even easier, but isn't necessary). It helps that I love doing these kinds of things, but anyone can implement some of these measures to save money.

Another thing I do, and it's a pretty obvious one, is to buy large quantities of something when it's on sale, which is what I did today. That way the organic items are often the same price, or cheaper, than their conventional counterparts. All of the things I bought today were almost half price, so I bought several of each and stowed them away. I saw a great deal on raisins awhile ago, and now I've got 8 pounds of them in my pantry. Buy it when you see it, and you may never have to pay full price again.

The only problem is, where do I keep everything?

October 17, 2006

Autumn Art

Aside from a few showers this past weekend, our fall weather has been unbelievable.

As if the colours aren't gorgeous enough in their own right, someone at a local park has turned them into a work of art. The leaves have been sorted by colour, strung onto thread and wrapped around the trees.

October 16, 2006

Rain Drops

I just love how the water beads up on these Nasturtium leaves.

October 15, 2006

Cottage Cheese Apple Pancakes

Is it just me, or do the pages in your cookbooks with the recipes you use the most always end up looking like this? If you've been reading for awhile, you'll know that I have a thing for Mollie Katzen's recipes, and this copy of The Moosewood Cookbook was the first cookbook I ever bought. As you can see, it's well loved.

I buy a lot of things in bulk in order to save money, so there are often times when I've got a large quantity of something on the verge of expiring that I need to use up quickly. This morning was one of those times, as I had a big tub of cottage cheese in the refrigerator that was rapidly approaching its demise. Not to worry, we just so happen to have an abundance of apples at the moment as well (sorry, Phelan), so a nice batch of Cottage Cheese Apple Pancakes was just the answer.
These pancakes are very light and fluffy, with a bit of crunch from the addition of finely chopped walnuts. They are packed with protein (thanks to the walnuts, the cottage cheese and four eggs), and I usually use whole wheat flour which makes them even more healthy.
We were out of maple syrup this morning, so I opened a jar of Pear Honey to use instead, and it turned out to be a great combination.
If you'd like to make a batch of your own, enlarge the top photo to see the recipe.

October 14, 2006

Cookbook Spotlight - Scots Cooking

I recently took this book out of the library in my ongoing search for the perfect bap recipe. I have a real hunger for a connection with my ancestral roots, so a whole book of traditional Scottish recipes really appealed to me (anyone know of a good Norwegian cookbook?).

I had a hard time finding anything to eat when I was is Scotland 10 years ago (being a vegetarian and pregnant at the time didn't help), but the author does a good job of going back to traditional Scotch fare, focusing on what a typical family would have eaten before the advent of the overly processed, fatty food (deep fried Snickers anyone?) that Scots are so famous for now. The pages are packed with hearty, comforting meals, many of which I hope to try: Cranachan (a mixture of toasted oats, fruit, cream and honey - similar to muesli but with a hit of whisky!), several different kinds of shortbread, as well as oat cakes. The names for things are a riot: Champit tatties, Forfar bridies, bashed neeps, and cabbie claw, just to name a few.

The bap recipe seems like a good one. They only came out of the oven an hour ago and most of them have already been scarfed down - that seems like rave reviews to me. I was actually able to make myself squash them a bit before I put them into the oven this time (I couldn't bring myself to do it when I last made them), giving them their traditional flattish appearance, and they turned out just right.

According to the author, the usual way of eating these soft, squishy breakfast rolls is to slip an egg and some bacon into one that's been halved and buttered, but they're also delectable with honey and jam (at any time of day).

October 13, 2006

Garden Clean-up and Seed Saving

Bee is suffering from a cold today, so we stayed home from our regular Friday activities this afternoon. I used the unexpected free time to do some clean-up in the garden.

I collected seeds from the various nasturtium plants (I love nasturtiums and have them planted everywhere!), putting them in separate containers with one of the corresponding flowers (or leaves in the case of the variegated ones) so I can identify them when it comes time to label them.

I also harvested some of the Nigella pods and shook the seeds into a bag for drying.

These curly Calendula seeds will ensure that I have enough flowers for next year's batch of salve.

I haven't got a lot of Beurre de Rocquencourt beans yet, but there are quite a few more out there drying on the plants.

Once I had the seeds all picked and sorted, I popped them into envelopes and labeled them. I often use brown paper lunch bags for this purpose, but we've run out (the kids like to use them for crafts). I'll leave the envelopes somewhere warm and dry until the seeds have dried, and then I'll seal the envelopes and put them in a jar or freezer bag to keep them dry.


A neglected garlic plant flowered and went to seed last year, creating a small patch of garlic "chives". I saw this as a great opportunity to experiment with growing garlic from seed, and separated the baby garlic greens into rows, not really expecting a lot. But as you can see in the above photo, garlic grows just fine from seed! The plants got a little overwhelmed by the neighboring squash plants and I kind of forgot about them until now, but the last time I checked them (in July) they had formed nice fat heads. I should have been more on the ball and harvested them earlier to dry, because at this point the cloves have swelled and started to sprout, but I'm just going to separate and plant them for next year.

I discovered a single Wintergreen berry in my travels today. The berries and the leaves have an unusual minty flavour, very similar to Bazooka Joe bubble gum, and I can't wait until we get a bigger crop.

I found a lone Delicata squash that had been forgotten among the squash plants, and I harvested another bowl full of Romas and and a tray full of Juliet tomatoes to dry. The garden is obviously loving the incredible sunny weather that we've been having lately!

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