November 29, 2006
Who ever came up with the brilliant idea of making window frames out of aluminum?! All they're good for is drawing the cold right in, making for very icy sills.
At least it looks pretty!
It's snowing lightly outside as I write this, but it's 10 degrees warmer than it was last night, and it's supposed to turn to rain by morning.
I guess winter's over for now.
November 28, 2006
Here's what the front yard looked like on Monday after the snow let up a bit. Click here to see what it usually looks like.
I took this today after the sun came out (and the temperatures plummetted - brrr...). This is looking left from our front stoop - you can just see the snow covered mountains behind the trees.
With the roads impassable for the past two days, we spent our time at home baking, reading, and playing board games (we're playing Vancouver-in-a-Box in the above photo, which is Monopoly with Vancouver landmarks).
We saw this great bunch of icicles while we were out today (we finally ventured out after spending almost an hour excavating the car). The icicles ran the entire length of the building, and Jay just had to have one to use as a sword (he felt like the White Witch from the Narnia books).
It's supposed to be clear and cold until tomorrow afternoon, and then we're in for another heavy snowfall. We intend to enjoy it, because it's back to rain on Saturday.
To see some pictures of the kids and the dog having fun in the white stuff, click here.
November 26, 2006
As with most recipes, I changed it a little bit to suit our tastes and to work with what I had on hand, but the basic recipe is pretty much the same. I omitted the crystalized ginger and added some chopped nuts and a pinch of nutmeg, as well as a hint of sugary crunch on top.
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (you may need a little extra if using the thick, cultured variety)
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 5 tablespoon sugar
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 6 tablespoons cold butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, cut into bits
- 1/2 cup dried fruit (chopped dried apricots, raisins, cherries, craisins, etc)
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk first three ingredients together in a small bowl; set aside. Stir together the sugar, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Using your hands (or a food processor), rub the butter into the dry ingredients until uniform and resembles cornmeal. Stir in the fruit, nuts, and nutmeg. Add wet ingredients, and mix with a fork just until combined. Pour out onto well floured surface and knead together just for a few seconds (do not overwork). Pat into either two 6 inch rounds (for 12 small scones) or one 8 inch round (for 8 large scones). Cut rounds into triangles and place on greased baking sheet. If desired, brush tops with a little more buttermilk or milk, and sprinkle with sugar (turbinado is nice). Bake 12-15 minutes, or until golden.
These freshen up nicely the next day by placing them in a warm oven (250 degrees or so) for about 10 minutes.
November 25, 2006
Today's forecast includes a snowfall warning for tonight and over the next few days, with temperatures down to -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit). The kids are twittering with excitement, and I foresee a weekend of tobogganing and snowman building in our future.
After hanging a load of laundry out to freeze-dry this morning, I grabbed my camera and went to check the current state of things in the garden.
We've got quite a few turnips that are holding well in their original place in the garden. There are also several parsnips still tucked snuggly away beneath the soil.
I love the look of these skeletonized hydrangea flowers (I'd chopped the dead flowers up and used them as mulch toward the end of the summer).
The broccoli rabe/rapini is doing exceptionally well. I'd never grown this before planting it this year, and it's become one of my favorite things to grow. It seems to thrive in our cooler spring and fall weather, and even survived last month's hard frost.
November 23, 2006
This proves once and for all that I will take a photo of anything.
I read somewhere recently (Natural Home magazine, I think) that certain kinds of fluorescent bulbs give off a light that's similar to regular incandescents (apparently the thing to watch for is the number 2700K, which should be on the package somewhere - it was above the Energy Star logo on mine). Not really believing it, I decided to give it one last shot and bought a pack of 23 watt compact fluorescent bulbs. The ones that I got give off 1650 lumens of light and are supposed to be equivalent to a standard 100 watt bulb. I am thrilled to report that I can't see a difference between the light this bulb gives off and the light given off by the old one. Yay! I will definitely be replacing the bulbs in all of my fixtures with these babies!
Here's some information from the Energy Star website about the benefits of compact fluorescent bulbs:
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.
ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs:
Use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer.
Save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb's lifetime
Generate 70 percent less heat, so they're safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling.
Click here to see them in action.
On another note, I'd like to wish my friends south of the border a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
November 20, 2006
November 19, 2006
I regularly use a great tasting non-hydrogenated margarine for eating and baking (Earth Balance and Spectrum Spread are two good ones), but sometimes nothing can replace the flavour of real butter. Unfortunately, the cost of buying organic is often prohibitive (unless the local dairy is selling it off cheap), so I started experimenting with making my own own several years ago. A quart of organic whipping cream costs me just over $3 and yields me about a pound of butter, while a pound of organic butter from the store can cost almost $9. If you're willing to invest a little bit of time and effort, making your own is a worthwhile venture. You don't even need a butter churn!
The first step is to leave the cream on the counter long enough for it to warm up to room temperature, which makes it easier to separate the fat from the buttermilk. When it's no longer cold, put it into the bowl of an electric mixer (fitted with the whisk attachment), food processor, or blender. You can even shake it in a jar with a couple of clean marbles (this is a fun project to do with children, but it takes a little longer). Whip as if making whipping cream, and after several minutes the butter will seize and separate from the buttermilk. Let the mixer run until the butter comes together in a lump.If you want the butter to keep for awhile, it's important to "clean" it, as the buttermilk will sour and ruin the flavour. Pour the buttermilk off (through a strainer) and keep it in the fridge for drinking or baking. Now add some very cold, clean water to the mixer (too warm, and you'll melt the butter. A food processor works well if you don't have a splash guard on your mixer, otherwise you can (carefully) drape a towel across the top of the mixer and the bowl (to keep the water from sploshing all over your walls).
Turn the machine on low and let it knead the water into the butter, removing any residual buttermilk. Drain and repeat as necessary until the water rinses clean. You can also knead the butter under running water with your hands (your hands will be silky smooth for days!), or shake it with cold water in a lidded jar.
Now you need to get the water out of the butter, and I find that kneading in a clean towel works well for this, or you can press it flat with a spoon, pouring off any resulting water. If you want to salt your butter, dry the bowl of your mixer/processor, and add 1/2 a teaspoon of salt for every pound of butter (remembering that 1 quart of cream will yield about a pound). Mix to incorporate, and adjust salt to taste. You can also add garlic and herbs at this point.
A butter bell consists of a large cup that holds a small amount of water, and a lid with an inverted cup suspended underneath it (I got this one at a local pottery sale). The cavity under the lid is filled with butter and placed inside the larger cup, submerging the butter. The water prevents any air from getting at the butter, which stays soft and at room temperature without going stale for a long time.
I can't think of anything I'd rather have on a warm piece of toast!
November 18, 2006
In both cities and suburbs, we depend on wild bees such as bumble bee bees and honey bees to pollinate our fruit tree blossoms. Two species of parasitic mites have decimated our wild honey bee colonies (though beekeepers are able to keep mite levels down in managed honey bee colonies). The dramatic reduction in wild honey bee colonies has left us with very few honey bees in our garden.
One solution to this lack of fruit is to provide nests, and nectar and pollen producing flowers for local solitary bees such as the Mason bee. This will increase the number of Mason bees and provide the pollination level we need to get a reasonable fruit crop.
The Mason bee is one of many wild solitary bee species present in North America. It is friendly, and an efficient pollinator. They are called "Mason" because they construct walled-off chambers for each egg they lay. Mason bees begin working early in spring when flowers and fruit trees are beginning to blossom. After emerging from their cocoons and mating, the female Mason bees goes to work collecting pollen and nectar, while also pollinating your blossoms.
The mite problem makes it necessary to clean the house every fall in an attempt to control their numbers and reduce the chances that your bees will infect the next generation. A mite infestiation can apparently decimate a mason bee populations in 2 - 3 years.
Despite the name, adult bees don't actually live in the bee house, they use it for laying their eggs, which grow to adulthood inside their cocoons, and hatch out when temperatures rise in the spring. The above photo shows the trays that sit inside the house. At first it doesn't look like we've had much luck this year......but looking at the back of the trays reveals that there has indeed been some activity in the house this summer!
By removing the large black elastics that hold the trays together, we're able to separate the trays to get a look at what's inside.
In late winter/early spring, I will set the cocoons out in the "attic" of the bee house, where they will pupate and begin their work of mating, laying eggs, and providing pollen and nectar for their developing offspring, continuing the cycle.
November 15, 2006
Sounds like perfect soup weather to me!
Creamy Vegetable Soup:
- 6 tablespoons butter or non-hydrogenated margarine
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup diced celery (I often leave it out because I usually don't have it on hand - can add a bit of ground celery seed instead if desired)
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 1 medium potato, diced (unpeeled is fine)
- 4 cups of chopped vegetables (can be 1 or more of broccoli, cauliflower, peas, etc.)
- 3 cups of stock (I use organic chicken bouillon cubes)
- 2 cups of milk
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- pepper, to taste
Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion and saute until tender. Add flour and stir until smooth. Gradually whisk in chicken stock and milk, stirring constantly to blend. Bring to a boil and then add the vegetables and seasonings. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes (stirring occasionally) until vegetables are tender. I sometimes whiz it with my immersion blender for just a few seconds to incorporate some of the vegetables (leave it chunky, though).
Serves 4 for a meal (doubles easily).
Serve with warm bread or baking soda biscuits, and stay indoors!
November 14, 2006
From the Spread the Net website:
The goal: to cover Africa in blue bednets and stop death by malaria.
It raises funds so that Unicef can procure and distribute bednets at no costs to the families receiving them.
Every $10 collected will purchase a bednet for a child in Africa.
It's about all of us saving all those children in Africa.
It’s a simple, effective, inexpensive way to make a BIG difference.
It’s about life and death.
1 net. 10 bucks. Save lives.
1 net at a time!
10 bucks can buy you a couple of cappuccinos or a bednet to protect an african child for up to 5 years.
It’s war on malaria.
It’s something you can do right now.
This sounds like a great idea, and I'm planning to buy several nets in family members' names as Christmas gifts this year.
November 12, 2006
The real benefit of going directly to them is, the more milk you buy at one time, the cheaper the price per bottle, so we try to make sure we've got lots of room in our fridge on a dairy day. In addition to several bottles of 2% milk that I buy for use in my tea and cooking (we tend to use soy milk on our cereal), I usually grab a bottle of whole milk for yogurt, half & half for hubby's coffee, and whipping cream for baking and making butter.
The ridiculously huge block of cheese is a bit of an investment (about $40 a pop), but it often lasts us for months, and ends up costing much less than if we were to buy individual blocks of organic cheese.
I love that their milk continues to be packaged in glass bottles. Not only does it reduce the amount of garbage that would otherwise go into the landfill, but we don't have to worry about the chemicals that are reported to leach out of standard plastic containers.
It's always a treat to visit this quaint piece of farming history in the middle of the city.
November 11, 2006
This is a photo of her with her "litter". My mom bought these "Fur Real" puppies for the kids about 2 years ago in an attempt to stem their desire for a real dog, but you can see how that turned out. Princess has an incredibly strong maternal instinct, so when she heard these puppies whimpering (they make noises when you pet them) when the kids were playing with them recently, she happily took them into her care and watches over them tirelessly. I almost feel bad for not letting her have an actual litter before getting her fixed (okay, not really)!
As a birthday treat, we had blueberry pancakes for breakfast, which she loves. Whenever she's allowed to have one, she promptly takes it and "buries" it in her bed, digging a nice hole and nosing imaginary dirt over it. It always cracks me up to see such a domesticated dog exhibiting wolfish behaviours.
To see some more cute puppy pics, check out Sweetnicks' Weekend Dog Blogging on Sunday nights for a roundup of other bloggers' canine companions.
November 09, 2006
I would have had dozens of cherry tomatoes left too, but our freak cold snap a couple of weeks ago did them in. I'm still pretty happy to have home grown tomatoes in mid-November!
November 07, 2006
It's not huge, and there aren't nearly as many canned tomatoes in there as I'd like, but we've got a lot of goodies to see us through the winter.
You may be thinking "How many kinds of jam does one family need?". Well, those lovely jewel-toned jars are actually going to save me a lot of money and complicated menu planning. Armed with a huge bag of organic whole wheat flour (much cheaper to buy it this way) and a few other basic ingredients, I'll be able to create simple and delicious meals and snacks (scones, muffins, pancakes, crackers, biscuits, crepes, bread, etc.) and they will never seem like the same old boring thing because we've got such a selection of flavours to jazz things up.
The best part is, all of those meals will be local and organic. Almost everything I used in my canning came from my own garden (or from the garden of a nearby friend or relative), and the flour is milled just outside of the city. I made a real effort to use what I grew to make staple items that we normally pay an arm and a leg for (organic ketchup, salsa, apple sauce, pickles, dried fruit and jams), and that are usually grown and processed thousands of miles away. I'll be saving money, eating locally, and reducing my impact on the environment.
See, I knew it was about more than just the food.
To revisit the preserving posts, or to see them for the first time if you're new to my little corner of the blogosphere, click here.
November 06, 2006
Using some of the red onions from this year's crop, I made a batch this weekend. The verdict? Delicious! The purple onions and the wine made it the most incredible deep, rich colour. It's a little like a caramelized onion chutney, and since we love to put either mango chutney or red pepper jelly in our grilled cheese sandwiches, I can see us using it like that a lot. It would also be a nice addition to a cheese tray (maybe with a baked brie?), and Loomis suggests using it as a sauce on homemade pizza (mmm...). The possibilities are endless!
Onion Marmalade (from The Farmhouse Cookbook):
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (I used regular and it was just fine)
- 2 pounds onions, peeled and halved lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry (I didn't have any so I used mirin)
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup rich red wine
- 1/4 cup mild honey
- 1/2 cup chopped dried pitted prunes
Add the remaining ingredients and cook, uncovered, until the mixture is quite thick and very dark, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir the mixture occasionally, and watch it to be sure it doesn't burn. Season to taste, remove from the heat, and cool to room temperature. Either serve immediately or cover and refrigerate. Onion marmalade keeps well for an indefinite amount of time in the refrigerator. Makes 2 pints.
November 05, 2006
Other methods of making this call for a hole to be cut out of the bread with a cookie or biscuit cutter, and for the whole thing to be fried in a pan with loads of grease. I don't do either of these things and I find it to be much easier.
Start by buttering one side of the bread. Place the buttered side down on a cookie sheet (you can grease the cookie sheet, but I find that if I just slide the bread around a bit, it greases the spot underneath it just fine), and poke a hole in the middle of the bread. Using your fingers, squish the bread in the center towards the outer crust evenly in all directions, creating a nice egg-sized hole. Break an egg into the hole you've made. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then top with grated cheese. You can use any kind of cheese, but I particularly like cheddar with a bit of freshly grated parmesan (I used part skim mozzarella with just a little bit of cheddar today). Bake for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees (depending on how soft you like your yolks).
My kids love to eat this for breakfast because they can eat it with their hands. Serve with a little ketchup or salsa (which turned out wonderfully despite my concerns) on the side, or dunk them into a pool of Frank's Red Hot (my personal favorite).
November 03, 2006
My molcajete (a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle cut from lava rock) made quick work of turning the dried leaves into a fine powder. The porous texture of the stone makes it really easy to pulverize herbs and spices. The air was deliciously sweet-tasting while I was doing the grinding!
November 02, 2006
Not knowing any better, I went out and bought myself a nice plump ginger root, only to discover that all of the recipes out there call for candied ginger rather than fresh. Rather than dashing out to buy the candied variety, I opted to experiment with what I had.
Since I've never tasted the original version, I can't really compare the two, but what I ended up with tasted absolutely wonderful. Everyone kept sneaking into the kitchen all evening to steal a taste from the partial jar that's in the fridge.
Pear Ginger Jam:
- 4 cups chopped pears
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/3 of a cup of finely minced fresh ginger root
- 1 package of pectin
- 7 cups of sugar
November 01, 2006
They must have been a good 10 pounds each when they came from the garden, and it took two full stockpots and two 9 X 13 pans to cook all of the flesh I got from them. I ended up with probably 4 to 6 quarts of puree that I've got to try and find room for in my freezer (frozen in 1 1/4 cup amounts for my new favorite cranberry pumpkin muffins).
Anyone have any other great pumpkin recipes I should know about?