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July 30, 2007

Habitat ReStore

When building a home on a budget and trying to reuse and recycle as many materials as possible, your friendly neighborhood Habitat ReStore definitely makes things a whole lot easier. Habitat for Humanity is a charity that builds homes for families who can't afford to get into the real-estate market on their own. Good quality used (and sometimes new) building materials are donated and sold at their "ReStores" in order to raise money to fund their work.

We went to two different hardware stores today to look at the exterior lighting that was on sale, but we weren't overly excited about any of them. The most affordable ones looked okay, but seemed a little flimsy, and their faux finishes were unconvincing.

When we finally got to the ReStore, my daughter spotted these gorgeous light fixtures sitting on a shelf. Not only are they the style we were looking for, but they're made of solid bronze and weigh a ton - nothing flimsy about these babies! They've also got that slightly nautical flavor that we were wanting for our coastal home (the style is called "Lighthouse"), and we were stunned to discover when we Googled them that they normally sell for over $300 (more than 4 times what we paid)! They're new and in their original boxes, however they do have a few minor imperfections, (which I like to think of as a "patina" - something those cheapers ones were trying to replicate with their faux finishes), but that's something we're happy to live with in order to get fixtures that we really love.

While there, I also scored a stack of the bushel baskets that I love so much (for 25 cents each!). They're great for storing things like onions, potatoes and squash, so they will be a great addition to our new pantry and/or cold storage.

We also came away with several bags of Hypertufa mix (four bags for $1!). For those unfamiliar with hypertufa, it's a combination of cement, perlite, and peat moss that can be used to make planters and other containers or sculptures that end up looking like old stone. I've always wanted to try it, and with the pre-mixed bags I'll have no excuse.

One of my best ReStore finds was these amazing napkins. They spent the first half of their lives in the dining cars of our province's passenger trains, but there aren't very many of those running anymore, so the napkins were in need of a new home. Since we've sworn off paper napkins around here, I happily adopted three dozen of them (at 50 cents each, I couldn't resist). They're very thick, and are of such good quality that they come out of the wash looking like they've already been ironed (which is a huge plus for someone who despises ironing).

So, if you haven't already done so, why not check out your local Habitat ReStore? Not only will you find some great recycled materials, but it's nice to know that your money is going to support such a worthwhile cause.

July 26, 2007

One Local Summer #5 - A Meal of Sides

Sometimes (actually, pretty much daily) I find myself standing in the middle of the kitchen at 5:30 drawing a complete blank as to what we're going to eat for dinner. This past Tuesday was no exception - I had a bowl full of gorgeous green beans fresh from the garden, the fixin's for our favorite salad (that's a post in itself, one I've been meaning to get to for a year now), but there was no real "main course" to be had.

In a fit of desperation, I tossed some potatoes in the microwave (something we didn't have at our own house, but I have to admit it does come in handy occasionally), and my daughter threw the salad together while I dealt with the green beans. The end result was a bit of a hodge podge, but very satisfying. The green beans were stir fried over high heat with a bit of sesame oil, some hot sauce, salt, and a ton of garlic (loosely following one of my favorite Mollie Katzen recipes for Szechuan Green Beans). They're not pretty to look at, but we were fighting over them by the end, the crispy bits of charred garlic are scrumptious. Who says you need meat with your potatoes?

Everything but the oil and seasonings were local or from the garden.

July 25, 2007

Jamie at Home

Has anyone else seen the new Jamie Oliver show called Jamie at Home? We've got full cable here at my mom's place, so I've been enjoying watching the food channel on occasion, and this show is by far one of the best cooking shows I've ever seen, it's so homey and inviting. The focus is on growing your own food (or using local, organic ingredients), and everything he makes looks so incredibly delicious. His garden is amazing, and I would kill for his well worn, rustic farmhouse kitchen. The best part is, he cooks a lot of the things that he makes outside in a gorgeous wood-fired brick oven (Tammie, you would love it!). This is one series that I would seriously consider buying on DVD, because watching it makes me so darn happy.

I am a bonafide food channel geek, and I am not ashamed.

July 22, 2007

Rainy Days

We seem to have reverted back to the rainy winter weather that we only managed to get rid of a few weeks ago, getting six continuous days of rain, something that's apparently only happened here in July four times in recorded history (and there's wet weather in the forecast for at least one more day). I have to admit that I do love the rain, and am quite happy to hunker down and do slower paced, homey things while waiting for the sun to return. Besides, I don't think there are many things more beautiful than rain in the summer garden.

Solomon's Seal

Shasta Daisy

Baby Tomatoes

Mock Orange

Calla Lily

Currants

While out with my camera, I picked a large bundle of Black Tuscan kale in order to make a batch of the Kale and White Bean Soup that Jim over at Earth Home Garden posted about awhile ago.


The sight of a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove is not exactly what I think of when I think of summer cooking, but it certainly fit the bill on this particular day. There's still plenty of time for pasta salad.


July 18, 2007

Berry-licious

My mom, the kids, and I headed out to our favorite u-pick farm yesterday for round two of the great berry stockpile that takes place in our household every summer. This time we were hungry for raspberries and blueberries.

Unfortunately, when we got there we were told that the berries had been picked out earlier that day and there wasn't much left on the bushes. I found that a little hard to believe considering it was mid-week and it had been raining all morning, but the bushes were indeed bare. It turns out (according to tonight's news cast) that last week's heat wave ruined the raspberry crop, cooking many of the berries where they hung and killing a large percentage of the plants. Our weather has now swung in the complete opposite direction, cooling down to 16/60 degrees, with rain predicted for the next week or more, so I think the growers probably hedged their bets and picked everything before the weather turned wet and the already stressed berries succombed to mold.

Luckily, this meant that they had many flats of pre-picked berries that we were able to buy (for twice the price mind you), so we won't have to go without, but the season is finished two weeks earlier than it should be, and local farmers have lost millions of dollars worth of crops.

I froze most of the raspberries for muffins and for the peach/raspberry jam that I will make later in the summer, but I also used some to make a batch of low sugar raspberry jam, which is something I hadn't tried before. The consistency is slightly different, but it's nice and fruity and will perk up my winter toast nicely.

My blueberry plants are happily producing lots of berries this year, despite being kept in pots while they await the move to their permanent home (there was no way I was going to leave them behind when we moved!)...

...but they're not quite producing enough to keep us in blueberry pancakes all winter, so I also bought a large box of blueberries for freezing. Many of those disappeared in greedy handfuls before we even got home (it was a long winter!), so I will likely have to get some more before the season ends, especially considering that we haven't even had our Zabaione Con Crema fix yet this year.

Tammie and Chelee - the bun recipe that I used for the mushroom burgers can be found here. It was the first time I'd tried this recipe, but they turned out nice and soft and tasted good (I substituted whole wheat flour for half of the white).

July 16, 2007

One Local Summer Week #4 - Mini Portobello Burgers

This week's local meal was a fun one. I saw a recipe for Mini Portobello Burgers in the current issue of Country Living magazine, and while I was at the farmer's market on Saturday I just happened to spy a box of baby portobello mushrooms and knew I had to give them a try.

When I got home, I started a batch of dough for hamburger buns using locally milled flour, making half of them extra small to fit the mushrooms (I froze the rest of the buns for another time).

The rest was really simple, just brushing sliced eggplant (from a local greenhouse) and zucchini with oil, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and grilling them until they were soft and had nice grill marks on them (I had to use a grill pan because the resident barbeque is broken). Then I halved the buns, layed them out on a baking sheet with the tops beside them, and piled the grilled veggies on top, finishing each one off with a slice of Swiss cheese from Vancouver Island. I then placed the baking sheet under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese, and placed the top of the buns back on just before serving.

The grilled veggies were delicious, and the mushrooms were meaty and juicy. I think I will be using portobello mushroom caps instead of store bought "veggie burgers" more often, and maybe I'll experiment with different kinds of cheeses (chevre or smoked gouda perhaps?).

What a fun way to eat your veggies!

July 15, 2007

Sunsets

Not a lot of time for a long post tonight, so I thought I'd share these photos of the sunset as seen from my mom's place. The first one is from tonight and the second one was a couple of nights ago.

Sitting and watching the sun go down is a fabulous way to cool off after a long, hot summer day - a cold gin and tonic sure helps a lot too!

To see what else we're doing to keep cool, click here.

July 12, 2007

Doors

Before I start my usual ramblings, I'd like to say thank you for all of the nice comments you guys left on my last post. I loved hearing about each of you, and am surprised by the similarities we all share, whether you live halfway around the world or within my own city. The internet is an amazing thing!

The gathering of materials for the house continues, and our latest find was an entire set of interior doors, including a pair of leaded glass french doors and gorgeous antique headers, all made of solid fir. They were removed from an old house that was being renovated, and are probably almost 100 years old.

The doors are in great shape for the most part, but we will spend the summer fixing them up and refreshing them with a lick of paint so that they're ready to go once the house is up. The thing that baffles me is that the people who were renovating the house pulled out these gorgeous old doors (each one must weigh close to 100 pounds - they are SOLID) and replaced them with MDF doors in the exact same style! Go figure.

The thing that sold my husband on them were the incredible knobs and backplates that they had. A few are a little bit stiff, but hopefully with some work they'll be as good as new.

Before we bought them we looked at a few building supply stores to compare how much solid wood doors go for and whether we'd be getting a good deal with these. Let's just say that we got all 14 doors for almost half of what one new solid wood door would cost, not including the hardware.

We've got a fair amount of work ahead of us to get them ready, but I love that these doors will breathe some character and and a sense of history into our otherwise brand new house.


July 09, 2007

A Year

I just realized this evening that I've been blogging for a year and three days now! I'd been thinking about doing an anniversary post on the actual day, but with all that's been going on I forgot all about it, and the day came and went without any fanfare.

If someone had told me 13 months ago that I would happily have maintained a blog for this long I would have thought they were crazy - what on earth would I have to talk about for that long? - but it's easily become one of my favorite hobbies, and I still have lots on my mind! Aside from serving as a cooking/gardening journal, it has sparked a love of photography, and has connected me to like-minded friends from all over the world who I learn from and am inspired by daily. Amazing!

I took this up almost as a form of therapy, if you can believe it. I was going through a bit of a blue period this time last year, and I thought that keeping a journal of all of the things that I loved and was interested in would help me focus on the good things in my life. Who would have thought that looking at the "mundane" aspects of my life through the rosy lens of a camera could have such an effect? I firmly believe that making this shift toward actively focusing on what's important to us has played a huge part in getting us to where we are now; within 6 months of starting this blog, we had embarked on the early stages of finally achieving our lifelong goal of a "house in the woods". Now that I certainly wouldn't have believed a year ago!

I'd like to say thank you for choosing to spend a little bit of your day with me in my tiny corner of the internet - I feel like I'm able to share a side of myself here that I don't often reveal in "real life".

Since this sometimes feels a bit one sided, I would really like to get to know you better, and would love it if you could spare a few moments to tell me a bit about yourself. What part of the world do you hail from, what brings you here, what do you do for fun? Do you have kids? Grand kids? Pets that you consider kids?

Don't be shy now...

July 08, 2007

One Local Summer Week #3 - Gnocchi

This week's post is a little late I'm afraid, but it's still very fresh in my mind (and belly)! (Edited to add that after going to everyone else's blogs, it turns out that I'm actually a little bit early in my posting - not sure what happened there!).

The inspiration for this meal came while watching an episode of Jamie Oliver's show "Jamie's Great Italian Escape" a few days ago. He was discussing the very local nature of food in Italy, and how different parts of the country have such differing opinions about how to make certain things. While watching a group of women teach him how to make orechietti, my daughter and I decided that that would be a fun thing to do for Sunday's dinner. However, a quick stop at the nearby Italian market the next day prompted a request for gnocchi (pronounced NYOH-key) by my son, so we decided to make those instead.

We boiled four large potatoes until they were soft (unpeeled), sliced them in half crosswise, and then put them through a ricer while they were still hot to make them nice and fluffy (putting them in cut-side down made it possible to remove the skins at the same time, just picking the skins out before running the next potato through).

A couple big pinches of salt, a few cranks of pepper, and an egg were quickly stirred in before the egg could cook into a solid lump, and then we added about a cup of flour to make a stiff dough. More flour was incorporated as the dough was kneaded on the counter for a couple of minutes.

The dough was divided into fist-sized balls and rolled into 1 - 1 1/2 inch thick ropes, and then cut into 1 inch wide pieces.

The kids helped me roll each piece up the back of a fork to make a pocket on one side and grooves on the other (to hold the sauce).

I made a simple tomato sauce with canned tomatoes that my mother had left over from last year's crop, stirring in a cube of frozen pesto because the basil in the garden is still too tiny to harvest.

A thick sprinkling of BC parmesan cheese finished everything off and I barely had time to snap this photo before the gnocchi were all gobbled up.

Getting caught up in the spirit of the challenge, my mom made a batch of strawberry/raspberry ice cream, using local cream, raspberries from her garden, and strawberries from a nearby farm (we went and picked another 20 or so pounds each last week).

The only things that weren't local in this meal were the olive oil, salt, and pepper. It only occurred to me after that fact that I could have used local butter to saute the garlic for the sauce (learning as I go) . The sugar for the ice cream came from a local refinery, but I doubt that the cane/sugar beets were locally sourced.

Now I'm off to see what the rest of you made this week!

July 02, 2007

The House (finally)

Well the wheels are finally in motion as far as building our house goes. We've been dickering over price for the past couple of weeks, but we finally came to an agreement and have signed a contract, so we're committed now! After feeling like we've been spinning our wheels for the past month or so, this is a nice change.
We're using a local prefab company to build the house, as it can take up to two years to get a contractor in the area where we're going to be building, and this company is open to prefabricating any house plan that you bring to them. They will ship the house to the lot in panels and put it together over the course of a couple of weeks. This will get us to "lock up", which includes doors, windows, roof, siding, and decks installed - then work begins on the inside. The delivery slot that they've got us booked for is the end of September, which seems like a long way away, but considering the amount of things we've got to organize between now and then, I'm sure it will fly by.

So now we've set about collecting the things that we'll need for finishing the inside of the house. We're hoping to use as many recycled and low cost items as possible, so I've been scouring Freecycle and Craigslist like crazy. We were thrilled to find these two solid birch vanities which were being sold off by a cabinet company that was closing up shop. They were display models, so they've each got a few minor dings, but I think they're lovely and they only cost us $50 each (including countertops)!

If there's anybody out there who can give us advice on the kind of windows to choose for our house, I'd really appreciate it. Vinyl windows are the standard option for our package, but I hate the idea of them. Our costs are already spiralling out of control, and we'd like to trim where possible. My concern (aside from the fact that they're made of toxic PVC) is that vinyl is relatively new and its longevity hasn't been proven - will it discolor, become brittle, or warp? We can upgrade to wood for about 20% more, and metal clad (metal on the outside with wood on the inside) will add 30-40% to our window budget. We're going with low E argon filled windows for sure, but I'm agonizing over this material decision.

On another note, the weather has warmed up and summer finally seems to be making an appearance after all.

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