Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Food Storage and Plums

Rhonda Jean at Down to Earth has been posting a series about Simple Living. Yesterday's post was about food storage and it had me thinking about my freezer. It coincided with my utility bills actually. Why am I paying to freeze things when the great outdoor freezer has been on full blast for a few months already??

One reason is because I can easily get at it without freezing myself in the process. However, I have two freezers (one big, one small) and yesterday I emptied the small one into two coolers and put them into the frozen garage. I don't know if it'll make a difference at all in our electricity bill, but it can't hurt. And I found stuff.

My organized freezer is far from organized and I found two things in the past week or so that needed to be used up. One mystery container turned out to be pureed pumpkin from who-knows-when. Lots of it. I made a batch of muffins for a birthday party which disappeared quickly and one loaf of the same recipe. Somehow the loaf isn't as much fun and I've still got it. I think I'll have a slice with some coffee later today.
2 cups of pumpkin puree - any ideas of what to do with it? I could make soup for lunch, I suppose. I don't know what possessed me to freeze 4 cups of it in one container.
The other package was a huge ziplock bag of plums. And they are older than Alice! They weren't discolored or anything so I used them anyway. Maybe there are risks I don't know about, but I'm choosing to live life on the edge here. They tasted great in a plum crisp, and then again yesterday in a "Plum Good Chicken" recipe in the crock pot (I didn't make that up!).
I still have this much left.

Any good recipes out there? I'm plum out of ideas.

I know, I know. I'm sorry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sourdough Success

I've done it! I made a proper sourdough bread.

I've been working with my sourdough starter all month. Some of the bread has worked (it rose and tasted good), but it wasn't sourdough. It was just bread.

I've come to realize that "just bread" for us is a special treat for some. Twice this month I've given loaves to friends because they've stopped by at just the right time. One friend later emailed me to say that the family "devoured the warm bread within 5 minutes, like sharks swirling around the chum". I wish I'd kept the message to remind myself of the specialness of our everyday bread.

Anyway, we waited all day for this dough to double in size. It didn't, so I added some yeast and re-kneaded it, thinking it was a failed batch anyway so I had nothing to lose. It never did double in size, so I had to content myself with possibly two loaves of flatbread.

It's not a repeatable process because I don't know what recipe I was attempting and then adjusted it, but it turned out perfectly. And it tasted like a sourdough artisan bread.

Alice thinks it tastes funny. Maybe it's an adult taste, so I've had to make a couple of loaves of "just bread" as well this week.

Because we've hardly bought any bread for a year now, I keep running out of bags that fit homemade loaves. Last week I whipped up two cotton drawstring bags that work just fine, so I'll probably make up a couple more, allowing us to have buns or biscuits in one and one to circulate with loaves to friends on occasion.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Birthday cakes

I'm not the best at making pretty cakes. Sometimes they fail miserably, but the kids always have their own ideas anyway.

I used to think Angel Food Cake was synonomous with Birthday Cake, so before the kids had any say in the matter, I would make an Angel Food Cake (from a box, of course) and smother it with sweet icing. Once I discovered the 7 Minute Frosting (the kind that is cooked and looks like fluffy meringue) they even looked gorgeous.

The kids would lick off the icing, sometimes pick off their favourite candies and then be "full". I just thought it was their age and they'd outgrow it. Playing was obviously more important and the cake was really just a place to stick a candle.

On Beth's 7th birthday I remembered these cakes:

Easy to make, easy to shape into numbers and they ate it all. Not just the candy. Not just the whipping cream or icing, but every scrap. I don't think there was enough for the parents that year. This one was for Alice's 6th party on Monday, but there's an identical one soaking up the whipped cream right now for Laura's 9th party tomorrow.

Except that she doesn't want the face and we'll flip it to be a 9. No baking, no special cake molds, and the sugar factor is way down because of the whipped cream instead of icing. It's the perfect cake.

Here are some of my other cakes:

(Alice's 5th birthday - a castle for a princess)

(Laura's 8th birthday cake)

(Beth's 10th cheesecake - that's another easy one)

(A disaster of a treasure chest cake for Laura's 8th, but the kids really like this and one of the kids went home talking about it in positive terms to her baker mother. It looked so easy on other websites but we had to attack mine fast before it collapsed.)

If you want to see beautiful cakes, visit Teddy here. I love her hamburger and fries cakes best but I'm not going to attempt that. Never.

By the time I'm good at this, they won't want interesting ones anymore, but it's fun for now. I've got a few more years left anyway and at 3 each year, I'm getting a bit of practice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One more party to go this week

Six years ago (yesterday) my dad was in the hospital with heart failure and I was in the hospital giving birth to this lovely girl.

He got the short straw that day. And we got our third beautiful daughter.

During a school wide chapel assembly, Alice piped up to inform the principal that it was her birthday. I told him that she was definitely a different character than her sisters. We do need diversity in life, and we've got it in our family of girls.

Prompted by the chapel incident (after which the whole school sang Happy Birthday to her), I thought I'd interview Alice.

Me: Alice, are you shy?
Alice: A little bit.
Me: How much is a little?
Alice: 2 pinches

Me: Alice, are you smart?
Alice: YES!
Me: How smart are you?
Alice: 150 pinches.

Me: Alice, are you cute:
Alice: Yes, you know I am.
Me: How cute are you?
Alice: 159 pinches!

Me: Alice, are you humble?
Alice: What's humble mean?

She has plenty of time in life to learn humility. There's no rush, but I thought her answers were interesting. 2 pinches shy vs. 159 pinches cute.

That's about right actually. :-)

I couldn't get a picture of Alice without Cheetos residue on her face during her party, but this is how beautiful she looked in September.

I'd say that's 159 pinches cute.

Happy birthday, cutie!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What's on my bedside table

I've always been a big reader. However, I've got WAY too many books open and in progress at the moment. Here's what I'm reading:
It's quite a stack this time. This week is Book Club Week, but I didn't even include that book. I finished The Book of Negros before Christmas already. I hope the new material in my brain hasn't pushed all knowledge of that book out because stimulating discussion is bound to happen and I'd like to be a part of it.

A lot of what I'm reading has been reflected in some of my posts. These are the two homesteading and housewife books.
I quite like them both. The Homesteaders' Handbook can tell you how to buy land for $25 (!), build your own log cabin on it, make your own soap, sugar or stick your arm into a bee hive for fresh wild honey. Not terribly relevant to my life here in the city, but it's fun to read about how things have changed.

The Canadian Housewife goes through the ages from 1600 to 1950s, scattered throughout with quotes from diaries, magazine ads, recipes and pictures of the latest appliances to make our lives easier.

And two of these belong in the category of doom and gloom. Stuffed and Starved is a hard read for me, explaining how we've gotten where we are with food, stuffed and obese and yet starved of nutrients. Genetically modified foods, the over-use and oversubsidizing of corn and soy, blah, blah, blah. I don't think I'll get through it but it's interesting and reinforces my uninformed desire to return to whole foods.

No Impact Man is an easy read and at least it's about someone actually doing something on a personal level about the environment, not just whining about the way we're killing the planet.

Schmecks Appeal: I own one of her cookbooks and everything has turned out great. There are very few cans of soup, lots of sour cream and butter, nuts and cheese, garden vegetables. She doesn't worry about her weight or fat and carb content. And she has little anecdotes about the recipes and Mennonites who've passed them along.

And just because it's cold and dark outside:

It's time to start planning the garden for the year. I think I'd like to try a few heirloom vegetable varieties this year. And I need some good tomato stakes. It's great to look and relook over the pages and dream about green things growing again.

With all that reading materials, here are two items that I need to start opening more often:

The first has the lectionary readings for each week which we follow in church. When I read the passages during the week I get more out of the sermon, but I slack off and the habit breaks before it even properly forms. It's time to start up again. If you follow the lectionary for three years, you will have read the whole Bible through once. And it's got some good readings for reflection as well.

This book is just to lighten the load - the only novel in the bunch. And a children's novel at that! Beth thought I got it out of the library for her, but it was for me. Unfortunately I rarely see it upstairs because Beth is busily reading it in her room. So far it's a really good read and part of the Young Readers Choice nominees. Shannon Hale also wrote Princess Academy, which was also a great read. When I took that book out earlier, Beth already had it out from the school library at the same time. Great minds think alike!

Well, this great mind is falling asleep and I have a few birthday presents to wrap before morning.
And what shall I read before I collapse in bed tonight?

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Textile Experiments

Did you know that forgetting to breathe is a sign of stress or tension? And so is lifting your pinky fingers? I do both of those while playing the piano. When reminded to breathe, I unconsciously lower my pinkies and I visibly relax.

How about this one?

This is what I do when in the dentist's chair waiting for the high pitched whine of the drill. Actually, my feet flex well before that. Because I keep my eyes closed, the tension starts already with the little dental mirror.

I've been playing with yarn and it has the same tense effect on my feet. Mom noticed.

Over Christmas she taught me how to knit again.

It's not something that I ever really knew how to do. I almost finished a sweater once, and I've made a couple of short scarves out of very forgiving fuzzy yarn. If you drop a stitch here and there, who will ever notice? (You'll notice that I'm not a perfectionist in anything I do.)

I made a little sampler of sorts at my parent's house. After a few rows of boring old knit and pearl I wanted to move on. I really need a lot more practice with the basics yet, but I jokingly said "And now let's try cables!"

And we did. Just a few tight cables in my sampler, but it proved to me that it could be done. I have the basic idea. And it was fun. Tense but fun.

I've decided that I need another shawl/scarf thing. I tried one on in a consignment store before Christmas and I really loved it. Loved it enough to think twice about the expensive price. Then I unbuttoned it and saw that it was a simple rectangle, draped nicely and buttoned.

I think that's do-able. I left Mom's with a couple of balls of bulky yarn and I'm trying it. I'm even putting a few cables in it for fun, but you might not even see that in the finished product because there's plenty of texture going on.

Eventually I'd like my feet to relax while knitting, but I've got a ways to go yet. In the meantime, if I remember to breathe the cramping will be minimal.

In the beginning

Nine years ago today, Yvon and I spent a few hours in the hospital and became parents for the second time to another beautiful girl.

It's amazing to me how fast time goes by, and as I looked at pictures I found it tough to guess Laura's age buring the years pre-adult teeth. I had to either look at Beth and Alice in the pictures and then calculate, or look at the date of the files.

It's so much fun to look at the old pictures, but it doesn't feel like they are old.

She was three years old in this picture.

And seven here. Since she could talk she's chosen her own clothing and she'll be a great help to me in the near future as I sink slowly into frumpiness. I welcome her fashion sense where I don't really have it.
But although she's looking and getting older, she's still my little girl and always will be.

Hoppy birthday, Laura!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pictureless Post

Just some food things from this week because that's what I've often got on my mind.

I tried the Pioneer Woman's chocolate sheet cake (in cupcake format) for the first time. I don't know if it would solicit proposals as she claims, but I do know that a child ate four of them before we even noticed, so they definitely passed the child test. Try this - you'll like it!

Early in the week we marinaded a leg of lamb and ate two meals from it (roasted lamb and then souvlaki with my first successful tzatziki sauce and a quinoa salad). I am still a bit grossed out by the lamb leg. The sawn bone didn't look appealing and I need a ton of lemon juice to make the meat itself taste good. It's the sacrifice I made this week for my beloved husband and his love of lamb.

No sacrifices tonight though. We just had homemade butter and my first sourdough bread from my starter.

Now, if only we'd taken notice of how much the whipping cream cost because that was dead easy and tres yummy. Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


"My mother was a housewife. ... She cooked and sewed, cleaned house, and
did laundry. She darned socks, canned peaches, and pickled cucumbers. With
my father, she bought used furniture at auctions and sacks of potatoes and
bushels of apples from the farmer. She kneaded bread, cooked roast chicken
and two veg for Sunday dinner and fancied up the leftovers for Monday. She
baked apple pies and chocolate cakes." (The Canadian Housewife, An Affectionate History, by Rosemary Neering

Ten years ago I would have read that and thought "Poor woman!" Now I think I'm becoming that woman by choice. That woman with electricity and a car, of course.

I've been reading a lot of books on homesteading, farming and housewifery skills. The internet is full of it too. Some of it is simply nostalgic and talks about the trend towards learning the fun skills that our mothers and grandmothers had before us. Knitting, crocheting, sewing, gardening. All good things.

A whole lot more of it is about food - growing it, making it, eating locally, finding farmers to buy directly from, knowing where your food comes from and what it's gone through before reaching you, raw ingredients and what our bodies can digest.

I'm going to try a few new things this year. To start the process, I now have a grain mill and wheat that I'm going to start milling myself. From a few sources I've found out that flour loses almost all of it's nutrients within 3 days of being ground. So what's the point then of eating it? It does make a handy plate for cheese, but is that it's sole purpose? Or maybe it just tastes really good fresh from the oven with butter melting into it?

That might be reason enough to keep eating it because it really does taste good, but I thought I might be able to get nutrition and good bread if I just grind it myself. I have started a sourdough starter as well because soaked and fermented foods aid your body in digesting all the good stuff. As an extra bonus, I love sourdough! I've also read that common skin ailments (re: excema) can also be caused by unsoaked grain. As my knuckles painfully crack on a regular basis, I wouldn't be able to express my ecstacy if my excema would clear up. Worth every minite of the extra time spent pre-planning meals.

I've been better about eating locally and in season last year, but probably only because I actually like to garden and have enjoyed canning and freezing and "putting up" fruit.

Mom gave me an old book called "The Homesteader's Handbook" and I've been making my way through it. It deserves a post all of it's own because it's quite humourous, but there are some valid things in there too. I laughed when I read the recommendation to put away 25 pints of fruit per person in the household to get through the winter. Sounds like a lot. "And how many did you do in the fall?" Yvon asked. Oh. Probably that much actually. Maybe he's not out to lunch and too old fashioned to make sense. This guy also talks about what is in season a lot. He eats dandelions, purslane, cattails, squirrels and willow. He roasts dandelion roots and grinds it into "coffee".

I am growing my own dandelions (who isn't?), but I'm not ready for that. And I can't build a log house out of the two trees on my property and two pages of instructions. But a proper root cellar would be really nice. Crocks for soaking grains, beans and rice would be good. Learning some electicity-less skills would also be nice.

Much of what people did in the past was done out of necessity, but it usually made good sense for the wallet and the environment and for the communities they lived in too.

I just wanted to share some thoughts that I've been mulling through. This is going to be another year of learning and trying to incorporate new things into my life.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Holiday Post

We had a lot of things in the holiday post this year.

I thank you all for your cards and letters and pictures, even though I didn't send any out. Not one! Next year I promise that I will be sending out my lovely homemade stamped cards from my card-making weekend.
We had a very exciting Christmas. It wasn't all good, but it could have been much worse and for that I'm thankful.
Christmas Day was deceptively cold and frosty, but it all looked beautiful as we headed out to the farm to be with family. I made Yvon stop the van to take a few pictures. I love it when the frost stays in the trees like that. Growing up in the wind of the south, it still seems unusual for the frost not to be simply blown away before it has time to settle.
There were a lot of family present, the house was crowded and loud and a lot of fun.
Here's the beast that caused a bit of our excitement. In advance already, the girls were excited by the prospect of skidoo rides.
What they didn't know was truly how fast it can go. How frostbite can get any exposed skin mightly quickly at 30-40 km/h. And how fast your reflexes need to be while stuck in reverse and heading towards vehicles. It could have been so much worse. In the end one vehicle was dented and three panes of greenhouse glass were shattered, Beth landed in a planter and had a mild concussion, her helmet was broken and her beautiful downfilled coat has tiny glass shards in it. Fortunately the driver wasn't hurt at all.
Luckily no lasting trauma. She'd still love to go riding again and the value of a good helmet was learned. I may have to start all of my own tomatoes this spring though.
We visited my parents between the two holidays and saw more family there. It's always relaxing to visit the quiet of their farm and the girls somehow entertain themselves really well while Yvon and I drink lots of coffee and visit. And I learned to knit a cable! Very exciting.
We left on New Year's Eve with a tin of "Grandma Cookies" and enough time to meet with friends if the mood struck. Or so we thought.
The 6 hour trip usually takes about 8 with pee breaks and one meal. We wouldn't need to stop for a meal if we didn't pee so much, but maybe we wouldn't need to pee if we didn't stop for a meal and a drink. It's a cycle that one day we'll break as the kids' bladders grow...maybe. Anyway, this trip took almost 12 hours and ended with a 1 1/2 hour tow truck ride into town. See - more excitement!
Luckily the van started having problems near a town with a restaurant open. All of the bars were open for New Year's Eve, but that wouldn't have done us any good. We settled into the restaurant as if it were home, reading books, crocheting and chatting with the waitress while we waited for AMA. And the tow truck was a club cab with room for five extra passengers. Do you see how it could have turned out much worse?
We're now short $650, but we made it home and the van is fixed. The house is warm, the chickens happy, the kids in school, I have work and the house smells of bread. Even if there were a few surprises over the holidays, life is good.
I hope you all had a good Christmas and are excited about this new year. I am!