Monday, November 30, 2009

Still here

I'm still working on a few things around the house. One project leads to the next, which leads to the next.

Hopefully by the end of tomorrow we won't be needing to empty a bucket of dripping hot water every 8 hours. Hopefully by the end of tomorrow the laundry sink will be moved into a more stable position against the wall. Hopefully by the end of tomorrow we can move our stack of sleeping bags back into their customary storage.

Hopefully by the end of Wednesday we'll have a clean basement bathroom and mopped floors. Our recycling will be taken out to the alley. Our refundable milk jugs will be bagged in the garage. I might even swipe a warm cloth over the shelves in my fridge and polish my tea kettle.

Because by the end of Thursday we'll have a guest. A guest means enforced cleaning and tidying, but we get to live in that tidy atmosphere for a while after they leave. It takes time to get back to our stacks of paper and recycling piles. It's a panic to get things in a presentable state but we benefit later.

And even though we're really busy with usual stuff (rehearsals and piano lessons), there will be time to visit. Time to chat over what books we've read and drink tea (or coffee). Experiment with a hypoallergenic recipe or just sit together in the quiet after the kids go to bed.

I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Constant improvement

Why is that we're wired to always try to improve things? We want a better house, a better car, a better job, less mold in our houses, less weight on our bodies, smarter kids, more money, etc. Some of those things are just my own personal desires but you get the idea.

What's wrong with the way we are now? With the stuff we have now? Isn't it okay to be happy in the present?
Anyway, that's about as deep as I'll go today because I'm distracted with our own home improvements going on in the laundry room. Our water heater sprung a leak just as a friend was giving a 3-year old heater away so we snatched it up. It's bigger and more efficient than our old one. Sounds like an improvement, right?
I know I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, but here's the thing though. Our old one is 50 years old this year. Our new one has a life expectency of 15 years. Is that better? For all of the energy it saves us, I'm thinking that manufacturing new heaters every 15 years more than cancels that out.
Anyway, we're very grateful for the heater and it will be awesome. And we're also very grateful that another friend is installing it for us. We're moving it more into the room so that one day we can also improve our long, deep stairwell by opening it up at the bottom.

Also, I've been distracted by my flour some more today. I opened up the white flour to discover this - a spout on the bag!

Am I slow? Have flour bags always had this neat feature while I tore it open somewhere else, causing messes on the floor unneccessarily?

Maybe they had them 30 years ago, but they've since "improved" the bag by removing them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taking stock

We are luckily not a gluten-free household. We love our bread products. Crackers, buns, bread, breadsticks, cookies, cakes... Oh, those aren't bread products, but we love the sweet things made from wheat as well.

I went to Costco today and came home with the weight of my eldest in flour.

I needed white flour, but I use other types as well. In fact, we prefer our breads to have a mixture of whole wheat and white flour, and I've been baking other things with whole wheat as well. I'd better start doing more of it. I just can't go into Costco without buying other things and Rosa had told me about this whole wheat flour that I wanted to try.

Here are some interesting (to me) observations about these flours:

  • They are fairly local. I still think of southern Alberta as home sometimes.
  • That in itself is interesting. I'll never live there again, and I've lived here for more years that I ever lived there.

  • The packaging is almost 30 years old!

  • I was almost the same age as my firstborn when they printed this packaging. Did they just discover a pallet of it in the back of their warehouse?
  • I'm supporting the recycling efforts of the Ellison Milling Company by purchasing this bag.
  • Why is it more difficult to carry 44 pounds of flour than 44 pounds of little girl?
  • My other flours are much more expensive and both come out of province.
  • When I buy fruit, I consider BC local (as opposed to Washington), but in flour I would prefer it to be milled in the same province that grows it.
  • Our favourite bread flour is the most expensive stuff and comes from Ontario. I need to wean ourselves off of it.

That's it, that's all. That's all the thoughts I have in my head. I'm tired from hefting all that flour into the house. I need to rest now.

If I were the Pioneer Woman I would already have comments made to this post.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bagel, anyone?

Bagels are one of those things that I've always bought from the bulk bins in the grocery store. You know, those bins that have tongs that everyone uses willy-nilly, heedless of allergy sufferers. Those bins with no ingredient listings.

Because our favourite grocery store uses soy flour in most of their in-house breads, I never bothered to check in with the baker about their bagel ingredients. I just stopped buying them, but I missed them. I love their chewiness and texture that is so different than regular bread.

So, now that I've made them twice, I can vouch for this recipe. They were not tough to make and didn't take any longer than my bread recipe.

And it's fun to stick your finger through the hole and twirl it. Alice and Laura liked that part too. That may account just a little for their inconsistent shape.

This recipe comes from Julie van Rosendaal, a Calgary food critic and traffic reporter. She also has a very good blog full of recipes and food ideas that real people (even people with a toddler) can try. I'm not great at kneading, so I did most of this in my stand mixer, the same way I make all of our bread.


3 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (I used the quick rise stuff)
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp canola oil
4 - 5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, stir yeast and brown sugar into 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water until it dissolves. Let it stand for five minutes
unitl it gets foamy. (Even though I used the quick rise yeast, I did this part just so I got the ingredients in the bowl in the same order).

Stir the oil and 1 cup flour into the yeast mixture, then add
the salt and enough of the remiaing flour to make a soft dough (usually about 2 1/2 cups). Turn the sough out only a lightly floured surface and knead, gently incorporating more flour until it is smooth and elastic. It should take about ten minutes. (I just kept using the mixer with a dough hook,
adding enough so that the dough formed a soft ball, softer than a bread dough.)

Cover with a towel and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Divide the dough into 10 - 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and then shape into a circle, pinching the ends together. (I made a log out of the whole ball of dough, cut it into 12, stuck my finger through it and twirled until we liked the size of the hole. That was more fun.)

Let rise for 20 minutes. Boil a big pot of salted water and
preheat the oven to 425.

When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and gently place a few bagels at a time into the water. Simmer for
one minute, then flip them over and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack to dry. Once they've all been boiled, place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes until golden.


Sprinkle with sesame, poppy or caraway seeds just before baking.
Add cheese, garlic, onions, raisins, cinnamon, or fruit while kneading for the last few minutes. We used some raspberries in ours.

It looks like a lot of instructions, but it's really just mix, knead, rise, boil
and bake. It was well worth it and the texture was great. Next time I might
try her method of forming the shape though because ours were not very high,
but I'll miss the twirling.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Road Trip

Inspired by the uninspiring, a greasy old part for our old vehicle, I took the day off of household work to drive 2 hours to Lacombe.

Driving with Yvon is typical of most male roadtrips. It's all about the destination. The quickest way is best and as long as there is no need for either gas or a pee stop, we don't generally stop anywhere. We pass all of the historical marking signs along the road and I look longingly at the old dilapidated barns that I'd love to explore.

On my own though it's a different trip altogether. I can stop frequently and I can wander down small town roads even if I'm not looking for anything there or needing anything. Usually I drive towards the river or along the railway lines, or head for a steeple because that's where I find the oldest houses, or sometimes a pretty park or cemetery.

There is a very direct (and boring) route to my destination today, so I took a different one of course. One that went through a few small towns instead of skirting around them and avoiding them.

My first stop was an antique store. It was empty of people, but the bell on the door must echo in the house next door or else the lady in the window yelled to her husband that he had a customer. As he said, it was just a store with "a lot of old stuff", but he didn't add that it was beautiful old stuff. I came out empty-handed, but if I'm ever looking for furniture, The Brick offers no competition to this place.

Then I drove through a reserve. I dutifully slowed down because this town has one of the highest concentration of RCMP officers and I didn't want to add a speeding ticket to the cost of my trip. I'm always struck by the lack of pride shown in reserve houses. No flower gardens or trees, and often no windows intact. As Yvon has been preparing his applications for Metis status, I'm thankful that his family only inherited some of the blood of his aboriginal ancestors and not their current ways of life. It's not a pretty town to drive through.

The next stop was my destination, Lacombe. If I were to move to a small town in Alberta, this would be high on my list to research. It's the kind of place where people yield to non-local vehicles and they stop for pedestrians who cross where they shouldn't. And it's very pretty with their well-preserved town centre.

I was lucky enough to find a sign for the Farmer's Market and had time to stop in. It was great, but it was full of things I can do for myself. Lovely jams, jellies, pickles, soft flannel pajamas, and crocheted items. I treated myself to a bag of local wheat that I'm going to try to sprout.

And I bought myself a Christmas present that I cannot make for myself. I love how sharing crafters are though. She told me that I can get the pattern online for free (it's Martha Stewart's Coming Home Poncho) so that I can try to make it for my girls. I'm not sure I'm capable, but it's a nice thought. This is not one of those crafts that makes any money for the poor lady and I told her that (not that I was offering her more money!). She told me that crocheting keeps her arthritis in check and that's cheaper than medication. True enough I guess, but crafters never seem to put value on their time.

Next stop: the autowreckers. When I'd called, Mitch answered the phone and gave me directions to his shop. No address and no company name, but just instructions to head for the blue fertilizer tank. I love small towns. So I did that and stopped at the business with hundreds of cars in their lot. After driving all that way, they didn't have the part! Then they looked it up in their computer and said that Reg's down the street on the other side of the blue fertilizer tank had that part in stock.

Did Mitch work there? I asked. Yes, he does. Good. Five minutes later I had the part in my van and was ready for lunch.

I stopped at a beautiful old house called "The Stopping House" for a homemade meal of mushroom soup and a BLT. It was full of happy people eating simple food. The menu consisted of two regular desserts, one soup and one salad, plus the daily special soup, salad and sandwich. I love that kind of restaurant and it tasted great. I sat with some scrap paper writing up this post because I forgot a book (!). The owner invited me to sit over coffee and take my time because I was being so productive. Blogging is productive? That was kind of funny.

I took the quickest route home so that I would be home by the time the kids got out of school. Even that route was pretty, but I'm a prairie girl and appreciate the colors of tan and brown, with reddish willow shrubs bordering the fields.

It was a very nice roadtrip and I'm glad I spent the day this way instead of just having them send the part by Greyhound. How boring is that?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Or non-conformity? I don't know.

I just know that I've discovered a couple more bread products that are surprisingly not difficult to make.

But uniformity does not seem to belong in this household. We wanted perfect square crackers, but we got this:

We wanted perfect rounded bagels with perfect holes in the middle, and we got this:

That's okay. Uniformity is for the mass produced I say, but yumminess belongs in every home.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Go Natural

I spent one afternoon this week with a friend whom I hadn't seen for quite a while. While it was a great afternoon, I was left with the strangest impression that she was laughing at me when she left.

Perhaps the impression was made by the audible sound of her laughter. It wasn't subtle. And I don't think she was laughing with me. It was definitely at me. It was very strange.

Because I live with the thoughts and rationale that go on in my own head, the changes that have been sneaking up into my life are no surprise to me, but perhaps they are not entirely seen as normal to others.

While in university, I learned that no one is actually normal. On the bell curve, normal is defined as the area directly under the top of the bell. You can't actually measure the area under a point. Everyone falls to the right or left of normal. That might be a flawed memory from statistics but that's the way I remember it, and my friends and I were always kind of proud to be abnormal. Normal would be boring, wouldn't it?

On the other hand, I've never thought I was weird. I think of myself as rational, logical or at least practical. That thinking may be flawed too. You don't have to confirm or comment. In fact, please refrain from comment! In any case, I don't think people generally laugh at me.

What do I do now that's changed all that?

I've moved towards a more local diet. Driven by finances, food allergies, a love of gardening, sense of accomplishment, enjoying this new understanding of food and where it comes from, etc. I'm not fanatical about it though. I still think I do only what is easy for me to do and what fits within our limited budget. No real sacrifices are being made and we aren't eating bugs or weeds or anything. And I still buy bananas and melons from the other side of the planet. I'm starting to rethink that though.

I try not to use much plastic. I haven't bought ziplock bags for ages, and use the same cloth grocery bags that everyone else uses these days.

I also try not to buy many paper products. Toilet paper, yes, but no more Kleenex, paper towels or napkins, and I use a Diva cup and washable liners. (Too much information? Sorry! This is mostly a female group here.)

Community gardens, urban chickens and sustainability have also been on my mind a lot over the last year.

I try not to use my dryer for clothes unless I get really behind on my laundry.

Have I gotten weird? To me, all of those things just make practical sense. I'm not spouting theories about Peak Oil or forcing anyone to justify their own purchases and life decisions. Do what works for you. This works for me.

In a past life I worked in the marketing department of a pet food company. One Christmas the staff had assigned pet food brands made in our plant to everyone on staff. Things like Light Cat (for overweight or inactive Cats), Senior Dog, Large Breed, No Name, Kitty Krunch, Extreme, Sport, Brown Bag Dog Food. They were assigned based on personality, or smell (!), age or weight, price or market opinion of the brand, whatever.

I was labelled "Go Natural". While some took this as a reflection of my looks (I didn't dye my hair, style my hair even, or wear much makeup), I understood this to be a lifestyle thing and thought it quite complimentary. I didn't really question why they chose this brand to reflect me.

I think that's all I'm trying to do with my lifestyle now more than ever. And I'm fine with that.

Go Natural.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Early Christmas

It feels like it.

Not the weather particularly. There is no snow right now, and it's been nice enough to work outside on a few projects.

I even finished my second crocheted hat but haven't had the opportunity to wear it. I'm sure my time will come. This time I tried to read a pattern for the flower. I'm not thrilled with it, but it kind of worked.

But Christmas has come in a few other ways.

I spent a day at a choir retreat singing our new Christmas reportoire. It was lovely and sightreading new music is one of my favourite things. It's right up there with girls in white dresses, snowflakes on kittens, and bright coloured packages tied up with strings.

And speaking of girls in white dresses, Alice is practicing to be an angel for the Sunday School Christmas concert and listens to this CD a lot. I won't actually be able to hear her debut solo, because I'll be with another angel.

Laura has been practicing like an angel for her concert on the same evening. Yvon and I will have to attend dress rehearsals so that we don't actually miss anything. It's tough to be in two places at one time.

And speaking of bright coloured packages, this week three Samaritan's Purse shoe boxes came home from school and need filling by Nov. 20.

I'd rather be working on all of the gifts I have in mind for our own children, but I should put selfish thoughts aside and think of others. I guess. If I have to.
And today I was informed that Beth and I have a piano recital for Christmas as well. Do I want to play in it? I'm not sure really if I need the extra deadline but it's hard to make Beth do these recitals while I opt out. We'll see. I'll be able to knock a few hours off of my "10,000 hours towards greatness". That can't be a bad thing, but right now I'm feeling like I'd like to knock a few gifts off of my Christmas list instead.
Why does Christmas sneak up so fast every year? It's not as if the date ever changes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


As I sat at the table surrounded by about 30 other women, I heard things like "Ooo, I've found a new obsession!" and "I could really get into this. Where can I buy the materials?"

And here's what I was thinking. "How the heck did she tie that little bow?" and "I don't like that design. I'm going to steal a stamp from another table and change it."

It was a fun evening, but it reinforced my previous belief that it isn't something I can get obsessive about. I'd been warned, but I didn't think it would happen to me. I don't think I'm of the obsessive sort.

I like to do things once or twice and then move on to something else. Look, even my cards are all different. It wasn't interesting to do more than once. It does mean that I'm an expert in approximately nothing, but I know bits and pieces about lots of things and can fake it when required.
Or when people expect it of me. When we returned from one field trip this year, all of the parents unanimously agreed that I should make the bannock for the kids because I'm "an awesome cook". Hmm. No pots, pans, fire or oil and I had to make 15 kids happy with this lump of dough. Why me? I think they just wanted to make a run to Tim's and I was too slow to vote for someone else.

Now, this is something that I probably could obsess about.

Mom made this for me and gave it to me last week. It's always a bit like Christmas when my parents visit. Clothes for the girls, cucumbers and peppers from the local greenhouses, and always something a bit more personal as well.
Like this tablecloth. It lives on our kitchen table and I study the triangles and try to figure it out. How wide should each piece be and still fit? How was it made? Do you sew them in strips first and then cut them out? It's like a puzzle. Oddly enough, I hate puzzles, but this one is intriguing and I should be able to figure it out. There's a whole lot about quilting that can't be "fudged" and one day I'll have to try it.
For years I said I'd never quilt. Nope, not ever. Well, maybe one day. Maybe I'll just start saving cotton scraps. Maybe I'll reserve a drawer for squares of precut fabric. Maybe I'll just see how these two patterns look side-by-side...

The time is coming, but not quite yet.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Scenes and Related Stuff

I hate it that you have to title your blog posts. I have no idea what to call these random scattered thoughts.

Anyway, here's the scenes from Halloween this year.

As Yvon said, we had a tiger, a happy witch and Cyndy Lauper. And the girls
said, "Who's that?" I remember dressing that way in junior high one year. I knew
who Cyndy Lauper was though.

The older two girls carved up "Jeremy the
Pumpkin" on Friday night. I finished the carving today and Jeremy now looks like

12 - 2c. packages of cubed pumpkin, 2 - 2c. containers of pureed, 2 dozen
muffins, a big pot of soup and some roasted seeds.

The best thing to do with the cubed pumpkin is to make risotto. I promised the recipe to Rosa on her blog, so here's what I use.

Pumpkin Risotto (from Simply Heartsmart Cooking by Bonnie Stern)

1 tbsp olive oil
2 leeks or small onions, diced
1 clove garic
1 1/2 c. arborio rice
2 cups pumpkin cubes (or butternut squash)
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp chives or green onions
Parmesan cheese or chunks of brie
1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts or chopped almonds

Cook the garlic and leeks in olive oil until tender. Stir in the rice
and coat well. Add the squash and combine well.

On medium or medium high heat, add 1 cup of stock. Stirring constantly, cook until stock has evaporated.

Continue to add stock 1/2 cup at a time until each addition is absorbed. After
15 minutes, start tasting it to see if it's ready. I like that part. Season with
salt and pepper and stir in the chives. Stir in the cheese chunks or parmesan,
and the nuts.

I usually substitute some of the stock for white wine so that I have excuse
to drink wine with dinner. I also added the cheese and nuts. Ms. Stern didn't do
that because it's maybe not so "Heartsmart" anymore, but it tastes better!

66.6% of my kids are home sick today, so I made some comforting pumpkin soup
for lunch too. That's a good use for the puree, especially since it was still
hot and halfway there.
Honestly, I'm getting really tired of filling the freezer with food. Is life
all about food? It seems I've been canning and freezing and preserving for
months already.

I had planned to start on an upholstery project, but I forgot about my weird allergy to pumpkin flesh. My hands are hurting a bit and I just don't think they are up to the task of ripping apart dusty fabric from 1960. Maybe another day.

For now, I'll just rest until Laura comes home demanding food. (Again, it's all about food.) It's unfortunate that my favorite spot on the couch has a child cuddled into my blanket, and my other spot has another child reading aloud from her book. I do hope they're both in school tomorrow and feeling better.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October Groceries

A month ago I was bummed out by grocery costs and decided that I would challenge myself to keep my October groceries to $75/week. Some of the US blogs that I read did that in September, but I missed the boat by noticing it too late.

I don't generally budget or know what I usually spent, but I was certain that $75/week was not going to be enough for our family.

I was wrong! I love it when that happens. I tracked my grocery spending this month and it came to $313.90. Not too shabby. Here's what I learned and noticed this month.

Meat costs
This is where I was sure to be hit. I've read countless times about people who won't buy meat unless it's under $2/lb. "That's crazy!" I thought. "Meat is never under $2 here." I was wrong. I managed to buy ground beef, pork tenderloin and toupe ham for that price. Chicken thighs were not much more (about $2.50). I don't think we'd ever eat non-ground beef if I stuck to that rule, so we won't, but I will watch for sales more often and stock my freezer when I catch a sale.

Donated groceries
This happens more than I realized. Although some of this is just because of the end of harvest season, I think we probably have food dropped into our laps more than I realized. We received:
  • a grey, Australian heritage pumpkin
  • boxes of carrots
  • boxes of potatoes (from two sources!)
  • 7 dozen eggs! (my parents were visiting and they get 2 dozen eggs a day from their own chickens)
  • a chicken (also from my parents - they had both layers and meat chickens this year)
  • a lovely roast beef meal
  • a massive jack-o-lantern pumpkin that will now be carved up for the freezer. It usually turns into pumpkin soup or risotto. Yummy!

I hope I didn't forget anyone or anything. We're grateful for any food that comes our way, especially because we know where it originates and it's always organic, or close enough.

We donated too
I don't want it to look like we're a charity case. We also shared food within our budget. We hosted my parents for three days. I helped bake 30 pies, donating about 12 cups of frozen berries and fruit and ten pie crusts. Extra kids come in and out of the door, rarely without a snack or a meal (my kids are often the extras at other tables too). And we attended a potluck where more food and wine were contributed than eaten. And a bunch of devilled eggs were made too. Ham and sweet potatoes were brought to a huge Thanksgiving dinner.

I took note of the giving and receiving just this month, but I don't like the idea of tracking those. We need to accept gifts with grace, not thinking that we need to give back. And we need to give selflessly, without thinking that we'll receive something in turn. Usually you get non-trackable things in return, like friendships or memories.

There was none really. We ate really well. We ate our own produce, we stored other things away, we ate up things from the pantry that needed eating. Alice and I rolled and froze meatballs together. We really tried not to waste anything. It did mean that we couldn't splurge on things like out-of-season strawberries, and we ate more popcorn than Cheetos. Actually, that is a sacrifice!

It's good to know that it's possible. Maybe not in February or March when all fresh produce from our own garden might be gone, but it was a worthwhile experiment and I'll do it every so often.