Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sharing my space

 There are always things that I'd like to change about the garden.

I'd like to throw away the red wagon that is often found in odd places or filled with bricks and toys.  I run into Polly Pocket houses and mini rafts in the rain barrel, pick up hula hoops all the time, and put bikes back in the garage.  There are deflated balls and broken bits of water balloons adding colour where only green belongs.  Sometimes there are pulley systems set up with baskets for transporting notes or lunches to high places. 

Laura makes the swing set look pretty in pictures, but in reality I'd like to get rid of the red and white rusty thing.

However, I don't live here alone.

A rabbit and one of Polly's houses
I'm glad I don't live here alone.  And I'm glad the girls are not growing up too fast.  I'm glad Polly gets dressed in Lady's Mantle leaves sewn together with pine needles and floats on rafts made of old corn stalks.  I love to see the creative play.

Alice can keep her swing set for a few more years if she loves using it.  I'll have lots of years in the house without little girls.  It can wait.

In the meantime, I'll just have to be careful not to disturb play spaces with the lawn mower and shovels.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Annual May Garden

There's not a lot going on in the blogging world that I inhabit.  Probably because many of the bloggers are gardeners, and our fingers are all too dirty to be using the keyboard.  I'm doing my best to wear my lovely pink gloves to keep my fingernails clean and my excema under control, but it doesn't always work.  As I do my morning walk through it all with my coffee, I almost always reach down and pull a few weeds.

However, I have almost everything in.  There are just a few seedlings still in trays waiting for me to find spots for them.  I'm bound to lose a brocolli to cutworms or find a hole that needs filling.

Because I mulch so heavily with my neighbours' leaves in the fall, the front garden doesn't look great in early spring.  The neighbours cut their lovely green grass weeks before the ice melts in the corners of my garden.  Beth thinks it looks like a landscape project, but tells her friends that it will look amazing by mid-June.  She's right.  The ugly leaves are only ugly for a short while though, and then the greens poke up through them and it all looks good. 

It looks great right now, even though most of the seeds haven't germinated yet and many of the seedlings are still tiny.  

Usually I mulch with about 16 bags of leaves and then rake a few bags off in the spring.  This year I only raked off one bag and decided to leave the rest there.  I do like the look of bare soil between the greens, but that really isn't something that happens in nature and my mulch should help keep the weeds down and improve the soil. 

Over the summer it will work its way into the soil.  Every year my soil feels better and better.  I don't know if it produces more, but the weeds are easier to pull out of the less-compacted soil.  Garlic likes the mulch, so I'm definitely not disturbing the garlic I planted in the fall until I dig a few up.  I'm in no rush because I still have about 10 bulbs in storage from last year. 

Although you can probably tell that it's the front beds that I love, the back yard is actually pretty productive.

Other than the rhubarb (already going to flower), delphiniums and small Evans cherry tree in the corner, this is all seeded so there's not much to see here yet.  But there will be!

The straw bales I planted into last year worked really well, so this year I'm growing some climbing things to go up wires around the old swing set.  I still want to paint the swing set this week and string the wires before the beans and cucumbers need to climb, but the idea is to create a sort of green tent.  This picture looks distorted somehow, but there is about 3 feet between the bales in the centre.  Alice envisions reading in her green tent later in the summer.

Grapes, although we've never gotten even one bunch off it yet
Beans are my favourite plant to watch sprout.  There's nothing...nothing..nothing...and then it sproings out of the ground dramatically while I'm at work.

And the next day it's two inches tall.

 Miracle plants!

The whole garden is a miracle.  On Beth's birthday in April, we still had snow. On Mother's Day there were not leaves on the trees or on the bare hedge.  Now it looks as if those leaves have always been there and the world was always green. 

Now that the garden is in, I think I'll try to fit a few sewing projects in.  Maybe I'll have something to report.  Maybe not.  How are your gardens doing?  Or are there other spring activities that I'm missing out on?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Morning coffee

I was a bit slow to start drinking coffee, but I must say I'm making up for it now.  What did I drink before?  Probably water -- what I should drink more of now. 

However, I do like my morning coffee.  Afternoon coffee is just fine too. 

But it seems to be difficult to keep a decent coffee maker in this house.

 My first coffee makers were French presses.  When I started drinking coffee at 30 years old, it was the "in" thing to have a French press.  It was fine, but I do remember breaking one, and then I had another one that didn't look good, so I used the nicer lid and press with the uglier glass pot and it didn't really work great.  Plus, I like my coffee really hot and I find it's already cooled by the time it's done stewing in the press.

Then I got a tiny Italian espresso pot.  I was so impressed with this style of pot when we went on a platypus-spotting canoe tour in Australia.  The guide took a tiny gas stove and a tiny perk out of his backpack and made us some coffee by the side of the pond.  I had to buy one for myself.   I think it works okay if you remember that you're only expecting one shot of espesso, not a mug of coffee.  Too much water and it perks and spews coffee out the spout and all over your burner.  And it really is tiny.  I like a mug of coffee. 

My first electric coffee maker was a free one from a garage sale.  I remember arriving at the end of the day and they just gave it to me.  One less box to bring back into the house for them, and one free drip coffee maker for me.  Win win.  It was fine, but drip coffee isn't my favourite.  And it was a tiny one that made maybe two cups and then usually burnt to the glass pot while sitting on the burner.  I was so sure that I wouldn't need this pot again that I Goodwilled it.

Okay, so no more pressing.  No more espesso.  No more dripping.  It was perked coffee I really liked.  The kind that we have when we went camping.  But that's an ugly tin or aluminum thing that I didn't want sitting on my stove all the time.  So I bought this.  My most expensive coffee maker to date. 

It worked great!  And it looked okay sitting on my counter.  I thought it was the perfect coffee solution.  But after about two years, it developed a hole (rust?) in the base of the pot itself and starting to leak all over the counter.  Sigh.  There was no fixing this one, so it went into the garbage.  Shopping again and this time I knew I wanted a perk, and one that would last.

 I was thrilled to see this Pyrex coffee perk at the thrift store.  It was pretty, stood the test of time and was pretty cheap.  What more could you want?

Lots, actually. 

I didn't want all of the grounds IN my coffee cup.  No matter how coarse I had it ground, it was still in my cup.  And, although it said "4 cups" on the side, that means 4 bitty teacups, not mugs.  Hardly works with company.  AND you'll notice it has no insides.  Within a month or two I had managed to break the thin glass stem of the perking mechanism.  It's probably 50 years old and I managed to break it in two months.  Now it's a tea pot.

Today's solution:  Another thrift shop find.  An old General Electric pretty perk.  No more grounds, quite a few cups of coffee in it, it's pretty, and it's fast, and it brews really great coffee.

Hopefully I'm set for a while now.

I think I'll finish my lovely mug of coffee and set off outside to prepare some more garden for seeds.  Enjoy your morning! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


When I graduated from university, I wanted to be one of those people who is constantly learning something new.  I admire those people.  Taking upgrading, the odd literature class, learning to paint or try a new instrument.  When you're young, you forget that life can get really busy and it's not (unfortunately) all about you.  You marry, have kids, attend parent council meetings and community league meetings, get jobs, blah, blah, blah.

And you get older too.  And more tired.

Anyway, it's been a very long time since I've dedicated any time to learning something new.  The inner geek in me is very excited about my new job though.  Among other jobs, I will be a notetaker for a deaf student this term. 

I get to attend classes every day until the end of June.  Not subjects of my choice.  For that I'd have to pay.  For this, I get paid.  However, the classes don't sound un-interesting to me and some of it may even be practical or useful. 

Cabinetmaking.  Math.  Blueprint reading. 

Cool!  Math! 

If I take on more of these jobs, I should also start to learn sign language.  That would be a new skill with some practical application.  We'll see. 

In any case, I'd better get ready for school.  I hope I find a friend to spend recess with...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Earth Ball

I have very helpful kids.  They especially like to help if there is something in it for them.

Who doesn't?  A little appreciation is a good thing. 

Yesterday Alice came home with the earth, a reward for helping clean tables at lunchtime at school. 

And because it's been a long time since I studied the composition of the earth, Laura labeled it for me. Maybe that will help others too.    

In the past the rewards were generally candy-related.  Since becoming an Apple School and taking it seriously (as opposed to our junior high which does it rather half-heartedly I find), it's been tougher to find rewards that are less about sugar and more about education or healthy. 

I love this one.  Although it's educational value is limited once you memorize those four parts, it's still squishy and throwable and fun. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Soyless Taco Seasoning

When Beth first started to articulate her food allergies, she called it her "taco feeling". It was the feeling she got when we ate tacos at home.   It was a feeling on the back of her tongue or in her throat.  I'm not exactly sure, but it made her stop eating.

And that was bad because I used to make tacos to increase protein in the kids' diets every time they'd gone a few days without eating meat (they didn't like steak, any red unground meat, or anything that required chewing).  Tacos were always a hit. 

I used to use one of those seasoning mixes for the taco meat.  I also used to use a mix for chilli, but she didn't get a reaction with that.  The only difference between the two mixes was soy protein.

So, no more taco seasoning around here.

Until, once again, I found a mix recipe in Mary Ostyn's book (Family Feasts for $75 a Week) and I use it for chilli too. 

Taco Seasoning Mix

1/2 cup dried minced onion            2 tablespoons garlic powder
1/4 cup sweet paprika                    1 tablespoons ground cumin
1/4 cup cornstarch                        1 tablespoon dried oregano
3 tablespoons chili powder             1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons salt

Put all in a jar and shake it well.  Use 1/4 cup of mix for every pound of ground beef.  

I'm out of mix right now because I haven't bounht garlic powder for a while, so I can give you no visual.  Happily, we are still eating the garlic from the garden that I harvested last year.  The new batch is starting to poke up through the leaf mulch, so I may just have figured out how much garlic to grow to avoid buying Chinese garlic. 

Maybe I should dry some of it and grind it into powder.  That's probably a good idea before it starts to sprout in the basement. I'm just thinking that as I type.  Hmmm, I'll give you an update if it works well.  It worked great with leek, so I can't think why it wouldn't work with garlic. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Soyless, Wheatless Soup Mix

I love Cream of Mushroom soup.  And Cream of Chicken soup.  And Cream of Broccolli soup.  And Cream of Celery Soup.

So many Albertan and Edmontonians are familiar with these cookbooks. 

You might find a few in your own stash of cookbooks.  Although dated in some ways, many of the recipes are nice and simple and contain common ingredients, so I keep them around and flip through them once in a while.

But many of the casseroles and vegetable recipes include Cream of ?? soup. That was the easy way to make a casserole in the 80's and 90's. 

These soups almost all contain soy, which the girls can't have.  And they contain wheat, which Yvon can't have.  For the past few years I just didn't buy it and didn't get to eat it.  Occasionally I would buy it, but the girls would make me feel bad when I made it just for myself.

And actually, since making a lot of things from scratch, I've started to find that unexpected things taste really sweet to me.  Why should mushroom soup taste sweet?   That doesn't seem right.

I was really pleased to find a recipe for "Cream of Anything" soup mix in a new recipe book.  It's a simple thing to make, and a revelation to me.  Why did I never think of doing something like this myself?  It's hardly rocket science and I find I use it a lot.  And it's soyfree and wheatfree. 

You can use it for soup, of course, by adding the celery, chicken, broccolli or mushrooms, but you can also use it for creamy sauces or the base of many casseroles.   I used it today for the creamy portion of a turkey pot pie. 

Cream of Anything Soup Mix  (Mary Ostyn's recipe in Family Feasts for $75 a Week)

3 cups powdered milk
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup powdered chick bouillon (I add this later because I haven't found a soy-free powdered bouillon)
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

To make soup, combine 1/2 cup dry mix with 1 1/4 cup water.  Blend well and oil, cooking for 2-3 minutes.  It will thicken as it cools. 

To this, you can add other ingredients like chicken, mushrooms or celery.  Or brocolli and cheese. 
 Yay!  This recipe has brought cream soup back into our lives.