Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stocking the Pantry

One of the things I find very helpful in keeping our household orderly (along with menu planning) is to have a well-stocked pantry.  I always like to have jars full of staples on hand - beans, rice, oats, lentils, etc.
Recently I had the opportunity to get some of these staples from a buying club and was pleased to be able to really stock up and get buckets of some things (organic coconut oil and natural peanut butter), big paper bags of other things (french lentils, rolled oats, beans) as well as essential oils, coconut milk and more - all this without having to go to a grocery store.
(even though we've eaten loads of legumes for years this is the first time we've tried French lentils - they're our new favourite)

So along with our cold-room full of preserves and stored veg. we also have a full pantry which means very few trips to the grocery store for us.  This is such a time saver and...frankly, a sanity saver because I find big grocery stores - with their vast array of choices - to be pretty overwhelming and time-consuming places.  Stocking up on all the essentials now means more time outside in the garden in the coming months. 
Stocking up also usually leads to a cooking day when dry pinto beans are turned into jars of re-fried beans and put in the freezer for future use. 
(the boys love to have re-fried beans on hand so they can use them on corn tortillas with our salsa for their lunch)

Rolled oats are made into big jars of granola.  And lentils are made into a favourite - lentil casserole (which we now like even more with French lentils instead of brown lentils).

Friday, February 24, 2012

Impatient Peppermint Laudry Soap

I was going to patienty wait a month for my peppermint soap to cure before starting to use it for making laundry soap, but then I was looking through the book Smart Soapmaking and read a bit about curing that made me think perhaps it might not be entirely necessary for me to wait that long for it to cure.  It had only been a week since I had made the soap but, being ever so slightly impatient, that was all the encouragement I needed...I put the book down and got out the grater.

I grated and grated some more.  Mixed together a new minty fresh 2 qt jar of laundry soap powder and went off to do a load of laundry.  The Impatient Peppermint Laundry Powder worked like a charm.
Needless to say I'm tickled at the idea of no longer buying any soap...not even for doing laundry.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Very Simple (Wacky) Birthday Cake

We had a birthday here a little while ago...a two cake birthday. ;-)  That means one cake on the day our family celebrated and one cake on the day the friends came over to celebrate.  This birthday boy knows just what he wants for a cake and it mostly has to do with a lot of whipped cream. He specified a very certain look.  Two layers of chocolate cake.  Whip cream in between.  LOTS of whip cream on top piled in a dome shape.  And since it's not for me to question why (?!?!), I just went ahead and made one. 
 (same birthday boy wanted whipped cream along with peach butter and blueberries for his birthday breakfast waffles)

And since he liked that cake so much I made another one exactly the same for the second cake day.  One of the things that he liked about it was that I put something special in between the layers along with the whipped cream - his very own strawberry jam that he made in the summer.  It added just an extra touch of deliciousness.
The cake recipe is an old favourite.  I've been making it since I was about 8 years old.  I always called it Wacky Cake but I've seen it with all kinds of names.  I'm sure you'll recognize the recipe (if so, I'd love to know what you call it) but I was visiting with my friend yesterday (an experienced baker and wonderful cook) and was surprised to hear she hadn't heard of it - even when I described the 3 holes and the vinegar, vanilla and oil part!!  So...obviously I have to share the recipe with her (poor deprived girl) and thought I'd share it here too.

Wacky Cake

•1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

•1 cup sugar

•3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

•1 teaspoon baking powder

•1 teaspoon baking soda

•1/2 teaspoon salt

•1 teaspoon vanilla

•1 tablespoon vinegar

•5 tablespoons melted butter (or melted coconut oil or grape seed oil)

•1 cup warm water

Mix dry ingredients in 8X8 pan.  Make 3 holes in mixture.  Put the 1tsp vanilla in one hole, 5 Tbsp melted butter in other hole and 1 Tbsp vinegar in another hole (that bit was always the exciting part because it starts to fizz a bit).  Then pour 1 cup of water over the whole lot and mix well.  Bake for 35-45 minutes at 350. 
That was how I always made it and then quite often I used to ice it too.  Since then I've learned that chocolate chips in the batter make a delightful addition.  And these days I no longer mix it in the pan because I'm usually doubling the recipe and then making it in two pans (or you can double it and make it in a 9x13).
At any rate it is a simple-to-make and delicious-to-eat cake - a very good "starter" cake for a new baker but also the kind of cake that one never gets tired of.  So there you are M-S...make it with your family and let them eat cake!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sima - a Finnish Spring Mead

Sometime ago a friend told us about a special drink her son had made - a fizzy, lemon drink.  I knew E would be interested because he loves anything lemon, enjoys being able to make things himself and anything fizzy is an unusual treat around here.  The friend was kind enough to share her recipe and I tucked it away in E's folder and the months went by.
Then on Saturday I was looking through a library book - Lotta Jansdotter's Handmade Living: A Fresh Take on Scandinavian Style - and saw a Swedish drink called Mead  that looked and sounded very much like the Sima that our friend  had let us sample.  I found her Sima recipe again and sure was very similar. 
I told E about it Sunday morning and he decided that we Must make it Now!  So after our walk in the woods we stopped at our neighbourhood shop to get some lemons and sugar and came home to make it.
E boiled the water and added the sugar, lemon rind  and lemon juice then left it to cool a bit.  Once it was cooled to the right temperature he added a bit of yeast and then we left it overnight.

The next day we bottled it with a few raisins in each bottle - meant to tell us when it was ready by floating to the top of each bottle...I do love a clear indication of things going well!!
Then the next day E checked on them and two of the bottles had raisins floating and tiny bubbles in the neck.  He was thrilled.  Of course, he had to sample immediately...and was delighted. 
The other bottles are in the fridge and I have a feeling they won't last long. ;-)  He wants to make this regularly and I'm hoping he will make it for May day as the start of a new tradition.  We've read that Sima is a traditional May Day drink in Finland and who doesn't like a special drink to celebrate Beltane - the renewal of nature and the beginning of the bright half of the year? 
Speaking of that  "bright" half of the year, rather than waiting patiently for it to bring us blooms, I decided to "force" the issue and bring in some Forsythia to force.  The branches of yellow flowers bring a bit of cheer to our living space!

Edited to add recipe -
Here is the recipe from our friend - we actually used two lemons and, after removing the zest from them, instead of slicing them we juiced them so that we wouldn't have to bother removing the white pith.  You can see another similar recipe and directions here.

1 lemon

5 liters water

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 granulated sugar

1/4 tsp. yeast

additional granulated sugar and raisins

Remove zest from lemon and place in a large non-aluminum pot. Slice the lemon and set aside. Add the water and sugars to the pot and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugars dissolve. Remove from heat, cover and cool to 110 degrees F. Stir in lemon slices and yeast. Cover and let stand at room temperature until the next day. Bubbles should appear. Strain through a sieve and fill five 1 liter bottles. Add 1 tsp. sugar to each bottle and 2 raisins. Seal and store in a cool place until raisins rise to the surface (2-4 days), Chill until ready to serve.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Citrus Swirl Soap

I've been wanting to make a batch of soap for my husband. He likes citrus-y smells so I thought it would be fun to use some dried and ground orange peels along with several citrus essential oils for his batch.
I also wanted it to look sort of orange and yellow with a bit of darker orange.  I decided to dry some orange peels and try using those. I cut them up and let them dry and then ground them in the blender.
I was thinking that the ground orange peels might give it a darker colour but then was reading in a soap making book that quite often you end up with a different colour than you think you might based on how the plant material reacts with the soap.

It suggested using spices to get different reliable colours. I wanted to try paprika but was out of it and so I googled to see what colour turmeric might give and decided to give that a try.  After pouring most of my soap into the mould I added a spoonful of turmeric to a small amount of soap and whizzed it to mix it in - it went quite red when I added it .  It ended up being a sort of saffron colour, and looked great when swirled into the main batch of soap.
It ended up looking just the way I had hoped and it smells delightful (I'm hoping the citrus smells don't fade too quickly).
Here it is almost dried after sitting overnight.

This was a basic coconut oil and olive oil soap. I had used this combination before for the first batch we made and really like the hardness of the soap and the lather.
Each batch I make has me wondering why I waited so long to try soap-making.  It really is a very simple thing to do and SO much fun to be able to make all kinds of different soap.  The toughest part is trying to wait patiently while it cures before you can try it...something, it turns out, I wasn't able to do with my batch of peppermint soap.  More on that later. ;-)

Monday, February 20, 2012


Yesterday was just the kind of day I like - a day for puttering.  A slow start to the morning. Coffee in the sun room.  S busy with a wood project (a gorgeous walnut table set he is making), the boys busy with their fun and time to plant more seeds for me.  I wanted to start a few tomato plants in the hopes of having some very early tomatoes to offer.  I planted some of my purchased seeds and then went through my box of saved seeds and had a moment of wonder when I couldn't find any of my saved tomato seeds.  A rummage through the garden "shed" and I discovered another box of saved seeds that was mostly all tomatoes.
I'm thrilled with the variety that we will have this year.  I have several planted as trial early birds but will wait to do the main tomato seeding in several more weeks.  Tomato seeds really are so very easy to save, if you've been wanting to start saving some of your own seeds but haven't tried it yet I highly recommend starting with beans and tomatoes.  If you're interested in keeping up with our market garden I've started a blog to share what's going on with our endeavour and you can see it here.
This is what our sun room is starting to look like - seedling trays all over.  Snow outside and tender green shoots inside! (J...see the little found greenhouse you gave me?  S just shook his head and muttered a bit when I dragged it inside). ;-)
There was time for a walk in the woods and time to catch up on things I won't have time for in a few weeks - like finally shelling my saved beans to use for planting this year.
Time for soap-making  and special drink making (made a batch of mead (or Sima) with E) and time to make some delicious caramelized onion soup with a few tomatoes from the freezer for extra flavour.
I don't normally freeze tomatoes this way anymore (although I know many people like to) but I found them so handy for this soup that I will do some again this year when I am in a rush and have too many tomatoes to deal with...and I'll be able to use this soup as justification for doing so. ;-)
My boys love this soup too and we've decided we should have it much more often.  This week I told them I would make it with bread and cheese on top and then broiled. I'm hoping that E will make one of his yummy loaves of bread. 
Just my kind of day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


While I love my felted sweater hearts...
I really love chocolate hearts from Annegret's (our local chocolate maker).
And...I really, really love having a husband who gives them to me.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

More Seeds Arriving

Friday we arrived home after our weekly homelearner ski day just in time to get this - our big seed order from William Dam (I'd already received my order from West Coast Seeds the week before).  The boys teased me that it was better than Christmas for me...and they were right.  I could hardly wait to get started but, since I'd been skiing all day, I managed to wait until the next day to start planting. ;-)

I wanted to get a head start on some parsley since it takes awhile to germinate so I potted them up on our window sill.   Seeds have always been truly magical to me so when I came across this Thoreau quote years ago I copied it down in my gratitude/grace notes book.
I have great faith in a seed.
Convince me that you have a seed there,
and I am prepared to expect wonders.

 -- Henry David Thoreau
I too expect wonders each year at this time. Spring...or even almost such an exciting time for gardeners. Seeds do require a certain amount of faith and this, I think, is something gardeners have in abundance - faith in seeds and trust in the Earth.
Earlier in the week I had started some Kelsae Sweet Giant onions and some Ailsa Craig Sweet onions and was pleasantly surprised to notice them already sprouting on the weekend as I planted the parsley.  My sunroom windowsill is looking decidedly Spring-ish and that makes me very happy indeed.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Fog

Several days ago the fog came...I want to say on little cat feet except it feels more as though it came stomping in on great big mountain lion feet.  And now I feel as though I'm waiting for it to move on.  Our valley has been socked in for days and it starts to feel somewhat confining. 
It does, however, make for some incredibly delicate and lovely scenery. 
All the trees and shrubs - even the weeds- are enveloped in icy shrouds and they look beautiful. I was wishing I had my camera with me on the weekend when we went by a row of trees with their black branches covered in soft rime - the contrast was stunning.  We have a large weeping willow and a weeping birch tree in the front yard and every time I look at them they seem even more beautiful.
So today, instead of being grumpy that there was no sunshine during my walk I decided to grab my camera when I got home. The photos don't completely capture the delicate beauty of it but stopping to take them and to really look helped me to let go of my wish for sunshine and appreciate that foggy days can also bring pleasure if we are open to it. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Peppermint Soap for Laundry

We've been busy making lemonade out of lemons here lately.  A flood in the basement kick-started my Spring cleaning a little earlier than usual.  ;-)  I do actually love Spring cleaning and I likely would not have made as much time as needed for it this year (since this week I'll start seeding the greenhouse for the market garden and things will just keep getting busier after that) so I'm choosing to find the silver lining in the flood in this way.  All the Spring cleaning upstairs is already done and, as soon as restoration work is finished,  the downstairs will all be deeply cleaned as well. 
Awhile ago I decided to try out the homemade dry laundry soap that I've seen on other blogs instead of making my usual liquid laundry soap.  I used Dr Bronner's peppermint soap and enjoyed the scent so much that I decided to try making my next batch of homemade soap with peppermint oil.
The boys helped me to make it the other day and this morning I cut it into bars to cure.  This is the first time I tried making an all vegetable shortening recipe (other methods here and here) and it came out well and will make a nice bar to use in the laundry soap recipe.  I followed the excellent video tutorial on this website (there is a fantastic amount of soap-making info. there).