28 February 2011

off my bookshelf February 2011

Another month with a lot of books...

Did I ever mention how much I love books?

This is what has been off my bookshelf this month...

My heart is still in England this month as I continue reading through Jane Austen's novels...Mansfield Park this month...another favourite. I actually suggested calling my third son Edmund but my hubby wouldn't go for it. Tudor England is one of my favourite historical periods so I am brushing up on some of my history with Henry VIII - Reformer and Tyrant. Not a great read for everyone, but I enjoy it.

And continuing with the British theme, my hubby and I have been reading this together. It is taking awhile to read as it is hard to find time to read together and because it is also a subject we are passionate about and the book often gets put aside for some heated discussion and a little bit of ranting on my part. (a small piece of advise...do not get me into a conversation on the industrial food system...I will have a lot to say...and my voice might rise a little...just ask those in the car with my dad and I over the week-end who got to listen to three hours of heated discussion...I think I may take after him just a little). That said, I do love reading the Prince of Wales and he (and his thousands and thousands of pounds worth of education) says things a lot more eloquently than I do.

On a similar and a lighter note...

this is what I have been reading with my kids. My eleven year old daughter and I have been reading one of my favourite books together...Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver ( my daughter and I have been wishing my hubby had a nice farm hidden somewhere we could go and live off of). It has been fun discussing what we can do...(our organic CSA emailed this week with this seasons prices and I can't wait to sign up!). My two oldest boys and I have been reading Farmer Boy and I am having fun sharing my love of Little House on the Prairie with them. (We have previously read Little House in the Big Woods which they also enjoyed but this one has a little more testosterone so it is more fun for them!) And all three boys have been enjoying Dr. Seuss this month.

I am always looking at different points of view and advise on how to make our homeschooling experience more effective and fun.

I picked these up at a used book sale in the fall for 50 cents each. I've been eyeing up the poached egg page. I have never made a poached egg. I have always been scared of failing miserably. As soon as I can get my hands on some VERY fresh eggs I am going to do it. 2 1/2 months until the farmer's markets open up...free range farm fresh eggs...can't wait!

I have picked out my first knitting pattern to attempt. I learned how to knit just over a year ago; but have only attempted scarves and face cloths and things I could do without a pattern. Next month...I am learning how to read patterns and mix colours...I hope it turns out!

And to satisfy my magazine obsession...

Can I just say how much I love How Women Cook! This is the second issue and it is on sale now...LOVE it!

This is what has caught my eye and held my interest this month. What have you been reading?

26 February 2011

antique sale

Yesterday afternoon my mother so graciously offered to watch all four of my children so my husband and I could have some time together to go and see the local museum's annual antique sale. Neither of us had any money this week and she was maybe the wiser as she decided she would rather not see what she could not buy. I decided I wanted to go and see it anyway...

We "window shopped" the afternoon away and enjoyed ourselves very much. Although a few tables were a little painful to walk by. Two booths in particular made my heart ache... (no pictures...too many people shuffling along a little like cattle)

Two booths covered with vintage kitchenware...butter molds and churns, baking pans, manual egg beaters, depression glass, floral frogs, canning jars with glass lids and some really cool old wool carding equipment ( I also LOVE wool and sheep)...sigh...

I loved seeing all of the beautiful old items together. Even though I am a little (or more than a little) monetarily challenged, I did mangaged to buy a few small items...

A really cool Canadian history book published in 1915. It is actually a school text written for 10 to 14 year olds. I love reading history from a different point of view. The last chapter is about Canada's future; it will be interesting to read what that looked like less than 50 years after confederation. At only $2 I really couldn't walk away.

and a really cool brown transferware turkey plate by the Johnson Brothers for $5. I don't know how old it is...but I don't have a turkey plate yet in my transferware collection...

Even though I didn't get to buy EVERYTHING I wanted. We had a great afternoon wandering the aisles upon aisles of antiques hand in hand, spending time together...and I did get to bring home a few treasures.

Now I am off on a little road trip...me and the girl...my parents...sister in law and nephew....be back Monday...Have a good week-end!

23 February 2011

dreaming of spring...

This morning I awoke dreaming of spring...

The sun was shining, the trees were in full blossom...

But as I fully awoke and came to my senses I knew that out my bedroom window I would not see signs of spring...

Out my bedroom window it is still very much winter.

In my little corner of beautiful British Columbia winter has decided to camp out...long term. But, as I look out at this image...

just for today, I am going to imagine that I see this instead...

Every once in a while I need a little sunshine...even if it is only in my imagination.

I hope your day is filled with sunshine and blossoms!

21 February 2011

Genoise with strawberry cream

The Canadian Living Cookbook edited by Carol Ferguson in 1987 was my first cookbook. (I now own well over 300). As you can see this book is well used...

For many years, this was the only cookbook I owned and I used it to teach myself how to cook. I still use it often. I have a few of the recipes memorized and some of the recipes in this book have found a permanent position in my cooking repertoire.

One of my favourite cake recipes is the Genoise. I love it. It is very versatile, light, moist, delicious and easy. Although, you really have to have an electric mixer for this.

You start by preheating your oven to 325 degrees F and by greasing two 9" round cake pans. Grease pans, cut two rounds of parchment to fit in bottoms and then grease and flour parchment and pans.

The recipe from the book is:

6  large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm

"Eggs should be at warm room temperature (or put them in bowl of warm water for a few minutes). Rinse mixer bowl in hot water and wipe dry. Beat eggs with sugar at high speed for about 10 minutes

or until thick, very pale yellow in colour, or batter falls in ribbons when beaters are lifted from bowl. Beat in Vanilla."

In a seperate bowl "sift flour with baking powder. Sift one-third of flour mixture over egg mixture"

This is what the ribbon stage looks like

 "using a rubber spatula, fold until uniformly blended. Repeat with remaining flour mixture. Add butter; fold until thoroughly blended in."

I have done this and it works. I have also used the mixer on its lowest speed to mix in the flour and butter. I have found that this works a little better. As long as the mixer is on the lowest speed and you allow it to whisk only until the flour and then the butter is JUST mixed in - do not overmix! I find that this deflates the batter less than the folding does and it is faster and easier. Your choice. "Pour into prepared cake pans.

Bake in preheated 325 degree F (160 degrees C) oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched lightly in center. Loosen edges; turn cakes out onto rack, remove paper and cool."

This cake can easily be made into a chocolate cake by replacing half of the flour with unsweetened cocoa powder...also very good.

There are so many things you can do with this cake...one of our favourites is to replace the vanilla with orange juice and add the zest of one or two oranges (depending on size) Mixing the zest in by hand as it tends to stick to the mixer's whisk. When the cake is cooled, spread orange curd between layers and ice with a mixture combining half orange curd and half whipping cream...yum. Lemons can be used instead of the orange.

We love meringue buttercream and I often make it for birthdays, but, when I am pressed for time or dollars I usually resort to using whipped cream. It is easy, cheap and so good. Making a Chantilly Cream (cream whipped with vanilla and sugar) is the standard of course but I like to mix it up a bit. Maple syrup is a really good substitute for the vanilla and sugar as is a good quality jam.

Today I used strawberry...

In the summer I highly recommend making your own (it really is easy). But if you don't have your own use any really good quality store bought jam. I love Bonne Maman. It is imported from France (I know...millions of food miles...) but I have yet to find a more local brand that is as good.

While the cakes were still warm I spread a thin layer of jam between the layers.

When cool I whipped cream with a few spoonfuls of strawberry jam and iced the cake. The jam gives the cake a subtle strawberry flavour and the cream a delicate pink colour.

 cut, serve and yum!

Happy Monday!

19 February 2011

Blog discoveries and questions

 This year I decided that I want to spend more time on my blog.

I want to write more.

I want to learn how to use my camera...and maybe if I am really lucky get a DSLR and learn how to use that...

I am really happy this year. As I look at my New Year's resolutions even though it is only February I already see progress; which is a first for me.

I have been writing more on my blog and have found that I really love it.

I like having time that is carved out for me and something I actually want to do not just have to. It is something of my own and living in a tiny house with six people there is little room for things of one's own.

I do realize how strange it is to think of my blog as my own considering that I put it out there for anyone to see but, I think the public forum gives me incentive to write. Which is good for me. My blog also encourages me to do something and to think about my time and how it is spent.

I have found that I really love to write. I have always kept journals and used to write (mostly bad) poetry when I was a teen-ager. I have always been an avid reader (see here and here ) but haven't done too much writing other than what I previously mentioned and loads of academic essays. I took a creative writing course last year and LOVED it. It is so different than writing academic essays. Writing is definately something I would like to continue to do. This semester (that I am starting in June) I am taking two more creative writing classes. They will be challenging; I am a little punctuationally challenged and my grammar really should be exceptional but it isn't. Even though I know it will be hard I am really looking forward to them and to learning and growing and using my creativity.

I also surprised myself over the past few months by discovering that life is SO different and so much more beautiful when seen through the lens of a camera.

 I really love taking pictures...especially using my macro setting.

I am still so far from being even a mediocre photographer (which I notice as I look at some really amazing ones) but I am learning. I have discovered how to use different settings on my cheap little point and shoot. I actually WANT to get a DSLR and learn more about photography and taking pictures. Not long ago I didn't want one, they looked too difficult; even though I was almost always unhappy with the results the automatic setting was good enough for me.

I am excited to see the changes that I have made in my life.

I started my blog to chronicle my journey. So I could see where I needed improvement and where I was succeeding in my attempt to create a life that I wanted to live and as I tried to discover what I wanted to do with the gift of life and health that I had been given. I am hoping that as time progresses I will see improvement.

As I spend more time on my blog I find myself with questions especially regarding what I am allowed and not allowed to do.

~ Can I link to things I like? If I want to share something I have found that I really like (be it a website or a blog) can I link to it or do I need to write for permission first and then wait for a response?

~ If I want to share a favourite recipe that is not my own, can I? Or do I need to write the publisher and get permission first?

~ Are photos like book quotes? Can I include ones I like if I cite where they are from?

I think most of my questions relate to copyright laws...I'm just curious. I see so many different things all over the blog world, I am not sure what the proper conduct is.

If anyone out there knows where to direct me for answers I would appreciate it.

I noticed that I have reached the 1000 views mark on my blog this week-end. I am surprised and thankful for everyone who has shown an interest and taken time to view my little corner of the web. Thank you for participating in my journey!

16 February 2011

vintage apron

Yesterday my mother brought me a belated Valentine's Day present...

a really cute, vintage, crocheted apron and since I love all things that combine vintage and kitchens I was really excited...

But, she brought an even bigger surprise. This was not only a cute vintage apron...this was made and worn by my great auntie Millie!

Millie was my granny's sister and I think her best friend.

My granny on the left and Millie on the right

Millie was amazing...

One of the last times I saw her, she was in her 90s and she told me her mother always called her the girl with the golden hands...

Millie was an excellent gardener, cook, knitter and crocheter (and I am sure she was good at a million other things but these are the things I remember best).

My mother always called Millie's garden the garden of Eden. Her entire back yard was a garden.

It was immaculate.

It had everything. I especially loved a huge apricot tree...there was nothing like picking sun warmed, sweet apricots off of that tree...

Everytime I went to her house she was pulling fresh baked bread out of the oven and she had a pot of borscht or some other soup on the stove bubbling away making her kitchen smell amazing!

 I think she knitted or crocheted every day. She did amazing work with thread. She had a beautiful, very large framed copy of Psalm 23 (the Lord is my Shepherd or it may have been the Lord's prayer I believe she made copies of both) crocheted with the finest white thread hanging on her living room wall.

She was so fun to talk to (especially since she could hear; if anyone spoke loudly to her she was quick to remind that she was the sibling who could hear!) She also was quick to share what was on her mind and tell it like it was even to me as a child which always made me feel very grown up. I loved listening to her stories. One of my favourite Millie stories was how she was in love and wanted to marry but...she had to wait until her older sister married first! She thought that was very unfair but she did wait and Millie and John married on the same day her sister Polly got married...

My Granny on the left with Millie and John. In a lot of pictures I have of
Millie and John they are always looking at each other instead of the camera...
isn't that great!

Millie loved to can and preserve produce from her garden and share it with her neighbours.

She loved to fish even though she was a vegetarian and she would share her catch of the day with others as well.

Everytime we went to her house she insisted on feeding us and feeding us well; no matter what time of day it was. I can still picture her waving her hand at us if we claimed we weren't hungry. She would not hear of it. My granny used to do this as well and I can still hear her voice saying "eat, nah...punyamyish" (now I have no idea how to spell that; all I know is that it is Russian for Understand?) and then she would follow with..."do you want people to think your granny doesn't feed you!"

I think my love of good food was nurtured by my granny and great aunties. Growing up in the 70s and 80s  my meals consisted of primarily processed foods as I am sure many others in my age group did as well.

But, my granny and my great aunties were from a different time; a time when all food was fresh, in season, organic and made from scratch.

I was able to experience some of that when I was with them.

I never saw Millie cook anything that was premade (unless it had been premade and preserved by her).

Millie taught us how to make Blintze and fresh pasta. She taught my mom how easy it was to make a pot of soup from whatever was fresh in the garden. I still do those things. I still think of her everytime I pull out my granny's old cast iron pan to make a batch of blintze for breakfast.

I feel so honoured and a little inadequate to wear her apron...even though I am sure she would roll her eyeballs and wave her hand at me for saying so...and be a little annoyed that I put a picture of this apron up as a public example of her work. But, I love it and wanted to share...

14 February 2011

a Valentine's Love story

Happy Valentine's Day!

Since today is dedicated to love, I thought I would share the story of how I found mine...

I met my husband when my family and I moved to a new town. We were both fifteen.

We attended the same high school and the same church but we never really became friends and I don't really remember much about him until a few years after graduation. (Although for some reason he remembers a little blue skirt I used to like to wear in the tenth grade).

When we were 21 we met up again and since we had some common friends we ended up often being in the same place. We quickly became good friends. Over the next three years as other friends came and went (many going away to school, moving for work or getting married) my husband remained a constant and best friend. Everyday after work he would come over or we would go to a movie or get something to eat or go meet up with other friends...

It was great! I had a few experiences previously that had made me decide to "swear off men for good".
The entire time we were friends, I did not date...at all...and it was great. Anywhere I went that required a date...I took my best friend. I always had a man around for a male point of view, someone to hang out with, talk to...why did I need a boyfriend? If I wanted to be alone...no problem just send him home with no questions. I thought I had found the best of both worlds AND because we had known each other for so long I KNEW that there would never be any of the problems of ONE of us "having feelings" for the other (I hate when that happens) because if either of us had been interested in the other it would have come up before. He was not my type at all and I knew that I wasn't his type.

It really was almost perfect...

Maybe it was because I never dated anyone else, maybe it was because we were always together or maybe it was because we were always having so much fun together... but for some reason people always assumed we were a couple.

After awhile it came up A LOT. Our other friends stopped believing that we were only friends (which I swear we were). The idea of us being a couple seemed to occur to everybody...except us.

We really liked where we were. He was the best friend I had ever had. We had so many laughs together and we could talk for hours. My hubby still dated occasionally and he loved that I could give him female insight into what was going on...I could usually translate female speak into a language he could more readily understand. I enjoyed having companionship without any drama or stress or having to wonder if this relationship was good for me and I never had to wonder why he wasn't calling because he ALWAYS did. Like I said it was very nearly perfect.

But, eventually the questions became an almost daily occurance..."are you two together?", "why aren't you together?", "but you laugh at all his jokes?", "how long have you two been dating?". "He's not my type" came out of my mouth almost every day...

And then, one Christmas he went to his sister's. I missed him when he was gone even though he called me almost every day. He came home early on boxing day to attend a dance. I saw him briefly but a mutual friend of ours cornered him and the two of them sat in the corner talking intently for a long time. I found myself wondering what they were talking about...I wasn't jealous, just curious...but I guess I had looked over at them a few too many times as another mutual friend came over to tell me not to be jealous ( I honestly wasn't). The two of us were caught up in seperate conversations (that unbeknownst to us were just a little bit planned out). My conversation went something like this:

Friend: "You are holding up really well. You have been in love with him for so long...he is SO stupid not to notice".
Me: "WHAT? I am so NOT in love with him. He is not my type. We are just really good friends."
Friend: "Yah, whatever. As I said, he is so stupid to not notice, you laugh at all his jokes. It is really obvious to everybody else".
Me: "like I said, He is not my type, I am not his type. We are just really good friends".
Friend: "yes, right. He better hurry up and do something. A girl like you isn't going to sit around waiting forever you know. You'll be snatched up by somebody else soon and then he will be sorry".
Me: " uhm..." (Me thinking: "are you trying to hit on me?") "I'll talk to you later" and I get up and walk away...

A little while later the girl that my (future) hubby had so intently been talking to approached me and immediately grilled me with.
Friend: "okay...what is your story...WHY are you two not together?"
Me: "he's not my type; we are just good friends" (do you notice I did not have a very original or specific answer...I was beginning to notice this myself)
Friend: "What is it about him exactly that makes him not your type, he's nice, funny, cute..."
Me: "uhm...."
silence. I could not think of anything specifically.
Me: thinking, thinking, thinking....racking my brain for something other than he doesn't have a great job because I really didn't care about that or he wasn't very cool in high school because I really didn't care about that either...still thinking...
Me: "well we are best friends and I wouldn't want to ruin that" was the best I could come up with.
Friend: "Well coming where I am coming from his being your best friend is a positive not a negative. You should really think about it seriously." and she walks away.

My (future) hubby came over after the dance and filled me in on his earlier conversation which went something like this:

Friend: "why are you two not together"
Hubby: "she's not my type"
Friend: "what about her is not your type? She is smart, fun, pretty and she laughs at all your jokes"
Hubby: "uhm...." (not sure what he was thinking at this point).
Friend: "What?"
Hubby: "What if we got together and things didn't work out? We are such good friends I wouldn't want to ruin that".
Friend: "Being friends sounds like a good reason to get together"
Hubby: "huh".
Friend: "If you are worried about the chemistry, just kiss her and find out. If you are such good friends you should be able to get over a kiss, right?"
Hubby: ":)" (I think he secretly enjoyed this idea).

Back at my place...as he is relating this story...

me: "WHAT? there is no way that I am ever going to kiss you so forget it".
Hubby: "oh...yah... that's what I was thinking...no way I would ever kiss you..........."

And then nothing happened. Back to normal. Except for the nagging voice in the back of my head that was constantly saying..."what is it about him that you don't like" and the constant irritation that I could not think of anything. ANYTHING. I didn't want to like him. I REALLY didn't.

I was working. I (at this point) liked my job. I had plans. Getting married did not fit in to them. And deep down I knew that if we ever got together we would get married...

Things were a little awkward but not too bad. We still hung out everyday. He still went on dates with other girls. Everyday I had that nagging voice in my head. It would not go away. "Why not him?" "What don't you like about him? He is nice to you, he is your best friend, you would rather spend time with and talk to him more than anybody else, he makes you laugh...what is there not to like?" Everyday I would try very hard to suppress those thoughts.

One night we were with a group of friends in a hot tub. Friends left one by one. Soon it was just the two of us. talking. Out of the blue my (future) hubby asked me if I loved him. "yes" came out of my mouth. Followed by..."of course I do, you are my best friend". We talked about the nagging voices in both of our heads. We talked about what we were going to do about it. We decided...nothing. Our relationship was (almost) perfect...we would leave everything as it was. Getting out of the hot tub...he kissed me.

We were engaged within two months. Officially we never went on a single date but we had known each other for nine years. We were married eight and a half months after our first kiss which was just over fourteen years ago. Every single one of those days he has been my best friend. He is still the one I would rather spend time with or talk to more than anyone else. He can make me smile when no one else can, he can calm me when I am stressed and through all of the struggles, challenges and hardships I have faced over those fourteen years I have been so thankful that he has been with me.

I never was a huge romantic; but, I know that he was meant for me. Growing up I never wanted to get married but now I know that is the best thing I ever did.

11 February 2011

a new muffin recipe

I have a little book that I always keep close by...

I've had it for about a decade and I stupidly have never made a back-up; which reminds me...I need to do that!

I started writing down a few of my recipes...not all my recipes (I do have four kids and often when I cook I just throw things together and do not take time to measure and write down what I am doing). But, when I have time...I record them.

Over the years I have collected almost a hundred recipes.

A lot of them are for muffins.

I have never bought a muffin. I have tasted store bought muffins and I was never able to figure out why anyone would spend money on them. They are not good...sorry they just aren't.

I discovered that I could make muffins that taste like cupcakes (which they basically are). They could be healthier (not necessarily healthy...just healthier), cheaper and much easier. My muffins always turn out...they are never dense and flat (like the first time I tried to make a butter cake)...and they are almost always delicious.

I thought I would share my newest recipe today:

Chocolate Walnut Muffins:

First mix 1 1/4 cup flour (either all purpose or half all purpose and half whole wheat or spelt) with 1/2 cup good quality cocoa.

then add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp salt.

Then put 3/4 cup walnuts in a food processor and pulse until medium fine. Add to bowl along with 3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts. Stir to combine.

In a seperate bowl whisk together: 2 eggs, 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup canola oil (or melted butter) and 1 tsp vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.

Line a muffin tin with muffin liners (or cupcake liners if you prefer to call them that or you can grease the pan) and spoon muffin batter into tin.

Bake in a 350 degree (F) oven for approximately 20 minutes. (The stove I am currently using is not the best on timings so you will have to experiment what works best in your oven). You do not want to over-bake these as they are best when they are moist and fudgy!

Let cool in pan for a few minutes and then remove to a wire rack. After five to ten minutes (or longer if you don't have a group of hungry children standing around the cooling rack)  plate and serve...or just serve if you don't like extra dishes...

YUM! I hope you enjoy them  as much as we did...

I have made them twice now and both times they were very good...I am very happy I had time to put them in the book. The kids have informed me they want to eat these every day...

09 February 2011

always look on the bright side of life...

Does anyone else out there cringe at the thought of filling out forms?

We are in our seventh year of post-secondary school and each year has been filled with forms...

school forms
government forms

and don't even get me started on filling out forms for moving between provinces...

I am signing up for another semester of school (one day I WILL finish this degree). I filled out all the forms for both the school and for the necessary evil of student loans...all done!

And then comes an email from my school with a minor glitch that of course requires me to fill out all of the forms AGAIN! WAH!!!

I am trying to maintain my new optimistic attitude. I am trying to not eat the entire batch of yummy gingersnaps sitting in my kitchen and I am trying not to throw anything as I run out of printer paper with two sheets left to print.

No, I am going to take the high road. I am looking on the bright side...

I am fortunate enough to have a supportive family which allows me to work on my degree...

Because we may be moving (again!) this summer I need to take classes without exams (to avoid any complications with ordering exams to be invigilated) and so I get to take two creative writing classes
(which I LOVE.) ...I can just picture myself sitting on the beach pen and notebook in hand...(I will not imagine all the distractions I will have with four children surrounding me kicking sand on said notebook).

This HAS to be the last time I need to fill out these forms so I can FINALLY get back to classes (did I mention this was the fourth time...and that I was supposed to start in October 2010 but it is now pushed back to June 2011!)...breathing...deeply...

I am really excited about getting back to classes and working on my degree. I am determined to finish it before I turn forty. I have 2 1/2 years...and five semesters to go...which still allows me time to do it.

I did not see this...

like I do on so many days when I tried to access the internet...the internet is working for me today...

And if all else fails to cheer me up....

I do have that yummy batch of warm gingersnaps cooling in the kitchen that I can nibble on while filling out the forms again. They should make the process a little less painful!

07 February 2011

A Family Farm

I love farms.

Small farms.

family farms.

self-sufficient farms.

We have visited many.

I grew up on a few.

I want one.

I want to be self-reliant.

I want to buy some land and start my own family farm.

I am thinking of ways to make it happen...

before my children all leave home.

I am impatient.