Friday, 29 August 2014

Bottling Summer

Seeing my baby squashes all grown up threw my summer enjoyment into overdrive.  Last winter was simply villainous, and I need to fill myself with sunshine goodness before the weather turns and we begin the slow march to the winter blahs.  So, I packed myself into the car to drive to the bastion of Nova Scotia summerness, the Valley - namely Wolfville and Grand Pre.  30C of glorious sunshine surrounded by farmland and eased away from muggy oppression by the light, salty breeze.
My plan was to have a perfect girly day...antiques, farmer's markets and vineyards.  My plan was a success.  I drove straight to my favourite antique store, Country Barn Antiques, in Port Williams.  It's four floors of chaotic antiquing in a circa 1860 post and beam barn.  I mean, it's heaven.  I'm always on the look out for something funky, and lately, I've been enamoured with 1960s Miller Studio chalkware.  Why?  I don't know; it's bright and cheerful, I remember it being in my grandparent's house, so a little nostalgic and, frankly, I'm a little odd.  When I bought my pieces for a song, the proprietor asked me, in slightly different words, if that's what the kids were in to these days.  He also told me to tell you that you should all go visit him because he has a lot more chalkware somewhere.  So there you go, friends, I know you can't wait!

Mint condition, still in the box.  Tweet tweet!
At the farmer's market, I bought 25lbs of produce to can up the peak of the season berries, fruits and veg.  I've been busy in the kitchen ever since.  More on that this weekend.

My final stop was the vineyard at Grand Pre.  I was interested in seeing the newly designated UNESCO world heritage site in it's full glory.  A dear friend of mine worked his ass off to see the designation through, and I hadn't yet seen the finished product.

The stunning cultural landscape recognised at Grand Pre.
I intend to tip a glass of delicious Nova Scotia white from one of the several bottles I picked up on my way home.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My babies are all grown up

Summer has really flown by, as evidenced by the first of our winter squash being ready for eating. Every year we try something new in the squash department, and every year it is the butternut squash that emerges victorious. They are gorgeous, and I love them.

Here's my favourite recipe for utilizing our harvest. This works as a chicken dinner or vegan side and is chockablock full of garden goodness.

Another Superfoods Salad
1 medium Butternut Squash •2lbs•, peeled, seeded and cut into bite-sized cubes
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (optional)
1/3c tahini
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
8c chopped kale
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425F

1. Set oven racks on the bottom third and top third. In one roasting pan, add squash and season with 2 tbsp olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Mix, and place on bottom rack for 20min.

2. In second roasting pan, place chicken. Season with remaining oil and salt and pepper.  When the first 20min are up for the squash, remove from oven and toss. Place back in oven. Place chicken on top rack. Set timer for both to 20 min.

3. Meanwhile, set kettle to boil. Place kale in a colander and pour boiling water over kale until bright green. Rinse in cold water.  

4. To make dressing, combine tahini, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper. The lemon juice will thicken the tahini, so slowly add water until it is a thick but pourable consistency.

5. Split kale, chickpeas and squash evenly between 4 plates. Slice chicken, if using, and split into 4 servings. Top with dressing and fresh chives.

Got to run, dinner is calling! Kale, squash, oregano and chives from our very own garden!!


Friday, 22 August 2014

Just Bliss - Chance Harbour

Finnegan and I decide to get an early start to our weekend by escaping the hustle and bustle of the daily grind in sleepy, semi-suburban Nova Scotia (wink wink, nudge nudge) for the utter tranquility of Jeff's childhood home. Much like my own on the other side of the country, the air is bright and clean, scrubbed through a salty filter of the sea. And the sounds carried on the air consist only of nature: chirping birds, rustling leaves, croaking frogs, rolling waves and one manic wiener dog searching frantically for his expertly tossed tennis ball.  There is nothing particularly stressful about sitting in our own backyard oasis, but here, in all seasons, there are no timelines, no expectations, no lingering chores, and it's bliss. Home away from home away from home.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Upcycle - The Huxtable Sweater

Americans toss over 11.1 trillion tons of textiles in the trash each year, the equivalent to about 31kg per person.  In Canada, it's closer to 7kg per person, which is better, but still gross.  It might also point to us being colder, and not wanting to toss our blankets and sweaters, or us being more fashion conservative.

And we all know those sweaters.  The ones we keep long after their best before date because they're super cosy or because of a deep sense of sentimentality.  Case in point, this crime against fashion (and perhaps even humanity) that was buried deep in the pre-married pile of my husband's closet.

Clair made Cliff get rid of this sweater in season 6.  He gave it to Elvin.
Or this stunner from  my high school Lorena McKennitt fan-girl days, when all I wanted was a university boy to quote Tennyson to me.
I found such a boy, and not surprisingly, in retrospect, he ended up being a douche.
Sorry if you're out there Tim, I'm sure you grew up just fine.
Just because these sweaters should never again be seen in the wild does not mean they have no use, not that they should become garbage.  In fact, our furry four legged friends have plenty of love for a cosy place to rest their weary heads.  How they manage to get so world weary is beyond me, but still.

Finnegan is in charge of quality control in my little one woman factory.
This bed passed inspection
The beds will be available for purchase on my Etsy shop - Fin & Batty - this fall.  If you purchase a bed, $5 will be donated to the Canadian Dachshund Rescue Atlantic in support of the rescue efforts of the group.  Jeff, Finnegan and I are all member of the rescue and encourage you to visit their page to find out more.

Snuggles to your 4-legged friend, and happy Tuesday!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Just Bliss - Vintage Patterns

Fashion - she's a fickle one isn't she? One day you're all the rage, the next, yesterday's news and the next, well, you could bounce back and you could be considered classic vintage, or retro chic. It could go not so well, dropping you in the dated, cringe worthy category. Or it could go really not well. Like the 70s. Thank goodness for thrift stores and pattern books that date the heck out of themselves. Let's explore some of those - that's what Fridays are for.

Let's start in the house. I know when I'm decorating, I'm always on the look out for home accessories that will make me feel nurtured and that have a touch of whimsy. Do you think those were the same considerations for this delightful giant vagina blanket and matching wall hanging?
A truly mesmerising vulva.

"Tom and I had a double-bogey last night!"
How about sportswear? I'm sure these lovely ladies were a hit down at the country club. First for a round on the links, then we'll head to the courts for a rousing match.  And nothing caps off your tennis whites and granny-square vest like a hand-crocheted turban.  All in all, a rather fetching outfit.
Sue's left eye is actually glass, so binoculars are utterly confounding to her.

Finally, I will leave you with this thought, ski masks are not a good idea unless, and this is a big unless, you are actively snowmobiling in the north in a place where large ungulates outnumber the human population 3-1.  Otherwise, you look like a psycho killer or bank robber no matter how nicely it frames your eyes or how big your pompom is. Imagine being known as the pompom killer.  Full on crazy.
They suggest a red, white and blue colour combination.
Of course they do.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Just Bliss - chocolate edition

Apparently there is a phenomenon on the westcoast known as Tacofino.  I have not had the pleasure.  Growing up, as I did, whilst the coast was still considered the boonies, food trucks and foodies were not a thing you encountered.  Still, it is always exciting to see home featured in glossy pages, and high school friends listed as photographers.  I spend many a countless hour hanging out in the Maple Leaf lounge somewhere between hither and yon, and one of my activities (besides yarn crafts) is catching up on the newsstand's endless prints.

A while back now, Chatelaine magazine did a feature on Tacofino and provided a few of their most popular recipes.  One of those was the Chocolate Diablo Cookie.  That original recipe can be found here.  After a bit of tinkering, I am happy to share my gluten-free version.  They have been brought to my book club, my day job as afternoon pick me ups, bake sales, Christmas parties, etc.  They are often requested and never left over.

Pre-heat over to 375F
Cover two cookie sheets in parchment paper or lightly oil

1/2 c. each - brown rice flour, coconut flour, corn starch
1c. rich chocolate powder - I use Rodelle
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1c. dairy-free dark chocolate chips
2 large eggs
1c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2. canola oil
1 tbsp vanilla
1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, peeled and finely grated (I say thumb-sized, but imagine your hands are the size of a professional basketball player, or the Hulk...that sized thumb.  Save every drop of the ginger juice and the little chunks that are left over from grating - the ones you don't grate all the way down so that you don't bloody yourself - and toss them in as is.  Those will be a 'surprise!' for someone.)

Whisk together the flours, chocolate powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, cayenne and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Whisk together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla.  Stir wet into the dry. 

Gently fold in ginger and chocolate chips.

Take a 1/4c measure and scoop dough onto cookie sheet, gently pressing down.  6 massive cookies should fit onto each cookie sheet.  Oh, yeah.

I sprinkle the top with a little rock salt, a little cane sugar and a few chili flakes.

Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 mins, until the tops crack, then take them out to cool on a rack.  Let them sit on the sheet until firm, about 30min, before serving.  Ideally they will be spicy, slightly crunchy on the outside and a bit of a fudgey, chocolaty, delight in the middle.

These are not the prettiest, but I made them in a hotel room.  And they were good.  Really good.
Happy chocolateholic enablement!


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Backyard Beerfest for the gluten-free

The first time I ordered a decaffeinated soy latte, the barista dubbed it a "why bother". I was 16, visiting Vancouver and it was the first time I had ever seen soymilk on a restaurant menu. I was a little bit embarrassed, as teenagers often are when singled out, but in the intervening years, have seen many a decaffeinated soy latte order, regardless of actual need.

I don't care about what's 'good' for could get whiplash from trying to figure out which side of the fence wine or butter or chocolate, eggs etc are currently situated. I care about how things taste and how things make me feel. Gluten and dairy make me feel bad. Really bad; for days bad. Excruciating pain, vomiting, diarrhea, migraines, eczema and so on and so forth. I then have to go on a bland diet to reset my body. All in all, the whole process from reaction to recovery takes 2-3 weeks.  If I were a caribou, the wolves would have taken me decades ago.

Thankfully, I am not.  And beyond being a relatively productive member of the herd, I have a knack for preparing lichen in a way that all the other caribou crave.  Okay, that analogy is going nowhere.  Bluntly, I am a good cook.  I’ve been forced by necessity to become a good cook, and I also love to cook.  Cooking is another of my favourite creative endeavours.  Have you seen Ratatouille?  There’s that scene where Remy is having a psychedelic taste bud trip:

Yeah, I get that. Food and drink are two of the most powerful experiences that engage all of the senses.  And free of caffeine or dairy or gluten does not mean free of taste or decadence or psychedelic taste bud trips.

On Friday, Jeff and I hosted a little gathering to celebrate the temporary return of one of our migrant friends back to the herd (I apparently have ungulates on the brain today). In honour of the visit, we decided to arrange a less crowded, more cost effective beer festival then the one run on the same day, downtown.  Now, a beer festival may not seem like the most brilliant of themes for a gluten-free individual, but it is one of the few environments where this type of event was safe for me.

Jeff is pretty serious about the whole beer thing.  He’s growing hops in the backyard and he brews his own.  We call it Long Dog Brewing, after Mr. Finnegan. He’s had some hits and he’s had some misses.  By far, the biggest miss was not really his fault – it was a kit.  And it was meant to be a nice gesture.  The beer was called Silly Yak, which was rice based.  The problem with most gluten free beers is that they are outrageously sweet.  This one took it to another level.  Completely undrinkable.  Bless his heart, once he got comfortable with creating his own recipes and preparing his own malt, Jeff decided to try his hand at gluten free once again.  This time, he sprouted and roasted quinoa and used sorghum syrup.  The result is Long Dog Brewing’s Quinoaaaa?, and it’s pretty darn tasty.  It’s also pretty awesome that I have my own home tap!

Jeff’s next endeavor will be to try to make a homemade cider.  Nova Scotia grows some delicious apples, and from them, some phenomenal ciders have been created.  I grew up in BC, and my experience with ciders centered on 2litre pop bottles filled with crazy-sweet, fruit flavoured sparkling sugar water from the Okanagan.  My teeth and brain hurt just thinking about them.  But much like a good sparkling wine, a proper cider is restrained in its sweetness.  Hopefully this fall, Long Dog Brewing will move into the cider game.  Until that time, I have the list of the tasty ciders I experienced during our Backyard Beerfest. 

Dry Cider
Nova Scotia
Berry Blush Cider
Nova Scotia
Traditional Cider
Ship Builders
Nova Scotia
Weston’s Old Rosie
Cloudy Cider
Weston’s WlydWood
Organic Pear Cider

Happy Backyard Tasting!




Thursday, 7 August 2014

Zen and the art of garden maintenance

Mr. Finnegan enjoying the backyard
The summers of my childhood were short, short seasons.  We lived in three places – the beach, the forest and the garden.  When my sister and I were small, we use to spend a couple of weeks every summer at the beachside oasis of my grandparents’.  Years before common folk were priced out of the market, they bought a little piece ocean frontage in Deep Bay, where my mother and her siblings roamed feral along the sandy shores and swan in the bath-warm ocean.  My sister and I were lucky enough to get to experience this same freedom.  For me, the best part of this was riding my bike up the hill to my great grandparents’ house.  My Nana had a seemingly endless supply of fruits and veggies, and I would hunker down like the wild beasty I was, and pluck juicy raspberries from the cane and crisp peas from the vine.  Luckily as a six year old sprite, I did not inflict much damage, though, I’m sure Nana wouldn’t have minded.  I would then proceed to mooch cookies and juice from her.

My grandmother also had a significant garden, but she was less tolerant of my pillaging.  My mother too had the gift of a green thumb, and I have inherited my love of the earth and the feel of the soil being worked with my hands.  A day that concluded with dirt lodged under my fingernails is counted as a good day.

Flutterbys and bees love our yard.
The spring after Jeff and I bought our house was an exciting one.  I waited patiently to see what wonders would pop through the earth and bloom.  While delighted by the potential, I was also taken aback by what did emerge from winter slumber.  The yard had once been grand, but it was clear that it has suffered about a decade of neglect.  Perennials were alternately choked by overwhelming ground cover or crying out in desperate need of splitting.  I rolled up my sleeves, and while I dug, I watched the sun and dreamed of my own patch of garden fresh foods.

Four summers later, the yard is coming into its own.  My nemesis – goutweed – continues flash incursions into my reclaimed territory, but overall I am happy with my blend of natural and cultivated.  Best of all, our veggies have been a moderate success.  We’re still trying to compensate for limited amounts of direct sunlight due to the abundance of mature trees in our neighbourhood, but without a trip to the grocery store this week, we are hardly suffering a shortage of produce.  And a bite into a crisp bean or plump strawberry makes it all worth it.
Baby squash looking very adorable.

In the ground this year:

Red leaf lettuce
3 varieties of bush bean
2 varieties of climbing bean
Butternut squash
4 varieties of hops
Culinary lavender


Happy gardening!

My very first raised bed.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

I'm Hooked

I, like most, make 'New Year' better with money, exercise more etc.  Like most, I start strong, then begin the self bargaining and procrastination sometime in February, and ultimately fail sometime in March.  But this year was different.  This year's resolution was something that I wanted to do.  To be quite honest, I want the security and stability of saved money, but I really like new shoes.  I also like how much better I feel, and feel I look, when I exercise (the smug self-confidence is awesome), but I have yet to have found an activity that I truly love.  Actually, this year I did sign up for ballet, which is a long standing passion, only to have the studio cancel due to lack of interest.  And that was after the humiliation of trying on and buying a new ballet leotard - way way way worse than bathing suit shopping.

Anyway, this year was different, this year I resolved to allow myself the time and space to be more creative, flex my imagination, polish my old skills and learn some new ones.  Creativity and imagination occur naturally, and while the end products (knitted things, paintings, scribbles like this) are nice, it's the process that I love.  Unfortunately, life so often was getting in the way of these activities that as a consequence, part of my brain had begun to atrophy.  I decided that the best way to zap my synapses back into action was to teach them a new trick.  I decided to learn how to crochet after years of jealously watching others, and being utterly mystified by You Tube videos.  I signed myself up for a course through The Loop in Halifax, and my amazing instructor had me 'aha!'-ing in under an hour.  For my first project, I whipped myself up some boot cuffs.

Cosy goodness!

My next project had me attempt colour changes and chevrons.

Very foxy.

Once I got some of the basics under my belt, I had the opportunity to visit with one of my besties, the lovely Elle Buckle, whose crochet skills have always been a source of envy.  With wine in hand, she walked me through her favourite granny square recipe...and I've never looked back.

Roving baby blanket.
When my husband and I escaped south during this particularly dastardly winter, I took my crochet beach side and hooked the cute-as-a-button Frankie (though we joked loudly in our lounge chairs that I was working on a banana hammock for Jeff's pool adventures).
Could you maybe just give me that treat you're holding?

Now I am rarely without a hook, and am busily making little wonders for my Etsy shop - launching after Labour Day.  But the most fabulous part about this whole process of learning has been the ignition of creativity, the motivation to try new things and the inspiration to create everyday.

I'm Hooked!!!
Truth - click to see on Etsy.

Creative Chaos