Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunday Bake of the Week: Pumpkin Spice Cookies

I spent the weekend with my family in Toronto, and at the last minute realised I had not prepared anything for the bake of the week! Wanting to make something that would begin the transition to more Autumn-like cooking, I looked for a recipe that called for pumpkin, and came across this recipe for cookies. I am going to experiment with substituting 1 cup of oats for one cup of flour next time, as I wasn't too crazy about the consistency of the first batch. I'll update this post once I've tried that.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

1 Cup butter, softened
1 1/3 Cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 Large eggs
2 Teaspoons vanilla extract
2 Cups canned or fresh pumpkin puree
4 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 Teaspoon ground clove

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a VERY large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla, and once combined, mix in the pumpkin.

In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin, and mix thoroughly.

Grease cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper. Using a spoon, drop the batter onto the cookie sheets, about one tablespoon at a time. Or, if you want a neater-looking cookie, flour your hands and roll each tablespoon into a ball, and flatten the batter on the sheets with the palm of your hand.

Bake for about 15-18 minutes, until the batter is set, but the cookies have not yet turned brown. Let cool on racks, and enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Garden Summary 2010: Part 1

Though the growing season is not completely over, we've now had the opportunity to harvest each crop at least once (we had such an early spring this year that some crops, like our lettuce, beets, and radishes; have been planted twice or even three times!), so we are now able to take stock over our efforts, review, and see what things worked, and what we could improve upon.

First and foremost, this year's garden was all about experimentation. Everything, from the type of garden beds we built to the produce we grew was mostly new to us, and we were unsure of what type of yield we would receive. And I am very happy to announce that overall this year's garden was a huge success. The simple fact that we've purchased virtually no vegetables, and only a small amount of fruit the entire summer is a testament to the wonders of growing your own food. We've been very blessed.

That being said, I want to go over each thing we grew, and the methods we used, and review what worked, and what changes we will make next year. There is no way I will be able to fit this all into one post, so I will be breaking the summary up into several parts. I am not yet sure how many, as it all depends on how long each post ends up. This is not only for ourselves, to keep record of our efforts and document the various techniques we've tried, but hopefully also be useful to others; that they may learn from our mistakes example.

Yet before I go into the summary, I'll give a little update: we've started winterizing the garden beds. Chris went out and bought clear plastic sheeting and strapping (which is not, as I originally thought, the fabric strapping used to tie down boxes during shipping, but wood strapping, 1"x1.5". It is looking MUCH better than I had imagined in my head - silly me!), and is covering each bed to make 3 removable greenhouses. By keeping the snow and frost off each bed, we should extend our growing season well into Autumn this year, and make for earlier planting next spring! Did I mention my husband is a genius? Of course, this is all unproven and yet another experiment for us, but so far the interior of the plastic has already been a few degrees warmer than the outside air, so that's promising. Anyways, on to the summary...

The plastic sheeting going up to winterize the beds

The first "greenhouse" completed

The garden beds
The first things I'd like to go over are the garden beds themselves. We researched many methods and ideas long before we actually built the beds, and from everything we read, we decided raised beds were the way to go. The beds were supposed to be 12" x 4", though ended up more like 12'x5', 12'x4.5', and 12'x4'. We were using wood given to us, so we can't complain! I will say however, that for me, at 5'4", it is much easier to work in the bed that was only 4' across. The very first bed I often had to step into to weed the very centre, which defeated one of the reasons we used raised beds in the first place. They are supposed to ensure you never have to walk in the bed; which means the soil is never compacted and remains light and airy. Also, by not having to make room for pathways, you can ignore the spacing given on the seed packaging, and grow your produce closer to the ideas set out in square foot gardening. This gives you greater yield in a smaller space.

As mentioned, we used wood given to us, and the beds ended up about 6" high. That is probably the lowest you'd want to make the beds, and I would recommend making them about 1' high. Not only is this easier on your back, but if the soil you are starting out with is not the best, then you can give your plants more nutrients by filling the beds with triple-mix (as we did) or other organic matter-rich combinations.

Wood is not the only thing you can make the beds out of; I've seen pictures of other materials used: bricks, concrete blocks, or you can even just pile the earth up without any type of retaining wall. We chose wood because although it will have to be replaced in 5-10 years as the wood rots, it gives up the opportunity to change up the layout later on, and is simply not as permanent. That is also why Chris constructed the arbours in wood and without nails; for the simple reason that they can be taken apart with relative ease.

As this post is becoming rather long, I'll leave it at this, and continue part two by discussing the arbours!

We've entered a contest!

If finances were no object, we'd be most likely off the grid by now (or at least producing most of our own energy through wind and solar power), and would have implimented many other systems to make ourselves as self-sustaining as possible. These would be things such as a solar hot water heater, wood stove, and rain and greywater capturing systems.

But alas, all of these are quite large expenses, and ones we will continue to slowly work towards. Which is fine.

However, if the opportunity ever comes along to implement one of these ahead of schedule, then we would jump at the chance.

SoNice, a soy milk producer, is currently having a contest to do just that.

They are running a contest, for which the grand prize is $5,000! You simply write, in 300 words or less, how you would use the money to make yourself more sustainable and create a more organic world. You can find out more information here.

To see our entry and to vote for us, click here!

I love to see larger corporations get on board, and it's wonderful that they're giving the average person an opportunity to really make a difference. Check it out!

Friday, September 24, 2010


I've forgotten what it is like to live in the city; and living in a small town often makes you take certain things for granted.

Silence, for instance.

I am visiting my family in Toronto, and last night had to step outside for a moment. Ignoring the fact that the night sky is a pale orange instead of black; and that stars are nowhere to be seen; I couldn't get over the noise!

I am not talking about the sound of cars or sirens, which though annoying; are to be expected when you live so close to a major road. It's the constant electrical hum: almost inaudible, but yet hits you to your very core. I don't remember hearing it when I lived here, and I bet most people don't even notice. But it takes leaving for a while to actually notice again.

And as far as taking things for granted, you forget how wonderful true silence it. And the noises we do hear just connect us to nature: birds chirping, the wind in the trees, cicadas rubbing their wings.

We truly are fortunate.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Preparing for the Holidays Part 1: Organization

I have to apologise for my absence the last week or so; life has been a little chaotic! However, I plan to be back on track this week: I have many garden updates and other things to cover!


I know some people will call me crazy for even thinking about the Winter Holidays, but the truth is every year I start early and full of confidence, and yet somewhere along the line I become cocky in my abilities and the amount of time I have left, and then I am left scrambling at the last minute to get everything done. Which usually means I am unable to finish everything I had wanted to, and end up vowing to start even earlier to following year. So here's to staying on track and on time!

The reason I am always pushing myself so hard to make so many gifts is because I believe it is just one more thing I can do to lesson our dependence on items and materials produced out of country and far from home. The less distance something has to travel to us, the less energy, money, and materials it takes for us to have it, which is just better all around.

I also understand that it is just not possible for everyone to make their own gifts. Even I will not be making all our gifts from scratch, but as many as I can. The rest I will try and find from local merchants. Again, by frequenting smaller, locally-owned businesses and tradespeople, less dependence is made on transporting foreign goods, and you are supporting your local economy.

But here's the rub: one argument I've heard is that we need to support the smaller, less-developed countries by purchasing their goods, and that without our patronage the people will be out of work, and therefor starve (in not so many words). Unfortunately that may be all well and true, however, I think as a global society we need to rethink the way global trade is done on a grand scale. Instead of buying t-shirts and plastic toys produced in these "less-developed," why not give them the means to support themselves independently, and then focus on obtaining all our goods and services close to home? I suppose that's just not good business.

But I don't really know enough nor want to get into that debate.

The second reason I want to make as many of the gifts ourselves is because I want our children to learn the importance and reason for giving a gift. I want them to learn that gifts are not given to show off wealth; or to see how much one can get. A gift is given because someone loves you, and they want to show you just how important you are to them. A gift that cost a lot of money is not any more valuable than one that did not; it is the thought, and reasons behind the gift that is important.

And what better way to show that then to give something that has taken much time and love to make. Better yet, if I can teach my sons a new skill or idea while I am at it, than it truly is a valuable gift!

We are very blessed to have family and friends that also think that way. I know when I make say, a pair of thrummed mittens, that it will be appreciated and cherished, and not looked down on that it was only a small gift.

So unless I run out of time or suddenly become ahead of schedule, this is what my Yule/Christmas gift list looks like:

To knit:
4 Hats (and perhaps at least 1 pair of mittens to match)
3 Bags
1 Set of knitted dolls to make the Fellowship of the Ring (that's 9 in total!)
1 Pair of socks
1 Baby blanket (which I started before Marcus was born, and have yet to finish)

To sew:
2 Knight costumes (a cape and vest each)
1 Shrug

Over the weekend I sorted through my yarn to see what could be used for any of the projects, and then ran out to our local yarn store to purchase what was missing. It's a little overwhelming to think of what all needs to be done, but I know it is all too easy to become obsessed with that and never get anything done. So on to knitting!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Bake of the Week: Helen's Zucchini Bread

I actually did not think this post was going to happen. We got a last-minute phone call Friday night from my brother-in-law telling us that there was going to be a dinner for Opa's birthday, and we were invited to come stay the night at their place. We got back at 6:30 this evening, when I realised I had baked no bread or snacks for the coming week. So a quick batch of zucchini bread was in order!


There are many dishes that I make that Chris considers the best he's ever had. My philly cheese steak sandwhiches, for example. But no matter what recipe I try or variations I attept, I have never been able to make a batch of zucchini bread that equals his mom's. So I finally got around to getting her recipe and though I hate to say it, it is by far the best zucchini bread I have ever made.

Helen's Zucchini Bread
makes 2 loaves

3 eggs
3 cups shredded zucchini (squeezed of excess liquid)
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

In a large bowl, combine first five ingredient. In a seperate bowl, sift together the rest of the dry ingredients, and add to the zucchini batter.

Pour into 2 bread pans, and bake at 325 F for about an hour, or until the top is golden, and a toothpic inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove from bread pans, let cool on racks, and enjoy!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I finished her! Now should I start charging?

This is truly a momentous occasion for me and my crafting: I have just completed not only my first Waldorf-style doll, but also my first complex set of patterns (because in truth, the doll and her clothes are multiple patterns, not just one giant one - thankfully!)

I find that my pattern-generation is pretty much all trial-and-error. I start out with an idea of what I think I want the end result to look like, and then I just jump ahead and start. Which means that for each article of clothing (I am not even going to talk about the doll Herself!) I probably started and restarted at least 4 or 5 times, if not more.

I even completely changed the original colours I was going to use, there was a beautiful goldenrod yellow I wanted, but in the end it just looked too bright and garish against the rest of the darker tones. So I think I'll save that colour for when I make her "summer" outfit (because yes, she is going to have a different outfit for each season - it's easier than making four different dolls! And that's not too bad, I was originally thinking of making one outfit for each Sabbat, which would have been a total of eight!), and made her shawl out of that beautiful garnet heather.

All the yarns used are natural fibres, most came from knitpicks, with the undyed wool from a large stash my grandmother gave me. I could be their spokes-woman. Which leads to a dilemmah I've been facing lately. When I created my first pattern (the mesh produce bag), I had the intention that all the patterns would be available free, for anyone who wanted to use them. It was a no-brainer decision, as I myself scour the internet for free patterns. Unless they're in a book or bought in a physical store, I almost never purchase patterns. So I wanted to give back to the community in any way I could.

Eventually my dream is to write a book on an entirely knitted nature corner through the seasons; but I will create most of those patterns with the purpose that they'll be in the book. So in the meantime any pattern I create will be offered free of charge.

But now I am at a crossroads. I was reading into the Indipendant Designer Program offered through knitpicks, and it got me thinking. Certainly not this doll (I'm saving her!), but my bag patterns may have a good chance of being selected. And if I could actually make money at doing this, perhaps it could become just one of the avenues I could take to support me staying home with the boys (that is, assuming there would be an interest in my patterns - I am taking a lot here for granted!). And the great thing about the IDP is that it is not exclusive, I could also sell my patterns on Ravelry or on the blog, too.

I've been told that the best way to be happy when it comes to careers is to find something you love, and then find a way to have it pay you. I think I may have, but my human side keeps winning over my business side. And I am constantly reminded of a message I received when I put my first pattern up on Ravelry; "thanks so much for making this available for free!"  So here is my choice: continue to provide my patterns for free (I really have to go back now and finish writing the others I have) and contribute to the community; or begin researching the possibility of making an income off of them (at best I'll probably just cover the cost of my yarn, but hey, it's a start!). What do I do?!?!?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Playing with Photoshop

For a while now I have been toying with the idea of revamping the blog. This is all in hopes that one day, I'll have enough interest and followers to warrant leaving blogspot and having a domain name of our own. I've been playing with photoshop over the last month or so, trying to come up with a colour scheme and feel for the blog that I like.

This has been a great learning experience for me. Up to this point, I've only used photoshop to do just that: to touch up photos here and there. I had never created anything from scratch.

Originally, my plan was to try and mimic the current background we have. I love the colours, I love the textures, but it just isn't as bright and whimsical as I will eventually want. So I've started this:

Now bear in mind this is the very first draft of the very background, and most will be hidden. In the foreground, probably coming right up to where the clouds end will be our fruit trees; underneath which I'll add the various fruits and vegetables we also grow. Hopefully I'll also be able to add some chickens running around too!

This was created with lots and lots (and lots!) of layers. Did I mention I used layers? I also discovered you can adjust the transparency of each tool, and not just the layers themselves. That helped a lot with the clouds. I probably deleted more than I saved, but so far, I like the way this is looking. As Chris observed, it has a very painterly quality about it (I would say ethereal, but hey, that's just me!).

I really enjoyed making this (though I have many more hours of work ahead of me!), it's been a long, long time since did anything artsy that didn't involved needles and yarn (or fondant). And it feels great to be back.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sunday Bake of the Week: Doggy's Favorite Cake

Each peach pear plum, my dog ate the plum cake; that little bum!

A good friend of ours used to make us the most delicious German apple cake whenever we came to visit. It was a nice, firm base, not too sweet, but just sweet enough, with fresh apple slices arranged on the top, and then a brown-sugar glaze poured over it all. It was to die for.

I used to make it all the time, but often I'd substitute peaches for the apples instead. This made the cake a little more moist, but equally yummy. So when my sister in law gave me some miniature black plums to use up, I thought I'd make the cake again, and have plums as well as peaches on the top.

When I was finished, it looked so good cooling on the counter - too good in fact - that my dog couldn't resist jumping up to the counter and eating the cake while we were upstairs! (Apparently my dog is taller than I thought!)

Luckily, I did take some pictures for the blog before the dog got to it, so at least I can share those.

Silly mutts!

Peach-Plum Cake

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter
1/4 tsp salt

Combine above ingredients in a large bowl, and mix with a patsry blender (or your fingers) until it resembles course cornmeal. In a measuring cup, whisk together:

1 large egg
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract

And enough milk to make one cup. Add to the dry ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Spread evenly in a 9" cake or pie pan, and top with:

4-6 large apples, pears, plums, or peaches, sliced

Make sure the pieces overlap and that none of the dough is visable. Next, sprinkle the fruit with 1/2 cup brown sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 3 tbsp melted butter.

Bake at 425 F for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Note: don't do what I did and forget to put a cookie sheet under the cake to catch any overflow of juices. I've never seen so much smoke in my kitchen!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wierd Weather

So for the last three days it's been so hot and humid that it's given me a headache. And without air conditioning, our house has been a lovely 28 degrees. Yet this morning, I woke up so cold that I had to put socks on, and ended up dressing the boys in long sleeves and pants! I just don't understand Mother Nature.

I was just reading the forums on CBC about Hurricane Earl, and it was mostly the same thing: people going on and on about how global warming is changing our storms, changing our weather, and how we are all to blame. I certainly believe we have had a part to play in the changes in climate, but I am unsure whether or not I believe we are completely at fault. If one looks at the Earth's history, it has gone through natural cycles of warming and cooling (think of the ice ages), as well as natural changes in CO2 levels. From the little bit I've read (science and history are interests of mine, though I would still love to learn more!), as I understand it the earth's atmosphere acts on a sort of pendulum effect; once it swings too far one way (ie., too much carbon dioxide in the air, thus causing global warming), it over-corrects itself (which leads to an ice age) time and again. Of course, this is super-over simplified, and lacking in all the subtle factors that lead up to or are caused by each extreme state, but the idea is that this has been going on for longer than we have existed on the planet (or even our direct ancestors for that matter), and will continue after we as a species have become extinct.

Though I may not agree that "global warming" is being cause entirely by us, I certainly believe we are speeding up the process. Our use of fossel fuels is releasing CO2 into the atmosphere at a rate much faster than they would naturally. To have the same amount of toxins and pollutants enter the air without us would require an event of catastrophic proportions: the errupting of several volcanos at once, for example.

So what does all this mean to us at home? We are so fortunate to live in an area seldom hit by natural disasters (though even our little ''safe'' neck of the woods was hit by both a tornado and an earthquake in one day - it sure made for interesting times!), but when I hear of all this disasters; earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc. increasing in strength and occurance, it makes me want to find even more ways to become completely self-reliant and sustainable. Even if not just for the benefit of ourselves, but for that of our children and future decendants. Chris and I both look to our home and property the way property was viewed back 50-100 years ago; we do not plan on selling our home in our lifetime, but instead it will be willed to our children, and hopefully, as the years and finances progress, we'll have the opportunity to purchase more land to increase our family's wealth. In the meantime, we're doing what we can to make our home as productive as possible.

The gardens have just been the first step. Our choices in food are also slowly changing, as we try to make as much as we can from scratch. When I finally get around to purchasing some essential oils, cleaning products will be the next thing to be made completely at home (we already use baking soda, vinegar and salt a lot), and eventually we'll try our hand at a home-made laundry detergent. Next year we should be getting our chickens, and after reading about the Garden Pool, I have started doing research to perhaps add a small fish pond ecosystem to our backyard, with water-cress and other aquatic plants acting as food and filtration for the fish. And apparently chicken manure also makes a great food for the algae that will feed the fish. (Yet another use for chicken manure we have discovered - chickens are such useful creatures!)

A pond certainly would be an interesting addition to the homestead! (Though I have no idea where we would fit it...)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shopping saturdays and the lack of car

It's September!!! Remember that heat wave I joked about a couple posts ago? We'll it's arrived....


Something I have not talked very much about on here is our lack of vehicle. And when I say vehicle, I mean the gasoline-powered type. Ignoring that, we have many vehicles: bicycles, (both power-assisted and conventional), strollers, wagons... we are just lacking in the car variety.

When we lived in Toronto, this was not out of the ordinary at all. In fact, about half of the people we knew did not own a vehicle; with bikes, taxis, and public transit it was actually faster to get around the city than to try and fight with traffic. It suited our lifestyle just fine. When we moved to Penetang however, things got a little more complicated.

It is by no means easy living in a rural community without a long-distance vehicle. To get around town is fine; we live very close to downtown, so to run to the grocery or hardware store isn't a problem. But if we want to go to the doctors, or any of the larger stores in the adjacent down, we either cab it, or rely on friends and family to cart us over. Even attending family functions requires extra planning, as we have to figure out who has enough room in their vehicle to take 2 adults and 2 children in car seats. Often we have to split up.

All this is compounded in winter. During the summer, I can take the stroller or wagon where I need to, but winters in Penetang are something else when it comes to sheer snow accumulation. It is not hard to find snowbanks taller than I am, and the rest are at least 1 1/2-2 feet. Even though our wagon can convert to sled runners (a genius idea!), making it over the banks without toppling the cargo (groceries, boys, etc.) is tricky.

Our weekly grocery shop

Even with the challenges however, we wouldn't change it, at least for now. I am sure the time will come when we simply can no longer burden our relatives and friends to cart us around, and we'll have to bite the bullet and purchase a car. Chris says he holding out for a hydrogen-powered one (though I fear we'll have to purchase one before the infrastructure is in place to support those!), but we'll most likely have to settle on a regular gas-powered one, or a hybrid, at least.

But I am afraid that once we have a vehicle, we'll start using it more than necessary. Right now we walk/bike everywhere because we have to. Which is fine when you need to go to the library or store just blocks away. I am afraid that though at first we'll agree to only use the car for out of town visits, we'll then decide to use it for our weekly grocery shop. And then one day I'll realise I'm missing an ingredient, and use it to just run to the store. And because we've done that once... before we know it, anytime we go out, we'll be using the vehicle, even when the destination is well within walking distance. Because it's the easy way. Humans by nature will always take the easy way out, why else have we created tools and technology to make our daily lives easier and more efficient? But I am afraid that such a change to our lifestyle would actually be a disservice to us. Right now Chris bikes to work, and I walk where I need to. Ignoring the obvious financial benefits, it is such a benefit to our health, and we can keep peace of mind knowing it's one more thing we are doing to reduce our carbon footprint. But if we purchase a car...

...How could we have a vehicle, and yet maintain the willpower to not use it needlessly?
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