Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preparing for the Holidays Part 4: Wreath Making Bee

Next year, when I am presumably more organized (do I not say that every year!?!), I want to hold more workshops, tutorials, and other simple gatherings for the women (and men!) in our family and neighbourhood to come together with the purpose of creating handmade and crafty Holiday gifts. I've been inspired by some of the craft ideas I've seen on other blogs, and now I am just itching to try them out myself!

But that is not to say I havn't been able to organize anything yet this year. In fact, last night we (the women of my husband's family) held what I hope will be our first annual wreath making bee. It was a wonderfully successful time, filled with delicious food, aromatic hot mulled cider, and of course, the scent of a mountain of evergreen:

We had everything set up in our kitchen, and listening to the sound of children's laughter in the next room, began our work:

I am always amazed how that even with the same supplies available and the same techniques used, we were all able to create unique and beautiful works of art:

Edit: Last night I forgot to take pictures of my own wreath, but it was just as well. My mother in law gave me a beautiful string of lights for the wreath, so I was able to take some pictures with them on!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Preparing for the Holidays Part 3: The Magic of Wizards and Truffles

A tradition Chris started the very first Christmas we celebrated in Penetanguishene together was to make truffles. Not the find-with-a-pig-similar-to-a-root-mushroom kind, but the ones make with chocolate. The ones that boast deliciously thin and hard shells and melt-in-your-mouth soft centres. And last weekend, he started the hundreds that will eventually find themselves to the hands (and stomachs!) of our family, friends, and neighbours.

This year he is making truffles with the following centres:
Mint (non-alcoholic)
Mint (alcoholic)
Cherry (non-alcoholic)
Cherry (alcoholic)
Raspberry-White chocolate (made with our own home-made raspberry jam!)

I don't know how he does it, but every year he makes hundreds of the little chocolates all without recipes. And each year, the centres become creamier and creamier; and the variations of chocolate and filling become more elaborate.

I was also busy in the kitchen, making the first batches of cookies that will accompany each box of truffles. Last weekend was the first batch of gingerbread (I'll have to do at least one more before the holidays), and from it, I made a large gingerbread house for Lucien, several gingerbread men and women, and quite a few mini ones. Last time I was at our bulk food store I purchased a pair of tiny cookie cutters, about 2 inches high, that make the cutest gingerbread "hobbits."

And speaking of hobbits, I've finished the first part of Lucien's knitted gift; Gandalf the Grey from the Lord of the Rings:

I am working on Aragorn now, and then I have the four hobbits to complete (Should "hobbit" be capitalized? We don't capitalize "human," but it still does not look right. And yes, this is where my mind wanders....), Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. I also finished the hat for my brother-in-law, so that's two gifts done. Yay!

So on that note, less typing, and more knitting!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sunday Bake of the Week: Gingerbread

Holiday cookie baking in our home is a funny thing; shortbread and gingerbread, the two cookies that are most representative to me of the holiday season, also happen to be the two cookies Chris detests the most.

And then there's Lucien. Given the choice between a chocolate chip cookie or a gingerbread one, he almost always goes for the gingerbread. So when planning the cookies that I will be baking each year, I have to make sure that there are enough that Chris will enjoy to combat the gingery goodness.

But for all of us gingerbread lovers, here's a recipe that's sure to make your yummiest gingerbread people (and trees!) ever;

As well as the perfect base for all that candy!


    3/4 cup ( 175 mL) unsalted butter, melted
    3/4 cup ( 175 mL) lightly packed brown sugar
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    1/2 cup ( 125 mL) molasses
    3 cups ( 750 mL ) all-purpose flour
    1 tbsp ( 15 mL) ground ginger
    2 tsp ( 10 mL) cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ( 2 mL) each of allspice, salt and baking soda

1. In a bowl, using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, beat butter with brown sugar until blended, at least 2 minutes. Beat in egg. Stir in molasses. In a large mixing bowl, using a fork, stir 2 cups (500 mL) flour with ginger, cinnamon, allspice, salt and baking soda until evenly blended. Make a well in centre, then pour in molasses mixture. Stir until all flour is absorbed. Stir in remaining flour, 1/4 cup (50 mL) at a time, until dough is no longer sticky but still soft. Divide dough into 4 portions. Form into balls. Wrap or place in resealable plastic bags. Flatten dough slightly and seal. Refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 1 week, or freeze.

2. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly grease baking sheets with shortening or vegetable oil, or coat with cooking spray. Roll out 1 ball of dough until 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) for thick cookies or 1/8 inch (0.3 cm) for thinner cookies. Cut into shapes using cookie cutters. Place on baking sheets.

3. Bake in centre of 350F (180C) oven until deep brown around edges and firm to the touch, about 10 minutes for thick cookies or 7 minutes for thinner cookies that are about 2 inches (5 cm) wide. Larger cut-outs require more baking time. Repeat with remaining dough.

4. Remove baked cookies to racks to cool. Cool sheets slightly before adding more cookies to be baked. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container in a cool dry place. They will keep well for at least 1 month.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's the Middle of November, and you're still harvesting what?!? (Garden Update)

So at the end of the summer, Chris got this brilliant idea. Why not build frames over the vegetable beds and arbours, cover them with sheet plastic, and see what happens!

At best we thought it would keep frost and snow from accumulating on the beds, allowing us to plant even earlier in the spring. We had a thought that we'd be able to leave some veggies in the "green houses" for a few weeks or so, and it would just be like they were in a refridgerator. But so far, the experiment has exceeded all expectations.

Not only has the covers protected the vegetables from frost, but the air inside is at least 2-4 degrees warmer than the outside! The soil is also retaining moisture; we can see that each afternoon when the inside walls are covered with condensation and dew.

As for the vegetables, they are flourishing! Not only has the covers protected them from frost, but instead of just keeping the plants dormant as they would in a refrisgerator, they are actually still growing! Three weeks ago I harvested the last of the carrots, but we still have beets, scallions, romaine lettuce, and our swiss chard in the first two beds.

As this is an experiment, the last bed we decided to leave uncovered (as there were no vegetables left in that bed) to act as our control bed. That way in the spring, we can see if covering the beds really makes a difference in how early we can plant next year's crop.

That being said, even if there is no difference in how early we can plant next year, I am sure we'll still use the covers again next fall. The fact alone that it is the 18th of November, and we have vegetables still growing is enough of a reason to do it again. In fact, we plan to plant specific "Winter" crops late Summer/early Autumn, such as kale, beets, lettuce, and scallions to see how long we can keep them in the beds. I am thinking we could even plant some cooking onions in the fall, and have them ready even earlier in the summer, perhaps getting two crops next season instead of one!

We had to change the design of the covers slightly once they were up for a couple weeks. The first design consisted of wooden 1 inch strapping forming a triangular prism over the beds and arbours, over which we stapled the sheeting, and reinforced with duct tape. But after a couple rain and a good wind storm, the pieces of sheeting began to seperate and pull away from the frames. So Chris purchased more strapping, and sandwiched the plastic between two lengths of lumber. So far that seems to be holding quite well (we also switch to contractor-grade outdoor duct tape!), and we'll just have to see what shape they're in in the Spring.

The frames may not be the prettiest, but if they mean our growing season is extended, and the amount of food produced increases, than it's worth it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mother Nature Doll pattern up and running!

I finally finished edited the pattern for the Mother Nature doll I created back in September, and am now working editing the patterns for her clothes!

I am very happy with the results and I think I've worked out all the kinks; but of course, if anyone would like to have a go at it and let me know if there are any issues, or what they thought of the pattern, that would be wonderful!

Also, if anyone does make her up, I would love to see pictures! It would be wonderful to see what Mother Nature looks like to others!

To see the pattern, click here, or check out the link at the right!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Bake of the Week: Apple-filled Scones

Every Friday I go to our local cafe to knit, chat, and enjoy the delicious coffees and baked goods. One such goodie is a scone they make that has a strawberry-rhubarb filling. It is divine.

But being advernterous, I thought it couldn't be too difficult to mimic, and gave it a try!

Due to lack of either strawberries or rhubarb, I had to go with what I had, which was apples. Lots, and lots of apples. Yet the scones turned out brilliant, and you could easily substitute other fruits for the filling. As I try other combinations, I post the variations used.

Fruit-Filled Scones

Preheat oven to 425 F
2 medium sized cooking apples; peeled, cored, and diced
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp brown sugar
(1/4 cup raisins)

Combine the apples with the dry ingredients in a saucepan, and mix until the apples are thoroughly coated.

2/3 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice

Put over low heat and stirring frequently, bring just to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit while you prepare the dough.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
8-12 tbsp of butter, shortening, or a combination of both

Using your fingers, two knives, or a pastry cutter, mix together until it resembles course meal. Make a well in the centre, and add:

1 1/4 cup milk

Quickly blend the milk into the dry ingredients, adding more if the dough is too stiff. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface, and knead for about 2 minutes. At this time, I divide the dough in half to make it easier to work with.

Taking one half of the dough, roll it out into a square about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick. Take half of the apple filling, and spread it out over the rolled dough, carefully leaving about 2 inches without filling at one end (that will be the outside of the roll). Starting at the opposite end, start rolling the dough into a pinwheel; trapping the filling on the inside. When you get to the end, place a few drops of water along the edge to seal it.

Cut the roll into 12 pieces, and repeat for the second half of the dough.

Now transfer each piece, with the pinwheel visible from the top, to a greased muffin tin. Each piece should sit inside one muffin cup to bake.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops are nice and golden, and the apple filling has become caramel in colour.

Let rest for 5 minutes in the pan before transferring to cooling racks. These are best served fresh and still warm, but can be reheated for 20 seconds in the microwave as well.

Makes 24 scones.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Make Ready the Holidays; Our knit group

Back in October, when I started looking at all the gifts I wanted to make this year (and feeling overwhelmed!), I decided that the only way I was going to get any of it done was if I planned specific time each week where I could escape from the boys; the chores; the chaos of the house.

And that is when I realised that I was probably not alone in that thinking. And thus, our weekly fibre arts group was born.
The wonderful flyer I made, but never printed out and distributed. Despite that, we've still had a great turnout each week!

We meet at our local coffee pub, The Froth Cafe, enjoy delicious hot drinks and goodies;

And just sit, knitting;


And gossiping; enjoying the company of other like-minds, and relishing in the fact that we are slowly completing the gifts on our lists.

We have a variety of ages, women from various stages in life: students, mothers, grandmothers; yet we all have a common interest in creating works of art with just needles and yarn. It's a chance to relax, recharge, and to just enjoy being in a great environment with great food.

At this point, Chris needs a special mention. Each Friday night he keeps the boys safe at home for three hours, instead of going out with the guys, as I get to escape to my fibre sanctuary. Thanks hun, and remember, Christmas is almost here!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Preparing for the Holidays Part 2: Organization Cont., and the Handmade Holiday Challenge

So remember that wonderful list I made in the first post in the series, where I outlined all the gifts I'd like to either knit or sew? Well, it's changed. Quite a bit.

I knew this would happen; that I'd take a second look at the list, and realize that yet again, I was being a little too ambitious. So I whittled it down. But then I took those items that I was planning on making, and made some of them a little larger, or more elaborate. So really, I'm not sure I did myself much of a favor. Here's the final version. (Final that is, until I decide that I am still being a little overzealous, and trim the list down further still!)

But the good news is, I finished the first item on my list, a pair of anklet socks I made in Patons Misty!

Holiday Knitted Gift List, v10.0:

Anklet Socks (Done. Hurray!)
Fellowship of the Ring Dolls (which includes Gandalf, Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin!)
Winter Gnome Doll
Purse (partially made from a recycled fair isle sweater)
Cabled Hat
Neck warmer (also made from the fair isle sweater)
(...if I have the time, I'm including another man's hat, some coffee cup holders, and finishing the blanket I started for Marcus when I was still pregnant with him!)

In addition to the things I am knitting, gifts we will be making also include homemade BBQ sets (sauces and meat rubs), apple butter, cookies, truffles, hot chocolate mixes, and breads. The next two months are going to be busy!

Also, we have joined the Handmade Holiday 2010 challenge, and we encourage you to do the same! For more information, and to see all the blog posts associated with it, click here!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

One man's trash....

Waste not, want not!

I remember first hearing/reading that phrase as a child, when I was reading the Little House on the Prairie series of books, and obsessed with all things "homesteady/pioneer." At the time, I didn't quite understand the meaning, yet the phrase always stuck with me.

Now, as an adult, I know the meaning of that phrase all too well. And luckily, so do our friends and family! We are forever receiving bags and boxes of clothes, cups, pots, and other household items. In fact, except to purchase a specific item for say, the holidays, I think I've gone shopping for the little one's clothes a grand total of perhaps two or three times. It's wonderful.

The same thing happened when we first moved into our house. It seemed like everyday for weeks (it still happens!) someone or another was showing up with a kettle they didn't need, or some pots, or a food processor: more kitchen gadgets than you can shake a stick at! Not only did this save us so much money, but it probably prevented a good portion of those items from just ending up in the garbage. This happened so much that now when I'm given a box of household items (or clothes!) I can afford to be choosy, and decide which one of a given item I want to keep, and which one I'll be giving away. I love freecycling!

And yet even in your own possessions, you can still find unexpected treasures. About four years ago, Chris received some sweaters from my mom that she had accumulated over the years. Most he like and wears, but there was one, a fair isle knitted sweater, that he didn't care for. At the time, though I thought it was beautiful, I couldn't see a use for it, so I just packed in up in the thought that one day we'd find a new home for it.

However, now that I am more versed in knitted and fibre arts, I can truly appreciate what a work of art it is (and it's 100% wool to boot!), and instead of just giving it away as is (plus it has a few little holes starting in it), I have decided to try my hand at steeking; and use it to make a purse, neck warmer, and whatever other small gifts I can get out of it (perhaps some coffee cup holders!). I love the idea that something so beautiful and yet previously unloved will get a breathe of new life as someone else's beloved object. I can't wait to start!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Canadian produce; an endagered species?

I saw this post on YouTube the other day, and it started me thinking again. Firstly, I was equally surprised and impressed that a company like Hellman's would make such a video. Obviously their doing it for their own advantage first, but it's great to see awareness of this making larger headlines than a few of us bloggers can do.

It also made me think of our own gardens, and the experiences we had over the summer when it came to purchasing our food from a grocery store. For a while, when we were reaping such a bounty from our own gardens, I wouldn't buy anything else that wasn't grown in Ontario. It wasn't too difficult, but then again the only produce I was buying was our fruit, so mostly that meant apples. But even our favourite variety, Gala, we weren't able to buy, as it was always imported from China or South America. I also noticed that we ate vegetables in rotation. Instead of how we normally enjoyed a variety of vegetables every week, we'd go a few weeks only eating fresh cucumber. Then when the zucchini was ripe, we'd eat cucumbers and zucchini, then when the cucumbers ran out we'd eat zucchini and green beans etc. Which is how humans would traditionally eat I imagine; always in season.

But now that the growing season in Canada is done, trying to buy local is made that much more difficult. There are still some apples, carrots, and other root vegetables available, but the picking is slim, at least in our area. And the smaller shops that do carry local produce have to charge way more to support the local farmers, that it's hard to afford the decision to go local. How can I afford to buy 6 potatoes (a small container) for $3 when I can buy 5 lbs for 99 cents? Even the meat is much more expensive. At our Foodland, I can buy a medium sized package of lean ground beef for about $4. I can buy ground beef from a local farmer, the same amount, for $6-8.

I wish we had the income to support only buying local. Our area has such diversity when it comes to meat especially; there's the usual chicken, beef, and pork; but also lamb, goat, elk, and deer. But the issue, at least for our family, is the cost. And I fear because most families are in our situation, that to keep afloat local farmers will have to charge more to compensate for less being sold, and therefor less and less families will be able to afford to buy food from them.

Something is wrong, when it costs me more to buy food that literally comes from 2 kilometres away, than it does to purchase food that comes from another county! I understand that it betters trade relations, but our government needs to step in and support our local food producers at a National level. Or before we know it, Canadian produce will become an endangered species.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Hallow's Eve and Crazy-Costuming-Goodness!

Hallowe'en has got to be one of my favourite holidays. And not just because it's an excuse to dress up, or that it falls on the same night as Samhain; but because of the effect it has on children. I can see in my own son the same excitement I felt as a child when he got to put on his costume, hurried on by the fact that there are already trick-or-treaters at our door (though to try and get him to eat his dinner on Hallowe'en night is another matter entirely!).

And then, the curiosity and fear as we walked up to each house, unsure of what spooks or tricks my await us near the doors. His favourite quote of the night was "Mommy, it's not scary!" whenever we came to a house with minimal decorations. It's amazing that we forget how scary a simple skeleton or cobweb can be to a child.

Of course, the night started out with carving and lighting the pumpkins; both to ward of the spirits that might wander our way, and to let the neighbourhood children know they'll find goodies inside (a pirate for Lucien, a one-tooth-wonder for Marcus).

Then it was time for the short trek up and down our street to collect our treasures (though in fact this picture was taken after we just got home, hence the little red noses!)

And that brings me to the topic of the costumes. Marcus wore the little dragon outfit that Lucien wore for his first Hallowe'en (though it barely fit - we couldn't get the hood over Marcus' head!), but I think both Chris and I went a little crazy when it came to Lucien's costume.

At first he wanted to be Strider (also known as Aragorn, from the Lord of the Rings). But after I started working on the leather armour, he decided he wanted to be Rohan, or one of the Rohirrim. So I had the adjust the design and colour scheme slightly, but in the end, it turned out fantastic!

First, I made him a tunic out of recycled green linen from an old sun dress I was given. It is all stitched by hand (though I was lucky enough to use some of the pre-existing seams and edges which cut down on sewing time!), and the front is closed with ribbon buttons.

The undercoat was made from wool broadcloth, which I then went over and painted on gold detailing. I chose just simple Celtic and Norse knot work designs that I though would mimic the actual garments worn in the movies.

The armour was my first real foray into working with leather. I originally bought this buckskin to make Lucien moccasins when he was a baby, but after a first attempt that I was unhappy with, I hadn't touched it since. I painted the rough side with watered-down acrylic, and then used sandpaper to give it a worn look. The designed were painted with the same gold as the wool, and I took inspiration from the gilding on Theoden King's own armour and the outfit worn by the hobbit Merry when he was a squire of Rohan, and then created my own images.

All the stitches had to be made in the leather with a hammer and awl first; hard work, but actually a lot of fun!

Chris also went overboard with the construction of the sword but I am so glad he did; it is amazing! Lucien loves it so much that by the time Hallowe'en came, he had already beat up the blade, and it had to be repaired several times. But it was well worth it. It was made with pine strapping that Chris whittled and sanded by hand, and the blade and handle (one piece) was fitted through the hand guard, and glued in place. The handle is wrapped in metal wire, and the blade and hand guard is covered in polished metal foil. It was the perfect accessory to his ensemble.

The cloak was also made from the wool broadcloth, and was attached directly to the chest plate with metal buttons. The detailing on the collar was a nightmare however, and for some reason I kept over-thinking the knot work, which caused it to take twice as long to finish as it should have.

And there is our lad, kitted out and ready to slay any Nazgul that may approach!

All in all I would say the night was a success, even though it was over too soon. At least now I can get back to working on Christmas and Yule gifts!

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