February 27, 2007


With February drawing to a close, I'd been feeling pretty good about not having dropped into too much of a funk during this the dreariest of months. But it occurred to me today that I actually am a little less "myself" than usual, and it's only really obvious in the kitchen. I've fallen into a food rut, and I'm finding it difficult to get out.
I normally get a kick out of perusing my cookbooks and planning a good meal, but lately I've been making the same (boring) things over and over, and I haven't had any desire to experiment or spend time puttering in the kitchen (okay, except for the marmalade, which I think was a desperate attempt at self-soothing).
So this afternoon I decided to try and snap myself out of it by flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks.
The Hollyhock cookbook is a collection of recipes that are served at the Hollyhock Retreat Centre on Cortes Island, which is a remote island that lies halfway between BC's mainland and northern Vancouver Island. The recipes in the book are largely vegetarian (with the occasional seafood dish thrown in), and strike the perfect balance between decadent and healthy - spa food at its best. What better way to shake me out of my winter doldrums?
After glancing through the recipes for awhile, I was feeling relatively inspired and decided to whip up a batch of muesli for tomorrow's breakfast. Muesli is a Swiss invention consisting of oats, grated apple and dried fruit, which is often soaked in fruit juice or yogurt overnight to soften the mixture. It's hearty and very satisfying, and pretty much the only way I can get my daughter to eat oatmeal.

Muesli with Dried Cranberries and Coconut (from Hollyhock Cooks):

  • 1 cup whole rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup dry unsweetened cranberries (I often use dried cherries instead)
  • 1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds (I usually don't bother toasting them; other nuts can be substituted)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced dried apricots
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 cup shredded apple
In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients well before mixing in the yogurt and apple. Refrigerate overnight and enjoy the next morning. Add more yogurt each day if you want to keep it really moist. The oats will continue to soak up all the moisture.

We usually stir in a little extra yogurt while serving to freshen it up a bit, and then top it off with a drizzle of honey. Fresh fruit can also be added. I'm hoping that this fortifying breakfast will give me the extra little push I need to get through the last day of February, helping me to start March off like a lion.

February 22, 2007

Partly Cloudy

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. We've had a few things going on around here, but I hope to be back in action within the next few days.

I just had to share this incredible photo that my daughter took from the back seat of the car today. Gorgeous!

February 17, 2007

Cranberry Orange Marmalade

We got some oranges in our grocery bin this week so I decided to use them to make marmalade. It's always been one of my favorite jams, but I've never actually made it before.
Many of the recipes I've seen take a couple of days to make, as the oranges either have to soak overnight, or cook slowly for ages.

Joan Hassol's Well Preserved has a recipe for Cranberry Orange Marmalade which doesn't require all of that extra time, and since cranberries are in abundance around here (my mom has a friend who always gives her big bags of them), that's the recipe I finally settled on.

Cranberry Orange Marmalade (From Well Preserved):
  • 4 large oranges, unpeeled and cut up, with seeds removed
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened cranberries
  • 1 pkg. powdered pectin
  • 1 cup water
  • 12 cups sugar (I cut it down to 10 cups and it's definitely sweet enough)
Chop the oranges and cranberries in your food processor until they are a fine, mushy consistency (I left mine a little chunkier). Put into a large nonreactive pot and add the remaining ingredients.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Place a spoonful of marmalade on a cold plate in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. If the marmalade develops a skin, it's ready. If not, cook for another few minutes and try again.
When ready, pour into hot, sterilized jars. Cover with new, clean, hot caps. Process for 10 -15 minutes (for 1/2 pint jars).
Makes 10-12 eight-ounce jars.

The flavor is very good, and the jam is an incredible ruby red colour flecked with orange. I'm tempted to keep the jars lined up on the window sill because they look so pretty.
The kids happily licked the spoons and cook pot clean, and were fully prepared to eat it straight out of the jar.

Looks like we'll be having biscuits for breakfast!

February 16, 2007

When is local not local?

I haven't bought tomatoes during the winter months for awhile now - they don't really fit with the goal of local, seasonal eating, and they tend not to taste as good as the ones you get in the summer. But I have to admit that I've been tempted on occasion to buy a package of "BC Hot House" tomatoes to satisfy that mid-winter craving. There are a lot of vegetables grown in greenhouses here in British Columbia (namely cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes) - they keep us in fresh veggies when it's too cold to grow them outside. I was thinking recently that there wouldn't be much harm in eating these tomatoes in the winter, because they were at least coming from a local grower, in season or not. So imagine my surprise when I came across an article the other day pointing out that BC Hot House actually imports their tomatoes from Mexico in the winter rather than growing them in their local green houses. The reason for this is apparently that the conditions aren't good enough in Canada to grow tomatoes in the winter. Really? What a shocker. I find it interesting that they're still calling them "BC" tomatoes, though. More than a little misleading, I would say.

If you'd like to read the full article, click here.

February 15, 2007

Which Super Villain Are You?

I got this funny quiz off Carla's blog. It's surprisingly accurate - I especially like the suggestion that I resemble Uma Thurman (tall, leggy and blonde). Carla, stop laughing!

Your results:
You are Poison Ivy

You would go to almost any length for the protection of the environment including manipulation and elimination.

Click here to take the "Which Super Villain am I?" quiz...

February 13, 2007

Day Trip

Monday saw us making an unexpected day trip to Bowen Island, a lovely little piece of rock tucked in the waters of Howe Sound just off the coast of West Vancouver. A scenic 20 minute ferry ride brings you to Snug Cove, the island's quaint waterfront town center.

It poured with rain most of the time we were there, but just before we left, the fog started to lift and the sun came out. This was the view looking up Howe Sound from a viewpoint just above the harbor. It was bright, but the mountains were still shrouded in low cloud cover.

After a nice restorative mug of hot chocolate, it was time to head home. This is a shot of part of the marina as the ferry pulled away (I love the little red houseboat in the background).

February 10, 2007

Signs of Spring

It's really hard to have the February blahs when the sun is shining. It's even more difficult when you step outside and notice that there are flowers blooming!

The crocuses are poking their heads out of the soil...

...and the apricot tree is starting to bloom!

There are clumps of nodding snow drops everywhere...

...the heather looks cheery...

...and the Sweet Box smells incredible.

Are there any signs of spring in your part of the world?

February 07, 2007

Chai Spice

There's been a lot of talk around the blogosphere lately about trying to avoid the February blahs. While I usually suffer from this seasonal affliction, I've been surprisingly chipper lately.
Today was an exception though. The weather has been drizzly for the past few days and everyone here is fighting a cold; combine those two things and you've got a bunch of house-bound, cranky people.
I've found that one of the best cures for a day like today is a soothing mug of creamy chai. The delightful smell of the mixture simmering away on the stove lifts the spirits, and the warming spices that it contains are said to enhance immune activity, which is perfect for anyone fighting a bug. At the very least they're extremely comforting on a cold, rainy day.

I've been making this chai for years, and my husband loves it so much that he won't order chai when he's out because he never likes it as much (you can see why I keep him around!). Store bought chai mixes can be ridiculously expensive, which seems crazy when you realize that a whole pot of the stuff can be had for mere pennies.
When making this recipe, make sure your spices are really fresh or it won't be as tasty.

Chai (makes 2 small cups but can be doubled for two mugs):

  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (or use a whole cinnamon stick)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cardamon seeds or 1 heaping tablespoon cardamon pods (I have pods pictured above, but I prefer the seeds because they add more flavor)
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or 1/8 teaspoon ground (optional)
  • 2/3 cup milk (I actually prefer soy, as I think it adds a creamier flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (can use sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon loose black tea (or 2 average size tea bags)
Bring water and spices to a boil and simmer (covered) for 10 minutes (if using cardamon pods, you may want to crush them with your spoon to expose the seeds). Add milk and honey; return to the boil. Remove chai from heat and add the tea. Cover and steep for two minutes.
Strain into cups.

When the kids were little, I would just pour theirs off before adding the tea. They prefer it full strength these days.
In addition to our afternoon dose of chai, we had a yummy curried squash soup for dinner. Hopefully all of those spices will chase away the flu bugs that are threatening to take hold.

February 05, 2007

One last look.

Today the last of the kitchen cabinets made the move from their original home to our garage in preparation for the upcoming kitchen renovation. We're feeling a little overwhelmed by all that needs to be done (especially since we'll be doing it all ourselves), but we're also pretty excited. So before the fun begins, I thought I'd post photos of the "before" while it's all still intact.

Here is what the kitchen looked like when we bought the house (the wide angle lens makes it look quite a bit bigger than it is). Bear in mind, it was a 92 year old woman who lived here before us, and it was last renovated 36 years ago.

Before we moved in, we peeled off the fruity border, painted the walls, and painted out the oak trim on the cabinets to brighten things up a bit (which, two years later, is looking a little worn in places).

It's really not a bad little kitchen, but as you can see, there's not a lot of room to work, and the storage space is seriously lacking (especially since I like to can and stock up on bulk goods). The corner base cabinet seems to have a hidden hole leading directly into the crawl space, because I'm blasted by an arctic cold front every time I open it.

This is the opposite corner of the room. It looks just fine, but when the table is pulled out so that we can all sit around it, the chair on the left is butting up next to the refrigerator, and it's almost impossible to walk through the kitchen (the benefit is that we can get anything we need out of the fridge or adjoining cupboards without getting up!).

My biggest beef with the house is that you can't see the back yard (or the garden) from anywhere in the house but the kids' room (unless you peer through the little window in the back porch), so the plan is to take out the wall between the kitchen and the porch (the wall behind the fridge and stove in the top two photos), and put a large window into what used to be the porch, turning that into the dining area. The corner with the buffet and hutch is where an "L" shaped configuration of cupboards will go (after a shorter window is put in to that wall so the countertop and sink can go in front of it).

We've discovered that there are hardwood floors under the multiple layers of vinyl and linoleum flooring, so we're hoping that those can be restored. We're also planning to insulate the exterior walls while we're at it.

I suspect we've got months of work ahead of us, but we've got my brother (a structural engineer) and my mom (who's an expert do-it-yourselfer, having done almost everything, including drywall and electrical) to help us, so I'm optimistic.

Hopefully we won't have any major surprises (quick, touch wood!).

February 04, 2007

Knitting aspirations.

Monica asked yesterday if I could post a photo of the slippers from Knit 2 Together, a great new(ish) knitting book by comedian Tracey Ullman and Mel Clark. I thought I'd post a few of my other favorite projects at the same time.

These are the slippers. They are just too cute for words!

I love this sweater. I have a serious thing for brown, so that might be part of it.

This cape is so gorgeous! I wonder if I could make one to fit me?

Wouldn't I look sharp working out in the garden wearing these socks?

These sweaters are great, too. They have instructions for making them for family members of all shapes and sizes.

I love pouring over knitting books, admiring the various projects, but I seriously need to improve my knitting skills. I'm at the point where I can do fairly basic things, but not enough to make what I really want to be making. I was discussing this with a knitter friend the other day, and we were trying to figure out what I could make next that would be fairly simple, but not boring, would give me some much needed practice, and that I could finish within a reasonable amount of time. Any suggestions?

I loved the guided fridge tours that everyone did yesterday so much, that I went back and modified the post about our new fridge so it would also include a few more details about its contents. Either scroll back two days to read it if you're interested, or click here.

February 03, 2007

What's in yer fridge? (and s'mores)

Quinn (aka Burdockboy) suggested in a comment on the previous post about our new fridge that someone should start "refrigerator tag", where people post a photo of the inside of their fridge for all the world to see. Since I'd also been thinking that something like that would be fun, I guess I'll be the one to start!

If you've been tagged, kindly post a photo of the inside of your refrigerator (no major "primping" please!), and tag several other people, leaving a comment on their blogs to let them know.

The first victims are: (since it was his idea) Quinn, Chelee, Monica, Phelan, Carla, and Steffi. Anyone I didn't mention who'd like to play along, please leave a comment back here so I know to go take a peek.

Check out yesterday's post to see my fridge photo.
Tonight we finally roasted marshmallows over the fire. It was warm work (using short skewers), but the results were rewarding.
Not having chocolate bars or square graham crackers on hand, I pulverized some chocolate chips and Annie's Organic Bunny Grahams together in the food processor, and when we had a nice gooey marshmallow ready, we pulled off the golden top and dipped the sticky insides into the bowl for instant "s'mores".

The marshmallow's outer crust was either gobbled up on its own, or dipped back into the bowl for a double dose of mouth-aching goodness.
I know, s'mores are hardly wholesome, but sometimes these things are necessary. ;D
Oh, and before I forget, thanks Lu for recommending "Knit 2 Together" - it just came in at the library today and I'm loving it! It's filled with fun but practical projects (I'm dying to try the house slippers!) and I'd highly recommend it to any knitters out there.


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