Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Dressing Up The Jam

With the computer being on the blink for a week, I've had lots time to gather this years raspberry crop and the first thing I did was make jam.  This is a bad thing because I love homemade raspberry jam and eat far too much of it!

The secret to great jam is adding some wild blackcaps if you can find them.

My friend, Wendy, was dressing her's up with a cute polka dot top made from cupcake liners and I thought I'd just steal that idea from her.

Mine were plain, old white but I thought I could fancy them up a bit with alphabet stamps. ~

This was so easy peasy and a wonderful way to do up sealer jars as gifts.  I fit the cupcake liner over the cap and screwed the ring on.  Of course, this was done after the jars had cooled and sealed. ~

Now, my jam wears the cutest, pleated mini skirt! ~

I'm still working on the computer issues and my niece (remember the delinquent 13 yr. old that was sent here last summer without any of her electronics?) is here for a week, so posting may be a bit hit and miss for a bit. You'll be glad to know the delinquent is here of her own free will this year and passed into high school with honours and awards.

I'd like to take credit for that but I'm thinking her dad slightly exaggerated the situation last year.  She sure never did anything close to as bad as I did as a teenager and look at me now.

I dress up jam jars for excitement!

I'm sharing with Make It Pretty MondayInspire Me MondayShow And Share PartyInspire Me Monday

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

If A Tree Falls In The Forest ...

The question is, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one sees it, did it every really happen?" and I don't know the answer to that metaphysical question.  I do know that if a dearly beloved tree falls in my village I know it happened!

For thirty-three years I have looked out my kitchen window and admired an old, towering sugar maple in the church yard.

And then this happened during a wind storm. I heard the creaking and cracking and went outside just in time to see her go over. ~

She has laid her weary arms down and the men with saws have chopped her up and taken her away.  I mourn that beautiful tree.

I will never see her out my kitchen window again.

All is not lost, though.  Many years ago I said I would love to have a picture of that tree in every season. Life was busy with work and children, I didn't have a decent camera and I never took the pictures.

For a full year, whenever I was away from home, my dad came and took a shot of the tree from just outside my kitchen window. ~

He never said a word about it until he had all four photos for me.  It meant a great deal to know he was paying attention to even the little things that mattered to me and would put the effort into seeing it was done. ~

My dad is gone and the tree is gone, but the pictures will serve as a reminder of all that was lovely in my life. 

I hope I pay as careful attention when people are talking to me as my dad did twenty years ago.

Friday, 4 July 2014

It's All About The Little House

My sister and I squealed with glee when we found a full set of Little House On The Prairie books at a flea market yesterday.  This is the time of the year when I reread Laura Ingalls Wilder's charming books of growing up in a pioneer family.  But, the set of books I always read belonged to my daughter, Farm Girl, and she took them to read to her own three little girls.

The set I bought look to have been well read and that doesn't bother me a bit. ~ 

I absolutely love all the details of every day life that the author wove into her stories!  My favourite books in the series are Little House In The Big woods, where Ma and Pa use ingenuity, skill and hard work to provide a cosy home and life for their family and Farmer Boy, the story of Laura's husband Almanzo growing up on a prosperous farm in upstate New York.

It inspires me to plant and weed, can and preserve, and provide for myself in a wholesome, self sufficient fashion.  It's also just plain fun to read Almanzo's memories of bounty that his hard working parents were able to provide in his youth.

"He stopped just a minute at the pantry door.  Mother was straining the milk at the far end of the long pantry ... The shelves on both sides were loaded with good things to eat. Big yellow cheeses were stacked there, and large brown cakes of maple sugar, and there were crusty loaves of fresh-baked bread, and four large cakes, and one whole shelf full of pies ..."

Don't even think of reading this book if you are on a diet!

I settled right into a chair on the porch, with a cup of Chai tea, and began to read. ~

This time around, I feel even closer to Laura Ingalls.  I know the family personally now. It was one of those strange things where you are following a blog and making the odd comment and I liked the comments another reader was leaving. She also was a blogger.  Then I noticed her name. Could it possibly be? Could I really be looking at someone named Laura Ingalls Gunn.  Now, either her mother was a big fan of the books or she was a relative and I had to check out her blog Decor To Adore and find out.

She is Laura Ingalls Wilder's great granddaughter. I was so excited that I wanted to run around the house yelling Pa, Pa! 

And she's everything you would hope she would be because don't we just hate to see the offspring of icons turn out badly? I do. ~ 

She's a professional decorator, full time college student, photographer, crafter, wife and mother.  She's kind and thoughtful and shares her joys and even some of her troubles with her readers.  She takes us with her on her travels and her years as a military wife have made her into a very good traveler.

She shares her decorating knowledge, her interests and her creativity with us and she's very conscious of keeping it all to a budget. ~

You really should pop over to Decor To Adore.  You'll like her.  I promise!  Then, you can tell your friends you are friends with the family, too.

I think Laura Ingalls Wilder would be pleased that my granddaughters are loving her books as much as their mother and I did.  The live on a farm and can relate to the tasks that every member of the family had to do to make it all work.

I even think she would laugh to see Amish Girl balancing her pet chick on her head! ~

I hope you all join me on the Banks Of Plum Creek, or at least the banks of the river behind my house!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Is It Really Cinnamon?

In the switch to whole, natural foods, it's time for me to hit the spice cabinet.  I grow and dry all my herbs organically, so I have that one nailed.  But, what about the more exotic spices that can't be grown here?

My sister is a fan of cinnamon for it's taste and it's health benefits.  She eats it every day and was shocked to hear a health expert on the TV say that what we eat for cinnamon in North America is mostly sawdust.  What!!! ~

I'm sitting around drinking wine with my friend Wendy, telling her what my sis heard and we decided to do a little research on cinnamon.  I used to talk about boyfriends during a girl's night. Now it's all about the environment and the unscrupulous corporations that are destroying our food supply.  What a fun gal I am to hang around with!

Here's what we learned.  True cinnamon is the inner bark of an evergreen tree, indigenous to Sri Lanka, and is called Ceylon cinnamon.  It is light in colour, forms a continuous roll in the stick and has a delicate, almost citrus like taste.  Cassia cinnamon comes from a similar tree but the outer bark is not peeled off and is extremely hard. I guess that's where the TV expert said it was mostly sawdust. It is a dark orangey red and has a strong, spicy taste.

90% of all cinnamon imported into North America is cassia cinnamon.  Why do we care?  Because cassia cinnamon contains high levels of something called coumarin.  You probably know it better as Warfarin, used to kill rodents.  You read that right, Warfarin!

It's been banned as a food additive in the U.S. since 1954 and in cigarettes since 1997 because it damages the liver and kidneys.  I can't find any data saying it is banned in Canada but we aren't allowed to ship food to the States if coumarin is in it as an additive.

That doesn't mean you are safe from coumarin my American friends.  Cassia cinnamon is allowed in your food. You can buy a whole bottle of the ground stuff or bag of the sticks and sprinkle it all over your kids breakfast oatmeal! If you weigh 135 lbs., 2 grams (0.07 ounces) is toxic if used regularly. A single teaspoon would be toxic to a child. It's in candy, gum, lipstick, herbal tea, flavoured coffee, commercial bakery products, artificial vanilla and pretty much anything else you use that has a cinnamon flavour.  Why is it there? Because it's the most popular spice and cassia cinnamon is cheap.  Organic doesn't mean Ceylon cinnamon either, so be very careful what you are buying.

My friend went right to her computer and ordered a tin of organic Ceylon cinnamon sticks.  For about $25 and $5 shipping, she bought a tin of 50 sticks. They were being sent direct from Ceylon and they arrived in 3 days.

The cassia sticks I had in my spice cabinet were difficult to grind with a rasp and would probably burn out a small coffee or spice grinder.  The Ceylon sticks (on the right) are soft and grind easily. ~

Kept in a tightly sealed container the sticks will last up to two years. ~

There are trace amounts of coumarin in Ceylon cinnamon, 2 to 5 parts per million.  Balance that against the 2000 to 5000 parts per million found in cassia cinnamon and I think you get the picture.

Spend a little more on the real stuff and keep on enjoying that wonderful flavour and the health benefits. True cinnamon is great for regulating blood sugar and cholesterol, relieving arthritis symptoms, inhibiting the growth of yeast and fungi and controlling allergies and increasing blood flow to the brain.

There won't be anything but Ceylon cinnamon in this house from now on! ~

photo courtesy of Wendy.  Thanks!

I'll leave the other stuff to the rats!

I'm sharing this with:  The HomeAcre Hop

Monday, 23 June 2014

What I've Learned About Growing Lavender

The first thing I learned was that I totally suck at it.  Seriously.  I'd plant it and it would live for a year or two, give hardly any blooms and die.  It was embarrassing!  Also, I really wanted my own lavender for projects. This year I went on a mission to find out what I was doing wrong.

That took a trip to a lavender farm with some girlfriends. ~

I pestered the poor owner giving the tour with a million detailed questions and I'm sure he just wanted me to shut up and go home.  I wasn't satisfied with him telling me how to prune lavender, I got him to prune a plant so I could see what he was doing.

I'm pretty sure I have this thing nailed now, but feel free to add any comments that will help me along!

Mistake #1 was trying to grow lavender in my heavy, clay soil.  It won't thrive in wet conditions and that is what you get with clay.

The answer was to create a new bed that was well drained and had good soil.  I was terracing a hill beside my patio and this was the perfect spot for a lavender bed. There's a gravel base and a load of good topsoil in there. ~

My helpers and I spaced the plants 20" inches apart.  It takes 3 yrs. for the plant to mature to full size and will need that much room. ~

Kay and Anne really liked this project and they haven't dug a single plant back out yet.  Keep your fingers crossed!

Mistake #2 was not pruning correctly.  Lavender wants to turn into a bush.  If it isn't pruned properly it gets woody and, since the blooms are on the new, soft growth you don't want that.  I found a great video on pruning for the first three years.  To see the video click A Guide To Lavender. Trust me, I watched them all and this one is the best. Lavender will live for 20 yrs. so it's important to get it right in the beginning.

Mistake #3 was not checking to see if the variety of lavender was hardy to my temperature zone. In my part of Canada there are only two varieties that stand up well to the extreme cold of winter.

I have the plants labelled and we'll see if one variety does better than another. ~

That's one level of terrace done!  The weeds are thriving on the upper level and I'd better pick up the pace on this project.

While my little lavender plants may not be all the impressive right now, ~

I have great dreams of this! ~

I will wear a white gown and dance through my field of lavender.

Of course, the chickens will want to dance right along with me and that may spoil the effect some!

I'm sharing this with:  The HomeAcre HopCottage Style Party

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I'm Having An Asparagus Festival!

When you try to eat local food, asparagus being in season is worth  a festival.  Or, at least a few weeks of binging!

Today's treat was cream of asparagus soup.  Yummmm.

Grab a pound of asparagus and cut the woody ends off and discard them.  ~

Chop the rest into pieces about 2" long. ~

Chop three green onions into small pieces. ~

I had frozen chicken stock but you could use store bought, low sodium or vegetable stock.  ~

I like a bit of tartness to asparagus soup and add a teaspoon of grated lemon rind and two teaspoons of lemon juice to the stock. ~

Add the asparagus and green onions to the stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer. After about 10 mins. you should be able to smoosh a piece of asparagus to the side of the pot with the back of your spoon.  Yes, smoosh is a culinary term.  If it smooshes, it's done. You don't want to overcook the asparagus or it will go grey and we want this baby to be green, green, green!

My camera lens kept steaming up, but you get the point. ~

At this point I add the seasoning.  I go light on them because I don't want to overpower the taste of the asparagus.

I used 4 good grinds of black pepper, about a half teaspoon of Himalayan salt and the teeniest pinch of saffron.  ~

Take the soup off the heat and use a blender, food processor, immersion blender; anything you fancy to puree the vegetables.  Do I need to tell you the soup is hot, just off the burner, and you need to be careful not to splash any on you?  I thought not.

If you are prepping this soup ahead of time, you can refrigerate it at this point and finish just before serving.

To finish the creamed soup, whisk a half cup of heavy cream into it.  I didn't have any cream on hand and substituted 1/4 cup of sour cream and 1/4 cup of milk.  Worked great!  Whisking is important because you are adding a milk product to warm soup, with the lemon acid in it.  You don't want it to curdle, so keep that whisk moving!

Put it back on the burner on medium heat and warm to just below the boiling point.  Asparagus soup can be served warm or cold and is great for wowing your guests with an elegant opening course for your meal.

Make an artful design on your soup with sour cream and chives and hope it doesn't sink to the bottom like mine did.  Ooops!

Oh well, I stirred it in and it tasted great with some French bread and chive butter! ~

Let's see, last night was asparagus coated with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper on the BBQ. Today was cream of asparagus soup.  Any ideas for tomorrow?

Friday, 13 June 2014

Some Fleeting Beauty

Yesterday, the first of my peonies bloomed.  There is a universal law that says the minute they bloom a torrential rain will fall and the blossom laden bush will lie in a sadly sodden mass on the ground.  It's nice to know the laws of the universe are still in place and the expected thunder storm happened yesterday evening.

Oh well, it's a good excuse to gather the blooms up and bring them in the house.  I think peonies surpass roses for heavenly scent.  ~

What do you think of my new vase?  It's a glass shade from an old outdoor light fixture! ~

It makes a fabulous candle holder as well.  All those crystal cuts sparkle with a flame inside and you can't beat a dual purpose holder that cost absolutely nothing!

Thirty three years ago, when I moved to this house, the many peony bushes were a pleasant surprise in the spring.  But, another surprise would happen in June.  In the middle of a noisy, family dinner I noticed the most wonderful scent wafting in the dining room window.  I jumped up from the table and ran outside to see where a scent that was half citrus and half rose was coming from. A big, old shrub outside the window was in bloom!

I had my very own Mock Orange, or Philaelphus to be more scientific.  All these years later, I was just as excited to find it in bloom yesterday.

As I clipped some branches to bring inside, I wondered how many June brides cut their bouquets from this same bush over the 200 yrs. the house has stood.  They carried the fragrance with them to the church next door and those blossoms were the last gift from the home that had sheltered them until they were ready to venture forward to a new home and a new life.  I'm sure they were just as hopeful as the ancient Roman brides that carried orange blossoms as a symbol of fidelity and fertility.

Tonight, as I write, the scent from the vases on the buffet fills the room. I think back on all the gifts this yard has shared with me and how wonderful it is to have something to look forward to every spring.

So many things in life are fleeting.  My little girls are grown and gone from home; mothers themselves. Beloved pets passed on.  Parents, aunts, uncles and nephews, that once filled this home with laughter, are no longer with us.

The peonies and orange blossoms are all the more special for being here for such a short time. They remind me to gather the beauty of life up into my arms, bury my face in its fragrance and appreciate every moment it is with me!