Thursday, 29 October 2015

Twice Baked Potatoes Are Perfect For The Freezer!

In one of those around the kitchen table conversations, my cousin Kathy mentioned she buys baking potatoes when they are cheap in the fall and freezes them. Any conversation that has cheap and potato in it has my full attention!

This is the same cousin who clued me in about freezing apple slices in pie plates so they would fit perfectly into a pie shell while still frozen. You can read about how she does it here. Kathy and her husband were ranchers in Alberta and she could feed an army on a moments notice. Even now that she is retired to town, she keeps her freezer well stocked.

I didn't actually get around to doing potatoes for the freezer yet but I told my friend Wendy about it and she did. She not only made them, she gave me some for my freezer. Yay!

I'm always run off my feet shutting the yard down for winter and getting the chickens snug before cold weather hits. Yesterday was even more of a panic with battening down the hatches before the tail end of the hurricane brought us some nasty weather.

Out came one of those frozen twice baked potatoes to pop in the oven with a simple meat loaf. ~

There are lots of recipes online for twice baked potatoes if you haven't made them before. For the basics, you can click here. Once the potatoes are baked and stuffed, freeze them on a cookie sheet. Once they are frozen, you can bag them individually and they will be good for at least three months.

The frozen potato goes in a 350 degree oven, lightly covered with tinfoil, for 30 mins. Remove the tinfoil and continue to bake for 15 mins. more.

A perfect comfort meal ready for me when I came in from the yard! ~

Thanks Kathy for the tip and thanks Wendy for getting it done!

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Let's Talk Holiday Season and Overspending

Really, Maureen, you say. You want to talk about money management at the most expensive time of the year???

I do and I'll tell you why. I'm constantly hearing from people around me that their financial situation is changing or they're afraid it's going to change. Unexpected expenses with kids, divorce, job insecurity, loss of a spouse, stock market fluctuations making pensions insecure, the government cut backs on assistance programmes, illness or disability, world financial crises, rising living costs and unstable property values. On and on the list goes and we don't seem to know how to prepare ourselves for any of it.

We could begin by making friends with our money. ~

We start by taking stock of what we have and what we owe. Seems simple enough. Unfortunately, we prefer a head in the sand approach more often than a dose of reality.

I was just reading a Ladies' Home Journal from 1932. The Depression has devastated rich and poor alike. The article said,

"We must learn the new values of money ...  Keeping up with the Joneses is out of fashion ... Where we were specialists in spending, we are becoming specialists in living. There is a new thrift for new pioneers."

My immediate reaction was that it is rather difficult to be thrifty with the holiday season creeping up on us. My next thought was, that there would never be a better time than now, before the credit cards and cash cards get pulled out to host lavish dinners and buy expensive gifts. I count on spending about $200 to give a large family dinner, including wine and spirits. Is that entirely necessary? Somewhere in the last 30 or 40 years we got the notion we had to have enough selection in alcoholic drinks in the house to make a small tavern look understocked. Next I considered the number of side dishes that have been added to the menu. There certainly weren't eight selections of vegetables at my parent's festive meals and tomato juice, milk, coffee and tea were the drinks I see on any of their tables in the old photos. I could pare it down a little and have the added bonus of the fridge not being packed with leftovers. 

That train of thought reminded me of when a family member fell into dire financial straights a few years ago. One of the endless recessions was going on and he was let go from an executive position. Finding a new job took a couple of years and they were getting by on a fraction of their former income, earned by taking low-end jobs and his wife going back to work. 

As we chatted on the phone one day, he told me one of the things they missed the most was having friends over. I said it was too bad that we couldn't entertain the way we had when we were young. We'd make a big bowl of spaghetti with hardly any meat in the sauce and serve it up with some crusty bread. There were no salads, appetizers or dessert as a general rule. The guests usually brought a bottle of cheap wine. We listened to records and talked and if there weren't enough chairs in the living room, some of us sat on the floor. 

It was the week between Christmas and New Years and they decided to give it a try. They didn't invite one of the couples that were used to coming over when the food and drinks flowed like there was no end to funds. Instead, they had a couple they liked but had not spent much time with. They told the guests it would be a simple meal and a chance to spend a quiet evening together. The guests offered to bring wine as their contribution. The hosts baked a loaf of fresh bread and made a big bowl of spaghetti. 

Serve that on a checked tablecloth or even put a checked tea towel in the centre of the table and you have an instant Italian bistro! ~

The next day I had a phone call from the host. They had the most wonderful evening they had in years! That was the year So You Think You Are Smarter Than A 5th Grader was all the rage. Their daughter had received the game as a Christmas gift. They were talking about how hard the questions were to answer and the guests said, "Bring it out and let's see how we do!". They spent the evening laughing and playing a kids game and formed a firm friendship that has grown beautifully over the last few years. 

That 1932 Ladies' Home Journal article said, "New  satisfactions are being found in simpler living and simpler pleasures".

Maybe we could lower our stress levels a notch or two (or a thousand) by taking some of that old advice to heart. Leave a little more of the money in the bank and we'll all enjoy the season a whole lot more!

I'll still have the turkey dinner and I'm sure a few bottles of wine will be served. But, I will look at finding ways to make the meal special without the excess. 

Look out Pinterest, here I come and I've got my craft on!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

You Won't Believe What's In This Cookbook!

I preordered happy hens & fresh eggs because the author, chef Signe Langford, is a friend of my daughter. Signe has been a good chicken mommy to many of the rescued battery hens that my daughter brought to her farm for rehabilitation and rehoming. 

What I didn't expect was my absolute delight in the book itself. It has everything I love in a good read!

Where else will you find beautiful photos of gardens, vintage kitchenware, backyard chickens, coop plans, and practical information on caring for your own flock?  Okay, maybe you could find all that in one book but how about 100 egg recipes by the author and contributing chefs!

The photography is beautiful. ~ 

If you daydream about keeping your own chickens, Signe walks you through the highs and lows of having adorable feather balls hopping up on your knee as you sip a cup of tea in your garden and gives peeks into her stylish coop dubbed Cluckingham Palace. She also lets you know what happened to her meticulous landscaping when those feather balls started scratching and chomping their way through the garden like miniature, ravenous dinosaurs. You all know what my gals did to my yard so that won't surprise you much. There's lots of practical chicken keeping advice from Signe and two bloggers I regularly follow, Karen at The Art Of Doing Stuff and Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily.

The author is as passionate as I am about stopping cruel factory farm practices and I was thrilled to see a picture of my granddaughter, holding a rescued hen, included in the book. ~

I couldn't put happy hens and fresh eggs down until I'd read it cover to cover and by then I was famished! 

I flipped through the book and settled on whipping up Hangry Eggs. They turned out beautifully and tamed the 'hangry' beast in me! ~

Tomorrow, I'll try something a little more refined. I think iles flottantes will do nicely. ~

The gals in the coop have their work cut out for them. I intend to cook my way through the entire book! ~

Luckily I  have lots of 'happy hens & fresh eggs'!

To order (and I highly recommend you do!) click here to take you through to 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Some Serious Pruning In The Raspberry Patch

When the Burning Bush looks like this ~

and the Sumac looks like this ~

I know it's time to prune the raspberries.

This particular patch was planted three years ago and it's time to thin them out as well as do the usual annual pruning. If you are new to raising raspberries, you may be reluctant to prune too many canes out, so it's helpful to know how raspberries grow.

Raspberry roots send up new shoots each year. The first year, a cane produces only leaves. The second year it produces leaves and fruit. After the fruit matures on the second year canes, the cane dies.

You can see the dead wood easily at this time of year. ~

All of the dead canes need to be cut off at ground level with sharp pruners and removed. They harbour bugs that over winter in them and stop air, water and sunshine from getting to the new canes.

After three years of growth, my patch was becoming too dense with new canes as well and needed to be thinned out. They are a heritage variety and a little harder to control than the modern raspberry canes. They tend to be floppy and I need to cut them back to about 3' high in the fall and trim another 3 or 4" off in the spring to stop the canes from bending over onto each other. In the interests of plant biodiversity, I'm willing to go to a little more trouble in my patch.

The chickens loved this before version of the patch as their secret hiding spot. ~

Sorry girls, you can't do much hiding in the pruned raspberries! ~

I never mulch my raspberries in the fall. They are very hardy plants and I feel wood mulch takes too much nitrogen out of the soil as it's breaking down. Raspberries love nitrogen!

This time of year is a race against the elements in the country. I have a little more work to secure the chicken coop for the winter and, of course, there are the never ending leaves to blow, mulch, rake, burn, compost.

The leaves are starting to turn a pretty red on the canes today and we won the race against the snow warning for this week!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Reviving My Gratitude Journal

Daily life has seemed to be contrary lately and even my favourite season of the year, Fall with all the beauty and abundance it bestows on us, failed to inspire me to decorate.

As I was leaving a friend's house, she asked me if I would like the Hydrangea blooms from her garden.

I put them in an antique crock on the dining room table. ~

The crock gave me the idea to add the stoneware jug that was my mother's first antique purchase as a new bride. ~

An antique glass compote filled with apples struck my fancy and a primitive, wooden crow joined the grouping.

These solid lead cast farm animals, a child's toy from the 1800's, always bring a smile to my face and I added them to the side of a berry wreath. ~

It struck me that I was choosing items that gave me happiness just by seeing them. Why not add a bowl of eggs, daily gifts from my tiny flock of chicken friends? ~

And, why not enjoy the sight of an inquisitive cat that has to be part of the decorating process? ~

Grouping things I find beautiful together made me stop and see the beauty I was overlooking. I could have filled that table in minutes with everyday items that bring me joy when I take the time to acknowledge them.

I went to my library shelves and pulled out a book, Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. That book was a great comfort to me fifteen years ago when I was going through a very difficult time. Sarah introduced me to the idea of keeping a gratitude journal.

Each day I wrote down in my journal five things that I was grateful for in the day that was ending. It was difficult to think of anything to be grateful for in that stressful and heartbreaking year. I started with little observances of sunsets, horses grazing in a field or a warm fire. It became a habit to keep my eyes open for nice things in my day so I had something to write down that evening. Soon, I had more than five things to put in my journal. I was seeing beauty, kindness and goodness all around me. My situation hadn't changed one bit; only my way of viewing my world had improved. But, that made all the difference between wallowing in misery and stepping back into life with all its wonder and joy.

Putting together some Thanksgiving Day displays reminded me of all that I am blessed with if I will only stop long enough to see it. ~

Sarah's thought for the day I started decorating was perfect. ~

We all have different ideas of what is beautiful. It only matters that we see the beauty we already have around us. A gratitude journal is the best way I know of healing a wounded soul. It says to the universe, "I appreciate all that is good in my world and I'm offering back to the universe my sincerest thank you for the gifts I receive." 

I pulled out my old gratitude journal and made a new entry. I listed the Hydrangeas first, not just because they were beautiful, but because they were a gift from a friend. a perfect way to begin a Thanksgiving weekend that was filled with love, sharing and happiness.

Today, I will write in my journal that I was fully present and enjoyed every moment of the day spent with my family. Every hug, every joke, every conversation, every snuggle with a grandchild was a gift. My heart and soul were full of gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. May you find many wonderful memories to take up a pen and write in your journals!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Gleaners

I had this print of The Gleaners, by Jean-Francois Millet, hanging on my dining room wall for many years until it faded beyond saving. ~

Only recently I discovered it wasn't a depiction of a biblical story but rather a criticism of the French upper class and the poverty it imposed on the lower classes.

Gleaning bits of grain left behind the harvest does indeed show a hard way of life, but I focussed on the resourcefulness of the women, who found ways and means of feeding their families.

I admit I am a diehard gleaner. It makes me feel good to busy myself in the fall gathering and storing for the long winter ahead.

The last of the tomatoes go into the pot to peel and freeze. ~

Basil is chopped and covered with olive oil to freeze. ~

The last of the corn has been blanched and frozen and the chickens, the ultimate gleaners, have feasted on the kernels left clinging to the cobs. ~

The girls are scurrying about the yard all day at this time of year, pecking at bugs, fallen fruit and grasses gone to seed to put on the extra weight they will need to keep warm in the winter months. They've finished molting and grown a nice, thick coat of feathers.

Don't you just love Vivian's bloomers? ~

This year I've added nutting to my foraging.  My sister called to say the row of hickory trees just outside the village were loaded with nuts. No one has ever gathered them to my knowledge. To be honest, I didn't even know what one tasted like. A little Google session later, I discovered Hickory nuts are right up there with macadamias for a gourmet treat. Shelled, they sell for $24/lb. online. One site said that while walnuts are the Chevys of the nut world and pecans are the Oldsmobiles, hickory nuts are the Cadillacs. They were right! They are murder to crack, but the fruit is soooo worth the effort!

The temperatures dropped dramatically here last night and it's time to haul the potted herbs indoors. The freezer is full and the sealer jars are lined up on the shelves. ~

Yup, I'm happy with my tendency to be a gleaner and storer!