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Archive for August, 2009

A Perfect Day!

My wonderful husband took me to one of our favourite spots by the ocean for my birthday.  It was a beautiful sunny day with a refreshingly cool breeze coming in off the bay. 

We arrived at low tide and spent some time eating ice cream (yum!) and walking on the ocean floor.

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When the tide comes in, the waves slowly break away the rocks, leaving caves in the side of the cliff to explore. 

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Then we headed to an amazing local park that has trails for people, bikes, and cars winding along the edge of the coast, and surrounding a large river that feeds into the bay.  We walked some of the trails, sat by a waterfall, and took lots of pictures.  We also spent some time exploring the bridges that cross the river (this is what happens when you are married to an engineer!)  At 5:30, when most normal people would head somewhere for dinner after a day of walking around, we decide to take a 5.4 km hike labelled as “challenging.”  Well, I won’t say it wasn’t challenging, as we navigated tree roots and rocks as we followed the narrow trail on the side of a cliff, and we were definitely exhausted 2 hours later when we once again reached the trail head, but it was good for the mind and the soul, and the views of the river were amazing!!

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Tired and ready to eat we headed back to the beach, where the tide had come in and filled the caves we were standing in only hours before.  (The magic of nature).

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We had a scrumptious dinner at a local restaurant as we watched the moon’s light dance on the ocean waves.  The perfect end to a perfect day.

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Just Peachy

DSC01125It’s Fun Food Friday!  (and it’s also my birthday, so I’m doing this post early –  big plans for an afternoon by the ocean later today…).  Peaches are in season and our house has been brimming with them for the last couple of weeks.  Wehave feasted on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner (as have the fruit flies…grr…) and stored a mass of them in the freezer for winter.  I love the fresh, sweet taste of a peach, and they seem to maintain their flavour well when frozen, so you can have a burst of summer flavour even when it’s 20 below outside (they are especially delicious in a smoothie).  So, here are some tips and tricks for peaches (including the super-easy ice cream topping you see sizzling away in the photo!).

Peeling:  You can use a conventional peeler or a knife, but to make the job super easy (and to keep the beautiful orange/peach mottled colour of the skins) simply drop them in a boiling pot of water for 30 seconds, and then use a slotted spoon to move them from the pot to a bowl or sink filled with ice water.  The skin can now be peeled off easily, using your fingers. 

Freezing:  Prepare a tray lined with waxed paper (a baking sheet works well).  Cut your peeled peaches off the pit (cutting them in quarters makes this simple) and then cut the peaches into eights (or any size and shape you like).  Lay out on the tray.  When the tray is full (or you run out of peaches) place the tray in the freezer.  Once the slices are frozen place them in a freezer bag.  Mine were still tasty a year later!

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Cut peeled peaches into eighths, or chunks if you prefer.  Melt a tablespoon of butter in a pan.  Add peaches.  Stir until peaches have softened and butter is bubbly.  Serve over ice cream.  Add a sprinkling of freshly-grated nutmeg.  (This would also be yummy served over plain yogurt or quark cheese. )

Feeling “peachy”?  Leave a comment with your peachy thought or ideas.

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Dragonfly Cushions

DSC01122If you have ever worked at summer camp, you know that there are two things indispensable to every camp counselor: duct tape, and milk crates.  Books have been written on the indispensable uses of duct tape, so I won’t go into that here.  The humble milk crate, however, has not received the fame it deserves.  When working at camp, I would pack all my things in milk crates, which stacked easily in the back of my parent’s van.  When you got to camp, you turned them on their side and had instant shelving next to your bunk!  (no need to unpack).  Ditto when travelling to university.  In fact, my house still boasts one wall of milk-crate shelving (I am sure one day we will actually go out and buy real bookshelves, but for now, they work).  Milk crates can also be used as props for a wide variety of games, double as step-stools, and provide portable seating.  Which is where this post comes in.  Looking for low-to-the-floor benches for my students to sit on in our class meeting area I immediately thought of milk crates.  I bought 8 and lashed them together into groups of 4 to create benches.  I then made cushions out of dollar store towels and quilt batting.  The benches have survived two years, but the cushions are in a very sad state so new ones were in order for this year.  This time I decided to make them out of a stronger fabric (the kids liked to pull at the loops in the terry and unravel them) and to add ties to the sides so they couldn’t be used as Frisbees (not that that would ever happen in MY classroom – lol!).   Instead of using quilt batting inside, I used some quilted fabric that had been given to me.  I could have simply used two layers of the quilted fabric alone, but it was WHITE, which has no place in a classroom full of 6 and 7 -year-olds.  So, I sandwiched it in the middle of this pretty dragonfly fabric and added twill tape ties to the side.  I don’t know if the kids will appreciate my handiwork, but this fabric makes me smile,  and if I’m smiling, my students usually are too.   🙂 

Milk Crate Stool - the crates in my classroom are white, which will look even better with this fabric.

Milk Crate Stool - the crates in my classroom are white, which will look even better with this fabric.

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I love my iron!

j0385476Cast-iron, that is.  After reading this book (which isn’t for the faint-of-heart, there is some scary stuff in there) I have come to see Teflon as the enemy.  Sticky, icky stuff which gets into your body and just stays there, and, get this, newborn babies already have it in their blood stream, which means, once you got it, you got it for good and pass it on to your children (I can think of a lot better things to pass on to the next generation….)   When I was finished the book I was determined to do away with my Teflon non-stick pans, once and for all!!! So there!!!  However, reality set in, as the only other pans I currently own are stainless steal.  Have you ever tried to cook an egg in a stainless steal pan?  That’s not for the faint of heart either… (unless you enjoy scrubbing…)    The book mentions cast-iron, but my memories of cast iron are from the summer I spent working at a wilderness camp where we cooked in cast iron pans over an open fire.  Ever cooked an egg in a cast-iron pan over an open flame only to have more of it stick to the pan than you actually get to eat?  (I do not enjoy scrubbing…)  However, on further research into the issue I discovered a lot of neat-o information on cast iron pans.  Like that they can have a non-stick surface if they are properly seasoned (I doubted that…but I could hope), they last for a lifetime (finally something that doesn’t wear out or have to be thrown in a landfill) and, although they do impart some iron to your food during cooking, the iron is actually good for you (this seemed too good to be true, but I couldn’t find any source that refuted it.)  So…my quest for a cast iron pan began.  Alas, cast iron pans must have fallen out of fashion, at least in my neck of the woods, because although I could find Teflon pans in every shape, size, colour and price-point, cast iron pans were less easy to find (the one time I did find one I looked at the price and decided that I could live with Teflon for a little while longer…)   But if you follow my blog at all you will know that I hit the jackpot at the flea market and got not just one, but two pans for $15!  Scrubbed up and seasoned they look like new (actually better than new, the little one has this great detailing on the outside that I have never seen in any pictures of cast-iron pans.)  Following instructions to well-season the pan, the first time I used one I cooked some zucchini and onions in the pan with lots of butter and voila!  Beautifully cooked veggies – nothing stuck to the pan.  A little hot water, a few wipes with a cloth, and it was good as new again. Tonight I put it to the ultimate test – egg.  Three pieces of sticky french toast went into the pan and I held my breath and hoped.  With a trembling hand I picked up the spatula, almost afraid to try flipping the frying bread, imagining all sorts of sticky disasters in my head.  Slowly I slid the spatula under the first piece and was amazed as it slid under cleanly, not leaving even one sticky egg spot behind.  In my excitement I almost flipped the second piece right out of the pan and was dismayed to see egg on the outside of the pan – surely that was going to stick?  But no, the amazing cast iron pan repels all things sticky and the egg easily wiped from the surface.  With three steamy and  crisp pieces of french toast on my plate, and a pan that was clean and put away in under 30 seconds,  I had discovered my new favourite kitchen tool – the cast iron frying pan.   I told my husband once that I didn’t care where we lived as long as I had a clothesline.  I think I need to expand that.  I don’t care where we live as long as I have a clothesline, and a cast-iron pan. 🙂

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It’s 4:30 am and I can’t sleep.  Bad for me, but good for you.  Why?  Because I have finished my first-ever tutorial!  I have had the pleasure of making many things from the tutorials which very creative people have posted for free on their blogs, and after taking advantage of so many I thought it would only be fair to add my own.  Now, I usually work from patterns, but last year I wanted to make my own laptop bag and couldn’t find anything I liked.  So, I came up with this:

Bags 001It has a big pocket in front to hold my cord and accessories, and then the main pocket comfortably fits the laptop.  I got a lot of nice comments on it on Facebook and my sister-in-law mention that she might like me to make her one.  Well, a few months passed and we never really discussed it but as her birthday was coming up can you guess what I made her?  (I’m sure you can).  Here it is:

DSC01058Don’t you just love this Amy Butler fabric?  I made a few changes when I made this bag including a stronger fabric for the handle, and a contrasting band on the front flap.  I am happy to report that she loved it!  And now…. you can make your own bag to love with this Laptop Bag Tutorial

It is my very first tutorial and I tried my hardest to make it as clear as possible, but I don’t expect it to be perfect so if anything doesn’t make sense, please let me know.  And if you do actually use the tutorial to make yourself a bag I’d love to know about it!  Happy sewing!

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Fun Food Friday

DSC01022The mighty zucchini!!!! 

Those of you who know me well were probably expecting this post to happen at some point.  It’s not so much that I love zucchini, but more that I seem to have an abundance of it growing in my garden (and frozen in my freezer) and am always looking for new ways to cook it.  Now, I like zucchini well enough to fry it up with a few onions and mushrooms and eat it as a yummy side dish, but, alas, my husband is not a lover of vegetables so it is always my goal and challenge to find ways of cooking them that make them palatable to him.  Meaning no disrespect to him, the recipes I have discovered might also be handy for children who do not like to eat vegetables!  I do love zucchini as a garden vegetable though – it really is a satisfying thing to grow.  With its big beautiful leaves, and continual crop of fruit from August to frost, it really makes you feel like a successful gardener with very little work.  The trick is not to plant too many plants (we only have three this year) or you will end up leaving them on your friends front porches, ringing the doorbell, and running away (or so I’ve been told.)  I like to pick mine while they are still small – but I have sometimes let a day or two go by between visiting the garden and end up with giant zucchinis (maybe some day they will have giant zucchini festivals  like they do for giant pumpkins and I can win a prize ) 

So…why eat zucchini (or courgette as the are referred to in British cookbooks)?  It is full of folate, potassium,  vitamin A, and manganese.  It can be cooked in a variety of ways and is excellent added to baked goods.  It freezes well (I grate it and freeze it in quantities required by my favourite recipes) and you can hide it in less-healthy things like cookies and brownies (hello sneaky chef.)   I have not developed any of my own zucchini recipes (other than a stuffed and baked version I created before I was married but never cook now because my husband won’t eat it…) so I will leave you today with links to the best of the online recipes I have tested so far.  As always, if you have a zucchini recipe or story, leave a comment!  (I know nobody has left a comment yet, however, I will keep asking in the hopes that someday someone will actually read this and have something to share – I love learning about food!)

DSC01036My current main dish favourite can be found here.  This one pleased both the husband and my mother – definitely a winner!   I only made a few modifications to the recipe – real garlic instead of powdered, green and red onions (because I have lots in the garden) and two eggs instead of one. 

As a tasty treat I also discovered zucchini brownies.  I made these with whole wheat flour,  carob powder instead of cocoa, and honey instead of sugar, and we ate them un-iced.  They still got a thumbs-up from my sweet-toothed sweetheart.   I also made some tasty zucchini cookies once again substituting whole wheat flour and honey and using carob chips instead of butterscotch chips. 

And then there are muffins – there must be at least 101 ways to make zucchini muffins (now that would be a fun blog project – make all 101 varieties to find the best one….).  As it is very rare for there not to be homemade muffins on the counter at our house (they are my favourite snack food!) I have tried many recipes, but have not yet found that “yes!  I will make this every time!” recipe.  My favourite so far is made with orange juice and has wonderful flavour and are very moist.  When I first made them I thought they were not going to turn out as the batter is very runny – however, they were excellent!  I did find it makes more than one dozen and that they cook in less time (perhaps the recipe creator makes extra-large muffins?)  Lemon Zucchini muffins are also really good – I love that zucchini and citrus combination.  I also made these with whole wheat flour with good results. 

I can’t write about zucchini without mentioning the classic zucchini bread.  Everyone seems to have their own recipe for this – sometimes passed down from their great-great grandmother, or it’s their mother-in-laws top-secret recipe or something.  My absolute favourite recipe comes from this cookbook .  Made with whole-wheat flour and honey it has a moist, crumby texture very different from your average zucchini bread and I love it!  If you want the recipe, you’ll have to check out the book (try the library if you’re not interested in owning it yourself) as I am not going to break copyright law and post it here.  But trust me, it’s yummy and worth trying. 

So there is but a small sampling of the culinary world that the humble zucchini belongs too.  Perhaps it will get your own creative juices flowing and you will discover new and exciting things to do with this tasty green squash (and then you can post your great discoveries here!)    Enjoy!

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I’m Back!

I know I have been missing-in-action the last week or so.  August has been a very busy (and hot!) month.  I had the joy of seeing my brother-in-law walk down the isle and am excited about having another sister!  Then my mom came to visit, and as I only see her two or three times a year, I wanted to make the most of the visit.  However, this has not been idle time (I don’t think I know how to be idle….).  as my mind has been wondering and my creative juices have been flowing.  Here is some of what has been happening while I have been away from the computer:

DSC01020The perfect roast chicken.  I am very proud of this bird.  As a former vegetarian I am always surprised when I can make meat taste and look good.  Mom and I spent the morning at a giant flea market that is held once a year near here.  After a few good deals (I spent less than 20 dollars and came home with 2 cast iron skillets, 10 quilting magazines and a new necklace and earring set) we couldn’t take the heat anymore so headed to a local park for a picnic lunch under some shady trees.  (If you are wondering what this has to do with the chicken, I’m getting to that part of the story, just “hold your horses” as my grandmother would have said.).  Sufficiently cooled down, we went on to the local farmer’s market.  There I came home with bags full of edible treasures that would have made any “100-mile diet” supporter proud.  This beautiful chicken came fresh from the farm where he had been allowed to graze freely in the yard before ending up stuffed with herbs and lemon and roasted to perfection in my onion. – whoa…I actually wrote onion there…that’s a funny picture in your head, isn’t it?  Giant onions that can fit whole chickens roasting under a hot sun….  I, of course, meant oven.   I have Jamie Oliver to thank (again) for the perfectly moist and flavourful meat.   (Did you notice the herbs under the skin – aren’t you proud of me?  I actually had to TOUCH the chicken to put it under there!  I have come so far…..).  We also bought freshly-picked beets, tiny new potatoes (which I roasted in the pan with the chicken), organic yogurt, free-range eggs and several kinds of home-made cheese.  It is amazing what good food can do – I felt like a queen in her castle, or a master chef! 🙂  One step closer to being the Proverbs 31 woman  “she provides food for her family.”  Or maybe this one is a better fit “she is like the merchant ships, bringing food from afar.”  Doesn’t everyone want to be an exotic vessel?  🙂

Well, I was going to write a list of adventures here, but seem to have become a little long-winded regarding the chicken.  I’ll save the details of my other adventures for a later post.  I have several finished sewing projects completed and a laptop bag tutorial in the works, I am also painting the kitchen and starting to get ready for the school year (see what I mean about being idle?)   I’ll post pictures soon and I haven’t forgotten about fun food friday, look for that post a little later today (I’ll retreat to the computer again when the paint fumes start to get to me…)

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