Thursday, December 24, 2009

The real meaning

This time of year, at least in our local paper, there is a lot of banter back and forth about the "true meaning of Christmas." Christians point to Jesus' birth. Atheists/humanists and even Pagans argue that Christmas is just a repackaged Pagan celebration, manufactured by Catholics to trick people into following their beliefs. But I think we're missing the mark.

I just stumbled upon this quote

The true meaning of Christmas is the act of our Almighty Father’s great love to us by giving us His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, whom is the Son of God, whom is the love of God, and whom loves the Father by obeying all of his commandments to save us.

The real purpose of Christmas is to save the people of this world and have eternal life. We can be saved by believing Jesus Christ as our Savior and by following all the commandments of God.

The "true meaning of Christmas" isn't about us at all. It's about what God did for us. It's about Him and His love for us. How we celebrate should be a reflection of our thankfulness for His grace and love.

Christmas wasn't created by the early church to bring Pagans into their fold. It was created by God, to bring us into His fold.

Merry Christmas.

(Quote from

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Almost here

My current Facebook status is

(insert my name) doesn't feel like we've been running against the clock, hurtling towards Christmas this year, but rather it feels like we've been meandering slowly, and all of a sudden realized that Christmas is here already. Must be the lack of snow thus far.
That's how it feels, anyway. We finally have snow today, though still not quite enough to cover the grass fully. But it's better than none, which we've pretty much had so far. Funny how something like a sparkling white blanket over everything changes ones perception of the season. I cannot imagine living where there is never snow. No chance for a white Christmas ever. But I digress...

Il feel like Christmas has snuck up on us somehow this year. Usually I feel rushed, but this year it still feels like I have all the time in the world. I don't, but it does not feel like Christmas is only days away. I also don't feel stressed by that. The turkey is thawing, the cranberry sauce made; I'm looking up recipes for candy cane ice cream for dessert, and debating crispy roasted potatoes (which the kids will eat) versus the mashed variety (which the kids won't eat). It all feels quite laid back.

We've given more this year, having found a way to help a child in a developing country through Ten Thousand Villages. And we've donated food to the local food bank, including some jars of a peanut butter alternative for families who can't afford it, but have a child with a nut allergy. I don't say this to toot my own horn, but rather to hopefully inspire others. Helping and giving don't have to be difficult. The donation was made online and the food was given during a food drive. We only had to shop and drive by the drop off location. Neither took us out of our way. But both actions will have an impact on someone. And that is what matters.

Maybe that's part of what's been so relaxing about this season - knowing that we're doing alright and have been able to help others as well. A lot of people can't say the same. Especially about being alright. No clue what the new year will bring, but for now we are okay. The recession didn't really hit hubby's work, the kids are well, we have a roof over our heads and family and friends who love us. Our marriage is strong and God is still in control.

With that, I bid you all a Merry Christmas. If I may quote from our Christmas card this year...

May the closeness of friends,
the comfort of home,
and the peace of God
renew your spirits this holiday season.

And His name shall be the hope of all the world. Matthew 12:21

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Candy Part 2

Candied peel is a very old way of using up every part of citrus fruit, coming from a time when oranges and grapefruits and such were rare treats for a brief time each year.

I found a few recipes and took bits from each to come up with this...

Strips of citrus peel are simmered in water for 20 minutes or so to remove the bitterness (some recipes have the step being repeated with fresh water every 5 minutes). Then you make a syrup of one or two parts sugar to water (I did two) and simmer the peel in it until translucent (about half an hour or so). Remove it to a wire rack and let it cool, and then toss it in sugar and leave it to dry for the day. The finished peel can be dipped in chocolate, if you like. Store in an airtight container.

Candied peel is a nice addition to a dried fruit and nut plate, or nibbled with some coffee or hot chocolate.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I've been on a bit of a candy kick lately, it seems. Not necessarily eating it, but making it. I've made candied grapefruit peel, which is really yummy, salted hazelnut brittle, which was a bit disappointing, and some wonderful sponge candy, topped with chocolate and sprinkled with crumbled flaked salt. That is wonderful! Here is the recipe.

3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbspns water
2 Tbspns corn syrup
1 1/2 tsps baking soda

Because the final steps must be executed rapidly, before you start cooking the sugar have ready: a baking sheet that has been well greased or lined with a silpat, a whisk and the premeasured baking soda.

Spread the sugar out in an even layer in the bottom of a large saucepan. Drizzle the water and honey over the sugar and place on a burner over high heat. Cook, without stirring, until it reaches 300F. You will observe the sugar melting, then the syrup forming small, tight bubbles, then the bubbles will become larger and looser and finally, the syrup will begin to take on an amber color.

When it reaches 300F., immediately remove it from the heat. Quickly add the baking soda and whisk just until the baking soda is mixed in. In one quick motion, dump the foaming syrup onto the prepared baking sheet. Do not spread or disturb, as this will cause it to deflate. Let it stand until cool to the touch, about 10 minutes.

Melt some chocolate (semi-sweet seems to taste best with this, since the candy isn't as sweet as you'd think). You can either drizzle it over the cooled candy, or spread it. Then sprinkle it with some flaky salt, like Maldon sea salt. Let the chocolate harden and then break the sponge candy into pieces and store in an air tight container.

I am taking these to a girls night tonight. I love the combination of salt and sweet, and this candy is a really nice mix of both flavours.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cards are finished

Our Christmas cards are finished and in the mail. We're ahead of the game this year, largely due to ordering our cards from an online site. They are photo cards, so no pics to print and cut out. They are already printed, so no signing. And I make lables for the envelopes, so no writing anything out. It feels a little impersonal, but I hate hand addressing envelopes. So long as there are no unusual charges on our credit card, I'll probably use this service again.

We are finished shopping for the kids. Still need to call my middle sister. Youngest sister mentioned something about only buying for the kids this year. I should check into that before I go buying them presents. I'm fine with that.

So we're heading into the part of Christmas that has always been a bit of a letdown for me. I love the preparation and the getting ready. And I'm good with the settling in and enjoying it all. But it's the few days before, and the day of that kind of leave me feeling empty. I grew up with Santa as the point of Christmas. Santa and the whole family celebration. So a fat guy and food were the focus. And it always felt like a bit of a letdown by the afternoon of Christmas day.

I think some parts of Europe are on to something. They do the gift thing on the 6th of December, then have other feast days through the month and then Christmas day is about Jesus. Then there are 12 more celebration days before it's all over. Here we have a prolonged season for the sole purpose of more shopping. It's all backwards and inside out. We celebrate for the sake of stuff instead of celbrating for the sake of celebrating.

We're working to make it different for our kids, but it's a process. We don't do Santa at all. Neither of us feels right about it, and we both feel like it's a lie to lead the kids on like that (for us... I cannot tell you how many people get their knickers in a knot over the "L" word, like by not doing Santa we're condemning them to hell for telling their kids that he is real). It's a personal decision that works for our family. But the rest is a process. The re-learning how to celebrate Jesus, without totally abandoning the family and food and fun that really is a part of the season as well.

I've toyed with the idea of serving dinner on Christmas day to the needy. There's a restaurant in town that does this. I'd wait until the kids are older, mind you. But I like the idea. We don't go to anyone's house for dinner on Christmas day, so we wouldn't be missing out on that at all. For now we give to local food banks. Things like peanut butter alternatives, for families of kids with peanut allergies who can't afford to buy it (it's pricey). And this year we bought an education package through Ten Thousand Villages and got an ornament for our tree to commemorate it. We want the kids to know that doing for others is important all the time, and contrasting it against the materialism of Christmas brings it into sharper focus, it seems. It;s also the time when need is felt most accutely as well.

Hopefully we're doing right by them. I hope that Christmas for our kids is about celebrating Jesus and what He's done for us. It seems strange to link Christmas and Easter, but Christmas makes no sense unless we look at the whole picture and the reason *why* it matters that Jesus was ever born at all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Too soon. Too soon. Too soon. Okay, now.

It feels like it was just last week that people were putting up and turning on their Christmas lights and I was saying, "Too soon!" But now, it's the last day of November already. Hubby and Little Mister have had their birthdays, the house is decorated, Santa parades have begun and ended, and December starts tomorrow.

Too soon!

I like the lingering lead up to Christmas. I don't like it to be too drawn out, but I like to take my time approaching it. And already we're into discount sales on Christmas decorations. Why so soon? Do they need the space for Valentine's Day already? Seriously.

I do have some Christmas shopping done. Hubby is partially bought for, as are his mother and one of my sisters. And our cards are done (thank you Vistaprint and half off photo cards and free shipping).

I guess I'm fine with the passage of time. Though the office Christmas party is this week already. That feels soon. But it's always in early December, so I suppose it's not.

I think I just need to spend some time focused on what is important. Advent isn't something I grew up with, but I really appreciate it. I need to spend time on it, though. Contemplation doesn't just happen, and it isn't my strong suit. Quiet reflection and meditation are something I aspire to, rather than accomplish, it seems.

The Little Miss always wants to go looking at Christmas lights, and thus far we've been a little disappointed. I guess we were early on that. I'm ready for them now.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Need a Snow Day?

Yes, it's a mindless timesuck, but I've enjoyed making cyber snowflakes for years now. Fun fun fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cookie creation

I bought some flavoured oils a couple of weeks ago and have been wanting to play with them. Spearmint oil, cinnamon oil and orange oil (plus apple and amaretto flavourings). Today I was in the mood to make shortbread, and decided it would be a good time to play. Here is the result...

Orange Cinnamon Shortbread

1/2 C butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1/2 tsp orange oil
1/4 tsp cinnamon oil
2 C all purpose flour

Cream together the butter, sugar and oils. Add the flour and mix to combine. If it's too dry, add water a teaspoon at a time to bring it almost together.

Form the dough into a ball with your hands and roll out to 1/4" thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into desired shapes (I used small Christmas ornament cookie cutters).

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes, until the bottoms are light brown. Cool on racks.

Makes about 60 small cookies

~ I decorated mine by mixing some paste food colouring with a splash of cream and painting it on the unbaked cookies. Then I sprinkled them with some coloured sugar and baked them. ~

(I make no apologies for the quality of the picture. I'm a blogger, not a photographer. LOL)

Need more books

I was lamenting on a message board last week that our son, who will be 5 in just under a week, has been reading since he was 2 or so. Why lamenting? He's self taught and quite good at it. But he's young, and I was concerned that his ability to read and his maturity were not meshing. He could read longer books, but lacked the maturity to sit long enough to do so.

Fast forward to two nights ago. Hubby went out and the three of us sat down to read. The Little Mister went to the bookshelf and grabbed a level 3 reader (grades 2-4 chapter book with about 60 pages) and said that he was going to read it to us. And he did. He was so proud of himself that last night he read it again for Daddy and then grabbed another one and read it too. We only have a few at this level. I think a library trip is in order. It's like someone flipped a switch and suddenly he's able to sit read these books. I'm so proud of him!

Thankfully there is a book depot in town that has a huge half price sale right after Christmas. The books are already at wholesale prices, and last year we brought home so many! I foresee bringing home many more this year.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More weather wonk

Okay, so summer was cooler than usual. And the peak of autumn colour has already passed us by. Usually we're just hitting it now. And today it's 16C at 9:30am. It should be around 6C or so (that's about 61 and 43 degrees American respectively). Very weird.

Though if I can find batteries for the camera, I hope the weather will afford me a chance to catch some great pics of the kids playing outside that I can use for our Christmas card this year. There's a great offer at for half price photo cards and free shipping. Definitely worth doing. If only I could find batteries.

Speaking of going outside with the kids, I think today we'll do a little nature walk. Collecting leaves and sticks and such and sticking them on some paper. Kind of a way to capture a little of the autumn before the snow flies.

Which I hope isn't too far off. It's harder to get into the Christmas mood when it's mild out. I like snow for Christmas time. Either way, though, it's coming. Hubby put the lights up on the house yesterday (again taking advantage of the mild weather). We won't turn them on until first Advent or so (last Sunday in November). Unlike about a dozen or so houses in the neighbourhood. Too soon. Then again, some stores are already playing Christmas music. Way too soon!

But, in the spirit of the (baking) season, I did buy some candied fruit last night. Not that hubby eats anything with it, but I do. I'm one of those who likes Christmas fruit cakes. Very much. Not the marzipan topped ones, mind you. Just the plain ones. Yum. I won't be making fruit cake (I don't think), but I do want to make some fruited yeast bread, and maybe some cannoli cookies. Mmmmm

Monday, November 2, 2009

Moving at the speed of...

I don't know what it is about this year, but everyone is saying the same thing - it's going by really quickly! The last time I checked, I was looking forward to the food festival and harvest festival. I was getting excited seeing October expiry dates on things. Now I'm seeing December! How is it November already? How are Thanksgiving and my gourmet night just memories (delicious memories)?

I feel like I need to be more deliberate about things, or else it will be Christmas before I'm ready for it. Maybe I should take the kids for a walk this afternoon and collect some leaves before they're all gone. Breathe in the autumn air while it's still just barely chilly, rather than cold. Enjoy the crinkle of leaves under my feet before we're all tromping through snow.

And while I'm being deliberate with my time, it's time to play Wii with my son while his sister naps.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gourmet report

We had a lovely evening. The food was so yummy! We started with potatoes, cubed, par cooked and hollowed out and then deep fried. They were filled with sour cream and topped with caviar and chives. Honestly, I had never tried caviar before. Ditto another 6 out of the 9 of us. But save for one gal who could not bring herself to try it, we all liked it. I had two of them.

Our first course was a tart made from puff pastry, and then topped with dijon, emmental cheese, a little parm and some sliced tomatoes. It was sprinkled with herbes de provence. Really, really nice.

Next, salad. Wilted spinach salad with mushrooms, bacon and a warm cider mustard dressing. Really good, save for the mushrooms, which I don't care much for.

With the salad we had a wonderful bread. It's first rise took a whole day, and it had two more shorter rises after that. It was chewy and had such depth of flavour.

Then onto the main course. We had a cider marinated pork loin (it was supposed to be hard cider, but the gal misread it). It was very nice, even if the sauce was a bit sweet. The cracklings never happened because the butcher shop that assured the gal they could get the skin on fatback gave her just chunks of plain fat. No skin.

Anyway, with the pork we had roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, apples and pears. That was very nice. The sprouts take on a nutty taste, and the fruit counters the bitterness really well. Then there was the mashed potatoes with garlic, aged cheddar and bacon. Oh. Wow. They were magnificent! Creamy, garlicy, with the tang of cheese and the sweetness of the bacon. Yum!

My green apple sorbet was good, but I would definitely not keep the skins on the next time. Sorbet should just melt in the mouth. This had to be chewed a little.

Then, dessert. Autumn trifle with spiced pastry cream, roasted apples and pears and pumpkin caramel sauce. Very nice.

We were all quite full by evening's end. I think dessert did most of us in.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gourmet coming up

Some years back we had a group in our church simply called "Gourmet." A few of us (7 or 8 or so) got together every couple of months for a feast. The hostess would set the menu and assign each person her recipe. We'd arrive, dish in hand, and enjoy a wonderful meal together. I hosted a couple of times and it was such fun.

We've started the group again, with a few new faces. And I am hosting the inaugural dinner. I decided, given the time of year, to do a harvest feast. The menu is as follows...

Amuse Bouche (a palate teaser to awaken the taste buds) - Crisp Potato Canapes with Caviar

First Course - Rustic Tomato Emmental Tart

Salad - Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon and Cider Dressing

Bread - Epi de Ble Baguette

Main Dish - Pork Loin in Cider Sauce with Cracklings

Side #1 - White Cheddar and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Side #2 - Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Autumn Fruits

Palate Cleanser - Sorbet de Pommes Vertes

Dessert - Autumn Trifle with Roasted Apples, Pears and Pumpkin-Caramel Sauce

Drinks - Apple Cider and Coffee with Ginger Spice Syrup

We meet next Monday night, and I think everyone is looking forward to it. I am providing the drinks and the palate cleanser, which is a totally optional course that I threw in for fun. Normally there is a soup and salad, but I shifted the person on soup to an amuse bouche course, again for fun. And because I thought the meal would be too heavy with a soup as well as everything else.

I need to check on decorations. I have no clue where to find autumn coloured serviettes, now that Thanksgiving is over. Go figure. But I may be able to score some orange ones. I'll have to look around. This is going to be fun!

Monday, October 5, 2009

More autumn fun

What a wonderful weekend. We went to a local food festival, which wasn't as good as last year, unfortunately. But it was alright. And we had some wonderful "loaded baked potato soup." I must find a comparable recipe!

After that we went to a harvest festival at a local Christian camp. We went last year and it was so much fun. They have an insane hayride through their maple sugar bush. The hills are insane, and at one point the tractor got stuck two thirds of the way up a huge one. We all had such a great time. The kids thought it was great fun to be stuck and to be bumping over hill and dale. We saw some wild turkeys in a field and everything. The games were such fun, and the kids had an absolute blast. I picked up some corn stalks to decorate the house, and a bale of straw to (duh) put under and around our strawberry plants.

Doing things like this makes me feel deliriously happy. It is so much fun to celebrate my favourite season with my family. Given that for many years we never knew if we'd ever have children, to be able to share this with them is such a huge blessing.

Another blessing is my husband, who decided that we should have his parents come by Saturday night so that we could go out for dinner. It's great to celebrate Autumn with the kids, but it's also wonderful to be just the two of us. So we tried a new place downtown. One that is all about local, seasonal foods. It was *okay.* Not stellar, but it wasn't terrible. The salad was absolutely wonderful, however. I would have never thought to put these ingredients together, but it was made with tender greens, dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts, feta and a maple balsamic dressing that was actually tangy rather than oily. It was so good. Feta and maple/balsamic would never have crossed my mind. Now to work on recreating the salad at home. Yum!

I cannot believe it's Thanksgiving in a week. I ordered a "small" turkey. Was told that it would be between 11 and 15lbs or so. Wow. For 2 adults and 2 little kids. We'll feast on leftovers! Not sure what we'll have for dessert, as I am the only real fan of pumpkin pie in the house (and I bought a piece for myself at the Harvest Festival and enjoyed it last night). Maybe cheesecake? We'll see.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You got your autumn in my summer

And now your summer is in my autumn. It's been fall for 2 days and both days the A/C has come on. It's not terribly hot, but enough to be sweaty. At least it's not hideous at night. But seriously, who gave summer permission to exact retribution on autumn?

Oh well, I have the house decorated and I made a roasted veggie soup to mark the first day of autumn. We went to a local fall fair/regional exhibition that we hadn't been to in a few years. It got really sucky for a while, and then it was good again. Now it's back to sucking. But the kids had fun on the rides and seeing cool exotic animals and such. And Little Miss was brave enough to ride on a live pony ride. I had a hand on her, but she held on to the saddle and had a great time! Little Mister isn't really the live horse type. He'd rather ride around on the car ride (which hubby said had a manufacture date of 1970!).

We ate some very dry, over cooked food. The one vendor had a smoker, and smoked everything, which would be fine... Except the peameal bacon was already cooked and sliced. All it did in the smoker was dry out. Blah. We tried a deep fried Mars bar, but it tasted like the water used for the batter had been stored in a plastic jug in the sun for a few hours. Either that or they forgot to unwrap the chocolate bar before frying it. Blech. Got our money back on that one. Actually, the woman nearly threw the money at me to get me away from the truck quickly, before anyone else heard. We bought some fresh mini doughnuts instead.

This weekend is the wrap up of the local wine festival. I doubt we'll go to any events. There's a big parade, but it's supposed to rain. And the organizers have become a little poopy about the whole thing, wanting to make it some stellar "event" rather than a fun community parade. We did take the kids to a parade on Labour Day that was fun. Except for the labour entries, which were boring (it's a community celebration parade, not specifically a labour parade). But the kids liked it.

There's a local food festival coming up in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to that. And of course the Thanksgiving craft shows the week after that. I can't believe Thanksgiving is in less than 3 weeks! We've been discussing whole turkey versus turkey breast. I love the whole bird, but it's hard to find small ones. They're all 15-25lbs anymore, it seems. Hubby asked if there are 5lb turkeys. I said, "Yes, they're called eggs."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Of butter and autumn

I read a post about someone making butter with their kids and got inspired. I had a couple of cups of heavy cream in the fridge, so I decided to pull it out and make butter. Now, I am not one of these food porn bloggers who take detailed photos of the process, so you'll have to Google if you want to see butter being made.

I poured the cream into my KitchenAid and fitted it with the paddle attachment. I put it on medium-low (any higher created a splatter pattern on my counters). And that was it. I let it go for maybe 1o minutes. It passed the fluffy whipped cream stage and, as it was supposed to, went to the curdled mess stage. I poured it into a strainer and then into some icy water (I forgot to do that first). Then back into the strainer. I pressed and stirred out some of the liquid, and then put the mass into a small bowl, where I pressed it some more. It's amazing how much liquid there is in there. I added salt and it is now sitting, covered, in the fridge. I imagine more liquid will come out yet. I think I'll take some of it and add some garlic and some homemade dried tomatoes. Maybe a little fresh basil from the back step.

So autumn weather is here; not that summer weather really arrived at any point for very long. But there is a difference between cool mid-summer days and late-summer/early autumn days. Today the sky was grey. Slate grey. But the sun was coming from somewhere unseen, and the entire street looked as though it was bathed in gold. The air isn't just cool; it's crisp. There's a sense of anticipation in the air. The anticipation of putting on long pants and shirts one day and not going back to shorts. The anticipation of the turning colours on the trees. The anticipation of all things autumn, from fall fairs to local festivals, to going out apple picking and leaf gathering. It is my favourite time of year.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fluid learning

I love the fluidity of learning, and the homeschool environment. This morning we sat down to do some spelling. We finished up beginning and ending letters on simple words and moved on to the short 'a' sound. Part way through, the little mister asks about rain and how it happens. That lead to a whole discussion about evaporation and condensation, which lead to me plugging in the kettle and putting ice in a bowl and demonstrating both principles (while both kids begged ice chips to munch on).

It so happens that the Sid the Science Kid programme is focusing on weather this week, so we have a springboard for more discussion and a way to solidify what we talked about this morning a little more. It's wonderful. I'm going to look around online for more interesting ways to set the concepts. Eventually we want to buy a weather station so that we can track the weather and chart it and such. I think it will be really fun.

For those following the tomato saga, something has been boring into them and eating them. I've lost about half of the San Marzanos already. I think I'll just buy them next year, since they take up so much space and aren't ripening at an even pace. I can't make sauce a dozen tomatoes at a time. I did dry the last ones that I got and froze them for later.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mmmm, Danishes

Okay, I will get back to the business of blogging about life and home and gardens and homeschooling and such. But I came across a blog page today that has me thinking of actually attempting to make Danishes.

It looks so easy. Of course, there is no recipe on that page for the dough. I imagine myself making these with store bought puff pastry. At least at first. I am not a baker. I have always preferred to cook; to change things up to the last few moments before serving. But since having kids, I've taken more of a shine to baking. And these pastry shaping tips, assuming that store bought puff pastry will work, are really getting me thinking of reasons and occasions where I can try my hand at them. I do hope that our son is not allergic to tree nuts (he doesn't seem to be). There is a place nearby that grows nuts and have no peanuts on site anywhere. So those nuts will be safe for us to use, which will allow me to try those Bear Claws, which look wonderful.

Next week we're "back to school." I'll blog about that as I go along. For now, my mind is awhirl with golden, flaky pastry.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New to linking to other blogs

Okay, I am new to the whole blog scene in general, and especially to linking to other blogs. But I saw this idea today and wanted to share it (and have a record of it instead of relegating it to yet another bookmark folder).

Story Dice

This looks like a great idea. I'm not artistic, but my sister is, and I could ask her to make them. Or I could buy stickers and then seal the dice so they don't peel off.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The end is near (I hope)

If you read this blog long enough, you'll come to see that I am no fan of summer. I endure it for the sake of fresh produce and herbs. And that endurance makes autumn, which is my favourite season, all the sweeter. But this summer has been different. It's only in the past few weeks that we've had any real heat and humidity. The air conditioning has not gotten much of a workout this summer at all. And I love it that way. Even now, the windows are open as we await yet more rain.

That said, I do not want summer to overstay it's welcome, just to make up for lost time. I don't care that it arrived a few months late. It is not allowed to nose it's way into my autumn. Bring on long pants, light jackets and hoodies!

But if I may backtrack into the bounty of summer for a moment, I would like to share one of the fruits of that strange Bear Claw tomato plant that I've mentioned previously (and if you're wondering, yes, my tomatoes have successfully taken over most of the neighbourhood, and I suspect that once we dig them up, we'll find at least 2 small children and a Mini Cooper under them). This tomato plant produces Brandywine type tomatoes, with a strange teardrop-ish shape.

Here's the first one that I pulled off. The first thing that I thought when I saw it on the plant was that it was rather heart-shaped. Then I saw the markings on it and that settled it. It's a Cardiac Tomato. Perhaps the first of it's kind. Definitely a contender for the strangest looking thing I've ever grown, and I'm including that carrot with 6 legs. It was quite large. There's nothing to reference the size in the picture, but it was bigger than my whole fist, consistent with the Brandywine variety. It was also a little mealy in the middle, but I suspect that is due to the large quantity of rain we've gotten this season. The flavour was good. I added it to a bowl with some cucumber, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Yum.

There are a few more on the plant yet, which has taken quite a beating as summer has worn on. I haven't seen any more with such a pronounced heart shape to them, but they are all tapered at the end.

Now, on to autumn. September is nearly here, and with it our daughter's second birthday. I really hope and pray that it does not rain again this year. Our house simply is not large enough for everyone, and this year we've invited the family of one of our son's soccer teammates. He and this girl became friends, as did Little Miss and the girl's brother, who is six months younger. So we'll have a very, very full house if the weather is not good. 23C and no rain would be lovely.

And then we dive into homeschooling again. Not that we've really stopped, but we haven't had a routine. I still don't know what our routine will look like, but I'm sure it will emerge as we go along. A little book work, a little art time, some outside fun, some tidying around the house. And the rest of the day spent learning through living. I love homeschooling!

I am already looking forward to the local food festival which is in early October. We went last year and found some new apples. Niagara Gold they're called. They are THE BEST apples I've ever tasted. And living here, I've had many. Tart, sweet, crisp, juicy. They have it all, with a really pronounced apple flavour. They're wonderful, and I hope to get more this year. I can already see them stuffed into a pork loin, glazed with hard cider (a recent discovery I've made and a new favourite beverage and autumn cooking flavour, I'm sure).

Saturday, August 8, 2009


We're having friends over tonight. We were going to have a bonfire, but the weather has conspired against us. Again. As it has all summer thus far. So instead of fun outdoors and a quick tidy of the house, we decided to have our friends come by anyway and cleaned the whole place (minus the bedroom). It looks great. Better than it's looked in quite a while.

You see, we're not terribly good at housekeeping. Never have been. We can live with clutter. We had a very small house before this one (which is not huge either). Somewhere, somehow, we became comfortable with a level of clutter that goes beyond odds and ends here and there. It extends to unwashed dishes sitting on the counter for a very long time, clumps of cat fur blowing down the hallway like tumbleweeds, and unfolded laundry occupying otherwise useful seating. All the time. The kids fight over who gets to sit in that chair because it's so seldom uncovered.

Unless we have company. Which we are having tonight. Our pastor and his wife, and another couple, who have done ministry worldwide. Both couples are friends of ours, and we're looking forward to their visit very much. We don't have friends over often. Mainly because the living room isn't big enough to have more than 2 people over without dragging a chair or two in from the kitchen. Which hasn't been done yet... Okay, taken care of.

And of course there's the clutter. Last minute entertaining has not really been something we've done, due to our house just never beeing in "company" shape.

So tying this into home schooling, I want the way the house is now to be the new status quo. Things picked up. Clutter not excused for weeks on end. Cat tubleweeds eradicated (at least every few days...these two shed like nobody's business). And I want the kids to help.

I grew up with a perfectionist mother, who I think might be a little OCD. We could never do a good enough job, so she never let us do much cleaning, unless she was using it as punishment of some sort. Even then sometimes she'd yell at us to just leave it and she'd do it herself. Go figure. So the whole concept of keeping a tidy house - personally keeping a tidy house, is a little foreign. Not that that's in any way a valid excuse. It's just out there. Fact. And something I don't want to burden our kids with.

So, check back in a month or so and we'll see how things are going. Our friends will be here in a few minutes, so I should make sure we have all of the last minute bits sorted.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Prepping for the year ahead

So it's that time of year again. Okay, so the expected next sentence is "It's back to school time!" But we home school. So there's no school to go back to. But there is curriculum to look at, and possibly to buy. There are lessons to plan, and a new routine to establish. Not that home schooling is going to take a huge chunk out of our day. Our son is going to be 5 later this year, and our daughter will be 2 in a month. We might do half an hour of actual structured lessons a day. Maybe. I have the language study curriculum, and some science and social skills books. We have some math, too. I want to get some better bible study material, and from there we'll be pretty much all set. Oh, and some spelling, too.

The trick won't be doing it all. It will be not doing it all too quickly. LOL I was looking at the Math U See Primer and we could easily do an entire week's worth of lessons in a day. Our son could tear through that book by Christmas! We'll be learning a new skill. Pacing ourselves.

Another skill we'll be building will be housekeeping. I've read many times that one of the biggest struggles for home schoolers is keeping the house tidy. Now, I'll freely admit, that is a struggle for me anyway. Since before we had kids. But I learned something the other day. The kids and I can completely tidy the livingroom/computer area in 15 minutes, including dusting and Swiffer vacuuming, which our son loves to do. So it's more a matter of getting the house clean and then keeping it that way. Maybe we'll make a chart for each day. so that we can stay on task.

Another challenge for me is outdoor time. I am not a huge fan of going outside, unless the weather is perfect (not hot, not cold, not raining). Kids have no such demands. They want to play outside regardless, especially in the rain, as it turns out! So this will stretch me. But that's no bad thing. I could use more exercise myself.

Another thing I'm doing is reading encouraging blogs and articles, like this one. It keeps me mindful that we've been called to do this, and that we can do it.

And now it's time to get the Little Miss dressed for the day. Jammies at 10am is fine, but at some point getting dressed is a good thing. I'm not a PJs all day kind of person.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mmm, blueberry jam

I haven't made jam in ages. Not since before Little Mister was born, I think. And I'd forgotten how easy it is to do (so long as I'm organized, which canning forces me to be). So last week we bought blueberries from a local farmer's market. I realized I had enough for jam, and decided to make some. Then the kids and I ate all the berries (Little Miss polished off half a pint the day I bought them).

So Saturday I bought more. 3 pints of cultivated berries and a pint of wild. Made 10 jars of lovely dark blue jam.

Now I want to make more. Freestone peaches will be in season soon (I hate fiddling with peeled clingstones), and hubby says he'd like some peach jam. Strawberries are finished, but I can buy pails of pitted sweet and sour cherries. Eventually I hope to have enough raspberries in the garden to make at least a mixed berry jam (I'm not a huge fan of pure raspberry jam). And blueberries too. We have Alpine strawberries (a wild hybrid), but I don't know that 5 plants will ever yield enough berries for jam. Maybe I should get some more plants.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

These are the San Marzano tomato plants. And this was taken over a week ago. They are half again this size now. We've had to double stake all of the plants, and even still they are falling over. The leaves on some of them are enormous. Bigger than I've ever seen. They are heavy with fruit, and I hope they ripen well, now that some heat is around. Ditto the strawberries (to the left), which are full of flowers right now. They are Alpine strawberries. Not quite wild and not quite what you find in stores. Can't wait to taste them!
In the back are the raspberry bushes. Well, canes anyway. They won't be bushes for another year or two. We're looking forward to having free raspberries again. Even in season they are expensive.
Shifting gears to homeschooling for a moment, September is almost here. Not that we are bound by any set start date, but we are aiming for the beginning of September anyway. We have some curriculum, and just need to fill in a few gaps with some math and bible study stuff. I am grateful that we're starting at the beginning rather than jumping in after our son already started school. We've never wanted to send the kids to school, and have always known we'd homeschool. In traditional school he'd be starting kindergarten this year. At home he's doing more advanced reading, starting to learn math and doing some science. Not because we're pushing him, but because that's where he's at. And of course this summer he's learning about gardening and how things grow. Life is learning. Homeschooling helps us take advantage of that to the fullest.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Insane tomato plants, part 2

I went outside today with the kids. While looking over the garden, I noticed that my poor Bear Claw tomato plant had snapped two large branches. They'd come unwound from the twisty support I'd wrapped them around, which I far prefer to cages. Unfortunately one stem was the terminal one, which means (I think) that what is on the plant right now in terms of fruit and flowers is all I'll get. That's still about a dozen tomatoes or so, if they all mature. I'm being optimistic. Next year I'll have to get some velcro ties to keep them attached to their support.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Insane tomato plants

Okay, so it's been a while since we've had a garden. We moved here 2 years ago and didn't plant tomatoes the year we moved. And this year is our first with an actual garden plot. I don't know how, but I seemed to have forgotten just how much space they take up. Especially the heirloom varieties. Yikes.

Our pastor gave me 2 heirloom plants. A Brandywine and a Bear Claw (which may be a Brandywine variety). Gosh are they huge now. The Bear Claw one is a droopy plant by nature, it seems, but it also grabs onto anything it can. It was into the Brandywine, and had reached over the peppers to get into the San Marzano tomato plants. I had to cut off an entire productive branch just to manage the thing. Then I cut out all of the suckers and now there is light reaching the interior of the bush again. I figure I have a good half hour of trimming still to get all of the tomato plants under control. Note to self... plant them further apart next year!!! And take pictures when they first go in. Crazy.

The green beans have been more or less overtaken by the tomatoes, but no matter, since the local bunnies seem to enjoy nibbling on any new shoot that appears anyway. Which so far is distracting them from the strawberry plants. We'll see what happens when they begin to fruit.

It'll take a while before the raspberries yield anything of worth, but that's fine. Root growth is good. In a few years I'll be making raspberry pies without breaking the bank! Just like my grandmother did.

So I guess this fall we'll be expanding the garden.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mmmm, peaches

Okay, so peaches aren't quite in season here yet. But they will be in a month or so. In the meantime there are some pretty good ones coming up from the U.S. The kids and I are enjoying one right now.

I love fresh peaches. The smell of them takes me back to when my son was about 9 months old and I would peel and finely cut them up to share with him. They were so ripe and juicy that year that we went through quart after quart. I love living in an area rich in tender fruit crops. We can have peaches for supper that were still growing on the tree that morning.

Canned peaches are an abomination. All mushy and sugary. I have frozen my own in a very light syrup, and while the texture still isn't wonderful, at least they aren't so sweet. Don't even get me started on artificial peach flavour or aroma. Peach gelatin? Yuck. And while I love Kiss My Face products, they really got their peach lotion all wrong. It smells of peaches, but also of armpits and cat pee. It's got a pretty nasty funk to it.

Once peach season actually arrives here, and I can get my hands on some freestone beauties, I will make a peaches and cream pie. Edna Staebler has a wonderful recipe for Thick Cream Peach Pie in her Pies and Tarts with Schmecks Appeal (
ISBN 0-7710-8283-5. CIP) book. I prefer it with a whole wheat crust, and smaller pieces of peach than she calls for, but otherwise it is a wonderful recipe, if you can get your hands on it. In it she also talks about her friends making peach peel pie. While prepping the fruit for canning, they stew down the peels with some sugar until thick and jammy, and then pour them into a baked pie shell. A little whipped cream certainly couldn't hurt. ;-)

As of right now, strawberry season is just ending and cherry season has begun. Peach season is not far behind (if the heat of summer ever finds us - nearly mid July and still only 22C during the day - not that I mind).

Monday, July 6, 2009

The first step

And here it is. The first step in this blog. Let me tell you a little about myself. I am a 36 year old happily married mom of two. Our son is 4 1/2 and our daughter just turned 22 months. We knew before we ever had kids that we would homeschool them, and this year we're embarking on that journey.

I am also a foodie. I have been all my life, though I didn't know it. I want to thank whoever coined the term, because it gave me something to identify my passion as. I love food. I love reading about food. I love talking about food. I love learning about food. If you go on vacation, I want to know what you ate. I'm sure the seashore was lovely, but tell me about the food. I read cookbooks like novels. My husband has stopped asking me what recipe I'm looking up when I am perusing yet another cookbook. I curl up with recipes like others curl up with Agatha Christie. I am all a-twitter about the upcoming Julie and Julia movie!

Then there is the journey of faith, which I won't really blog a lot about. Faith is a very intimate thing, and not necessarily something that I am comfortable putting out there for the world to read about.

So in a very small nutshell, that is me, and where I am at. Welcome. Walk with me.