Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas, Journeys, and Coming Home ...

This was our last Christmas in our townhouse.  A home where we became a couple, and then parents.  The only home Walter has known.  It's been a wonderful home, full of much joy and happiness.  We'll miss it, but we're also excited about our next home.

Christmas Day was spent at home, with my Mom staying with us to help us celebrate. Walter counted 24 presents with his name on them (!!) ... all were opened and examined in under an hour. He's fast!

I brined our 10-lb turkey the night before after reading so many blogs and articles discussing this technique.  It was so easy to do and tasted incredible. 

Recipe:  24 cups of water, 1 1/2 cups honey, 1 cup coarse salt, 3/4 cup brown sugar, many sprigs of fresh rosemary from our garden, 1 whole garlic bulb peeled and cut into chunks.  All this placed in a big pot to simmer until the salt and sugar had dissolved and blended.  I set it on our outside porch with the lid on to cool in the winter air.  In the meantime I got out a mid-sized cooler and placed ice in bags on the bottom.  Got the turkey out, removing the gizzards and neck (which I used to make gravy).  I placed the turkey in a medium sized clean garbage bag in the cooler and poured the brine in.  I tied it loosely.  Put more ice over, and weighed it all down with several gel ice packs.  I then placed the cooler in our frigidly cold garage overnight.  On Christmas Day I turned the oven on just before 2 PM to 325F.  While the oven warmed up I drained the turkey, wiped it down with paper towels to dry it, and placed it in a large KitchenAid enamel double roaster (that we had purchased a few days ago for $39 - regularly $140).  I melted 1 cup of unsalted butter and brushed it all over the turkey, put the lid on, and placed it in the oven for 2 1/4 hours.  At that point we removed the lid, basted the turkey with the pan drippings and let it continue to roast for 30 minutes.  Then it was out of the oven, lid on to rest, while the rest of the dinner was prepped.

On Boxing Day we headed to the interior to have a few days visit with Manuel's Mom in the Okanagan.  The Hope-Princeton Highway was a bit slushy and slick at times, but our good old Chevy 4x4 K2500 Silverado had no problems getting us there and back.

The drive home was stunning - full of sunshine on fresh, crisp snow.

Now, on New Year's Eve we're home, resting ... before the weekend comes and we start packing!

Happy New Year to everyone - may the coming year bring you much joy and happiness.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Homemade Brown Sugar

While making the gingerbread house on the weekend I ran out of two things - brown sugar and molasses.

For the brown sugar I used the simple technic of adding molasses to white sugar and rubbing it in until it's completely blended.

You go from this ...

to this ...

For the molasses I used my book "The Food Substitutions Bible" by David Joachim.  This is a great resource to have on hand.  It's basically an A to Z listing of most food items that you use in your kitchen and possible substitutions.  I had almost enough molasses (remember I doubled my recipe so I needed 2 cups of molasses - I was 1/4 cup short).  By using this book I found out I could use honey - which we had plenty of - to top off my 2 cups.  Phew - disaster averted.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gingerbread House Baking

This past weekend Walter, Manuel and I took the time to build a gingerbread house.  Not just your regular five-year-old gingerbread house, but a house that we could practically move into!

Before we got started I checked out the internet for both a recipe and building plans.  The recipe came by way of The Alison Show.  A great website full of crafting and baking.  For the plan ... well, although I found some great ideas, I couldn't find a plan that was quite right.  So, I had to wing it.  Things I learned from winging it?  Don't!  Take the time to draw it out on cardstock, cut it out, tape it out to test it.  It'll save you so much time.

In any case, Walter and I started getting all the ingredients together and making the dough.  (Actually, I sent him off with Daddy to do some storage re-arranging so I could complete this step more quickly.)

  • Flour - 6 cups
  • Baking Powder - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Ground Ginger - 4 teaspoons
  • Ground Cinnamon - 4 teaspoons
  • Ground Cloves - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Butter, softened - 3/4 cup
  • Brown Sugar - 1 1/2 cups
  • Eggs - 2 large
  • Molasses - 1 cup
  • Water - 1 or more tablespoons, if needed
Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside.  In a mixer cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy (since I don't have a stand mixer I did this by hand).  Add the eggs, one at a time, until blended.  Then add in the molasses.  Now, start adding in the flour mixture, in small batches, blending in as you go.  It will be quite dry - if it's too dry add a tiny bit of water.  It should end up being blended but not sticky.

Divide the dough into four parts and roll each out to 3/8" thickness on wax paper.  You may need a bit of flour if your rolling pin sticks.  Layer these four rolled out dough portions on a cookie sheet using the wax paper as dividers, and place in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Now you can cut out your gingerbread house using whatever plan you devised.  I doubled the recipe at Manuel's insistence because he thought we would be building big.  I ended up with a LOT of dough - some Walter and I made into gingerbread people, animals, and Christmas images, but I still ended up freezing a lot of dough for a future time.

I found that I needed to spray the cookie sheets with some Pam in order to help the baked gingerbread loosen more easily.  In any case, place your pieces on a cookie sheet and bake for 7-9 minutes.  I used my convection setting and found 8 minutes just right.  Cool on sheet before removing to completely cool.

The next part - the Royal Icing - is the sugary "glue" that keeps all the pieces together.  Alison taught me something new here - meringue powder!  I found mine at Galloway's.  This is a lovely local store that is a great source for European cooking needs as well as having wonderful bulk-style organic items and personal/home care products.  I bought two bags just in case - I have way too much, so I'll have to figure out what else I can make besides royal icing :)

  • Meringue Powder - 1/2 cup
  • Water - 1 cup (almost)
  • Powdered Sugar - 2 pounds (one of those bags you get in the grocery store)
  • Light Corn Syrup - 2 teaspoons
First, sift the powdered sugar and set aside.  Next, you need to whisk the meringue powder and water until foamy.  I used my hand mixer for this.  It doesn't take long.  Now, slowly add in the powdered sugar.  Mix on low until blended, about 5 minutes.  Then, add in the corn syrup and mix on medium speed until it is glossy and stiff peaks form.

I used a jar and placed sandwich bags over the jar, pushing the bag around the jar opening.  Then I could scoop the royal icing into the bag, press out the air, and zip it up before snipping off a corner - this became my "piping" bag.  I would have used my piping kit but it's in storage until we move.

Because we had made such big sides and roof pieces we found we needed to butter the back side of the pieces with royal icing and let this harden before proceeding.  This made the pieces firmer and more stable.  Even doing this we needed to allow the frame of the house to set over night before completing things the next day.  Yes, a two-day gingerbread house!  To help stabilize the whole structure even more we used toothpicks and bamboo skewers.

Now came the part that Walter was impatiently waiting for - decorating!  We spent Friday morning before work at Save-on-Foods in the bulk section picking out candies to use for this purpose ... plus we picked up some more at Galloway's on Saturday.

I piped while Walter followed behind placing every single piece of candy he could.  He even placed large handfuls inside the house!  We had a great time ... although, when the last piece was stuck on Walter wanted to know if we could start eating the gingerbread house.  I said NO - we need pictures.  And Daddy said NO - we want Oma to see it too!  Every day he asks - so far, we've had enough gingerbread men to keep him occupied!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Tree Decorating

Remember the tree we cut on Sunday?  Daddy and Mommy put it in the stand Monday night and Walter got right to work decorating it.  Don't you just love what he did?

In case you can't see all the details, let me give you a closer shot ...

Did you notice the Rudolph red-nose at the top?  Walter thought that was the perfect spot - right on the tip of the star.  Every day he adds a little more.  Today, Daddy and Walter did the guy thing.  You know, dinner at White Spot, buying a new Christmas ornament, and a visit with Santa.  So, two new ornaments to add to the tree tonight.

Ah, to be five, eh?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Easy Jam Tart

This recipe comes from the Smitten Kitchen.  I found it in November while I was having fun playing with Deb's "Surprise Me!" link on the left side of her blog.  Great idea!

I don't have a stand mixer (although I plan on getting one once we've moved into our new house) - I simply used my hands for the first part.  I didn't have unsalted butter, so cut back on the salt indicated.  And, I didn't have coarse sugar - I used my homemade brown sugar.  Despite these "limitations" this recipe comes out every time being the most delicious, and elegant sweet treat.  It is equally at home in your lunch bag or served as a special dessert at the end of a lovely dinner with your favourite friends.

Here's the recipe:
  • Flour - 1 1/2 cups
  • Cornmeal - 1/2 cup
  • Baking Powder - 2 teaspoons
  • Salt - 1/2 teaspoon (less if you are using salted butter)
  • Unsalted Butter, room temperature - 9 tablespoons (that's 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon)
  • Sugar - 1/2 cup
  • Egg, whole - 1 large
  • Egg, separated - 1 large
  • Almond Extract - 1/8 teaspoon
  • Jam - 1 1/3 to 1 3/4 cups
  • Sugar, coarse - 2 tablespoons

In a small bowl combine the first four ingredients.  Stir and set aside.  In a medium to large size bowl combine the butter and sugar - since I didn't have a stand mixer I cut the butter into small pieces, poured in the sugar and used my hands to combine everything really well.  Next, put in the first egg, plus the yolk of the second egg, and the almond extract.  Combine these new ingredients - I used a fork to do this.  [I call this my Amish cooking style since I figure if they can make such delicious food without electricity so can I!]

Next up - use your fork to slowly blend in the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture.  Don't overdo this step.  Just make sure the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Then take a third of the dough and roll it into a 2 inch wide log and wrap it in saran wrap.  Put the dough log in the freezer while you continue on.

Put the rest of the dough into a 9-inch spring form pan.  Press the dough over the bottom and partially up the sides.  Try to get an even layer throughout.  Once you are finished put the pan into the freezer for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Take both dough's out of the freezer.  Spread your jam over the bottom of the pan.  Slice the dough log into small, thin disks.  Place the disks in a pretty pattern over the jam.  Froth up the egg white from the second egg and brush this over the disks.  Sprinkle with the coarse sugar.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pie is golden.  Let cool completely.

Now - enjoy.

Christmas Tree Shopping

We've been buying from U-Cut Farms for several years now - ever since we learned that those lots selling "fresh" cut trees costing upwards of $75 often cut their trees 6-8 weeks before they even reached the point of sale.  We were so disappointed.

This year we tried out a few different locales, but in the end we came back to our favourite - H&M, located in Richmond on Steveston Highway just west of Gilbert.  We got a 6-foot Grand Fir for $45 inclusive.  So full and wide we had a hard time getting it through the front door!  And the smell?  Amazing.

As usual, we found the tree we would take home within minutes of walking to the Grand Fir area, but also as usual ... Manuel spent more time searching for something "better."  When Walter and I finally convinced Manuel we had picked the right one he got to work cutting while Walter oversaw things.

It was a bit wet out ... we were forced to make hot chocolate when we got home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Card DIY

I used to buy Christmas cards in a box.  Once we had Walter I decided to make our own so that I could incorporate a picture of him each year - basically showing the changes in him every Christmas.

The first three years I ordered cards on-line, uploading photos.  The first one worked out quite well.  The second year - the store I ordered through changed printing companies and the quality sucked.  The third year was OK - I found a different company, but it was pricier.  Still, I was ready to get a little more creative.  So, for the fourth year I bought decorative cards with envelopes and used our own ink jet printer to create the photo to be attached.  It was a fair bit of work, but I quite enjoyed it.

So, this year I'm back at it again.  I've decided I'll show what's involved and tally up the costs.  Let's see how much it REALLY costs to make your own cards.

Here's what I bought:
  • Canon Photo Paper (100 4x6) - $17.85 ... with a second package free
  • Photocard kit with cards and envelopes (20 x 5 packages) - $74.90
  • Mailing Labels (100) - $6.99
  • Clear Labels for inside card text (60 x 2 packages) - $30.92
  • Return Mailing Labels (350) $14.96
  • Business Card Stock (200) - $17.95
  • Ink Jet Cartridges for yellow, cyan, magenta - $20.99 x 3
The business card stock was to give out our new home address - not something that would always be necessary.  The ink jet cartridges vary in which ones come up for replacement, but I always seem to need to replace at least 2-3 of them each year while doing this project ... so we'll include them.

First, let's add up this list, add in the tax (here in BC we currently have HST of 12%).  Then we'll create a unit price and add that to find out the base cost per card.  Using Excel to tally up the overall cost - $253.72 with HST.  Ouch!  However, the actual cost per card runs to $1.74 (without the business card $1.64).  I usually end up using between 85 and 100.

My Christmas card workstation is our dining table! I love my Fiskars cutter - a best buy for sure.

First, I had to design the photo to place on the front of the card.  The previous weekend I had gotten Walter to pose with some moving boxes I had decorated with crafty snowflakes.  I wasn't totally happy with the results.  I played around with various photos and finally came up with this:

This incorporates our early Christmas art project, the moving boxes with snowflakes and a photo of Walter taken in November at the farm.  I printed off 85 in batches of five, letting them dry before stacking them.

Next, the inside label with a simple greeting and our names.  Then, I spent some time typing in contact information for everyone who was going to receive a card.  At this point I had a better idea of how many cards I would be producing.  After printing off the mailing labels, I created return mailing labels.  Business cards were next.  I used some clipart to include a bit of graphics in the form of a colourful moving truck with the phrase "we're moving!" emblazed on its side.

I created a workflow space for myself and started sticking labels - inside the card for the greeting text, then sticking the photo to the card.  Then labeling the envelope with the mailing and return mailing address labels.  Stuffed the card in, sealed the envelope.  Next!

I spent Saturday night printing the photos, and Sunday afternoon/evening doing the rest.  Probably 6-8 hours total.

Will I do it again next year?  You bet!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Psst ... We Have a Secret!

We have a secret ... but we don't have to keep it to ourselves anymore.  We've bought a house - yeah!

After selling our townhouse in the beginning of November we started seriously looking for a new home.  We had our list of needs and wants:
  • yard for Walter (need)
  • workshop for Manuel (want)
  • good schools (need)
  • out of school care that worked with our schedules (need)
  • possibilities for rental suite and/or homestay (want)
  • place to park the RV (want)
  • 3-4 bedrooms (flexible)
  • 2-3 bathrooms (flexible)
  • family room (want)
  • study for me (want)
On the Need side not too much (3) - all related to Walter.  The Want side was a little more difficult and caused us the most grief.

We lost out on several places before finally being successful.  The end home?  It's not our "dream" home, but it's a good home.  It has the yard, space for a workshop, good schools, out of school care with great hours, there's space for putting in a rental suite if we want and there's space for a homestay student.  The RV parking might be a smidge difficult - we'll have to play that one by ear.  There's a family room and a study.  The neighbourhood is great ... we back unto a park reserve and there's a wonderful community park nearby.  We got the house for a great price - if it was up-to-date and had been staged we'd likely have paid another $200,000.  As it is, it's a solid house that needs some loving and inspiration.  I think that is probably the right level for us at this time.  Something that's completely liveable as is, but allows us to get creative and add value.

We move at the end of January.  In the meantime?  We're saving every box we come across!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Blogabout - Inspiring Artwork

The other day I was reading Apartment Therapy - which gives me such inspiration ... things to try, products to consider, and often new blogs to check out.  It's a site that's constantly updated, so there's always something new.  On this occasion I found myself working through various blogs until I reached Urban Sketchers.

Oh my.

Hundreds of artists from around the world contribute to this site.  The styles, images, discussions and observations are incredible.

If you love art, either to view or to dapple in, this website might just hit the mark for you.

I spent over an hour going through pages and pages of inspiring works.

IKEA Kungens kurva, sofa departmentSketching at Ikea, November 25, 2012

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Secret Santa for Office Times

Each year my office holds a Secret Santa event.  There is a price limit of $15 - not much, but the idea is not to alienate those who can't afford much.  I haven't been lucky in the people I've drawn - I haven't known any of them well and trying to find out things about them without making it obvious doesn't always work.  Take this year - I got the new person to the office.  All I know about her is that she's recently graduated with an undergrad degree and seems to like 10-pin bowling (at least she was game to participate with co-workers after work!).  She's only been with us for two months and no one seems to know too much about her either.  I had the opportunity to chat with her for a few minutes, but no luck in sussing out enough details to make gift ideas easier.

I ended up at Michael's today looking for some yarn for my Mother-in-Law.  No luck with the yarn colour matching, but I came up with some interesting gift ideas for my Secret Santa gift.

  1. Stacked Snowman tin.  Quite adorable.  Three compartments of graduating sizes.  I thought - candy in the smallest, hot chocolate mix in the next size up, and baked cookies in the largest.  But the tin was $13.99 plus tax.  Didn't leave much room for the contents.  Plus the gift seemed a little lame.
  2. Next a set of mismatched socks.  Funky socks - three individuals, all different colours, designs, with buttons sewn on.  Little doodads with button holes so that people can add individuality to each sock.  Sock set was $9.99, doodads were $3.99.  Would put me slightly over, but not too bad.  Still, I wasn't sure if my giftee was funky like that.
  3. Finally, I remembered reading a blog last night about making Christmas ornaments with Sculpey baked clay.  Two packages of white Sculpey ($3.99 each), one acrylic gold ink pen ($3.99), star cookie cutter ($1.50) and some red needlepoint thread ($0.50).  Again, just over $15 with tax, but at least this gift wouldn't be too funky and definitely had a Christmas theme to it.
In the end I went with #3.  I'll print the blog instructions on the office colour printer and create my own gift package.  I hope she enjoys crafting with this gift and makes some ornaments for her home.

What do you do for gift ideas when participating in Secret Santa events?  Spend a lot of time getting it right or grab the first thing nearest the cash register?  Perhaps you re-gift/re-purpose?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Blogabout - Top Three Plus Four

If I have a busy day and don't have much time to spare I still make time to read some of the blogs I routinely follow, but I concentracte on my favourites.

with 15 minutes I head to my top three:
If I have 30 minutes I'll add in:
There are others I enjoy, but sometimes there's no time!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Bagged Cookie Recipe

Today happens to be what is locally known as a Pro-D day, otherwise known as a Professional Development day for teachers.  This means Walter doesn't have school today.  His school includes out of school care, so I could have dropped him off anyway ... but it's nice to just hang around at home and have a lazy day.  Especially since my little guy loves to lounge all day in PJs.

So far, wood train systems have been built, Lego ninja's have fought, and angry birds have flown through the air.  Lots of Halloween candy has been eaten - of course, I did demand an apple be eaten along with the candy ... nutrition is important.

Around noon we decided to make cookies.  I had a bag of dark chocolate chips (50% cacao) from Hershey's Chipits.  They always have recipes on these bags, so instead of hunting down a recipe from one of my many cookbooks or searching the internet I used what Hershey's offered me.  It was an easy recipe to follow.

There was a fair bit of product testing going on to ensure quality control was maintained throughout ... five-year-olds take their job seriously!  I had to oversee things too ...

There are still some cookies left!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christmas Craft - 3D Picture

Walter, as usual, is very excited about Christmas.  Gifts, candies, lots of pretty lights and decorations ... he's in heaven!  So, I thought I'd do a little quick craft with him today to start the season off.

I went to Ikea Friday night to get the supplies:
  • White 3D picture frame
  • Shiny red garland
  • Set of natural and red hearts
  • Set of felt birds

Walter was very excited and pulled everything out while I was still putting the laundry in the washing machine!  It was pretty easy to do.  We simply took the back off the picture frame and started laying things down, temporarily putting the back on and having a look.  A few tweaks did it.

We first placed it on the mantel, but decided that a glass object leaning on a mantel wasn't a great idea with an excited five-year-old ... so, it's sitting on my favourite teak desk next to the fireplace.

First signs of Christmas in the house!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


During a recent e-course I took on blogging I learned that there are over 6 million bloggers out there.  Wow!  I read close to 100 a day, so I have a few more to find ;)

One of my favourites is Thistlewood Farm by Karianne, a wonderful woman from Kentucky.  Her photos are beautiful, her writings engaging.  You have only to read her "The Game of Life" post to see what I mean - I dare you to not laugh and nod while all the time feeling bad for her.  Things happen and she's willing to share her ups and downs in the most uplifting, funny way.

I've commented a couple of times on some of her posts and she has always taken the time to reply - how gracious is that?  And what I love about her replies?  She always ends her replies with "Blessings."  The first time I read the word I felt a kindness - one word did that.  In other times we might have ended with "Peace, Man" ... but somehow Blessings is so right for the times we live in now.

Count our Blessings.

I've started using a slight variation ...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homemade Syrup

I thought I'd share the homemade syrup recipe I found on the Hillbilly Housewife site.

We were spending tons of money on real maple syrup.  It was wonderful, but the price just kept going up and up, and finally we just had enough.  I started looking around and found this recipe.  The first couple of times I did it exactly as stated, but I found the syrup would crystalize after a few weeks.  Not damning, but I knew that some light corn syrup would solve that issue.

Here's the recipe:
  • Water - 2 cups
  • Sugar - 4 cups
  • Molasses - 2 tablespoons
  • Light Corn Syrup - 2 to 4 tablespoons
  • Maple Flavouring - 1 1/2 teaspoons
In a mid-size saucepan combine the water, sugar and molasses (I use blackstrap which some might think is a little too strong).  Heat the contents over a medium stove setting, stirring occasionally until the syrup comes to a delicate bubbling boil.  Once the syrup begins to boil, turn the stove temperature to simmer and cover the pan.  Let it simmer for 10 minutes - don't peak, don't stir.  After 10 minutes remove the pan from the stove.  Take off the lid, stir in the light corn syrup, and let it cool for 15 minutes.  Lastly, stir in the maple flavouring.

I let it cool to room temperature before storing in canning jars or used glass syrup bottles, and keep it stored in the fridge.

This syrup is a fraction of the cost of real maple syrup.  It might not be as wonderful as the real thing, but it's still quite yummy and everybody seems to really like it, coming back for more every time.  In fact, Walter would prefer to drink it straight up ;)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Blogabout - Collecting Blogs

Some people collect purses; others collect books.  I collect blogs.  I'm in love with the whole concept.  Finding blogs from all over the world, with so many different styles, topics, and ideas.  It's an incredible experience, don't you think?

Today, I thought I'd focus on two food blogs that I particularly like:
Both bring equal amounts of humour and knowledge to the kitchen.

Both have beautiful photographs.  Photographs that make the recipes come to life.  They both have an incredibly welcoming tone - you feel like they are "chatting" with you.  They both take the time to explain what's happening in a recipe.  Why certain ingredients are used.  I love that.

I enjoyed Joy's blog so much I purchased her recently published cookbook.  I'm saving my pennies now to buy the Smitten Kitchen cookbook that's also just hit the bookshelves.

Do you have any foodie blogs that you visit frequently?  What makes them special?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Frugal Choices - Homemade Laundry Soap

I found my way to blogs when I began searching the internet for frugal alternatives.  Looking for recipes, how-tos and general articles to help me save a bit.

One of the first places I found was the Hillbilly Housewife site.  Although not every recipe met with my families approval, at least two - homemade syrup and biscuits - is a constant in my home now.  Another great site, Katy's The Non-Consumer Advocate, has shown me that you can cheerfully live a less complicated life while doing your part to help reduce your footprint on our planet.

One of the things I've learned from Katy's site is how to make my own homemade laundry soap.  Of course, anybody who knows me knows that I had to do a couple days research to read through the various recipes and figure out the best combination.  The recipe I use is for powdered laundry soap.  It takes me about 30 minutes to create enough soap to last us 2-3 months.  It keeps our clothes clean ... although I'll admit it doesn't make our whites stunningly white.  Clean?  Yes.  White?  Sometimes.

Here's the recipe:
  • Bar Soap (I like Sunlight's laundry bar soap that comes in a package of two)
  • Borax
  • Washing Soda (not baking soda)
Measurements for the Borax and Washing Soda depend on how much grated soap you get from your bar(s) of soap.  For every cup of soap that you grate you need 1/2 cup Borax and 1/2 cup Washing Soda.

1.  Begin by getting out your grater and using the smaller grater side to grate your bar of soap.  Then measure the grated soap and put it into a large mixing bowl.

2.  Next, measure in your Borax and Washing Soda, based on how much grated soap you produced.  Remember - for every 1 cup of grated soap you'll want to add in 1/2 cup Borax and 1/2 cup Washing Soda.

3.  Now, sit down in front of the TV with your big bowl and using your hands blend everything together.  This takes about 10 minutes.  Yes - 10 minutes!  You want to use your hands to "grind" the pieces of grated soap into the Borax and Washing Soda.  Some people use their food processor for this step.  I don't own one, so I use my hands.  It doesn't really take that long in the scheme of things.  Less time than me getting into a car, driving to the store, finding a box of laundry detergent, standing in line to pay for it, and driving home.  When you add all that time up sitting in front of the TV and mixing your own laundry soap doesn't really take that much time.

4.  Finally, put it in a pretty container.  I found mine at Canadian Tires.

That scoop?  I picked it up at London Drugs - it's meant for coffee, but it's perfect for soap - 1 to 2 scoops into my front loader and I'm set.  (For top loaders I've read you'll likely need 3-4 scoops ... you'll need to test it a bit to figure out what works best for you.)

Money vs Snobbery

I've been puzzling about what Manuel and I are both looking for in our next house, and I've realized something.  Manuel is all about making a profit.  Finding a home that we can turn into big dollars when we later sell it.  I want a house that I can show off (blush - I didn't realize I was so vain).

We're both wrong ... and a bit right.

It is better to make money then lose money on a home.  No doubt about that.  It's also nice to be proud of your home - you work hard for it, you should be proud.  But ... well, spending all your free time renovating leaves no time for what's really important; and having a home that has a large price tag on it means you also have to work harder, longer hours to pay for it which means, again, no time for what's really important.

And what's really important?  Us - Manuel, Walter and Me.  Family.  Friends.  Having lots of great memories of times spent together.  Time to unwind, time to read, time to play.

We'll be looking at four houses on Sunday - one that fits Manuel's goals, one that fits my goals, and two that fall somewhere in-between.  I'm going to try to look at all four realistically.  Without prideful eyes, without money-making eyes.  I'm going to try to look at them with my whats-really-important eyes.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Move In Ready or Fixer Upper?

Looking for a new home is exciting.  Sort of.  Yes, yes ... of course it's exciting ... but ... it's also stressful. 

It's not like buying a shirt.  You try on a couple, buy one.  Even if it wasn't right, you aren't usually out hundreds of thousands of dollars!  But a home?  Oh my ... what if you get it wrong?  What if the neighbourhood isn't what you thought it was?  What if the home doesn't work for you and your family?  What if there is something terribly wrong with the house and you can't afford to fix it?  What if a better home comes to market next week, after you've had your offer accepted?  What if, what if ...

I'm a planner.  I research everything to the nth degree.  I have thought this out a lot.  Have analyzed each area and determined the best suburb for our family's needs, wants, and future goals.  I'm pretty sure I got that right.  But the home?  Ugh ... it's more difficult.  How do you analyze a potential home?  How do you know that house X is better than house Y?  Are all homes potentially equal and viable?

We are currently struggling with whether or not to get a home that is basically move-in ready or find something cheaper, that needs fixing up.  The fixer upper would appear to have the potential for bigger gains.  The downside?  Spending more time renovating.  There is also no guarantee that our sweat equity would gain us more in the end.  And isn't it time to enjoy our home and focus on family?

What to do, what to do ...

Thursday, November 15, 2012


We spent all day this past Saturday making marmelada - quince jam - at Manuel's Moms farm.  Quince are a wonderful fruit ... looking like some funky pear/apple with a wonderful subtle aroma of roses.  You can't eat them raw - they have to be cooked.  And when you cook them the fruit turns a lovely soft pink colour.  We love our marmelada to come out like apple sauce/butter.  Perfect in a bowl or spread on toast.  Pure heaven.

First, we washed them to remove the fuzzy coating they have.  Then cut them up, removing the inner core which remains hard even after cooking, and left the skins on.  Into a pot with a bit of water to help them simmer.  Manuel carried the large pots to the greenhouse where an old woodstove was used.  So much easier than trying to fit these pots on a regular stove!

After the fruit softened, we measured sugar to taste (we don't like our marmelada too sweet so we didn't add too much sugar).  A little longer on the woodstove until the sugar was melted and combined.  Then Manuel used a bamix hand mixer to blend the fruit and skins into a smooth concoction before setting the pots outside in the cold Fall air to cool.  Our last step was to put the jam into whatever containers we had - empty yogurt containers, canning jars, plastic ziploc bags.  Since we freeze our jam until we're ready to use it the containers didn't need to be anything special.

Just typing this post I can smell that lovely rosy jam - hmmm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fall Reflections

This past weekend had an extra day for us due to Remembrance Day - November 11th.  Some of us in Canada got Monday, November 12th in lieu of Remembrance Day as it fell on a weekend this year.  All this to say we took the opportunity to take a trip to the Okanagan to visit Manuel's Mom.  Walter loves visiting with his grandma ... especially since she lives on a small farm.  So much space to roam freely - a five year olds happy place!

And so much to do - like climbing your first tree by yourself ... with the help of a crate!

It was nice to get away - to forget being homeless, to leave our next home search behind for a few days.  We spent our days helping out around the farm - raking leaves and hefting them into the chicken coop; cracking walnuts; and making quince jam.  And some of us climbed cherry trees and hid in leave piles.  Totally re-energizing for all of us.

Monday, November 12, 2012


We put our townhouse on the market in September, signing papers on September 4th, finally having photos done two and half weeks later on September 20th, followed by the first viewing September 23rd.  After a total of six viewings we got an offer on October 29th, less than eight weeks since putting pen to paper.  One stressful week full of home inspections, and CMHC wows all the subjects were removed.  The offer was lower than we wanted, but sometimes you have to give a little to get what you want.

We are now homeless ... well ... by January 29th.

This is something we've been working on for nearly two years.  Two years of hard work, personal sacrifices, and crazy make-shift living while chaos reigned around us.  Our goal, to move from a townhouse to a house - with space for everyone.  A yard for Walter, a workshop for Manuel, and a place for me to create.  A neighbourhood that feels like it really has a sense of community, a place to call home.

Now, we have the difficult task of finding this place.  We've been tossing around different ideas - go for a home that's totally move-in, with nothing to do but unpack our boxes; or go the other extreme and find a home with good bones, but no updating.  Put our own mark on it.  It's a difficult decision.  Part of us wants to just take it easy.  We've had a hard two years of living in the midst of renovations.  It is, perhaps, time to rest and enjoy life.  But ... our creative side wants the challenge of taking a diamond in the rough and making it ours.  Which way to go?  Which way would you go?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Homemade Pizza - It Really IS Easy

This is a house of pizza-lovers.  Not that we'd eat it every night ... more like once a week.  If it's a weekday or we're both totally exhausted we'll make a delivery order.  But - when it's the weekend and we've got time - we love to make the pizza from scratch.  That means dough, homemade sauce (made ahead in batches to save time), and putting all the trimmings on top.  It's usually a family affair - with me making the dough and the boys putting it all together after I've rolled out the dough.  It does take a bit of time - hence only doing it on the weekends when I can give myself the time to make the dough - but it's so worth it.

I've tried a number of recipes, including some quick no-rise versions, but the one I'm going to give you today is the best.  Simple, elegant, versatile.  It has never failed me.  I'm sure it won't fail you either!

The ingredient list is small.
  • Sugar - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Water, lukewam (105-115F) - 1 cup
  • Active Dry Yeast - 1/4 ounce package (2 1/4 teaspoon)
  • Olive Oil - 1 tablespoon
  • Flour - 2 to 2 1/2 cups (approximately)
  • Coarse Salt - 1/2 teaspoon
  • Olive Oil - 1/2 teaspoon for coating bowl/dough

TOOLS:  Glass Measuring Cup (2 cup size), Large bowl, wooden spoon or spatula for stirring, tools to measure (1/2 cup, 1 tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1/4 teaspoon), towel to cover bowl, rolling pin, cookie sheet or pizza pan.

Preping the Yeast:  Pizza needs yeast to make it come alive.  Without yeast you'd have a piece of cardboard for your efforts.  Beyond that - there's no surer method to a failed pizza dough than having old yeast so make sure yours isn't past it's prime.  Run the hot water from your kitchen tap until the water feels warm, but not burning hot.  It should feel warmer than your body, like water in a hot tub.  Fill your measuring cup with 1 cup of water.  Stir in the sugar to dissolve and add your yeast.  Set it aside for a few minutes.  The yeast will feed on the sugar in the warmth of the water and will grow.  When the top becomes foamy you've done right.

While the yeast is growing, measure out 1 1/2 cups flour into your large bowl and add your coarse salt.  Stir to combine.  When your yeast is foamy, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the liquid and pour immediately into your flour.  Stir with your wooden spoon or spatula until the flour is completely wet.  It will be quite sticky at this point.  Make room on your counter and take a handful of dry flour and sprinkle it about.  Dump your wet dough into this.

Now comes the part that scares most people - you've got to knead the dough.  It takes a bit of practice to get the feel for it, but once you've mastered it you'll realize how simple it is.  At first the dough will be quite sticky.  You'll likely need to rub it off your hands and combine it back into the dough several times as you add more flour and using the heel of your hands push into the dough, lift with your fingers, turn/flip, and again push with the heel of your hands.  This step will take anywhere from 6 - 12 minutes.  The time of year, the weather - both play a factor in this.  Rainy cold days in winter, hot humid days in summer - each causes dough to behalf differently.  This will also affect how much flour you'll end up adding as you knead.  You are looking for the classic babies skin feel - soft, somewhat pliant, smooth to the touch.  Remember not to add too much flour - dry, coarse dough won't make an edible pizza.

Once you've reached this point it's time to set the dough aside.  I take a few minutes at this point to clean out my large bowl, dry it, and add a little olive oil to the bottom.  Then I drop my dough into this bowl and roll it around so that the dough is glossy with oil.  This step prevents dry, cracking dough skin from forming while the dough rests and rises.  Cover with a lint-free tea towel and place out of drafts for around 70 minutes.  I put mine in the microwave (just make sure that if you use the microwave timer - that you hit the timer and don't accidentally start the cooking cycle of the microwave ... yes, I've nearly ruined dough this way!).

After 70 minutes (or so), your dough should have doubled in size.  [Take a moment to turn your oven to 400F at this point.]  Flour your counter lightly and pull your dough out of the bowl and knead it a few times (yes, it will deflat - that's OK).  Using your rolling pin, roll your dough out to the size of your cookie sheet or pizza pan.  Place the rolled out dough on your pan - likely you'll have to stretch and push it a bit to conform.  Let it rest a few minutes while you gather your toppings.

Spread your sauce out first - white, red, lot's or just a little - it's your choice.  Next any toppings you want - veggies, meats - anything that takes your fancy.  Finally, pick your cheese.  Most often we use Gouda here.  Yes ... Gouda.  We buy it by the wheel - it's eaten every day in this house.  With so much around, it's a natural for our pizza.  But, be a purist if you want and use mozarella.

Now.  It's time.  Place it in the oven.  Set your timer for 15 minutes to begin with.  Nobody wants burnt pizza.  Especially when you've gone to the trouble of making the dough.  After 15 minutes check your pizza.  Are the toppings bubbly?  Is the crust golden?  If so, it's ready.  If not, give it a few more minutes.  When it's ready, give it a few minutes rest on a cutting board before slicing it up and devoring.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Granola - It Doesn't Have to Be Store Bought

Part of being frugal and eco-friendly is finding ways to avoid boxed, premade items.  Some things are plain difficult - chocolate, for instance.  Yes, I'm sure I could source cocoa beans, learn how to turn those beans into a substance that I could use to make edible chocolate items ... but really?  I think if my only choice was to make it myself or do without I might have to learn to live without chocolate - and that would be a tragedy ;)

I'm slowly building a repertoire of recipes, crafts, and ideas that are both frugal and eco-friendly.  One recipe that I've been doing for quite some time now is Granola.  I started with a recipe I found on The Frugal Girl blog.  I never completely followed the recipe, and learned along the way that granola is one of those very forgiving foods that you can tweak to your hearts content.

Go to the link above if you want the original recipe, otherwise, here's my version:

West Coast Granola

  • --Dry Ingredients--
  • Oatmeal/Grains - 6 cups total
  • Nuts and seeds - 1 or more cups
  • Dried Fruit - 1 or more cups
  • --Wet Ingredients--
  • Oil - 1/2 cup
  • Honey - 1/2 cup
  • Brown Sugar - 1/4 cup, loosely packed
  • Vanilla Extract - 1 tablespoon
1.  Get out all the ingredients you plan to use.  For the oatmeal, I tend to use a mix of 4 cups regular quick (not instant) oatmeal and 2 cups of a more exotic flake grain - right now I'm using rye flakes.  Cut up anything that needs cutting - perhaps you have whole nuts or dried fruit that are fairly large.  Try to make everything somewhat uniform - you don't want whole brazil nuts next to tiny currants - cut up the brazil nuts.  You might have noticed that for the nuts/seeds and dried fruit I said 1 or more cups - add the amount you want.  This isn't the store-bought granola where you are lucky to get one sliver of almond every three bites - you can have tons of almonds in every bite if you like!

SOME IDEAS FOR GRAINS, NUTS, SEEDS and DRIED FRUITS:  Oatmeal, Rye Flakes, Quinoa Flakes, Flaxseed, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Coconut Flakes, Raisins, Dates, Prunes, Craisins, Dried Mango ... the list goes on.  Pick what you like - try those that add colour, flavour, texture, and good nutrients.

2.  Preheat your oven to 300 F degrees.  I use my convection setting at this temperature and it works fine.  Make sure you have two racks in your oven - one at mid-point and one about 2-3 inches lower.  Get out two large cookie sheets - preferrably with good raised edges.  Put aside - you'll need them in a few minutes.

3.  Measure your oatmeal/grain, and nuts and seeds into a large bowl.

4.  Next, get out a medium pan.  Measure the oil into this pan and without rinsing out the measuring cup measure and add your honey.  The oil residues will help prevent the honey from sticking to the measuring cup.  Add the brown sugar.  Now stir constantly - you want the brown sugar to melt and the ingredients to come together somewhat.  Once this is achieved, remove the pan from the heat and add your vanilla extract.  Stir to combine.

5.  Pour your wet ingredients over your dry ingredients.  Stir to coat everything fairly evenly.  You'll think there isn't enough to cover all your dry ingredients - don't worry, there is enough.  It's meant to be a fairly light coating.  To give just a little sweetness, but not too much; and the oil helps to bake the ingredients without making everything feel greasy.

6.  Now divide this mixture between your two cookie sheets.  Make sure the mixture is evenly spread out so that the heat of the oven can do it's work properly.

7.  Place both cookie sheets in  the oven - each on it's own rack.  Set your timer for 15 minutes.  Clean up whatever needs to be cleaned up.  Measure out your dried fruits - you'll need them just before you package up your granola.

8.  After 15 minutes take both sheets out.  Take a few minutes to stir the mixture around.  Then put the sheets back in the oven, switching locations.  Another 8 minutes.  You're looking for a slightly golden granola colour.  Not too dark or it might taste bitter, but at the point where you think you're eyes are playing tricks on you because you're not certain it's achieved that golden hue.  Take the sheets out of the oven.

9.  Let the mixture cool completely in the sheets.  Over night is fine.  Just before you are ready to package your granola add your dried fruit.  Stir it in so it's spread throughout.  Now you can store your granola in whatever container you have that seals nicely.  I've used those large 1.9 litre canning jars from Canadian Tire and the Montana Jars that also come from Canadian Tires offered in a variety of sizes.  Both work great and look kind of fancy.

That's it.  It might sound like a lot of work.  It really isn't.  It takes me, from start to finish, approximately 35-40 minutes.  It makes A LOT of granola.  For a fraction of the price of store-bought granola.  Enough to gift some away - if you have any left!