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?