Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Many Hippo Returns

Hippo birdie two ewes

Hippo birdie two ewes

Hippo birdie

Hippo birdie

Hippo birdie two ewes

No, that's not tonight's dinner menu. That's the text from a famous greeting card by Sandra Boynton. Why quote it here? Well today, my dear reader, is my baby's, I mean blog's, first birthday.

When I started this blog I really didn't know what to expect. To tell the truth, I really didn't know what I was doing either. Most days I still don't. I try not to worry about that too much. Instead I try to focus on all the wonderful things I have stumbled upon as a result of my writing here. I've tried recipes, watched films, attended events and read books. I've stretched and grown and experimented and learned. I've made connections with some amazing people. I'm delighted to have discovered Meghan at Making Love in the Kitchen and Rose-Anne at Life, Love and Food. They are two inspiring women and I'm pleased to have virtually made their acquaintance.

And there were weeks when I needed all the inspiration I could get. For every week where the words ran off my pen, there was a week where I thought my head would explode before I got anything coherent on paper. (And yes, sometimes I do write with pen and paper. It gives me an excuse to indulge in new pens.)

Yet even when the writing was most frustrating, and sometimes particularly when it was most frustrating, it provided distraction during those weeks when things seemed to be spinning out of control. When I lost my job, I wrote. When my sister was diagnosed with MS, I wrote. Writing provided a few hours where I didn't have to think about anything but words on paper. It gave me a brief respite from my worries, and allowed me to retain some semblance of sanity.

Not that the year was all gloom and doom. There was a trip to Ontario for a family wedding with a side trip south to see my sister and her kids. There was the weekend in Calgary to see Pearl Jam. There were visits from family and friends. There was my book club's foray into French cooking followed by a field trip to see Julie and Julia. There were walks and trips to the Farmer's Market and meals out. It really has been an amazing year.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read, and double thanks to those of you who have taken the time to comment. It's nice to know someone is out there.

Finally there are two people who deserve special thanks for all their encouragement and support this year. First is L at Sleeping Cougar Acres. As with blogging, farming is something I know very little about. Thank you for your patience and for letting me come to play on the farm. Your company, your support and most of all your vegetables are most appreciated.

Last, I'd like to thank my wonderful hubby. He's been behind me since day one. He never asked why I wanted to do this; and I'm truly grateful for that. He has been there with suggestions, encouragement and technical support. He's the one who gave me the idea that resulted in the name of this blog, and he's the one who set me up with my own domain name. He's eaten fir needles and washed endless dishes. He's the best, and I'm lucky to have him in my life. Thanks for everything honey!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Successful Soup - Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday X

My sister has always been a wee bit accident-prone. Sometimes I think nursing was a natural career choice for her. She spent so much time in the emergency room as a child that she had the details of the job figured out before she ever got to nursing school.

Sharp objects and my sister have never been a good combination. In grade school she almost amputated the tip of her middle finger while using the paper-cutter. This was on the last day of school before Christmas. She spent her holiday gleefully flashing her bandaged finger at people. I was disappointed that I missed my class Christmas party. I'm sure the staff thought I was heartless, but even at that early age my sister's injuries were common occurrences in our lives.

Given her tendency to attract disaster, the kitchen has never been the safest place for my sister. Beyond the obvious hazards, like hot stoves and sharp knives, there are hidden dangers like explosive turkeys, but we don't talk about that. Much.

MS has made working in the kitchen even more challenging for my sister. It affects her vision, balance and dexterity. These symptoms, combined with her accident-prone nature, make her the last person you want handling a sharp knife. I try to keep this in mind when writing this feature, and I try to adapt recipes to minimize chopping and peeling. This week I had a brainstorm that allowed me to eliminate both.

It started with last week's sweet potato ideas. Knowing that my sister will eat sweet potatoes made me want experiment further with them. Soup came immediately to mind, but every soup recipe I found called for chopping and peeling the sweet potatoes, onions etc. This sounded like a recipe for disaster to me.

Then I realized I could used baked sweet potatoes for the soup. Once I had that figured out, the next logical step was to bake the onion as well. I've baked garlic before, so I thought it should work for the onion. They are part of the same family after all.

Here's where I ran into a snag. While sweet potatoes may be common in the southern states where my sister lives, they aren't so easy to get here. There were plenty available at the grocery store, but they were kind of spotty and yucky. I could only find one that was worth purchasing, and even it wasn't a perfect specimen. I supplemented my sweet potato purchase with a couple of yams. (Or at least they were labeled sweet potato and yam. Apparently there's a lot of confusion about which is which, and I certainly don't know the difference.)

Once home I wrapped the sweet potato and the yams in foil and put them in a 400 degree oven. The onion got a similar treatment, but I sliced a bit off the top first and drizzled on
olive oil and water. I didn't want it to dry out. Because of the extra liquid I wrapped the onion in a double layer of foil before putting it in the oven with the other veggies. Everything was soft after about 45 minutes.

Once everything was cool enough to handle I unwrapped my veggies and prepared them for the soup pot.

Ignore the large knife in this photo. The onion was so soft that a butter knife would have been sufficient. Even the peel came off easily.

I was able to scoop the flesh from the sweet potato with a spoon.

Same with the yam.

The onion, yam and sweet potato went in the pot with some spices...

... and my lovely homemade veggie broth.

I let things simmer and soften further, then hit them with my immersion blender.

I added coconut milk and heated the soup. I served it with a pinch of cinnamon on top. The cinnamon in hubby's bowl formed a wee heart all on it's own. How appropriate.

This Week's Soft, Moist Selection

Sweet Potato and Yam Soup

1 baked sweet potato
1 baked yam
1 baked onion
2 tsp butter (or oil)
2 1/2 cups broth
1 heaped tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 can coconut milk

- Melt butter in pot.
- Remove flesh from yam, sweet potato and onion. Add to melted butter.
- Add curry powder, cumin, and ginger.
- Cook for 2 - 3 minutes until veggies soften further and you can smell the spices
- Add broth and cook for 10 - 15 minutes. The yam and sweet potato will have almost melted into the liquid.
- Remove from heat and puree carefully with an immersion blender.
- Add coconut milk and maple syrup. Return to heat and warm.
- Serve topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Failed Frugality

Original creations don't often come out of my kitchen. I can be creative, but my inventiveness relies heavily on existing recipes. I substitute, I adapt, I tailor ingredients, techniques and instructions to suit my mood and the components I have on hand. Recently I tried winging it with an original concoction. I think I'll stick to the recipe in the future.

It started with soup. I wanted to create a soup that my sister could prepare and would eat. I even researched a few recipes before I started. I had a plan. So far, so good.

The soup needed broth. I didn't have any in the house, so I decided to make my own veggie broth. Easy enough. I'd done that before with good results. I even used a recipe, sort of. (Who measures anyway?) The broth turned out fine.

Then I started to strain out the veggies. They were lovely even after lengthy cooking. It seemed wasteful to toss them out. Other than the peppercorns and the celery everything was local. Even the bay leaf was from a co-worker's bay laurel. I started to wonder what I could do with the cooked veggies.

I crushed the veggies with the back of my wooden spoon to squeeze out all the liquid. They smelled so good. I even salted and tasted a few carrots as I worked. Not bad.

At this point I should have stopped. The recipe I was (almost) following clearly instructed me to "discard all solids". I just couldn't do it. I was sure I could salvage them. As I mushed and smushed the veggies I started to think about hummus. Could I make the leftover veggies into a hummus-like dip? I was sure it would work. In fact, I was so confident that I went out and bought a fancy loaf of bread to serve with my creation. I even thought up clever names for my masterpiece, like "Fart-Free Hummus". Such inventiveness should have told me something about my creative abilities, but sometimes you just don't see the signs.

The veggies went into the food processor. Another sign of my confidence. I hate cleaning the food processor, and if I had any doubts about my creation I would have avoided it. Who wants the work of cleaning the equipment when you can't eat the results?

I figured I would add herbs and olive oil and salt to my veggies. I never got that far. One taste of the processed veggies was enough. It was like baby food but with less flavour. It wasn't worth saving. So much for my Fart-Free Hummus. How disappointing!

The resulting mess went into the composter, so my experiment wasn't a complete waste. I've heard chopping items for compost helps to speed the process. These veggies were certainly well chopped!

In spite of the dip disaster the broth turned out well. I had enough for my soup with plenty left over for freezing. And the soup...well the soup was wonderful. It was even better than I expected. It was easy to prepare and delicious. It went well with my fancy bread and there was enough left over for lunch the next day. Want to know more about it? Stay tuned for tomorrow's Soft, Moist Selection...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy Harvest - Part Two

The grapes at Sleeping Cougar Acres are quite different from those you see at the store. They're small, seeded and they grow in very tight bunches. They're also delicious. Far sweeter than commercially-grown table grapes. We harvested the grapes from my plant and from hubby's plant, then continued on until we filled up our buckets.

Just when I thought we would be going into the house to dry off things got even wetter. The grapes needed to be rinsed, and where better to do that than out in the rain? Each white tub holds about 10 - 12 pounds of grapes. It was much easier to deal with them outside than inside. It was either the yard or the bathtub.

Once things started floating out of the grapes I was glad we were outside. There were several critters hiding in those tight bunches. Spiders, earwigs, ladybugs and other creepy crawlies drifted to the surface. L rescued some; the rest had to fend for themselves. If we had been inside they would have been washed down the drain, and we would have had to the clean bathtub when we finished.

Clean grapes in the basket ready for the steam juicer...

...water goes in the base...

...the steam kettle and steamer basket of grapes go on top...

...on goes the lid then it's just a matter time. While we waited for the steam to do it's thing, I headed back out to the vineyard to harvest some beans.

L was concerned that I'd run into a bear out there on my own. It is that time of year, but this was the only wildlife I saw. I left this one to its bean. There were more than enough to share.

It was so peaceful in the vineyard. The only sound was the rain on the plants.

When I returned to the house the steam had done it's thing. We had juice...

...and pulp. Other than picking and rinsing the grapes there was really no other prep involved. The grapes stayed on the stems, and the seeds stayed in the grapes. The pulp headed to L's compost pile...

...and I headed home with 5 litres of juice and a complimentary jar of unsweetened grape jelly courtesy of L. The grape juice has since been frozen in ice cube trays for use in smoothies this winter. The destiny of the jelly has yet to be determined, though L recommends serving it on cheesecake. I'll keep you posted on that.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Happy Harvest - Part One

Fall has arrived and harvest is happening at Sleeping Cougar Acres. Last Wednesday I got to take a small part in that process. That morning the weather fairies decided to remind us west-coasters that summer doesn't last forever. It was grey and rainy and dreary. It was exactly the kind of morning where you want to pull the blankets over your head and settle in for some serious hibernating. As I didn't have to work, the thought did cross my mind, but the grapes and L were waiting.

A rainy morning, but sunshine awaits around a bend in the drive... did a beverage to celebrate the harvest - a blend of white (petit milo) and red (leon millot) grapes. Unfermented, of course. It was before noon you know!

It had been a while since I had been to the vineyard. I was surprised when I could see grapes from the gate. Last time I knew they were there, but I couldn't see them until I got closer to the plants.

L has started a tradition of naming plants after some guests. You can check on your plant's progress when you visit, and in my case I got to harvest the grapes from my namesake. That's my plant on the left and hubby's on the right.

We filled two tubs with grapes then wandered over to check out the garden.

Look, it's a sea cucumber! Actually, it's just a wet cucumber on a very rainy day.

The garden has only produced one pumpkin, but it's an impressive one. All the other squash plants are producing like mad. The pumpkin plant decided to put all it's energy into one whopping gourd.

From the garden we headed over to the manure pile. I filled up a tub for my own composter. Nothing like wallowing in poop on a rainy day!

We loaded our haul into the wheelbarrow, and headed up to the house to dry off and begin the juicing process. Looks good, doesn't it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sweeten Up - Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday IX

There's a reason my sister and I live on opposite sides of the continent. We don't see eye-to-eye often enough to safely live any closer! All kidding aside, this has been a rough week. I think my sweet sister and I are going to have to agree to disagree. Either that or one of us is going to have to get a lobotomy.

In spite of our differences, I don't want my sister to starve, so I'm here with this week's Soft, Moist Selection. I've tried to make it as easy as possible to prepare, as she experienced another health set-back this week. No wonder she's so difficult to get along with. If I was in her situation I'd be cranky too. Actually, I'd probably be crankier. I'm older, so I've had more time to hone my cranky skills.

A couple of weeks ago, when I posted a recipe for mashed potatoes, Meghan from Making Love in the Kitchen suggested that a similar dish could be made with sweet potatoes and cauliflower. I thought it sounded great, but I didn't think my sweet sister would eat sweet potatoes. (I believe I've mentioned
that my sister's a fussy eater.) Recently I discovered that she likes sweet potatoes. I guess there's something we agree on after all. Who knew?

This Week's Soft, Moist Selection

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Assorted Toppings.

(I must admit that I haven't personally tried any of these toppings. Most are adapted from suggestions on other websites. I chose them because they sound good, they're easy to prepare and they're things I think Sister can and will eat. I'd love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to comment with your favourite.)

Begin by wrapping the required number of sweet potatoes in foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

Top with:

- Butter, brown sugar, cinnamon (sister's current favourite)
- Salt, paprika, olive oil
- Black beans, cheese
- Yogurt, maple syrup, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg
- Almond butter or hazelnut butter, maple syrup
- Raisins or dried cranberries, sunflower butter, maple syrup
- Marmalade, ground ginger
- Tamari or soya sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds
- Flax seed oil, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg

(Note: I think chopped nuts could be substituted for the nut butters and sunflower or pumpkin seeds could be used instead of seed butter. I didn't list them here, as they're among the foods that Sister has difficulty eating.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pintos ‘n Cheese Please – Sister’s Soft, Moist Sunday VIII

My sister has always been a fussy eater. When we started discussing this project she was quite clear about the foods she "doesn't" eat. Add to that the foods she can't eat, and I'm often surprised that I have anything to share here. This week I think I have a winner.

When we were teens there were times when she'd claim she wasn't hungry and refuse what Mom served for dinner. Later, she'd ask to borrow the car and head over to Taco Bell. This week's soft, moist selection is based on Taco Bell's Pintos 'n Cheese. It's quick, cheap and easy. And it's something I'm pretty sure she'll eat.

This Week's Soft Moist Selection

Bell-Style Beans and Cheese

(I used canned, no-fat, refried beans for this recipe. I like that they contain three easily-identified ingredients. Whole, canned beans (kidney, pinto or black) could be substituted. You can mash them, or not, depending on how you feel – given the week my sister has had, I think mashing might require too much effort. Choose a salsa with recognizable ingredients and your favourite cheese and you're ready to go.)

1 can refried beans


Grated cheese

- Place beans in a small pot

- Stir in salsa, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached

- Heat

- Serve topped with grated cheese

Thursday, September 10, 2009

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato. Tomato, Tomato, Tomato, Tomato – The Word Has Lost All Meaning

(Photos courtesy of the Lovely Larry. Thanks Dad!)

Other than the towns I have lived in, I think Leamington, Ontario is the town where I've spent the most time. My maternal grandparents lived there, and I still have aunts, uncles and cousins to the umpteenth degree living there. A visit back to Ontario isn't complete without a trip or two to Leamington. It's a town I hold close to my heart.

Imagine my delight a few weeks ago when Leamington got a shout-out on Letterman. Of course, I already knew that Leamington was the Tomato Capital of Canada. It would be impossible to spend any time in Leamington and not know that. The mayor lives in a giant tomato for crying out loud. Ok, that's not true. The giant tomato is actually the tourist information booth. It's just my family's weird sense of humour that requires one of us to announce, "Look, there's the mayor's house", every time we drive by. The mayor does farm tomatoes though. Seriously. One-hundred-and-sixty-five acres of them. That's a lot of ketchup.

And that’s likely where the mayor’s tomatoes will end up. Leamington is home to the second largest Heinz factory in the world. My grandparent’s house was so close to the plant that we could hear the whistle that signaled the end of the shifts. We knew it was time to head home from the playground when the 5 o’clock whistle blew.

The whistle is an audible reminder that you're in Canada's tomato capital, but if you spend any time in Leamington you'll notice other signs as well. In the late summer the roads are littered with tomatoes. The closer you get to Heinz the more you see. Sometimes the roads are slippery with crushed, road-kill tomatoes. This is because tomatoes are shipped for processing in large, open trucks. When the trucks hit a bump, stray tomatoes hit the road. Literally. I seem to remember signs warning that the roads were slippery during tomato season. I could be imagining that, though if there weren't signs there should have been.
If the sights and sounds aren't enough to clue you in to Leamington's ripe, red claim-to-fame, the smells should do it for you. The aroma of processing tomatoes permeates the town in the summer months. It's a pleasant aroma, but I haven't had to live there. I'm sure residents can get quite tired of breathing ketchup-y air. I love it, and risk hyperventilating when we drive by Heinz during the busy season. I get so caught up in inhaling the tomato-y goodness that I have to remind myself to exhale.

It's not just process tomatoes that are grown in Leamington. Acres of greenhouses provide fresh tomatoes to supermarkets year-round. You can buy local tomatoes almost any time of year, often by the honour system from a roadside stand. Anyone with a vegetable garden will likely grow their own tomatoes, and in the summer someone is apt to offer you some from their garden free of charge. Tomatoes tend to grow like zucchini in that part of the world.

Tomatoes don't grow with the same ease here on Vancouver Island. People don't share their garden-grown tomatoes with the same abandon. You'd never see road-kill tomatoes, as they're too valuable to waste when they do grow successfully. It takes a lot to coax a decent crop of tomatoes in our wet, west climate. I was thrilled when the weather co-operated this year and there was an abundance of tomatoes. At one point I had about 50 pounds of fresh, red tomatoes in my house. Some were from L at Sleeping Cougar, the rest were from a farm where I was able to get 20 pounds of tomatoes for $10.

Mind you 50 pounds of tomatoes makes for a lot of work. We canned salsa, and prepared tomato sauce, pureed tomatoes and whole tomatoes for freezing. You'd think I'd have enough, but yesterday at the Farmer's Market I bought another couple of pounds. I feel like I gotta buy them while I can get them.

Ironically, in spite of my ties to Canada's Tomato Capital, my ability to identify a tomato plant was recently doubted. Please. I will admit that I may have misidentified the exotic plant in question, but I know it wasn't a tomato!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Comfort Food - Sister's Soft, Moist Sunday VII

After a rousing round of phone tag I finally got in touch with my sweet sister yesterday just as she was sitting down to eat. I won't say what she was eating as: A) I don't have her permission B) I'm afraid the two companies involved will sue me if I say anything not to their liking. Let's just say it wasn't the healthiest meal, but I can understand why she chose it. It's easy to prepare, cheap and comforting. The meal also consisted of foods her kids are likely to eat without complaint, and it was something that she could eat given all her restrictions. Hmmm. It's sounding better all the time....

While today's soft, moist selection may not be considered healthy, I think it's healthier than what she was eating yesterday. It shouldn't be much more difficult to prepare, it's cheap and it's comforting. Now I just need to think of something she can eat to serve with it....

This Week's Soft Moist Selection

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

(Get the kids to help with this one. Peeling and mashing potatoes should be right up their alley. Just make sure they are prepared to clean up after themselves. Substitute regular milk for the buttermilk if necessary. We didn't measure butter, buttermilk or mustard, but it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out what's right for you.)

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
grainy mustard (the kind where you can see the seeds)

- Put chopped potatoes and peeled garlic in a pot.
- Cover with cold,salted water
- Bring to a boil and cook until soft
- Drain water from potatoes and garlic.
- Mash with butter, buttermilk and mustard.