Post #2033: A feature every house should have

Months after starting this project, Brian and I finally got this done over the weekend. Behold the life-changing spice cupboard!


You can’t see the whole thing, but along the bottom are also some vinegar bottles.

What started as a poorly placed ironing board in the kitchen (by the back door, it was a cramped place to iron out anything larger than a small shirt) has now become one of the most useful organizing spots I’ve ever had in a living space. Not only are the spices visible and easy to grab, but the use of small canning jars means that I can always stick a tea/tablespoon in rather than trying to pour it out of a bag or small jar.

No more drawers stuffed full, no more unlabelled jars – this spice rack has got it all. And here’s the before and after just for comparison:


Post #2029: Foolproof fruit

Stone fruit season came early to BC this year – cherries! nectarines! peaches! apricots (and soon, plums too ). Now, I know that we all dream of the canned fruit the way your grandmother or father used to make (it was my grandpa who did all the canning) – the perfectly sliced peaches and apricot halves floating in golden sugar-syrup, ready to be doled out after dinner as a dessert…. but I just don’t can that way (or use fruit as a snack). In fact, I try to do as little as possible when it comes to putting up for the winter – and that means no perfectly sliced or pitted peaches. When it comes to fruit that can easily be stirred into plain yogurt or oatmeal, and sometimes added to pancake batter – it really doesn’t matter what it looks like – it just has to taste like fruit (not sugar) and come in bite-sized chunks. What follows is my foolproof fruit recipe – I use this every year to put up enough for a jar per week in the winter. Yesterday I put up 40 of those jars which means I’ve got some more work to do in the near future (applesauce probably, perhaps some kind of plummy jam). You can adjust this to the actual amounts you might use:

2o pounds nectarines or peaches
2 cups of water
2 cups of honey (or more to taste)
spices (I use about 15 anise stars for the nectarines, 10 small cinnamon sticks for the peaches)

Wash and rough chop fruit, leaving peel on (discard the pits) . Throw it into a big (very big) pot with the honey, water and spice – bring to a boil on medium temperature, stirring every once and awhile. Ladle into jars and process (12 minutes for 1/2 pints, 20 minutes for pints). This recipe will make 12 1/2 pints plus 8-12 pints (depending on how much fruit comes off the pit) – so plan on two full canner batches.

And voila! Much fruit to put by without too much effort – it’s even better when your partner cuts the fruit for you beforehand (thanks Brian!)

Post #2018: The faux-waldorf – my salad of the week

I’ve been on a salad (and exercise) kick for the last three months – pretty much replacing whatever else I used to eat for lunch with a salad in a jar for my Monday-Friday workdays. Practically what this means is that I buy enough stuff for five lunches and then eat the same salad every day for a week, putting it together quickly each morning before I head out the door. I switch every week, so it doesn’t get boring – and I always make sure to include lots of textural stuff to make me happy (I prefer crunchy things to lettuce leaves, for example). This week I’m pretty sure that I’ve got my favourite salad of all time on the go – a chicken, apple and walnut affair with spinach straight out of the garden. It’s a little higher on the calories than I prefer (I am watching my numbers as I work to lose weight after all) – but if you skip the walnuts it becomes a lot more reasonable.  Here is my salad of the week:

The Faux-Waldorf Salad In a Jar

Into your jar layer the following:

1 tbsp blue cheese dressing (I use Litehouse)
3 oz cooked chicken breast
1 cup cucumber sliced in the way you want to eat it
1 small apple
1 cup spinach or other greens

In a separate container to be added to the top once your salad is upended into a bowl: 1/2 oz walnut halves or pieces.

This is salad at its finest – enjoy!



Post #2016: My new favourite breakfast and more knitting

I know there have been a lot of blueberries on here lately – but they are going crazy and ripening super early and all at once in my backyard – so it’s been blueberries every day this week. As a result, my regular oatmeal has gotten a lot more colourful as I’ve been adding a 1/2 cup of blueberries to the oats/milk/water, … then finishing it with some peanut butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar. It’s perfect breakfast!

IMAG1063Also, I know that my first knitting project on here didn’t look uber-promising (but hey – it was my first) – but here is my second (after a bunch of practicing) and it is looking a wee bit better. Not without some tension issues, but it is definitely getting better as I go  (it’s going to be a multicoloured scarf with fringe on the bottom when I’m done).

I’m feeling pretty pleased with my newfound ability to knit and purl – and am also pretty happy with the choice of needles I made. Rather than continuing on with the cheap pair that I bought years ago to learn to knit – I mail-ordered a set of Hiya-hiya interchangeables (small, 5-inch, sharp) which had good reviews and seemed like the needles I would most want to use. I hate the feeling of yarn on wood, and metal crochet hooks have always done it for me – so i figured these would do the job. And better to just buy a good set of needles outright rather than starting with a cheaper set and then fretting about whether to upgrade a year down the road, right?

The difference was noticeable as soon as I started with these over the long needles I had been practicing with – they just don’t feel as awkward, and they fold up and fit into my work purse for morning bus-knitting. Plus they are *so* light in the hands. This far in, I have definitely got the hang of the basic stitches – and I’m hoping that by the end of this scarf I’ve refined my tension a little further, not to mention – neatened up the edges.

I gotta say – this is pretty exciting to me! I realized last night that for a couple of years now I’ve told people “I’ll learn how to knit when I finish my degree”…. and without really thinking about it, I picked up the knitting a month after my last class was finished. The goal must have been lodged in my subconscious, because I feel as though a little more brainspace has opened up and it’s allowing me to learn with relative ease (which has not been true in the past). I’m pretty convinced that this is something I can get good at – as long as I just keep practicing and learn how to fix my mistakes.

The only thing that worries me is – with so many more awesome patterns available to make, how will I ever choose? With crochet, there’s a limit to the possibilities (especially when it comes to garments like sweaters) – not so true in the world of knitting which is much more popular these days. Too many choices! But at least I won’t feel limited by textile type any longer. (Weaving comes next).


Post #2015: MMMMMMorels!

IMAG1034This is going to sound strange, but both times Brian and I have acquired a new house/piece of property together, we have been rewarded with a crop of morels soon afterward. The first time, was at the Urban Crow Bungalow where we discovered a meal’s worth of the mushrooms growing in the shade of our north facing garden in a patch of soil that had been dug up by the previous owners. That spot is now a shade garden that we planted, but at the time nothing was growing there except these mushrooms which popped up two months after we moved in. And now, just this past weekend, our co-owner Leung spotted a luscious patch of these growing at the corner edge of our newly built cabin – in disturbed ground that has seen both fire and  digging in the past year.

Sadly, I don’t expect to see them in either place again, for morels are not to be counted on to show up more than once in the same place – though their presence at our cabin indicates that they are in the area, and we might have some luck hunting them in wildfire and logging spots close by.

IMAG1048I’ll take them as a good omen, however, a welcome to our new home away from home (which is far from completion = but still getting towards plenty usable).

My favourite way to do morels is cooked with a light cream sauce over pasta – but since we had already brought a stew along to eat, we sauteed them in butter with some local late-asparagus (and a piece of bacon) for a super-fresh addition to our meal. It was a reminder that one of my big draws to the area (Keremeos in particular) is the plentiful fruit and veggies that come from the region – who knew that one of our first cabin dinners would involve tidbits grown right on our property.


Post #2009: How to throw a drinking party (with recipes!)

This blog has been a bit meditation-post heavy in the last few weeks – for which I am not at all sorry – but since we just threw a party for Brian’s birthday, and it was an afternoon-cocktail-themed-affair, and I invented two new drinks – it just seemed time to share those recipes for posterity (and some info about how to throw such a party). Meditation is important work, but so are social gatherings – and I intend to continue with the celebration of both in my life!

First of all, if you are thinking of doing an afternoon cocktail party, here are some tips:

  • This is an expensive kind of party to throw – booze (especially in Canada) is pricey. I planned my drinks several weeks in advance and split the party cost over three paycheques.
  • The best, most awesome drinks, include special ingredients or housemade infusions. This is another reason to plan ahead – your basic fruit liqueur takes about six weeks (minimum), and even a quicker infusion like earl grey liqueur or straight up tonic syrup may call for special ingredients, or require time to make. Planning ahead by at least two months is preferable if you want to do anything special.
  • Rent glassware – it’s pretty cheap to do and you don’t have to wash anything before returning it. Also rent cocktail plates, ice buckets and any other barware that you wouldn’t use in everyday life. This keeps refuse to a minimum and really helps the cleanup!
  • You need a minimum of two ice buckets – one for ice and one for whatever you want to keep on ice (in our case there were many prosecco drinks).
  • Definitely you will need help during the party because no matter how much glassware you rent or own, you will run out. No one keeps one glass for the entire party. Enlist your friends to wash glasses, they will oblige because – free drinks!
  • Choose only 4-6 drinks that you are prepared to make, print out a sign with ingredients so that people can see what is in them, and make that available in a number of places for people to consult. You cannot afford to set up a bar for everything. I went with six drinks, many of which shared ingredients. Also, pick things with ingredients that go with the weather (in our case, prosecco was a big hit and I used herbs in season that were growing in our garden).
  • Also – bartending – you do not want people free pouring, so be prepared to bar tend and arrange in advance for a couple of people to spell you off in advance. Create a sheet of drinks with recipes to aid the process. People might be daunted at first, but a lot of people enjoy being behind the bar – it creates a different kind of social interaction.
  • Bartenders need to keep drinks poured at the right levels, otherwise you will run out of booze too fast and people will get drunk. We were very successful with this – and I realized how much of a difference proper bartending made to the event.
  • You definitely need bar towels, water (if you aren’t near a sink), and a large vessel (garbage can, pickling crock) for liquids and other refuse.
  • Have lots of ice on hand.
  • Be prepared for some people to stay late and have some basic dinner fixings on hand (we did that, but then our friend ordered pizza instead and that was equally amazing). Also – serve ample grounding foods throughout – bread, cheese, olives, veggie platter, etc. People will eat it all and it cuts down on drinking on an empty stomach.

Our studio set up as a bar

We are very lucky to have a backyard studio/guesthouse/meditation room – so we set our bar up in the studio because the day was warm and it kept people in the yard as opposed to cramped in the house. The drinks on the menu were the Afternoon Marteani, Orange Blossom, Iced Amarula, Gin/Vodka and housemade tonic, French 75 and the Urban Crow. (The bolded ones are my own concoctions. The photo at the head of this article is the martini, the Urban Crow is pictured alongside an Orange Blossom below.

The Urban Crow Cocktail

  • Served in a jam jar (250 ml)
  • Wipe rim with sage leaves and then muddle four leaves in the bottom of the jar
  • Add two ice cubes
  • One shot blackberry liqueur
  • One shot gin
  • Finish with soda
  • Stir

The Afternoon Marteani

(I think this martini is my favourite new thing – the earl grey liqueur is outta this world, and the jam flavours the drink subtly and wonderfully throughout the drinking experience).


Orange Blossom and Urban Crow

Post #1988: Why I can (and otherwise stockpile food)

It’s inevitable when I post a picture on Facebook of my food canning/hoarding ways: someone always makes a wisecrack about how “they know where to go when the apocalypse is happening”. Not only do I preserve tons of food in the summer, I bulk buy grains and legumes to keep in 5-gallon bins in the basement, and since I got a pressure canner last summer, I’ve been putting by large quantities of chicken and beef stock. I take this joking as a compliment, I really do, because underneath it is the suggestion that I’m organized and resourceful, and that I know how to take care of people when things are stressful or perilous. I hope those things turn out to be true if the shit really does hit the fan — but at the very least, I won’t starve in the first week 🙂

While canning is something I have done for the better part of my adult life (starting with a jam experiment way back in my first marriage circa 1997), my partner and I now churn out several hundred cans of food a summer (probably in the neighbourhood of 300, I really don’t keep track), and about once a year I purchase all our oats, rice, beans, barley and flour in 20 kg bags (there are only two of us plus my step-daughter part time, so this food often lasts us more than a year). And while I used to be motivated by the fear of societal collapse, I have way chilled out on that topic lately.

(Side note: we’re all going to die, and a couple of years ago I came to the realization that “prepping” behaviour is just another immortality project as Earnest Becker would term it, something designed to keep up the fiction that we can create immortality through our actions. Becker would further argue that attempts to immortalize oneself is the root of all social evil – wealth accumulation, war, and so on).

So why keep it up if I don’t feel a fear driven need to keep my basement and larder well stocked?

There are three central reasons for my food hoarding ways (and it’s not really hoarding if you are using it – right?):

  1. Control over ingredients: This morning (like every morning) I added a quarter cup of nectarine/anise preserves to my oatmeal. Because I canned these last summer, I know that the only thing in that jar are nectarines, anise seeds, water and a small amount of honey (a tablespoon per jar). There are no additional preservatives, no additional salt, and no excessive sugars to contend with – and I like it that way. Even when I do can pickles or condiments that have a significant amount of sugar in them (home canning is definitely not sugar-free, but there are lots of way to lower sugar content which maybe I’ll do a post on in the future) – I am highly aware of what is in those foods and moderate my eating of them accordingly (really, how much ketchup and sweet pickles does one need to eat). Point being, I pretty much always know what’s in my processed foods because I choose the quality of food I want to eat and I do the processing myself.
  2. Food aesthetics: This may seem frivolous, but I do love the look of food in jars on my shelves, and I relish the life-aesthetic of making/canning/serving foods that I have prepared. Additionally, I get to shop in my basement a great deal of the time which leads me to interesting food pairings and discoveries (who knew that pork stir-fried with canned (unsweeted) plums and cherries would be such a hit!) And I love that we never run out of the staples like rice and oats, sugar and flour.
  3. COST! By far, however, the point that I probably take the most pride in is how much cheaper it is to eat this way – the savings from the staples and the canning, allow me to spend more of my weekly budget on high-quality meats and dairy rather than having to skimp on that stuff. For example – the chicken stock you see pictured above – 8 litres worth, cost me $10, the price of a 3 pound chicken (they didn’t have any stewing chickens in when I went to Donald’s – those sell for $10 but are 5 pounds). If you actually get down to counting out the kilos in a bulk bag of oats ($18 for 20 kg) you are looking at 90 cents per kilo versus the $2-3 is costs to purchase a single kilo. While it’s true that food storage does require having some extra space (which I am privileged to have) – it’s also true that it shaves a significant amount of my monthly grocery budget to shop and store food in this way.

It’s a bit of a thing, I know, to change one’s habits and build food prep and storage into your life in this way – and my transition has taken the better part of two decades as I figure out what works and finesse that for my living circumstances and current family/living situation. While I know this isn’t for everyone, I’m just here to say that what looks like hard work from the outside, is the pleasure of industry and the knowledge of food security on the inside – the good feelings that come with self-reliance and a household (or group of friends) working together to put food by for everyday use and in case of challenging times.

Post #1985: In which I confess to purchasing canning supplies over clothing……

I had $200 set aside to buy myself some new clothes this paycheque and instead I took that money and spent it all on a bulk order of canning lids – enough to last me through two canning seasons (about 800 lids – they come by weight, so piece number of approximate). I’m not sure whether that says that I am meh about buying new clothes, or fanatical about being right on the cusp of another canning season – but it’s probably a mix of both.

I’m meh about the clothing because 1) I mainly only purchase the boring kind of clothes – underwear, jeans, yoga pants and t-shirts (and try to make the rest) and 2) I am at a heavier weight than I would like to be at the moment and actively working to change that.

I’m stoked about the canning because – omigod I got to fill the basement with food again! Also, we really ate down our canning in a serious way this year and I’m proud of the fact that after years of canning, we are actually eating most of what we can (it’s taken me years to get realistic about what and how much we actually need in the canned goods department).

In any case, it’s not quite BC canning season – so all that excitement is currently confined to reading canning books and pressure canning the odd batches of broth and beans (4 quarts of bone broth, 16 pints of beans this weekend) to satisfy my larder. I’ve found a couple new-ish books recently (both modern and practical) that I’m quite pleased about  – I will write reviews in the near future – but since this post isn’t a book review I’m going to leave those alone for now.

Point being that I found a recipe for blood-orange and meyer lemon marmalade in one of those books on the weekend that got me all hot and bothered – not because I love marmalade so much but because the idea of red citrus in the grey of March is oh-so-pleasing to me. And so I added the ingredients to my Saturday shopping list – only to discover that while blood oranges are everywhere right now, I could not get meyer lemons in any of the local shops (I swear I saw some earlier this week at Donalds…..)

So instead I settled on blood oranges alone and turned to the Internet to find a different recipe – one that called for the oranges alone….. and of course I was pretty much instantaneously rewarded with a Small Batch Blood Orange Marmalade recipe over at Food in Jars. Of course I decided to double it – three jars never being enough of anything for me (well except the sage flower jelly, I sure never needed six jars of that, although it does look pretty on the shelf). This recipe is particularly nice because instead of removing all the white pith, the process calls for soaking the oranges and rinds overnight in water which softens things up and evens out the bitter flavours. I did the orange prep on Saturday and yesterday when I returned from the zendo, I set those two pounds of chopped oranges to cook with five cups of sugar. Because I was doing other things and didn’t want to risk burning or boiling over I set these to simmer on low heat over many hours (five or so) before they met the gelling test (frozen plate, temperature @ 220, sheeting off spoon) and I put six half-pints the colour of a sunset into a pot of boiling water for sealing.

The picture at the top of this post is, of course, proof of my patience and I’ve set a task for my husband and step-daughter this week: find the perfect scone recipe to go with this beautiful jam!


Post #1969: The Soup Project

Just because I’ve posted here now two days in a row, don’t think I’m making a habit of writing here everyday or anything. It’ll be at least another few months before I have anything approximating time for writing (but the completion of my graduate studies is only six months away now!)

As I mentioned yesterday, the news lately has been a real bummer to me – so I have decided instead to do a combination dinner/canning project that involves 8 weeks of soups. I love soup! But because it can be ingredient and time-heavy, it’s not a go-to for a quick after-work dinner in our house. So my plan for the next 8 weeks is on one of my days off (Sat, Sun or soon – Mondays!) I will make a large pot of soup for dinner and either 1) pressure can half of it for future eating, or 2) make a pressure-canning version of the same, or a different pressure-canned soup stock that can be used at future meals. The reason that I am not simply making soup and then pressure-canning the recipes directly is because pressure-canning itself does a lot of the cooking and there are many soup versions that go into the cans “raw” and are cooked in the process. Also, pressure-canned soups cannot contains grain-starches or dairy – which means that one is often making a “base” to be added to when it is opened and reheated later.

I canvassed my Internet friends yesterday and got some ideas – and here are the recipes I’ve chosen to go along with those ideas:

Week One (November 2): Turkey Rice Soup and Canned Chicken Stock

Contrary to my starting pitch, this first week is aimed at getting rid of some turkey soup stock that has been in my freezer since last Christmas. Yes, it’s still edible, but it has to go – so I’m going to pick up some turkey legs and boil them up to get some soup meat happening and otherwise add some rice and veggies and cook it up. I’ll use this week to put the extra effort into pressure canning a big batch of chicken stock.

Week Two (November 9): White Bean and Chorizo Soup

Because there is lots of kale in the garden right now, a soup with beans, chorizo and kale seems particularly appropriate so I’ve chosen this recipe to pull it off. I plan to double it and pressure can half. A bit of an experiment, but the worst thing that can happen is the beans will be mushy which doesn’t matter so much in soup.

Week Three (November 16): Chicken-Bacon Corn Chowder & Chicken Corn Chowder Base

This is a two recipe week with mostly the same ingredients. Bacon isn’t a great thing to use in pressure canning because high-fat items can go rancid – and I found a canning recipe that essentially cooks the soup in the jar. I like the idea of not twice cooking the chicken. Stovetop Recipe. Pressure Canning Recipe.

Week Four (November 23): Red Lentil Soup and Beef Stock

These items are totally unrelated to each other, but I’m in need of some beef stock on my shelf for the upcoming entertaining season (gravies and so forth) so I figured I should get that in here while I can. Red Lentil soup on the other hand, is one of my favourite foods. This is the lentil soup recipe and I do plan to double and can. As for the beef stock this recipe looks like a good one.

Week Five (November 30): Really the best chili I have ever made

I made this No-Bullshit Chili Recipe with some moose meat that a friend gave us after his hunting trip last month and it is probably the best chili I have ever made or tasted. One batch makes a lot, so I plan to make this one again and can half of it (or more) for easy winter heat-ups. Also, use whatever meat you want!

Week Six (December 7): Potato-Leek Soup & Potato Leek Soup Base

This Julia Child recipe was recommended to me and it looks fabulous, but is full of dairy so no good for pressure canning. On the other hand, this recipe is meant for pressure canning, and when later-served can have dairy added into it for extra depth. I’m trying both in week six.

Week Seven (December 14): Vegetable-Beef Soup two ways

In this week I will try two new recipes. Here is the stovetop version by Williams-Sonoma, and here is the canned version by Canning Homemade! which cooks in the jar.

Week Eight (December 21) – Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

For the final week I’m only making one recipe, will double and then pressure can half of it. This Roasted Root Vegetable Soup by The View From Great Island looks like a fabulous cap to 8 weeks of eating and canning!

By the end of it all – if I really get through all the weeks, this plan will provide for about 16 meals (considering leftovers) and 30 jars for the pantry to be used at different junctures through the next year!

Post #1968: Canada is making me unhappy, so….. Soup!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause I am downhearted about the Canadian news in the last week – the shooting, the scandal, the tawdriness of the responses to both – I’m setting up a new little project for myself this morning. One that involves nutritious, healing food – and canning! For the months of November and December, I am aiming to make one batch of soup per week – which will be one of our weekly dinners – but additionally, I plan to make enough so that a few jars can be pressure-canned for future eating also. This fundamentally means the soups have to be free of grain starches (flour, barley, rice) and dairy – but pressure canning does allow me to use meat ingredients. I also have a hankering to make some fresh batches of stock and to pressure can those also as it’s much more convenient than freezing (we are running out of freezer space in our house).

I am currently using my social network and the NY Times Recipe Box to compile my list of upcoming soup projects – and will post here when I have determined and idea/theme and recipe for each week. We’ll see how far I get with this – but as it meets two needs – immediate dinner satisfaction and food preserving for dinners/lunches in the future – I feel like it’s something I can do for the next several weeks. Also, I made an absolutely, incredible chili recently, and will include that in one of my upcoming weeks as a thing to can so I can share the recipe.

Stay tuned people! I’m about to use a food project to get happy…… (I loves me a project!)… and I’ll share the process and results with you!