Saturday, January 28, 2012

Free Parking

Today it feels like I have landed on the Free Parking space in Monopoly, the one where you get a temporary reprieve from buying and selling, being taxed, and possibly going bankrupt. No rolls of the dice to see what your fate will be, no checking the backs of cards to calculate payments, no digging through a pile of colourful money to realize you don't even have enough to buy Baltic Avenue, never mind Boardwalk. Free Parking is Monopoly's version of a mini-vacation.

My alarm was set for 4:45 this morning. I turned it off and reluctantly moved from the warmth of my bed to the ice palace that is my bedroom. Then I looked outside. Not good. I was supposed to be driving 600 kilometres south to my mom's home in Spokane to help her with some things she needs to get done before she moves into a senior living residence next month. In a rare outbreak of accuracy the weather forecast had been spot on. We were in the middle of a blizzard.

I am a glass half-full kind of person (well, except for that awful day earlier this week). I looked out at the swirling snow and decided it would probably ease up by the time I got down the hill and out onto the Trans-Canada. I packed up the car and headed out.

I gripped the steering wheel and put the Subaru in low gear. Did I mention it is a steep hill? As I merged onto the Trans-Canada it was clear things weren't any better on the main highway. At that point I should have admitted defeat, turned around and gone back up the hill. Instead, I gripped the steering wheel even tighter and told myself it surely couldn't stay like this for long.

It turns out I was right, it didn't stay that way. It got worse. I felt like I was in some sort of nightmarish snow globe where the instructions were to "continue shaking until the car goes into the ditch." But I kept going. (This is the part where eternal optimism was beginning to border on delusion.) Right up until I went to use my windshield wiper fluid, which had been topped up yesterday in anticipation of the trip. Nothing. I tried again. Still nothing.

I will confess I had been a tiny bit nervous up to this point. Mild thoughts of turning around and going home might even have flitted through my mind. But no windshield washer fluid?! I skipped scared and moved directly to terrified. If a transport truck passed me and left a combination of muck and snow on my windshield I was going to be in serious trouble. I turned around and drove back to where I should never have left in the first place - home.

I will attempt the trip South of 49 again tomorrow. In the meantime the cup half-full part of me realizes I just landed on Free Parking. I have a whole day with nothing to do. Of course, I could never just do nothing. There will be some knitting, there will be some reading, and there has already been some baking.

Snowy Day Macaroons

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Redemption

Yesterday was one of those kind of days. The kind where you know early on that the day is headed south and there is no turning it around. I knew it was going to be "one of those" before 8:00 AM. Not good.

I will spare you the details. It wasn't like anything really awful happened. It was more like a chain reaction of annoying bits and unpleasant tasks, each thing adding to the awfulness of the thing before it. I think it really started the night before when I discovered I had made a mistake on the sock pattern I was knitting and had to rip out two and a half repeats of the complicated chart pattern because apparently not only can I not read Chinese, I can't read English either.

Clearly there won't be any pictures in today's post. In lieu of a picture I offer you the white space between this paragraph and the preceding one to show you where I am now on that particular sock.

I don't have these kind of days very often, but when I do I have learned to just accept them for what they are. Failures. Pretending they are okay doesn't work. It is sort of like cheating at solitaire. What's the point? I tend to just shrug my shoulders, which is hard given the fact they are drooping down with the weight of the world, and tell myself there is no redeeming the day. All there is to do is make it to bedtime, when I can cautiously crawl between my sheets knowing tomorrow I get a fresh start.

Notice I said "cautiously crawl." Because really, a day gone south isn't truly over until one wakes up the next morning. For instance, the day headed in the wrong direction could end something like this.

"Mom, are you awake?" asks the daughter who is a chef, just returned home from a night's cooking.

"Yes." This syllable is spoken with a certain amount of trepidation.

"Can you come look at this? I stabbed myself with a skewer at work and I think it is infected. It had meat on it."

Of course, this meant I had to get out of bed. Which meant the day wasn't over yet. As it turned out the stab wound was quite deep. Bits of the bamboo skewer were embedded in her arm and it was causing an allergic reaction. The good news is it doesn't appear to be infected, but it is probably too early to tell for sure.

I want to end this post on a positive note, so here is a cooking tip. Cream cheese icing heals all culinary wounds. Including gluten-free chocolate cupcakes that taste like the ingredient you substituted for the wheat was the dirt it was grown in.

Monday, January 23, 2012


Sometimes I worry that I will run out of things to write about on this blog. Then I remind myself that I have five children, a dog and I am weird. There will always be something to blether on about. Today's post illustrates this quite nicely.

In my last post I showed you pictures of our miniature dachshund Jenny in her newly acquired winter wardrobe. What I neglected to mention was the reason why I, a compulsive knitter, had to go to the pet store and buy a cheap piece of over-priced acrylic junk to put on my poor frozen puppy.

I had started knitting a Wurstwarmer for Jenny back in December. The thing was December was so mild it felt like winter was going to give us a pass this year. (I live in Canada. Where was my brain?) My motivation to knit what was a rather boring item for my dog soon gave way to more interesting and exciting knits. The Wurstwarmer got stuffed in a bag and was quickly forgotten. Right up until we got hit with an Arctic front and the temperatures plummeted to well below zero.

It turns out that Jenny is a wimp. She has the courage of a Chihuahua but lives in a location that calls for the heart of a Siberian husky. When I took her outside to go to the bathroom she tried hopping along on three legs, and when this didn't make things any warmer she just gave up, plopped down on the frozen snow, and looked up at me with her big brown eyes.

Guilt can be a very strong motivator. I hauled out the bag with the Wurstwarmer languishing on the needles and knit like the wind. Here is our wiener dog modelling her 100% wool, hand knit Wurstwarmer.

In Jenny's defence I have to say that what she lacks in courage she more than makes up for in cuteness.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Frugal Luxuries From The Deep Freeze

It is cold. Very, very cold. I am writing this in the pre-dawn hours and it is currently -21.2C (-6F). Yesterday morning at this time it was -26.5C (-16F). Somehow, given the temperatures we are dealing with, it seems wrong to say it's a warming trend even if technically it is true. I think this cold and dark of deep winter needs to be countered by some Frugal Luxuries. Here are a few things that warm my heart in the midst of the chill.

These are my mukluks. Twenty five years ago, when we were living in Fort St. John (this would be way up north), Jay gave these to me for my birthday. They are the best birthday gift I have ever received. Natives living in nearby communities make these by hand. The red material is felt and the bottom is the hide from a moose. I still marvel at how the women who made these were able to sew those beads onto the leather. The brown is beaver fur. It is possibly the softest thing I have ever touched, and as someone who works with many different fibres that is saying a lot.

When we lived up north you would often see people wearing mukluks. I have no idea if that is still true. Thanks to the extremely cold temperatures I have been able to wear these for the past few days.

Frugal Luxury #1: Toasty toes on a cold winter's day

These mittens were a quick knit. I love the braided tie that wraps around the mitten cuff to keep out the snow and cold air.

Frugal Luxury #2: Warm hands on a cold winter's day

Jenny, our cute but rather wimpy miniature dachshund, absolutely loathes the cold. It became apparent on day one of the cold snap that a trip to the pet store was in order. When we took her outside she tried to walk on three legs, and when that didn't work out too well for her she just gave up and plopped down on the snow. Telling her to channel her inner Siberian husky did not work.

Frugal Luxury #3: laughter

I hope wherever you are you are managing to stay warm. Spring is just two short months away!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Quinoa Alert

I have recently made two new kitchen friends. I am sure that one of them will be the kind of friend that remains faithful and true through a lifetime of cooking adventures. The other friendship has already gone sour - a relationship mismatch of epic proportions.

Friend number one is the humble roll of parchment paper. Why didn't I know about this stuff before now? It has only been in the past year or so that I have even owned any, and it wasn't until recently that I started to use it when baking. It is great! No more worries about taking banana bread loaves out of the pan and having them look like the Titanic as it broke apart before sinking into the Atlantic. And gone are the days of scrubbing the bits that are stuck to the pan after making oven fries. Or worse, using the pan for something else and still having the bits stuck to it. The fries simply slide off the paper. The real jackpot is when I have used the parchment paper on a baking sheet, remove it, and discover the pan is perfectly clean. Anything that avoids making more dirty dishes is a bonus in this house.

It is simple to use. Just place you pan on top of a chunk of the paper. Trace around the bottom of the pan. Cut out the paper and place inside the pan. Lightly spray or grease the sides of the pan.

The second, more fickle friend has been quinoa. I have actually been acquainted with quinoa for much longer than parchment paper. I have used alternative grains for many years - long before I stopped eating wheat - and quinoa has been one of those. But it wasn't until I stopped eating wheat that I found out about quinoa flour. When I saw it used in a lemon poppy seed loaf I was anxious to try it out. This recipe is found in Quinoa The Everyday Super Food 365.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups quinoa flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp poppy seeds
2 Tbsp grated lemon zest

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 350F. Prep your loaf pan with parchment paper.

Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Whisk until creamy and smooth.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, poppy seeds and lemon zest in anther bowl.

Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and whisk until smooth.

Bake for about 45 minutes. Be sure to test that the middle is cooked all the way - mine wasn't!

Let cool completely before removing from pan.

Poke small holes all over the loaf with a toothpick. We were out of toothpicks so I substituted a chopstick. Caution: this results in much larger holes than needed.

Combine lemon juice and sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Brush this glaze over the bottom, sides and top of loaf.

I do not recommend the next step, which was to eat a bite of this delicious loaf and have a bad allergic reaction.

I also do not recommend the second step, which was to think it was impossible to be allergic to quinoa thereby eating another piece the next day. Not Smart. I Googled it, thinking I must be crazy. I mean, who ever heard of being allergic to quinoa? I was shocked to see numerous people posting they had had the same reaction, and just like me most of them had eaten quinoa for some time before the allergic reaction happened. So I offer this recipe with a caution. It is yummy. The loaf held together when it came out of the pan. But if you think you might be allergic to quinoa skip this one. Trust me, it just isn't worth it.

I wanted to thank everyone who participated in the comment section of my post about going wheat-free. It was fun to read through all the comments, and the new format on Blogger that allows discussion within the comments makes it so much easier to have those kind of discussions.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Coming Out Of The Culinary Closet

Two months ago I made a decision. When I made that decision it never once crossed my mind that it would upset people. But unfortunately it has. The good news is most people have been very supportive. Thankfully that group includes my closest friends. The bad news is that the majority of the flack I have received has come from members of my own family. Sadly, that would be close family. Had it been fifth cousins seventeen times removed it wouldn't have seemed so bad.

So what is this divisive, controversial decision I have made? Simply this. I have stopped eating wheat. Last fall I heard about Wheat Belly, a new book by Dr. William Davis. This coincided with a nasty flare up of a condition I have called ocular rosacea. Rosacea is an inflammatory condition, and after reading Wheat Belly and discovering wheat can cause inflammation I decided it would be worth giving up this grain for awhile to see if my eye would improve.

In the worst case scenario ocular rosacea can damage the cornea and lead to loss of vision. The standard treatment of this disease, a disease which is not at all well understood, is to put the patient on a very long-term dose of antibiotics. This seems to me to be trading one problem for another. The only way I would ever consider taking antibiotics in this fashion would be if I was in immediate danger of losing my vision. But I was seeing my optometrist regularly and knew that so far my cornea was unaffected. This was good news on two fronts. One, it meant my vision wasn't in imminent danger. Two, it meant I had some time to try to find a safe, alternative way of dealing with the problem.

When I decided to stop eating wheat I never said I was giving it up forever. Not that it should make a difference! I never said anyone else should stop eating it. (Well, except for Alexandra, but that's another story.) I simply informed people about what I was doing, why I was doing it, and suggested that if they wanted a better understanding they could read the book for themselves. It didn't matter to me if they agreed or disagreed with the author. I was coming from the angle of simply wanting them to understand why I was doing what I was doing.

Perhaps it is because I come from a farming family. Maybe there is a special attachment to wheat because of that. But I don't think that's the whole story, because some non-farming family members have had negative reactions as well. What is it that challenges people so much when they hear someone isn't eating wheat? Would they have had the same reaction if I said I was giving up turnips? Rather doubtful.

One mistake I made in the early days was saying I was going gluten-free. To me it just seemed easier for people to wrap their minds around since there is so much press about gluten-free diets right now. But I have not intentionally cut barley and rye from my diet. Rye was already out simply because Alexandra is horribly allergic to it so I never have it in the house. Even breathing in the fumes makes her react. I don't have many things with barley in them, but the few I do I have continued to consume (that would mainly be the Guinness I use in the Jamie Oliver stew, along with a rare wee dram of whiskey).

What I hadn't counted on is the minute someone hears "gluten-free" they automatically think "celiac." Oddly, ocular rosacea doesn't pop into the listener's mind when they hear gluten-free. Their brain gets stuck on the celiac setting and can't seem to move on from there.

So now you know the ugly truth about me. I am currently a non-consumer of wheat. I hope you will continue to read my blog in spite of this shortcoming. I promise not to preach at you about what to eat or not to eat. After all, I am the person who linked to the amazing Nanaimo bar recipe in my last post, a recipe that happens to call for wheat. Which reminds me that not all family members have been Negative Nellies. Rebekah made a wheat-free version of Nanaimo bars for Christmas that was to die for.

And the ocular rosacea? It's gone, except for a small amount of scarring on the lower eyelid which I expect will gradually fade away. So was wheat playing a role? Impossible to say, but as long as I remain rosaea-free I think I will also stick with being wheat-free.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Translation Please

The other day Alexandra decided to make some custard. This seemed like an especially good idea since I was planning to make a blackberry crisp for dessert that night, and a dollop of custard on top would go nicely. Now it's time for a confession from our "make it from scratch" family. After discovering Bird's Custard Powder a few years ago when making Nanaimo Bars there has been no looking back. Our custard now comes from a tin. The only redeeming feature of this culinary lapse is that we rarely have custard.

A few minutes into the process she called out that she couldn't find the container. I reminded her the container looked a bit different than usual. This was because I had purchased my latest tin at the British shop in nearby Sorrento (that would be the one in BC, not Italy). For some reason the British container is shorter and plumper than the Canadian one.  (Having just been in Britain a few months ago I can verify the same can not be said about the British people themselves). I went and found the custard container on the shelf and returned to work.

A few minutes later I was interrupted again. "Mom, I need help with the directions. They're in British."

I had no idea what that meant, so headed back into the kitchen. I looked at the back of the tin.

I laughed when I read the instructions. She had guessed that hob meant stove and basin meant bowl, but what was really throwing her was the term pint. It is still common to see recipe measurements calling for cups, teaspoons and tablespoons in Canada, in spite of the fact the metric system has been in place since the mid-seventies. However, the term pint seems to have gone out of vogue around the same time as disco. Which means Alexandra had no clue what it meant. And why would she go Google it when she had me to interrupt? As a side note I would like to point out that only three nations still rely strictly on the English System of measurement: the USA, Myanmar and Liberia. There are many things I could say about that, but  I am choosing to show restraint.

On a totally unrelated note, here is my first finished knitted item of 2012. It is the famous Noro Striped Scarf. These are the knitted equivalent of snowflakes. There are currently 10,431 of these scarves posted on Ravelry and no two are the same. Noro, a Japanese yarn, is the cilantro of the knitting world. People either hate it or love it, and I definitely fall into the latter category. This is my third Noro scarf, and this time instead of using two different colours of Noro throughout, I alternated Noro Silk Garden with a skein of solid blue yarn. I'm pleased with the result.

One more thing. If you've never eaten a Nanaimo bar, I suggest you go right out and buy a tin of Bird's Custard Powder and make a batch today. You won't be sorry!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Duck Season

This year we did things a bit differently and had our annual cook-off on Christmas Day. It seemed like a good idea to have it on The Day when I first thought of it weeks ahead of time. Plus I had that brilliant plan to organize it using Facebook. However, there were a few things I hadn't taken into consideration. Important things such as we are a family where the procrastinators outnumber the organizers, and that having the meal on Christmas meant it was vital that every ingredient needed for every dish was bought ahead of the day itself. There would be no possibility of a quick trip or five to the grocery store to pick up forgotten items!

I will spare you the grim details of the shopping trip that resulted from this little oversight. It can best be summed up by the following two stories. I had already scoured the shops for the two ducks Diana needed for her roast duck recipe. I found one lone duck the week before, and had since gone to three other stores but had come away empty-handed. Then, the day before the mother of all shopping trips, I managed to find one more lone duck in the store I had found the first one in. I felt so smart when I plopped that bird into my basket!

So the next day I was cruising down the aisle of that same store feeling all smug and proud of myself as I glanced over at the frozen section. Right up until the moment my eyes lit on the pile of ducks stacked to the top of the freezer, threatening to spill over into the section designated for the geese. I know it is unreasonable, and it wasn't like I was wishing a duck shortage on anybody else who needed one for their Christmas dinner, but when I saw all those ducks I was sort of mad. What had just the day before appeared to be an endangered species now looked as common as a chicken.

The next problem was I ran out out of shopping endurance before I ran out of shopping. I was so fried that when I entered that last store and saw oyster mushrooms at half the price I had just paid at the second-to-last store I thought I might weep. Then, in a moment that made everything else about that morning look pretty darn good in comparison, the cashier smiled, looked me in the eyes, and asked me if I would like the senior's discount. Which would have been a lot less insulting if their senior discount kicked in at 55 instead of 60.

It turned out procuring the duck was only the beginning of the work involved in getting it ready for Christmas dinner. Diana started two days ahead of the meal by cutting the backbones out of the birds, then salting them and letting them chill in our garage.

Every time I went into the kitchen people were chopping up something. Thankfully that didn't include any fingers!

In the end those birds turned out to be worth all the work that went into them. They were amazing! In addition to the duck we had Greek meatballs with tzatziki, mushroom soup, grape tomato and bocconcini salad, cornbread and oyster mushroom stuffing, roasted vegetables and stuffed peppers.

Of course, all that cooking meant there was a huge stack of dishes to do.

We did manage to do things other than cook and eat, although I must admit that does seem to be what we do best. There was a hike on the trail, games of crokinole and Spell Tower, a jigsaw puzzle completed, books read, naps in front of the fire, and, of course, lots of knitting.

Now I will leave you with a promise and a warning. My next post will be much shorter, and whatever you do, DO NOT download that Spell Tower Game. In fact, it might be safer to not even click on the link.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Directions For Success

So. It's 2012. I have no idea what to expect in the upcoming year, but I do know what I hope for. I find as I have gotten older my New Year Resolutions have gradually been replaced by New Year Directions. Directions allow you room to maneuver, change course if you don't like the scenery, or abandon the journey altogether if you discover the original destination is not where you want to end up after all.

On the other hand, resolutions at any time of the year seem to end in failure for me, no matter how well-intentioned they may be. Examples would be my kettle bell workout program, switching from black to green tea, or my plans to "minimalize." (I do have to say the minimalizing resolution was somewhat successful in that I stuck with it for almost six months, the result of which is a house a little less stuffed with junk. Still, I made grandiose claims that I was going to keep at it for a year, so it still counts as a fail.)

Here is where I am headed at the beginning of 2012 - the hopes I have and the paths I want to explore.

  1. I would like to get even more words written in 2012 than I did in 2011. It would be a bonus if I could find a way for those words to generate an income.
  2. I would like to improve my photography skills.
  3. I want to keep moving forward with my Chinese language program.
  4. I hope to knit at least 6 of the sock patterns in Around the World in Knitted Socks.
  5. I want to learn at least one new knitting technique (Brioche? Double Knitting?).
  6. I really, really really want to travel overseas again this year.

Here's a look back at 2011. There was some knitting. (This might be an understatement, and I should confess that this is just a sample of my completed projects for 2011).

There was the perfect mix of travel and adventure.

There were friends, both old and new.

And most important of all, there was family.

It was a year of celebration, adventure, and joy, and for those things I am extremely thankful. It was also a year of deep, deep sorrow. I think it's time to move on...