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Month: May 2011

Ginger Cookies

Ginger Cookies

I’ve been a bit obsessed this last week with the site Cookus Interuptus.  It is a whole food cooking site but also more than that, there is a ‘cooking show’ element to it that I love and find hilarious as well as informative (it’s intentionally hilarious rather than terrible hilarious) and there are quite a few recipes and ideas I look forward to trying.

I’ve already made their Grass Fed Beef Chilli which was delicious.  I replaced the whole chilli with some chilli flakes I had on hand and added my Dad’s secret super ingredient for chilli:  A tablespoon of cocoa powder.  I have to admit it did add an extra element of yumminess and I think when my cocoa runs out I am going to get raw cacao powder for that added super food boost.

This weekend I had on my list the Ginger Molasses Cookies and unusually I actually managed to make the very thing I had planned.  Who’d have thunk it?  I was a little unsure about this recipe having not used molasses before and I actually left out the spicing to no ill effect (I’m sure it’s lovely but I wanted to give a ‘basic’ recipe a try before adding the fancy stuff).

I’m really glad that the recipes have helpful (and entertaining) videos, I found Cynthia’s tips really useful and there is something comforting about watching someone before trying something new.  I even followed her suggestion of adding a little white chocolate drop to the top of each and it does add a little spot of sweetness that is most enjoyable.

Stephen is a big fan of the ginger biscuit but I was a little unsure about what he’d make of this healthy version.  As well as using whole wheat flour, whole cane sugar and molasses (which contains a goodly amount of iron) this recipe uses real ginger as opposed to powdered.  To my mind that makes this cookie the nutritional equivalent to a large bowl of spinach, so I wondered if they would have that giveaway health food taste.  On the contrary; the result is, I have to say, delicious.  The cookies, which I baked for exactly 10 mins, are exceptionally moist and satisfying.  They have a ginger zing with a hint of lemon that warms the tongue and tummy.  If you are looking for a moist, cakey and above all guilt free cookie, then look no further.

Happy eating lovely friends.

Sights of Sunday

Sights of Sunday

We’ve spent today playing, tidying, reorganising, moving, mowing, baking.  A verb filled day, a day of activity.  No visits to the land this weekend, too much to do and too many mosquitoes to argue with; so instead we worked on our space now.

I made cornbread and baked whole wheat loaves this weekend.   I used agave and molasses as the sweetener for my bread and was delighted with the results.  I really took my time with the dough and the kneading and I think it was worth it.  The sticky dough had a beautiful deep gold colour and the smell of bread as it rose and baked was stronger than ever.  It felt good to mill my own flour again and to use sugars that are more ‘healthy’ and nourishing.  For dinner I made my standby Roast Chicken with Butternut Squash, Pecans and Feta, with the whacky addition of sweet potato for an extra dash of beta carotene.  With a bright green spinach salad it fed my tummy and my eyes.

Though it definitely wasn’t a day of rest it was a day of achieving.  I feel much happier knowing the laundry is done and put away, there is a little less furniture and a little more space, there are a few more ticks on that to do list and a few less things that will need polishing.  This week might just be a big one and it feels good to know that some of the distracting clutter is gone.

In it’s place, just a little more breathing space.

Is it too early for pigs?

Is it too early for pigs?

Is it really ever too early to be thinking about pigs? I’ve had a slight obsession with them since attending a one-day Rare Breed Pig Rearing course at Pig Paradise in the UK almost 10 years ago.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that some of the breeds have the same visual appeal as the hairy arse of a fat gallic builder, but they certainly taste yummy (the processed pigs, not french construction workers).

The cumberland sausage that Pig Paradise served for lunch is something I still remember and salivate about. It actually had a real pork taste and none of those wobbly white bits suspiciously embedded in the meat.
So, since the next stage of the house build is now underway (the construction crew are getting started on our new driveway next week), I don’t have too much to do until the next round of cheques need to be written. Naturally my thoughts turned to pigs and, more importantly, to the chance of ticking off at least three of the items on my “Things To Do Before Dying or Visiting Belgium” list:
 (#18)  Throw a monster spit roast pig party with bonfire, fiddles and barrels of booze
 (#26)  Make my own sausages
 (#31)  Pose for a photo with a piglet under each arm

Of course, when posing for a photo of such importance, selecting the right breed is crucial. The Tamworth is a nice pig, but to be blunt, it’s ginger. That’s not going to set my colouring off in a good way. Really, there’s only three breeds that I can sensibly consider: Gloucester Old Spots, Wessex Saddlebacks and Yorkshire Blacks.

Of course everyone looks good in black, but even so, these three breeds are without doubt the Beautiful People of the pig world. Each have their advantages and are hardy enough for Canada. In fact, a hobbyfarmer up the road from us has a herd of Yorkshire Blacks. So whichever of these beautiful pigs we end up getting, I’ll be as happy as…well, as happy as a pig in shit 😉

Pirateology

Pirateology

We’ve had something of a theme running through our days for the last week.  Pirates.  We’ve been reading about them, pretending to be them, making ships on the deck, running around with authentic treasure maps (which may have been slightly singed during Mummy’s attempts to make it look authentic) as well as making pirate cupcakes and pirate cookies.  Yes pirate cookies, I was tired after all the piratey action ok?  And even scurvy dogs need something to go with their grog.

I’m really enjoying the fact that Huwyl is now of an age where he will generate his own ‘themes’ and interests.  Instead of me introducing ideas now he is looking for pirate books at the library and asking (and asking and asking) to make not just ordinary cupcakes but pirate cupcakes.   So despite the permit related madness of last week we still managed to crowbar in some pirate baking.  And what makes a cupcake a pirate cupcake you might wonder?

Flags!  An ordinary cupcake with ordinary icing, minding it’s own business.  But in the other room unruly pirates are chopping up pieces of paper into (suspiciously neat) squares, decorating them with a wild variety of skulls, daggers and, well, squiggles.  Using a teeny tiny saber (also known as a paper knife) their fearless and frankly ruthless leader (aka Mummy) made two small holes in each flag, allowing for a mast (cocktail stick) to be inserted.  Then those cupcakes were transformed into the most lovely of pirate cupcakes.

Unfortunately, despite being beautifully decorated some of the cupcakes fell victim to the machinations of Pirate Baby who, well, poked big holes in them with his finger.  Hence this week’s baking project being cookies which are slightly more toddler resistant.

I don’t know how much more pirate love we have in us (Huwyl is now starting to flick through a book on knights and castles) but I’m happy to ride the wave as long as it lasts.  Tomorrow, our craft is pirate spyglasses.  And for snack, what else?  Pirate cookies of course.   Gaaaaaar!

Duck!

Duck!

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the way that opportunities can come out of inauspicious beginnings and lead to something creative that I otherwise would not have thought of.  To illustrate; this morning Huwyl wanted to write a story for Daddy, but he was upset when he didn’t have the capacity to write what was in his mind.  Crying and wailing ensued.  So I took his writing book and asked him to dictate the story to me, I would write it out for him and he could show it to Daddy.

Initially I did this as a way of placating him and minimising the amount of wailing my morning needed to contain.  But as this process unfurled I gained some useful insights into my child’s mind.  As he dictated a very complete story to me, I realised that his frustration was actually completely valid.  He had a vision and was unable to execute it, his capacity to imagine far outstrips his capacity to communicate and I need to give him more opportunity to be heard without being fettered by his inability to communicate in writing.  In other words I need to listen more and write down what he is telling me whenever I get the chance.

Once I had written out the (surprisingly long) saga of a duck under a chair I decided to type it out in a book format.  The story resembled so closely books that we had read I really wanted to make more of it.  So I typed it out and created spaces on the page for illustrations, it didn’t take long and then I printed and stapled it.

Later in the day I encouraged Huwyl to begin illustrating his book.  Cue another melt down.  When I suggested he draw a duck under a chair he began crying ‘But I don’t know how to draw a chair!’  Ah, sweet perfectionism, how you trip us all up.  I averted his panic by pointing at the several examples of chairs in the room and said “Why don’t you draw one of these chairs?”  Immediately he was happier.  He had a concrete example to work from which gave him a feeling of satisfaction and comfort.  He did a very good rendering of our arm chair, adding colourful cushions from his imagination.

Aiming to intercept a similar meltdown regarding the duck I provided him with a book of bird illustrations turned to the duck page, he was thrilled to find a duck with a blue beak (blue!) and rendered that duck under the chair.   He then added the word ‘Quack’ and I showed him how to draw a speech bubble around the word and draw a line to the duck.  Huwyl thought this was hilarious and was very pleased with himself for producing such a professional looking first page.

While he was drawing I brought out the book Bird Songs that we currently have on loan from the library.  This is such a fascinating book as it has not only illustrations and information about 250 common North American birds but also audio tracks for each one.  So as Huwyl drew his duck, Neirin and I played him a fantastical variety of duck calls, who knew they could be so different?  Some were frankly bizarre and had us all laughing!

One illustration seemed enough for Huwyl today and so off he trotted to play with his brother and Daddy.  I paused for a while longer, considering both what he had produced and its significance.  I considered the perfectionism my son has inherited from both his parents and his passionate temperament that delights and challenges me on a daily basis.  I thought on the fact that being a homeschool family allows me to respond to his creativity and to difficulties in ways that will hopefully help and support his learning style.  Further I thought about now adding this little project to my organiser for the week, aiming to have it finished by the end of the week.  An on going piece of work, initiated by my child (though unknowingly) and taking in writing skills, reading skills, art, textual analysis, creative writing as well and a nature study of ducks.

Again I am grateful for the insights I received when listening to a podcast by Janet Allison who writes and lectures about parenting boys.  She talked about boys often preferring factual books, that they want to learn how things work or why they do things the way they do.  While I see so much of Huwyl’s temperament reflected in my own I try to remember his is a) an individual so entitled to be seen as unique and b) a different gender.  I am trying to honour his love of the concrete, of the factual and I have to admit my heart bursts a little each night as I turn out his light and gently remove the Encyclopedia of History that still rests across his body, even as he is fast asleep.

I know this will not be the last time one of my children takes our learning in a new direction, in fact I am banking on them being active participants through out, and I have to admit my delight in being able to create alongside my ‘student’ not just on behalf of.  I am flushed with pride at what he can achieve with just a little support from me and honestly can’t wait to see what he will come up with as we travel along this road together.  I’m putting money on a lot of stories in our future.

Nummy Lunch

Nummy Lunch

Looking for something delicious, quick, filling and healthy for lunch?  Of course you are.  So I thought I’d share one of my all time favourite lunches.  I can’t really take credit as I stole the idea from my friend Cheryl (the woman knows everything, it’s eerie) after she made it for me for lunch one happy playdate.

You will need:

1 can black beans

Olive Oil

Minced Garlic

Avocado (add lemon if you like, it’s yummy)

Grated (shredded) mozzarella

Salsa (optional but tasty)

Whole wheat tortillas cut in half

Warm the oil and about a teaspoon of minced garlic in a frying pan, add more garlic if you don’t intend to snog anyone or attend a job interview in the near future.  Rinse the beans and then add to the pan, warm through.

Mash the avocado and add lemon if you wish.  Spoon on salsa, avocado then add beans and top with mozzarella and roll into a package of deliciousness.  Scoff and eat several more, feeling exceptionally virtuous about eating so much avocado which is a super food and will soak up any chocolate you eat for the rest of the day.  Science at work my friends.

This meal suits my mood perfectly right now.  As the weather warms my body starts to crave nourishing, fresh and light foods, the stuff of summer.  Of course I still want to feel full and satisfied and it doesn’t hurt that the beans, avocado and cheese all contain lots of protein giving me a nice energy boost.

In an effort to be more prepared in offering the boys healthy snacks too I spent 20 minutes this morning chopping up half a bag of carrots so I have delicious sticks ready to slap on the table with a tub of hummus in moments.  I’m hoping to avert some of those ‘hungry meltdowns’ that we’ve been having around these parts, despite mummy getting meals ready ever earlier.

Who could resist those bright orange slivers?  Huwyl tucked into a whole handful alongside his lunch time wrap and I’m thinking of using them as a way of weaning the boys off their veggie crisp side dish obsession.  So far so good!

I’m also making my old standby homemade Lara bars (this link will take you to my old blog) and started the day with a fantastic smoothie that Stephen made with the boys yesterday afternoon.   A smoothie felt like the perfect way to kick start my system in a way that toast and jam doesn’t quite manage.  I’m so looking forward to eating much more delicious, fresh and, when possible, local produce over the coming months.  What summer food are you enjoying right now?

It’s only a piece of paper…

It’s only a piece of paper…

This week has been all about the permits.  Having submitted everything to the city 10 days previously we were now chasing to find out when our permits were coming.  Turns out there were a few snags.  The roofing product wasn’t going to work, then it might, then we needed a letter from the manufacturer,  then it was ok.  The planning officer couldn’t read CAD files so needed pdfs.  Our engineer was out all day so couldn’t do them but eventually I lost patience and got someone else in his office to do it. We got those  emailed  but they couldn’t print them to scale.  So then we had to send the files to the printer, collect the prints (a slight uphill struggle with the girl in the printers who couldn’t find them, luckily I spotted them.  Right next to her.  On her desk.) and I drove across the city (with the two boys in tow) to deliver the plans to the planning office.  Phew. Well not quite.

Then it turns out that despite telling us that the plans didn’t need to be stamped they actually did because they had been changed.  Changed at the request of the planning office.  Yep, it’s just that much fun.  So after some frankly bullying phone calls and the taking of no quarter I arranged to meet our engineer, get all the extra bits of paperwork the city wanted, get him to stamp two sets of plans (luckily Stephen ordered 5 sets, phew) then drive across to the planning office, meet with the planning officer and hand over all the paperwork.  While Neirin screamed on the floor next to me.  I knew how he felt. Luckily Stephen had built up a really good relationship with our planning officer by being an all round nice chap and keeping in constant contact.  Hourly.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we were invited to his wedding.  So despite the backlog due to the upcoming bank holiday…

TA DA!  We are go for permits.  All Stephen had to do to collect them was drive, yes you guessed it, to the other side of the city, hand over a wheelbarrow load of our cash and then drive through horrendous traffic back to his waiting family.  Simple. This is what we have been working towards for the last 6 months and frankly the paperwork (a photocopy at that) is not the gold embossed document of my imaginings.  But what it does mean is that we can finally build our house, this thing we have been dreaming of doing for over a decade is actually going to happen.  Our builder Dave has assured us that the getting of the permits is actually the most painful part of the process, I really hope he is right.

So now the work begins, the hard graft, the real knitty gritty.  And to honour that I’ve started a Pinterest board with loads of pretty pictures of how I want my house to look.  I’m right there in the trenches people. If I haven’t bored you senseless already, or if you would prefer a frankly more entertaining read, you should pop over to Stephen’s new blog where he is chronicling our journey in his own inimitable style.  He also has a cool, 3D rendering of the house for anyone who’d like to see what it is going to look like.

In the meantime I’m going to continue with my pinning of cute ideas and my dreaming of a home that now, really now, is going to happen.

The House

The House

In a strange kind of way, today is an appropriate time to be writing the post about the house we’re planning to build on the land. That’s because today, after nearly 6 months of planning and bureaucracy, we’ve offered up the children’s inheritance to the City of Ottawa in exchange for a Building Permit. This rather disappointing piece of paper is more precious than a golden Willy Wonker ticket and arguably harder to get. I’d expected big wax embossing, or at least some fake gold leaf sticker. Perhaps a grand signature or two from someone of note. Instead, we got a photocopied proforma and I had to sign it myself.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in November 2010 when we submitted our offer for the land, we began to dream about houses. Now, I’m the first to admit that I don’t like scuff and would rather contract herpes than live in a bland house for the rest of my life. Perhaps you’re thinking a nice country farmhouse? French country kitchen, stone walls and gingham? Er, no.

I like modernist architecture. Bold, big and bare. I’ve mellowed in my old age and wouldn’t go so far as to design a white box to live in, but under no circumstances do I want nooks and crannies, little snugs and french bloody country kitchens. Not unless I’m being blackmailed by someone with less compassion than Pol Pot.

Instead, there will be light. Lots and lots and lots of light. Which is good, because that was Emma’s top priority too. In all honesty, she’d probably be ok with a nook and a few crannies. Snugs are fine in her book. But since I decided to design the house myself and I can sulk like a grounded teenager who’s just been informed that the cast of Twilight are outside waiting to play, I get to choose.

But she’s also a practical and cunning woman. She laid down her requirements in less juvenile ways than me. A kitchen at the heart of the home, easy access to the outside, minimized carrying of laundry, cupboard (lots of), no balconies for the kids to parajump off, etc. Nothing unreasonable, but a bugger to fit into my initial designs. Out went the Mediterranean modern villa, adios to the grand internal staircase with glass railings. But what we ended up with, after about a dozen design iterations and some input from the guy who would turn out to be our GC is really rather stunning.

Here’s the final design:

And here’s the 3D model I built to base it on. Other than some changes to the siding and the window configuration, it’s just about identical.
Inside there are 4 rooms downstairs – a kitchen in the middle surrounded by a schoolroom/dining room on one side and a family room on the other. I have a study at the end. All four bedrooms upstairs are south facing to maximise the views and the light. The master has an ensuite and walkin wardrobe and the kids share a huge bathroom.
In the basement we have a walk-out french door to make access easy for carrying in slaughtered livestock for butchering and to provide easy access to my BREWHOUSE. Oh yes boys. A brewhouse. For the making of fine mead, ales, cider, perry and perhaps a wine or two. This house has everything. Perhaps it won’t be such a chore to stay put for a little while.
A Single Moment

A Single Moment

Joining Amanda this week in sharing a single moment from our week.  Something that carries a little significance in our lives.  In the photo below is our boy, in our field.

Wishing all a happy and sunny weekend!