Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas tags

Sometimes I forget that simple things can be so beautifully -- simple.  That was certainly the case last weekend.  My mom and sisters came over and the four of us settled around my dining room table, littered with papers and tools, to make Christmas tags.  Inspiration did not come to me, so I punched holes and tied ribbons haphazardly, focusing more on the social than the creative aspect of the afternoon.   We talked and drank tea and munched on left-over pie crust that I had baked with cinnamon sugar.  When everyone left, I was surprised to find, lined up along the edge of the china cabinet, a row of pleasing Christmas tags.

The over-sized slit for threading the tags onto presents creates visual interest and offers new alternatives for incorporating pretty ribbons into the tag.  I also used old stickers and odd bits of paper, tied with ribbons to look like wrapped boxes.  Simple.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010


The view out my window is green again -- green and grey-- but just a few days ago it was white.  I'm celebrating the ever-changing landscape with a few recent memories. These pictures were taken on a walk around the neighborhood.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

cookie exchange

Cookie exchanges are more about friendship than baking -- that's what I told myself as I packaged up six dozen pieces of Apricot-Almond Biscotti that I would have preferred to keep.  With that in mind, I determined to beautify the mandatory freezer bags, making them more gift-like, with layers of blue and red papers and a sticker.  I scrawled the label with a bamboo quill and Prussian Blue drawing ink.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

dress form

My sister and I spent two afternoons on this latest project:  it's a dress form made from -- you guessed it --duct tape.  Using different colours, to distinguish the layers, she wrapped me up in a suit of duct tape armor, which we slit down the back to remove.  A few more layers of tape, a hanger, some strategically placed shoulder pads, and a bag of stuffing later we were done.  She looks just like me in a way that is both eerie and very useful for fitting clothes.  Let the sewing begin!

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Monday, November 1, 2010

remembering the sun

Today is a day of rain and mist, so I'm posting a sunny photo from a couple of weeks ago.  
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

blackberry spread

These clean, bright jars of blackberries are the product of much mess: gnarly brambles, sticky hands, long red scratches.  That was a month ago.  I froze the last batch of berries, saving them to deal with on a rainy day and it really rained this weekend.  My stove top became a gruesome mess of splattered berry blood as the sweet, earthy smell of blackberries spirited through the house.  Now all that mess -- all the goodness too -- is sealed in glass, labeled and lined up on the pantry shelf waiting for another rainy day.

Blackberry Spread
(my own combination of several recipes)
*This spread isn't quite as thick as jam, but it's just right for spooning over pancakes or ice cream.  Best of all, there's no refined sugar or artificial pectin*

10 to12 cups of blackberries
2 cans of frozen apple juice concentrate with no added sugar (for sweetness)
8 to 10 apples, peeled, cored and cubed (for pectin)

Throw everything in a stock pot, bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for a very long time.  It can take a couple of hours to boil off all the water in blackberries, so choose a day when you'll be home and make a point of wandering through the kitchen every 20 minutes to stir and adjust the heat.  Let it boil lightly until you get a spreadable consistency.

Note:  Judging the correct consistency has taken practice, but I look for a thick, splattery boil (like porridge) and keep in mind that when the spread cools, it'll thicken a little more.

Fill sterilized canning jars and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

zucchini-mint croquettes

These croquettes, boasting subtle crunch and not-so-subtle flavors of mint and olive oil, are the perfect way to savor the tail end of this year's zucchini crop.  One supper last week we munched through a whole batch of them, leaving two perfectly grilled steak portions as leftovers.  They're that good.

Zucchini-Mint Croquettes
(Mollie Katzen, The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without, 2007)

1 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 small to medium zucchini
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
olive oil as needed

Place the mint and garlic in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until fine and feathery.

Without emptying or cleaning the food processor, switch to the grating attachment (regular or medium sized, not tiny) and grate the zucchini into the mint mixture.

Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and add the bread crumbs, Parmesan and egg.  Mix with a fork until thoroughly combined.

Place a medium-sized frying pan over medium heat and wait about 2-3 minutes.  Add a generous amount of olive oil (enough to easily cover the bottom) and swirl to coat.  Wait another 30 seconds or so for the oil to become very hot.  Add round teaspoons of the batter to the hot oil, pressing them down slightly when they hit the pan.  Cook for about 3 minutes on each side or until deep golden brown.  Transfer to a place lined with a double thickness of paper towel and leave then there for about a minute before serving.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

visual harvest

I stalk tomatoes, sneak up on green beans.  I maneuver a lens through foliage, careful not to spook the cucumbers.  Zoom.  Focus.  Click. In their native habitat, vegetables grow shyly, hiding in dappled sun and green shade.  I always harvest twice:  with a camera, then with a knife.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

seen on a Sunday afternoon walk in the forest

The arbutus are peeling.  They're shedding layers of bark, baring their skins to the fall wind with dramatic audacity.  It's a declaration in brown, rust and apple green.  Will they regret this gesture a month from now when the forest canopy lies dead on the ground and the winter rain dizzles monotonously?  Will they shiver?
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

still growing

We're more than half way through September and my garden is still growing slowly, persistently.  The beans will go into a fresh pasta dish tonight, and the tomatoes and cucumbers will become Greek salad.

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Friday, September 17, 2010


We visit the Fireweed Retreat every year to help our friends -- the owners -- with their spring cleanup.  We anticipate the day because we know that we'll be clearing brush or building a rock wall along side someone we haven't seen in a while, and that whatever B barbecues for lunch will be delicious.  The place is intended to give rest to weary pastors and missionaries, but somehow we always leave the Fireweed covered in mud with soar muscles.   But we're refreshed too -- deeply content and quiet after a day outdoors.

Last weekend our friends treated us to a stay at their beautiful property, no labour required.  Friday evening slipped away silently as we sprawled on the floor before the fire, reading.  So when Saturday morning dawned, grey and misty but without rain, it was time to explore anew the fields and forests of Fireweed.

Our friends are fond of the many benches tucked here and there throughout the property, so we set out to find, and photograph, them all.  Here G tests the comfort of an old church pew behind the work shed.  I imagine that one day it will be placed before a vista or in a shady corner like the other benches.

I question the integrity of this swing every year.  To date no necks have been broken and my scruples are never enough to keep me from launching myself into the air.  I love the friendly creaking of branches overhead and the swoosh of dry grass at the bottom of each pass.

Hornets have taken up residence in the radiator of this old farm tractor.  We linger long enough for a photo, then move on.

At the end of summer grass is dry and noisy.  This is the view from a bench where we stopped to listen to it converse with the wind . . .

. . .  and noticed a white spider's web inside a curled head of grass.  As always, we left the Fireweed refreshed, content, and quiet, but this time without soar muscles.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Roasted Garlic Spread

Sorry no picture.  I served this dip at my sister's recent bridal shower and requests for the recipe are still pouring in from all sides.  Enjoy!

Roasted Garlic Spread
(Little Book of Holiday Appetizers, Oxmoore House, Inc., 1996)

1 large head garlic, unpeeled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 (8-ounce) pkg cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. minced fresh chives

Peel outer skin from garlic, leaving head intact.  Place garlic in a small baking pan; drizzle with oil.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes at 350.  Remove cover, and bake 8 to 10 additional minutes or until garlic is soft.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Remove and discard the papery skin from garlic.  Scoop out garlic pulp with a small spoon.

Beat cream cheese and butter at high speed until light and fluffy.  Add garlic and salt; beat until blended.  Stir in chives.  Store spread in refrigerator.  Serve over warm slices of french bread.

Yield:  11/4 cup.

That's the recipe.  I use the food processor.  I also like to up the "2 Tbsp minced chives" to a fist-full of mixed herbs from the garden.  This gives the spread a brighter flavour and a pretty green tint.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I woke up this morning to an overcast sky and the sound of drizzle falling in the tree outside my window.  The weather report assures me that summer will be back tomorrow, so I'm celebrating this early taste of fall with an inside day.  That means laundry, a top-to-bottom house cleaning, and, as a reward for finishing all that, I'll make bread.  I've discovered the ideal bread-making compromise.  Quick and easy -- let the mixer do that hard work -- yet long and slow -- stash the dough in the fridge to ferment and rise overnight.  It's a method more than a recipe, so I highly recommend Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

summer strawberries

Eating from the garden is one of the great pleasures of summer, but there's an element of challenge to it too.  My very first garden consisted of several pots of cherry tomatoes and an ambitious zucchini plant.  The tomatoes were no trouble -- they're small and can be savored straight off the vine -- but the zucchini overwhelmed my slight repertoire of recipes.  In desperation, I resorted to stuffing my purse with the surplus when I went out so that I could force zucchini on all my friends.  I was the eccentric zucchini lady.  I've since learned the art of tucking whatever's growing into everything I cook -- an infinitely better solution.  This year, the strawberry patch began to produce in earnest.  These are two of my favorite strawberry creations.

Citrus-Cilantro Dressing for Fruit Salad
(Southern Living, July 2000)

1/4 cup orange juice
11/2 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp honey
11/2 tsp minced fresh cilantro (or more)
11/2 tsp mined fresh mint (or more)

Stir everything together in a bowl and toss with about 3 cups worth of fresh summer fruit.

Strawberry and Garden Greens Salad
(my own invention)

lettuce from the garden -- I like a good mix of butter crunch, romain, oak leaf and arugula
herbs from the garden -- chives, oregano, mint
strawberries, halved
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
fresh pepper

Arrange the lettuce on a wide serving platter.  Drizzle with olive oil, then with balsamic vinegar.  Scatter lots of herbs over the lettuce, then layer on the strawberries and drizzle a little more oil and vinegar.  Fresh pepper and you're done. 

I usually do these kinds of salads on a wide, shallow platter so the layers stay thin and no tossing is required.  Accompanied by grilled chicken breasts, this is supper.  My husband and I don't even use plates; I throw a couple of forks on the platter and we sit across from each other and eat until we meet in the middle and fight over the last strawberry.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010



This afternoon I picked up a few things at the grocery store.  That's not so unusual, but today I did it on my new bike, bearing home tomatoes, garlic, cream cheese, a salmon fillet and Gerber daisies in a basket attached to the handle-bars.  The route between home and store is an easy one that takes me through a pretty downtown village and along the edge of a golf course.  There are bike lanes the whole way.  Best of all, the wind is warm and trees cast cool puddles for me to ride through.
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Friday, August 20, 2010

summer harvest

After a hesitant spring, this summer is wonderful.  The garden is one of my favorite places to bask in the season, pulling weeds and visually tracking the girth of each green tomato.  Harvest has been slow to come, but I'm finally tasting the first forerunners of the plenty that I know is coming.  This cloud-shaped cauliflower will feature in tonight's supper.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

"God's Grandeur"

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
   It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
   It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.  Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
   And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
   And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell:  the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
   There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black  West went
   Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
   World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins --

Today is seared, bleared, smeared.  I feel like I have trod and trod an unchanging road -- monotonous and exhausting.  Where are those bright wings?

Monday, May 10, 2010

a short adventure

Last Sunday afternoon, overwhelmed by the tedium of the week, my husband and I settled onto the couch, laptap between us, in search of adventure.  Before the tedious mood lifted we had booked ferry tickets and a hotel -- 48 hours worth of escape.  Our destination:  Seattle.  It's not too far away, but far enough; and we had never been there.

Our search for Saturday morning breakfast took us to Pike Place Market were we indulged in breakfast tacos and eggs benedict, then passed the morning among the fruit vendors, florists, artisans and street musicians.  There were rows and rows of Mother's Day flowers.

That afternoon we made our way north to Seattle Centre, where we admired the view from the Space Needle and enjoyed watching families play in this spectacular fountian.

The following morning we explored the historic city.  I'm especially pleased with the way this photo juxtaposes the historic and the modern, the natural and the urban.

With only an hour left in Seattle we lounged in the sun and savored strawberries from Pike Place.  They were suprisingly big and sweet for May; maybe is was the sunshine and adventure that tasted so good.
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