29 September, 2007

The Lazy Gardener

I want to imagine myself as someone who would go out everyday into her vegetables and herbs to weed and harvest; someone who tracks her plantings year after year to note what did and didn't work. The truth is, my wants outweigh the doing. Every year I plant, and every year I underharvest. It doesn't bother me too much, but I do wonder if I should even bother. In almost all cases I would rather quilt than be in the garden.

Because we have dogs and have never been able to figure out a way to keep them out of the raised beds we put almost everything in containers. This works great for herbs, beans, tomatoes, and some annual flowers. I am starting to accept that it isn't great for beets, carrots, and peas. Oh how I want a plot where I can have row upon row of staggered plantings for continual harvest. It just isn't going to happen here, and I must accept that. I must celebrate the success I do have, despite my lazy efforts.

Tomatoes. Last year my hubby built an incredible planter for the tomatoes. It faces south and is right against the house so it is extra warm. We've had a great crop this year. Of course I let the plants get a little wild, and we didn't have that much heat in August to really allow the fruit to ripen. And we've had so much frost lately that I harvested all the unripe fruit a week ago. That's okay, though. All you have to do is put the unripe tomatoes in a cool, covered spot (a box in the basement with a newspaper lid. The tomatoes will ripen and you can just eat along the way.

I may not be an expert, let alone someone who should be giving out garden advice, but here is my one garden tip. I have a lot of things in containers, in my case a big collection of terracotta pots. This includes some perennials. To overwinter them I bury the container, with the plant, in the ground. I did this last year with great success and I am doing it again this year. There is, of course, the risk that your pot could crack, particularly with frost heaves. When I dug out one of these pots this spring a bit of one had sheared off. I didn't mind so much as the plant was in great shape and the pot got some extra patina.
That's it, that's all I can offer you on garden tips: how to store unripe tomatoes and overwintering perennials. Yup, I'm a lazy gardener.

27 September, 2007

Some Things Scream Fall

Some things scream fall: back to school sales (even though they start in July), the change in the leaves, the arrival of fresh brussel sprouts in the markets, and Thanksgiving. Here in Calgary we also try to do as many things outside before it gets cold and miserable. Our family took a trip to the Lacombe Corn Maze last weekend. You can’t get much more ‘fall’ that that.

We loaded up the dogs and the Monster and met with a friend in Lacombe. Lunch in town and then off to the Maize. This is a great maze. We only finished about a third of it and it took us 45 minutes. The Monster wasn’t going to be happy in the backpack for more than that. Off to the petting farm and games. She started walking a week ago, so she was busy chasing the goats and other kids all around. We saw pig races, played on the slides, fed the goats, and rode a tractor train around the corn field.

To be honest, we thought it would be one of those things that sounds fun but ends up being rather lame. But we had a blast. I strongly recommend a visit to your local maize.

Our only disappointment: there was no corn to buy. Wouldn’t you think that corn would be available at a corn maze? I wanted to make this. Instead I went to the market on Sunday to get groceries. It was a bit of a blustery day, so soup was in order.

I made this soup with what I had on hand from the market and the garden. It hit the spot, with a few blue cheese croissants. It is really easy, just some chopping to start. To puree I use a hand blender right in the soup pot. You could boil all the veggies, but the flavour won’t be nearly as rich. And this weekend I used water to thin the veggies. Our nanny is a vegetarian and I wanted her to be able to have some for lunch.

Roasted Fall Soup

3 crisp, tart apples (such as Gala) – cored and cut into quarters
1 large sweet potatoe – peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 large butternut squash – peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 onion – peeled and cut into quarters
1 large or 3 small cloves of garlic – peeled
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp fresh thyme/1 tbsp dry
Water, vegetable, or chicken stock
Garnish – fresh thyme leaves and cream

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
2. Put all veggies onto a large, rimmed baking pan. Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. Roast veggies in oven for 45 minutes.
4. Puree veggies and thyme in a soup pot with hand blender or in a standing blender. Add water or stock to thin as desired.
5. Serve hot, with a little bit of cream poured in each bowl.


20 September, 2007

Tackling the mess

Really, I'm anal. I swear. But my closet does not demonstrate that. The bottom of it is a mess of shoes, swim goggles, purses, and clothes to be hand washed. That is, until last night.

Okay, so it doesn't look like one of those ads where all the wooden hangers are equally spaced with all colour-coordinated clothing hanging freshly pressed and sweaters folded exactly alike. I always think it is a good idea to have the shoe box with the polaroid taped to the end so I know what's inside, but the boxes would take up way too much room (I have a lot of shoes) and I don't have enough shelves to keep them neat. I'll admit, it is my dream to have that. But let's get real folks. We all don't live in an ad.

The difference between real people and those ads:
1. We have more than 5 shirts.
2. We iron just before we wear the shirt, not as we put it away.
3. We don't put family photos, lights, or coffee table books in our closets.
4. Most of us have attemped organization, but it involved plastic or wire shelving units from Ikea or the hardware store.
5. We hardly have enough time to clean our bathrooms, let alone our closets.

I am only partway through my clean up, there are still some storage things I would like to get to help keep it neat. Like these great sweater organizers and more of these fabulous boxes to keep the shelves and the bottom of the closet neat.

Here are a few tips for clearing out and cleaning up that closet.

1. Take everything out. And as you do it do an initial sort into garbage - recycle - give away - launder - keep.
2. Grab the vacuum and clean all shelves.
3. Take everything you said you would keep and go through it again - looking for repairs needed or style upgrades required.
4. Sort your keep stuff by season and type of clothing.
5. When rehanging things put the hangers all the same way. Even if you don't have fancy hangers this will go a long way towards having it all look neat.
6. Place the items you use the most in the center of the closet. Shoes, coats, and dresses can be placed on the outer edges. (I wear skirts, pants, and blouses mostly).
7. Reduce the need to clean as often (who likes dusting their shoes?) by storing things in covered, paper or fabric boxes. Things can get musty in plastic or rubber.
8. Be ruthless. Okay, so I kept the saddle shoes I bought for fun back in university, but I am giving away 10 other pairs that I never wear anymore (clunky heels, square toes, bulky boots).
9. Don't be afraid to make it as pretty as you want. No one will laugh at you if you organize your clothes by colour. The truth is, we're probably jealous.

I will post a picture when I finish, but for now I want more boxes and I never got around to refolding my sweaters. But I can tell you that my efforts took less an hour and I felt calmer with every passing minute. And it was sure easy getting dressed in the dark this morning - I even match.

18 September, 2007

End of Summer Goodness

The end of summer always meant two things in my house when growing up. One, a trip to Saskatchewan to visit grandparents, the farm, and pick up more food than we could possibly need. And two, canning and freezing to deal with all that food.

My parents are both Ukrainian. That means food is central to our lives, as is the garden where it is grown. Now, as city kids and parents ourselves we still garden, but it isn’t on the same scale. My dad’s parents had a one acre garden. It was lovingly handwatered daily with pails filled from the slough at the front of the property. My garden is in containers so the dogs don’t dig it up.

Poppies lined the edges of my grandparents’ garden, and yes, my Baba dried the poppy seeds every year. The sloughs were on the front of the property, split by a long driveway. At the end of the driveway was the yard, with the house on the West side, and the original summer house right at the back. These were tiny houses, built by hand in the 50s and 60s. Originally they had no running water, no heat other than the wood stove, and no electricity. Over time my dad added a furnace, plumbing, and electricity to the main house. It made it a lot more enjoyable to visit, as kids.

On the West side of the yard the house essentially stood in the middle of the garden. All the vegetables were to the South, strawberries to the West, and raspberries and the clothesline to the North. On the East side of the driveway was another strawberry patch, a small grove of trees, and the corn patch. Finally, at the back of the property was another, larger grove of trees that had a bench and some old wood swings. It was a great place of imagination for us.

Baba and Dido grew the aforementioned strawberries, corn, raspberries, and poppies. They also grew onions, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, dill, tomatoes, beets, peas, beans, cucumbers, garlic, and more cabbage than 5 families could possible ever eat – even if you make cabbage rolls almost weekly.

The end of summer trip always meant harvesting the garden, setting things up to dry in the attic or the cellar, and loading up coolers and boxes with food. Like all good Babas mine thought we were in perpetual danger of starving to death. As such we were sent home with a couple of coolers full of frozen strawberries, raspberries, peas, beans, and wild mushrooms. This was in addition to the jars and jars of pickles, beets, sauerkraut, head cheese, cherries, and juice. I can’t forget the bags of cucumbers, onions, and potatoes. Finally, there was the cabbage. Oh so much cabbage. An unbelievable amount of cabbage. The heads were always enormous and we never left with less than a dozen, more if my parents had made arrangements with friends to give it away.

The entire trip took place over a weekend and required two vehicles. Our big boat of a car carried the family and some stuff. And my dad would bring his truck so he could take all the food home. As we got older not all of the family made the trip. We also got smarter and only took one vehicle so there was less to bring home. “Sorry Baba, there just isn’t room,” we would slyly tell her to avoid all the cabbage.

Once we got home everything had to be dealt with. That meant canning and freezing. This was added to the canning my mom wanted to do of the Okanagan fruit. We always had dozens of jars of peaches and pears to provide summer treats all winter. And don’t forget the jam – strawberry, raspberry, chokecherry, and crabapple.

Now that all of us kids are older, and Baba and Dido’s garden is no more, we rely heavily on the farmer’s markets. My parents still can a lot but they’ve strayed from their Ukrainian roots. Aside from pickles the most requested item is my Dad’s salsa.

I’ll admit, I still defer to their efforts most of the time. And now, with my Monster underfoot it is a bit harder to find enough time to get the job done. That being said, I was looking at the shelves in the basement and decided I needed to take advantage of the last of the peaches this summer. I will be enjoying summer goodness again this winter.

Homemade Canned Peaches

I like to clean my kitchen counters before I start. That way if I put something down without thinking about it I don’t have to worry about re-cleaning it. Anal, I know. Then I gather all my supplies and wash everything with hot-as-I-can-stand-it, soapy water.

Jars (size is a personal choice)
Rings and new lids, or rings with glass lids and rubber sealers.
Canner and tongs for placing and removing jars
Sharp knife
Wide mouth funnel
Dry and wet measuring cup
Large bowl, small bowl
Sharp paring knife
Large, heavy pot
Clean dishtowel
Clean rag (I found a baby washcloth to work best)

Just rip or slightly under-ripe peaches

Clean jars in hot soapy water, then let them sit in just boiled water for 5-10 minutes. Drain and dry the outsides with a clean cloth. Do the same things with the rings.

Peel and cut peaches. Reserving pits. (some people blanch them but I prefer to slice and peel as I go – I would rather have knife marks then the mushy edges of blanched peaches)

Put the lids in a bowl of just boiled water. Let sit until ready to use.

Fill jars with sliced peaches, almost all the way to the top. Make sure to include a pit or two in each one.

Using a ratio of 4 cups water to 1 cup sugar make a simple syrup. Boil water in large, heavy pot with sugar until sugar is dissolved. How much you need will depend on how many jars you are using. Plan on at least 2 cups of syrup for every 1 litre jar full with peaches.

Fill the jars full of peaches with syrup, leaving an inch from the top empty.

Using tongs, place the lids on jars and seal with rings.

Place in canner with hot, almost boiling water. Bring to a boil. Process in a canner for 12-15 minutes, starting the timing once the water has come to a boil.

Remove and let rest on a thick cloth. You might hear popping over the next 24 hours as the jars seal. Refrigerate and use ones that don’t seal right away.

If you want an offical recipe, try Bernardin for peaches and many other canning recipes.

Happy Tuesday.

11 September, 2007

On My Creative Toes

Every day when I head down the stairs to my unfinished basement (a.k.a the New York Open Concept Loft Style Basement) and the area carved out as my sewing space I am confronted by many unfinished projects. I am completely incapable of working on one thing at a time, start to finish. I always seem to have 3 projects actively on the go, and more hanging out. I think I get bored easily and have trouble seeing the project all the way through, no matter how exciting it is. It might be the technique, the colours, or the scream for attention (deadline) from another project. Whatever it is, it keeps me on my creative toes.
Here is an inventory of my current works in progress. At least, these are the active ones. It doesn't include the class I took but ended up not liking the pattern, or my second quilt ever that still needs a sleeve in order to be returned to my mom, or the binding repair I need to do on our wedding quilt. Maybe I'll get around to those, once some of these are out of the way...

This is one that I am about three quarters done the quilting. I must admit, I started it almost 5 years ago. I had it planned for a few more years than that. Just as I started quilting there was an article on Denyse Schmidt in Martha. I instantly fell in love. Then I found these fabrics and the quilt was born. Now that I know more about design, trademarks, and having respect for a designer I feel a bit bad. It really is close to her designs. I will always give it credit as inspired by Denyse Schmidt. And as time as passed and my quilting designs have developed, I must give a lot of credit to her - a true inspiration for me. I am desperate to try and finish this in the next three weeks so I can give it to my hubby for his birthday. He's been asking me for years, "When are you going to finish the quilt I like?" It already has a name: Here It Is.

I am so excited to have finished the top to this quilt. I designed it a few years ago and started it probably in 2005. Like most of my quilts it was designed during some downtime in my desk job. The back of my work notebook is filled with sketches of quilts, blocks, and furniture arrangements. The colours were chosent to actually match our living room, which is essentially cyan blue and orange, with taupe/brown as a base. I just have the back to piece, using this great Robert Kauffman and some leftovers from the front. This quilt started my circle fixation.

This quilt continues the circle fixation. I won the centre portion at a retreat for my Red Hat group, Garnet Gals. Four of us pieced it and then raffled it off among us. The centre portion is from a book by Maaike Bakker called, "Strip Pieced Quilts". It really makes you googly-eyed to look at it too long. I added the borders using the scraps from piecing. And because the one colored fabric we chose in the blocks had some coloured polka dots in it I had to add some to the border! The back needs to be pieced. Both of these quilts will then be sent out for quilting. I have pretty particular designs planned and they are both beyond both my skills and the ability of my machine.

Okay, one more circle quilt on the go. I'm building this one as a potential class sample. In making all these quilts I experimented with a number of ways on how to make the perfect circle and how to attach it. And I keep finding other ways. In my efforts to build a quilting career I am going to try and teach. This quilt will be my first effort and hopefully those who read this can help me out when it comes to testing instructions... hint, hint. I have the blocks of the background pieced and the circle fabrics narrowed down to these blues and greens.

So when I get tired of doing all these circles I pull out some traditional piecing. This is also the project I go to when I need a colour break. As you can see, most of what I'm working on is pretty bright and vivid. This is a soft quilt. I'm in love with it. It started off as No Darker Than Sand, but that was a little too soft for me. Then I found Heather Bailey's Freshcut line. That did it. A few Amy Butler pieces thrown in and I had a colour scheme. The pattern is a block of the month from Planet Patchwork. Right now I am planning some curved, paper pieced borders, but we'll see. I'm not sure how big I want it to get.

At the same retreat where I won the black and white quilt top we set ourselves up with a challenge. We sewed together some strips, threw in a few other fabrics, and departed. Each of us has the same set of fabric and strips. Here is what we started with. Since then I have started by cutting my strips for some half square triangles. I do have the quilt designed, but nothing more. I think I need to get a few other projects out of the way first.
Hmm, I know I have one other too. No pictures, alas. It was another challenge quilt that I did with a friend. It is a wall hanging that just needs to be quilted and bound. Find me a free weekend and I could get it done. I'll post it then.
Happy Tuesday.

06 September, 2007

Cookie Monster

When I was pregnant the thing I craved the most and almost exclusively (hot dogs aside) was cookies, cookies, cookies. Seriously, there was no way to satisfy the need for gooey chocolate melting from just out of the oven peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, the crisp of oatmeal coconut cookies, or even the darkening milk that comes with dipping your Oreo. Is there any better smell than baking cookies? I love my daughter, but even she doesn't smell as good as that!

Bed rest put a kibosh on my cookie fetish. I wasn't allowed up long enough to bake and the diet nazi, a.k.a. my hubby, refused to buy me the cookies I wanted when he did the grocery shopping. He always told me I could thank him later when my ass didn't get too big. If it wasn't for the mom and mom-in-law coming down to help every week or two I would have been completely cookie deprived.

Now that my ass is back to its pre-pregnancy size, thanks to cookie and juice deprivation, I feel it is necessary to welcome fall with baking and some overdue cookie indulgence. Mom's group is also a good excuse to bake. This week I relied on my old standard, the very first cookie I learned how to bake: Chocolate Chip Slab Cookies. Yup, one giant, crumbly, buttery, and rich cookie. It is also the easiest cookie you will ever make. No wonder my mom trusted the kitchen to me when I was only 8 or 9.

I cannot lay claim to this recipe, for it comes from "The Best of Bridge" series of cookbooks. I have made it for over 20 years now - for sleepovers when I was a kid, for chick flick nights in my youth, for break-ups and sad songs in my twenties, and for just about any other reason. Try it once and you will be making it every time you just feel like some cookies. You can even halve the recipe, just bake it in a small, square pan instead.

Chocolate Chip Slab Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Grease a 9 by 13 pyrex or simple cake pan.

1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
chocolate chips, M&Ms, skor bits, etc.

1. Cream together butter and suger.
2. Add vanilla.
3. Beat in flour, 1 cup at a time. Mixture will be slightly crumbly.
4. Stir in chocolate chips or other treat.
5. Pour all the batter into the greased pan and pat flat with your fingers. Personally, I also sample a little bit of the cookie dough at this point.
6. Bake in oven for 18-25 minutes until lightly browned.
7. Let cool 10 minutes then slice into bars.

The cooking time will vary depending on the pan you use and your oven. Please, please let them cool before you dig in. I can't tell you how many time my impatience resulted in a burnt tongue from molten chocolate.

Happy Baking!

05 September, 2007

Welcome... to no one

How many people have started their blogs with these cliches?

"If you build, it they will come"

"Bueller? Bueller?"

"Hello? Is anyone there?"

Not I. Well, okay, I guess I just did. It was all in clear sarcasm.

I am the naptime quilter. With a 14 month old daughter and a part-time job I do things when I can - at naptime. Lately this has been a lot of quilting and a little bit of gardening. You should see what I've actually finished lately and how overgrown my tomatoes are!

And speaking of naptime, it appears that it is now over...