Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Winter!

First sunrise of the new winter.

"O Winter! ruler of the inverted year, . . .

I crown thee king of intimate delights,

Fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness,

And all the comforts that the lowly roof

Of undisturb'd Retirement, and the hours

Of long uninterrupted evening, know."

--William Cowper, The Task (from book IV)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

12 days stuffed into a garden stroll

Over the weekend, a couple of friends, DH and I piled into a truck and headed down to the Butchart Gardens for their winter holiday light show. It was the first time either DH or I had been to the gardens. On the way, we stopped by Cowichan Bay for lunch at Hilary’s cheese & deli for some yummy homemade soup and sandwiches. Of course, we also made a few delicious purchases next door at True Grain bakery, including a 20kg bag of freshly milled organic Red Fife flour. (Thanks Jonathan!)

BTW, True Grains is going to be closed for the month of January. Hilary’s cheese will be closed for the first 3 weeks of January.

This years display was the 12 days of Christmas. The weather was cold and crisp and the perfect for strolling about all bundled up in my down and fleece cozies. The display was awe-inspiring. From running brooks of lights to dazzling landscapes, it was a constant parade of “Oh look at that!” and “Wow, how did they do that?”

Thanks Travis and Sarah!

Here’s photos from our magical evening:

So, we’ve been busy getting ready for our big, end of the year climbing trip. I’m so excited. We’ve been drooling over ice-climbing guidebooks and planning and scheming for this last week of 2006. Due to the fact that DH was stuck in retail hell last year this time and couldn’t get any time off, we’ve both been antsy for ice and just for some fun winter romping.

I’ve baked up a load of granola, a bucket of fruit & seed cookies and mixed up a batch of trail mix with our stash of dehydrated local fruits and organic nuts. I devoted yesterday to baking bread.

I made a cheesy pesto bread with pesto I froze up from this summer’s basil crop and local cheese, an olive and local cheese bread and a 3 Seed bread. There’re all made with organic Red Fife wheat milled by True Grains bakery.

Last night, we dined on bread, cheese and wine. More specifically, olive bread, a wedge of Hilary’s St. Denis and a bottle of Saturna Island’s Pinot Noir. The wine was a light and lively and brought a well-balanced brightness to the savory bread and cheese.

Tonight, I’m hosting a small Winter Solstice Eve dinner since we’re planning to be in Vancouver by tomorrow. I’ve got a pot of bison stew made with island-raised bison, local veggies (carrots, onions, parsnips, potatoes, sunchokes, shallots) and a bottle of Cherry Point Bete Noire that I made on Monday. I’m also going to sauté up the last of my collard greens and Brussels sprouts with some Hertel’s smoked bacon (nitrate-free, yippee!). Dessert will probably be a tasting of Christmas cake, nut brittle and cookies. Oh yes, and wine, lots and lots of good locally-grown wine. Now, that’s how I like to celebrate the shortest day of the year!

Have a great winter solstice and holiday season and I’ll be back to rant and ramble in the new year.

Happy Eating!


P.S. - "Welcome!" to the latest addition to the Hansen brood.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More Candy, More Crackers

I hear there was a storm.

Things got burly here on the Rusty Coast on Thursday. Big fluffs of snow started falling in the afternoon. That was eventually replaced with driving rain and strong winds by the evening. I braved the epic weather to attend the Nanaimo-Cedar Farmer’s association meeting that night to make a presentation on the 100 mile diet. You know the saying ‘preaching to the choir’? Well, I felt I was preaching to the apostles. Regardless, the local farmers sat and listened politely as a rambled and ranted on about the benefits of a locally-grown diet. Thanks for having me guys!

That night, the big storm rolled and I rolled over and slept like a baby. The next morning there was tree carnage all over the evening news. Folks are without power all other Pacific Northwest. There’s footage of monster waves crashing over the Victoria seawall. The radio is spewing a litany of traffic warnings due to impotent traffic lights.

I hope everyone is managing to stay warm and dry. I don’t want to rub anyone’s nose into it but yesterday was a delightful day and there was almost no sign of a monster winter storm here on the Rusty Coast.

Here’s some pics from my afternoon wandering through my neighbourhood:

From the top of the hill, looking out into Horseshoe Bay and Newcastle Island on the right.

The marina and seawall.

I loved how the stark bones of the trees look a little like veins.

Later on, I popped over to Nanoose Edibles organic farm to grab some goodies. Along with a collard greens, shallots, broccoli and apples, I managed to score some Jerusalem artichokes:

They have nothing to do with Jerusalem and little to do with artichokes. They’re also known as sunchokes or sunroots, as the First Nations called them. These knobby veggies have inulin (not to be confused with insulin) instead of starch. There is indication that this form of carbohydrate helps moderate blood sugar levels. They’ve been recommended for people with Type 2 diabetes. They’re also high in iron.

They have as crispy, sweet taste like a water chestnut when eaten raw. They also roast up beautifully, great in stir fry or steamed and make a lovely creamy vegetable soup base. If stored properly in the fridge, they can keep for months.

Nanoose Edibles is opened Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the winter. Give them a call 250-4682-2332 to for their hours and selection.

Back at home, I was geared up for some holiday baking and candy making. With the humidity holding relatively low, I figured I’d do a few more batches of brittle. I made up a batch of molasses brittle and a feisty batch of spicy peanut brittle (the top two in the photo below). This time I added ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper to a 2 pound batch of clear peanut brittle. It was just enough kick! The molasses brittle is a favorite of mine. It uses molasses instead of corn syrup. It results in a dark, rich brittle. I used a mix of organic peanuts, cashews, almonds and local hazelnuts.

I also whipped up a couple of crackers. I did a repeat of the Gomashio (black sesame) cracker, this time adding some cracked black pepper. I also did a lemon black pepper cornmeal cracker topped with some of Hilary’s St. Denis cheese. I used locally milled whole wheat flours and kamut flour from True Grain bakery for the crackers.

Then I realized it was past 8pm. Where does the time go? With a few chops and some quick sautéing, I managed to pull together a chicken pasta pesto with a half a local chicken breast, frozen pesto from this summer's basil bounty, some of the organic broccoli from Nanoose Edibles and local onion, peppers. Topped with a grating of a mix of Hilary’s St. Denis cheese and Little Qualicum’s Raclette cheese, it was a rusty and hearty end to a whirlwind day!

Have a great 100 Mile Weekend!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

It was a dark and nutty night....

Another big storm is headed our way today. Already a tens of thousands of people are without power on the Rusty Island and mainland. Yesterday, power flickered on and off all day here, threatening us with a blackout but I called it’s bluff and we remained juiced up. I don’t think I ought to push it. It’s a bit odd that we haven’t lost our power in this old house during these past wind storms when everyone we know has been dining by candlelight. Especially since we often lose electricity if a bird flies too close to our power lines.

Yesterday we had a glimmer of sun and even a 7-lane highway rainbow fill the sky. And you know what they say, ‘Make candy when the sun shines.’

I’ve been wanting to make peanut brittle. It’s a tradition for this time of year for me. Unfortunately, it’s been way too humid to be making it. Usually you want humidity to be under 60% to make a good hard candy. We’ve been hovering around 100% for the last several weeks. The extra moisture in the air can be reabsorbed by the cooling candy and leave you with a soggy brittle.

Yesterday, the humidity reading reached the low 70s and I figured that that’s probably as low as it’s going to get. I pulled out my candy thermometer and made a batch of spicy peanut brittle. The power sputtered a few times but it didn’t seem to affect the final product.

The spice came from a ¼ teaspoon of red chili pepper flakes I added. It’s got a nice afterglow to it. I think I’m going to have to make a feistier version and a molasses brittle with local hazelnuts. I’ll keep you posted.

I was also going to do some baking but with the power hiccupping back and forth I decided against it. Instead, DH and I headed over to Westwood Lake to take advantage of the relatively dry weather. The 6km trail around the lake has a nice mix of hills and few wooden bridges and boardwalks and as is picturesque as it gets.

We often use the trail for running. Well, DH goes for a run. I go for a run/brisk walk/skip/puddle jump. I figure as long as I clock in an average of 50 or so minutes for each 6km lap, I’m doing ok.

The wind was bellowing across the forest. The lake was huge with whitecaps and the trails were strewn with windfall. The rain came and twirled about. It certainly made for a dramatic jaunt. I love being in the forest when it rains. At least, when I’m not carrying a heavy backpack and I have a hot shower and cup of tea waiting for me at home.

We had invited our friends, Karin and Dave, over for dinner. In exchange for dinner, Dave fixed our dining room light and was DH’s PS2 date for the evening while Karin and I had a knitting session. We also had our usual last minute drop-in guest. With 5 mouths to feed and a questionable power supply, I opted for another quick and easy stir-fry noodles dish. This time I did noodles in a Thai peanut sauce. I had some leftover Chinese BBQ pork, a ton of local veggies and Japanese buckwheat noodles. I spent 10 minutes of playing human food processor to turn the veggies into a pile of slaw. My veggies consisted of chayote, cabbage, carrots, onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts and red pepper. Simply stir fry those and the BBQ pork, as in the Singapore chow mai recipe. While that was going, I boiled up some water for the buckwheat noodles. The noodles took only a few minutes to cook up. As soon as they were done, I dumped in with the stir-fried veggies. The sauce was my Thai It Up sauce with a dollop of organic peanut butter. A sprinkle of peanuts and it was done.

The sauce was a balanced melding of the rich peanut butter, countered with the sour, savory, spicy kick of the Thai It Up sauce. The buckwheat noodles have a nutty taste that echoes the nutty sauce. It was simple bowl of comfort food with a twist.

Along with the noodles, I put out a jar of homemade spicy pickled carrots that I had canned in the summer. The carrots were locally grown baby Dutch carrots. I can’t remember which farm I got them from but they’re super sweet and don’t get very big. They’re great for canning because you don’t need to peel or cut them. Simply wash them really well and they’re good to go.

We finished off our meal with tea, homemade fruit crisp made with locally grown Jonagold, Northern Spy and Belle du Boskoop apples, Anjou pears and cranberries and some of that spicy peanut brittle. A sweet and nutty ending to a sweet and nutty day!

Happy Eating!


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Noodle swapping & fart bombs

One of DH’s favorite dishes is Singapore chow may, a curried rice noodle dish, and was jonesing for some on Monday night. Problem was that I didn’t have any thin rice thread. I had thick rice sticks. I had fresh udon noodles. I had dried buckwheat noodles. I had shrimp noodles. I had egg noodles. I even had an imperishable square of ichiban in my cupboards. We are a duet of noodleheads in this house. But I didn’t have any thin rice thread and I had no energy to run to the store.

So I reached for the mung beans noodles, the noodle of a thousand names. Here are some of it’s other aliases: bean threads - cellophane noodles - mung bean threads - translucent noodles - shining noodles - slippery noodles - powdered silk noodles - silver noodles - Chinese vermicelli - transparent noodles - glass noodles - crystal noodles - jelly noodles - transparent vermicelli - green bean thread noodles - invisible noodles - pekyasan - sai fun (Cantonese ) - bai fun (Cantonese) - soo hoon (Cantonese) - su un (Indonesian) - pancit sotanghon (Tagalog) - woon sen (Thai) - bun tao (Vietnamese) - tanghoon (Malaysia).

Mung bean noodles are great fun. They’re soft , almost gelatinous in texture and on their own pretty flavourless. But they absorb flavour really well and cook up in no time. Simple soak them in hot water for 10-15 minutes until their soft and transparent. They don’t need much more cooking after that.

This is basically a stir-fry dish so have everything prepped and ready to go. We had some friends pass through at dinner time so this recipe is for 4. For regular Singapore chow mai simply use thin rice threads/noodles instead of the mung bean noodles.

Fast & Dirty Singapore Chow Mai

1/2 small cabbage- shredded. You can use asian or regular cabbages

2 carrots – sliced thin

2 stalks of celery – sliced thin

1 onion – sliced thin

2 green onions- sliced thin

1 red pepper –sliced thin

2 cups mushrooms – I used fresh shitake. You can use regular white button mushrooms or a combination

2 coins of ginger – peeled and chopped fine

4 ounces BBQ pork – sliced thin

1-2 tablespoons curry powder

Chinese cooking wine

Vegetable oil

3 bundles of mung bean noodles

1- Soak noodles in hot water. Put aside. Once softened, cut with scissors.

2- Heat up a couple glugs of oil in a hot wok

3- Drop in BBQ pork, ginger and green onion.

4- Drop in vegetables in this order: onion & mushrooms, carrots, celery, pepper, cabbage. Stir fry for a minute between vegetables before adding the next.

5- Drain noodles and drop into wok. Stir until mixed.

6- Sprinkle in curry powder and mix until incorporated

It only really took about 10 minutes of playing human food processor for the prep and another 10 minutes for the actual cooking. In less than half an hour we all sat down for a simple meal and some great company.

Most of the veggies came from local sources. Call up your nearby veggie farm. Many still have winter veggies to sell you. A little birdie told me that Nanoose Edibles has Jerusalem artichokes right now.

BTW, the noodles stay soft even when they’re cold so leftovers are fine eaten straight out of the fridge. They could even be used as filling for curried version of a thai spring roll or on it’s own as a noodle salad. You could even do a raw veggie salad version of this by simply cooking only the noodles with curry and a bit of finely chopped ginger and adding to some slaw.

Yesterday, I got done with work early (before 1pm) and decided to drag DH down to the Old City Quarter to run a few errands. I fed DH but I don’t usually eat lunch until 3ish and I figured I’d wait until we got back. Of course 2 errands split and grew multiple heads and became several errands. Once we got those done, it was dark and I pretty much gave up on lunch and was fantasizing about all the things I could make for dinner. Then DH got thirsty and wanted to go for a beer run and I was too weak from hunger to protest. At the North Gate beer and wine we found Howe Sound Brewery beer from Squamish! We had lived there for a few years and much of those memories are soaked in Howe Sound Brewery beer. Feeling nostalgic, we picked up a IPA and a brown ale and a few other local treats. They come in these cool brown bottles with a seal spring stopper which can be reused for a million different things. They’re great bottles for homemade infused vinegars and oils.

Back home, with my belly rumbling harmonies to the wind’s blustery dirge, I got started on some dinner. I decided on a chorizo and corn risotto with some pan-fried brussels sprouts. I love Brussels sprouts and luckily, so does DH. I got these from a friend’s garden in exchange for some chard and kale from mine. There’s local Brussels sprouts out there to be had.

When people tell me that they hate these mini-cabbages, I tell them to blame it on their mom or the school cafeteria cook. The problem is that Brussels sprouts release sulphur compounds when overcooked. The brussels sprouts of most childhoods are grey, overboiled little fart bombs. I dodged that bullet. My mom never made Brussels sprouts and luckily, the first time I had Brussels sprouts, it was made by someone who didn’t treat vegetables like heathens during the Spanish Inquisition.

My favorite way to cook Brussels sprouts is to cut them in half and pan fry them in a glug of olive oil over med heat, cut side down. Once they are browned, pour in a glug of water and cover with a tight lid for a minute to flash steam them. Sprinkle salt, pepper and a splash of good balsamic vinegar.

For the risotto, I used a half a chorizo sausage from Quist farms, some local corn that I froze and a pile of grated Little Qualicum raclette cheese and Hilary’s St. Denis cheese.

It’s pretty much the same recipe as my previous risotto. I simply traded the butternut squash for corn and used local cheeses instead.

The savory sausage was countered by the summer sweet corn and it was all wrapped up in the cheese infused creamy rice. The Brussels sprouts were sweet and nutty with a bite of greenness. A great combination of textures and flavours. Luckily, the risotto was piping hot and so I was forced to pace myself or else I would have gobbled up the whole pan. Definitely a keeper.

The sun is actually breaking through here. The humidity is down a bit than the usual 100%. I may have a chance to make some holiday nut brittle today. Yippee!!!

Happy Eating!


Monday, December 11, 2006

A weekend of birthdays and an unexpected Santa

I had originally planned a quiet knitting and cooking weekend with a friend, capped off with a get-together on Sunday evening. A mellow weekend filled with pots of hot tea and coccooning. However, the universe had other plans.

On Friday afternoon I got a call from DH who was in Vancouver to join him there. His plans had changed and he had to stay there longer. Sometimes you get that internal kick to go down the rabbit hole and you know something is going to happen, something extraordinary or at least something memorable.

It was my sister’s birthday anyways and so figured I could give her her birthday present in person instead of mailing it to her late. (How did I get knee-deep into December and not notice it?) I had made a series of creamy white merino-cashmere scarves in different lace patterns. A bit more intricate than your typical scarf to bring a touch of charm and interest to an outfit, they were made for our mild winters. I brought a few for her to choose from.

I, like most knitters, have a stash of scarves and toques for gifts. Often they’re made with patterns that I’ve designed just to see how they play out in different yarns. Sometimes they’re extended swatches to figure out my gauge. Other times they’re just practice mileage for me to work out new techniques. Many are simply the manifestation of excess kinetic energy channeled through my needles. In the end of the year, I send most of them over to a local shelter for those needing a bit of extra warmth and keep a small stash to give away myself.

Within an hour of receiving DH’s call, I was standing in line for the ferry. I love taking the ferry. It’s a great place to people watch. Riding on the water, watching one shore shrink as another appears is a great way to pass the time. It’s often the few times I get to sit down and do nothing but knit or read for an hour and half. I have met people from all over the world and have shared some wonderful conversations. Sometimes I have found myself in a hub of an impromptu knitting circle. I’ll just be working away alone in my corner and when I come up for air, I’ll realize that I’m surrounded by sister and fellow knitters, crocheters and cross-stitchers.

I grabbed a window seat and began working on my MIL’s sweater as other passengers jockeyed for seats. A fellow with two huge bulging suitcases sat down a few seats from me with a big sigh. With rumpled hair, an equally rumpled look in his eye, and wearing an inside-out t-shirt I thought to myself, 'I’m not going to get much knitting done.'

He opened up his suitcases, pulled out stacks of old, leather bound books and piled them in the seat between us. A few moments later, he leaned over and asked, “Excuse me, would you like an old book?”

As the ferry crossed the Georgia Strait, this Biblio-Santa gave away old books from centuries passed to anyone walking by and waxed poetic about the forgotten art of lithographs, steel engravings and old world bookmaking techniques. Supposedly he had a collection of 70,000 books and was simply tired of having them all. Many responded to his generosity with suspicion, others with cautious curiosity and awe and some with delight. I had a front row seat to watch this theatre of munificence. It was wonderful to see children excited about books, showing their parents the treasures to be found between the leather wings of an old book. It was a bit sad to see many adults approach with bystander curiosity but put up their defenses as soon as they were offered a free book, noses tuned only to mistrust.

Many grateful bibliophiles walked away with armfuls of books, magazines and other printed gifts, faces bathed in joy and awe. Many others left that ferry ride with at least an interesting story to tell.

I was gifted with a number of old books, including a complete collection of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a collection of Bryon and a wonderful old magazine:

Thank you Biblio-Santa for sharing your treasures with us. I hope you get some sleep.

My stay in Vancouver was one never-ending meal. The highlight was dimsum at Sun Siu Wah on Main street with my sisters, DH, and his sister and BIL. I Heart Sun Siu Wah. It’s my favorite Chinese restaurant and they have the best dan taht (egg tarts). These are two bite marvels with a beautifully light but buttery pastry shell and a just barely set flan. The haw gow (shrimp dumplings) are full of nothing but shrimp and the dumpling wrapper is thin and tender. One dish I didn’t see was lo bok gao (turnip cake). It’s the homeliest looking cake you’ve ever seen but it’s so tasty. It’s a steamed rice flour based cake filled with daikon radish, dried shrimp, bbq pork and other tasty bits. It’s cut into squares and pan-fried. Considering how crazy and hectic everyone’s life is these days, it’s a blessing to be able to get anyone out for a cup of coffee, let alone a whole meal.

Later that evening we joined family and friends to help celebrate my cousin’s birthday at Yaletown Brewery. Thank goodness I brought along those extra scarves. Happy Birthday Anita and Pat!!!!

We returned home Sunday afternoon. After a reviving cup of tea, I gussied myself up and headed over the my dear friends, Barbara and Lorne, for what turned out to be a multi-birthday party. I brought my Christmas cake to add to the already full buffet table. There was cheese, sausages and some of the finest smoked fish I’ve had in ages, all local of course. Barb had made a yummy spicy butternut squash soup that helped melt away any residual chills I had in my bones. The birthday celebration was topped off with five birthday cakes and live music. It was a lively and spirited celebration! Happy Birthday to you all!!!

Back home that night, I sat down with a glass of Cedar Creek chardonnay (a gift from my ma), my DH at my side, and wound down the weekend with some knitting. I actually managed to get some progress on my MIL’s sweater:
I love how the rich the colours are and they certainly brighten any dreary cold day. Considering how wet and windy today is, I’m hoping to get more done today. Hopefully, the universe hasn't scheduled me in for anything ;)



Friday, December 08, 2006

A frog filled night & a couple of cakes

Went for a bit of a wander about down to the beach yesterday to clear out the old noggin. It's warmed up considerably since last week. By the time I got back home, I had stripped off my windbreaker, sweater and was down to a jersey knit long sleeve shirt. The walk was refreshing and just what I needed to clear all my work chaos out of my head.

I’m still trying to work out the basics for MIL’s sweater. Over this past week, I knitted and frogged and rekknitted several swatches with 2 different size needles in stockinette and in the patterns I’m considering to see how it would work with the yarn. I crunched my numbers (twice). Drew up a several graphs with possible pattern combinations. Decided on a final pattern. Crunched my numbers again. And again. Finally I drew up my final pattern.

After a round of 'slight of hand' housekeeping (now you see it, now you don't), I finally cozied into my chair with a hot mug of tea and casted the sweater body onto my circular needles and knitted while making my way through Season Five of CSI (thanks Karin & Dave). After a dozen rows, something wasn’t quite right so I casted off what I had and measured it. Wouldn’t you know it, I was over 4 inches too wide. Commence frogging. ACK! And now it’s almost 9pm and I haven’t even thought about what to make for dinner.

Thankfully I still had some leftover pasta and moose meat sauce. For dinner, I made a fast & dirty soup by dumping in some soup stock, some leftover butternut squash and some kale and chard from my veggie garden.

From fridge to table in less than 10 minutes!

We had it with some resuscitated homemade tortillas from our moose sausage dinner last weekend and some Hilary’s St. Denis cheese. The hot rustic soup and the flavourful cheese helped soothe my battered and bruised knitter’s ego. A piece of homemade cake also helped ;)

BTW, here’s the parsnip cake recipe I promised. This is a basic dump, stir and bake sort of a cake. For my vegan friends, I worked out a vegan recipe. Even without butter, milk or eggs, this cake doesn’t lack for any richness or moistness. It’s crumb is lovely and loose. I think this is partly thanks to the spelt flour. I haven’t tried it with any other grain flour but it will probably be fine with regular AP flour if you don't have any spelt flour on hand.

Fast & Dirty Parsnip Spelt Cake

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a pot dump in:

1 cup water

1 medium parsnip grated – about 1 cup

6 tablespoons vegetable oil or margarine or butter

1/3 cup honey or 1/2 cup sugar *

2/3 cup raisins or dried fruit chopped

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (optional)

Bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Take off of heat and let cool.

While the wet ingredients are cooling, grease a 9 inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Don’t skip the lining. It will make your life a whole lot easier and less crumbier ;)

In a big bowl dump in:

2 cups spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Mix the dry stuff well. Pour wet slop into dry stuff. Stir until the ingredients are just mixed through. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake 30-40 mins or until it passed the clean toothpick test.

Let cool on rack.

*If you use vegan sugar instead of honey, you’ll have a vegan cake.

So far everyone that has tried it has asked for seconds! Even a certain raven-haired fella who has been quoted saying that vegetables have no place in a cake asked for the recipe. The parsnip isn’t even noticeable in the cake since they’re so pale. They kinda meld into the cake crumb and it helps keep the cake moist. A great way to sneak some veggies into the a snack. Since it doesn’t have as much added sweetener as most cake recipes, it works great also as a breakfast.

After the raving success of the parsnip cake, I ventured into Christmas cake territory. A dark and, often, dangerous road for bakers. Just kidding. It’s pretty much a dump and bake sort of recipe too. I made mine based on the parsnip cake.

This is not really traditional fruit cake. It won’t double as a doorstop :)

Again, I made a recipe for a vegan cake. I opted to use olive oil because I like the richness and extra fruity kick that olive oil provides for baking. It’s a great fat to use for baked goods that call for a deeper, richer flavour. Don’t use extra virgin olive oil, the regular stuff works better here.

I used baked apples and fig compote to add another dimension of fruitiness. These are baked apples that I already had on hand. The fig compote I canned over the summer. Alternatives would be other fruit compote like peach, pear or plum, applesauce or a dried fruit compote. Dried fruit compote is simply 1 part dried fruit soaked in 1 part boiling water. Soak until the fruit plumps up.

I also used my own dried fruits. These are fruits that I dehydrated myself over the summer and fall. I prefer using my own dried fruits since I don’t add any extra sugar or sulphites or other preservatives like commercially dried fruit. Of course, I used fruits from local farms. My fruit mix includes apples, figs, pears, persimmons, cranberries, cherries, grapes, kiwis, plums and peaches. You can use whatever you have on hand.

Here’s my Fast & Dirty Christmas Cake recipe

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a pot dump in:

1 ½ cup water

2-3 cups dried fruit

½ cup baked apples

½ cup fig compote

½ cup brown sugar (use vegan sugar for a completely vegan cake)

6 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

Bring to a boil for 2 mins. Take off of heat and let cool.

Grease and line 2 pans. Either 8 inch cake pans or a loaf pan. I did one of each.

In a big bowl dump in:

2 cups spelt flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup grated almond paste

Mix the dry stuff well. Pour wet fruity slop into dry stuff. Stir until just mixed through. Pour into prepare pans. I topped the one in the cake pan with some local hazelnuts and left the loaf pan one naked. Bake for 30-40 minutes. I found that the cake pan one was done in 30 mins. The loaf pan I had filled just beyond halfway and that was done in 40 minutes. Full loaf pans may take up to an hour to bake. Test with a skewer or toothpick.

Let cool on rack.

It's sooooo good. Even DH who is views most fruit cakes with distaste, if not suspicion, loves it. It's moist and dense without heavy. These cakes would freeze beautifully. So make one for now and freeze the other for last minute dessert idea.

There you go my vegan friends, two more cake recipes to put into your files.

Happy Eating!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hail, the Great Parsnip!

I finally have my solarium back. Well, at least a corner of it back. Yesterday, DH and I brought all of our bottles and juice containers to the Return-It depot. We made a grand total of $22.35. Armed with our small fortune, we headed straight across the parking lot to the liquor store. LOL! Well, we have to replenish our empty bottle stash ;)

At the liquor store, I noticed that they’ve brought in Saturna Island wines and even a blackberry port from Thetis Island. Good to see locally grown wines at the government stores. As mentioned before, they also bring in Zanatta’s Damasco wine. They say they can’t bring in most of the local wines since they have to buy in big lots and the wineries can’t make enough to fill their orders. Thank goodness Nanaimo has a smattering of great beer and wine stores that carry most of the local wines and spirits.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working out a parsnip cake recipe. I based it on my carrot cake recipe. Instead of carrots, I used grated parsnips and in the place of crushed pineapples, I used some baked apples I had on hand. I also used spelt flour from True Grains bakery. The spelt gives the cake a lovely, loose crumb and the flavour works well with the spices and parsnips. I also used a dark honey from Jinglepot Apiaries. The dark honey has a very sexy, deep sweetness that makes other bee puke seem thin and bland. Be warned that the cake is delicate when it first comes out of the oven. I found out the hard way and tried to take the cake out of the pan to finish the cooling process. A chunk fell off. The house mice and monkeys finished off the fallen piece in no time ;) It would probably be best to let it cool in the pan before trying to remove it. I will post the recipe later.

I had my piece of parsnip cake with baked apple sorbet I had in the freezer. I made the sorbet from a batch of local elstar and jonagold apples, peeled and cut into chunks. I didn't add any sugar, just some cinnamon, nutmeg and green cardamon and baked the apples at 325F for about 30 minutes. Once cooled, I gave it a whirl with my hand blender, added a spoonful of local wildflower honey for sweetness and a half a bottle of Merridale's Scrumpy Cider. I tossed the lot into my gelato maker. It came out nice and smooth and the bit of alcohol helps keep it from turning into an applesicle.

I love parsnips. They are the most underrated vegetable. Roasting gives them an earthy sweetness that adds character to any dish. I like mashed parsnips with a good shaving of nutmeg or mushed up with some local goat feta. They even make a great creamy soup. Simply boil/steam cubes of parsnip then blend them with enough chicken or veggie stock to make it the right soup consistency. It’s a great base for a myriad of flavours. To it you can add everything from miso to pesto to curry to five-spice or simply a splash of cream or glug of olive oil. Whatever you use carrots in, you can also use parsnips.

As I grated the parsnip for the cake, it’s evocative, earthy fragrance rose from the bowl and brought some light to a grey, rusty day. I got my parsnips at the farmers market. Many stores and farm markets are carrying locally grown parsnips and probably will for much of the winter. They keep for months if stored properly.

Last night, Karin & I went to our monthly Arachne Guild meeting (aka Mid-Island Weavers and Spinners Guild). It was the Christmas potluck last night and so we went armed with locally-grown dishes. Karin had brought an arguta kiwi sorbet and a cranberry sorbet, both made with fruit from down the road. Her sorbets were a big hit! It was so cool to see her enjoy others enjoying her food.

I was so busy with my baking that I had not realized how late it was getting. With about a half an hour to spare, I made a pasta in moose meat & tomato sauce for the potluck and for DH's dinner. It was nothing harder than browning some of ground moose meat that we got from Kev’s uncle and dumping in some frozen tomato sauce and letting it all simmer and meld together as I boiled up some organic rotini. The tomato sauce was from a big cook-up I did a while ago. All the veggies came from farms just down the road. Even the herbs came from Hazelwood Herb farms. It certainly was tastier and cheaper than anything in a jar and just as convenient.

I scooped the pasta and sauce into my best casserole and topped it with a healthy sprinkling of grated cheese. I used Little Qualicum’s Raclette cheese. It’s a mild cheese that melts wonderfully. The piece I had was kinda hard but it melted fine and had a taste quite similar to a parma. I threw that under the broiler and by the time I had changed my clothes and dragged a brush through my hair, the cheese was bubbling and golden.

With a quick kiss for my DH, I was out the door. The potluck was so much fun. Good food and a room full of spirited ladies to share it with. There was also a silent auction. I’m a sucker for silent auctions. A good chunk of my wardrobe is from eBay, the biggest silent auction in the world. At least this silent auction was to help with the guild’s expenses.

This is what I came away with:

My first spinning wheel!!! It's an Ashford wheel and it’s obviously well used and much loved. I’ve been wanting a spinning wheel for ages. I have a small but growing stash of roving next to my not-so-small stash of yarn. My drop spindle skills are getting smoother but spindling doesn’t have the meditative quality that spinning or knitting does. I can still out-knit my spindling speed. I’ve been on the lookout for a wheel all summer. However, even a good used wheels cost between $100 to $250 and a new one would mean I would have to enslave myself to my own sweat factory to justify the costs.

You want to know how much I paid for my wheel?

I got it for…are you for this?

Drum roll please…

A grand sum of $25!!!


I get to give an old wheel a new home for a killer price and I get to take advantage of the great roving and fleece from the local sheep and alpaca farms. The super-sweet cherry on top deal is that the next Arachne meeting is going to be all about spinning. There’s going to be a spinning circle and I will have a roomful of spinners to teach me. I’m such a lucky kid!

Happy Eating!


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Blame it on the greens!

Remember the food ole days of E. coli outbreaks where the culprit was poorly cooked hamburger meat? Nowadays, it's factory farmed vegetables that are blamed for the fast food E.coli epidemics. The latest in a growing list of factory vegetable recalls is green onions. Taco Bell in the US has pulled all green onions from their mise en place after initial test showed that they may have been the carrier of the E. coli that made dozens of people sick last week. They not completely sure it's the green onions. It could be the lettuce or the grey-brown factory pablum they're passing off as ground beef in those tacos.

I say fast food needs to be recalled. All of it.

(Update: The green onions were linked to a farm in California and a distribution facility where the tainted spinach in September also went through. Is anyone surprised?)

Onto a more festive topic, Nanaimo has launched a Holiday Zero Waste campaign through it's website. There are tips for greener alternatives for gift giving and decorating. I

I am part of that growing population that is disgusted and concerned about the growing consumer orgy that Christmas has become. For kids, there's a really cool website to teach you how to be a Consumer Hero and resist the ongoing trend of BUY, BUY, BUY. It was started by a group of elementary school kids in Ottawa. Very cool.

Adbusters is running a Buy Nothing Christmas campaign. We are getting pretty close to that. We're doing more of a Buy Less, Buy Local Christmas. DH and I have made a pact to not buy any Christmas decorations. Not a hard sell in this house since we plan to be scaling up a mountain or frozen waterfall over the X'mas holidays. We're probably only buying gifts for our niece and nephews and those may end up being gifts that we make for them. Everyone else gets a small little gift of homemade goodies made from locally grown foods. Some of that canning and preserving in the end of summer is going towards gifts.

For my holiday baking, I'm going as 100 mile diet as possible. Right now I'm dehydrating a bunch of locally grown fruit for Christmas cake. I also have local hazelnuts from Chemainus. Most of my baking is using organic spelt flour from Armstrong, BC. I know, it's not quite within the 100 miles radius but it was milled down in Cowichan Bay. I'm also reveling in the local veggies, especially carrots and parsnips that are going into spiced cakes. Local honey, eggs and dairy will also be used. Quite franky, since I've been buying and cooking with mostly locally grown foods, it's only natural to do it this way.

Happy Eating!


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cat paparazzi

From this last weekend:

Kev got bored watching the Liberal leadership election and decided to play cat paparazzi. Poor Spike just went down for a cat nap and next thing you know, a large monkey-being corners him with a bright, flashing light.

Yesterday was one another cold, rusty weather day. Here’s what we had for lunch to combat the cold and damp.

A good-old fashion noodle soup with the leftover moose sausage and cabbage. I used Chinese shrimp noodles (haw jee mein). I was raise on these noodles. In fact, when the coroner cuts into me, he’ll find that my right leg is composed of shrimp noodles in the place of muscle and bone. They cook up super-fast and aren’t deep-fried like ramen. It was a basic dump everything into a pot of water and season with some of my Thai It Up seasoning. Don’t bother cutting the noodles. Half the fun is slurping the never ending tail of noodles. You have to eat this piping hot. I have a feeling we’re going to be having many more bowls of noodle soup in the coming months.

Last night, we were invited over to Karin & Dave's, for dinner. Karin made a wonderful Thai dinner with coconut-lemongrass soup with chicken and mushrooms and a star anise spiced pork and rice noodles. They picked up the pork from Shady Mile's freezer. They get much of their meats from farmers in that area. With a local white wine and an local apple and sour cherry version of the same pastry I made of the weekend, it was a fine feed. Thanks guys!

Most of yesterday was spent dreaming and scheming a design for my mum-in-law’s sweater. Over the weekend, she handed over a bouquet of Noro Silk Garden yarn for me to work with. Sigh. I’m in heaven.

The photo doesn’t do the yarn justice. With Noro yarns the colours flow nicely from one to the next. The colours also don’t change with as much frequency as other multi-coloured yarns. This allows for some very interesting design potentials and colourways. I used Noro for the kimono-shrug-wrap.

One could knit a basic sweater in stockinette with this yarn and it’ll look fine. IMHO, if I wanted a sweater like everyone else’s, I’d buy one at the mall & I do have a stack of generic mall sweaters. But if I’m going to create something, then it warrants intention and mindful energy. To make it not just to get it over and done with but to produce something with awareness of the yarn, as well as awareness of who is going to be wearing it. This is especially so when you get to play with lovely Noro yarn and have the opportunity to make something for someone that you love.

This is not to say that I never do things in stockinette. Some yarns look best as in stockinette and take on the appearance of a rich fabric. Some yarns are so blinged out with eyelashes and intrusions and bobbles that stockinette and garter are probably all you want to do with it.

Making a simple stockinette sweater would also have me bored to tears. I don’t know how other knitters do it. Some even do it on circular needles so it’s like a gzillion knit stitches over and over and over and over again. I’d be in a comatose state before I’d finish. I haven’t quite embraced the throne of simplicity to that extent.

The thing with a yarn like Noro is that you don’t want a pattern that is too overwhelming. I’ve been playing around with ideas on how to bring out the uniqueness of this yarn. I even picked up a couple of pattern and motif books by Kathleen Kinder and Barbara G. Walker from the library. I spent a couple of hours simply browsing through the books daydreaming of all the historical knitwear examples (including the knitted vest that Charles I supposedly was executed in) and different patterns before hunkering down and doodling through some ideas.

I know, the obvious thing would be to pick up a Noro pattern book. That would be way to logical for me ;)

I swatched a couple of aran designs and even did a stockinette swatch to get an idea of my gauge. I’m evening considering doing some fair isle work. So far, the yarn hasn’t been too warm to any of my ideas. Maybe today, it’ll be a more responsive.



Monday, December 04, 2006

A very Danish weekend

We returned last night from a visit to Kev’s family in Victoria. I’m still full from the traditional Danish X’mas luncheon that Kev’s folks put out on Saturday. Talk about an all-day feast! They even had traditional Danish firewater, Aquavit, for toasting.

Throughout the afternoon, a persistent woodpecker joined us by feasting on the outside of the house, literally. All the family hunters took turns trying to take it down with a pellet gun. In the end it was Humans: 0 ; Woodpecker: 7.

The luncheon started with traditional pickled herring and a fusion version of that, a curried pickled herring. I know, that sounded kinda scary to me at first but it was actually quite nice but I prefer my herring naked and pickled. It was followed with chicken and asparagus in puffed pastry and an endless assortment of open-faced sandwiches. They went out of their way to use locally grown fixings for this luncheon, including local cheeses and meats from Cowichan Bay. Thanks for the great 100 mile holiday spread!

This is actually a photo of the leftovers that Kev had later that evening since I completely forgot to take photos of the sandwiches during the lunch. These aren't as fancied up as the ones we got at lunch. Don't ask me how Kev managed to eat more. That boy has a black hole for a stomach.

Of course, there was dessert:

The cake is DH mom’s version of a Danish layer cake. It is filled with a yummy custard and red currant jam. This cake is the one that Kev keeps bugging me to make. He’s gotten the odd notion that just because I know how to make Danish meatballs, red cabbage and gravy that I’m genetically programmed with all Danish recipes in my veins. I told him he’d better tuck in an extra piece since that would probably have to do him until next year’s X’mas luncheon. I just don’t have it in me to be making elaborate layered cakes anymore, as much as I love eating them.

I brought a cherry Danish pastry. Along with homemade almond paste, I used the last of my local sour cherries, local butter and locally milled organic flour in it. It’s a yeasted pastry dough and not hard to make as long as you have a good, sturdy mixer. The feasting lasted for from noon until dark. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the Danish were a lost tribe of Chinese ;)

On our way down to Victoria, we made a detour to Cowichan Bay for a pitstop at True Grains Bakery and Hilary’s cheese shop. Saturday was the first day of Hilary’s new cheese shop. It’s conveniently right next door to the bakery. They now have their own storefront with a huge dining room area complete with a gorgeous view of the bay and a wood fire stove that you can snuggle by as you enjoy a freshly made sandwich or a hot bowl of soup! I picked up a wedge of St. Denis cheese, a ‘high mountain cheese’ as the label says. Hilary says it’s much like a Swiss cheese. Can’t wait to dig into that.

At True Grains bakery, I picked up another stash of freshly milled flour. DH and I just stood there at the counter drooling for a few minutes, overwhelmed by all the yummy selection. Along with the flour, we picked up a pretzel and some pastries to tide us over until lunch ;) I don’t know what they do to their pretzels but they’re my favorite.

They’re now selling their holiday baked goodies. We sampled a yummy and rich stollen and a lovely, dense figgy Christmas cake. The cake is wheat-free and made of spelt flour. It was a dark, gorgeous fruity cake and I half expected Tiny Tim to come hobbling in to wish everyone a ‘Merry Christmas.’

Sunday was a mellow day that began with a gorgeous sunrise and pancakes with blueberry sauce. It was a lazy, chilled out day for us to meander back home. Before leaving Victoria, we visited Kev’s uncle and cousin where we were gifted with treasures from land and sea!

DH’s uncle bestowed us with a huge stash of moose, from pepperoni to roasts to more of those awesome sausages. DH’s cousin also gifted us with salmon, halibut and prawns that he caught in local waters over the summer. Kev and I drove back home with our frozen gifts, feeling like we had hit the jackpot. Thanks guys!

Though I was still digesting the big feast, I was hankering for some of that moose sausage. I did a quick sausage and cabbage dinner. The sausage I simply browned in a pan and then moved to a roasting pan in a 350F oven to finish off cooking. I also had a local apples baking in there cooking at the same time. The cabbage, local of course, I shredded and cooked down in the leftover moose juice and a glug of olive oil. I tossed in a cup of white wine, about ½ tsp of freshly grated nutmeg, pinch of organic cane sugar threw that into the oven as well. While the rest of dinner was cooking, I made a batch of tortillas. Nothing more than a couple cups of Red Fife wheat flour from True Grains bakery, a glug of olive oil, generous pinch of salt and enough water to pull it all together.

I rolled and baked the tortillas on dry skillets on top of the stove. It was just an elaborate ploy to warm me up. I do love homemade tortillas. They’re tender but still have a bit of chew. They’re also inexpensive to make. Most importantly, Kev thinks I’m a genius because I can make them ;)

Dinner was just a perfect rustic meal. The cabbage served as a nice base for the unami-bursting moose sausages. I could only do half a sausage and small pile of cabbage but I enjoyed each and every savory mouthful. There’s something so comforting about a good, crusty sausage. I love that moment of biting in, the skin snapping and the juices spilling out all over your chin. Good thing I had a tortilla to mop up my face with.

Kev put away a couple of servings and was a happy kid for the rest of the night.

Our dining room light is on the fritz (again) and the room itself isn’t heated so we’ve been dining in the living room. I’m not a huge fan of watching TV while eating dinner but it’s impossible to convince Kev to exist in the same room as a TV and not have it on. So we ate our dinner while watching the ‘Mythbusters’ marathon. At least it wasn’t another bleeping ‘Friends’ rerun.

I now regret not picking up some of that Christmas cake from True Grain bakery. Kev’s also making pouty puppy dog faces and whimpering for me to make a stollen. I think I may have some baking experiments to do. I’ve challenged myself to do my holiday baking with as much locally grown products as possible. I challenge you all to continue utilizing locally grown products throughout the holiday season.

Happy Eating!