Archive for May, 2009

Berry Cordial Making

We like to experiment around my house and often times these experiments turn into wonderful gifts.  This is one such experiment: Homemade Berry Liqueur/Cordials.

Step 1:

Cut up 1 pound of Berries and place in a clean glass jar.  Pour one quart of vodka on top of your berries (use cheap vodka, no sense in spending money on something you’re not going to taste the true flavor of anyway).  Put a tight fitting lid on your jar and place in a cool dark place for one week.

Step 2:

Strain your vodka.  Put the vodka  in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  Mix the berries with 2 cups of sugar and place that mixture in another clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  Place both jars in a cool, dark place for a month.  Shake the jar with the berries in it occasionally.

Step 3:

Strain the berries again (serve the berries over cake or ice cream) and add the liquid to the vodka and mix well. Leave the vodka mixture sit for 4 to 6 months before consuming.  The longer it sits the better the flavor.  Pour into decorative bottles for gifts.  Enjoy – a small sip goes a long way.

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I have rhubarb taking over my kitchen not to mention my garden bed that it resides in!  At least three times a week I make something with rhubarb just to try to keep up with it.  Here is far and away my family’s favorite way to eat the stuff…

rhubarb apple2

Rhubard Apple Bake

  • 6 Cups of diced rhubard
  • 5 large apples peeled and diced
  • 6 TBSP Orange juice
  • 1 3/4 Cup Sugar (more or less according to your taste)
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon

Mix this all together and put in large greased baking pan 9×13 or so.

  • 1/2 Cup White Flour
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Oats (I use old fashioned but quick cook is fine)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 Cup (1 cube) melted butter

Combine in bowl till crumbly.  Sprinkle on top of fruit mixture.  Bake at 375 for 50 minutes or until it is lightly brown and the fruit is bubbly. 

Serve with homemade vanilla ice cream!

rhubarb apple5

rhubarb apple6

rhubarb apple1

rhubarb apple4


Into the oven it goes…

rhubarb apple7

I would have taken a picture of it done but my kids and hubby swarmed so fast when it was pulled out I didn’t have a chance!  I hope you give this misunderstood vegetable/fruit a try… it can be very delicious!

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Fresh greens from the garden or farmers market are just crying out for fresh dressing too.  Salad dressings made at home from simple ingredients everyone has in their pantry are a good way to cut out additives in our diets, and add one more recipe to our scratch cooking files.  But, if your family is like mine, everyone wants different dressing on their salads.
spring mix

spring mix

Sometimes too, it is hard to wean ourselves off of that store bought taste and familiarity.  This recipe helps make the transition a little easier.  A woman who worked in the cafeteria at the hospital where I worked, shared this recipe with me.  We both shared a love for fresh, made from scratch food, and she was Mormon and kept a huge pantry at home.  We always had something to chat about, and we got many a curious look when she would pull out a empty gallon pickle jar from under the cash register and place it on my tray.  She was a peach of a gal, and even though I know her recipe by heart, it heartens me to pull out that recipe card and see her handwriting.  Thanks Joyce!
French dressing

French dressing


medium onion, chopped
¼ cup water
¼ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup oil
½ cup catsup
½ cup sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
½ salt
¼ pepper

Blend chopped onion, water and vinegar in blender or food processor until the onion is the consistency you desire. Add remaining ingredients and continue mixing until desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings.

If you want a mild onion flavor use a sweet onion, if you like your onion flavor strong, use a regular cooking onion.

Store unused portion in refrigerator.

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solar gas that is…i dusted off the solar oven our wwoofers built 2 years ago and fired it up this week. jaden requested cookies so cookies we did.DSCN4323

the oven was built out of scraps and cost us a roll of flashing to line it with for reflective purposes. everything else we had on hand…the frame was built out of plywood scraps, it was insulated with old t-shirts, the edges lined with felt, painted with paint we had n hand and the glass from a window we had collected at the end of someone’s drivweway, destined for the dump.

i eventually would like to insulate it a bit better but overall, i’m happy with it.

i place it on a table (another dumpster rescue) and check on it every hour to rotate it to follow the sun. it heats up to about 175…i’m still trying to get it hotter, i think better reflection would help and hope to tweak it this summer. but, i can’t complain, i’ve cooked meatloaf and mashed potatoes in there, cookies, beans and rice and much more.DSCN4322

so, 5 minute cookies take about 1 1/2 hours to cook but it doesn’t waste propane or heat up the kitchen so i’m ok with that!DSCN4321

this is the cookie recipe we used this time:

1 c + 2 T. cocoa & 6 T butter (or 6 oz baking choc, unsweetened)
2 T. butter
1/4 c. flour
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3 eggs
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 c. chocolate chips

melt the butter and cocoa or unsweetened chocolate on the stove and set aside.

in a mixer, beat the eggs then add the sugar. while they are mixing, combine the dry ingredients.

add the melted chocolate mix to the egg mixture. blend and then add the flour mixture. stir in the chocolate chips.

refrigerate for an hour.

place on a cookie sheet and bake for 1 1/2 hours in a solar oven or 5-6 minutes in an oven set at 350 degrees F. these cookies are best a little under done. remove from the cookie sheet and let cool if you can!DSCN4326

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each slice of this cake is moist with lemon

each slice of this cake is moist with lemon

 Everyone likely has a favorite go-to flavor when it comes to food.  I seem to have several, but lemon is at the top of the list.  I don’t care for thick frostings, or even extra sweetness every time, as long as the fresh tartness and enlivening fragrance deliver!

There are a few fun foods I have yet to narrow down to a single favorite recipe and declare it a done deal.  On the occasional experimentation list…the quest for the perfect light bread (yeast), banana nut bread (quick-type), pie crust, cheesecake, curry, chili, chicken and dumplings, ginger snaps…and many Things Lemon. 

I’m partial to lemon.  Maybe it’s genetic, but I’ve always loved it, as long as it’s not cloyingly sweet and is definately out there with tartness.  I once worked in a bookstore when the tongue-in-cheek children’s book series A Series of Unfortunate Events came out authored by  nom-de-plume “Lemony Snickett.”  I read the first book simply because I laughed so hard over that name.  It turns out the books are vastly superior to their vastly-inferior  movie version that came out later.  They’re slightly irreverent, warped, and zingy…tart!  But I digress.  Back to the kitchen…

I have some lemons poised tableside, looking like a Masters still life.  (they do that all by themselves)  The only thing that can induce me to interrupt the vignette is their possibility in the culinary department.

Blame the weather…the lemons are now no more.

It was the perfect setting today to utilize the tart, aromatic citrus. It finally rained here (hooray!!) for the second day in a row (double hooray!!), the perfect foil for the perfume and flavor of lemon.  From the low clouds spilled a long-awaited refreshment of gentle, steady rains, and an afternoon commenced complete with open windows, singing frogs, ceiling fan lazily stirring the interior humidity, and a long, cold glass of iced tea. 

It also spelled indoor chores, like laundry, cleaning, more laundry, more cleaning, and some quantity cooking for the rest of the week…all made pleasant by the occasional low rumbles of thunder and the soothing plash of rivulets playing against the instant shallow puddles under the eaves.  White egrets stalked food among the cattails in the swale nearby, with the classic grace of Jackie O.

It was time to make a (lemon!) pound cake.  What recipe to use?  So many choices.

the batter is dense but relatively light

the batter is dense but relatively light

 I have collected several I intend to try eventually.  Today’s was straightforward…all of the ingredients were ones I had on hand, except for the lemon extract.  Flour, eggs, butter, milk, fresh lemons…how could I go wrong with something that basic?  I used the recipe I found here as the basis of today’s experiment.  (Enjoy the jump… you’ll get lost at Tartelette’s site!)

It’s pretty basic…pound cake plus lemon.  The recipe incorporates lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon extract, and a lemon syrup.  Sweet Georgia Brown! An extra flavor punch comes from cooling the turned-out cake on a rack (over a cookie sheet), piercing it with a skewer,  and then pouring a hot homemade lemon syrup over it and allowing it to cool again.

This is not a glamour cake. 

This girl has her curves intact, no airbrushing,  and no Botox.  But she delivers where it counts by …a true pound cake that’s enticingly lemonesque.  A spunky version of a classic.

cake is pierced all over with skewer, and hot lemon syrup is poured over

cake is pierced all over with skewer, and hot lemon syrup is poured over

 After the syrup is poured over and the cake is cooled completely, it’s stored for a day and then eaten on the second day or later.  Theoretically…

Diverting from the recipe, I hated to waste the excess lemon syrup, so I re-poured it right back over the cake after moving it to a cake stand.  It’s dense enough to hold together well even though it’s so moist, and I left it in a slight puddle of lemon.  If you don’t like things in puddles, nevermind.  But if you love lemon as much as I do, you don’t mind taking it to the next level of tartness-induced involuntary tear duct action.

When mixing up the cake, I varied from the recipe by adding some vanilla extract, and next time I’d cut back on the sugar just a tad, because I like pound cake just shy of sweet.

I poured reserve syrup back over-my preference for extra lemon flavor.  Cake will rest for at least a day...what's left of it, that is!

I poured reserve syrup over it again, indulging my preference for extra lemon flavor. The cake will rest for at least a day...what's left of it, that is!

This is one instance where dense makes sense…the cake is dense with moisture.  Do, do let it sit for at least a day and mellow.  (or Do As I Say, Not As I Do)

Just baking this will perfume the house.

Is this the ultimate lemon pound cake?  I don’t know till I try a few more recipes. 

It could be varied by featuring another flavor as the main theme, rather than the lemon, or pairing flavors.  How would it taste with a syrup made from lavender, or roses…grapefruit or mango as the primary flavoring…or certain complementary herbs?  I’m not well-versed enough to know the line between daring and disaster when it comes to those things, yet. 

But I do know this is a simple, very rich, dense and moist front-runner in the Lemon category.  Even half a slice, paired with a good strong Southern UNsweet glass of iced tea (my own preference) will transport you to a hammock on the front porch of Tara, or any other southern place where the fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.

Which is a nice reverie when you’re sitting on the hard tile floor sorting through piles of laundry… and venturing hard glances at the curtains towards their possibilities as formal wear if the economy gets any worse…


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Some time in March, while brainstorming about how I could make a living off my land where there is such a tiny population based (and a fairly economically challenged one at that), a friend of mine suggested that I work towards making the place an education/demonstration farm. While talking about the idea he proffered that the likes of David Suzuki (Vancouver’s most famous environmentalist) might be interested in supporting the farm, and also suggested the Vancouver based universities that have agriculture programs may also be interested in working with me to teach sustainability and self-sufficiency.

About a week and a half ago, with that friend’s idea in mind, I finally decided to take a look at the Suzuki Foundation web page  just to see what he was up to. I didn’t get very far into the site when I happened upon a call for submissions. David Suzuki, is running a contest for pesticide free gardeners this summer. They say you don’t have to be a master gardener to play a starring role in the ‘David Suzuki Digs My Garden’ contest. They want a passionate storyteller who believes pesticide-free growing is the way of the future–which needless to say I do–that they can follow this summer in video, pictures and print, from soil prep and composting, through seeding and weeding, to reaping the harvest. There was  an e-form to fill in so I did, and promptly went to bed. While it is not exactly what I was looking for, it certainly would be a good opportunity to start with if I make the cut!

The next day, I received an email saying I was accepted to the second phase; the video audition. How exciting! There were, of course, many problems with this: I didn’t have a video camera, I didn’t know anyone with a video camera, I hadn’t ever used a video camera, I live 500 kilometers from the nearest store with a video camera, and no, I can’t buy one over the phone from the Vancouver camera stores. Consequently, I spent Saturday hunting down some options  via the internet, and finally a friend in Vancouver came to my rescue: he bought the camera and put it on the plane to Bella Coola last Sunday morning.

It arrived at 1:30 pm that Sunday afternoon. I spent the afternoon reading the instruction booklet whilst charging its batteries, then wrote my script and practiced it twice on an old tape-style video camera (that won’t let me translate it to an AVI file so I can upload it to You-tube as the Suzuki Foundation requests) and honed it down to about 90 seconds. There were, of course, several technical glitches along the way, or example I got half way through what was going to be my final take–on the newly charged, fancy, digital, jet-lagged camera–and then hit something that made the whole thing mute and couldn’t figure out how to undo it!!!

It is amazing that in this tiny valley there are still plenty of people I have not met. I am continually surprised by the number of talented, creative, and technically savvy people who come out of the woodwork. Lucky for me, Buddy Thatcher materialized just in time–we stood in front of each other for the first time the previous day when he came to the farm to pick up eggs for some community event! Buddy, who owns ‘Box o’ Bones Productions’ agreed to come to my aid. He edited out some of the wind in the outside shots along and added a few other technical details–all for the price of a basket full of my produce.

Thanks to my friend encouraging me to think about my farm differently, the technical savvy of Buddy, and my other friend in Vancouver who did the running around town shopping spree and courier service, I managed to find this opportunity and get the video complete–and with a day to spare!

Here is the final product:

Although this was my first ‘feature film’, I found the whole experience so creatively stimulating, that I’m thinking of expanding into more short films to document my life and work here. I have spent this past year writing words and am now intrigued to write scripts and story-boards for this visual medium. I am now continually thinking about the video camera and what would make nice clips and/or shots. Of course, I have yet to actually get to the stage of bringing it with me so I can actually catch those moments!

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In January of 2007 I decided to try and start globe artichokes from seed as my “newbie” veggie for that year. I purchased, from I don’t remember where, two types: Violetta and Green Globe. At the time I had decided I would attempt to grow these “California favorites” in my slightly less temperate spot of the world to see how I liked them. When I say “liked them” I mean that in the sense of ease of growth, production etc etc. I had eaten artichokes on a number of occasions and, taste wise, liked them just fine. But the question was would they produce for me?

Depending on which article you read, most can not agree as to how hardy artichokes really are. Some say “even with winter protection they may die in zone 7”. Some say “all the way to zone 4 depending on how you protect them”. Some say “as long as the lowest temperature is not below 15 degrees”….on and on. Every writer seems to have a differing opinion.
So my concern wasn’t exactly would they survive the winter, since it didn’t seem as if they would for me, but would they be worth starting from seed each year. Artichokes need about 8 weeks before the last frost date when started early and treated as an annual (however mine ended up blooming early enough that I could have started them later.) Starting that early would mean lots of inside time and care from me, and with my smaller set up that is a lot of space and time to take up for one plant. Beyond that would they grow well once they were outside? Would we get more than just an artichoke or two (or three) from each plant? All good questions but I knew no one who could answer them for me.

So, I put the seeds in small soil cubes where they sprouted pretty easily. I did find out after I had already started them that soaking them for about 8 hours speeds them up immensely and improves germination. However…none of the books I own at home mentioned that and for some reason I did not do an internet search before hand. Regardless, by February most I had planted had sprouted, grew well, and I had moved them on to larger 4 inch by 4 inch newspaper pots I made. Eventually, our last average frost date came, the weather turned warm and I put them out into the garden into the spot I had made for them.

Now, to spur everyone’s memory 2007 was “That Year” of about every bad thing for gardeners. First…we had that super late frost. You remember the one that killed almost all the apple blossoms (and peach, pear, pecans, walnuts, acorns etc) in the U.S? Well, luckily with just a plastic juice container cut off at the bottom and the lid still on and a bit of hay around them—all my artichokes survived the four days of super cold abnormal temps. They looked a bit burned at some of the leaf edges….some even burnt almost back…..but they made it.
And they grew. Bigger and bigger with a heavy mulch of hay around their roots and a soaker hose under the hay to water them. Because, to spur your memory again, that was also the “Year of the Drought” too. Remember that? Hay was so scarce that people where dumping horses in state parks to fend for their selves. The local butchers had loads (yes, full loads) of livestock dumped on their properties at night in the dark when they weren’t there. No one would claim them. I know..weird…but it’s a very true story that I heard from butchers over and over as we tried to get a few lambs in to have butchered but they were too busy to work us in. (If you didn’t have “the drought” then you were in the part of the country that had “the flood” that year—either way it was a difficult year.)

However, without much extra watering my little artichokes grew and grew until finally—our first choke! Then a second and third and though we didn’t get enough to can we did get enough to add to a few dishes. And tasty! My, my, they were so much better than store purchased. And very cost effective even considering my time.
So, though I decided to super cover my plants with hay and try and over winter them, I was more than willing to start them from seed the next year.
Luckily, and to my surprise, 7 of my 10 plants made it through the winter of 2007. And to shorten this story, they also produced even more artichokes and then when we quit cutting them….they bloomed some gorgeous (really gorgeous) flowers. Such an intense purple color to the chokes. Fabulous.

Then even more promising, all except 2 went on to make it through the winter of 2008, with no extra covering (I was short on hay that year). The 2 that did die I lost more to rot than the cold per se. They were in the moister end of the bed and I think they just couldn’t take the cold and wet during the winter. Most plants can’t so I am not surprised. The others did just fine but maybe if I had been able to cover them it would have helped.

Now here we are, spring of 2009, all wet and cool (very unusually cool for us) and rainy, and I still have those 5 artichokes plus about 12 more than I transplanted that had come up from the seeds. Not seeds I planted but seeds they shed last fall, from those gorgeous flowers, that have come up on their own —easy as pie. (Now why people say that I don’t know since pie crust is a difficult thing to learn to do correctly but…)
My original 5 artichokes are already 3 feet wide at least and about 2 and ½ feet tall or more. You can see my long legged Jack Russell in the picture for reference. Big and green and gorgeous they are and just about to start sending up chokes it looks like. My transplanted babies vary in size but one is already about a foot by a foot. Pretty good don’t you think for a zone that “maybe won’t grow artichokes”? I did forget to mention that of the two varieties the Violetta sprouted the least well and had the most casualties. However..it produces the nicest artichokes. With soaking and a better position it might have done just as well.

So, the point of all this is to encourage all of you to try artichokes or even those other “maybe it won’t survive over winter” veggies. Who knows, with the whole “global climate change” thing going on maybe you too can overwinter artichokes. Or even some other plant that traditionally (in the 1960s maybe) wasn’t able to grow in your area. But when it comes to the artichokes they are pretty much pest free and easy to grow with a bit of room so well worth the try in my opinion. Even if you don’t really have room for many of them like me…. try one. They have a very attractive look to them, even if they didn’t supply some food, and can easily fit into a flower bed as well as the vegetable bed. Like I said the flowers are just gorgeous, and they always attract comment and attention.


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