Thursday, June 26, 2008

Completely awesome news (for me, anyway)

.....I am getting a super-fantastic completely amazing gift for our wedding anniversary this year.
I am seeing this guy, in concert.....

..........from the FRONT ROW!!!!!!

Excuse me while I run around the room screaming like a little girl now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Safety first.




When playing with your twirly ribbon toy it is of paramount importance to wear proper protective gear.

This picture reminds me of a story from Winnie the Pooh. Piglet finds a heffalump and becomes frightened. He later finds out it was just Pooh with a honey jar stuck to his head.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's about time!


Look at what I finished sewing today!

Now I'll bet you are wondering "Jen, you are so busy chasing three kids, doing speech therapy , cooking , surfing the Internet and beating back the Clutter Monster. How the heck did you find time to make a quilt??"

Well, I will tell you how I found time to make a quilt. I um, started it when I was pregnant with Emmett and left work for early maternity leave.

Yes, this quilt has been haunting my linen closet for going on five years now. I started it so long ago when, in a rush of pregnancy-hormone driven nesting I needed to Make Something. I knew how to sew. I thought I could figure out how to make a lovely quilt for my sweet new baby. A Log Cabin quilt looked easy. Straight seams, no applique, a good place for a beginner to start.

Now, at the time, I didn't know anyone who could teach me how to assemble this. I relied on the trusty Internet. I found instructions, went to the fabric store and threw caution to the wind. The blocks went together fairly easily. I realized when I was trying to assemble the top that I could have picked better colours, but after a lot of trial and error I think I assembled my blocks in a very pleasing way. I even have a few blocks left over. The edges went pretty well. Adding the batting and the backing was frustrating, but I did it. I took the lazy way out and quilted the blanket on my sewing machine.

It was after the quilting that things started to fall apart. I tried on at least three different occasions to bind the edges, none successful. It was then that I balled up this poor blankie and banished it to the top shelf of my linen closet to think about the pain it was causing me.

Every time I Spring Cleaned this poor blanket looked at me. It wondered why I didn't finish it.

Last week I took it out and really looked at it. I checked a book out of the library on quilting. I pressed. I pinned. I spent over 4 hours over one Monday night crafting session and this afternoon hand sewing the binding down. It is wobbly. It is kind of puckered in places. It won't win any ribbons at any fairs.

It is done.

Matthew has already blessed it with spit up and Charlotte has already used it as a Princess Cape.

It is loved.

I think I have to make two more now........

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The danger in my pantry.

So, a fairly innocuous bag of mush has been making the rounds among my friends. Amish Friendship Bread starter. Have you heard of it? Have you tried it? This baggie of mush is kind of high maintenance, requiring stirring every day (no metal spoons, please) and then feeding every five days. Once it starts fermenting you must make sure your little baggie doesn't rupture as gases inflate it. My friend T called me up one day and offered me some. She brought over a sample of the signature recipe that goes with every baggie of mush.

I am sceptical as to the authenticity of an *Amish* recipe that calls for a box of instant pudding, but the bread was tasty and I am always up for trying new things in the kitchen. I have been tending and feeding the starter for almost a month now and have tried quite a few recipes with it. I have more in mind. I have found some fantastic recipes that don't call for pudding mix. (Well, ok, one does...but it is really good!)

I talked to a few of my friends about this mush. Apparently this mush can also come with quite a lot of baggage. My friend M told me that a co-worker gave her some. M moved and threw the mush out because she couldn't tend to it in the midst of packing and unpacking. Her friend found out and quit speaking to her for six months. My friend C had some and got a little emotionally involved in keeping it alive. She started to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking care of this stuff and keeping it under control. She started calling it Amish Guilt Bread. She is not the only one. My friend A calls hers a "bag of guilt".

Have we lost sight of what is important here? Are these little baggies becoming too emotionally charged? Do we mean to hand out bags of guilt when we thought we were giving out bags of friendship? The rules that come with these bags are quite regimented. It is almost like you are giving out a pet instead of an ingredient in a recipe. I broke the rules. I baked on Day two of the cycle. My mush is still alive. I didn't cause a tear in the space-time continuum.

I am being an anarchist and only obeying two rules: "Feed on day five" and "Feed and divide on day ten". I can't make the commitment to baking every 10 days. Summer is here. I may kill this starter when the heat really comes and I can't even look at my oven without sweating. There are only so many pancakes one family can eat.

Clearly this mush is powerful stuff. It can end friendships. It can take over a kitchen. I am trying to be careful with my mush. I only give it out with the expressed permission of the recipient. The only time I give it out as a surprise is in it's already baked form. I have had mine for so long it has moved out of it's baggie into a large plastic container in my pantry. Is it slowly working it's claws into me now? Should I name it? I really hope that when I get tired of this and decide to flush it down the drain T will keep speaking to me. I like to think my friendships are stronger than a baggie of mush.

By the way, if you peeked at my links to recipes and noticed the bread and pancakes call for Herman starter, don't worry. Amish friendship starter works the same way. Substitute it measure for measure.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Slices of Life.







We have been busy this week! Two birthday parties and Emmett's preschool windup kept us running. Here are a sampling of the pictures I have been snapping.

As always, click on any image to see in full, bandwith-hogging size.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pantry to bathroom: After


I think the waiting was worth it, don't you?? Do you think I should tile the board the sink is mounted on or leave it alone?

Here is the new pantry:



Pantry to bathroom: Before


We have recently completed another home improvement project. We have five people under our roof. We had one bathroom. That wasn't enough for us. We decided to move my walk in pantry and turn it into a small bathroom. We chose the closet at the top of our basement stairs to be the new location of the pantry.

Over the course of a few weekends we emptied the closet and Richard took the shelves out of the pantry and moved them over to the closet. We had a handy friend come over and remove the door to the closet and replace it with a door at the very top of our basememt stairs. This makes the new pantry much more accessible and still keeps the stairs safe from little people.

Richard filled all the holes in the walls of the new bathroom and painted. We then spent a romantic evening at the Orange Square hardware store buying new fixtures. Once we bought fixtures we played phone tag with a plumber for THREE weeks. Richard finally tracked down another guy and after three more days and a broken faucet, we have another bathroom in our house.



Due to the fact that we have an elderly home none of our walls are square and the floor is not at all level. The plumber felt he couldn't attach the sink to a less than perfectly plumb wall. For that reason he screwed the new sink to an ugly piece of lumber that I plan on tiling in the near future. He complained bitterly through the entire installation process about our floors and walls.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

For Mama Bear

Mama Bear asked me for my favourite carrot cake recipe. This is the one I swear by. It tastes fantastic, and if you don't tell anyone they will have no idea it is low fat to boot. I call this Anniversary cake because we had carrot cake as a wedding cake so I make it every year on our wedding anniversary now.

Jen's Anniversary Cake

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup drained, crushed pineapple
3/4 cup fat-free egg substitute or 3 whole eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk (you could also pour 1 tbsp vinegar into a measuring cup and top off with plain milk to measure 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

  • Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
  • Combine first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, pineapple, eggs, buttermilk, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Stir in grated carrots. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture and stir until well blended. Stir in nuts.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Set pan on wire rack and cool cake completely.
  • While cake is cooling prepare your favourite cream cheese icing. When cake is cool, slather with cream cheese love . If cake is not devoured in one sitting, store leftovers in the fridge.
If you need more slices this cake can easily be made in a 10 X 14 inch rimmed sheet pan. You may need to adjust your cooking time. I lined mine with baking parchment to prevent sticking.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened (regular or low-fat)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • Beat first three ingredients with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well. Gradually beat in additional powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.
If you bake your cake in a 9 x 13 pan you will have leftover frosting. Do not despair. Spread it on graham crackers and top with fresh fruit slices. Dip cookies in it. Lick it off of a spoon. Use your imagination.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A busy weekend.

This weekend has been very busy. Richard is running a gaming convention, and at the same time, the summer fair came to town. We made the decision to only send the oldest boys in the family to the fair. I thought that if Char saw Emmett go on all the rides that she was too short to go on we would just be asking for a meltdown.

It turns out I shouldn't have worried. Richard said that he and Emmett only went on ONE ride. (At a cost of $10!!! ONE ride!!! ) What kept their attention for the rest of the time they were at the fair??? The Armed Forces Recruitment area. They spent so much time there Emmett got all the free swag they were handing out. Tattoos, key lanyard, caribiner keyring, frisbee....
They waited a long, long time to get in the fair gates.
Emmett saw this vehicle during the parade in the morning and was enthralled
Richard couldn't get him out of it.
This picture kind of scares me. Should Emmett be smiling while holding that rifle?

Emmet told me he wants to join the Army and drive the big trucks when he grows up. This week Canada lost another soldier in Afghanistan. I knowEmmett is just turning 5 and his career aspirations could change many, many times between now and when he grows up, but the thought of my little boy going off to war is really chilling to me. I know, I know. Stop worrying. He's not tall enough to go on that ride just yet.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mememememe

So here goes Cooking Meme tagged by Mama B

I don't usually do memes, but I was tagged by the lovely Mama B and I can't say no to her.
The rules:

1) Answer all the questions honestly.

2) Tag at least three people.

When was the most recent time you were burned?
Hmmmm, it has been at least a month. I am famous for burning my hands or forearms on the oven racks when I use a dish towel instead of an oven mitt. Lately my accident of choice in the kitchen has been grating my knuckles with cheese or vegetables.

Can you cook?
Oh yes. I taught myself to really cook during a rabid obsession with The Food Network just after nursing school. When Richard and I dated we set aside every Sunday night to cook fancy dinners and watch The X-Files. I did the main course and he did dessert. I gained 20lbs during our courtship! I more recently honed my skills during monthly potluck parties we would take turns hosting with friends.

If yes, name your specialties (three max.)
Pot roast with mushroom gravy and oven roasted potatoes
Barbeque chicken pizza
Lasagna

If yes, do you like to cook?
I love trying new recipes, but only get to cook fancy things on Friday nights when the kids visit their grandma. Most nights of the week things are pretty basic around here, but I do try to sneak in some new things among the meatballs and chicken nuggets I know the kids will eat.

If no, do you want to be able to cook?
I have never tried to make souffle.

What color is your kitchen?
Pale greenish blue with white beadboard, white cabinets and hardwood floors. The strange greenish blue is soon going to be a bright sunny yellow.

Do you bake?
Oh yes.

If yes, specialties (max 3)
Carrot cake
Chocolate chip cookies
Artisan-style crusty bread

If yes, do you like to bake?
Yes! I don't buy cookies at the grocery store and I love experimenting with different kinds of muffins. Cakes are always from scratch in our house. I love eating cookie dough. I think that is one of the main reasons I bake. For the cookie dough.

If no, do you want to bake?
See above!

What color is your apron?
I have a basic red apron. I have been seriously coveting these aprons, and will probably buy one very very soon. I bought Charlotte a little apron at a second hand store recently and now she insists on wearing it when she helps me in the kitchen.

Ok I am tagging:

Nifty Nadine, Mama Bear, and CTG.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It happened again.....

.....I was at the mall last night and I bumped into someone I used to work with. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, her eyes dipped downwards to my poochy belly and then she dropped this bomb on me:
"Oh, and are you expecting again?"

I gave my usual answer to the question. "No. I'm just chubby." Her expression changed to embarassment and she stared at her feet for a moment. It was at this point in the exchange I had to run off and chase Char so I was blissfully released from her conversation.

How many times do I have to repeat myself? DON'T EVER ask a woman if she is pregnant. You have a 50/50 chance of crushing a nice person's self esteem and looking like a real jerk in the process. Do you really want that for yourself?? If you are talking to someone and she is actually pregnant it will probably come up in conversation. If it doesn't, perhaps it was none of your business in the first place.

I did the math while I was in the shower this morning. Out of the past 69 months of my life I have been pregnant for 30 of them. (I am counting from the time I got pregnant with Emmett until now, give or take a day or two.) That is almost half of the past 6 years spent gestating. I have always carried my weight around my belly. When I was in high school and 120 lbs and rollerblading and in marching band I had a little poochy belly. I was blessed with legs that could stop traffic and a gorgeous little chest that stood at attention. (Oh how I miss those! The girls have never been the same since they were called into active duty.) My belly has never behaved. I am pretty sure it won't be recovering from the past six years of up and down weight gain and loss without some surgical intervention.

So, long ranty story short: DON"T . Do. Not. Ever. Ask a woman who is curvy if she is pregnant. If you are supposed to know, she will tell you.

Thank you for your time and your consideration.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I love cookbooks.

Yep, you heard me. I love cookbooks. I collect cookbooks. I read them like some people read novels. Nigella Lawson is particularly good for this sort of reading. She writes her recipes in a very conversational style and has long descriptive passages where she goes on and on about the history of the dish, how she adapted it, where she got her inspiration.... This conversational style makes it hard to cook with her recipes sometimes. Try to ask Richard to make the danishes from Nigella Bites and his left eyelid will start twitching. The pictures in her books are what I refer to as "food porn". Everything is artfully styled, the accessories very expensive but not ostentatious, lighting is perfect. Chocolate is featured prominently. I want to lick some of the pages.

Some of my cookbooks came from my late Grandma's collection and when you open them a flurry of handwritten notes and newspaper clippings fly out. I love this. Some of the books are fundraisers from different community groups. A peek into these books offers a peek in to the kitchens of the many people who donated recipes. Who cooks from scratch? Who has mastered the art of mixing up cans and boxes from the store to make something new? Why do so many of the recipes call for Cool Whip and instant pudding?? Those cookbooks and her knitting needles are what I remember her by. Something I always feel a twinge of regret over is not picking up the school fundraiser cookbook while we were visiting Grand Cayman Island on our honeymoon.--It was called "There's a Turtle in my Soup!"

I have a particular fondness for cookbooks from the 60s and 70s. A couple of weeks ago I scored the complete 16-volume Family Circle Illustrated Library of Cooking. (I paid a $1.50 for the whole set!!!!) So many meats and vegetables encased in gelatin! So many things served on ice that we wouldn't dream of chilling now! So much glistening charred fat on the pages!

My mother in law gave me a fantastic book as well: Betty Crocker's New Dinner for Two. Copyright 1964. The first page of the book spells it out: "....If you are a bride, a business girl, career wife, or a mother whose children are away from home - this book is for you....." Along with recipes the book is full of tips and tricks to make your homemaking job a pleasure. If Richard ever has the guts to phone me with 1/2 hour notice to throw together a dinner party to impress his boss, I know what to have on hand at all times now. (Forget that he is self employed for a moment....) I now know how to artfully disguise leftovers and that cold pickle juice in an aperitif glass makes a tasty appetizer. I also know how to boil canned peas into submission now.

All of this talking about cookbooks and recipes has got me thinking: Which recipes are going to make my grand kid's eyes roll when I serve them? What are they going to think of my cookbooks? Will the obsession with all things low-fat and low-carb be hilarious? (OK, it is kind of hilarious now.) What are they going to say when they come across my binders full of magazine clippings and computer printouts? Are they going to scoff at my kitchen full of white appliances? What will be my culinary legacy?

Yes, there is a lobster claw sticking out of that sandwich. It is programmed to snap at the lunch eater if he or she skips over the carrot sticks and heads straight to the dessert.







This lovely creation has turkey and chutney encased in chicken gelatin. Yummy!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Extreme makeover: Hawaiian shirt edition.

This shirt has been languishing in Richard's closet for years. I think I have seen him wear maybe once or twice in the ten years we've known each other. It was time to do something with it.

I found a cool tutorial that demonstrated how to turn a man's shirt into a little girl's sundress. Perfect!!! All it took was one afternoon of neglecting my family.

Before:
It's a sad looking shirt
After:Front of dress, which was the back of the shirt.

Back of dress, which was the front of the shirt

Close up showing front ruffles made from the sleeves of the shirt.