Category Archives: Food

Marshmallows

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I never used to like marshmallows. They seemed unnatural to me. I didn’t trust the white powdery substance that covers their weird cylindrical shape, and they taste funny. Okay, maybe not ‘funny’, just like sugar.
I get that roasted marshmallows are popular. I get that they are an absolute necessity if you are making s’mores, and I’m not bad-mouthing them without an ingenious solution to what I perceive as the problem.

Marshmallows bought from the store are, in variations, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Dextrose, Modified Corn Starch, Water, Gelatin, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (Whipping Aid), Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color (Blue 1), and sometimes other trace ingredients, flavourings etc. But, in order to make them, you really only need 4 ingredients. Two more if you want to make them fancy. Gelatin, sugar, corn syrup & vanilla. That’s the basics, but you can cover them in toasted coconut and flavour them with pure almond extract, or keep the vanilla and dust them with a wonderful dark cocoa, yum! Or flavour them with Sambucca and float them in your hot chocolate! Or peppermint, and roll them in crushed candy canes!! Okay, so now, you guessed it, I love ’em!

Cocoa dusted marshmallows before they are cut.

Recipe below:

Marshmallows
Prepare your pan approx. (8 x 8 for a nice thickness of marshmallow) by dusting with icing sugar, or cocoa, or toasted cocoanut, or your desired covering for your marshmallow. It will need to be thick enough that the marshmallow mixture won’t soak through and stick to the pan, or you will have trouble getting it out of the pan once set. Set aside.

4 envelopes unflavoured gelatin dissolved in 3/4 cup cold water in a large bowl, or the bowl of your mixer.
3 cups sugar and 1+1/4 cup light corn syrup placed in a saucepan and brought to a boil for 5 to 10 minutes until it reaches 230 degrees on a candy thermometer or forms a ball when dripped into cold water.
With hand mixer or table mixer going at low speed, whisk small amounts at a time of the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture gradually turning the speed up higher and whipping once all syrup is added. Mixture will become very thick. Add 2 tsp vanilla (or other flavouring) and keep whipping until mixture cools and becomes difficult to stir. Mixture will be glossy. Scrape all of mixture into your prepared pan with a spatula and quickly dust the top with whatever coating you have on the bottom of your pan. Set aside to dry for at least 3 hours. Remove from pan and cut into squares. Dip cut sides into your coating and set on a plate to dry for another hour or so. Enjoy!
Tip: Martha Stewart doesn’t coat hers in anything – so she brushes the pan with oil, lines it with parchment up the sides, and brushes that with oil, too, to avoid a sticky mess. So, if you want to do as Martha does… do as Martha does! Her recipe is a little different than mine, but I bet it will still work.

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COOKIES!

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K – so – this blog is supposed to be about “home made” life, and I haven’t posted hardly anything about ‘home’ making stuff because once I get into it, I forget to take pictures and/or just get SO lost in the creative juices I drown. 

But today, I blogged a bit this morning, and then decided to make cookies so the blog was still in the front of my mind. I need to get better at this before I hit the farm next month! So. I took pictures. And I made cookies. Yay me!


This recipe has been in my family for ages. The great thing about this cookie, aside from the fact that it is likely the most delicious chocolate chip cookie you have ever tasted, is that it makes 10 dozen cookies. And, if you don’t want to make 10 dozen cookies, just put the remaining cookie dough in the fridge or freezer until you DO want to make 10 dozen cookies.
My mother used to make all of them all at once, and freeze the cookies in bread bags. I remember my dad would eat them frozen with his coffee.
I have adapted it a little, just to use as many organic ingredients as possible, but I gotta say, it is almost impossible to get organic coconut where I live, so sometimes I don’t use it.
Not hard to understand why the recipe is called “Lotsa Cookies”

2 Cups butter or Margerine
2 Cups sugar
2 Cups brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
1 Cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, peanuts)
2 Cups coconut (unsweetened is best)
2 Cups oatmeal
2 Cups bran flakes (any brand)
2 Cups crispy rice cereal (any brand)
12 oz chocolate chips (who are we kidding? I usually double this)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
4 Cups flour (I use all purpose organic)

If you have a large mix-master, it helps, but otherwise just wash your hands really well and get in there mashing and squeezing it all until it is mixed together.
Bake at 350 degrees for roughly 10 minutes (depending on how large you make them) They should be slightly browned around the edges. Enjoy!!

Italia!

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I am starting to settle in after our trip, and it’s about time, too. It has taken me nearly two weeks to get back into the groove of being at home. I still have to put away my suitcases, although they are completely unpacked. I still have to finish up that laundry, and get back into the housework swing, but I can’t say I’m “itchin'” to do that. So far, I have just allowed my dogs to sit on my lap and follow me around and walk in the park with them to THEIR heart’s content. I have cuddled my boy and read to him at night and help him with a school project and cuddle some more. This is the part that makes me think going away is a great thing. I don’t think I have had this many hugs EVER – boy or canine!

I did so love Italy, though. The countryside, where we stayed, was breathtaking. I couldn’t capture the scope and depth of the hills in my photographs but, bless me, I just kept trying. I think I have over 300 photos just of the hills in Abruzzo!

San Giorgio Hills, Abruzzo

It is frowned upon to have a monoculture on farms in Italy. Preservation of the soil, of the local plant life and of history is paramount. Most farms are small, with under 100 acres, and plant olive trees, fruit trees, vineyards, and have animals, like ducks, geese, chickens, goats, sheep and maybe even a few cows. Every part of the farm benefits other parts of the farm. It’s no wonder I felt at home there!

I did wash and trim some lovely strawberries for one of our meals there. They are such beautiful berries, with their stems still on, and a few leaves, they are smaller than the ones we normally get in Canada, and redder, and shinier, and oh, so tastier! And once I had trimmed them for the table, there were all these lovely strawberry hulls and leaves and stems that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away – especially with all those beautiful orpington chickens living next door. So I took them over to the chickens, and asked the farmer if I could give this snack to his chickens. He understood not one word of my question and looked at me rather absurdly, until I gestured with a few, pretending to throw them over the fence and his face lit up. “Ci! Ci!” he said. Although this farmer had embarrassingly caught me photographing his chickens on a regular basis, and usually at around 6 or 7am, and tried to teach me how to say “chicken” or “duck” in italian, I was so mortified that he caught me with my camera like some city slicker and the only thing missing was my 5″ heels. I don’t remember how to say “chicken” or “duck” in italian. But, his chickens loved me from that moment on, and I continued to bring them treats.

He had sheep, too. About a dozen of them, and they, more than the rooster, announced the morning for us each day at feeding time. There was one morning when I heard a goat, and I leapt out of bed, looked out the window to see the farmer’s wife leading a doe to be milked. She circled their stone barn to get the milk pail and I jumped into my clothes and ran down the stairs and out into the yard with my camera just in time to see her circling the barn again, doe in tow, to milk on the other side of her barn, on the other side of the fence, and out of sight of me. I must have looked really hopeful at first and then terribly dismayed because when I came back to the house, my honey was laughing and consoling at the same time.

Across the road

Beginnings, middles and endings…..

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My dog is lying on the grass at the bottom of the porch stairs. The spot she chose is still straw-coloured from winter, but the sun is warming her as she lay on this bare patch of grass.
We have a high today of 11 degrees celsius. The buds are on the trees but no leaves as yet. Not much in the way of flowers. Just yellow-brown grass and sunshine, but it is a beginning.

I love beginnings. Beginning a new book, the first chapter especially. Beginning a hot vanilla lat­­e` or an adventure. The start of a long walk or a drive somewhere. The first 30 seconds at the dog park when the realization hits, the leash has been removed. A friendship. A romance. A marriage.

The middles are alright, too. I like the comfort of middles. The relaxed atmosphere of being here already for a while and there’s time still. Like Saturday mornings, or finishing a friends thought and laughing with her because you understand. Middles are good.

Endings, I like, because it means there will be a beginning again. And because endings mean rest, renewal, and regeneration.
My dog found a warm place in the sun. She stayed for a while, enjoyed the comfort and the warmth that came from being there. Then I called her inside, which ended her warmth. And I gave her a treat – the smelly liver flavoured kind – which then started something.

Today I am thinking about beginnings, partly because of the weather and my dog, but mostly because I’ll be heading the the farm in a little over two months. I’ll start packing at the beginning of June and this time will be taking anything I don’t use often but want to keep, and all my summer clothes, because the next time I head there will be when I move, at the end of June 2013.

I am thinking about middles because, to be truthful, this dream began when I was twelve, began again when I was 43, and again after I met my love at 44, again at 46 when we bought the farm, and every day since beginning again with each evolution into its’ current-rough-draft-of-a-farm.

I am thinking also about endings. We have friends here, and family. I have a home that I bought eight years ago when my son was only 2, and my dream of home ownership as a single parent was almost outside my grasp. I was house poor for ages to accomplish my wish to have each of my kids in their own room. And in the nick of time, too, as my eldest went away to university the following year.
There are memories here, more than anywhere else in the last 25 years. I will miss it. I will miss the 7 faces of my garden, as it was re-done year after year. I will miss my neighbours (well, most of them) and the kids I’ve watched grow up from birth; my sunny kitchen, the ease of the gas fireplace.
I won’t miss the fuel cost for the fireplace or the electricity, water, & sewer combined costs, the Trans Canada Highway just down the block with it’s accompanying noise, dust and grime covering every surface daily, the organic market prices, the tiny pantry, no kitchen storage, or the front door that doesn’t close properly.
So I tell myself, I can visit friends and family. They can visit me. And this ending isn’t sad at all. It’s becoming a beginning again.

Farm name chosen !

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Bouncing about with farm names for the last few years now, and it turns out we have one that works. CLOVER HILL HERITAGE FARM specializing in heirloom varieties and heritage breeds.
I like the feel of that. So when we have our goat herd or our sheep flock they will be registered to our farms name when born. A baby goat born at our farm will be named, for instance, Clover Hill Adam (if we are having our “A” year) or Clover Hill Zola (once we’ve been doing it for 26 generations). Some farms do it this way to easily keep track of the year a goat was born. I don’t know if there is another reason for it – there may very well be – but I suppose I will find out soon enough.
Our huge field (about 30 acres) along side our driveway heading up to where the house will be is covered in timothy grass and red clover. In early June, when all is in flower, the scent is intoxicating. And although that field won’t always be in clover, we will have it planted somewhere because our own clover, timothy and other grasses will be baled for winter feed for years to come, I’m sure.

Getting on with it…

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Getting on with it…

The first few projects had some snags, but in the end, with trial and several errors, have worked out quite well. First – the adobe oven.

This was the first attempt at building a structure of this type and although there was some pretty heavy lifting, it wasn’t hard to do. We discovered three huge rock piles on the property. Two of them are on the other side of the road, but one is right here by our big field. Farmers have been pulling rocks from this field for many, many years and I don’t think we are done. This field, as many others do, seem to grow rocks like potatoes. I figured it was good to use some of those.
First, the base is made by stacking 4″x 4″x 4′ posts in a square on a fairly level base of gravel. I drilled holes in the corners and stuck some re-bar in there to hold it steady for the next step. I made our 3.5′ high because we are tall people – you may want to make yours shorter. The thinking is, when you spend three plus hours heating it up for use, you may want to use it for several baking projects, like breads first, then pies and pastries, then roasting meat and vegetables as the oven cools some. So if you are using the oven all day, you don’t want to be bending over to use it. Keep this in mind when building yours.
Then we filled it full of large rocks – the ones we found in our pile. Some of those were as big as my head! So this is where the heavy lifting came in. Luckily we didn’t have to cart them far, just into my wheelbarrow type trailer that attaches to my little tractor and then out again at the oven site.
Then we got out our shovels to cover the bin of rocks with dirt. We used twigs to poke down between the rocks to make sure it was shifting all the way to the bottom and just kept adding dirt until we felt it was sturdy.
Next, after making sure it was pretty level (Rob hates it when I tell him I ‘eyeballed it’!) we covered it with a layer of sand to make a flat surface to lay the bricks. We chose heavy flagstone for our first layer. Then another layer of sand, mostly to fill in the cracks and prevent any shifting. We dusted the top with more sand to give some security to our firebricks that come next.

Base with the top layer of fire brick on - ready for our sand form

Then came our sand form.
The sand form is needed to support the clay walls while the clay is wet. I made this sand form a little small for what I wanted, but at the time it looked almost too big. The sand is quite wet – a little wetter than you would use for a sand castle at the beach – only because you need it to get tall and the wet helps that.

Sand form for adobe oven


The sand form is then covered with newspaper. This is not really necessary for the structure, but it sure does help when it comes time to hollow out the sand. You stop scooping out sand when you reach the newspaper. It is also not necessary to remove the paper as it will burn off in the initial fire. Another tip: it is much easier to cover it with wet newspaper. The dry will fly off in the slightest breeze and make layering it next to impossible.
Now you have a good solid base for the clay.
Our soil has a high clay content so using our clay was a no brainer to me. It stuck together well when moist and I initially thought there was enough sand in it to prevent cracking during the drying process. Turns out I was wrong about that, but the clay was terrific! Next time, I will mix 1 part sand to two parts of our soil and it should solve the cracking problem. A few of our drying cracks were just superficial and not at all harmful to the structure of the oven itself, but two of them were quite significant. These two had smoke coming out of them. Also, after having a few curing fires in this lovely oven, I have decided that the walls aren’t nearly thick enough. They are roughly three inches thick and I believe four and a half would work much better. The walls need to be thick to hold on to the heat for hours at a time. Mine are cooling too quickly, making a constant temperature inside the oven somewhat of a pipe-dream.

There are two of these cracks that threaten the integrity of the oven


Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself. The clay we used was mixed with a three gallon bucket of straw cut up into finger lengths to help bind it together after it dries, then with enough water to make it like mud. It felt really good to get in there with my feet to mix it around, but not as effective as using a shovel and turning each scoop back into the pile.
I added the clay to the base starting at the bottom and working up. I made sure the first layer had lots of texture so that the second layer would have something to grab onto. Three layers later, I cut out the door. This is our final view before I hollowed out the sand.

Decorations attached

Now with the sand still in there, I let it dry for three days with a tarp over it to prevent sun from beating down and evaporating the water to fast. Then hollowed it out and another three days of drying under a tarp. The cracks were really tiny then and I tried to patch them before we lit our first fire. Unfortunately, they were too severe and shrunk up a bunch to make these large cracks. The cracks didn’t effect the size of the fire, though. It burned beautifully!

Nice fire!

So, to recap, I loved the process of building this fire. I am either going to tear it down and build another, taller, with more sand in it and thicker walls, or I will repair this one. I am thrilled with the way the inner walls turn a lovely terracotta pink after a few fires. I will, either way, be building more adobe ovens, and will definitely be baking bread in them.

Orchard in bloom! … at least I think so.

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Apple Blossom

Cortland and Honey Crisp Apples, Anjou and Flemish Beauty Pear, Italian Prune Plum and Golden Plums, Sweet Cherry and Sour Cherry, Butternut, Walnut and Filbert.

Right about now some of the trees will be in full bloom. I planted this orchard last summer before I had equipment to turn soil and till it up. There was a really nice excavator guy who was digging the hole for the foundation of the workshop and I asked him really nicely if he could turn the grass over on a small spot in the meadow. Okay, so I gave him $100, too.
He did a pretty decent job turning the soil but what I didn’t factor in was that this piece of grass here, had not been farmed or turned or likely even broken for over a decade. I decided, having already parted with $100 that I had to make the best of this spot and made a bargain with my then eight-year-old son that I would pay him a nickel for every rock he pulled out of there that was bigger than his fist. By noon I owed him $10, by four o’clock, close to $35. Okay, at least the job was done and all I had to do was dig the massive holes to put the roots.
It was thirty-six degrees(C) that day and not a cloud in the sky. I did what I had to do. I turned on the sprinkler, attached to a hose, attached to the pump atop the well and plugged into the gas powered generator, and started digging. The sprinkler was not for the soil, it was for my back, and strategically aimed at me for the duration. After each hole was dug, I adjusted the spray for the next hole to be dug. By the end of the day, we were all well watered and seemed to be doing fine.
This meadow is on a slight slope to the south, maybe 15 degrees or so, and has lots of grass and milkweed with a few raspberry canes here and there. I will have to pull the raspberries and a few of the milkweed (reluctant to disturb these as we have a fantastic population of Monarch Butterflies laying eggs on these)

Monarch Caterpillar on our milkweed in the meadow

This year, I got a tiller for my birthday! Rates up there with the most perfect birthday gift of all time, for me.
I’ll run it through the centre isle of the orchard and till up some of the ground on the other side of it to add a few more trees.
I hear that Quince grows well in the Maritimes. I have never tasted Quince, but I have seen a few recipes for pies and pastries that call for it, so maybe it is worth planting. I know they look like pear, but beyond that… no clue. If anyone has a tasted description for me, I’m all ears.